Takeaways from Tallahassee — Easter is brought to you by …

Blue Tally Takeaways (4)
Celebrate the season! Have a happy, and healthy, Easter!

Easter is brought to you by …

Last year, people were optimistic the pandemic would be over by Easter 2020. Here we are in Easter 2021 and it’s still going. But there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.

For the fifth year running, the holiday sneaked into April — barely. That’ll be the case for another couple of years, thanks to the complex rules governing its spot on the calendar.

For the dedicated few in The Process, this weekend — and the Legislature’s lax Friday and Monday schedule — will serve as a much-needed halftime break before the back half of the 2021 Legislative Session.

For many more, the day will begin with a bright-and-early wake-up and a trip to their place of worship to celebrate the Christian holiday. And for most, Sunday will bring good times with friends and family as well as festive fare such as egg hunts.

It takes a lot of hard work to bring Easter celebrations to Floridians.

According to the Florida Retail Federation and National Retail Federation, roughly eight in 10 U.S. adults plan to celebrate Easter and, somewhat surprisingly, consumer spending is expected to hit record levels — the trade groups expect Americans to spend more than $21.6 billion, with per-person average hitting $179.70.

For comparison, per-person spending reached $151.91 in Easter 2019 before the pandemic hit. NRF didn’t publish a 2020 Easter spending poll.

The broad appeal will work wonders for Florida retailers, which are still licking their pandemic-inflicted wounds. While the windfall is reason enough for FRF to celebrate, they’re also coming off one of their biggest legislative wins this millennium.

Lawmakers are poised to pass a bill that would require online retailers to collect sales tax even if they don’t have a brick-and-mortar presence in Florida. Better yet, the Legislature wants to use the collections to refill the unemployment trust fund and slash the tax on commercial rents. Sounds like a win-win-win for retailers if there ever was one.

The victory is thanks in no small part to FRF’s lobbying team. Their in-house team includes President and CEO Scott Shalley, Jake Farmer, Lorena Holley and Grace Lovett, as well as French Brown of Dean Mead.

Retailers cite the recent stimulus checks and the widespread availability of vaccines as the main drivers behind the massive uptick in consumer spending this holiday.

Nearly 6 million Floridians have gotten at least one jab while almost 3.5 million are fully inoculated. There are a few vaccine options out there, but the first one came from Pfizer. Its arrival less than a year after the novel coronavirus was identified is considered a scientific miracle to many, and its rapid rollout has allowed people to emerge from their homes without worry — it moved the stone, if you will.

Pfizer had lobbyists roaming the Capitol complex long before COVID-19 entered the lexicon. Their go-to shop is Johnson & Blanton, a firm that’s well known for its health sector acumen. In addition to named partners Jon Johnson and Travis Blanton, the pharma company has Darrick McGhee on retainer. They’ve also got in-house lobbyist Amy Christian on the ground in Tallahassee.

Moderna also has a vaccine on the market, but as one of the pharmaceutical industry’s young guns, it doesn’t have a lobbyist in the Capitol. But Johnson & Johnson does.

The century-old Fortune 500 put out a single-dose vaccine earlier this year, and about a quarter-million Floridians have already received the shot. Gov. Ron DeSantis might soon be among them — he’s extolled the benefits of the one-and-done J&J option since it first earned FDA approval.

If the Guv does decide to give us a “gun show,” the team at Smith Bryan & Myers might be in the background. Probably not, but SBM is the firm Johnson & Johnson trusts to handle business in Tallahassee. They’ve got the firm’s full roster on tap: Matt Bryan, David Daniel, Thomas Griffin, Jeff Hartley, Lisa Hurley, Jim Naff and Teye Reeves.

While it hasn’t made much of an appearance stateside, AstraZeneca’s vax is the drug of choice in the rest of the Western world. They have Ballard Partners — the most successful firm in the state, at least by revenue — working on their behalf. The list includes founder and president Brian Ballard as well as Chris Hansen.

Ballard Partners represents well over 200 clients in Florida, including U.S. Sugar, without whom Easter Simply wouldn’t be Easter.

