Takeaways from Tallahassee — Tobacco decision cheers one former judge

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A U.S. appeals court ruling that federal law doesn’t bar smokers from using a landmark Florida Supreme Court decision from proving damages gave a smile to one former Florida judge.

The 11th Circuit on Thursday said plaintiffs and their survivors can use the “Engle tobacco class action’s jury findings to establish strict liability and negligence claims,” Law360 reported.

Such suits are known as Engle progeny cases, after a monumental 1994 class action, in which individual smokers with claims against tobacco companies each sue for their own damages.

(On a related note, a bill died this Legislative Session that would have repealed the cap on the amount of money tobacco companies have to put up as appellate bonds. The state’s trial lawyers, who backed the change, said it would have forced settlements and end decades-long litigation over plaintiffs’ claims of irreversible illness or early death from smoking.)

The appellate decision included a 226-page dissent from Judge Gerald Tjoflat that ended with the kicker, “If one lesson can be learned from this chaotic poker game it is that we should stick to our day jobs…

“Rather than act as advocates for the plaintiff, we should saddle him with the burden the law tasks him with carrying, and assess, impartially, whether the plaintiffs have established the elements of proving preclusion in the manner the law demands,” he wrote.

That had former 1st District Court of Appeal judge Simone Marstiller, now in private practice, tweeting, “#DissentsIWontBeReading.”

A tweet also came out under her law firm’s Twitter account, @MarstillerFirm: “The tobacco companies have tried several ways to undo #SCOFL’s Engle decision with no success.”

In 2010, Marstiller wrote an opinion in a case against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. (RJR) that was “the first so-called ‘Engle progeny’ case to reach a district court of appeal following the Florida Supreme Court’s decision in Engle v. Liggett Group.”

The case was brought by Matilde Martin, widow of smoker Benny Martin.

Marstiller’s holding: “We find the trial court correctly applied Engle and Mrs. Martin produced sufficient independent evidence to prove RJR’s liability for her husband‟s death.”

She went on: “The punitive damage award ($25 million) overcomes the presumption of excessiveness in (Florida law) and satisfies due process in view of the evidence of decades-long wanton conduct by RJR and because the award does not financially devastate the company.”

When teased about her tweets Thursday, Marstiller responded on Twitter: “Hey … I gotta have SOME fun!”

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:

Vacation land — If you thought there were more people in Florida this winter, you were right. Gov. Rick Scott announced this week that 31.1 million tourists came to Florida in the first three months of 2017, a 2.5 percent increase over the same period in 2016. According to Visit Florida, the state saw more than 27 million domestic tourists, a 3.2 percent increase over the first quarter of 2016. Despite the overall increase in visitors, there was a decrease in overseas and Canadian tourists during the first quarter. The governor used the record numbers to take a swipe at state lawmakers for cutting funding to Visit Florida. “Now is not the time to take our foot off the gas,” said Scott in a statement. “In business, you would never stop marketing when you start to see great results. Instead of decimating funding to VISIT FLORIDA, we should be investing in tourism marketing so we can continue to bring record visitors to our state.”

More than 31.1 million tourists visited Florida communities — including Tampa, shown here from the airport — during the first quarter of 2017.

Right hand (wo)man — After 28 years working for the state of Florida, Kim McDougal is getting ready to say good-bye. Gov. Scott announced this week McDougal, who has served as his chief of staff since April 2016, was leaving her post effective July 1 to pursue opportunities in the private sector. “Kim has proudly served Florida families for nearly three decades and her years of experience will be missed in my office,” said Scott in a statement. “I know she will continue to do great things for our state.” Scott wasted no time in naming McDougal’s replacement, announcing this week that Jackie Schutz Zeckman will take over as his right hand woman beginning July 1. Zeckman has been with the Governor’s Office since 2011, serving most recently as the communications director. “Jackie has been on my team since my first year in office and has done a great job leading my communications efforts and conveying my vision of Florida as the best destination for families and businesses,” said Scott. “I have full confidence that she will do an outstanding job as my Chief of Staff.”

No news on special session — While plenty of state lawmakers have come out on social media calling for a special session to tackle medical marijuana, Senate President Joe Negron has yet to join House Speaker Richard Corcoran in calling for a Special Session. Earlier this week, a spokeswoman for Negron said the Stuart Republican was still in the process of having discussions with senators about a memo he sent seeking input. A state law provides that the “President of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives, by joint proclamation duly filed with the Department of State, may convene the Legislature in special session.” Rank-and-file lawmakers can also call a special session. If 32 members ask for a special session, the Department of State is required to poll the entire Legislature. If three-fifths of each chamber agree, then a call is issued. Sen. Darryl Rouson has urged his colleagues to take this route to call a special session, sending his own letter asking for a special session.

