Takeaways from Tallahassee — Opposition mounting to ‘whiskey & Wheaties’

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The opposition to the “whiskey and Wheaties” bill has surged to 2,572 emails, 173 phone calls and nine letters, according to the latest tally from Gov. Rick Scott‘s office.

In support are 315 emails, 64 calls and six letters.

The legislation would allow retailers to remove the ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other goods. Opponents—including independent liquor stores—are calling the proposal a job-killer and asking Scott to veto.

The governor has till May 24 to sign the bill into law, veto it or allow it to become law without his signature. His office has said Scott will “review” the legislation.

The bill passed both chambers on close margins: 21-17 in the Senate and a razor thin 58-57 in the House. Also, five House members who missed the vote voted ‘no’ after the roll call.

Rep. Bryan Avila toasts with Rep. Scott Plakon on the House floor April 26, 2017, upon approval by just one vote of the “whiskey and Wheaties” bill. Plakon opposed the measure. (Photo via the Florida House)

Filed every year since 2014, it removes the 82-year-old ‘wall of separation’ between hard liquor and other items enacted in Florida after Prohibition. Beer and wine already are sold in grocery aisles.

Among other things, the bill requires miniature bottles to be sold behind a counter and allows for a 5-year phase-in. It further calls for employees over 18 to check customers’ ID and approve sales of spirits by cashiers under 18.

Big-box chains such as Wal-Mart and Target have pushed for the bill, while independent owner-operators—playing on Scott’s reputation as a job creator—say the legislation will kill jobs and even put some small businesses out of business.

Florida’s own ABC Fine Wines & Spirits also opposes the measure, as does the Publix supermarket chain, because of its investment in its many separate liquor stores.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Michael Moline, Jim Rosica, and Peter Schorsch.

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

Finally, sine die — The Florida Legislature adjourned Monday, three days after the 2017 Legislative Session was scheduled to end. Lawmakers called it quits after approving a nearly $83 billion state budget, which included an across-the-board pay raise for state workers, money to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, and $25 million for Visit Florida. The budget doesn’t include money for business incentives for Enterprise Florida, or the $200 million Gov.  Scott requested for the Herbert Hoover Dike. Lawmakers also approved a massive education bill that, among other things, sets aside money for the House’s “Schools of Hope” charter school proposal and teacher bonuses, addresses testing reforms and virtual learning, and mandates 20 minutes of recess at most public elementary schools each day. Lawmakers also OK’d an overhaul of the state’s higher education system, and a slimmed down version of the tax cut plan.

Russell Hosford, Sergeant at Arms for the House of Representatives, left, and Senate Sergeant at Arms Tim Hay, right, drop their handkerchiefs to signal the close of the 2017 Legislative Session Sine Die on Monday. (Photo by Colin Hackley)

Will he or won’t he — Now that lawmakers have passed the budget a big question remains: What will Gov. Scott do when it lands on his desk? Once lawmakers send the budget to Scott, he’ll have 15 days to sign, exercise his line-item veto power, or veto the entire budget. In a statement this week, Scott said he was disappointed lawmakers did not fund business incentives. “Once again, the Florida Legislature has turned their back on Florida’s ability to fund economic incentive deals that help our state outcompete our top competitors for important jobs,” he said in a statement. “This is very concerning to me and is an action that each member will have to defend as their local communities lose out on new manufacturing facilities, headquarter relocations and thousands of high wage jobs for families.” Scott also took a shot at lawmakers for slashing money for Visit Florida and not including money for the dike in the budget. The governor said he is reviewing his options, and has “the option of vetoing the entire budget.” If he does, lawmakers can override that veto with a two-third vote of present and voting. The budget passed each chamber with a veto-proof majority.

It’s a law — Gov. Scott signed 11 bills into law this week, including a bill (HB 221) that creates statewide regulations for ride-booking companies, like Uber and Lyft. The new law, which goes into effect July 1, creates minimum insurance standards and requires companies to have third parties conduct local and national criminal background checks on drivers. The law pre-empts local ordinances and rules on transportation network companies. “For Uber Florida, our priority is making safe and reliable rides easy and affordable — whether it’s for a mother needing transportation after a late work shift, or for a senior who needs to get to and from doctor appointments,” said Kasra Moshkani, the South Florida general manager for Uber. “With Governor Scott’s signature, we see the culmination of hard work and dedication by so many: from Uber driver-partners and riders to our diverse local partners and community leaders.” Scott also signed a bill (SB 10) to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee, a top priority for Senate President Joe Negron. The project is designed to stop discharges of toxic algae-infused overflow into streams and estuaries to the east and west by storing 78 billion gallons of water in a reservoir to the south, with treatment and ultimate discharge into the Everglades and Florida Bay. “After 20 years of talking, southern storage is finally becoming a reality,” Negron said. “We are well on our way to putting the harmful discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the pages of history, instead of the front pages of daily newspapers.”

