What a difference an election makes.
Democratic Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried has unveiled the full agenda for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ 2019 Florida Energy and Climate Summit.
The event, slated for Sept. 4-6 in Tampa, will kick off with an address from Fried and Kelley Smith Berk, the head of FDACS’ Office of Energy, followed by a panel discussion on all aspects of climate change, from transportation to education.
The department says the summit will bring together leaders in energy efficiency and development, sustainability, climate change, agriculture production, government, academic research, technology and finance from across the state and around the nation.
The theme of the event: “Powering Change.” And what a change it is.
The previous commissioner, Republican Adam Putnam, routinely avoided discussing climate change, let alone its causes. A consensus of scientists agree that it is to some degree caused by human activity.
When Rick Scott was Governor, state agencies were banned from using the phrase “climate change” or other related terms — his administration reportedly asked state employees to replace the phrase “sea-level rise” with “nuisance flooding.”
That policy ended with the new administration.
Environmental issues were a major part of Fried’s campaign platform, as well as that of Gov. Ron DeSantis, and neither has shied away from uttering those formerly dirty words.
“Energy touches every one of us every single day — from the food we eat, to how we move from one place to another, to the air we breathe,” Fried said in a statement.
“It’s critical that we create policies that take on climate change and position Florida to be a leader in energy innovation, so all Floridians have access to clean, affordable energy while creating new opportunities for Florida’s economy,” she added.
“This year’s summit will examine the interconnectedness of energy with other sectors, including agriculture, transportation and the environment.”
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson and the staff of Florida Politics.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Lowering expectations on revenues — A loss of corporate income tax and blackjack revenue share from the Seminole Tribe contributed to a dip in the state’s long-range financial outlook, which dropped $451.6 million for 2019-20 and $416.1 million for 2020-21, for a two-year reduction of $867.7 million. That’s in the context, however, of recent budgets running as high as $90.9 billion. The state builds money other than what’s called “general revenue” into the budget, including dollars from state trust funds and from the federal government.
Fireworks over Florida? — Bills filed in the Florida House and Senate would remedy a decades-old loophole allowing people to buy fireworks despite the fact they’re not actually legal in the state. Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez, both Republicans, filed bills creating an exemption to the state’s ban on fireworks allowing for their use on New Year’s Day, Memorial Day and Independence Day. The bills (SB 140 and HB 65) call for rules to be created to govern legal use, but does not define what those rules would be.
Turn over those texts — House Speaker José Oliva and his successor don’t consider a heated text-message exchange with an embattled lawmaker to be state-related business. But Rep. Mike Hill, a Pensacola Republican chastised by members of his party for his response to a suggestion gay people be put to death, did. He turned over messages after a public-records request by The News Service of Florida. The texts show Hill angered when Oliva and future House Speaker Chris Sprowls issued a joint statement condemning his refusal to push back.
Targeting gun preemption — Sen. Annette Taddeo filed a bill (SB 134) allowing local governments to approve stricter gun measures. Currently, local governments are preempted from passing gun control more restrictive than laws passed by the Legislature. The filing of legislation comes less than two weeks after a pair of mass shootings in Texas and Ohio. This also marked the start of the 2019-20 school year in many parts of Florida, reminding of a 2018 mass shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 people dead.
E-Fairness for cyber sales? — Sen. Joe Gruters filed a sales tax bill (SB 126) aimed at leveling the playing field for traditional stores. “It’s not an end-all-and-make-everything-Eden bill,” the Sarasota Republican said, “but it’s a way to do best by our retailers.” The legislation revises several definitions as far as remote and mail-order sales. The ultimate impact should be an e-fairness measure that has companies like Amazon charging sales tax the same as if a shopper purchases goods at the Mall at Millennia.
Jobs, jobs, jobs
Florida’s labor force grew to 10 million people last month, and the 3.3 percent unemployment rate continues the trend of outperforming the national rate.
According to new labor statistics, 128,000 Floridians have entered the workforce so far this year.
DeSantis touted the news as evidence the state economy is heading in the right direction.
“I am proud of our work to ensure Florida remains a state where businesses are encouraged to grow and create jobs,” he said. “We are continuing to prioritize policies that promote economic growth, including lowering taxes, smart investments in the environment, and working to make Florida the best state in the nation for workforce education.”