Senate President Joe Negron hasn’t yet joined  House Speaker Richard Corcoran in calling for a special session to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment. (Photo by Phil Sears)

No slots for you — The Florida Supreme Court ruled against a North Florida racetrack seeking to add slot machines. The 20-page decision means gambling facilities in Gadsden County’s Gretna and in seven other counties that passed local referendums allowing slots also will be unable to offer them. At issue, was “whether local voters can authorize the operation of slot machines in counties outside of Dade and Broward.” Statewide voters in 2004 approved a constitutional amendment legalizing slots at existing jai-alai frontons and horse and dog racetracks only in those counties and only if voters there OK’d it in referendums there. Since then, voters in Brevard, Duval, Gadsden, Hamilton, Lee, Palm Beach, St. Lucie and Washington counties approved slots. But the opinion, authored by Justice Charles Canady, found that “nothing in (state gambling law) grants any authority to regulate slot machine gaming to any county.” Lawmakers failed to agree on a comprehensive overhaul of the state’s gambling laws this Legislative Session.

Low, low, low — The state Department of Economic Opportunity announced this week that the unemployment rate dipped to 4.5 percent in April, down from 4.8 percent one month earlier. The drop marks one of the lowest rates since September 2007, and is only slightly higher than the national unemployment rate of 4.4 percent. “Florida businesses have excelled over the past six years thanks to the policies of Gov. (Rick) Scott and his administration,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the DEO, in a statement. “Unemployment continues to drop, private sector jobs are on the rise and Florida families are flourishing. We must not give up on our efforts to make Florida the best place to start and grow a business.”

Stark warns of lawsuits if Scott signs ‘religious liberties’ bill

Rep. Richard Stark is not up on the so-called religious liberties bill that cleared the House in the final hours of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Stark, who served as co-chair of this year’s legislative fellowship prayer group, said the proposal (SB 436) was couched in terms of a student’s freedom for religious expression, and was promoted by Democrats in the House, who “firmly believe that students did not have enough freedoms in expressing their religion.”

Stark said he and Rep. Joseph Geller worked a lot this session to make sure the bill was “re-worded so that it was more presentable, and would define a student’s right to religious expression without expanding school prayer.” However, the amended version of the bill was overturned in the final hours of the Session by” the House Speaker and Senate President.”

Currently students can pray before or after instructional time outside of the class room, on the field before a ballgame, or in an after-school club. The prayer cannot be initiated by parents or teachers, or be part of a forum such as a school assembly. This bill could change all or part of that,” said Stark in a statement. “Unintended consequences could be a commencement speech by an atheist who could berate religion, and the audience would have to listen, or even Muslim prayers to an Islamaphobic group.  After bringing this up in debate, I was followed by another Representative who said I was speaking in hypotheticals, and that this was a good bill.”

Stark said if Gov. Scott signs the bill the state could “look forward to lawsuits and agitation by disgruntled parents at schools.”

The bill has not yet been sent to Scott for his consideration.

Ausley named FAAST ‘Legislator of the Year’

Kudos, Rep. Loranne Ausley!

The Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology (FAAST) presented the Tallahassee Democrat with the Dr. Frederick Haynes FAAST Legislator of the Year Award. The organization presented Ausley with the award for her work on behalf of Floridians with disabilities. “Representative Ausley is an incredible advocate for those with disabilities in Florida, so we were proud to name her our Legislator of the Year,” said Michael Daniels, the executive director of FAAST in a statement.

Ausley was recognized for her sponsoring a bill (HB 371) that would make it easier for students with disabilities to retain and use assistive technologies when they switch schools. The bill also allows for coordination with the Division of Vocational Rehabilitation so that assistive technology can be used in the employment or post-school environment.

Rep. Loranne Ausley was named the FAAST “Legislator of the Year” because of the work she did on behalf of persons with disabilities during the 2017 Legislative Session. (Photo via the Florida House)

“Her bill will have a material impact on the lives of many students in schools across the state, providing easier and broader use of assistive technology while in school, at home and while working,” said Daniels.

The award is named after Dr. Frederick Haynes, a longtime champion for those with disabilities who died in September.

“I am honored to receive this award from the Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology,” said Ausley in a statement. “I have always worked to remove barriers to access to assistive technology for Florida’s students, and I am proud to have sponsored another bill that will accomplish that goal.”

