Takeaways from Tallahassee — A row over wireless

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A telecommunications company has sued the Department of Transportation (FDOT) and its secretary, Mike Dew, over legislation passed this year that pre-empts to the state the regulation of telecommunications companies putting “wireless facilities in rights of way.”

The company, Rowstar, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Boca Raton’s Vertical Bridge, has exclusive deals with the state that let it put wireless communications equipment on FDOT-controlled rights of way.

But Rowstar says it received an April 20 letter from the department, saying it “proposed terminating” the leases—inked in 2014 and 2016—if the then-proposed bills became law.

The Rowstar deals promised to make significant coin for the agency in lease payments, up to $160 million for the first 10 years of the 50-year term, the 25-page complaint said. It was followed by over 200 pages of exhibits.

Nonetheless, the department instead said it intended to give away permits to Rowstar or any of its competitors for free. Officials later confirmed their intention in follow-up calls and meetings, according to the complaint.

That’s contract impairment, the company said, which is forbidden by the U.S. and Florida constitutions.

And the complaint, filed last week in Leon County Circuit Civil court, points out that the legislation as passed had carved out FDOT rights of way “to avoid any conflict” and “avoid any negative impact on FDOT’s revenues.”

The measures were intended to bolster the development of 5G wireless technology. They were opposed by the Florida League of Cities, which unsuccessfully asked Gov. Rick Scott to veto the measure, saying it will “deprive cities of their authority to regulate the use of public rights of way.”

Rowstar now is worried that “uncertainty” over its exclusive rights could cause it to lose business from four unnamed “major wireless carriers.” It seeks a court order that its deals are still good and enforceable.

A complaint in a lawsuit tells one side of a story. DOT spokesman Dick Kane declined to comment on the specifics of Rowstar’s allegations.

“The department has received the complaint and is reviewing it,” he said in an email this week.

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:

More time — Circuit Judge Terry Lewis told the Attorney General’s Office this week it had 60 days to develop evidence to counter a Supreme Court decision that temporarily halted enforcement of a law requiring women to wait 24 hours before getting an abortion. Twenty-seven states have an abortion waiting period, which range from 18 to 72 hours. The right to privacy is more extensive in Florida’s constitution, but Denise Harle, a deputy solicitor general in Attorney General Pam Bondi’s office, argued the law doesn’t create significant burdens for women and was the “least intrusive” way to achieve a “compelling state interest.” But the Supreme Court said there’s a strong likelihood that a lower court will determine the law is unconstitutional because the state had offered no evidence that the law in fact does address a compelling state interest.

On the bench — Gov. Scott is holding firm, contending that he has the sole power to pick the next three justices to the state Supreme Court. The reason? Their terms expire on a Monday, while his ends on a Tuesday. In a 38-page response to a lawsuit filed by the Florida League of Women Voters and Common Cause, attorneys for Scott argued that his term ends when his successor takes the oath of office, which is the first Tuesday in January 2019. The governor’s attorneys contend that the power to appoint the successors to Justices R. Fred Lewis, Barbara Pariente, and Peggy Quince continue until then. The governor is arguing their terms end on the first Monday in January — the day before his final day.

Attorneys for Gov. Rick Scott this week argued Scott has the authority to appoint three new Supreme Court judges. The reason? Their terms end on the first Monday in January 2019, while his ends one day later. (Photo via Mark Wallheiser.)

Guidance for ‘Hope’ — The Florida Department of Education released a list of eligible schools for the “Schools of Hope” program created as part of a wide-sweeping education bill signed into law earlier this year. The list was among the guidance sent to the state’s 67 school district this week, which advised superintendents on how they need to address failing schools. One option available to the 93 schools is to compete for “Schools of Hope” funding — up to $2,000 per student, which can be used for wraparound services, like after-school programs or community partnerships. Schools have less than a month to make a pitch for funding, and just 25 percent of the schools will get funding because of a cap in the state law.

Friends in high placesPete Antonacci is getting a new gig. Enterprise Florida’s executive committee this week recommended Antonacci, a long-time ally of Gov. Scott, to be its next CEO. Antonacci formerly served as Scott’s general counsel and is now the head of the South Florida Water Management District. The motion to hire Antonacci was made by executive committee member Alan Becker, a prominent South Florida attorney and friend of the governor. Antonacci would replace Chris Hart IV, who stepped down this March after less than three months as CEO, citing a lack of “common vision” with Scott.

