Hot in Tallahassee?
Get ready for more scorchers in the capital, a locally based atmospheric scientist says.
James Elsner is leading the first Policy Pub for this fall. That’s the popular (and free) public forum series presented by the Florida State University College of Social Sciences and Public Policy.
He’s kicking it off with an examination of rising temperatures and what Tallahassee residents can expect from future weather forecasts.
Elsner — chair of the FSU Department of Geography and a nationally cited expert on climate change, storms and their effect on communities — will speak on “The Hots Are Getting Hotter: More Extreme Heat in Tallahassee.”
He will present evidence that extremely hot days and nights are becoming more common in Tallahassee. And that’s not just because of increased urbanization — that is, not just more asphalt and concrete, he said in a phone interview this week.
“We have a very long (temperature) record, and those (thermometers) were located away from urbanization,” he said, including one at the airport.
“Tallahassee has grown up, obviously, but not around the official thermometer … We just have a warmer planet now, mainly from burning fossil fuels,” Elsner added. “We don’t get ‘hotter’ necessarily, but we get more hot days.”
Scientists understand how the climate works, and they understand what controls the balance of temperature on the planet as a whole, he explained.
“And we know that when you increase greenhouse gases, the atmosphere runs hotter and it does so to try to get to a new equilibrium,” Elsner said.
“So we know the causal mechanism, and when we look at temperatures that have been largely unaltered by urbanization, we see a significant increase. There are no other causes that could contribute to this steadily increasing number of hot days.”
After his talk, attendees can take part in a lively conversation about the issue — in the air-conditioned comfort of one of the city’s popular eateries.
The event, which is free and open to the public, will take place Tuesday, Sept. 17, 5:30-6:30 p.m., Backwoods Bistro, 401 E. Tennessee St., Tallahassee.
“I think the take-home message is going to be: It’s both the heat and the humidity, and it’s also the days — not the degrees,” Elsner said.
For more information about the series, visit coss.fsu.edu/policy-pub.
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson and the staff of Florida Politics.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Ron DeSantis sends help to Bahamas — After being mostly spared by Hurricane Dorian, Gov. DeSantis and Florida Power & Light announced plans to ship 19 truckloads of water — including 10 truckloads that had been stockpiled by the state for the ongoing hurricane season — to Nassau, where the Bahamian government is staging most of its relief efforts. DeSantis said the donation shouldn’t leave the state short in case any disturbances monitored by the National Hurricane Center pose an immediate threat to Florida. “But we felt comfortable we can give some of the water — given the acute needs in the Bahamas,” he said.
Rick Scott rejected HIV funding — Former Gov. Rick Scott administration’s blocked up to $70 million in federal funds to combat HIV, according to an investigation by The Guardian. Much like Scott’s opposition to expanding federal Medicaid programs during the majority of his time in Florida’s Governor’s Mansion, his Department of Health let $54 million for prescription drug reimbursements for low-income HIV patients go unspent between 2015 and 2017. To capture awarded federal funds, Florida’s DOH simply needed to request the Joint Legislative Budget Commission (LBC) approve the appropriation — a standard accounting procedure. Scott has blamed the Legislature.
Finding funds for Indian River Lagoon — Rep. Randy Fine wants to put some cash into restoring the Indian River Lagoon. The Brevard County Republican filed a bill to establish the “Indian River Lagoon State Matching Grant Program,” which would fund projects such as transitioning properties from septic to sewer. He requested a $50-million appropriation to fund the program in its first year. The Audubon Society, which says the body of water is in an “ecological crisis.” Past attempts to fund efforts there have failed, but Fine said he’s optimistic considering DeSantis’ focus on water quality.
Bill Galvano slams Seminole deal — The Senate President charged Scott’s settlement with the Seminole Tribe was “not a good deal.” Galvano made his comments to reporters at the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists when questioned about revenue for the 2020-21 budget. The 2017 agreement continued the Tribe’s exclusive right to offer blackjack games in its Florida casinos, but hinged payments to the state on promises gambling regulators “aggressively enforce” blackjack exclusivity against other gaming operations. Last spring the tribe announced it would stop making payments to Florida that start at $19.5 million a month.
Senate to scrutinize mass violence — The Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee will hold a workshop Monday that includes presentations about academic research, law-enforcement, mental health and judicial-system issues. Among the speakers will be Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen, leaders of the Florida Sheriffs Association and the Florida Police Chiefs Association, professors from the Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice and officials from the Florida Department of Children and Families and Apalachee Center.
DeSantis this week highlighted more than $11 million in private donations from corporations and individuals to assist the people of the Bahamas.
