State Sen. Rob Bradley, who chairs the Appropriations Committee, started this week’s meeting with an unusual announcement: Stay back.
The Fleming Island Republican explained that, after a security briefing, he didn’t want people coming up on the meeting room’s dais – which mostly reporters and lobbyists do, to speak with lawmakers.
“We’re in a bold new world,” he said, though he added news media members would still be allowed to come up and ask questions after meetings.
In fact, reporters were allowed up to “gaggle” with Bradley; at least one lobbyist who came forward, however, was turned away.
“I came into the meeting late, so I did not hear the announcement,” Jacksonville-based consultant Paul Wharton said. “It was not an act of defiance on my part.”
When a sergeant intervened, Wharton said he was “caught off guard.”
He said he did later hear a similar announcement by Aaron Bean, chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, when he was at that meeting.
“It’s mystifying,” Wharton added. “I go through the security check like everyone else; I don’t believe I pose a threat to anybody.”
Members of the public and their belongings go through a metal detector before they can enter the Capitol complex.
Employees do not, and they enter through separate entrances. Reporters and others with a “Capitol Press Corps” ID badge go through the public entrance, but their bags aren’t searched or scanned.
“This is just a new protocol in the changing world we live in,” Bradley told reporters after this week’s meeting. “It’s just better we have [fewer] people gathered in one place.
“… There is nothing specific that has happened that I’m aware of, at all, period,” he added. “This is long-term security planning. There’s not a specific threat, or anything like that.”
Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said in a statement that Senate President Bill Galvano “has made the security of visitors, staff and Senators a priority.”
This includes the “implementation of security enhancements and protocols, which are confidential, and designed to ensure the safety of all those who visit and work in the Senate,” she said.
“The Senate Rules give committee chairs authority to maintain order in their committee meetings to ensure that legislative business can be conducted in an efficient manner.
“412 Knott (Building),” where Bradley’s Appropriations Committee met this week, “presents a unique set of issues in that there is not as much of a separation between the dais and the public sitting area as we have in other Senate rooms,” she added.
“I think members of the press and public would agree that Sen. Bradley is one of the most accessible members of the Senate, and it is very important to him that he maintain that accessibility; however, he has determined that when it comes to his responsibility to chair the Appropriations Committee, establishing a more definitive separation between the dais and the viewing area in this unique committee room will enable the meetings to run more efficiently.”
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by publisher Peter Schorsch, newsletter editor Drew Wilson and the staff of Florida Politics.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Call him Speaker Designate Chris Sprowls — Rep. Sprowls, a Clearwater Republican, was officially named Speaker-designate for the 2021 Session, a title he’s been assured of since 2016. In a speech Tuesday, Sprowls outlined the direction for his Speakership, slamming the virtual media landscape and Washington, D.C. “In Tallahassee, actions matter more than words,” he said. “Here, a single legislator with a big idea; someone who is willing to put in the work; someone who is willing to listen, learn, and build consensus; can transform how our state government works.”
Committee weeks kick off — Lawmakers returned to Tallahassee en masse as the first week of committee meetings took over the Capitol. Surgeon General Scott Rivkees gave an update to the Senate Health Policy Committee. The House Business and Professions Subcommittee received an update on how building codes stood up to Hurricane Michael. Meanwhile, a select Committee on white nationalism and mass violence held its first hearings, though it left Democrats with complaints about a lack of diversity and disinterest in discussing firearm access. In total, the week offered the first glimpses of where discussion may turn in the 2020 Legislative Session.
Susie Wiles sacked — The political strategist behind President Donald Trump’s 2016 Florida win left her position as a lobbyist at Ballard Partners, as first reported by Florida Politics. The news broke Wiles was also fired from Trump’s Florida campaign. That came after a memo leaked suggesting Gov. Ron DeSantis was selling access to special interests on golfing trips, Politico reports. “Though I strongly support the President’s reelection, I will also not be active with the Trump campaign in an official position,” Wiles said in a statement to Florida Politics, but insisted she is not retiring from politics but focusing on her health.
SunPass backlog builds by millions — The backlog in SunPass billing last year has logged up $120 million in delinquent accounts, Turnpike Enterprise Executive Director Nicola Liquori told the Florida House Transportation and Infrastructure. She does not expect all that money will ever be recouped, WPTV reports. It’s the latest chapter in a botched system conversion by Conduent State & Local Solution that already has the state promising to seek a new vendor in three years.
