Jeff Brandes Archives - Florida Politics

2018 Autonomous Vehicle summit brings industry to Tampa

The annual Autonomous Vehicle Summit is coming to Tampa again this year, Nov. 27-28 at the Tampa Marriott Waterside.

This year’s speakers include a variety of professionals in industries both in and outside of the driverless vehicle world.

Topics will cover not only what the future of driving technology holds, but how it plays out in everything from architecture and land use to finance and mobility.

More than a dozen speakers are lined up for the two-day summit.

“The summit is not just about autonomous cars, but how it will shape cities in a modern world,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, who champions emerging technology as a solution for longstanding issues in the state.

At the state level, Department of Transportation Assistant Secretary of Strategic Development Tom Byron will describe how Florida’s transportation agency is considering the future of technology in its highway and transportation plans.


“His goal is to paint a picture that Florida is open for business and that this isn’t your parents’ FDOT,” Brandes said. “This is an FDOT that is looking for innovative solutions.”

Another speaker, Itay Michaeli, will take on another angle: How companies and investors are shifting resources in the automotive industry as autonomous vehicle technology becomes more and more advanced. Michaeli is an analyst for Citi.

Going even deeper into investing trends, two venture capitalists are slated to talk about why autonomous vehicle technology is the talk of the latest in startup capital.

Dawn Gunter from the Tampa office of the company Gensler will discuss how architecture and cities will change with the emergence of autonomous vehicles.

“It will be things like flat parking garages and new drop-off zones to what do we do with gas stations,” Brandes said. “Do they become gyms in the future because everyone has electric cars?”

There’s also a land use opportunity to monetize city curbs. In much the same way cities use parking meters to collect fees for parking, cities could use smart curbs to let delivery drivers reserve space in front of a building to deliver packages.

The summit will also feature a panel of business owners who are already doing business in Florida including a company that uses automated trucks and a company that operates an autonomous shuttle in the retirement community in Central Florida, The Villages.

Summit attendees can also participate in demonstrations including driverless vehicles, cars equipped with connected vehicle technology, electric scooters, and electric bikes.

A complete list of speakers is on the summit’s website. Organizers also invited presumptive GOP Gov.-elect Ron DeSantis, who has not confirmed his attendance.

No surprise here: Jeff Brandes trounces Lindsay Cross

Florida Senator Jeff Brandes will keep his Senate District 24 seat representing parts of St. Petersburg.

Brandes stomped his Democratic challenger, Lindsay Cross, 54 percent to 46 percent.

Cross was an underdog candidate in a difficult matchup against a well-known incumbent. She fought a hard battle right up until Election Day, but couldn’t bridge the gap created from her late entrance into the race and inability to keep up with Brandes’ campaign finance war chest.

Brandes is a popular politician in Florida respected across party lines. He gained respect from many Democrats after supporting legalizing medical cannabis and pushing for relaxed regulation over the industry once voters approved it.

He’s also made a name for himself pushing for more access to autonomous vehicle technology and other innovative solutions to modern day problems. Brandes is a bill-sponsoring machine in Tallahassee, proposing often bipartisan legislation ranging from allowing students to use computer coding as a language requirement to regulating “delivery robots” to serve as a sort of Uber of commerce.

Cross waged a strong grassroots campaign. She managed to stretch her limited funding by using creative marketing strategies. Rather than buying up expensive television ads (she did have some), Cross focused on alternative sources to reach voters like Hulu, Netflix and Pandora.

She also used social media as a strong outreach tool. In the final two weeks of her campaign, Cross began posting daily videos on Facebook highlighting issues in her race.

While not overtly negative, Cross attempted to beat Brandes on local issues. An environmental scientist by trade, one of Cross’s biggest appeals to voters was her commitment to sound environmental policy protecting drinking water, Florida’s myriad waterways and combating climate change.

She also hammered away at red tide, which is still plaguing Pinellas County beaches, driving visitors and residents away from the beaches and costing jobs. Cross blamed Brandes for supporting polluters, including the sugar industry.

She also opposed Brandes’ commitment to Florida’s network of charter schools, noting traditional public schools shouldn’t have to share funding with for-profit educators that only teach 10 percent of Florida’s school children.

But Brandes’ vast name recognition and expansive fundraising lead gave him a strong advantage.

Brandes raised more than $2 million compared to Cross’s less than $200,000.

Cross entered the race late after another candidate, Carrie Pilon, bowed out to tend to family medical matters. Her late start left early fundraising efforts sluggish and didn’t give her enough time to build funding momentum to even come close to matching Brandes.

The race isn’t necessarily an upset for Democrats. Unlike other Florida races, Cross was not expected to have a viable shot at upending Brandes’ reign in the Senate.

Blue wave or not, Pinellas Democrats are fired up

Tampa Bay-area Democrats are pooling resources for get-out-the-vote efforts in St. Petersburg.

Congressman Charlie Crist joined candidates Lindsay Cross, Jennifer Webb and Sean Shaw at Webb’s House District 69 campaign headquarters in the Tyrone area to call voters who have not yet cast a ballot either on Election Day or during early voting.

“Do you have a plan to vote,” Cross, who is running for Florida Senate against incumbent Jeff Brandes, asked. “You do. Will you be voting Democrat?”

There was a pause, followed by a grin.

“Probably. Ok, we’ll take probably.”

Cross and the others chuckled as she hung up the phone.

About 20 volunteers crammed into the small office, cellphones in hand. Cross and Webb sat on the floor under a window — Cross’ shoes sat next to her in a clear indication of a race hard traveled.

Senate District 24 candidate Lindsay Cross phone banks on Election Day.

Everyone, including the candidates, had stacks of voter information. Most of the names on the list were Democrats, but some were no party affiliation or third party. All had not voted, but had an estimated probability of voting of at least 50 percent.

There were thousands upon thousands of names. Democrats need those voters to head to the polls on Election Day. As of 1 p.m., 4,000 more Republicans had cast a ballot than Democrats.

“That’s pretty normal,” said Pinellas County Democratic Party Chair Susan McGrath. “We’ll see a surge this evening when people start getting off work.”

Pinellas County Democratic volunteers phone bank on Election Day.

That optimism was universal.

“I feel really good,” Crist said.

He thinks Democrats will win back enough seats in Congress to take control of the U.S. House of Representatives. But he’s not sure if that will be by a landslide or a nudge.

“It’s just hard to say,” he said.

Crist’s seat is safe. He’s widely favored to defeat Republican George Buck for his Congressional District 13 seat. Cross, on the other hand, is facing a tough challenge against an incumbent who has outraised her by $1 million.

“I feel great,” Cross said, heading out the door to wave signs on the busy 66th Street near Tyrone Mall.

Outside, two teenagers saw the politicians coming and going, some carrying signs, all wearing campaign T-shirts. They asked some questions. A few minutes later they showed up with their dad.

