Takeaways from Tallahassee — Pinwheels, and putting the pieces back together

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Mike Carroll sounded tired as he took to the mic during this week’s Pinwheels for Child Abuse Prevention kickoff at the Governor’s Mansion.

The secretary of the Department of the Children and Families again has had to deal with high-profile deaths, including, most recently, Naika Venant and Lauryn Martin-Everett.

Both were ‘system’ kids; both had hanged themselves.

First Lady Ann Scott, entertaining a group of little kids from Tallahassee’s Bethel Christian Academy, had tried to keep it light.

First Lady Ann Scott speaks during a press conference to launch Prevent Child Abuse with Florida’s annual “Pinwheels for Prevention” campaign at the Florida Governor’s Mansion.

“How many here want to be governor?” she asked them. Almost all raised their hands.

“How many want to be a first lady?” When one of the boys raised a hand, the other kids giggled. “We have some female governors … you can be a first gentleman,” Mrs. Scott said, smiling.

Earlier that same morning, a House panel voted to approve a $3.75 million claim bill to compensate the surviving twin brother and other family of Nubia Barahona.

She was still another ‘system’ kid whose adoptive father killed her in 2011, then doused her body in caustic chemicals.

Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, the Miami Republican who is sponsoring the claim bill in the House, said “at every step of the way there were errors, there were flags that DCF should have seen.”

Maybe Carroll had the 10-year-old in mind as he spoke.

Mike Carroll, Secretary of Department of Children and Families, speaks during a press conference to launch Prevent Child Abuse with Florida’s annual “Pinwheels for Prevention” campaign at the Florida Governor’s Mansion.

“Our kids are not as resilient as we think,” he said. “You can’t always see the hurt on the inside.  By the time they come into our system, they’re broken … and we try to put the pieces together.

“When we can’t, that’s the tragedy of our system,” he went on. “… No one state agency can fix this. The only way it’s fixed is people helping people.

“Sometimes it just takes one adult who will care,” Carroll said.

Nubia Barahona thought Jorge and Carmen Barahona, who fostered the twins and then adopted them, were two of those adults.

Now the couple is awaiting trial on first-degree murder and other charges in Miami-Dade County.

After Carroll and others finished speaking, they took the kids outside and planted blue and white pinwheels in the garden. People took photos, and the kids got a snack.

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:

Money talks — We’re officially one step closer to Sine Die. Well, at least one step closer to having a budget. The Senate Appropriations Committee approved its $83.2 billion spending plan after agreeing to more than 100 amendments, which included local projects and budget language giving directions to execute existing line-items. The House Appropriations approved its $81.2 billion proposal after making a few tweaks during its Wednesday. Both chambers are will take up the bills next week, with floor sessions scheduled for Wednesday to begin debate on the proposals.

Grand compromise — Senate President Joe Negron’s top priority got a big facelift this week, when he announced he no longer planned to pursue a plan to buy 60,000 acres of farm land to build a reservoir. Instead, lawmakers approved an amended plan that would use 14,000 acres of land the state owns and leases to Florida Crystals until 2019. The price of the project — once listed at $2.4 billion — also dropped to $1.5 billion. The compromise came after pushback from the sugar industry, which owns much of the land in the area Negron was focused on, and some of his Democratic colleagues. U.S. Sugar, which fiercely opposed the original proposal, called the amended plan “significant progress.” Negron has said the plan would achieve his original goal of storing up to 120 billion of gallons of water that currently gets sent down the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers.

Senate President Joe Negron, R-Stuart. discusses Senate Bill 10: Water Resources as Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, listens in the background. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

More than an apology — State lawmakers took steps this week to apologize for the abuses at the Dozier School for Boys in Mariana, but also to try to right some of the wrongs. House and Senate panels this week approved bills that acknowledges the abuses experiences by the students and expresses the Legislature’s regret. But the House Judiciary Committee went one step further this week, approving a proposed committee bill that, among other things, calls for the state to set up memorials in Mariana and Tallahassee and allows for the state to come up with a plan to search for more bodies on the property.

