Takeaways from Tallahassee – From the “gambling boys” to Justin Trudeau

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As he gets ready to “go home,” as departing legislators like to say, outgoing Senate President Andy Gardiner has no regrets or hard feelings.

He did have choice words regarding lobbyists for gambling concerns, however: They “just get greedy.”

Gardiner, an opponent of gambling expansion, recently sat down with Capital Correspondent Jim Rosica for an “exit interview.” He leaves office later this year. More of the interview will appear in the summer edition of INFLUENCE magazine.

“That world, that part of it, I won’t miss,” said Gardiner, an Orlando Republican. “I won’t miss the gaming side. Not a world I’m drawn to.”

“I don’t have anything personal against them,” he added, referring to gambling lobbyists. “It’ll be fun to watch on the sidelines.”

Gardiner countered rumblings that he had blocked this year’s attempt to overhaul the state’s gambling laws.

That’s just a complete fabrication,” he said. “Now, what I had indicated to the gaming boys was, ‘If you get a bill to my desk, I won’t block it and it will go to the floor.’ “

Gambling bills died as lawmakers rejected a new agreement with the Seminole Tribe of Florida to allow them continued exclusive rights to blackjack in return for a $3 billion cut over seven years.

“The reality is, they never got a bill to my desk,” Gardiner added. “They didn’t have the votes. But rarely will you find a lobbyist who will say that something is their fault. They’re not going to tell their client they dropped the ball.”

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:

(Un)popularity contest — Gov. Rick Scott has never been the most popular guy at the party, but a new Quinnipiac University survey showed Scott’s poll numbers haven’t improved with time. The Quinnipiac University poll showed 49 percent of voters disapproved of the job he was doing. The Naples Republican fared slightly better in a Morning Consult survey, which found Scott had a 49 percent approval rating; with 41 percent of Floridians saying they disapproved.

Get prepared — With the summer heat and rains upon us, Gov. Scott traveled to Washington, D.C. to urge federal lawmakers to lend a hand to fight the spread of Zika. As of Thursday, there were 112 cases of the virus in Florida. Scott called on HHS Secretary Sylvia Burwell to send 5,000 Zika preparedness kits to Florida; and has repeatedly told officials they need to prepare for the virus like a hurricane. They appear to be listening; on Thursday, Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio proposed spending $1.9 billion to fight the spread.

Change is coming – A month-long review of Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private economic development agency, found that the organization could save $6 million by a series of cuts and an overhaul of the organization. Among other things, the agency has been advised to cut 27 positions and shift the VISIT Florida and the Florida Sports Foundation to the Department of Economic Opportunity. The Enterprise Florida Board of Directors also approved a severance package for outgoing CEO Bill Johnson. He’ll get $132,500 and his last day is June 24.

It’s settled — The battle over the Broward Bridge is over. The state’s Department of Corrections and Bridges of America reached a settlement, after the state announced it planned to end the transitional program in Broward County. The settlement stipulates that inmates participating in Broward Bridge will be placed in appropriate facilities elsewhere in the state. Future inmates will be at Turning Point Community Release Center in Pompano Beach. The two sides also signed a new, two-year agreement to keep Bradenton Bridge open in Manatee County.

Worth the gamble? — The Seminole Tribe of Florida went all in this week when it asked a federal court judge to block the release of any information related to the deposition of its chief executive. A copy of the deposition was turned over to POLITICO Florida through a public records request. But on Friday, after the online news organization published details of the deposition, including comments that Seminoles made $2.4 billion last year, the Tribe dropped its bid to block the release of the information.

Gov. Scott tapped his former top environmental lawyer for a spot on the state’s Environmental Regulation Commission.

Varn

Varn

But Craig Varn might not have a lot to do as a member: The commission cancelled every one of its monthly meetings so far this year.

Scott named him to the commission on Tuesday.

Varn, 47, was general counsel at the Department of Environmental Protection.

The all-volunteer commission represents “agriculture, the development industry, local government, the environmental community, citizens, and members of the scientific and technical community,” its website says.

“The Commission sets standards and rules that protect Floridians and the environment based on sound scientific and technical validity, economic impacts, and risks and benefits to the public and Florida’s natural resources,” it says. “Most issues that go before the ERC relate to air pollution, water quality and waste management.”

That is, when the body gets together, which hasn’t been at all this year.

All of its monthly meetings from January to June have been cancelled, its website shows. There’s no meeting scheduled for July. And the August meeting is set as “TBD,” or “to be decided.”

