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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Roadside assistance

A new coalition is offering support for Florida’s new infrastructure, toll road plans.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Roadside assistance

Trade associations and other organizations are standing together in support of infrastructure development as task forces prepare to examine the need for major highway projects in the Sunshine State.

The Connecting Florida coalition, formed this week, will be advocating for an infrastructure plan detailed in legislation (SB 7068) signed in May by Gov. Ron DeSantis. The bill requires the state to start saving money for three major toll road projects: 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.

Last month, Ron DeSantis signed a new highway expansion bill, supported by the newly formed Connecting Florida coalition.

Connecting Florida views the projects as “critical” for infrastructure development. And the formation of the group comes as the state faces an August deadline to create three task forces that will examine the need for each project.

One of the Connecting Florida members is Craig Fugate, who led the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) under former President Barack Obama’s administration. Fugate also served as former Gov. Jeb Bush’s Division of Emergency Management Director and responded to the disastrous 2004 Atlantic hurricane season.

“I look forward to seeing this new law work for the betterment of transportation alternatives, which also translates to better hurricane evacuation routes for a state that only has so many ways to travel from the bottom to the top,” Fugate said.

Joining Fugate are names from large business organizations, like Florida Chamber President and CEO Mark Wilson along with Tom Feeney, President and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida (AIF).

“With 900 new residents moving to Florida each day, connectivity is more important than ever,” Wilson said. “By combining our collective efforts, we can help ensure Florida is prepared for smart and safe growth.”

“AIF is always looking at ways our state can promote modern manufacturing, grow our talent pool and accelerate our free-enterprise competitiveness in our state, across our nation and around the globe,” Feeney said. “We applaud the efforts of our Governor and the Florida Legislature to make this infrastructure opportunity become a reality for the future of the great State of Florida.”

The highway projects were a priority for Senate President Bill Galvano during the 2019 Session. The Bradenton Republican envisioned the roads as a solution to connect Florida’s rural communities with more economic opportunities.

The pending task forces will be required by law to evaluate “corridor need, economic and environmental impacts, hurricane evacuation needs and land use impacts.” Meantime, groups like Connecting Florida will be advocating for the new toll roads.

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 “Take-away 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Take 5

DeSantis signs ‘sanctuary cities’ bill — DeSantis this week signed into law a controversial measure that requires local governments to fully cooperate with federal immigration officials. The bill, championed during the spring Legislative Session by Republicans Sen. Joe Gruters and Rep. Cord Byrd, is designed to encourage law enforcement to comply with detainer requests, among other cooperative measures. The bill had been described as a ban on so-called “sanctuary cities,” coined for local governments that openly refuse to work with federal immigration officials. But there are no sanctuary cities in Florida. “This bill is simple … it’s our state’s policy that we work with the federal government,” DeSantis said during a public bill signing ceremony.

Pulse order causes stir — Gov. DeSantis prompted controversy this week when he issued a proclamation commemorating the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting that left 49 dead. The original document did not make reference to the Hispanic or LGBTQ communities, but the tragedy took place at a gay nightclub on Latin night. Within hours, DeSantis’ office released a corrected proclamation containing the following: “WHEREAS, the State of Florida will not tolerate hatred toward the LGBTQ and Hispanic communities and we will stand boldly with Orlando and the Central Florida community against terrorism and hate.” DeSantis’ office said that “staff made an error” in the original proclamation. “I was not involved in the proclamation,” DeSantis told reporters this week. “When someone said this wasn’t in there, I said, ‘Well, put it in there.’ We fixed it.”

New laws seek health cost reductions — DeSantis signed two measures this week that were designed by Republican lawmakers to lower health care costs. One bill, HB 19, greenlights the importation of prescription drugs from Canada. Another piece of legislation, dubbed the “Patient Savings Act,” is intended to influence consumers to shop for better health care prices. That legislation focuses on transparency, giving patients greater information about the costs of health procedures and services. The drug importation plan still needs federal approval.

Fried launches pot panel — Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried this week filled out an 18-member panel designed to “help improve the state’s medical marijuana policies,” she said in a statement. The Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee will meet twice each month to consider ways to “expand patient access, increase innovation and technology in the industry, and make recommendations to the Legislature and the Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use to improve Florida’s medical marijuana policies and programs,” Fried said. The only Democrat holding statewide office in Florida, Fried ran successfully on a pro-medical marijuana platform in 2018. After taking office, she hired Holly Bell as the state’s first Cannabis Director. Bell will be overseeing the Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee’s efforts.

