Takeaways from Tallahassee for 1.21.17 – Taking your constitutional

in Peter by

Don’t fret: You can still apply for a seat on the Constitution Revision Commission, at least to Senate President Joe Negron.

That said, there’s more than 70 people ahead of you, and Negron has only nine picks. 

Still, there’s no “hard and fast deadline” to send in an application to the Senate, spokeswoman Katie Betta said Friday, though decisions have to be made soon.

The first meeting of the commission, constitutionally mandated to form every 20 years, must occur within the 30 days prior to the first day of the 2017 Legislative Session. It starts March 7.

Its members will “examine the constitution, hold public hearings and … file its proposal, if any, of a revision of this constitution or any part of it,” the constitution says.

Negron, a Stuart Republican, already has expressed interest in certain applicants, Betta added, but hasn’t decided on any. She didn’t say whom. 

As governor, Rick Scott will choose 15 of the 37 commissioners, and he also selects its chairperson. The Governor’s Office has posted its list of 96 applicants online.

Negron, as Senate President, and Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran each get nine choices. Corcoran’s application deadline was midnight at the end of Friday, according to spokesman Fred Piccolo.

Republican Pam Bondi is automatically a member as Attorney General, and Florida Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga gets three picks. As of Friday, he had received nearly 80 applications but had made no decisions yet, spokesman Craig Waters said.

Many are applying to more than one state officer, as a kind of ‘spreading their bets.’ The various lists read like a who’s who of current and former lawmakers, prominent attorneys, former state officials and others. 

The commission has met twice before, in 1977-78 and 1997-98. (Technically, a “Constitution Revision Commission” met in 1966, but that was created by the Legislature, and drew up the 1968 constitution that governs the state today.)

This also will be the first to be selected by a majority of Republicans, virtually ensuring it will propose conservative changes to the state’s governing document than previous panels.

Both Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran have said they want the commission to revisit redistricting, for instance, specifically, a rewrite of voter-endorsed amendments from 2012 that ban gerrymandering — the manipulation of political boundaries to favor one party.

Any changes the commission proposes would be in the form of constitutional amendments, which would have to be approved by 60 percent of voters on a statewide ballot.

Coincidentally, legislation has been introduced this year to up that passing percentage. State Rep. Rick Roth, a Loxahatchee Republican, filed a measure Friday to increase it to 66 ⅔ percent. Roth wasn’t available for comment Friday.

In any case, history shows a mixed bag of the commission’s proposals becoming part of the state’s governing document.

The 1977-78 panel “had eight proposals on the ballot for voter consideration,” according to the Partnership for Revising Florida’s Constitution. “None of the proposals passed, but some were implemented later.”

20 years later, that commission selected “nine revisions … to be placed on the 1998 ballot. Florida voters passed eight of those amendments in 1998, when only a simple majority, more than 50 percent, was required for passage,” the partnership’s website says.

Those changes included shrinking the Florida Cabinet from six members to the current three: the Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer, and Agriculture Commissioner. The cabinet offices of treasurer and comptroller also were merged into a then-new CFO.

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

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

Suit tossed — In a 4-1 decision this week, the Florida Supreme Court declined to hear a lawsuit challenging the state’s largest private voucher program. The state has several voucher programs in place, but the Florida Education Association challenged one that extends primarily to low-income families who use them to send their kids to religious or private schools. The law creating the program was first approved in 2001 under then-Gov. Jeb Bush, but the program was expanded this past year to include some middle-income families. Two lower courts ruled the FEA had no legal standing. The court’s decision was hailed as a victory by school choice advocates.

Tobacco cash — Attorney General Bondi announced she will go after two tobacco companies for holding back money she says is owed to the state under an historic tobacco settlement. Bondi filed an enforcement motion in Palm Beach County circuit court this week against ITG Brands and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. The attorney general said in a statement that R.J. Reynolds “recently sold three of its most iconic cigarette brands – Winston, Kool and Salem – along with a legacy Lorillard Tobacco Company brand, Maverick, to ITG for $7 billion.”

