Takeaways from Tallahassee — Governors Inn fight heads to court

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A nasty squabble between two brothers, both owners of Tallahassee’s Governors Inn, is now the subject of a lawsuit filed in Leon County.

First, some explanation: The 34-year-old inn, described by its website as “a 41-room boutique hotel located just steps from Florida’s Capitol … in what was originally a livery stable,” isn’t owned by a single entity.

Rather, it’s set up as a condominium, with the guest rooms owned by different individuals and businesses that “place them in a rental pool where they are available for overnight or extended-stay rental through the Inn,” says the suit filed this week.

A separate management company runs the inn day to day, including “guest services, front desk staffing, valet parking, breakfast, advertising, room supplies, cleaning and other maintenance.”

Timothy Kropp of Texas, formed a company called TNGI that holds title to 21 of the 41 rooms in the inn, the suit says. He’s the treasurer; brother Steven Kropp of Orange County is president and secretary.

Steven Kropp also is trustee of the Steven G. Kropp Revocable Trust, which has a 41 percent ownership interest in TNGI, according to the suit.

But Timothy says brother Steven recently has been acting “like a veritable, self-proclaimed dictator,” the suit says.

He wrongly fired Timothy as company treasurer, ousted other members of the company, threatened to “withdraw all TNGI’s units from the Inn’s rental pool,” and shorted other stakeholders of hotel income, it adds.

Steven Kropp did so without calling any company meetings or seeking the consent of other members, according to Timothy Kropp’s suit, adding that Steven “wrongly used company funds to pay his personal expenses,” pegging the amount at over $234,000.

Timothy even sent his brother a cease-and-desist letter last month. Steven returned the letter with handwritten annotations in what appears to be black marker, a copy of which was attached to the complaint.

On various pages, Steven Kropp allegedly wrote, “Not in agreement,” “Vote held!” “Not true,” and “No! Rejected!”

Timothy Kropp is represented by attorney David P. Healy of the Dudley, Sellers, Healy and Heath law firm in Tallahassee. Healy was not in the office Friday, an assistant said. Name partner Fred Dudley is a former Florida state representative and senator who unsuccessfully ran for attorney general in 1998.

Steven Kropp couldn’t be reached Friday.

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.

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

Budget sent, vetoes issued — Nearly a month after state lawmakers adjourned Sine Die, Senate President Joe Negron sent the state’s $82.4 billion budget to Gov. Rick Scott for his consideration on Wednesday. By Friday, Scott announced he had signed the 2017-18 spending plan, and vetoed $410 million in legislative projects he said did not provide a great return for Florida families. The Naples Republican also announced he Florida Educational Finance Program, which funds K-12 public education, and said he would veto a bill (HB 5501) that, among other things, slashed funding for Visit Florida funding by 60 percent. The decision to veto a section of the budget triggered a special session, which Scott called on Friday.

Going back to Tally — Gov. Scott, House Speaker Richard Corcoran, Senate President Joe Negron announced the special session during a joint press conference at the Miami International Airport. Scott is calling on the Legislature to to provide an additional $215 million to K-12 public education, which would increase per student funding by $100; establish the Florida Job Growth Fund to promote public infrastructure and individual job training and fund it at $85 million, the same amount he requested for incentive programs for Enterprise Florida; and pass legislation that sets aside $76 million for Visit Florida and includes comprehensive transparency and accountability measures for the organization. In exchange for his priorities, the governor is expected to sign a wide-sweeping education bill, a top priority for Corcoran, and a higher education bill, a top priority for Negron. But Scott refused to say whether a deal had been reached, saying the “only person who would know is me.”

The halls of the Capitol will be full once again, as lawmakers and lobbyists head back to Tallahassee for a special session from June 7 through June 9. (Photo by Mark Wallheiser)

No pot talk — Lawmakers will be back in Tallahassee for a special session from June 7 to June 9, but they won’t be talking about medical marijuana, at least not at first. The initial call — signed by Gov. Scott and filed with the Department of State at 9:30 a.m. Friday — does not include medical marijuana implementation. In a memo to members Friday, House Speaker Corcoran said the House has “communicated to the … Senate that this is an issue we believe must be addressed and that we are prepared to expand the call to address the implementation of the constitutional amendment approved by the voters.” Hours after the special session was called, Florida for Care, the group advocating for implementing legislation, sent an email to supporters urging them to contact their legislators to “demand medical marijuana be added to the call for next week’s special session.”

