Takeaways from Tallahassee — Arthenia Joyner’s bill delayed, but not denied

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Editor’s note: FloridaPolitics.com comprehensive list of the Winners and Losers emerging from the 2017 Session will be published after Sine Die.

Arthenia Joyner may no longer be in the Legislature, but she finally was able to see a prized piece of legislation pass.

This week, the House unanimously approved the “Compensation of Victims of Wrongful Incarceration” Act, which would allow more people wrongfully convicted and imprisoned in Florida to get some recompense from the state. The Senate unanimously approved it last week. 

Joyner, a Democratic Tampa senator who was termed out last year, had tried for years to move the bill. 

As the Florida Innocence Project explains, lawmakers in 2008 “set up a streamlined process to pay exonerees $50,000 per year of wrongful incarceration as well as provide them access to tuition-free education.”

Former Sen. Arthenia Joyner and, Rep. Bobby DuBose, D-Fort Lauderdale, react a bill to compensate victims of wrongful incarceration unanimously the Senate last week. Joyner sponsored the bill for eight years before being termed out; Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, took up the bill for her. Photo by Phil Sears

But that law “came with a number of provisions which have had the effect of excluding most of Florida’s exonerees from compensation.”

That is, it requires “clean hands,” or says those who qualify for payment can’t have been convicted of a felony before their wrongful incarceration.

“Under the bill, a prior felony wouldn’t preclude someone from being compensated if they were imprisoned for an unrelated crime of which they were later proven innocent,” the AP reported earlier this week. “Exceptions would be made if the person committed violent or multiple felonies.”

Rep. Bobby DuBose told House members this week that “although this bill does not remove the ‘clean hands’ provision, it’s definitely a step in the right direction.”

“I also want to recognize former Senator Arthenia Joyner, who started this journey back in 2008,” the Fort Lauderdale Democrat added. “… I think this is a great moment for the state of Florida.”

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.

60+ Days — After days of chatter about whether state lawmakers would be able to the 2017-18 budget on members’ desks in time to finish by Friday, Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran announced Wednesday they had finally reached a budget deal, and would extend session into early next week so they can discuss and vote on the budget. Negron and Corcoran acknowledged a dispute over cuts to hospitals and changes to reimbursements to nursing homes delayed a final resolution. The budget does not include funding for Florida Forever, the state’s land-buying program; puts nearly $1.2 billion in reserves; and sets aside $25 million for Visit Florida. The budget was delivered to members at 2:43 p.m. Friday, meaning the earliest members can vote on the bill 2:43 p.m. Monday.

An extended session didn’t stop lobbyists from wearing pink in honor of Marvin Arrington, a well-known lobbyist who died suddenly during the final week of the 2002 Legislative Session. Arrington always wore pink on the final day of Session, and lobbyists have been carrying on the tradition ever since. Photo by Phil Sears

Veto tour — As state lawmakers tried to hammer out the final details of the state budget, Gov. Rick Scott spent the week traveling the state as part of his “Fighting for Florida’s Future” tour. The three-day, 10-city tour was a chance for the governor to make a last-ditch push for his top priorities — $100 million for Visit Florida, $200 million for the the Herbert Hoover Dike; and money for Enterprise Florida business incentives. But it also gave Scott a chance to lash out at GOP lawmakers. During a stop in Naples, he chastised the secretive process and said he didn’t understand why lawmakers couldn’t finish on time. And while the Naples Republican hasn’t said whether he would veto the budget outright, he did leave the door open to the option saying: “When I finally get to see it, because I haven’t see the budget — then I’ll make the decision whether I veto the entire budget or look at any lines and see if they are a good use of your money.”

No more guacamole water — Senate President Negron can claim a win for his top priority this Session. The House voted 99-19 to approve a proposal (SB 10) to build a water storage reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. The House agreed to borrow $800 million for the project, instead of relying on the state to allocate money year-after-year. The Senate voted 33-0 to approve the amended bill. “History will record that this Legislature finally took on that very, very difficult issue. And there’s a reason why it didn’t happen over the last 20 years, because it’s a very difficult issue to accomplish,” he said. “This is going to make an extraordinary difference with reducing and ultimately deliberating discharges.”  The bill now heads to Gov. Scott, who has indicated he will sign it.

