Senators Could Be Ready For More Student Testing Changes

January 17, 2016

Several senators seemed ready last week to move forward with legislation that would allow school districts to administer tests like the SAT and ACT instead of using the controversial Florida Standards Assessments to measure student learning.

After hearing from officials from standardized testing companies, members of the Senate committee charged with writing the state’s education budget sounded largely positive about the idea of giving districts a choice among tests.

“I guess the question then is, well, why didn’t we do this already, or why are we even questioning whether or not we should do it now?” said Sen. Bill Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat who doubles as CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

While some senators raised issues they said would need to be worked out before approving legislation allowing the change (SB 1360), none of the committee’s members spoke against the bill. Senate Education PreK-12 Chairman John Legg, R-Trinity, said he had “a little bit of pause when I look at the timeline,” which calls for the new tests to be used as soon as the following school year.

But Legg quickly added that his questions weren’t meant to signal an unwillingness to consider the legislation.

“I think this is great stuff,” Legg said.

If lawmakers approve the proposal, it would mark the second time in as many years that the Legislature has overhauled the state’s testing system. Parent outrage and a technological meltdown plagued the Florida Standards Assessments last year and prompted lawmakers to pass a bill aimed at reining in state testing.

The state is in the second year of a six-year, $220 million deal with American Institutes for Research, a non-profit group that developed the Florida Standards Assessments. But the turmoil around the test prompted Montford’s group to say in September that its members had “lost confidence” in the state’s education-accountability system.

“When all the players on the field and all the coaches on the sidelines no longer believe that the game is being called according to fair rules, it’s very, very difficult to have a meaningful experience,” said Sen. Don Gaetz, the Niceville Republican who chairs the Senate Education Appropriations Subcommittee and is sponsoring the current legislation.

The main options for districts under the legislation would likely be the SAT and a preliminary version of the test, at least for high school students, and the ACT and ACT Aspire, developed to test students beginning in the third grade.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart has expressed concern about the proposal because the measure would mean that students might be taking tests that were “no longer aligned to what’s being taught” in the state public schools. But the company officials who testified said that wasn’t a concern.

“In most cases, as I said, the alignment — particularly with Florida — is extremely high,” said Jack Buckley, senior vice president for research at the College Board, which administers the SAT. “It’s a very strong alignment.”

Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Gaetz brushed off a question about whether the bill could add more confusion to the state’s testing system after years of change. He pointed out that many Florida students already take the SAT or the ACT.

“This isn’t a matter of saying, well, now we’re going to have something brand new,” he said. “This is a matter of saying, let’s assess once. Let’s not make a student take two or three tests on the same material.”

Gaetz’ legislation doesn’t have a counterpart in the House, but he said lawmakers there are expected to propose a committee bill that would closely track his legislation.

by Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

FDOT: Weekly Traffic Alerts

January 17, 2016

Drivers will encounter traffic disruptions on the following state roads in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties as crews perform construction and maintenance activities.

U.S. 29, Escambia County – Intermittent southbound lane closures near Century Monday, Jan. 19 through Friday, Jan. 22 as workers continue construction activities.  Also, northbound lane restrictions from Champion Drive north as crews continue construction of guardrail pads.

S.R. 289 (9th Avenue), Escambia County- Crews continue paving operations between Bayou Boulevard and Creighton Road.  Lane closures will be in effect from 9 p.m. to 6 a.m.  Between Bayou Boulevard and Cervantes Street, motorists will also encounter intermittent and alternating daytime lane closures as crews adjust manholes and valves.

I-10 over Eleven Mile Creek Bridge, Escambia County- Crews will resume work Friday, Jan. 22.   East and westbound traffic will be reduced to one lane at the bridge near exit 5 (U.S. 90 ALT/ 9 Mile Road) as crews reconstruct the bridge approaches.

I-10 Widening, Escambia County- Alternating east and westbound lane closures near U.S. 90 (Scenic Highway/Exit 17) from 7 p.m. to 6:30 a.m. the week of Monday, Jan. 18. as crews perform bridge deck work for the new Scenic Highway overpass.  Motorists are reminded the speed limit on I-10, between Davis Highway and Scenic Highway, is reduced to 60 mph.