Staffing shake-up — The Florida Lottery is saying goodbye to three high-level staffers. Florida Lottery spokeswoman Connie Barnes confirmed this week that its deputy secretary of administration, general counsel, and legislative affairs director have resigned their positions. Barnes said the “department anticipates filling the General Counsel and Legislative Affairs position within the next week” and is evaluating how to “best utilize the Deputy Secretary position.” The resignations come less than two months after Jim Poppell, formerly chief of staff at the Department of Economic Opportunity, took over from former Lottery head Tom Delacenserie, who now leads the Kentucky Lottery.

Patronis ‘talks to everybody’

New state Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis admits he’s a gregarious fellow.

“I talk to everybody—I’m a restaurant guy,” said Patronis, a former state representative whose family owns the Capt. Anderson’s eatery in Panama City Beach.

But Patronis wouldn’t bite when asked about a recent POLITICO Florida story that “Gov. Rick Scott’s political team has been playing a direct role in the operation of his official taxpayer-funded office.”

CFO Jimmy Patronis brushed off questions this week about whether Gov. Rick Scott’s political team played a role in his appointment, telling reporters “I talk to everybody.” (Photo via the Associated Press)

Specifically, POLITICO ace Matt Dixon reported that “Curt Anderson, a longtime Scott political adviser, held direct interviews with potential CFO picks.”

For instance, Pat Neal, a Scott confidant who was considered for the position, told POLITICO he and Anderson “had a wide-ranging, one-and-a-half hour discussion about the major qualifications” for the job.

Scott eventually named Patronis to the post after former CFO Jeff Atwater left for a job with Florida Atlantic University.

“I haven’t seen the story,” Patronis said this week, after an event at Tallahassee’s National Guard Armory with Ag. Commissioner Adam Putnam on expediting concealed weapon licenses for active service members and veterans. “I got up at 5 to drive here this morning.”

When asked about his own vetting, a smiling Patronis said Scott “is a dear friend; he shares my work ethic.”

“… Some day you may come into Captain Anderson’s, not even say who you are, the first thing I do is I introduce myself to you,” he said.

“It’s just my nature. I’m a social butterfly,” Patronis added. “I love talking to people, learning what’s important to them. Thanks for the question.”

No more distractions

Rep. Emily Slosberg isn’t giving up her campaign to make texting while driving a primary offense.

Slosberg announced this week she’s working with the city of Boca Raton to pass a local resolution to urge the state Legislature to make texting while driving a primary offense.

“Providing law enforcement with the ability to enforce the ‘Texting While Driving Ban’ as a primary offense will save lives and prevent injuries,” she said in a statement. “I’ve been contacted by constituents with stories about parents dying, kids dying, and it is time that we take action.”

Slosberg filed legislation during the 2017 Legislative Session that would have made texting while driving a primary offense for juvenile drivers. A second bill, sponsored by Slosberg and Rep. Richard Stark, made it a primary offense for all motorists and increased penalties for someone caught using their device in a school zone. Neither measure received a committee hearing.

The state OK’d legislation in 2013 making it illegal to read or type text messages while driving. But lawmakers made texting while driving a secondary offense, making it difficult for law enforcement officers to ticket offenders. That’s because someone needs to be pulled over for a different traffic offense, like speeding or not wearing a seat belt, before they can issue a citation for texting and driving.

Law enforcement officers issued 3,488 distracted driving texting citations between Oct. 1, 2013 and Dec. 31, 2015, according to Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles data.

‘Skeeter’ season safety

Heading outside? Florida health officials are reminding Floridians and visitors to take precautions to protect themselves from the Zika virus.

While no Zika transmission zones have been identified in Florida this year, Gov. Scott encouraged Floridians to wear mosquito repellent and drain containers that collect rainwater to help prevent another outbreak.

“We know that summer means more rain, more mosquitos, and more travel-related cases, and that is why we must continue to take aggressive preparedness actions,” said Scott, who gave the opening remarks at the Florida Department of Health’s Zika preparedness planning meeting in Miami this week, in a statement. “We will continue to remain in contact with our federal and state partners and we remain fully committed to doing everything we can to protect our families and visitors.”

Gov. Rick Scott and health officials urged Floridians to continue to take precautions to protect against Zika, including using bug repellent, during the state health department’s Zika preparedness planning meeting. (Photo via Gov. Rick Scott Twitter)

The Associated Press reported the state confirmed 285 Zika infections were contracted in the state last year, and six additional cases confirmed this year have been linked to exposure to the virus in 2016. So far this year, 81 cases of travel-related cases of Zika — most of which are in Broward and Miami-Dade County — have been confirmed in Florida.