Up in smoke — Lawmakers failed to pass a bill to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment this week. While the two chambers agreed on most issues, negotiations collapsed when the the House and Senate couldn’t agree on the number of dispensaries licensed treatment centers could own and operate. The Senate wanted to cap it at five, and then allow growers to add one more outpost for every 75,000 patients. Staunchly opposed to caps, the House voted 99-16 to approve an amended bill that put the limit at 100 per license holder, something the Senate didn’t even consider. It’s now up to the Department of Health to establish rules for patients, caregivers, doctors and treatment centers by July 3.

Senate President Negron with Sen. Rob Bradley, who sponsored the implementing bill in the Senate. Bradley said he expects the issue will “be a hot topic when we return and do our business next year.” Photo by Phil Sears

Snake eyes — A deal on omnibus gambling legislation for the year went down the drain this week as House and Senate negotiators declared they couldn’t see eye to eye about whether to expand slot machines in the state. Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the House’s point man on gambling, said the two chambers were just “too far apart.” The sticking point was an offer to expand slot machines to pari-mutuels in counties that approved them in referendum votes. An expansion still needed legislative approval. The House opposed it; the Senate wanted it. Senate President Negron said will of residents who voted for slots “should be acknowledged and accepted by us.” While an attorney for the Seminole Tribe of Florida said the tribe “will react accordingly” to demise of the bill. Gov. Scott said the Legislature’s inaction on gambling “doesn’t make any sense.”

It’s time to go turkey huntin’.

With state lawmakers expected to vote on the proposed 2017-18 budget on Monday, Dominic Calabro, the president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch, said his group will begin reviewing the budget for any appropriations that made it into the budget during “closed-door budget negotiations or bypassed competitive selection processes.”

“Many legislative leaders have stated throughout session that all projects will be vetted in transparent and accountable manner before being inserted in the budget and there will be no new items added in during conference,” he said. “We hope that this is the case, but our professional team will scour every line in the 451-page budget to independently verify this for Florida’s hardworking taxpayers.”

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Greg Tish made the ultimate $1 bet, picking 2:37 a.m., on July 17

Senators didn’t give up all hope on gambling.

The Senate this week tacked on an amendment to a professional deregulation bill that could have led to the expansion of certain kinds of slot machines.

The provision came under the guise of trying to move fantasy sports into the non-gambling realm before the end of session. Since lawmakers couldn’t get a comprehensive gambling bill across the finish line this year, Sen. Dana Young offered an amendment to a House bill (HB 7047) to address fantasy play.

While Sen. Dennis Baxley sounded like he had a point of order, but couldn’t quite pull the trigger.

“Is this clarifying that this is gaming or is not gaming?” he asked.

Young told him it was just clarifying it wasn’t gaming, to which Baxley asked whether it was “subject to a point of order.”

“I don’t make the points. If there is one before me, we will deal with it,” said Sen. Bradley, presiding over the floor session.

Baxley didn’t pull the trigger, and the Senate adopted the amendment and voted 36-0 to send it back to the House.

While the first part of the amendment dealt with fantasy sports, the second part authorized certain veterans’ organizations to “conduct instant bingo.” The language included an allowance for “electronic tickets in lieu of … instant bingo paper tickets.”

The House didn’t bite, though. The House stripped the provision — and several other amendments — from the bill and sent it back to the Senate for its consideration.

Kudos, Robert Alan Arthur and Carol Stephenson!

Gov. Scott appointed Arthur and Stephenson as Judges of Compensation Claims to the Lakeland and West Palm Beach Districts, respectively, this week.

Arthur, a 49-year-old Brandon resident, served as a state mediator for the Lakeland district since 2012 and the state mediator for the St. Petersburg district from 2005. He was a private mediator from 2004 until 2005. Arthur fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Judge W. James Condry.

Stephenson currently serves as field legal counsel for Liberty Mutual at the Law Offices of James C. Norris. The 64-year-old Boynton Beach resident served as staff council at Nationwide Insurance Company from 1989 until 1999. She fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Mary D’Ambrosio.

The Office of the Judges of Compensation Claims is responsible for the mediation and adjudication of disputes over workers’ compensation benefits. Thirty-two judges preside over 17 districts.

