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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Bolstering the ballot boxes

Florida dropped the ball on election security, a U.S. Senate investigation shows.

Gov. Ron DeSantis says he’ll be “getting a report sometime soon” on elections systems security in the state. 

He spoke with reporters this week at the Capitol. Last month, he announced he was “redistributing” $2.3 million from the federal government “to ensure the safest, most up-to-date modifications are made to our (elections) infrastructure.”

The Governor’s comments, however, came before news that Florida dropped the ball on election security, according to a U.S. Senate investigation reported on Friday. 

Robert Mueller’s testimony (and a new Senate investigation) suggests Russian election meddling is far more extensive than first believed.

The Senate report “paints a picture of federal officials repeatedly reaching out to warn Florida state officials and four particular counties that they were targets for Russian hackers, beginning in August 2016, lasting through that presidential election and continuing through the summer leading up to the 2018 elections,” CNN reported. 

The money the feds gave is what’s left from a $19 million federal election security grant provided to Florida for the 2018 cycle, to further secure voting systems that were targeted by hackers in 2016. (The money wasn’t all spent in time for that election.)

Two attempts to breach Florida elections systems were noted as part of an indictment issued by Special Counsel Robert Mueller against 12 Russian intelligence officers for hacking Democrats in 2016.

“You know, we had these two incidents in ’16, which were dealt with, and there was no incident that we know of in ’18, so obviously we want to keep that going into 2020,” DeSantis said this week. 

“I think we’ve provided resources, as you know, even more resources,” he added, referring to the recent money infusion. “Obviously, we don’t run elections … The secretary of state has a role, but that is going to be done on the ground” by county supervisors of elections. 

They are supposed to be able to use the money for such things as software security upgrades and improving the safety of buildings in which election equipment is stored or used.

“And so the part of the reason we wanted to review it is to just help people identify some problems, if any,” DeSantis said. “And then, you know, we wanted to offer some support to be able to resolve it. So that’s ongoing.” 

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson and the staff of Florida Politics.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Take 5

State’s top financial regulator canned — Ronald Rubin, the beleaguered head of the state’s Office of Financial Regulation, was fired Thursday by the Governor and Florida Cabinet after five months on the job. After a motion by CFO Jimmy Patronis, the termination was supported by DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried withheld her vote, citing public notice concerns. Rubin’s firing closes a saga that began with accusations of sexual harassment and complaints of inappropriate comments in the workplace.

Confederate battle fight begins anew — Rep. Geraldine Thompson renewed efforts to get rid of a Confederate memorial on state Capitol grounds. In a brief statement, Thompson said she will “press for relocation” of the monument outside the old Capitol. Alternatively, the Windermere Democrat will argue for “placement of a plaque explaining Florida’s secession from the Union and treason against the United States.” The monument honors “the heroic patriotism of the men of Leon County who perished in the Civil War.”

Manny Diaz on trafficking council — Senate President Bill Galvano announced Sen. Manny Diaz will join the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking. “Human trafficking has caused grave impacts to communities across our state,” Diaz said. “I look forward to begin working with the Council to combat this evil, apprehend perpetrators, educate our communities, and maximize support resources for victims.” The council was created in 2014.

Lauren Book presses for Epstein probe — Sen. Lauren Book, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, called for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office for its handling of alleged child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein‘s work release. Book, a Plantation Democrat, founded Lauren’s Kids, which educates children and families about preventing sexual abuse, and supports survivors. Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to prostitution charges in Florida, which netted him 13 months in jail, most spent on supervised release.

Small Business sounds talent concerns — The Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Third Quarter Small Business Index Survey shows access to talent remains a top concern among small businesses. The Chamber surveyed 130 small businesses. Of those respondents, 27 percent listed workforce quality as their top concern. The next highest concern was economic uncertainty, with 12 percent indicating that was their biggest worry as owners anticipate another economic recession.

DeSantis on Epstein

DeSantis this week said he’ll “consider” state Sen. Book’s request for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office for its handling of alleged child sex trafficker Epstein’s work release.

“I’ll certainly consider that,” he told reporters after this week’s Cabinet meeting in Tallahassee. “I’ve got to figure out what the proper role of FDLE is. I know they are investigating it down in Palm Beach.”

Lauren Book is suggesting that anonymous supporters of Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw told her to ‘back off’ from looking into the sketchy Jeffery Epstein plea deal.

Epstein pleaded guilty in 2008 to state prostitution charges in Florida which netted him just 13 months in jail. Most of that time was spent on supervised release. 