Education and health services jobs have seen the most significant growth over the year, adding 65,900 positions. Professional and business services added 41,900; leisure and hospitality accounted for 25,900; trade, transportation, and utilities grew by 23,000; and construction had a 21,300-job boom.
“Gov. DeSantis is leading the way — making the smart strategic investments across the state that are strengthening Florida’s economy in a real and sustainable way,” Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Director Ken Lawson said. “These employment numbers show that people believe they have the opportunity to live well and thrive in Florida.”
AG tackles teen vaping
Teen vaping is on the rise, but Attorney General Ashley Moody is joining other state attorneys general in taking steps to change that.
The “#BacktoSchoolOAG campaign” encourages parents to talk to their students about e-cigarette use. AGs are also asking top streaming services to quit placing vapes and other tobacco imagery in programs rated PG-13/TV-14 or below.
“As a mother, it is very important to me that our kids are not turned onto harmful habits and that is one reason why I am conducting a statewide fact-gathering mission into student vaping,” Moody said.
“I am also proud to stand with 42 of my peers in encouraging streaming services to eliminate tobacco-related imagery in content geared toward children. Parents, as your students head back to school, please talk to them about the risks associated with nicotine and e-cigarette use.”
The effort comes after a Florida Department of Health Study, nearly one in four Florida high school students now admits to vaping. The liquid in e-cigarettes contains nicotine, an addictive chemical contained in tobacco.
Workers’ Comp fraudster nabbed
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis this week announced the arrest of Norma Lopez Cedillo, who is accused of not paying more than $737,000 in workers’ compensation insurance premiums.
Cedillo was tracked down by investigators in CFO Patronis’ Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Fraud. Investigators in the bureau looked at payroll data and allege Cedillo concealed information to avoid paying higher premiums.
“Workers’ compensation fraud puts employees at risk of being underinsured and drives up insurance rates statewide for honest, hardworking businesses,” Patronis said. “Last year alone, my fraud detectives made nearly 400 arrests for workers’ compensation fraud. My office is committed to tracking down scam artists, and I applaud the great work of our dedicated fraud detectives”
The scheme led Cedillo to be charged with workers’ compensation premium fraud, organized scheme to defraud, and conspiracy to commit grand theft over $100,000.
If convicted, she could face up to 30 years in prison.
Instagram of the week
The week in appointments
Valencia College District Board of Trustees — DeSantis appointed John Davis, of Orlando, to the board. Davis is executive vice president of the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce. Previously, he served as president and led the African American Chamber of Commerce of Central Florida, and was external affairs director for the Department of Children and Families. He is appointed to a four-year term. The appointment is subject to confirmation by the state Senate.
Triumph Gulf Coast Board of Directors — Senate President Bill Galvano appointed James Matthew “Matt” Terry of Port St. Joe to the Board of Directors of Triumph Gulf Coast. Terry is the owner of Appraisal Group of North Florida, LLC. He is a lifelong resident of the Florida Panhandle with roots in Gulf County. Galvano called him “a strong advocate for communities across the Panhandle as they work to overcome the lasting impacts of the Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill as well as the devastation caused last fall by Hurricane Michael.”
Florida Turnpike Enterprise — FDOT Secretary Kevin Thibault appointed Nicola Liquori as the next Executive Director of the Florida Turnpike Enterprise (FTE). Liquori previously served as Deputy Executive Director and Chief Financial Officer for Florida’s Turnpike before taking the helm at SunRail. Liquori has 17 years of experience in the transportation industry as well as eight years of experience in public accounting. She replaces outgoing Executive Director Paul Wai, who is remaining at FDOT at the district level.
Senate Dems seek seat at the table
During the first interim committee week next month, Florida Senators will start discussing the root causes of mass shootings, including an uptick in white nationalism.
The endeavor is at the request of Senate President Galvano, who tapped Thonotosassa Republican Sen. Tom Lee to head up the committee.
The top Senate Democrat, Audrey Gibson, says those discussions should also include legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity magazines, as well as bills that would beef up background checks, expand the “red-flag law” and close the gun-show loophole.