Competitive Workforce push begins anew — A bipartisan group of lawmakers hopes public support for LGBT workplace protections pushed a bill through this year. Sen. Darryl Rouson will once again champion the Florida Competitive Workforce Act in the Senate, while Reps. Jackie Toledo, Jennifer Webb and Holly Raschein promote the bill in the House. Webb, Florida’s first lesbian lawmaker, expressed frustration the issue did not get a hearing last session. She said last year’s effort “secured the largest number” of sponsors and co-sponsors with 74 lawmakers backing the bill.
Jobs numbers up
Florida keeps adding jobs and posting better employment numbers than the national average.
According to new jobs numbers, Sunshine State businesses have added 213,000 jobs since August 2018, and the state’s labor force has grown by 140,000 over the same stretch. That makes for a private-sector job growth rate of 2.8 percent, outpacing the national average of 1.6 percent
The unemployment rate has held steady at 3.3 percent, four-tenths of a point lower than the US at large.
“We are continuing to make Florida the ideal location for businesses to grow and hire Floridians,” DeSantis said. “As we continue to develop our workforce, we are expanding industries that will pave the way for future careers. The financial technology industry is booming, and we remain committed to supporting its growth.”
Florida Department of Economic Opportunity head Ken Lawson added, “Gov. DeSantis is instilling confidence in our state by attracting a variety of new businesses from all industries that are ready to make jobs for Floridians.
“It’s important for the future workforce to feel prepared for emerging industries, including financial technology. We are committed to fostering an environment where businesses can grow, and Florida’s workforce can succeed.”
‘Workforce Development Month’
In celebration of “Workforce Development Month,” DeSantis joined with Lawson and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to highlight the programs and organizations helping Floridians get to work.
“Florida remains a state where businesses are encouraged to grow and where meaningful jobs are created,” DeSantis said. “With our ‘Bold Vision for a Brighter Future’ budget, we are helping to provide Floridians with opportunities to achieve economic prosperity through expanded apprenticeship and pre-apprenticeship programs, affordable workforce housing, recovery workforce training grants and the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund.”
To support workforce development, the state of Florida administers 18 workforce training programs aimed at developing the state’s growing labor force into a highly skilled one.
“Gov. DeSantis and his administration have paved the way for Florida to be No. 1 in workforce education by 2030,” Lawson said. “We will continue to prioritize developing a highly-skilled and dynamic workforce that meets all employer needs. Florida’s workforce is one of the state’s greatest assets for expanding economic opportunities.”
ERIC price tag
The DeSantis administration is pushing forward with a different approach to elections than that of Rick Scott, the previous Governor.
Secretary of State Laurel Lee told the House Transportation and Tourism Committee about some asks this week.
One such: $1.3 million for a mailer to engage unregistered voters, as part of the state participating in the nonprofit Electronic Registration Information Center, a move made by the incumbent that his predecessor rejected.
Money for cybersecurity for elections integrity is also an ask.
The best part for political reporters, though, is a long-desired update of the state’s “antiquated” campaign finance website.
“It is cumbersome and … poses a security risk,” Lee said of the creaky database. “It has exceeded its operable life and needs to be replaced.”
Let’s see if that’s done by 2020, as Lee hopes.
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried’s Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee now has set up four subcommittees to begin formulating issues and policy recommendations for the state’s medical-marijuana program.
(Of course, we note here that her department has nothing to do with medical marijuana, which is overseen by the Department of Health’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use (OMMU).)
Meeting Thursday, the broader panel decided to set up subcommittees to deal with medical issues, legislative and legal issues, consumer and patient access issues, and banking and insurance.
Dr. Barry Gordon and Dr. David Corn, both physicians who are involved in the medical marijuana program, will head up the medical subcommittee.
Sally Peebles, a partner at the Vicente Sederberg law firm specializing in cannabis law and policy, and Kim Rivers, CEO of Trulieve, will lead the legislative and legal issues subcommittee.
Jimmy Johnston and Antoinette Duncan, president of Duncan Life Sciences, will lead the consumer and patient access subcommittee.
Zachary Kobrin, general counsel and chief compliance officer for Florida MMTC and Elaine Geller, vice president of legislative affairs at Amercanex and CanLab, will lead the banking and insurance subcommittee.
The plan is for each of the four subcommittees to arrange meetings before the next full meeting of the 21-member Medical Cannabis Advisory Committee on Oct. 17.
It was the third week of National Preparedness Month. The theme: “Teach Youth to Prepare for Disasters.”
