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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Cracking down on ‘crankers’

Crank callers are soon going to have a tough time, thanks to Ashely Moody and telecom companies.

Cracking down on ‘crankers’

The era of spoofed numbers, phony texts and scam charity calls may finally be coming to a close.

Attorney General Ashley Moody has joined a coalition of 51 attorneys general looking to crack down on the crankers with the help of some leading telecom companies.

Cracking on crankers: Ashley Moody is joining a coalition of Attorneys General to crack down on crank callers, enlisting the help of some leading telecom companies.

The AGs are asking wireless providers to offer free call blocking, monitor network traffic, investigate suspicious calls, require traceback cooperation and, most importantly, to tell state attorneys general about recognized scams and trends in illegal robocalling.

So far AT&T, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Consolidated, Frontier, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon and Windstream have agreed to pitch in on the robocall eradication effort.

“Scammers are using spoofing and cutting-edge software to make millions of illegal robocalls every day. Through these new principles, the nation’s largest voice service providers are fighting back using their own advanced technology,” she said.

“Not only will these new efforts help consumers block unwanted calls, [but] they will also provide attorneys general nationwide crucial information to stop scams and hold those who make illegal robocalls accountable.”

Joining the coalition isn’t Moody’s first action to fight back against illegal robocalls.

Earlier this year, she teamed up with the Federal Trade Commission for “Operation Call It Quits,” which resulted in legal action against two Florida robocall operations.

Another case saw the state claw back cash for consumers duped by a fake credit-card interest rate reduction program. The average refund in that settlement weighed in at $1,000.

Robocallers generally use an auto-dialer to deliver a prerecorded message to thousands of numbers. Some of those calls are legitimate. Public service announcements, reminders about doctor appointments, and even political polls are entirely legal.

But it’s against the law for telemarketers to tie up the line without a consumer’s written consent. And it’s especially illegal for robocalls to impersonate government officials — it’s common for scammers to pretend to be the IRS to get ahold of financial information.

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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, a correction and a clarification: Last week’s edition misspelled the name of Kelley Smith Burk, the director of the state’s Office of Energy under the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. We regret the error.

Also, an item last week was unclear about the term “labor force” versus the number of employed Floridians. “Florida’s labor force number includes those in the workforce employed and those looking for work, and that number has been above 10 million previously,” says a representative for the Department of Economic Opportunity. “The record number is 10 million employed Floridians.”

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

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Take 5

Scratch off, game on — The Florida Lottery will extend the state’s more than 30-year-long partnership with Scientific Games, the only U.S.-based full-service lottery supplier. A Lottery evaluation committee recommended Scientific Games as the primary supplier of the state’s scratch-off ticket program. The Lottery posted its intent to award on the state’s procurement website late Tuesday. Scientific Games’ marketing plan is expected to generate $8.5 billion in additional education funds for Florida students, including the financing of additional 626,000 Bright Futures Scholarships in the years ahead.

No ammo for special Session — Gov. Ron DeSantis doubts the Legislature will respond to the call from Democrats for a special Legislative Session on gun violence “The Legislature is not going to go for it,” DeSantis said. “What I think we should look to do in the next Session is to build on what I put forward in terms of threat assessment.” The Republican Governor expressed no interest or concern for the Florida House Democratic caucus’ call Tuesday for a Special Legislative Session “to address the epidemic of gun violence in our state.”

Mo’ money, mo’ school safety — Florida education officials called on state lawmakers to boost spending on mental health services and armed security in schools, showing a continued focus on safety more than a year after a mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. The Department of Education’s budget proposal for the upcoming fiscal year, which begins July 1, includes $100 million in mental-health spending — a $25 million uptick over the current funding amount. The state agency’s budget request also contains an additional $1.4 million to “maintain” school resource officers in each Florida public school.

Insurance trust fund solvent — Despite worries the main account that pays for state employees’ health insurance costs will go bust in the next three years, state economists now say that isn’t the case. Revised estimates predict the state employee health-insurance trust fund will grow by hundreds of millions of dollars by 2022. Economists agreed to increase the estimated cash balance in the trust fund at the end of the 2019-2020 fiscal year to $554.8 million, a near 38 percent jump from the previous estimate. They also agreed to increase the ending cash balance for the following year to $400.3 million.

Guardian ad Litem honors Ben Albritton — The Florida Guardian ad Litem Program honored the state Senator as “Legislator of the Year” in a surprise ceremony. The group recognized the Wauchula Republican’s years of leadership in bettering the lives of abused, abandoned, and neglected children. About 110 staff, volunteers and supporters crowded the Bartow Library to surprise the Senator. Albritton was the first Florida lawmaker Guardian ad Litem honored as “Legislator of the Year” for his service in both chambers of the Legislature.

