Takeaways from Tallahassee — Girding for battle, claiming the gold

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One of the truisms of Tallahassee is how arcane policy subjects that barely register with the average citizen become life-or-death topics among denizens of The Process.

So it goes with worker’s comp.

The town is atwitter in anticipation of Tuesday’s Office of Insurance Regulation hearing on a proposed nearly 20 percent hike in premiums for workers’ compensation insurance. (More on that below.)

The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI), an umbrella organization representing insurers, filed the request with state insurance regulators. It blames recent state Supreme Court rulings for the hike.

Since then, the state’s business lobby has been on the verge of apoplexy.

They’ve sent frenzied press releases, formed task forces, called for a special session … anything to prevent Florida from possibly being the costliest state in the nation for employers to buy workers’ comp insurance.

The stage is also set for being the first real test of new state Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier.

His office must be expecting an unusually large summer crowd in the Capitol: The hearing was recently moved from the Senate Office Building to the big fourth-floor hall in Knott.

The show is scheduled to start at 9 a.m. And, if you watch on The Florida Channel, you can have snacks in the comfort of your home or office. The public comment part of the hearing might run long.

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

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

Buy the land — Senate President Designate Joe Negron unveiled a $2.4 billion plan to reduce Lake Okeechobee discharges. The plan includes buying 60,000 acres to build a reservoir to clean and send water into the Everglades. The Stuart Republican identified two areas — part of which is owned by Florida Crystals and U.S. Sugar — that could be used. Negron said the state and federal government would split the cost of the land buy, with the Legislature bonding $100 million over 20 years to generate its portion. While the some have praised Negron’ plan, sugar growers said they were surprised by the proposal.

Good news, bad news — When it comes to the fight against Zika, it was a week of ups and downs. The good? The Florida Department of Health cleared four blocks in the southwest corner of the Wynnwood neighborhood, after health officials determined no transmissions were occurring there. The bad? There are now 25 cases of locally acquired Zika in the Sunshine State. State officials continue to say active transmissions are only happening in a 1-square-mile area in the Wynwood area. As Florida students head back to school, Gov. Rick Scott has ordered the DOH and education leaders to provide guidance and resources to parents and educators about how to stop the spread.

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The system is (not) rigged — The Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections is assuring voters that Florida’s safeguards are in place to prevent the election from being rigged. In a letter earlier this week, FSASE President Chris Chambless told voters the “security of our voting systems is always a top priority for election professionals across the state of Florida.” Chambless wrote the letter in response to comments made by Donald Trump about the election being rigged and concerns about hacking. “Rest assured that Florida’s election professionals place a high priority on the security of election administration, and will remain ever-vigilant in identifying and reporting any future vulnerability to the elections process,” wrote Chambless.

87 more days — Call Florida ground zero for presidential candidates. Hillary Clinton made three stops in Florida this week, visiting St. Petersburg, Orlando and Miami over two days. Clinton visited 3 Daughters Brewing to talk about small businesses (no word on whether she sampled the offerings) before holding rallies focused on her 100-day job plan. But Clinton wasn’t the only presidential hopeful in the Sunshine State. Donald Trump spent several days in Florida, holding rallies in Kissimmee and Sunrise. During his rally in Sunrise, Trump called President Barack Obama the founder of ISIS.

Going for gold — Admit it, you’ve caught Olympic fever. And it’s no wonder; Floridians are among those Team USA Olympians snatching up the medals. Congratulations go to Ryan Murphy of Jacksonville, who won gold in the men’s 200-meter backstroke and the 100-meter backstroke this week. Ryan Lochte, a University of Florida graduate, was part of the gold medal winning men’s 4×200 meter freestyle relay team; as was Gator Conor Dwyer, who also scored bronze in the men’s 200-meter freestyle. Congratulations to all of Florida’s Olympians!

United States' Ryan Murphy celebrates winning gold in the men's 200-meter backstroke ahead of second placed Australia's Mitch Larkin, left, during the swimming competitions at the 2016 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)
United States’ Ryan Murphy celebrates winning gold in the men’s 200-meter backstroke ahead of second placed Australia’s Mitch Larkin, left, during the swimming competitions at the 2016 Summer Olympics, Thursday, Aug. 11, 2016, in Rio de Janeiro, Brazil. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)

Be on the lookout for scams.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi encouraged Floridians to do their research when purchasing products that claim to protect against Zika.