According to NRF, this weekend’s biggest spending categories are expected to be candy and food, with nearly nine in 10 shoppers expecting to throw one, the other, or both into their shopping cart.

Obviously, candy is packed with sugar. Less obvious, U.S. Sugar probably has a hand in the healthy stuff you pile into your shopping cart — the company grows enough fruit and vegetables to feed millions of Americans a year. Many Floridians are keenly aware, since the company was more than happy to share its bounty of corn and green beans with hungry families throughout the pandemic.

Ballard Partners is just one of many firms representing the agricultural powerhouse. They also have lobbying deals with David Browning, Seth McKeel, Mercer Fearington, Sydney Ridley and Clark Smith of The Southern Group, Carlos Cruz of Converge Government Affairs, Charlie Dudley and Cory Guzzo of Floridian Partners, Tracy and Frank Mayernick of The Mayernick Group and Kirk Pepper of GrayRobinson. — and the list goes on.

Publix, of course, will be the go-to for those looking to enjoy a meal in the comfort of their own home. The Lakeland-based grocery chain has done well over the past year, posting impressive sales numbers while also giving back to the community by donating millions of pounds of food to those in need. They’ve also been on the front lines of the vaccine rollout. Publix is one of the most well-known Florida-grown businesses. Their chosen lobbying firm: Smith Bryan & Myers.

For those who don’t feel like spending Sunday in the kitchen, there’s plenty of restaurants that’d be happy to seat you. The Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association could give you a list of options — the trade group represents every facet of the industry, from diners to fine dining.

Who represents them? Quite a few lobbyists, including Jim Daughton, Warren Husband, Douglas Bell, Patricia Greene, Allison Liby-Schoonover, Aimee Diaz Lyon and Andy Palmer of Metz Husband & Daughton. That’s in addition to FRLA President and CEO Carol Dover and in-houser Richard Turner.

Egg hunts and hearty meals may be on the agenda for Sunday, but Friday, Saturday and Monday are reserved for travel. Those within a couple of hours of their family’s gathering place will pump some gas and buckle up.

When you head to the pump, there’s a decent chance it’ll be a RaceTrac. The Atlanta-based company operates 670 gas stations nationwide, and nearly 250 are in the Sunshine State. With a vested interest in Florida, they’ve tasked Lori Killinger, Kasey Lewis and Chris Lyon of Lewis Longman & Walker to keep an eye on things in the Legislature.

If the drive is a little long, it might be better to snag a last-minute plane ticket (good luck, because air travel is on a much-needed rebound). And many of those who choose to take off rather than roll out will find themselves aboard an American Airlines or Delta flight.

Repping American Airlines has Jeff Johnston, Amanda Stewart and Anita Berry of Johnston & Stewart Government Strategies in the jump seat, while Delta Air Lines’ Tallahassee flight crew includes Nick Iarossi, Ron LaFace, Andrew Ketchel, and Chris Schoonover of Capital City Consulting.

While Delta and American are the icons of commercial air travel, they aren’t the only ones with a presence in the Capitol complex — a fleet of other companies are just as concerned with getting travelers to their destination ahead of the Easter Bunny’s arrival.

Southwest Airlines has hired Bill Rubin, Heather Turnbull, Melissa Akeson and Christopher Finkbeiner of Rubin Turnbull & Associates. The JetBlue team is crewed by Al Cardenas, Slater Bayliss, Christopher Chaney, Stephen Shiver and Sarah Busk Suskey of The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners.

The National Retail Federation survey also found about a third of consumers plan to go to church on Easter Sunday. That’s got to be good news for the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops. When the bishops need an extra hand in the capital city, they turn to Ingrid Delgado and Michael Sheedy, the FCC’s executive director.

Easter isn’t the only springtime holiday being celebrated this week, though. Passover began at sundown on March 27 and memorialized the emancipation of Israelites held captive in Egypt after 400 years, culminating with the Exodus and Covenant of Moses.

Florida pols are known to stand with Israel. DeSantis has made Israeli relations a priority during his term, as has Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. In fact, it might be the only thing on which the two statewide officials — and possible 2022 rivals — agree.