State paves way for autonomous vehicles — A bill aimed at encouraging autonomous vehicle use in Florida is now law. Gov. DeSantis this week signed legislation (HB 311) that expressly allows autonomous vehicles to drive on Florida roadways. “Signing this legislation paves the way for Florida to continue as a national leader in transportation innovation and technological advancement,” DeSantis said. The bill had been pushed during the spring Session by Republicans Sen. Jeff Brandes and Rep. Jason Fischer. “Ninety-five percent of all accidents are caused by human error,” Brandes said. “Often they’re problems with technology like distracted driving. We believe this is a technology solution and many technology problems require technology solutions. The world is getting more shared, it’s getting more electric and it’s getting more self-driving.”

Budget heads to DeSantis

A record $91.1 billion spending plan passed by the Legislature in May went to DeSantis’ desk late this week.

DeSantis told reporters this week that he’s done a “first glance” at the line items.

Ron DeSantis signed the controversial ‘sanctuary city’ bill on Friday. Next up, the state budget.

“Some of them obviously just don’t pass muster with me so they’re not going to make,” the new Republican Governor said. “There’s some that pass muster so they definitely will.”

When the Legislature adjourned, DeSantis promised to wield his line-item veto pen.

“It’s going to be under $91 billion when I get through the budget,” DeSantis said in May, suggesting the state should be precautions with funding. “Don’t worry about that.”

DeSantis said he hopes to have the budget signed by next week. Meantime, member project sponsors could be “getting a phone call,” he said.

New threat assessment strategy going well, DeSantis says

DeSantis is happy with public safety state workers’ development of a new, “intelligence-based” threat assessment strategy.

Earlier this week, which saw the three-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting that left 49 dead, DeSantis delivered remarks ahead of the two-day meeting hosted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE).

Ron DeSantis and FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen kick off a two-day meeting with law enforcement personnel, and threat assessment experts.

“FDLE is making tremendous progress on the development of Florida’s comprehensive threat assessment strategy,” DeSantis said. “Together, we will ensure that Florida is a national leader in intelligence-led policing.”

DeSantis in February directed the agency to develop a “unified statewide strategy for identifying and managing threats of targeted violence.” He asked for the development of training programs, further coordination with local law enforcement agencies, and assistance to help local agencies to develop and set up comprehensive threat analysis strategies.

“The development of this statewide strategy will help ensure the safety and security of Florida citizens and visitors for years to come,” FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said.

Instagram of the Week

Tarpon Springs cemetery makes National Register of Historic Places

Secretary of State Laurel M. Lee announced this week that Cycadia Cemetery in Tarpon Springs (Pinellas County) was listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.

The cemetery is nationally significant for its association with Tarpon Springs’ Greek community, the sponge industry and Greek music, and as a site at which community members maintained Greek burial practices and religious rituals.

Cycadia Cemetery in Tarpon Springs is now listed on the National Park Service’s National Register of Historic Places.

It is also significant for the distinctive art elements incorporated into its Greek American funerary monuments.

The cemetery received the National Register designation of Traditional Cultural Property, reflecting how the grave markers and funeral rituals that take place at Cycadia Cemetery continue to reflect Greek and Greek American traditional culture.

Tarpon Springs has been home to a large Greek American community since the early 20th century, and today has the highest percentage of Greek Americans of any city in the United States, Lee said.

The city capitalized on the experience and expertise of the Greek sponge divers to further increase the success of the community.

Federal lawmakers want more funding for LWCF

Two lawmakers have filed legislation in the U.S. House to fully and permanently fund the Land and Water Conservation Fund, or LWCF.

The bill (H.R. 3195) would direct $900 million annually to the LWCF trust fund. Democratic U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and Republican Rep. Brian Fitzpatrick of Pennsylvania filed the bipartisan legislation, which comes after Congress permanently reauthorized LWCF in March.

U.S. Rep. Jeff Van Drew, a New Jersey Democrat, is looking for permanent funding of the Land and Water Conservation Fund.

The money in the account would be expected to offer sportsmen more access to public lands that are currently inaccessible. A report from the Teddy Roosevelt Conservation Partnership (TRCP) estimates 9.52 million acres of federal public land remain inaccessible.

“Securing permanent authorization for LWCF was a significant milestone, but it means very little without predictable, robust funding to unlock inaccessible public lands and create new outdoor recreation opportunities all across the country,” said TRCP President and CEO Whit Fosburgh. “We’re grateful to see lawmakers respond to this fact and remain committed to the success of this important program.”

The LWCF is intended to bring in $900 million each year, underwritten by a small portion of annual offshore oil and gas lease revenues. But over its 50-year history, more than $20 billion has been directed from the fund to projects unrelated to conservation, outdoor recreation or access.

New law benefits domestic violence victims

Two Democratic state lawmakers are cheering Republican DeSantis’ approval of legislation that is expected to aid victims of domestic violence.

