As Hurricane Dorian barrels toward Florida this weekend, all eyes are on the storm’s path and on how Gov. Ron DeSantis handles his first major natural disaster since taking over as the state’s commander-in-chief in January.
So far, the Republican governor has urged Floridians to prepare for the storm’s impact, which he said Friday could be a multi-day “major event” with a “host of issues” for the Sunshine State.
“You should have seven days of food, medicine and water,” the governor told reporters at the state’s emergency operations headquarters in Tallahassee Friday morning.
As the head of Florida government, DeSantis also has been busy coordinating with state and local officials in preparation for what he called a possible “Category 4-plus” storm.
DeSantis said he has spoken to his close ally, President Donald Trump; Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey; and private companies, including Verizon and Florida Power & Light, to ensure things run smoothly both before and after the storm.
While this is his first major storm as governor, DeSantis assured the public on Friday that he is "no stranger to hurricanes," noting he grew up in the storm-prone state.
DeSantis also pointed to Hurricane Matthew in 2016 and Hurricane Irma in 2017, two storms that hit Florida while he was serving in Congress.
“I have a lot of experience just understanding how the wheels are in motion,” he said.
DeSantis said his administration has done an “awful lot” of recovery work in the wake of Hurricane Michael, which walloped the Florida Panhandle in October.
The governor said the state has already done a “major hurricane exercise” in preparation for this year’s storm season.
“This is something that we didn’t want to see this hurricane season … but we also prepared for one,” he said.
CORCORAN SPARKS SHAKE-UP AT THE ABLE TRUST
Meanwhile, there’s a storm of a different type brewing at the state organization that helps Floridians with disabilities.
Florida Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran recently threatened a criminal investigation into The Able Trust, after learning about potential misuse of millions of dollars and alleged “incompetence” on the part of its leadership.
Corcoran also said he would shut down The Able Trust, a non-profit organization for the state education department’s Division of Vocational Rehabilitation, if its leaders did not meet 10 of his demands.
“Should the terms herein not be fully complied with by The Able Trust, the department intends to immediately sever any contractual or other similar relationships with The Able Trust,” Corcoran wrote.
That included the resignations of its officers and board of directors, as well as the exit of president and chief executive officer, Susanne Homant, who held the post since 2007, the News Service of Florida reported this week.
The education commissioner added that he would “subsequently direct this matter to the appropriate law enforcement agency or state attorney and if necessary, the Internal Revenue Service,” if his demands were not met.
Corcoran cited “several egregious concerns” at The Able Trust as the reason why he was strong-arming the organization into meeting his demands. The organization helps more than 45,000 individuals with disabilities get and maintain jobs every year.
ANOTHER NOTCH ON CORCORAN'S BELT
A three-judge panel on Thursday upheld the constitutionality of a controversial 2017 law that sought to bolster charter schools, rejecting the arguments of numerous school boards across the state.
The law, known in education circles by the shorthand HB 7069, was a priority of then-House Speaker Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican.
“The school boards’ constitutional challenge to HB 7069’s provisions represents their disagreement with new statutory duties enacted by the Legislature,” said the ruling, written by Judge Joseph Lewis and joined by judges Timothy Osterhaus and M. Kemmerly Thomas.
Lewis added “the school board must presume that the provisions at issue are constitutional.”
The panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal backed a decision by a Leon County circuit judge, who turned down arguments that the mammoth education law improperly infringed on the constitutional rights of school boards to operate their districts.
Corcoran and other school-choice supporters used the law to try to direct additional money to charter schools and to authorize “schools of hope,” a new type of charter school aimed at areas where children have been served by low-performing traditional public schools.
NEW TWIST IN MAJOR POT CASE
A split appeals court on Tuesday refused to grant the state’s request to revisit a decision that could revolutionize the way medical marijuana operators do business in Florida.
Instead, the 1st District Court of Appeal asked the Florida Supreme Court to decide whether the state’s “vertical integration” system of requiring licensed operators to grow, process and distribute cannabis and derivative products runs afoul of a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana in Florida.
In an unusual twist in the high-profile medical marijuana case, five judges on the appeals court recused themselves from deciding whether the case should get a hearing by the Florida Supreme Court.
In a 2-1 July ruling, a panel of the appeals court upheld a Leon County circuit judge’s decision that found the state’s vertical integration system conflicted with the constitutional amendment, approved by more than 70 percent of voters in 2016.
DeSantis’ administration asked the Tallahassee-based appellate court to revisit the panel’s decision, which Florida officials argued injected “confusion and uncertainty” into the state’s medical marijuana industry.
In a concurring opinion Tuesday supporting the decision to deny a rehearing, Judge Scott Makar concentrated, in part, on differences in the definitions of “medical marijuana treatment centers” in the 2017 law and in the constitutional amendment.
The statute says medical marijuana treatment centers “shall cultivate, process, transport, and dispense marijuana for medical use,” while the amendment says a medical marijuana treatment center is an entity that “acquires, cultivates, possesses, processes … transfers, transports, sells, distributes, dispenses, or administers” medical marijuana.
“The power of the Legislature does not include rewriting clear language in the Constitution, transforming a disjunctive ‘or’ into a conjunctive ‘and,’ ” Makar wrote.
“No evidence exists that the people via the elemental language of the medical marijuana amendment clearly intended a market limited to only a few fully vertically-integrated medical marijuana companies,” he wrote.
STORY OF THE WEEK: A strengthening Hurricane Dorian churned toward Florida's Atlantic Coast, prompting Gov. Ron DeSantis to issue a state of emergency for all 67 counties in anticipation of a powerful hit.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Andrew Gillum kept that money to promote Andrew Gillum. I gave my money to promote things I believe in.” --- Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan, referring to political contributions Gillum left unspent ahead of the 2018 gubernatorial election, which he narrowly lost to Republican Gov. Ron DeSantis.