Takeaways from Tallahassee – Locked in the Cabinet

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Among the four top statewide officials, no one walked away a winner from this week’s battle over the next Insurance Commissioner.

Neither Gov. Rick Scott nor CFO Jeff Atwater got the candidate they wanted, with both settling on the third name Atwater threw out at Friday’s emergency Cabinet meeting, David Altmaier.

And that was by a design that Atwater himself, a former lawmaker and Senate President, once OK’d.

Still, it’s the latest round of high-profile bad blood on the panel, beginning with Scott’s bungling of the 2014 ouster of FDLE head Gerry Bailey.

That resulted in recriminations, lawsuits, and a tense Cabinet meeting in Tampa last February, with the governor’s “I could have handled it better” mea culpa.

Friday’s action had reporters wondering whether Atwater was willing to talk about any hard feelings.

“Are you disappointed that Gov. Scott didn’t show more deference to you?” asked Tampa Bay Times reporter Steve Bousquet.

Atwater laughed. “As I said a few days ago, I thought the process was working out just as designed,” he said. “I wasn’t disappointed in that. I certainly had my opinions as to how the process was going. I thought we would all be heard. I thought the governor had strong opinions of candidates and he knew I did as well. And here we are.”

Should the process be changed, he was later asked, away from state law requiring both the governor and CFO having to agree on a position that ultimately falls under the CFO’s supervision?

No, said Atwater, who was among lawmakers that passed that law.

We “did not want this decision of selecting an individual that would lead this (agency) in the hands of any one person,” Atwater said. “Historically, there were concerns of the politicizing of the office.

“I was in that Legislature,” he added. “It was very thoughtful. We knew it might cause an occasion of a prolonged process but that was intentional.”

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:

— Shut down — Bridges of America is fighting to keep its programs in Broward County open, despite being told by the Department of Corrections it was ending its relationship with the Orlando based nonprofit. According to the organization, department officials said they were shutting down the program to use its space for expanded offices. The Department of Corrections said zoning changes in Lauderdale Lakes were forcing them to move, but Lauderdale Lakes officials said that’s not the case. And the shutdown has gotten the attention from Republicans and Democrats alike. Rep. Dana Young penned a scathing letter, scolding Corrections Secretary Julie Jones. So did Reps. Dennis BaxleyRene PlascenciaRandolph Bracy and Victor Torres.

— Gambling questions — A proposed constitutional amendment to give Florida voters the “exclusive right” to decide whether to allow casino gambling left state economic analysts scratching their heads this week. The question: If approved, would it outlaw legal types of legal gambling. The Financial Impact Estimating Conference spent some time discussing just that during a meeting this week. While the analysts were tasked with determining the impact the amendment would have on state and local government revenues, they first needed to figure out whether it was retroactive. The group pushing the amendment’s response? We’ll get back to you.

— California Dreamin’ — Headed to the left coast on Sunday, Gov. Scott waged war against California’s minimum wage hike this week. Enterprise Florida released a radio ad this week attacking the Golden State’s decision to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2022. The advertisement is expected to air in Los Angeles and San Francisco, and encourages businesses to move to Florida. The minimum wage in the Sunshine State is $8.05. A spokesman for the governor of California fired back, saying the state added twice as many jobs as Florida since Scott last visited.

— Challenged — Add another nursery to the list of nurseries challenging the state over medical marijuana. Treadwell Nursery filed a petition for a formal administrative hearing Monday, challenging how the Department of Health responded to a new state law that, among other things, allowed the DOH to approve more dispensing organizations. The Central Florida nursery was one of eight nurseries that applied to be a dispensing organization in the central region. It lost out to Knox Nurseries.

— Look away — Canada geese have taken over the Capital Circle Office Complex in SouthWood, and the Department of Health as a few tips for the state employees dealing with their feathered friends. The geese are known for getting a bit touchy during spring nesting season, and maintenance workers have gone to great lengths — including orange fencing — to separate man from geese. The Department of Health offered a few tips to employees on how to deal with the water fowl, including don’t feed the geese, don’t wave your arms and don’t make eye contact.