Back to Tally — The annual 60-day Session had barely finished before some lawmakers and advocates began calling for special session to implement the state’s medical marijuana amendment. Senate President Negron on Monday indicated he was open to a special session to consider implementing legislation, telling reporters the Legislation has “a responsibility to be involved in that implementation.” Speaker Richard Corcoran called for a special session, telling a Tallahassee radio station that discussions have started and he would like to have a special session as soon as possible. The calls for a special session have also come from Sens. Bill Galvano, Jeff Brandes, and Dana Young and Rep. Chris Sprowls, among others. If a special session isn’t held, the Department of Health would need to come up with rules for Amendment 2 by July 3 and have them implemented by October.

Campaign season begins — Almost as soon as the hanky dropped on the 2017 Legislative Session, lawmakers began turning their eyes to the 2018 election. Rep. Jay Fant announced his bid for Attorney General this week, while Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez announced he was planning to run for the congressional seat being vacated by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. State Rep. David Richardson also indicated he was eyeing the spot; while Rep. Lori Berman announced she was running for Palm Beach County Commission in 2018. Agriculture Commission Adam Putnam formally launched his 2018 gubernatorial bid in Bartow, before embarking on a 10-day tour; and Rep. Matt Caldwell announced plans to formally launch his 2018 Agriculture Commissioner run early next week. Even Gov. Scott appeared to get in the action, announcing he would serve as chairman of the New Republican, a federal super PAC — raising eyebrows that he was laying the groundwork for a future U.S. Senate run. Can’t wait until 2018? Don’t worry. Scott his week set the special election dates to fill the Senate District 40 seat vacated by Sen. Frank Artiles. So far Democrats Daisy Baez, a freshman House member, and Annette Taddeo have filed to run; while the Republican field includes Rep. Jose Felix Diaz and Alex Diaz de la Portilla.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam officially kicked off his 2018 campaign in Bartow this week. (Photo via the Putnam campaign)

So long, farewell

There probably wasn’t a dry eye in the House when Rep. Jose Felix Diaz was done talking this week.

The Miami Republican has filed to run in Senate District 40 to replace Sen. Frank Artiles, but even before making that bid official, he wasn’t expected to return to the House in 2018. Diaz, an attorney at Ackerman, was been believed to be in the running for South Florida’s top federal prosecutor’s job.

So on the final day of Session, Diaz stood in the well and addressed his children — and his colleagues — and spelled out his hopes for them.

“I pray that you … are as blessed as I was,” he said. “I pray you find you center; I pray you realize helping others is everything.”

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz receives applause and hugs from a group of colleagues after making his farewell speech to the House on final day of the extended 2017 legislative session. (Photo by Colin Hackley)

He told his boys, who he calls his “tornadoes,” to “help the poor, help the disadvantaged, help the sick.” He told them to be thoughtful, and not to be afraid to cry because it “means you’re alive and feeling deeply, growing and learning.”

To his colleagues, he had a similar message: “I pray you never lose who you are, that you fight for things you believe in, that you use your words judiciously and never make a promise you can’t keep. Leave a lasting impact on this world by being yourself.”

After Diaz wrapped up his remarks, House Speaker Corcoran told Diaz that the chamber was losing “a great warrior, a great counselor and a phenomenal friend.”

For Rep. Eric Eisnaugle, the trip to Tallahassee this week might have been his last as a state lawmaker.

Eisnaugle, an Orlando Republican, was appointed to the Fifth District Court of Appeal by Gov. Scott on Monday, the final day of the 2017 Session. He fills the vacancy created by the elevation of Judge C. Alan Lawson to the Supreme Court.

In his farewell remarks on the floor, Eisnaugle told colleagues that he tried to explain what a judge did to his children when he applied for the post. They asked lots of questions, and Eisnaugle said he did his best to answer. One question that emerged pretty early on though, was whether being a judge meant he got to “come home.”

Reps. Julio Gonzalez and Rep. Jay Fant embrace Rep. Eric Eisnaugle after his farewell speech the the House on the final day of the extended 2017 legislative session. Eisnaugle was appointed to the 5th District Court of Appeal by Gov. Rick Scott. (Photo by Colin Hackley)

“When I said yes, I knew they’d be pulling for me,” said Eisnaugle.

The 40-year-old told members that he he was “eternally grateful” for the impact they had on his life, and wished them “the very best going forward in this process, in life and in your family.”

“Like anything else in life, there’s good days and there’s bad,” he said. “For me, there’s been a lot more good than bad. I’m proud to have served.”

And with that, he had just one more message for his children: “I’m coming home.”

We survived!’

Spotted in the Capitol rotunda following sine die: Lauren Book, fresh off her first session as a senator, and her über-lobbyist dad, Ron Book — each cradling one of her twin babies, Kennedy Grace and Hudson Lee Byrnes.

“We survived! It was just by the hair of our chinny chin chins, but we did it,” Book said.

Book had an impressive first outing, winning appointment as Democratic leader pro tempore and chairwoman of the Environmental Protection and Conservation Committee. So what if her proposed repeal of the sales tax on diapers died?

“You have to have a really good sense of humor, and you have take things in stride. Not every day is easy. There are a lot of crises at one time, and it’s how to navigate those,” she said.