Hail a ride — Florida is speeding to statewide regulations for transportation network companies. After years of discussion, the House voted unanimously to approve a bill by Reps. Chris Sprowls and Jamie Grant that sets up a statewide regulatory system for ride-hailing companies, like Uber and Lyft.  The proposal, among other things, sets minimum insurance standards and requires third-party background checks. The Senate companion, sponsored by Sen. Jeff Brandes, cleared the Senate Rules Committee on a 10-1 vote this week, and now heads to the full Senate for a vote in the coming days.

Rep. Chris Sprowls is congratulated by Rep. James Grant his bill to regulate transportation network companies passed a second reading. (AP Photo/Phil Sears)

577 Days — Add another Democrat to the list of folks getting of folks throwing their hat into the 2018 gubernatorial election. Orlando businessman Chris King made it officially official this week, launching his gubernatorial campaign at a senior affordable housing community his company renovated. He joins Andrew Gillum as just one of two mainstream candidates in the race, but plenty more are running shadow campaigns and expect to make a formal announcement — as former Rep. Gwen Graham, a likely 2018 contender has said — “soon.” They might not be in the race, but several would-be candidates are stocking away some cash for a rainy day (or gubernatorial campaign). Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam’s political committee reported it raised nearly $1.1 million in March; while Sen. Jack Latvala’s political committee raised $246,000 in the first six days of the month.

Gulf Power Co.’s $62 million electric rate settlement agreement includes language authorizing a five-year experiment in operating electric vehicle charging stations.

Existing stations belong to shopping centers, hotels, and other businesses. The utility charges for the power.

Gulf Power will own the stations in its experiment, and they’ll be linked to the customers’ regular utility bills. No muss. No fuss.

Utility spokesman Rick DelaHaya said 52 customers have signed up so far, including hospitals and college campuses. Some units will be networked, so the Public Service Commission can review use data.

Deputy Public Counsel Charles Rehwinkle views the provision as a good thing.

“if it encourages electric vehicle usage, it’s good,” Rehwinkle said. “How you account for it in regulatory world, we’ll just see over the next five years.”

Jacksonville might want to change its nickname to “solar city.”

A new report found Jacksonville ranks 19th in the nation for installed solar capacity. The report, released this week, came as state lawmakers began discussions about implementing the pro-solar power constitutional amendment, which would remove solar barriers for businesses.

“By using solar power, Jacksonville is reducing pollution and improving public health for everyday Floridians,” said Jennifer Rubiello, state director of Environment Florida, in a statement. “To realize these benefits, city leaders should embrace a big vision for solar on rooftops throughout the state.”

For the third year in a row, Jacksonville ranked higher than Tampa, Miami and Orlando for the amount of installed solar.

According to the report, the Top 20 cities listed in the report have nearly as much solar today as the entire country had installed in 2010. In 2016, solar was the leading new source of energy installed in Florida.

Florida working hard to keep the state’s “veteran friendly” status.

State lawmakers held a press conference this week to highlight various military-friendly bills from the 2017 Legislative Session.

“We’re focused in on making sure we maintain (our status as) the most veteran friendly state in the country,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who, along with Rep. Paul Renner, has proposed legislation that would grant exceptions to occupational licensing application fees and requirements to certain active duty members, honorably discharged members, and their spouses.

The press conference gave members a chance to encourage support for their proposals at the midway point in session, as well as highlight some of the work that has been done over the years.

Rep. Burgess, speaks about HB 55 Alternative Treatment Options for Veterans, during a press conference on military-friendly legislation at the Florida Capitol.

Lawmakers also highlighted a proposal (HB 55) that allow the state Department of Veterans Affairs to contract with organizations to provide alternative treatments to veterans.

 “It’s a good bill, and honestly it will save some of my brothers and sisters lives,” said Brian Anderson, a president and CEO of Veterans Alternative and former Green Beret.

The proposal, sponsored by Reps. Danny Burgess and Frank White, cleared the Health Innovation Subcommittee in March, but has not been scheduled for a second hearing.

