Takeaways from Tallahassee – No Spring Break here

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Another year passes, and another Rick Scott Chief of Staff is out the door.

The Governor’s office announced this week Kim McDougal will succeed Melissa Sellers in the top staff position, making McDougal Scott’s fifth CoS in six years.

Which makes us wonder: Where are they now?

Mike Prendergast, a retired Army Colonel, moved over to become Executive Director of the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, where he remains today.

Steve MacNamara, “the only person in Florida history to serve as chief of staff to the House Speaker, Senate President and Governor,” is now associate professor of communication at Florida State University, according to his bio. He specializes in “mass media law issues and political communications and strategies.”

Until recently, Adam Hollingsworth had been an elder at City Church in Tallahassee, but his page had been removed from the church website as of last week and he could not be reached by telephone. Lead Pastor Dean Inserra was unavailable Friday.

Sellers’ plans aren’t clear, other than she is said to be leaving “for the private sector.”

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jenna Buzzacco-FoersterJim Rosica, Ryan Ray, and Peter Schorsch. But first, the “Takeaway 5” – the top five stories from the week that was:

• • •

1.  New boss in town — Gov. Scott announced Melissa Sellers, his Chief of Staff and one-time communications guru, is stepping down to strike out on her own. Her last day is April 1. Lest you think it’s all part of an elaborate April Fool’s joke Scott is playing on those speculated Sellers was on her way out, the Naples Republican quickly announced Tallahassee veteran Kim McDougal would fill the role beginning April 2. Also of note: General Counsel Timothy Cerio is also leaving on April 1.

2. Vetoed — Who says government moves slowly? The Legislature sent Gov. Scott the fiscal year 2016-17 budget on March 17. Hours later — no really, just a few hours later — Scott signed the budget and issued his vetoes. The reason for the speedy action? Scott took the unusual step of issuing preemptive vetoes. Scott vetoed $256 million from the $82 billion budget.

3. A Gaetz free zone — There won’t be a Gaetz in the Florida Senate in 2017. Matt Gaetz announced he’s dropping his bid to replace his father, Sen. Don Gaetz, in the Florida Senate, deciding instead to run for U.S. Congress. The Fort Walton Beach Republican is vying to replace Rep. Jeff Miller in Congress. His decision to run for Congress could hand the race over to his opponent, George Gainer.

4. It’s a law — Forgive Gov. Scott if he doesn’t shake your hand this weekend. He probably has a hand cramp. Scott signed 102 bills into law this week. Scott signed measures to create a syringe exchange pilot program in Miami-Dade County, expand medical marijuana to the terminally ill and further restricts abortion providers.

5. A Trump mistake — A 2013 donation to a political committee backing Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi was a mistake, said aides to Republican front-runner Donald Trump. The Donald J. Trump Foundation donated $25,000 to the pro-Bondi group. Just one, tiny problem. Federal rules prohibit charities from helping candidates. Making matter worse, the group didn’t list the gift to And Justice for All in its IRS filings that year. Instead, The Washington Post reported the group said it gave to an unrelated group called Justice for All. Whoops.

• • •

The week before last was Sunshine Week in the Sunshine State.

The First Amendment Foundation celebrated its annual Sunshine Week from March 13 through March 18. According to the Florida First Amendment Foundation, the week-long event coincides with James Madison’s birthday and National Freedom of Information Day on March 16.

The national initiative is meant to educate the public on the importance of transparent government.

During Sunshine Week, media organizations explored how easily — or in some cases difficult — it is to get public records in Florida. The Tampa Bay Times-Miami Herald Tallahassee Bureau found that Governor Scott produced no text messages, and he discourages his staff from texting; while The Associated Press looked into the costs of getting records from law enforcement agencies.

• • •

Its no secret Kim McDougal is an education guru.

Her master’s and doctorate degrees are from Florida State University College of Education. She spent time working for Gov. Jeb Bush, who was passionate about improving the state’s education system.