It’s a law — Gov. Scott signed several bills into law this week, including legislation (HB 7077 and HB 7079) that makes $300 million available to benefit communities in the Panhandle and ensure their continued growth. The Triumph Gulf Coast legislation makes sure the money received in the settlement of the state’s economic damage claims caused by the 2010 Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill remain in the eight disproportionately affected Northwest Florida counties. Scott also signed a bill (HB 65) that creates a civil cause of action for a person injured by an act of terrorism; a bill (HB 211) reducing the regulatory burden of Florida’s cosmetic manufacturers by eliminating registration requirements for cosmetic products; a bill (HB 249) that creates guidelines for EMS to report drug overdoses; and a bill (HB 7115) that, among other things, establishes a memorial for the victims who died at the Dozier School for Boys at the Capitol and in Jackson County. Also this week, Scott OK’d a bill that will allow the state to start issuing “certificates of nonviable birth” beginning July 1. Under the Grieving Families Act, the state will issue the certificates only if parents request them.

Hurricane hunters — The 2017 Atlantic Hurricane season kicked off this week, and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast calls for 11 to 17 named storms, with five to nine hurricanes. Two to four of those hurricanes are expected to be major storms, with sustained winds of at least 111 mph. “The 2017 Hurricane Season is upon us and Division staff has been working hard to make sure Floridians are ready,” said Bryan Koon, the director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management. “It’s never too early to begin preparing your business or family for a potential hurricane impact. Now is the right time, and the Governor’s tax holiday gives folks the opportunity to stock up on any helpful items still missing from their disaster supply kits.” According to the Associated Press, this year the National Hurricane Center will experiment with advisories showing the times when sustained tropical-storm-force winds are estimated to hit land. If a tropical disturbance nears shore, forecasters also could post advisories or warnings before it develops into a tropical depression or named storm.

Gov. Rick Scott tours the National Hurricane Center in Miami on the first day of hurricane season. (Photo via the Governor’s Office.)

Storm season

Emergency updates — With storm season now underway, it’s time to get a plan, and make sure all of your emergency contact information in up-to-date.

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is urging residents to register — or update their emergency contact information. Residents with valid drivers’ licenses or identification cards can enter up to two emergency contacts into the department’s secure emergency contact information database. That information, according to the agency, can only be accessed by law enforcement and only during emergencies, like a hurricane or a crash.

Citizens can register or update their emergency contact information free of charge on the DHSMV website and in local driver license and tax collector office.

“Having a plan in advance of a hurricane, wildfire or challenging weather conditions is critical to ensuring you and your family can safely evacuate if necessary,” said Terry Rhodes, the executive director of the DHSMV. “Know your evacuation routes, keep your vehicle properly maintained and register or update your Emergency Contact Information today.”

Andrew Esser boards up the glass doors at the entrance of Sky King Fireworks in preparation for Hurricane Matthew in 2016 in Cocoa. The Department of Financial Services is encouraging Floridians to make sure all of their insurance documents are in order this storm season. (Photo via the Associated Press)

Write down this number — Got an insurance question? The Department of Financial Services has you covered.

CFO Jeff Atwater encouraged Floridians to keep the state’s insurance helpline number (877-693-5236) handy throughout storm season. Operated by the Department of Financial Services, the hotline connects Floridians with insurance experts who who can help them file an insurance claim, better understand their policy, and settle setbacks that can arise during the claims-filing process.

“Getting back on your feet following a storm can be a stressful state of affairs, but I hope that having free and ready access to insurance expertise can help the recovery process run more efficiently for Florida families,” said Atwater. “All Floridians should keep the helpline phone number on their emergency contact list and inside their family’s hurricane kit.”

Atwater also encouraged Floridians to review all insurance policies to make sure they have proper coverage in place for their home, car, and belongings. The department’s Division of Consumer Services also offers an online disaster guide and emergency preparedness toolkits.

Beware of price gouging — Attorney General Pam Bondi has a message for Floridians: Be on the lookout for scammers.

