Takeaways from Tallahassee — Medical marijuana wins one, loses one

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Earlier Friday, the same day lawmakers approved the implementing bill for the state’s constitutional amendment on medical marijuana, an appellate court handed marijuana growers a loss.

The 1st District Court of Appeals held that identities of investors and partners in medical marijuana companies aren’t trade secrets.

It remanded back to Circuit Judge Charles Dodson, however, to do more fact-finding on the question of whether the identities of their consultants is a trade secret, and thus would be exempt from public record laws.

Alpha Foliage, Redland Nursery and Surterra Florida were fighting a public records request for information from a competitor.

Dodson said requests for information about financial structure, security processes and building designs, nursery operations, scientific processes, business plans, administrative materials, and standard operating procedures could be denied.

But “identities and related information of appellants’ investors, consultants, and partners do not meet the trade secret definition,” the appellate court explained.

The companies “did not present evidence showing that the identities and related information of the specific investors and partners at issue” deserved trade secret protection.

The court suggested consultants might have a better case: “Consultants in the … medical cannabis industry can supply organizations with valuable information about how to cultivate, process, transport, and dispense cannabis.”

But whether “their identities and related information … are in fact trade secrets (is a) determination (to) be made by the trial court,” the court added.

Surterra is the “therapeutic cannabis-focused brand and business of Alpha Foliage.” A spokeswoman couldn’t be immediately 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:

#OrlandoStrong — Monday marks the one-year anniversary of a massacre at the Pulse nightclub that left 49 people dead and dozens more wounded. The shooting, which happened during Latin music night at the popular gay nightclub, was the worst mass shooting in recent history. Orlando city and county officials have declared Monday “Orlando United Day — A Day of Love and Kindness,” and Gov. Rick Scott issued a proclamation declaring Monday as Pulse Remembrance Day, directed flags be flown at half-staff from sunrise to sunset, and called for a moment of silence to remember the victims. “I encourage all Floridians to pause this Monday at 9 AM to share in a moment of silence to honor the victims of the Pulse Terror attack,” he said in a statement. “This was an attack on Orlando, our state, the Hispanic community and on the LGBTQ community. It left a solemn impact on our state that we will carry with us for the rest of our lives.” Orlando officials will be marking the event with a series of events throughout the day, including memorial services at the site of Pulse.

Money, money, money — The original call for a Special Session focused on three things: funding for public schools, Visit Florida, and economic development programs. Lawmakers tackled several more issues than that during the three-day session,  but they didn’t forget the reason they were in Tallahassee in the first place. The Legislature approved a bill (HB 1A) that would, among other things, boost funding for Visit Florida to $76 million, up from the $25 million originally agreed to by lawmakers, and set aside $85 million for an economic development fund housed in the Department of Economic Opportunity. Legislators also agreed to a bill (HB 3A) that would increase per-student funding by $100 for the state’s nearly 3 million school children. “This special session, we’ve increased the per-pupil spending to an all-time high, we’ve established a flexible, transparent economic development program and we’ve fully funded VISIT FLORIDA so we can continue to break visitation records,” said Gov. Scott. “We know that the most important things to a family are a good-paying job and a great education for their children, and these major investments will help us continue to create opportunities across our state for generations to come.”

Joe versus the world — The first few days of the Special Session got off to a rocky start, and seemed to only get worse as the week progressed. The Senate kicked off the week by overriding the governor’s veto of the education budget, and later voted to override the vetoes of millions upon millions of higher education projects. During a House GOP mixer on Wednesday evening, House Speaker Richard Corcoran seemed to take a swipe at Negron and the Senate, saying the upper chamber “did not stick to the plan.” An uncharacteristically perturbed Negron struck back, telling reporters Thursday he wanted to clear up a “fake narrative” circulating that the Senate made a deal with Scott and Corcoran. Negron said that wasn’t the case, and went on to say the chamber was not “going to rubber stamp an agreement that two parties made without our priorities being taken into account.”

Senate President Joe Negron speaks to reporters after a press conference at the conclusion of the Special Session. During a gaggle on the Senate floor earlier in the week, the normally cool Negron expressed frustrations with what he called a “fake narrative.”(Photo by Phil Sears.)