S.R. 87, Santa Rosa County- Temporary closure between Elva Street and Raymond Hobbs Street from 9 a.m. to 11 a.m. Monday, Jan. 18 for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day parade.  Detour will be in place and traffic rerouted.

S.R. 281 Widening, Santa Rosa County- Intermittent north and southbound lane shifts from north of I-10 to south of the Moors Golf Course from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday, Jan. 18 through Friday, Jan. 22 as crews  perform construction activities.

I-10 Widening, Santa Rosa County – Alternating lane closures on I-10 between the Escambia Bay Bridge and State Road (S.R.) 281 (Avalon Boulevard/Exit 22) and on Avalon Boulevard near the overpass from 8 p.m. to 6 a.m. Sunday, Jan. 17 through Thursday, Jan. 21 as crews perform bridge and other construction activities.  In addition, traffic on I-10 east and westbound from the Escambia Bay Bridge to just east of Avalon Boulevard will be slowed by Florida Highway Patrol from 1 a.m. to 6 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 19. The traffic pacing operations will allow crews to remove utility lines.

Santa Rosa County – Drivers will encounter daytime and nighttime traffic disruptions on the following state roads in Santa Rosa County through Jan. 22 as crews perform striping and pavement marking operations.

  • U.S. 90 just east of S.R. 281 (Avalon Boulevard) to S.R. 87and west end of Blackwater Bridge to the east end of Blackwater Bridge.
  • S.R. 87 (Stewart Street) from U.S. 90 to north end of Clear Creek Bridge.
  • S.R. 89 (By-Pass) from U.S. 90 to S.R. 87.
  • S.R. 89 from S.R. 87 to County Road 178.
  • U.S. 98 from the zoo to the Okaloosa County line. (nighttime operation)

All activities are weather dependent and may be delayed or re-scheduled in the event of inclement weather.  Motorists are reminded to use caution, especially at night, when traveling in a work zone and to watch for construction workers and equipment entering and exiting the roadway.

Nurseries Plan To Start Growing Pot Despite Challenges

January 17, 2016

Five dispensing organizations selected by state officials promised lawmakers Wednesday they would meet a deadline next month to get medical-ijuana production off the ground, despite legal challenges that could threaten their licenses.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee received updates from the state Office of Compassionate Use and the five dispensing organizations — one in each region of the state — about carrying out a 2014 law that allows non-euphoric types of medical marijuana. Lawmakers heard that the businesses are ready to start growing as soon as they get authorization from the Department of Health.

More than a dozen challenges — in four of the state’s five regions — are pending, with hearings in the cases scheduled from March through late July.

Office of Compassionate Use Director Christian Bax told the panel that the low-THC marijuana products could be available to eligible patients as early as September.

The department is holding to a February deadline to move forward with production because none of the challengers — or winners, who are expected to invest millions of dollars to grow, process and dispense the pot — has requested an injunction to stop the process, Bax said.

“Our priority is, was and will remain to ensure that all of this is carried out as quickly and as safely as possible for Florida’s patients,” Bax told the committee.

The dispensing organizations have until Feb. 7 to request authorization to begin cultivating the marijuana products. The 2014 law has been delayed because of previous legal challenges, creating frustration for lawmakers who approved the non-euphoric marijuana at the urging of parents of children with severe epilepsy. The low-THC marijuana is believed to end or dramatically reduce life-threatening seizures for those patients.

“Here we are, two years later. We’re not there yet,” Committee Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said. “I’m sorry, to those families. We’re going to do everything we can this session to fix that.”

Bradley blamed the delay in getting the state’s marijuana industry up-and-running on “individuals outside the control of the department,” referring to the losing applicants who challenged the awarding of the licenses, selected by a three-member panel of state officials in late November.

Bradley questioned representatives of the five dispensing organizations about the types of products they intend to sell to patients.

The “routes of administration” will include gel capsules, vaporizable liquids, transdermal patches, tinctures, sprays and topical creams, the dispensing organization representatives said.

But Robert Wallace of Chestnut Hill Tree Farm in Alachua County, the winner of the Northeast region license, would not specify what kind of products his organization plans to sell because of a pending legal challenge.

