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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Everybody loves Ron

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Everybody loves Ron

Those who’ve been paying attention the last few months probably heard Gov. Ron DeSantis is the most popular Republican in Florida.

He’s more popular than U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, the two-term Governor he replaced. Same goes for U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

That was the case in January.

Everyone loves Ron DeSantis, the most popular Republican in Florida.

The good news for DeSantis: A new St. Pete Polls survey says that’s still true in June.

The poll of 3,095 Florida voters, conducted over Father’s Day weekend, found DeSantis with a plus-34 job approval rating.

That includes 58 percent who say DeSantis is acing it and 24 percent who are wagging their fingers at the first-termer. The balance is holding back judgment.

Unsurprisingly, Republican voters make up the bulk of his base, with 81 percent saying they approve of his performance thus far. Independent voters are also in his camp by a 58-22 percent margin.

There has been some slippage among registered Democrats. However, the temperature across the aisle has yet to dip from lukewarm to tepid.

DeSantis is just eight points underwater among those voters, 24 percent of them are still holding back judgment.

By comparison, President Donald Trump — whose support catapulted DeSantis into the statewide spotlight — scored a negative-65 among Florida Dems in the same poll and also found him trailing former Vice President Joe Biden by a narrow margin at the top of the ticket next year.

With DeSantis’ first budget following through on promises of record environmental spending and more cash for Hurricane Michael recovery, there’s no sign of his momentum slowing down.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Drew Wilson, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

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

Take 5

DeSantis signs 2019-20 budget — DeSantis signed his first state budget Friday, one week after the Legislature sent it to him for review. Even after $131 million in line-item vetoes, the $91.1 billion spending plan is the largest in state history by a $2 billion margin. The budget (SB 2500) includes $682 million for the environment, a major priority of DeSantis’ heading into the 2019 Legislative Session. About $400 million of that cash will be used for Everglades restoration. Money for the Hurricane Michael recovery effort was DeSantis’ other big ask this year, and the Legislature stepped up with $220 million for a wide array of projects in the Panhandle. Also of note: a $242 increase in per-pupil funding, including a $75 increase in the base student allocation, which school districts have more flexibility in spending.

Florida unemployment rate ticks down — The state’s unemployment rate hit 3.4 percent in May, down a tenth of a point from April and still within the realm of what economists would call “full employment.” The dip came about as Florida businesses created another 16,000 jobs last month for a total of 208,000 new jobs and a job growth rate over 2.7 percent over the past 12 months. The state’s unemployment rate and job growth rate are also outpacing the national averages of 3.6 percent and 1.8 percent, respectively. “This month’s announcement shows the confidence businesses have in our state. We will continue to work with businesses to support a diverse economic environment by prioritizing disaster recovery, community development and workforce training,” Florida Department of Economic Opportunity head Ken Lawson said upon the release of the new figures.

The House is full — There were two special elections for Florida House seats this week, and both were decided in landslides. The new members are Port St. Joe Republican Jason Shoaf, who will fill the North Florida seat vacated by now-DBPR head Halsey Beshears; and Dade City Republican Randy Maggard, who’s replacing Department of Veterans Affairs’ Director Danny Burgess. Shoaf and Maggard will be sworn in alongside Coral Springs Democrat Dan Daley, who secured Broward-based House District 97 without opposition back in February. Daley succeeds another DeSantis appointee, Democrat Jared Moskowitz, who now leads the state’s Division of Emergency Management. With the elections over, the state House is back to 120 members — 75 Republicans and 45 Democrats.

Floridians want legal pot — Polls released this week found that the number of Florida voters itching for legal, adult-use cannabis has hit an all-time high. A survey put out by Quinnipiac University found Floridians would vote to legalize it by a 65-30 percent margin. Another, published by the University of North Florida support, showed even stronger support. They could get their wish, depending on how the petition gathering effort shakes out for Sensible Florida, the political committee backing a 2020 ballot initiative legalizing recreational pot.

Rays planning a soft exit? — The Tampa Bay Rays got the green light from the MLB this week to explore playing half their seasons in Montreal. The announcement was a surprise — and not a happy one — to some St. Petersburg pols, who’ve been working with the team to keep them in the area for years. But it wasn’t out of left field to Mayor Rick Kriseman, who said the team “broached the issue” with him after negotiations for a new stadium in neighboring Hillsborough County fizzled out. His response after the news broke: no way, no how. “The Rays cannot explore playing any Major League Baseball games in Montreal or anywhere else for that matter prior to 2028, without reaching a formal memorandum of understanding [MOU] with the City of St. Petersburg,” Kriseman said during a Thursday news conference.

