Takeaways from Tallahassee – A full serving of Evers with Zika on the side

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How many times can the Department of Corrections tick off Greg Evers before they’re really in for it?

The Republican state Senator from north Florida has been on a one-man crusade against the Department. Evers chairs the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, which has held hearings about the agency’s ability and integrity.

Evers, a farmer from Baker, has even made some unannounced visits to state prisons in north Florida. He later said he found low staffing and deteriorating buildings.

This past week at a news conference, Evers dropped the bomb that Corrections Secretary Julie Jones and one of her top aides had “lied” to him about the closing of a Broward County prisoner re-entry program. (Evers didn’t name Jones, but a department spokesman confirmed that’s who he had spoken with.)

Broward Bridge, as it’s called, provides transitional counseling and drug treatment to those out early on work release.

“This past session, I was afraid for this program,” he said. It’s run by Bridges of America, based in Orlando. “But I was told there was no need to worry, that they weren’t going to close (it).

“I got off of a tractor, put on a suit and came to Tallahassee because I was lied to,” he said. “These types of programs are the only way that we will reduce what it costs you, the taxpayer, to incarcerate folks in the state of Florida.”

Meantime, the department keeps tripping over itself to blame everyone else. The agency said the program’s closing was caused in part by local government and the county sheriff’s office, both of whom refuted Corrections’ statements against them.

The question now is: When does the re-entry program mess get on Gov. Rick Scott‘s radar? And what will he do about it?

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

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

No love for the guv — Scott caught heat from fellow governors during his trip to California this week. Scott traveled to The Golden State as part of a trade mission, taking several economic development meetings during his visit. California Gov. Jerry Brown called on Scott to stop the “silly political stunts” and do something about climate change. But Brown wasn’t the only governor to give Scott a piece of his mind. During a panel discussion at the Milken Institute Global Conference, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe criticized Scott for leading job-hunting missions to other states. Both Brown and McAuliffe are Democrats.

War against Zika — Florida officials are stepping up their efforts to stop the spread of Zika in Florida. Gov. Scott announced this week he planned to travel to Washington, D.C., May 11 and 12 to a meeting with congressional leaders to talk about the need to prepare for Zika. Florida agriculture officials began distributing mosquito traps. And both Sen. Bill Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio are pushing for federal to combat the spread.

Legally ride — Miami-Dade commissioners passed an ordinance to legalize that legalized ride-hailing companies like Uber and Lyft. Commissioners voted 9-2 after nine hours of public comment and debate. But one day after commissioners passed the ordinance, a Coral Gables attorney said he was pursuing a class-action lawsuit against the county on behalf of the taxi industry.

Death penalty review — The Florida Supreme Court is weighing whether inmates sentenced to death under system deemed unconstitutional should have their punishments reduced. After the U.S. Supreme Court in January had ruled the state’s death penalty process unconstitutional, lawmakers passed a new law requiring 10 of the 12 jurors to recommend execution. The court is now trying to determine whether the inmates sentenced under the old system should have their sentences reduced to life in prison.

Panther deaths — It is shaping up to be another deadly year for the Florida panther. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials said 22 panthers have died so far this year. In 2015, state officials said 41 panthers died. Wildlife officials said the state’s panther population is up to about 180 animals.

The Department of Children and Families and the Department of Environmental Protection are teaming up this month to celebrate foster families.

The agencies announced Monday that state park passes would be distributed to 15,000 families throughout Florida to celebrate foster parents and families. The partnership builds on an annual program that encourages foster children to enjoy the outdoors.

“Our foster parents make their hearts and homes available to frightened, vulnerable children day and night and surround them with love and normalcy during times of crisis,” said DCF Secretary Mike Carroll. “This is a way to thank them for their generosity and also provide a wonderful opportunity for these families to come together to reflect and celebrate their journey together.”

Passes will be distributed by the community-based care lead agencies and local DCF offices.

“The Department of Environmental Protection is proud to join DCF and its partners to support the important role foster parents play improving the lives of Florida’s children and communities,” said DEP Secretary Jon Steverson. “Our award-winning state parks are a great place for families to spend time together and enjoy some of Florida’s most treasured natural resources.”

There are 163 state parks and 11 state trails in the Sunshine State.

May is National Foster Care Month.

The Florida Farm Bureau is tipping its hat to several state lawmakers for their role in passing legislation that positively impacts the state’s farm families and agriculture producers.

The Florida Farm Bureau has named Sen. Travis Hutson, Reps. Matt Caldwell and Halsey Beshears as the 2016 Legislators of the Year. In a news release, the organization said the three lawmakers “demonstrated outstanding leadership in spearheading important pieces of Florida Farm Bureau’s legislative agenda.”