Farewell to Quinton Greene.

The lobbyist reports he has retired this year after almost four decades and is to moving to Coronado, Panama‎.

“Have a gorgeous place on the Pacific and a beautiful view of the mountains,” he writes.

Greene most recently was registered to lobby for the Florida Electric Cooperatives Association and Southwest Florida Enterprises, a gambling concern.

The Florida Department of Children and Families (DCF), the state’s child welfare agency, on Monday announced two new additions to its top ranks.

JoShonda Guerrier was named Assistant Secretary for the Office of Child Welfare and Jeri Flora Culley will become Assistant Secretary for Economic Self-Sufficiency, Secretary Mike Carroll said in an email.

“JoShonda and Jeri have been proven leaders and I am thrilled to see each of them begin serving in an increased leadership capacity,” he said. “As an organization committed to learning and improving to better serve vulnerable Floridians, strong leadership is key to that success and both have demonstrated their commitment to our sacred mission.”

The moves come in the wake of a 133-page internal review released last month, showing how DCF employees reported feeling “unsupported,” “overwhelmed,” and “defeated.”

The first challenge, that report suggests, is “the broader issue of role confusion among” the department’s child protective investigators, case managers and lawyers. In other words, each group doesn’t always know what its job is and isn’t.

Guerrier has been Director of Child Welfare Strategic Projects in DCF’s Office of Child Welfare since May 2014, DCF’s email said.

Love to cruise? Then Florida’s ports are the place to be.

According to the annual report produced by the Florida Ports Council, Florida has the top three cruise ports in the world.

“Welcoming more than 15.2 million passengers in 2015, Florida seaports are the world’s busiest cruise ports,” according to the annual report. “They account for close to two-thirds of all U.S. cruise embarkations. Home to the top three cruise ports in the nation (and the world), the state is also the center of most aspects of an industry that generates tens of thousands of jobs and billions in spending annually in Florida.”

The report found while passenger counts fell about 2 percent in 2015, the Miami port saw an additional 100,000 multi-day passengers in 2015. Jacksonville and Key West also saw modest increases, the report found.

The annual report provides data on cargo and cruise activities at Florida’s seaports. It also provides international trade data for Florida.

In 2015, the state’s seaports moved 3.5 million containers and $49.8 billion worth of containerized cargo. Container tonnage also grew by 6.6 percent, with nine of the 10 ports seeing increased tonnage.

“The growth in container cargo around the state confirms that the global business community and U.S. businesses are recognizing the benefits of using Florida seaports to move their goods. We are also seeing gains in other cargoes and niche businesses, which highlights the diversity of our port assets.” said Doug Wheeler, president and CEO of the Florida Ports Council. “With the continued commitment by the Governor and Florida Legislature to seaport infrastructure, we expect those numbers to continue to gain momentum and bolster Florida’s economy overall.”

Photo courtesy of Sen. Marco Rubio's office.
Courtesy of Sen. Marco Rubio’s office.

Hurricane season is just around the corner, and Sen. Marco Rubio stopped by n the National Hurricane Center in Miami to make sure Floridians get prepared.

“With the 2016 hurricane season fast approaching, it’s important to remind Floridians about the importance of getting their home, business and insurance records in order and their contingency plans ready, just in case,” said Rubio in a statement. “Keeping our families safe and prepared in the event of storm is paramount.”

Rubio visited the National Hurricane Center in Miami on Monday, where toured the facility and met with officials about the upcoming hurricane season.

Last year, Rubio introduced the Hurricane Forecast Improvement Act of 2015 as a way to improve guidance for hurricane tracking, intensity and storm surge forecasts. The legislation codifies the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Hurricane Fore Improvement Project.

Rubio is expected to chair a commerce committee hearing on hurricane preparedness later this month.

The Atlantic runs June 1 through November 30.

Speaking of hurricane season: The fund that helps private insurers pay out claims after a hurricane is in the best shape it’s ever been before a storm season.

The Associated Press reported this week the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund will have $17.4 billion available this year. It marks the first time the fund has had more money than it would need to pay out if a storm hits the state.

The growth is due in large part to the fact that Florida hasn’t been hit by a hurricane since Wilma in 2005.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam isn’t yet sanguine about the future of Florida citrus.

He reacted Tuesday to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s latest crop forecast for 2015-16.

The feds now expect 81.1 million boxes of oranges, up from 76 million boxes last month, according to Putnam.

