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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Everything is not awesome

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Budget negotiations kicked off Friday night after days of will-they-or-won’t-they speculation. But the first meeting unveiled some surprising revelations.

That $1 billion tax cut the House passed a few weeks ago? It’s now a $400 million tax cut. The $250 million the Senate set aside for the Florida Enterprise Fund? Nonexistent.

House and Senate budget writers are trying to reconcile the $1 billion difference between their two spending plans. But the cuts to Gov. Rick Scott’s top priorities could be setting the stage for a brawl.

Scott’s office threw the first punch. Jackie Schutz, the governor’s communications director, said Friday the Governor’s Office would begin “notifying cities across the state that there would be no funding recruit businesses” unless the Legislature takes “immediate action to reverse course.”

The next one came from Sen. Jack Latvala. The Clearwater Republican called the decision to scrap the Enterprise Florida fund “Insulting and demeaning … it’s unconscionable.”

But hey, everything is cool when you’re party of a team. Right?

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

1. Budget talks get rolling — House and Senate leadership kicked off budget negotiations on Friday night in hopes of reconciling a $1 billion gulf between the two chambers’ budgets. Get ready to spend your weekend in the Capitol, where budget negotiations are expected to go all weekend. House and Senate budget chiefs are giving conferees just 72 hours to sort out the differences. All unsettled issues will be sent to the chairs by 6 p.m. Monday.

2. Frack this — The Senate Appropriations Committee rejected a proposal to regulate fracking in Florida. The bill remains alive thanks to a motion to reconsider and could be taken up again on Tuesday. But the 10-9 vote opposing the bill means Sen. Garrett Richter, the Naples Republican backing the bill, may have to make compromises to get it to the floor. Whether they will bode well in the House, which already approved the measure, remains to be seen.

3. Let’s make a deal — The House voted 79-39 to OK its business and economic incentive package. The proposal included the regulatory framework for Gov. Rick Scott’s proposed $250 million Florida Enterprise Fund. What’s most notable about the vote might be who actually voted for it. The entire House black caucus backed the proposal, leading some Capitol watchers to wonder whether the group brokered a deal with Republican leadership to stop a controversial “stand your ground” proposal from getting a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee. The black caucus, however, said there was no deal.

4. Presidential politics in the Sunshine State — It might have been a tough week for some Florida GOP hopefuls. On SaturdayJeb Bush bowed out of the presidential race after poor showings in early voting states. In the days that followed, many of his Florida supporters — including the South Florida Republican congressional delegation — threw their support behind Marco Rubio. But two public polls show Donald Trump trouncing Rubio in Florida; while an Associated Industries of Florida poll found Trump leading, but by a much slimmer margin. As Trump continues to surge, rumblings about his vice presidential choice have started to pick up. Vice President Rick Scott, anyone?

5. Economic incentive smack down — Americans for Prosperity-Florida rolled out a digital ad campaign this week, urging opposition to economic incentive packages moving through the House and Senate. The group has called on lawmakers to stop corporate welfare, a comment that prompted Enterprise Florida to call on Americans for Prosperity to close its Florida operation.

• • •

FloridaPolitics’ Peter Schorsch is in Las Vegas for his wife’s 35th birthday, leaving him dependent on long-distance updates about the latest action in Tallahassee. Here are the best un-edited text messages he received Friday night from a handful of plugged-in Capitol observers and lobbyists.

“Governor pissed. But plenty of money still left unspent.”

“And Gardiner not having any of that Realtor-supported tax cut bullshit. Thank you, Dean Asher.”

“Gonna bond PECO and fund some projects important to Members.”

These guys may move the Compact and keep it play until the end. Maybe even shift the burden back to Scott to renegotiate the additional items w the Seminoles.”

“Health care train coming on HB 941 at some point. Choo choo.”

“Everyone wonders if Don Gaetz will blink on this monster education package.”

“Negron/Benacquisto spanked on a 10-8 vote on balanced billing by Rene Garcia. It was a huge deal.”

