Takeaways from Tallahassee – A storm of voting

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The Legislature’s incoming leadership is looking to Gov. Rick Scott to lead the way on remaking the state’s voter registration law.

Earlier this week, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker of Tallahassee ordered the registration deadline for the Nov. 8 general election extended one week, from this Tuesday to next Tuesday, because of Hurricane Matthew.

The state’s Democrats and League of Women Voters had filed suit.

He said state law has a “gap” in not specifically allowing more time to register after a natural disaster. Florida closes the books 29 days before Election Day.

But Walker also ruled that Scott, who had declined to extend the registration period, didn’t have the constitutional or statutory authority to do so even if he wanted to.

Scott spokeswoman Jackie Schutz soon issued a statement: “The State will follow the court’s decision and discuss with the Legislature possible amendments to current law during the upcoming legislative session.”

On Friday, a spokeswoman for Senate President-designate Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, first pointed out that the state’s online voter registration system “should be operational by October 2017.”

“Moving forward, certainly the (Senate Committee on Ethics and Elections) or any individual senator could review the current litigation and any recommendation from the Governor or the Department of State to determine if a change needs to be made,” Katie Betta said.

“Likewise, Sen. Negron is certainly open to reviewing any recommendations, but he also wants to make sure that we take into account and monitor the implementation of the new online system, which hopefully will be another way to address some of the concerns that individuals have expressed in the wake of Hurricane Matthew,” she added.

House Speaker-designate Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, was similarly deferential.

“We will take a serious look at any proposal on this issue from the Governor’s Office,” he said in an email, also Friday. “The integrity of the voting process is vital to the health of our state and the nation.”

So for now, sounds like it’s up to Scott and his general counsel, William Spicola, to figure out a fix for the current voter registration mess.

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

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

Cleaning up — One week after Hurricane Matthew sideswiped Florida, recovery continues in some parts of the state. The megastorm knocked out power to more than 1 million customers across the state. Gov. Rick Scott spent much of the week traveling the state assessing damages. Insurance claims related to the storm surpassed 39,000, and estimated losses were about $218 million. Residential property claims account for 34,913 claims, while commercial claims were at 652. Volusia County was the hardest hit, reporting 11,955 claims, followed by Duval County with 6,536 claims. As of Thursday, 4,806 Jacksonville customers were still without power.

#LoveFL — The Sunshine State has received a lot of attention for stormy weather in recent weeks, but Visit Florida wants to make sure tourists know Florida is open for business. The state’s tourism agency launched a four-prong campaign this week to boost the tourism industry. The “Open for Business” campaign includes videos, social media and plans to support communities damaged by Hurricanes Matthew and Hermine. The campaign includes a push to post images on social media with the hashtag #LoveFL.

More days — A federal judge extended the voter registration deadline until Oct. 18, after the Florida Democratic Party and the League of Women Voters filed separate suits to prolong the deadline because of Hurricane Matthew. In a hearing Wednesday, U.S. District Judge Mark Walker said he had no opinion on when the state closed registration but said the hurricane was the issue. “There is no right more precious than having a voice in our elections,” said the judge.

Dead incentives walking — House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran continued his quest against Gov. Scott’s incentive package, telling the Texas Public Policy Foundation that doesn’t think the state’s incentive fund will “exist for at least the next four to six years given the Republican leadership in the House.” Corcoran has been an outspoken opponent to incentives and acknowledged he was a big reason why Scott’s $250 million proposal failed. Scott is proposing $85 million for incentives during the 2017 legislative session. Corcoran has called incentive programs “corporate welfare.”

They’re back — Health officials identified a new transmission zone for locally acquired Zika this week. The governor announced this week that new transmissions were occurring in a one-square mile area in Miami-Dade County. Five people — two women and three men — infected with the virus from the area. Three live in the 1 square mile identified, while two work in or have visited the area. Gov. Scott requested that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention work with the Miami-Dade Mosquito Control District to identify the best practices for defeating Zika. There were 1,021 cases of Zika in Florida as of Thursday. According to state health officials, 155 of those cases were locally transmitted.


