Takeaways from Tallahassee – A storm is coming … or not

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In Florida, there’s a weird confluence between politics and the weather.

Elected officials love to send weather-related emails, particularly before the start of hurricane season on June 1.

Make sure your insurance is up to date, they’ll say, or make sure you’ve prepared a “storm kit,” i.e., bottled water, batteries, flashlights and so forth.

One example: Visit Florida, which reports to Gov. Rick Scott, emailed to remind folks of steps they’ve taken to ensure that “Florida’s visitors have access to real-time, hyper-local information.”

The lead on the latest AP report offered no calm: “U.S. government forecasters expect a near-normal Atlantic hurricane season (but) also say climate conditions that influence storm development are making it difficult to predict how many hurricanes and tropical storms will arise over the next six months.”

Even SUNBURN had a graphic of the storm brewing Friday near the Bahamas with a huge red ball bearing down on northeast Florida.

Even though that wasn’t expected to bring more than rain, it had one of our reporters mindful of a memory from 1995.

A certain grizzled Treasure Coast sports editor was watching The Weather Channel from his desk. He suddenly mused to no one in particular, “Man, that big ol’ red ball has got me kind of nervous.”

That “big ol’ red ball” became Hurricane Erin, which made landfall at Vero Beach with 85 mph winds. It was the first hurricane to hit the U.S. since Andrew in 1992.

This year, the politicians also are mindful that Florida has gone 10 years since Hurricane Wilma made landfall in 2005.

Some of the messages even feature storm tracks from the last few years, showing all the bullets we’ve dodged.

And POLITICO’s Marc Caputo this week noted the special “insanity” a storm would cause in the state in an election year.

“The Aug. 30 primary is smack in the middle of season,” he said. (Admit it: How many of you didn’t think of that?)

“And a hurricane would just amplify the crazy in an already crazy election, Caputo added. “Nothing causes crazy like crazy.”

As we head into the silly season of presidential conventions and general election campaigning, are we ready for that kind of amplified crazy? Keep your batteries dry.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster, Ryan Ray, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

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

Out in four — Gov. Scott challenged colleges and universities to help Florida students graduate in four years during his 2016 Degrees to Jobs Summit in Orlando this weekend. During the two-day event, Scott encouraged the Legislature to expand Bright Futures to include summer classes, called on schools to reduce fees for online courses and make sure students know much money they can save if they graduate in four years. The summit featured presentations by Cissy Proctor, head of the DEO; Senate President Andy Gardiner; and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Education funding fight — Judge George Reynolds sided in favor with the state in a nearly seven-year lawsuit that said the state’s education system was underfunded. Reynolds, who was the judge who also handled redistricting challenges, said students made gains as education funding was slashed during the recession. The ruling was hailed as a victory by state officials, including Senate President Gardiner who said Reynolds’ decision “validates the Legislature’s policy choices on education.”

Bathroom wars — The fight which bathrooms transgender students should be allowed to use escalated this week. Eleven states sued the Obama administration over a directive that said U.S. public schools should let students use bathrooms that match their gender identity. The state of Florida has not joined the lawsuit. Gov. Scott said the state was “clearly reviewing” the mandate. He also said the mandate “looks just like blackmail,” saying the federal government is changing the rules for how states can receive funding.

Congressional scramble — US. Rep. Curt Clawson’s decision not to run for re-election in 2016 likely won’t have an impact on Lee County’s legislative delegation. Despite being an early favorite, Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto said she wouldn’t run for the seat again this year. Benacquisto is expected to hold a prominent position in the Florida Senate in the coming years. Also staying put: Reps. Dane Eagle and Matt Caldwell. Both Lee County Republicans are running for re-election. All three said they felt they could best serve their constituents in Tallahassee, not Washington, D.C.

Zika — The number of travel-related cases of Zika virus continues to rise, but the state has received less than half of the special traps it has ordered to detect Zika in mosquitoes. The only U.S. distributor of the traps said it had a backlog of almost 1,950 orders. Florida has ordered more than 300 traps, but as received only received about 120. The remaining are on back order. As of Thursday, there were 158 cases of Zika in the state, 36 of which involved pregnant women.

Gov. Scott took to the fields to highlight agritourism and the citrus industry.

Scott ceremonially signed a bill, HB 59, that allows farmers to participate in agritourism without interference from the state. The governor also highlighted more than $25 million set aside in the state budget for citrus research and programs to fight citrus greening.

Photo courtesy of the Governor's Office.
Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office.