“What time should I pick them up,” he asked.

His kids wanted to stay to phone bank.

Lindsay Cross with Martin O’Malley, Chris King on Election Eve

Senate candidate Lindsay Cross was up before the sun Monday prepping for her final day of campaigning before Election Day. She started the day at her St. Petersburg home on the patio for a “coffee chat” with voters.

“If you have already cast your ballot, thank you,” Cross said, coffee mug in hand and cicadas chirping in the background. “If you haven’t yet, what are you waiting for?”

Cross’ Facebook video implored voters to support progressive ideals including gun reform, environmental protection, affordable healthcare and public education reform.

Later, Cross campaigned with Florida’s Democratic Lieutenant Governor nominee Chris King and former Democratic presidential candidate Martin O’Malley.

In another video with the two, O’Malley tells Florida voters, “win back your state.”

“All of these elections are so close. We need all of you to get to the polls. As I said earlier today, get a whole bus load,” Cross said, standing between the two men. “Go and rent a van, bring all of your friends and family. Make sure you get to the polls. There is no excuse.”

Cross is running an uphill battle against incumbent Republican Jeff Brandes for the Pinellas Senate District 24 that includes parts of St. Pete.

“What I’ve told people all across the state of Florida, don’t just elect Andrew Gillum and Chris King, but send some great state senators to Tallahassee,” King said. “Lindsay represents that kind of choice for Tampa Bay and over here in St. Pete.”

Cross has a huge funding disadvantage against Brandes. He’s raised more than $1.5 million in his campaign to keep his district red. Cross has raised about $208,000.

Republicans nationwide are typically out-raising their Democratic challengers, but Cross’ disadvantage is even deeper because she entered the race late after former candidate Carrie Pilon bowed out of the race.

Still, Cross isn’t backing down despite being the underdog. She’s been campaigning full-time, seven days a week for weeks and is using social media as a cheap campaigning arm.

Her ads have run on platforms like Netflix, Hulu and Pandora that are less costly than traditional media buys. That strategy also targets younger voters who are more likely to consume media on streaming platforms than on cable television or radio.

Cross ended her video with O’Malley and King saying she was looking forward to popping the champagne Tuesday night at her election night party at the Getaway.  

Brandes and his supporters have fired back at her campaign platform, tying it to progressive all stars like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren and, now, Gillum. Those efforts included, direct mail, television ads and a website called “Liberal Lindsay Cross.”

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Planning pays off

Financially, Florida is equipped to weather the financial losses incurred by Hurricane Michael.

That’s according to Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who this week cited a recent analysis of the state’s financial resiliency from credit reporting agency Moody’s Investment Service.

“The news from Moody’s Investors Service that Florida will not only weather Hurricane Michael, but our response and resiliency is viewed as a credit positive, is the news that the impacted communities and our state need to hear at this time,” Patronis said.

CFO Jimmy Patronis says preparation, planning was key to keeping Florida financially healthy during hurricane season.

Indeed, Moody’s concluded the estimated $702 million cost of Hurricane Michael would be reimbursed by the feds, “a credit positive,” per Moody’s.

While that estimate is likely to increase as the need for individual assistance and transitional support assistance unfolds, “the state maintains ample reserves to manage unanticipated budget needs, including storm-related expenditures.”

Those same reserves were a driving factor behind Florida’s bump to a AAA credit rating — the best achievable — in June.

At the local level, a similar narrative of financial resiliency is applicable. Per Moody’s, “local governments in Florida are in a healthy financial position, despite two hurricanes in the past two years, partly because of federal financial assistance and strong local reserves.”

“Our solid fiscal health has put us in a good position to not only recover but come back stronger than ever,” Patronis said.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Danny McAuliffe, Drew Wilson, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Take 5

Bondi approves marijuana-based drug — Attorney General Pam Bondi this week issued an emergency rule allowing a new drug for child epilepsy patients that contains CBD, a ‘non-euphoric’ chemical from cannabis. According to Bondi, as many as 4,000 Floridians, many of whom are children, could use the drug, known as Epidiolex. A delay or disruption to the rule could “result in serious bodily harm to seriously ill Floridians.” According to the filing, Bondi intends to follow up with the 2019 Legislature to memorialize the rule through legislation. The term-limited Attorney General has used her authority “to schedule 133 chemical compounds commonly used in deadly synthetic drugs,” according to Bondi’s spokesman Whitney Ray. But, this week’s news marked the “the first time she has used her authority to de-schedule a drug.”

Scott asks Supreme Court to reconsider nominee ruling — Lawyers for Gov. Rick Scott this week petitioned the state Supreme Court, arguing justices may have “misapprehended” Scott’s arguments in the legal fight over who has the authority to fill three upcoming high court vacancies. Justices earlier this month ruled that the next Governor will have the authority to appoint the three new justices. But this week, lawyers for Scott said that ruling the focused on the “scope of the gubernatorial appointment power.” This time, Scott’s lawyers are making an argument about the nomination process. The ruling that determined the next Governor can appoint the new justices also ruled that the nominating process “begins to run only when the governor with the authority to appoint has taken office,” as reported by the News Service of Florida.

Supreme Court rules in car-weapon case — Florida Supreme Court justices in a 6-1 decision this week upheld a lower court’s classification of a car as a “weapon” in a manslaughter case. Adam Shepard, reports the News Service of Florida, fatally struck Spencer Schott with a car in January 2011. Once convicted, Shepard received a harsher sentence because the car was reclassified as a “weapon.” The high court affirmed the reclassification this week: “Here, the plain and ordinary meaning of the word ‘weapon’ includes not only those objects designed with the purpose of injuring or killing another, such as guns, clubs or swords, but also any object used with the intent to cause harm,” Justice Jorge Labarga wrote in an opinion joined by Chief Justice Charles Canady and Justices R. Fred Lewis, Peggy Quince, Ricky Polston and Alan Lawson. “This is evident in dictionary definitions, which consistently define ‘weapon’ to include objects used as weapons, even if they were not designed for that purpose.”

Former Speakers kick-start Michael relief effort — Former Republican Florida House Speakers Will Weatherford and Allan Bense this week launched the 850 REBUILD Initiative, challenging other entities and people to “donate, volunteer, visit and invest” in the Big Bend and Panhandle areas hit hardest by Hurricane Michael, which swept through North Florida Oct. 10. Kicking off the effort is a $25,000 donation from Bense, who presided over the Florida House from 2004-06. By enlisting help from several nonprofit organizations, along with public-private agencies VISIT Florida and Volunteer Florida, the coalition hopes to accomplish its multipronged goal. “This effort, REBUILD 850, is about making sure the Panhandle is not forgotten,” said Weatherford. Complementing REBUILD 850 is news last week that VISIT Florida, the state’s tourism-marketing agency, intends to spend $5.1 million on an advertising effort in support of tourism in the affected region.