Bondi’s office released its 2017 Hurricane Preparedness Guide this week, which includes information about how to avoid scams before and after a storm. Some of the most common storm relates scams to watch out for, according to Bondi’s office, include tree removal scams, building repair scams, debris-removal scams, disaster relief scams, and water testing and treatment scams.

Bondi said Floridians should be on the lookout for price gouging. The state bans the “unconscionable increase in prices in the rental or sale of essential commodities such as lumber, ice, water, generators and shelter once a state of emergency has been declared,” according to Bondi’s office.

She also said Floridians should be wary of any contractor who approaches unsolicited or offers to perform repairs at a discount with leftover supplies from another job and to know that charities often pop up after a natural disaster.

Floridians who suspect a scam or want to report an incident of price gouging should file a complaint online.

Shoppers crowd the entrance to the Costco store in Altamonte Springs to stock up on supplies ahead of the anticipated strike of Hurricane Matthew in 2016. Gov. Rick Scott OK’d a three-day, disaster preparedness sales tax holiday, which runs through Sunday. (Photo via the AP)

Shop ‘til you drop — Need to stock up on hurricane supplies? This is the weekend to do it.

Gov. Scott OK’d a three-day, disaster prepared sales tax holiday as part of wide-ranging tax cut plan he recently signed into law.

During the three-day window, items like flashlights, batteries, coolers, and portable generators are tax-exempt. The sales tax holiday is estimated to save Floridians $4.5 million.

“Thanks to our legislative leaders and Governor Scott for including the Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday in the budget, especially with Florida coming off of a year with hurricanes, tornadoes and floods,” said FRF President/CEO R. Scott Shalley in a statement. “I strongly encourage all residents and visitors to take advantage of these savings by visiting your local retailers to load up on those items that will help keep you and your family safe in the event of a natural disaster.”

The sales tax holiday kicked off Friday and runs through 11:59 p.m. Sunday.

Florida State Hispanic Chamber scores during 2017 Session

The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce is claiming some big wins during the 2017 Legislative Session.

The statewide chamber was involved in some of the most controversial bills this year, including working to pass the landmark Uber and Lyft legislation and defeating legislation to ban fracking in Florida. The organization also backed the so-called “whiskey and Wheaties” bill, which passed the House and Senate, but fell victim to Gov. Scott’s veto pen.

The group represents hundreds of thousands of small business owners across the state, and has built a reputation as an influential partner and ally in the capital city, said Julio Fuentes, the president of the FSHCC.

“FSHCC operates on the principles of free market and free enterprise, which have always guided our efforts in the Capitol,” he said in a statement. “Hispanic small-business owners directly contribute over $90 billion toward our economy every year, so when we decide to act on our principles, we are a force.”

Here fishy, fishy

Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day might be in the rearview mirror, but the Lionfish Challenge continues.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said 4,000 people attended the two-day Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day festival on May 20. And while three tournaments were cancelled that weekend because of weather, more than 12,000 lionfish were removed from Florida waters, including 3,868 during two days of rough weather competition during the Pensacola-based Lionfish World Championship.

Jessica McCawley, the director of FWC’s Division of Marine Fisheries Management said the people showed their dedication to removing lionfish from Florida’s waters

Volunteers show off a lionfish during the FWC’s 2017 Lionfish Removal and Awareness Day Festival in Pensacola last month. (Photo via Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)

“The weather was not ideal, and yet the festivals were still busy with people excited to learn about and taste lionfish,” she said in a statement. “We always want to encourage safety first and foremost, and we’re glad everyone was able to safely travel offshore to remove a significant number of lionfish.”

The Lionfish Challenge, a removal incentive program, continues through Sept. 4. Nearly 150 people have already registered to participate in the program, which rewards harvesters with prizes like T-shirts, tumblers, pole spears, and an extra spiny lobster per day during the two-day sport season.

UCF captures national computer programming title

These sure are some smart kiddos.

A team of three University of Central Florida students was recently named national champions in the “Battle of the Brains,” an elite computer programming contest. The team — made up of Alex Coleman, Timothy Buzzelli and Josh Linge — also finished 13th the in the world.