“The citrus industry is in a fight for its life, and we must do everything we can to protect this $10 billion industry,” said Agriculture Commissioner Putnam.

Scott officially signed the agritourism bill on March 8. It goes into effect July 1. Among other things, the bill prohibits local governments from enforcing local ordinances and regulations that limits agritourism on land classified as agriculture land.

“Florida’s geography, economy and quality of life are all defined by our natural and agricultural resources,” he said in a statement. “These invaluable resources help create a foundation for our growing economy and have added jobs for thousands of Floridians.”

Florida has a few new judges.

Gov. Scott appointed Michael Davis to be a Broward County judge. The 37-year-old Fort Lauderdale resident has been a senior assistant attorney since 2014. He previously served as a senior child interest program with the Florida Guardian Ad Litem Program from 2012-2014.

He fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Eric M. Beller.

Scott also appointed Jose A. Izquierdo, a criminal defense lawyer, to the 17th Judicial Circuit serving Broward County. The 40-year-old Miramar resident most recently practiced on his own and with Izquierdo & Marin, according to a governor’s office news release. He previously was with the Law Offices of Bradford M. Cohen.

He fills the seat vacated by Cynthia G. Imperato, who resigned from the bench earlier this year.

Scott also appointed Michelle L. Naberhaus and Thomas J. Brown to the Brevard County Court.

Naberhaus, a 41-year-old Merritt Island resident, has practiced with Dean Mean P.A. since 2015. From 2013 until 2015, she was a sole practitioner for Michelle L. Naberhaus P.L. Previously, she was a shareholder with GrayRobinson P.A. She fills a vacancy created by Cathleen B. Clarke’s resignation.

Brown, a 52-year-old Melbourne resident, is an assistant state attorney for the States Attorney Office in the 18th Judicial Circuit. He was previously an attorney for the Law Office of Howard Allen.

He fills a vacancy created by John C. Murphy‘s removal from the bench. Murphy was caught on courtroom video berating and threatening to fight an assistant public defender.

The incident was widely reported by state and national news media, causing the Florida judicial system “to become a national embarrassment,” investigators said.

Scott also appointed Susan H. Rothstein-Youakim to the Second District Court of Appeal.

The 46-year-old Tampa resident has been an Assistant United States Attorney for the United States Attorney’s Office in the Middle District of Florida since 1995. She fills a vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Chris W. Altenbernd.

Buckle up.

The Florida Highway Patrol kicked off its “Click It or Ticket” campaign. The campaign, which runs through June 5 and coincides with Memorial Day weekend, is meant to remind drivers to make sure they buckle their seat belt when they’re on the roads.

Col. Gene Spaulding, the director of the Florida Highway Patrol, said the agency is “committed to raising awareness and enforcement regarding the importance of wearing a seatbelt to help ensure motorists arrive alive.”

In 2015, more than 43 percent of those people who were killed in vehicles where seat belt use is required chose not to wear their seat belts. Florida law requires drivers and passengers in the front seat and all children under 18 to wear a seat belt when in a vehicle.

“Safety on our roadways is a critical component of protecting the millions of people who call Florida home and the millions more who visit us each year,” said Winter Park Police Chief Brett Railey, president of the Florida Police Chiefs Association.

The Florida Highway Patrol reminded drivers to buckle up; drive sober and obey all speed limits while driving to make sure you get to your destination safely.

Americans for Prosperity-Florida is firing back after the latest round of bad press for Enterprise Florida.

Arek Sarkissian with the Naples Daily News reported last week that outgoing Enterprise Florida President Bill Johnson gave two no-bid contracts his former spokeswoman for part-time consulting and speechwriting. The contracts were worth $158,000.

The news came as Sanford-Burnham Prebys Medical Discovery Institute announced it was to leaving Medical City in Orlando. The state spent $300 million dollars to get the group to Orlando about a decade ago.

“These most recent findings are further proof that Enterprise Florida and other entities that roll out taxpayer dollars should cease to exist,” said Chris Hudson, AFP-FL’s state director.  “When government picks winners and losers, taxpayers are on the hook for the inevitable losses these failed programs have produced.  The state of Florida needs to ensure that companies like Sanford Burnham Prebys are held accountable to tax payers.”

AFP-FL led the charge against a proposed $250 million for Enterprise Florida this legislative session. The proposal failed, and the state’s quick action closing fund will shut down at the end of the fiscal year.

Citizens Property Insurance is looking to protect policyholders.