Check your smoke detector.

That’s the message CFO Jeff Atwater is sending to Floridians as part of the 2016 Fire Prevention Week. The annual event is meant to encourage Americans to make sure they check their smoke alarms on a monthly basis.

“Smoke alarms are proven to save lives, but they can’t help if the batteries are dead or if the machine isn’t working properly because it has outlived its life span,” said Atwater, who also serves as the state’s fire marshal. “We’re focused this week — and year-round — on ensuring that all Florida families have smoke alarms in their homes and that they understand the importance of testing them.”

Firefighters across the state responded to more than 50,000 fires in 2015, which translates to one every 11 minutes. Nearly $700 million in property damage occurred and 215 people lost their lives during the same time period.

Need a job? CareerSource Florida can help.

The CareerSource Florida network reported it helped 32,125 Floridians get jobs in September.

“More than 300,000 individuals who received assistance from the CareerSource Florida network have found jobs so far this year,” said Chris Hart IV, the organization’s president and CEO. “In today’s global marketplace, our network partners are dedicated to increasing the prosperity of workers and employers by connecting businesses with the talent needed to compete and grow.”

The Top 3 local boards for job placement in September were CareerSource Tampa Bay, CareerSource Pinellas; and CareerSource Brevard. Since January, the CareerSource Florida network reported helping 306,855 Floridians find jobs.

Cyclists, rejoice!

The Florida Department of Transportation awarded more than $44 million to 45 separate projects for to expand bicycle and pedestrian trails across Florida.

The projects include the construction of 11 trail segments, which will add or approve 20 miles of trail. Another 34 projects are in pre-construction phases, and the money will be used for feasibility studies, environmental review and design.


“Florida is proud to be an outdoors state, and our many incredible bicycle, pedestrian and multiuse trails are great activities for Floridians and visitors to enjoy,” said Gov. Scott in a statement. “I am proud to join FDOT in celebrating this investment today as we work to provide more safe recreational opportunities for families across our state.”

All of the projects are part of the state’s Shared-Use Nonmotorized (SUN) Trail program, which consists of developing a statewide system of paved, multiuse trails for bicyclists and pedestrians.

Thanks, AT&T.

Gov. Scott announced this week that the telecommunications giant gave $25,000 to the Florida Disaster Fund. The governor activated the fund earlier this week to help those impacted by Hurricane Matthew.

“Humanitarian responses to natural disasters depend on contributions from the public as well as the generosity of governments,” said Joe York, AT&T president for Florida, Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands. “AT&T’s contribution to the Florida Disaster Fund will help Floridians as they begin the work of recovery and rebuilding.”

The fund, administered by the Volunteer Florida Foundation, is the state’s official private fund established to help Florida communities in times of disaster.

“The Florida Disaster Fund was established with exactly this type of disaster in mind,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Chester Spellman. “Disaster relief organizations have been serving the people of Florida since before Hurricane Matthew made landfall, and AT&T’s generous support allows us to support those organizations and the families they serve. We are grateful.”

Want to help? Donations can be made by visiting www.floridadisasterfund.org.

When it comes to combating human trafficking, Floridians appear to be underwhelmed by the state’s efforts.

The USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey found 29 percent of Floridians said the state was doing a “fair” job at reducing human trafficking. Another 23 percent of respondents said the state was doing a “poor” job; while 19 percent said Florida leaders were doing a “good” job at reducing human trafficking.

A quarter of respondents didn’t offer an opinion on the matter, and just 4 percent said Florida was doing an “excellent” job.

Combating human trafficking has been a top priority for Attorney General Pam Bondi. The Tampa Republican has said she is dedicated to making Florida a zero-tolerance state for human trafficking.


The Attorney General’s Office teamed up with the Department of Transportation to spread the message along Florida’s roadways. And Bondi has worked with state lawmakers to pass legislation to crack down on the trafficking in the state.

