Takeaways from Tallahassee for 07.02.16 – Of algae blooms and firework booms

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It’s almost Independence Day, which in Florida means: Time to scare some birds.

Although you can buy fireworks in the state, they’re not actually legal here.

Indeed, The Tampa Tribune in 2014 called fireworks sales in Florida an “institutionalized charade,” leading one lawmaker to call for “more freedom (and) less fraud.”

Retail sales are allowed only because of a 60-year-old loophole in the law, the only known one of its kind in the country. That allows “fireworks … to be used solely and exclusively in frightening birds from agricultural works and fish hatcheries.”

Indeed, anyone who’s bought fireworks from a roadside tent over the years may remember signing a form acknowledging the buyer falls under an agricultural, fisheries or other exemption.

For the record, fireworks can also be used for “signal purposes or illumination” of a railroad or quarry, “for signal or ceremonial purposes in athletics or sports, or for use by military organizations.”

In Florida, state Rep. Matt Gaetz unsuccessfully tried to legalize Roman candles, bottle rockets and other fireworks for recreational use. The Fort Walton Beach Republican is now running for Congress.

And state Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, pushed a similar bill, also to no avail, prohibiting sales of fireworks and sparklers only to children under 16 and requiring other buyers to sign a disclaimer saying they know fireworks are dangerous.

“Florida law on fireworks is absurd,” he told FloridaPolitics.com. Current law “does not promote public safety and should be repealed to simply allow fireworks to be sold … More freedom, less fraud.”

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:

Blue-green emergency — Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency this week in Martin, St. Lucie, Lee and Palm Beach counties after algae blooms began popping up in the region’s waterways. The declaration came as Martin County Commissioner declared a seven-day state of emergency, after closing its beaches because of the algae blooms. The blue-green algae is the latest contaminant featured in years-long arguments over water flowing from Lake Okeechobee. The Army Corps of Engineers is preparing to reduce the flow from Lake Okeechobee, a move that comes after calls from lawmakers to help the area.

Zika funding blocked — Senate Democrats blocked a federal spending bill to set aside $1.1 billion to fight the spread of the Zika virus. The bill was shot down because Senate Democrats said they believed Republicans were using the bill to cut money from other programs. The vote came the same day that Florida officials announced a child was born with Zika-related microcephaly. There are more than 230 cases of Zika in Florida, more than 40 of which involve pregnant women regardless of symptoms.

Orlando 911 logs released —In what has been called some of the “most descriptive official reports,” officials released the 911 dispatch logs from the deadly Orlando shooting. While the city did not release audio recordings or full transcripts of the 911 call — or the shooter’s communications with police negotiators — the logs gave a glimpse of what happened in the nightclub on June 12. Forty-nine people died in the mass shooting, and more than 50 people were injured.

California fundraising — Florida Republicans packed their bags and headed to the West Coast this week for a fundraiser. The event hosted by the fundraising committee helping state Senate candidates, which is led by Sen. Joe Negron, and was held at the Pebble Beach golf course.  Sen. Bill Galvano also held an event in California. Galvano was re-elected this year after he faced no opposition.

Alligators removed — Disney World has begun to remove all of the references to crocodiles and alligators in its park following the death of a 2-year-old boy at one of its resorts. The Hollywood Reporter reported the Jungle Cruise has changed its script, which has been in place since 1962. The resort has also new signs warning about alligators. According to the Miami Herald, since 2006 trappers have captured and killed 240 alligators on Disney property.

Courtesy of the Governor's Office.
Courtesy of the Governor’s Office.

The state is continuing its fight against human trafficking.

That was the message Gov. Scott sent during a visit to Mary Lee’s House in Tampa this week. The non-profit child protection and advocacy center serves more than 100 children a week in the Tampa area.

Scott visited the safe haven to highlight a $6.8 million budget allocation for safe homes and service providers for victims of human trafficking. The money was included in the 2017 budget, which goes into effect July 1.

More than a half-dozen safe homes will receive money from the state, according to the Governor’s Office.

The Florida Department of Health wants Floridians to know their status.

Monday marked National HIV Testing Day, an annual event promoting awareness for HIV testing. The event is also meant to encourage people to know their status, and to get tested for the disease.