Local leaders said “thanks” this week.

More than 100 mayors and county leaders across Florida recognized the impact AmeriCorps and SeniorCorps programs made in their communities as part of the fifth annual Mayor, County and Tribal Recognition Day for National Service. The annual event is a bipartisan effort to recognize the positive impact of national service, thank those who serve and encourage citizens to give back.

“Cities and counties are increasingly turning to national service as a cost-effective strategy to meet local needs,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman. “We are grateful for the elected officials who are participating in today’s recognition.”

Volunteer Florida administers over $32 million in federal, state and local funding to deliver national service programs like AmeriCorps to Florida.

“We are proud to be working with city and county leaders across America as we continue to strengthen communities through national service,” said Kim Mansaray, acting CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service.

This year 108 Florida leaders participated in the event, including Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn, St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer.

Nursing home groups held dueling press conferences this week — one to warn of changes to payment plans, the other to encourage support for it.

Leading Age Florida, which represents about 250 long-term communities, called on Senate leaders to slow down the implementation of the prospective payment system included in the upper chamber’s proposed $83 billion spending plan. Thirty minutes later, the Florida Health Care Association called on lawmakers to move ahead with the plan.

Leading Age Florida says while it doesn’t oppose a prospective payment system, it would like nursing home organizations to work together after the 2017 Legislative Session to hammer out the details.

The state currently operates on a cost-based system to pay nursing homes. Under the proposed prospective payment system, a formula-based daily-rate is established, which is then used by all providers.

Florida lawmakers took action this week to combat the ongoing opioid epidemic.

The House approved a bill (HB 557) that would modernize the current prescription drug monitoring program, shorten reporting times to better identify drug abuse, and limit the initial prescription of opioids to a 5-day supply for the treatment of acute pain, putting Florida in line with the Center for Disease Control’s recommended guidelines on opioid prescriptions.

The proposal, sponsored by Rep. Nick Duran, passed after emotional testimony from several members, including the Miami Democrat.

During his closing, Duran talked about the connection between heroin abuse and addiction to prescription painkillers, noting that people addicted to painkillers are “40 times more likely to be addicted to heroin.”

Rep. Duran during debate on his bill this week. (Photo by Meredith Geddings)

“It starts somewhere, and it ends somewhere,” he said.

He then went on to tell his colleagues that less than a year ago, his brother-in-law passed away, “not from taking heroin, he was seven years clean.” But Duran said in a matter of a few weeks he “spiraled downward;” and when his family cleared out his home, they found fentanyl patches, a prescription pain medication. He urged members to support the legislation, saying a vote on the measure says Florida is “going to follow some of the same guidelines that other states believe are needed.”

“It is time for us to take a stand,” he said. “We know they are dangerous. They’re killing families. That’s what we’re dealing with. Enough is enough.”

The bill passed on a 93-22 vote.

The Senate Banking and Insurance Committee moved through a crowded and contentious agenda a tad too expeditiously for Sen. Oscar Braynon.

The panel had given swift approval to nearly a dozen bills before tackling major reforms of the workers’ compensation system and assignment of benefits agreements. With time running short, the committee limited testimony on those measures.

“I agreed to the time-certain thing, but I don’t believe this is how we should be doing this type of legislation,” Braynon said. “There are plenty of people who want to be heard, and I understand there are other bills that want to be heard. But I just don’t 100 percent agree with how we’re handling this one.”

“So, is there a motion?” Chairwoman Anitere Flores asked.

“No, no motion,” Braynon replied — he’s just wanted it noted for the record.

Sunshine, sand and … stress?

According to a new report from WalletHub, Florida is the 13th most stressed state in the nation. The number crunchers at the personal finance website looked at 33 key metrics — including average hours worked per week, the personal bankruptcy rate, and share of adults getting an adequate amount of sleep — to determine which states had the highest stress levels.