Florida Senator Lauren Book, left, and her father, lobbyist Ron Book, hold her two twins, Hudson Lee Byrnes, left, and Kennedy Grace Byrnes during opening day of the 2017 Florida Legislative Session at the Florida Capitol in Tallahassee, Florida March 6, 2017. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser)

“Also, you have to be a really good collaborator. I grew up with somebody who taught be to be a bull in the china shop in a lot of different ways — you go in and get what you want, and the collateral consequences don’t matter, she continued. “Being a part of this process, I’ve seen first-hand how working together can bring about incredible things.”

Workers’ compensation compromise crumbled in final hours of session

A workers’ compensation fix looked possible within perhaps a few hours of the regular session’s close.

Bill Herrle, Florida director for the National Federation of Independent Business, said the House delivered what was fated to be its last compromise to the Senate at about 2:30 p.m. on the last day.

“We were still working it through to about 5 or 6, when it became apparent the Senate was ready to look at the House’s offer,” he said. “We felt like we were making great progress in getting floor votes. We felt like we could have passed it.”

By then, the chambers were exactly $20 apart on the maximum hourly fee payable to attorneys handing claims appeals. “The House had offered $180, and the business community was ready to support that. The Senate didn’t look at that offer.”

Herrle hopes the issue gets folded into any special session held in advance of the regular session, scheduled to open in January. A 14.5 percent rate hike hits more businesses as they renew policies every month, he said.

“If the Legislature’s in Tallahassee, they should be looking at workers’ compensation,” he said. “It’s a major economic issue, and they’re so close to an agreement.”

NARAL looks for ally in Scott

The pro-choice organization is calling on Gov. Scott to oppose provision in the 2017-18 budget that would fund anti-choice organizations it says uses deceptive and high-pressure tactics to mislead women about their reproductive health options.

NARAL Pro-Choice America is asking Scott to veto a provision in the budget that allocates $4 million to crisis pregnancy centers. In a letter to Scott, the organization outlined its concerns and asked him “strike this harmful provision from this legislation.”

“It’s time for Gov. Scott to stand up for the women and families he represents,” said Joel Foster, NARAL Pro-Choice America national political director, in a statement. “At a time when families want leaders to focus on bringing in good-paying jobs and improving education, Gov. Scott seems more focused on pandering to a fringe element of his political base. These aren’t the priorities of hardworking Florida families and it’s time for the governor to do better.”

Celebrating legislative successes

Several bills anti-immigration bills were proposed during the 2017 Legislative Session. All of them died.

“In a moment where hatred and discrimination is being normalized, our immigrant, Muslim and communities of colors stood together fighting back nine bills seeking to criminalize our families and legalize racial profiling in Florida,” said Francesca Menes, the director of policy and advocacy for the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

Lawmakers proposed several bills this session that would have targeted undocumented immigrants by upgrading penalties for violent crimes committed by undocumented immigrants; stripping funding for local governments that don’t comply with federal immigration authorities; repeal a state law giving in-state tuition to some undocumented immigrants; increase background checks on refugees; and require employees to make sure employees are documented.

While the Florida Immigrant Coalition celebrated its victories, it also chastised Latino legislators for supporting legislation to strip local governments of funding if they don’t comply with federal immigration rules.

“It is good news that anti-immigrant bills did not pass this session but that does not excuse those representatives that voted for HB 697 in the House,” said Miguel Bernal, a FLIC board member.

“We will remember, and continue the fight to recognize the full human rights of the immigrant community.”

House Speaker Richard Corcoran is congratulated by Russell Hosford, Sergeant at Arms, as he walks to the rotunda to meet the Senate after adjourning the extended 2017 legislative session Sine Die on Monday. (Photo by Colin Hackley)

The Florida Retail Federation is celebrating big wins in 2017.

Scott Shalley, the president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation, applauded the organization’s efforts during the annual 60-day — well, in the case of the 2017 Session, 63-day — Legislative Session. The organization successfully pushed for lawmakers to reduce the business rent tax, as well as for sales tax holidays for back-to-school shopping and disaster preparedness.

The association also opposed several proposals, Shalley said, that would have harmed the retail industry, like allowing pre-judgment interest on personal injury awards.

“I am extremely proud of the way our retailers, stakeholders, and association staff worked with the Legislature to accomplish so many of our goals this year,” said Shalley in a statement. “We continue to prove that our industry remains strong and continues to be a major economic contributor–leading in job growth and many other economic indicators.”

The FRF also backed a proposal that enhances penalties for people committing “skimmer fraud.”

A host of gun bills were filed this year, but when the 2017 Session ended this week very few even made it out of committee.

And that’s perfectly fine with Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America, part of Everytown for Gun Safety. Volunteers with the organization applauded the defeat of several gun bills — including ones to allow guns on campuses, airports, or at public meetings.

“I am proud that our lawmakers listened to the concerns of Floridians and stood up to preserve public safety in Florida. Legislation that would have allowed people to openly carry handguns in public, allowed guns in airports and college campuses and punished our private businesses for exercising their right to prohibit handguns on their premises have no place in our state,” said Michelle Gajda, the volunteer chapter leader with the Florida Chapter of Moms Demand Action.  “Florida has a long history of responsible gun ownership, and because of gun sense champions like Sen. Anitere Flores, it will remain that way. Today’s victories are proof that gun safety advocates are a formidable force who can take on the gun lobby and win.”