“Using a sports analogy, imagine how hard a football team has to work to win a national championship. This is the same thing. You have to work very hard to put yourself above the others,” said Ali Orooji, the team’s faculty advisor and a UCF professor. “It takes talented, devoted students who are willing to work hard, and coaches who volunteer so much of their time to coach these team members. It also takes the support from the university, which motivates us to keep going.” The team’s next practice is Saturday to prepare for next year’s competitions.

The contest challenges teams with complex, real-world problems under a five-hour deadline. Competitors race through a battle of logic, strategy, and mental endurance, using a single computer. Teammates collaborate to rank the difficulty of problems, deduce the requirements, design tests, and build software systems to solve the problems.

UCF has placed in the Top 3 in the region for 35 consecutive years. ITMO University in St. Petersburg, Russia, won the world contest.

Gains for House Democrats

All throughout session the House Democrats kept tabs on how many of their bills were getting heard. Now, with the regular 2017 Session in the rearview mirror the final tally is out.

Max Flugrath, the deputy communications director for the House’s Democratic Office, said in an email that 50 bills sponsored by Democrats were heard on the House floor during the 2017 Legislative Session. That’s up from an average of 32.5 bills between 2011 and 2016, according to research compiled by the House Democratic communications team.

Graph courtesy of the Florida House Democratic Office.

Democratic legislation accounted for 7.2 percent of the bills heard on the House floor from 2011 to 2016. In 2017, that percentage increased to 11.3 percent.

“It is our hope that this data will provide Floridians with a deeper understanding of how the legislative process works and provide an unprecedented level of transparency on what types of policies their Florida House is debating each session,” Flugrath said in an email.

Thank you for your service

Eighty Florida veterans got a personal “thank you” from Gov. Scott this week.

The Naples Republican presented more than six dozen veterans with the Governor’s Veterans Service Medal for their service to Florida and the nation.

“It is so important that we appreciate and honor the service of our Armed Forces not just on holidays, but every day,” said Scott, a Navy veteran, in a statement. “I’m incredibly proud today to honor these brave men and women who dedicate their lives to protecting the families of our great nation and present them with the Veterans Service Medal.”

Gov. Rick Scott met with veterans during an event in Brooksville this week. (Photo via the Governor’s Office)

Scott recognized First Sgt. Daniel Cabrera, a 30-year Army veteran, during the ceremony. Cabrera enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1984, serving as a cavalry scout. He transitioned to the Florida Army National Guard in 1988 as an observational helicopter repairman. During his years of service, he was twice deployed to Iraq and once to Kosovo

Help for rural communities

For the second year in a row, Volunteer Florida is providing grants to help students in rural communities succeed in school.

The Rural Communities Assets Fund provides grantees with capacity building support so they can use volunteers to service students. The fund allows grantees to recruit, equip and mobilize volunteers in eligible rural areas to address acute educational needs of underserved children and youth in early childhood settings and in the K-12 education system.

“This funding will help rural communities meet the needs of local students,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman. “Volunteer Florida’s Rural Community Assets Fund will strengthen local organizations so that they can more effectively put volunteers to work to serve students.”

Organizations serving eligible rural communities have until 5 p.m., June 21 to submit their proposals. Volunteer Florida will distribute a total of $100,000 through the fund. Respondents may request between $5,000 and $10,000, and must provide a 25 percent cash or in-kind match.

State OKs purchase of 5K acres of environmentally sensitive land

There’s a bit more land in the state’s portfolio.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet recently agreed preserve 5,211 acres of environmentally sensitive ranch lands in Okeechobee and Highlands counties through the purchase of conservation easements. The purchases were part of the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, in which the state partners with Florida’s farmer and ranchers to preserve active agriculture operations and their economic and environmental benefits.

“With more than 1,000 people moving to Florida every day, we must continue to prioritize the preservation of our world-renowned natural spaces,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in a statement. “Through the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program, we’re partnering with farmers and ranchers to preserve these invaluable pieces of our rural economy and environment for future generations in a cost-effective way.”

One easement, according to Putnam’s office, will preserve 4,177 acres of the Triple S Ranch in Okeechobee County. More than 25 percent of that easement is considered unaltered wetlands consisting of interconnected cypress domes.

The second easement conserves 1,034 acres of S.Y. Hyatt ranch in Highlands County. That easement is one-mile south of the Avon Park Air Force Range, and borders the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s Lake Wales Ridge Wildlife and Environmental Area and the Lake Wales Ridge National Wildlife Refuge.

