Saturday marks the beginning of June.
Or, as Floridians know it, the start to the annual hurricane season.
Looming in the backdrop this time: Hurricane Michael, the Category 5 storm that swept through Northwest Florida last year for which Congress has yet to pass disaster spending.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is predicting a 40 percent chance of near-normal cyclone activity during the Atlantic season, which ends Nov. 30. But there’s a 30 percent chance for both above-average and below-average seasons.
Overall, NOAA predicts somewhere from nine to 15 named storms to form this season, with only two to four “major hurricanes” (Category 3 to 5 storms) popping up.
We’ll leave it up to the forecasters to determine whether that’s reassuring news or not.
Meantime, Florida officials are encouraging residents to take advantage of a weeklong disaster preparedness sales-tax break passed by the Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis this year.
The tax holiday, which began Friday, allows Floridians to purchase items like tarps, portable generators, water, batteries and flashlights without paying sales tax. That break is expected to save taxpayers $5.5 million.
Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz is recommending overcaution: “While in the past we’ve encouraged Floridians to have three days of supplies, we have found after recent events that everyone should have at least seven days of food, water and medicine,” he said.
And DeSantis, who inherited the disaster wrought by Hurricane Michael released a statement saying Floridians should “make a plan for the very real possibility of storm impact.”
He added: “After the devastation of Hurricane Michael and recent storms that have made landfall in Florida, my administration is leaving nothing to chance this hurricane season.”
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Danny McAuliffe, Drew Wilson, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Israel trip concludes — Most of the near-100-person Florida delegation has likely returned from its trade and political mission trip to Israel. Dozens of partnerships were formed and Gov. Ron DeSantis, joined by Cabinet officials, met with Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu before departing Friday. The Cabinet and DeSantis also met ceremonially in Jerusalem, where the state’s top officials reaffirmed the Israel-Florida relationship that made the delegation’s trip possible. “This week, we established an unprecedented number of alliances in science, business and academia,” DeSantis said. “We affirmed our solidarity with Israelis and resolved to give no quarter to anti-Semitism. Returning to Florida, we bring with us prospects for investment, high-wage jobs, water conservation, and innovative ideas to keep our schools and communities safe. We also carry home a renewed belief that peace, freedom, and democracy are essential to our quality of life and are to be championed, cherished, and never taken for granted.” The Cabinet and DeSantis will meet again next week, where DeSantis is expected to deliver a detailed recap of the trade mission.
Financial regulator under fire — Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis has requested the state’s top financial regulator resign amid the findings of a preliminary investigation into an alleged harassment complaint. But Ronald Rubin, the subject of the investigation and the Commissioner at the Office of Financial Regulation, has denied the allegations and suggested they are retribution for refusing to hire a “politically connected” job applicant. Rubin, appointed by Gov. DeSantis and the Cabinet earlier this year, had been placed on administrative leave in May after the sexual harassment allegation. Rubin makes nearly $166,000 yearly at OFR. State law says the Financial Services Commission can hire or fire Rubin “by a majority vote consisting of at least three affirmative votes, with both the Governor and the Chief Financial Officer on the prevailing side.”
Grand jury subpoenas Gillum — Former Tallahassee Mayor and 2018 Democratic nominee for Governor Andrew Gillum is the focus of a federal grand jury subpoena issued earlier this year. The Tampa Bay Times, which first obtained the subpoena, reported: “The newer subpoena is more focused on Gillum’s 2018 campaign and people and organizations with clear ties to him, but with less obvious connections to Tallahassee City Hall.” An attorney for Gillum said the records sought by the subpoena had been turned over, The News Service of Florida reported. Those records included information on Gillum’s “Forward Florida political committee, and information related to Sharon Lettman-Hicks, a longtime Gillum adviser, and Donald Sussman, a heavyweight Democratic donor,” The News Service reported.
Lawmakers want Marion Hammer probe — Democrats Sen. Perry Thurston and Rep. Anna Eskamani have filed complaints asking for an investigation as to whether National Rifle Association (NRA) lobbyist Marion Hammer skirted financial disclosure requirements. State law allows each chamber of the Legislature to assign a committee to investigate potential violations of the reporting requirements. The call for an investigation comes after the Florida Bulldog reported that Hammer had not filed a legislative lobbying compensation report since at least 2007.
