Takeaways from Tallahassee – On and off the Court

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National Review Online blogger Ed Whelan was in a lather this week over retired Florida Supreme Court Justice James E.C. Perry “displac(ing)” new Justice C. Alan Lawson.

As many suspected he would, Chief Justice Jorge Labarga signed an order last month allowing Perry to stay on as a senior justice to continue working on unresolved cases during his term.  

Whelan opined that he didn’t “see how Perry’s post-retirement participation in pending matters and his purported displacement of Lawson are compatible with the governing state laws.”

He added: “It probably won’t surprise you to learn that Labarga and Perry are liberals (part of the long-dominant liberal majority on the Florida Supreme Court) and that Lawson is a conservative.”

Political predilections aside, we asked longtime Supreme Court spokesman Craig Waters for an explanation.

“The Court’s longstanding practice for many decades has been that retiring justices remain in senior status to complete their unfinished work after retirement unless they cannot do so due to death or a conflict of interest,” he said.

“Conflicts of interest can include the fact that they have become a judge on another court or have re-entered the practice of law and thus cannot simultaneously work as both a senior judge and a private attorney. At present, Justice Perry is not a judge on another court and has not gone to work in a law firm.”

Moreover, “there are serious workload issues involved in processing cases because the work is cumulative, much like studies in a law-school class,” Waters went on. “For example, you would not place a law student into a class on a complex aspect of the death penalty after that class is more than half complete.

“Doing so would have unfair results – slowing down the entire class so that the one student could get up to speed, or unfairly handicapping the one student who has not had the benefit of the first half of the class.”

In a similar way, he added, “asking a new justice to step in and get up to speed on work in individual cases that may be more than half completed can greatly slow decision-making in those cases – a result that would impose delay and additional expense on the parties to those cases, some of which are facing the death penalty.

“The Supreme Court always has taken the approach that avoids unnecessary delay and expense,” Waters said. 

As an historical sidenote, the last justice accorded a similar senior status was Charles T. Wells, the man Perry replaced on the high court.

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.

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

Shooting at Fort Lauderdale airport — At least five people were killed and eight people were wounded after a gunman opened fire at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport on Friday afternoon. The Miami Herald reported the suspect was identified as Esteban Santiago, and on Friday it was believed he was a passenger on a flight from Canada who landed at the airport with a checked gun in his baggage. According to the Miami Herald, the suspect was “believed to to have gone into the bathroom and loaded the weapon,” before stepping back into the baggage-claim area and started shooting.

Fight against terror — Gov. Rick Scott announced this week he plans to include $5.8 million his 2017-18 budget for the Department of Law Enforcement to add 46 counterterrorism agents. Those agents, according to the Governor’s Office, would specialize in counterterrorism and intelligence, and would be stationed in each of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s seven regions. “Terror is a threat to our state and nation and we need specialists that are solely dedicated to identifying these terrorists and stopping them before they attack,” said Scott in a statement this week. “This recommended funding is a critical investment in our state’s counterterrorism operations that will work to ensure that our law enforcement officers have the resources they need to curb this senseless violence.”

Gun bills — A pair of controversial gun bills in the Florida Senate will not be discussed during committee meetings next week. According to the Senate calendar, a Judiciary Committee meeting scheduled for 2 p.m. Tuesday has been cancelled. The committee, which is chaired by Sen. Greg Steube, was set to take up bills aimed at open carry and the state’s Stand Your Ground law. Meanwhile, Sen. Linda Stewart and Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith announced this week they had filed legislation in both the Senate and the House that would ban the sale of military-grade assault weapons in Florida. The bill would prevent the sale or transfer of assault weapons as well as owning them in general. “We are not trying to take away your guns,” said Stewart. “But it is also worth mentioning that the people killed by gun violence every day have rights too.