If the Florida Association of Jewish Federations knocks on the door, chances are both would answer. If they did, they’d find themselves talking to the team at Becker & Poliakoff, which includes Bernie Friedman, Ellyn Bogdanoff, Nicholas Matthews and Derek Silver.

However you celebrate this springtime, take a moment to enjoy the long weekend.

Chag Pesach, to all! And a very Happy Easter, too.

___

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Jason Delgado and the staff of Florida Politics.

Take 5

The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

DeSantis signs COVID-19 liability into law— The COVID-19 liability bill became the first bill signed out of the 2021 Session on Monday. With tunes from a local cover band and backed by some of the bill’s proponents, DeSantis said he was signing the bill to help businesses get back to normal and let people live their lives. “You want to go listen to the band? That’s fine,” he said. Notably absent from the meeting was bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Brandes, intentionally snubbed for some of his recent public criticisms of the Senate, according to POLITICO. Legislative leaders, who had fast-tracked it through the committee process, called the legal protections essential to shield businesses and health care providers.

HB 1 will get a hearing— Republican’s anti-rioting legislation lives on after all. Senate President Wilton Simpson told reporters this week that House Bill 1 will go through the Appropriations Committee rather than the Criminal Justice Committee, whose chairman refused to grant the Senate companion bill a hearing. The bill will come up in the very near future, Simpson added. Senate leadership leapfrogging the bill over his committee is beyond Sen. Jason Pizzo’s control at this point. “I think there’s perhaps a bit of a precedent being set immediately,” he told Florida Politics, referring to House Bill 9, which jumped through the committee process last week to sub in for an identical Senate measure.

Budget negotiations get underway— Both chambers’ Appropriations committees voted this week to approve their 2021-22 spending plans. The House proposed a $97 billion budget while the Senate put forward a $95 billion plan. Soon the Legislature’s budget teams will begin conferring on the differences between the two budget proposals. Among those are the Senate’s plan to raise employee salaries. The House has gone ahead and outlined how it plans to spend the most recent federal stimulus dollars, but the Senate is waiting for more guidance. Florida is expected to receive $10.2 billion from the American Rescue Plan. DeSantis also has a late request — $1,000 bonuses for teachers.

Transgender athletes bill nears chamber floors— Legislation to limit transgender women from competing in women’s sports categories is in its final committee stops in both the House and Senate. The House version, carried by Rep. Kaylee Tuck, would outright ban transgender women from competing in women’s leagues. However, the Senate version, carried by Sen. Kelli Stargel, creates a narrow pathway for transgender women who have completed their transition. Proponents argue it creates a level playing field for biological female athletes, who say people with more testosterone can outperform those with less. Opponents dispute that and the need for the bill.

DeSantis demands deportations resume— DeSantis is backing up Attorney General Ashley Moody’s lawsuit regarding the pause on deportations for undocumented immigrants arrested at the state level with his call for those to resume. The Governor is also asking the Department of Corrections to take any action to get the federal government to accept prisoners flagged for deportation. Local law enforcement will be notified if U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement refuse to accept a detainee. “All they need to do is reinstitute the policy they inherited, and the problem will stop,” DeSantis said.

Coronavirus numbers

Positive cases:

— 2,032,387 FL residents (+36,839 since Mar. 26)

— 38,628 Non-FL residents (+997 since Mar. 26)

Origin:

— 16,264 Travel related

— 801,099 Contact with a confirmed case

— 22,178 Both

— 1,192,846 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 85,538 in FL

Deaths:

— 34,239 in FL

Vaccinations:

— 9,343,261 Doses administered

— 6,091,034 Total people vaccinated

— 2,589,434 First dose

— 249,373 Completed one-dose series (+46,921 since Mar. 26)

— 3,252,227 Completed two-dose series (+450,276 since Mar. 26)

Trail update

Gov. DeSantis gave an update on an ongoing Everglades project Wednesday.

The project removed over five miles of roadbed from Old Tamiami Trail to improve water volume flowing south through the Everglades. It will also reduce harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie Estuaries.