Wallace said he is working with University of Florida scientists and the pharmaceutical industry to develop a proprietary technology.

“We believe it will be a revolutionary new product,” Wallace said.

Alpha Foliage, affiliated with Surterra Therapeutics, plans to have products available for patients in June, Surterra President Susan Driscoll told the committee. The company is the only dispensing organization that has asked health officials for permission to begin cultivating.

Once the health department authorizes cultivation, the dispensing organizations have 210 days to make the products available to patients. It will be up to doctors to decide the types of products patients can use.

Most of the dispensing organizations said they planned to focus on home delivery of the products, but Bax said there will be a total of 15 dispensaries located throughout the state. The dispensaries will be within a one- to two-hour drive for most Floridians, he said.

Bradley said some of his constituents were worried about what the dispensaries would look like.

“They don’t want a pot shop on every corner with it looking cheesy and like something that’s embarrassing,” he said. “This is a serious matter for people with serious illnesses and we would like it to look appropriate.”

Kim Rivers, representing Northwest region winner Hackney Nursery, said her company’s dispensary will look like a medical clinic.

“There’s not going to be any large neon flashing marijuana leaf on the sign,” she said.

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida

Escambia Jail Inmate Dies

January 16, 2016

Friday, an inmate at the Escambia County Main Jail died after being transported to a local emergency room.

The 63-year old male was discovered unresponsive by infirmary staff during an hourly welfare check. Corrections officers and medical staff immediately began CPR, called EMS at 8:58 p.m. EMS arrived at the jail at 9:05 p.m. and reached the hospital at 9:27 p.m. He was pronounced dead at 9:49 p.m. by hospital staff.  The name of the inmate is not being released at this time pending notification of next of kin.

The inmate was arrested on Dec. 9, 2015. Upon arrival, he received a medical evaluation as part of the intake process. He had been housed alone in the infirmary for psychiatric care since Dec. 12, 2015 and checked every hour by jail staff. On the morning of Friday, Jan. 16 the inmate was seen by the facility’s nurse practitioner and psychiatric physician. He was responsive and cooperative. The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office was notified and is investigating as is standard procedure.

On Dec. 4, 2015, changes to the jail’s policies were immediately made upon transition of jail oversight to Assistant County Administer Simmons, and continue to be made to ensure inmate safety. In that time, no less than 10 policy changes have been made. Improvements include:

·       Placing jail medical services under the control of the jail commander who is empowered to make decisions regarding transporting inmates to an outside medical facility with or without medical staff recommendation.

·       Greatly improving medical status communication. Now, a list of critically ill patients is given to the command staff daily, with each shift providing an end of shift report to include updates on every infirmary patient to the jail commander.

·       Escambia County Public Safety Medical Director Dr. Paul Henning has agreed to become interim medical director of the jail also.

·       A Health Services Administrator position was hired and starts on Saturday, Jan. 30. This position contributes to strategic planning, budget development and monitoring, and problem solving for the health services division at the Escambia County Jail. This includes providing clinical expertise, direction and management of the administrative function for the benefit of the health services division.

Home Invasion Suspect Shooting Justified Under Stand Your Ground Law

January 16, 2016

No criminal charges will be filed against a man that shot and kill a home invader last month in Santa Rosa County because he was justified under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law.

On December 12, 2015, Gary Savoy Phillips, 38, was pronounced deceased at the scene after he was shot by Rufus Alexander Jordan just after 7 a.m. on Phillips Lane off Highway 4 east of Berrydale.

According to a report released Friday by the State Attorney’s Office,  Jordan and his girlfriend, Nora Danielle King, were awakened by the sound of someone beating on their front door and yelling, a voice they recognized as Gary Savoy Phillips, whose father, Jerry Phillips, Sr., had previously been married to King’s mother. Danielle King grabbed a bolt action 12 gauge shotgun from the bedroom and handed it to Jordan.

King’s three children, along with a fourth child that was spending the night, were asleep in their beds in a separate bedroom.