The Sunshine State — or should we call it the “Stressed-out State” — ranked 13th overall, but landed in the No. 6 spot when it came to family-related stress. The state was rank 16th in both work-related and money-related stress.

The most stressed out state is Alabama, which also ranked high when it came to work-related, money-related and family-related stress. Minnesota is the least stressed state in the nation.

Celebrate the springs: It’s what Bellamy Beaver would want.

Representatives from several water management districts, including the Northwest Florida Water Management District and the Suwannee River Water Management District, were in Tallahassee this week as the House and Senate announced resolutions designating April as “Spring Awareness Month.” The resolutions are meant to promote awareness for preservation and restoration of Florida’s springs and natural resources.

Rep. Elizabeth Porter, Sen. Rob Bradley and water management officials celebrate “Springs Awareness Month.” (Photo via SRWMD Facebook)

“On behalf of the District and its 256 springs, I applaud the commitment that continues to be shown by Governor Rick Scott, the Florida Legislature, and Secretary (Ryan) Matthews to protecting and restoring springs throughout the entire state,” said Jon Costello, a governing board member for the Northwest Florida Water Management District. “We are proud to stand with our friends from the other water management districts, DEP, and northwest Florida communities as we all continue to work toward the preservation of these precious natural resources.”

The event also featured an appearance from Bellamy Beaver, the mascot Ichetucknee Partnership. The nonprofit aims to promote the environmental and economic well-being of the Ichetucknee Springshed through locally-led, voluntary programs.

“There is no better symbol of the natural, pristine beauty of Florida than our world-famous springs,” said Rep. Elizabeth Porter, the House sponsor, in a statement. “From the legendary attraction of the renowned Ichetucknee to the secret splendor of the many small springs hidden up and down our rivers, we have an abundance of natural treasures in our state that we must preserve for our children and grandchildren.”

Call it a $274,000 month.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services reported it recovered $274,174 on behalf of Florida consumers in March. The state agency fielded 3,560 consumer complaints and initiated 3,560 investigations during the one-month period.

As the state’s clearinghouse for consumer complaints, the department provided assistance to 23,478 consumers through the 1-800-HELP-FLA hotline, online chats and email during March. It also added 18,187 telephone numbers to the state’s Do Not Call List.

Last year, the department recovered nearly $3 million for Florida consumers from moving companies, vehicle repair shops, pawn shops, health studios, and telemarketers.

Applying for a state grant? Secretary of State Ken Detzner wants to make it a bit easier.

The Department of State launched its new online grant application system DOSGrants.com, which is meant to streamline the application process for grants offered by the Department of State, including arts and culture, historic preservation and library grants.

“These grant programs help to ensure that all Florida families have access to arts and culture programs, our state’s historic properties, and educational opportunities,” said Detzner in a statement. “The organizations who receive these grants create jobs, stimulate tourism and attract skilled workers. The new DOS Grants website, DOSGrants.com, will make it easier for more organizations to apply for grants while increasing transparency and allowing Floridians to search for state-funded programs in their community.”

The state department awarded more than $90 million in grants through 12 programs in fiscal 2016-17. The grant application period for several state grants, including the historic preservation small matching grant, general program supporting grants for cultural organizations, specific cultural project grants, and library services and technology act grants, are currently open.

Go Seminoles!

Florida State University alumni, faculty and staff stormed the Capitol this week as part of the Tallahassee university’s annual FSU Day at the Capitol. The annual event showcases the university’s accomplishments.

“Florida State is on a roll, both on and off thefield,” said FSU President John Thrasher in a statement on the university’s website. “There’s a lot of excitement at Florida State these days. We are a preeminent university with our sights set on even higher national prominence.”

FSU Day at the Florida Capitol

This year the university highlighted successes including receiving a record number of 2017 admissions applications, rising four-year graduation and retention rates, and one of the nation’s highest graduation rates for African-American students.

The day included a pep rally, and performances by the Flying High Circus, Marching Chiefs and the Florida State cheerleaders. FSU football coach Jimbo Fisher and football players Deondre Francois and Ryan Izzo also attended the festivities.