Hutson was recognized, in part, for sponsoring legislation — dubbed the farm vehicles bill — to streamline and modernize transportation laws to make it easier for farmers to transport produce from farm to market.

Among other things, Caldwell was recognized for his work on the state’s comprehensive water policy package. He was also honored for his work on the state lands bill, which creates opportunities for farmers to exchange agriculture lands for state-owned ones that can be used for low-impact agriculture.

Beshears sponsored one of the Farm Bureau’s top legislative priorities, a transportation bill that defines covered farm vehicles and reduces the regulatory burden of transporting agricultural products from the fields to the marketplace.

The Florida Farm Bureau also named its Champions for Agriculture. The 2016 Champions for Agriculture were: Sens. Charlie DeanBill GalvanoAlan Hays, Hutson, Bill MontfordWilton Simpson and Kelli Stargel; House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and Reps. Ben Albritton, Beshears, Jim Boyd, Caldwell, Neil CombeeBrad DrakeKatie EdwardsTom GoodsonDebbie MayfieldJake RaburnCharlie Van Zant, and Clovis Watson, Jr.

“Florida Farm Bureau appreciates the commitment of our state lawmakers to Florida’s agricultural producers, and we sincerely thank them for their role in making the 2016 legislative session one of the best in recent memory for our hard working farmers and ranchers,” said John Hoblick, president of Florida Farm Bureau in a statement. “Each of these Champions for Agriculture played crucial roles in promoting or passing legislation that lowered taxes and reduced regulations on agricultural producers in 2016. We are grateful for their efforts that allow farm families to continue to produce food, benefit our state’s economy and conserve natural resources.”

Courtesy of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
Courtesy of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

The Law Enforcement Officers Hall of Fame has its first group of inductees.

Five law enforcement officers from throughout Florida were part of the Law Enforcement Officers’ Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony on Sunday. The event was held inside Florida’s Capitol.

Former Clearwater Police Chief Willis D. Booth, former Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell, former Orlando Police Chief Thomas D. Hurlburt, Jr., former Pasco County Sheriff’s Detective James Medley, and former Hialeah Police Lt. Leonidas G. Thalassites were inducted into the Hall of Fame.

Thalassites, who also serves as a reserve officer, is the oldest serving law enforcement officer, according to the International Police Association. His career began in 1956 with Metro-Dade Police Department. In 1963, he joined the Hialeah Police Department and was promoted to lieutenant before retiring in 1990.

After he had retired, Thalassites joined the Tampa Police Department as a reserve officer. He is currently working as a reserve officer for the Hialeah Police Department.

The Florida Law Enforcement Officers’ Hall of Fame was created by the 2014 Florida Legislature to recognize and honor law enforcement officers who put their lives on the line to keep Florida’s residents and visitors safe. The inaugural inductees were nominated by the Florida Sheriffs Association, Florida Police Chiefs Association, Police Benevolent Association, Fraternal Order of Police and the State Law Enforcement Chiefs’ Association and then were selected by a committee. They were approved by Gov. Scott and the Florida Cabinet.

Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Rick Swearingen and Rep. Daphne Campbell were both on hand for the induction ceremony.

Florida continues to be ranked third in the country in calls to the national human trafficking hotline, according to a new report from the University of California, Los Angeles.

The National Human Trafficking Resource Center, which runs the hotline, reported there were 1,518 substantive tips from Florida in 2015. That’s up from 2014 when Florida received 1,428 calls, 48 emails, and 67 online tips.

The report found that Miami has the highest accounts of sex trafficking, through venues like massage parlors, escort services, and brothels. According to the report, traffickers in the Miami metro area function independently, rather than in organized street gangs.

Florida runs its own abuse hotline. The report found that between 2009 and 2014, the hotline received 1,35 calls coded as human trafficking.

Some lawmakers made the honor roll. Others got failing grades.

Americans for Prosperity-Florida (AFP-FL) released its annual Economic Freedom Scorecard on Tuesday. The group recorded more than 4,300 individual votes on 59 legislative proposals to tabulate this year’s grades.

“A big part of our mission is to help Florida taxpayers hold their elected officials accountable,” said Chris Hudson, the state director of AFP-FL in a statement.

The organization awards one point for each vote cast in support of a “pro-economic freedom issue,” such as eliminating the manufacturing business tax and expanding school choice, or against an “anti-economic freedom issue,” such as a resolution to ban fracking in Florida and expanding Medicaid. It also awards one point for the prime sponsorship of a priority bill; and deducts a point for sponsoring bills AFP-FL opposes.

