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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Pick up the PACE

A sea of red blazers and a sign of girl power marked this week in Tallahassee.

Legislators were seeing red Wednesday when more than 100 middle- and high-school-aged girls from around the state donned scarlet blazers and descended on Tallahassee for Pace Day at the Capitol.

The day included meetups with state leaders, including First Lady Casey DeSantis, Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ) Secretary Simone Marstiller and Vicki Burke, who founded PACE in Jacksonville 35 years ago. They took over the Senate chambers for a bit and also met with members of the Florida House and Senate to advocate for improvements on issues impacting girls, such as prevention programs and human trafficking.

Girl power:  About 100 young women in red blazers descended on Tallahassee this week for Pace Day at The Capitol.

But perhaps most importantly, telling their personal stories reminded legislators about the value of PACE, which is about 70% funded by the state.

“They’re just sharing ‘here’s what PACE is doing in my life, how the program is supporting me, and what I want to do in the future. Here’s how you’re changing lives’,” said Jodi Stevens, PACE’s director of government affairs. “It’s really powerful (and) important for them to hear from our girls.”

Twenty-one PACE Centers in Florida that take a holistic approach to vulnerable young women by providing academics as well as help with emotional and family issues. What PACE is not — incarceration or reform school.

“Our girls tend to touch multiple systems such as child welfare,” said Stevens. “They all have risk factors for system involvement, but only about a quarter of our girls have ever been involved with the juvenile justice system. We try to divert and get to them before they ever go down that path.”

Marstiller shared her personal story — which included a detour in college after an unplanned pregnancy — and made a pitch to her audience to her continue their advocacy efforts by registering to vote.

“It’s so important to get up close and personal and understand how government works and to meet the people who are making the laws and rules that govern our daily lives,” she said. “More important than that, though, is to make sure that you have a voice.”

PACE Center for Girls serves more than 3,000 girls annually in Florida and Georgia. The organization has undertaken an ambitious effort to double the number of girls receiving their life-changing services by 2023.

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

Take 5

Be BEST — Gov. Ron DeSantis announced a week ago that the Benchmarks for Excellent Student Thinking (BEST) Standards were complete, and all vestiges of Common Core were a thing of the past. The changes include requirements children learn cursive, study the Constitution in grade school, and meet several measures in literacy based on grade level. “It really goes beyond Common Core to embrace common sense,” DeSantis said. But Florida educators were cautious before offering an assessment, and said they wanted to see the official standards before predicting their impact. As of Friday a week after DeSantis’ announcement, the standards have yet to be released. Correction: the standards were released to the public on Friday. Read them here.

Senate proposes pay raise — A $92.8 initial budget proposal from the Senate includes a 3% pay raise for state workers, the first in years. Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Rob Bradley considered the across-the-board pay increase a priority commitment. Jacqui Carmona, political director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Florida, praised the proposal. “It’s huge. We are ecstatic,” Carmona said. “I don’t think ever before, to my knowledge, has there ever been a 3% across-the-board wage increase for state employees included in any budget, House or Senate.”

House budget looking lean — But the House budget came out $1.5 billion lighter — at $91.3 billion, in range with the budget proposed by DeSantis in October. The House and Senate did both include $500 million for teacher pay raises, with 80% being used to increase the minimum salary to $47,500 as the Governor wants. But the House proposal does not include $50 million the executive branch wants to continue VISIT FLORIDA. But all budgets budget $2.8 billion for the Department of Corrections, though there are disparities in details.

Stepping out of Step Up — Fallout from an Orlando Sentinel investigation into Florida Tax Credit Scholarship funding going to religious schools with anti-LGBTQ views led to an exodus of corporate support. On Thursday, Wyndham Destinations became the third major company in a week to say it will stop contributing to the Step Up For Students, joining Wells Fargo and Fifth Third Bank. Cigar City Brewing also announced it would pull its support, but that it has not contributed since 2018. But legislation expanding school choice scholarship programs passed the House Education Committee without the public or committee members expressing any concerns.

Blocking sunblock bans — The Senate passed legislation (SB 172), preempting local governments from banning certain types of sunscreen. The City of Key West’s decision to ban sunscreen containing the chemicals oxybenzone and octinoxate prompted the bill, with sponsor Bradley calling the science behind the local government move to be “junk.” Meanwhile, a companion bill (HB 113), filed by Rep. Spencer Roach, cleared its final panel Thursday en route to the House floor. That makes it likely legislation will reach the desk of DeSantis, who vetoes a similar preemption bill on plastic straw bans in 2019.

