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Rick Scott signs bill changing how Florida Building Code is updated

Change is coming to the way the Florida Building Code is updated.

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill (HB 1021) into law Friday that, among other things, changes the way the state’s building code is updated. The new law, which goes into effect July 1, requires the Florida Building Commission to review and determine which parts of international and national codes to adopt, instead of automatically adopting the national codes.

Florida currently uses the International Code — building regulations developed by the International Code Council and used across the country — as its baseline. The Florida Building Commission adopts the International Code, and then makes Florida-specific amendments and changes when it adopts the Florida Building Code.

Under the bill signed into law Friday, the Florida Building Commission would be allowed to review international and national codes to determine which provisions need to be adopted, instead of adopting the entire code and making amendments. The commission would be required to adopt any provisions necessary to maintain eligibility for federal funding and discounts from the National Flood Insurance Program, the Federal Emergency Agency, and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

The change was backed by the Florida Home Builders Association, which said streamlined future changes to the building code. However, building code officials had called on Scott to veto the measure saying that by signing it Scott would be abandoning “a process that has worked effectively since Hurricane Andrew.”

“The Florida Building Code is widely regarded as among the most effective set of building codes in the nation,” wrote Doug Wise, the president of the Building Officials Association, in a June 16 letter to Scott asking for a veto. “This is because the code development process established by the Florida Legislature ‘got it right’ when the decision was made to base Florida’s codes on the national model codes. These model codes are developed and updated through a consensus process and are the foundation documents which are modified to address Florida-specific conditions.”

Wise went on to say that signing the bill could lead to a weakened building code, which would “disconnect Florida’s building professionals from the ongoing updates of the national model codes and will lead to a stagnate, out-of-date, set of regulations, harming the citizens of Florida by creating a less safe built environment.”

Earlier this year, Jeremy Stewart with the Florida Home Builders Association told Florida Politics that suggestions that changing the way the code is updated would diminish home building safety are “flat out false, disappointing, and coming from vendors in the process who manufacture items installed in homes, not those who shake hands with the consumers at the end of the day.”

The law goes into effect July 1.

Is U.S. Term Limits coordinating a grassroots campaign against Jamie Grant?

Several state lawmakers — including Reps. Scott Plakon, Neil Combee, and Randy Fine — have received messages from their constituents asking them to block James W. Grant from running for re-election and running for Speaker during the 2022-24 term, saying the Tampa Republican has already served eight years in office and any more would be in violation of the state Constitution.

The push comes just days after Nick Tomboulides, the executive director of U.S. Term Limits, wrote a post on the group’s website urging Floridians to contact their legislator to stop “Grant from cheating term limits.”

“He has not only filed to run for a fifth consecutive term in 2018, but Grant says he wants to stay in the House to become Speaker in 2024! That would make 14 consecutive years in office, almost double the legal limit,” wrote Tomboulides in a June 21 post on U.S. Term Limits’ website.

“Grant must believe he is above the law. He is attempting to justify his actions by pointing to a brief pause in his service from 2014-2015, when Grant’s friends in the Legislature vacated his seat. He was back in his job just 155 days later, mostly missing time when the House wasn’t in session,” he continued. “According to Grant, this meaningless gap started his term limit clock all over again, giving him a fresh eight years-plus.”

Tomboulides wrote a similar op-ed also ran on Sunshine State News website on June 16. Established in the early 1990s, U.S. Term Limits, a Washington, D.C.-based group, advocates for term limits at all levels of government.

First elected to the Florida House in 2010, Grant’s 2014 re-election campaign was embroiled in controversy. In the months leading up to the election, Tampa attorney Michael Steinberg filed suit over write-in candidate Daniel Matthews.

Steinberg, who was married to Grant’s GOP opponent Miriam Steinberg, said the write-in candidate should be disqualified because he didn’t live in the district. At the time, the Tampa Tribune reported that Circuit Judge Angela Dempsey agreed, and disqualified him. However, Matthews appealed, and panel of judges with the 1st District Court of Appeal sided with him.