More wins, losses from the 2017 Session

AFSCME sees ‘clear and meaningful victories’ — The 2017 Legislative Session was filled with contrasts, yet AFSCME Florida said this week it could point to “some very clear and meaningful victories” that were made possible thanks to lawmakers in the House and Senate “who understand the value that AFSCME Florida adds to the community, respects the work our members do, and were willing to stand with us.”

The labor organization pointed to the $183 million the Legislature included in the budget for pay raises for state employees. Noting the money isn’t for “a one-time bonus” and isn’t off-set by “takeaways or some other gimmick,” the union called the 3- to 4-percent raised a “huge step forward.”

It also applauded efforts to stop what was often referred to as “union-busting legislation” in the Senate. The bill (HB 11) passed the House, but failed to advance in the Senate, largely due to education efforts and negotiations of AFSCME.

The group also worked with allies to stop preemption legislation that would strip local governments of their ability to pass living wage ordinances and worked to stop legislation allowing the open carry of firearms.

Florida Press Association has mixed luck — The Florida Press Association might not have a lot to celebrate, but there isn’t a lot to mourn either.

While several of the bills the association was watching or actively opposed — including a bill (HB 897) that would have allowed cities and counties to place notice of various actions, like budget amendments, on websites instead of in the newspapers — didn’t survive the 2017 Legislative Session, other bills are now headed to the Governor’s Desk.

One such bill prohibits publications from charging to remove arrest booking photographs, and requires them to be taken down upon request. It also allows for a lawsuit and civil penalties if it isn’t removed. While the Florida Press Association was neutral on the bill (SB 118), it opposes language added late in the process that requires the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to administrative seal arrest records of those people whose charges are dismissed. The Florida Press Association is now working with the First Amendment Association to urge Gov. Scott to veto the bill.

Florida on fire

The latest wildfire report remains dire.

The Florida Forestry Service reports 2,163 fires have burned more than 170,000 acres in Florida this year, and there were 100 fires were still burning as of Thursday.

“Even with rain across large parts of Florida over the weekend, Florida is still experiencing drought conditions and elevated wildfire danger – and will continue to for some time,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in a statement this week. “Residents and visitors need to pay attention to and comply with local burn bans and should take every precaution to help prevent wildfire.”

Gov. Scott issued an executive order on April 11 directing resources to fight the wildfires. The last time a similar order was issued was in June 2011.

More than a dozen Florida counties have instituted burn bans, and much of the state was had a moderate to high risk of fire danger.

Nursing homes get a nod

Tip your hat to nursing homes — and the staff, volunteers and communities that support them.

Established by the American Health Care Association in 1967, this week marked National Nursing Home Week. The annual event is a chance for residents and their families to recognized the skilled nursing care centers for the work they do on behalf of seniors and people with disabilities.

“Nursing homes care for many of our state’s most vulnerable residents, and I am thankful for their commitment to improving the quality of life for Floridians,” said Justin Senior, head of Florida’s Agency for Health Care Administration, in a statement. “When our staff visit facilities around the state, we are often amazed at the level of care and service that nursing home staff and administrators provide for their residents.”

Senior used the annual event as a chance to remind Floridians about tools available to people looking for a nursing home. The state’s Nursing Home Guide includes a nursing home comparison tool, inspection reports, and information about nursing homes across the state.

Nature Conservancy staffing up

The Nature Conservancy’s Florida arm has been on a recruiting drive that has added experts with years of experience to fundraising, lobbying and field operations.

“Our strength as an organization comes from the expertise of our staff, whose unique combination of scientific knowledge, policy, fundraising, land management, outreach, and effective project management enable us to do breakthrough work across the organization,” said Temperince Morgan, the group’s executive director.

The organization announced recently it hired Megan Wenrich to serve as its new director of philanthropy, rounding up donations from individuals, corporations, and foundations. Assisting her will be Peter Lefferts as senior associate director and Ali Rieck as philanthropy writer.

Garrett Wallace has been tapped to serve as its new government-relations manager, and Lindsay Stevens will oversee the state chapter’s land-protection efforts.

Cristin Krasco is the new manager of the Blowing Rocks Preserve, a 73-acre environmental reservation on Jupiter Island. Tiffany Howard oversees invasive species control at the Disney Wilderness Preserve.

Sonia Succar Rodríguez oversees the conservancy’s urban conservation program in Miami.

Lobby Up

Big money for legislative lobbyists — It’s fair to say it was a good first quarter for legislative lobbyists.

The latest quarterly compensation reports, due earlier this week, showed legislative lobbyists earned a median sum of $35.7 million between January and March. The reports captured roughly the first half of the 2017 Legislative Session, as well as the two months leading up to it.