And the Governor announced that the Florida Division of Emergency Management (FDEM) and Florida Power and Light (FPL) were collectively donating 590,000 bottles of water to the Bahamas for Hurricane Dorian relief.
Individually, FDEM is contributing 10 truckloads, (311,000 bottles) along with FPL’s generous donation of 9 truckloads (279,000 bottles). These bottles of water are being shipped to Florida ports, from which they will be transported to the Bahamas.
“Although Florida was lucky, we know that our neighbors in the Bahamas bore the brunt of this storm,” DeSantis said. “Thanks to the generous contributions of Floridians and corporate partners, we’re also proud to highlight more than $11 million in donations to assist in recovery efforts.”
“I want to thank Gov. DeSantis, who has been instrumental in rallying private sector assistance to the Bahamas,” Ambassador John Rood said. “There’s no doubt our neighbors in the Bahamas need our help, and these donations will have a significant benefit to those who were most impacted by Dorian.”
From card skimmers to phishing emails, there’s no shortage of scams in the digital age. A new one has caught CFO Jimmy Patronis’ attention: fake job ads.
Scammers have been creating bogus job listings online in the hopes of collecting personal information; according to the Better Business Bureau, it’s fast become the most fruitful ruse in scammers’ arsenals.
A single posting for a dental assisting job in Tampa tricked dozens into revealing Social Security numbers and contact information. The BBB said it knows of 30 such cases in Tampa this year alone.
“Scam artists are working every day to develop creative ways to defraud the citizens of Florida. It is especially alarming when fraudsters target job seekers looking to find employment,” Patronis said.
“While websites like LinkedIn and Indeed can be helpful tools, always verify the company and the job you are applying for are legitimate. Never give your personal information over the phone and if you are working with a job placement service, make sure to get details in writing.”
The CFO also advises job seekers to be wary of providing credit card or banking information to recruiters or potential employers.
The Florida Forest Service announced that they are now accepting applications for the 2019 Urban and Community Forestry Grant Program and the 2019 Managing Community Forests Grant Program. The U.S. Forest Service Urban and Community Forestry Program support both grants.
“Urban forestry accounts for over 80,000 jobs and contributes more than $8 billion to Florida’s economy,” said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who oversees the Forest Service. “Now is the time for our cities and towns to take advantage of these opportunities to more actively manage the urban forests in their communities.”
The Urban and Community Forestry Grant Program is part of Florida’s ongoing initiative to increase and protect existing tree canopies in developed areas. The Managing Community Forests Grant Program is a new opportunity aiming to help communities develop an urban forestry management program.
The week in appointments
Jacksonville Transportation Authority — DeSantis appointed Deborah Buckland and G. Ray Driver and reappointed Arezou Jolly to the Authority. Buckland, of Jacksonville, is the market president for Branch Banking & Trust Company (BB&T), appointed to a four-year term. Driver, of Jacksonville, is a founding partner at Driver, McAfee, Hawthorne and Diebenow where he focuses on corporate law. He is appointed to a four-year term. Jolly, of Jacksonville, is the assistant general counsel for Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Florida, a position she has held for over 25 years. Jolly also is appointed to a four-year term.
Board of Pilot Commissioners — DeSantis tapped Edward Russo, of Key West, president and CEO of Environmental Remedy and Recovery, as well as the CEO of Watergen USA. He is also president of the Florida Keys Environmental Coalition. Russo is appointed to a four-year term. This appointment is subject to confirmation by the state Senate.
Suwannee River Water Management District — DeSantis reappointed Richard Schwab and Charles Keith. Schwab, of Perry, is the vice president of M.A. Rigoni, Inc., a forest management company. He is a third-generation logger and is appointed to another four-year term. Keith, of Lake City, is the president of American Pawn Brokers. He represents the District as an at-large member and is appointed to another four-year term. These are subject to confirmation by the state Senate.
Florida Blockchain Task Force — Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Patronis appointed Miami Mayor Francis Suarez. Suarez has “more than nine years’ leadership experience working in the public sector as the Mayor of the City of Miami and as a longtime City Commissioner,” a news release said. Established this year by the Legislature, the Task Force will “study opportunities for state, county, and municipal governments to benefit from a transition to a blockchain-based system and identify ways to improve government interaction with businesses and the public.”
Florida Greenways and Trails Council — Senate President Bill Galvano appointed Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac to the Council as a Trail User. Benac was elected to the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners in 2012. The Florida Greenways and Trails Council advises the Florida Department of Environmental Protection on greenway and trail-related issues.