We have a deal — Despite a few tense days, lawmakers reached a deal Friday afternoon to get bring the Special Session in for a landing. The final deal included $60 million for 17 university projects, a priority for the Senate; a guarantee not to change the “required local effort” part of public school funding, a House priority; and $50 million for the Herbert Hoover Dike, a priority for the governor. The funding for higher education projects included $6.8 million for Florida State University for its interdisciplinary research commercialization building; Florida Gulf Coast University, which will see $12.7 million for its integrated watershed and coastal studies program; and $1.69 million for the University of Florida Health Center to fund medical marijuana research.

Medical marijuana win — Legislation to implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment is headed to the governor’s desk after lawmakers overwhelmingly approved implementing legislation during the Special Session this week. The wide-ranging legislation (SB 8-A) will give guidance to state regulators as they put the state’s constitutional amendment medical marijuana into effect. Sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Ray Rodrigues, the bill, among other things, requires the Department of Health to license 10 new growers by October, and allows for four new growers for every 100,000 patients. It also limits the number of retail facilities a grower can have to 25, but allows more to come online as the patient population. The cap expires in 2020. Gov. Scott said he will sign the bill into law.

Rep. Jeanette Nunez and, Rep. Chris Sprowls congratulate Rep. Ray Rodrigues, after passage of his medical marijuana bill on the floor of the House this week. (Photo by Phil Sears.)

Scenes from the Special Session

Post-session smiles — Gov. Scott and legislative leaders were all smiles when the three-day special session ended this week, but they didn’t get there without a few squabbles.

House leaders accused the Senate pushing for budget pork. The Senate ultimately acquiesced to an economic development system its leaders had decried as a slush fund. The House and governor made their own concessions, and each got a little of what they wanted along the way.

“Just because we’re in the same party doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be robust differences of opinion,” said Senate President Negron. “We’re not a monolithic group of people. We have diversity of opinion in our party on many ideas.

Negron stressed that he, personally, never lobbed any insults across the rotunda or toward the governor.

“I think the important thing is to look at what was actually accomplished. And what was accomplished was increased investments in our universities and of our students, and taking care of Lake Okeechobee, and doing things that we all can be proud of.”

Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto center, leads a show of hands to have a roll call vote on an amendment to the medical marijuana implementation bill on the Senate floor Thursday. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Still friends — House Speaker Corcoran lobbed a lot of criticism at Gov. Scott’s top priorities this year.

Corcoran led the charge to eliminate Enterprise Florida and slash funding for Visit Florida, and vowed there wouldn’t be any “corporate welfare in the House budget.”

But the Land O’Lakes Republican said Scott shouldn’t take it personally.

“Gov. Scott’s a friend,” he said.  “He’s a passionate warrior for what he believes in. I think the House was passionate fighting for what we believed in.”

Corcoran told reporters this week he thought it was great for the state to engage in this type of debate, and said the House did exactly what it said it would.

“What we said all along is, we will not do corporate welfare. We will not have a system of picking winners and losers,” he said. As a result, the new incentives package “that benefits everybody,” he said. “I think this is the beginning of walls crashing down on corporate welfare nationwide. Every other governor and every other state will start looking at this fund, and the way we’re doing it, which benefits everybody — and say, “That’s how we’re going to do economic development going forward.’”

House Speaker Rep. Richard Corcoran listens to Rep. Ralph Massullo on the House floor of the House on Thursday. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Putting his foot down, but calmly — Did Senate President Negron’s “false narrative” rant save the special session? Sen. Jack Latvala thinks so. In presenting compromise legislation intended to let legislators get home, the Clearwater Republican praised the Senate President.

“This particular product here has your stamp on it, loud and clear. And I appreciate your help in bringing that about with your very effective, lawyerly, nice, almost argument last night,” said Latvala, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations committee.

Negron threw the most polite fit you’ve ever seen during a news conference on the Senate floor this week.

The Senate had sided with Gov. Scott throughout the regular session, he complained. Yet Scott the House were settling their differences without regard for the Senate’s higher education priorities.

