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Panhandle legislators are inviting fellow lawmakers and friends to get a taste of rural life this weekend during the 31st annual Chipola Quail Calcutta.
The event, on Jan. 30-31, includes two quail hunting excursions in four sites around Calhoun, Jackson and Gadsden counties. But the highlight of the event is a popular barbecue dinner and bonfire at the Trammell Camp in Blountstown Thursday night, which should attract 200 people.
“I’ve been so busy the last few years I haven’t been able to hunt, but I don’t miss the food,” said Sen. Bill Montford, a Blountstown native — and graduate of Chipola College. “For two years me and a lot of my friends … carpooled 25 miles to Chipola and back, and it allowed us to get two years of college under our belt, stay at home, and it was far, far less expensive that way.”
Hosts for the excursion also include Sen. George Gainer and Reps. Brad Drake and Jason Shoaf. Proceeds from the event, which can net upward of $50,000, benefit the Chipola College Foundation, whose purpose includes providing college scholarships.
The need for help is particularly keen after Hurricane Michael ripped through the region in October 2018, according to Foundation Director Julie Fuqua.
“We have Calhoun, Liberty, Washington and Jackson counties in our service area,” she said. “We’ve had students that had to move. We’ve had students that lost books. But long term, we still have students that don’t know from semester to semester whether they’ll be able to attend.”
Fuqua said Chipola College itself took its knocks from the hurricane. “Our campus lost almost 1,000 trees,” she said.
While the campus’ buildings have been repaired and trees replanted, she said Chipola College’s foundation also took a long-term blow. A patron had gifted the organization with 500 timber-producing acres of land, but the Category 5 storm flattened the trees. “It was a fully mature crop that would have been harvested in a couple of years. It’s just gone,” Fuqua said. “That’s scholarship money that’s lost now and for the next 20 years.”
A portion of last year’s $45,000 proceeds was given to help local schoolchildren.
“Instead of giving all of it to the college, they took the money in a different way,” paying to replace laptops, tablets and books that were destroyed by the hurricane, said Shoaf. “They replaced a lot of those, so they can get back to learning.”
The area’s public service needs continue in the area, and Shoaf has filed bills this year asking for $12 million to replace the Calhoun-Liberty Hospital (HB 3043) and $24 million to rebuild a school in Calhoun County (HB 2987) and repair buildings that were damaged.
In addition to physical destruction, many farming families took a financial hit, particularly those who had invested in timber. “A lot of timber that was destroyed was the 401(k) or the college fund for families,” explained Montford. And unlike row crops, he said it could take at least 15 years to grow harvestable trees.
And about that name: While “Calcutta” refers to a particular type of sports bet, both Montford and Shoaf assure us wagers are not part of the Chipola event and that its origins have been lost in the mists of three decades worth of time.
For more information, visit chipolahunt.com.
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:
DeSantis defends Galvano — The Governor gave, as POLITICO put it, a “forceful and unsolicited defense” of the Senate President, calling the Bradenton Republican a “strong supporter of a lot of great conservative policies” and — perhaps more importantly — a “friend of mine.” That came after a weekend barrage of challenges to Bill Galvano’s right-wing bona fides that included Donald Trump, Jr. calling him a “RINO.” Galvano’s support of legislation requiring background checks for private sales at gun shows drew the recent arrows, including from U.S. Rep. Matt Gaetz, a close DeSantis ally. Of course, while defending Galvano, DeSantis also said he opposed the legislation.
Galvano bullish on vote — Galvano remained confident Wednesday his chamber will consider the gun show loophole bill. On the eve of Session, the Senate Infrastructure and Security Committee took up SB 7028 at his behest and unanimously passed the bill over the concerns of National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer, who called it “gun control on steroids.” “They did their job, they put it out, but I also have to have faith in the process, and I’ve told the Senators that they’re empowered, and I’m not going to micromanage from the fourth floor,” Galvano said.
Moody wants NRA suit dismissed — The Florida Attorney asked a federal judge to toss out a lawsuit filed by the NRA challenging gun legislation passed after the 2018 mass shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School that killed 14 students and three faculty members. The national gun-rights group challenged part of a sweeping school-safety law that raised the age to purchase rifles and other long guns from 18 to 21. But, in a motion to dismiss the case filed Tuesday, Ashley Moody’s lawyers argued the law doesn’t violate the Second Amendment because, while individuals who are between ages 18 and 21 cannot buy guns, they may still “keep and use” firearms “for any lawful purpose.”