Florida Board of Bar Examiners — The Florida Supreme Court appointed three new members to the Board. They are Stanley Wakshlag, a shareholder at Kenny Nachwalter in Miami. His term is through Oct. 31, 2024. Also, Paul J. Schwiep, of Coffey Burlington in Miami, has been reappointed. His term also will extend through Oct. 31, 2024. And Neal A. Hochberg, of Hollywood, a Senior Adviser at FTI Forensic & Litigation Consulting, to serve till Oct. 31, 2022. The Board supervises character background investigations as well as the administration and grading of the Florida Bar Examination.
K-12 achievement rises
Florida students are making gains according to a new report from Education Week.
The Quality Counts 2019 report found Florida has made strides in reducing the achievement gap for low-income students in both reading and grade mathematics.
The annual report compares state-by-state data and trends related to achievement levels, achievement gains, poverty gap, achieving excellence, high school graduation and Advanced Placement.
The results: Florida fourth-graders took second place in the nation for achievement gains in those subjects, while eighth-graders are No. 6 in the reading metric. Overall, Florida held on to its No. 4 ranking in the K-12 achievement category.
Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran welcomed the news.
“I am thankful to Gov. DeSantis for his bold vision to make Florida first in the nation for education. During the 2019 Legislative Session, his leadership secured big wins for students, parents and teachers through policies that will change the educational landscape for decades to come,” he said.
“The fact that Florida has sustained its national ranking is a testament to our dedicated teachers who work tirelessly to make sure every student receives a top-notch education that prepares them for life’s opportunities.”
Instagram of the week
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Cracking down on city spills
It’s no secret water quality has become a chief focus for state government. It comes as no surprise then that polluters, including local cities and counties, have come under the scrutiny of elected officials.
DeSantis made clear at a news conference in Naples he wants harsher penalties for anyone dumping wastewater into Florida waterways. “Right now, it’s a slap on the wrist and move on,” he said. So he’s calling for a 50-percent hike in penalties.
That news came days after Sen. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican, made clear at a Sarasota County Legislative Delegation meeting he plans to file legislation again that puts $1-per-gallon fines on cities when spills occur. There would be waivers for spills in the event cities instead make $2-per-gallon investments in wastewater systems to prevent further spills.
“I would list local governments as one of the worst polluters when you look at the sheer volume of human waste that gets dumped into our waterways,” Gruters said.
Notably, lawmakers at that very delegation meeting got an earful on home rule. Rep. Margaret Good, a Sarasota Democrat, said she wants to cut spills too, but worries when punitive action makes the most sense. “We should be working with our local governments to find ways to solve issues, not looking for new ways to punish them,” she said.
But Noah Valenstein, Department of Environmental Protection Secretary, says it’s vital Florida stay tough on polluters. “One of the most important things we have taken on under this Governor’s leadership is enforcing the laws we have on the books,” he said.
State Sen. Ed Hooper filed “The Kacen’s Cause Act” this week seeking to protect children from swimming pool accidents in Florida.
The bill (SB 244) would add safety requirements to new pools during final inspection.
Under current regulations, to pass a residential swimming pool inspection, a swimming pool must possess at least one of five specified pool safety features.
Hooper’s bill would increase that to passing a residential swimming pool inspection as well as receiving a certificate on completion.
His bill gets its name from Kacen Howard, a 2-year-old boy who fatally drowned in his family’s swimming pool.
It will be the second year Hooper filed the bill. The measure died in the Rules Committee.
A similar bill in the House filed by Rep. Jennifer Webb was withdrawn from consideration the same day in the House.
This week marked the second anniversary of Hurricane Irma’s landfall.
The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) and Rebuild Florida marked Hurricane Irma recovery milestones as well, noting the remaining work ahead.
In September 2018, DEO launched Rebuild Florida with federal funding to assist Florida’s long-term recovery from the devastating impacts of Hurricane Irma. The first Rebuild Florida recovery program that was launched, the Rebuild Florida Housing Repair and Replacement Program, will help thousands of Floridians repair, rebuild or replace their Hurricane Irma damaged homes.
“Since Gov. DeSantis’ first day in office, he has charged our agency to help Floridians rebuild their lives after disasters as quickly as possible,” said Ken Lawson, Executive Director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
“On the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Irma, we remain committed to helping Floridians and our communities fully recover.”
More information about the programs is available in the State Action Plan for Disaster Recovery.
Beware of bears
Fall is only a few weeks away. Once it hits, expect bears to come ‘round looking for extra food ahead of their winter nap.
Bears tend to take the easy road when it comes to packing on pounds, and that means raiding neighborhoods near their habitats — whether it’s garbage or grill scrapings, they’ll take it.