“All Floridians should be diligent and do their part to stop the spread of the Zika virus in Florida and one way to ensure the virus is contained is to use proven mosquito-repellent products and avoid any products that falsely claim they can prevent insect bites,” said Bondi. “Using an unproven repellent can give the user a false sense of security and increase the likelihood of a mosquito bite.”

While Bondi said her office hasn’t received any consumer complaints relating to the the mosquito-borne virus, she encouraged anyone who suspects a product is being falsely marketed as a mosquito repellant or protection against Zika should contact the Attorney General’s Office.

Gov. Rick Scott gave three cheers to Intertape Polymer Group this week.

The Sarasota company currently employs 120 Floridians, and has added 30 jobs in the past three years.

“The success of Florida manufacturers like IPG shows that our work to cut taxes and make it easier for businesses to create new opportunities for our families is working,” said Scott in a statement. “I look forward to seeing IPG continue to grow in Florida.”

According to the governor’s office, IPG is a leader in the development, manufacture and sale of paper- and film-based pressure-sensitive and water-activated tapes, polyethylene and specialized polyolefin films.

New name, same mission.

The Florida Association of Food Banks announced it has changed its name to Feeding Florida. The change is meant to better communicate the organization’s reach.

“At Feeding Florida, we are driven by a belief that a hunger-free Florida is possible, and that every Floridian deserves to know where their next meal will come from,” said Robin Safley, executive director of Feeding Florida. “We are excited to celebrate this new chapter with our network of food banks, farmers, distributors, grocers, charities, volunteers, and policymakers helping to provide a nutritious, adequate, and consistent food supply for our communities.”

Feeding Florida member food banks support more than 2,600 local charitable agencies, providing nutritious food directly to more than 3.3 million individuals and families.

Welcome aboard, Ted Feaster.

Gov. Scott appointed the 62-year-old Ocala resident to the Construction Industry Licensing Board this week. Feaster is the president of Feasterco Construction, Inc., and fills a vacant seat. His term ends Oct. 31, 2019. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Scott also reappointed Cindy “Beth” Moore to the Florida Rehabilitation Council. The 57-year-old Tallahassee resident is the senior educational program director at the Florida Department of Education. She was reappointed to a term ending June 30, 2019.

Florida’s banking industry is growing.

Deutsche Bank held a ribbon cutting ceremony at its Jacksonville campus this week. The bank is on track to create 350 new jobs, and is expected to invest more than $10 million in the Jacksonville community over the next two years. The company currently employs more than 1,800 Floridians.

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“Deutsche Bank could have chosen to invest in any of its other locations across the world, but recognized that our commitment to cutting taxes and creating a business-friendly environment makes Florida the best place to succeed,” said Gov. Scott in a statement.

Jacksonville is home to Deutsche Bank’s second-largest office in the United States. The office provides most of the company’s business and infrastructure functions.

When it comes to supporting new parents, Florida gets low marks.

A new study by the National Partnership for Women & Families graded all 50 states and the District of Columbia based on their passage of laws that offer greater leave or workplace protections than provided under federal law. The report found 15 states, including Florida, received a D.

Florida law does not expand on federal rights or protections for those in the private sector, while state workers have greater family leave rights. The state’s public sector law provides career service employees with up to six months leave to care for a new child or deal with a family member’s serious illness. The report found state workers don’t need to meet any tenure requirements to become eligible for leave.

“People’s ability to meet the dual demands of job and family should not depend on where they live or work or what job they hold,” said Vicki Shabo, vice president of the National Partnership for Women & Families. “Lawmakers at all levels and in every part of the country should commit to strengthening existing family-friendly policies and adopting new ones, and pressing for federal laws that will benefit all workers, families and businesses while strengthening our economy.”

California was the only state to receive an A.

Hey Mom, wanna know what your kids should eat at school?

There’s an app for that.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced a selection of computer applications to help in meal choices. His office oversees Florida’s school nutrition program.

“The apps provide detailed information by specific school on the food choices available, so families can plan their students’ meals and protect them from any food allergies they may have, by helping guide their decisions in the cafeteria,” a press release said.

Most Florida schools will be using Nutrislice, which is free. It allows students to “vote for their favorite foods and compete in educational activities about healthier eating.”

To find out more, click here.

The spotlight will be on the defense industry next week.