Gary Phillips (pictured left) suddenly kicked open the door to the home screaming that he was going to kill them and saying, “I’ve done told you I would burn this place.” Jordan pointed the shotgun at Phillips, who then backed out of the home onto the front porch and reached into his right pocket while turned so that Jordan was  unable to see what Phillips was reaching for in his pocket.

Believing that Phillips was reaching for a gun, Jordan fired one round of buckshot from the 12 gauge shotgun at Phillips. Phillips collapsed in the yard.

Phillips collapsed in the yard 13′ from the edge of the porch. Jordan attempted to render aid to Phillips but when he walked down the steps, Phillips’ two pit bulldogs attacked him.

Jordan went back into the house and put another shell in the shotgun which he then fired  into the ground to scare the dogs away. Jordan called 911 and reported the shooting. When law enforcement arrived, they discovered the body of Gary Phillips lying in the front yard. Two pit bulldogs attacked the officers as they approached the body.

When interviewed by officers, Jordan and King stated that  Phillips did not live in the house with them but would spend the night there occasionally. Officers found no items in the house belonging to Phillips and no papers or documents bearing his name.

Jordan and King told investigators that Phillips had stolen several items from their home including King’s cell phone, a flashlight, some money, and 3 guns. These were taken several days before the shooting. The guns stolen were a shotgun, a rifle, and a pistol. Although the pistol was not recovered, King’s cell phone was found on Phillips by officers at the time of the shooting.

Gary Phillips had previously been convicted of grand theft of a firearm, carrying a concealed weapon and aggravated battery, in addition to various drug, theft and traffic convictions. He had been released from prison just eight months before the incident. King and Jordan knew Phillips well and were both aware of Phillips’ criminal history and the fact that he had prior convictions involving violence and firearms.

“Rufus Alexander Jordan was justified in using deadly force in that he reasonably believed that such force was necessary to prevent imminent death or great bodily harm to himself or the other occupants of the home or to prevent the imminent commission of a forcible felony. Under the circumstances, Jordan had no duty to retreat and had the right to stand his ground,” according to the State Attorney’s report, which concluded the shooting death was reasonable and
justifiable under Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law and no criminal charges should be filed.

Photos for, click to enlarge.

FWC Law Enforcement Report

January 16, 2016

The Florida FWC Division of Law Enforcement reported the following activity during the weekly period ending January 14 in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.


Officer Ramos and Lieutenant Hahr responded to a night hunting complaint in an area where several big bucks have been seen.  Shortly after their arrival, a truck approached and shined the field.  The occupants were surprised by another vehicle and immediately turned around and left in the direction they came.  After the second vehicle passed by, the truck returned and the occupants began shining again.  The officers stopped them and observed a loaded high-powered rifle in the front seat of the truck.  The two men participating were charged with attempting to take deer at night with gun and light.


Officer Hutchinson and Lieutenant Hahr were watching a field where they had received a night hunting complaint when a truck drove by shining a spotlight into the field.  The suspect’s actions led the officers to believe that they might be hunting deer so they stopped the truck down the road.  The juvenile driver and passenger told the officers they were looking for deer and admitted to having a rifle in the back seat. They also had a freshly killed doe deer in the back of the truck.  The two juveniles were questioned and admitted to shooting at deer in three other fields in the area.  The officers located these fields and verified their stories.  Both juveniles were charged with attempting to take deer at night with a gun and light, possession of an antlerless deer out of season and taking wildlife from the right of way.  A rifle, pistol, spotlight and one deer were seized as evidence and both subjects were released to their parents.

Officer Hoomes and Lieutenant Berryman were on foot patrol within the Hutton Unit of the Blackwater WMA when they observed a deer in the back of a truck on adjoining private property.  When they went to check the deer, they observed another deer, an antlerless yearling, lying on the ground near the truck.  The owner of the truck admitted to killing both deer.  The antlerless deer was seized and the man was charged with taking antlerless deer out of season.

Officer Hutchinson responded to a residence where a deer was observed being cleaned earlier in the day.  A man from the residence showed Officer Hutchinson where he cleaned two small yearlings in the yard.  He admitted to shooting both deer earlier that morning.  He showed Officer Hutchinson where he disposed of the carcasses.  One deer was a spotted fawn button buck and the other was a slightly larger doe.  Officers Lewis and Ramos arrived on scene to assist and helped track down the deer meat from both deer, as it had been divided up between several people.  The man was charged with two counts of taking antlerless deer out of season.