Israel Cabinet meeting prompts lawsuit — The First Amendment Foundation sued the Florida Cabinet and Gov. DeSantis ahead of the ceremonial meeting in Israel, arguing the officials were violating the state’s public meeting, or Sunshine, laws by meeting outside of the state and not opening it up to the general public. A Leon County judge twice rejected motions to consider the complaint. “We have a couple of options we’re in the process of sussing out,” said Barbara Petersen, an attorney and president of the First Amendment Foundation. “We’ll have a plan on what action needs to be taken by early next week. Ideally, we would like the Cabinet to agree that it will not hold meetings outside the state of Florida. We’re trying now to figure out how we get there.”
Fried finds answers in Israel
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried’s time abroad this week centered on seeking information to make Florida crops better.
During an interview in Israel with Jeff Schweers for the Florida Society of News Editors, Fried shed light on her observations of Israeli agriculture technology and research.
The gist? Israel is ahead of the curve. While overseas, Fried visited the Volcani research institution and observed scientists who were able to robotically — and remotely — monitor plant health. She also noted the extensive research being conducted on medical marijuana, which Fried said is prohibited in the States. “They’ve been researching medical marijuana for 20 years and we can’t even start because it is illegal in the U.S.,” she said.
Fried suggested Israel has found a way to make drip technology affordable for smaller farmers, who currently avoid the expensive but effective measure. “What they’ve done is created a different valve system that makes the same type of drip technology, but that is not cost-prohibitive.”
Israel is also pioneering research on citrus greening, which has plagued Florida crops in the past and, coupled with hurricanes, can negatively affect production.
Companies there have developed early-detection methods for the disease. And at least one other business claims to have a cure for the ailment but does not have trees to test. “That’s what my goal would be (to bring them to Florida),” she told Schweers.
Can you hear me now?
Attorney General Ashley Moody is alerting Floridians to a “new twist on an old scam.”
Moody pointed to government data showing an increase in telephone fraud artists who are impersonating the Social Security Administration. That’s a slight deviation from the age-old trick of impersonating the Internal Revenue Service — something on the decline.
“Scammers are using technology and tricks to steal your Social Security number,” Moody said. “Never provide your SSN in response to a solicitation and don’t trust your caller ID. If you receive one of these calls, hang up the phone immediately and call my office at 1-(866) 9NO-SCAM.”
Moody’s office said phone scammers are using a tactic, “spoofing,” to display numbers on caller IDs. In the nuanced Social Security number scam, targets are asked to verify their number.
“If the target complies, the scammer records the SSN to sell on the dark web or use to open fraudulent financial accounts.”
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Corcoran highlights teacher certification backlog clearance
The state has processed more than 30,000 educator certification applications since Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran, a Republican former House Speaker, took control of the Department of Education (DOE).
Corcoran announced the news during a recent State Board of Education meeting, during which he also praised DOE’s legislative victories from the last Session.
Corcoran had prioritized eliminating the certification backlog in January, when DOE had 31,666 unprocessed applications on hand, 15,290 of which had been untouched for longer than 90 days, a statutory limit.
By the middle of May, all of those applications had been processed.
“It is simply unacceptable to keep our teachers and schools waiting, because that ultimately means our students are waiting,” Corcoran said. “We’re grateful for our staff who answered this challenge, the nights and weekends they gave to make this happen, and their renewed sense of purpose to serve our educator workforce.
Corcoran said his next goal is to process certifications in 60 days, followed later by a 30-day deadline.
DOE cheers new ‘guardian program’ districts
Another five county school districts are implementing the “Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program,” which allows school personnel to carry firearms on the job after they complete a training program.
In February, Commissioner Corcoran sent a letter to Florida sheriffs reopening the application window for districts wishing to implement the program and get a slice of the cash lawmakers set aside to for the program’s operation.
Since then, the school districts of Baker, Escambia, Franklin, Levy and Taylor counties have implemented the program, earning praise from Corcoran.