Storytime at Governor’s Mansion

In honor of Florida Literacy Week, First Lady DeSantis is promoting a new Children’s Corner in the Florida Library at the Governor’s Mansion.

DeSantis also touted the new Storytime Tours option at the Governor’s Mansion tours, where children’s books can be accessed.

Casey DeSantis launches ‘Children’s Corner’ in the Governor’s Mansion library.

“Reading is the cornerstone of education and leads to improved attention span and better concentration,” the First Lady said.

“I could not be prouder of the Governor’s Bolder, Brighter, Better Future budget, and his unprecedented commitment to education. As parents, the Governor and I are committed to providing the best education and the best tools possible so that all Florida children can thrive and reach their full potential.”

Senate Education Chair Manny Diaz Jr. also added a statement praising the First Lady’s initiative.

“Reading is essential to lifelong learning, and I thank First Lady Casey DeSantis for shining a light on the importance of literacy as the basis for all learning,” Diaz said. “As I have said before, education is the key to a brighter and better future, and among the greatest gifts we can give Florida’s children.”

Also, DeSantis says the Governor’s Mansion is accepting donated books to add to the children’s library section.

“The Florida Department of Education is thrilled that the First Lady has been such a strong advocate Florida students,” added Division of Public Schools Chancellor Jacob Oliva.

“As parents, it’s important to promote and establish the value of lifelong literacy. The Children’s Corner at the Governor’s Mansion is a wonderful way to ensure all Floridians can enjoy the People’s House and is a model for families to celebrate literacy every day.”

AG hosts sheriffs at Capitol

Tuesday was Florida Sheriffs’ Day, which saw Attorney General Moody welcome to The Capitol county sheriffs from around the state.

The annual event aims to highlight issues facing sheriffs while lawmakers are in Session. Still, for Moody, Florida Sheriffs’ Day provides an opportunity for her administration to show support for sheriffs.

Sheriffs from around the state came to Tallahassee as AG Ashley Moody hosts Sheriff’s Day at The Capitol.

“People may not think about their county Sheriff on a day-to-day basis, but when things go horribly wrong and danger approaches, we turn to these brave men and women of Florida law enforcement to protect our communities,” she said.

“As the wife of a law enforcement officer, I know the risks our Sheriffs face daily, and so I will always take every opportunity I can to say thank you and support the great work these courageous men and women do to keep us safe.”

Moody’s support was well received by Pinellas County Bob Gualtieri, who also serves as the Florida Sheriffs Association President.

“Sheriffs greatly appreciate the support we receive from Attorney General Moody,” he said. “We are continually working together to ensure we have the laws in place and the resources needed to keep our citizens safe.

Gualtieri added that he’s looking forward to working with Moody on President Donald Trump’s Commission on Law Enforcement and the Administration of Justice, a body he and Moody were both appointed to in January.

Senior Protection Team celebrated

This week also saw Moody highlight the success of the Attorney General Senior Protection Team, which she launched last year to crack down on fraud directed at Florida seniors.

In the months since it was founded, the intra-agency group of fraud-fighting experts has already clawed back more than $230,000 in ill-gotten gains.

Last year, Ashley Moody launched Florida’s Senior Protection Team, to prevent fraud and abuse of the elderly.

“I am proud of the work my team is doing to protect Florida seniors from fraud and the successes they have already achieved for older Floridians. In less than a year, this team of highly-skilled attorneys and investigators has recovered thousands of dollars fighting fraud and is relentlessly pursuing criminals preying on Florida’s seniors and retirees,” Moody said.

The Attorney General’s lauds coincided with Senior Day at the Florida Capitol, an annual event that brings more than 1,500 seniors and advocates from across the state to Tallahassee.

Moody also marked the day by bringing Senior Protection Team staff together with representatives of Seniors v. Crime, a nonprofit that has operated as a special project of the Attorney General’s Office since 1989, to answer questions about common scams targeting older Floridians.