Moms Demand Action for Gun Sense in America isn’t the only group patting itself on its back for defeating gun legislation.

The Florida Coalition to Prevent Gun Violence said this week it was encouraged by the failure of gun legislation, and was proud of the work its volunteers did to advocate against the proposals.

Created by the League of Women Voters after the Pulse night club massacre, the group helped set the course for legislation to be filed to restrict the sale and transfer of large assault weapons. It also advocated for gun legislation.

“Change is slowly coming to Florida, as we have worked successfully to beat back most of the regressive gun legislation over the past two years and have charted a course to save lives by gaining introduction of a ban on assault weapons and legislation for universal background checks,” said Andy Pelosi, the executive director of the Campaign to Keep Guns off Campus and the co-chair of the coalition.

Senate President Joe Negron is joined by Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon II as they wait to walk to the rotunda to meet their House counterparts after adjourning the extended 2017 legislative session Sine Die on Monday. (Photo by Colin Hackley)

It was a rough year for the insurance industry, but the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America is taking its wins where it can.

Logan McFaddin, the organization’s state government relations regional manager, applauded the Legislature for preserving the insurance premium tax credit and passing a ride-booking regulatory bill that protects “both rideshare drivers and passengers.”

McFaddin also thanked lawmakers who made assignment of benefits reform a “priority this session,” and commended the House for “sending a bill with commonsense reforms to the Senate.”

“As we approach another hurricane season, it’s unfortunate we were unable to pass reform legislation in the Senate to protect hardworking Floridians,” said McFaddin in a statement. “The Senate bill simply did not go far enough to protect consumers. Data shows skyrocketing litigation costs are a major problem, and now we will need to wait another year in hopes of stopping this abuse.”

Atwater reflects on final session wins

CFO Jeff Atwater is going out on top.

Atwater is expected to bid farewell to state government in the coming weeks to take a job as the CFO at Florida Atlantic University. While Atwater has already sent a farewell letter to Floridians, he shared some of his legislative successes with the Sunshine State in his weekly newsletter.

“During this year’s Legislative Session, I am pleased to say that we were successful on several fronts,” said Atwater.

CFO Jeff Atwater, center, claps along with the Tallavana Christian School as they sing during a prayer rally on the National Day of Prayer in April. Atwater applauded lawmakers for passing legislation to “improve the lives of Floridians” this year. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser)

Atwater highlighted several bills, including legislation by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo and Rep. Jake Raburn that clarifies the process the state puts in place for when insurance companies fail financially. The bill outlines the obligations the company has to cooperate with the Department of Financial Services, and clarifies deadlines for debtors to submit claims.

“Our Department continually strives to improve our processes and hone our techniques so that we are offering the best services to the people of Florida and being the best stewards of taxpayer dollars,” he said. “I feel that once again we’ve passed legislation that will improve the lives of Floridians, and I am proud of the team for their hard work and dedication.”

Bondi’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit gets top honor

Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit has something to celebrate about.

The unit was selected as the recipient of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General’s top Award for Excellence in Fighting Fraud, Waste and Abuse. The HHS nominated the unit because of its success in fighting Medicaid fraud and recovering millions of dollars in lost funds.

“This national award highlights the tireless efforts of my Medicaid Fraud Control Unit investigators to stop fraud and recover funds for taxpayers. Since taking office, we have recovered more than $689 million in stolen Medicaid funds through settlements and judgments,” said Bondi in a statement. “This award sends a strong message, that anyone stealing Medicaid funds in Florida will be arrested and prosecuted.”

The unit also has been recognized for its collaboration with HHS and other federal agencies, including the FBI. Last year, the unit worked with HHS, FBI and the Justice Department to help execute the largest Medicare and Medicaid fraud takedown in U.S. history. As part of the takedown, the Medicaid Fraud Unit charged six people in schemes causing more than $17 million in fraudulent billings. The joint investigation identified more than $200 million in fraud resulting in more than 100 arrests in Florida.

The unit will be presented with the award during the 2017 Honor Awards Ceremony in Washington, D.C. in June.

Scott signs law protecting identities of murder witnesses

Witnesses will be protected under a new law signed by Gov. Scott this week.

Sponsored by Rep. Cynthia Stafford and Sen. Randolph Bracy, the law creates a public records exemption for the witnesses of a murder who choose to come forward. It puts witnesses in line with exemptions currently given to victims of sexual assault, child abuse and confidential informants.

“I am proud that we were able to give our law enforcement personnel another valuable tool in the toolkit as we seek to end the “stop snitching” culture and deliver justice to the victims of these horrific crimes,” said Stafford in a statement. “Too often, cases are going unsolved because witnesses are too scared for their own safety to come forward to testify. I am hopeful this legislation will encourage witnesses to come forward to work with law enforcement to help create safer communities throughout the state.”

McFaddin crowned senior living leader

It might be a while before James McFaddin enters his golden years, but the 38-year-old has been named a senior living leader.

Florida Argentum announced recently that McFaddin, a partner with Southern Strategy Group, has been named one of the company’s “Senior Living Leaders Under 40.” The organization, formerly known as the Florida Assisted Living Federation, represents nearly 400-professionally managed senior assisted-living, independent, continuing care and memory care communities.