“We’re not just going to rubberstamp an agreement the two parties made without our priorities being taken into account,” Negron said.

Scott and the House eventually agreed to most of the Senate’s demands.

Sen. Jack Latvala gets a pat on the shoulder from Sen. Lauren Book on the Senate floor Thursday. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Mansplain much? — House Speaker Corcoran offered a reporter personal instruction in conservative principles when she asked him to defend carve-outs in the medical marijuana bill for shuttered citrus processors.

A provision reserving two medical marijuana treatment center licenses for such businesses emerged during the special session. During a media availability this week, Mary Ellen Klas, a reporter with the Miami Herald/Tampa Bay Times’ Tallahassee Bureau, asked Corcoran how that fit in with the House’s famous aversion to picking winners and losers.

“I tell you all the time: I’m a conservative. I’m a conservative. I believe that government has a role to regulate those things that create potential dangers to society,” Corcoran replied. “If you want, one of these days I’ll do an hour-long course on conservatism and how it interacts with a free-market system.”

Klas quickly asked: “So why are you selecting citrus companies that have had a failed processing facility an allowing them to get a license?”

When Corcoran responded by telling reporters to ask the Senate, Klas fired back: “Why are you signing onto that? You have ended corporate welfare?”

The speaker’s response: “I’ll have the whole conversation with you. I’ll be glad to walk you through conservatism and how it interacts with the free market.”

Capitol watchers react

The Florida Legislature ended its whirlwind three-day session this week after lawmakers approved measures to boost money for public schools, set aside money to repair the Herbert Hoover Dike, Visit Florida, and economic development programs, and implement the 2016 medical marijuana constitutional amendment.

It didn’t take long for Capitol watchers to weigh in.

Sen. Rob Bradley gets a hug from Sen. Dana Young after his medical marijuana implementation bill passed on the floor of the Senate on the final day of the Special Session. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Kim Rivers, the CEO of Trulieve, on the medical marijuana implementing bill: We are reviewing the legislation and its impact, as well as the ability for patients to have access to much-needed medicine, to determine our next steps moving forward.”

Ben Pollara with Florida for Care on medical marijuana: “It’s done! The House amended and passed medical marijuana legislation 103-9, and then the Senate had to vote AGAIN on the legislation, approving it 29-6. The bill’s next stop is Governor Scott’s desk, where he is expected to sign it into law. Don’t get me wrong: this legislation is FAR from perfect. But it is a major step forward for patient access, and is drastically different and more patient-friendly than either chamber’s original implementing bills. Florida for Care will continue to fight – session after session – to improve upon this framework, and advocate for patient access. Now we have a strong starting point from which to do so. Thank you for everything you’ve done to get us to this point. This has been a four-and-a-half-year journey for me, and I know many of you have been at it much longer than I. This is a victory for patients in Florida. Period. We all have an enormous amount to be proud of.”

Rep. Danny Burgess congratulates Rep. Paul Renner as Rep. Larry Metz waits, at right, after passage of his tourism and economic development funding bill on the floor of the House of Representatives on the final day of the Special Session. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Gil Langley, chairman of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations, on Visit Florida funding: “On behalf of Florida’s robust community of 1.4 million travel industry professionals, we commend the Florida Legislature for restoring funding for Florida’s tourism marketing effort to $76 million. Thanks to the tremendous leadership of Governor Rick Scott, coupled with Senate President Joe Negron and Speaker Richard Corcoran’s willingness to recognize the vital importance of promoting our state, Florida is on the right track to continuing our eight years of record tourism growth. VISIT FLORIDA works tirelessly to ensure the Sunshine State remains on the same playing field as competing destinations such as California, Texas and Hawaii, and we are grateful the new budget reflects this priority. All Floridians will benefit from the Legislature’s continued investment in tourism promotion, and we applaud lawmakers for their efforts during the 2017 Special Session.”