Florida swelling in cargo, cruise

Florida’s port industry is moving full steam ahead.

According to a new report from the Florida Ports Council, a rising tide is lifting all boats — whether cruise or cargo — at the state’s 14 public seaports.

Florida ports are booming, with little sign of slowing down.

The council’s Pathway to Prosperity outlook for 2019-2023 shows upward of $87 billion in waterborne trade, a five percent increase over their prior report. That figure includes 110 million tons of cargo valued at an estimated $57.4 billion.

The state’s seven cruise ships are also seeing a bump in ridership, with a current annual throughput of 16.8 million passengers.

“This report demonstrates how our ports use waterfront assets as gateways to enhance the mobility of freight and passengers, to move production to destinations efficiently, and to put the right products on store shelves at the right time,” said Florida Ports Council head Doug Wheeler.

“And as they become more efficient, they also work to build environmental sustainability into every port project and activity, with priority initiatives related to air and water quality. They are stewards of port and community safety and security too.”

Lawmakers added to opioid task force

Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker José Oliva have made their picks for Florida’s Opioid Task Force.

Thonotosassa Sen. Tom Lee and Delray Beach Rep. Mike Caruso, both Republicans, will represent the Legislature on the panel headed up by Attorney General Ashley Moody.

Attorney General Ashley Moody is heading the state’s Opioid Task Force, which consists of several Florida Lawmakers.

Tackling the opioid epidemic has been on Moody’s agenda from day one, and earlier this year DeSantis created the task force and put her in charge via executive order.

The panel will research effective methods of combating the opioid epidemic, from regulatory reform to law enforcement training, to identify the best methods to push back on the crisis that currently kills 17 Floridians a day.

The 20-person panel is made up of 15 gubernatorial appointees, three AG picks, and one selection apiece for the House Speaker and Senate President.

Lee’s and Caruso’s terms start immediately and will run through April 1, 2020.

Instagram of the week

Thompson attends Juneteenth celebration

Wednesday marked 164 years since the Emancipation Proclamation reached every state, bringing about the end of slavery in the United States.

The holiday, known as Juneteenth, is celebrated across the country with public readings of the Emancipation Proclamation and works by black authors, as well as fun summer fares such as cookouts and parties.

Geraldine Thompson is taking part in Orlando’s annual Juneteenth celebrations.

State Rep. Geraldine Thompson joined in on the festivities, too, by guiding and narrating the Out of the Ground Central Florida Civil Rights Tour, which focused on the fight for freedom in the Central Florida area dating back to battles with early settlers.

“These Juneteenth celebrations mark an important moment in our history and culture as Americans. Memorializing these events reminds us of the hardships and the progress we’ve achieved in the fight for freedom. I am proud to honor those who fought tirelessly against cruelty and oppression and for the betterment of African Americans across this Nation,” the Windermere Democrat said.

“The Out of the Ground Tour is a unique way for Central Floridians to connect with that history, and I’m excited to be a part of this amazing gathering of rich history and culture.”

The tour culminated with the unveiling of an Equal Justice Initiative marker honoring slain voting rights advocate July Perry who was lynched in Orange County after he attempted to vote in Ocoee.

Apprenticeship programs ticking up

Last year, the Florida Chamber of Commerce released its “Florida 2030” research project outlining the current state of Florida’s economy and what kind of changes it could see over the next decade.

One of the eye-popping numbers in the report: Florida needs to create another 1.7 million jobs to support an expected 5 million new residents.

Department of Education Innovation Chancellor Eric Hall wants the turnaround time on applications for apprenticeships to go from several months to weeks.

This week, the Chamber hosted the Learners to Earners Workforce Summit, which focused on how government, business and education leaders could come together to help create those jobs through apprenticeship programs.

The state has pumped $3.5 million over the past two years into apprenticeship programs, with another $10 million on the way in the 2019-20 budget and a commitment from DeSantis that he’ll keep advocating for more workforce development initiatives.

According to the Chamber’s data, those seeds are already starting to take root — between 2017 and 2018, the state added another 15 apprenticeship programs for a total of 221.

While there was a slight dip in enrollees over that span, the 2018 measure of 12,207 active apprentices is half again larger than it was in 2016.

Those numbers could see a surge come next year, thanks to a new law that speeds up the application process for new apprenticeship programs.

According to Department of Education Innovation Chancellor Eric Hall, the turnaround time on applications will go from several months down to a matter of weeks.