So it should come as no surprise that McDougal may have played a role smoothing relations between Common Core opponents and Gov. Rick Scott.

On Monday, Associated Press reporter Gary Fineout tweeted that while McDougal was working for Scott’s re-election campaign, she met “one on one with anti-Common Core groups.” Fineout said McDougal “brokered peace with anti-Common Core crowd during the 2014 re-election.”

McDougal takes over as Scott’s new chief of staff on April 2.

• • •

One more thing about McDougal.

Gov. Scott’s decision to appoint the 53-year-old Tallahassee resident as his Chief of Staff was applauded by several Capitol watchers and lawmakers on Monday.

“This selection is not a surprise to me at all,” said Darrick McGhee, vice president of government relations at Johnson & Blanton and a one-time colleague, in a Florida Politics story Monday. “She’s smart, cordial and she’s definitely willing to meet with anyone. She knows state government very well.”

McDougal is well known in Tallahassee, having worked for the state since 1989 in various roles, including for the Office of Program Policy and Government Accountability and under Gov. Jeb Bush.

“An exceptional appointment by the Governor,” proclaimed Sen. Jack Latvala on Twitter and Facebook.

• • •

A South Florida aviation maintenance company is growing.

On Monday, Gov. Scott announced that Lufthansa Technik Component Services is expected to add 100 more jobs in South Florida. The company, a global leader in aviation maintenance, repair an overhaul, employs 90 people in Miramar and 110 Floridians across the state.

“Florida’s aviation and aerospace industry is number one in the nation and companies like Lufthansa are expanding because of this thriving industry’s success,” said Scott in a statement Monday. “It’s exciting that Lufthansa has added more than 110 jobs in Florida and plans to add 100 more employees over the next few years.”

Scott made the announcement during a stop at the Miramar company on Monday. He also used the trip to highlight the Legislature’s decision to eliminate the tax on manufacturing equipment.

The Lufthansa expansion is made possible through partnerships with the Enterprise Florida, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, the Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance, and the city of Miramar.

“Lufthansa’s expansion in Florida is great news for South Florida job seekers,” said Cissy Proctor, director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. “This expansion is an example of Florida’s growing aircraft manufacturing industry, which has helped bring new jobs and capital to the state.”

• • •

Who were the ultimate winners of the 2016 legislative session? If you ask House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, Florida’s family and the environment were the big winners.

In a guest editorial published in Florida Today on Monday, Crisafulli said a “commitment to fiscal responsibility allowed us to pass an $82 billion budget that is focused on Florida’s families.”

Lawmakers overwhelmingly approved the $82 billion budget, with just one member of the Legislature voting against it. In his editorial, Crisafulli said the budget cuts property taxes, invests in the environment, and sets aside money for Visit Florida and Space Florida.

Crisafulli highlighted the Legislature’s quick action on passing measures to protect the environment, saying it was a top priority during the 2016 session.

“We began Session by passing comprehensive water policy legislation that addresses our state’s water supply and quantity challenges in a scientific, statewide manner. And on the last day of Session, we passed the Legacy Florida bill to create dedicated funding for Everglades and springs restoration,” he wrote in the editorial. “I believe that these important bills will help us secure the long-term health of our precious water resources from Apalachicola Bay to the Everglades for generations to come.”

The 2016 session marked Crisafulli’s last year in office. He can’t run for re-election again because of term limits. In his guest editorial, he thanked his community for giving him the opportunity to serve.

“I believe this was a productive and successful Session that will keep Florida on the path to prosperity,” he said. “It has been my honor to serve as your State Representative for the past eight years.”

• • •

The Statewide Council on Human Trafficking – a Cabinet-level advisory board headed by Attorney General Bondi – welcomed a new member Monday, interim Surgeon General Dr. Celeste Philip.

Attending the council’s meeting was one of first official actions by Philip since being appointed by Govenor Scott to replace her predecessor, Dr. John Armstrong.