Dominic Calabro, president and CEO of the Florida TaxWatch, on funding for Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida: “The passage of House Bill 1A by the Florida Legislature will ensure that Florida’s economy continues to move forward following the crippling aftermath of the Great Recession. The bill will bring funding of VISIT FLORIDA to current fiscal year levels and up from the original $25 million appropriated in the 2017 Legislative Session, allowing the agency to continue to market the Sunshine State across the globe. We hope the language of the bill regarding VISIT FLORIDA will allow them to continue to focus on enticing tourists to Florida and boosting our economy rather than being overly bureaucratic. While Enterprise Florida (EFI) funding did not change, the bill creates the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund, an $85 million fund to allow the Governor to approve funds for public infrastructure and workforce training projects that improve economic development. Under this, the Department of Economic Opportunity and EFI may recommend projects to the Governor. Florida TaxWatch research has found that continued funding of our economic incentive programs is crucial to ensuring the continued economic and job growth of the state as our population steadily rises. Florida TaxWatch will continue to recommend additional funding for Enterprise Florida and the state’s economic incentive programs to drive new, high-wage jobs to Florida. It is our hope that this issue is addressed in the 2018 Legislative Session.”

Chris Hudson, the state director for Americans for Prosperity-FL on the passage of a bill (HB 1A) that revamps how economic development is done in Florida: “Florida taxpayers, and those looking to grow their businesses or come to the state have struck a huge win. Businesses that already exist here will be able to take advantage of key investments in infrastructure, companies looking to relocate to Florida will be able to capitalize on the benefits of educated workforce, and the individual taxpayers will benefit from a climate for job growth. We applaud the legislature and Governor Scott for coming together to put an end to corporate welfare. This is what economic development should look like across the country.”

Sen. Jack Latvala lowers his head as Sen. Perry Thurston debates for an amendment to Latvala’s Supplemental Appropriations bill on the Senate floor. The amendment failed. (Photo by Phil Sears)

Johanna Cervone, spokeswoman for the Florida Democratic Party, on the conclusion of the Special Session:  “Rick Scott, Richard Corcoran, and Joe Negron should all be ashamed of their dirty, backroom politics. What we’re seeing here are three men and a handful of unelected staffers making major policy decisions behind closed doors without any opportunity for open discussion or public input. Why do we even bother electing the full legislature if a handful of power-brokers will make all of the decisions in secret? This behavior is shameless and voters deserve far better.”

David Bergstein, spokesman for the Democratic Senatorial Committee, on the conclusion of the Special Session: “In the end, Governor Scott got exactly what he wanted out of this self-serving special session: more money for his political allies and cronies, while hardworking Floridians were forced to pay the price. If Scott decides to run for the Senate in 2018, voters will remember who is responsible for the chaos and dysfunction that descended on Tallahassee as Scott sold out Florida’s public schools in order to push through his own personal agenda.”

Preparing for life on the outside

The Department of Corrections is doing its part to make sure inmates are prepared for life after prison.

The agency announced this week it was launching Compass 100, a curriculum for inmates nearing release that allows them to develop life skills combined with current education courses and substance abuse treatment programs.

The program focuses on topics like punctuality, workplace etiquette, and problem-solving. Inmates, according to the department, are required to complete a cognitive behavioral and restructuring curriculum designed to assist inmates to change the way they think and provide skills to communicate and solve problems.

“I’m incredibly proud of my staff for rethinking the way the Department operates and continuing to expand and enhance the opportunities and programs for inmates nearly release,” said DOC Secretary Julie Jones.

By the end of the program, inmates will also complete a “readiness portfolio,” which contains well-developed goals, a résumé, community resources, scheduled community appointments, and program completion certificates.

“Through programs such as Compass 100, we are able to take a more personalized approach for each inmate’s education,” said Jones. “The more prepared our inmates are for release, the more likely they will gain employment and becoming contributing members in their local communities.”

Keeping schools safe

Jewish day schools will get a boost from the state for safety measures.

Lawmakers tucked $654,000 into the fiscal 2017-18 budget, signed into law by Gov. Scott recently, for security funding for Jewish day schools throughout Florida. The money, according to the Governor’s Office, will be used to help provide security and counter-terrorism upgrades such as video cameras, fences, bullet-proof glass, and alarm systems.