Scott also reappointed eight Judges of Compensation Claims — Wilbur Andreson in the Daytona Beach District; Diane Beck in the Sarasota District; Margret Kerr in the Miami District; Daniel Lewis in the Fort Lauderdale District; Ellen Lorenzan and Mark Massey in the Tampa District; Stephen Rosen serving the Jacksonville, Lakeland, Ft. Myers, West Palm Beach, and St. Petersburg districts; and Thomas Sculco in the Orlando District.

The House and Senate unanimously approved a bill (HB 727) this week that aims to curb the number of frivolous lawsuits filed against local businesses for violation of ADA building requirements.

“It’s time that we protect people’s livelihoods and act to stop frivolous, drive-by lawsuits that do nothing by harm Florida’s small businesses,” said Rep. Katie Edwards. “This bill gives business owners a chance to improve their buildings while increasing accessibility for disabled Floridians. When our businesses are more accessible and inclusive, it’s a wine for local communities and their economies.”

Sponsored by Edwards and Rep. Tom Leek, the bill creates a voluntary program where businesses can retain an ADA expert for evaluation and advising on remediation plans for properties that don’t comply with Title III with the Americans with Disabilities Act. Businesses that comply with the plans are issued a certificate of conformity valid no longer than three years. Those certificates must be considered in lawsuits that allege violations.

“With this bill, we can take the ADA away from a cottage industry of drive-by lawyers and give it back to those of whom the ADA was written for – Americans with disabilities,” said Leek. “Together, we can take a big step forward for Florida’s disabled and business communities.”

The bill now heads to Gov. Scott.

A snazzy pair of shoes almost landed Sen. Gary Farmer in hot water this week.

In the midst of debate this week, Sen. Anitere Flores took a minute to point out the Broward County Democrat’s footwear. The Miami Republican, who was presiding over the Senate at the time, called on Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto to issue a ruling on the matter and ordered the sergeant to keep him in the back of the chamber.

Sen. Farmer’s choice of shoes: Sneakers or wingtips, you decide.

“I’m not kidding,” she said with a perfectly straight face.

Farmer chuckled and took to Twitter after the incident caught the attention of Miami Herald reporter Patricia Mazzei to say that “for the record, the shoes are wingtip oxfords!! #dressshoes #soflastyle.”

Flores also clarified she was just kidding, and there was no formal complaint about Farmer’s South Florida style.

“I would like to make it clear to the Miami Herald that there is no formal complaint lodged against Sen. Farmer,” said Flores. “If anyone thought that maybe there was, that is hereby rescinded. So Sen. Farmer is exonerated.”

Robert Colen is back.

Gov. Scott announced this week he reappointed Colen to the Early Learning Coalition of Marion County.

The 44-year-old Ocala resident is a building contractor with On Top of the World Communities. He has a bachelor’s degree from American University and a master’s degree from the University of Florida.

Colen was reappointed as the board’s chair for a term ending April 30, 2021.

Scott also reappointed Charlotte Heston, a 59-year-old Sebring resident, to the Early Learning Coalition of Florida’s Heartland. Heston, the vice president of corporate services for the Peace River Electric Services, was reappointed as chair for a term ending April 30, 2021.

And Ashley Coone, a 34-year-old Arcadia resident, will be joining the Early Learning Coalition of Florida’s Heartland, Scott announced this week. The president of ASC Consulting and marketing, Coone will serve a term ending April 30, 2020.

Teachers can go ‘blue” for education.

The Florida Education Foundation and Blue Man Group at Universal Orlando have joined forces to offer Florida teachers discounted tickets for Blue Man Group performances. The group will donate $2 to the Florida Education Foundation for every adult ticket purchased.

“Florida’s teachers work hard every day to make sure students have every opportunity for academic success and become the leaders of tomorrow,” said Ola Wawryn, resident general manager for the Blue Man Group. “We are honored to partner with the Florida Education Foundation in support of our teachers while giving back to education in our great state.”

Florida public school teachers can purchase Blue Man Group tickets at a discounted rate for performances between June 26 and Aug. 13. Educators can visit Just For Teachers Community for more information on how to purchase tickets.