Captured — Police captured the man they say fatally shot his pregnant ex-girlfriend and an Orlando police Lt. Debra Clayton after a week-long manhunt. The Orlando Police Department said it arrested 41-year-old Markeith Loyd on Tuesday. According to the Orlando Police, he was arrested at an abandoned house. The home was surrounded by SWAT officers, and authorities said he initially tried to escape the house, but ultimately surrendered in the front yard. During a court hearing this week, he directed an expletive-laced outburst at the judge and declared accusations against him were made up.

Thinking about the next campaign — Sure, there are still about 650 days until the 2018 election. But it’s never too early to start thinking about the next race, right? And this week several lawmakers said they were considering statewide bids in two years. Sen. Denise Grimsley said she’s mulling a 2018 run for Agriculture Commissioner; as did Sen. Greg Steube and former Sen. Lisa Carlton. And Sen. David Simmons said he was mulling a run for Attorney General or Congress.

Hail to the ChiefDozens of Florida lawmakers traveled to Washington, D.C. this week to celebrate the inauguration of President Donald Trump. Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott hosted the Florida Sunshine Ball on Wednesday, and spent the week celebrating the New York Republican. Other Floridians in attendance included Rep. Joe Gruters, an early supporter of Trump; Susie Wiles, who helped lead Trump’s campaign in Florida; Brian Ballard, who served as his Florida finance chairman; former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli; current House Speaker Richard Corcoran; Senate President Joe Negron, and Reps. Jose Felix Diaz and Carlos Trujillo. “With Florida being Trump’s second home, Washington, D.C., feels like it’s been invaded by the Great State of Florida,” said Christian Ziegler, a Sarasota County GOP state committeeman, who was also in attendance.

Congratulations, Florida Municipal Electric Association!

The trade association, which represents the interests Florida’s family of 34 public power communities, is celebrating its 75th anniversary.

“We’re proud of our history of service to our member cities and their residents, and we look forward to another 75 years of working together to bring community-based, public power into homes and businesses across the state,” said Amy Zubaly, the group’s Interim executive director.

These “community-owned” electric utilities serve more than 3 million of Florida’s residential and business utility consumers. Collectively, they are the third largest source of power in the state. The association actually was formed in 1942 as a response to World War II fuel shortages.

Member cities include bigger areas like Jacksonville, Orlando, Lakeland, Tallahassee and Gainesville, and smaller towns, such as Havana, Clewiston and Bushnell.

Law enforcement officers would need to pass a psychological evaluation under a new legislative proposal.

Rep. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat, filed a bill this week (HB 37) to require law enforcement officers to pass a psychological evaluation given by a licensed medical professional when they are hired. Under the proposal, law enforcements officers would also have to pass a physiological evaluation every four years.

The bill also requires criminal justice training school to receive and maintain the Public Safety Training Academy Accreditation by the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies.

“It is my belief that by requiring additional certification and training for our law enforcement professionals, we only increase the credibility of the courageous work they do on behalf of the communities they serve,” said Jones. “The brave women and men who put on the uniform every day in order to protect and serve their fellow Floridians deserve nothing less than access to the best training and mental health care services that can be provided. This legislation will ensure that we are affording them with all the tools they need to succeed.”

Students at one Tallahassee elementary school got a treat this week: Storytime with Florida Department of Education staff.

Staff with the department’s Division of Blind Services read the braille version of books to 60 pre-K students at the J. Michael Conley Elementary School. The visit in honor of National Braille Literacy Month.

Students also learned about the varying levels of blindness, and received copies of their names written in braille and braille alphabet.

Florida law enforcement officials wants Floridians to “arrive alive.”

The Florida Highway Patrol launched its “Arrive Alive” campaign this week. The data-driven statewide initiative aims to reduce fatalities and serious bodily injury crashes on Florida’s roadways.

“The FHP is carrying on a proud legacy of promoting safety and security with our Arrive Alive campaign,” said Col. Gene Spaulding, the agency’s director. “The FHP is committed to working with our local police departments, sheriffs’ offices and FDOT to ensure that motorists in Florida feel safe while traveling on our roadways.”