“Preventing the potentially devastating effects of a disease like HIV begins with getting tested. We know that timely and effective treatment is prevention; and greatly lowers the risk for the individual to transmit the virus to others,” said Surgeon General Celeste Philip in a statement. “The sooner treatment is initiated in early stages of HIV, the greater the likelihood a person has to lead a long, healthful and fulfilling life. I encourage anyone unsure of their status to use the department’s resources to get tested and seek support.”

More than 1.2 million people are currently living with HIV in the United States, and, according to the Health Department, 1 in 8 are unaware they are infected.

The Florida Bar is on the lookout for a few good journalists.

The deadline for the Florida Bar’s 61st Media Awards has been extended to July 8. The annual awards recognize outstanding journalism that highlights the law and justice system as it impacts Floridians.

The contest is open to media that have made a significant effort to inform the public about the delivery or quality of justice. Submissions may include news stories, series, features, editorial, blogs or anything produced by a news organization that deals with law and lawyers, courts, law enforcement, the delivery of legal services, the effectiveness of the justice system and the work of the bar. Entries must have been published or produced between Jan. 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2015.

The awards will be presented by the president of The Florida Bar at the annual Reporters’ Workshop dinner on Sept. 19 in Tallahassee.

There’s a new president in town.

Kelly Paige, owner of Level Talent Group in Tampa, has been named the president of Film Florida. Paige has been involved with Film Florida for about 12 years, and most recently served as the 2nd vice president.

“It is a great honor to be named as the next President of Film Florida. I am excited by the opportunities that lie ahead and look forward to strengthening the film, TV and digital media industry in Florida,” she said in a statement. “This industry has been an economic driver in Florida for decades and I look forward to continuing the momentum the organization has created in the last few years.”

The 2016-16 Executive Board officers are Sheena Fowler with Women in Film and Television-Florida has been named the 1st vice president; Bonnie King with Space Coast Film Commission has been named the 2nd vice president; Herta Suarez with SAG-AFTRA has been named the secretary; Lauren O’Quinn with ClassAct Studio has been named the Treasurer, and Judson C. French Jr. with the Florida State University College of Motion Picture Arts has been named an at-large member.

Michelle Hillery with Palm Beach County Film & Television Commission is the immediate past president.

Speaking of Film Florida: The organization announced this week that it hired John Lux as its executive director. The move will allow the association to expand operations and manage growth.

“Based on the growth the organization has seen over the past few years, this is an obvious next step to continue the positive momentum forward. We’re are thrilled and fortunate to recruit John in this role,” said Film Florida President Paige. “Our organization is made up of volunteers from around the state, but to now have a full-time executive focused on Film Florida’s future and the entire industry is a huge advantage. I look forward to working with John in strengthening our roll in marketing, membership and legislative matters as it relates to the production and digital media industry in Florida.”

Lux previously served as treasurer on Film Florida’s Executive Board and the chairman of he marketing committee.

The Children’s Movement of Florida is welcoming aboard a few new board members.

The organization, which aims to make Florida the best state in nation for young children, announced this week it had welcomed a dozen new board members. In an email to supporters, David Lawrence, chairman of the Board, said he was excited to announced the “high-quality, newly named board members.”

The new board members are: Carol Jenkins Barnett, chair and president of Publix Super Markets Charities; Wesley Barnett, a Lakeland an entrepreneur who holds key leadership positions in several technology, retail and entertainment companies; Tony Carvajal, executive vice president of the Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation; Gary Chartrand, executive chairman of Acosta Inc., and a member and former chair of the Florida Board of Education; George Fernandez, a Miami health-care industry entrepreneur and founder of a medical transportation start-up called Ride2MD; former Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings; Gerald Katcher, the former chair of Sabadell United and Mellon United banks and co-founder of the Early Childhood Initiative Foundation; Dr. Jane Katcher, a retired pediatric radiologist and co-founder of the Early Childhood Initiative; Ron Sachs, president and CEO of the Sachs Media Group; Bentina Terry, vice president for customer service and sales at Gulf Power Co.; Susan Towler, vice president of the Florida Blue Foundation and the company’s executive director of corporate social responsibility and philanthropic strategy; and Tom Van Straaten, a former chemical company CEO and a longtime supporter of early learning and music organizations.


An Americans for Prosperity-Florida campaign is coming to a mailbox near you.