“From the very beginning, James has worked tirelessly to advance the standards and professionalism for senior living and care,” said Gail Matillo, president and CEO of Florida Argentum, in a statement. “He’s always available to our board and our membership, and we consider ourselves fortunate to consider him a colleague and a good friend.”

McFaddin has worked with Argentum since its inception in 2012.  Due in large part to McFaddin’s work, Florida Argentum achieved legislative victories, including legislation to allow more services for residents living in the communities.

“James’ strategic advice on navigating the complex world of policy and politics has allowed Florida Argentum to establish meaningful relationships with legislators and policymakers who support the interests of seniors and providers,” said Maribeth Bersani, the chief operating officer for Argentum, in a statement. “We appreciate his dedication to the industry and our partners and congratulate him on this well-deserved honor.”

‘No end in sight’

Florida is on fire, with more than 130 active wildfires still burning.

The Florida Forest Service announced this week that more than 2,000 wildfires have burned over 150,000 acres in Florida this year. As of May 11, there were 138 active wildfires on 30,863 acres of state land burning. There were four wildfires on 167,875 acres of federal land burning.

“Florida is in the middle of its worst wildfire season in years – with no end in sight,” said Putnam. “With such an active wildfire season and much of Florida experiencing significant drought conditions, residents and visitors should take every precaution to help prevent wildfire.”

More than 130 fires were burning on state land as of May 11. (Map via the Florida Forest Service)

May is traditionally one of the driest months of the year, and Putnam said that expectation holds true for this year. Putnam encouraged Floridians to create 3-feet of defensible space around their home. To do that, Floridians should make sure to keep the space free of tall, fire-prone plants and materials.

Gov. Scott in April issued an executive order to provide full resources to combat wildfires. The last time a similar executive order was issued was in June 2011.

As wildfires continue to rage on throughout the state, the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America is urging Floridians to listen to first responders and contact their insurance companies if they need to evacuate.

“Insurers are prepared to help begin the claims process for residents located in areas impacted by the wildfires that are continuing to plague the Sunshine State,” said Logan McFaddin, PCI’s regional manager. “It is important to note homeowners’ insurance policies provide coverage for additional living expenses.  This coverage can help move policyholders out of shelters and into a hotel room or rental property if they are forced to evacuate.”

McFaddin said Floridians should evacuate if ordered; but before that they should make sure they read and understand their insurance policy, create an inventory list of what’s in their home; and have copies of their insurance and receipts for major purchases.

Scott recognizes state employees

Take a minute to tip your hat to government employees.

Gov. Scott issued a proclamation declaring May 7 through May 13 as “Public Service Recognition Week,” and declared May 10 as “State Employee Appreciation Day.” The proclamation was meant to recognize the federal, state and local public servants who work each day to make Florida a better state.

“Florida’s public servants span a wide spectrum of essential services statewide,” said Erin Rock, the interim secretary of the Department of Management Services, in a statement. “From education to emergency management and law enforcement to health care professionals, our dedicated employees touch virtually every area of Floridians’ lives.”

The proclamation recognized Florida’s federal, state and local employees for their work in providing reliable and accessible service that is responsible to the needs of Floridians.

“As the third largest state in the country, Florida has one of the lowest ratios of government employees to its population,” said Rock. “Florida’s state government is lean and efficient, making our state employees our greatest asset. We recognize and greatly appreciate their endless talents and commitment to serving the public.”

Adoption benefit bill heads to governor

More state employees who want to become adoptive moms and dads could soon get a little extra help from the state.

The Florida Legislature approved a bill (HB 749) that would expand the reach of the state’s adoption benefit program. The bill expands the definition of a qualifying adoptive employee to employees of charter schools and the Florida Virtual School who were employees on or after July 1, 2015.

“We, in the Legislature, are here to serve and assist our constituents,” said Sen. Kelli Stargel, who sponsored the bill in the Senate.

Stargel said she filed the bill after speaking to a local teacher, Daniel Lauk. He and his wife wanted to adopt a sibling group, but Stargel said when he applied for the incentive program, they were told “they didn’t qualify because they were charter school teachers.”

“Charter school teachers and Florida Virtual School teachers were not included in the benefit, even though they are public school teachers,” she said. “With the passing of this bill, all public teachers will be part of this great adoption incentive.”

The bill passed both the House and Senate unanimously.

“I believe we should do all we can to encourage adoption for families wishing to provide forever homes for these children in our state foster care system,” said Rep. Neil Combee, the sponsor of the House bill.

The bill now heads to Gov. Scott for his consideration.

Same day concealed carry renewal available at 41 tax collectors’ offices

Need to renew your concealed carry license in a pinch? Agriculture Commissioner Putnam announced same day services are now offered at 41 tax collectors’ offices across the state.

“My goal is to make applying for and renewing a Florida concealed weapon license as convenient as possible, and this new service gives license holders another option when renewing,” said Putnam in a statement.

Previously, license holders could submit renewal documents at participating tax collectors’ offices, and the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services would then mail the renewal license if approved. Under the new system, participating tax collectors can now print renewal licenses on site.