Citizens Property Insurance Corporation’s Board of Governors this week approved a $2.46 billion risk transfer program aimed at providing prudent protection for policyholders. The package, which was unanimously approved, includes traditional reinsurance and capital market risk transfer to protect policyholders and eliminate the risk of assessment on all Florida policyholders in the event of a catastrophic storm.

“This risk transfer package represents a well-reasoned approach to protecting Citizens policyholders and Citizens’ surplus,” said Chris Gardner, Chairman of Citizens Board of Governors. “We have a responsibility to all our stakeholders to protect the significant gains Citizens has made over the past several years.”

The 2016 program shifts multi-year coverage down from higher levels and lowers the threshold at which the coverage would be tapped.  It also provides coverage for commercial non-residential properties not covered under the Florida Cat Fund.

Screen Shot 2016-05-24 at 3.14.03 PMTampa attorney Karen Skyers was named a member of the Florida A&M University College of Law’s “Distinguished Alumni.” Skyers is now with the Government Law & Lobbying Practice Group at Becker & Poliakoff

The award “recognizes alumni who have excelled in the legal profession while contributing to the community and school,” according to a press release. She graduated from the law school in 2010.

Skyers, who also speaks Spanish, was legislative aide to state Sen. Arthenia Joyner, the Tampa Democrat who rose to Senate Democratic Leader in 2014-16. She later was a lobbyist for Southern Strategy Group, a public defender in Hillsborough County and a child protective investigator for the Florida Department of Children and Families.

Gov. Scott ceremonially signed legislation this week that helps to create a coordinated care system to help state and local agencies treat Floridians affected by mental illness.

Scott held the ceremony to honor Mental Health Awareness month, and said he looks forward to “seeing these changes implemented in our behavioral healthcare system.”

“We need to do all we can to support the individuals and their families who are affected by mental illness and substance abuse, and this legislation is a great step forward to achieving that goal,” he said in a statement.

The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Rene Garcia, Sen. Bill Galvano, Sen. Jeremy Ring, Rep. Gayle Harrell and Rep. Kathleen Peters. The bill (SB 12) was formally signed into law on April 15.

“This is the first step to ensuring Floridians suffering from mental illness or substance addiction can improve health, and professional and personal relationships while growing towards their full potential,” said Peters.

Thinking of buying a house?

You’re going to pay a bit more this year than you would have in 2015.

In April, the statewide medical sales price for single-family homes was $213,000. That’s up 9.2 percent from the same time in 2015, according to the Florida Realtors. The median sales price for a townhouse was $160,000 in April, up 4.4 percent from April 2015.

“The positive growth we’re seeing in sales for homes priced above the $150,000 mark is being offset by a continuing decline of homes for sale in the most affordable price ranges,” said Brad O’Connor, the chief economist for Florida Realtors. “This trend is due in part to the ongoing decline in sales of distressed properties. In April, distressed sales accounted for less than 12 percent of all closed Multiple Listing Service (MLS) sales in Florida – the lowest such percentage we’ve recorded since the initial stages of the downturn last decade.”

While the median price may be higher, the interest rate for a mortgage is slightly lower. According to Freddie Mac, the interest rate for a 30-year fixed rate mortgage averaged 3.61 percent in April 2016. That’s down 3.67 percent one year earlier.

Congratulations, Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla and Rep. Erik Fresen.

The Association of Florida Colleges Council of Presidents has named Diaz de la Portilla and Fresen its 2016 Legislators of the Year. The honor is given to lawmakers who make significant contributions to enhance and support the Florida College System.

Diaz de la Portilla was recognized for his role in ensuring campus safety was at the forefront of conversations. He opposed campus carry legislation, declining to hear the bill in his committee. Fresen was honored for his work for securing additional funding for the Florida College System. The college system saw an increase of $53.7 million in funding. Fresen serves as chairman of the House Education Appropriations subcommittee.

“Without the aid of these influential state legislators, we would not be able to further the mission of the Florida College System and provide employers with a pipeline of workforce talent, which continues to be our primary mission.” said Carol Probstfeld, president of the State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota and chairwoman of the Council of Presidents.

Next time you see Sens. Joe Negron and Arthenia Joyner, make sure to give them a pat on the back.

The Florida Network of Youth and Family Services honored Negron and Joyner during its annual Florida Network Annual Awards luncheon in Orlando. The two state lawmakers were honored for their work fighting for Florida’s families.

