Author: The News Service of Florida

It’s a Polk Thing

Two out of Florida’s past three elected agriculture commissioners have come from Polk County.

With former state Rep. Baxter Troutman’s entry into the 2018 agriculture commissioner’s race on Monday, it could become three out of the past four, if he is successful next year. Troutman, who served four terms in the state House before he termed out in 2010, is a Winter Haven businessman and a Polk native.

He is seeking to replace Adam Putnam, another Polk native who is running for governor next year. He succeeded Charles Bronson, an Osceola County native, in the Cabinet seat.

But Bronson followed Bob Crawford, another Polk native who served 10 years as agriculture commissioner before moving to the Department of Citrus in 2001. Terrie Rhodes served briefly as an interim commissioner between Crawford’s departure and Bronson’s appointment by then-Gov. Jeb Bush.

Even if Troutman doesn’t make it next year, there still may be a new commissioner with Polk roots. State Sen. Denise Grimsley is another agriculture commissioner candidate who was born in Lakeland. Although she lives in Sebring, her multi-county Senate district includes a large portion of southern Polk County.

Sunny Days for Solar

Things are looking up for solar energy in Florida,  according to a report from GTM Research and the Solar Energy Industries Association.

Highlights of the U.S. Solar Market Insight report, out last week:

— Florida, in the first quarter of this year, added 38.6 megawatts, expanding 6 percent, making it the 12th fastest-growing state.

— Florida installed 10 times more solar in 2016 than it did in 2015 (404.7 megawatts compared to 42.5 megawatts) due to several large utility-scale projects.

— Already, Florida is projected to be the seventh fastest-growing market over the next five years, adding 2,475 megwatts (more than triple its current capacity).

The report follows an announcement in April by Florida Power & Light that it’s accelerating solar plans to add nearly 300 megawatts a year through 2023, at which time the electric company will have nearly 2,100 megawatts of solar in service, enough to power more than 420,000 homes.

The report also comes as a bill sits on Gov. Rick Scott’s desk to carry out a voter-approved constitutional amendment designed to expand the use of solar and other renewable-energy devices.

Scott has until June 20 to act on the measure (SB 90), which will extend a renewable-energy tax break to commercial and industrial properties. The tax break would be in place for 20 years and is an extension of a break already provided to residential properties. A selling point of the constitutional amendment was that it would make renewable-energy equipment exempt from state tangible personal property taxes.

 

Civil rights pioneers paved the way for today’s politicos

Fifty-seven years ago Patricia Stephens Due spent 49 days in the Leon County Jail rather than pay a fine or post bail after her arrest for sitting at a “whites only” Woolworth’s lunch counter in Tallahassee.

Due, who was a Florida A&M University student, went on to become a prominent civil rights leader in Florida, participating in more civil disobedience events leading to more arrests as she fought against segregation and for full rights for African-American citizens.

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Former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carrol and John Due

Due, who died in 2012, former state Sen. Arnett Girardeau of Jacksonville and Orlando civil rights leader Willie H. Williams were inducted into the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame this week.

The event drew some of the top African-American leaders in Florida, including former Lt. Gov. Jennifer Carroll, who was the keynote speaker; former state Sen. Tony Hill of Jacksonville; former state Rep. Alan Williams of Tallahassee; state Sen. Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville; and state Sen. Daphne Campbell of Miami.

Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, who has a chance to become Florida’s first African-American governor, said civil rights pioneers like Due, Girardeau and Williams were critical in helping Florida improve its racial equality.

“We have to all submit and admit that but for their work, but for their service, but for their sacrifice, we couldn’t enjoy this view,” Gillum told the audience gathered on the scenic 22nd floor of the Florida Capitol. “We couldn’t sit in a room as diverse as the one we get to sit in but for their service.”

“Here in the city of Tallahassee we have a very, very strong legacy and important place in the history of civil rights in Florida,” Gillum added.

Posted by Lloyd Dunkelberger

Scott talks infrastructure in D.C. while Comey gets the spotlight

While the political world breathlessly watches fired FBI director James Comey’s testimony at the Senate Intelligence Committee today, Gov. Rick Scott will be at the White House discussing infrastructure.

Scott’s daily schedule shows the governor in D.C. at noon today for an infrastructure summit with state and local leaders at the White House.

The event is set to last until 3:30 p.m.

After that Scott is to be part of a 30-minue infrastructure roundtable with President Donald Trump.

Posted by Jim Turner

A Galvano Mulligan?

Sen. Bill Galvano, the Bradenton Republican who is slated to become the next Senate president after the 2018 elections, said he would cancel a major California fundraiser if the three-day special session slated to wrap up Friday spills into next week.