“We have learned a lot about how to prepare for and respond to the Zika virus over the past year and it is crucial that we continue to work with our state and federal partners to keep protecting our communities,” said Surgeon General Celeste Philip in a statement.

Changing of the guard

New man in charge —Meet the Chairman of the Board at LeadingAge Florida.

Roger Stevens, the CEO of Westminster Communities of Florida, was installed as chairman of the LeadingAge Florida Board of Trustees during the organization’s annual meeting this week.

“Roger is a thoughtful, insightful, and very accomplished leader,” said Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, in a statement. “Westminster Communities of Florida truly reflects the full continuum of aging services, including affordable senior housing, independent living, assisted living, and skilled nursing care. As a result, Roger has a broad view of the aging services field that will be a true asset in guiding the only Florida association which represents that full continuum.”

A gubernatorial appointee to the Governor’s Continuing Care Advisory Council, Stevens has extensive experience representing aging service providers. He is also a licensed nursing home administrator, a certified public accountant, and a former manager at an international CPA firm with experience in feasibility studies, new facility development, financing, start-up and operation.

LeadingAge members also elected Troy Hart to serve as chair-elect; Josh Ashby, to serve as immediate past chair; Kevin Smaage to serve as secretary; Lisa Lyons to serve as treasurer; Mary Jo Zeller to serve as the ALF/HCBS chair; Joel Anderson to serve as the CCRC chair; Janet Stringfellow to serve as the housing chair; Robert Goldstein to serve as the nursing home chair; Jolynn Whitten to serve as the associate member representative; John Capes, Bruce Jones, Kevin Knopf, and Charee Russell to serve as LeadingAge advocates; Kip Corriveau to serve as the South West region chair; and Teresa Scott to serve as the North region chair.

Garry Hennis, Jim Richman, Gail Wattley, and Juana Mejia have also joined the board.

FMEA welcomes new team — Call him, “Mr. President.”

Florida Municipal Electric Association members this week elected Chip Merriam, the vice president of legislative, regulatory & compliance for the Orlando Utilities Commission, to serve as the organization’s new president of the board.

“As we look toward the future and the next 75 years, we have assembled a strong board of directors and officers who will help shape that path forward,” said Merriam in a statement. “I am grateful to each of the officers and board members for their service and commitment to Florida’s public power communities.”

Established in 1942, the association represents and advocates for member cities’ interests on a wide variety of state and federal issues. It also provides education and training for members, and acts as a clearinghouse for industry news and information.

Members also elected Joel Ivy, the general manager for Lakeland Electric, to serve as president-elect; Mike Poucher, the utility director of Ocala Electric Utility, to serve as vice-president; and Allen Putnam, the managing director of Beaches Energy Services in Jacksonville Beach, to serve as secretary-treasurer.

Support for Venezuelans

In a straw poll, thousands upon thousands of Venezuelans living in Florida turned out to reject the government’s plan to rewrite the Constitution, receiving bipartisan support from Florida lawmakers.

“The Venezuelan people have spoken; they are finished with this government that has continuously trampled their rights, murdered their neighbors, and oppressed their freedoms,” said Rep. Richard Stark, a Weston Democrat, in a statement after the vote. “It is unconscionable that while peacefully protesting in a civic manner and trying to make their voices heard, Venezuelans must still fear for their lives. This is an undeniable mandate; it is time for a new Venezuela.”

People line up to cast their ballots at a poll station during a symbolic referendum in Caracas, Venezuela on July 16, 2017. An estimated 150,000 votes were cast in Florida. (Photo via the Associated Press)

Nearly 150,000 votes were cast in Florida, and experts believe about 700,000 total people voted internationally in the poll. In Central Florida, all but five of the 28,328 votes cast voted yes on three questions that essentially declared opposition to Nicolas Maduro and called for the restoration of the county’s constitution.

“It was really motivating, it was inspiring, to see so many people passionate about their country, passionate about their freedom, passionate about their family members who are still back there, and hoping, some day, to go back to their country as a free country,” said Rep. Rene Plasencia, an Orlando Republican.

Sen. Vic Torres also applauded the Venezuelan people, saying this week he supports the efforts by the United States and other nations to impose sanctions on Venezuela to discourage the unpopular Constitutional changes and restore stability and economic prosperity.

“The voices of the Venezuelan people spoke with unanimity in their desire to preserve their national freedom and an open society,” said the Orlando Democrat. “We should all stand with the citizens and demand the current leadership abide by the will of the people.”

More nurses, please

Four more state colleges will begin offering a bachelor of science in nursing.

