State News in Review – January 2019

In the weeks since their swearing-in ceremonies, Gov. Ron DeSantis, Commissioner of Agriculture (COA) Nikki Fried, Chief Financial Officer (CFO) Jimmy Patronis and Attorney General (AG) Ashley Moody announced some pretty dramatic initial initiatives — DeSantis in particular.

And from Washington, U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and newly-elected Rick Scott, and re-elected U.S. Reps. Francis Rooney and Mario Diaz-Balart were much in the news, too. Of note: Rooney is turning out to be a member of Congress who works across party lines.

So with those greater-than-usual flurries of activity, I’ll focus this month on news from or about our elected representatives specifically. Next month, I’ll share news from the Florida legislature. Its official 60-day session convenes on March 5.

But first — In case you missed it, there was a particularly troubling report last month of a hostile takeover bid for Gannett, publisher of USA Today and 100 other newspapers including the Naples Daily News. According to the NYTimes, critics have described hedge fund Alden Global Capital as a “destroyer of newspapers” that is prone to “savage” layoffs, and as “one of the most ruthless of the corporate strip-miners seemingly intent on destroying local journalism.”

I have long urged pretty much everyone I know to subscribe to the Naples Daily News. Despite the downsizing of its staff and reduction in local reporting since its acquisition by Gannett in 2015, it’s still the best source of information about our local government. If the takeover goes through, I fear we may become one of the more than 1,300 U.S. communities to totally lose news coverage.

www.usnewsdeserts.com/states/florida/

See also “The Elbert Files: It’s time to break up Gannett,” BusinessRecord.com via Dr. Michael V. Reagen, 2/1/19.

I’m really concerned, and you should be, too. If you don’t already subscribe to the Naples Daily News, I urge you to do so. Consider it a form of community service. Click here for a great 52-week Digital Only Groupon offer, or subscribe directly here.

Now, here’s January’s news.

Gov. Ron DeSantis

It’s been a whirlwind month of news from Tallahassee as outgoing Gov. Rick Scott was succeeded by newly elected Ron DeSantis. Here are just some of the highlights — in chronological order, to give you a sense of the drama.

  • DeSantis takes the reins. He emphasized clean environment in his inaugural speech, but the two biggest audience cheers were about traditional conservative hot button issues – immigration and “activist judges.” Florida Phoenix, 1/8/19
    • Related: DeSantis’ inaugural speech as prepared for delivery. Orlando Sentinel, 1/8/18
  • DeSantis’ unveils major environmental reforms. An executive order includes $2.5 billion over the next four years for Everglades restoration and water protections — the highest level of restoration funding in the state’s history, a blue-green algae task force, creating a chief science officer position, phasing out septic tanks, putting teeth in environmental crime enforcement and creating an office of resilience and coastal protection to fund and coordinate a response to rising sea levels. Naples Daily News; Governor’s Press Release, 1/10/19
  • Governor, Cabinet as Clemency Board pardon Groveland Four. “I don’t think there was any way that you can look at this case and see justice was carried out,” DeSantis said. Tampa Bay Times, 1/11/19
  • DeSantis to pursue sanctions against Airbnb over West Bank policy. He called its decision not to list properties in “the Biblical heartland of Judea and Samaria” anti-Semitic. Tampa Bay Times, 1/15/19
  • Governor wants smokable medical pot ban ended. DeSantis criticized the Legislature’s implementation of a medical marijuana law. Naples Daily News, 1/17/19
  • DeSantis retracts 46 of Scott’s last-minute appointments in rebuke of his predecessor. Scott made 84 appointments to various boards, committees and courts on Jan. 4 and 7 before his term ended on Jan. 8, against the wishes of the DeSantis team. Tampa Bay Times, 1/18/19
  • DeSantis’ latest move shows he’s picking his targets carefully, some say. In his first two weeks of office, he has suspended the elected Palm Beach County Supervisor of Elections, Broward County Sheriff and Okaloosa County School Superintendent, and demanded the resignations of the entire board of the South Florida Water Management District. Palm Beach Post, 1/19/19
  • DeSantis poised for immigration battle over E-Verify. Getting it through the Legislature – and a related bill barring so-called “sanctuary” policies – could prove challenging. Palm Beach Post, 1/18/19
  • DeSantis calls for $625 million for water projects in environmental priorities. “This is the first of four steps to get to the $2.5 billion that I committed to in my executive order,” DeSantis said. Naples Daily News, 1/29/19
  • DeSantis supports letting trained school employees carry guns. He also said the state needs to step up efforts to head off potential attackers. News Service of Florida via Pensacola News Journal, 1/29/19
  • DeSantis outlines plan for increasing college grads. He’ll issue an executive order that will help Florida go from being ranked 24 to number one in the nation by 2030 for the rate of people with an associate degree or higher. APNews.com, 1/30/19
  • DeSantis takes aim at Common Core in executive order. He asked Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran to spend a year creating new state curriculum standards, which would then be presented to the Legislature for the 2020 session. Tampa Bay Times, 1/31/19; Executive Order