With a near-miss in the rearview and other storms brewing in the Atlantic, all Floridians need to double-check their disaster supply kit. When you do so, CFO Jimmy Patronis says it’s a good idea to let the little ones look over your shoulder.
“As we’ve seen with recent storms including Hurricanes Michael and Dorian, severe weather can change and intensify quickly, and Floridians can’t wait until a storm takes aim at our state to prepare their home and businesses for disasters,” he said.
“We are at the peak of the 2019 Hurricane Season, and I encourage all Florida families to take time together to practice your disaster plan and to ensure your supplies are stocked, so your household is prepared.”
It’s also a good idea for adults to brush up on what goes in a disaster kit. To help them out, Patronis’ office has plenty of guides available through PrepareFL.com.
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The week in appointments
Florida Citrus Commission — DeSantis appointed Carlos Martinez and reappointed John Patrick Schirard and Jonathan Hancock. Martinez, of Orlando, is a procurement manager for The Coca-Cola Company, which also holds the Minute Maid orange juice brand. He represents District 1 and is appointed to a three-year term. Schirard, of Vero Beach, is the president of GEM Indian River Select, which has holdings in Lake, Brevard, Polk and Indian River Counties, and is a fourth-generation Florida citrus grower. He represents District 1 and is appointed to a three-year term. Hancock, of Sebring, is the president and owner of Hancock Citrus and has served on the Florida Citrus Commission since 2014. He represents District 2 and is appointed to a three-year term. These appointments are subject to confirmation by the state Senate.
Florida Talent Development Council — DeSantis appointed Joel Schleicher chair of the Council. Schleicher, of Sarasota, is the founder and executive chairman of Focal Point Data Risk, an IT risk management consulting firm that he founded in 2014. For more than 30 years, he has led and founded technology companies selling enterprise solutions. The purpose of the Talent Development Council is to develop a “coordinated, data-driven, statewide approach to meeting Florida’s needs for a 21st-century workforce that employers and educators use as part of Florida’s talent supply system.” The council will advise the Governor, Senate President, House Speaker, Board of Governors and the State Board of Education to cultivate the talent needed for Florida’s workforce.
Southwest Florida Water Management District — DeSantis appointed Roger Germann and reappointed Kelly Rice. Germann, of Tampa, is the president and chief executive officer of The Florida Aquarium. He is appointed to a four-year term. Rice, of Webster, is the owner of Prime Property Resources, Inc. and the president of Rice Cattle Company. Rice also is a state director of the Florida Farm Bureau. He is appointed to a four-year term. The appointments are subject to confirmation by the state Senate.
Clay County Development Authority — DeSantis appointed Alexandria Hill and Jonathan Vallencourt and reappointed Tammy Stewart. Hill, of Fleming Island, is the general counsel for Agincourt Industries, which operates Maple Street Biscuit Company restaurants. Vallencourt, of Green Cove Springs, is the vice president of Vallencourt Construction. Stewart, of Jacksonville, is the director of economic and development services for the Clay County Board of County Commissioners. All the appointments are for four-year terms. The Legislature established the Development Authority in 1957 to promote economic development in Clay County.
It’s no joke
In the era of school shootings, making a threat at school isn’t a laughing matter. The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is hoping to make that clear to K-12 students through a new public awareness campaign.
The “It’s No Joke” campaign aims to dissuade youth from making school threats because doing so can lead to being arrested and charged with a felony.
“We want young people in Florida to understand that, in today’s environment, every threat is taken very seriously and, even if made in jest, can lead to devastating consequences,” said DJJ Secretary Simone Marstiller.
“There is nothing funny about threatening a school, and there is nothing funny about being charged with a felony. We want young people to think twice before casually threatening violence in their schools.”
Those threats count even if they’re made on social media or in video game chats. In total, 779 youths were charged with school threat-related offenses in the 2018-19 school year.
“Our top priority is the safety and security of students and teachers,” Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said. “It is critical that students take threats very seriously and report suspicious activity.”
Stolen valor changes
In Florida, people who misrepresent themselves as veterans by wearing a military uniform or, worse, pinning medals to it to dupe people into giving them cash, can be charged with a felony.
Sen. Travis Hutson wants to add on to that law.
A bill he filed this week would expand the law from applying to those “soliciting charitable contributions, or for the purpose of material gain” to include those seeking “professional or political benefit.”
The law — and the additions in SB 352 — apply to the misleading use of an Air Force, Army, Coast Guard, Navy or National Guard uniform.
Of course, there’s a carve-out allowing actors to wear uniforms when they’re on stage or in front of a camera.