This project is a component of the larger Central Everglades Planning Project (CEPP), including the Everglades Agricultural Area (EAA) Reservoir Project. CEPP aims to deliver clean water from Lake Okeechobee south to Water Conservation Area 3, Everglades National Park and Florida Bay.

Ron DeSantis hits the Glades to highlight the removal of over five miles of Old Tamiami Trail.

The Governor pointed out the project lines up with his stated environmental priorities. 

“Protecting Florida’s natural resources for future generations has been a priority of my administration since day one,” DeSantis said. “At my direction, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the South Florida Water Management District continues to prioritize expediting crucial Everglades and water quality projects including the removal of roadbed from the Old Tamiami Trail.

“This project, which will be completed by January of 2022, will increase the flow of clean, fresh water into the Northeast Shark River Slough by more than 220 billion gallons per year and support reduced estuary discharges.”

South Florida Water Management District Governing Board Chairman Chauncey Goss said the Everglades project is being expedited.

“Thanks for the Governor’s strong leadership, a suite of Everglades restoration projects are underway in South Florida to allow more water to be directed south to the Central Everglades into Everglades National Park while protecting our coastal estuaries. We are expediting this project and continue to take actions that will restore the natural flow of water south,” Goss said.

Troubling trend

Florida ranks among the deadliest states for law enforcement officers in 2021, Attorney General Moody told media this week.

Thus far, 11 officers have died in Florida, and more than half result from violent attacks.

“As the wife of a law enforcement officer, the increase in violent attacks against Florida law enforcement officers both saddens and infuriates me — and we must put a stop to them now,” Moody said.

The rise in violent attacks marks a statistical shift from 2020.

At this time last year, Florida recorded only two line-of-duty deaths. Moreover, COVID-19 was the leading cause.

The shift also coincides with a statewide rise in homicides.

In response, Moody in February nearly doubled the award money given for anonymous tips that lead to arrests in murder cases.

The goal, she explained, is to increase community participation. 

“It’s time we show up for them and end this disturbing trend,” Moody said. “I encourage all Floridians to show their support to law enforcement officers by reporting suspicious activities or crimes and by thanking them for the risks they take to keep us all safe.”

Floridians can provide tips anonymously by dialing **TIPS (8477) on a mobile device.

To watch Moody talk about this alarming trend, click on the image below:

Halfway there

On the 60-day mark of the 2021 Legislative Session, Agriculture Commissioner Fried offered a halfway point assessment about the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ priority legislation.

To sum it up: She applauded the Senate and called out the House for not “matching the effort.”

“I’m proud of our common-sense, bipartisan legislative priorities this year, which include fighting child and family hunger, supporting Florida’s farmers, major climate and energy investments, closing loopholes in concealed weapons licensing, science-based cannabis policy, and protecting state employees. I thank the outstanding bill sponsors in both chambers for working diligently on these bills,” Fried said.

Nikki Fried gives a Session mid-point update. Image via Colin Hackley.

“At the Session’s halfway point, I applaud Senate leadership for offering a fair opportunity to pass meaningful legislation. It’s a shame that the House isn’t yet matching that effort, but I remain optimistic that House leadership also values policies that feed our communities, support our farmers, protect our environment, and ensure public safety.”

Fried also weighed in on budget negotiations. The FDACS relies on the budget for program funding.

“I thank both chambers for prioritizing our reasonable budget priorities as they move into budget negotiations,” Fried said. 

The Agriculture Commissioner also mentioned areas where her department will continue to pursue funding. 

“We will continue to pursue funding for our farmers, protecting our environment, and promoting Florida’s agricultural roots through the Fresh From Florida agricultural promotional campaign and the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program,” Fried said. 

Nixing telephone solicitation

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis tipped his hat to a Senate Committee this week after they advanced a bill to curb telemarketing phone calls. 

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee voted unanimously to advance the bill (SB 1682). Sponsored by Republican Sen. Joe Gruters of Sarasota, the bill has one committee stop remaining. 

