Book’s ‘exceedingly painful’ choice
As the Senate voted this week to allow armed teachers in the aftermath of last year’s Parkland shooting, perhaps no lawmaker’s vote was more anticipated than Sen. Lauren Book.
The Plantation Democrat gave an impassioned speech, noting she was “deeply, personally conflicted” about the provision for arming teachers before ultimately voting down on the bill.
Book served on the public safety commission established in the shooting’s aftermath. That group was tasked with researching the tragedy and preparing a report detailing recommendations to improve school security.
“I voted to include the Guardian program in our recommendations for our chambers to consider,” Book said during debate on the bill. “Not to blindly advance it, but to consider it.”
Book spoke about her personal connection to the tragedy, as she’s worked with families affected in the massacre’s aftermath.
“Outside of this role,” referring to her job as a lawmaker, “I’m a mom who recently began dropping my own kids off at school,” Book said.
“I always figured that I’d tear up because of how sweet and cute they were with their cute little matching backpacks.
“I never imagined tears streaming down my face because I’m afraid of what could happen to them at school.”
But while she argued more needs to be done to secure Florida’s schools, including implementation of measures part of the broader bill approved by the Senate, Book says her constituents opposed the provision allowing armed teachers.
“I know that our schools are understaffed, our teachers are underpaid, and they did not enter their profession to brandish firearms,” Book said.
“I must, at the urging of my community, vote ‘no’ today. But it’s an exceedingly, exceedingly painful vote.”
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Danny McAuliffe, Ryan Nicol, Drew Wilson, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Final budget on horizon — Sub-level budget negotiators met throughout the week to iron out spending differences between the House and Senate spending proposals passed earlier this month. About $33.6 billion in General Revenue is on the table for lawmakers to spend. Remaining differences on spending for topics like health care, education and everything in between will now be negotiated between budget chiefs Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings. Some still-on-the-table budget matters include decisions on affordable housing, state land-purchasing programs and money for universities. Lawmakers each year must pass a unified budget and send it to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ desk, where he can ax individual projects through his line-item veto power. DeSantis, who took office earlier this year, has signaled that he’s mostly content with the progress of the Legislature.
Legislature backs immigration crackdown — The House and Senate this week backed — mainly along party lines — different legislation that seeks to prevent so-called sanctuary cities in Florida. The bills would punish local government officials who do not comply with federal immigration authorities. Florida has no on-the-book “sanctuary cities,” a term coined for municipalities that openly refuse to cooperate with entities like the federal Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Democrats staunchly opposed the measures and advocacy groups — some including major businesses — have fought back against the legislation.
Senate approves highway projects — The Senate nearly unanimously backed a plan that would require the state to start saving money for three major toll-road projects that are expected to be completed no later than 2030. Money linked to the legislation would go toward extending the Tampa-area Suncoast Parkway to the Florida-Georgia line, connecting the northern terminus of the Florida Turnpike to the Suncoast Parkway, and constructing the Southwest-Central Florida Connector between Polk and Collier counties. The legislation, if signed into law, would shift $45 million in next year’s fiscal budget toward trusts that would help fund the projects. Senate President Bill Galvano has identified the highway plans as a top priority. The House has yet to consider the same measure on the floor.
Amendment 4 language moves — The House this week approved along party lines a bill that would implement Amendment 4, which automatically restored voting rights to felons who’ve completed their sentences, barring those convicted of murder or sexual offenses. Democrats and groups like the American Civil Liberties Union and the Southern Poverty Law Center criticized the measure because it would require former convicts to pay restitution, court fees and fines before the state restores their voting rights. A Senate version of the bill, which has yet to be taken up on the floor, would only require restitution be paid before a felon can earn their voting rights back.
Senate greenlights school choice expansion — The Senate this week approved an education bill that would create the “Family Empowerment Scholarship Program,” which would offer private-school vouchers to lower-income families. The program would cover up to 18,000 students annually. Democrats saw the legislation as undermining public education and diverting resources away from schools. In other education news, the House and Senate ended early budget talks with differences remaining on funding for the Best and Brightest teacher-bonus program. On university spending, the chambers are split over how to spend $13 million. The Senate wants to see that money go toward the University of Florida and Florida State University, while the House wants to see it fund the state’s regional universities.
DeSantis recognized for Alzheimer’s patient advocacy
Gov. DeSantis received the Suzanne R. Plakon Humanitarian Award for leadership in Alzheimer’s Advocacy this week.
Rep. Scott Plakon, Florida Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom and representatives of the Alzheimer’s Association joined the Governor.