Those proposals have been non-starters in past Legislative Sessions.
“Had the shooter in El Paso trained his sights on a city or town in Florida, not one of the safety measures adopted following Parkland — under 21 gun sale prohibition, expanded background checks, bump stock bans — would have stemmed the body count,” Gibson said.
“His act of terrorism was carried out with a single, unmodified AK-47-style semi-automatic rifle, legally purchased in Texas and easily available at gun stores and through private sales here in Florida.”
EFI touts manufacturer expansion
Four months after opening a facility in Gadsden County, Hoover Treated Wood Products is expanding.
The company, which owns and operates 10 locations nationwide, is adding a second shift to its Florida facility, creating new jobs. Hoover has also invested $4.5 million to build facilities on newly acquired property. The expansion was made possible with some help from Enterprise Florida and local government.
“We are thrilled to be here in Gadsden County. We have developed many new partnerships with the state of Florida, Gadsden County, the town of Havana and local suppliers,” said Hoover president Barry Holden. “We look forward to a long and mutually beneficial relationship with our new community.”
Celebrating the move were Sen. Bill Montford, Rep. Ramon Alexander, Gadsden County Development Council Antonio Jefferson, Gadsden County Chairperson Anthony Viegbesie and Havana Mayor Pro Tem Decorkus Allen. Also applauding the expansion was Enterprise Florida head Jamal Sowell.
“Manufacturing is a Florida growth sector. Employers such as Hoover Treated Wood Products take their due diligence seriously and make significant investments in our communities,” Sowell said. “Enterprise Florida has the tools to support the retention and growth of this impactful sector.”
DOE backs apprenticeships
The Florida Department of Education is rolling out a new program that’ll pump $10 million into apprenticeship programs across the state.
The department said the “Pathways to Career Opportunities Grant Program” is part of DeSantis’ mission to make Florida the No. 1 state in workforce education.
“Apprenticeship programs are essential to ensuring Florida has the best, most qualified workforce in the nation and that our students have a wide variety of employment options right here in Florida,” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said.
“I am very pleased that we can now offer this grant to encourage even more employers to sponsor apprenticeship programs.”
The first round of funding will ship $7 million to high schools, school district career centers, school district charter technical career centers, Florida College System institutions or other entities offering state-recognized apprenticeships. Another $3 million in grant funds will become available later this year.
HB 7071 established the program, which was approved by the Legislature and DeSantis earlier this year.
“Highly-trained apprentices are the future of Florida’s workforce and a promising economic opportunity for hardworking families across our state. I am proud to have championed this important step toward opportunities for all of Florida’s students,” Sen. Travis Hutson said.
Folk Heritage nominations open
The Florida Department of State is looking for nominations for the 2020 Florida Folk Heritage Awards, which recognize individuals who have made exemplary contributions to Florida culture.
“The Florida Folk Heritage Awards seek to recognize and celebrate our state’s distinguished tradition bearers and advocates of traditional arts,” said Secretary of State Laurel Lee. “Individuals are nominated each year by members of their community who wish to recognize their contributions.”
Whether its arts and crafts or dance and music, the state department is interested in knowing who the top folk artists in the state are.
Nominations should include a description of the accomplishments and background of the nominee as well as an explanation for why he or she deserves statewide recognition for preserving a significant facet of the state’s cultural heritage.
Each nomination also requires at least two letters of support from community members, colleagues, peers, cultural specialists or any other individuals who can confirm the details of the nomination.
Award recipients will be announced in January 2020.
Lottery offers New Year’s trip
Just because a ticket didn’t bring home the jackpot doesn’t make it a loser.
The Florida Lottery reminded players this week that every Florida POWERBALL and POWERBALL with Power Play ticket purchased through the end of the month could be worth a VIP trip to New York City on New Year’s Eve.
For a shot at winning the second-chance prizes, ticket purchasers need to enter their ticket number online or scan it with the Florida Lottery Collect ‘N Win app.
The Lottery will send 50 entrants to the bash which includes two tickets for a holiday dinner cruise on the Hudson River; two tickets to an exclusive New Year’s Eve dinner party with a view of the ball drop; $250 in spending money; and ground transportation to and from airports, hotel, and activities while in New York City.