Rommel snags ‘most valuable legislator’ award

The Florida Chamber of Commerce recognized lawmakers who pushed the pro-business group’s priorities during the 2019 Legislative Session this week, and Naples Republican Rep. Bob Rommel topped the list.

The Chamber said Rommel earned the 2019 “Most Valuable Legislator” award for his work shepherding the assignment of benefits reform package through the Legislature.

“Rep. Rommel championed and led ending Florida’s lawsuit abuse problem that is costing Florida’s families over $4,000 each year and has earned Florida an international reputation as a ‘Judicial Hellhole,’” said Florida Chamber President Mark Wilson.

AOB reform was one of the top issues of Session. Rommel sponsored a bill, HB 7065, aimed at cutting down on homeowners’ insurance litigation by requiring contractors to provide written cost estimates and allowing policyholders to back out of AOB contracts for any reason within two weeks.

DeSantis signed the bill last month.

“The Florida Chamber’s commitment to make sure Florida’s business community flourishes is unparalleled,” Rommel said in accepting the award.

“I was very proud to work with them this year to advance and enact unprecedented business reform legislation that will unleash Florida entrepreneurs to grow, innovate and create more jobs. I’m honored to receive this recognition from the Florida Chamber, and I look forward to our continued partnership.”

Hemp gets first hearings

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has started hashing out how the state’s new hemp program will get going.

The department released its first draft of the proposed rules for the program this week. A couple of days later, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and other department higher-ups held two public rule-making workshop — one in Pembroke Pines and another in Tampa — to discuss the new regulations.

Nikki Fried says hemp is the Florida crop of the future.

“The upcoming state hemp program marks a new industrial revolution — after 80 years of stalled progress, we can finally put hemp to work for farmers, entrepreneurs and consumers here in Florida,” Fried said after the Thursday workshop in Pembroke Pines.

“Our Department is working swiftly to ensure the program’s rules will be inclusive for everyone who wants to be involved with Florida hemp. Today’s public participation, questions, and feedback are a critical part of making Florida a national leader in hemp.”

The last of the three planned rule-making workshops will be 9 a.m. Monday at the R.A. Gray Building in Tallahassee.

More districts join ‘guardian program’

Three more county school districts have opted into the “Coach Aaron Feis Guardian Program,” which allows school personnel to carry firearms on the job after they complete a training program.

In February, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran directed Florida sheriffs to reopen the application window for districts wishing to implement the program and get a slice of the cash lawmakers set aside for its operation.

The school districts of Citrus, Gadsden and St. Johns counties each decided to take advantage, making for eight ‘guardian program’ additions this month.

“Florida’s students and parents have rightfully demanded increased security measures, and this is another example of education leaders responding to the call,” Corcoran said.

“There are cowards who prey on our schools, and with each new district who takes advantage of this opportunity to safeguard their students, the State of Florida is sending a message that we are united in protecting our state’s future generations.”

Including the three new additions, 33 of the state’s 67 county school districts have opted into the guardian program. The Department of Education said that another 15 districts have expressed interest in doing the same.

Florida flies high at Paris Air Show

The Florida Pavilion opened at the Paris Air Show this week, marking the 30th year Florida has shown up at the world’s largest air show.

 “The Paris Air Show is the largest gathering of aviation and aerospace companies and leaders this year. This is the ideal location for our small and medium-sized businesses to display their innovative products and services,” said Enterprise Florida head Jamal Sowell.

“It’s also the perfect setting for our economic development partners to talk with industry leaders and share the Florida business story.”

The booth was put together by Space Florida and EFI, and touted the state’s top-flight aviation and aerospace industries, which employ nearly 100,000 Floridians.

The pavilion outclassed the showings of other states making the trip across the pond, with 25 Florida companies and organizations showing up, including Delta International, Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and Embraer Aircraft Holdings.

Florida’s air industry also got a bit of expansion during the show when ERAU President P. Barry Butler announced UK-based Arralis would establish its US headquarters at the university’s John Mica Engineering and Aerospace Innovation Complex.

Nominations open for Human Trafficking Summit Awards

Usually, when an Attorney General says she wants people to name names, the hammer is about to drop.

Not this time.

Attorney General Moody put out a call Thursday for nominations for the upcoming 2019 Human Trafficking Summit Awards.

The summit host committee is seeking nominees “who took extraordinary measures to combat human trafficking or help trafficking survivors heal.” The four awards categories are Community Advocate of the Year, Law Enforcement Officer of the Year, Prosecutor of the Year, and Survivor Advocate of the Year.