Lieutenant Hahr was patrolling in the Blackwater WMA when he observed two men hunting on horseback in the field trial area.  When he turned around to speak to them, they were no longer in sight.  He located one of the men riding his horse down into a bottom and stopped him to check him.  The man initially denied hunting, but later admitted to hunting deer.  Lieutenant Hahr charged him with hunting deer in the field trial area and seized a high powered rifle.  The man was also given a citation for riding a horse off designated trails and for hunting without a license and appropriate permits.

This report represents some events the FWC handled over the past week; however, it does not include all actions taken by the Division of Law Enforcement. Information provided by FWC.

Weekend Gardening: Tips for January

January 16, 2016

Here are gardening tips for the month of January from the IFAS Extension Service:


  • Refrigerated bulbs such as tulip, daffodil and hyacinth should be planted in prepared beds.
  • Start seeds of warm season flowers late this month in order to have transplants in March.
  • There’s still time to transplant some cool season annuals such as carnations, foxglove, pansies, petunias and snapdragons.
  • Re-fertilize cool season flowerbeds, using a liquid or dry form of fertilizer. Be careful not to apply excessive amounts and keep granules away from the base of stems.
  • Finish dividing crowded perennials. Don’t wait until spring for this job.
  • Plant bare root roses immediately after they are purchased.

Trees and Shrubs

  • Plant trees and shrubs. This is an ideal time of year for transplanting larger specimens.
  • Plant bare root plants such as deciduous ornamental shrubs and trees.
  • Prune dormant shade trees, if needed.
  • Stick hardwood cuttings of fig, grape, honeysuckle, Althea, Catalpa, Forsythia and Wisteria.

Fruits and Nuts

  • Apply dormant oil spray to peach, plum, nectarine and other deciduous fruit trees. This practice is necessary when growing the stone fruits in locations along the Gulf Coast. Note: This applies to the flowering peaches and cherries since they are susceptible to the same pests as their fruiting cousins.
  • Plant bare root deciduous fruit trees
  • Prune dormant fruit trees if needed

Vegetable Garden

  • Start seeds of warm season vegetables late this month in order to have transplants in March.
  • Lime (if needed), and begin preparing vegetable gardens for the spring planting.
  • Cool season vegetables that can still be planted in the garden are: beets, broccoli, cabbage, carrots, cauliflower, celery, Chinese cabbage, kale, kohlrabi, leek, mustard, bunching onions, parsley, English peas, Irish potatoes, radishes and turnips.
  • Irish potatoes can be started from January through March by planting seed pieces 3 to 4 inches deep in rows. Always purchase certified seed potatoes.


  • Check soil moisture during winter and water as needed.

Escambia Man Claims $1 Million Lottery Prize

January 16, 2016

The Florida Lottery announced Friday that an Escambia County man has claimed a $1 million Holiday Millionaire Raffle prize from the game’s December 31 drawing.

One of the seven $1 million prizes remains unclaimed.

Don Weaver purchased his winning ticket from Blue Angel Chevron, located at 2 South Blue Angel Parkway in Pensacola. The retailer will receive a $5,000 bonus for selling the $1 million-winning ticket.

Along with the seven $1 million prizes, 540 other prizes ranging from $500 to $50,000 were awarded in the Holiday Millionaire Raffle New Year’s Eve drawing. Additionally, this year’s Raffle offered five weekly drawings, in which a $10,000 prize and two hundred $500 prizes were won. In total, 1,552 players won more than $8.6 million in prizes in the Holiday Millionaire Raffle. Plus, players who purchased early had the chance to participate in the Playoff Bonus Drawing, in which 10 winners were selected to attend the College Football Playoff Semifinal at the Capital One Orange Bowl and won cash prizes of up to $25,000 in an exciting prize reveal on-field at the game. The Holiday Millionaire Raffle game generated more than $1.9 million in revenue for education.