Supremes list narrowed down — DeSantis will select from a group of nine finalists as he seeks replacements for former Supreme Court Justices Barbara Lagoa and Robert Luck, who both resigned after being named to spots on the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. The state’s 3rd Appellate District does not have a representative, and three finalists hail from there. Two of those three — John Couriel and Eliot Pedrosa — currently work as attorneys. The third is Judge Norma Lindsey of the 3rd District Court of Appeals. The remaining six nominees are all judges, including Timothy Osterhaus, Lori Rowe, Jonathan Gerber, Jamie Grosshans and Meredith Sasso.
Parental Consent moves in Senate — Sen. Kelli Stargel’s parental consent for abortion bill heading to the Senate floor after passing its final committee on, the 47th anniversary of Roe v. Wade. SB 404 would require minors to get consent from one of their parents before obtaining an abortion. The Senate Rules Committee approved the bill 9-7. Galvano told reporters the bill would make the list of special orders next week and head toward a Senate vote the following week. House companion HB 265 is also ready for a vote in its respective chamber. But the Legislature will need to settle minor distinctions between the House and Senate versions before sending the measure to the Governor.
Physician Anesthesiologists Week
DeSantis has signed an official proclamation recognizing Physician Anesthesiologists Week.
The annual event, put on by the American Society of Anesthesiologists, is designed to educate policymakers and the public on the depth and breadth of the specialty by exploring the subspecialties within anesthesiology.
This year, Physician Anesthesiologists Week runs from Jan. 26 through Feb. 1.
In his proclamation, DeSantis recognized the role of physician anesthesiologists “as a medical doctor who specializes in anesthesia care, pain management and critical care medicine.”
The Governor also outlined the importance of Physician Anesthesiologists Week as “an opportunity to recognize the significant role physician anesthesiologists play in Florida’s health care system and the impact they make in our families and communities.”
The move earned DeSantis a pat on the back from the Florida Society of Anesthesiologists, a state-level association of physician anesthesiologists.
Woman of the Year in Agriculture
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried this week announced Florida A&M University professor Jennifer Taylor as the 2019 Woman of the Year in Agriculture.
Taylor has served on several ag-industry boards, including the Cornucopia Institute’s Policy Advisory Panel, the USDA Advisory Committee for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers, and the USDA’s National Organic Standards Board Material Committee, which she chairs.
She is also part of the Organic Farmers, serving as vice president of its Governing Council and Policy Committee, is a member of the United States Food Sovereignty Alliance (USFSA), and participates on the Executive Board of the International Federation of Organic Agriculture Movements North America.
“It’s my honor to announce Dr. Jennifer Taylor as Florida’s Woman of the Year in Agriculture for her many contributions and outstanding leadership within our state’s agriculture community,” Fried said.
“Forward thinkers and advocates like her are working to break barriers while leading the charge toward sustainable practices. Dr. Taylor’s dedication to underserved farming communities and focus on organic farming systems is a source of inspiration — I am proud to recognize her accomplishments and continued commitment to our state’s growers.”
The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services started the Woman of the Year Award program 35 years ago. Past honorees have come from throughout the agriculture community, including cattle, horticulture, timber, citrus, agriculture education and more.
New State Forester
Fried this week announced new leadership for the Florida Forest Service.
After a nationwide search and several interviews, Fried has settled on Erin Albury as the next State Forester and Director of the Florida Forest Service.
Albury has been with the Florida Forest Service 1997. The Citrus County native and University of Florida alum became assistant director of the service in 2018. He will replace State Forester Jim Karels, who is set to retire after 12 years in the top post and a nearly four-decade-long forestry career.
“With Florida’s year-round fire season and nearly half our state covered in forests, the Florida Forest Service’s wildland firefighters and foresters are a critical part of our Department family,” the Agriculture Commissioner said.
“Jim leaves behind an unparalleled legacy of leadership spanning nearly four decades of service, positioning Florida as a nationwide role model in prescribed fire and wildfire management. I am confident that my selection of new leadership will continue to go above and beyond the call of duty to protect lives, property and our natural resources.”