“There is nothing more important than the safety of Florida’s students and educators, and I am proud of the sheriffs and school districts who recognized this tremendous opportunity. I hope more counties follow their lead, especially now that the Florida Legislature has expanded the Guardian program,” Corcoran said.
Including the five new additions, 30 of the state’s 67 county school districts have opted into the guardian program. The Department of Education said that another 13 districts had expressed interest in implementing the program.
Florida Chamber strikes partnership abroad
During the Florida delegation’s trip to Israel this week, the Florida Chamber of Commerce entered into a memorandum of understanding (MOU) with groups similar in mission, but different in place.
The MOU, signed by the Federation of Israeli Chambers of Commerce and the Israel-America Chamber of Commerce, will promote “greater cooperation, strategic partnerships, and trade and investment between Israel and Florida,” a Chamber news release said.
“Florida and Israel have a long history of strong cooperation in key economic sectors, and by signing an MOU with our Israeli Chamber partners, small businesses in Florida and Israel stand to gain stronger economic benefits through strategic trade and investment partnerships,” said Mark Wilson, President and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
These sort of partnerships peppered the trade mission to Israel. Others, such as an MOU between the University of Miami and Hebrew University, focused on research.
“Trade missions are effective investments in future trade and are an important way for Florida companies to develop relationships with prospective trade partners,” said Dr. Jerry Parrish, Chief Economist at the Florida Chamber Foundation. “Companies that want to expand their exports often find that investing in relationship building leads to more success in finding trading partners and markets.”
As the premier business advocacy organization in Florida, the Chamber identifies trade as an essential element to Sunshine State enterprise. Last year, trade was responsible for $147.8 billion of Florida’s GDP, the Chamber said.
Florida angler notches 50th catch
Allison Stattner is the first Florida sportsperson to reach the 50-Fish Club in the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s “Catch a Florida Memory” program.
The program incentivizes anglers to reel in different species of Florida fish. Stattner’s 42-inch Wahoo brought her to the milestone, a record number for the “Catch a Florida Memory” program. In a statement, Stattner called the concept a “fun challenge.”
“I had to take into account seasonality, location within Florida, varied baits and, most importantly, log a lot of time on the water,” Stattner said. “Some of my catches were from the beach, pier, kayak and offshore head boats.”
The “Catch a Florida Memory” program is divided into different sections. “Saltwater Reel Big Fish,” for example, awards anglers who seek to hook fish from 30 of the listed species in that category, ranging from Black sea bass to snook to flounder.
Stattner will commemorate the Wahoo catch through a replica mount from the Mount This! Fish Company. That business also will award mounts to the first angler to qualify for the “Reefs and Rubble Grand Slam” competition, which requires gag, gray triggerfish and black sea bass to be caught within 24 hours. As well, mounts will be awarded to whoever’s “Reel Big Fish” catches most exceed the qualifying length. The deadline for these competitions is July 31.
Municipal pensions a mixed bag
The Leroy Collins Institute has some good news and some bad news on Florida’s municipal pension programs.
First the good: the institute’s new study, based on 2017 data, found that the number of plans earning an “A” grade has more than tripled since 2014. Meanwhile, while the number of “F” graded pension plans has dropped from 60 to 4.
The bad news: nearly half of all municipal pension plans earned a “C” or lower.
“We are pleased to report the progress of many plans but will continue to monitor the trends which are generally positive but also note some potential problems,” said Leroy Collins Board Chair Lester Abberger.
On the whole, over half of the plans met the 80 percent funding threshold, a minimum standard used to measure pension health. About 40 percent failed to reach that mark.
That could foreshadow some turbulence given experts’ expectations that the current market boom is in its twilight hours.
If that’s the case, the growth of pension assets may lag behind liability growth, leading to lower funded levels and higher contribution costs.
Cops complete extra training
The Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA) this week conferred degrees to the eighth class of its prestigious training program, Commanders Academy.
Deputies and other personnel from Florida’s 34 sheriffs’ offices completed the two-week course, which “provides a comprehensive curriculum and offers programs on leadership skills, business and personal ethics, management training and other topics that relate to the law enforcement profession,” an FSA news release said.