“We are proud to honor leaders and agencies that have truly made a difference in the lives of Florida’s youth and who have dedicated their time and talent toward building strong communities and families,” said Stacy Gromatski, president and CEO of Florida Network. “At the Florida Network, we are continuously amazed by the remarkable work of these youth services executives, volunteers, staff, leaders and board members throughout Florida and are excited to recognize their accomplishments.”

Joyner was awarded the Chairman’s Leadership Award 2016; while Negron was named the 2016 Legislator of the Year.

The Florida Network of Youth and Family Services gave out 10 other awards: Nehemiah Educational and Economic Development, Inc. in Orlando and the Youth Crisis Center in Jacksonville were named Agency of the Year 2016; the 2016 Counselor of the Year were Abraham Greene with the Urban League of Palm Beach County and Amber Minton with Orange County Youth and Family Services; the 2016 Manager of the Year was Stepheny Durham with the Youth Crisis Center in Jacksonville; the 2016 Network Executive of the Year was Andrew Coble with Youth and Family Alternatives in New Port Richey; the 2016 Networker of the Year was David Ulloa with Arnette House in Ocala; the 2016 Program of the Year was Family Place at Capital City Youth Services in Tallahassee; and the 2016 Youth Care Worker of the Year were Carlos Childs with Family Resources in Pinellas Park and Jason Kasten of Arnette House in Ocala.

If you’re a fan of theme parks, then Florida is the place to be.

According to a report from AECOM and the Themed Entertainment Association, seven of the Top 25 amusement and theme parks in the world are located in Florida. Topping the list? Disney World’s Magic Kingdom. The amusement park drew 20.5 million visitors in 2015.

Epcot at Disney World saw 11.7 million visitors in 2015, earning it the No. 6 spot on the list; followed by Disney’s Animal Kingdom at Disney World with 10.9 million visitors and Disney’s Hollywood Studios at Disney World with 10.8 million visitors.

The Mouse may have snagged four of the spots on the list, but Florida’s other theme parks weren’t overlooked. Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure — both at Universal Orlando — made the list; as did Seaworld.

Give Rishi Nair a high five!

The 12-year-old Seffner, Florida student won the 2016 National Geographic Bee in Washington, D.C. this week.

Rishi, according to the Associated Press, clinched the win by correctly answering “Galapagos Islands” to the question: “A new marine sanctuary will protect sharks and other wildlife around Isla Wolf in which archipelago in Pacific Ocean?”

Rishi gets a $50,000 scholarship and becomes a lifetime member of the National Geographic Society. Rishi also gets a trip to Alaska and Glacier Bay National Park. Bundle up, Rishi!

Want a student to succeed? Give them a mentor.

That’s what Florida’s top college football coaches said they would do if they ran the state’s universities. The coaches — Florida State Coach Jim Fisher, Florida Coach Jim McElwain and Miami Coach Mark Richt — were on hand for Gov. Scott’s Degrees to Jobs Summit in Orlando this week.

The coaches said mentors help students navigate the system.

Photo courtesy of the Governor's Office.
Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office.

“They see at the end of the tunnel that there is truly a network of people helping them navigate, how to do it,” said Richt. “A lot of it is [students] just being exposed to things they have never been exposed to before.”

The panel, moderated by Scott, also gave the governor a chance to try his hand at being a sports reporter. Scott asked each of the coaches who was “going to bring the great state of Florida the next football national championship?”

Said Fisher, “Florida State.”

Said McElwain, “I have to answer, ‘Chomp! Chomp!’ to that.”

Said Richt, who is just taking over a Miami program that struggled offensively last year: “Yeah, we’re working on getting a first down, right now. We’ll take it one day at a time.”

Rep. Carlos Trujillo is a champion, a legislative champion that is.

The Boys & Girls Club of Miami-Dade County named Trujillo a 2016 Legislative Champion for Children. The Miami Republican was presented with the award by the Miami-Dade Boys & Girls Club Teen Advocates during a visit to the center earlier this week.

Trujillo, whose district includes parts of Broward, Miami-Dade and Collier counties, was recognized for his commitment to children.

The Miami-Dade organization has been serving the community for more than 60 years. In 2015, it served 8,000 children at five sites. According to the organization, 90 percent of students who attend the Miami-Dade Boys & Girls Club graduate from high school.

It’s nearly here.

The Atlantic hurricane season officially starts June 1, and officials spent the week reminding Floridians to get prepared.