“As Americans, we hold the honor of our servicemen and women sacred, and here in Florida, we’re taking steps to ensure no one violates the sanctity of their sacrifices,” Hutson said.
Republican Reps. Bryan Avila, a Second Lieutenant in the Florida Army National Guard, and Anthony Sabatini, and Infantry Officer in the Florida Army National Guard, are sponsoring the House companion, HB 205.
“Our brave men and women have made many sacrifices for this country. It is immoral and disrespectful for anyone to claim that they have served in our military when they have not.” Avila said. “We must protect the integrity of those who have served our nation so honorably.”
Justice-2-Jesus bill is back
Sen. Oscar Braynon is picking up where Sen. Perry Thurston and former Sen. Daphne Campbell left off.
The South Florida Democrat has filed a claims bill that would provide the Justice-2-Jesus Charitable Trust with a check from the state.
The preamble to the bill says Justice-2-Jesus, run by committee meeting staple Brian Pitts, “has gone beyond its charge of civics, education, and government accountability, and with its services and resources has actually assisted Florida government in its processes and conduct and has brought about change.”
And for that work, it should receive $600,000.
The claims amount in the bill, SB 2200, is a massive increase from the $240,000 its past incarnations sought.
Braynon’s bill marks the fourth year in a row that a Senator has tried to get some money for Justice-2-Jesus.
In every instance, the bills went nowhere. Odds are, the 2020 Legislative Session will be no different.
Prescriptions for sunscreen?
Sen. Linda Stewart wants some types of sunscreen put behind the pharmacy counter.
This week, the Orlando Democrat filed SB 318, which would require customers looking to pick up sunscreen containing certain chemicals to drop by their doctor’s office for a prescription.
The bill would apply to octinoxate- and oxybenzone-based sunscreens. Those chemicals are present in most high-SPF sunscreens.
In the 2019 Legislative Session, lawmakers considered preempting local sunscreen bans — Key West has passed a ban that goes into effect next year — but the bill failed.
Why all the commotion? There’s some limited evidence showing those chemicals contribute to coral bleaching.
That’s led to many states and counties proposing outright bans. Hawaii passed a statewide one that goes into effect Jan. 1, 2021.
But the science is a little murky. According to Sun Safe Florida, there’s no direct evidence sunscreen contributes to coral bleaching, nor is there any indication sunscreen slows down recovery for reefs recovering from bleaching.
Those who may have expected the Florida High School Athletic Association to be tracking injuries are in for a surprise.
The House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee heard this week from FHSAA director George Tomyn, who disabused legislators of any notion that there was currently useful tracking of incidents of CTE (Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy) and traumatic head injuries.
These are not currently tracked, Tomyn said. There is a national agency the FHSAA reports to, but he couldn’t recall the name.
Tomyn also struggled with questions about measures to stop cardiac arrest and heatstroke.
“I am only aware of the tragic incidences. We do not record the good events, only when there is a negative or tragic consequence,” Tomyn said. “We do not record that information.”
Here’s what’s apparent: A gap between legislative intent and enforcement, regarding broad swathes of issues affecting some of the most vulnerable students: those who trust the school system enough to put on a uniform and risk potentially fatal injuries.
Will legislators be moved to act? We’ll see.
A bill filed this week by Republican state Rep. Clay Yarborough could let the state’s uninsured get their prescriptions at a deep discount. As in free.
HB 177, co-sponsored by Rep. Nick Duran, would set up the Prescription Drug Donation Repository Program. Under the program, eligible repositories — including doctor’s offices, pharmacies, hospitals or nursing homes — would be able to accept donated prescription drugs and dole them out to patients who can’t afford them.
There are some catches.
First, controlled substances such as painkillers aren’t welcome.
Second, the drugs have to be in sealed “tamper-evident packaging.” That means half-used prescriptions from grandma’s medicine cabinet would go straight to the trash.
And third, only certain entities can make donations. The eligible donor list is similar to the eligible repository list, with the addition of drug and medical device manufacturers or distributors.
Physicians would also be able to turn in their excess medication samples so long as they came directly from a drug manufacturer, distributor or pharmacy.
Democratic Sen. Lauren Book is sponsoring the companion bill, SB 58.
No cash for glass
State Rep. Richard Stark doesn’t think auto glass shops should be able to hand out cash or gift cards to lure in customers.
The Weston Democrat this week filed HB 169, which would ban the practice. Orlando Democratic Sen. Stewart is sponsoring similar legislation in the Senate.
