Takeaways from Tallahassee – The “reunions, rejections, and tears” edition

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You know it’s getting to be “that time” in the legislative session when lawmakers skip out on a hot debate to get free food in the Capitol courtyard.

A string of House members could be seen grazing the tables at Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam‘s “legislative reception” Wednesday night.

That was around the same time that controversial immigration and gun bills were on third reading, but based on the offerings four floors below, it’s hard to blame them.

It’s easy to be tempted by steakburgers, gumbo, shrimp and grits, fresh veggies and dip, and a host of other state-grown comestibles.

Frankly, the kumbaya moment that was the first week is starting to fade, and legislators have to do that thing they dread: “Heavy lifting.”

Some rewrite of the Seminole Compact and accompanying gambling legislation could be around the corner (or not, depending on whom you ask), and always-contentious alimony and child-custody measures are being heard.

Did we mention the budget?

It’s enough to make an elected official chuck their staff analyzes in the air and head out to chow down on some juicy brisket.

What follows below are some other tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments from the week that was via Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Jim Rosica, and Peter Schorsch.

Tuesday was reunion day in the Florida Capitol, with the House of Representatives and Senate welcoming back dozens of former members from the 1960s to the present. Here are the lists of invitees for both chambers (note that many served in both chambers).

House (by decade, then alphabetical): 1960s: Ted Alvarez, Bill Basford, Sandy D’Alemberte, Lew Earle, James Eddy, Elton Gissendanner, Tom McPherson, Dick Pettigrew, Dick Renick, Ken Smith (earliest serving former member), Ed Whitson, Roger Wilson. 1970s: Dick Batchelor, Rich Crotty, Tim Deratany, Vince Fechtel, Tom Gallagher, Mattox Hair, Mary Ellen Hawkins, Dennis Jones, Lawrence Kirkwood, Dick Langley, Frank Mann, Dennis McDonald, Pat Neal, Dale Patchett, Van Poole, Bobby Reynolds, Ron Richmond, Eric Smith, Larry Smith, Paul Steinberg, James Ward, Jim Watt, Tom Woodruff. 1980s: Keith Arnold, Jim Brodie, Jim Burke, Bill Clark, Rick Dantzler, Tom Drage, Fred Dudley, David Flagg, Rudy Garcia, Steve Geller, John Grant, Jim Hargrett, Bruce Hoffmann, Doc Kimmel, Frank Messersmith, Tom Mims, Sandy Mortham, Debby Sanderson, Dixie Sansom, Carl Selph, Peggy Simone, Javier Souto, Robert Trammell. 1990s: Bruno Barreiro, Annie Betancourt, Janegale Boyd, Lisa Carlton, Faye Culp, Paula Dockery, Mark Foley, Carole Green, Ron Greenstein, Bob Henriquez, Ralph Livingston, Sharon Merchant, John Morroni, Mark Olges, Pat Patterson, Burt Saunders, Joe Spratt, Don Sullivan, Allen Trovillion, Rob Wallace. 2000s: Jeff Atwater (now state CFO), Loranne Ausley, Marty Bowen, Debbie Boyd, Ron Brise, Rich Glorioso, Mike Hogan, Ed Hooper, Charlie Justice, Jim Kallinger, Kurt Kelly, Dick Kravitz, Perry McGriff, Doc Renuart, Nan Rich, Curtis Richardson, Kelly Skidmore.

Senate (in alphabetical order): Jeff Atwater, Charlie Bronson, Walter “Skip” Campbell, Lisa Carlton, Don Childers, Charlie Clary, Timothy Deratany, Paula Dockery, Fred Dudley, Vince Fechtel Jr., Mark Foley, Howard Forman, Rudy Garcia, John Grant, Mattox Hair, James Hargrett, Katherine Harris, Dennis Jones, Charlie Justice, Dick Langley, Franklin Mann, David McClain, John McKay, Tom McPherson, Patrick Neal, Richard Pettigrew, Van Poole, Richard Renick, Nan Rich, Debby Sanderson, Burt Saunders, Bruce Smathers, Javier Souto, Paul Steinberg, Don Sullivan, Russell Sykes, John Vogt, Charles Williams.

On Tuesday, state Sen. Jeff Brandes‘ occupational deregulation measure (SB 1050) started with a laugh line.

“This bill will make you want to paint your face, put on a kilt and yell freedom,” he told the Regulated Industries Committee. But the laughs soon turned to frowns.

The St. Petersburg Republican’s bill as filed “eliminates current business license requirements for certain regulated professions, (including) architects, interior designers, as asbestos consultants and contractors, geologists and landscape architects,” a staff analysis said. (They would still have to have individual occupational licenses.) It would delete licensing requirements for a long line of occupations, including nail polishing, veterinary acupressure and massage and body wrapping.