A so-far incurable disease called citrus greening is attacking fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree. Florida’s famous oranges are most at risk.

That still “represents a decline of nearly 70 percent since the peak of production at 244 million boxes during the 1997-98 season,” Putnam said in a statement.

“The long-term future of Florida citrus, and its $10 billion annual economic impact, depends on a breakthrough in the fight against greening,” he added.

Putnam, who comes from a family-run citrus growing business, “helped secure more than $24 million in state funding to continue critical research and support Florida’s citrus industry,” according to a press release.

Changes are coming for Citizens Property Insurance policyholders.

The Florida Office of Insurance Regulation recently approved a set of contract changes for Citizens regarding loss reporting, use of emergency services, and the nature of permanent repairs. The changes were approved in hopes of combating abuses of insurance contracts that are reducing consumer control, complicating claims, and increasing rates, particularly in South Florida.

“Protecting our policyholders after a loss remains the focus at Citizens,” said Chris Gardner, chairman of Citizens Board of Governors, said in a statement. “These changes will not affect our commitments to policyholders, but will help control costs, protect surplus and make sure we are ready when our customers need us most.”

Changes take effect beginning July 1, 2016. Existing Citizens policyholders will begin receiving notices later this month informing them of the coverage changes that will take effect when their policies renew. New policyholders will be informed of the changes when they apply for coverage.

Policyholders can Call Citizens First at Citizens’ toll-free claims hotline 24/7 at 866-411-2742 if they have more questions.

Congratulations, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto.

The Fort Myers Republican has been appointed to the 2016 Republican Legislative Campaign Committee’s executive committee. The committee is made up of Republican state legislative leaders, and aims to strengthen the Republican Party in state Legislatures across the United States.

“The RLCC has been an incredible resource to me throughout the years. As my colleagues and I strive to grow and strengthen the party in each of our states, they have helped advance Republican leadership at the state level,” she said in a statement. “This leadership is key to growing our economy, ensuring fiscal responsibility, and promoting individual liberty. I’m honored to be able to work with (2016 chairman) Speaker (Joe) Straus, (vice-chair) Speaker (Mike) Turzai, and the rest of the 2016 Executive Committee to move our country in the right direction which starts in the states.”

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli is also on the 2016 executive committee.

Imagine spending 50 years in the Florida Air National Guard.

Maj. General Douglas Burnett doesn’t need to, he lived it.

Gov. Scott honored Burnet with the Governor’s Medal of Merit on Tuesday. The award aims to recognized United States Armed Forces, Florida National Guard, or United States Reserve service member who has demonstrated exceptional military service to Florida and the nation.

“I am honored to recognize Major General Burnett with the Medal of Merit for his more than fifty years of military service in the Florida Air National Guard,” said Scott in a statement. “I would also like to thank him for serving as Florida’s Adjutant General for nearly 10 years. Throughout his career, Major General Burnett has worked tirelessly to keep Florida families safe and we are incredibly grateful for his sacrifices to defend freedom.”

Burnett served in the Florida Air National Guard from 1963 until 2010. He served in various leadership positions over the years, and began as a fighter pilot in 1969. He ended his Adjutant General of Florida from 2001 to 2010.

Photo courtesy of the Governor's Office
Courtesy of the Governor’s Office

Next time you’re in Jacksonville make sure to give Nat Glover a pat on the back.

Gov. Scott and the Florida Cabinet honored Glover with the Great Floridian award for his dedication to higher education and the Jacksonville community.

“Nat is committed to making sure Florida students have the opportunity to achieve their dreams,” said Scott in a statement. “We are also thankful for his more than 50 years in law enforcement and keeping the families in Jacksonville safe.”

Glover, a Jacksonville native, served in the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office for more than 50 years. In 1995, he was elected to serve as Jacksonville’s sheriff, the elected first African American sheriff in Jacksonville in over 100 years. He served in that role until 2003. Glover has also provided $250,000 to help create a scholarship fund for deserving low-income students in the Jacksonville community.

“I have dedicated many years of my life and career to providing opportunities for Florida’s students to succeed and attend college,” said Glover in a statement. “I hope my life inspires others to invest in their communities and support our state’s young people.”

While we’re on the topic of awards, Gov. Scott handed out a host of additional wards to Floridians during the May 10 Cabinet meeting.