The initiative will incorporate law enforcement, media outreach and road safety assessments in high crash and high crime areas.

“Traffic crashes, most of which are avoidable, are responsible for many of the debilitating injuries that our youth receive each year,” said Sheriff Jerry Demings, president of the Florida Sheriffs Association. “On behalf of the Florida Sheriffs Association, I endorse and fully support the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ Arrive Alive campaign.”

Give them a gold star.

The Agency for Health Care Administration announced this week that 11 nursing facilities across the state received the Gold Seal Award from the Governor’s Panel on Excellence in Long-Term Care. Six of those facilities, according to the agency, received the designation for the first time; five others had their status renewed.

“Gold Seal facilities represent the very best nursing homes that Florida has to offer,” said Gov. Scott in a statement. “Our state is dedicated to providing our seniors with the best possible care, and these facilities help give families the peace of mind that their loved ones are in good hands. I would like to thank these nursing homes and their staff members for their commitment to providing exceptional care for elderly Floridians.”

The six new Gold Start Award facilities are Baldomero Lopez Memorial State Veterans Nursing Home in Land O’Lakes; Clyde E. Lassen State Veterans Nursing Home in St. Augustine; Haven of Our Lady of Peace in Pompano Beach; John Knox Village of Pompano Beach; Okeechobee Health Care Facility in Okeechobee; and Port Orange Nursing and Rehab Center in Port Orange.

Alpine Health and Rehabilitation Center in St. Petersburg; Delaney Park Health and Rehabilitation Center in Orlando; Joseph L. Morse Geriatric Center in West Palm Beach; The Pavilion for Health Care in Penney Farms; and Royal Oaks Nursing and Rehab Center in Titusville all received renewals.

Take the eastern chipmunk off the imperiled species list.

Fifteen species — including the eastern chipmunk, the brown pelican, snow egret, and white ibis — will no longer be listed as an imperiled species under new rules in place as part of the Imperiled Species Management Plan. According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, the species were taking off the list “because conservation successes improved their status.”

The new rules also moved 23 species — including the roseate spoonbill, Florida burrowing owl, and the Florida bog frog — to the threatened species list. Threatened species, according to the agency, have populations that are “declining, have a very limited ranger or are very small.”

The management plan outlines the steps to conserve 57 species with the broader vision of restoring habitats essential to the long-term survival of multiple fish and wildlife species.

“Florida is charting an ambitious new path for wildlife conservation success on a statewide scale,” said FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski in a statement. “Seeing a roseate spoonbill wading in shallow waters, a black skimmer resting on the beach or a Big Cypress fox squirrel sitting in a pine tree is an essential part of the Florida experience. This innovative plan is designed to keep imperiled species like these around for many generations to come.”

Medical marijuana is now the law of the land. And that has local governments asking what’s next.

The Florida Association of Counties is hoping to tackle that question during a Medical Marijuana Summit at the Embassy Suits Lake Buena Vista on Feb. 4.

The day-long event is meant to bring local government officials from across the state together to discuss issues surrounding the legalization of medical marijuana and implementing Amendment 2.

According to a preliminary agenda, speakers include Christian Bax, the director of the Florida Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use; Kim Rivers, the CEO of Trulieve; Ashley Kilroy, the executive director for excise and licenses for the city and county of Denver; and Miami Beach police Chief David Oates.

Sen. Frank Artiles and Rep. Bryan Avila want to beef up property owners’ rights.

The two men filed legislation this week that would “continue to strengthen property owners’ rights and continue to promote efficiency and integrity in the Value Adjustment Board Process.”

The proposal would increase the value of a property tax exemption for widows, widowers, blind or totally disabled people to $5,000 from $500. It would also allow property appraisers to waive penalties on interest on homestead exemption and senior exemption liens only when good cause is shown in circumstances where there wasn’t an intent to illegally avoid payment.