“There has recently been a dramatic rise in the threats against Jewish day schools and I was proud to join Governor Scott and my fellow Legislative members in taking immediate action to help protect our Jewish communities,” said Rep. Randy Fine, who joined Scott at the Orlando Torah Academy earlier this week to discuss the funding. “This funding will help provide Jewish day schools with important security resources and ensure our students, teachers and parents feel safe.”

Gov. Rick Scott takes a selfie with students at the Brauser Maimonides Academy in Fort Lauderdale following a stop at the school this week to highlight security funding for Jewish day schools. (Photo via the Governor’s Office.)

Scott visited two Jewish day schools — the Orlando Torah Academy and the Brauser Maimonides Academy in Fort Lauderdale — to highlight the funding.

“We want to make sure our students stay safe and focused on what is most important — getting a great education, and I appreciate the Florida Legislature for taking quick action to come together and fight for this important funding,” said Scott. “We will continue to work closely with the members of Florida’s Jewish community and our partners in the state and federal government to do all we can to help keep all of our students and families safe.”

There were 167 bomb threats made to Jewish institutions, including 18 Jewish day schools, in 38 states and three Canadian provinces as of March 21, according to the Anti-Defamation League.

Shut it down

A robocall operation in Orlando has been shuttered, thanks in part to the efforts of Attorney General Pam Bondi.

The Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission obtained a permanent injunction halting operations at All Us Marketing. The company, according to Bondi’s office, allegedly bombarded millions of consumers with nationwide robocall campaigns designed to trick consumers into paying up-front for credit card interest rate reduction programs.

Consumers paid between $300 and $4,999 for programs, which claimed to substantially reduce credit card interest rates and save them thousands of dollars in a short time. The company, however, did not provide the promised interest rate reductions, and allegedly used the robocalls to falsely identify themselves as representatives of consumers’ banks or credit card companies. The company also allegedly charged a fee in advances of providing the debt relief services and called consumers with telephone numbers registered on the National Do Not Call Registry.

“This massive robocall operation bombarded consumers with millions of unwanted calls and misled victims into purchasing ineffective financial services—but thanks to our joint investigation, this scheme has been permanently shut down,” said Bondi in a statement. “We look forward to continuing to partner with the FTC to shut down robocall scams targeting Floridians.”

As part of the permanent injunction, the company and its affiliates are prohibited from telemarketing, offering debt relief products and services, misrepresenting financial products and services, and making deceptive or unsubstantiated claims.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office assisted in the case.

New man in charge

Congratulations, Joshua Doyle!

The Florida Bar announced this week that its Board of Governors selected Doyle, a Tallahassee-based special agent for the FBI, to serve as the organization’s next executive director. Doyle will replace John “Jack” Harkness, Jr.

“Josh instills confidence in those around him and is good at motivating people to work toward a common goal,” said Harkness. “I look forward to working alongside him over the next several months and will always be a helping hand as he transitions into this new role.”

Doyle, 37, who has spent seven years with the bureau, previously was a lawyer-lobbyist for Metz, Husband & Daughton in Tallahassee, including serving as an outside legislative consultant to the Bar, the release said.

“Josh is one of the most ethical people I have had the fortune to know and treats everyone with respect, whether it is the building maintenance staff or a Supreme Court justice,” said Martha Barnett, a Tallahassee attorney, in a statement. “He also has a keen ability to process information quickly and stay one step ahead of what’s necessary to fulfill common goals.”

Harkness was appointed to the executive director post in 1980, and will continue to serve in an ongoing consultant role. Under his tenure, the Bar has become one of the largest in the country, growing from 27,713 members in 1980 when Harkness was appointed to more than 104,000 members today.

“There are no words that adequately convey the impact that Jack has had on this organization and the people that comprise it,” said William J. Schifino, Jr., president of The Florida Bar. “He leaves not just a legacy but a roadmap to guide the Bar through the new challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. I am confident that Josh is more than up to the task.”

Military matters

A few brave Florida men — When a maroon Honda Accord plowed through the sidewalk crowds in Times Square earlier this year, two Florida sailors were there to help the victims.