The new service means Florida concealed weapons licenses can be renewed online, by mail or in person. While concealed weapons licenses are processed by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, tax collectors have been given greater authority to accept renewal applications and print renewal licenses for eligible applicants because of rising demand.

There are currently more than 1.75 million active Florida concealed weapon licenses, and more than 204,000 of those will expire this year.

Economic development leaders applauded

Gov. Scott is usually the one handing out his “Business Ambassador Award,” but this week he was the one getting the award.

The Naples Republican was presented with the 2017 Business Ambassador Award during the Florida Economic Development Council’s annual conference in Fort Lauderdale. The governor was recognized, according to the organization, for his strong defense of economic development and tourism programs, as well as his work to bring “hundreds of thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in capital investment to the state.”

The state organization also presented Crystal Sircy, the executive vice president of the Orlando Economic Partnership, with the Eunice Sullivan Economic Development Professional of the Year award. Given annually, the award recognizes the achievements of an outstanding economic developer within the state of Florida.

“She is a tireless advocate for economic development issues, and has testified many times in front of Florida House and Senate committees. Economic developers from around the state have relied on her to mentor them,” said Cathy Chambers, the 2016-2017 chair of the Florida Economic Development Council and senior vice president of strategy and business development at JAXUSA Partnership. “Her contributions to our state are too numerous to count.”

Kathleen Woodring, the executive vice president of CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion, was presented with the Toni Jennings Workforce Professional of the Year award. The award honors and recognizes the former lieutenant governor’s leadership in revamping the state’s workforce system to respond to critical workforce needs.

“Ms. Woodring has set a new standard for excellence in managing relationships with community organizations and partners,” said Ed Peachey, the president and chief executive officer of CareerSource Tampa Bay. “Thanks to her leadership, extraordinary attention to detail, and devotion to educating our professionals to be the most innovative and effective in the nation, she has helped create a path to prosperity for thousands of at-risk Citrus, Levy and Marion County residents. Her impact on these communities will be felt for decades to come.”

2018 ‘Teacher of the Year’ finalists announced

Way to go, Michael Miller!

The Kissimmee Elementary School teacher was chosen as one of five finalists to compete for the 2018 Macy’s/Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year award, the Department of Education announced this week.

“Michael Miller has distinguished himself as one of Osceola’s most dynamic and well-respected teachers and has demonstrated a passion for helping students reach their full potential,” said Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart in a statement. “By setting high expectations and using data-driven instruction strategies, Mr. Miller has had a profound impact on his students, and I am pleased to announce that he is one of Florida’s 2018 Teacher of the Year finalists. The Millers are an outstanding family; just last year, his wife, Amy, earned this prestigious honor!”

Miller, a fifth grade math teacher, was teaching his class when Stewart made a surprise visit to his classroom to tell him he had been chosen as a finalist.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart surprised Michael Miller this week in his classroom to tell him he was a finalist for the 2018 Teacher of the Year. (Photo via the Department of Education)

Miller received a $5,000 check from the Department of Education and a $500 Macy’s gift card. Kissimmee Elementary School received a $1,000 check from Macy’s.

Macy’s, along with the state Department of Education, has honored exceptional educators in Florida for the past 29 years. The program recognizes and honors the contributions of classroom teachers.

“Teachers are some of THE most important people in our children’s lives,” said Dennis Witte, Macy’s executive vice president and regional director of stores, in a statement.  “To be a teacher is to be a mentor, a friend, a coach and a constant in the lives of their students. Teachers are life changers and this is what happens each day in Mr. Miller’s classroom. Throughout Macy’s sponsorship of this program, we continue to be humbled and proud to support the best educators in the Florida.”

Kudos, Katelyn Fiori!

The Vero Beach Elementary School teacher was chosen as one of five finalists to compete for the 2018 Macy’s/Florida Department of Education Teacher of the Year award, the Department of Education announced this week.

“Ms. Fiori’s passion for her students and the teaching profession as a whole sets her apart from the crowd,” said Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart. “Her colleagues praised her for demonstrating perseverance and refusing to accept excuses – from herself or her students, a trait she honed while serving as a military wife. In her first year at Vero Beach Elementary, she has developed innovative approaches to tracking students’ progress, and I am thrilled to share that she is a 2018 Teacher of the Year finalist.”

The fourth-grade teacher was surprised while she was teaching her class this week.

Scott holds ‘Freedom Rally’ for Venezuela

Gov. Scott has joined South Florida leaders calling for the release of Venezuelan political prisoner Leopoldo Lopez.

Scott this week held a Freedom Rally at El Arepazo 2 in Miami to call for Lopez release. Lopez was jailed after being found guilty of inciting violence during 2014 protests. Last week, there were rumors circulating that he had been taken to a military hospital.

“We have seen the protests down there,” said Scott, according to CBS 4 in Miami. “People out of food, out of medicine. It is horrible what is happening in Venezuela.”