Bondi welcomed Philip at the meeting, saying, “We all think the world of Dr. Armstrong and we will truly miss him. But, we would like to welcome today our newest member and we’re very, very proud to have her.”

Philip occupied the seat designated by the council’s bylaws, which mandates a representative from the Department of Health sit on the board.

Armstrong lost the job when he failed to meet the approval of the state Senate, which must confirm Florida’s top doctor and Health Department chief. Armstrong has now taken a lower position within the department after being rejected by senators for the second time in as many tries.

• • •

Florida, meet the newest member of the Florida Commission on the Status of Women.

Gov. Scott on Monday appointed Maruchi Azorin to the statewide, nonpartisan board. According to the governor’s office, Azorin fills a vacant seat and is appointed to a term that ends on Sept. 30, 2019.

The 63-year-old Tampa resident is the president and owner of Villa Rosa Distinctive Linens. Originally from Cuba, Azorin immigrated to the United States with her family in 1960. She graduated from the University of Florida, and in 1975 she was inducted into the University of Florida Hall of Fame.

The Florida Commission on the Status of Women was created in 1991. The board is made up of 22 members appointed by the governor, Speaker of the House, Senate President, attorney general, chief financial officers and commissioner of agriculture.

• • •

The Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is severing ties with Youth Services International Inc., a for-profit company runs seven juvenile detention facilities.

On March 16, the department announced it had reached a settlement with the company, ending a months-long inquiry with the Florida Attorney General’s office into a False Claims Act Complaint filed by a former YSI staffer. The settlement requires YSI to relinquish its contracts with the department and reimburse the state for financial losses.

“Our focus and priority is to ensure that youth in our care are safe and that effective treatments are being provided in rehabilitative and nurturing environments,” said DJJ Secretary Christina K. Daly in a March 16 statement. “We will work to ensure that each of the seven programs operated by YSI is transitioned to new providers smoothly and that our high standards of transparency and accountability are met every step of the way. We will also ensure there are no interruptions in services.”

YSI will continue to operate programs now under contract until the Department of Juvenile Justice assigns them to other contractors. New providers, according to the department, need to be in place no later than Aug. 31.

• • •

Gov. Scott honored nearly 200 veterans on Tuesday, thanking them for their service to Florida and the nation.

Scott honored four veterans during a speech at the Army National Guard Armory in Winter Haven on Tuesday, including Army Maj. Edward Molloy, who entered France just days after D-Day. Molloy is one of just 10 survivors of the original 82nd Combat Engineer Battalion.

Molloy was awarded the Bronze Star Medal for Valor when he was 19. His unit was also awarded the Croix de Guerre Medal by Gen. Charles de Gaulle and President Dwight EisenhowerMolloy retired from the Army in 1963 after 21 years of service.

On Tuesday, Scott said as the country mourns the attacks in Belgium, it’s important to remember the people who fought to keep Floridians safe.

“It is an honor to recognize so many veterans today who have made countless sacrifices for Florida families,” he said in a statement after the event. “As we mourn with the country of Belgium, we are reminded of how important it is to thank the brave men and women in our military who fight against these acts of terror and work each day to keep our families and communities safe from harm.”

• • •

A group of reporters spoke to Capitol and Adams Street regulars at the James Madison Institute‘s Columns building on Tuesday about the just-ended 2016 Session and the changing media landscape that surrounds Tallahassee.

The usual (legitimate) gripes were voiced by nearly all panelists, who included Matt Dixon of Politico Florida, Capitol Press Corps President Tia Mitchell of The Florida Times-Union, Michael Auslen and Kristen Clark of the Times/Herald Tallahassee bureau, Matt Galka of television’s Capitol News Service, and FloridaPolitics.com’ own Ryan Ray.

Too few press-credentialed bodies in the statehouse necessarily leads to too little coverage of important issues, while the ever-accelerating two-hour news cycle leaves readers struggling to sort out stories of lasting significance from churn-and-burn filler content, panelists agreed.