DeSantis signed into law the bill (HB 563) earlier this month. It allows employees who are victims to become eligible for re-employment benefits if they feel that they will be the victim of a future attack at the workplace.

The bill, which passed the House and Senate unanimously, had been sponsored by Jacksonville Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson and Rep. Dotie Joseph, a Democrat from the Miami-Dade area.

“I want to thank the Governor for signing this legislation which is extremely important for self-protection and self-support for victims of domestic violence,” Gibson said. “This legislation makes reasonable efforts to preserve employment and also decreases the risk for future incidents of domestic violence.”

In a news release, the lawmakers cited data from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement showing that 106,979 acts of domestic violence reported in 2017, and 64,781 arrests were made based on those acts.

“Too often, victims of domestic violence stay in life-threatening situations because of a lack of shelter or financial limitations,” Joseph said. “Allowing victims of domestic violence to qualify for unemployment compensation alleviates some of the financial insecurity that keeps victims from escaping.”

BOG divvies up performance money

The Florida Board of Governors (BOG) this week approved a plan to distribute $560 million in performance-based funding for the 2019-20 fiscal year.

The money is dispersed to schools based on their performance in a series of metrics. The three highest scoring universities were the University of Florida, University of West Florida and the University of South Florida.

Florida universities are getting better all the time, says Florida Board of Governors chair Ned Lautenbach (right).

“Each year, we’re seeing our System’s average score rise higher than the year before,” said BOG chair Ned Lautenbach. “Those scores are very meaningful because they translate into a better quality, lower cost education to our students, and they help us achieve our overall goal of an increase in student success.”

Highlights include that each university earned 10 points on the cost-to-the-student metric, something attributed to the state’s investment in the Bright Futures scholarship and the Florida Student Assistance Grant.

As well, 80 percent of students who completed a bachelor’s degree in 2017-18 did so without taking excess credit hours. Each institution improved in this metric.

“These gains are a unified effort, starting with Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature and including the Board of Governors, the boards of trustees, presidents, administrators, faculty and students,” said Syd Kitson, BOG vice chair. “We are all focused on the same goals, and we are determined to surpass every milestone on the road to student success.”

Utility regulators bump economic development cap

The Public Service Commission (PSC) this week increased the total cap on investor-owned utility expenses for economic development.

Beginning in 2020, utilities will be able to spend $10 million or 0.225 percent of annual revenues toward business attraction and job creation. That’s up from a $3 million cap set in 1995. “This update of the rules is intended to encourage economic development and account for the effects of inflation over the past two decades,” a PSC news release said.

“When electric utilities attract and grow businesses, costs are spread more broadly and that ultimately decreases consumer bills,” said PSC Commissioner Gary Clark. “These programs have been effective in the past and it was time to update the rules so that utilities can continue to create jobs, and grow Florida’s economy.”

The PSC also changed the rules guiding economic development so that as companies increase their expenditures, the percentage borne by shareholders rises. “This change ensures that the utilities and ratepayers share in economic development costs and further incentivizes sound investments by the utilities,” the PSC release said.

Residential and small commercial utility customers are not “expected” to see anything more than “minimal” bill increases.

AIF releases vote scoresheet

Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) recently published its annual Voting Records report, which shows voters how their state lawmakers voted on priorities of the business advocacy organization.

The numbers suggest that, for the most part, AIF and the Legislature are aligned on issues that affect businesses, either in a fiscal or regulatory manner. In the Senate, lawmakers sided with AIF — or the business community — 90 percent of the time. The house voted with AIF 84 percent of the time.

Associated Industries of Florida is taking an ‘active role’ in pushing legislation supporting the free-enterprise system, says AIF President Tom Feeney.

AIF President and CEO Tom Feeney said his organization takes an “active role” in advancing policies that support the “free-enterprise system” and encourage prosperity.

“For the last 44 years, AIF has published our Voting Records report, which tabulates votes on issues that have the largest impact on the business community, be it a fiscal or a regulatory impact, as a resource for the business community that allows employers insight as to how legislators are voting on bills that affect their businesses,” Feeney said.

An analysis of how lawmakers voted by Party also suggests AIF finds common ground with Republicans, the party that controls the Legislature.

Republicans, the scoresheet shows, voted with AIF 96 percent of the time. Democrats, meanwhile, sided with AIF at a 67 percent rate.

Public power organizations honor top professionals

Three Florida public power leaders were presented with hardware this week for their contributions to the utility network.

At the American Public Power Association’s National Conference & Public Power Expo in Austin, Texas, the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) and the Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA) recognized Joel Ivy, general manager of Lakeland Electric and FMEA president, Jody Young, City Manager of Bushnell, and Jim Welsh, retired president and general manager of Kissimmee Utility Authority.