But despite those efforts, Floridians don’t seem to think the state is doing a great job. The USF-Nielsen survey found females, working-age Floridians, African-Americans and Hispanics rate the state’s efforts to reduce human trafficking as “poor.” Males and young Floridians, the survey found, are more likely to give the state a “good” or “excellent” rating.

The Sunshine State Survey was conducted by The Nielsen Company from Sept. 1 through Sept. 9. The company surveyed 1,248 Floridians, and the study has a margin of error of 2.7 percent.

Florida is doing just a so-so job regulating drones.

The USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey found 30 percent of Floridians said the state was doing a “fair” job regulating drones; while 24 percent said gave Florida the state “poor” marks. Nearly a quarter of respondents didn’t give an opinion.

The survey found 22 percent of Floridians thought the state’s regulation of private drone use was either “good” or “excellent.”

State lawmakers in 2015 passed a law protecting Floridians from unwanted surveillance. The law, called the Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act, allows drones to be used to assess property taxes, aerial mapping and environmental monitoring.

About 38 percent of older Floridians said Florida was doing a poor job regulating drones; while 27 percent of younger Floridians gave the state high marks for its regulatory efforts.

Law enforcement officers get top marks in Florida.

Nearly two-thirds (65 percent) of Floridians said the state’s law enforcement officers were doing a “good” or “excellent” job. Those ratings, part of the USF-Nielsen Sunshine State Survey, are consistent with the responses given over the past three years.

The survey found 79 percent of Floridians living in the Naples area thought law enforcement officers were doing either an “excellent” or “good” job.

In the Miami-Fort Lauderdale region, 55 percent of Floridians said they thought law enforcement was doing an “excellent” or “good job;” while 68 percent of people in both the Tampa Bay and Orlando regions thought law enforcement officers were doing either an “excellent” or “good” job.

As more police departments across the country are adding body cameras to their equipment lists, policymakers keep locking down the video those cameras create.

There are now “at least 21 states and dozens of municipalities (that) have instituted policies that range from treating body camera footage like other public records to imposing outright bans on releasing footage,” according to a report earlier this week in Stateline, a blog by the Pew Charitable Trusts.

Last year, Florida passed a public records exemption covering body-camera video. A privacy exception now prevents disclosure of footage taken inside a home, at a hospital or at the scene of a “medical emergency.”

And a catchall provision exempts body-camera video taken anywhere an individual recorded had a “reasonable expectation of privacy.” It does, however, allow the subject of any footage to authorize its release.

“Over the last two years, and without much regulation, police departments have hurried to strap body cameras to their officers, both to address demands for transparency and to protect police from accusations of wrongdoing,” the blog said.

” … When writing body camera access laws, states have been walking a line between providing access and protecting private information and the privacy of crime victims.”

In Florida, state Sen. Chris Smith, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, was behind the current law as a privacy-protection measure, according to The Tampa Tribune.

Police with body cameras can go through one’s home “room to room, closet to closet … and your neighbor can request that (video) … and can put the layout of your house on YouTube tomorrow,” Smith told the paper, referring to the video-sharing website.

In another article, Smith used a hypothetical example of a certain celebrity gossip website and the actress wife of the then-Miami Heat basketball team’s star guard.

If a police body-cam video was taken “in a park, parking lot or other public place, fine,” he said. “But if police are called to Dwyane Wade’s house, TMZ shouldn’t be able to get a tape of Gabrielle Union in (hair) rollers.”

The citrus forecast is bleak

The federal government is predicting a 14 percent decrease in Florida orange production next year and a drop in grapefruit of 11.5 percent. The service foresees yields of only 70 million boxes of oranges and 9.6 million boxes of grapefruit, the state’s signature fruits.

“Although not unexpected, today’s forecast is disheartening and further proof of the trying times facing Florida’s citrus industry,” Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said in a statement. “Production of our state’s signature crop is down 70 percent from 20 years ago, and the future of Florida citrus depends on a breakthrough in the fight against greening. We must continue to support our growers and provide them with every tool available to combat greening.”

