Life and politics from the Sunshine State's best city

Takeaways from Tallahassee – A latte for one, bill signings for others

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Is State Sen. Greg Evers becoming the Hamlet of the Florida Panhandle?

Reports first floated last year that the Okaloosa County Republican was toying with the idea of running for Santa Rosa County sheriff, to replace the retiring incumbent there.

He was later mentioned as eyeing the job of Okaloosa County’s property appraiser. And Pensacola political blogger Rick Outzen added a 2018 run for Commissioner of Agriculture to the mix, noting that Evers is a farmer by trade.

Now, Evers has blown his own deadline on whether to enter the race to succeed retiring U.S. Rep. Jeff Miller in northwest Florida despite his flying to Washington last month to do “research.”

Because of state Senate redistricting, all senators have to run again this year. If Evers retakes his seat, he wouldn’t be term-limited there till 2020.

But his lack of decisiveness probably contributed to one potential candidate not running for Evers’ Senate district: State Rep. Clay Ingram, a Pensacola Republican, decided to run for one more term in the House instead.

Meanwhile, Evers’ supporters privately fear his “enterprises of great pith and moment,” to quote the Bard’s great play, are “los(ing) the name of action.”

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jenna Buzzacco-FoersterRyan Ray, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch. But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

1. Want cream with that shouting? — Governor Rick Scott got an earful when he walked into a Gainesville Starbucks on Tuesday. Cara Jennings, a Lake Worth activist and former city commissioner, was caught on camera scolding Scott and calling him an a**hole for how he’s handled health issues. The video shows Scott citing job growth, before he and his staff left the coffee shop, without even grabbing a much-needed cup of Joe. Scott’s political committee shot back Friday, releasing a 60-second advertisement taking the woman to task, calling her a “latte liberal.”

2. Last bill standing — The Florida Legislature sent its final bill of the 2016 legislative session to Gov. Scott on Monday, and boy is it a doozy. The bill (SB 668) changes the way Florida judges can award spousal support, potentially getting rid of so-called forever alimony. Scott vetoed an attempt to modify the law in 2013, saying at the time it would have been applied retroactively. He has until April 19 to take action on the measure.

3. On the books — Gov. Scott signed dozens of bills laws into law this week, including one that repealed a 148-year-old law that made it illegal for unmarried couples to live together. The prohibition was tough to enforce, especially when more than 438,000 unmarried male-female couples are living in Florida.

4. Welcome back — After some time away from Tallahassee, Cheri Vancura is heading back to the capital city. Vancura, the chief deputy of operations for the Martin County Clerk of Courts, will be Senate President Designate Joe Negron’s chief of staff during his two-year term. Vancura is Tallahassee veteran, working as Negron’s chief legislative assistant, as well as working for CFO Jeff Atwater, both on his 2010 campaign and in the CFO’s office.

5. The rent is too high — The Florida Department of Health said it won’t charge an outspoken pediatric cardiologist rent. The reversal comes after Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida reported the agency was going to charge him nearly $1,400 a year to rent space at the Children’s Medical Services clinic. Dr. Louis St. Petery said he received the rental agreement on March 31. St. Petery didn’t sign the contract.

• • •

Road warriors, rejoice: Interstate 75 will soon have six travel lanes spanning from the Georgia border to Southwest Florida

Gov. Scott on Monday announced that the state will begin the final segment of I-75 widening construction in 2018. The project will widen I-75 from four lanes to six lanes south of Jones Loop Road to U.S. 17 in Charlotte County.

Scott said the project “will help ease traffic flow and keep families and visitors safe as they travel through our state.”

“Florida is growing, and have reached a record 20 million residents and over 100 million tourists,” he said in a prepared statement Monday. “That is why we have provided historic funding for the Department of Transportation for three consecutive years, and we will continue to make important investments in our world-class transportation system so we can safely welcome even more families and job creators to our state.”

The Florida Department of Transportation has set aside more than $58 million for the project.