The Florida Chamber Foundation will host its 2016 Military, Defense & Veterans Opportunities Summit on Aug. 17. The annual summit is meant to give leaders in the state’s military and defense industry a chance to talk about opportunities to diversify Florida’s economy. The summit is also expected to focus on how the state can leverage veterans’ expertise and skills.

Speakers at the day-long summit include Gov. Scott, Agriculture Commissioner Putnam, Sen. Jeff Brandes, Cissy Proctor, executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, and Glenn Sutphin, executive director of the Florida Department of Veteran Affairs.

Happy Birthday, Smokey Bear.

The Florida Forest Service celebrated the 72nd birthday of Smokey Bear, who serves as the nation’s fire prevention mascot. Since 1944, the campaign has been a cornerstone of wildlife fire prevention, and the bear’s slogan — “Only you can prevent wildfires” — helped reduce the number of national acres burned by wildfires from 22 million to 7 million annually.

“Smokey Bear’s message is as significant today as it was 72 years ago,” said Jim Karels, Florida state forester. “Careless wildfires unnecessarily endanger the lives of citizens and wildland firefighters alike. They also occupy resources that could otherwise be ready to fight naturally caused wildfires, such as those caused by lightning.”

According to the Florida Forest Service, escaped debris burns and arson are the top two causes of wildfires in Florida. Since January, the Florida Forest Service and its partners have responded to nearly 2,000 wildfires that have burned more than 34,000 acres.

They’re No. 2!

Cushman & Wakefield of Florida acquired Taylor & Mathis of Florida this week. The acquisition makes the Cushman the second largest property management firm in Florida, according to the Tampa Bay Business Journal.

Taylor & Mathis has property management and brokerage employees in Tampa, Orlando and Miami. It also has a small presence in Jacksonville, where it handles the management of a 500,000-square-foot building.

No employees will be cut, and Taylor & Mathis employees will move to Cushman offices in each market.

Rep. Gayle Harrell has teamed up with the Home Depot Foundation to make sure kids have the tools they need for the first day of school.

Harrell announced this week that students at JD Parker Elementary and Indiantown Middle School will receive new “sackpacks” filled with school supplies. The packs are part of the Foundation’s 2016 National Backpack Program in partnership with the National Foundation for Women Legislators.

“It is essential to make sure that all children have the tools they need to succeed in the classroom,” said Harrell. “I am honored to have the opportunity to partner with the Office Depot Foundation to present these sackpacks to deserving children. As the NFWL Education Team Leader in Florida, I commend the Office Depot Foundation on its efforts to help provide dignity and hope to so many wonderful children.”

There will be an open house at 5 p.m. on Aug. 18 and Aug. 25 at JD Parker Elementary and an open house at 5:30 p.m. at Indiantown Middle School where presentation will occur.

Orange juice lovers, beware.

A Kissimmee-based citrus consultant predicted this week that Florida orange growers will produce 60.5 million boxes of oranges in the new season, down from 81.5 million boxes in 2015-16. The estimate, produced by Elizabeth Steger, is generally considered a statistically reliable indicator of the annual orange crop.

According to the Lakeland Ledger, if the estimate is accurate, it will be the lowest crop in more than 50 years. The 1963-64 season produced 54.9 million boxes, with the next-lowest crop coming in 1949-50 when just 57.79 million orange boxes were produced.

The prediction shows growers are losing the fight against citrus greening. The bacterial disease means trees produce fewer, smaller fruit, which means fewer boxes are picked.

Congratulations, Hilarie Bass!

The Miami attorney with the Greenberg Traurig law firm has become president-elect of the American Bar Association. She will assume the presidency next August.

She is perhaps best known for leading the effort “to eliminate Florida’s 20-year-old ban on gay adoption, which was found unconstitutional in 2010 and led to the state removing questions on sexual orientation from the adoption application,” according to a news release.

“Giving back to the profession that has given so much to me is something I feel strongly about, which is why I have dedicated myself to actively supporting the ABA mission for more than 30 years,” she said.

Bass has been actively involved with the ABA for more than 30 years, beginning as a young lawyer and working her way up to become chair of the 70,000-member Section of Litigation in 2010-11. As chair, she spearheaded creation of a Task Force on Implicit Bias in the Justice System.

She earned her law degree at University of Miami School of Law and her bachelor’s degree from George Washington University.