Putnam has issued a “crisis declaration” seeking approval from the Environmental Protection Agency to let citrus growers “use certain antimicrobial treatments to combat greening.”

Ten months, $15 million in new tax revenue.

Airbnb announced this week it has directly contributed more than $15 million in new tax revenue to state and county governments in the past 10 months. The community-driven hospitality company remitted $14 million to the Florida Department of Revenue as of Oct. 1. It paid about than $1.25 million in tourist taxes in Pinellas, Orange and Lee counties.

“Our host community wants to pay its fair share, and we want to help,” said Michael O’Neil, Airbnb Florida’s Head of Public Policy. “Through our statewide sales tax deal and agreements to collect and remit tourist development taxes in 31 counties, we are providing a massive new revenue stream for the people of Florida. We are eager to begin collecting and remitting taxes in the remaining 36 counties as soon as possible.”

Call them the “Good Food” group.

The James Beard Foundation and Food Tank released its third annual Good Food Org Guide, and features 15 Florida food initiatives. The guide highlights organizations making an impact through their work.

“The Good Food Org Guide continues to serve as a useful tool for individuals looking for opportunities to improve their local food system,” says Susan Ungaro, President of the James Beard Foundation. “The Guide’s user-friendly design makes it the go-to resource for identifying nearby organizations doing good work in the areas of food justice, hunger and agriculture.”

The Florida groups included in the 2016 guide are Earth Learning; Farmworker Association of Florida; the Florida Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics; Fort Lauderdale Vegetables; the Harry Chapin Food Bank; Florida Impact, Florida Introduces Physical Activity and Nutrition to Youth; Florida Organic Growers; The Florida Research Center for Agricultural Sustainability; Urban Greenworks; Urban Oasis Project; Healthy Jacksonville Childhood Obesity Prevention Coalition; Tallahassee Food Network; Transition Sarasota; and The Urban Farmer Florida.

The 2016 food guide can be found at www.goodfoodorgguide.com.

Foreclosures may be down, but Florida still leads the nation in seizing foreclosed homes.

According to the Orlando Business Journal, Florida ranked the highest in the nation for the number of completed foreclosures in the year ending in August.

The state had 55,000 completed foreclosures in the one-year period. Texas came in second with 27,000 foreclosures, followed by Ohio with 23,000 and California with 22,000. Georgia rounded out the Top 5 with 21,000 completed foreclosures.

The Orlando Business Journal reported the five states account for about 35 percent of all completed foreclosures across the country.

Florida keeps adding private sector jobs.

New employment data released by payroll company ADP shows Florida added 18,800 private-sector jobs in September. The report shows Florida added more jobs than any other state in the report except Texas, which added 24,900 jobs last month.

The majority of Florida’s new jobs were added in the service industry, though the state also saw gains in manufacturing, and mining and construction.

The numbers were an improvement over August, when Florida added 15,200 jobs.

Focus on Zika response.

That was the message Floridians for Reproductive Freedom sent to Gov. Scott this week. The organization delivered a letter to the Governor’s Office, requesting “immediate and specific action on the Zika virus outbreak and the growing public health crisis in Florida.”

“Gov. Scott needs to set aside politics and address the Zika crisis with a comprehensive approach that includes expanding health coverage through the state Medicaid program,” said Hannah Willard, the public policy director for Equality Florida. “Floridians for Reproductive Freedom stands at the ready and looks forward to assisting Gov. Scott and our health departments to address this crisis, educate the public on resources available to them, and prevent the Zika outbreak from continuing to spread.”

The group urged Scott to “coordinate efforts with local health departments and other public health entities … to effectively promote available resources and coordinate preventive care efforts.”

There were 1,014 cases of Zika virus in Florida as of Oct. 12.

Congratulations to the newest group of Hall of Famers!

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam announced the four honorees who will be inducted into the Florida Agriculture Hall of Fame in 2017. Putnam said all four inductees have made “outstanding contributions to Florida Agriculture.”