United Way Seeks Volunteers For Loaned Executive Program

January 16, 2016

United Way of Escambia County invites passionate local citizens to apply for the 2016-17 Loaned Executive Leadership Program.  Loaned Executives (known as LEs) are on the front lines of community change in Escambia County. They serve as leaders by advocating for the United Way Workplace Campaign, which raises over $2 million annually to support local nonprofits.

LEs build their professional network and develop leadership, managerial, and public speaking skills. Sara Harlow, an LE from Gulf Power values this community service saying, “The personal gratification you get from serving the community and becoming more in tune with community needs makes the time you give up well worth it.”

LEs volunteer approximately 10 hours per month from February to December. The program launches with participation in the Community Investment Process where LEs see how donations support nonprofits selected to receive funds in Escambia County. After learning about work vital to community success, LEs lead United Way’s campaign and attend monthly leadership seminars featuring key community leaders.

United Way board member and former LE, Wes Hudgens, recognizes that monthly interactions with community leaders strengthen opportunities to serve others. “It is imperative to meet and associate with positive like-minded individuals in the community. This program gave me the opportunity to get to know community leaders and determine how I can work with them to improve our community.”

To become an LE, download an application at Applications will be accepted through February 5, 2016. For more specific details, visit the LE webpage or e-mail Campaign Manager Frank Giammaria at

Florida Gov’t Weekly Roundup: And They’re Off

January 16, 2016

Usually, legislative sessions start out slowly, with the first week focused on catching up with colleagues and friends at the Capitol. There are some speeches, including the governor’s annual State of the State address, and committees that haven’t gotten serious about their work thus far begin to do so., because of — and perhaps to make up for — the disastrous meltdown of the 2015 session, this year’s first week was different. Top priorities for Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, and House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, are already headed to Gov. Rick Scott’s desk.

For his part, the governor spent his week trying to sell a $1 billion tax cut and other policies he says will allow the state to continue growing its population and workforce. In committee meetings, behind podiums and on the road, Scott touted the tax reductions and changes to the structure of the state’s economic-development incentives.

Meanwhile, forces from outside Tallahassee threatened to upend lawmakers’ plans. The U.S. Supreme Court added to the Legislature’s to-do list by striking down the state’s method for imposing the death penalty. But if the House and Senate keep up the pace set in the first week, they could have time left over to deal with some additions to the agenda.


The bills House and Senate leaders most want to pass are usually held up until the session’s last week, when they can be more useful as chits in budget negotiations and other aspects of the final “deal” between the two chambers.

However, after the implosion of the 2015 legislative session ended up killing some of Gardiner’s and Crisafulli’s pet projects last year, lawmakers decided to change the order of the proceedings. Crisafulli got a water-policy bill of the type he has sought for years, and Gardiner pushed through legislation helping people with developmental disabilities.

The business-backed water bill (SB 552), which environmentalists say they will seek to make stronger in the future, was sent to Scott after the House approved it Thursday on a 110-2 vote. That came a day after the Senate unanimously supported the bill, which lawmakers have been trying to advance for more than two years.

“A comprehensive approach to water will result in our ability to protect our state’s most precious resource from crisis,” said House State Affairs Chairman Matt Caldwell, a North Fort Myers Republican and sponsor of the measure.

Scott made it clear he would sign the measure.

The developmental disabilities legislation (SB 672) was named after Gardiner, whose son has Down syndrome. It would make permanent an expansion of a program known as the Florida Personal Learning Scholarship Accounts Program, which provides money to parents of children with disabilities to help meet educational needs, such as buying instructional materials and receiving specialized services.

The bill also includes another initiative aimed at increasing access to college and university programs for students with disabilities.

Another measure (HB 7003) dealing with job opportunities and financial independence for people with disabilities, passed the House and Senate unanimously and also heads to the governor for his signature or veto.

Crisafulli used his speech on the opening day of session to add another priority to the list: Eliminating a five-year waiting period for children of legal immigrants to be eligible for the state’s KidCare health-insurance program.

KidCare is a subsidized program that serves children from low- and moderate-income families. Children of lawfully-residing immigrants currently have to wait five years before they can become eligible. The proposed bills lifting the waiting period and would not apply to undocumented immigrants.