“Widening the Interstate to six lanes from Alligator Alley to the Florida-Georgia border is a major accomplishment for Floridians and will continue to make us an even more attractive destination for our residents, visitors and businesses,” said state Sen. Nancy Detert, a Venice Republican, in a statement.

State Rep. Dane Eagle, a Cape Coral Republican, said the expansion will help make the state’s ports “even more attractive to international clients and will help bring Florida even more business from throughout the world.”

• • •

Florida’s capital city has been named one of the best cities for-African-Americans in 2016.

Tallahassee was ranked No. 1 on the Livability 10 Best Cities for African-Americans list. The other cities on the list included Lansing, Michigan (No. 2); North Las Vegas, Nevada (No. 3); York, Pennsylvania (No. 4); and La Vergne, Tennessee (No. 5).

“Our nation’s largest cities, as well as towns in the rural South, have traditionally been the go-to centers of African-American life,” said Matt Carmichael, editor and chief trend analyst of Livability. “But I think this list shows that, today, smaller and midsize cities throughout the U.S. can be great places for African-Americans.”

According to the report, Tallahassee has an African-American population of more than 100,000. The report also said Florida A&M University, a historically black college, provides “economic and cultural opportunities for African-Americans.”

• • •

The Florida Trucking Association says it will do whatever it takes to help the state curb human trafficking.

Ken Armstrong, the president and CEO of the Florida Trucking Association, told the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking’s legislative and special initiatives committee on Monday his organization made human trafficking “one of our causes.”

“You tell us what you need to do,” he said

The group, training drivers, as well training more trainers to make sure as many truckers are possible are informed about human trafficking in Florida. Armstrong told the committee, which is headed by Attorney General Pam Bondi, that his group has trained thousands of drivers about “what to look for and how to respond.”

“We realize we are the eyes and ears and hands of America’s highways. That’s a responsibility we take seriously,” he said. “This isn’t a casual commitment.”

In 2015, Gov. Scott signed a bill into law that required signs to raise awareness about human trafficking to be posted in a broad range of areas, including rest areas, turnpike service places and welcome centers. In 2012, Scott signed laws that increased penalties for human smuggling, combined statutes, and gave jurisdiction over human trafficking cases to the statewide prosecutor and statewide grand jury.

On Monday, legislative and special initiatives committee also heard presentations about adult safe houses and how to establish metrics for statewide reporting.

• • •

Scott’s daily schedule for Monday had state Sen. Jeff Brandes penciled in for only a 10-minute meeting, but the St. Petersburg Republican said it was productive. The governor was in Tampa for the day.

Brandes said he thanked Scott for approving his forfeiture reform bill (SB 1044), which requires law enforcement to actually arrest a perp before they can seize property related to a criminal offense.

He also asked for Scott’s help in holding down flood insurance premiums, which are creeping up in Pinellas County, and requested an assist for a special “criminal justice project” that Brandes is working on.

Brandes said that initiative is still under wraps but promised to release details by the end of the month. Stay tuned …

• • •

Another nursery may soon be entering the medical marijuana business.

The Department of Health on Monday notified San Felasco Nurseries it had been approved as a dispensing organization for the Northeast region. The approval came about two weeks after Scott signed a bill into law that allows applicants who win administrative challenges to get a license to cultivate and distribute medical marijuana.

The DOH disqualified the nursery because its director of research and development failed a level 2 background check. However, an administrative court judge said the agency wrongfully threw out the application.

San Felasco has until April 18 to post a $5 million performance bond and 75 days to request cultivation authorization.

• • •

With work well underway on renovations of the Florida Senate chamber, there’s still no word on the fate of the decades-old mural that greets visitors to the chamber’s fifth floor public gallery.

Senate spokeswoman Katie Betta said Tuesday no final decision has been made about the artwork’s future. This past October, Betta said the mural will be removed from the wall because it’s showing signs of age, including fading and peeling.

The “Five Flags Mural” also happens to depict a Confederate flag, which the Senate previously voted to remove from its official seal and insignia. Senate Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner of Tampa had explained that the flag is a “painful symbol of oppression.”