Avila said after passing legislation last year to improve the Value Adjustment Board, he wanted to “continue (his) work to make sure we have the most efficient process in place.”

Pull out your crystal ball, Florida CFO Jeff Atwater wants to talk about the future.

In the latest issue of Florida’s Bottom Line, experts from across the state weigh in on what the future might hold for the Sunshine State.

“Looking back on 2016, we see that Florida’s economy is on the right track: private sector job growth increased and outpaced the nation; the housing market continues to grow; and our unemployment rate has fallen to its lowest levels in eight years. This economic momentum sets the stage for Florida to continue its hard work throughout 2017,” said Atwater in the issue. “As we embark on this New Year, it is important to acknowledge that Florida’s economic future will continue to be shaped by the hard work and perseverance of Floridians. It is your dedication that not only allows us to build upon our accomplishments, but reach new heights of economic success and prosperity.”

The issue features analysis from Sean Snaith with the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness; Mark Wilson, the president and CEO of the Florida Chamber of Commerce; The Mercatus Center; and Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch.

Ride-sharing for everyone!

That’s the message Rep. Chris Sprowls sent this week in a letter to his constituents. In the letter, Sprowls highlighted legislation he recently filed that applies to ride-booking companies, like Uber and Lyft. The bill — sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Jeff Brandes — combine parts of previous measures that have been introduced but not passed over the last few years.

“This legislation ensures that no matter where you live in Florida, you have access to a rideshare should you choose it,” wrote Sprowls. Ridesharing has opened up a brand new transportation marketplace that has created jobs, provided a convenient and reliable ride home, and dramatically cut down on the number of drunk driving incidents in areas where they operate.”

Among other things, the bills prohibit local governments from trying to regulate transportation network companies, requires background checks, and allows companies to search drivers’ driving history records.

“Together, we want to make sure that you have the freedom to choose your transportation options as well as have a flexible and innovative source of extra income should you need it,” said Sprowls. “Simply put, this bill is good for both drivers and riders.”

Robot cars are coming.

“It’s happening, and it’s happening very quickly. Your grandkids and great-grandkids are going to grow up in a very different world because of this technology,” professor of urban and regional planning Tim Chapin said during an FSU-sponsored “policy pub” discussion at a Tallahassee restaurant.

“It’s my view that we need to make sure we get in front of the technology and what we want our communities to look like — and have the technology serve the communities rather than the communities we build to serve the technology as it comes to the fore,” he said.

Chapin foresees a world in which people won’t own cars — they’ll subscribe to services that deliver driverless autos to cart them around.

Someone asked: With so many fewer cars on the road, how would people in Florida evacuate ahead of a hurricane?

Chapin said his researchers raised that very question with state officials, asking them to consider that scenario.

“We talked to our friends at emergency management about this, and their answer is, ‘Huh. Yes, we should.’”

Stay thrifty, Florida.

CFO Atwater sponsored a resolution signed by Gov. Scott and the Cabinet to recognize “Florida Thrift Week.” The Sunshine State’s version of the penny-pinching week coincided with National Thrift Week, which goes through Jan. 23.

“Recognizing that smart saving and spending strategies will help Floridians reach their long-term economic goals is just the first step,” said Atwater in his weekly newsletter.” Implementing these strategies is the only way we’ll gain the financial security needed to enhance financial literacy and promote economic development among our communities.”

Atwater encouraged Floridians to celebrate by doing things like shopping in second hand stores and planning better to prevent spontaneous purchases.

Sen. Debbie Mayfield has her eyes on high-speed rail.

Mayfield filed legislation this week to create the Florida High-Speed Passenger Safety Act (SB 386). The bill, according to Mayfield’s office, would give the Florida Department of Transportation the authority to regulate railroad companies in Florida, except for the authority preempted by federal laws. It also establishes minimum safety standards for high-speed passenger rail and stipulates the railroad company operating the train is responsible for improvements and upgrades.