“The Florida Education Foundation supports the department’s efforts to help ensure Florida’s 2.7 million students have the greatest chance at lifelong success. We are thrilled that this collaboration will reward our state’s teachers for their invaluable contributions while enabling us to continue our student-focused work.” said Florida Education Foundation Chair Connie Smith.

Sen. Jeff Brandes got choked up when closing on his bill (SB 590) to require the state to set parental visitation schedules when entering child support enforcement orders.

“This bill’s going to help 1 million kids see their dads,” he said. “Quietly, we have worked every day. I have never worked harder on a bill than this one. I’ve cut deals to get this bill heard in committee. I had to cut a deal to get the two-thirds on the floor of the House. I have never been prouder of a bill than this little one.”

Brandes needed a super-majority vote to bring the bill up in the House without a companion measure.

Sen. Jeff Brandes holds his son during the Florida Senate organizational session of the Florida Legislature, November 22, 2016.

Under existing law, the Department of Revenue enters and enforces child support orders, but visitation plans require separate proceedings. Brandes’ bill would integrate the two processes and create a standard agreement. Parties could still head to court, but would be spared court fees.

The St. Petersburg Republican got the idea when he wandered into the wrong conference room during a National Council of State Legislators meeting and heard a presentation about a similar program that Texas has operated for decades.

Brandes, who has three children, said he understands how it feels not to see your kids.

“I haven’t seen my kids in two weeks, because I’ve been up here through the weekend,” he said.

The bill passed the Senate unanimously. The House voted later in the week to approve the bill.

Volunteer Florida is shining a light on Children of Inmates.

The Miami-based nonprofits organization coordinates care and family reunification opportunities for Florida children whose parents are incarcerated.

The group has enhanced programs at 16 correctional facilities and organized more than 400 bonding visits, thanks to the support of AmeriCorps members.

According to Volunteer Florida, AmeriCorps members recently launched a literacy campaign — called 5,000 Books Read — that encourages children and their incarcerated parent to read aloud during visits. During the last few months, children have read more than 250 books during visits. AmeriCorp members have collected more than 2,500 donated books for the project.

It could soon be easier for police officers to purchase a handgun.

The House voted 115-1 to approve a resolution this week that would exempt police officers from the required three-day waiting period for purchasing a handgun. The resolution recognizes the honors of training and practice that police officers go through to become proficient with their fire arm.

“This bill will help protect Floridians in every town, city, and county by making sure our tax dollars are being properly spent to ensure officers are properly equipped to fight crime and keep our communities safe,” said Rep. Robert Asencio in a statement. “It is commonsense measures like these that continue to move our state forward.”

 The resolution would put officers on the same level as concealed weapons permit holders, according to Asencio’s office, who do not have to wait for a handgun.

The resolution requires the passage of a constitutional amendment before it can go into effect.

Want to make First Lady Ann Scott happy? Get reading!

The first lady welcomed more than 30 students from Springwood Elementary School to the Governor’s Mansion this week to kick off the 7th annual Summer Literacy Adventure. The annual event challenges students to pledge to read as many books as possible over the summer.

“As a mother and grandmother, I believe there is nothing more important than investing time in Florida’s children who will one day become leaders in our communities, state and nation,” she said in a statement. “Literacy is an essential skill to succeed in any career path, and I hope that today’s event inspires these students to be life-long readers.”

First Lady Ann Scott kicked off the Seventh Annual Summer Literacy Adventure at the Florida Governor’s Mansion this week. Photo via Twitter

Research has shown that children who do not continue reading through the summer can lose a month or more of progress made during the school year.

The 2017 Summer Literacy Adventure is a partnership between the Department of Education, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Lottery.

“We are grateful to First Lady Ann Scott for once again hosting students at the Florida Governor’s Mansion to raise awareness about the importance of reading every day, even when school is not in session,” said Education Commission Pam Stewart. “Her participation in the Summer Literacy Adventure has encouraged countless students to love reading as much as she does, and I hope that all of our state’s schools and families will take full advantage of this opportunity to motivate our young readers.”

Call it a good week for Democratic Leader Janet Cruz.