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Sen. Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton

The Florida Senate Republican Senatorial Committee has scheduled a two-day fundraising event beginning Monday at the Torrey Pines golf course near San Diego. The course, which hosts an annual PGA tournament, was the site of the 2008 U.S. Open won by Tiger Woods.

The House and Senate — at odds over a variety of issues tucked into the special session ordered by Gov. Rick Scott — need to pass a $20 billion public school budget this month, or Florida’s 67 school districts will not have a budget on July 1.

If the session concludes on time Friday, it won’t be a problem. But if somehow lawmakers must remain in Tallahassee, Galvano said: “The work of the people is going to come first.”

He said he had to “pull the plug” on a major fundraising event in Sarasota several years ago because of a similar conflict.

Galvano said the special session is also forcing him to skip his duties as president of the National Council of Legislators from Gaming States, which is meeting in Denver this week.

“They’re meeting as I’m standing right here,” said Galvano yesterday.

Posted by Lloyd Dunkelberger

Absentee list for special session roll call

QUORUM CALL, QUORUM CALL

Four state legislators have received excused absences from the three-day special session that begins today. An additional five House members will also be excused for missing a day or two of the session.

Sen. Dorothy Hukill, a Port Orange Republican who is recovering from cancer treatment, will not attend the session, according to Senate President Joe Negron’s office. Hukill was absent from the 2017 regular session, with Senate leaders saying they are optimistic about her ultimate recovery.

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Sen. Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange

Senators said Hukill, the chairman of the Appropriations Subcommittee on Finance and Tax, has kept in touch with the process and has offered her insights on legislation. Last month, when Gov. Rick Scott approved a tax-cutting package passed by the Legislature, Hukill tweeted her support, highlighting the cut in the state tax on commercial leases.

The three House members who will miss special session include Republican Reps. Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora, Alex Miller of Sarasota and Mike Miller of Orlando, according to the House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s office.

Sullivan will be attending her brother’s wedding in Arkansas and Mike Miller will be out of the country.

Alex Miller

Rep. Alexandra Miller, R-Sarasota

Alex Miller is listed as having unspecified surgery.

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Rep. Mike Miller, R-Orlando

Other members with partial excused absences include Fort Lauderdale Republican George Moraitis, who will miss the first day of the session as he is expected to arrive late from a family vacation in Hawaii.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, a Democrat from Orlando, has been approved to miss the first two days of the session while he attends events marking the one-year anniversary of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

Reps. Larry Lee, D-Port St. Lucie; Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park; and Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, are expected to miss all or part of the final scheduled day of the session.

Plakon has advised House leadership he has previous commitments and Lee said he will be attending an annual community event.

Pigman, noting he will a late morning arrival on Friday, didn’t state a reason.

Posted by Lloyd Dunkelberger and Jim Turner

Scott medical marijuana research vetoes not a problem, at least for now

IMG_2721Amid all the consternation over medical marijuana, Florida Gov. Rick Scott‘s $400 million-plus vetoes included more than $3 million for cannabis research.

Scott axed $2 million for the University of Florida’s cannabis research initiative. UF was originally tasked with tracking the state’s high-CBD, low-THC law passed in 2014. But the university was never enthusiastic about the endeavor, in part because cannabis remained illegal under federal law, raising questions for university officials about whether pot research might undermine funding for other programs.

This year, lawmakers steered more than $1 million in pot research toward the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Research Institute for the “Coalition for Medicinal Cannabis Research and Education Board,” an entity created by the Legislature during the 2017 session in a measure that never passed.

Scott vetoed $370,000 for to create the board at the Moffitt Center because the Tampa-based center “received a total of $10.6 million in Fiscal Year 2017-2018 and has the ability to fund this initiative,” according to the governor’s veto message.

Scott also red-lined $750,000 for pot research at the center because it was contingent upon legislation that never passed.

State Sen. Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican who was instrumental in the passage of the 2014 low-THC bill and has been a major player in the marijuana legislation that failed to pass this year, said he was bummed that Scott vetoed the MMJ research money.

But Bradley told The News Service of Florida Monday he’s not overly troubled that Scott axed the funding for the UF research.

“The center of gravity, in terms of where medical marijuana research and data collection is going to take place, is moving away from the University of Florida and towards Moffitt,” Bradley said.

While UF may have had a stone-faced approach to the pot research, the Moffitt Center — founded by onetime House speaker Lee Moffitt, a Democrat — was enthusiastic about the endeavor.

Bradley said he was “very disappointed” in Scott’s veto of the Moffitt funds, which totaled more than $1 million.

But he predicted the research has a shinier future, once the Legislature officially creates the research-centered coalition based at Moffitt .

“I think that will make the argument much more compelling to include that in future budgets. So I’m confident that in the future this won’t be an issue,” Bradley said.

— Posted by Dara Kam