Gov. Scott paid tribute to fallen law enforcement officers during a bill signing at the Orlando County Sheriff’s Office this week.

Scott ceremonially signed a bill (SB 7012) that reforms the death benefits families of fallen officers receive. The bill — which Scott formally signed on April 8 and goes into effect July 1 — increases the retirement benefits available to families of first responders.

During the ceremony, Scott honored Officer Jonathan “Scott” Pine, who was shot in in February 2014 and died from his injuries. Scott called Pine “the greatest hero,” and told his widow, Bridget Pine, that his life ended too soon.

“I have been working two years to change the law,” she said during the ceremony. “Politics can be brutal. I can remember falling on my knees and crying, praying to God, saying I can’t fight this battle again, it’s too hard. My faith got me through this. I am truly grateful that Scott’s legacy for helping others will live on.”

A medical device manufacturer is opening up shop in Daytona Beach.

Braun Medical Inc. announced it was opening its first location in Florida. The global medical device manufacturer will create 175 new jobs and make a $100 million capital investment in the community.

“B. Braun recognized Florida’s competitive business environment is the best place in the nation to grow their business,” said Cissy Proctor, executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, in a statement. “The 175 new jobs B. Braun plans to bring to Daytona is great news for Florida’s growing manufacturing sector and for Florida jobseekers who are working hard to live the American Dream.”

Braun is a leader in infusion therapy and pain management. The company develops, manufactures and markets medical products and services to the healthcare industry. The company is based out of Bethlehem, Penn., and has more than 56,000 employees in more than 60 countries.

“At B. Braun, we are working each day to improve medical quality, safety and care. In order to achieve this goal, we must invest in the best location for our company growth,” said Bruce A. Heugel, senior vice president of B. Braun Medical, in a statement. “With its low taxes and business friendly environment for manufacturers like B. Braun, Florida was the best choice for expansion.”

A battle over horse races could impact on whether a Hamilton County track can get slots in the future.

An administrative law judge has been tasked with deciding whether Hamilton Downs Horsetrack should be punished for so-called flag drop horse races two years ago. The ruling, according to the News Service of Florida, could impact whether the track is eligible to add slot machines.

The Division of Pari-mutuel Wagering notified Hamilton Downs last year the pari-mutuel didn’t operate the required number of races because of the 2014 races lacked speed. But the owner of Hamilton Downs — plus his owner and pari-mutuel regulators — said there aren’t any rules governing these races.

According to Dara Kam with the News Service of Florida, the Hamilton track owner accused Gretna Racing in Gadsden County of trying to sabotage Hamilton Downs.

The Florida Supreme Court is expected to hear oral arguments in June in Gretna Racing’s case against state gambling regulators. The track, which is run by the Poarch Board of Creek Indians, argues they should be allowed to offer slots because voters approved them in 2012.

Hamilton County voters also approved a referendum allowing slots.

The administrative hearing over the Hamilton Downs flag drop races was expected to last two days.

Courtesy of the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.
Courtesy of the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam celebrated reading this week.

Putnam celebrated the 13th annual Florida Agriculture Literacy Day during the Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. The annual event — which kicked off Tuesday — is sponsored by Florida Agriculture in the Classrooms, Inc., a nonprofit that trains teachers and volunteers about the importance of agriculture.

“Florida Ag Literacy Day is a fun and entertaining way to bring agriculture into the classroom,” said Putnam in a statement. “It’s important to educate Florida’s next generation on where our food comes from and how important the agriculture industry is to all of us.”

The 2016 book is called Drive Through Florida: Vegetables. It’s the second book in a series and talks about the state’s vegetable industry.

Five Florida State University police officers were recognized during the Cabinet meeting Tuesday for their heroism during a hostile situation.

Sgt. Roy Wiley and Officers Daniel CutchinsOrenthya SloanOma Nations and Parise Adams were among the first officers to respond to a call of an active shooter at Strozier Libray in November 2014. When the officers confronted the gunman on the library’s steps, he refused to drop his weapon and opened fire.