But geologists soon appeared before the panel saying they wanted to continue having to pay for business licenses. One worry was it would open competition to out-of-state geology firms.

Chairman Rob Bradley temporarily set aside the bill while the parties huddled. Sen. Jack Latvala, who was skeptical of the bill, finally offered a last-minute amendment to take out the geologists, which was adopted. “In all my years up here, I don’t think I’ve ever seen a group that was offered a fee decrease and turned it down unless they were pretty certain that it was needed,” he said.

The committee cleared the amended bill unanimously.

Rep. Lori Berman might be pushing legislation to create standards for educational interpreters for students who are deaf or hard of hearing, but lawmakers on this week got a lecture about the need for beyond just the classroom.

On Tuesday, the House education appropriations subcommittee heard Berman’s measure (HB 705), which requires the state education board to establish standards for educational interpreters.

Most people waived in support during the public comment section — including Morgan Eastman, who is hearing-impaired. But Gary Lieffers, the lobbyist representing the Florida Association of the Deaf, stepped up to the mic to voice his opinion.

Lieffers, who supported the measure, said lawmakers needs to take steps to make sure to make accommodations for the hearing-impaired.

“Morgan is a bright, 25-year-old woman who went through the Florida public school system who has a compelling story to tell,” said Lieffers. “Morgan made a request for an accommodation Monday morning, but there were no interpreters around. They couldn’t come. You’re going to miss a compelling story because Tallahassee can’t provide and interpreter.”

That’s right: A sign language interpreter wasn’t available Tuesday during a hearing on the need for standards for educational interpreters for students who are deaf or hard of hearing.

Don’t worry, though. Lieffers had a certified interpreter with him, who was able to interpret Eastman’s statement.

The bill passed 13-0.

Running counter to the reporting of the Tampa Bay Times’ Craig Pitman, the News-Press editorial board voiced its support for the environmentally-sound plan that is dispersed water storage (DWS).

Calling it “a worthwhile investment for taxpayers,” the Ed Board wrote, “two months ago another important water storage project was revealed” … “It is one being led by Alico, which is one of the 19-largest landowners in Florida. Controlling about 122,000 acres in the state, Alico is one of the largest citrus growers in the U.S. and the 11th-largest owner of cattle.”

Read for yourself here about Alico’s water storage project and the News-Press’ assessment of it. The key takeaway: “We can’t control the weather, but we can control — through engineering and funding — where that water goes. We can’t take our foot off the environmental pedal.”

A Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services bill (SB 772) cleared the Senate’s Appropriations Committee Wednesday but only after a contentious provision was taken out. The legislation contained a section wanted by insurance interests to rein in unneeded windshield repairs. It included a provision that would have allowed related suits for reimbursement to proceed on behalf of insured drivers without their knowledge or consent. But trial lawyers objected so that language was taken out. Disclosure requirements were left in, however. The bill now heads to the Senate floor. The bill, sponsored by Sen. Garrett Richter, a Naples Republican, is a priority of Agriculture Commissioner Putnam.

The Senate Ethics and Elections Committee this past week cleared two measures that each would add a new member to the Florida Cabinet: an elected Secretary of State and an elected Education Commissioner.

The changes ultimately would have to be made through constitutional amendments approved by voters. But Florida shrank its Cabinet 13 years ago after voters OK’d amendments suggested by the last Constitutional Revision Commission. It made the offices of Secretary of State and Commissioner of Education appointed by the governor. It also merged the old Cabinet offices of Treasurer and Comptroller into the position of chief financial officer. The Cabinet now is the Attorney General, Agriculture Commissioner, and CFO. With the governor, that’s four votes.

State Sen. Aaron Bean, who’s sponsoring the Secretary of State move, explained it as ensuring the Cabinet would have an odd number of members, like most public and private boards. But if both proposals are eventually approved, the governor and Cabinet would be back to an even number, that is, six.

Florida’s Department of Economic Opportunity released a list of the three finalists seeking millions in state funds for stadium upgrades this year. In a letter to legislative leaders Monday, DEO executive director Cissy Proctor suggested Daytona International Speedway, the Miami Dolphins, and Jacksonville Jaguars are each eligible for cash from the DEO’s Sports Development Program, estimated as much as $13 million in 2016. Sports facility upgrade projects could receive up to $90 million in tax rebates over 30 years. The final outcome is still far from certain, as lawmakers must approve the money’s release. However, all things being equal, this time, each one seems to have a decent shot at receiving taxpayer funds.

But, then again, in this case, all things are not quite equal.

While the DEO adhered to the letter of the law by releasing the names of the three contenders on schedule, the agency violated the law’s intent when it selectively applied rules outlined in the statute. With this ad hoc reading of the law, particularly in the ability to attract out-of-state visitors, Daytona International Speedway, which draws a majority of its visitors from beyond Florida, was clearly put at an unfair disadvantage.