While the legal battle was continued, the election played. Grant would eventually win the election; however, the House threw out those election results and vacated the seat. According to a Tampa Tribune report at the time, the House cited the months-long and unresolved litigation over the write-in candidacy.

Gov. Rick Scott ordered a special election, which Grant handily won. And since the seat was vacant when Grant won the special election, he won a new term — not a re-election.

That has left some Floridians irked, and they’re sounding off to their state representatives. In an email to Plakon, Casselberry resident Janet Leonard said she was “very disheartened to learn that Rep. Grant is evading the eight-year term limit set in place by 77 percent of Florida voters in 1992.”

“Why does one man believe he is above the law and not subject to these limits,” she wrote Plakon, according to an email provided to FloridaPolitics.com. “A 155-day hiatus doesn’t change the fact that he’s been in office for each of eight consecutive years. As my state representative, you should stop grant from cheating term limits and becoming a future Speaker.”

In another email, Longwood resident Albert Simpson tells Plakon that “term limits are an essential part of Florida government that stop elected officials from abusing their power.” He goes on to ask Plakon to tell Grant to step down from office instead of violating term limits.

Grant is one of four candidates in the running to be the Speaker of the House beginning in 2022, if Republicans keep their majority. Grant and Rep. Paul Renner, who was elected in a special election in April 2015, are considered to be the leading contenders for the post.

The freshman GOP caucus is expected to vote for its leader, and eventual Speaker, during a meeting in Central Florida on June 30.

Sean Shaw to town hall audience: ‘Hold me accountable’

Being part of a legislative caucus with little political power has been the plight of Democrats elected to the Florida House for going on two decades, but state Representative Sean Shaw told a town hall audience of about 40 people Monday night that it’s their job to hold him accountable in Tallahassee, regardless of his party’s minority status.

“Let me tell you what we do not as a community do very well – hold our elected officials accountable,” Shaw said while speaking at the Progress Village Civic Council’s monthly meeting. “Do not allow any of us – me included – to come to your communities and ask for your vote and you don’t see us again until re-election time. I don’t care if it’s me. I don’t care if it’s city councilman or a county commissioner, that is where you have the power.”

Shaw, an insurance attorney, defeated businesswoman and activist Dianne Hart by just 124 votes in the House District 61 Democratic primary last August (there was no Republican challenger). Greeting the audience who showed up for the meeting, Shaw said the votes he won in Progress Village last year secured his victory overall in the district.

Located east of Tampa, Progress Village was created asa a planned community for African-Americans in 1958. He told the all-black audience that it was important that they stay engaged.

“Our community has the most to lose,” he said. “We don’t have a cushion for error. Our people have to be doing what meets the needs of our community.”

In reviewing how his first session as a state Representative went in Tallahassee, Shaw was vehement in denouncing the bill that will allow Floridians the chance to expand their homestead exemptions via a constitutional amendment in 2018.

“Do not vote for the homestead exemption that’s going to be on the ballot,” he sternly said. “It is a trick! I want to make sure that no one here thinks it’s a good idea, because it’s not.”

County Administrator Mike Merrill has predicted an annual reduction of $36 million if the measure passes. Looking over to several Hillsborough County Sheriff officials who had earlier addressed the crowd, Shaw said that if the vote is approved there would be “less of them” patrolling the neighborhoods.

“That means your libraries are open less. Your roads are in worse shape. This is a direct impact because Hillsborough County has to make up for that revenue.”

Shaw said his 2016 campaign platform consisted of advocacy for criminal justice reform, affordable housing, education and vocational training. He boasted of his support for legislation that makes it easier for affordable housing companies to get insurance, which in turn makes it easier for them to build affordable housing.

On his other issues of interest, however, Shaw’s proposals, like most House Democrats didn’t get too far in the overwhelmingly GOP-controlled Legislature. Among his bills that didn’t get support was a measure that would have prevented someone whose primary offense upon being arrested was possession of a controlled substance.

“That bill actually got one hearing, which I was shocked that it even got that,” Shaw said, adding that he’ll bring it back in 2018.

And like every other Democrat in Tallahassee, Shaw is still bemoaning the passage of HB 7069, the omnibus education bill that includes the controversial ‘schools of hope’ provisions for charter schools.