Scott presented 10 educators — Virginia Brouillard of Seminole County, Angela Brown and Thomas A. Moncilovich of Broward County, Tami DeJames and Patricia Harvey of Martin County, Kyle Dresback and Kristie Gabaldon of St. Johns County, Kevin Hendrick of Pinellas County, Sarah Lawson of Clay County, and Guillermo Munoz of Miami Dade County — with the Shine Award. The award is given to teachers and administrators in Florida who make a significant contribution to the field of education.

Scott also recognized Wendy Kephart and Ken Lorber with the Champion of Service Award. The award is given to volunteers who make a difference in their community.

Kephart volunteers with New Horizons of Southwest Florida, which works with students to improve their math and reading skills. She launched a snack collecting project with the group, which has provided 6,000 snacks a year from the Naples community to New Horizons since 2012.

Lorber volunteers at the Florida Keys Wild Bird Center, a non-profit conservation organization which rescued more than 1,000 injured birds and released nearly 500 birds back into nature. He volunteers seven days a week, and last year logged more than 3,000 volunteer hours.

Scott also presented Mike Bettinger, the CEO of Bettinger Welding, with the Governor’s Business Ambassador Award. The family owned welding business is based in Tallahassee and has specialized in creating ornamental handrails, gates, decorative artwork, and structural steel since 1976.

The governor also honored Abhi Lokesh and Alex Theodore, the co-founders of Fracture, Inc., with the Governor’s Young Entrepreneur Award. The company was founded in Gainesville in 2008, and is a modern photo décor company that specializes in photo printing directly onto glass surfaces.

Photo courtesy of the Governor's Office.
Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office.

First Lady Ann Scott wants students to go on an adventure this summer —a literary adventure.

The first lady kicked off the 6th annual Summer Literacy Adventure at the Governor’s Mansion earlier this week. The annual event encourages students to pledge to continue to read and visit their local libraries during summer break.

“As a mother and grandmother to four young grandchildren, sharing our family’s love for reading is very important to me,” she said in a statement. “I look forward to traveling across Florida and meeting students who have pledged to read this summer.”

The 2016 Literacy Adventure is a partnership between the first lady, the Florida Department of Education (FDOE), the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP), and the Florida Lottery. The first lady will hold events at state parks in the coming weeks to encourage students to read.

“The Summer Literacy Adventure is a great opportunity for Florida’s wonderful students to participate in reading activities throughout the summer at our state parks,” said Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

Need a concealed weapons permit? If you live in Hernando County, you can apply for one at the tax collector’s office.

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam announced this week that local residents can apply for or renew their state concealed weapons permit at the Hernando County Tax Collector. The decision now makes Hernando County the 27th tax collector in Florida to offer the service.

“I am proud to partner with hardworking tax collectors across the state to offer Floridians a more convenient way to apply for or renew a concealed weapon license,” said Putnam in a statement.

The partnership allows tax collectors to receive applications, take fingerprints and photographs, and send information to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to process the request for a license. Since it was created, nearly 700,000 concealed weapon applications have been accepted by tax collector offices.

“As tax collector, I am committed to improving customer service, and processing concealed weapon license applications is an important service to many of our customers,” said Hernando Tax Collector Sally Daniel.

When it comes to state spending for early childhood education, Florida ranks toward the bottom.

new report from the National Institute for Early Education found that Florida ranks 39th in state spending on early childhood education. In the 2014-2015, the state spent $2,304 per child enrolled in the state’s voluntary prekindergarten program. That’s down from 2006, when the report found the state spent $2,758 per student.

The national average is $4,489 per student, according to the report.

“State pre-K programs continued moving in the right direction during the 2014-15 school year with larger increases in spending, spending per child and enrollment then in the previous year and additional states meeting more quality standards,” the group said in the report. “However, state pre-K is still far from where it needs to be to ensure that all children receive a high-quality education during the year (or two) before kindergarten.”

It wasn’t all bad news though. According to the report, Florida ranks third in country when it comes to access for 4-year-olds.

The end (of stone crab season) is near.

The annual commercial and recreational stone crab season closes on May 16, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. The last day fishermen can harvest stone crabs in May 15; and stone crab traps must be removed from the water within five days after the season closes.

Don’t worry. You can still purchase stone crabs after May 16. Commercially harvested stone crab claws can be sold after the close of the season, but only if they were placed in inventory by a licensed wholesale or retail dealer before May 16.

Stone crab season will reopen on Oct. 15. The five-month closure helps conserve and sustain the stone crab population.

Here is this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

capitol directions - 5.14.16

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.