Early voting ballots mount — More than 2 million Floridians already have voted ahead of the Nov. 6 midterm election. Republicans cast — via by mail or early voting — nearly 920,000 ballots by Friday morning. Just more than 880,000 ballots returned through the same period came from registered Democrats. The remaining 200,000 ballots came from nonparty affiliated voters. Remaining vote-by-mail ballots requested by Republicans total nearly 380,000. Democrats have yet to return nearly 500,000 vote-by-mail ballots requested. In the Aug. 28 primary election, approximately 4 million Floridians cast ballots by mail or at early polling locations. Early voting locations are required to stay open through Saturday. In eight counties in the North Florida region hit hardest by Hurricane Michael, early voting locations have the option to stay open through Election Day.

Scott invests in final phase of Everglades highway lift

The Tamiami Trail, the portion of US 41 pavement that connects Tampa to Miami, could soon see ramped up efforts to lift a portion of the road over the Everglades.

Gov. Rick Scott this week directed the state Department of Transportation to pour $3.5 million into the final phase of the highway project, which seeks to raise portions of the Tamiami Trail to allow more water to flow south through the Everglades.

Gov. Rick Scott announces a $3.5M investment to finish Everglades highway project.

Scott, who’s running for the U.S. Senate, faulted the federal government for remaining “$1 billion behind in its commitments.”

“With today’s announcement, we are proving once again that when Congress fails and stalls, Florida acts,” Scott said. “During my time as Governor, we have worked relentlessly to protect and restore the Everglades, and I am proud to direct even more funding today to help complete the Tamiami Trail project which raises nearly 6 miles of this important road allowing billions of gallons of water to flow south.”

The Governor also is directing the state Department of Environmental Protection to request an additional $40 million to help complete the project.

Job Growth Grant Fund dishes out $28M

Eight more job-growth projects will soon be underway with monetary support from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund.

Gov. Rick Scott approved $28.6 million in grants this week, noting the funded projects are expected to improve public infrastructure and enhance workforce training in the Sunshine State.

Gov. Rick Scott approved nearly $30 million for the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, funding an additional eight job-growth projects.

“The Florida Job Growth Grant Fund supports job growth through projects that allow communities to meet the changing infrastructure and workforce needs for their regions, encouraging business to invest and expand in Florida, which means more opportunities for Florida families,” Scott said.

With the latest batch of awards, more than $113 million in funding has been doled out to 41 communities across the state since the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund was established. More than $39 million has been awarded to 15 rural communities.

The grant fund, overseen by Scott and the Department of Economic Opportunity, has since July received more than 90 proposals requesting more than $531 million in funding. A list of the latest funded projects can be found here.

Instagram of the Week

November is ‘Family Engagement in Education Month’

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is highlighting the need for schools and families to coordinate in support of children during November.

Dubbed “Family Engagement in Education Month,” the awareness initiative seeks to convey to communities the “crucial role of parents and families” play in a child’s education.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart is promoting Family Engagement in Education Month.

“We know that when parents and families are involved in a child’s education, the result is higher student achievement and more students prepared for future success,” said Commissioner Stewart. “I encourage all Florida families to get involved throughout the school year, stay informed and continue to make their child’s education a top priority.”

According to the education department, a multitude of positive results is more likely to occur when a parent gets involved in a student’s success. Among them: higher grades, test scores and graduation rates, along with increased motivation and self-esteem.

Online, the education agency has published a toolkit for parents or those looking to help spread the word.

Fundraiser seeks to restock Panhandle bookshelves

Five Florida bookstores are teaming up with the Florida Department of Education and Florida Education Foundation to fund grants that will help schools impacted by Hurricane Michael restock their libraries.

On Saturday and Sunday, the booksellers participating in the “Re-book Re-build” program will dedicate a portion of sale proceeds to the grants. The stores include Bayou Books in Niceville, Books & Books in Coral Gables, MacIntosh Books in Sanibel Island, Tallahassee’s Midtown Reader, and Story & Song in Fernandina Beach.

First Lady Ann Scott, a longtime child literacy advocate, is helping restock libraries after Hurricane Michael.

The resulting grants are expected to help districts and educators in the Big Bend and Panhandle regions purchase books. Those unable to visit one of the stores can give a tax-deductible donation to the Florida Education Foundation.

Commending the effort is First Lady Ann Scott, who spent her eight years at the Governor’s Mansion in part by promoting child literacy.

“Reading has always been important to our family, and I truly believe that a strong foundation of literacy is important for students to achieve their dreams and career goals,” Scott said. “The Re-book to Re-build program is a wonderful opportunity to help impacted schools receive the resources necessary for students to succeed.”

Detzner delivers E-Day update

The 2018 election is three days away and to help Floridians prep for polls, Secretary of State Ken Detzner sent out a “readiness update” with some last-minute info for those yet to cast their ballots.

“I encourage all Florida voters to get to the polls and exercise their right to vote,” Detzner said. “This year’s ballot is long and includes many constitutional amendments, so it is critically important that voters review their sample ballot ahead of time.

Voters in hurricane-ravaged counties can vote early Monday and Tuesday, per an executive order from Gov. Rick Scott.

“Voters can even fill out their sample ballot and bring it with them into the polling place to make casting their official ballot quick and easy. I also encourage eligible voters to take advantage of early voting in their county to avoid the potential for long lines on Election Day.”

The window has closed for requesting a mail ballot, but the door hasn’t shut on early voting yet. Detzner’s refresher: EV will be available in all counties through this evening, and a handful of counties — Bradford, Broward, Charlotte, Duval, Hillsborough, Leon, Miami-Dade, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pinellas, Polk, Seminole, St. Lucie, Suwannee and Volusia — will keep the doors open Sunday as well.

Those in the counties hardest hit by Hurricane Michael — Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf and Jackson — will be able to vote early on both Sunday and Monday thanks to an executive order issued by Gov. Scott last month.

Child safety group grades legislative candidates

It’s almost universal for interest groups to grade state lawmakers based on their actions during each legislative session.

But Stop Child Predators, a national child safety advocacy group and nonprofit organization that has spent the last 13 years combating the sexual exploitation of children, is assessing candidates even before they get to the Legislature.

Safety advocates at Stop Child Predators are taking a proactive approach to grade political candidates.

A newly released report card from the group grades more than 30 candidates from both major political parties running for the state House and Senate.

For the most part, candidates did well. Those who took the survey were asked “for their position on topics such as the civil statute of limitations for sexually abusing children, Jessica’s Law and legislation to regulate short-term rentals, which have made tools like sex offender lists obsolete by replacing neighbors with a revolving door of strangers with no way of knowing who is renting the home next door,” according to Stop Child Predators.