Seniors v. Crime also boasted some impressive statistics last year — it worked more than 1,900 cases of reported fraud, resulting in more than $1,700,000 in recoveries and savings for Florida seniors.

Instagram of the week

 

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Ending the day in remembrance

A post shared by Jason Pizzo (@senpizzo) on

The week in appointments

Board of Dentistry Karyn Hill will join the board, and DeSantis reappointed Dr. Claudio Miró. Hill, of Parkland, is a dental hygienist who has more than 20 years of experience as a hygienist, hygiene educator, practice consultant and pharmaceutical educator. She also serves on the Florida Council on Dental Hygiene. Miró, of Miami, is a dentist at Miró Dental Centers, a practice he has owned since 1988. He serves on the boards of the Robert Morgan Dental Implant Clinic and the Larkin Community Hospital. DeSantis appointed both to four-year terms. The Senate must confirm the appointments.

Board of Governors of the State University System Aubrey Edge has been appointed and H. Wayne Huizenga, Jr. has been reappointed to the Board of Governors, DeSantis announced. Edge, of Jacksonville, is the president and chief executive officer of Petro Services, Inc., and First Coast Energy, LLP, a gasoline and convenience store management provider. Huizenga, of Delray Beach, is president of Huizenga Holdings, Inc., a diversified company that manages the Huizenga Family owned private businesses and real estate. The Senate must confirm the Board of Governors’ appointments.

Board of Medicine — DeSantis appointed Barbara Fonte, Dr. Eleonor Pages, and reappointed Dr. Luz Marina Pages to the Board of Medicine. Fonte, of Miami, is the vice president of managed care and population health for Jackson Health System. Pimentel, of Miami, is a physician who has served patients in her private practice since 1987. Pages, of Miami Beach, is a physician with Pediatric Associates of South Florida. All three will serve four-year terms. The Senate must confirm the appointments.

Broward College District Board of Trustees Zachariah “Reggie” Zachariah, Jr. is joining the board and Matthew Caldwell has been reappointed. Zachariah, of Ft. Lauderdale, is a shareholder in Greenberg Traurig, LLP., where he specializes in private equity transactions, mergers and acquisitions. Caldwell, also of Ft. Lauderdale, is the president and chief executive officer of the Florida Panthers Hockey Club. Previously, he was the vice president of the investment management division at Goldman Sachs from 2010 until 2014. Both were appointed to four-year terms. The appointments are subject to confirmation by the Senate.

Florida Commission on the Status of Women — DeSantis appointed Candace Falsetto to the Florida Commission on the Status of Women. Falsetto, of Coral Gables, is a senior private banker with Wells Fargo. Previously, she served as vice president of Northern Trust Bank. She will serve a four-year term.

Florida International University Board of TrusteesLeonard Boord and Gene Prescott have been named to Florida International University Board of Trustees, the Governor announced. Prescott, of Miami, is the owner, president and chief executive officer of Seaway Hotel Group, operating as the Biltmore Hotel. Boord, of Miami, is the founder of Slon Capital, an investment firm, and is the managing director of Lydians Capital. He is also the co-founder of Intotheblock, a crypto asset company. Prescott is new to the board and Boord is a reappointment. Both will serve four-year terms if confirmed by the Senate.

South Broward Hospital District Board of Commissioners — The Governor reappointed Doug Harrison to the board and announced new appointments for Brad Friedman, Dr. Luis Orta. Friedman, of Hollywood, is the president and owner of catering and event planning company Artisan Foods Catering. Orta, of Miramar, is a school psychologist with Miami Dade County Schools. Harrison, of Pembroke Pines, is a senior assistant city attorney with the City of Miami. Previously, he served as the senior litigation counsel for the City of Hollywood. All three will serve four-year terms.

Take a look; it’s in a book

First Lady DeSantis and the Department of Education wrapped up a week promoting reading, the 2020 Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! BOOK Your Trip: Adventure Awaits!

“As we highlight Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida!, it is also an important time to ensure that Florida’s families are aware of the Reading Scholarships that are available for their children,” DeSantis said.

Casey DeSantis helps honor 2020 Celebrate Literacy Week.

“Strong literacy skills are essential for success, and the Reading Scholarship Accounts provide students with access to the resources and support that will empower them to achieve that success.”