The House voted unanimously this week to approve a bill (SB 800) that would prohibit health insurers from denying patients the ability to receive a partial refill of a prescription if they choose to enroll in a medical synchronization program through their pharmacy. Cruz, a Tampa Democrat, was the sponsor of the House bill (HB 1191).

“Especially for our seniors, multiple trips to the pharmacy each month can be a burden that prevents them from receiving the care they need,” she said in a statement. “By passing this bill, we are allowing thousands of patients throughout Florida the ability to maximize their health outcomes and live longer, healthier lives.”

Cruz’s bill to vote-by-mail fix also received final approval this week. The bill requires the Supervisor of elections to notify voters if their signature was rejected and give them a chance to fix it and have their vote counted.

Both bills now head to Gov. Scott for his consideration.

Sen. Kathleen Passidomo is doing her part to make May a safe building money, issuing proclamation this week to declare May 2017 as Florida Building Safety Month.

In her proclamation, Passidomo commended the Building Officials Association of Florida for all its work to “ensure that all Floridians are protected by building and fire codes.”

“Floridians for Safe Communities is a strong supporter and advocate for keeping Florida’s communities safe with the current building code structure,” said Craig Fugate, former FEMA administrator and chairman of Floridians for Safe Communities, in a statement. “It is imperative that Floridians continue to have the necessary and strong commercial and residential building codes to prevent the type of devastation we saw from Hurricane Andrew from ever happening again.”

Building Safety Month is meant to to reinforce the need for adoption of modern, model building codes. Presented by the International Code Council, the month aims to bring together groups to support the need for safe and sustainable structures where we live, work and play.

Information identifying homeless people would have been exempt from public records under OK’d by the Florida Senate this week.

The Senate voted unanimously to approve a bill (SB 1024) by Sen. Linda Stewart to create an exemption from public records for individual identifying information on homeless people.

Sen. Linda Stewart pushed legislation to make identifying information about people who are homeless, or at risk of becoming homeless, exempt from public records.

In Florida, the Council on Homelessness collects, maintains and makes available information about people who are homeless or at risk of being homeless. The bill, according to Stewart’s office, is designed to maximize the response rate to surveys conducted by the state from a population of Floridians that are particularly concerned with their privacy, suffer from mental illness, or have undergone the trauma of domestic violence or substance abuse.

“The release of individual identifying information could lead to discrimination, injury, and pose a barrier to homeless persons receiving services,” she said in a statement. “At the same time, accurately collecting this data for funding purposes ensures that we are able to better assist our communities in the struggle to end homelessness in Florida.”

Parents who have been victims of child domestic violence could soon have the resources they need.

The House voted unanimously to approve a bill (SB 1694) that requires the Department of Juvenile Justice to provide expertise, training and advocacy in the areas of family and domestic violence.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kamia Brown and Amy Mercado in the House and Sen. Vic Torres in the Senate, also requires law enforcement officers to receive training concerning child-to-parent cases.

“I am beyond excited to have worked with so many members on both sides of the aisle to finally bring needed resources to the victims of these terrible crimes,” said Brown in a statement. “Child-to-parent domestic abuse cases are too often overlooked and left in the shadows and this legislation will bring this issue the attention it deserves.”

An effort to establish a Florida specialty license plate for Auburn University died this week.

The plate was the brainchild of two Auburn grads: state Rep. Jamie Grant, a Tampa Republican, and Democratic PR man Kevin Cate.

Better luck next year, Auburn fans: Rep. James Grant’s proposal to get a “War Eagle” license plate couldn’t quite make it across the finish line.

But the effort got caught up as lawmakers piled on more schools to get their own plates, including the University of Alabama and University of Georgia.

If passed, it would have joined the more than 100 specialty tags Florida now offers. It also would have been the first collegiate specialty tag for an out-of-state school.

Victims of terrorism will get their day in court under a bill headed to Gov. Scott.

The Florida Senate unanimously approved a bill (HB 65) by Rep. Jason Fischer that creates a statutory civil cause of action for a person injured by an act of terrorism. Under the bill, a person is entitled to recover treble damages, minimum damages of $1,000, plus attorney’s fees or costs. A person can’t seek civil action if their injuries are the result of his or her participation in a terrorist act.