There were also glimmers of hope: universal immediate access to hearings and gaggles as provided by The Florida Channel and the Periscope work of Florida Politics’ Jim Rosica among others is helping to bring down barriers to access to the public, meaning more critical eyes on The Process in real time.

Panelists were asked to sum up the state of things using the metaphor of a popular film as part of the discussion. While all offered amusing and perceptive takes using the backdrop of the movies, perhaps no one’s answer was more pithy than Auslen’s.

He compared the changing landscape to a “Star Wars film” … namely the next one, which no one really knows about yet. We’re all interested and invested in it by virtue of our past involvement, and because of some popular and critically-acclaimed hits, like Pulitzer-winning exposés and columns that satisfy our thirst for truth and change the way pols do business. We’ve also learned from serious mistakes along the way, our “Phantom Menaces” if you will.

But at the end of the day, the show will go on because it has to, because we need it to. And it will be as good as we, the public, demand it to be.

Special thanks to Valerie Wickboldt and JMI for their hospitality.

• • •

Volusia County’s state lawmakers discussed their work during the 2016 Legislative Session on Tuesday.

The session was a success for the delegation, by all accounts. Sen. Dorothy Hukill was in charge of financing a 10-figure omnibus tax package, and was very pleased that part of that legislation allowed a permanent extension of a sales tax on manufacturing machinery, an idea she floated in a standalone bill years ago, is now set to become law.

Manufacturers, she said, were very happy, adding that the jobs they generate are some of the highest-paying available in a state known for a tourism-based service economy.

It was Sen. Travis Hutson‘s first Session as a senator, and one bill he spoke of with pride was SB 218, which attempts to stamp out EBT card “black markets,” while Rep. Fred Costello spoke about his support of a bill that many considered controversial: HB 191. It proposed a two-year moratorium on fracking and preempts local bans against the practice. His reason for backing it, he said, was that he didn’t think the ability to allow or ban it county-by-county was good for the state as a whole.

• • •

Jim Boyd is vowing to keep fighting for Enterprise Florida funding.

According to the Bradenton Herald, the Bradenton Republican told the Manatee County Commission that he would continue to push for funding for the public-private partnership. Despite requests from Gov. Rick Scott and support in the Florida Senate, the Legislature did not set aside money for a dedicated Enterprise Florida Fund.

Boyd told commissioner there is a “dynamic tension between what tax dollars should be doing and what they shouldn’t be doing.” Boyd said he understands and appreciates those concerns, but thinks “with accountability, with transparency, no money is changing hands until certain guidelines and standards have been met.”

“I still believe there’s a place for that in limited form,” he said to the Herald.

Boyd pushed a measure that would have increased accountability, but it died in the Senate. The Bradenton Herald reported that Boyd said he plans to continue fighting for the legislation during the 2017 Legislative Session.

• • •

More than 200 people in Miami’s Little Havana district showed up to protest against President Barack Obama‘s diplomatic trip to Cuba.

Among those up in arms: Republican Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, who is running for the U.S. Senate and would have a say in foreign policy if elected.

Lopez-Cantera, son and grandson of Cuban exiles, is strongly in favor of keeping the hard-line position of supporting the embargo, common among many Miami Cubans although the tide is turning within younger generations. CLC called the first presidential visit to the island nation in about 90 years “a sad day for me.”

Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro met at the Palace of the Revolution, in the capital of Havana.

• • •

An effort to create a sterile syringe exchange pilot program in Miami-Dade County cleared its final hurdle this week.

Gov. Scott signed the Miami-Dade Infectious Disease Elimination Act on Wednesday. The law allows the University of Miami to establish a sterile syringe exchange. Such programs have been shown to prevent the spread of infection diseases, such as HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C.

“There’s now a scientific and political consensus that drug use is best treated as a health issue,” Bill Piper, Senior Director of National Affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, said in a statement Wednesday. “Florida has finally followed the lead of states all over the country that have passed syringe access reforms to significantly reduce rates of HIV and other preventable diseases. Hopefully this pilot syringe program is just the beginning of major changes in Florida.”