The 2017 honorees are Eugene Badger, who was appointed by George W. Bush as the head of the state Agriculture Stabilization and Conservation Service, now known as the United States Department of Agriculture’s Farm Service Agency; Joe Marlin Hilliard, who was one of the first producers to grow sugar cane on sandy soil; William Cook, who was instrumental in the creation of the Florida Forestry Foundation, which provides ongoing financial backing for 45 teachers from across the state to participate in the Florida Forestry Teachers’ Tour to educate kids about forestry; and W. Bernard Lester, provided leadership to Florida agriculture and landowners through his 20-year service with the Florida Land Council.

There’s a new blog in town.

Florida TaxWatch announced this week it was launching a policy and research-based blog. The posts, written by TaxWatch staff, is expected to provide insight into timely and relevant issues facing Florida.

“We are thrilled to share world-class research on wide-ranging issues that affect everyone in the Sunshine State,” said Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro. “Combined with our decades of experience in nonpartisan research, this new outlet will allow us to reach more taxpayers.”

The organization’s blog can be found at http://www.floridataxwatch.org/blog.

It’s time to get cooking.

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam launched the first in a series of cooking videos on social media this week. The videos feature quick, hands-only preparation of “Fresh from Florida” recipes. Each video provides step-by-step instructions for dishes using Florida seafood and produce.

“These ‘Fresh!’ videos will help simplify consumers’ lives by providing easy recipes with wholesome Florida products. Consumers don’t need to go any further than their social media accounts to access these simple and healthy recipes,” said Putnam in a statement.

The videos feature Chef Justin Timineri making an appetizer, main dish, salad, side dish or dessert. The desserts range from one to two minutes long and can be found on most social media platforms.


Make pay raises a priority.

The Florida Police Benevolent Association is asking state lawmakers and the governor to make pay raises for public safety officers a priority during the 2017 legislative session.

“The low salaries have turned our state agencies into training grounds for local police departments and sheriff’s offices. The officer turnover leaves state agencies short-handed with inexperienced staff,” said Matt Puckett, the director of the Florida PBA, in a statement. “During the upcoming legislative session, Florida must prioritize increasing the salaries of public safety professionals. Our state officers are falling further behind their local peers.”

Florida’s state law enforcement officers, highway patrolmen, special agents, and correction and probation officers are among the lowest paid public safety professionals in the United States. The state PBA has made increasing public safety salaries a top priority, and the group plans to put forth a proposal to address the needs of state workers.

“Officers are leaving in droves and citing low pay as the top reason,” said Puckett in a statement. “We have to create a fair system that promotes quality and retains our most experienced officers. We are asking everyone to support our efforts.”

Michael Harris is an adoption angel.

Harris, a child advocate manager for the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, was selected as a 2016 Angels in Adoption. The national program honors people nationwide that have made extraordinary contributions on behalf of children in need of families.

As a child advocate manager, Harris is a child welfare expert who advises, coaches, and supports Guardian ad Litem volunteers. Harris, a single parent, has adopted seven children and has fostered several others. He also has two biological children.

“Michael represents the best in us. His heartfelt commitment to abused and neglected children is a powerful message of what one person can do to change the path of a child’s life,” said Alan Abramowitz, the executive director of the Florida Guardian ad Litem Office. “We are incredibly proud of the example he sets as a father and as a team member of the Florida GAL Program.”

Seafood lovers, rejoice! Stone crab season is here.

The state’s recreational and commercial stone crab claw harvest season opens this weekend in state and federal waters. The season runs from Oct. 15 through May 15, 2017.

To be harvested, stone crab claws must be at least 2¾ inches in length when measured from the elbow to the tip of the immovable portion of the claw. Claws can’t be taken from egg-bearing stone crabs.

Recreational harvesters can use up to five stone crab traps per person. Stone crabs can’t be harvested with a device that can puncture, crush or injure the crab’s body. Harvesters are encouraged to take only one claw, so that the released crab will be better able to defend itself from predators.

Regulations for stone crab harvests are the same in state and federal waters.

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.