While state law requires lobby firms to report revenue, it only requires them to do so in general range — not exact amounts.

The Top 5 earners during the three-month period, according to data compiled by our friends at LobbyTools, were Ballard Partners, Southern Strategy Group, Ronald L. Book PA, Capital City Consulting, and Greenberg Traurig. The five firms started the year in the same spots they ended 2016.

Ballard Partners and Southern Strategy Group led the pack, reporting median earnings of more than $2.4 million and more than $2.3 million respectively. Book’s firm reported median earnings of more than $2 million; followed by Capital City Consulting with more than $1.6 million in median earnings; and Greenberg Traurig with more than $1.2 million in median earnings.

Lobbyist Clark Smith, right, with the Southern Strategy Group and Patrick Bell talk on the 4th floor rotunda while the Florida House of Representatives floor debate in the final days of the 2017 Legislative Session. Southern Strategy Group was one of the top earning legislative lobby firms during the first quarter of 2017. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser)

Workers’ comp cash — FCCI Insurance Group invested heavily in legislative lobbying, to the tune of $383,000, during the first quarter of 2017.

State records indicated the Sarasota insurer paid 11 lobbying firms for legislative work during the first three months of the year. Floridian Partners took home the biggest paycheck; it reported earning $70,000 between January and March; followed by Southern Strategy Group, which reported earning $53,000; and Silver Palm Consulting, which reported earning $50,000.

The National Council on Compensation Insurance, which was at the heart of the workers’ compensation debate, hired Floridian Partners and reported paying the firm $5,000.

But all that cash didn’t buy workers’ compensation reform. The House and Senate couldn’t agree on a fix sought by insurers, including FCCI, and ended the 2017 Legislative Session without addressing the issue.

Pot money — Protecting your turf doesn’t come cheap, just ask San Felasco Nurseries.

The Alachua County nursery reported paying at least $164,000 to legislative lobbyists during the first quarter of 2017. The nursery is one of seven companies in the state that is currently licensed to grow, process and dispense medical marijuana.

State records show San Felasco hired at least 10 firms to represent it during the first quarter, including Igniting Florida, which reported earning $54,000; Foley & Lardner, which reported earning $35,000; and PooleMcKinley, which reported earning $25,000.

San Felasco wasn’t the only grower that spent big in the first quarter. Records show Surterra Holdings spent at least $75,000 on three legislative lobbying firms; while Trulieve spent at least $55,000 on five firms between January and March. Lobbyists hired by Modern Health Concepts and Knox Nursery did not report earnings in the first quarter.

Legislation to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment failed to pass during the 2017 Legislation Session. One of the sticking points: Caps on the number of retail locations licensed growers could have.

Appointed

Welcome to the board!

Gov. Scott announced this week he appointed Samuel Garrison to the St. Johns River State College District Board of Trustees.

An attorney at Kopelousos, Bradley and Garrison, the 40-year-old Fleming Island resident previously served as an assistant state attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit of Florida. He has his bachelor’s degree from Samford University and his law degree from the University of Illinois College of Law. He succeeds Cranford Coleman and is appointed to a term ending May 31, 2018.

The governor also announced David “Hunt” Hawkins will serve on the Florida State College at Jacksonville District Board of Trustees. Hawkins, a 58-year-old Jacksonville resident, is the CEO of Stein Mart and previously served as a member of the program advisory council to DECA, Inc. He succeeds Thomas Bryan. Scott also reappointed Thomas “Mac” McGehee, Jr. to the board. The 57-year-old Jacksonville resident is the executive vice president at Mac Papers. Both men serve terms ending May 31, 2019.

Gary Wendt has been appointed to the Florida Polytechnic University Board of Trustees, the Governor’s Office announced this week.

The 75-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident currently serves as the chairman of Deerpath Capital Management. He previously served as the CEO of GE Capital from 1986 to 1998. Wendt fills a vacant seat, and is appointed to a term ending June 30, 2017.

Francisco Pines will keep his seat on the Florida Citrus Commission, the governor announced this week.

The 41-year-old Miami resident is the co-owner of Pines Ranch and a managing partner at Francisco J. Pines PA. He was reappointed to a term ending May 31, 2019.

Randy Schwartz, meanwhile, will join the Florida Real Estate Commission. Scott appointed the 67-year-old Winter Springs resident to a term ending Oct. 31, 2020.

The appointments are subject to confirmation by Florida Senate.

Scott reappointed Peter Wish and John Stafford to the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority.