“Members of the Senate are going to start getting letters of support for DOH Sec John Armstrong to secure his confirmation.  Gov. may even embarrass them by citing the cancer fight.”

“With Gov. in the mix for VP, look for Melissa Sellers to stick around for a few more months.”

“Gov. gets closer to what he wants on budget or its thermonuclear war. Including the Gov. possibly playing in primaries. Think Benacquisto. Matt Hudson. etc.

• • •

Cancer survivor and state Rep. Lori Berman was greeted with a standing ovation from fellow House members during a Tuesday session.

Berman, a Lantana Democrat, had undergone a mastectomy and was home recovering earlier this month.

Speaker Pro Tempore Matt Hudson recognized Berman for a question on the House’s 2016 economic development package, and that’s when the floor exploded with applause and cheers.

After Berman had thanked her colleagues for the warm welcome back, bill sponsor Jim Boyd joked with her, “I think I clapped the loudest for you, so don’t be too tough on me.”

She also thanked fellow Democrat Janet Cruz of Tampa for visiting during her recuperation.

Earlier in the day, Berman had tweeted, “Happy to be back in Tallahassee – ready for session!”

Berman, a lawyer, was first elected in 2010 and represents House District 90.

• • •

If you blinked, you missed it.

That’s how quickly the Senate Ethics and Elections committee recommended that Cissy Proctor be confirmed as the head of the Department of Economic Opportunity. The committee unanimously recommended Proctor.

Her confirmation hearing lasted about two minutes.

“Thank you for all the good work you’re going to do for our state of Florida,” said Sen. Garrett Richter, the chair of the Senate panel.

In December, Gov. Rick Scott selected Proctor to head up the agency. She replaces Jesse Panuccio.

Panuccio was not well liked by some members of the Legislature. He was picked in 2013 to head the agency, and faced criticism after CONNECT, the state’s unemployment benefits website, experienced months of glitches.

The Senate didn’t confirm him in 2015, and it was widely expected the same would happen during the 2016 session.

• • •

Are you ready to drive down Will Weatherford Highway?

The Senate voted 34-1 to approve a transportation bill (SB 114) that creates more than 30 honorary designations for roads and bridges across the state. The designations honor members of the military, law enforcement officers and other people important to Florida communities.

For instance, in Broward County portion of U.S. 1 between Broward Boulevard and Sunrise Boulevard will be designated “Lauren F. Book Boulevard” in honor of Book, the founder and CEO of Lauren’s Kids.

In Collier County, a portion of Golden Gate Parkway between U.S. 41 and Goodlette-Frank Road will be “Mary Ellen Hawkins Street” after the county’s first woman to be state representative.

A portion of Davis Boulevard between Adalia and Adriatic avenues in Hillsborough County will be named “Helen Gordon Davis Boulevard” in honor of the first woman to represent Hillsborough in the Florida House.

The last name change to be on the look out for? Once completed, a portion of the S.R. 56 extension from Meadow Pointe Boulevard to U.S. 301 in Pasco County will be called “Speaker Will Weatherford Highway.”

• • •

Senate President-designate Joe Negron tipped his hat to outgoing Democratic Leader Arthenia Joyner this week.

Negron, the Stuart Republican and chair of the Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, took a moment of personal privilege Wednesday. It was the Tampa Democrat’s final committee meeting, and Negron said he wanted to take a moment to honor her service.

“I don’t know if you know this or not, but Leader Joyner is kind of a big deal,” said Negron, going on to point out that Joyner has been the committee’s vice chair for eight of her ten years in the Senate. “I want to congratulate you on your time and service in the Senate, which continues. That’s a noteworthy accomplishment.”

Joyner can’t run for re-election again because of term limits. She told Negron and her colleagues that her time on the committee had been “a wonderful ride.”

“I’ve enjoyed it immensely,” she said.

Barbara DeVane, a lobbyist for Florida NOW (the National Organization for Women), also thanked Joyner.

“I would like to take a moment of personal privilege also to say that the women of NOW regard Sen. Arthenia Joyner as our ‘she-ro’ of the Senate,” Devane said. “Thank you so much for your service. You’ve been a staunch supporter of women.”