Gov. Scott honored both men — Airman David Barba and Aviation Boatswain’s Mate 3rd Class Andrew Miller — for their bravery this week during a ceremony at Mayport Naval Station in Jacksonville, presenting both with the Medal of Merit.

One person died and 22 other people were injured when the vehicle traveled along the sidewalk for more than three blocks. The New York Times reported the driver of the vehicle was a 26-year-old Navy veteran from the Bronx who had a history of arrests for drunken driving.

Gov. Scott presents a sailor with the Medal of Merit award during a ceremony at Mayport Naval Station this week. (Photo via the Governor’s Office.)

The two sailors were on leave in New York from their station aboard the USS Iwo Jima and were in the immediate vicinity of Times Square when the incident occurred. According to the Governor’s Office, they immediately responded to the scene to assist and comfort injured victims until first responders arrived.

“While we train our sailors to be prepared for intense situations, I was proud that they reacted so quickly to help those in need without pausing to consider whether more danger was imminent,” said Capt. James Midkiff. The commanding officer of the USS Iwo Jima. “This is a great example of our shared commitment to protecting Americans and serving our great nation every day.”

Trumbull on defense — Rep. Jay Trumbull is defending the state’s defense industry.

Trumbull, a Panama City Republican, was appointed by House Speaker Corcoran to the Florida Defense Support Task Force, which aims to preserve, protect and enhance the state’s military missions and installations. The appointment runs through November 2018.

“Florida plays a proud and strategic role in our nation’s defense,” said Trumbull. “Our military installations are key economic drivers across the state, particularly in the Panhandle, and I’m honored to be a part of this task force. I look forward to this opportunity to help make sure a Florida installation won’t be subject to a Base Realignment and Closure Action.”

This year, the task force will oversee an update of its strategic plan for protecting the state’s military installations. Florida’s 20 major military installations have an annual economic impact of $73 billion and more than 750,000 jobs.

Appointed

There are a few new judges on the bench.

Gov.  Scott announced this week he appointed Gregory Groger to the 6th Judicial Circuit Court, Eric Roberson to the 4th Judicial Circuit Court, James Coleman to the 17th Judicial Circuit Court, and Darren Farfante and Christine Ann Marlewski to the 13th Judicial Circuit Court.

Groger, a 38-year-old Land O’Lakes resident, has served as an assistant state attorney for the 6th Judicial Circuit since 2003. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his law degree from Stetson University College of Law. Groger fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Walter L. Schafer, Jr., who died in January.

Roberson, a 37-year-old Jacksonville resident, is a county judge for Duval County. He previously worked in private practice and as an assistant state attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit. He received his bachelor’s degrees from the University of North Florida and a law degree from the University of Florida. He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Mark Hulsey III.

Coleman, a 45-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident, has served as an assistant state attorney for the 17th Judicial Circuit since 1998. He received his bachelor’s degree from State University of New York at Albany and his law degree from Saint Thomas University School of Law. He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Marc Gold.

Farfante, 46 of Tampa, practices law with Buchanan Ingersoll & Rooney and previously served as a trial attorney for the U.S. Department of Justice Tax Division. He received his his bachelor’s, master of laws, master of accountancy, and law degree from the University of Florida. He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Brenda “Tracy” Sheehan.

Marlewski, a 40-year-old Tampa resident, is an equity shareholder with GrayRobinson. She received her bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Florida. Marlewski fills the vacancy created by the resignation of William Levens.

The governor announced he reappointed John Henslick to the Southwest Water Management District board and Virginia Jones to the Suwannee River Water Management District board. Scott also announced Jaime Weisinger and Brandon Tucker have joined the South Florida Water Management District board, and Janet Price has joined the St. Johns River Water Management District board.

All five of these appointments are subject to confirmation of the Florida Senate.

And the Calhoun County School Board has a new member. Scott appointed Clifford Newsome, a 66-year-old from Altha, to the school board for a term ending Nov. 19, 2018. Newsome is the owner and president of Florida Construction Inc. and North Florida Sod Inc. Calhoun is appointed to a vacant seat previously held by Timothy Glenn Smith, who died in February.