Palm Beach Sheriff Ric Bradshaw, who was in office at the time, launched an internal investigation after reports Epstein had at least one “sexual contact” with a young woman in his office while on work release.

“If even 10 percent of the things about (Epstein) are true, then that whole agreement was obviously suspect and woefully below what he should have faced,” DeSantis said. 

Book, a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, founder of Lauren’s Kids, which educates children and families about preventing sexual abuse, and supports survivors.

Changing of the guard

DeSantis stopped by Naval Station Mayport this week to preside over the change of command from outgoing commander, Captain David Yoder, to incoming Commander, Captain Jason Canfield.

“Captain Canfield brings a wealth of knowledge and experience including multiple tours abroad and has deployed in support of every numbered fleet across the globe in support of numerous operations,” DeSantis said.

Ron DeSantis presided over Naval Station Mayport’s Change of Command Ceremony. Image via the Governor’s Office.

“Captain Yoder is leaving Mayport in great hands and I’m confident Captain Canfield will serve and lead with distinction in his new role as Commander.”

NS Mayport is one of three major Naval installations in the Jacksonville region, alongside Naval Air Station Jacksonville and Naval Submarine Base Kings Bay.

Located at the mouth of St. Johns River, NS Mayport is complete with both a seaport and air facility and is home to the United States Navy’s Fourth Fleet.

Years ago, the installation was also home to DeSantis, who was stationed there during his service in the U.S. Navy.

Save the caves

Also this week, the Governor and Cabinet approved funding the Wakulla Caves land and springs protection project, allocated from the Florida Forever program to complete the purchase of this 717-acre parcel in Wakulla County. 

A news release from Conservation Florida explained the site “has been on the state’s land protection list for over 20 years and will now be permanently protected as an addition to the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park, located about seven miles south of Tallahassee.” 

The Wakulla Caves will now be added to the Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park.

The total purchase price of the property is $4.2 million, with $2.54 million committed toward its acquisition by the USDA Forest Service through the Forest Legacy Program. 

“The Wakulla Caves Forest project is an opportunity for the Forest Legacy Program to help protect an important underground water resource with a unique recreational use of cave diving. There is no other Forest Legacy project quite like this one in the nation,” said Michael Murphy, Forest Legacy Program Manager for the Southeast.

Wakulla Springs is a National Natural Landmark and one of the largest and deepest freshwater springs in the world. 

AG honors Jax officers

Two Jacksonville Sheriff Police Officers who saved a woman from a burning car earned “Back the Blue” awards from Attorney General Moody this week.

Officers Kathleen James and Chelsea McCullom were on duty when they saw a car crash on the on-ramp of Interstate 10 and erupt into flames. The pair pried open a jammed door and pulled the driver out, getting just 10 feet away before the auto exploded.

Thanks to their efforts the driver, who suffered burns to 40 percent of her body, survived and has since made a full recovery.

“The heroic actions taken by these two officers are incredible. Without hesitation, both of these officers fearlessly entered a burning vehicle to save this woman’s life and shielded her with their own bodies from exploding shrapnel,” Moody said.

“It is an absolute honor to present them a Back the Blue Award today. Thank you, officers, for nobly serving your community and risking your own lives to save another. We are so proud of you.”

James has worked for JSO since 2013, first as a police service technician before becoming a police officer in 2015. McCullom has served as a police officer at JSO since 2017.

Rural communities awarded

DeSantis this week announced $16.2 million in awards for 24 small and rural communities across the state through the Florida Small Cities Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) program. 

“Infrastructure development is the lifeline for economic growth in many areas and we will continue to work with our federal partners on building a stronger, more resilient Florida,” he said in a statement. 

The projects awarded include improving drainage, installing fire hydrants, rehabilitating sewer stations, replacing water lines, and a host of others. 

The improvements are “expected to especially benefit thousands of individuals who are low- to moderate-income.”

Instagram of the week

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Proud to have @vp in the Great State of Florida today at @nasakennedy #Apollo50th #flapol #sayfie

A post shared by Jimmy Patronis (@jpatronis) on

The week in appointments

Gilchrist County Tax Collector — DeSantis named Michael McElroy, of Trenton, the City President and Branch Manager of Ameris Bank, as the county’s new tax collector. McElroy has served as president and treasurer of the Gilchrist County Chamber of Commerce for over 30 years. In 2018, he received the J. Min Ayers Lifetime Achievement Award for his work with the chamber. He is a current board member of the Gilchrist County State Housing Initiative Partnership Program and the Gilchrist County Education Foundation. He is appointed to the position vacated by Barbara Merritt.