Three cheers from Gov. Scott

30 years of service — Thank you for your service, Sgt. Maj. Ray Quinn.

Quinn, who served in the U.S. Army and Florida National Guard for 30 years, was recently honored by Gov. Scott and the Florida Cabinet for his service.

“I’d like to thank Sergeant Major Quinn for his dedication to the safety of families in Florida and the nation,” said Scott, who presented Quinn with the Governor’s Medal of Merit. “I am incredibly humbled by his lifelong service, first as a member of the Army National Guard and then as a community leader in local government.”

Quinn enlisted in the U.S. Army in 1965, and transitioned to the Florida Army National Guard in 1973. After he retired, he served as staff of the Adjutant General of Florida as the director of executive services. In 2010, he was appointed by the governor to serve as an interim St. Johns County commissioner, serving in that role until Jan. 2011.

Quinn currently serves as the chairman of the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame Council, vice chair of the St. Johns County Veterans Council and is Vice President for Veteran Affairs, First Militia Chapter Association of the U.S. Army.

“Sergeant Major Quinn has dedicated his life to serving his community, state, and nation during his time in the U.S. Army and Florida Army National Guard,” said Lt. Col. Glenn Sutphin, executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. “He continues today to serve his community and veterans across the state with honor and integrity. Sergeant Major Quinn represents what it means to be a member of the Florida National Guard and a leader in our community.”

Sgt. Maj. Ray Quinn was recognized for his 30 years of military service. (Photo via the Governor’s Office)

Educators honored — Give these Florida educators a round of applause!

Gov. Scott recently presented four Florida educators with the Governor’s Shine Award, which is presented to teachers and administrators who make significant contributions to the field of education.

Scott honored Evangeline Aguirre, an ESOL intensive reading and English teacher in Palm Beach County; Diana Huff, a fifth grade reading, writing and social studies teacher in Duval County; Justine Jackson, a middle schools intensive language arts teacher in Sarasota County; and Leigh Ann Norris, an elementary reading, math, science and history teacher in Hamilton County.

“I am proud to present these four educators with the Governor’s Shine Award today for their commitment to the success of Florida students,” said Scott in a statement. “I’d like to thank these educators and all of the teachers and administrators throughout the state who go above and beyond to prepare our students for higher education and a great career.”

What were you doing at 23? — Kudos, Erin Winick.

Gov. Scott recently presented Winick, the 23-year-old founder and CEO of Sci Chic, with the Young Entrepreneur Award. Founded in October 2015, the company designs and produces 3D printed jewelry and accessories inspired by science and engineering.

“It’s great to see Florida entrepreneurs follow their dreams of starting a business while inspiring others to get involved with STEM,” said Scott in a statement. “It takes dedication and hard work to start a business and I look forward to seeing Sci Chic’s success in Florida.”

Winick, a recent mechanical engineering graduate from the University of Florida, started the company because she saw a need to show the creativity and fun in science and engineering.

“Sci Chic is focused on using science and engineering to produce fashionable jewelry. We work hard to develop STEM inspired fashion and inspire young girls to get involved with science and engineering,” she said in a statement. “I’m grateful for the success we have seen, and I can’t wait to see what the future holds.”

Erin Winick, the 23-year-old founder of Sci Chic, was presented with the Young Entrepreneur Award. (Photo via the Governor’s Office)

Small biz, big winners — Gulf Coast Angler Charters got a pat on the back from the state’s top lawmaker recently.

Gov. Scott presented the Cape Coral charter fishing business with the Governor’s Business Ambassador Award during a recent Cabinet meeting. Founded in March 2016, the company is owned and operated by Capt. Johnny O’Hearon and his wife, Julie O’Hearon.

“It’s great to see Johnny grow his small business and allow residents and visitors to enjoy our state’s beautiful waterways,” said Scott. “Florida is proud to be the Fishing Capital of the World, and I wish Johnny continued success in his charter business.”

Champion volunteer — Andrew Lumish is a “champion of service.”

Gov. Scott presented Lumish, a Tampa Bay resident, with the Volunteer Florida Champion of Service award for the work he does scrubbing and cleaning veterans’ tombstones.