Blame it on the rain

What fire threat? — Florida officials spent weeks warning of the threat of wildfires. After a week of soggy weather, the threat of fire appears to be minimal.

According to the Florida Forest Service fire danger index map, most of Florida’s 67 counties were had a low risk of fire danger forecast for this weekend. One county faced a moderate risk level, while no data was available for more than a dozen counties. That’s big difference from just two weeks ago, when fewer than 20 counties were listed placed in the low risk of fire danger category.

Map via the Florida Forest Service

The Florida Forest Service also reported about 10 counties had burn bans in place. That number includes four counties that have permanent burn bans in place.

Heavy rains soaked Florida, and the Associated Press reported some areas got up to 11 inches of rain between Monday and Wednesday.

Skeeter season — The rain might have been welcome relief to parched plants, but the soaking this week could create breeding sites for mosquitoes that carry ZIka.

Mosquito control and public health officials urged Floridians to drain anything that collects water during heavy rains. Aedes aeypti mosquitoes, which spread the Zika virus, breed in stagnant water, including small items like bottle caps.

The Associated Press reported this week that Broward County officials planned to spray bacteria-based pesticides from trucks in urban areas this week to kill the mosquito larvae.

There have been 71 cases of Zika infections in Florida so far this year. According to the Department of Health, 55 of those cases were travel-related, while four were locally acquired infections.

Bill watch

Like a prayer — School districts may not discriminate against students, parents or school personnel because of a religious viewpoint under a new law signed by Gov. Scott.Scott signed the “Florida Student and School Personnel Religious Liberties Act” this week.

Senate President Negron said the law, sponsored by Sen. Dennis Baxley, was a way to protect the “constitutional right of public school students, parents, teachers and school administrators.”

“Freedom of Religion is a central right protected by our Constitution. The government should not impose a religion, but all too often we see the other extreme where we are taking away people’s right to free speech and their right to practice their faith in a way they believe is appropriate,” he said in a statement. “Students of any faith, or no faith, have a right to free speech. The Legislature and Governor Scott are taking the steps necessary to protect this important constitutional right of public school students, parents, teachers, and school administrators.”

Just a little prick — Call it a win for Florida’s babies (and their moms and dads).

Gov. Scott signed into law a bill (SB 1124) that calls on the Department of Health to adopt rules requiring every newborn in the state be tested for any condition included on the Federal Recommended Uniform Screening Program. The test is done through a blood draw shortly after birth, and allows diseases to be detected that would otherwise be missed until life-threatening symptoms present themselves.

Sen. Lauren Book asks a question during a Senate Health Policy Committee meeting this week. Gov. Rick Scott recently signed a bill, sponsored by Book, to ensure babies undergo critical newborn screenings. (Photo by Phil Sears)

“As medicine, medical testing and medical treatments advance, we are able to do more than ever before to help ensure the health and well-being of all – beginning with a simple heel prick after birth,” said Sen. Lauren Book, who sponsored the legislation.

“Knowing the results of these tests is critical to families facing an illness, ensuring that they have every opportunity to put appropriate, and often life-saving, treatment protocols in place,” she continued. “No family should have to go through the heartbreak of losing a child to a treatable illness.”

Another drink, please — Jacksonville residents lovers, rejoice! Two bills signed by Gov. Scott this week will allow more businesses to sell alcoholic beverages in certain areas of the city.

Sponsored by Rep. Tracie Davis, the first measure (HB 1291) allows businesses licensed to sell alcoholic beverages for on-premise consumption in the A. Philip Randolph Entertainment District to also sell off-premise during popular events, including the Georgia-Florida game, the Gator Bowl, New Year’s Eve, and Jacksonville Jaguars games.

“This is common sense public policy that empowers Jacksonville’s small businesses with more opportunity to engage with a larger pool of customers,” explained Representative Tracie Davis. “Special events like the Florida-Georgia Game and Jaguars games are a big deal in our community that generate a lot of revenue. By allowing more businesses to participate, we are giving them the chance to grow and strengthen our local economy.”