Bills, bills, bills — The countdown to the start of the 2017 Legislative Session is on, and lawmakers have filed dozens of bills ahead of the first full committee week. Among the bills recently filed: A House proposal that would add ‘Kratom’ to the controlled substance list; a bill expanding the use of service animals in courtrooms; and a bill that would make it more expensive for tobacco companies to appeal verdicts in liability cases filed by smokers made sick by the products. One more bill of note: Soon-to-be mom and state Sen. Lauren Book filed legislation to exempt diapers and baby wipes from the state’s 6 percent sales tax.

Bondi’s future — Attorney General Pam Bondi might be saying farewell to Tallahassee. Jennifer Jacobs with Bloomberg Politics reported this week that Bondi will likely take a job in President-elect Donald Trump’s White House. According to the report, it was not immediately clear what her title would be, and she wasn’t among a list of White House appointments announced earlier in the week. But Bondi is staying mum on her future, telling reporters this week she is “very happy being Attorney General of the state of Florida right now. … And, I’m also committed to the President of the United States — elect — to make our country a better country, and get back on track.”

You’re not seeing things, there’s a new optometrist on the board.

Gov. Scott recently appointed Lucille Turner to the state Board of Optometry. Turner, a 60-year-old Tallahassee resident, was appointed to the board for a term ending Oct. 31. She fills a vacant seat.

Scott also reappointed Dr. Stuart Kaplan, a 47-year-old Fort Myers resident. Kaplan, an optometrist at Tyson Eye of Cape Coral Eye Center, was reappointed to a term ending Oct. 31, 2020.

You won’t find any cattle on this ranch.

Carol Buckley, the founder of Elephant Aid International, announced in December she purchased Piergiovanni Cattle Ranch, an 846-acre cattle ranch located about 30 miles northwest from Tallahassee. The ranch will become a refuge for up to 10 captive-held elephants to recover from past traumas.

Buckley spent more than a year visiting dozens of farms and ranches in search of the perfect property for the refuge.

“I was starting to lose faith as this refuge was to be Tarra’s new home, my elephant of 42 years,” said Buckley.  “I felt an urgency to make this happen, so I considered a farm in Alabama; but just as I was about to make a serious offer, Walter (Hatchett, a broker with Jon Kohler & Associates) discovered this property.”

Buckley founded one of the country’s first elephant sanctuaries in 1996, creating a sanctuary on 100-acre property in rural Tennessee. She later grew it into a state-of-the-art, 2,700-acre natural habitat elephant refuge.

More jobs are headed to Cape Canaveral.

Gov. Scott announced recently that Comprehensive Health Services, Inc. will begin shifting operations from Virginia to Florida. The company, the Governor’s Office said, also plans to expand its headquarters in Cape Canaveral.

“I am proud to announce that Comprehensive Health Services, Inc. has chosen Florida over Virginia for their expansion, which will create 150 new jobs,” said Scott in a statement. “I look forward to seeing CHSi’s growth in Florida and we will continue to do all we can to cut taxes and reduce burdensome regulations so more businesses can succeed in our state.”

The company established its first office in Florida in in 1999 with only three employees in a 500-square-foot facility. Nearly two decades later, the firm has grown to more than 2,000 employees worldwide.

“I am excited that Comprehensive Health Solutions, Inc. joins a long list of companies that have recognized the future of their business is in Florida,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. “The company’s expansion in Brevard County and its 150 new jobs will provide new opportunities for local job seekers searching for their dream job.”

A singer, guitarist, poet and entertainer are the newest Florida hall of famers.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner announced recently that Bill Dean, a singer and songwriter; Don Felder, a guitarist; Lee Bennett Hopkins, a poet and anthologist; and Jim Stafford, an entertainer have all been selected for induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame.

The foursome will be inducted in a ceremony on Feb. 23 at the annual Convening Culture Conference in Gainesville.

“Induction into the Florida Artists Hall of Fame is the highest honor bestowed upon artists by the State of Florida,” said Detzner. “We are fortunate to have these four artists that have brought tremendous distinction to our state through their careers and tireless devotion to their crafts. Their work has touched and inspired countless people, and it is fitting that we honor them for their influence and brilliance.”