It’s not yet clear whether the 10-foot-by-16 foot painting can be relocated, though Senate President Andy Gardiner is committed to preserving it, Betta said. It’s been in place since the Capitol opened its doors in 1978.

“Our construction managers have been seeking input from art preservation specialists to determine the best way of removing the mural,” she said. It’s still “unclear if we will be able to remove the mural from the wall, or if the wall will need to be removed in pieces with the mural still attached.”

• • •

Courtesy of Attorney General Pam Bondi's Office.
Courtesy of Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Office.

Law enforcement officers are lacing up their sneakers to support the Special Olympics.

On Tuesday, Attorney General Bondi kicked off the 2016 Law Enforcement Torch Run to benefit the Special Olympics. The event marked the beginning of a 1,500-mile journey as law enforcement and corrections officers carry the Flame of Hope throughout Florida.

“The Special Olympics is a truly fantastic event, and it is inspiring to see such unwavering support from our law enforcement, supporters and the athletes who will participate,” said Bondi in a statement. “I am proud and excited to take part in the Torch Run, Flame of Hope kickoff event and encourage all Floridians to support these amazing athletes and our dedicated law enforcement.”

About 8,000 members of the law enforcement and corrections community will carry the torch to the opening ceremonies at the annual Florida State Summer Games. This year’s event takes place on May 20 at the ESPN Wide World of Sports Complex in Lake Buena Vista. More than 33,000 athletes participate in Special Olympics across the state.

• • •

Welcome aboard, Kevin Reilly and William Spicola.

Scott announced Tuesday that he had appointed the two new members to his senior leadership team. Reilly will serve as the governor’s legislative affairs director and Spicola his general counsel.

Reilly most recently was the deputy staff director to the House Majority Leader’s Office. He has also was the legislative affairs director for both the Florida Commission on Offender Review and the Florida Department of Elder Affairs.

Spicola was the general counsel at the Department of Business and Professional Regulation. He also was the director of Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco, and chief attorney in the Division of Pari-Mutual Wagering.

Both men were scheduled to start Wednesday.

• • •

Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater wants Floridians to spend time this month learning a little bit more about their dollars and cents.

April has been declared Financial Literacy Month. In an email newsletter Wednesday, Atwater encouraged Floridians to use the month to understand their finances better.

“Simply put, financial literacy means to have an applicable understanding of how money works and how to effectively manage it. The more you understand your finances, the more likely you are to make good choices with money,” he said in the email. “Whether you’re just starting your career and learning how to budget for the first time, or you’re a budget veteran who has already navigated many of life’s financial challenges, I urge you to continue — or to start — a quest for financial education. No matter your life stage, there’s always more to learn.”

State lawmakers have proposed legislation in recent years to require high school students to take a one-semester financial literacy course. Those efforts, however, failed to make progress.

Atwater said he would share information about financial literacy programs offered throughout the month.

• • •

It may be a bit easier for retailers to help with disaster recovery.

Scott signed a bill (SB 1288) into law Wednesday that, among other things, cut local regulations and allows for retail businesses to re-enter disaster-affected areas quickly.

“Florida is prone to natural disasters including hurricanes, tornadoes and flooding, but Governor Scott signing this bill into law means that our retail members will be able to more efficiently provide vital resources to those Florida families and visitors impacted,” said Randy Miller, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation.

Sponsoring the bill were Sen. Garrett Richter and Rep. Bobby Powell. Miller gave a nod to Sen. Kelli Stargel, Rep. Clay Ingram, the Division of Emergency Management and Scott for “ensuring each Floridian will receive the important post-disaster help they need.”

• • •

When it comes to the fight against the Zika virus, the state’s mosquito control districts are on the front lines.

Scott and acting Florida Surgeon General Celeste Philip held a conference call Wednesday with the Florida mosquito control districts to discuss the possible spread of the Zika virus. As of Wednesday, there were 82 cases of the Zika virus in Florida. All of those cases were travel-related.

“Making sure our mosquito control districts are prepared with the resources and support they need heading into summer is a major priority for the Department of Health,” said Philip in a statement. “Mosquito-born disease is a health threat that requires careful attention from our network of partners, and our conference call today is one piece of our commitment to keeping communities in Florida safe from the Zika virus.”