Wish is the president of Gulfcoast Healthstyle Corp. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Miami and his Ph.D. in psychology from Boston College. Stafford is the former chairman of FCCI Mutual Insurance Company, and previously served on the Suncoast Foundation for Handicapped Children. Both men were appointed to a term ending Nov. 17, 2020.

Nicole Attong and Patricia Lipovsky were appointed to the Rehabilitation Council for the Blind.

Attong, a 50-year-old Miami resident, is the director of Florida International University Embrace, a university-wide initative to promote health, wellness and overall functioning for adults with development disabilities. Lipovsky, a 67-year-old Daytona Beach resident, is a self-employed property manager. Both were appointed to terms ending Aug. 31, 2019.

#BringABook

Headed to the annual Leadership Florida meeting? Better stop by your local bookstore on the way.

Leadership Florida and Volunteer Florida announced this week they will host their second annual #BringABook service initiative in conjunction with Leadership Florida’s 2017 annual meeting at The Breakers in Palm Beach.

Volunteer Florida and Leadership Florida collected more than 400 books during their inaugural #BringABook service drive at the 2016 Leadership Florida annual meeting (Photo via Volunteer Florida)

Volunteer Florida and Leadership Florida officials are asking attendees to bring new or gently-used books for elementary school students to the annual meeting. Books will be collected at the registration area from June 29 through July 1. The book drive will benefit the Education Foundation of Palm Beach County and the Literacy Coalition of Palm Beach County, and Volunteer Florida partners distribute the books to students in low-income schools in the region.

“Leadership Florida values education, and the #BringABook service initiative is one of the many ways our members work to ensure Florida students achieve their highest potential,” said Wendy Spencer, president of Leadership Florida.

Job city, Fla.

The best place to start a career in the Sunshine State might just be the City Beautiful.

A new report from WalletHub found Orlando is the second best place in the nation to start a career. The personal finance website ranked the country’s 150 largest markets based on 23 indicators of career-friendliness, including the availability of entry level jobs, monthly average starting salary, and housing affordability.

The city came in first when it came to the number of entry-level of jobs per 100,000 working-age people and sixth in the projected population growth.

While WalletHub’s rankings aren’t known for being exactly scientific, it’s placement of Orlando  as a top place for job-seekers might be right-on. Orlando led the state in April when it came to job creation, adding 42,700 new private-sector jobs over the year. It also had the second highest demand for high-skill, high-wage STEM occupations, and was ranked second in the state when it came to job demand.

The WalletHub report ranked Miami as the 7th best place in the nation to start a career. Tampa landed in the No. 19 spot, followed by Fort Lauderdale at No. 24, Tallahassee at No. 36, St Petersburg at No. 54, Cape Coral at No. 78, and Jacksonville at No. 90. Also on the list were Pembroke Pines (No. 105), Port St. Lucie (No. 122), and Hialeah (No. 134).

This Bud’s for you

Anheuser-Busch’s Metal Container Corp. newest facility is open for business.

Gov. Scott and a slew of Jacksonville-area lawmakers attended the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new aluminum bottle line at the company’s new facility in Jacksonville this week. The expansion invested $175 million into the local community and created 75 new jobs, according to the Governor’s Office.

“Anheuser-Busch is a national company that chose to invest $175 million in Northeast Florida because we used our entire toolkit, including incentives, to outcompete every other potential location,” said Scott, who said the project wouldn’t have been possible without work of Enterprise Florida, in a statement. “I look forward to seeing Anheuser-Busch’s ongoing success in Florida as we continue to fight to bring more important jobs wins like this to our state.”

Gov. Rick Scott and other elected officials attend the ribbon cutting for the new Anheuser-Busch’s Metal Container Corp. facility in Jacksonville. (Photo via the Governor’s Office.)

“Anheuser-Busch and MCC have been proud members of the Jacksonville community for nearly 50 years, and we are pleased to celebrate the grand opening of this new aluminum bottle line, which has not only given us the ability to increase production of the popular aluminum bottle, but has allowed us to employ even more Floridians,” said Richard Pyle, the Jacksonville plant manager in a statement.

The new facility, according to the Jacksonville Business Journal, will produce both aluminum bottles and cans, and will turn out about 9 million units each day. Aluminum bottles have been a hit with consumers, in part, company officials said, because they are recyclable, lightweight weight and have twist off tops.

State Farm gives $50K grant to Florida Education Foundation

State Farm wants to make sure Florida kiddos are getting the best education possible.