Welcome to the board!

Gov. Scott appointed Col. John Domenech and Sheldon Suga to the District Board of Trustees for the Florida Keys Community College.

Domenech, a 62-year-old Big Pine Key resident, is a retired senior project manager at Leidos, and formerly serves as a colonel in the U.S. Army. He succeeds Michelle Maxwell and was appointed to a term ending May 31, 2020.

Suga, a 62-year-old Duck Key resident, is a VP managing director at Hawks Cay Resort in Duck Key. He fills a vacant seat, and was appointed to a term ending May 31, 2017.

Both appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

When it comes to Florida, millennials are swiping left.

A new report from WalletHub found the Sunshine State is the 10th worst state for millennials. The personal finance website compared all 50 states and the District of Columbia across 24 metrics, including the share of millennials, average monthly earnings, and millennial unemployment rate.

According to the report, Florida ranked 48th in the nation for the percentage of millennials, generally described as people in their “late-teens to early-30s,” living with their parents, and 38th for the millennial unemployment rate.

The state, according to the report, ranked 50th in the nation for the percentage of millennials with health insurance coverage and 48th for the percentage of millennials.

So where are the best places for millennials? Well, according to the number crunchers at WalletHub: North Dakota ranks No. 1, followed by Minnesota, South Dakota, Iowa, D.C., and Utah.

Florida’s lawmakers observe delicate courtesies during debate. It makes sense not to go out of one’s way to offend a colleague who might be on your side, or at least persuadable, tomorrow.

So Rep. Burgess was at pains not to label a Mike Miller amendment to his workers’ compensation fix “unfriendly” during Commerce Committee debate.

The amendment would have lowered the burden of proof and eliminated the requirement for a physical injury for claims involving mental or nervous injuries in the workplace for first responders.

As an Army reservist, Burgess sympathized. But Miller’s amendment could significantly increase insurance costs.

“It’s been said that this workers’ compensation issue, and the bill we have before us today, is an egg on a spoon on a tightrope over a whole bunch of molten lava,” Burgess said. “There’s no way, shape or form a willingness to call this an unfriendly amendment. But at this time I would prefer to move forward without this amendment attached.”

Miller finally withdrew his amendment, saying, “I do not want to be the person who injures that bill in any way.”

Way to go, Boston Whaler.

Gov. Scott stopped by the Edgwater company this week to commend it for its growth over the past few years. According to the Governor’s Office, the company has added more than 160 additional jobs since completing an 18-month expansion in 2015. The boat manufacturer now employs 750 Floridians.

Gov. Scott applauded Boston Whaler for its growth in recent years.

“I am proud to recognize Boston Whaler’s ongoing success in Florida following the completion of their expansion project two years ago,” said Scott in a statement. “Boston Whaler is a great example of why Enterprise Florida works: the economic incentives EFI offered helped Boston Whaler invest in our state, and our focus on making Florida business-friendly has led to years of further growth at Boston Whaler. I look forward to seeing their continued success in our state.”

Boston Whaler has been building boats in Florida since 1988.

Three Florida trauma centers were honored this week for their “heroic response to mass casualty events in their communities.”

The Florida Senate designated April 4 as Trauma Care Day, and recognized Orlando Regional Medical Center, Lee Memorial Hospital and Broward Medical Center for their work during tragedies this year.

In particular, lawmakers recognized Broward Health Medical Center’s Level I Trauma Center for their efforts following the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting. After the shooting, 54 victims were transferred to the Broward trauma center. The team sprang into action and worked around the clock to take care of the patients.

“These were challenging circumstances but our doctors, nurses and technical staff cared for all the patients coming from the Fort Lauderdale incident,” said Dr. Ivan Puente, Trauma Medical Director, Broward Health Medical Center. “Our Level 1 Trauma Center was established to prepare for this type of incident and I proud to serve with such a superb team of healthcare professionals.”

The resolution also recognized Orlando Regional Medical Center for its work in the days after the June 12 Pulse shooting and Lee Memorial for its work after the July 25 shooting at Club Blu in Fort Myers.