Those looking to keep black bears out of their yards would do well to read the tips put out by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.
For starters, secure garbage bins inside on non-pickup days and encourage homeowner’s associations to require all homes in the area do the same.
But even with the cache of trash stowed away, there are likely some other tasty morsels laying around — make sure to scrape morsels off the grill, keep those dog bowls inside.
FWC also recommends putting away bird feeders and picking any low-hanging fruit. For things that can’t be tucked into the garage — such as gardens, bee yards, compost and livestock — electric fencing is an option.
No matter the method, doing nothing isn’t a good option — it is illegal in Florida to feed bears or leave out food or garbage that will attract them.
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLDHSMV) this week said the newly redesigned Tampa Bay Lightning specialty license plate is now available in all tax collector and tag agency offices across the state.
Those interested in purchasing the plate should go to their local tax collector or tag agency office. A list of locations can be found online at flhsmv.gov/locations.
There will be a $25 specialty plate fee in addition to the other registration fees. A percentage of the revenue from the sale of this plate is given to the Florida Professional Sports Development Trust Fund.
In 1995, the Florida Legislature enacted the Tampa Bay Lightning specialty license. It is the second redesign of the plate. A complete list of Florida’s specialty license plates can be found on the FLDHSMV website.
Florida schools could see millions in additional federal dollars for school-based health services — including mental health screenings, diagnoses and treatment — under House Bill (HB) 81 and Senate Bill (SB) 190, according to the nonpartisan Florida Policy Institute (FPI).
Schools are an ideal venue for giving children access to health care, the group said in a news release, and the Association of School Superintendents has reported that there are substantial health and educational benefits in reaching children “where they are.”
More than 1 million of the 2.7 million students enrolled in public schools are covered under Medicaid. Current state law — which limits the federal match to those services provided to children with disabilities who have an individualized education plan — must be updated, the group urged.
“Students are better learners when they are healthy, and so ensuring that schools can provide Florida children with critical health care services could reduce absenteeism and help improve educational outcomes,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of FPI.
Cities cheer Morrison
The Raymond C. Sittig Distinguished Public Service Award only gets bestowed upon people who have made significant contributions to the welfare of Florida’s cities.
Florida League of Cities attorney Chip Morrison has done just that, the association announced this week.
“Chip is a once-in-a-lifetime kind of person, and his depth of knowledge is mind-blowing,” said FLC Executive Director Mike Sittig as he presented Morrison with the award.
“Think of all the complex issues cities deal with and have dealt with for the last four decades. Now picture one person who is a detailed legal scholar on all those issues. That’s a picture of Chip Morrison.”
Morrison has represented the League since 1982, first serving as general counsel from June 1990 until October 2017, and then as “of counsel,” a position he still holds today.
It’s not the first award for Morrison, either.
He’s also a past recipient of the Ralph A. Marsicano Award from the Florida Bar’s City, County and Local Government Law section and earned the Municipal Attorney of the Year nod from the Florida Municipal Attorneys Association in 2014.
Florida gets a Lyft
Ride-sharing company Lyft is making it easier for drivers to do their jobs.
The company this week opened its first “Driver Hub” in Miami, which will provide drivers with an easy and convenient place to receive in-person support on everything from application troubleshooting, driver best practices and more.
While the facility, located in Miami’s Little Haiti/Midtown area, is aimed at drivers, they aren’t the only ones who will benefit — the company said many of the services available at the hub are designed to improve the passenger experience, too.
On hand for the ribbon-cutting this week was Miami Democratic Sen. Jason Pizzo, an avid supporter of equitable and accessible transportation for Floridians.
At the event, he hailed the company as a “driver of economic growth and innovation.”
FSU scores productivity awards
Florida State University started the week by climbing up U.S. News and World Report’s academic rankings, but it also got some recognition for quality work outside the classroom.
During the TaxWatch Productivity Awards ceremony, the school took home nine awards — the most of any state university system institution for four years running.
“Florida State University is widely regarded as the most efficient university in the country, and these productivity awards are yet another example of the value and benefits that Florida State brings the people of Florida,” FSU President John Thrasher said.
“I’m very proud of the FSU employees recognized with these awards, and I appreciate TaxWatch and its commitment to acknowledging excellence among state employees.”
Three of the awards were in TaxWatch’s top tier.
One went to a program aimed at helping students who dropped out close to graduation finish up their degrees; another recognized an online curriculum-planning tool for K-12 teachers that saved the state an estimated $45 million; and the third celebrated a web platform and app designed to aid in the early diagnosis and intervention of autism — each diagnosis could potentially save families $1 million a year over the child’s lifetime.