More hurricane cash coming

Hurricane Irma costs have hit $2.63 billion, the threshold to increase the federal cost-share from 75 percent to 90 percent.

DeSantis sent a letter to President Donald Trump this week officially asking for the increase, which shaves $160 million off the costs incurred by state and local governments.

“Every single day, my administration has fought to make hurricane recovery a top priority, and today we’re able to take another step forward for Florida communities impacted by recent hurricanes,” DeSantis said.

Check’s in the mail: Ron DeSantis made the official ask of Donald Trump for an increased federal cost-share on Hurricane Irma recovery.

“Our state has been devastated by Hurricanes Michael and Irma these past two years, but by working together, we’re rebuilding every community stronger than before. I’m proud of the work we’ve already accomplished on Hurricane recovery statewide, and I look forward to working closely with President Donald Trump to implement this increased federal cost-share.”

Since DeSantis was sworn in, the Florida Department of Emergency Management has awarded more than $766 million in recovery funding for Hurricanes Michael, Irma, Matthew and Hermine.

Those funds include $40.9 million for Collier County, $18.5 million for Bay County and $78.1 million for Miami-Dade County.

Champions of breakfast

Breakfast is the most important meal of the day, and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried wants schools to make sure more kids get their morning meal.

To further the effort, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has teamed up with the Dairy Council of Florida and no No Kid Hungry to put on the “Florida Breakfast Challenge.”

“Hunger holds people back, and when children are hungry, it’s harder for them to learn and succeed. For millions of kids, schools meals are the only meals they can count on. That’s why we’re launching the Florida Breakfast Challenge,” Fried said.

The challenge will net the schools with the most significant percentage increase in breakfasts served with prizes, including cafeteria equipment. Whether they land a prize or not, students learn better with a full stomach.

“Research supports that children who start their day with a nutritious breakfast also start their day ready to learn,” Dairy Council of Florida Director Teresa Moran-Wiebe said.

To get in on the game, schools have to sign up via the challenge website by Dec. 13.

Check those smoke alarms

CFO and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis says there’s no better time than now to make sure your smoke detectors are up to snuff.

“There is simply no doubt that smoke alarms save lives. Approximately 40 percent of home fire deaths resulted from fires in homes with no smoke alarms, and dead batteries caused a reported 25 percent of smoke alarm failures,” he said.

State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis says don’t forget to check your smoke alarms.

“When properly installed and maintained, smoke alarms drastically reduce the risk of tragedies related to structure fires. Set a reminder to check your smoke alarms regularly throughout the year to ensure they are working properly. It could mean life or death.”

It only takes one button press — and maybe a battery — to make sure smoke alarms are working correctly.

Even if an alarm aces the test, Patronis said it’s important to remember they’re not designed to last forever. The state recommends homeowners swap them out every 10 years.

Instagram of the week

The week in appointments

Florida Board of Medicine — DeSantis appointed Dr. Kevin Cairns and Dr. Shailesh Gupta. Cairns, of Fort Lauderdale, is the owner and attending physician at Florida Spine Specialists and has been a Clinical Assistant Professor at Nova Southeastern University since 2012. He is appointed to a four-year term. Gupta, of Coral Springs, is the founder and CEO of Specialty Retina Center. He is a vitreoretinal surgeon and provides treatment to patients with a variety of diseases. He is also appointed to a four-year term. Their appointments are subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

Florida Commission on Ethics — DeSantis named Glenton Gilzean, of Orlando, president and CEO of the Central Florida Urban League. Previously, Gilzean was vice president at Step Up For Students, a scholarship granting organization. He also has served on the Florida A&M University Board of Trustees. He is appointed to a two-year term, with the appointment subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

St. Johns River Water Management District — DeSantis appointed Daniel Davis and reappointed Ronald Howse to the District. Davis, of Jacksonville, is president and chief executive officer of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce. Previously, Davis served on the Jacksonville City Council from 2003-2010 and was elected president of the council in 2007. He also served in the Florida House 2010-2014. Davis is appointed to a four-year term. Howse, of Cocoa, is the owner and chief executive officer of Real Deal Development Group, an engineering and land planning company. He has served on the St. Johns River Water Management District since 2015 and is currently serving as the board’s treasurer. He is reappointed to a four-year term. Both appointments are subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

Jacksonville Port Authority — DeSantis reappointed Palmer Clarkson to the Jacksonville Port Authority. Clarkson, of Duval County, has been CEO of Bridgestone HosePower since 1992. He was the founder of Masthead Industries, Inc. in 1992 and sold his company to Bridgestone in June 2014. He has over 31 years of experience as an entrepreneur and manager with a background in accounting, finance and operations. Clarkson is appointed to a four-year term, subject to confirmation by the state Senate.

Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (NICA) Board of Directors — CFO Patronis reappointed Bryan Anderson. He currently serves as Vice President of Government Relations for HCA Healthcare’s National Group. NICA provides compensation for birth-related neurological injuries to infants and manages the Florida Birth-related Neurological Injury Compensation Plan, helping provide needed care for neurologically impaired infants. Anderson’s latest term expires Aug. 31, 2021.

Florida Red Tide Mitigation and Technology Development Initiative Advisory Council — Senate President Bill Galvano appointed Dr. James M. Sullivan. Sullivan is executive director of Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute. The purpose of the initiative is to develop technologies and approaches needed to address the control and mitigation of red tide and its impacts.

Citizens Property Insurance Board of Governors — President Galvano appointed Reynolds Henderson of Walton County. He is a business owner who has worked in the field of real estate investment and development, currently a principal owner of Continental Pacific, LLC, a real estate investment and development company. He is appointed to a term beginning immediately and ending July 31, 2022. Citizens Property Insurance Corporation is a not-for-profit government entity created by the Florida Legislature in 2002 to provide insurance to Florida policyholders who are required but are unable to find property insurance coverage in the private market.

First Lady lauds Board of Education

The State Board of Education has put in place a substance abuse and mental health education program for students, which earned them praise from First Lady Casey DeSantis.

“Nothing is more important to parents than the safety and well-being of their children, which is why this accountability initiative is vitally important,” she said.

Casey DeSantis is praising a new substance abuse and mental health education program set up by the state Board of Education.

“Ensuring Florida students understand the implications and ramifications of drug abuse will not only save lives but also help foster a healthy and productive learning environment. I commend the Commissioner of Education, Richard Corcoran, and the State Board of Education for continuing to put an emphasis on the personal health and well-being of every student.”

The new program requires school districts to post a report online that lists how Florida K-12 students are taught about substance abuse, the qualifications of the instructor who taught them and what materials were used in the curriculum.

Cat videos wanted

There’s a bug going around among the state’s panther and bobcat population, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is looking for some help documenting the breakout.

FWC is looking into a disorder detected in some Florida panthers and bobcats. All the affected animals have exhibited some degree of walking abnormally or difficulty coordinating their back legs.

The FWC is looking into a disorder detected in some Florida Panthers, which is causing them to walk abnormally.

“While the number of animals exhibiting these symptoms is relatively few, we are increasing monitoring efforts to determine the full scope of the issue,” said FWC Research Institute Director Gil McRae.

“Numerous diseases and possible causes have been ruled out; a definitive cause has not yet been determined. We’re working with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and a wide array of experts from around the world to determine what is causing this condition.”

To hone in on the diagnosis, FWC is asking the public to send in any recent trail camera footage or other videos of animals having trouble using their hind legs. Video files can be uploaded on the FWC’s panther sighting webpage.

New bars inbound

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation is seeking applications for this year’s Quota Beverage License Drawing.

The annual drawing will see DBPR fast track 51 new licenses to sell beer, wine and liquor either for package sales or for consumption on-site. Entrants selected from the drawing “will be awarded the priority right to apply and qualify.”

Bottoms up: This week starts the annual Quota Beverage License Drawing, where the DPBR fast tracks 51 new licenses to sell beer, wine and liquor.

The application fee is $100.

Quota beverage licenses are issued based on population size, with one license granted for every 7,500 residents within a county.

This year, the drawing will include licenses in 27 Florida counties: Bay, Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Dade, Duval, Escambia, Flagler, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lake, Lee, Leon, Manatee, Orange, Osceola, Palm Beach, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Santa Rosa, Sarasota, Seminole and Volusia.

It’ll take some luck to land one of the coveted permits — the same number of licenses were available last year, and DBPR received more than 28,000 entries.

DOR celebrates award winners

Florida TaxWatch handed out its 2019 Productivity Awards earlier this month, and the Florida Department of Revenue celebrating its haul.

The department nabbed five team awards and one employee made the list of cash award winners.

Florida TaxWatch hands out its 2019 Productivity Awards, with the Florida Department of Revenue taking five team and one individual award.

“Florida’s dedicated state employees merit recognition for their commitment to improving processes at their individual agencies — this progress delivers a collective benefit to the public,” said DOR Executive Director Jim Zingale.

“We’re thankful for the opportunity that the TaxWatch Productivity Awards provide to publicly acknowledge our innovative team members and award them for their efforts.”

This year, Department of Revenue employees were recognized for specific initiatives that resulted in internal efficiencies in data management and emergency response processes, as well as customer service improvements through enhanced educational outreach and increased electronic filing options.

Over the 30 years since the award program started, more than 16,000 nominations have been received, and awards have been given to state employees for saving or maximizing state dollars to the tune of $10 billion.

Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez chairs the initiative, which is co-sponsored by Florida TaxWatch, The Florida Council of 100, and the state of Florida.

New retiree health care plans announced

The Department of Management Services is rolling out new health care options that could expand benefits for retired state workers while saving them some money.

“These new health plan options will provide access to high-quality care to thousands of retirees while saving them, collectively, as much as $7 million,” DMS secretary Jonathan Satter said. “This is one way we can provide retirees in the State Group Insurance program with the best possible benefits and services for the premiums they pay.”

Three new plans were announced this week: UnitedHealthcare will offer a PPO plan statewide with access to a national network; Humana will offer an HMO plan in 40 counties, and Capital Health Plan will provide an alternate HMO option in seven counties in the Big Bend.

The new plans offer lower out-of-pocket costs for preventive care, specialist visits, and home health services; Expanded benefits for vision, hearing and dental services; and access to telehealth, fitness programs and caregiver support.

Retirees can sign up for the new plans during the open enrollment period beginning Oct. 14. Retirees who like their current health insurance don’t have to make the jump.

League of Cities gets new Prez

Bay Harbor Islands Council Member Isaac Salver was elected president of the Florida League of Cities during the association’s 93rd annual conference in Orlando recently.

Salver, elected by the membership, will serve a one-year term.

The Florida League of Cities chose Bay Harbor Islands Council Member Isaac Salver to lead the association for a one-year term.

Salver says he will work to “create civic education resources and a children’s book that will teach our young people about the importance of the cities they live in and the key role that municipal government has in shaping their lives.

“Our goal is to ultimately create a generation of people who are more aware of the importance of local government and its positive impact on their quality of life.”

Civic education is part of the League’s mission, a news release said. By creating Florida city-specific resources and a children’s book, the League says it helps young children learn about municipalities in a current and compelling way.

Once the book is published, elected officials will be given a copy of the book to take to local schools and read to children in pre-K through 2nd grade.

A goodbye to Barbara

The First Amendment Foundation (FAF) this week announced it would hold a reception to honor outgoing President Barbara Petersen and the organization’s 35 years of work.

The event is Thursday, Oct. 17, 6-8:30 p.m., FSU College of Law, 425 W. Jefferson St., Tallahassee.

Tickets are $100, available here.

Barbara Petersen

The First Amendment Foundation says goodbye to retiring President Barbara Petersen.

This summer, Petersen said she would be retiring at the end of the year after 25 years of fighting for open and transparent government in Florida.

The advocate of the public’s right to oversee its government has provided open government training to thousands of government officials, public employees, citizen organizations, and reporters across Florida.

Petersen said she intends to stay involved in FAF and similar causes in retirement. Petersen’s replacement will be announced sometime this fall.

Behavioral health groups team up

The Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association and the Florida Council for Community Mental Health are no more — they’ve joined forces under a new name: the Florida Behavioral Health Association.

The new association is debuted this week during the Florida Behavioral Health Conference, which was attended by Attorney General Moody and First Lady DeSantis.

Casey DeSantis joined Attorney General Ashley Moody for the launch of the newly named Florida Behavioral Health Association. Image via Colin Hackley.

The theme of the conference — “Just One” — was geared toward the new group while also recognizing that “healing and recovery happens one life at a time, and each life affected is worth celebrating.”

Following the conference, FHBA praised DeSantis for her efforts to improve behavioral health care in the state.

“The First Lady has demonstrated a true commitment to helping those with mental illness and substance use disorder,” said Melanie Brown-Woofter, President and CEO of the Florida Behavioral Health Association.

“From her Hope for Healing Florida campaign and listening sessions to telehealth portals for students in Northwest Florida for mental health services, the First Lady has been on the forefront of bold new initiatives in the behavioral health arena.”

FSU welcomes largest-ever class

Fall semester is about to start, and there’ll be a heap of new students donning garnet and gold.

Florida State University announced this week that the 2020 freshman class is its largest ever. And it’s also one of the “brightest and most diverse” sets of students to walk the halls.

FSU President John Thrasher is welcoming the largest freshman class in the school’s history.

FSU received more than 60,000 applications from aspiring enrollees and accepted about 6,900. It took some serious credentials to make the cut — the average incoming freshman had a high school GPA of 4.2 and 1310 on the SAT or 29 on the ACT.

”It’s a joy to welcome such a talented freshman class as we begin another academic year,” FSU President John Thrasher said. “There’s never been a better time to be a part of the Florida State family. Across the board, the university is enjoying unprecedented success.”

More than 60 percent of the new ‘Noles are women and their hail from 45 states and 18 nations. After Florida, the states with the most newly accepted freshmen are Georgia, New York, North Carolina and New Jersey.

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