“I’m incredibly humbled to receive this honor, and I am proud to say my administration has and continues to take significant steps to support Floridians living with Alzheimer’s,” DeSantis said.
“As long as I’m Governor, I’m committed to ensuring our state assists these individuals in getting the care they deserve and prioritizes the advancement of research needed for this disease.”
Susie Rushing Plakon of Altamonte Springs, Rep. Plakon’s wife, died at home last summer after battling Alzheimer’s disease for over four years. She was 57.
The DeSantises take their kids to work
First Lady Casey and Gov. Ron DeSantis, along with their children Madison and Mason, welcomed more than 500 children, parents and mentors at the Florida Capitol during Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day.
“As Chair of the Children and Youth Cabinet, I am excited to join state leaders, students and parents to celebrate the different career paths available to our children,” Mrs. DeSantis said.
“The Governor and I are working hard to ensure these kids and children across the state can attend the schools and explore career opportunities that are the best fit for them. I look forward to watching these young leaders develop their interests and establish our future workforce for our state.”
Part of Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day each year at the Capitol is career exploration. It’s a nationwide initiative of the Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Foundation, “dedicated to developing innovative strategies and research-based activities in informal educational programs that empower girls and boys in all sectors of society.”
“As mentors and leaders, we have a wonderful opportunity and a responsibility to help spark our children’s curiosity and offer resources they can use to identify their career choices and achieve their goals,” said Michelle Dennard, president and CEO of CareerSource Florida.
“Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day provides Florida’s future workforce a fun way to explore careers while showcasing the importance of education and training to prepare for great jobs and a bright future.”
Fried to Congress: Pass disaster relief now
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried this week said she sent a letter to every member of Congress, demanding they pass Hurricane Michael disaster relief upon their return from recess April 29.
The letter, she said, reminds them of the “devastation to families, businesses and the agriculture community, and the tenfold-higher risk of wildfires the region now faces, as the next hurricane season approaches in one month.”
Hurricane Michael slammed into North Florida as a Category 5 hurricane, one of the most powerful storms ever to hit North America.
“When Congress reconvenes on April 29, the top priority of both chambers must be expeditiously passing a bipartisan disaster relief package to provide long-overdue relief to the Panhandle and other communities suffering in the wake of recent natural disasters,” she said.
“Every moment the people of Florida and our lands go without federal assistance, the threat grows of not only wildfires and future storms as the 2019 hurricane season rapidly approaches, but also permanent economic devastation.”
Instagram of the Week
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Take Your Child to Work// Our boys have spent their whole lives with @francoripple working from home or on a campaign, but never in a formal office. Once we moved to TLH a few weeks ago, Evan was genuinely surprised that his dad had to show up to a physical office every day. This day couldn’t have come at a better time and gave them a glimpse into Franco’s life at work. They loved it and all the people they met along the way!
Talking the ‘Bottom Line’
Florida influencer Peter Schorsch, publisher and editor-in-chief of Florida Politics, Sunburn and INFLUENCE (Takeaways, too), gives his insight on issues facing lawmakers as the 2019 Legislative Session approaches Sine Die. A lightning-round discussion on the Florida Chamber’s Bottom Line video series, Schorsch talks Galvano’s infrastructure bill, K-12 education and telehealth, as well as the bill (on its way to DeSantis’ desk) that gives Floridians “much-needed relief.”
To watch the latest “Bottom Line,” click on the image below:
‘Dignity Act’ passes House
House members this week voted unanimously in support of the “Dignity for Incarcerated Women Act” (HB 49).
Backed by Reps. Shevrin Jones and Amy Mercado, the measure would require jails, prisons, juvenile detention centers or other correctional facilities to make available key health care products to incarcerated women and girls at no extra cost and without medical referral.
“Health care products” include menstrual hygiene products, toothbrushes and toothpaste.
The proposal also would restrict male correctional facility employees who work in women’s facilities from conducting pat-down searches or body cavity searches on incarcerated women, or entering spaces where incarcerated women are in a state of undress.
Its Senate companion (SB 3320) has passed unanimously through each of its committees and awaits a full floor vote from that chamber.
States across the country have introduced similar “dignity” proposals, including Arizona, Georgia, New Jersey and Tennessee, and signed into law in Arkansas, California, Connecticut, Kentucky, Louisiana, Maryland and Oklahoma.
Kudos to new House Dem leadership
Florida Democratic Party Chair Terrie Rizzo congratulated state Reps. Evan Jenne and Bobby DuBose, who will lead the House Democratic Caucus and its campaign arm, House Victory, for 2020-2022.
She also congratulated Leader-Designate Ben Diamond, who will lead the caucus for 2022-2024. The House Democrats held elections this week.