“When I introduced HB-65, I felt the need for this bill was an extraordinary one. Victims of terrorism deserve a day in court and if I could provide assistance, in the form of a law, I would,” said Fischer in an email to constituents this week. “This bill just needs the Governor’s signature to become law!”

The Senate also passed a bill (HB 457) this week to create five new criminal offenses for people who work with terrorist groups or commit acts of terrorism. Acts of terrorism themselves would be a new first-degree felony under state law, while it would be a second-degree to join a foreign terrorist group.

That bill, sponsored by Rep. Dane Eagle, is also on its way to Gov. Scott for his consideration.

You know the old saying: If you want a friend in politics, get a dog.

Rep. Rene “Coach P” Plasencia often brings his pup, Bowie, to the Capitol with him. So this week, Plasencia strapped on a camera to give constituents a dog’s eye view of the legislative process.

Lt. Debra Clayton will be forever memorialized in one Orlando community.

The Florida Legislature unanimously approved a bill (SB 368) that would designate a portion of Princeton Street between John Young Parkway and Pine Hills Road as “Lieutenant Debra Clayton Memorial Highway” in honor of Clayton, an Orlando police officer killed in the line of duty in January.

The stretch of road, according to the Orlando Sentinel, includes the Wal-Mart where Clayton was killed on Jan. 9. Law enforcement officials say Clayton was outside the store trying to arrest Markeith Loyd when he shot and killed her execution style.

The bill also designates a portion of Pine Hills Road between Silver Star Road and State Road 50 as “First Class Deputy Norman Lewis Memorial Highway.” Lewis was killed in a traffic crash hours later, during the manhunt for Loyd. He was arrested nine days later after an exhaustive search.

“This is a small token of how our community plans to honor the legacy of our two fallen public servants,” said Rep. Brown. “The devastation of their loss extends to each and every individual within our community and we will forever remember their contribution to Central Florida. I am very pleased that this bill passed and I look forward to celebrating the implementation of the road designation with the community in the coming months.”

The bill also designates a portion of Davis Boulevard between Adalia Avenue and Adriatic Avenue in Hillsborough County as “Helen Gordon Davis Boulevard,” after the first woman from Hillsborough elected to the Florida House.

The bill heads to Gov. Scott for his consideration.

Not many kids want to spend their 12th birthdays on the floor of the Senate.

But then again, Ethan Fisher isn’t like many kids.

Ethan, the son of FSU Coach Jimbo Fisher, and his family were on the floor this week as the Senate voted to approve a bill that would, among other things, expand the Gardiner Scholarship Program to include children diagnosed with a rare disease or condition as defined by the National Organization of Rare Disorders. During a floor speech this week, Sen. David Simmons, the bill’s sponsor, said the expansion would be “instrumental in increasing (the child’s) quality of life and their sincere desire for a sense of normalcy.”

Ethan Fisher and parents, FSU Coach Jimbo Fisher and Candi Fisher, talk with Senate President Joe Negron during a stop at the Capitol this week.

“Many children fighting rare diseases or born with a disability cannot attend school on a regular basis like their peers. They are in and out of hospitals and, like in Ethan’s case, will need to be in isolation for many months after his bone marrow transplant due to the risk of infection,” said Simmons.

Ethan was diagnosed with Fanconi Anemia, a rare and genetic blood disease, in 2011. The disease, according to the Fisher’s nonprofit Kidz1stFund, leads to bone marrow failure in one in every 131,00 people.

Simmons bill was rolled into a House bill (HB 15), which passed the Senate 27-11. The House later voted 101-11 to accept the changes and give it final approval.

A bill to help combat Florida’s opioid epidemic is headed to Gov. Scott.

The Senate unanimously approved a bill (HB 557) that aims to modernize the state’s prescription drug monitoring program to better identify doctor shopping and potential addiction issues.

“This bill gives our medical professionals the tools they need to help understand their patients’ controlled substance history in a more real-time manner and will allow them to spot addiction issues or doctor shopping,” said Rep. Nick Duran, who sponsored the bill in the House. “The modernized system puts them in a better position in evaluating the course of treatment and in making more informed decisions when prescribing these dangerous controlled substances.”