Key DeSantis appointments

  • DeSantis picks strong opponent of Medicaid expansion to head Agency for Health Care Administration. AP News, 1/4/19
    • Related: Feds whacked new Florida health chief for failing to probe hundreds of disabled deaths, sexual assaults. Miami New Times, 1/14/19; Federal Department of HHS Office of Inspector General Report, 8/2017
  • DeSantis names former Department of Management Services head, IBM lobbyist to lead state’s long-troubled child welfare agency. Miami-Herald, 1/3/19
  • DeSantis names former judge, lobbyist to head the Department of Juvenile Justice, “arguably one of the state’s most troubled agencies.” Miami-Herald, 1/2/19
  • Army Major General will head Florida Department of Corrections. Florida Phoenix, 1/3/19
  • DeSantis appoints second Secretary of State, following resignation of first pick. The Capitolist, 1/28/19
    • Related: Florida Secretary of State Mike Ertel resigns after Halloween blackface photos emerge. Tallahassee Democrat, 1/24/19
  • DeSantis reshapes Florida Supreme Court.
    • Gov. DeSantis appoints Carlos Muñiz to Florida Supreme Court. Tampa Bay Times, 1/22/19
    • Gov. DeSantis names Miami appellate judge Robert Luck to Florida Supreme Court. Tampa Bay Times, 1/14/19
    • DeSantis Names Judge Barbara Lagoa to Supreme Court. Sunshine State News, 1/9/19
  • DeSantis asks South Florida Water Management District board members to resign. Treasure Coast Newspapers via Naples Daily News, 1/10/19
    • DeSantis appoints Sanibel Councilman Chauncey Goss to water district board. Naples Daily News, 1/29/19
    • DeSantis names Broward’s “Alligator Ron” Bergeron to water district board. Miami-Herald, 1/29/19

COA Nikki Fried

Fried, a lawyer and previously a lobbyist and public defender, is the only Democrat in the Florida Cabinet and the only Democrat representing Collier voters. She ran to head the state’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services on a platform of stricter access to guns, easier access to medical marijuana, and cracking down on water pollution.

  • Fried creates ‘Director of Cannabis’ position. She promises to expand patient access to medical marijuana and transform Florida into a national leader on hemp production, an industry that could bring millions of dollars into the state economy. Naples Daily News, 1/14/19
  • Ag Commissioner Fried taps Mary Barzee Flores for Deputy Commissioner of Consumer Affairs. The former public defender, gun control advocate and critic of the NRA will oversee consumer services, including the concealed weapons permitting and licensing program. Tampa Bay Times, 1/14/19
  • Ag Dept. to draft edible medical marijuana rules. Fried says the product falls under packaged foods, which her agency is responsible to regulate. BayNews9.com, 1/17/19
  • Nikki Fried adds LGBTQ protections to department workplace policy. The move followed Gov. DeSantis’ signing an anti-discrimination order for state employees that excluded protections for the LGBTQ community. Miami-Herald, 1/18/19
  • Fried lays out vision and agenda for Florida’s farmers, consumers, and families. “It’s my hope that together, as a Cabinet, we will put science before politics, results over opinions, and state above party…,” she said. Press Release, 1/30/19
  • Fried announces more help for marijuana patients. Two new advisory panels will cover hemp and medical marijuana. Florida Politics, 1/30/19

AG Ashley Moody

Ashley Moody, previously a Hillsborough County Circuit judge, ran for Attorney General on a platform to “champion conservative principles and stand with those who protect our state.”

  • New AG addresses human trafficking. “It’s a plague that we cannot give up on combating in our state and nationwide,” Moody said, highlighting that January is human trafficking prevention month. Florida Phoenix, 1/10/19
  • Moody names advisory Opioid Abuse Working Group. It will gather information and best practices from across Florida to help her combat the opioid epidemic. Office of the Attorney General, 1/11/19
  • Moody open to ‘improving’ criminal justice. But “in any effort to make our system better, … we have an obligation to keep our communities safe and protect Floridians, and that will always be my primary concern,” she said. Florida Politics, 1/3019

News from CFO Jimmy Patronis

  • Audit: Florida’s pension system earns 8.9% on investments, but problems lurk ahead. The number of people with vested benefits exceeds the number currently contributing to the pension fund, and the systems’s unfunded liability has nearly doubled since 2009. Tallahassee Democrat, 1/4/19
  • Florida’s financial software 30 years overdue for upgrade. Patronis told the House Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee his top priority is to get the state off the archaic software. Florida Politics, 1/23/19

News from Collier’s legislative delegation

In the Florida Legislature, County Collier residents are represented in the Senate by Kathleen Passidomo, and in the House by one of Bob Rommel (District 106), Byron Donalds (District 80) or Ana Maria Rodriguez (District 105).