“Unsolicited telemarketing calls have become an epidemic in our state, opening the door for consumers to fall victim to scams and identity theft,” Patronis said. “I’m proud to support this legislation to empower Floridians to fight back against unwanted calls and end the practice of incessant telemarketer solicitation without the consent of the consumer.”

Jimmy Patronis praises the movement of a bill to put the brakes on nuisance phone calls.

According to a staff analysis, the bill would require a consumer to give prior written consent before receiving calls from an automated machine that plays a prerecorded message.

“While some telemarketing tactics are legitimate, the practice is plagued with fraudulent activity and bad actors looking to make a quick buck,” Patronis added. “Thank you to Senator Joe Gruters for sponsoring this good bill and making this issue a top priority to protect all Floridians.”

The bill would take effect July 1 if signed into law

Madam Chair

Lieutenant Gov. Jeanette Núñez was selected as Chairwoman of the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association (RLGA), a caucus of the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC).

The stated mission of the group is to “elect Republicans to multiple down-ballot, state-level offices.” 

In a press release, the group ran another victory lap for the last general election, celebrating that in 2020 the RSL defended all 59 Republican-led legislative chambers, flipped two more, and elected the most diverse class of state Republican candidates in the party’s history.

Jeanette Núñez takes the top spot at the Republican Lieutenant Governors Association. Image via Colin Hackley.

Núñez said the group will now focus on 2022.

“In 2020, our team played a crucial role shaping the future of America in key Lieutenant Governor races, and now our focus shifts to the 32 elections across the country over the next two years,” said Nuñez. “I’m eager to work with our dedicated executive committee to raise the resources needed to ensure state Republicans can continue to hold the line against the radical policies of the Left.”

RSLC President Dee Duncan said voters often promote Lieutenant Governors to the governorship. 

“Ten of twenty-seven Republican Governors were former Lieutenant Governors, and the RSLC is committed to developing the Republican leaders of tomorrow to steer the future of our party,” Duncan said. “Our RLGA Executive Committee members will be critical to our continued success as we fight back against the liberal money machine to help lead more principled conservatives to victory in the upcoming election cycle.”

Instagram of the week

The week in appointments

Chief Science Officer — DeSantis announced the appointment of Dr. Mark Rains as the state of Florida’s next Chief Science Officer. Rains currently serves as a professor, chair and director of the School of Geosciences at the University of South Florida. He earned his bachelor’s degree in Ecology, Behavior and Evolution from the University of California at San Diego, a master’s degree in Forest Resources from the University of Washington, and a Ph.D. in Hydrologic Sciences from the University of California at Davis. Dr. Rains is also a certified professional wetland scientist. The CSO leads the Office of Environmental Accountability and Transparency. The office ensures key water quality objectives are clearly communicated to the public, as well as organizing agency resources and scientific expertise, data and research to focus on and solve complex challenges.

Florida’s 5th District Court of Appeal — The Governor named Carrie Ann Wozniak to the 5th DCA to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Richard Orfinger. Wozniak has been a partner at Akerman LLP, a top 100 U.S. law firm, since 2013. She previously served as a staff attorney at the Florida Supreme Court. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and a law degree from Stetson University.

Florida’s 19th Circuit CourtRebecca White has been appointed by DeSantis to the 19th Circuit Court to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge James McCann. White, a Vero Beach resident, has served as an assistant state attorney in the 19th Circuit since 2007. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and her law degree from Stetson University.

Orange County CourtMichael Deen was appointed by the Governor to the Orange County Court. Deen fills the judicial vacancy created by the elevation of Judge Gisela Laurent. The Winter Park resident has served as an assistant state attorney in the 9th Circuit Court since 2012. He received his bachelor’s degree from Samford University and a law degree from Barry University.

Women in business

On Monday, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation hosted its virtual Celebrating Women in Business program.

This year’s event featured several women who have created and managed successful businesses in the Sunshine State. Recently appointed DBPR Secretary Julie Brown moderated the ninth annual event.

“At DBPR, we have the privilege of supporting and working with women who are forming their businesses, building their brands, and charting new trends in the industries regulated by our agency,” Brown said. “Their hard work opens and expands the boundaries of a business, and perhaps more, it broadens the door of opportunities for women who look to them as their example and their inspiration.”