Through the event, which ran from Monday through Friday, DOE promoted Florida’s Reading Scholarship Account initiative. It was part of an effort to make the written word a part of more Florida children’s daily routines.

Across social media, guest readers shared pictures of sessions with Florida grade school students enjoying storytime and independently flipping through the pages of books as well.

“Becoming the most literate state in the nation begins with our youngest readers,” said Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.

“Celebrate Literacy Week, Florida! is an opportunity to celebrate a love of reading with our students and their families, and I am looking forward to highlighting literacy all week long.”

Licensure up

The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation says there was solid year-over-year growth in the number of occupational licenses it issued last month.

The top categories were real estate, up 2.7%; construction, up 5.6%; and foodservice and lodging establishments, up 4.1%.

“The increase in real estate licenses, construction licenses, and hotel and restaurant licenses over the past year shows there is strengthening demand for real estate transactions and more housing, traveling and dining options for Floridians and visitors to our state,” DBPR Secretary Halsey Beshears said.

The number of occupational licenses is on the rise, says Halsey Beshears. Image via AP/Phil Sears.

“Our economy continues to improve thanks to Gov. DeSantis’ leadership and the agency’s initiatives to streamline processes and provide better online services for license holders.”

One factor contributing to the rise in real estate and construction licenses was a marked rise in single-family home sales, which are exceeding the prerecession peak set in 2005.

As far as the restaurant and hotel sector, DBPR pointed to VISIT FLORIDA stats showing a record number of visitors as well as state economists’ projections of 2.1% growth in visitation in each of the next three calendar years.

Union bill gets backers

The James Madison Institute and Americans for Prosperity came out in support of Rep. Jamie Grant‘s proposal to expand worker protections from unions.

The state constitution guarantees collective bargaining for public employees, but it also ensures the right not to join a union. HB 1, which advanced in committee last week, would require an employee joining a union sign a waiver acknowledging their right not to.

James Grant’s controversial union bill gets traction, support.

The bill would also prevent unions from automatically taking a cut from a member’s paycheck without their consent or seeking retribution against workers who want to opt-out. Some members might unknowingly be supporting union activities they disagree with, said the James Madison Institute’s vice president of policy, Sal Nuzzo.

Public employees should be able to refuse labor union membership without fear of retaliation,” he said. “These employees should not be continuing to subsidize labor unions’ political efforts.”

But Democratic Rep. Margaret Good in the meeting questioned what evidence existed that unions were unlawfully pulling unapproved fees. And Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani suggested the bill could be a data-collecting mechanism.

But Skylar Zander, Florida director for Americans for Prosperity, said a person’s union dues might be best spent on his or her family or community.

“Public employees shouldn’t have to choose between either supporting their families or keeping a job,” he said. “This bill doesn’t just bring Florida in compliance with the law; it removes barriers that prevent public employees from realizing their full potential in their lives and careers.”

The House Oversight, Transparency & Public Management Subcommittee advanced the bill 9-5, with Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia breaking party ranks.

Sen. Jeff Brandes‘ companion bill (SB 804) has yet been scheduled a Senate hearing. Grant’s bill next goes to its second and last House committee, the State Affairs Committee.

School solar

A measure that would make it easier for Florida schools to save money on their power bill by adding solar panels moved forward in the House this week.

The bill, HB 935 by Democratic Rep. Jennifer Webb, earned approval from both sides of the aisle in the House PreK-12 Innovation Subcommittee, which voted 14-1 to advance the bill.

Also known as the “School Solar” bill, Webb’s proposal adds solar energy installation as an exemption to the state-set cost per student station cap, clarifying that school districts that invest in cost-saving clean energy are not penalized for the investment.

Jennifer Webb wants school districts to save millions of dollars through the use of solar power. Image via Bay News 9.

School districts may not exceed the cost per student station cap, and by adding solar installation as an exemption, schools will gain the flexibility to add solar and reduce their long-term energy costs.

“I heard my school district: ‘help us reduce our energy costs,'” Webb said. “Pinellas County alone spent $22.2 million on energy during the 2017-2018 school year. I filed this bill so that more schools in Florida have the option to install solar, ultimately saving money and reducing their climate impact.”

Pinellas County School Board member Nicole Carr added, “Our schools serve our communities in many ways. Solar paired with battery storage can help us bounce back quickly after hurricanes and reduce the impact of power outages. I’m glad that Rep. Webb took this issue to heart and was willing to help us eliminate this barrier to solar energy in our schools.”