Fried also announced Johnny Sabo as her pick to succeed Albury as assistant director of the Florida Forest Service.
Sabo has worked at the Florida Forest Service since 2004 and is currently the Field Operations Bureau Chief and will succeed Albury following Karels’ retirement. He is a native of Goose Creek, South Carolina and is a graduate of Clemson University.
Florida-based Peace River Citrus Products has announced a $98 million expansion and has inked a new 10-year agreement with Coca-Cola to manufacture juice beverages for Minute Maid at the new facility.
According to the company, the expansion will bring a new 320,000-square-foot citrus processing facility to Polk County. Peace River Citrus Products expects to create as many as 175 new jobs when construction is completed in early 2022.
“Our Bartow facility expansion greatly enhances our relationship with Coca-Cola North America, a company we have partnered with for decades,” said Andrew Taylor, the company’s senior vice president and chief financial officer. “We look forward to continuing our valuable work with CCNA and to providing our customers with high-quality juice products.”
Also lauding the news was Agriculture Commissioner Fried.
“This announcement is a truly significant investment, which provides great hope for the future of Florida citrus. Coca-Cola could have chosen anywhere in North America with whom to partner, including Mexico, and in choosing Peace River’s world-class citrus operations has made a strong statement about the quality and capacity of Florida’s resurgent citrus industry,” she said.
“I congratulate Peace River Citrus, Coca-Cola North America, and Minute Maid on this smart investment and partnership in providing consumers with great Fresh From Florida citrus products.”
The expansion comes as Fried proposes significant investments in the state’s citrus industry. Her 2020 budget request includes $8 million for citrus research projects, $7.4 million for citrus health and fighting pests and diseases, and $2.5 million to support the Citrus Inspection Trust Fund.
Spotting human trafficking
With the Pro Bowl coming to Orlando Sunday and the Super Bowl coming to Miami Feb. 2, flocks of people will be traveling to the Sunshine State.
While the games are a boon for Florida’s economy, they also bring a spike in human trafficking. In anticipation of the surge, Attorney General Moody has upped her efforts to combat human trafficking.
This week, she highlighted what the public should keep an eye out for to help law enforcement track down traffickers.
Some of the top signs: Physical injuries, such as burns, branding, disorientation, scars or tattoos; individuals displaying fear, anxiousness, paranoia or a reluctance to discuss injuries; speaking as if coached or having someone else speak for them; and people suffering from drug addiction, infections or sleep deprivation.
“With the Pro Bowl and Super Bowl drawing hundreds of thousands of visitors, it is imperative that people remain vigilant to help law enforcement spot and stop human trafficking,” Moody said.
“During the week of last year’s Super Bowl in Atlanta, 160 people were arrested on charges related to human trafficking. That is why we are working diligently to raise awareness and train as many people as possible to be our eyes and ears during the festivities.”
Moody also encouraged Floridians and visitors to visit YouCanStopHT.com for additional resources on how to spot traffickers and trafficking victims. Moody’s office said anyone who suspects or witnesses human trafficking should contact local law enforcement or call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at (888) 373-7888.
CFO touts Israel Bonds
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis headed to Boca Raton this week, where he joined Jewish community leaders, local elected officials and leadership from Israel Bonds to highlight Florida’s support of Israel and the state’s investment in Israel Bonds.
“I was honored to join Israel Bonds leaders in Boca Raton today to look back on a tremendous year for Florida and Israel. As a state, we passed historic measures to defend our ally in the Middle East and strengthen the bond between our communities — including our unprecedented investment in Israel bonds,” Patronis said.
“Last year, we sent a clear message to the world: Florida remains committed to our steadfast relationship with Israel. I look forward to continuing to build on these great milestones and the bonds we built in support of Florida and Israel relations.”
Florida holds a major stake in Israeli bonds and has significantly upped its investment during Patronis’ time in office. Shortly after he became CFO, Patronis pledged to up the state’s investment in Israeli bonds to $50 million which at the time made Florida the No. 3 investor in Israel among all states.
During the DeSantis administration’s trade mission to Israel last year, Israel Bonds, the company that sells the investment instrument in the United States, held a reception honoring Florida’s status as a top investor in the nation’s bonds.