Gov. Rick Scott awarded Leopoldo López, who is jailed in Venezuela, with the Governor’s Freedom Award. The award was accepted by Carlos Vecchio, co-founder of “Voluntad Popular.” (Photo via the Governor’s Office)

Scott honored Lopez with a “Governor’s Freedom Award,” which was accepted by Carlos Vecchio, the founder of Voluntad Popular,” a Venezuelan social and political movement working to eliminate poverty and support democracy. He also spoke to Lilian Tintori, Lopez’s wife, by phone, according to the Governor’s Office.

Huzzah, history

These kids are serious students of history.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner and the Museum of Florida History announced this week the winners of the annual Florida History Day competition. More than 60,000 students from across Florida participated in Florida History Day this year, and the top entries from each county competed at the state contest.

“The students and teachers who participated in this year’s Florida History Day are a shining example of the talent and creativity in Florida schools,” said Detzner in a statement. “I’d like to recognize all of the students who devoted time and energy to their projects and I want to congratulate the award winners who will represent Florida in the National History Day competition. I also applaud the teachers who were honored with awards this year for inspiring students and cultivating their interest in history.”

The top two placements in each category will go on to represent Florida at the National History Day contest in College Park, Maryland in June.

Harriet Beecher Stowe appears in sepia tone, a tiny figure indistinguishable from the crowd spilling down the steps of the Old Capitol. The date is 1874.

That photograph is the 200,000th image entered into the Florida State Library and Archives’ Florida Memory collection, selected from the 1 million in the Florida Photographic Collection.

Governor Marcellus L. Stearns greeting Harriet Beecher Stowe on the steps of the Capitol. (Photo via the State Archives of Florida)

“We are excited to celebrate this significant achievement for Florida Memory, which has digitized photographs that date all the way back to the earliest days of photography,” said Secretary of State Detzner.

Allen Morris, the legendary late clerk of the House, began the collection in 1952. Archives staff have been digitizing and offering images online since 1994. Morris’ wife, archivist Joan Perry Morris, became director and continued to build the photographic archive.

In addition to photographs, the project offers 300,000 archival documents, 250 videos and 2,900 audio recordings — all available for use without copyright restrictions — provided you credit the State Archives of Florida.

Love history? Then May is the month for you.

May is National Historic Preservation Month, and the Department of State is using this as a chance to encourage Floridians to explore and appreciate the historically significant places throughout the state.

“During National Historic Preservation Month, I invite all Florida residents and visitors to experience Florida’s historic sites to see firsthand how historic preservation benefits our economy and contributes to our understanding of our diverse heritage,” said Secretary of State Detzner. “Some of the nation’s most historically significant sites are located in the Sunshine State. I encourage all Floridians to join the Department of State in celebrating the preservation of Florida’s historic sites.”

Led by the National Trust for Historic Preservation, the theme for the national campaign is #ThisPlaceMatters. The department is joining the national effort by showcasing ways it works year-round to protect, preserve and promote Florida’s historic places, including through the department’s Florida Heritage Trail publication series.

The department has produced 15 Florida Heritage Trail publications, including the Civil War Heritage Trail, the Seminole Wars Heritage Trail, and the Women’s Heritage Trail.

Appointed

Donna Elam is keeping her seat on the Florida Commission on Human Relations

Gov. Scott announced this week he reappointed the 65-year-old Wellington resident to the Commission on Human Relations. Wellington, the president and CEO for the Elam Leadership Institute, received her bachelor’s degree from York College and her master’s and doctorate degree from New York University.

She was reappointed to a term ending Sept. 30, 2020, and her appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

The governor announced the appointment of Karin Hoffman to the Board of Control for Southern Regional Education.

The 51-year-old Lighthouse Point is the vice president of Sonshine Educational Tours. She received her bachelor’s degree from Trinity International University, and was appointed to a term ending June 30, 2020.

Scott also appointed Richard Butler and James Millican to the Juvenile Welfare Board of Pinellas County.

Butler, a 59-year-old Pinellas Park resident, is the owner of Richard Butler Realty and is currently on the Pinellas Park City Council. He attended St. Petersburg College.

Millican, a 50-year-old Pinellas Park resident, is the district chief of Lealman Fire District of St. Petersburg. He received his EMT certification from St. Petersburg College and his firefighter certificate from P-Tech.

Both fill vacant seats for terms ending Aug. 11, 2020, and both are subject to confirmation of the Florida Senate.

Scott reappointed Maryke Lee, a 65-year-old Windermere resident; Rodney Talbot, a 60-year-old Winter Garden resident; and Dr. Denise Carter, a 56-year-old Windermere resident to the West Orange Healthcare District. He also appointed Dr. Peter Taylor, a 56-year-old from Windermere, to the board.

Division of Blind wraps up year-long 75th anniversary celebration

The Department of Education’s Division of Blind Services commemorated its commitment to fostering independence for individuals who are blind and visually impaired during a ceremony and expo in Pensacola this week.

Through the state agency, blind and visually impaired individuals have access to educational, social and recreational services beginning at birth. In addition to helping younger clients, the agency works with adults to attain independent living solutions and career vocations educational skills so they can accomplish goals.

Rep. Frank White with Division of Blind Services Director Robert L. Doyle, III, during the DBS 75th Anniversary Ceremony in Pensacola. (Photo via the Department of Education)

The regional ceremony and expo featured informational sessions, networking opportunities, a community and technology showcase and inspirational testimonials.