Philip said collaboration is key to controlling the spread of diseases, such as Zika, dengue and chikungunya.

“Florida’s Mosquito Control Districts are on the front lines of protecting our communities from mosquito-borne diseases like the Zika virus,” Scott said. “As we approach the summer season, it is important that we maintain an open line of communication with mosquito control districts, so our state is prepared for the possible spread of the Zika virus.”

• • •

Photo courtesy of the Governor's Office.
Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office.

For the governor, a new law to keep the state from doing business with companies that boycott Israel is all about maintaining a good relationship.

Scott held a bill-signing ceremony at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County in Boca Raton on Wednesday. The event came about a month after Scott signed HB 86 into law.

The law requires the State Board of Administration to determine whether a company that wants to do business with Florida is boycotting Israel. If it does, the company is “ineligible to, and may not, bid on, submit a proposal for, or enter into or renew a contract with an agency or local governmental entity for goods or services of $1 million or more.”

“This bill ensures the State of Florida will not support those that participate in campaigns fueled by intolerance and anti-Semitism, like the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction movement,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “I am proud to ceremonially sign this bill today with the many organizations and individuals who supported it, and look forward to our continued relationship with Israel.”

• • •

Frank Sesno, director of the School of Media and Public Affairs and former CNN Washington bureau, spoke to students about the 2016 Presidential elections Florida State University’s Claude Pepper Center on Tuesday.

Sesno delivered the school’s annual Anderson-Ashley lecture on media and politics, with the theme “Politics and the Press in an Angry Digital Age.”

About 150 students and faculty — including Professor Mark Shlakman, director of FSU’s Center for the Advancement of Human Rights — listened and asked questions of Sesno as he outlined his theory of 2016’s “wild show” of an election cycle that has so far resisted all attempts at theorizing.

Sesno said Americans may have been experiencing a “fundamental tectonic shift” in our partisan and ideological alliances in the past few years, where Congress has “almost stopped governing” entirely and shifted into a nonstop noise machine as one side mainly focuses on fundraising off the other’s insult du jour, and vice versa.

The former reporter and anchor-turned-academic concurred with many in politics in saying Donald Trump has “brought us to new lows” with his schoolboy antics, but he also portrayed the train-wreck style of political rhetoric now common as a result of a process simmering since Americans began to sort themselves into red states and blue states — and began consuming only red-state or blue-state media sources.

Sesno said such ideological sources of news had filled a void created by the decline of investment in traditional outlets. He noted that between 1998 and 2011, 20 daily newspapers shuttered their foreign bureaus and international coverage declined by 53 percent during the same time span, leading in part to an increasingly inward-looking media echo chamber.

Sesno concluded on something of a positive note after nearly an hour of accounting for the increase of orthodoxy in views among voters and journalists, and a corollary lack of serious debate both on TV and at the water cooler. He said with this cycle, Americans and their leaders may just be “blowing off steam,” and that the participants in the political process will eventually “take stock and regain their bearings” when the dust settles in November.

• • •

More than a dozen Democrats have been named “Champions of Florida’s Middle Class” by Progress Florida.

The statewide organization gave 18 Democrats the award, recognizing them for their unwavering support for everyday Floridians. The lawmakers were chosen because they voted with the middle class 100 percent of the time.

“We salute these 18 lawmakers who stood up 100 percent of the time, on every vote, for Florida families against constant attacks from an out-of-touch legislative leadership that’s captive to special interests,” said Mark Ferrulo, Progress Florida’s executive director.

Four senators — Oscar Braynon, Dwight Bullard, Jeff Clemens and Arthenia Joyner — and 14 House representatives — Lori Berman, Randolph Bracy, John Cortes, Janet Cruz, Dwight Dudley, Joseph Geller, Evan Jenne, Mark Pafford, Sharon Pritchett, Jose Javier Rodriguez, Cynthia Stafford, Richard Stark, Victor Manuel Torres Jr. and Barbara Watson — were recognized by Progress Florida.