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The week in appointments
State Board of Education — DeSantis appointed Ryan Petty to serve on the State Board of Education. Petty has been active on education and safety issues since the 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland. Petty’s 14-year-old daughter, Alaina, was one of the 17 people killed by the shooter. Petty, a former vice president of product development and innovation at ADT, was previously appointed to the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission.
Crisis counseling cash
First Lady Casey DeSantis announced this week that state had received an additional $690,000 from the federal government to extend crisis counseling services in counties hit by Hurricane Michael.
“From day one, the Governor and I have committed to doing everything we can to pursue every resource possible to help the good people of Northwest Florida recover from Hurricane Michael,” DeSantis said.
“Ensuring that both physical and mental health needs are being met is essential to a full recovery, and we are proud to support the continued good work of the many organizations and individuals who are providing such essential services.”
The Florida Division of Emergency Management secured the funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. They will be deployed in Bay, Calhoun, Gulf, Holmes, Jackson and Washington counties. The money represents a 90-day extension, which will carry the services through the end of the school year.
Project H.O.P.E. provides the Crisis Counseling Program through Life Management Center and Big Bend Community Based Care. Since the storm, Project H.O.P.E. has provided more than 7,800 individual counseling sessions, more than 27,200 group counseling sessions, and more than 88,500 support contacts throughout the impacted counties.
“What the people of Northwest Florida experienced in the wake of Hurricane Michael is unimaginable, and my heart breaks for the thousands of families whose lives were completely uprooted by this storm,” FDEM Director Jared Moskowitz said.
“We know that the students and families impacted by this storm still need our help, and continuing this program ensures they can continue using the same resources they’ve relied on during the school year. I’m thankful to our partners at FEMA for recognizing this need as we continue to support those recovering.”
Justice for Ocoee
Reparations for the Ocoee Election Day Massacre victims’ descendants gets first approval — Sen. Randolph Bracy filed two bills (SB 1262 and SB 1264) to establish a trust fund for the direct descendants of those “killed, injured or otherwise victimized” in the violence targeting African Americans during the massacre. Descendants would be eligible for up to $150,000.
Both bills passed their first stop Tuesday.
Nearly 100 years ago, almost 60 African American Ocoee residents were killed, and the rest of the black population was run out of town after a black activist attempted to vote.
“This is considered the bloodiest day in American political history, and it happened right in Central Florida on the presidential Election Day,” Bracy said. “An entire city was eliminated. They were pushed out of Ocoee. They were either killed, maimed, or run out of town.”
Others argued that while victims should be remembered and the incident taught in schools, offering reparations might trigger an onslaught of other groups requesting the same.
“When you want to pay reparations to the descendants of these victims, you will be going too far, and you will be opening a legal can of worms,” said Seber Newsome III.
But Bracy argued the state itself played a role. State courts conspired with law enforcement to distribute abandoned properties to the remaining white population following the 1920 riot.
Bracy modeled the proposal in part on a 1994 compensation of African American families up to $150,000 for the 1923 Rosewood Massacre.
SB 1264 dedicated initially $25 million to the trust fund for the coming fiscal year. Bracy stripped that allocation in favor of deferring the appropriation to appropriations committees.
SB 1262 passed 4-1 with Ocala Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley casting the lone no vote while SB 1264 passed unanimously.
Sen. Manny Diaz and Rep. Blaise Ingoglia filed bills this week that would equip policymakers with more data to better understand the relationship between Florida’s landmass and sea-level rise measurements.
SB 1284 and HB 1127 would set up the Florida Land Subsidence Research Initiative. FLSRI would be a partnership between the Department of Environmental Protection and Florida International University.
“In the midst of growing talks of climate change, HB 1157 is an initiative for a statewide structure to create a benchmark in order to track sea-level rise accurately. The reality is that it is our responsibility to inquire how much of these flooding occurrences are attributed to rising seas and how much of it is attributed to sinking soils by building large structures on sandbars or marshes,” Ingoglia said.
“I look forward to working with Sen. Manny Diaz, Jr. to advocate for the Florida Land Subsidence Research Initiative to address the challenges and impacts — economic, environmental and conservational — that our state may face as a result of encroaching waters.”