Supporters say leads to spurious auto insurance claims for nicked windshields. That ties it into a broader policy conversation on auto glass assignment of benefits cases, which is likely to surface again this year.
The idea does have its dissenters. Stark filed a similar bill in the 2019 Legislative Session; in its first committee stop, small repair shops said incentives are one of the few tools they have to stand out from big chains such as Safelite.
It didn’t help their cause that Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevenson was approached by a shop that wanted to “repair” her undamaged windshield.
Ultimately, the 2019 bill cleared one committee before stalling out.
Gain time increase filed
House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee and Democratic Rep. Dianne Hart filed a bill this week that would allow some Florida inmates to chip away at their prison sentences.
“In 1998, we were promised a war on crime. As a result, Florida required inmates to serve 85 percent of their time. Years later, research has shown that the policy change failed to reduce recidivism,” McGhee said. “I agree that dangerous inmates must be punished. However, criminal justice reform should provide a second chance for nonviolent offenders to be rehabilitated.”
Florida’s “Truth in Sentencing” law requires convicts to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence, meaning an inmate will spend at least 8-and-a-half years in prison if sentenced to 10 years behind bars.
State law also allows inmates to work down their sentence by up to 10 days per month by accumulating “gain time,” which is awarded for things such as getting a GED or being a model prisoner. HB 189 would allow some prisoners to be released after serving 65 percent of their sentence by allowing for more gain time.
Hart added, “FDC suffers from gross overcrowding and consistent understaffing. HB 189 will focus solely on nonviolent first-time offenders. It is estimated by the Office of Economic and Demographic Research to save the State of Florida over $860 million across five years. That savings should go directly back into FDC funding initiatives”
VISIT FLORIDA has an ally
The Legislature didn’t shutter VISIT FLORIDA last year, but they didn’t fully fund the tourism marketing organization either. In the 2020 Legislative Session, Destinations Florida hopes lawmakers go all the way.
The coalition of destination marketing organizations pointed to a report from the Legislature’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research that said the most recent sales tax forecast relies heavily on strong tourism growth” and “currently, tourism-related revenue losses pose the greatest potential risk to the economic outlook.”
More than $3.22 billion worth of state sales tax collection can be directly attributed to purchases made by visitors to Florida, and a dip in tourism could have an outsized impact on the state’s finances. Some good old-fashioned marketing could curb those losses, Destination Florida says.
“We know the impact tourism has to Florida’s communities — the industry helps put people to work, fuels economic development and, according to the latest report, helps Florida’s overall economy remain strong,” Destinations Florida Executive Director Robert Skrob said.
“We must continue to ensure Florida’s leaders see the value that tourism brings to Florida, and fight for VISIT FLORIDA to be fully funded and reauthorized.”
Florida State University is producing some all-star poets.
The university’s creative writing graduate program announced this week that some of its students would be featured in the 2019 edition of Best New Poets.
First published in 2005, Best New Poets an annual anthology of poems written by emerging writers. The University of Virginia Press publishes the yearly poetry book and it is distributed far and wide.
Writers across the United States and Canada submit their work to Best New Poets, and after narrowing the pool down to 300 submissions through reader rankings, a guest editor spends months picking which 50 poems will make it into the book.
FSU’s honorees are Tanya Grae, who wrote “The Line of a Girl;” Keith Kopka, who penned “For a Moment I Feel Immortal, or, Rather, Disappointed;” and Ösel Jessica Plant, who produced “Poem with Duplex, Mouse, & Line by Larry Levis.”
The decade-old Wine Loft joins the growing list of Tallahassee joints saying goodbye and shutting down.
The bi-level bar, at the corner of Thomasville Road and East Sixth Avenue, announced this week it was closing with a big to-do on New Year’s Eve.
Wine Loft owner Jamie Christoff told Tallahassee Magazine, which had the scoop Friday, that she “always loved the Midtown area and wanted to be a part of the vibe created in this area.
“We have become a place of celebrations big and small. I hope that because of that, we have made an impact not only on Midtown directly, but also Tallahassee as a whole.”
The closing party will feature “live music, a DJ, free drink samples, drink specials and a free midnight champagne toast,” the magazine reported.
Christoff told the mag she “plans to pursue commercial real estate, personal projects and spending more time with her family.”
“I do hope, though, that the past 10 years have created an environment, an ambience and a venue where people have created good memories and good times,” she said. “I know that I have.”
Historical note: The building was once the site of a gas station.