A small business owner, Lumish has restored over 500 graves at three cemetary sites in Hillsborough and Pasco counties. He has also restored almost all veteran monuments at Lutz Cemetery in Hillsborough County.

“I applaud his selfless and continued efforts to pay tribute to the lives and memories of our veterans,” said Scott in a statement.

Each tombstone is properly cleaned by the same standards practiced at Arlington National Cemetery, then accompanied with a full story about the deceased veteran on social media. According to the Governor’s Office, Lumish’s 21-year-old son, Tyler, also helps with restorations as well as posting veterans’ stories to social media.

Often called “The Good Cemeterian,” Andrew Lumish restored over 500 graves at three cemetary sites in Hillsborough and Pasco counties. (Photo via the Governor’s Office.)

Hunger-free zone

Consider these a hunger-free zone.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced it will once again administer its Summer BreakSpot program. The program, which runs from June through August, offers meals at no cost to children 18 and under who are from low-income families.

The state agency partners with more 4,200 schools and community organizations across the state to offer nutritious meals, recreational fun and educational activities. Last year, the sites served nearly 16 million meals to Florida children. The number of Summer BreakSpot served has increased by 46 percent since the department assumed responsibility of the program in 2012.

The program is part of the National Summer Food Service Program, a federally funded program operated by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Appointed

Welcome to the board, Rep. Rene Plasencia.

Gov. Scott appointed Plasencia to the Board of Control for the Southern Regional Education. The 44-year-old Orlando resident currently serves in the Florida House, and is a district relations manager with Florida Virtual School. He previously served as a classroom instructor.

Plasencia succeeds former Sen. Nancy Detert on the board, and is appointed to a term ending June 30, 2018.

The governor appointed Pankaj Shah to the Board of Professional Engineers. The 72-year-old Clearwater resident is the former chief executive of Cumbey and Fair. Scott also reappointed Babu Varghese, a 58-year-old Davie resident. Both were appointed to terms ending Oct. 31, 2020, and both appointments require Senate confirmation.

Randolph Cash is joining the Collier County Housing Authority. Scott appointed the 62-year-old Naples resident to a term ending Oct. 17, 2018. He is the president of Flamingo Air Management, and fills a vacant seat.

Scott appointed Richard Del Toro Jr. and Carmine Izzo, both of Port St. Lucie, to the Children’s Service Council of Saint Lucie County.

Del Toro, 40, is the assistant chief of police at the City of Port St. Lucie Police Department. He fills a vacant seat for a term ending Nov. 13, 2017. Izzo is a lieutenant on the police force, and was appointed to a term ending Nov. 13, 2019.

There are three new members — Frank Cawthon, Robert Maphis, and Edgar Laney — of the Construction Industry Licensing Board. Scott also reappointed Michael Strickland and Keith Lawson to the board. All are subject to Senate confirmation.

Scott also reappointed former Ambassador John Rood to the Florida Prepaid College Board; Samuel “Bo” Spring and Jon Costello to the Governing Board of the Northwest Florida Water Management District; Daniel O’Keefe and Federico Fernandez to the Governing Board of the South Florida Water Management District; Michelle Williamson, Mark C. Taylor and Bryan Beswick to the Governing Board of the Southwest Florida Water Management District; Douglas Bournique to the Governing Board of the St. Johns River Water Management District; Thomas Napier to the State Retirement Commission; and Paul Weott to the Board of Orthotists and Prosthetists.

Scott announced the 11 reappointments after the Senate failed to consider them for confirmation before the end of the 2017 Legislative Session.

Commemorating National Gun Violence Day

The No. 2 Democrat in the House marked National Gun Violence Day by turning rhetorical fire on Florida’s Republican leadership.

“It is no surprise that we are also a national leader in firearms related deaths,” Rep. Bobby DuBose said in a written statement. “For years, rather than looking for ways to stem the tide of this growing epidemic, Republican leadership has instead bowed to the wishes of the NRA over protecting the health and safety of our fellow Floridians. If the thought of a child being shot every seventeen hours isn’t enough to spur this legislature to action, I’m not sure what can.”