The officers returned fire and took the gunman down.

“FSU’s strong law enforcement presence keeps our campus safe, and these officers did an extraordinary job to prevent further tragedy from happening that day,” said FSU President John Thrasher in a statement. “I am forever grateful for what our officers do every day to protect our campus family.”

Gov. Scott awarded the officers with the Medal of Heroism during the Cabinet meeting.

“Their brave actions helped save lives of FSU students and faculty members, and I am proud to recognize their courage and service today,” he said in a statement.

Sure, Cabinet meetings are a chance to try to get some state business done. But they are also a chance to give Floridians and local businesses a shout-out, and Gov. Scott did just that Tuesday.

Scott and Volunteer Florida, the governor’s commission on volunteerism and public service, recognized altruistic Floridians with their Champions of Service award during a Cabinet meeting this week.

Scott and VF presented the award to Renee Runge, a Palm Beach County high school junior who created a non-profit called Community Angel Network, which connects local students to over 200 service organizations and allows youngsters to create their own volunteer projects.

The Sarasota Downtown Ambassador Program was also recognized for their good work in helping Sarasota law enforcement detect and prevent crime. The program also lends a hand in searches for missing children during parades and events, and other informal investigations.

Scott also awarded several teachers the Governor’s Shine Awards. All five teachers — Julie Arasi, a third grade teacher in Leon County; Mary Burr, a middle school advanced math teacher in Leon County; Arnett Moore, a band director in Leon County; Lori Pirzer, a band director in Alachua County; and Laurie Zentz, a band director in St. Johns County  —have been recognized as a 2016 Teacher of the Year for their school or county.

He also gave Dustin Rivest, the founder and CEO of App Innovators, the Young Entrepreneur Award. The mobile and web app development company has created more than 200 apps since 2012.

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Courtesy of the Governor’s Office

“Peace, Love, and 4 Rivers,” as the popular bumper sticker goes. Apparently the Florida Cabinet was feeling the same way on Tuesday, when they gave John Rivers the Governor’s Business Ambassador Award.

Rivers, the founder of Jacksonville-based barbecue restaurant chain 4 Rivers Smokehouse, was honored for his “success in starting a successful business in Florida and creating more than 1,000 jobs,” according to Scott, who said he has eaten at several 4 Rivers locations.

“I am humbled and thankful to receive the Governor’s Business Ambassador Award on behalf of the entire 4 Rivers team,”said Rivers on the occasion. “We have been blessed to see the success of our family-owned business and look forward to future expansion throughout Florida. I want to thank Governor Scott for the honor of this recognition and his work in making Florida a business-friendly state.”

Sen. Dwight Bullard is calling on Florida lawmakers to do more to help sexual assault survivors.

Bullard, a Cutler Bay Democrat, said survivors are often faced with a “broken system that denies them the justice they deserve.” That includes backlogs in the testing of rape kits and limited access to information and resources.

“We need a comprehensive Sexual Assault Survivors’ Bill of Rights here in Florida, so that law enforcement officials have a clear and consistent set of protections in place to ensure every survivor has access to justice, regardless of where they live,” said Bullard in a statement. “We’ve seen momentum for this legislation in several different states, and we need to keep that progress going in Florida. Each of us has a responsibility to prevent sexual violence and to support survivors in its aftermath. There is simply too much at stake.”

April was Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

More than 300,000 children in Florida had a parent who was incarcerated, according to a new report by the Annie E. Case Foundation.

The report found 312,000 children in Florida had a parent in jail or prison in 2011-2012. The Sunshine State was behind only California and Texas when it came to the number of children who had parents behind bars.

Research has shown that the incarceration of a parent can have as much of an impact on a child as abuse or domestic violence. Nationwide, more than 5 million children experienced separation from a parent because of incarceration.

“Our nation’s overreliance on incarceration has left millions of children poorer, less stable and emotionally cut off from the most important relationship of their young lives,” said Patrick McCarthy, president and CEO of the Casey Foundation, in a statement. “We are calling on states and communities to act now, so that these kids — like all kids — have equal opportunity and a fair chance for the bright future they deserve.”