Julie Brown is held up as an example of successful women in business.

Núñez and Senate President Wilton Simpson opened the day.

“It’s great that your leadership has really injected so much enthusiasm for women in particular, so kudos to you,” Núñez said to Brown.

Chop Barbershop CEO Sarah Bolinder, The Body Electric Yoga Company Co-Founder Katelyn Grady, Magic City Casino President and CEO Barbara Hecht Havenick, Florida Retail and Lodging Association General Counsel Samantha Padgett, The Keyes Family of Companies Vice President Christina Pappas and Resource Property Management CEO Debra Reinhardt were among the event’s featured guests.

The event also coincided with the final Monday of this year’s Women’s History Month, which spanned the month of March.

FHP internship

Veterans Florida is partnering with the Florida Highway Patrol to create the nation’s first law enforcement internship for servicemembers stepping down from active duty.

Transitioning service members in the FHP SkillBridge will intern in a three- to six-month rotation to gain on-the-job experience in various positions within the agency. Veterans Florida, a non-profit created to help military veterans transition to civilian life, will help facilitate the internship under the U.S. Department of Defense SkillBridge Program. 

Florida Highway Patrol and Veterans Florida have joined for a first-in-the-nation intern program for veterans.

“The Veterans Florida–FHP partnership breaks new ground and establishes Florida as the preeminent destination for separating and retiring service members,” Veterans Florida Executive Director Joe Marino said. “The FHP SkillBridge internship will train, retain, and attract the veteran workforce of tomorrow to Florida law enforcement and build a pipeline of talented servicemembers with transferable skills from their military service to sworn and support careers.”

The DOD SkillBridge Program enables active-duty servicemembers with commander approval to gain work experience through internships, fellowships, and apprenticeships with employers during their final six months of service while maintaining their DOD salary benefits.

“For members of the U.S. Armed Forces and law enforcement alike, protecting and serving is not a job; it’s a way of life,” said FHP Director Colonel Gene Spaulding. “Many veterans already call FHP home, bringing an unmatched set of skills learned from service.”

Farewell Jared

A resolution in the Senate would honor Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, a leader in Florida’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic, on his way out the door this month.

Sen. Tina Polsky on Thursday filed the resolution (SR 2042) to express the Senate’s appreciation for Moskowitz’s dedicated service.

Moskowitz, who DeSantis appointed in January 2019 to lead that agency, will step down as the division head on April 30 to return home to his young family. Moskowitz’s wife and two sons continued to live in Broward County while he ran the agency from Tallahassee.

Florida’s ‘Master of Disaster’ is on his way out the door. Image via AP.

DEM classically takes the lead on the state’s hurricane response. But that role expanded last year during the pandemic to include testing, vaccination, logistics and more.

Moskowitz has led DEM through the COVID-19 pandemic; hurricanes Dorian, Isaias, Laura, and

Sally; and more than 10 other emergencies, including tropical storms and wildfires.

The state’s Emergency Operations Center has been at its top readiness level since mid-March 2020, making it the most extended period the center has been at activation level 1. Last year also marked the first time the EOC entered hurricane season already at its highest activation level.

The Senate resolution would thank Moskowitz for his service to the state as he begins the “next chapter in his illustrious life.”

Red means stop

A pedestrian safety bill could make some of Florida’s crosswalks different than those in the rest of the country. 

If passed, the new law would be called the “Sophia Nelson Pedestrian Safety Act.” Sophia Nelson was struck by a car while crossing an A1A crosswalk in Satellite Beach with her father in 2019.

The bill (HB 1113) deals primarily with “midblock crosswalks,” which are crosswalks in the middle of a block and not at a traffic light intersection. Nelson was using a midblock crosswalk with her father when she was hit and killed by a driver. 

Federal law currently stipulates midblock crosswalks must use a flashing yellow light to let cars know to stop for crossing pedestrians. This new bill would require the light to be red. 

Brevard Rep. Randy Fine is the bill’s sponsor. 

For Randy Fine, only red means stop. Yellow will not do. Image via Colin Hackley.