Rep. Bobby Dubose, show here in 2016, called on state lawmakers to pass “commonsense gun safety reforms” on National Gun Violence Awareness Day. (Photo via the Florida House)

The state’s gun homicide rate is 4.5 per 100,000 residents, he said — compared to 3.5 nationally. That rate has increased by 31.6 percent since the Stand Your Ground law passed in 2005, he added.

“It’s past time for Florida to pass commonsense gun safety reforms that will keep our citizens safe,” said Dubose. “When there are children dying in our streets, the time to act is now.”

100 deadly days

The time between Memorial Day and Labor Day is among the deadliest time for teen drivers, according to new research from the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

The new report, released this week, found the average number of deadly teen driver crashes climbs 15 percent compared to the rest of the year. The report found that over the past five years, more than 1,600 people were killed in crashes involving inexperienced teen drivers during this deadly period.

“Teen crashes spike during the summer months because teens are out of school and on the road,” said Amy Stracke, the managing director of Traffic Safety Advocacy for AAA—The Auto Club Group, in a statement. “The Foundation’s research found that inexperience paired with greater exposure on the road create a deadly combination for teen drivers.”

The study — Rates of Motor Vehicle Crashes, Injuries, and Deaths in Relation to Driver Age — analyzed crash rates per mile driven for all drivers. It found for every mile on the road, drivers ages 16 and 17 are 3.9 times as likely as drivers over the age of 18 to be involved in a crash; 2.6 times as likely as drivers over 18 to be involved in a fatal crash; and 4.5 times as likely as drivers between the ages of 30 to 59 to be involved in a crash.

To help keep the roads safe, AAA is encouraging parents to talk with their children about distractions and speeding; teach them by example and minimize their risky behavior while driving; and make a parent-teen driving agreement that sets family rules for teen drivers.

AAA also offers a variety of tools to help prepare parents and teens for the dangers of summer driving, including resources on how to become effective in-car coaches and how to manage a teen’s overall driving privileges.

“Golden Shovel” ready

Got a nice garden? Odds are it doesn’t compare with the gardens at some schools across Florida.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services recently announced the winners of the third annual Florida Farm to School “Golden Shovel” Awards. The award recognizes Florida students, educators and community members for their extraordinary garden efforts.

Tallahassee School of Math and Science in Leon County won in the Secondary Division for Best New Garden. (Photo via Department of Agriculture).

Applicants, according to the Department of Agriculture, implemented innovative gardening techniques, including irrigated raised beds, hoop houses, fruit tree orchards and aquaponics systems. Produce from the school gardens was featured in student and teacher meals, donated to the community and taken home for the weekend.

Awards were given for the best new garden, best revitalized garden, best use of produce, most community involvement, and most creative learning environment. Awards were presented at both the primary and secondary level.

Florida Healthy Kids celebrates 25

Happy anniversary, Florida Healthy Kids!

First launched in 1992, the Florida Healthy Kids program expanded to all 67 counties by 1998. Since then, the state’s approach to comprehensive health insurance for children has been recognized as a model for other states and received the Innovations in American Government American from Harvard University. The program was also credited with sparking the creation of the national Children’s Health Insurance Program in 1997.

“Our vision to make comprehensive, quality healthcare services accessible for all Florida children is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago,” said Rebecca Matthews, the CEO of the Florida Healthy Kids Corp., the nonprofit, public-private partnership that oversees the program. “While we have made tremendous progress, 283,000 children in Florida remain uninsured. Forward-focused on closing the gap, we are preparing to launch a new promotional campaign this fall to further identify, educate and enroll eligible families.”

Florida Healthy Kids provides care to children between the ages of 5 through 18. Benefits include doctor visits, check-ups, immunizations, prescriptions, surgeries, and emergency care. Most families pay $15 or $20 a month. About 3.8 million children across the state are covered.

“With each child insured, we are taking another step toward making the next generation healthier and our communities stronger,” said Wendy Link, a corporation board member.

Fun in the sun

Siesta Beach is No. 1 on the list of best beaches for the summer of 2017 compiled by Stephen Leatherman, also known as Dr. Beach, a professor at Florida International University. (Chris O’Meara/AP Photo)

Best beaches in the land —Need more proof Florida has the best beaches around? Look no further to “Dr. Beach.”