Move to Florida — everyone else is.

Florida’s population is expected to hit 20.7 million by the end of 2016, according to a report by Cushman & Wakefield.

The report found the Sunshine State has grown by more than 2 percent over the last 12 months, with more than 1,000 people coming to Florida each day. Fort Myers had the highest growth rate, with a 3.3 percent year-over-year increase. Orlando and Lakeland also surpassed the statewide growth rate, increasing 2.6 percent and 2.3 percent respectively.

The population bump has also helped raise home values, which saw an average gain of 7.7 percent over the past 12 months to hit $222,030. Though still short of the 2006 peak, average home values have climbed $83,000 from their 2011 low.

It’s time to get to work.

Chad Poppell, the secretary of the Florida Department of Management Services, appointed several members to the Florida Advisor Council on Small and Minority Business Development this week.

“The members of the Florida Advisory Council are instrumental in providing critical knowledge regarding the unique challenges small and minority businesses encounter,” said Poppell. “Small businesses are the backbone of Florida’s economy, and it’s the council’s responsibility to provide recommendations on how to improve engagement and support of Florida’s woman-, veteran- and minority-owned small businesses.”

The council’s mission is to provide insight and expertise to the state to help further development and economic opportunities for small and minority businesses.

The new appointees are: Michelle Andrewin, director of the Office of Diversity in Business Practices at the Palm Beach County School District; Sherod Halliburton, president and CEO of the Manatee County Federal Credit Union; Janet Harris-Lange, president of the National Women Business Owners Corporation; Johnny R. Helms, founder and CEO of the Lumbee Resource Management Group; Eduardo Gonzalez Loumiet, CEO of Uber Operations; Mariana Lugaro, the director of sales enablement at United Data Technologies; Steven Rosa Pagan, the owner of Re/Max Premier Associates/The Steven Rosa Group, LLC; Paul Roldan, a senior partner at Allgen Financial Services; Deborah K. Thompson, president of Deborah K. Thompson Consultants; Brian Williams, an attorney at Martin|Hild P.A., and Christine L. Yerkes, president and CEO at Yerkes South.

More than two dozen students will get some help when it comes to tuition.

The Florida Independent College Fund announced this week it was giving UPS Scholarships to 30 low-income students attending Florida private colleges and universities. Each student received $2,600, which can be used for tuition and expenses. All told, students received a combined $78,000 in UPS Scholarships.

“The path to better career and economic opportunity is through higher education,” said Ed Moore, president of the Independent Colleges & Universities of Florida (ICUF). “Florida’s low-income students deserve these same opportunities and I am grateful to the UPS Educational Endowment Fund for supporting them in their efforts to obtain a degree.”

Nationally, the UPS Foundation and the Council of Independent Colleges teamed up to provide nearly $1.5 million in scholarships this year. Florida students receiving the scholarship attend ICUF schools, including Adventist University of Health Sciences, Edward Waters College and Nova Southeastern University.

The supposedly sad state of workers’ comp brought more doom-and-gloom pronouncements this week.

An umbrella organization representing insurers now says the increased cost of workers’ compensation insurance in Florida “could potentially exceed $1 billion.”

The National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) is asking state regulators to approve a nearly 20 percent premium hike on employers.

The group has blamed recent state Supreme Court rulings for the increase.

But the extra billion is an “unfunded liability,” or “an additional cost over and above the proposed 19.6 percent increase in Florida workers compensation rates.”

An unfunded liability happens when “a retroactive change in the law results in additional costs” on pending claims. Hiking rates brings in more money to cover future claims.

That will likely hit the pocketbooks of “insurance companies, individual self-insured employers, and employers with deductible policies,” the group said.

The Office of Insurance Regulation will hold a hearing on the rate request in Tallahassee on Tuesday, Aug. 16.

Stay safe, Florida firefighters.

The Florida Forest Service is sending 40 wildland firefighters to Colorado as part of a five-crew firefighting unit to battle intense wildfires in Colorado’s mountainous terrain.

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“This type of work can be exhausting and hazardous due to the extreme terrain and intense flames found in Colorado,” said Jim Karels, Florida state forester. “By assisting other states, our wildland firefighters build their expertise and enhance their capability to protect Florida from approximately 4,000 wildfires every year.”