• • •

You might not be able to call it an “absentee” ballot for much longer.

The House unanimously approved a measure  (SB 112) that changes the phrase “absentee ballot” to “vote-by-mail” in state law. The vote comes about a month after the Florida Senate unanimously approved the proposal.

Over the years, many states, including Florida, changed their state laws to allow more voters to vote by absentee ballot by removing the reasons voters had to give in order to get the vote-by-mail ballots.

According to LobbyTools Legislative IQ, there were some concerns last Session that the U.S. Postal Service may delay ballots being sent to overseas voters because of the name change. That issue has been resolved.

The bill now heads to Gov. Scott.

• • •

Call it the Incredibly Shrinking State Workforce.

The number of state-worker positions in Florida dropped nearly 10 percent between 2011 and 2015, according to a Department of Management Services (DMS) report.

The report found there were 108,761 positions authorized by the Legislature in 2011. As of June 30, 2015, there were 98,092 authorized positions.

As the not-quite-retired Bill Cotterell of the Tallahassee Democrat first reported, when Gov. Scott ran for office in 2010 he campaigned on a platform of reducing the size of government and boosting the private sector. He was re-elected in 2014, but lost Leon County.

The 84-page DMS report is filled with plenty of nuggets about the state’s workforce. Just over 6,000 employees have been with the state for more than 30 years; while more than 27,000 have worked for the state for less than five years.

According to the report, about 56 percent of the workforce are women. The average salary for female state employees is $37,849; while male employees make $41,642 on average. (Paging Barbara DeVane …)

• • •

We all know the Florida Keys. The locale is synonymous with the sought-after island lifestyle and pristine natural beauty where you can kick back and enjoy all that it has to offer.

Legislation introduced this Session aims to preserve that, and much more, for years to come: the Florida Keys Stewardship Act. It consists of SB 770, sponsored by GOP Sens. Wilton Simpson and Anitere Flores, and HB 447, sponsored by Rep. Holly Raschein, a Key Largo Republican.

Although it looks like the legislation will be passed and signed this session, the funding for the act isn’t included in the Senate’s proposed budget. In the other chamber, the House’s proposed budget includes the funding needed to fulfill the first year’s investment.

• • •

More budget notes …

It’s another year, but the same old story. Funding for Florida’s affordable housing programs (known as SHIP and SAIL) hang in the balance, as the Senate’s proposed budget recommends full funding of $317 million, but the House’s proposed budget falls short.

Advocates say full funding provides a positive economic impact, with jobs for Floridians and help for those who need it most: Florida’s families, veterans, homeless, elderly and those with special needs.

While the budget that was passed last year appropriated 68 percent of the total $256 million that was available from the Sadowski Trust Fund toward housing, keep your eyes on what happens during budget conferencing to see if the House moves toward the Senate’s position of full funding.

Also, the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers made their case for funding before the House and Senate, and now they await budget conference to see how things shake out.

Read here about their independent audit, “Florida court clerks need money, resources to keep up with workload.”

While the Senate budget proposal has $12.9 million for current year shortfalls plus $10 million for future fiscal shortfalls and the House proposal has $11.7 million to address juror service reimbursement, the court clerks need upward of $40 million total to fully address budget concerns.

That will allow them year-to-year stability in order to provide quality and timely services.

• • •

A group of international business leaders heard the Florida gospel from a cadre of state officials as part of the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Annual International Days on Tuesday.

Among the top talking points business professionals from around the world heard: Gov. Scott‘s aggressive economic development efforts, Florida’s easygoing tax and regulatory regime, and of course – the warm weather.

The Chamber’s International Business Council heard talks at the Capitol from Florida Chamber political strategist Andrew Wiggins, who broke down the politics of congressional redistricting; Democrats Sen. Maria Sachs and Sen. Bill Montford, who testified that even the pro-labor Democratic caucus keeps business at the forefront; tales from the banking sector from Republican Sen. Garrett Richter; boosterism for Florida’s 14 deep-water ports from Rep. Lake Ray; and an explainer on the Scott administration’s plans for eliminating manufacturing and business rent taxes from senior adviser Jeff Woodburn.