According to the Economic Freedom Scorecard, 36 state lawmakers received an A-plus grade in 2016.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, received the highest score with 114.3 percent; followed by Rep. Manny Diaz, a Hialeah Republican, with 112.2 percent. Other A-plus lawmakers included Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican; Rep. Chris Sprowls, a Palm Harbor Republican; House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran; and House Majority Leader Dana Young.

Not all lawmakers received top marks. Several legislators — including Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat; Sen. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat; Rep. Dwight Dudley, a St. Petersburg Democrat; and Rep. Reggie Fullwood, a Jacksonville Democrat — received an F grade.

A group of former top judges and legal experts have called on the Florida Supreme Court to impose life sentences on the nearly 400 people now awaiting execution.

The Associated Press reported Tuesday that the group — which includes three former state Supreme Court justices — filed a legal brief in a case that could determine the fate of Florida’s death penalty.

The state Supreme Court halted two executions after the U.S. Supreme Court declared Florida’s death sentencing laws unconstitutional. State lawmakers overhauled the way killers are sentenced to death, but the state Supreme Court hasn’t decided what should happen to the 389 people on death row under the old sentencing rules.

The new law requires that at least 10 of the 12 jurors recommend execution for it to be carried out. It also requires prosecutors to spell out, before a murder trial, why a death sentence should be imposed. It also requires the jury to decide unanimously if there is at least one reason to justify it.

The court was expected to hold a second hearing on the issue this week before issuing a ruling.

Give the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services a hand.

The department announced this week it had recovered $412,710 for Floridians in the month of April. The department also received 2,799 complaints, initiative 224 investigations and added 13,822 phone numbers to Florida’s Do Not Call List in April.

“Recovering nearly half a million dollars for Florida consumers highlights the department’s dedication to [the] well-being of our residents and visitors,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “I urge consumers to take advantage of the department’s resources to equip themselves with the knowledge they need to protect themselves against scams and fraudulent activity.”

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is responsible for educating the public, investigating complaints and providing mediation on behalf of consumers. In 2015, the department recovered nearly $3 million for Florida consumers.

One of the state’s diagnostic laboratories is now prepared to test mosquitoes for the Zika virus.

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam announced that the Bronson Animal Disease Diagnostic Laboratory is now prepared to test mosquitoes for the disease. While the lab routinely tests for animal diseases, the department recently equipped the lab with the to test mosquitoes for the virus.

“Florida lead the nation in the number of travel-related cases of Zika, and our climate makes us a hotbed for mosquitoes,” said Putnam. “Protecting Floridians and visitors from Zika requires widespread coordination and engagement at every level.”

There have been 102 total cases of travel-related Zika cases in Florida. According to the Department of Health, none of the cases have been “locally-acquired cases of Zika in Florida.”

Putnam said the Department of Agriculture is working with local mosquito control districts to discuss mosquito control efforts, providing technical assistance to local mosquito control districts and the Department of health; and obtaining and disseminating traps for the Aedes aegypti and Aedes albopictus mosquitoes.

Over the past two weeks, the department has held workshops in seven counties across the state. During those meetings, staff handed out BG-Sentinel traps to capture the mosquitoes that can spread the virus, trained individuals on how to use the traps and provided guidelines for controlling mosquitoes.

“As we continue to support the Florida Department of Health and local mosquito control programs, we will make every weapon in the arsenal available in this fight,” said Putnam.

Ken Detzner announced he was proud;

Of Jarod Atchley for winning state’s Poetry Out Loud.

The West Port High School student got to compete;

Traveled to Washington, D.C., what a treat!

The largest youth poetry recitation contest in the country;

Detzner said it helps high school students build “relationships with poetry.”

Sen. Nancy Detert has been honored for her work done for her youngest supporters.

Florida’s Children and Youth Cabinet praised the Venice Republican during its quarterly meeting at State College of Florida’s Lakewood Ranch Center for Innovation and Technology. Detert was awarded the Children’s Champion Award for her devoting her career to effecting positive change for the state’s most vulnerable children.

“Senator Detert has been a fierce advocate for Florida’s children throughout her many years in both the Florida Senate and the Florida House,” said Wansley Walters, the chairwoman of the Children and Youth Cabinet. “She has devoted her career to advancing the well-being of foster children and teens by sponsoring successful bills that improved the lives of both children and families in the foster care system for generations.”

Detert is not running for re-election in 2016. Instead, she has decided to run for the Sarasota County Commission.

When it comes to the nursing industry, Florida is ranked 29th in the nation, a new WalletHub report found.

WalletHub analysts used 14 metrics — including mandatory overtime restrictions, median starting salary, and the average annual salary for nurses — to compare the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Each metric was scored with a value of between 0 and 100.