“I find it quite astounding that Florida does not have any measures in place to address high-speed rail when there is a statewide project underway that will crisscross through my community, many others between Miami and Orlando, and potentially up Florida’s entire east coast,” said Mayfield. “I can tell you that to date I have not heard one thing from AAF about what they are going to do to ensure safety features are in place to protect the public around these fast-moving trains. This legislation is really designed to protect all Floridians from accidents and injuries at these dangerous railroad crossings across the state.”

The House companion is sponsored by Reps. MaryLynn Magar, Eric Grall, and Gayle Harrell.

Are you ready to run? Rep. Loranne Ausley sure is.

The Tallahassee Democrat laced up her shoes this week when she met with students at Fort Braden Schools. Ausley was on hand to encourage students to participate in her “Ready to Run” contest, which encourages kids to stay active and healthy by running.

The contest is meant to spur excitement for running by sponsoring elementary and middle school students who want to participate in the Tallahassee Youth Marathon. To participate in the contest, students must log miles and have their parent or guardian submit the form to Ausley’s office by Monday, Jan. 23. The student from each school with the most miles logged will be sponsored.

“We are hoping to encourage Leon county students to have healthy habits, so go out and log those miles!” she said. “Even if you don’t enter our contest, you still have plenty of time to log your miles before the race.”

Mike Fasano has a $300,000 question for Pasco lawmakers: Can they spare some cash for a study?

Fasano, the Pasco County Tax Collector and a former state legislator, asked lawmakers for $300,000 for a study to look at taking motor vehicle services away from the state’s Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and giving them to the state’s tax collectors.

The inspiration for the transition has been several power outages at DHSMV offices in recent years. That, he said has put the onus on his office, the only one in the state that provides services on Saturday.

“It would save the state, I believe, tens of millions of dollars. We’re not looking to make any additional money, we’re looking to break even,” he told the Pasco County Legislative Delegation this week. “We’re looking to provide the best customer service.”

Currently, tax collectors can keep a small portion of every license, tag and title transaction.

“Thank you for all you’re doing there, staying open on Saturdays, you’re leading the way,” said Rep. Danny Burgess.

Office of Insurance Regulation staff ran into a buzz saw during a meeting of the Governor’s Continuing Care Advisory Council.

The panel advises the office on regulating continuing care centers and communities, but members felt big-footed when the staff responded to a series of bankruptcies by dropping a 61-page bill tightening regulations.

Council chairman Joel Anderson referenced the values of “trust, rapport, and credibility with each other,” and added: “I am concerned that they do not exist in today’s working relationship with the office and the council.”

Rich Robleto, Deputy Commissioner for Life and Health, replied that staff members were trying to solve a serious threat to senior citizens who place their trust in an insurance product.

In light of the insolvencies, “further legal protections are needed for us to be able to fulfill that trust that’s put on us. We think it’s dangerous when people think the government can do something for them that it cannot.”

No dessert for OIR?

A 1st District Court of Appeal panel dug into a dessert metaphor during oral arguments in State Farm Florida Insurance Co.’s challenge to the Office of Insurance Regulation’s system for sharing insurers’ sales data with state leaders, the public, and the industry.

“Suppose you had an ice cream company and you came out with a new flavor every year, and you always made it public, you put it on the Internet, you said, ‘Look, we want everyone to have our recipe and have the opportunity to make this,” Judge Allen Windsor asked at one point.

“And one year you decide, ‘We have some new flavors and we’re going to protect these.’ You wouldn’t say that, by virtue of giving up the original recipes, that a new recipe wouldn’t be a valid trade secret,’ would you?”

Karen Walker, an attorney representing State Farm, picked up on the metaphor.

“The flavor of ice cream was changed. The flavor prior to the first quarter of 2014 was that State Farm was not writing new property insurance policies in the state of Florida. In 2014, that changed. They began writing new policies and, as part of that, implementing a marketing strategy — a marketing strategy that has value to State Farm.”

The 1st DCA decided a dispute over evidence in workers’ compensation cases in favor of employers and their insurance carriers.

The case turned on the applicability of the Daubert evidentiary standard. The Florida Supreme Court heard arguments in September about whether it should embrace the standard, which the Legislature adopted in 2013, but has yet to rule.