Under the bills, FIU would develop specifications for the collection and reporting of data and would collaborate with other state universities to identify trends in land subsidence — a term for the loss of land due to sinking — throughout the state.
“Florida is said to be one of the most vulnerable states in the nation when it comes to rising sea levels. Allocating funds to our first-class universities will allow us to properly measure the degree of vulnerability and the efforts that must be implemented to contend with this environmental challenge,” Diaz added.
HB 1157 cleared its first committee stop this week, earning a unanimous vote in the House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee. SB 1284 first heads to the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Committee, though it has not yet been scheduled for a hearing.
Leveling the playing field
Florida retailers and pro-business associations joined Sen. Joe Gruters and Rep. Chuck Clemons in Tallahassee this week to demand action that would level the state’s playing field for Florida businesses.
“Right now, out-of-state and foreign businesses have a leg up on Florida retailers,” Gruters said. “Florida businesses will lose out unless we modernize Florida’s outdated tax system.”
Currently, non-Florida-based companies can capitalize on the state’s outdated tax laws, which have not been modernized for the online sales era. They are not required to collect and remit sales taxes on purchases made in Florida, leaving the burden on the back of the consumer.
Bills by Gruters and Clemons (SB 126 and HB 159) would fix the problem, restoring the free market and leveling the playing field for Florida businesses to compete.
“We know that Florida businesses provide jobs for Florida families and support Florida communities,” Clemons said. “But right now, Florida retailers are competing with two hands tied behind their back. This legislation will level the playing field for them to compete in a global marketplace.”
The legislators were joined by Florida-based Badcock Home Furniture & More, the Florida Retail Federation, Associated Industries of Florida, the Florida Chamber of Commerce, the International Council of Shopping Centers (ICSC), and Florida TaxWatch.
Shannon Collins, vice president of Badcock Home Furniture & More, spoke about the impact on Florida retailers.
“Badcock is proud to have more than 100 stores in communities all across our home state, along with a robust online shopping experience,” she said. “We stand with the Florida Retail Federation to bring a level playing field for our Florida-based business so that we are able to compete in our state and across the nation without being penalized by an outdated tax system.”
Sentencing reform prep
With a unanimous vote by the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Rob Bradley’s bill relaxing mandatory minimum sentences for some drug crimes is ready for a vote on the Senate floor.
Orlando Sen. Linda Stewart is expecting the measure to be successful, and she’s already started spreading the word in her district to make sure the rollout is a smooth one.
“I applaud Chair Bradley in his efforts on reforming sentencing for certain drug possession charges. I have worked closely with members of the Ninth Judicial Circuit of Florida serving Orange and Osceola counties, to discuss steps that the legislature may take to help reform sentencing to reduce needless imprisonment for nonviolent offenses,” Stewart said.
Bradley’s bill, which has garnered bipartisan support, would revise the penalties for possessing, purchasing, or intending to purchase less than two grams of a controlled substance. If approved, judges would be able to exercise more discretion in those cases.
“This bill is a step in the right direction that includes reforms that the Democratic caucus has long championed. I was proud to be one of the co-Introducers of SB 346 and to give my favorable vote to this legislation in its final committee stop. I am looking forward to seeing the bill again on the Senate floor,” Stewart said.
This Session’s iteration of the controversial alimony reform bill passed its first panel, the House Civil Justice Subcommittee, Thursday 10-5 — along party lines.
Pensacola Republican Rep. Alex Andrade’s legislation (HB 843) and its Senate counterpart (SB 1832), sponsored by Lakeland Republican Sen. Kelli Stargel, would eliminate permanent alimony and halve the length of durational alimony.
“If you owe money in a permanent alimony context, you may never be allowed to retire,” Andrade told Florida Politics. “Forty-four other states in the country have figured out that’s forced labor.”
A 1992 Florida Supreme Court ruling found that retirement counts as a change in circumstances that can modify alimony. But Andrade said codifying it in state law would save Floridians from making costly appeals in court.
The change would not apply retroactively unless a change in circumstances predicates a new alimony deal. But Michelle Klinger Smith, an attorney representing the Family Law Section of the Florida Bar, argued it could apply retroactively.
