Takeaways from Tallahassee – Away from the ‘Mistake on the Lake’

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While the political conventions are getting all the attention this month, another issue is quietly oozing its way through the sticky Tallahassee heat: Gambling, specifically card games.

Pari-mutuel operators (i.e, dog and horse tracks) and state regulators are fighting over something called “designated player games,” essentially a kind of poker.

Only the Seminole Tribe can offer “banked card games” such as blackjack. But the pari-mutuels can and do offer card games in which people play against each other and not the “house.”

blackjackRegulators now are saying that the card rooms have been making a mockery of the state’s rules.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation, which also regulates gambling, filed administrative complaints earlier this year against seven racetracks that offer the poker-style card games.

Here’s the rub: Third-party companies have been buying their way into the games, using a worker to act as a virtual bank, according to the department.

As ably reported by the News Service of Florida’s Dara Kam, DBPR lawyer William Hall argued at a recent hearing: “If a mannequin was sitting in the designated player’s seat … the games would play no differently than if a living, breathing human being was sitting there.

“They’d play the exact same way,” he added. “Literally, all the designated player does is sit next to the chips. Can that person legitimately be called a player?”

The state wants the current card-game rule repealed, while the pari-mutuels like it just as is, since the games bring in about $10 million a year, according to reports.

A “test case” is awaiting an order by an administrative-law judge. Stay tuned…

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:

Water damaged — Citizens Property Insurance Corp. board of governors approved a $1.8 million contract to examine rising water damage claims and whether the charges are excessive. The board approved a five-year contract with Lynx Services, LLC. Rising water damage claims have been a growing concern for Citizens officials. The insurer is pushing a 6.8 percent statewide rate hike, citing rising water-damage claims as one of the key reasons for the increase.

mcdougalMore money for Scott staffers — Top staffers in the Scott administration received pay raises after the governor appointed a new chief of staff. The pay increases, according to the Naples Daily News, started when Kim McDougal took over as the chief of staff in April. McDougal received a pay increase when she took over the job. The Naples Daily News report also showed several other top staffers — including policy coordinator Julie Epsy and policy director Jeffrey Woodburn — also received raises.

Abortion law — A 24-hour waiting period doesn’t “significantly burden the right to privacy,” Attorney General Pam Bondi’s Office said in a brief at the Florida Supreme Court. The brief is part of a year-long legal dispute about the 2015 law requiring a 24-hour waiting period before an abortion. A Leon County circuit judge approved an injunction last year, but the 1st District Court of Appeal overturned the ruling in February. The Supreme Court in May agreed to take up the case. Also this week, POLITICO Florida reported that attorneys representing the Scott administration acknowledged in court filings that administrative complaints filed against three Planned Parenthood were unsubstantiated.

Fight against ZIka — President Barack Obama promised to send another $5.6 million to Florida to help combat the spread of Zika. In a call with Gov. Rick Scott his week, the president said that in addition to $2 million the CDC has provided, another $5.6 million grant was expected to be awarded this week. The call came as health officials probed whether a woman contracted the disease in Miami. There are more than 330 cases of Zika in Florida, including 46 involving pregnant women. The Department of Health was investigating possible non-travel related cases in South Florida.

rubio, marco - orange grovePolicy blitz — Sen. Marco Rubio spent the week touring the state to talk with local leaders and constituents about several different policy issues, including water quality. Rubio advocated for the passage of a comprehensive water bill, which he said would help Southwest Florida and the Treasure Coast with its water woes. He seemed hesitant to support efforts to buy land south of Lake Okeechobee to store water. He also attended meetings to talk about citrus greening, veterans affairs and visited Port Tampa Bay. But he wasn’t always greeted warmly. In Orlando, protestors confronted the Miami Republican about his position on guns and gay rights. The official visits coincided with a week-long campaign swing.

Congratulations, Jack Latvala!

Latvala was the first legislator to be inducted into the Pasco Hernando State College Legislative Hall of Fame.