Webb’s bill has two committee stops remaining — Appropriations and Education. Webb says she hopes to have it heard in both early this month.

State of Black Florida a success

The Florida Legislative Black Caucus hosted its 27th Annual State of Black Florida Events earlier this month, and the response exceeded expectations.

The slate of events began Jan. 23 with a Chairman’s Welcome Reception at the Doubletree Hotel, followed by the Annual Kershaw-Cherry Legislative Luncheon at the Donald L Tucker Civic Center on Jan. 24.

The Florida Conference of Black State Legislators (FCBSL), partnering with the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, hosted a two-day information and celebration event.

The events concluded with the Scholarship Gala Celebration at the civic center that evening, where the Florida Conference of Black Legislators awarded $75,000 in scholarships to high-achieving black students attending FAMU and FSU.

“The enthusiastic response to the Annual State of Black Florida Events has been overwhelming. We pushed ourselves to raise the standard of excellence, education, and entertainment at each of our events, and we far exceeded our goals,” said Senate Democratic Leader Audrey Gibson, who chaired this year’s events.

“I would like to congratulate our planning team on their hard work, collaboration, and attention to detail in ensuring a positive, joyous experience for our participants. Those who were unable to attend truly missed out on the best set of Annual State of Black Florida Events in years. We hope everyone can join us in 2021 when we plan to further raise the bar.”

Orlando Democratic Rep. Bruce Antone, who chairs the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, added, “Last week’s Annual State of Black Florida Events exceeded all expectations. We are very grateful to our supporters, whose generosity allowed us to award $75,000 in scholarships that will make a real difference in the lives of black college students and help better secure the futures of the next generation of leaders in our state. We look forward to seeing everyone again next year.”

Park funding plea

State park officials pleaded with the Legislature to match the Governor’s proposed $54 million parks budget following Thursday’s budget rollouts.

The House’s $91.3 billion overall plan reserves $37 million for the Florida Park Service while the Senate’s $92.8 billion plan offers only $27 million. Florida State Parks Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward and President Gil Ziffer responded in a Friday news release.

“It is critical that the Florida Park Service receives adequate funding to ensure that our state parks continue to be the best that they can be,” Woodward said.

Florida State Parks Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward, shown here with Sen. José Javier Rodríguez, is urging the lawmakers to match the Governor’s proposed $54 million parks budget.

State parks and trails’ 28 million visitors generated $2.6 billion in economic benefit, and more than 37,000 jobs last year. They created an additional $176 million in state sales tax.

Visitors pay for lodging, restaurants, groceries, sporting goods, and other goods and services in otherwise little-traveled areas.

“If not for state park operations, these businesses might not otherwise exist,” Ziffer said.

To Woodward, a $54 million ask is a drop in the bucket: “It is hard to think of a better return on the investment.”

The Senate’s proposed $125 million Florida Forever funds top the Governor’s $100 million. But the House only penciled $20 million for the state’s land acquisition program.

“If our state parks are not adequately funded, aging infrastructure cannot be replaced, urgent repairs cannot be made, and the park experience for our millions of visitors will be diminished,” Ziffer said. “This will have a devastating impact on both economic returns and the environment.”

Save the reefs

Several South Florida Democratic lawmakers are backing DeSantis after he proposed efforts to help combat coral reef erosion during a stop in Miami.

DeSantis said the state is kicking off “100 Yards of Hope,” a project aimed at planting 100 yards of coral in partnership with FORCE BLUE, an organization deploys former Special Operations Veterans to work on marine conservation efforts.

The “100 Yards” project was announced Thursday in Miami to honor the NFL’s 100th season. South Florida will host Super Bowl LIV on Sunday.

100 Yards of Hope is a coral reef restoration project in conjunction with FORCE BLUE to plant 100 yards of coral while also honoring the NFL’s 100th season and America’s military veterans.

“Florida’s unique environment is what makes our state special, and we must do everything we can to protect and preserve it,” House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee said. “These incredibly fragile reefs are a gift that we have been given, and we are responsible for ensuring their preservation for future generations.”

During the last several years, Florida’s coral reef has suffered from Stony Coral Tissue Loss Disease, which can kill stretches of the reef.