Established in 1986, the Florida Artists Hall of Fame honors people who have made significant contributions to the arts in Florida either as performing or practicing artists in their disciplines. Inductees include writers Zora Neale Hurston and Tennessee Williams, musician Ray Charles, and artist Robert Rauschenberg.

Call her Madame Secretary.

Sen. Daphne Campbell was recently appointed as secretary of the Miami-Dade County legislative delegation.

“I look forward to serving my fellow members in the Miami-Dade Delegation as their Secretary,” she said in a statement. “This upcoming session we have a lot to accomplish and we have many new members, which I look forward to working with closely so that our legislative delegation grows in unity and strength.”

The Miami-Dade delegation represents one of the largest and most populated regions of the state. It also has one of the largest legislative delegations in the state.

Happy (belated) anniversary, 1000 Friends of Florida!

Founded in 1986, the nonprofit organization celebrated its 30th anniversary in 2016. And to celebrate, the organization released a special report highlighting the ways it “partnered with concerned Floridians to make (the) state a better place to live and work.”

The 24-page report is meant to take readers “on a journey through three decades of 1000 Friends of Florida’s history.” It features essays from conservationists, planners, environmental attorneys and nature photographers.

“Every year 1000 Friends engaged on legislation ranging from affordable housing to zoning and from springs protection to transportation housing. We take great pride that 1000 Friends is viewed by legislators, lobbyists, and our conservation partners alike as a foremost expert on planning and growth management,” wrote Ryan Smart, the organization’s president.

“But what makes 1000 Friends formidable is not only our expertise, but our commitment to further the long-term best interest of Floridians, regardless of the whims of politics and funders. We are the tip of the spear, but you, our dedicated and passionate Friends, are our driving force.”

Who were the real winners of 2016? Patricia Levesque says students.

Levesque, the CEO at the Foundation for Excellence in Education, told supporters last month that students across the nation came out on top in 2016. In an email to supporters, Levesque said states enacted more than 40 student-centered reforms, including programs to advance early literacy, college and career pathways, and school choice.

“We’re excited for this nationwide progress,” she wrote. “But best of all, these reforms translate into changed lives.”

Levesque said 670,000 additional students have educational choice and student achievement is rising in “states with strong accountability models.” More children are reading at grade level, and Levesque said in states where incentives are offered, more than 250,000 students have earned “an industry certification or passed an advanced placement course in readiness for college or a career.”

“We often think of education reform as policies written in legislation—as rules enacted by elected officials and appointed boards,” she said. “Rather, reform is a profound game changer in the lives of individual children, a gift that allows them to maximize their potential and explore meaningful futures. … Every child in America deserves access to the quality education that will empower him or her to succeed. And with your partnership, we will continue working toward that goal.”

Think of it as mad science — or maybe just breakfast.

The Florida Department of Agriculture recently released an educational video series called “The Science of Cooking.” The six video series is meant to teach students in grades 5 through 8 about the science of day-to-day activities, like cooking.

“Just about every activity we do can be broken down into some type of scientific equation, and cooking is no different,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. “These videos are a fun way to learn about the science of cooking.”

The videos shift back and forth between a chef cooking kid-friendly recipes (with Florida grown products, of course) and a chemist who explains the science behind the meals. The science, according to Putnam’s office, incorporate basic chemistry concepts that align with the Florida State Standards.

The video series covers a variety of concepts, including the difference between physical and chemical changes, compounds and mixtures, and forms of energy. And here’s a bonus for parents: It also teaches your kiddos how to cook.

Addressing water need, expanding learning options, and encouraging innovation are among the top priorities for the James Madison Institute in 2017.

The Tallahassee think tank released its 2017 policy priorities this week, focusing on economic prosperity, property rights and educational opportunities. The annual list of priorities addresses several issues important to the organization and the state as a whole.

“These principles are the reason more than two billion people around the world have found their way out of poverty over the past 30 years,” said Bob McClure, the organization’s president, in a statement. “And they must continue to find their way into decisions made by policy makers at the local, state and federal levels. We look forward to all that will be done during 2017 to make Florida’s future brighter for years to come.”