Indiana and Kentucky passed similar syringe access laws last year. The Republican-led Congress also last year lifted a decades-long ban on federal funding for such programs.

“I’m thrilled that we were finally able to get this passed,” said Dr. Hansel Tookes, tapped to head the University of Miami program. “I stand at the ready to begin putting this program in place, and saving lives, as soon as we can.”

• • •

Campus carry will be back.

But state Rep. Dane Eagle said in order it to become law, people need to have a better understanding of what the controversial measure actually does.

The Cape Coral Republican was the featured speaker at the Tiger Bay Club of Southwest Florida on Wednesday. He spent his 30-minute speech talking about the state’s gun laws and recent proposals that would have expanded rights to concealed weapon permit holders.

Eagle said he found many opponents did not understand exactly what the legislation would have done. The measure (HB 4001) only applied to people with valid concealed weapon permits, and Eagle said the bill aimed to keep Floridians safe.

“We put up signs that say guns are not allowed,” he said. “The law abiding citizens follow (the law), but criminals do not.”

• • •

Children’s artwork will soon line the walls of the Capitol.

Gov. Scott on Thursday signed a bill (HB 701) sponsored by Rep. Larry Lee to create the Art in the Capitol Competition.

The competition is open to Florida students in grades six through eight. Art teachers in each school district will pick the winning entry from public, private and home-schooled students in each grade. The winners will then be on display in the Capitol during the annual 60-day Legislative Session.

“It’s such a great thing to encourage our students to develop their artistic talents and then showcase the amazing work our children do,” said the Port St. Lucie Democrat in a prepared statement. “I can’t wait to see the great art these students will produce and then see it displayed with honor in the Capitol while all of us in the Legislature are up here working during Session.”

The bill was sponsored by Sen. Nancy Detert in the Senate.

• • •

The newest member of Florida A&M University’s governing board knows what it’s like to be in the national spotlight.

On Thursday, Gov. Scott appointed Belvin Perry Jr. to the Tallahassee university’s board of trustees. The 66-year-old Orlando resident is an attorney with Morgan and Morgan. He’s also the judge who presided over the Casey Anthony murder trial.

Perry is a member of the FAMU College of Law Board of Visitors and the 100 Black Men of Orlando Inc.

Perry attended Tuskegee University where he received a bachelor of science degree in 1972 and his master’s of education in 1974. He studied law at Thurgood Marshall School of Law, where he received his law degree in 1977.

Perry succeeds Belinda Shannon on the Florida A&M University board. His term ends on Jan. 6, 2021.

• • •

There’s more than 100 new laws on the books.

Gov. Rick Scott signed 102 bills into law over two days this week. Among the more than eight dozen bills Scott OK’d on Thursday and Friday was a bill to expand medical marijuana to terminally ill patients.

The bill (HB 307), sponsored by Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Matt Gaetz, also creates new regulatory standards, gives assurances to the five nurseries that won licenses last year and paves the way for more dispensing organizations to get licenses in the future.

He also signed a bill (HB 655) that allows Jacksonville to put a hold a referendum on the ballot to extend a half-cent sales tax to handle the unfunded pension liability. Scott also OK’d a bill (HB 1411) that imposes new restrictions on abortion clinics and prohibits funding for organizations like Planned Parenthood.

• • •

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

Capitol Directions - 3.26.16

Peter Schorsch is the President of Extensive Enterprises and is the publisher of some of Florida’s most influential new media websites, including SaintPetersBlog.com, FloridaPolitics.com, ContextFlorida.com, and Sunburn, the morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics. SaintPetersBlog has for three years running been ranked by the Washington Post as the best state-based blog in Florida. In addition to his publishing efforts, Peter is a political consultant to several of the state’s largest governmental affairs and public relations firms. Peter lives in St. Petersburg with his wife, Michelle, and their daughter, Ella.