A second measure (HB 1293), also sponsored by the Jacksonville Democrat, enlarges the area within Jacksonville where restaurants can be issued special restaurant beverage licenses under the reduced requirements of the local exception. The expansion includes the Murray Hill Commercial Area, Springfield Commercial Area, and the San Marco Transportation Corridor.

Get prepared — A new group, created under a bill (HB 181) signed by Gov. Scott recently, will help Floridians better prepare for the effects of natural hazards.

Sponsored by Rep. Kristin Jacobs, the measure creates an interagency workgroup to share information about individual agency’s work relating to current and potential impacts of natural hazards — such as extreme heat, drought, wildfire, sea-level change, storm surge, and flooding — throughout Florida.

Nubia Martinez, an employee at the Victoria’s Secret store at Sawgrass Mills shopping mall, makes her way through flooded streets as she tried to get home in Sunrise this week. Flooding caused one of the state’s largest outlets malls to close. (Photo via the Associated Press)

“This forward-thinking legislation will allow Florida to prepare for the devastating impact of extreme weather events,” said Jacobs in a statement. “It is my hope that Florida will be seen as the national model for smart-government strategies to address the ever-alarming impacts brought to us by climate change.”

Under the new law, the workgroup is required to meet quarterly to provide information from the Department of Emergency Management on current and potential impacts of natural hazards, coordinate efforts to address the impacts, and provide information for annual progress reports. It also requires the department to submit a report to the Governor and Legislature by Jan. 1, 2019, and each year thereafter.

Stand Your Ground” — The burden of proof is officially flipped when it comes to the state’s self-defense immunity law.

The governor signed legislation this week that puts the burden of proof on the state in Stand Your Ground cases. Sponsored by Sen. Bradley, it also requires prosecutors to overcome the immunity claim by offering evidence meeting the standard of clear and convincing evidence.

“A defendant always has the presumption of innocence and the state always has a burden of proof,” said Bradley, in a statement. “This fundamental premise is guaranteed in our Constitution and understood intuitively by all Floridians.”

The change went into effect immediately upon being signed.

Road warrior rules

Taking a road trip this summer? The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles wants to make safety is at the top of your list.

The agency launched its “Safe Summer Travel” campaign, an annual effort to make sure Florida drivers arrive at their summer destination alive, this week. The campaign is a partnership with the Florida Department of Transportation, the Department of Children and Families, the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the Florida Sheriffs Association, and AAA – The Auto Club.

“Summer is one of the busiest times on Florida’s roadways, and motorists should take critical steps before departing to avoid a crisis on the road,” said Terry Rhodes, the executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles in a statement. “Whether it’s a day-trip or a family vacation, ensure you and your vehicle are travel-ready by checking your tires, checking for recalls, and always buckle up.”

The DHSMV suggests motorist follow a summer safety checklist before hitting the roadways, which includes preparing to drive in inclement weather, checking to make sure children and pets aren’t left in hot cars, and remember to drive sober.

Get reading

Here’s one thing you can to make First Lady Ann Scott smile this summer: Make sure your children keep reading.

The first lady is doing her part, touring the state as part of the 2017 Summer Literacy Adventure. The annual reading challenge is meant to help keep Florida students about reading and literacy, making sure they don’t lose progress made during the school year.

First Lady Ann Scott reads to children at Eden Gardens State Park earlier this week. (Photo via First Lady Ann Scott’s Twitter.)

“Reading has always been important to me and my family, and I am thrilled to once again participate in the Summer Literacy Adventure,” said First Lady Ann Scott. “Summer break is the perfect opportunity for families to spend extra time reading and learning together. I hope that all of Florida’s students will take the Summer Literacy pledge to help ensure they are prepared for a great school year ahead.”

As part of the challenge, children are encouraged to pledge to read “as many books as possible throughout the summer break.” The school whose students read the most books will get a surprise visit from the first lady next school year.

Scott kicked off her own summer literacy adventure this week when she stopped by Eden Gardens State Park to read to students with The Boys & Girls Club of the Emerald Coast.

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.