The 2017 priorities include encouraging innovation and entrepreneurialism in the marketplace, opposing regulations that seek to restrict competition, addressing Florida’s water future, and expanding learning options for all K-12 students.

Stakeholders in Florida’s workers’ compensation system lack confidence it achieves its stated goal of balancing the interests of injured workers and keeping costs under control.

In a survey released by the Division of Workers’ Compensation, nearly 66 percent disagreed or strongly disagreed that the system strikes the right balance. At nearly 40 percent, “strongly disagree” got more votes than any other category.

“The words ‘complex,’ ‘litigious,’ ‘outdated,’ and ‘overregulated’ were most often used in describing the system,” division assistant director Andrew Sabolic said.

The division surveyed 4,468 people on its electronic notification list, including representatives of carriers; attorneys for workers, employers, or carriers; and health care providers or facilities.

The survey presented a list of words and asked respondents to pick the one that best describes the workers’ compensation system. The top pick was “complex,” at 20.8 percent.

Only 5.3 percent thought the system “fair to all parties.”

A state workers’ compensation advisory panel voted this to ask the Legislature to consider letting regulators establish a drug formulary in hopes of keeping medical costs under control.

The panel also recommended changes to the way Florida’s workers’ compensation system reimburses facilities that treat injured workers, and to tighten the guidelines for authorizing medical care.

Although formally named the Three-Member Panel, the group contains only two members at present — Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier and Tamela Perdue, a senior vice president for Sunshine Health, who represents employers. Gov. Rick Scott has not filled a vacant seat representing workers.

The panel sets reimbursement policies and payment levels for health care providers, pharmacists, and medical suppliers working with workers’ compensation claimants.

The panel will pass its recommendations along to the leaders of the House and Senate for adoption through legislation or — if lawmakers demur — possibly through regulations.

Donald Polmann attended his first meeting as a member of the Public Service Commission this week, promising to seek a balance between sustaining Florida’s public utilities and the needs of their customers.

“I am truly grateful for the warm welcome that I’ve received from everyone here at the Public Service Commission,” Polmann said.

“I know that we have very important work to do, and I intend to make significant contributions with the benefit of my background, experience and expertise. My focus will be on service to Florida.”

Polmann said he hopes to help ensure “consistent, reliable service at a fair and reasonable cost” to customers, at rates that will allow utilities “to maintain as well as plan and grow for the future, in an effective and efficient manner.”

Gov. Scott selected Polmann to replace former Commissioner Lisa Edgar, who decided not to apply for a fourth term. She has been named as the new chief of the Florida Parks Service.

Polmann is a registered professional engineer with three degrees, including a doctorate in civil engineering from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. He was a senior manager at Atkins, a design and engineering firm that specializes in water projects.

Tip your hat to Judge Virginia Baker Norton.

Norton, an administrative judge with the Civil Division of the Fourth Judicial Circuit in Duval County, is the recipient of the 2017 Distinguished Judicial Service Award. The award honors outstanding and sustained service to the public, especially as it relates to pro-bono work.

Norton has worked with inmates in the jail’s one-room schoolhouse, reviewing topics like job strategies and patriotism. She is currently working with the city of Jacksonville and the Sheriff’s Office to expand the program.

Norton earned her law degree in 1997 from the University of Florida Levin College of Law. An active participate and leader in Jacksonville Legal Aid since graduating from law school, she has become the go-to person in Duval County when a bar association needs a judge to encourage pro bono legal service.

She will be presented with the award during a ceremony on Jan. 19 by Chief Justice Labarga.

During the same ceremony, Labarga will present Judge Laurel Myerson Isicoff, the chief judge of the United States Bankruptcy Court of the Southern District of Florida, with the Chief Justice’s Distinguished Federal Judicial Service Award.

A native New Yorker, Isicoff came to Florida to finish her law degree, which she earned from the University of Miami School of Law in 1982. She was sworn in as the first female bankruptcy judge in the Southern District of Florida in 2006, and has been a leader in pro bono representation over the years.