McGhee appeared alongside DeSantis during the Thursday announcement. Joining him were Reps. James Bush III and Michael Grieco, who both represent portions of Miami-Dade County.

“I support Gov. Ron DeSantis’ commitment to our environment,” Bush said.

“I also believe that protecting our coral reefs is essential to the health of our waters, environment, and the economic industries that depend on them to thrive. It is a critical time to do everything we can to take care of our state.”

Grieco also added a statement, saying, “Always great to see the Governor in our district, but even better to hear we are expanding our commitment to the protection and restoration of our fragile coral reef.”

DeSantis also says the Department of Environmental Protection is helping launch an awareness campaign to help protect the reef.

Plakon’s late wife honored

Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom showed up at the Capitol for Senior Day with a puppy in tow.

Scent Evidence K-9 is currently training the bloodhound to track down missing persons as part of the “Bringing the Lost Home” initiative.

When she graduates, she’ll assist authorities in bringing Alzheimer’s patients who’ve wandered back home to their loved ones — an estimated 60% of people with Alzheimer’s disease wander and go missing.

Scott Plakon and his late wife Susie, who died in 2018 from complications of Alzheimer’s disease.

State Rep. Scott Plakon was instrumental in securing funding for Bringing the Lost Home, and his contributions to the cause are reflected in the future lifesaving puppy’s name: Susie Daisy. That was also the name of Plakon’s late wife, who died in 2018 after a four-year battle with Alzheimer’s disease.

Bringing the Lost Home is currently a pilot program. In addition to training K9s, the initiative also provides missing person protocol training and lifesaving scent kit programs that enable families and caregivers to collect a loved one’s scent before they wander and go missing.

The Scent Kits give K-9 responders an uncontaminated scent article to trail, distributed to those in need by The Florida Department of Elder Affairs, Tallahassee Memorial Memory Disorder Clinics, and law enforcement agencies in Bay, Sumter and Seminole counties that are participating in the pilot program.

Parental consent protest

Faith leaders rallied with Democratic lawmakers this week against the Legislature’s parental consent bills.

The Florida Interfaith Coalition for Reproductive Health and Justice held a news conference Tuesday and joined House Democrats for breakfast Wednesday. The pro-abortion group, led by board chair Kate Lannamann, came to Tallahassee to oppose HB 265 and SB 404.

We are here to let our legislators know that people of faith absolutely support access to full reproductive health care services, including abortion care,” Lannamann said. “We need safe, legal abortion for everybody.”

The Florida Interfaith Coalition for Reproductive Health & Justice held a prayer breakfast at The Capitol this week to oppose the parental notification bill.

Democratic Reps. Jennifer Webb and Dotie Joseph joined the coalition for breakfast in the House Minority office.

I think it’s important that we remember that it’s not about the letter of the law, but the spirit of the law. And that paramount, among all tenets that we have to defend, is love,” Joseph said.

Rep. Anna Eskamani, a founding member of the group, kicked off the Tuesday news conference held on The Capitol’s 4th floor.

Unfortunately, there tends to be rhetoric, mostly elevated by our opposition, that making personal medical decisions — talking about birth control, contraception, making the decision to end the pregnancy — is one not done with consult of a faith leader or with reflection of one’s God. And that’s just not the case,” she said.

But the Orlando Democrat drew the ire of fellow Democratic Rep. Kim Daniels, who broke from the caucus to co-sponsor HB 265. Later Wednesday, she called the criticism she’s received from pro-abortion and pro-LGBTQ groups “literal religious discrimination.”

There are some in my caucus who have no respect for me as a representative for my district … no respect for my values as a believer. They want to make me vote with them, and that ain’t happening,” Daniels said.

Foster system on the rise

Florida Coalition for Children is highlighting a national study that shows that Florida ranks sixth among the Top 10 best performing states in the outcomes of foster kids or kids at risk of entering foster care.

The Texas Public Policy Foundation, which did the study, found that Florida ranked No. 2 out of all the states for how quickly the state was able to find a permanent home for children through reunification with their parents or adoption. Florida also ranked in the top 20 for reducing abuse and neglect.

Andrew Brown, with Texas Public Policy Foundation, said his center works to strengthen families. He says Florida has distinguished itself as a national leader in innovation and achievement that other states would do well to follow.