Three cheers for first responders and victim advocates.

Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Scott recognized first responders and victims’ rights advocates from across the state during an annual ceremony at the Capitol this week to commemorate National Crime Victim’s Rights Week.

“I am thankful for all who dedicate their lives to serving victims of crime, including those who rushed to the scene of tragedy following the Pulse nightclub attack—we honored some of those individuals today for their work helping victims and their families in the aftermath of the attack,” said Bondi in a statement. “All our award recipients are exceptional and play a vital role in helping victims heal and I am eternally grateful for their service.”

Bondi presented awards to Jeri Eubanks, a victim advocate with the State Attorney’s Office in the Seventh Judicial Circuit; Stephanie Mariano with Christ Church in Orlando; Joel Morales, a victim service advocate with the Orlando United Assistance Center; Detective Yulieth Ortiz with the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office; Detective Ross Partee with the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office; Leidy Patino, a senior legal assistant with the Attorney General’s Medicaid Fraud Control Unit; and Officer David Starke with the Ormond Beach Police Department.

Scott also issued a proclamation to recognize National Crime Victims’ Week in Florida.

The Florida Lottery set a sales record during the third quarter by collecting more than $1.6 billion in ticket sales.

March alone accounted for more than $590 million in sales, the lottery has announced.

It was the best month for scratch-off sales to date, exceeding $433 million.

It all meant a contribution of $412 million to the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund for the quarter.

“As we make the final push toward the end of the fiscal year, the Lottery remains committed to our mission of generating the most money possible to provide Florida’s students with the opportunity to receive a great education,” said Secretary Tom Delacenserie.

Consumers have a good feeling about Florida.

The Governor’s Office announced this week the consumer sentiment index shot up to a 15-year high of 99 in March. Personal income rose 4.9 percent for Floridians last year, the highest of the 10 largest states. Home values increased 12.5 percent.

“We have worked hard to turn Florida’s economy around and create opportunities for our future generations,” said Gov. Scott in a statement. “Today’s announcement shows that when companies choose Florida to expand and grow, other parts of our economy, like personal income and home values, improve.”

Calculated by the Bureau of Economic and Business Research at the University of Florida, the Florida Consumer Sentiment Index measures five key indicators of consumers’ feelings about the economy. The report found all five components measured by the index rose in December, including personal finance indicators and expectations of future economic growth.

“Floridians are confident in their ability to find a good job and provide for their families, which is helping to fuel our state’s growing labor force and boosting our consumer confidence levels to new highs,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of the Department of Economic Opportunity, in a statement. “We must build on the strong momentum Florida has already established by continuing to invest in job creation and economic diversification.”

Life got a tiny bit easier for Florida’s foster children.

The House approved a bill this week that makes permanent a program to help foster children get drivers licenses. Often called the “Keys to Independence Act,” the program helps kids get their learners permit or driver’s license, helps them find driver’s education courses and insurance, and offers financial assistance.

“Being able to drive is so important to being self-sufficient,” said Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, who sponsored the bill in the House. “There are many places in Florida where you can’t get a job if you don’t have a license or you’re limited in where you can attend school because there is no mass transportation. Kids from the child welfare system should not have to start adulthood at a disadvantage.”

The bill also expands eligibility for the program and allows a grace period to complete the program if a child transitions to a new home. The bill, which already received Senate approval, now heads to Gov. Scott.

“Foster youth are often at a disadvantage for a variety of reasons, particularly when it comes to obtaining driver’s licenses and trying to become independent, successful adults,” said Sen. Aaron Bean, the Senate sponsor. “This bill solves these problems and provides Florida’s foster kids the opportunity they want and so rightly deserve.”

Florida students could soon be required to know their dollars and cent to graduate.

A Senate bill to require high school students to take a half-credit, full-semester course in personal financial literacy education as a graduation requirement cleared is final committee stop this week. Sponsored by Sen. Dorothy Hukill, the bill received unanimous support during each of its committee stops.