The organization recommended that children are supported during the incarceration, parents who have returned are connected with paths to employment, and communities are strengthened to promote family stability and opportunity.

There’s a few new judges in Florida.

Gov. Scott announced a host of judicial appointments this week, including filling vacancies in Leon, Escambia and Duval counties.

Scott appointed Stephen S. Everett to the Leon County Court. The 35-year-old most recently served as assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

“We’re very proud of Stephen and I am confident he will make a great judge,” said DEO Executive Director Proctor. “His work ethic and commitment to Florida taxpayers has guided him through his public service career. While we will miss his contributions at DEO, we know he will continue doing great work for our state.”

Prior to joining the DEO, Everett was an assistant public defender for the 20th Judicial Circuit and an assistant state attorney for the 12th Judicial Circuit. He fills a vacancy created when Judge Robert Wheeler was appointed to the circuit court.

In Escambia County, Scott appointed Amy P. Broderson and Kerra A. Smith to the Escambia County Court.

Broderson, a 40-year-old Pensacola resident, most recently served as the general counsel for the Pensacola Police Department. She previous served as an assistant state attorney for the First Judicial Circuit. She fills a vacancy created when Judge Thomas V. Dannheisser was appointed to the circuit court.

Smith, a 34-year-old Pensacola resident, served as an assistant county attorney for the Escambia board of commissioners. She previously served as assistant general counsel for the Florida Board of Bar Examiners, assistant general counsel for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and assistant state attorney for the First Judicial Circuit. She fills a vacancy created when Judge Darlene F. Dickey was appointed to the circuit court.

In Duval County, Scott appointed Kelly Eckley to the Duval County Court. The 39-year-old Jacksonville resident served as chief assistant statewide prosecutor for the Attorney General. She previously served as legal counsel for United Auto Insurance Company, practiced law with Lieber, Gonzalez & Portuondo and was an assistant state attorney for the 11th Judicial Circuit.

Scott also appointed Kemba Lewis, a 43-year-old Land O’Lakes resident, was to the Sixth Judicial Circuit Court. She replaces Judge J. Thomas McGrady.

The Florida Bar wants its members to start thinking about the gender gap.

The Florida Bar is offering a free continuing legal education course that addresses gender bias and discrimination in the law practice. The course is meant to bring more awareness to sensitive workplace issues and elevate conversations about narrowing the gender gap.

“The issue of gender bias and discrimination impacts us all, and a critical first step toward finding a solution is to acknowledge the issue and face it head-on as a profession,” said Florida Bar President Ramón A. Abadin in a statement. “While dialogue alone will not solve the problem, I am hopeful that it will lay a foundation to work together.”

According to a recent survey by the Florida Bar’s Young Lawyers Division on Women in the Legal Profession, 43 percent of respondents said they experienced gender bias during their career. Twenty-one percent said they felt they weren’t paid as comparatively to their male counterparts; while 42 percent said balancing work-life responsibilities were a challenge or concern.

“These are not easy discussions to have, nor are there easy answers or we wouldn’t be in this position today,” said Kristin Norse, president of Florida Association for Women Lawyers. “But President Abadin has taken some very significant steps to broaden the conversation in a way that has not been done before.”

Physicians groups are calling on a federal appeals court to reject a state law restricting doctors from asking about patients’ gun ownership.

The News Service of Florida reported that the group filed an 86-page brief on Monday. The filing comes about a month before the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals is expected to hear arguments about the so-called “docs v. glocks” law.

The group said the law violates the First Amendment rights of physicians to discuss safety issues with patients. Among other things, the law prevents physicians from including information about gun ownership into medical records. The 2011 law was backed by the National Rifle Association.

A second brief was filed Thursday, when a coalition of medical and child welfare organizations filed an amicus brief with the U.S. Court of Appeals in the case. The brief, filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and children’s health organizations, argued that the First Amendment prohibits lawmakers from dictating what doctors and nurses can say to patients.