The study looked at seven outcomes related to safety, permanency, stability, and older youth in foster care.

Meanwhile, the House Children, Families & Seniors subcommittee this week approved changes to the state’s child welfare system.

The committee bill would improve the state’s child welfare system by providing more support for critical workers, enhancing workforce development at every stage in the pipeline, involving community-based organizations, and holding all partners to the same high standards.

Pay raises for child protective investigators and supervisors are included.

Pro bono work recognized

The Florida Bar this week recognized Orlando attorney and Florida Guardian ad Litem volunteer Mary Ann Etzler with the 2020 Tobias Simon Award, which goes to the top pro bono lawyer in the state.

Etzler certainly put in the work. She represented 49 child victims of abuse, abandonment and neglect and logged 1,232 hours of pro bono service to clients of the Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association.

The Legal Aid Society of the Orange County Bar Association’s executive director, Bethanie Barber, said Etzler was the group’s “very first choice” for complex cases involving children, adding that many judges ask for her by name.

Orlando attorney Mary Ann Etzler, pictured with Chief Justice Charles Canady, received the 2020 Tobias Simon Pro Bono Service Award. Image via The Florida Bar.

“It is not possible to convey with words her profound respect for each and every client, or the sense of relief our staff feels when we know Ms. Etzler is the GAL attorney of record,” Barber said, “or the generations of lives she has improved through her pro bono efforts.”

One such case saw Etzler represent a two-month-old shaken baby with a fractured skull, a lacerated spleen and other, older injuries.

She had to file motions to ensure the boy received the intensive physical therapy he needed “to help his brain create new synapses.” Two years later, she watched as he was adopted.

“He was walking, talking, running, playing with his new siblings. It was the happiest day of my life,” she said.

Guardian ad Litem Executive Director Alan Abramowitz put it simply: “Mary Ann exemplifies the highest ideals of our program.”

Chief Justice Charles Canady presented the award to Etzler with the award in a Thursday ceremony at the Florida Supreme Court.

Collins Institute finds love for CRC

As legislation to eliminate the Constitutional Revision Commission moves forward in the House (HB 301) and Senate (SB 142), a survey from the LeRoy Collins Institute shows voters have more affection for the body than lawmakers might expect.

A survey of Florida voters released Friday shows 51% of respondents consider abolishing the CRC to be a bad idea. And 54% of those individuals feel strongly about it. By comparison, only 24% of people say they think it’s a good idea to dispose of the board.

“What we are picking up is people like the idea of the Constitutional Revision Commission, even though not many knew about the commission’s work in 2017 and ’18,” said Carol Weissert, Institute director.

LeRoy Collins Institute Director Carol Weissert is launching a campaign to engage citizens in Florida’s upcoming Constitutional Review Commission. Image via Kate Payne/WFSU.

Questions on the CRC were included in the University of Florida’s Economic and Business Bureau Consumer Sentiment survey, which was in the field from Nov. 13 to Dec. 17. Responses came in from 543 Floridians across the state

What the study found was that while only about a quarter of Floridians followed the CRC’s work in 2017 and 2018, about 70% think the Commission is a good concept. Some 62% feel strongly that having a board to review and offer amendments to the Constitution is a good thing to do.

Among college-educated voters, about 76% like the idea of a commission, and 56% think abolishing it would be the wrong move.

There’s also particular affection for the Commission among Hispanic respondents, of who, 60% like the concept, though just 42% made clear abolishing it was a bad idea.

But it may be no surprise lawmakers and the general public disagree on the CRC. While lawmakers have pushed for higher thresholds to pass constitutional amendments — or even to get them on the ballot — voters have generally viewed proposals favorably. And of seven proposals put on the ballot by the CRC in the 2018 election, all of them passed.

PBMs pocket savings

Pharmacy Benefit Managers have pocketed millions of dollars from the Florida Medicaid System, a new study commissioned by the Florida Pharmacy Association and American Pharmacy Cooperative found.

The study claims funds collected from Medicaid by PBMs should have been directed toward health care for low-income residents.

Sen. Gayle Harrell and Rep. Jackie Toledo are each sponsoring legislation that would regulate PBMs to protect both patients and small pharmacies.