Timothy L. Beard, the school’s president, recognized the Clearwater Republican’s efforts that led to the construction of several buildings on the college’s West Campus, strengthening articulation agreements with the University of South Florida, and preserving the integrity of the college’s local service areas.

The Legislative Hall of Fame establishes a new tradition at the school meant to recognizes lawmakers for supporting the college and higher education opportunities for their constituents.

The Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers Board of Directors has a new president.

The organization announced John Crawford, the Nassau County Clerk of the Circuit Court and Comptroller, has been named the incoming president. The organization also announced its new executive committee members during its annual summer conference in Orlando.

“The roles and responsibilities of Court Clerks and Comptrollers in each of Florida’s 67 counties are vast and far reaching, but most importantly we are the keepers, protectors and preservers of public trust and that has always been, and will continue to be, our highest priority,” said Crawford in a statement. “It is my great privilege to serve the FCCC membership as President and I look forward to building upon our successes while also finding viable solutions to the critical issues we face both independently and collectively.”

Franklin County Clerk Marcia Johnson will serve as first vice president, Palm Beach County Clerk Sharon Bock will serve as second vice president, Polk County Clerk Stacy Butterfield will serve as treasurer, and Clay County Clerk Tara Green will serve as secretary. All of the board members will serve one-year terms.

Florida’s correctional health care provider provided vision screenings to the family of the incarcerated.

Last week, Centurion, LLC. Provided free vision screenings to families of the incarcerated at Lowell Correctional Institution, Florida Women’s Reception Center and Marion Correctional Institution. The screenings were held during the Florida Department of Corrections’ first Family/Friends Orientation Day.

“We are pleased to partner with Envolve Benefit Options to be able to provide free vision screenings to the loved ones of those incarcerated at three Marion County institutions,” said Steven Wheeler, chief executive officer of Centurion, in a statement.  “Not only is it important that individuals receive annual vision screenings, but it also gives inmates’ families the opportunity to experience firsthand the same type of care and services their loved ones may receive while in the institution.”

All attendees received a vision screening. If a problem was detected in a child, an eye doctor conducted a full screening. Children who needed classes were able to pick their frames on-side, and will receive glasses in the mail. Adults received free reading classes.

Kudos, Escambia County Deputy Ronald Gill.

Attorney General Bondi announced this week that Gill, a senior deputy with the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, has been named the 2016 School Resource Officer of the Year.

“Deputy Gill, goes above and beyond to not only ensure the safety of students at the school he serves, but to also provide guidance to the youth in his community,” said Bondi in a statement. “Resource officers play a vital role in the lives of students on a daily basis and I am honored to name Deputy Gill the 2016 School Resource Officer of the Year.”

Gill is 14-year veteran of the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. He currently serves as a school resource officer at Ernest Ward Middle School.

The award, which is given jointly by Bondi and the Florida Association of School Resource Officers, is given each year to a Florida officer who demonstrates dedication and tireless work ethic to enhance the lives of students.

More jobs are coming to Collier County.

Gov. Scott announced this week that Arthrex will expand its operations in North Naples. The medical device manufacturer will create 560 jobs and invest more than $63 million in Collier County. The company, according to the Governor’s Office, currently employs more than 2,220 Floridians.

“I am proud to announce that Arthrex is continuing to expand in Florida and will be creating more than 500 new jobs for families in Collier County,” said Scott in a statement. “More and more manufacturing companies are choosing to invest and create new opportunities in our state because of our work to cut taxes and make it easier for job creators to succeed.”

The company has been in Naples since 1991, and has been named one of the Top 100 Best Companies to Work for by Fortune Magazine.

“Arthrex is committed to reinvesting in our community, and the best investment is growing our business right here in Southwest Florida,” said Reinhold Schmieding, the company’s president and founder. “This investment will help us expand our research, manufacturing product development and medical education to help improve the lives of people in Southwest Florida with our company and around the world with our products.”

Ready, set, vote!

