Kids are heading back to school. College football will soon dominate Saturday afternoons. And state lawmakers will start holding committee meetings, as bill filing got underway this week for the 2018 session.

TALLAHASSEE — Florida is creeping through the middle of a sweltering summer in a non-election year, but things might soon get hotter in the halls of government.

Kids are heading back to school. College football will soon dominate Saturday afternoons. And state lawmakers will start holding committee meetings, as bill filing got underway this week for the 2018 session. Among the early bills filed are proposals to expand gun rights and ban texting while driving.

This week was more about anticipation for the political crowd. But Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, answered one of the lingering questions Friday, when he opened a campaign account to run for governor.

That could be a sign of a heated legislative season ahead, as Latvala, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and possibly House Speaker Richard Corcoran look to move into the governor's mansion.

 

TAKING AIM AT OPIOID CRISIS

Latvala has toured the state in recent weeks, at least in part to gather information in advance of the 2018 session, including a First Friday stop in Bay County. He will return to Panama City on Wednesday as part of his gubernatorial campaign announcement, speaking at 5 p.m. at Sun Harbor Marina.

He included a roundtable appearance Tuesday in Palm Beach County with lawmakers, local leaders and public-safety officials to address Florida's raging opioid crisis. Palm Beach County is one of the epicenters of the epidemic.

During this spring's legislative session, state lawmakers passed bills to address what are known as “sober homes” — a major issue in Palm Beach County — and to crack down on people who traffic in fentanyl, a deadly painkiller sometimes mixed with heroin that also has seen growing presence in Northwest Florida.

From January through May of this year, Palm Beach County had 311 opioid overdoses, compared to 258 over the same period in 2016, according to numbers from Latvala's office. The county totaled 592 opioid-related deaths in 2016.

Palm Beach County Vice Mayor Melissa McKinlay said the county had spent more than $200,000 on Narcan, an opiate antidote used in emergency situations.

“The epidemic is impacting the manufacturing industry and business communities,” McKinlay said. “People cannot pass drug tests because of this. The bigger picture is that addiction is a disease. We want to break the stigma of addicts because nobody wakes up one day and chooses to become an addict.”

The timing of the roundtable couldn't have been better.

President Donald Trump, a part-time Florida man with a home in Palm Beach, announced two days later he's ready to officially declare the opioid crisis a "national emergency," with ramped-up government efforts.

“We're going to spend a lot of time, a lot of effort and a lot of money on the opioid crisis," Trump told reporters at his golf course in Bedminster, N.J. “It is a serious problem, the likes of which we've never had.”

 

GOODSON, FORMER LAWMAKERS MAKE PSC SHORTLIST

A nominating council this week settled on a short list of 14 candidates who will be interviewed for three open seats on the state Public Service Commission, and the list is littered with familiar names in the Capitol.

Among the candidates for the utility-regulatory commission who will be interviewed next week are state Rep. Tom Goodson of Rockledge, former Rep. Rich Glorioso of Plant City, former Rep. Ken Littlefield of Wesley Chapel, former Sen. Greg Evers of Baker, and former Rep. Ritch Workman of Melbourne.

All are Republicans.

Also slated to be interviewed for the $131,036-a-year positions on the Public Service Commission are two current commissioners, Ronald Brise and Art Graham, whose terms expire at the end of the year.

Gov. Rick Scott eventually will get to make the appointments based on the nominating council's recommendations.

The third seat has been vacant since the governor appointed Jimmy Patronis, a former state House member whose family owns Capt. Anderson's Restaurant in Panama City Beach, to serve as state chief financial officer in June.

The nominating council is chaired by state Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud, and its members include Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, Rep. Mike Miller, R-Orlando, and House Minority Leader Janet Cruz, D-Tampa.

Not everyone with ties to the Capitol got invited to the interview round. Without comment from the council, former state Comptroller Bob Milligan failed to receive a single vote to move on to the next round, and former Rep. Dave Murzin, R-Pensacola, received only a single vote.

At least four votes were needed to advance.

 

SCOTT'S QUIET BUSINESS TRIP

With little fanfare or public notice, Scott embarked this week on a two-day business fishing trip to Tennessee.

Scott held “business development” meetings with Tractor Supply Co. in Brentwood on Wednesday before heading to Nashville, where he had similar sit-downs with electronics company Griffin Technology, tire company Bridgestone Americas and building materials manufacturer Louisiana-Pacific Corp.

Similar to a July 21 trip to Las Vegas for meetings with Allegiant Air, online shoe retailer Zappos and the company GigaCrete, the governor's office did not make a prior announcement of the Tennessee trip.

As with Nevada, Tennessee has a Republican governor.

That contrasts with past business-development trips to Connecticut, New York, Pennsylvania, California and Kentucky, states that all had Democratic governors at the time of the trips.

Before some of those higher-profile trips, the economic-development agency Enterprise Florida ran radio ads in the targeted state touting the benefits of Florida.

STORY OF THE WEEK: A Leon County grand jury cleared Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum after an investigation into whether software purchased with tax dollars was used for political purposes. The 11-page grand jury report, dated Monday, ends a months-long probe involving Gillum's actions as Tallahassee mayor. Still, the city government continues to be embroiled in a broader, unrelated FBI investigation that threatens to damage Gillum's gubernatorial bid.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Let me be very clear: Quotas have no place within the Florida Highway Patrol. Getting in the black and tan to patrol the roadways is expected. Helping to educate and assist motorists is expected. Protecting lives is expected. Quotas are not part of our mission operationally or legally.” — Terry Rhodes, executive director of the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, in response to a report that Maj. Mark Welch of Troop H in Tallahassee had sent an email to troopers requesting “two citations each hour."