Jackie Toledo joined hundreds of pharmacists for a rally at The Capitol this week. she is one of several lawmakers calling for control of rising prescription drug costs; for patients, our small businesses and taxpayers.

“We have a responsibility to assure that there is no manipulation of prices or anti-competitive practices by PBMs and other entities that result in increased costs to patients and push our local pharmacies out of business,” Harrell said.

The new study shows PBMs negotiate savings with health insurance companies, but pocket the savings instead of passing them along to the consumer or pharmacy and that they steer consumers toward affiliated pharmacies.

“It’s both absurd and horrifying to think that important, life-changing medical decisions are being made by profit-driven middlemen rather than by patients working with their own physicians,” Toledo said.

The study comes as Toledo’s bill appears stalled in committee in favor of a less stringent PBM-related bill. Rep. Alex Andrade’s proposal is focused more on data-gathering and transparency, which Toledo said is a good first step and will support. But she hopes provisions of her bill that provide more substantive reforms for the industry and more meaningful protections for consumers and small pharmacies will be added to Andrade’s proposal as it works its way through the committee process.

Free clinics deliver

A new report from the Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics shows their members provided nearly $179 million in health care services last year.

The FAFCC report breakdown lists $69.1 million worth of health care visits, $37.7 million in prescriptions filled, and $27.9 million in imaging services provided.

The values don’t necessarily represent money that changed hands. For visits, FAFCC uses the reimbursement rate for the closest Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) to each of their 94 member clinics.

For imaging and prescriptions, member clinics could either report the data they collect or use a standard rate derived from the 2018 Medicare rates for various imaging studies conducted by the American College of Radiology.

Also listed in the report: $34.6 million in specialty care, $8.6 million in lab work, and about $675,000 in durable medical equipment.

The report covers July 1, 2018, through June 30 of last year. That lines up with the state government’s 2018-19 fiscal year when FAFCC received a $9.5 million appropriation from lawmakers.

That money went, the association said, went a long way to helping clinics throughout the state deliver care.

“We are extraordinarily proud of the work — much of it volunteer — that our clinics do to provide health care services to uninsured and underinsured Floridians,” said Rev. Michael Daily, Board Chair for FAFCC and CEO at Good News Care Center free clinic in Homestead.

“We are also grateful to lawmakers for continuing to seed our clinics in the budget — the return on investment in dollars is incredible, and the return in quality of life for Floridians is incalculable.”

Healthy eats for Session

As longtime veterans of “The Process” will tell you, Florida’s 60-day legislative Session is a marathon, not a sprint — with the biggest fights usually won and lost in the last week (or hour) of the Legislative Session.

Being on the winning side requires staying sharp and healthy, and a proper diet is a major part of the equation. One company is looking to take the stress of meal planning off process people’s plates.

Farm to Fork Meals is delivering help from its new Tallahassee location with a healthy meal plan delivery service. Those who act fast can take advantage of a special deal on fresh ready-made meals through the end of Session.

Farm to Fork Meals has a new Tallahassee location to deliver healthy meals for the public and health-conscious lawmakers.

For $10.75 per meal (plus a $7 delivery fee and tax), Farm to Fork Meals will deliver a weekly supply of gourmet chef-made meals that are ready to eat in minutes after a quick spell in a microwave or an oven.

The delivery fee is halved for customers who order four or more meals a week through a special link and use the code “SESSION” at checkout.

For those curious about the food: Farm to Fork Meals is owned and operated by Michael Panza, who studied the culinary arts in Italy and at the French bastion of gastronomy, Cordon Bleu. He’s carved out a niche in South Florida’s hypercompetitive restaurant scene, and his quality and creativity are what shines at Farm to Fork Meals.

“A lot of my customers wanted to have freshly cooked meals at home, but something better than typical takeout food or delivery. They were all busy professionals with demanding schedules, so they’d ask if I could cook for them at their homes. I realized there was a strong demand for healthy, high-quality meals that could be delivered at the office or house, ready to serve,” Panza said.

Panza, whose highly accomplished and widely respected father, Tom Panza, is a veteran lawyer and lobbyist, said business at the new Tallahassee location has gotten off to a strong start thanks to loyal customers who know Farm to Fork Meals from its original site delivering in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties. He said the “Session Special” could become an annual tradition in Tallahassee.

Capitol Directions

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