Winners also have the opportunity to walk away with $1 million via the POWERBALL Millionaire of the Year drawing, which will be which will take place during the New Year’s Rockin’ Eve broadcast.
The drawing will include tickets from 300 POWERBALL New Year’s Eve Promotion winners nationwide.
FWC offers free hunting classes
Floridians must pass a safety course before they can go hunting, but the proper education won’t cost a dime for those who can make it to one of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s free classes.
FWC announced this week that it would provide free hunter safety courses in Broward, Okeechobee and Palm Beach counties. The Palm Beach class is Aug. 18; the Broward classes will be Sept. 7 and Sept. 17, and the Okeechobee class will be Sept. 14.
The commission will provide firearms, ammunition and other materials for attendees. All they need to bring is a pencil and paper. And, if a student is under 16, they’ll need an adult to tag along.
The class is required for anyone born on or after June 1, 1975. Hunters must also pay for a license, which costs $17 a year for Florida residents. The FWC course satisfies hunter safety training requirements for all other states and Canadian provinces.
Disaster grants still available
Former House Speakers Allan Bense and Will Weatherford and former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham are encouraging organizations involved in the Hurricane Michael recovery efforts to apply for Florida Disaster Fund grants.
The trio, co-chairs of the nonprofit REBUILD 850, cited a recent Volunteer Florida announcement that there is $3 million in grant funding available for recovery efforts in Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson, Leon, Liberty, Taylor, Wakulla and Washington counties.
“Every single dollar raised through Rebuild 850’s awareness efforts flow to support the Florida Disaster Fund so ably managed by Volunteer Florida,” Bense said. “Now, these funds are available to support the continuing recovery efforts in the Panhandle.”
To get a slice of the recovery cash, organizations need to fill out an application and sent it to Volunteer Florida no later than Aug. 23.
FSU launches digital civil rights tour
After five years of research, a Florida State University professor has compiled a wealth of information on Emmett Till, whose 1955 murder was a catalyst in the civil rights movement.
And thanks to a new app, Professor Davis Houck’s research project isn’t just circulating in academic circles — anyone with a smartphone can take a tour of the locations linked to Till’s murder in Mississippi.
“Emmett was largely forgotten from 1956 to 1986, but his importance has multiplied exponentially in the past 30 years, most notably with the creation of the Emmett Till Memorial Commission in Tallahatchie County,” Houck said.
But those memorials have also “brought vandals who hate that Emmett Till rests symbolically, and in perpetuity, on their landscape.”
One recent defacement was perpetrated by three white University of Mississippi students, who shot up a memorial sign and posted a picture of it on social media.
Houck’s app helps those interested in the historical significance of Till’s murder view those memorials without being distracted by vandalism.
“We know the best way to reach tourists is through our smartphones,” Houck said. “The Till app allows them to easily navigate their way through a confusing landscape — both historically and geographically — and have a dynamic commemorative experience.”
CosmicCon heads to LeRoy Collins Library
There’s some ComicCon-style fun to be had at the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library.
From 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Saturday, the library will play host to the first-ever “CosmicCon,” a free, all-ages event featuring panel discussions, a cosplay competition for prizes, an escape room, hands-on science with the National MagLab, virtual reality, tabletop gaming and a special themed storytime.
A legion of Stormtroopers will also invade the building, located at 200 W. Park Ave.
Other highlights of the event include an 11 a.m. presentation and Q&A with Mike Maihack, author of the award-winning “Cleopatra in Space” series.
Maihack has produced several published graphic novels, won a Florida Book Award and was a Young Adult Library Services Association Quick Picks for Reluctant Young Adult Readers.
FAMU Way extension nears completion
The decade-long project to extend FAMU Way is in the final leg.
This week, work crews started prepping for the third phase of the project, which will see the road extended from Gamble Street to Lake Bradford Road.
The road project got underway in 2008 to address the need for an additional east-west corridor in Tallahassee. After years of community meetings, the project’s scope grew alongside other efforts to revitalize Southside Tallahassee.
As work on Phase 3 begins, a fence will be going up around the construction zone, and some trees along the roadway will be removed, though some of the wood from certain trees will be preserved for future projects.
The third phase is expected to be completed late next year.
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