“They want to essentially turn our public education system private. This is the privatization of our education system, and we can’t allow it.”

In signing the bill last week, Governor Rick Scott touted the fact that it includes a $100 increase in per-student school funding. Shaw was unimpressed.

“That $100 was a farce,” he declared.”And don’t let anybody tell you that we went up to Tallahassee and did anything for public education. We. Did. Not.”

Rick Scott remains tight-lipped about U.S. Senate bid

Gov. Rick Scott remains tight-lipped about his 2018 plans, telling CNN he won’t make any decision about the U.S. Senate race until “later.”

“I’ve always said the same thing: It’s 2017. The race is in 2018. I won’t make a decision until later,” said Scott during an interview with Erin Burnett on her show Erin Burnett OutFront. “Politicians seem to worry about their next job. I’ve got 570 days to go in this job. I’m trying to make Florida No. 1 for jobs, No. 1 for people being safe … and No. 1 for education.”

Scott is widely believed to be considering a U.S. Senate run in 2018. Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson has already said he plans to run for re-election.

The Naples Republican has been boosting his national profile for months now. In May, he announced he would chair the New Republican, a federal super PAC aimed rebranding the Republican Party and helping President Donald Trump.

The super PAC was founded by GOP strategist Alex Castellanos, and several Scott allies have been tapped to oversee the day-to-day operations. Melissa Stone, the governor’s former chief-of-staff and campaign manager of his successful 2014 re-election campaign, serves as the executive director; while Taylor Teepel, served in the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and spent two years as former Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal’s chief of staff, is New Republican’s finance director.

If Scott decides to run, he’ll have a big-name backer. President Donald Trump has encouraged Scott to run on several occasions, including last week when they were in Miami to announce the president’s Cuba policy.

“He’s doing a great job,” the president told the crowd. “I hope he runs for the Senate.”

Scott told Burnett that wasn’t the first time Trump put him on the spot, telling Burnett that Trump “did the same thing … a week and a half ago” when he was with him at an infrastructure conference.

Health Department getting started on medical marijuana rulemaking

In the wake of the Special Session’s implementing bill, the Florida Department of Health is gearing up to make rules governing the use of medical marijuana.

The department published a “notice of proposed regulation” in the Florida Administrative Register last Friday.

But the state still could face a lawsuit from personal-injury attorney John Morgan, who backed the constitutional amendment on medical marijuana that passed in 2016 with 71 percent of the vote. He has said he will sue because lawmakers would not allow medical marijuana to be smoked.

The implementing bill (SB 8-A) is pending Gov. Rick Scott‘s review, though he said he will sign it.

Among other provisions, the bill grandfathers in seven existing providers, renames them “medical marijuana treatment centers” (MMTCs) and requires the Department to license 10 new providers by October. The bill also allows four new MMTCs for every increase of 100,000 patients prescribed marijuana.

It also limits the number of retail locations each MMTC can open to 25 across the state, and divides that cap by region. As the patient count goes up, five more locations can be opened per provider for every new 100,000 patients in the state’s Medical Marijuana Use Registry. The limits expire in 2020.

The department is working under an expedited rulemaking process to conform with deadlines in the amendment. Lawmakers failed to come to agreement on a bill during this year’s Regular Session. 

Before the amendment, the state in 2014 legalized low-THC, or “non-euphoric,” marijuana to help children with severe seizures and muscle spasms. THC is the chemical that causes the high from pot.

The state later expanded the use of medicinal marijuana through another measure, the “Right to Try Act,” that includes patients suffering intractable pain and loss of appetite from terminal illnesses.

Rick Scott tries to lure ‘upset’ Connecticut firms

Florida’s governor says there are “a lot of business people upset” in Connecticut and he’s hoping to persuade them to move to the Sunshine State.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott met Monday with community and business leaders in Norwalk. He made a similar trip in 2015 to lure Connecticut business to Florida as part of an “economic development mission.”

Scott’s visit comes as health insurer Aetna Inc. considers relocating its long-time headquarters from Hartford.