  • Editorial: Septic systems merit attention, action by the Florida Legislature. Sen. Passidomo supports SB 214. Naples Daily News, 1/5/19
  • Florida lawmakers consider changes after surge in teacher licensing exam failures. Rep. Donalds, who leads a state education committee, says updating Florida’s exam is a top priority, from lowering its fees to re-evaluating what’s on it. WTXL.com, 1/23/19
  • Alligator Alley plaza costs may fall on Collier County taxpayers. Passidomo is pushing for legislation that would require the state to pay for the station with the money it receives from I-75 tolls. WINKnews.com, 1/31/19; SB 72 / HB 6011
  • Donalds wants grand theft laws loosened.Florida Politics, 1/31/19; HB 589
  • Donalds wants to expand apprenticeship training in Florida. His bill would allow providers like the Associated Builders and Contractors of Florida, the largest commercial construction association in the state, to request money directly from the state via a grant program. Florida Daily, 1/31/19; HB 367
  • First Step Act promises moderate reforms to prison system. The bill, sponsored in the House by Donalds, would allow judges to depart from mandatory minimums for drug trafficking, among other changes. Daily Commercial, 2/1/19

News from the Florida Courts

  • Florida Supreme Court tosses out decade-old education funding lawsuit. Four members upheld a lower court ruling that terms such as “high quality” are too subjective to be judged, while three justices dissented. Tampa Bay Times, 1/4/19
  • Amira Fox sworn in as first female State Attorney in the 20th judicial circuit, which includes Collier County. One of her first orders of business will be establishing a circuit-wide narcotics task force to crack down on the sale of opioids in Southwest Florida. Fort Myers News-Press via Naples Daily News, 1/11/19
  • Judge rules on Medicaid contract. A Leon County Circuit Judge found the state exceeded a limit on the number of health plans state law allows to serve Medicaid beneficiaries in Charlotte, Collier, DeSoto, Glades, Hendry, Lee and Sarasota counties. The state quickly appealed. Gainesville Sun, 1/28/19

News from Collier’s Congressional delegation

U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney

  • Rooney explains why he thinks America should end its dependence on coal. “I don’t think we need to burn coal,” he said, “and a carbon tax is the most market-oriented, non-bureaucratic, efficient way I can see to kill off coal.” News-Press, 1/1/19
  • Rooney introduces bill to permanently protect Florida’s Gulf Coast from offshore drilling. Press Release, 1/3/19
  • Rooney joins ten House Democrats to introduce bill requiring HHS Secretary to negotiate Medicare prescription drug prices.Press Release, Rep. Peter Welch (E-Vt.), 1/8/19
  • Rooney files algal bloom legislation. NBC-2, 1/10/19
  • Brent Batten: Rooney starts the steep climb toward term limits, again. Naples Daily News, 1/12/19
  • Rooney doubles down on his support of Trump’s immigration policies. Florida Daily, 1/13/19
  • Welch, Rooney demand regulator scrutiny of $74 billion drug company merger. Press Release, Office of Rep. Peter Welch (D-VT), 1/14/19
  • Editorial: Kudos to Rep. Rooney, bipartisan Florida delegation for unified request for Everglades funds. Naples Daily News, 1/26/19

U.S. Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart

  • Diaz-Balart co-sponsors bipartisan Everglades for Next Generation Act. Florida Daily, 1/11/19

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio

  • Rubio starts new Congress focused on the Middle East. Sunshine State News, 1/5/19
  • Rubio introduces bill to extend moratorium on drilling in Gulf through 2027. Pensacola News Journal via Naples Daily News, 1/5/19; S.13
  • Rubio, as newly-elected Chairman of Senate Small Business Committee, introduces five bills to assist small businesses. Financial Regulation News via Sen. Rubio Weekly eNewsletter, 1/15/19
  • Rubio joins with Democrat Sen. Dianne Feinstein to extend waivers to states for foster care, child welfare. Florida Daily via Rubio eNewsletter, 1/14/19
  • Ahead of the March for Life, Rubio introduces or co-sponsors six bills to “protect the sanctity of life.” Press Release, 1/17/19
  • On Venezuela, Rubio assumes U.S. role of Ouster in Chief. NYTimes, 1/29/19

U.S. Sen. Rick Scott

  • Scott sides with Trump on lifting Russia sanctions; Rubio doesn’t. Tampa Bay Times, 1/17/19
  • Scott tells Trump to use emergency powers to end immigration crisis. The Daily Caller, 1/25/19

That’s it for January’s review of state news. Next up: local news. Stay tuned!