“I am very grateful for the Division of Blind Services and its resources that came to my rescue,” said Pamela Wirick, a child care resource and referral specialist for the Early Learning Coalition who was born with only 10 percent of her vision because of macular degeneration. “I am meeting goals and completing tasks that I never thought I could do. Thank you to the DBS staff who go beyond their job expectations to assist, teach, support and listen.”

Big money returned to Floridians

There might be two months left in the fiscal year, but the Florida Division of Unclaimed Property has already broken its annual fiscal year return record.

CFO Atwater announced this week that more than 425,000 individual claims worth a combined $275 million have been processed, surpassing the $271.8 million record reached in fiscal 2015-16.

“Month after month and year after year, our unclaimed property team has continued to raise the bar,” said Atwater. “Their dedication and commitment to putting these forgotten-about funds back into the hands of Floridians is unmatched, and I am proud to announce their latest feat. Millions more lays waiting to be claimed and I hope that all Floridians will take two minutes to look on our website for an unclaimed property account in their name.”

Since 2011, more than $1.57 billion has been returned to Floridians.

The Department holds unclaimed property from dormant accounts in financial institutions, insurance and utility companies, securities and trust holdings. Unclaimed property also includes tangible property, like watches, jewelry, coins, stamps, and other miscellaneous items from abandoned safe deposit boxes.

The check is in the mail

The Florida Realtors Education Foundation awarded $166,000 in scholarships to help pay for higher education expenses for 104 students in 2017-18, the organization announced this week.

Since the program was founded eight years ago, Florida Realtors has awarded more than $1.3 million in scholarships. That money has helped 790 students go to colleges or university. All recipients are Florida residents who attend community colleges, four-year universities, graduate programs or law schools both in- and out of state.

“We’re proud to provide much-needed financial support to families often struggling to pay for their children’s college dreams,” said Vince Price, chairman of Florida Realtors Education Foundation Inc. These student scholarships are one way that Realtors across the state give back to the community. It’s our investment in the future.”

Scott signs ‘dogs in courts’ bill

A bill to expand the use of therapy animals in courts is now law.

Gov. Scott signed the bill (HB 151) sponsored by Rep. Jason Brodeur and Jason Moskowitz this week. The new law, which goes into effect on July 1, expands the use of therapy animals to court proceedings involving child abuse, abandonment, or neglect. The bill passed both chambers unanimously earlier this year.

Cosmo, an 11 year old border collie service dog rests during a Senate committee meeting earlier this year. The governor signed a bill this week to allow children testifying in abuse, abandonment and neglect cases to use service dogs.

“The emotional bonds formed with animals often bring comfort to children and lend others in terrible circumstances the strength and courage they need to confront past abuses,” said Moskowitz, who said he was proud to have worked with Brodeur and have Scott’s backing, in a statement. “Helping children, victims, and the vulnerable is a non-partisan issue and I’m honored by the leadership and support from my colleagues on both sides of the aisle.”

Building better school report cards

Need a step-by-step guide to building online school report cards? Don’t worry, the ExcelinEd and a host of other education groups have you covered.

The organization released a State Guide to Building Online School Report Cards this week. The 12-month, step-by-step timeline and guide is meant to outline a process for states to generate a next generation report card under the Every Student Succeeds Act.

Created by ExcelinEd, the Council for Chief State School Officers, Collaborative Communications Group, Data Quality Campaign, Learning Heroes and National PTA, the guide breaks down the process for creating report cards that are easy for parents and the public to understand.

Summit focuses on education and progress among African-Americans

A summit planned for next week in Tallahassee will explore the relationship between education and progress for the African-American community, including in public health.

Sponsoring “Black Brains Matter” are Tallahassee’s Institute for African-American Health and the Miles-Johnson Task Force.

“The data clearly show that if you don’t finish high school, you will take nine years off your life,” Dr. Joseph Webster, president of the institute, said during a news conference.

“Education is like vaccination. If the child is not educated, he is not immune to the evils of society and will never navigate through the world properly. If you denied one-half of the children vaccinations, would that be a good public health system? The answer is no. But we’re denying half of our children education.”

Friday’s events include a town hall meeting and a lecture by Leon County Commissioner Bill Proctor.

Gloria Ladson-Billings, an education professor and theorist at the University of Wisconsin is to deliver a luncheon address Saturday. David Lawrence, a trustee at Florida A&M university and editor emeritus of the Miami Herald, will speak Saturday night.

The end is near

Get them while you can: The last day to harvest stone crab claws in Florida is Monday.

The commercial and recreational harvest of stone crab claws closes Tuesday, with the last day to harvest the tasty claws on Monday. Stone crab season will reopen on Oct. 15.

Commercially harvested stone crab claws can be possessed and sold during the closed season, but only if they were placed in inventory before Tuesday by a licensed wholesale or retail dealer. Stone crab traps must be removed from the water within five days of the close of the season, unless a special extension is granted by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Stone crab claws can’t be harvested from traps pulled after the season. closes.

The five-month closure happens each year during peak spawning season, according to FWC, to help conserve and sustain Florida stone crabs.

Here’s this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

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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.