AFP-FL launched a mail campaign this week aimed at educating Floridians about which lawmakers voted to opposed expanding Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act, often called Obamacare. The campaign will also highlight lawmakers who supported health care reforms like direct primary care.

“We have been clear from day one. We will educate Floridians about which legislators do the right thing and which lawmakers are playing their communities for fools,” said Chris Hudson, the state director of AFP-FL, in a statement Tuesday. “Today, we’ve launched a mail campaign to inform Florida citizens about which of their lawmakers support common sense health care reforms and who have also voted to oppose the expansion of a broken Medicaid system.”

Gov. Scott showed his support for a bill to establish a 50-50 cost split for juvenile detentions — again.

Scott held a ceremonial bill signing for Senate Bill 1322 in Orlando this week. The bill sets aside $10.8 million in state funds for a mutual state-county juvenile detention trust fund.

“This legislation strengthens our partnership with Florida’s counties so we can focus even more on investing in services for our youth. Florida’s juvenile arrest rate is at a more than 30-year low thanks to important reforms at DJJ and investments we are making for youth prevention programs,” said Scott in a statement.

The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Jack Latvala, was officially signed into law on March 29.

“It is great to join Governor Scott and other proponents of SB 1322 today to ceremonially sign this important legislation,” said Latvala in a statement this week. “SB 1322 will streamline a billing process between counties across Florida and DJJ to help save taxpayer dollars.”

Sen. Marco Rubio has Martin County’s back.

Rubio said he fully supported efforts by Martin County Commissioners to request a disaster declaration from the federal government. Martin County Commissioners voted this week to declare a state of emergency after algae blooms appeared in the Indian River Lagoon.

“I have been horrified by the reports and photos I’ve seen of the algal bloom in Southeast Florida’s waterways. Decades-long mismanagement has resulted in the crisis before us, which is affecting the Treasure Coast’s ecology, economy, and our way of life for millions of Floridians,” said Rubio in a statement. “The closing of beaches along the coast is a legitimate disaster for the people and businesses who are suffering as a result. For this reason, I fully support the action taken today by the Martin County Commission to request a disaster declaration. Governor Scott can count on my full support should he request President Obama declare the area as a federal disaster. If granted, vital funding can then be released to help respond to dire conditions on our Treasure Coast.”

Rubio said he plans to review “all legislative options to protect” the waterways from bacteria.

See an algal bloom? The state wants to hear about it.

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection launched a toll-free algae bloom reporting hotline. It also established an online reporting form so residents can report algae blooms.

Residents can call 1-855-305-3903 to report algae blooms. They can also report information at www.reportalgalbloom.com. Reported information will be relayed to DEP, the Florida Department of Health and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Associated Industries of Florida is touring the state to help Floridians work.

The association is holding town hall meetings across the state to give industries and community leaders a chance to discuss the impact of the state’s workers’ compensation system on employers and employees. The Helping Florida Work coalition hopes to find a solution for a balanced system of adequate medical and wage benefits for injured employees.

The Helping Florida Work tour stopped in Tampa and Miami, and is scheduled to stop in Jacksonville next week.

It is great that our state leaders are participating in these critical discussions, as it will be important for them to have the resources they need as we head toward the 2017 Legislative Session and look to stabilize Florida’s successful workers’ compensation system,” said Tom Feeney, president and CEO of Associated Industries of Florida.

The next town hall will be on July 13 in Jacksonville.

Congratulations, Jayson Paul.

Paul, an investigator for the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office, was named the 2016 Florida Retail Federation Law Enforcement Officer of the Year. The association named Detective Thomas Tingue with the Marion County Sheriff’s Office as the runner up. Both were honored for their work in preventing organized retail crime.

“Florida’s 270,000 retailers and their millions of customers rely on the safety and protection that our incredible law enforcement officers provide every day, and we’re proud to once again recognize these dedicated and courageous heroes,” said FRF President Miller. “We are grateful for the work of all of our law enforcement professionals around the state and we hope this award not only brings recognition to the winner, but also to all of the brave men and women who keep us safe.”

Four officers — Sgt. Grisleem Casas with the Miami-Dade Police Department, Sgt. Eric Fernandez with the City of Doral Police Department, Detective Todd Herb with the Orlando Police Department, and Detective Mark Marland with the St. Petersburg Police Department — received honorable mention.