Three Florida beaches landed on the list of Top 10 Beaches in the nation, including Siesta Beach, which was ranked No. 1 on the 27th annual Top 10 list.

Compiled by Stephen Leatherman, a professor at Florida International University, the list uses 50 criteria to evaluate beaches, including water and sand quality, and safety and management. Leatherman is an internationally known coastal scientist who has published 20 books and hundreds of scientific articles and reports about storm impacts, coastal erosion and ways to improve beach health and safety.

Siesta Beach, according to the 2017 Top 10 Beach List, is hundreds of yards wide, and attracts fitness fans and volleyball players. The beach, according to the Associated Press, is about 200-300 feet (60-90 meters) wide in some places. The beach was last year’s runner up and one of three in Florida on this year’s top 10 list.

“The sand is outstanding,” said Leatherman, aka Dr. Beach, according to the Associated Press. “Every time I go there, I’ve got to take a bag home with me. It’s almost sacrilegious to walk on it with shoes on.”

A barrier island in the Gulf of Mexico, Siesta Beach is located just southwest of downtown Sarasota. It also include lots of parking, a trolley service to and from the island’s adorable downtown area and plenty of lifeguards. The beach also has natural dunes, which is a bit rare for Florida, and the fine sand is excellent for building sand castles.

Two state parks — Grayton Beach State Park and Caladesi Island State Park — also landed on the list.

Water safety — The summer months mean lots of time out on the water, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants to make sure boaters wear their life jackets when they head out on their boats.

The FWC released three life jacket testimonials to commemorate National Boat Safety Week. The dramatic accounts provide vital information and act as a call to action for every boater to make sure they wear life jackets while enjoying the state’s waters.

The testimonials recount the events that happened to Tony Spivey and his son, Honor; P.J. Wheetly, who stepfather died while boating without a life jacket; and Larry “Doc” Cox,” whose life was saved by a life jacket he purchased that same morning.

“The stories of these families really bring home the message that it doesn’t matter who you are, you should always wear a life jacket while enjoying Florida’s waterways,” said Capt. Tom Shipp with FWC’s Boating and Waterways Section in a statement. “The videos are dramatic accounts given by the people themselves, and are reminders of just how important it is to make sure we all come home after a great day on the water.”

In 2016, there were 714 boat accidents in Florida. That’s down from 2015, when there were 737 reportable accidents; but up from 2014 when the state reported 634 accidents, according to the 2017 Boating Accident Review.

Go fish —  Gag season is now open.

Gag group opened for recreation harvest in most state and federal Gulf of Mexico waters this week, and will remain open through the end of the year. Anglers planning to fish for gag grouper in state of federal Gulf waters from a private recreational vessel are required to sign up as a Gulf Reef Fish Angler.

The season is not open in Monroe County, because it follows the Atlantic state season. Franklin, Wakulla, Taylor and Jefferson counties are also excluded because they have their own season, which runs from April 1 to June 30. However, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will be discussing extending the shorter season during its July commission meeting in Orlando.

The minimum size limit for gag grouper in Gulf waters in 24 inches in total length. The daily bag limit is two fish per person within the four-grouper per person aggregate limit.

FWC staff demonstrates de-hooking during the Saltwater Angler Recognition Program meet-and-greet in Tallahassee earlier in April. (Photo via the FWC)

No really, go fish — Love to fish, but don’t have a license? No sweat, it’s a license-free fishing weekend!

This weekend is one of eight license-free fishing days approved by Gov. Scott and offered by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission each year.

“License-free fishing weekends are the perfect opportunity for Floridians and visitors to see for themselves why Florida is known as the Fishing Capital of the World,” said Scott. “I encourage everyone to take advantage of the license free fishing weekends in June with their friends and loved ones.”

Recreational anglers can head to the sea Saturday and Sunday for license-free saltwater fishing; while June 11 and 12 is a license-free freshwater fishing weekend. The license-free fishing weekends coincide with National Fishing and Boating Week.

“With two consecutive weekends of license-free fishing here in Florida, National Fishing and Boating Week is a great time for anglers to share their passion for fishing and boating with friends and loved ones,” said Kellie Ralston, the Florida Fishery Policy Director of the American Sportfishing Association. “We hope the week inspires residents and visitors to spend time together while enjoying our natural resources.”

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.