Rizzo said the House Democratic Caucus chose “a powerhouse team to lead them.“
“I’m confident that together, this leadership team will fight for Democratic values in Tallahassee, stand up to Republicans’ extreme agenda, and continue to pick up House seats,” she said in a statement.
“House Democrats have selected a dream team to lead them over the next four years, and the Florida Democratic Party looks forward to working closely with them.”
Police criticize potential sentence reductions
Law enforcement leaders are warning influential lawmakers about a proposed criminal justice reform this Legislative Session.
In a letter to Senate President Galvano, Florida Police Chiefs Association executive director Amy Mercer cautioned that reducing the gain time ceiling from 85 percent to 65 percent for certain nonviolent offenders — language that’s embedded in the Senate’s criminal justice overhaul — “is dangerous.”
“The Florida Police Chiefs Association supports a principled, meaningful, and measured approach to criminal justice reform,” Mercer wrote. “Our top priority, though, remains protecting residents and visitors in our state from both violent and nonviolent criminals.”
Mercer suggested that the first-time, nonviolent offenders could be more criminal than expected.
“This approach fails to consider the reality that many individuals incarcerated under these provisions of law may have negotiated a plea deal for a more serious crime,” Mercer wrote. “This approach will release some very dangerous felons.”
The police chiefs group supports the House criminal justice reform plan that does not include the same gain-time language. A state-backed economic analysis of the gain-time change found that the measure could reduce the need for 7,600 prison beds during the next fiscal year, resulting in about $74 million in immediate savings.
Grid hardening praised
The Senate on Friday passed a bill that could prevent extended power outages the next time a major storm makes landfall in Florida.
SB 796 would require utilities to think long term about their grid hardening plans and make efforts to bury power lines. It could cost ratepayers a couple more bucks a month, but it could also help crews move from disaster response to disaster recovery more quickly.
Energy Fairness, a nonprofit dedicated to ensuring an affordable and reliable supply of power for consumers, is 100 percent on board.
“Today, the Florida Senate took an important step to protect Floridians’ power supply and pocketbooks. We know storm hardening is a worthy investment for consumers because the data clearly proves it works,” said director Paul Griffin.
“This legislation enhances consumer protections and PSC oversight of storm hardening plans. All preparation comes with a cost, but the cost of recovering from devastating natural disasters is much higher. Making these prudent investments in resiliency will pay off for Floridians.”
Griffin urged the House to take up the bill. That chamber’s grid hardening proposal was temporarily postponed Friday.
Conservative thought leader talks Session
Grover Norquist, president of Americans for Tax Reform, came to Florida this week in part to rail against a proposal to allow prescription drugs manufactured in Canada to be imported into the Sunshine State.
But that’s not all he spoke with lawmakers about. The anti-tax crusader told us in an interview that he talked to legislators about a few other timely topics and an idea that should be on the horizon.
If lawmakers want the state to require remote online sellers to remit sales taxes, “then it needs to be offset by a larger tax cut somewhere else,” Norquist said. That idea, even with an offset, hasn’t caught traction with the GOP-led Legislature this year.
Norquist also pointed lawmakers in the direction of Arizona’s latest occupational licensing reform. Arizona recently became the first state to “recognize out-of-state occupational licenses across the board,” The East Valley Tribune reported.
“I think that is one of the real breakthroughs on making a fluid, mobile country,” Norquist said.
Chamber: Infrastructure plan benefits growing population
The Florida Chamber of Commerce is heralding proposed highway projects as a necessary move to cater to the needs of the state’s ever-growing population.
According to the Chamber, a statewide business advocacy organization, about 900 new residents move to the Sunshine State each day. By 2036, the Chamber figures 26 million will call Florida home.
“With an additional 5.5 million residents in Florida by 2030, and annual tourism growing from 126 million to 150 million visitors, these smart infrastructure investments will help ensure Florida is poised for it’s growing population and future economic prosperity,” said David Hart, executive vice president at the Chamber.
The three major projects pitched in the plan would also “invigorate rural communities with jobs and economic development opportunities,” a Chamber news release said.
“The Florida Chamber of Commerce commends President Galvano, Sen. Tom Lee and members of the Florida Senate for helping to ensure we prepare Florida’s infrastructure for smart growth and enhanced mobility,” Hart added.
World Meningitis Day comes to Tallahassee
This week marked World Meningitis Day where Immunize Florida advocates united in Tallahassee to bring awareness to the disease and discuss the importance of protecting Floridians from the vaccine-preventable disease.
Attendees included parents, physicians, medical students, the Florida PTA and legislators.