The insurance company announced this week it awarded a $50,000 grant to the Florida Education Foundation. Half of the grant will fund the “Florida Reads Best” initiative, while the other half will fund the Dr. Brian Dassler Leadership Academy, formerly known as the Commissioner’s Leadership Academy.

“We are incredibly grateful for State Farm’s continued partnership with the Florida Department of Education and the Florida Education Foundation as we continue working toward our goal of Florida being the best place in the world to receive an education,” said Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart in a statement “State Farm’s work with education in our state has a common theme, student achievement, and we look forward to celebrating improved outcomes as a result of this generous contribution for Florida’s students.”

The State Farm grant has funded the participation of 353 school leaders in the leadership program, which is designed to improve the capabilities of school leaders in evaluating classroom instruction and in coaching teachers toward continuous improvement. This year’s grant will fund another class of school-based leaders in the program.

The State Farm grant helped bring together reading leaders from school districts, early learning organizations, universities and community organizations to plan strategies for reading improvement as part of the “Florida Reads Best” program. This year’s grant, according to the Department of Education, will help continue the professional development work of the team.

“State Farm’s goal is to help build safer, stronger and better educated communities,” said Jose Soto, State Farm’s community affairs specialist, in a statement. “The work that the Foundation and the Florida Department of Education are doing to improve student achievement is well worth the investment, and we are delighted to contribute to their success.”

All aboard

Florida’s seaports are in ship shape.

That’s according to a new report from the Florida Ports Council. The annual report — Florida Seaports: High Performance – 2017-2021 Five-year Florida Seaport Mission Plan — provided updated figured on international trade, cargo data, and cruise activity at the seaports throughout the state.

In 2016, Florida’s waterborne international and domestic cargo increased 4.2 percent, from 103 million tons to 107.2 million tons. Domestic cargo tonnage jumped 16.1 percent to 50.6 million tons, representing 47.1 percent of all cargo moved through Florida seaports.

Gov. Rick Scott toured JAXPORT in February as part of his “Fighting for Florida’s Future” budget tour. Florida’s waterborne international and domestic cargo increased 4.2 percent in fiscal 2015-16. (Photo via the Governor’s Office)

“Clearly, port infrastructure investments by Governor Scott and the Legislature are paying off as Florida further establishes itself as a key player in the global marketplace,” said Doug Wheeler, the president and CEO of the Florida Ports Council.

The ports weren’t just used for moving goods in 2016. The cruise industry also saw gains in 2016. Seaports handled 15.5 million passengers in 2016, up 14 percent from the previous year. The state is home to the Top 3 cruise ports in the world, with 62 percent of all U.S. cruisers sailing through a Florida seaport.

According to the report, five of the seven active cruise ports saw overall increases in passenger counts.

New programs to help vets

The next ‘Magnum, PI‘— Thinking of becoming a private investigator? It just got a little bit easier for Florida veterans.

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam announced this week that Florida veterans will receive credit for relevant military training or education when they apply for a private investigator and security guard licenses with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services.

“The men and women who have served and sacrificed for our country deserve all of the support we can provide,” said Putnam in a statement. “If a veteran received military police or security training, we should give them credit for it when they apply to be a private investigator or security guard.”

To receive credit for relevant military training or education, applicants must submit a DD Form 21 at the time of applications. The department will also consider joint service transcripts, training certificates, job evaluation reports, or a letter from a commanding officer describing particular training or exercise and the number of hours dedicate to its performance.

Protection for military consumers — Attorney General Pam Bondi announced this week her office was launching a new consumer protection program meant to serve the unique needs of military and veteran communities across the state.

“To the men and women who have put on a uniform to protect our country, we will continue to do everything we can to protect you from these scammers,” said Bondi in a statement. “As Memorial Day approaches at the end of this month, I am honored to have the opportunity to assist the heroes who lay their lives on the line to keep us safe.”

Attorney General Pam Bondi announces the launch of the Military and Veterans Program during an event in Tampa this week.

Members of the Military and Veterans Assistance Program will provide resources and information to base JAG officers, county veteran services officers and other organizations to help service members and veterans learn how to protect themselves.

They’ll also partner with military and veteran leadership to provide information about emerging scams targeting military and veterans; connect those in need with legal aid; and foster open communication to ensure complaints are being handled by the correct organization.

DCF works to fight opioid epidemic

The state has allocated more than $17 million of the $27 million opioid crisis grant, officials with the Florida Department of Children and Families announced this week.

According to DCF, more than $17.7 million has been allocated to seven managing entities across the state. The money will be used to provide direct treatment and services to individuals with opioid use disorder.