“We’re taught, and we have been for 100 years, that red means stop. But in this one instance, yellow lights are supposed to mean stop, which led to the tragic death of Sophia Nelson,” Fine said. 

To change the light color, the Florida Department of Transportation must obtain a waiver from the federal government. 

If the federal government says no, Fine said the yellow lights will still be removed, so the midblock crosswalks do not create “the false sense of security that pedestrians feel when they push that button.”

The bill also requires a traffic engineering study conducted by a Florida licensed professional engineer before installing a new mid-block crosswalk, additional signage around mid-block crosswalks, and the coordination of the crosswalk light with nearby traffic lights. 

It was the second time around for this bill. Similar legislation (HB 1371) passed the House last Session, but did not make it out of committee in the Senate. 

Parole guidelines

A bill that would revise Florida’s parole system and specify parole system guidelines cleared its first committee stop this week.

The bill (HB 69) mandates the Department of Corrections and the Florida Commission on Offender Review to establish more precise eligibility requirements for those seeking parole.

Democratic Rep. Dianne Hart of Tampa is the bill sponsor.

Dianne Hart is pushing for clearer parole guidelines. Image via Colin Hackley.

“I am thrilled to see this legislation pass through committee with the unanimous backing of the committee members,” Hart said. “There are over 3,000 people who are currently parole-eligible, that are continuously being circulated throughout the system because there are no clear guidelines on what deems someone eligible for parole.”

This legislation is a part of several criminal justice bills Hart is sponsoring this year.

Other bills filed during the 2021 Legislative Session include a proposal (HB 235) to change Florida’s current prison sentence completion requirements and redefine the criminal justice system’s role to be reformative as well as punitive. 

Hart’s parole proposal moves next to the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee and the House Judiciary Committee.

The bill would take effect July 1 if signed into law.

E-fairness

The House plans to take up a bill Wednesday to ensure out-of-state retailers collect sales taxes on products sold to Floridians online.

The bill (HB 15) would require out-of-state retailers to collect sales taxes if they make more than $100,000 in retail sales to Floridians via the internet.

Notably, the bill comes roughly two years after the U.S. Supreme Court delivered a landmark decision, allowing states to require out-of-state retailers to collect sales taxes.

Of the 45 states that impose sales taxes, only two are not uniformly collecting it from out-of-state retailers for e-commerce: Florida and Missouri.

Economists estimate the proposal could rake in $973.6 million in the 2021-2022 fiscal year. Moreover, they forecast roughly $1.08 billion in the following years.

Under a deal struck by House Speaker Chris Sprowls and Senate President Wilton Simpson, the increased sales-tax revenue would be channeled to several different areas.

Chris Sprowls and Wilton Simpson make a deal for collection online sales taxes. Image via Colin Hackley.

Among them, the dollars would be used to top-off Florida’s unemployment trust fund. After that, the bill would help reduce business rent tax, according to a staff analysis.

Florida’s unemployment trust took a hit amid the heightened levels of unemployed workers during the pandemic.

If signed into law, the bill would take effect July 1.

No sweeping

Florida Realtors is fighting against Republican lawmakers’ plan to reallocate funding intended for affordable housing projects.

Sprowls and Simpson last week announced a deal to divert two-thirds of tax dollars meant for affordable housing to environmental projects. The remaining third would remain in affordable housing with the guarantee that the Legislature couldn’t sweep the remaining affordable housing dollars into general revenue.

In 1992, Florida Realtors advocated for the documentary stamp tax, which charges 10 cents per every $100 in every real estate transaction. The entirety of those funds was intended to go to affordable housing, but lawmakers repeatedly sweep it.

“We did this because we saw the escalating problem, and we wanted to be part of the solution,” said Florida Realtors President Cheryl Lambert. “The issue has only intensified as our population has grown, and diverting hundreds of millions of dollars away from these critical programs will make the situation worse.”

Stop the sweep, says Cheryl Lambert.

As part of the new effort, Florida Realtors will reach out to lawmakers to educate them on the importance of Florida’s affordable housing trust funds and ask them to vote no on the bills.

