Pensacola, Florida
Monday July 22nd 2019

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The Buzz 5/25/17

Speaker White? The Florida House chooses its future Speakers seven years in advance when a new class of representatives is elected. In prior years, the Republican freshmen lawmakers voted on the Speaker before they had time to get to know each other. House Speaker Richard Corcoran changed that process this year.

“It was an insane process,” said Rep. Frank White (R-Pensacola) on “Pensacola Speaks.” White is considered one of the contenders in his class for Speaker.

“Speaker Corcoran successfully navigated that process but said this is messed up. We’ve got to reform it,” said White. “He put in a rule that we all adopted on the day we got sworn in that said, no candidate for Speaker can solicit support either directly or indirectly until June 30th of your first term.”

The freshman House class had 27 Republicans. The magic number to be elected is 14 votes.

“My name has been floated and been mentioned,” said White. “Very honored by it but at this point, there’s no campaign.”

Since the Panhandle has three lawmakers in the class, the Pensacola state representative has a nice start on the position.

“That’s probably the best we’ll ever get in northern Florida, but still, you look, the math is, it’s obvious where … Jacksonville has like six, maybe seven. The greater Tampa area has half a dozen, six or seven, and Sarasota has three or so,” he said.

“One thing that this reform does, where it’s selected later, it helps us in the future because in that game of special interest dollars and cutting huge checks from big corporate customers. Big corporate interests in particular geographic areas, Northwest Florida, will lose that every time, but what this does is allows us member to member to get to know each other and be involved in that decision.”

Pensacola has had only one Florida House Speaker, Democrat Thomas Albert Jennings in 1911.

Getting Pot Regs Right The Florida Legislature failed to pass the laws necessary to implement medical marijuana available in the state, despite the voters overwhelmingly approved last November a constitutional amending legalizing it in Florida. Political Strategist, Ryan Wiggins of Full Contract Strategies, isn’t concerned.

“In years like this, we have an early session next year,” explained Wiggins. “When you have a regular session followed by an early session, there isn’t a whole lot of pressure to get anything done.”

She added, “We all know that we’ll be back there in August, and September for committee weeks. It’s almost like you have a continuous session, and on years like this, it’s not uncommon to not see that kind of thing happen, there’s a lot of kicking the can.”

One of the reasons for the delay is the pressure from the private sector, which sees the opportunity to make millions, if not billions, on medical marijuana. Currently, only a handful of nurseries have licenses to grow any cannabis in Florida. They would prefer to keep it that way.

“They’re in it to make a lot of money, and they have an interest in keeping other people out,” said Wiggins. “I don’t think that is something that can actually be done because I don’t think they can meet the demand if that’s the case, but that’s what they’re trying to do.”

In 2014, Wiggins worked for the passage of the Charlotte’s Web bill that legalized non-euphoric cannabis for certain patients. The implementation of that bill took two years. She wants state lawmakers to get the regulations for full medical marijuana right.

“They’ve kicked the can on a whole bunch of issues, and that’s somewhat intentional, and I don’t think it’s necessarily a bad thing,” Wiggins told Inweekly. “It gives us time to figure out what we want to do, and how we want to do it well.

She added, “And I think it gives everyone the chance to pause over the summer and really think about what needs to be done.”

Education Veto Dr. Ed Meadows, President of Pensacola State College, believes the education budget passed by the Florida Legislature increases funding for the elite universities on the backs of the state colleges.

Last week, Meadows appeared before the State Board of Education and pointed out that the state colleges would have their funding cut by nearly $30 million, even though they handle more than 800,000 students while the universities have about 350,000 students and receive the bulk of the funding in the budget next year.

“We’ve never had a huge budget. We’re about 23-percent of the overall higher education budget, but we’re serving over two and a half more students than the universities serve,” he told Inweekly.

“It just seems to be misplaced priorities on the part of our legislature, this year, and legislative leadership. ”

He and his fellow college presidents want Gov. Rick Scott to veto the education bill on his desk.

“As the chair of the Council of Presidents, I have issued a call to action to all 27 of the presidents, and their boards of trustees, to implore the governor to veto the change in our budget,” Meadows said Thursday, May 18 on “Pensacola Speaks.

“We are contacting additional media releases, and we are contacting Rick Scott through rick.scott@eog.myflorida.com so any alumni and supporters out there, who wish to express their views to Rick Scott in favor of vetoing the budget cuts to our system, can send him a quick email.”

And they can also call our local legislative delegation to let them know that if he does veto it, that we don’t wish the legislature to override that veto.

Meadows believes the governor may be receptive to the input.

“I’m hoping that our governor will be able to identify with the fact that this is a critical time for Florida. He’s been pushing jobs, jobs, jobs for almost eight years now,” he said.

“And we’re where the rubber meets the road when you start talking about jobs in Florida.”

Another Call for Veto Florida Senator Jack Latvala told the Panhandle Tiger Bay Club last Friday that he asked Gov. Rick Scott to veto the education spending bill that the State House and Senate forwarded to him.