The state Board of Education gave the go-ahead to four state colleges — Eastern Florida State College, Lake-Sumter State College, Seminole State College of Florida, and Valencia College — to begin offering bachelor of science degrees by 2018.

The state board approved the request in an effort to produce a future talent pipeline in Central Florida, according to the Department of Education.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said “Florida colleges are known throughout the nation for their educational excellence, and this is a tremendous opportunity for students in Florida to meet their higher education goals while attending a Florida College.”

According to the DOE, the programs will allow nurses with associate in science degrees currently in the local workforce to remain on the job, while pursuing advanced skills in the health care industry.

“One size does not fit all. Students need options if they are interested in becoming a nurse,” said Jayne Willis, the chief nursing officer for Orlando Health, in a statement. “Some students cannot leave home to attend a four-year university. They need the option to attend close to home in their communities and continue working.”

Scott celebrates SkyConnect

SkyConnect has arrived — well, at least partially.

Gov. Scott was on hand this week when Tampa International Airport’s new SkyConnect trains arrived at Port Tampa Bay from Japan. Built by Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, the trains are part of a $417 million, 1.4-mile automated people mover project, which is part of the first phase of the airport’s master plan. The first phase of the master plan is estimated to cost about $1 billion.

Gov. Rick Scott celebrated the arrival of the SkyConnect trains, which are part of $471 million people mover project, to Port Tampa Bay from Japan. (Photo via the Governor’s Office)

“The delivery of the SkyConnect cars from Japan represents how interdependent our state transportation infrastructure has become and reflects how critical partnerships are to our transportation system,” said FDOT Secretary Mike Dew in a statement.

The state has invested more than $1 billion in Florida’s airports since 2011, according to the Governor’s Office. The fiscal 2017-18 budget includes more than $263 million for aviation improvements.

“By investing over $1 billion in state funding in our airports over the past six years, we are making sure that Florida’s infrastructure is on the cutting edge and can support our growing economy,” said Scott. “As the airport continues their renovations, these trains will help accommodate the millions of future passengers that the Tampa International Airport will welcome.”

Head west

Florida firefighters are backing their bags, and heading west.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced this week that an additional 24 wildland firefighters from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services will join an interagency crew to fight fires in the western states.

“After selflessly battling one of the worst wildfire seasons in Florida, our Florida  Forest Service firefighters will help protect other parts of our country from wildfire,” said Putnam.

A plane drops fire retardant as a wildfire burns along the primary road to the southern Utah ski town of Brian Head State on June 18, 2017. More than 90 Florida Forest Service firefighters are heading west to join an interagency crew to fight fires in the western states, including Utah. (Photo via the Associated Press.)

According to the Forest Service, crews could be sent to Utah, Montana, California or South Dakota. This week’s deployment deployment brings the total number of Florida Forest Service firefighters to 91.

“Florida Forest Service firefighters have proven their bravery and ability time and again when fighting Florida’s wildfires,” said State Forester Jim Karels. “They are exceptionally well-trained and know how to suppress wildfires aggressively and safely.”


Buck, Clary reappointed to Clay County Development Authority — Two members of the Clay County Development Authority have been reappointed to four-year terms.

Gov. Scott announced Russell Buck and Gregory Clary have been reappointed to the Clay development authority.

Buck, a 56-year-old Middleburg resident, is the regional vice president of Vystar Credit Union.

Clary, a 65-year-old also from Middleburg, is the president of Clary & Associates.

Both men were appointed to terms ending July 1, 2021.

Pyott joins Regulatory Council of Community Association Managers — The Regulatory Council of Community Association Managers has a new member.

Gov. Scott announced this week he appointed Gary Pyott to the board. The 58-year-old Aventura resident is the president of Association 1st, LLC.

The Regulatory Council of Community Association Managers deals with the licensing, continuing education requirements, and fees and professional practice standards related to Community Association Managers industry. The council meets quarterly.

Pyott fills a vacant seat for a term ending Oct. 31, 2020. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Landman reappointed to Eastern Florida State boardAlan Landman is sticking around District Board of Trustees of Eastern Florida State College.

Gov. Scott announced this week he reappointed Landman, a 54-year-old Indialantic resident, to the board. Landman is an attorney at Alan Landman, P.A. He received both his bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Florida.

Landman was reappointed to a term ending May 31, 2021. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Pate, Everett reappointed to NWFWMD — Gov. Scott has reappointed Jerry Pate and Ted Everett to the Governing Board of the Northwest Florida Water Management District.