• • •

The Florida Chamber meeting of the annual International Business Council was briefly thrown off-course during the final third of Session over – what else? – budget talks between the House and Senate.

Chamber Executive Vice President David Hart served admirably all day Tuesday as a liaison between the Capitol policy wonks and business guests from France, the Netherlands, Canada, and virtually everywhere else.

Hart expected to introduce Sen. Bill Galvano to the group, but was alerted via text message during the event the Republican Majority Leader could not make it because inter-chamber talks about the size of economic incentives in the budget had momentarily “blown up” (though a Senate spokesperson later chalked it up to a “scheduling conflict”).

Hart explained to his visitors that sort of thing was all too common during the last two weeks of Session. He was met with befuddled looks by his international visitors, and knowing nods from the small clutch Tallahassee regulars on hand.

• • •

Term-limited Rep. Hazelle Rogers said she wanted to bring a little “international flavor” to the statehouse on Caribbean Day at the Florida Capitol this past Wednesday.

Rogers and fellow islanders Reps. Daphne Campbell and Gwyn Clarke-Reed hosted about two dozen guests from Haiti, the Bahamas, Jamaica, the U.S. Virgin Islands and elsewhere across the Caribbean, including Pembroke Park Mayor Ashira Mohammed.

The lawmakers implored the younger participants to do their best to make sure state dollars spent at historically black colleges are spent “on fertile ground,” and also called on President Barack Obama to institute a national Caribbean heritage day.

Gov. Scott issued a proclamation declaring Wednesday both Caribbean Day and Nigerian Day, as well as the month of June Caribbean Heritage Month.

“If you understand the connection between Africa and how we dispersed – not voluntarily, it just happened through that trans-Atlantic trade – putting our people in different places including the United States and South America, the Caribbean was that planting ground,” Rogers said. “But we did not stay there – we migrated. Some of us to this great nation, our home away from home. And we have a right to be here, and a right to continue to work hard to help this country and help keep this great democracy at its highest level.”

• • •

Legislators (at least the ones in the majority) may be against the notion of a medical marijuana constitutional amendment, but they seem to be doing everything they can to make the case for one.

The Senate was poised to vote on an expansion of the 2014 Compassionate Use Act this week, but a flurry of last-minute amendments saw President Gardiner send it back to committee, where it seems likely to die. Two Sundays ago, the Bradenton Herald reversed its opposition to Amendment 2, doing so largely by legislative inaction.

All this – combined with the ongoing litigation surrounding the five nurseries selected to grow low-THC “Charlotte’s Web” – only appears to be strengthening the electoral push for a more comprehensive law this November.

• • •

The Senate on Wednesday passed a bill (SB 1602) to increase the safety of in-home elevators.

The legislation, sponsored by Leader Galvano, creates the “Maxwell Erik ‘Max’ Grablin Act.” Grablin is the 12-year-old Bradenton boy killed in a home elevator shaft last year when he went looking for a pet hamster.

“My heart goes out to the Grablin family, and it is my hope that this bill will prevent another family from enduring a similar tragedy,” Galvano said. “I hope lives will be saved in the future because of Max and I look forward to the bill passing in the House of Representatives and gaining the support of Gov. Scott.”

The bill “establishes clearing requirements for elevators installed in private residences and requires all such elevators to be equipped with a sensor device that prevents the elevators from operating if an obstruction is detected,” the release said.

• • •

A bill that would change the Florida Self-storage Facility Act was temporarily postponed Monday in its last committee of reference.

The House Appropriations Committee “TP’d” the bill (HB 559), which is sponsored by St. Cloud Republican Mike La Rosa.

The bill is of note mainly because it allows for public notices of auctions of the contents of unpaid units (think “Storage Wars“) to be placed on an Internet website instead of a local newspaper.

Originally, the proposal had been for the Department of Financial Services to run that website; an amendment filed last week changes it to the Office of State Courts Administrator.