“It is encouraging to see our candidates advocate for legislation to improve the safety of our communities,” said Stacie Rumenap, president of the organization. “Our top priority must be to protect our precious children, and these candidates have clearly made child safety a major legislative priority.”

Regulators consider repair help program

State regulators have scheduled an emergency meeting to consider a proposal by Florida Public Utilities Co. that could help Hurricane Michael victims finance electrical repairs to their homes.

The Public Service Commission scheduled the meeting for 1 p.m. Monday in Tallahassee.

State regulators are considering helping pay upfront costs for electrical repairs from Hurricane Michael damage.

The utility would pay upfront costs for electrical repairs to homes and then recoup the money from the customers over the following year. The program would be optional and would finance repairs up to $1,500.

Hurricane Michael caused major damage in Jackson, Calhoun and Liberty counties as it moved north, caused all Florida Public Utilities Co. customers in the region to have power outages.

As of Thursday, the utility said it had restored power to 97 percent of customers in the region who can have electricity but that 9 percent of homes cannot be reconnected because of damage to electrical equipment that is the responsibility of the customers.

“In an effort to assist customers faced with the prospect of having to repair customer-owned electrical equipment in order to have service restored, FPUC proposes to offer a temporary program that would allow customers the opportunity to have the repairs made as expeditiously as possible, but with payments spread out over a reasonable period of time.”

— From the News Service of Florida

FSU research seeks to curb wrong-way driving

Wrong-way crashes are the least common, but the most fatal.

That’s what caught the attention of Walter Boot, a cognition and perception expert at Florida State University.

FSU researchers are using virtual reality simulators to help prevent wrong-way driving. (Image via FSU)

Determined to reverse the fatal results of wrong-way driving, which kills nearly 350 people each year, Boot and a team funded in part by the Florida Department of Transportation set out to identify and evaluate effective countermeasures.

Boot recorded live footage of wrong-way countermeasures in use, and those recordings were then uploaded to FSU’s driving simulators. The team then recruited 189 drivers to get behind the wheel of the simulators to test each countermeasure.

“We tested new technology-based, radar-triggered road alerts to determine which worked best,” Boot, an associate professor at FSU’s Department of Psychology, said.

“The evidence we collected suggested these detection-triggered countermeasures will be more effective than traditional wrong-way countermeasures.”

Haunted by hazardous waste?

The Leon County Solid Waste Management Division is collecting haunted TVs and ghoulish light bulbs at the monthly Household Hazardous Waste & Electronics Collection. That takes place today, 9 a.m.-1 p.m., at the Public Works Operations Center, 2280 Miccosukee Road.

Businesses and other agencies must call (850) 606-1816 to make an appointment, Monday through Friday, to drop off their items at the Leon County Hazardous Waste Center, 7550 Apalachee Parkway. Some fees will apply.

The monthly Leon County Hazardous Waste and Electronics Collection is a hit. (Image via WCTV)

Leon County can’t accept old Halloween costumes (no matter how toxic they look), residents can bring up to 50 pounds of hazardous waste, in addition to their electronics. Only one large-screen television per vehicle will be accepted. Propane tanks must weigh less than 40 pounds, and there is a limit of one tire per participant.

There is also a limit of 25 fluorescent tubes per vehicle at the collection event. Medical sharps, medicines and radioactive waste cannot be accepted. The division cannot take bulky items such as appliances (refrigerators, stoves/ovens, washing machines, dryers, etc.), furniture, yard waste, construction and demolition debris, household garbage or Styrofoam.

Due to limited space, loads over 50 pounds will be directed to the Leon County Hazardous Waste Center, 7550 Apalachee Parkway. Additionally, residents can visit the Leon County Hazardous Waste Center during normal business hours — Monday through Saturday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m.

For more information, call the Leon County Hazardous Waste Center at (850) 606-1803 or visit for the complete collection schedule and safe packing guide.

Dat’s a lot of debris

How about 20,000 dump trucks’ worth?

That’s the amount of debris in Tallahassee caused by Hurricane Michael, which tore through north Florida last month, delivering a glancing but still strong blow to the capital region.

Tallahassee has more than 20,000 dump trucks worth of debris from Hurricane Michael.

City Commissioner Scott Maddox posted on Facebook this week that city workers have so far “collected 240,000 cubic yards of debris, … surpass(ing) the 202,000 cubic yards that were picked up in 2016” because of Hurricane Hermine.

Storm debris can be “vegetative” (leaves and branches), shingles and siding from homes and buildings, and anything in between.

“With more than 100 trucks in the field, crews continue to work from sunrise to sunset, seven days a week to clear the remaining debris and clean up our city,” Maddox said.

City, County seek hurricane feedback

Leon County Government and the City of Tallahassee will host a “community dialogue session” to talk disaster response and recovery efforts for Hurricane Michael.

On point: Officials want to know how to meet the needs of the community best during future disasters.

At this meeting, staff will give a brief overview. Following the presentation, residents will have an opportunity to share feedback that will be used to enhance future response efforts. Representatives from emergency management agencies will also be in attendance to answer questions.

That’s Thursday, Nov. 6, at 6 p.m., Trinity United Methodist Church, in downtown Tallahassee, 120 W. Park Ave.

If you can’t attend, send comments to or

New cigar bar slated for capital

It feels like it’s 1996 all over again.

Urban Tallahassee reported last month that the old Lester & Company Fine Jewelry store at 926 N. Monroe St. will become the city’s newest cigar lounge.

The Lester and Company Fine Jewelry store on Monroe Street will be making way for Tallahassee’s newest cigar bar. (Image via Urban Tallahassee)

“The proposal includes renovation of 2,366 square feet of existing interior building and the addition of 1,079 square feet of outdoor patio space,” the site reports.

By the looks of the “coming soon” sign out front, the bar is an offshoot of Cigars of Tally, the Market Street outpost that’s been around for several years and owned by Lila Jaber and her husband, Saed.

Jaber, a former Public Service Commissioner, is now Regional Managing Shareholder for the Gunster law and lobbying firm. She confirmed the news, saying they plan to open early next year.

The development also means Fuma Cigar Social, the cigar bar next to Lucky Goat Coffee also on North Monroe, will have competition within walking distance.

Calling all animators

The Florida Animation Festival is again accepting submissions for its fourth-annual exhibit.

Held each year at Tallahassee’s All Saints Cinema — formerly an operating passenger-rail Amtrak station — the festival is the only North Florida showcase to recognize and screen world-famous animation. It was launched in 2016 by The Tallahassee Film Society in partnership with The Pod Advertising to honor animation talent.

An audience awaits a showing at the 2016 Florida Animation Festival. (Image via Florida Animation Festival)

But what makes the festival unique is that it’s evolved from airing existing animations to almost entirely screening submissions from artists. In its third year, 90 percent of screened content came from submissions.

Two Florida State University faculty members, Jonathan Stone and Tom Mikota, work on the Florida Animation Festival’s organizing committee. Filmmakers at FSU are encouraged to submit their work.