Pate, a 63-year-old Pensacola resident, is the owner and CEO of Jerry Pate Turf & Irrigation. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Alabama. Everett, a 57-year-old Chipley resident, is the executive director for the Washington County Chamber of Commerce. He received his bachelor’s degree from Augusta State University.

Both men were reappointed to terms ending March 1, 2021. The appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

Raschein joins Defense Support Task Force — Rep. Holly Raschein is the newest member of the Florida Defense Support Task Force.

Raschein, a Key Largo Republican, was appointed by Gov. Scott to the task force, which aims to preserve, protect and enhance the state’s military missions and installations. She becomes the fourth state lawmaker on the board, joining Sen. Doug Broxson and Reps. Clay Ingram and Jay Trumbull.

First elected in 2012, Raschein, a health care special projects manager, represents House District 120, which includes the Florida Keys.

Rep. Holly Raschein joins Sen. Doug Broxson and Reps. Clay Ingram and Jay Trumbull on the Florida Defense Support Task Force. (Photo via Rep. Holly Raschein’s Twitter.)

She currently serves as the state director for the National Foundation of Women Legislators, and is the past president of the Upper Keys Business & Professional Women.

This year, the task force will oversee an update of its strategic plan for protecting the state’s military installations. Florida’s 20 major military installations have an annual economic impact of $73 billion and more than 750,000 jobs.

Raschein fills a vacant seat, and was appointed to a term ending July 1, 2019.

Simon to the 11th Judicial Circuit — Judge Lourdes Simon is moving on up.

Gov. Scott announced this week that he appointed Simon to the 11th Judicial Circuit Court. Simon currently serves as a county judge for Miami-Dade County.

The 49-year-old Miami resident will fill a vacancy created by Judge Robert Luck, who moved to the 3rd District Court of Appeal.

Prior to becoming a judge, Simon served as a public defender for the Miami-Dade Public Defender’s Office. She received her bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and a law degree from Nova Southeastern School of Law.

Guidice joins Employee Leasing Companies board — Gov. Scott has appointed a 56-year-old Golden Oak resident to the Board of Employee Leasing Companies.

Carl Guidice, the CEO of HR Outsourcing, fills a vacant position and was appointed until Oct. 31, 2020.

The board is responsible for licensing and regulating employee leasing companies. It meets regularly to consider applications for licensure, review disciplinary cases, and to conduct informal hearings.

The appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Speedy service

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services sure has been busy.

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam announced this week the agency has expedited more than 82,000 Florida concealed weapon license (CWL) applications for active military members and veterans since July 2015.

“The men and women who serve and have served our country deserve all of the support we can provide,” Putnam said in a statement. “I’m proud that we have expedited so many concealed weapon license applications for our active military members and veterans.”

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam announced his agency has has expedited more than 82,000 Florida concealed weapon license for military members and veterans since July 2015. (Photo via Adam Putnam’s Office.)

Putnam pushed for the ability to expedite licenses for active military members and veterans after an attack against military personnel in Chattanooga, Tennessee in the summer of 2015.

Active military members who want to apply for a concealed weapon license should include a copy of their Common Access Card or other form of official military identification with their application when they submit it to the department.

There are currently 1.78 million concealed weapon license holders in Florida. They include state CFO Patronis, who proudly pulled his CWL out of his wallet at a press event in Tallahassee this week.

Fast shipping guaranteed

Chasing after Amazon, eBay and other competitors, Walmart now says purchases might be landing on your doorstep sooner than you thought.

Walmart held a grand opening for its new e-commerce fulfillment center in Davenport this week. The fulfillment center is just the latest in a series of investments the retail giant plans to make in the next fiscal year, officials said.

“This campus is just the latest example of Walmart’s commitment to offering customers fast shipping on items they need every day,” said Nate Faust, the senior vice president of Walmart U.S. eCommerce Supply Chain, in a statement. “We’re excited not only about the economic impact our facility has had, and will continue to have, in the community, but also how it will help us empower our customers to shop when and how they want.”

According to the Governor’s Office, the fulfilment center will create about 1,500 jobs in the Davenport area. The Governor’s Office also said that, between Feb. 1, 2017 and Jan. 31, 2018, the company plans to open nine new stores across the state; remodel more than 40 locations across the state; and celebrate the groundbreaking on a new distribution center for perishable goods in Cocoa.

“Walmart could have chosen to open this new fulfillment center in any location, yet they know that Florida is the best place for them to grow their business and create new jobs,” said Gov. Scott in a statement this week.