“We need a growing economy that works for all Floridians, not just the wealthy and well-connected. Too often our state lawmakers put corporate special interests and ideological extremism above the needs of everyday Floridians,” said Ferrulo. “Today we applaud these 18 lawmakers who championed efforts to protect and expand the middle class.

• • •

Want to play a historic game of golf this month? Head over to Sebring Golf Club, where every hole is historic.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced the Sebring Golf Club in Sebring was selected this month’s Florida Historic Golf Trail course. The city commissioned the golf course in 1924. The complete 18-hold course opened in 1929.

“We are pleased to feature the historic Sebring Golf Club as a partner on the Florida Historic Golf Trail,” Detzner said. “Sebring is recognized for the variety of outdoor recreation opportunities it has to offer. For 90 years, the Sebring Golf Club has been the hub of the local golfing scene.”

• • •

The Governor honored two combat veterans during a bill-signing ceremony in the Panhandle.

Rick Scott ceremonially signed two bills (SB 222 and HB 7023) during his stop at the National Guard Armory in Pensacola on Tuesday. Scott officially signed SB 222 on March 10; while he signed HB 7023 on March 8.

“We can never thank our brave veterans and military members enough for their service, and I hope these important measures we signed into law will show how incredibly grateful we are for the countless sacrifices they have made to defend freedom here and around the world,” he said in a statement Thursday.

Scott recognized two veterans — Staff Sgt. Stewart Allen and Staff Sgt. Rustin Anderson — during the event.

Anderson has served in the National Guard for 12 years. He led efforts to help Hurricane Katrina victims, before being deployed to Iraq as part of Operation Iraqi Freedom. Allen has served in the National Guard for 19 years. He was deployed to Kuwait for Operation Desert Thunder in 1998.

• • •

The survivors of first responders who died in the line of duty will get access to expanded benefits under a bill signed into law by Governor Scott on Friday.

The new law, which goes into effect on July 1, changes the Florida Retirement System to give more benefits to spouses and children of first responders who died in the line of duty.

The law increases monthly survivor benefits available to 100 percent of the FRS special risk class member’s monthly salary, up from 50 percent. It also permits the surviving spouse or children of those first responders to opt into the state’s defined-contribution to receive the same benefits as those people in the state’s defined-benefits pension plan.

• • •

There are now additional safety requirements for people looking to install private elevators in their home.

The governor signed a bill (SB 1602) into law on Friday. The Maxwell Erik “Max” Grablin Act establishes clearing requirements for elevators installed in private residences. Those elevators must also be equipped with a sensor device that prevents the elevators from operating if an obstruction is detected.

“Today, as the Max Grablin Act becomes law, my thoughts and prayers are with the family and friends of the Grablins,” said Majority Leader Bill Galvano in a statement. “I’m thankful for Governor Scott’s support of this critical legislation that has impacted our community greatly. I am honored to have sponsored this legislation for the Grablin family and for Max, whose legacy will ensure that Florida’s children are kept safe and protected while at home.”

Galvano and Republican Rep. Greg Steube sponsored the legislation. It was named in honor of a 12-year-old Bradenton boy who died after he was pinned under an elevator in his family’s home. The Grablin family pushed for the legislation.

• • •

Can you dig? Florida’s famous gopher tortoises can, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is preparing to celebrate the first ever Gopher Tortoise Day in their honor on Sunday.

The terrestrial reptiles are native to all 67 counties in Florida and are best known for their prolific digging skills. The burrows they create provide shelter for some 360 other species.

The FWC aims to highlight the importance of conserving the noble gopher tortoise. Though they’ve lived in Florida for about 60 million years, their habitats have been threatened in many areas as human activity encroaches on their territory. The annual event aims to create public awareness around how to live in harmony with the creatures. For instance, if you see one crossing the highway, help a fellow out and place it on the roadside in the direction it was heading.

Check out the FWC’s sweet new “Florida Gopher Tortoise” app — where you can report sightings and help the state track our native friends — here.

• • •

Here is this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

capitol directions - 4.8.16

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.

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