The bill shortens the time frame in which a pharmacy or doctor needs to report dispensing a controlled substance, from seven days to the next business day. It requires the dispensing agency to submit reporting information via an electronic system approved by the Department of Health.

The Florida Legislature approved a measure to crack down on false marketing practices of some “sober homes.”

The bill aims to help recovering addicts in Florida and expands the authority of the Attorney General’s Office of Statewide Prosecution to prosecute patient brokering crimes.

“I want to thank Rep. Bill Hager and Sen. Jeff Clemens for sponsoring this vital legislation and each member of the Florida Legislature who voted in favor of the bill,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi in a statement. “The legislation will help protect recovering addicts from those trying to exploit and profit from their addiction.”

If signed into law, sober homes — mostly unregulated buildings rented to people recently out of rehab — would be banned from spreading false advertisement and there would be tougher background checks for workers at licensed rehab centers that refer patients to sober homes.

The bill heads to Gov. Scott for his consideration.

The “pardon our dust” signs aren’t going anywhere for a while.

Maggie Mickler, a spokeswoman for the Department of Management Services, said construction crews continue to work on construction project at the Capitol complex — structural repairs inside the parking garage and utility efforts on the outside.

Capitol construction. Photo via Aerial Tallahassee Instagram

Structural repairs, Mickler said, include installing carbon fiber reinforcement on the main support girders as well as repairing wall and ceiling areas that experience spalling, or fragments breaking off.

“Two weeks ago, crews began utility relocation, which will move electric, cable and fiber lines now below ground next to the Senate parking garage to the south side of Madison Street,” she said. “This will allow crews this summer to … create a wall that permits crews to excavate soil roughly 30 feet below street level.”

The evacuation, Mickler said, is required to install waterproofing material to the vertical surfaces of the garage as well as a drainage system.

The project, she said, “continues to be scheduled for completion in August 2018.”

Surgeon General Celeste Philip is official.

The Florida Senate confirmed Philip this week, giving her the job permanently after she was appointed to the position last year. She replaced Dr. John Armstrong, who resigned last year after it became clear he did not have the votes in the Senate to win confirmation.

Philip has been with the Department of Health since 2008. She served in several capacities over the years, including as interim director for three county health departments. She is board certified in family medicine as well as public health and general preventative medicine.

The Senate also confirmed Justin Senior as the Secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration.

The Florida Medical Association is committed to ensuring every Floridian receives the best medical care possible, which is why we are so pleased Dr. Philip and Mr. Senior have been confirmed by the Florida Senate today,” said Dr. David J. Becker, president of the Florida Medical Association. “They both bring with them a wealth of knowledge and experience that are integral to promoting good health and developing strong relationships among stakeholders, so residents are educated and empowered to maintain a healthy lifestyle. The Department of Health and Agency for Health Care Administration are fortunate to have two champions for excellence in patient care at the helm.”

Sen. Aaron Bean just might have a future as a game show announcer.

Bean announced the results of the 2017 “Biggest Loser” contest in the Florida Legislature. The annual contest challenges lawmakers and staffers to make healthy choices during the 60-day session, while raising money for charity.

This year 47 people participated in the contest, losing a total of 114.7 pounds — or, as Bean joked “the equivalent of a half of senator or 2.1 House members plus one House page.” Sens. Torres, Bill Montford and Kevin Rader all got nods for their weight loss throughout session.

Sen. Bill Montford pulls up his pants as he is recognized for losing two pounds in a “Biggest Loser” contest on the Senate floor Friday, May 5, 2017 at the Capitol. Photo by Phil Sears

Mary Cowart, a legislative aide to Rep. Cynthia Stafford, was the overall winner in the women’s division, losing 15.5 pounds; while Gary Austin, a member of the Senate’s support staff, was down 24 pounds.

This year’s challenge raised $1,080 for the Leon County Special Olympics.

Go fish.

No, really. The 78-day, 2017 recreational red snapper season in Gulf of Mexico state waters opens Saturdays and Sundays starts today. Beginning May 27, the season will be open daily through July 9.

The season will then reopen for Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in September and October, and on Labor Day.

The federal season was recently announced by NOAA Fisheries and will be June 1-3 for private recreational anglers and June 1 through July 19 for federally-permitted charter boats and head boats.

Here’s 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.