“I believe the time has come,” Crisafulli said. “These children and their parents have followed our laws and should be able to access the same services many Florida families can.”

It was reminiscent of when former Speaker Will Weatherford, Crisafulli’s immediate predecessor, used his office to push for allowing some undocumented immigrants to pay in-state tuition at state colleges and universities. It took Weatherford working on the legislation for two sessions to get it approved, though, and Crisafulli doesn’t have that kind of time.


In his State of the State speech to open the session on Tuesday, Scott wedged a repeated call for his economic priorities into a speech that seemed more concerned with anecdotes about Floridians who manufacture lacrosse equipment and a call to kill terrorists affiliated with the so-called Islamic State group.

One day earlier, he took his pitch to the Senate Finance and Tax Committee, hoping to get the upper chamber to sign onto $1 billion in tax cuts.

“I think these are going to help continue to grow the economy, help get people jobs,” Scott said. “The way to do that is to grow the economy, and the way to grow the economy is to get more companies to want to do business here.”

The governor also wants to set aside $250 million for a “Florida Enterprise Fund” that would be used to lure companies to continue the growth of the Sunshine State.

Scott is also using his bully pulpit to push the ideas, setting off on his “Million Miles for a Million Jobs” bus tour to mark the state crossing the seven-figure mark in the number of jobs added since the governor took office in 2011.

That approach appears to be working in the House, though Crisafulli is suggesting that his chamber will focus more on one-time tax cuts, to avoid weakening the state’s revenue picture in future years. Legislative leaders have expressed concern that providing too many tax cuts that continue year after year could create shortfalls down the road.

“We obviously have a lot of commitments, whether it be education or other issues in the state that we obviously have to make sure that we take care of, but at the end of the day, a $1 billion total number is what we have in mind,” Crisafulli told reporters.


If the U.S. Supreme Court was going to invalidate the way people in Florida are sentenced to death, it chose the time when lawmakers might have the best chance to fix any defects. Almost exactly as the gavels were falling down to being the House and Senate meetings on Tuesday, the justices released their opinion.

The 8-1 ruling says juries — not judges— should be responsible for imposing the death penalty. The ruling focused on what are known as “aggravating” circumstances that must be found before defendants can be sentenced to death. A 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in a case known as Ring v. Arizona, requires that determination of such aggravating circumstances be made by juries, not judges.

Florida requires juries to make recommendations to judges regarding the death penalty after considering aggravating and mitigating circumstances, with judges ultimately imposing the sentences.

But Florida’s unique law giving judges the power to decide whether defendants should face death equates to an unconstitutional violation of the Sixth Amendment right to a trial by jury, Justice Sonya Sotomayor write in the majority opinion.

Lawmakers quickly vowed to fix the problem.

“This is something that we have to do,” House Judiciary Chairman Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, said. “We will be addressing the issue which was raised specifically by the Supreme Court in that decision, and then looking beyond the narrow decision to see how it affects other aspects of the death penalty statute to ensure its future constitutionality as well.”

What seemed less likely was approval for legislation that would require a jury vote to impose the death penalty be unanimous. Only two other states don’t require unanimity. And two other Florida cases that deal with the unanimity issue are now pending before the U.S. Supreme Court.

That’s led to concern that doing the minimum to conform Florida law with the high court ruling is problematic.

“My hope is that the Legislature goes far enough to require unanimity in both the decision that somebody is death eligible and that somebody will get the death penalty. And if they don’t do that, they’re only inviting more litigation and waiting for the next shoe to drop. They may fix it temporarily, but they’re not going to fix it permanently,” said Florida International University law professor Stephen Harper, who runs the school’s Death Penalty Clinic. “They’re only going to put a Band-aid on a much bigger problem.”

STORY OF THE WEEK: Lawmakers returned to the Capitol for the 2016 legislative session and quickly got down to business, sending legislation dealing with water and developmental disabilities to Gov. Rick Scott.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “We do a lot of things in Tallahassee that you find out in a mail piece later that maybe you regret. But I can tell you, each of us, Republican, Democrat, things like this is why you come up here.”— Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, on a bill dealing with developmental disabilities that was named after him.

by Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

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