Cathy Mayfield, Founder of the Lawson Mayfield Memorial Foundation and Run for Lawson, shared her daughter Lawson‘s story.
Lawson died from meningitis right before entering college in 2009.
Book offered a Senate resolution in honor of the day; the House recognition was led by Rep. Cary Pigman and Rep. Ralph Massulo, both physicians.
The idea is to honor those who have suffered from meningitis across the state.
New resource helps parents teach personal safety
Lauren’s Kids this week unveiled the “Blueprint for Building Safer, Smarter Families.” The group, launched and led by Sen. Book, is free to Florida families. The curriculum is targeted toward children in kindergarten through fifth grade.
“We know that 95 percent of child sexual abuse is preventable through education and awareness, so our ‘Blueprint for Building Safer, Smarter Families’ helps parents start an ongoing dialogue about personal safety while offering plenty of ways to practice and reinforce prevention strategies throughout a child’s daily life,” Book said.
The tool includes a “parent pack” and elementary-age appropriate crossword puzzles, word searches, crafts, role-play scenarios, games, and other entertaining activities are available for kids to complete.
The resource covers a wide range of topics are covered, including subjects like “personal safety.” A news release from Lauren’s Kids said lessons under that umbrella would cover things “such as identifying body boundaries and determining the difference between safe and unsafe touches.”
FSA to honor fallen cops
Eight names will be added to the Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA) Memorial Wall during this year’s fallen hero ceremony.
Each year, FSA honors sheriff’s officers who had fallen in the line of duty. This year’s tribute will take place at 1:30 p.m. at the FSA Headquarters at 2617 Mahan Drive in Tallahassee.
Please join our Facebook Live this Monday, April 29th, at 1:30 pm as we recognize and celebrate our fallen #heroes, their families, law enforcement colleagues and all the men and women who have given their lives in the line of duty. pic.twitter.com/Bk89kI8mdK
— Florida Sheriffs (@FLSheriffs) April 26, 2019
Attorney General Ashley Moody will speak during the commemoration. CFO Jimmy Patronis delivered the keynote speech last year during a ceremony accompanied by pipes and drums.
Inscribed on the Memorial Wall is a Bible verse: “Greater love hath no man than this, that he lay down his life for his friend” (John 15:13.)
Tire’d of mosquitoes?
To help prevent breeding grounds for mosquitoes, Leon County, in partnership with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, will host an Amnesty Day for citizens to drop off old tires for free.
The event will be on Saturday, April 27 and Saturday, May 18, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Leon County Fleet Management, 1800-1 North Blair Stone Road. Everyone who brings a valid ID showing county residency will be allowed to drop off.
Why it matters: Unused tires collect water and create ideal breeding grounds for disease-carrying mosquitoes.
Residents can get rid of up to 25 passenger car tires free of charge. Commercial loads will not be accepted. This event is for tires only; no other items can be accepted.
Search for new TPD headquarters continues
City commissioners this week got an update on the effort to relocate the Tallahassee Police Department.
The department has operated out of its current building on Seventh Avenue since 1972, and needs a bigger, newer home.
Residents recommended 68 sites for the new location, with 51 meeting the 9-acre minimum requirement; 19 were within 2 ½ miles of the center of Tallahassee.
The construction management team will next evaluate the remaining sites based on ease of access, cost to buy the property, zoning and land use restrictions and other factors.
This evaluation will be used to develop a list of five to 10 sites. Once the list is compiled, community feedback on the shortlisted properties will be sought.
Following public comment, the shortlisted properties will again be brought before the City Commission for consideration. The City Commission will then select three sites for further consideration.
At that point, site concepts will be developed for consideration. For more information, visit Talgov.com/TPDHQ.
Hukill priority poised for passage
The late state Sen. Dorothy Hukill spent years trying to get a financial literacy class into Florida high schools, and lawmakers may get it done in the first Legislative Session since her death.
This week, the Florida House unanimously passed an education bill (HB 7071) that includes a requirement that a financial literacy course be offered in all Florida school districts. The language is also included in a Senate education bill (SB 770) that’s prepped for a floor vote.
Students wouldn’t have to take it to graduate, but the requirement has broad support. Among those touting the progress was the Florida Council on Economic Education’s Mark Anderson, a six-year champion of the legislation.
“Thanks to Sen. Travis Hutson, Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff and Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, this fall all Florida students will finally have access to a separate, half-credit financial literacy course before they graduate,” said Anderson.
“This will allow students to understand how to manage money and avoid bad debt, which will impact them for the rest of their lives.”
The bills would make financial literacy a half-credit elective course. High school students are currently required to earn eight elective credits to graduate.