Secretary of State Ken Detzner unveiled the 2016 voter education toolkit. The toolkit, Detzner said, can be used to help voters prepare and stakeholders provide voters with information about Election Day.

dos“This year we have been seeing increased voter engagement and have received requests from Floridians for additional information on the voting process,” said Detzner. “In response to these requests, we have developed a voter education toolkit that can be used by stakeholders to directly communicate information to voters and can also be used by voters themselves.

The toolkit includes a poster featuring a checklist for new Florida voters, logos and social media banners, and quick facts about the primary.

Speaking of being election ready: The deadline to register to vote in the Aug. 30 primary is just around the corner.

The deadline to register to vote or change your party affiliation is Monday, Aug. 1. Florida is a closed primary state, which means only registered Republicans and Democrats can vote in their party’s primary. All registered voters can vote on constitutional initiatives and nonpartisan races on the ballot.

“I encourage all eligible voters to check their voter registration status before Monday, August 1, which is the deadline for Floridians to register to vote or update their party affiliation to be in effect for the Primary Election,” said Secretary of State Detzner. “While Florida is a closed primary state, voters should be aware that there will be a constitutional amendment on the ballot that all voters can vote on, regardless of party affiliation. In addition, there may be other local nonpartisan races on the ballot.

Gov. Scott tipped his hat to community corrections professionals this week.

Scott designated July 17 through July 23 as Pretrial, Probation and Parole Supervision Week. The week is meant to recognize community corrections professionals who work to keep the community safe.

“The Department is proud to recognize our correctional probation officers and community corrections staff during this year’s Pretrial, Probation, and Parole Supervision Week,” said Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones. “We thank them for their unwavering dedication and hard work to provide supervision for nearly 140,000 offenders and being instrumental in safeguarding Florida’s communities.”

There’s a few new county judges in Florida.

Gov. Scott appointed Joseph A. Poblick, who was in private practice, as a Pasco County judge. He replaces Judge Marc H. Salton. The 41-year-old Dade City resident previously served as an assistant state attorney for the 9th Judicial Circuit.

Joshua Riba will take the Pinellas County Court bench after being an assistant state attorney in the 6th Judicial Circuit. The 41-year-old Safety Harbor resident replaces Judge William H. Overton.

In Collier County, Scott appointed Michael J. Brown to the bench. The 38-year-old Naples served as an assistant state attorney for the 20th Judicial Circuit. He replaces Judge Vince Murphy.

Tax cuts might not be so great for the state’s pocketbook.

Economic forecasters said the state’s coffers could take a hit in the years to come because of tax breaks passed this year. The losses total in the tens of millions each year until 2021, according to a report posted online Tuesday.

Tax and fee cuts passed this year will reduce general revenue by $42.3 million in the current budget year, which began July 1. The losses rise to $67.4 million in 2017-18, $70.5 million in 2018-19, $73.6 million in 2019-20, and $76.9 million in 2020-21, according to the report.

KLS Martin Group will soon call Jacksonville its U.S. manufacturing home.

Gov. Scott announced this week the company will establish its first U.S. manufacturing operations in Jacksonville. KLS Martin Manufacturing will create at least 25 new jobs and invest more than $5 million in the local community. The company currently employs more than 150 Floridians.

“The KLS Martin Group is excited to establish its first surgical implant manufacturing company outside of Germany here in Jacksonville,” said Tom Johnston with KLS Martin Manufacturing. “This new company will allow the KLS Martin Group to provide innovative products through cutting edge 3D printing technology that will improve patient care and surgical outcomes.”

Two corrections officers are being heralded as heroes this week.

According to Sen. Greg Evers’ office, Sgt. Burt Sellers and Officer George Lee were transporting 50 inmates when the brakes on their buss malfunctioned while driving down an off-ramp onto Highway 85. The two officers, Evers said, acted quickly to make sure the inmates were safe.

“Though there are difficult times we are navigating as a nation, we must sand with our officers who go above and beyond the call of duty, like Officers Sellers and Lee,” said Evers in a statement.

Evers also called on Gov. Scott to officially commend the officers, and halt all Department of Corrections bus transportation until the buses can be inspected for safety and compliance.