Florida Transportation Commission — DeSantis this week announced the appointment of Richard Burke to the Transportation Commission. Burke, of Ponte Vedra Beach, is chief executive officer of Advanced Disposal, a solid waste management company. He has served on the board of directors of the Environmental Research and Education Foundation since 2008. Burke is appointed to a four-year term. The appointment is subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

Statewide Council on Human Trafficking Senate President Bill Galvano this week announced the appointment of Sen. Manny Diaz Jr., a Hialeah Gardens Republican, to represent the Senate on the Council. The Council enhances the “development and coordination of state and local law enforcement and social services responses to fight commercial sexual exploitation as a form of human trafficking and to provide support services for victims.” This year, the Legislature passed HB 851, which established the Council’s direct-support organization to provide assistance, funding, and support to the Council. 

Space Coast adds satellites

There’s a new aerospace company in town: OneWeb Satellites.

The company, a joint venture between telecom company OneWeb and aircraft manufacturer Airbus, is setting up a high-volume satellite manufacturing plant in Exploration Park.

OneWeb officially opens its new Florida facility. Image via OneWeb/Twitter.

The news was cheered by DeSantis, Lieutenant Gov. Jeanette Nuñez and Space Florida President and CEO Frank DiBello.

“The opening of OneWeb Satellites’ manufacturing facility at the Cape Canaveral Spaceport follows a momentous celebration — the 50th anniversary of the Apollo 11 mission,” DeSantis said.

“Apollo 11 left a legacy on the aerospace industry and the state of Florida and inspired generations. OneWeb Satellites’ new production facility builds on that legacy and broadens the next era of space exploration and commerce in our state.”

According to OneWeb Satellites, the 105,500-square-foot production facility will churn out up to two satellites a day — light-years faster than traditional manufacturers, which could take more than a year to build a single satellite.

The satellites will be used to expand internet access to remote areas of the world.

“This is a defining moment in the history of OneWeb, and the space industry. With today’s opening, we are one step closer to connecting the unconnected for the benefit of societies all over the world,” OneWeb CEO Adrian Steckel said.

The final frontier

Florida’s already home to 21 military bases, representing every branch of the U.S. Armed Forces.

But the Sunshine State will lose complete-set status if it doesn’t land “Space Force,” the space warfare branch proposed by the Donald Trump administration.

The last update from D.C. was that Florida didn’t make the cut, while Alabama, California and Colorado did.

Jeanette Nuñez made the trip to D.C. in an effort to keep Florida in the Space Force game.

But Florida’s top brass doesn’t want to take no for an answer. Since the shortlist snub, DeSantis has highlighted the state’s commercial space industry and has been adamant that no other state shares Florida’s “unique qualifications.” 

Lt. Gov. Nuñez, who also chairs Space Florida, provided an assist this week by trekking up to Washington to make the pitch for Florida.

Her trip included a congressional roundtable as well as a meeting with Lt. Gen. David Thompson at the Pentagon.

“This morning, I shared how Florida is focused and uniquely equipped to expand our aerospace industry with a bipartisan group of members of Congress,” Nuñez tweeted Wednesday.

The Thompson meeting could be key. He’s the vice commander of the U.S. Air Force Space Command and oversees all space missions undertaken by the Air Force, the department that would house Space Force if it gets off the ground.

Hire a veteran 

The Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) celebrated national Hire a Veteran Day this week by encouraging Florida businesses to recruit and employ veterans. 

“We’re proud to celebrate Hire a Veteran Day in Florida as we continue on our mission to be the most veteran-friendly state in the nation,” DeSantis said.

Hire a Veteran Day: One way to truly honor a veteran is to hire one.

“I recognize the important role these brave men and women hold in our communities and will continue to encourage businesses to recruit veterans. The dedication and value they bring to Florida’s economy is vital to the success of our businesses and the diversity of our workforce.” 

To support veteran employment, DEO directly administers the Jobs for Veterans State Grant and works with local workforce development boards throughout the state, which are staffed with veterans’ employment representatives who are dedicated to helping veterans find meaningful employment.

In 2019, nearly 4,000 veterans gained employment after assistance by the CareerSource Florida network. DEO also offers

Employ Florida Vets, an online job portal, to assist veterans and their families with accomplishing their employment goals. 

AHCA boosts beds

The Agency for Health Care Administration approved a pair of projects that will bring new nursing home beds added in Hillsborough and Alachua counties.