The festival is set to take place June 13 through June 16 in 2019. Submissions can be entered here.

Beer festival will help Michael relief

The 2018 Florida Tap Invitational continues Saturday in Tallahassee, and now there’s an even better reason to drink the state’s craft beer there.

Organizers will donate a portion of the proceeds from ticket sales to Volunteer Florida and the Florida Disaster Fund. Volunteer Florida is the state’s lead agency for volunteers and donations before, during and after disasters.

Bring a jacket; it’s getting chilly out! Florida tap invitational general admission tickets available at the door and online

“Our neighbors in the Florida panhandle were hit hard by Hurricane Michael,” a news release said. “We also will be collecting hurricane relief supplies for our neighbors in need at the festival Saturday.”

The Sixth Annual Invitational is presented by Proof Brewing Company and For the Table Hospitality, and sponsored by Visit Tallahassee. The two-day event is one of North Florida’s largest beer festivals. For more info, click here.

Capitol Directions

‘Werewolf’ Lindsay Cross: Republican spending priorities are scary

Senate candidate Lindsay Cross wants voters to know the current Republican-led Legislature’s spending priorities are far scarier than ghosts and goblins this Halloween.

Cross took to Facebook donning a wolf mask Wednesday in condemnation of conservative priorities.

Cross is running against incumbent District 24 Senator Jeff Brandes, a Libertarian-leaning Republican.

“It’s clear that your priorities are not their priorities,” Cross said. “During his time in office my opponent has voted to lower taxes for oil drillers and limit the rights of people that have been unpaid.”

Cross begins her Brandes slay with a common talking point among Democrats facing Republicans this election in Florida: Conservatives should stop funding for-profit charter schools at the expense of traditional public schools.

“Last year, he and the Republican Legislature gave three times more of our taxpayer dollars to for-profit charter institutions than our own public schools,” Cross said. “Meanwhile, children sat in classrooms with sweltering temperatures, broken AC and mold.”

Cross was referring to Hillsborough County’s public schools. That district, which Cross would not represent, is asking voters to approve a one half-percent sales tax increase to fund overdue renovations to school air conditioning units and clean mold from some of its older schools, including Plant High.

Charter schools received $346 million in Capital Outlay funds in 2016-17, and in many years have gotten more money than traditional public schools, according to a study by the government watchdog group Integrity Florida.

That’s despite charter schools educating just 10 percent of Florida’s nearly 3 million students.

Cross also blasted Brandes over the Legislature’s raiding of the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund. Lawmakers have been using the fund, which collects money from doc stamps on real estate transactions, to balance the state budget since the early 2000s. The fund is supposed to be used for affordable housing projects.

Tying Brandes to that practice isn’t direct, but his support for budgets including misappropriated Sadowski money supports the claim. Brandes suggested starting a task force to address affordable housing issues, according to the Miami Herald.

“Don’t be tricked by Jeff Brandes. He’s not working for you. I’ll help to end their frightening budget priorities and work for your budget priorities,” Cross ends her video.

Senate District 24 represents parts of Pinellas County including north St. Petersburg.

Responding to Pittsburgh shooting, Lindsay Cross blasts Jeff Brandes on gun record

State Senate candidate Lindsay Cross is adding a new bullet point to her list of campaign priorities after the deadly mass shooting in a Pittsburgh synagogue Saturday that claimed 11 lives.

A minute-long video being shared on social media shows a somber Cross sitting in a church pew wearing a black dress demanding “common sense” gun legislation aimed at reducing gun violence and mass shootings.

“It is past time that we have leaders who will stand up and fight for the safety of our communities,” Cross said.

That includes banning military-style assault weapons, eliminating the gun show loophole that allows consumers to purchase guns without a background check and ensuring felons and mentally ill individuals aren’t able to obtain firearms.

Cross blasts her opponent, Senate District 24 incumbent Jeff Brandes, for not standing up to the gun lobby.

“Jeff Brandes brags about being a lifetime member of the NRA and will never do what is truly needed to keep our community safe,” she said. “While I uphold the second amendment, I will never put the interests of the NRA over our people.”

Brandes was one of several Senate Republicans who faced a swift backlash from the National Rifle Association for supporting a gun bill that was ultimately approved earlier this year that, among other things, increased the age to buy guns from 18 to 21. NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer said at the time that Brandes and the other lawmakers would not receive the group’s A or A+ rating because of their support.

Cross shot the video one day after the Pittsburgh shooting at Tree of Life synagogue in which Robert Bowers used an AR-15 assault rifle to gun down members of the Jewish congregation. He told law enforcement officers after he surrendered that he wanted all Jews dead.

Bowers was a legal gun owner. He was charged with 29 different criminal violations including hate crimes. Bowers could face the death penalty.

“Our schools and places of worship should be refuges for learning and hope not the site of the next bloodbath,” Cross said.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Is Bird the word?

They’re inexpensive, quick and ideal for short-distance trips — and they could be coming to a Florida city near you.

Dockless scooters are the latest disruptions to the continually evolving transportation industry. But the two-wheeled rides — provided by companies like Bird and Lime — aren’t yet ready for a prime-time fight in the Legislature.

Currently, local communities are assessing whether scooters are a meaningful mode of transportation. And it’s likely to stay that way for the time being, according to state Sen. Jeff Brandes.

A series of Lime scooters lined up in Pinellas County.

“It’s way too early for the Legislature to get engaged in the discussion, other than to make sure that we allow them to exist in markets that want them,” Brandes told us.

What makes an area ripe for scooters? “Anywhere where you have density and a large number of small trips, you could see this working,” the St. Petersburg Republican said. But “for some communities, they won’t work.”

“In Pinellas, whether it be along the beaches or in the downtown areas of the larger cities, there’s a great opportunity for this micro mobility to take place.”

When implemented correctly, scooters are almost immediately available to patrons upon request, Brandes said.

Earlier this year, Miami, welcomed the scooters into highly trafficked areas. But city commissioners pushed the companies out, citing the need to create an ordinance governing the new tools. On record, however, commissioners seemed supportive of the idea.

“You’re starting to see more cities recognize that micro mobility is a meaningful option,” Brandes told us.

That recognition is also occurring in the private sector. Other disruptive transportation services — like Uber and Lyft — already have launched scooter lines in some parts of the country.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Danny McAuliffeDrew WilsonJim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Take 5

Lake O reservoir gets Trump approval — President Donald Trump this week backed construction of a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee that is expected to help offset harmful toxic algae blooms. By signing America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, Trump authorized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to begin working on the reservoir. Congress will have to allocate $200 million a year to fund the $1.6 billion project, according to The News Service of Florida. Senate President Joe Negron said the finished reservoir would reduce discharges by 63 percent and send more than 120 billion gallons of clean water south to the Everglades each year. “Florida and our federal partners should immediately begin planning and designing the Reservoir, as well as obtaining the necessary permits,” added Negron. “We should set a goal to complete construction of the Reservoir in three to five years.”