Scott says he would “love every company in Connecticut” to think about moving to Florida, where he says taxes and regulations have been cut since he first took office.

Democratic Gov. Dannel P. Malloy‘s spokeswoman says “it’s no wonder” Scott would look to Connecticut and be “envious” of its’ high quality of life, good schools and skilled workforce.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Rick Scott signs nursing home reimbursement changes into law

Changes to how the state’s nursing that accept Medicaid are paid are coming down the pike.

Gov. Rick Scott signed into law a wide-sweeping health care bill (SB 2514) last week that, among other things, moves the payment system to a cost-based system to a prospective payment system. The law delays the move from cost-based system to a prospective payment system by a year, giving health care officials and providers additional time to study and prepare for the shift.

“LeadingAge Florida and our high-quality, mission-driven members appreciate that the Legislature delayed implementation of the prospective payment system for a year,” said Steve Bahmer, the president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida.

The shift to a prospective payment plan, which reimburses nursing homes using a per diem rate calculated on several different components, was one of several behind-the-scenes food fights this year.

Officials with LeadingAge, which represents about 400 senior communities through the state, expressed concern that the initial proposal would shift money from high-quality nursing homes, threatening the quality of care offered in facilities across the state. But Bahmer said the group “never opposed the shift to a PPS approach.”

“However, we have consistently opposed ill-conceived plans that would damage Florida’s highest-quality nursing care providers,” said Bahmer. “The Legislature wisely delayed the implementation of the PPS to allow the further study of this important issue. Looking forward to 2018, we will work with AHCA, the Legislature, and other stakeholders to ensure that the payment system truly rewards high-quality providers.”

The Florida Health Care Association, which represents about 82 percent of the state’s nursing centers, was generally supportive of the recommendations proposed during the 2017 Legislative Session, but did seek to make some changes.

Emmett Reed, the executive director of the Florida Health Care Association, said he appreciated the organization appreciated Scott for “recognizing that a stronger reimbursement system is best for everyone involved.”

“The prospective payment system will put the focus on quality care and quality of life for Florida’s nursing center residents, and for the first time in Florida’s Medicaid history, will link nursing center reimbursement to quality outcomes,” said Reed. “On behalf of the thousands of long term caregivers working in our member centers, we commend Governor Scott for supporting PPS so they can achieve their goals of providing exceptional care and services to our state’s seniors and people with disabilities.”

Nat’l Democrats release new digital ad taking aim at Rick Scott over health care

The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee is once again targeting Gov. Rick Scott over his support of the Republican health care agenda.

The committee announced Monday it was launching full-screen, Google takeover ads featuring new versions of a DSCC called “The Price” aimed at Scott’s support of the health care plan and its impact on Florida families.

“Rick Scott cannot escape the toxic impact his health care proposals will have: spiking costs, sabotaging care and stripping coverage for hardworking families in order to give another handout to himself and big insurance companies,” said David Bergstein, a spokesman for the DSCC. “This week the stakes for middle class families could not be higher — if Scott has his way the consequences for Floridians who actually work for a living will be expensive and horrific. We are standing with voters in opposing a plan that is deeply unpopular in Florida, and will hold Gov. Scott accountable for his actions.”

The 30-second spot features images of a man and woman selling their vehicle and jewelry, before appearing at the hospital bed of a child. At the end of the advertisement, the words “What will Rick Scott’s health care plan cost you?” flash across the screen.

The ad, which the national Democratic organization says will reach targeted voters in Florida who make up key elements of the 2018 midterm electorate, is part of an ongoing six-figure digital ad buy.

Scott is believed to be preparing for a run against Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018.

Florida Democratic governor candidates call for 2018 unity

Florida’s three announced Democratic gubernatorial candidates agreed on most issues at a forum Saturday, from education to the economy to faith, but got their loudest cheers when they called for ending a 20-year string of Republican governors in 2018.

Speaking to 300 Democratic faithful at the state party’s annual fundraiser, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham and entrepreneur Chris King all said Florida needs to move away from the policies of Govs. Rick Scott and Jeb Bush by getting a Democrat elected for the first time since 1994. Scott is term-limited and cannot run for a third term next year. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is the leading Republican candidate.