The bill has been opposed by newspaper advocates, including the Florida Press Association.

• • •

Surterra Therapeutics is growing.

The company recently received authorization to cultivate medical marijuana, and on Wednesday, the firm announced it was on track to have the product available to patients by June.

“Surterra Therapeutics is moving as quickly as possible to provide patients with the safest therapeutic cannabis products,” said Susan Driscoll, president of Surterra Therapeutics and managing director of Alpha Foliage, in a statement. “We have plants in the ground, and we are on track to open our first Surterra store in Tampa as soon as June. We are anxious to bring relief and help to the patients of Florida.”

In November, Alpha Surterra was chosen by the Florida Department of Health as one of five organizations that can cultivate, process and dispense low-THC cannabis. The company’s request to cultivate was approved earlier this month, and it now has 210 days to make the product available to patients.

Surterra is using an indoor cultivation facility to cultivate the plants. The facility has separate areas for plants based on growth and life cycles, plus extraction space to safeguard product quality.

The company has plans for more than 15 locations, including cultivation centers and stores. Plans are in the works for stores in several cities, including Tampa and Orlando.

• • •

More training for law enforcement officers could be on the way.

The Senate Criminal and Civil Justice Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill (SB 1352) that requires the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to develop training to address people with autism spectrum disorder.

The bill, sponsored by Fort Lauderdale Democratic Sen. Chris Smith, calls on FDLE to create a continued employment training component that would include instructions on how to recognize symptoms and idiosyncrasies of someone on the autism spectrum and appropriate responses to someone with those symptoms and idiosyncrasies.

Under Smith’s proposal, completing the training would count toward the 40 hours of required instruction for continued employment or be appointed as a law enforcement officer.

• • •

Sen. Dwight Bullard this week joined a multistate call by chairs of black, Puerto Rican, Hispanic and Asian caucuses from across the nation in urging President Barack Obama to reform federal public-private mortgage giants Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac to make home ownership more accessible to minorities.

“With African-American homeownership rates declining to their lowest in decades, and with a very low percentage of mortgage loans being made to African-American and Hispanic families, I believe more can and should be done in this area,” Bullard said in a prepared statement.

“Helping people find a good, affordable home is important to my constituents, to Floridians and to communities of color across the nation,” the first-term Democrat continued.

Bullard signed a letter addressed to National Economic Council Director Jeffrey Zients along with six other state legislative leaders, calling for more attention to the issue from the White House.

 “Waiting on Congress to reform Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac is unrealistic and a recipe for trouble,” the letter reads in part.

• • •

Echoing the sentiments of a noteworthy item in Takeaways from Tallahassee is a Forward Florida blog post “Florida Drug Discovery Translates to Health ROI” that you can read for yourself here about Sanford Burnham Prebys Medical Institute’s Florida Translational Research Program.

This important program, which is hoping to come out of the budget conference with $5.6 million allocated for its biomedical research projects, will help reduce health care costs and expand Florida’s life science footprint. As Forward Florida points out, this program translates research into cures, which is the real ROI.

• • •

The Legislature seems poised to pass significant civil asset forfeiture reform this session, thanks to a coalition that includes the FSA, ACLU and Ron Book, who’s representing NY-based non-profit, Drug Policy Alliance on the issue.

After striking a major compromise with law enforcement, HB 889 passed out of House Appropriations unanimously yesterday and is headed to the floor. Its Sen. Jeff Brandes-sponsored Senate companion, SB 1044, has its last stop in that chamber Monday, in the Fiscal Policy Committee.

• • •

Will the fourth time be a charm for Sen. Oscar Braynon‘s syringe exchange legislation? It looks that way after this week.

SB 242 was approved by the Senate in a near-unanimous 37-2 vote on Wednesday, and its Rep. Katie Edwards-sponsored companion bill is on the Special Order calendar for week 8.

• • •

Here is this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

DIRECTIONS 02.28

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range includes covering news, local government and culture reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for a metaphysical website, among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013. He lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul and can be reached at phil@floridapolitics.com and on Twitter @PhilAmmann.

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