Defense projects across the state got a funding boost.

Gov. Scott announced $1.8 million was awarded through the Florida Defense Support Task Force Grant Program to support seven defense projects across 13 counties this week. The funding, according to the governor’s office, will strengthen Florida’s military bases ahead of any potential Department of Defense realignment or closure actions.

“Florida is home to more than 758,000 service men and women, and as we approach Independence Day, we are reminded of the importance of doing all we can to support and thank these brave heroes that put their lives at risk to defend our country,” said Scott in a statement. “We will continue to work each day to make sure Florida is the most military friendly state in the nation.”

The task force was created in 2011 to support military installations, the state’s position in research and development, and improve the state’s military friendly environment. The grant program is administered by Enterprise Florida, and grants are awarded annually on priority basis.

“These grants will help protect, preserve and enhance Florida’s military installations that generate billions of dollars for our economy as well as stable, high-paying jobs for Floridians,” said Sen. Garrett Richter in a statement. “I applaud my fellow veteran Governor Scott and the Florida Legislature for their support of the Task Force and their commitment to keeping Florida as the most military-friendly state in the nation.”

More than 40 local governments and regional planning councils were awarded planning assistance grants.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity awarded the Community Planning Technical Assistance grants to 43 local governments and regional planning councils, benefiting 92 communities across Florida. The grants help counties and municipalities in developing economic development strategies, addressing critical local planning issues and promoting innovative planning solutions.

“DEO’s team of community planners is committed to improving opportunities for economic development in communities both large and small across the state,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity. “Throughout the next year, technical assistance grants will help guide and support these local communities as they work to meet their area’s community, economic and workforce development needs.”

The DEO awarded $1.3 million in grants in 2016-17.

Florida pediatricians are frustrated.

That was the crux of a survey by Georgetown University. The report found pediatricians were frustrated with the low reimbursement rates, delayed payments and administrative burdens for patients under Florida’s Medicaid managed care program.

According to the Georgetown University survey, 61 percent of pediatricians said more than half of their patients were covered by Medicaid. The survey found 55 percent of respondents said they had many cases where plan limits or prior authorization prevented them from providing children with needed treatments.

“In general, pediatricians responding to the survey were frustrated with low reimbursement rates, delayed payments, considerable administrative burdens, and barriers to care for their patients. A handful of respondents thought managed care was working well for children,” according to the survey. “More commonly though, pediatricians responding to the survey believed the system of care has worsened for their Medicaid patients.”

Ester “Shelly” Fano is keeping her spot on the Miami-Dade County Expressway Authority.

Gov. Scott reappointed Fano to the board this week. The 65-year-old Cutler Bay resident is the director of the hospitality management program at Miami Dade College and has been an administrator with the school since 2001. She was reappointed to a term ending April 6, 2020.

Scot also appointed Leonard Boord to the board. The 55-year-old Coral Gables resident is the founder and chief executive officer of Slon Capital. He fills a vacant seat and was appointed to a term ending April 6, 2018.

The Florida Association of Counties has a new president.

Marion County Commissioner Kathy Bryant was installed as the president this week. She was sworn in during the annual conference in Orange County this week.

“I’m honored to lead this association and advocate for home rule on behalf of all of Florida’s counties,” said Bryant. “We are truly united to serve, and together we can work for our individual communities at the state level by protecting local governance and supporting our counties’ interests and critical services.”

Bryant will serve as president through June 2017. Also during the annual meeting, Charlotte County Commissioner Chris Constance was appointed the president-Elect, Hendry County Commissioner Karson Turner became the 1st Vice President, and Broward County Vice Mayor Barbara Sharief became the Immediate Past President.

Appointing a new president wasn’t the only thing that happened during the annual Florida Association of Counties meeting.

The group also tried its hand at match-making.

The association held a “speed dating” event featuring officials from more than 20 counties and experts from the Department of Economic Opportunity and Enterprise Florida. The first time event was meant to give smaller counties a chance to connect with industry experts.

“This is a great opportunity to bring Tallahassee to Florida’s counties,” said Scott Shalley, the group’s executive director, “This innovative approach allows counties to meet with state officials to make a connection and explore economic development opportunities for their county.”