“A required personal finance course will prepare our high school students heading to college or entering the work force with the tools and insight they need to be well-equipped to handle their personal finances,” said Hukill in a statement. “Sound financial management skills are important to all Floridians and especially to our students preparing for adulthood.”

The bill now heads to the Senate floor.

CFO Jeff Atwater got top marks for being a good Catholic.

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops presented Atwater with the Thomas A. Horkan, Jr. Distinguished Catholic Leader Award during the annual Catholic Days at the Capitol this week. According to the organization, the award is given each year to a Catholic Floridian whose life and work is “especially noteworthy for enhancing Florida’s laws and way of life through Gospel values.”

“Jeff Atwater has distinguished himself in Florida politics as a Catholic leader who is principled, political in the best sense, civil without being soft and deeply engaged,” said Michael Sheedy, the executive director of the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops.

Bishop Gerald Barbarito of Palm Beach and Archbishop Thomas Wenski of Miami present CFO Atwater with an award recognizing his service.

Atwater, who has served at the local level before being elected to the Florida House and later the Florida Senate, served as the Senate President from 2008 until 2010. He was elected to serve as the chief financial officer in 2010. He announced earlier this year he planned to step down at the end of the 2017 Legislative Session to take on a similar role at Florida Atlantic University in Boca Raton.

Named for Thomas A. Horkan, Jr., the founding executive director of the Florida Catholic Conference, Atwater is only the seventh recipient of the award since its inception in 1995.

It’s been 100 years since the United States entered World War I, and state officials are joining the nation in recognizing that moment.

The Department of State this week joined the nation in recognizing the United States’ entry into World War I by providing online education resources to tell the story of Floridians participation. Florida Memory, the digital outreach program of the State Library and the Archives of Florida, launched a new online exhibit Florida in WWI this week. The online exhibit features documents, images and artifacts.

The Florida Division of Historical Resources has also created a Florida page on the United States World War One Centennial Commission webpage. The commission’s webpage is the online portal to the United States World War I Centennial Commission, which is charge of planning and coordinating national commemorations of the centennial. It is also working on establishing a National World War I Memorial in Washington D.C.

Put down your phone, and focus on the road.

That’s the message the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is sending this throughout April as it promotes Distracted Driving Awareness Month. The state agency is teaming up with the Florida Highway Patrol, the Department of Transportation, the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the Florida Sheriffs Association and AAA—The Auto Club Group to raise awareness about the risks of driving distracted.

“Driving distracted significantly slows a driver’s reaction time to effectively avoid a crash, and no one should take that risk,” said Terry Rhodes the executive director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

In 2016, there were 50,000 crashes involving distracted driving in Florida. That’s more than five crashes every hour. According to the department, distracted driving crashes accounted for more than 3,500 serious bodily injuries and 233 fatalities.

“It’s easy to underestimate the devastating effects of distracted driving, but that doesn’t make it any less deadly for our drivers and the officers who are trying to keep them safe on our roads and highways,” said Coconut Creek Police Chief Butch Arenal. “Make a commitment today to put down your phone and whatever else might be commanding your attention and keep your eyes on the road.”

Take it slow Monday: It’s Florida Gopher Tortoise.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is encouraging communities, organizations, and individuals to do their part to help conserve the threatened species.

“If you’re a fan of the gopher tortoise, help us spread the word on conserving this threatened species, whose burrows are home to hundreds of animals, including the eastern indigo snake, gopher frog and Florida mouse,” said Deborah Burr, the head of the FWC Gopher Tortoise Management Program. “If you see a gopher tortoise crossing the road, pick it up and place it on the roadside in the same direction it was heading, but only if it safe for you to do so. Remember, the gopher tortoise is a land animal, so never put it in water. And don’t forget it is illegal to harm a gopher tortoise, its eggs or its burrow.”

Seven counties — Alachua, Brevard, Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Indian River, and Sarasota — and several cities are adopting Florida Gopher Tortoise Day resolutions this year.

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.