FSA President and Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter said Commanders Academy had been recognized as “the top course” for advanced-level studies among criminal justice leaders.
“This training program prepares commanders for senior leadership in today’s most effective policing,” Hunter said.
In addition to completing the program, the graduates of Commanders Academy Class 8 also raised $42,036.30 for the Florida Sheriffs Youth Ranches, which help prevent delinquency among youth.
Lyft announces pronoun change ahead of Pride Month
Ride-sharing giant Lyft now offers passengers and drivers the option to select their pronoun preferences.
Lyft announced the change ahead of Pride Month, which began Saturday. Among the pronoun options now available: “They/Them/Theirs,” “She/Her/Hers,” “He/Him/His,” “My pronoun isn’t listed” and “Prefer not to say.”
“Lyft’s core ‘be yourself’ value encourages an inclusive environment while celebrating the diversity of the LGBTQ+ community,” a Lyft news release said.
Lyft, which offers rides in dozens of Florida cities, also announced a partnership with the National Center for Transgender Equality (NCTE).
Under that agreement, Lyft will offer $200 to help transgender drivers who wish to change their name pay fees.
Marching Chiefs headed to France
Florida State University’s collegiate band, the Marching Chiefs, will be in France throughout next week and will participate in the D-Day Normandy Parade overseas.
The Marching Chiefs will be the only collegiate band to participate in the parade, which marks the 75th anniversary of the June 6, 1944, invasion.
“It’s a huge honor to represent FSU and the United States at the D-Day 75 Normandy Parade,” said Director of Bands Patrick Dunnigan. “When you think about all the soldiers who fought in France, what a big difference they made in the war and the thousands of young men who never returned home, it’s overwhelming.”
The Chiefs will march more than a mile between Vierville-sur-Mer and Saint Laurent-sur-Mer — two villages that overlook Omaha Beach.
D-Day, or Operation Overlord, remains the most massive seaborne invasion in history. Band members will place a wreath at the Normandy American Cemetery, where more than 9,300 soldiers are buried. A brass ensemble will play “Amazing Grace.”
Tallahassee lawyer receives top distinction
Anne Longman is a 2019 Florida Super Lawyer, the Lewis, Longman & Walker (LLW) firm announced this week.
Longman, a Tallahassee shareholder at LLW, now shares the Super Lawyer designation with just 5 percent of attorneys in Florida. Lawyer-rating service Super Lawyers distinguishes outstanding attorneys with the honor.
“Super Lawyers are nominated by fellow attorneys who have personally observed them in action, whether as opposing counsel, co-counsel or through other firsthand observations in the courtroom,” an LLW news release said. “The background and professional achievement of each candidate are researched before the final decision is made to include the attorneys in this list.”
LLW boasts 34 attorneys across the state. Areas of law focus include environmental, land use, local government, real estate, litigation, legislative and governmental affairs.
Terry Lewis, Michelle Diffenderfer, and Alfred Malefatto of the LLW West Palm Beach office and Wayne Flowers of the Jacksonville office have also been designated Super Lawyers.
Sachs picks up The Florida Bar
Sachs Media Group will provide a slew of communication services for The Florida Bar.
The Tallahassee-based comms shop announced this week that The Florida Bar chose it as the agency of record, meaning Sachs will provide communications, public affairs and marketing services for the legal organization that oversees ethics and professionalism of Florida lawyers.
“As an arm of the Supreme Court, The Florida Bar is a long-esteemed organization rooted in fairness, equal opportunity, and the highest standards of ethical conduct,” said Ron Sachs, founder and CEO of Sachs Media Group. “It is truly an honor and a privilege to be able to partner with such a distinguished organization in the cause of public service and integrity.”
The new partnership doesn’t mark the first time Sachs has worked with The Florida Bar. Two years ago, Sachs created alongside the organization the award-winning “Protect Florida Democracy” campaign.
“We are pleased to add the tremendous skill set of Sachs Media Group to our team in support of The Florida Bar’s important work,” said incoming Bar President John M. Stewart. “Effective communication is essential to our mission, and this partnership will extend our ability to reach all Floridians.”