The American Public Power Association honors Bushnell City Manager Jody Young at its National Conference & Public Power Expo.

Ivy, this year’s recipient of the James D. Donovan Individual Achievement Award, has worked more than 30 years in the utility industry. He is credited with propelling Lakeland Electric forward as a leader in solar energy, battery storage and smart-grid technology.

Young is the winner of the Larry Hobart Seven Hats Award, “which recognizes utility managers who serve in the nation’s smaller communities and whose variety of management responsibilities extends well beyond those of a manager in a larger system with a larger staff,” and FMEA news release said.

Welsh, who oversaw a massive expansion at the Kissimmee Utility Authority, won the Harold Kramer-John Preston Personal Service Award.

New leadership at FSBA

Osceola School Board Member Tim Weisheyer is the new president of the Florida School Boards Association (FSBA).

Weisheyer, along with three new officeholders, now serves the organization, which brands itself as the “voice of education in Florida.”

“Access to high-quality education is not only embedded in Florida’s Constitution but greatly impacts the strength of our communities and the future of Florida’s economy,” Weisheyer said. “In the coming year, I hope to build bridges to facilitate conversations between our local school boards and state leaders so that we can improve education together.”

Osceola County School Board Member Tim Weisheyer becomes the new president of the Florida School Boards Association.

Sarasota School Board Member Jane Goodwin is president-elect at FSBA. Lee School Board Member Chris Patricca is vice president and Hillsborough School Board Member Cindy Stuart is Treasurer.

“Each year, our newly installed officers bring excitement, energy and enthusiasm to the Organization,” said FSBA Executive Director Andrea Messina. “This is an experienced group of professionals whose reputations as education advocates precede them.”

Leon Commish to lead Florida Association of Counties

At-Large Leon County Commissioner Nick Maddox is the new president of the Florida Association of Counties (FAC)

FAC installed Maddox this week at its annual conference in Orange County. Maddox, who’s served on the Commission for nearly nine years, will now oversee policy, advocacy and administration efforts at FAC, which represents Florida’s 67 counties and includes 377 county leaders statewide.

Nick Maddox has been tapped to lead the Florida Association of Counties. Image via the Tallahassee Democrat.

“The association is recognized as the voice for Florida’s counties and has played a vital role in shaping me as a county commissioner and a leader,” Maddox said. “I now have the opportunity to represent not only the citizens of Leon County but my colleagues across all of Florida.

“I am looking forward to working together and moving the ball forward.”

Maddox served as the Leon County Commission Chairman from 2017-18. Maddox has a background in fundraising and has previously served as the director of fundraising for Florida State University’s athletic booster, Seminole Boosters.

“Commissioner Maddox’s commitment to his constituents and perseverance in standing up for home rule makes him an ideal leader for the Association,” said FAC Executive Director, Ginger Delegal. “Under his leadership, our members will be well represented at the local, state and national level.”

FSU research: Reciprocation expected for helping low-income mothers

After examining support networks for low-income mothers, Florida State University researchers discovered such parents are often called upon to reciprocate.

College of Social Work associate professor Melissa Radey and College of Human Sciences professor Lenore McWey examined “informal” support networks — such as financial assistance from family members. Their findings, published in the Journal of Marriage and Family, showed that low-income mothers with “healthy” support from informal networks also had “healthy levels of burden placed on them to assist others,” an FSU news release said.

College of Human Sciences professor Lenore McWey was among the researchers oo ‘informal’ support networks for low-income mothers. Image via FSU.

“Understanding informal support and the reciprocal burden it may create is especially relevant for low‐income families living with a reduced public safety net in the post-welfare reform era,” the release adds.

Radey in a statement said that, for mothers living in poverty, “informal support is even more important today as fewer families receive public benefits.”

Looking ahead, Radey and McWey said that studies should examine how informal support evolves and whether it has an effect on parental stress and child health.

Fun in the sun?

When it comes to the states, some wish they could all be California.

But Florida is just behind the Golden State on WalletHub’s ranking of the “Most Fun States in America.

To arrive at the rankings, WalletHub surveyed two categories of fun: “Entertainment & Recreation” and “Nightlife.” Sub-categories included metrics like “Number of Attractions” and “Golf Courses and Country Clubs.”

Florida overall scored No. 2 in “Entertainment & Recreation” and No. 11 in “Nightlife.” As a composite, that landed the Sunshine State the No. 2 spot on the list.

New York, Washington and Colorado rounded out the top five states, respectively. West Virginia, according to the survey, is the least-fun state.

Capitol Directions

Written By

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including Florida Politics and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. Schorsch is also the publisher of INFLUENCE Magazine. For several years, Peter's blog was ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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