Protect yourself at the pump this holiday weekend.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and and Consumer Services has found and removed more than 250 skimmers from gas pumps in the past year. The department estimates that about 100 customers are victimize per device, with an average of $1,000 stolen from each victim.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam encouraged travelers to take several steps — including using a credit card instead a debit card, using the gas pump closest to the front of the store, and paying with cash inside — to protect themselves this holiday weekend.

Putnam worked with Sen. Anitere Flores and Rep. Dana Young during the 2016 legislative session to better protect consumers at the gas pump. That law goes into effect Oct. 1.

“Floridians and visitors are all too often the victims of fraud, and identity-stealing card skimmers are the last thing they want to deal with this travel season,” said Putnam. “When filling up your gas tanks this summer, be sure to take simple steps to protect yourselves from skimmers.”

The National Council on Compensation Insurance has requested a 19.6 percent increase in workers’ compensation rates.

The organization initially requested a 17.1 percent increase in May. The agency estimated an April Florida Supreme Court ruling would increase the costs to the system by 15 percent. It also estimated a 1.8 percent increase because of Senate Bill 1402.

According to the Florida Chamber of Commerce, if the rate is approved, Florida will have the highest premiums in the Southeast.

The Office of Insurance Regulation will hold a public hearing on the issue in August.

Want to help the manatees? Try buying a decal.

Colorful manatee and sea turtle decals are now available from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission. The waterproof decals are available for a donation of $5 or more. Money raised from the decals go toward research, and rescue and management efforts to maintain healthy populations of manatees and sea turtles.

The decals are redesigned each year by FWC to address conservation issues. This year the decals focus on tracking wild manatees and to not disturb sea turtles.

The decals are available at local tax collectors’ offices throughout the state by checking the box on the form when you renew a vehicle or boat registration by mail, or directly from the FWC.

Hosting a barbecue this July 4th?

Then you’ll need food, supplies and decorations. And that means good news for retailers.

According to the Florida Retail Federation, consumers will spend an average of $71.34 per household on food for barbecues and picnics, supplies and decorations. That’s essentially unchanged from last year’s average of $71.23. Nationwide, spending for the holiday is expected to reach almost $7 billion.

“Floridians will celebrate Independence Day this year by spending in record numbers, making it potentially a very prosperous holiday weekend for our retailers statewide,” said Randy Miller, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation. “Low gas prices, nice weather and a healthy state economy all add up to a fun and successful celebration for consumers and retail business owners.”

Courtesy of the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.
Courtesy of the Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.

Need a side dish for your barbecue this weekend?

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam has just the thing: A Florida watermelon salad with blueberries.

The recipe? Cut a peeled watermelon into 1-inch cubes, then place it on a platter and garnish with one pint of Florida blueberries. Serve chilled.

Keep shorebirds in mind this holiday weekend.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission and Audubon Florida is asking Floridians to be mindful of shorebirds, seabirds and wading birds during their July Fourth celebrations. Nesting season is still going on, and fireworks scare adults from nests leaving them vulnerable to predators.

“Spending time on Florida’s coast is a great way to celebrate the July 4th weekend, but we’re not the only ones who think so,” said Julie Wraithmell, Audubon Florida’s deputy executive director. “This is also a critical time for pelicans and least terns, black skimmers and snowy plovers – many of which are still guarding flightless chicks or eggs. A single ill-placed fireworks explosion or other disturbance can cause birds to fly from a nest, leaving their tiny babies vulnerable to predation and exposure.”

Floridians are encouraged to respect posted areas, even if they don’t see birds in them; give colony islands a wide berth; and refrain from walking dogs on the beach during nesting season.

Fireworks sure are pretty.

But they’re also dangerous, and CFO Jeff Atwater wanted to make sure Floridians take extra precautions when shooting off fireworks.

Tips to stay say includes making sure an adult supervises fireworks related activites; don’t mix alcohol and fireworks, and douse spent fireworks with water and dispose of them in a metal garbage bin.

“It’s important that I’m sharing these safety tips with you, but sometimes actions speak louder than words,” said Atwater his newsletter.

Fire departments responded to 141 fireworks-related incidents in 2015. And, according to the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission, 200 people visit the emergency room every day during the 30 days around Fourth of July for fireworks-related injuries.

“Be safe, not sorry, this summer season,” said Atwater.

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

capitol directions - 7.2.16

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.