Awards season

16 presented with Chamber’s ‘Distinguished Advocates’ award — The Florida Chamber of Commerce announced this week 16 state lawmakers – five senators and 11 representatives – would receive the organization’s 2017 Distinguished Advocates award.

The award recognizes lawmakers who championed key Florida business agenda legislation, and is designed to acknowledge lawmakers who ensure the business community’s legislative priorities are considered.

Award winners “had the courage to put free enterprise principles for job creation above special interests,” said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce.

Sens. Keith Perry and Jack Latvala were among the 16 state lawmakers recognized by the Florida Chamber of Commerce with the organization’s 2017 “Distinguished Advocates” award. (Photo by Phil Sears)

The Chamber honored Sens. Jeff Brandes, for his ridesharing and autonomous vehicle legislation; Jack Latvala, for fighting for proven investments in economic development and tourism marketing; Bill Montford, who worked side-by-side with the Chamber to strengthen the state’s accountability system; Keith Perry, who pushed legislation to shield injured workers’ private information; and Kelli Stargel, for her leadership in advocating for the Chamber’s education and tax priorities.

Over in the House, the Chamber recognized Reps. Ben Albritton, who also fought to keep injured workers’ personal information private; Michael Bileca, who fought to improve the state’s education system; Jim Boyd, who led efforts to reduce the business rent tax; Danny Burgess, who led the charge for workers’ compensation reform; Rep. Manny Diaz, for his work on behalf of teachers and students in Florida; Jay Fant, who supported economic development issues and tourism marketing; Jamie Grant, who worked to reduce assignment of benefits abuses; Mike La Rosa, who fought back attempts to expand Las Vegas-style gambling; Tom Leek, who pushed for reforms to Florida’s legal environment; Scott Plakon, who pushed for transparency in collective bargaining; and Chris Sprowls, who championed a consistent regulatory framework for ridesharing.

2017 ‘County Champion’ — Hats off to state Rep. Barrington Russell, please.

Russell, a Lauderdale Lakes Democrat, has been recognized by the Florida Association of Counties with a 2017 County Champion Award.

“Oftentimes, Tallahassee politicians fail to consider their county’s point of view when creating new regulations,” said Russell. “One of the reasons I chose to run for office was to ensure that the people in my community have a strong voice in Tallahassee and I am truly humbled to have been chosen for this award recognizing my efforts to ensure home rule is protected.”

Russell was honored for his understanding and dedication to working with counties on critical local issues during the 2017 Legislative Session.

“Our county officials and constituents are who we should be turning to first when we deal with legislation that will affect our neighborhoods,” he said in a statement.

Legislative honor students — Nearly three dozen lawmakers landed on the honor roll after the 2017 Legislative Session.

Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida (ICUF) announced this week that lawmakers — including Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran — are recipients of the 2017 Presidential Honor Roll Award.

Honorees, according to the organization, were chosen because they showed a deep commitment and support for independent higher education during the 2017 Session.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron were among the nearly three dozen lawmakers recognized by Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida for their work on higher education issues this year. (Photo by Phil Sears)

“I’m confident this past session set an all-time record for increases in student financial assistance for Florida resident students attending our universities,” said Ed Moore, president of ICUF. “None of it would have been possible without those selected for our 2017 Presidential Honor Roll.”

The organization recognized Sens. Jack Latvala, Keith Perry, Dorothy Hukill, Wilton Simpson, Lizbeth Benacquisto, Oscar Braynon, Kelli Stargel, Aaron Bean, Audrey Gibson, Bill Galvano, Bill Montford, Tom Lee, and Jose Javier Rodriguez.

Over in the House, Reps. Bob Cortes, Jake Raburn, Mel Ponder, Amber Mariano, Manny Diaz, Alexandra Miller, Travis Cummings, Paul Renner, Shevrin Jones, Larry Lee, Tom Leek, Elizabeth Porter, Ramon Alexander, Larry Ahern, Michael Bileca, James Grant and Carlos Trujillo got top honors.

Independent Colleges and Universities of Florida represents 30 private, non-profit educational institutes based in Florida.

Justice champion — Call him a “champion of justice.” Tampa Bay trial lawyers sure are.

The Tampa Bay Trial Lawyers Association (TBTLA) announced this week it was awarding Dale Swope with its 2017 “Champion of Justice Award.”

“I am humbled to be in the company of advocates who have come before me as leaders in our community, both inside and outside the courtroom,” said Swope, the president of the Florida Justice Association, in a statement.

Swope is the founding partner of Swope, Rodante P.A., and was one of the founding members of the TBTLA, a non-profit organization of lawyers representing consumers dedicated to upholding and defending the Constitution. He served as the organization’s president in 2000 and 2002.