“Hard-working Floridians like teachers, firefighters, nurses and other essential workers consistently rely on these funds to secure stable housing and achieve the American dream of homeownership,” Lambert said. “Permanently reducing the amount of funds available to help them, especially given the turbulent times we find ourselves in, only hurts those who have been helping us the most during this unprecedented pandemic.”

What does home mean to you?

The Florida Housing and Finance Corporation is holding an art contest for kids.

The purpose of the contest is to teach children about the value of having a home by asking them to draw “what home means to them.” The announcement of contest winners will coincide with National Homeownership Month in June. 

“We are excited to kick off this statewide art contest at a time when having a place to call home is more important now than ever before,” Trey Price, executive director of Florida Housing Finance Corporation, said. “Leading up to National Homeownership Month, Florida Housing wanted to bring back this fun initiative to engage with kids, while also increasing awareness of the need and significance of quality, affordable housing for all Floridians.”

Through art, children will understand the meaning of ‘home.’

Florida Housing’s evaluation committee will select the top 40 winners in late May. The winning artworks will be announced on Florida Housing’s webpage and social media and displayed in the Florida Housing Finance Corporation building In Tallahassee throughout June.

Kids and teens between the ages of 5-18 are invited to visit Florida Housing’s website and upload an image of their artwork or print out the online form and mail it directly to Florida Housing’s main office. The deadline to submit artwork is May 3.

FSU ranking

This week, U.S. News & World Report ranked Florida State University among the nation’s best graduate and professional programs.

FSU’s criminology, real estate, and library and information studies programs ranked within the nation’s Top 10. In all, the publication recognized more than 30 FSU graduate programs.

“More and more students are turning to Florida State University for a graduate education, and we are pleased that U.S. News recognizes the value and quality of the programs we offer,” said Sally McRorie, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs. “This recognition is a testament to our outstanding students and exceptional faculty, as well the variety of opportunities FSU provides as a large research institution.”

You’re the top: Sally McRorie is touting FSU’s new U.S. News & World Report ranking.

Notably, FSU’s College of Education climbed the most ranks this year, jumping 19 ranks to 28th in the nation and 18th among public universities.

“Those affiliated with the university are known for their great resiliency and unconquered spirit, but even considering that reputation, it’s impressive that the college’s improvement was the largest among the top 75 education colleges in the country,” said College of Education Dean Damon Andrew

Engineering and public affairs also made sizable jumps.

The FAMU-FSU College of Engineering ranked 98th in the nation while public affairs ranked 28th nationally.

Politics in the Sunshine

Former Gov. Jeb Bush is the first guest on a new politics podcast launched by the Institute of Politics at Florida State University.

The new series, called “Politics in the Sunshine,” follows the institute’s Celebrating Civility four-part, virtual event with speakers from across the country and different political backgrounds. The event celebrated the importance of civic engagement, political participation, and civil discourse in contemporary politics.

Al Cardenas is hosing a new FSU political podcast, with Jeb Bush as inaugural guest.

“We are thrilled to announce our new ‘Politics in the Sunshine’ podcast, which furthers the Institute of Politics’ mission to promote political engagement by students and citizens,” said Tim Chapin, dean of the FSU College of Social Sciences and Public Policy.

Cardenas, former chair of the Republican Party of Florida and an FSU adjunct faculty member, moderates the 30-minute podcast with Bush. The interview covers civility in the political arena, community leadership and public policy issues, such as the relationship between education and the future workforce.

Bush also offers advice to students starting in public service and eyeing elected office.

“Don’t aspire to be a career politician,” he says. “I always found that the best way to serve is to have something to contribute. Pursue your life as you see fit, and then at some point, there may become an opportunity to serve … because then you have something to offer people beyond just being a career politician.”

Listen to the first “Politics in the Sunshine” episode here.

Capitol Directions

Staff Reports



#FlaPol

Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Jason Delgado, Renzo Downey, Rick Flagg, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Joe Henderson, Janelle Irwin, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Jesse Scheckner, Scott Powers, Andrew Wilson, and Kelly Hayes.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704