“I am honored to serve alongside people committed to our mission of ending this form of modern-day slavery. If you know someone who is dedicated to the fight to stop human trafficking or strives to help survivors of this atrocious crime, please nominate them so we can recognize their efforts.”

The awards will be presented during the summit, scheduled for Sept. 30 in Orlando.

A+ Plan turns 20

On June 21, 1999, Gov. Jeb Bush signed into law the A+ Plan for Education.

The legislation came during a time when half of Florida fourth-graders were reading below grade level and half of the state’s high-schoolers weren’t graduating on schedule — if at all.

Two decades later, Florida’s fourth-graders rank fifth nationwide in reading achievement, and the high school graduation rate is sitting at an all-time high of 86 percent.

It was 20 years ago today: Jeb Bush’s A+ Plan for Higher Education program celebrates two decades.

While there’s still room for improvement, the American Federation for Children took the opportunity to reflect on the impact the A+ Plan had on Florida’s education system.

“20 years ago, Florida started down the path of what would become an unbelievable success story in education, especially for children in poverty,” said AFC Vice Chair John Kirtley. “Bold reforms from Gov. Bush and the legislature took Florida from the bottom of the state rankings to the top across critical measures of academic achievement.”

Ashley Elliott, a Future Leaders Fellow at the school choice advocacy organization, experienced the A+ Plan as a student.

“In high school, I started to struggle. I needed a new option that we didn’t think would be available to us. My family barely had the means to pay the electricity bills, let alone private school tuition.”

Thanks to the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship, however, she was able to attend a private school and do something she once thought impossible: graduate.

Florida Realtors praise state budget

After the 2019-20 budget got DeSantis’ signature, the state’s largest trade group handed out their stamp of approval.

“Thanks to the leadership of Gov. DeSantis, Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker José Oliva, we are seeing one of the biggest commitments to protecting and preserving Florida’s natural resources that I have ever witnessed,” 2019 Florida Realtors President Eric Sain said.

After Ron DeSantis signed the 2019-2020 budget, Florida Realtors were quick to lavish praise.

“Our environment is the lifeblood of our economy, and it fuels the desire of people to move to and remain in our state. We are elated to see that the governor and the legislature share this view and are committed to addressing Florida’s environmental issues.”

Florida Realtors also gave a shoutout for the language that allows the Division of Emergency Management to continue spending the $15 million currently being used for LIDAR, next-generation mapping technique and has the potential to lower flood insurance rates throughout Florida, as well as affordable housing funding.

“We also applaud the governor and legislature for their efforts to fund affordable housing projects, fight unlicensed real estate activity and continue next-generation elevation mapping within the state,” Sain said.

“These are important issues for Florida’s economy, real estate industry and the ability of people to buy, sell and protect their homes.”

DEO weighs in on 2019-20 budget

Praise rolled in from all corners after DeSantis OK’d the $91.1 billion budget passed by lawmakers last month.

“Since taking office, Gov. DeSantis has remained committed to providing smart, strategic investments for Florida,” said Department of Economic Opportunity head Lawson.

DEO head Ken Lawson is congratulating Ron DeSantis on his first state budget.

“We look forward to working with Gov. DeSantis and our sister agencies to continue focusing on making strong, smart and strategic investments in Florida’s infrastructure and workforce to achieve Gov. DeSantis’ vision for a better and brighter future for all Floridians.”

DEO’s wins this year include getting the authority to spend more than $620 million in federal disaster assistance to provide long-term recovery resources to communities impacted by Hurricane Irma, $40 million for the Job Growth Grant Fund, and a $7.7 million pot of cash for rural infrastructure projects.

Free & Charitable Clinics land $9.5M

Further down the state budget’s appropriations sheet was a $9.5 million grant to fund free and charitable clinics, and the association representing a consortium of those facilities couldn’t be happier.

“We are grateful the Florida House, Florida Senate and Governor recognize the direct, critical impact of free and charitable clinics provide throughout the state of Florida,” said Rep. Nick Duran, Executive Director of The Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics.

“These facilities, volunteers, and employees fill a critical gap in health care services for hundreds of thousands of Floridians without the means to afford the health care they need to live and work.”

The grant follows a report by FAFCC showing their member facilities served 229,018 patients in 53 counties last year.

FAFCC value of that work — performed by FAFCC’s 95 volunteer-driven, nonprofit, faith and community-based clinics — is ballparked at $100 million.

Capitol Directions

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