Overall, Florida ranked 29th with a total score of 47.05. The best state for nurses was Washington, which received a total score of 59.18; while the District of Columbia was in last place, with a total score of 27.41.

Florida was ranked sixth in the “opportunity and competition” category but came in 46th in the “work environment” category.

Gov. Scott appointed Kelley Smith Burk to the Florida Building Commission.

The 37-year-old Tallahassee resident is director of the Office of Energy for the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. She fills a vacant seat to serve a term ending Oct. 31, 2018.

Scott also reappointed Timothy Bolduc and Edwin Valentin to the Florida Building Code Administrators and Inspectors Board.

Bolduc is a 39-year-old development services manager for the city of Fort Walton Beach. Valentin is a 39-year-old building inspector for the city of Winter Park. Both were reappointed to a term ending Oct. 31, 2019.

All of the appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

The state’s avocados are under attack.

A University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences expert said a dangerous pathogen has already been reported in 61 of Florida’s 67 counties.

Jonathan Crane, a UF/IFAS horticulture sciences professor, said laurel wilt disease has destroyed 12,000 commercial avocado trees. Only six Panhandle counties — Escambia, Santa Rosa, Okaloosa, Gulf, Franklin and Wakulla — have not reported laurel wilt.

“Eventually, all Florida counties will have laurel wilt,” said Crane in a statement.

Laurel wilt is spread by the ambrosia beetle and among avocado trees through mature trees interconnected roots. The beetle was discovered in the United States in 2002, and the connection between the beetle and the fungal pathogen was made in 2003.

The 12,000 trees destroyed by the pathogen represent about 1.5 percent of the avocado trees grown for farming in Florida. Miami-Dade County produces more than 98 percent of the state’s commercial avocados.

Secretary of State Detzner wants Floridians to some time to think about historic preservation this month.

“The month of May is National Historic Preservation Month and as Florida’s Chief Cultural Officer, it is my mission to demonstrate how historic preservation benefits Florida’s economy and contributes to the understanding of our diverse heritage,” he said in a statement. “From Pensacola to St. Augustine to Key West, some of America’s most historically significant sites are located right here in the Sunshine State. I encourage all Floridians to join the Department in celebrating Florida’s history.”

This month, the Florida Division of Historical Resources will partner with the Los Robles Women’s Club for a walking tour of the Los Robles Historic District on May 24. Other events include the annual state meeting of the Florida Anthropological Society and the Florida Folk Festival in White Springs.

The division will also host events including a historical re-enactment and reading of the Emancipation Proclamation on the steps of the Knott House.

Throughout 2016, the Division will also participate in the national “Preservation 50” initiative, which recognizes the 50th anniversary of the National Historic Preservation Act and shines a light on the past, present, and potential future achievements in historic preservation.

Why not spend the weekend fishing?

The 2016 red snapper season in the Gulf of Mexico opens this weekend on Saturday and Sundays in May. The season begins for continuous fishing on May 28 and will continue through July 10, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

FWC said the season maintained fishing opportunities for recreational anglers while providing additional May and fall weekend fishing opportunities. FWC plans to reopen the season on Saturdays and Sundays in September and October, and on Labor Day.

The schedule means there will be a 78-day red snapper season in the Gulf state waters.

The private, recreational angler red snapper season in federal waters runs from June 1 through June 9, closing on June 10. The federally permitted charter boat and head boat season in federal waters runs from June 1 through July 16, closing on July 17.

Mom should expect some snazzy gifts this Mother’s Day, according to the Florida Retail Federation.

The trade association said family spending is expected to reach $172.22 this year, down slightly from the 2015 total of $172.63. It might be down slightly, but the group said it still $10 more than what consumers spent in 2014.

“It’s wonderful to see families wanting to celebrate and honor their mothers, and we expect near record spending once again,” said Randy Miller, the president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation. “Florida’s economy continues to outpace the national economy, which should bode well for Sunshine State retailers who price items right and take advantage of the expected increased sales opportunities.”

According to the National Retail Federation’s 2016 Mother’s Day Spending Survey, consumers plan to spend $4.2 billion on jewelry; $4.1 billion on outings like dinner or brunch; and $2.4 billion on flowers. The group expects consumers to spend $792 million on greeting cards.

Shoppers are expected to spend $2.2 billion on gift cards, and $1.6 billion on personal services, like a day at the spa.

The survey — which was conducted from April 5 through April 13, and includes 7,000 consumers — found that 33 percent of shoppers will head to department stores to get a gift for dear old Mom, while 23 percent planned to shop a small business. Another 27 percent planned to shop online.

Oh, and just in case you forgot — Mother’s Day is Sunday.

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

capitol directions - 5.7.16

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.