For example, estimates show signature events such as The Daytona 500, NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and others had attracted more than 2 million attendees over the past three years, 66 percent of which came from outside Florida. With other nonsignature events, DIS drew nearly 1.6 million visitors, with more than 35 percent coming from out-of-state and spending $281 per day on average. That alone generated $375,700,000 for a single night stay. Also, out-of-state attendees stay an average of five nights or more. As for nonsignature events, visitors spend just over $280 per day, equaling $155,800,000 of revenue in Florida just for a single night.

These figures for DIS, as well as a strategy for future growth, were glossed over (or, more likely, ignored) by the DEO in making its recommendations for the program.

Good personal friend and MSNBC commentator Joy-Ann Reid visited the capital city oWednesday to sign copies of her new book Fracture: Obama, the Clintons and the Racial Divide.

Reid talked shop about contemporary Democratic politics the day after Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders shook up the party by taking Hillary Clinton to a virtual tie in the Iowa caucuses. She said this year’s primary could be a major re-alignment of the balance of power in the party as the sun sets on the Obama coalition, when either the DLC-style moderates hold on for another generation or a new era of populist progressives takes the reins.

I can’t believe it was Joy’s irst time in Tallahassee! We hope to see you again soon.

Sen. Tom Lee said he won’t put a bill regulating hydraulic fracturing on the appropriations committee agenda until the Department of Environmental Protection is prepared to testify about it.

Lee said he supported the bill during the general government subcommittee meeting “with reservations” last month, but told Sen. Garrett Richter, the bill’s sponsor, he wouldn’t hear the bill in the appropriations committee until DEP was prepared to testify.

“My frustration was that the DEP was nowhere to be seen,” he told reporters after a meeting Wednesday to discuss the 2016-17 budget. “I have told the sponsor and the stakeholder that I will not hear the bill in this committee until such time the Department of Environmental Protection, which is our regulatory arm, they are our regulator, is prepared to testify before this committee, on the record, about provisions of that bill.”

A representative for the DEP hasn’t testified during any Senate committee hearings on the bill this year. However, the DEP officials attended and testified at most of the hearings when the bill was heard during the 2015 legislative session.

Lee was clearly miffed when no one with the agency testified during the Jan. 25 general government appropriations subcommittee. Richter told the committee that he encouraged people to waive in support of the bill since the measure had been heard previously.

Lee said he thought to have the agency testify on the record was the appropriate way for the bill to be handled.

“We want credible scientific responses to questions, not special interest responses,” he said. “I think a lot of people have concerns about a number of provisions in the bill.”

Still, he said he suspects “we will ultimately agenda the bill and hear it.”

Victims of terrorism are one step closer to being able to sue a co-conspirator for damages.

The Senate fiscal policy committee Thursday voted 9-0 to approve a bill that would allow victims of a terrorist attack to sue for damages. The bill (SB 996), sponsored by Sen. Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, allows victims to sue people for “facilitating or furthering terrorism.”

Under the bill, a successful plaintiff is entitled to three times the actual damage and a minimum of $1,000. It also says a person who commits an act of terrorism and is injured can’t bring a claim under this bill.

The bill sailed through all of its committee hearings. It now heads to the Senate floor.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz got emotional Thursday as the House health and human services committee took up one of his 2016 priorities.

The panel was discussing a proposal (HB 89) that ends the five-year ban on Kidcare enrollment for children of legal immigrants in Florida. The bill is a priority of Diaz’s, and House Speaker Crisafulli encouraged lawmakers to support the bill during his opening remarks kicking off theSession.

“These children and their parents have followed our laws and should be able to access the same services as any other Florida family can,” said Crisafulli at the time. “This Legislature has acted with similar compassion in recent years, and I ask for your support to pass Chair Diaz’s good bill.”

Removing the five year wait period would mean children of legal immigrants would immediately be eligible for health care.

The bill passed the committee unanimously. It now heads to the House.

According to POLITICO Florida, Diaz choked back tears as he closed on the bill, saying “you have to do things you believe in without fears of consequence. Handling a bill that deals with immigration is not easy.”

The bill now heads to the House floor.

A version of “Storage Wars” came to the Capitol this week as one bill that would change the law governing self-storage facilities and involve Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater got jammed up in committee. If passed, the legislation (SB 720/HB 559) would take away the monopoly that newspapers have long had for public notices when storage warehouses auction off the contents of units whose renters haven’t paid up or otherwise have abandoned their property. “The newspapers and their publishers continue to stand up and oppose this bill because it loosens the chokehold that they have in statute to profit off of public notice,” said Joseph Salzverg, Florida lobbyist for the Alexandria, Virginia-based Self Storage Association. Instead, under a pending amendment from state Sen. Kelli Stargel, a Lakeland Republican, notice of auctions could be placed “on an Internet website to be developed and maintained by the Chief Financial Officer.” Stay tuned…

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Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.