A lawyer for an injured truck driver argued that judges of compensation clains can’t apply the new standard until the Supreme Court says they can.

Judge Kent Wetherell II wrote that the Legislature is within its authority to write rules for administrative courts like those workers’ compensation tribunals.

And even if the justices decline to enforce the new evidentiary standard in trial courts, “that decision will have no impact whatsoever on the applicability of the Daubert test in workers’ compensation proceedings,” Wetherell wrote.

Look to Louis.

Constitutional scholar Jeffrey Rosen had a question for students at the Florida State University College of Law.

“In this age of social media, who has the most power over free speech? Who has more power than any king, president, or Supreme Court justice?” the president and CEO of the National Constitution Center asked.

Mark Zuckerberg,” a student answered.

“Absolutely,” Rosen said. Companies like Facebook and Google employ teams of lawyers to decide whether to suppress content at the demand of overseas leaders and other scolds, even when the content is legal under the First Amendment.

Rosen said he finds inspiration in a post-truth world in the example of Louis Brandeis, the late justice of the U.S. Supreme Court.

“He’s very keen on the idea of using our leisure time to educate ourselves about facts,” and prepare ourselves for the duties of citizenship, Rosen said of Brandeis.

“Speaking for myself, after a long day it may be more fun to watch cat videos than read industrial reports,” he said. “But Brandeis thinks it’s important. And it is important. Because we can’t be fully engaged citizens unless we do this.”

Protect the Slurpee!

7-Eleven franchise owners this asked the Pasco County Legislative Delegation this week for legislation to protect them from having their businesses ripped out from underneath them by their corporate owners.

“We work tirelessly. We are continuing to grow the local economy, paying local and state and payroll taxes,” said Arnie Tange, a 7-Eleven franchise owner. “However, because of the lack of protection laws for small businesses, we can lose our small businesses if our franchiser – who’s based in another state – decided not to renew or extend my agreement to operate under their brand name.”

Florida does have laws protecting business owners, another franchise owner. But he said those are mostly carved out for large business entities, and not for those who own hotels, restaurants and retail stores.

“Please support this legislation,” he asked of the delegation. “We need your help to protect our rights and encourage small business ownership.”

Mark your calendars: Home Care Day at the Capitol is just around the corner.

The Home Care Association of Florida will host its annual legislative day at the Florida Capitol on March 22. The annual event gives home care officials, clients and patients a chance to advocate for their interests.

Attendees will include home care agency owners, operators, and clinicians. The Home Care Association of Florida represents the state’s more than 1,900 home care agencies.

It’s time to talk politics (or, more accurately, keep talking politics.)

The Florida Public Relations Association Capital Chapter will hold a panel discussion with national Republican and Democratic campaign operatives on Thursday, Jan. 26. The panel, called “Political Communications – The New Norm,” is meant to give attendees a perspective into communications and messaging strategies used by national campaigns.

Panelists are Democrats Kevin Cate and Steve Schale, and Republicans David Johnson and Rick Wilson. Christina Johnson will be the moderator.

The panel discussion kicks off at 8 a.m. Thursday, with a networking breakfast scheduled to take place immediately before.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam wants to invite Florida’s wounded warriors on a hunting trip.

Putnam encouraged wounded veterans to register for upcoming recreational events offered through the Operation Outdoor Freedom program. Launched in 2011, the program has allowed more than 2,500 wounded veterans the chance to get out an enjoy outdoor events free of charge.

“Operation Outdoor Freedom is a special way of connecting the natural resources our state is blessed with to the men and women who’ve courageously and selflessly put their lives on the line,” said Putnam in a statement. “It’s the least we can do for those who have done so much for us.”

The events are regularly held on state forests and private lands, and are funded through private donations. Upcoming activities include turkey, hog and deer hunts ranging from North Florida to South Florida. Other events this year include alligator and deer hunts, quail hunts, fishing, kayaking and canoeing.

Here’s this week’s edition Capitol Directions:

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

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.