In addition to the latest crew deployment, there are currently 30 Florida Forest Service personnel assisting wildfire suppression and wildfire management operations in eight partner states.

Granite Telecommunications is expanding its reach in Florida.

The company announced this week it will open a new office in Orlando and expand its operations in West Palm Beach. The expansion will create more than 100 jobs for Floridians.

Granite has seen tremendous growth and record sales across the country, with Florida being a top market for growth,” said Rand Currier, the company’s chief operating officer. “We are proud of the work that our Florida-based teammates have contributed to the company already, and are banking on an even larger role for them in the future as we expand in Florida.”

Founded in 2002, Granite provides voice, data and other related communications products and services to businesses and government agencies across the United States and Canada.

Call her a guardian of small business.

The National Federation of Independent Business presented Rep. Kathleen Passidomo with its “Guardian of Small Business” award. The group honored the Naples Republican for her efforts to fight lawsuit abuses.

“Lawsuit abuse is plaguing Florida’s small business owners, and … 80 percent of small business owners think the Florida Legislature should make legal reform a top priority,” said Bill Herrle, executive director of NFIB/Florida, in a statement. “Rep. Passidomo is dedicated to making this happen, and we applaud her for leading the charge to stand up for small business owners and preserve Florida’s solid business climate.”

Passidomo earned a 100 percent voting record from the NFIB/Florida in 2015-16.

“I remain committed to finding commonsense solutions to protect small business owners from lawsuit abuse,” she said. “Small businesses create jobs for our neighbors and friends, and I’m privileged to do my part to keep Florida working.”

Feeding Florida wants to help keep the bugs away.

The statewide network of Feeding America food banks will distribute over 500,000 units of mosquito repellent to Florida’s communities. The distribution is part of an effort to protect the health of Floridians, and will provide families with protection from mosquitoes.

“Our statewide network of food banks is critical in times of need, working as a member of the state’s emergency response team to mobilize the necessary resources tailored to meet the needs of each community,” said Robin Safley, executive director of Feeding Florida. “Our network is constantly seeking solutions to ensure Florida’s communities remain healthy, utilizing a full portfolio of strategies and assets. During mosquito season, prevention and education is a huge focus for our network, and mosquito repellent is critical to supporting the overall health of our communities, especially as our state faces the Zika virus.”

There will be a distribution in Palm Beach county at 9 a.m. Monday at Feeding South Florida, Village Baptist Church, 3600 Village Blvd. in West Palm Beach. Another distribution is schedule for 9:30 a.m. Sept. 24 at the Community Resource Fair, Feeding Tampa Bay, 4702 Transport Drive, Building 6 in Tampa.

FLAGSCAPITOLThe flags may be coming down, but the sorrow remains.

In June, Gov. Scott ordered 49 flags be placed in front of the Florida Historic Capitol in honor of the victims of the Pulse shooting. The flags were on display for more than a month; and on Friday, 49 days after the flags were put on display, Scott and first lady Ann Scott sent them to the families of the victims.

“We will never forget the loss of the 49 innocent lives that were taken from us far too soon. We will continue to live and honor the victims of this horrendous attack,” the first lady said in a statement. “My heart goes out to all of the victim’s family and friends. We will continue to pray that they can find healing in this time of pain.”

Tourists can’t get enough of Florida

State tourism officials announced this week that 57.4 million people traveled to Florida in the first half of 2016. That’s a 4.3 percent increase over the first six months of 2015.

Since January, more than 49 million domestic tourists have visited Florida. The remainder were international visitors, including 2.6 million Canadians. The state has seen year-over-year growth in visitors since 2010, when just 82.3 million travelers visited the Sunshine State.

The state is on pace to see 115 million visitors this year.

“I want all the tourists to come here,” said Gov. Scott.

Missed it the first time?

Don’t worry, 60 Minutes will rebroadcast an episode featuring CFO Jeff Atwater and former Insurance Commissioner Kevin McCarty on Sunday.

The episode, which first aired in April, focuses on measures insurance companies take that limit the number of life insurance policies that are properly paid out. Florida passed legislation in 2016 to try to correct the problem. The new law requires life insurance companies to make an attempt to contact the listed beneficiary when a policy holder passes away.

The law, according to Atwater’s office, is being challenged by insurance companies. According to Atwater’s office, the CFO and the state are prepared to defend the law.

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

capitol directions for 8.12.16

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.