In Gainesville, the agency approved a request to transfer six nursing home beds from Park Meadows Health and Rehabilitation Center to Terrace Health and Rehabilitation Center.

The state’s notice lists no capital costs for the project.

Also getting the nod was PruittHealth-Hillsborough County’s request to fold six previously approved nursing home beds into in an 84-bed project that’s already underway.

PruittHealth-Hillsborough County’s original request was approved early last year. The state notice says the now 90-bed project will cost $21 million.

PTA praises Powell

The Florida Parent Teacher Association has announced their 2019 Legislator of the Year award winners, and Sen. Bobby Powell made the grade.

The West Palm Beach Democrat is fresh off a Legislative Session where he helped pass a bill repealing the mandatory direct filing of children into the adult court system as well as legislation encouraging schools to join the voluntary “Suicide Prevention Certified Schools” program.

The Florida PTA honors Bobby Powell as Legislator of the Year. 

“I want to thank the Florida PTA for the recognition and for their consistent advocacy on behalf of our children and youth,” Powell said.

“We have a long way to go, but together, we will continue to move the needle in the right direction, so that we can better protect our most valuable and vulnerable resource — our children.”

The Legislator of the Year award recognizes legislators who have worked to pass laws focused on improving the education, care, and protection of Florida youth. The awards were announced during the group’s annual leadership convention last week.

FSU graduation time

Florida State University will host summer commencement ceremonies Friday, Aug. 2, and Saturday, Aug. 3.

Allan Bense, a former chair of the FSU Board of Trustees and former House Speaker, will deliver the keynote address Friday evening. Retired Lt. Col. John Crowe, who served as a U.S. Air Force pilot for 28 years and later led a paper manufacturing company, will be the featured speaker Saturday morning.

It’s summer graduation season at FSU.

FSU says it “will award degrees to 2,673 students this summer, including 1,783 bachelor’s degrees, 682 master’s and specialist’s degrees, 177 doctorates, 9 Juris Doctor degrees and 22 Juris Master and LL.M. degrees. More than 1,400 students are expected to participate in the two ceremonies.”

The ceremonies will take place at 7:30 p.m. on Friday, and 9 a.m. Saturday, both at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, 505 W. Pensacola St., Tallahassee. Also, the ceremonies will be livestreamed at learningforlife.fsu.edu/fsu-graduation/.

More than cookies

Girl Scouts of Gateway Council is growing, and not just in the cookie business.

This council recently expanded from Northeast Florida and into the Panhandle. It now includes more than 18,000 members and encompasses 35 counties, making it geographically the largest Girl Scout council in the Sunshine State.

Girl Scouts of Gateway Council is growing, and it’s more than just cookies.

While the Girl Scout’s trademark cookie sale does wonders in helping girls develop entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen, Girl Scouts of Gateway Council’s expansion has given it some unique advantages.

With the Jacksonville, Tallahassee and Panhandle regions under the same roof, Girl Scouts of Gateway Council has been able to better serve girls still recovering from Hurricane Michael, while also developing civic literacy for girls in the own state capital.

A full third of the girls served by Girl Scouts of Gateway Council come from underserved communities, and the council is helping out through the Girl Scout Get Real! Program, a preventive program to break the generational cycle of poverty for girls.

Get Real! helps at-risk middle school girls with a safe space to learn, be mentored, increase literacy levels, and boost their self-esteem.

Brew, baby, brew

Want to open a brewery in Tallahassee? Garages on Gaines has space and the fermenters too. 

Grasslands Brewing Co. closed its doors earlier this month, leaving a void in the capital’s craft beer scene — and in the converted former warehouse that was its home. 

The former Grasslands Brewing is looking for new beer meisters.

A listing now on LoopNet, the “online marketplace for commercial property,” advertises the 5,000 square foot space, going for $22 a square foot space per year. (For the mathematically challenged, that’s a little over $9,100 a month.)

But it includes a “turnkey brewery and taproom, with all equipment and furniture in place,” the ad says. 

Fellow building tenants include Gaines Street Pies, the pizza joint owned by Tallahassee City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow, as well as Warhorse Whiskey Bar, and Catalina Café. 

But there are some big shoes to fill. Grasslands founders Gabe and Saralyn Grass were revered in the local beer scene. 

As longtime patron Tim Kenyon recently told Tallahassee Magazine, “Grasslands was more than just a brewery … they really were a force of good for the community.

“Tallahassee is definitely a poorer place in (its) absence.” 

Capitol Directions

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