Nearly $3.8 million will go toward expanding Vivitrol treatment in local communities through the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association. And the department is in the process of purchasing the first batch of more than 3,600 Naloxone kits to distribute to local treatment centers statewide.

Gov. Scott on May 3 declared a statewide public health emergency, and directed the immediate draw down of grant funds through the federal State Targeted Response the Opioid Crisis Grant.

“Following Governor Scott’s Executive Order, DCF staff have worked diligently to ensure this important funding is allocated to communities and services are available to individuals as soon as possible,” said DCF Secretary Mike Carroll in a statement. “We are hopeful that the services this grant will make available will save and change lives throughout the state, and that the programs it establishes over the next two years will help end the tragic opioid epidemic.”

Skeeter season approaches

The rainy season is just around the corner, and the Department of Health wants to make sure health care professional across the state have up-to-date information about the Zika virus.

The health department held a conference call this week with more than 100 OBGYNs, pediatricians, family physicians, and other health care providers to offer clinical guidance for Zika-infected pregnant women and children. While there are currently no areas of ongoing, active Zika transmission in the state, Surgeon General Celeste Philip warned that the mosquito-borne virus “remains a threat for Floridians, especially pregnant women and their infants after they are born and women who will become pregnant.”

The call gave health care providers a chance to hear from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the University of Miami, and Jackson Memorial Hospital about Zika testing for pregnant women, the risk of sexual transmission, and prenatal care and delivery planning.

“Clinicians are on the front lines in our fight against Zika,” said Philip in a statement. “This call allowed those who provide care to pregnant women and infants to stay up-to-date with the most current guidance and protocols to ensure that they can provide the best care to their patients.”

Keeping it safe

Floridians for Safe Communities is making the most of Florida Building Safety Month, releasing a public safety announcement this week to highlight the importance of strong building codes.

“Ensuring safety for lives, properties and investments in a hurricane-prone state like Florida is essential,” said Craig Fugate, former FEMA administrator and chairman of Floridians for Safe Communities. “And, this video does a great job of laying out why current, strong building codes are the best way of protecting our homes and communities.”

The 3-minute and 20-second video aims to celebrate all aspects of building safety and recognize “the important role code officials, inspectors, fire services, builders and tradesmen play in public safety,” said Fugate.

May is Building Safety Month. The month-long event is meant to reinforce the need to adopt modern model building codes, a strong and efficient system of code administration, and a well-trained professional staff to maintain the system.

“This month allows us to reflect on the importance of disaster preparedness and how adopting strong building codes and increasing effective code administration allows us to proactively protect our Florida communities from natural disasters, preserving our health and safety, and safeguarding our economic investments,” said Fugate in a statement.

Nominees sought for Agriculture Hall of Fame

Know a stellar member of the state’s agriculture community? Agriculture Commissioner Putnam wants to hear from you.

The Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame is now accepting nominations for the Class of 2018. The Hall of Fame honors men and women who have helped advance the industry and ensure it continues to thrive. Since 1980, the Florida Agricultural Hall of Fame has honored 144 inductees.

In 2017, inductees were Eugene Badger, who led state Agricultural Stabilization and Conservation Service (now known as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Service Agency) under President George W. Bush; William Cook, who was instrumental in the creation of the Florida Forestry Foundation; Joe Marlin Hilliard, who, among other things, helped form the South Florida Agricultural Council; and W. Bernard Lester, who spent nearly 20 years with the Florida Department of Citrus.

Nominations for the Class of 2018 must be submitted by Sept. 1.

Biz leaders highlight importance of immigrants

There’s nearly 4 million immigrants living in the Sunshine State, and a coalition of business and civic leaders are on a mission to highlight the role immigrants play in Florida’s economy and the need for comprehensive immigration reform.

According to a report by the New American Economy, there are more than 3.9 million immigrants living in Florida. With immigrants making up about 20 percent of the state’s population, Roly Marante, the chairman of government relations for the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, said Florida could be considered “the new Ellis Island.”

Marante and other business and civic leaders are traveling the state meeting with local stakeholders about the role immigrants play in the economy. Earlier this week, the group held an event in West Palm Beach to discuss the contributions of the county’s foreign-born population when it comes to tax contributions, home ownership and spending power.

“What we’re doing is going throughout the state to educate local stakeholder to get involved,” said Marante. “We’re contributors to the American economy.”

Statewide, immigrants paid $23.4 billion in taxes in 2014. That same year, their spending power was about $73.1 billion.

When it comes to housing, the New American Economy report found immigrants are “actively strengthening the state’s housing market.” The report found 906,922 immigrants are homeowners. Immigrants paid $727.7 million in rent, according to the report.