It reduces the amount of per student funding in 21 of the state’s 67 counties and also cuts higher education funding. He called it the worst outcome this past session.

Latvala, a Clearwater Republican, is the Senate Appropriations Committee chairman, and voted against the bill.

“I know many of you are unhappy about it and you should be unhappy,” he said. “It’s just not satisfactory. Do I have research? No. I have 65 years of experience on this earth that tells me what will affect the quality of education. ”

Latvala, who has served in the Senate from 1994 to 2002 and then reelected in 2010, is weighing a decision to run for governor in 2018. He said he plans to decide in June or July. So far, other names floating around are Florida Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam and House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

“Too much of the process is led by people who are career politicians,” said Latvala, who owns a printing company and car wash. “Very few have real world experience. I don’t see that on my side of the aisle in the Governor’s race.”

If he does become governor, Latvala said his priority would be for Florida to stop ranking 50th in mental health spending, transportation spending, school system graduation rates, spending per student and other areas.

“I’m tired of Florida being number 50,” he said. “That’s what I want to work on.”

Because the next elected governor will likely appoint three members to the Florida Supreme Court, Latvala made it clear he would appoint people who strictly follow Florida’s constitution.

“We don’t need judges who make laws,” he said. “We need judges that interpret laws.”

What’s his political philosophy?

“What’s the right thing to do?” Latvala said. “I’ve always had a good internal compass between what’s right and what’s wrong. You can’t read it in a book. It has to be learned. It has to be experienced.”

One of the bills that Latvala pushed through this year is providing a recurring $50 million a year to restore Florida’s beaches. He and his wife, Connie, have a second home in Seaside.

“I’m really proud of that,” he said. “I think that will help with keeping the tourists coming.”

He also made sure the Pensacola crowd knew that the $1.5 billion in BP oil spill funding, known as Triumph Gulf Coast funds, will be coming to Northwest Florida over the next 15 years.

Transportation Victory State Rep. Jayer Williamson (R-Milton) credits the House leadership allowing him to handle the Transportation budget bill for his success during the 2017 legislative session.

“I was very excited that I was able to run the Department of Transportation bill this year,” Williamson told Inweekly. “Transportation is one of those things that I feel is just an essential form of government.”

He continued, “You can get out there. You can kiss it. You can touch it. It’s everything great about government. And it’s the glue that keeps everything together.”

The former Santa Rosa County commissioner sees good infrastructure as being critical to economic development, jobs and quality of life. He said, “Why are we gonna spend money on healthcare or economic development or education or whatever if we don’t have good roads and good infrastructure?”

Under the mentorship of State Rep. Clay Ingram (R-Pensacola), who chairs the House Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee, Williamson learned how the legislature works.

“It’s one of the tougher bills to get passed,” he said. “It usually probably passes only every five or six years, and it had passed last year for the first time in a few years, so it was extra pressure this year.”

Williamson continued, “And we actually got it passed, which several people told me that’s one of the first times they’ve ever seen a transportation bill pass in back to back years.”

Why make the assignment so tough? He said, “It just has a lot of moving parts. Everybody wants to kind of throw their things onto it ’cause there’s so many things that are germane to transportation.”

The transportation bill passed the House and Senate, with the Senate vote coming on Friday, May 5, just days before the close of the session the following Monday.

“That was an accomplishment from the standpoint of being able to pass a bill that generally doesn’t always pass. It was a great learning experience that will help me in the future, and it also was just a way for me to gain some relationships within the Department of Transportation that I think will be huge and beneficial in the future,” said Williamson.

“Anytime that we need something in the region, from a DOT standpoint, these are people who I’ve been talking to every day for the last 60, 70 days. So I’m a familiar face when I walk in the door at DOT.”

DEP Investigates City Project The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has found that construction on the Bill Gregory Park stormwater pond near the corner of Navy Boulevard and W Street is polluting Bayou Chico.

DEP received a complaint from Bayou Chico resident Chris Harris on May 10 and sent one of its inspectors to investigate a white turbid water discharge. Samples from several bayou locations “exceeded the surface water quality criteria,” DEP said.

In addition, DEP inspected the site and discovered a lack of BMP’s, which include poor silt fence maintenance, unstabilized soil throughout the site, improper dewatering pump filter bag placement that was located in a creek and not on a proper pad, and no temporary retention basins.

DEP was informed by Pensacola officials of a second discharge over this past weekend.

DEP met with the contractor onsite last week to further address the compliance issues and will continue to closely monitor the situation, reported Brandy Smith, DEP Northwest Florida external affairs manager.

The state environmental agency did send an email Thursday to the contractor, Pensacola and Escambia County detailing its findings and compliance concerns.

This is the second City of Pensacola stormwater project that has been investigated by DEP since the first of the year. Last January, DEP cited the City and its contractor for several violations at the Government Street/Corrine Jones Stormwater project.