Arguments set for Senate discrimination case — Arguments for the state Senate’s request to end an Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) investigation into a top aide’s sexual harassment and retaliation claims will be heard by U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle Nov. 8. The Senate is seeking to halt the EEOC investigation. Earlier this month, lawyers for the Senate wrote “the ongoing EEOC action violates the Florida Senate’s sovereign and constitutional rights,” including “violat(ing) the Senate’s sovereign immunity.” Rachel Perrin Rogers, a chief assistant to Senate Republican Leader and future Senate President Wilton Simpson, filed the complaint with the EEOC alleging in part that she faced retaliation for sexual harassment claims.

Gun pre-emption suit won’t be dismissed — Leon County Circuit Judge Charles Dodson this week refused the state’s request to dismiss a lawsuit challenging part of the state’s 2011 gun pre-emption law. The lawsuit, joined by more than 30 local governments, was filed after the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting in February. The plaintiffs in the suit argue that the penalties imposed by the state for violating the pre-emption statute “are unconstitutional on a series of grounds and have had a ‘chilling effect’ on local officials considering gun restrictions,” according to the News Service of Florida.

Education panel retains Commissioner Stewart — The State Board of Education this week voted unanimously to keep Education Commissioner Pam Stewart in her position for an additional year. Stewart accepted the retention, promising to “continue advocating for the best interests of our students.” The education panel’s chair, Marva Johnson, credited Stewart’s leadership for helping schools reach “unprecedented levels of achievement.” “I am grateful for her willingness to continue serving the people of Florida in this role, and I look forward to continuing to work with education leaders throughout the state in promoting students’ ongoing success,” added Johnson. The panel, made of gubernatorial appointees, has the power appoint the Education Commissioner. Stewart has served as Commissioner since 2013.

Department of Education wants school safety funding boost — Florida Department of Education put out its legislative budget request for the 2019-20 fiscal year and making its funding wishlist are a slate of budget increases that would amount to a $200 increase in per-pupil funding. Most of the requested raise would help pay for new requirements in the school safety package lawmakers passed earlier this year in the wake of the school shooting in Parkland. Among the boosts it’s seeking from the Legislature: $100 million for school safety, $67.5 million to provide training to armed school personnel, and $10 million for mental health programs. If granted, the budget increase would increase per-pupil funding from $7,407 per student in the current budget year to $7,607 in 2019-20.

Scott: Utilities shoot for restoration by early November

Electric providers in the Panhandle and Big Bend regions have set a goal to have nearly all power restored by early November, Gov. Rick Scott announced this week.

Widespread power outages occurred after Hurricane Michael swept through the region Oct. 10.

Rick Scott and Donald Trump tour areas of the Panhandle devastated by hurricane Michael. (Image via AP)

The goal applies to even the hardest-hit areas — like Mexico Beach, where Michael made landfall as a Category 4 storm. There, electrical infrastructure requires a complete rebuild.

“Florida is strong and while we have made incredible progress in the past 13 days, there is much to do,” Scott said in a statement. “We will never stop working until everyone is back on their feet following Michael.”

When the utility providers announced the goal, less than 50,000 accounts remained without power. An estimated 20,000 line workers and utility professionals are working in the affected region.

Patronis urges cooperation between banks, Michael victims

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is encouraging banks and credit unions to “do everything they can to support victims of Hurricane Michael.”

“It is absolutely essential that financial institutions support those impacted by Hurricane Michael by waiving fees and penalties to aid the victims,” Patronis said in a public statement this week. “Many financial institutions have already announced they are taking these steps to help families in the Panhandle and I encourage all banks and credit unions to follow suit and help these communities recover.”

Jimmy Patronis joins Rick Scott and VP Mike Pence to visit Panhandle residents impacted by hurricane Michael. (Image via Facebook)

Among some of Patronis’ suggested considerations: Waving late fees, lending fees and ATM fees in affected areas. As well, Patronis implored financial institutions to offer any provision that can “aid in speedy recovery.”

On Thursday, Patronis joined Gov. Scott and Vice President Mike Pence to tour the damage in Panama City.

Putnam opens camps for vets

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam this week participated in the grand opening of the American Warrior Pride Lodge, the third Operation Outdoor Freedom camp solely dedicated to hosting wounded veterans.

Operation Outdoor Freedom is a Florida camp catering exclusively to wounded veterans.

It’s located in the Withlacoochee State Forest in Citrus County. A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Friday.

Since Commissioner Putnam and the Florida Forest Service officially launched Operation Outdoor Freedom, the first and only program of its kind in the nation, more than 3,800 wounded veterans have participated in over 500 outdoor, recreational and rehabilitative events throughout the state.

Free school meals available to students in Gulf, Washington counties

Putnam announced that students in Gulf and Washington counties are eligible for free school meals through Nov. 30.

“Our neighbors and fellow Floridians all across the Panhandle are in need after Hurricane Michael, and we’re going to provide all the help and support we can,” Putnam said. “To any families who were knocked down and are trying to get back up on your feet: you will not have to worry about how you’re going to pay for your child’s school meals.”

Students in Gulf and Washington counties will be eligible for free school lunches, according to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

The federal government’s National School Lunch Program will provide the meals. In total, 13 schools and 4,333 students will be covered.

All students in Calhoun, Franklin, Jackson and Liberty counties already have access to free school meals, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

Florida participates in drug take-back day

Attorney General Pam Bondi is encouraging Floridians to take part in the 16th National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day.

From 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Saturday, officials at designated locations will collect unwanted prescription medications.

Though the federal Drug Enforcement Agency hosts the take-back days, the concept is supported by Bondi, a state official.

Attorney General Pam Bondi is encouraging the safe disposal of prescription medication.

“Sadly, users will often rummage through the medicine cabinets of family members or friends in search of opioid pills,” Bondi said in a statement this week. “Drug take-back days encourage citizens to get rid of these addictive medications, and potentially save a life in the process.”

The last take-back day in April saw Floridians dispose of more than 30,000 pounds of medication.

Instagram of the Week

The week in appointments

North Broward Hospital District Board of Commissioners

Gov. Scott appointed Stacy Angier for a term ending May 7, 2022. Angier 65, of Margate, is the principal of Abundant Life Christian Academy.

Family Care Councils

Scott reappointed seven and appointed seven members.

In Area 7, Daniel Bayley, 45, of Palm Bay, is reappointed for a term ending June 29, 2020.

In Area 8, Casey O’Halloran, 37, of Fort Myers is appointed for a term ending Aug. 14, 2019.