Nearly two dozen attorneys will be honored for their work on behalf of the poor later this month.

The Florida Bar will present 21 lawyers with pro bono awards during a ceremony at the Florida Supreme Court on Jan. 19. Established in 1981, the Florida Bar President’s Pro Bono Service Award aim to encourage lawyers to volunteer free legal services to the poor. The awards recognize attorney who make public service commitments and raise awareness of volunteer opportunities provided by Florida lawyers to those who can’t afford legal fees.

The 2017 honorees are Joseph D. Lorenz, David H. Abrams, Christina Nieto Seifert, Laura K. Boeckman, Samuel Pennington, Lyn Katz Hanshaw, Jay. S. Grife, Peggy-Anne O’Connor, Brenda L. London, Kristie Hatcher-Bolin, Brett Alan Barfield, Michele S. Stephan, Katherine Earle Yanes, Steven Lawrence Applebaum, Holly Tabernilla, David L. Manz, Richard Francis Hussey, Brigitta Hawkins, Mark Miller, Jonathan I. Tolentino, Laura Thayer Wagner.

Florida Bar President William J. Schifino, Jr. will present the 2017 awards.

Florida attorneys will have a lot to celebrate later this month.

The Florida Bar is also expected to present St. Petersburg attorney Jennifer Edwards with the 2017 Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Pro Bono Service Award. The award recognizes public service or legal aid performed by a lawyer who is younger than 36 and who has not practiced for more than five years. It

Edwards is being honored for her work as a guardian ad litem and court-appointed advocate for children in Pinellas County.

Mark Olive, a Tallahassee attorney, is also scheduled to be awarded the 2017 Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award, the highest statewide pro bono award. The award is intended to encourage and recognize extraordinary contributions by Florida lawyers in making legal services available to people who otherwise could not afford them, and to focus public awareness on the substantial voluntary services rendered by Florida lawyers.

And finally, the Immigration Law Group of Florida, based out of St. Petersburg, will receive the 2017 Law Firm Commendation at the annual Pro Bono Awards Ceremony. The commendation honors significant contributions in the delivery of legal services to individuals or groups on a pro bono basis.

Chief Justice Labarga will present Olive and the Immigration Law Group of Florida with the awards.

Call it a victory for nurse practitioners.

Advanced registered nurse practitioners can now prescribed controlled drugs under a newly enacted state law. The legislation, passed by state lawmakers last year, makes Florida the final state in the nation to allow to allow ARNPs to prescribe controlled drugs.

“Removing the barriers of practice for ARNPs and PAs is one of the many cost-effective ways that Florida can move its healthcare system into the 21st century and ensure that our residents are receiving the care they need,” said Dominic M. Calabro, president and CEO of Florida TaxWatch. “We applaud the efforts of the Legislature during the 2016 Legislative Session in expanding scope of practice for ARNPs and PAs. It was an excellent session for these healthcare issues.”

Florida TaxWatch has led the charge for expanding the scope of practice for ARNP’s and physician assistants. And while several bills have passed to expand the scope of practice, the organization said it will continue to push for changes to “move Florida’s archaic health care system into the 21st century.”

First Responder Appreciation Week begins Monday in Florida, under a proclamation signed by Gov. Rick Scott.

“The bravery displayed by Florida’s first responders in 2016 was inspiring,” Scott said Friday in a written statement.

“From placing their lives in the line of danger when a terrorist killed 49 innocent people at Pulse Night Club, to helping Florida families stay safe during hurricanes, we are so proud of all first responders throughout our state.”

Scott recognized five law enforcement officers killed on the job during 2016: Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Deputy John Kotfila Jr., state Department of Corrections Sergeant Jorge Ramos, Taylor County Sheriff’s Deputy Scott Williams, Miami Police Department Officer Jorge Sanchez, and Nassau County Sheriff’s Deputy Eric Oliver.

Officials plan to mark the week through programs in Florida’s public schools, colleges, and universities, and have offered suggestions for how best to do that.

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.