The New American Economy report found there were more than 338,000 immigrant entrepreneurs in the Sunshine State; and immigrant-owned firms employ more than 506,700 people. Marante said nationwide 1 in 10 American workers are employed by companies founded by immigrants.

Bear aware

Be on the lookout for bears.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants Floridians to remember that bears are more active as the temperatures rise, and they should take steps to reduce negative interactions with the state’s largest land mammal.

“Now is the time to expect bears to show up looking for food,” said Dave Telesco, who directs the FWC’s bear management program. “If they can’t find food in your neighborhood, they’ll move on.”

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission is reminding Floridians to be aware of bears, which are starting to come out of their winter habitats now that the temperatures are rising. (Photo via FWC)

To keep bears away, the FWC suggests Floridians to secure household garbage in a sturdy shed, garage or wildlife resistant container; put garbage out on the morning of pick-up rather than the night before; and remove wildlife feeders or make them bear-resistant.

June marks the start of black bear mating season in the Sunshine State, meaning bears will be more active as they search for potential mates.

TaxWatch honors state workers

State employees who work to reduce costs and improve services are getting a round of applause from Florida TaxWatch.

The government watchdog announced the winners of the 2017 Prudential Productivity Awards during an event this week. The program, now in its 29th year, is designed to highlight and reward state workers who innovatively reduce costs and improve services for Florida taxpayers.

“State workers are critical to the functions of Florida’s government and hardly get the praise and honor they deserve for a job well done,” said Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, in a statement. “This program has ensured that they taxpayers are noticing the contributions of hard-working state employees. They work behind the scenes, coming to serve every day to make sure that Florida continues to be the best place to live, work and play.”

TaxWatch awarded 203 awards to state employees and teams from across the state for their achievements and efforts. Since 1989, thousands of individuals, teams and partnerships have produced more than $9 billion worth of added values as a direct result of award winners’ achievements.

“The commitment of these incredible public servants to work together to build a better Florida means that state government can direct taxpayers’ hard-earned money to the vital services that make the Sunshine State a great place to live and raise a family,” said Michael McCann, the vice president for external affairs at Prudential, in a statement.

Sponsored by Prudential, the Florida Lottery and AvMed Health Plans, as well as the Florida Council of 100 and the state, the program travels around the state to recognize winners in Tallahassee, Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando and Miami. Regional luncheons will be head across the state throughout June.

Challenge accepted

Attention, lionfish hunters: It’s time for the 2017 Lionfish Challenge.

The annual challenge kicks off Saturday, and coincides with Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day and the Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day Festival at Plaza de Luna in Pensacola, which runs through Sunday.

The 2017 challenge rewards recreational and commercial lionfish harvesters for their removal efforts with prizes and incentives. Rewards for participants include a commemorative coin to validate membership, an event T-shirt, and Lionfish Hall of Fame recognition on the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission website. Hunters who qualify before July 26 also get the opportunity to take an additional spiny lobster per day during the 2017 sport season.

Participants may also qualify for additional prizes such as a reusable lionfish sting heat pack, customized neck gaiter, customized tumbler, and pole spear with grip kit.

Recreational and commercial harvesters who check in the most lionfish will be crowned Florida’s Lionfish King or Queen and Florida’s Commercial Champion, and both will be recognized at the 2017 Lionfish Safari Sept. 10 in St. Petersburg.

Farm Share distributions planned

Farm Share is partnering with several state lawmakers this week to feed hungry Floridians throughout the state.

The organization will partner with Rep. David Richardson and Mayor Tomas Regalado to feed more than 1,000 households in Miami-Dade County on Saturday. The organization will be distributing fresh food at Jose Marti Park, 351 SW 4th Street in Miami from 9 a.m. to noon.

That isn’t the only South Florida Farm Share distribution scheduled for Saturday. The hunger organization is teaming up with Rep. Daisy Baez for a food distribution event at in St. Johns AME Church parking lot, 6461 SW 59th Place in Miami from 9 a.m. to noon.

Farm Share has also partnered with Rep. Mike La Rosa to host a food distribution event from 10 a.m. to noon in the Lake Wales Charter Schools parking lot, 130 East Central Avenue in Lake Wales. Lake Wales families in need will be provided with seasonal fresh produce and shelf-stable goods.

A food distribution event is also scheduled for 10 a.m. to noon at the EPPS Christian Center, 2300 N. Pace Blvd in Pensacola, according to Farm Share’s website.

In 2016, Farm Share distributed nearly 40.5 million pounds of food to hungry families, children, seniors and veterans in Florida.

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.