Other changes the Bar opposed includes limiting the income considered for alimony to just the payor, not any future spouse or co-earner, which Smith argued could be used to hide assets. And the statute removes the definition of permanent alimony despite referencing that divorcees could agree to pay permanent alimony.
Natalie Willis told the committee she divorced her ex-husband 13 years ago over his refusal to work or take care of their home. Now, she says she won’t be able to stop working to make her alimony payments.
“People argue alimony is about rich people trying to skirt their obligations,” Willis said. “But the wealthy don’t pay alimony because they settle on a large sum, and the poor certainly don’t pay alimony. It’s the trusting, middle-class worker bees like myself who bear the burden.”
Tourism leaders persistently make the case each year that VISIT FLORIDA must continue marketing the state. A new report details precisely what visitors mean for the state economy to make that case with economic data and exacting detail.
Destinations Florida released a new report, Destination Promotion: Empowering Florida’s Growth, that shows the effect tourism has in Florida. That includes keeping sales taxes low, brand awareness of Florida high, and a range of businesses thriving.
“Tourism and tourism marketing are the reasons Florida residents don’t pay state income taxes,” said Robert Skrob, executive director of Destinations Florida. “Low taxes are a key economic driver for Florida. And, Florida’s low taxes are funded by visitors who pay sales taxes while on vacation. However, Florida competes with 49 states and countries around the world that strive to steal our visitors to grow their own economies.”
The ability to run a state government without income tax means something to more than tourism officials. The report’s executive summary notes economic development officials statewide use that as a selling point to lure companies to relocate here. The report also cites sales tax forecasts from Amy Baker, the Legislature’s chief economist, that show tourism generating $3 billion in state revenue.
Without that, the report calculates every Florida household would need to pay an additional $1,512 in taxes for the state to maintain its current level of services. And with the state growing by some 900 people a day, there will only be increased demands on government.
Defending life 2020
A new report from the anti-abortion group, Americans United for Life, ranked Florida as No. 21 state in the country for its laws and policies on abortion.
“Despite a Florida Supreme Court decision enunciating a broader state constitutional ‘right’ to abortion than that interpreted in the U.S. Constitution, Florida continues to make strides in protecting women and unborn children from the harms inherent in abortion,” the report reads.
Cited in AUL’s ranking are Florida’s laws banning abortion after viability; requiring women considering abortions to receive printed materials discussing pregnancy services and alternatives, and a mandate that at least one parent be notified of a minor’s intent to have an abortion 48 hours before the procedure is scheduled to take place.
Lawmakers are considering a bill in the 2020 Legislative Session that would bolster the parental notice law to require minors to get the consent of one of their parents, rather than merely notifying them. The bill, SB 404 by Sen. Stargel, has been fast-tracked in the Senate, and the full chamber is expected to vote on it in two weeks.
Topping AUL’s 2020 list is Louisiana, while Washington took the bottom ranking. Neighboring states Alabama and Georgia were ranked No. 9 and No. 12, respectively.
Happy 60th, Lu
Friday was a special day at the Florida Department of Environmental Protection’s Ellie Schiller Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park — the park’s resident hippopotamus, Lucifer, or Lu for short, turned 60.
Lu was born at the San Diego Zoo in 1960 and moved to the Sunshine State in 1964. For his special day, a celebration was held where visitors, staff, and volunteers joined together to sing “Happy Birthday” as Lu enjoyed a specially-made birthday cake.
In the afternoon, another celebration took place during the park’s alligator and hippopotamus program, providing park visitors another opportunity to join the birthday celebration of Florida’s only resident hippopotamus. A giant birthday card was available for visitors to sign to wish Lu a happy birthday, and the card was presented to Lu during the second ceremony.
Lu’s fans can also send him a birthday greeting on his Facebook page.
“We’re proud that Lu calls Homosassa Springs Wildlife State Park home,” Florida Park Service Director Eric Draper said. “He is an impressive sight and a valuable partner who helps engage visitors in learning about wildlife.”
Park Manager Tricia Fowler added, “Lu is an iconic part of our park and all of Citrus County. He is loved by all and has been an inspiration to generation after generation. We could not be prouder to celebrate 60 years with Lu and the happiness that he has brought to the community and countless visitors.”
African hippos typically live from 40 to 50 years old. At 59 — he officially hits 60 on Sunday — Lu is the oldest hippo in North America.