“The safety of our servicemen and women, inmates in our care, and innocent bystanders should always be a top priority,” said Evers. “The actions of our government to support our security and safety should always be a priority: Lives are at stake.”

Attention lottery lovers: You might be a winner.

The Florida Lottery said this week there is a Fantasy 5 ticket worth $140,000 that remains unclaimed in the Tampa Bay area. The 180-day deadline to claim the top prize is midnight, Aug. 4.

The winning ticket was sold at Active Food Mart on West Waters Avenue in Tampa. The winning numbers for the Feb. 6 drawing were 13–15–16–27–30.

Two other Fantasy 5 tickets also are currently unclaimed, according to the Lottery’s website.

One was bought in West Palm Beach, worth $103,486 and set to expire Aug. 5.  Another was purchased in Miami Beach, worth $125,476 and expiring Aug. 15.

There’s a few new faces on Connect Florida’s board of governors.

Connect Florida announced its 2016-17 Board of Governors this week. The organization is considered a signature program of Leadership Florida, and aims to educate, engage and inspire the state’s emerging leaders.

Chester Spellman, a graduate of Connect Florida Class IV, has been named the chairman of the 2016-17 board. Spellman is the chief executive officer for Volunteer Florida.

“It is an honor to serve as the Chair of the Connect Florida Board of Governors,” he said. “With a record number of applications and an exceptionally successful Class VI, we are grateful for the hard work of Immediate Past Chair Roger Feicht and the outgoing Board. I look forward to working with the 2016-2017 Board of Governors and the Leadership Florida team to build on this success.”

Connect Florida also announced Alex Price from Class III will serve as the chair-elect; Merdochey LaFrance from Class VI will serve as the statewide outreach chair; Keith Fletcher from Class will serve as the institute chair, and Andrew Fay from Class IV will serve as the finance chair. Roger Feicht from Class II is the immediate past chair.

An injured South Florida nurse who unsuccessfully challenged the state’s worker compensation system wants the U.S. Supreme Court to take up the case.

Court dockets show Daniel Stahl filed his petition Tuesday. The request has not yet been acted on.

In April, the Florida Supreme Court decided not to consider Stahl’s case. After hearing arguments in Stahl v. Hialeah Hospital, all seven justices agreed to “exercise our discretion and discharge jurisdiction,” the court’s one paragraph opinion said. “Accordingly, we dismiss review.”

Its inaction leaves intact a 1st District Court of Appeal ruling that “declared certain provisions of state workers’ compensation law) to be valid.”

Stahl hurt his back as a nurse back in 2003, with his injury limiting his physical activities so much it effectively ended his career.

He sued, saying his worker’s compensation benefits were “inadequate” under a 2003 overhaul.

Rep. Cary Pigman is a 2016 legislative champion.

The Florida Renal Administrators Association awarded the Sebring Republican with its Legislative Champion Award. The group honored Pigman, a board certified emergency medicine physician, for his efforts to improve the access and delivery of quality healthcare to Floridians.

Bob Loeper, chairman of the group’s public public committee, said “no single elected Representative has ever done more to successfully sponsor and pass legislation that will have an immediate and lasting effect on the chronically Ill, and the health care of all Floridians”.

Spiny lobster season is just around the corner.

The 2016 spiny lobster season opens with a two-day recreational sport season on July 27 and July 28. The regular commercial and recreational lobster season starts Aug. 6 and runs through March 31.

According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission, divers must make sure the carapace on a spiny lobster larger than 3 inches before harvesting it.

(Courtesy of FWC)
(Courtesy of FWC)

Divers are also prohibited from harvesting egg-bearing females. During the two-day sport season, divers and snorkelers can take up to six lobsters per day in Monroe County and Biscayne National Park waters; or 12 lobsters per person, per day in other Florida waters.

Diving after the sun goes down is not allowed in Monroe County during the two-day sport season.

Other tips: Bring a cooler big enough to hold the entire lobster; make sure you have a recreational saltwater fishing licenses and a spiny lobster permit, and make sure safety comes first.

Here is this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

Capitol Directions - 7.23.16

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.