“Although my home state of Florida has not seen a hurricane make landfall in almost 11 years, we must never sit idle and succumb to hurricane amnesia,” said Sen. Marco Rubio during a Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation subcommittee meeting this week.

Rubio convened a Senate hearing this week to talk about improvements in forecasting, and how to enhance tracking and intensity forecasts.

“The need for timely and accurate forecasts cannot be overstated,” he said during the hearing. “Indeed, advancements in forecasting have made great strides as technology and research have intersected.”

CFO Jeff Atwater also encouraged people to get prepared. In his newsletter this week, Atwater reminded Floridians to conduct and insurance checkup to make sure they are adequately covered and to make sure they have cash on hand, in case power goes out and ATM access is limited.

It may also be a good time to stock up on bottled water, canned goods, batteries, and other emergency supplies.

“More than ten years have passed since Florida faced a major hurricane, but as the 2016 hurricane season approaches, I encourage all Floridians to dust off their family’s hurricane plans and prepare for the possibility that a storm could hit Florida’s shores,” said Atwater.

While season officially starts June 1, the Associated Press reported tropical weather got a head start Hurricane Alex made an unseasonable debut in January over the far eastern Atlantic. The long-term season averages are 12 named storms, with six hurricanes and three “major” ones with winds topping 110 mph.

Looking for a hard-working, dedicated, and innovated employee?

Consider hiring a veteran.

That was the message Gen. Lloyd J. Austin III, the former commander of the United States Central Command, sent to attendees at Gov. Scott’s Degrees to Jobs Summit this week. Austin applauded the state for its work on behalf of veterans, and encouraged universities and businesses to continue to open their doors to members of the armed forces.

“We want to do all we can to help them and their families to be successful, after they’ve spent so much … time in uniform serving our country,” he said. “I believe our veterans represent the very best of America. They are highly disciplined, principled, mission focused and often mature beyond their years. They’ve learned the the value of hard work and team work, and put those skills to practice in challenging environments on Earth and under the most stressful positions imaginable.”

Photo courtesy of the Governor's Office.
Photo courtesy of the Governor’s Office.

Austin said the state’s institutions of higher education and business should continue to promote veterans on campuses and in the workforce. The state, he said, should also make sure there are enough resources to make sure veterans are connected to the “right opportunities” once they leave the military.

“They are indeed great Americans. They are the very best in what they do, and I could not be more proud of them,” he said. “I believe any company or organization would be incredibly fortunate to welcome them to be a part of their team. And I believe that by helping them, we will make America better, stronger, safer and more prosperous.”

According to the University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research, consumer sentiment among Floridians fell 1.6 points in May. The reading is lower than the previous 12-month average, and marks the third straight month the consumer sentiment has fallen.

“This pessimistic perception is the main force behind the overall decrease in Florida’s consumer sentiment index this month and is shared by all Floridians, independent of their age, gender or income,” said Hector H. Sandoval, director of the Economic Analysis Program at UF’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research. “Nonetheless, it is worth noting that the two groups exhibiting the most drastic change in perceptions as to whether this is a good time to make a big household purchase are the elder population and those with annual income less than $50,000.”


Opinions about whether now is a good time to buy a big-ticket item, like appliances or automobiles, plummeted from 101.4 to 92.8 in May. Expectations about the U.S. economy also dropped.

Since the third quarter of 2013, Florida has experienced positive annual state gross domestic product growth rates. The state’s labor market has also experienced positive annual job growth for almost six years.

“Despite the positive trends in Florida’s economy over recent years, Floridians tend to have pessimistic economic expectations about the future,” said Sandoval. “These negative expectations might be associated with the slowdown of China’s economy, which experienced its slowest quarterly pace since 2009. But they might also be a result of the uncertainty associated with the upcoming presidential election, as its outcome will have important consequences for U.S. economic policy.”

Say good-bye to the Atlantic snook season.

Recreational snook season in Atlantic state and federal waters closes on June 1. The harvest will reopen in Atlantic state and federal waters — including Lake Okeechobee and the Kissimmee River — on Sept. 1.

Snook is also closed in the state and federal Gulf of Mexico waters, including Everglades National Park and Monroe County, through Aug. 31. The Gulf of Mexico season reopens Sept. 1

Snook can be caught and released during the closed season, but anglers are cautioned to use proper handling methods to guarantee an abundant population for generations to come. Anglers can report their catch on the Snook & Gamefish Foundation’s website.

Here is this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

capitol directions - 5.28.16

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.