“I am pleased to say that the Champion of Justice award will be given again this year to a person who has consistently demonstrated exceptional leadership,” said Chris Deburi, the president of the Tampa Bay Trial Lawyers Association.

Help for volunteers

Looking to recruit and retain skills-based volunteers? There’s a grant for that.

Volunteer Florida is accepting proposals for 2017-18 Volunteer Generation Fund grant funding. Contingent upon receipt of federal funding, Volunteer Florida will distribute a total of $286,000 in “sub-grant” awards of $13,000. The program aims to help organizations more effectively recruit, manage, support and retain skills-based volunteers.

While the program is open to public and private nonprofit organizations, the fiscal 2017-18 program is intended to “build capacity that will result in sustainable skills-based volunteer programs.” Because of that, Volunteer Florida said organizations receiving Volunteer Generation Fund program funds for three years aren’t eligible for 2017-18 funding.

Proposals are due Aug. 4, less than two weeks away.

Money, money, money

Six months, $16.6 million.

CFO Patronis announced this week that insurance experts working with Florida’s Insurance Consumer Helpline led to the recovery of more than $16.6 million during the first half of 2017.

“The claims-filing process can be a stressful affair, especially during times of serious illness or after a disastrous event,” said Patronis in a statement. “I applaud the efforts of our experts who work tirelessly to provide Floridians with the tools and resources they need to easily navigate through their insurance-related issues.”

Helpline experts answered more than 141,000 calls from Floridians and aided in the recovery of funds, including insurance claim payments and premium refunds that consumers.

Must love books

First Lady Ann Scott is spending the summer reading — and she wants Floridians to follow her lead.

Scott stopped by the Marion County Public LIbrary in Ocala this week as part of the Department of Education’s 2017 Summer Literacy Adventure program. Scott read to students from the Marion County Boys and Girls Club, and encouraged them to continue reading throughout the summer.

“This is the perfect time for children and families to spend extra time reading and learning together,” she said in a statement. “I encourage all of our wonderful students to take the Summer Literacy Adventure pledge so they are prepared for a great school year.”

First Lady Ann Scott read to students from the Marion County Boys and Girls Club during a stop at the Marion County Public Library in Ocala. (Photo via First Lady Ann Scott’s Twitter.)

The 2017 Summer Literacy Adventure program encourages students to pledge to read as many books as possible during the summer. At the start of the 2017-18 school year, the first lady will visit the school where students completed the most reading pledges.

“First Lady Ann Scott sets a great example for Florida’s students, and we are extremely fortunate to have her as a strong advocate for lifelong success,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart. “The Summer Literacy Adventure is a great way to show our students that literacy is exciting, and it is critical that they keep reading over the summer months to retain the knowledge they have gained when school starts back in the fall.”

Got jobs?

Lift this  — Need a forklift? There’s a new place to find them in Jacksonville.

Gov. Scott visited Florida Forklift’s new Jacksonville facility this week. The facility, according to the Governor’s Office, will create additional job opportunities in the community.

Gov. Rick Scott talks job growth at Florida Forklifts in Jacksonville. (Photo via the Governor’s Office.)

“I’d like to thank Gov. Scott for his commitment to creating a business-friendly environment and support of small businesses like Florida Forklift,” said Gary Mansell, the company’s president, in a statement. “The team at Florida Forklift is incredibly grateful for our success in the state for over 40 years, especially here in Jacksonville, which has helped make the move to this new facility possible. We look forward to providing great service to many more Floridians and creating opportunities for years to come.”

Founded in 1974 as Tampa Forklift, the company now has locations in Winter Haven, Orlando, Jacksonville and Fort Myers. It currently employs more than 60 Floridians.

Job carnival — Look out, Tampa: The job hunters are coming.

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz will host her annual District 62 Job Fair at Higgins Hall in Tampa next week. The 8th annual event is a chance for employers to connect with prospective employees of all skill sets and education levels.

“With the Tampa Bay area poised to stand at the forefront of our twenty-first century economy, it is vital that all our residents are sharing in our successes,” said Cruz.

“Through our District 62 Job Fair, our office has been able to work with our partners in the business community to help thousands of Floridians find a good-paying job that provides economic security for themselves and their families,” she continued. “I could not be more proud of the opportunities we’ve been able to provide to working Floridians and I encourage everyone looking for a job to attend.”

In addition to prospective employers, career skills professionals from the University of South Florida and Hillsborough Community College will be on hand to provide resume advice and interview tips.