Amy Johnson, 45, of Cape Coral, is reappointed for a term ending April 9, 2020. Patricia Oglesby, 57, of Fort Myers, is reappointed for a term ending Aug. 24, 2020.

In Area 9, Elaine Scola, 67, of Lake Worth, is reappointed for a term ending March 19, 2021.

In Area 10, Gilda Pacheco, 70, of Miramar, is reappointed for a term ending June 29, 2020.

In Area 11, Susan Danglade-Ali, 60, of Doral, is appointed for a term ending Aug. 8, 2019.

Wilma Steiner, 68, of Miami, is appointed for a term ending July 1, 2019. Mireya Camino, 65, of Doral, is appointed for a term ending March 13, 2019.

In Area 12, Rosemary Revoir, 75, of Palm Coast, is appointed for a term ending Jan. 23, 2020. Charlene Greene, 56, of Ormond Beach, is appointed for a term ending Jan. 24, 2020.

In Area 13, Paula Whetro, 55, of Mascotte, is appointed for a term ending Sept. 30, 2019.

In Area 15, Krystal Sims, 32, of Port St. Lucie, is appointed for a term ending June 10, 2020. Mozelle Green, 37, of Fort Pierce, is reappointed for a term ending June 5, 2019.

Detzner reminds of early voting

Early voting for the Nov. 6 midterm election begins statewide Saturday.

Floridians should take note of the early voting period, which is required to last through Nov. 3, according to Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner urges Floridians to take advantage of early voting periods, which are now underway.

“Early voting offers registered Florida voters another convenient way to cast their ballot and reduces the potential for waiting in line on Election Day,” said Detzner.

Also highlighted by Detzner is the optional early-vote extension in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Jackson, Liberty and Washington counties, prompted by Hurricane Michael.

Early vote times and locations can be viewed online here. Some locations opened for early voting this week. As of Friday morning, nearly 560,00 voters had already cast their ballot an early voting location.

Michael recovery fund established

The CareerSource Florida Board of Directors said it is allocating an additional $1 million to help coordinate and continue the work of the initial state responses.

That includes Disaster Unemployment Assistance benefits, the Disaster Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (Food Stamps), Disaster Dislocated Worker grants and services offered by other community partners.

Florida CareerSource has established a Hurricane Michael Recovery Fund.

“Following Hurricane Michael, we are doing everything we can to help our communities return to normal,” Gov. Scott said in a statement.

“CareerSource Florida’s Hurricane Michael Disaster Recovery Fund will move these efforts forward by helping more people get back to work. We won’t rest until every Floridian has the needed resources to recover.”

Services may include individual career consulting services, the creation of a Specialized Job Development Team, extended hours at career centers, or recruiting and hiring events, to name a few.

For a comprehensive list of recovery resources, visit the Hurricane Michael Disaster Recovery Programs page. To find recovery-related jobs, visit the Disaster Recovery Jobs Portal.

VISIT FLORIDA launches hurricane, red tide marketing initiative

The state’s tourism-marketing agency is spending nearly $9 million on a robust advertising campaign to highlight the Sunshine State after it was struck particularly hard this year by red tide and Hurricane Michael.

Visit Florida CEO Ken Lawson (center) is pushing a new marketing campaign to support the Panhandle, and communities affected by red tide.

VISIT FLORIDA announced this week that more than $5.1 million would be spent to support the Panhandle, which suffered extensive damage from the hurricane. Nearly $3.8 million will be spent to assist communities affected by red tide, a naturally occurring algae outbreak that prompted a state emergency in August.

“We have been focused on helping our state’s tourism industry remain strong before the upcoming winter season,” Gov. Scott said in a statement.

“It’s more important than ever to provide Florida with an aggressive marketing plan that showcases the areas of the state that are ready to welcome visitors now,” added VISIT FLORIDA president and CEO Ken Lawson.

Honoring those who hire people with disabilities

In recognition of Disability Employment Awareness Month, Vocational Rehabilitation (VR) staff at the Department of Education recognized five Miami employers for their “commitment to hiring people with disabilities.”

The following were honored: Academica, Chick-fil-A, Red Lobster, Vezina Lawrence & Piscitelli, and Wingstop.

Education Secretary Pam Stewart is honoring a group of companies that give jobs to people with disabilities.

“Individuals with disabilities contribute greatly to our communities and are integral to our state’s workforce,” Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said.

“Through the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, we are proud to connect job seekers with disabilities to career opportunities that enable them to lead more independent lives. I hope more businesses will follow in the footsteps of today’s honorees.”

VR is a federal-state program that is committed to helping individuals with disabilities find meaningful careers and helping employers find qualified employees.

“As a partner in Florida’s statewide workforce system, VR focuses on helping youth, students and adults get the skills, education and supports needed to compete in today’s labor market,” a news release explained.

For more information, visit

Volunteer Florida grants to nonprofits

Volunteer Florida this week said it was awarding $360,000 in Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) grant funding to 24 nonprofit and service organizations throughout the state.

Volunteer Florida, the lead agency for volunteerism and national service in Florida, administers $31.7 million in federal, state, and local funding for national service and volunteer programs statewide. (Image via Volunteer Florida)

Each organization will receive a $15,000 grant, and together they will match the funding with $360,000 in local donations. In total, $572,000 will be invested in Florida’s communities.

David Mica Jr., CEO at Volunteer Florida, called it “a unique program, strategically promoting skills-based volunteerism in order to increase productivity within organizations, and in turn, generate a more significant impact among their respective beneficiaries throughout Florida.”

In 2018-2019, VGF will help grantees recruit, manage and support approximately 9,600 skills-based volunteers, who will collectively contribute a minimum of 72,000 hours of service throughout the state — a value of $1,679,760.

Click here to see the full list of VGF grantees.

Conservatives grade Florida Legislature

From the perspective of the American Conservative Union Foundation, the Legislature improved in 2018.

In a scorecard released this week by the right-leaning group, the overall “conservative score” improved from 69 percent to 75 percent.

American Conservative Union Foundation Chair Matt Schlapp says the Florida Legislature is getting just a little bit more conservative.

“Florida lawmakers voted to reduce the tax burden on Florida families and advance a constitutional amendment to limit the legislature’s power to increase taxes in the future,” said ACU Chairman Matt Schlapp. “We applaud them for enacting common-sense conservative reforms that benefit families and small businesses.”

On average, Republican House members scored 98 percent, while the Democrats scored an average of 32 percent. In the Senate, the average Republican finished with a 95 percent score. The average Democrat, 45 percent.

The complete scorecard is available here.

Parks foundation offers aid to DEP employees

The Florida State Parks Foundation is establishing a $50,000 grant fund for Department of Environmental Protection employees who suffered hardships from Hurricane Michael.

“With so many of our neighbors in North Florida impacted, we wanted to help DEP employees get back on their feet — which puts them in a better position to provide help to their neighbors, as well,” said Pingree, president of the foundation “Working with DEP, we can quickly provide support to the employees who work tirelessly to protect Florida’s natural resources and award-winning state parks.”