“Talking about gun safety does not threaten the ownership of guns, which is protected by the Constitution,” said Howard Simon, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida. “I am hopeful that the courts will strike down this dangerous law and restore protections for free speech that will allow doctors, especially pediatricians, to do their job – protecting the health and lives of children.  If not, we are likely to be fighting this battle in every legislature in the country.”

Courtesy of the Department of Economic Opportunity.
Courtesy of the Department of Economic Opportunity.

Hundreds of children went to work at the Florida Capitol this week.

No, they weren’t mini-lobbyists. The kiddos were marking “Take Our Daughters and Sons to Work Day” by heading to work with their parents Thursday.

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity hosted its annual event, which featured interactive, hands-on activities. More than 350 children, parents and mentors attended the event, including Rep. Alan Williams and DEO Executive Director Proctor.

“The real heroes and sheroes are your mom and dads, your parents. Every day they are heroes to the people of Florida,” said Williams, a Tallahassee Democrat.

The annual event featured interactive exhibits from education institutions, organizations and state agencies. The exhibits highlighted the importance of education and growing employment fields in the state.

“The goal of today’s event is to show Florida’s future workforce the importance of education to their success, empower them to explore new ideas and expose them to the exciting careers available right here in Florida,” said Proctor in a statement. “Students were able to see a direct correlation between what they’re learning in the classroom and how that knowledge will help them make their career goals a reality.”

Everglades restoration could be getting a boost from the federal government.

The U.S. Senate’s Environment and Public Works committee this week approved legislation authorizing the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to move forward with the Central Everglades Planning Project. The project was included in a broader water resource plan, which now heads to the full Senate for a vote.

“Getting this project approved is a major step in our ongoing efforts to restore the Everglades,” said Sen. Bill Nelson. “It will help us not only restore an area that is the crown jewel of Florida’s landscape, but is also a source of clean drinking water for millions in the state.”

The Central Everglades Planning Project is a series of engineering projects worth $1.9 billion. The projects are designed to improve the health of the entire ecosystem by allowing water to move south to the Everglades. It also is meant to reduce harmful discharges into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.

“The long term answer to ending the environmental and economic disaster transpiring throughout South Florida’s waterways is to pass the Central Everglades Planning Project,” said Sen. Marco Rubio. “With a key Senate committee passing the Central Everglades Planning Project today, an important step has been taken to make this a reality.”

The full Senate is expected to consider the full water plan later this year.

Speaking of moving water south: Gov. Scott on Thursday asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to continue to allow water to flow through the L-29 canal.

Earlier this year, the Corps granted a request to allow increased levels through the L-29 canal. Scott said Thursday the increased levels — eight and one half feet — allows “substantial volumes of water to be moved from Water Conservation Area 3 to Everglades National Park through Shark River Slough.”

“The current authorized level has begun providing needed relief from the flooding in the Water Conservation Areas. We are also sending more water south from Lake Okeechobee and observing more appropriate salinity conditions in Florida Bay,” said Scott in a letter to the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. “Moving water south in this manner is highly preferred to high volume discharges east and west from Lake Okeechobee harm our valuable Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries.”

The Corps began releasing water from Lake Okeechobee into the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries earlier this year, after historic levels of rainfall in January. The Corps increased flow south at Scott’s request. But that authorization is set to expire May 11.

“The State of Florida stands ready to continue these efforts that truly benefit our state’s wildlife and economy,” said Scott. “The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is a critical part of this effort and it is essential that you continue to authorize the raising of water levels in the canal.”

One last thing about the Lake Okeechobee water releases.

On Friday, Sen. Rubio met with South Florida Water Management District officials to discuss ongoing Florida water management issues, including the harmful discharges.

The Miami Republican said officials gave him an update on projects in the pipeline.

“I think what’s important is to understand that a lot of those projects that are already in the pipeline have built into them the capacity to increase their capacity of storage,” said Rubio. “They have all been dredged at lower levels, creating the capability for those projects in the future, if more water storage is needed, to be dredged even deeper so they can hold even more water.”

Rubio said he was hopeful the Senate would approve the Central Everglades Planning Project.

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

capitol directions - 4.30

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.