All three said the state needs to raise its $8.10 minimum wage, with Gillum and Graham expressly calling for $15 an hour. All said the state needs to improve its education system by supporting traditional public schools and reversing Scott’s and Bush’s emphasis on charter schools. And all said Democrats must stop giving the Republican Party a monopoly when it comes to messages of faith.

Gillum, who has been mayor of Florida’s capital city since 2014, said the party needs to push an “unapologetic” progressive message and not cede the state’s rural and traditionally conservative areas to the Republicans.

“We are not trying to be ‘Republican light,'” he said. He got a big laugh when he said he campaigned recently at The Villages, the famously conservative retirement complex in central Florida – “Lord, have mercy.”

“Those are the folks we have to get to,” Gillum said. “You don’t lose that county and pick up that one. The person who will be the next governor will be the one who gets one more vote than the next person.”

Graham, the daughter of former senator and governor Bob Graham, said that when she hears Scott’s frequent mantra — jobs, jobs, jobs — “It means many people are having to work multiple jobs just to get by.”

“We have got to fix that,” said Graham, who served one term in Congress from North Florida. She said she introduced a bill while was in Congress that would have funded technical training in middle school.

“It’s a time in life when you want to excite kids, make them want to go to school every day and give them something to feel passionate about. We need to have technical training in middle school, through high school, through community colleges, wherever someone ambitious ends up in their educational journey to make sure the jobs that are here today, the ones we want to grow in the future, will have a trained workforce.”

King, a political newcomer who founded a company that invests in senior and low-income housing developments, said Democratic candidates have been too timid in discussing issues of faith. He got nods from the other two candidates.

“The other party has taken this away from us,” said King, who attends a non-denominational Christian church in Orlando. He said the religious right has created a limited definition of what people of faith should care about, but he will “go toe-to-toe with them” by saying people can be religious and support gay rights, affordable housing and expanded health insurance systems.

“My senior adviser is Muslim. My campaign manager is Jewish. We have Catholics and Christians. This is going to be a campaign that wants to bring people together,” King said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Alex Sink: Anger over HB 7069 could be Dems winning issue in 2018

Could expansion of state spending for charter school operators — at the expense of public schools — fuel a surge of support for Florida Democrats at the polls in 2018?

That’s what Alex Sink thinks could happen. At least she hopes it might.

The former CFO and 2010 gubernatorial candidate is angry about the passage of HB 7069, the massive education bill that includes $140 million for the “Schools of Hope” program, which would bring charter school operators with proven success rates in low-performing schools to communities where the traditional schools have earned consecutive state grades of D or F.

“Do we care about public education in this state or not?” she asks in her inimitable drawl. “Ninety percent of our kids go to public school, so 90 percent of our money plus should be supporting public schools,” she said Saturday while waiting in line for the first Democratic gubernatorial debate of the year at the Diplomat Resort Hotel.

“If we’re starving the system, we’re going to get more ‘failure factories,’ not less,” she says, using the term coined originally by the Tampa Bay Times in their award-winning 2015 series about failing schools in Pinellas County.

Just about every Florida Democrat considers the phrase “failure factories” an epithet.

And Sink disagrees with the notion that not enough of the public is upset about what Democrats portray as a GOP-led assault on the public school system.

“When you get sick, and you get into the ambulance, and the EMT people come to take you to the hospital, don’t  you want them to be well-educated, smart people? Hell yes!”

Tampa House Democrat Sean Shaw feels the same way.

“I don’t want to say we’ve got to exploit it, but we’ve gotta talk about it,” he says about HB 7069. “And we’ve got talk about what that bill does to public education in Florida, and it’s awful. I mean we’re dismantling public education day by day, and we can’t allow that to keep happening.”

Democrats talk about the intensity of their voters following last November’s election. Shaw hopes it persuades some people in Hillsborough County to get off the sidelines and into the arena.

“This kind of excitement is what causes a teacher to say, you know, I’m going to run for office, because I hate what they’re doing to public education,” Shaw says. “Or an environmental sciences professor, I hate what they’re doing to the environment, I’m going to run for office.”

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