Ben Pingree, president of the Florida State Parks Foundation, is working toward a quick recovery to DEP employees affected by Hurricane Michael.

The money will be made available to DEP employees in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Leon, Liberty, Taylor, Wakulla and Washington.

To be eligible for the grant money, an applicant must be a DEP employee. As well, the applicant must have “suffered a complete loss or significant damage of habitation by Hurricane Michael’s impacts or be without life-sustaining necessities such as food, water, medicines or medical services.”

FSU researchers examine Wakulla Springs browning

The water at Wakulla Springs is turning brown, and the reason isn’t crystal clear.

But Florida State University researchers recently discovered two possible contributing factors.

“We’re surrounded in the southeast by dark waters, so these clear-water springs have been seen as a boon to tourism for the area,” said Robert Spencer, an associate professor who directed the study into the browning waters. “Historically, it’s one of the things that Tallahassee is most famous for. Aside from the potential effects on local tourism, it’s inherently gloomy to see these changes in such a beautiful local landmark.”

FSU assistant professor Robert Spencer is seeking an explanation for why the clear water of Wakulla Springs is turning brown. (Image via FSU)

Spencer and a team of scientists found that the foliage of the Apalachicola National Forest, “leach down into the groundwater, giving it a distinctive earthy shade.”

Because groundwater extraction has rapidly increased in the past 50 years, the water getting into the springs could be less diluted, or more brown, than before.

Rising global sea levels could also be a factor, the scientists found. Underwater springs transport brown water out to sea, but with more ocean water available, the springs can become “backed up.”

Capitol Directions

Smoke if you got ’em: Jeff Brandes will refile smokable pot bill

State Senator Jeff Brandes will revive an amendment he filed during the 2019 Legislative Session that would expand medical marijuana access and allow patients to smoke their medicine, he said during a dispensary opening in St. Petersburg Thursday.

Brandes’ 2017 amendment would have shifted Florida’s medical marijuana law from its current “vertical” structure that requires one company to facilitate all stages of marijuana growth, cultivation and distribution to a “horizontal” integration that would allow separate companies and contractors to engage in any part of the process.

The idea was for people who, for example, specialize in horticulture, to focus solely on growing the product while leaving the retail side of the business to entrepreneurs who have expertise in selling and customer service.

Making that change would accomplish a number of things within the emerging medical marijuana industry. It could drive costs down for consumers by spreading financial risk among multiple entities and by streamlining the industry by using the most qualified professionals in each step of the process.

It could also expand access by leaving the industry able to operate in a more free market.

Brandes’ legislation would also codify into state law a patient’s right to consume their medicine in the way they deem most appropriate for their health.

“Some patients believe that smoking is the best way to find relief,” Brandes said. “That’s what we’re hearing from medical marijuana providers.”

“We think this is what voters thought they were voting for,” he continued referring to the 2014 Amendment 2 that legalized cannabis use for medical purposes.

The Legislature through its rule-making process banned smoking in its implementing language. That issue is working its way through Florida courts in a case originated with Florida attorney John Morgan who bankrolled the Amendment 2 campaign.

The state is fighting that lawsuit and another brief that contends banning smoking is contrary to the amendment Florida voters overwhelmingly approved.

Brandes said his legislation would also likely include language pertaining to edibles, which has not yet been hashed out in the rule-making process. But he said the language must be careful not to allow candy-like edibles that could be mistaken by children for sweet treats.

Brandes said he has no plans yet to address the recreational use of marijuana and hypothesized that will be a future battle for Morgan.

Brandes’ bill is contingent upon him earning re-election. The Libertarian-leaning Republican is facing Democratic challenger Lindsay Cross for his Senate District 14 seat in St. Pete.

Cross’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment on her policy priorities pertaining to the medical marijuana industry.

New Surterra Wellness in St. Pete is not your daddy’s head shop

The medical marijuana treatment provider Surterra Wellness opened its 12th Florida location in St. Petersburg Thursday. The Medical Marijuana Treatment Center is located at 2001 Fourth Street on one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares.

State Senator Jeff Brandes called the new dispensary “the Apple Store of cannabis.”

Unlike other treatment centers, Surterra designed all of their locations with an open floor plan where products can be viewed by anyone who enters the facility. Other companies, like CuraLeaf, allow approved patients and their designated caregivers to enter a separate room showcasing products.

The difference is, Surterra’s product displays are all empty, which keeps them in compliance with state laws governing the distribution of medical cannabis.

Like other dispensaries, the new Surterra facility is designed with serenity in mind. Far from the head shop imagery that once stigmatized marijuana, the building features warm colors and moderate decor.

Eucalyptus plants line the walls giving the room a peaceful aroma.

The centerpiece of the facility is a kitchen-like area where patients meet with care coordinators to discuss their needs and treatment options. The idea is to incorporate an at-home-like feeling for patients who are used to having important discussions in the home around the family kitchen or dining area.

Care coordinators will make patients and their loved ones a cup of coffee or tea to settle down into a relaxed environment where they feel open to discussing personal health decisions, according to Surterra Senior Manager of Government and Public Relations Kim Hawkes.

The company offers two lines of products. Florida’s Finest line are strain-based products most similar to what someone might buy off the street. There are five strains ranging in levels of THC, the chemical in marijuana that gives users a high, and CBD, the calming, non-high inducing chemical in cannabis.

The strains also have flavoring and can be consumed through vaporizing the marijuana flower, which gives patients more immediate access to relief without the harmful effects of smoking.

Surterra’s signature line is different than what most other dispensaries offer in that it balances the levels of THC and CBD proportionately so patients are receiving a consistent dose each time they use the product.

That line also includes five options – Calm, Serene, Soothe, Zen and Relief. The products range in levels from low-THC, high-CBD to low-CBD, high-THC. The lower THC products are used for patients suffering from things like epilepsy, PTSD or Parkinson’s Disease. Higher levels of THC are recommended for patients suffering from things like Cancer, ALS or Glaucoma.

Hawkes said the products are competitively priced to match what patients might pay on the black market.

“But with this patients have the piece of mind that it’s legal and that the products are tested,” Hawkes said. “That way they know there’s no yeast or mold, things that could irritate some ailments.”

Surterra also serves patients and friends and family members of potential patients. People who don’t have a patient access approval can still meet with wellness coordinators who can provide product information or even help to find a physician certified to recommend medical cannabis for treatment.

Under Florida law, patients must obtain a medical cannabis recommendation from doctors who have been certified through the state can.

“This is giving a lot of people access,” Brandes said. “And I’ve said all along, it’s about access and research.”

The new St. Pete location is Surterra’s third in the region. They also have facilities in Largo and Tampa. The company also offers next-day delivery service on its products.

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