Feel the burn — Gov. Scott might not have had time to squeeze in a workout, but the Naples Republican did take a few minutes this week to applaud the growth of Orangetheory Fitness.

The national fitness franchise, which was founded in South Florida and is headquartered in Boca Raton, has opened 89 studios over the past six and a half years.

“I enjoy the opportunity to take classes at Orangetheory Fitness studios both at home and in Tallahassee, so I am happy to be here today with Governor Scott to recognize this outstanding Florida company and its contribution to our economy,” said Senate President Negron in a statement. “Orangetheory Fitness has seen tremendous growth in a very short period of time, and we are pleased they have decided to maintain their global headquarters right here in Florida.”

Gov. Rick Scott and state lawmakers celebrate the growth of Orangetheory Fitness. (Photo via the Governor’s Office.)

Orangetheory Fitness launched its first studio in Fort Lauderdale in 2010. Since then, it has transformed into a worldwide franchise, with more than 700 studios in 45 states and 16 countries. It is on track to have 900 open studios in 2017.

“Our work to cut taxes, reduce burdensome regulations and make Florida more business-friendly is helping innovative job creators like Orangetheory Fitness create new opportunities for our families,” said Scott in a statement.

According to the Governor’s Office, has created more than 1,300 jobs in Florida, including 120 jobs at the Global Support Center in Boca Raton.

Dear Congress

Rep. Kristin Jacobs has a message for federal lawmakers: Keep it efficient.

The Coconut Creek Democrat joined 84 legislators from 33 states in signing a letter urging the Department of Energy and Congress to maintain energy efficiency programs.

Energy efficiency standards set a minimum standard for more than 60 different appliances. The Department of Energy is required to work with manufacturers to update standards that save consumers money.

Federal spending bills have proposed 47 percent cuts to the Energy Department’s budget, with the Building Technologies Office, which administers efficiency standards for standards for appliances, being reduced by 54 percent.

Rep. Kristin Jacobs was one of 84 legislators from 33 states who signed a letter urging the Department of Energy and Congress to maintain energy efficiency programs.(Photo via the Florida House.)

“Current federal energy appliance standards save money for Floridians,” she said in a statement. “Now more than ever, Congress must act to preserve these bipartisan efficiency requirements.”

Jacobs — who serves as the ranking Democratic member on both the Natural Resources & Public Lands Subcommittee and the Agriculture & Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee — was the Florida lawmaker to sign the letter.

“Energy efficiency is a powerful and cost-effective tool for reducing energy use and subsequently carbon emissions,” said Jeff Mauk, the executive director of the National Caucus of Environmental Legislators, in a statement. “These standards save consumers money while benefitting the environment. It’s a win-win scenario.”

Hungry no more

Hundreds of Broward families recently got a helping hand from Rep. Patricia Williams.

Williams, a Lauderdale Lakes Democrat, recently hosted a free food distribution event with Farm Share in House District 92.

“Lack of food security is a serious issue affecting far too many families throughout Florida,” Williams said. “While it is unfortunate that events like this are necessary, I am extremely proud of the fact that our community came together to provide to those in need.”

The event provided enough food to feed 500 families in need of assistance, 219 of which received food at the event. Williams, Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and Deerfield Beach Mayor Bill Ganz delivered food that wasn’t distributed at the event to the Palms of Deerfield, a senior living community partnered with the Deerfield Beach Housing Authority.

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

Farm Share is hosting three food distribution events — in Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Williston — on Saturday.

Bag boy (or girl) extraordinaire

Think your grocery store bagger is the best in the land? The Florida Grocers Association has a competition for them.

The Florida Grocers Association (FGA), a division of the Florida Retail Federation, is launching an event to crown Florida’s best grocery bagger among all of the Sunshine State grocery industry employees.

The inaugural Florida Best Bagger competition takes place Sunday at the Gaylord Palms Resort in Kissimmee during the 2017 Sunshine EXPO, one of the largest retailing events in the Southeast.

“Florida’s grocery industry is made up of more than 2,300 stores and tens of thousands of employees, and we look forward to the best baggers from Pensacola to Key West going head-to-head to determine who truly is the best bagger in our state,” said Josie Correa, the executive director of the FGA, in a statement.

Contestants are judged by speed of bagging, proper bag-building technique, weight distribution, as well as style, attitude and appearance.

In addition to taking home “bagging rights,” the winner will receive a $1,000 grand prize and a trip to the National Grocers Association National Best Bagger Championship at The NGA Show in February in Las Vegas.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:


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.