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- Takeaways from Tallahassee
- The Process
Boosting Black History
With Black History Month underway, a bill aiming to triple resources for the African American History Task Force has advanced in the House.
Rep. Geraldine Thompson’s bill (HB 9173) made it through its first subcommittee vote without a ‘nay’ cast. Now, she needs to convince the Appropriations Committee and full House to budget $300,000 for the 26-year-old entity’s work.
“We have 67 counties and school districts, and this Task Force is supposed to work with all 67,” the Orlando Democrat said. “We need to make sure they have the resources they need to meet [the] requirements of state statute.”
Former Sen. Tony Hill, a Jacksonville Democrat, now chairs the Task Force. He said it’d been about 15 years since lawmakers took a fresh look at spending.
“The reason we feel it is so important is all the contributions African Americans made in the state of Florida,” Hill said.
Those include the work of James Weldon Johnson, a civil rights activist and Broadway composer born in Jacksonville, and that of Harry and Harriet Moore, activists and martyrs murdered in Mims in a still-unsolved crime in 1951.
The Task Force receives $100,000 each year in recurring funding but wants an extra $200,000 to increase staffing for outreach efforts, which include running the Civil Rights Hall of Fame in the Florida Capitol.
The group assesses the performance of school districts in teaching history as well and lists 10 counties as providing exemplary information. But four more school districts reached out to the Task Force, Hill said, asking for assistance to reach that threshold.
Funding will help hire a new project coordinator, cover summer workshops and academies, and allow the development of a new website on Florida black history.
Thompson notes many counties still have Confederate statues on display but little effort in the way of black history being promoted.
“You’re aware of the situation in Palm Beach of the principal who said they weren’t mandating instruction of the Holocaust because he wasn’t sure it occurred,” she said. “Some principals may believe slavery was a benevolent system where food and shelter was provided in exchange for labor. That’s not true, but we don’t know if that is being taught in schools.”
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:
Support rallies around choice program — After an Orlando Sentinel report that set off alarms about LGBTQ discrimination by schools accepting Tax Credit scholarships, the Department of Education slammed the investigation as biased. House Speaker José Oliva expressed concern that if the state dictates terms to religious schools, it could face a lawsuit. And Democratic Rep. Shevrin Jones, an openly gay lawmaker whose father runs a religious school accepting vouchers, issued a statement urging companies not to withhold donations. Meanwhile, corporate pullouts have cost the program $7 million, supporters say.
Senate passes parental consent —Underaged women who seek abortions may need parental sign-off soon to receive abortions. The Senate by a 23-17 margin passed SB 404 and sent it to the House, which in past sessions has passed versions of the same bill. House leadership signaled earlier this year it would wait to vote on whatever language made it out of the Senate to take the matter to a floor vote there. Sen. Kelli Stargel’s bill allows for exceptions to be made in the case of a medical emergency or by a judicial waiver.
House moves on Fried — The House Appropriations Committee advanced legislation to move the Office of Energy from the Department of Agriculture. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried strongly opposed the move as she continues to struggle with partisan winds in the Capitol. “A Democratic woman gets elected statewide, and the old boys club cannot stand for it,” Fried said. Meanwhile, the House has threatened to remove funding for the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services unless gas pump inspection stickers with Fried’s photo on them get removed immediately. The Senate has not warmed up to this plan to date.
Business ties dog OFR Commissioner — The Florida Department of Financial Services sent a letter to incoming Office of Financial Regulation Commissioner Russell Weigel demanding he severs ties with his existing securities firm before taking his new position. Weigel is an investment attorney in Coral Gables and plans to continue his relationship with his existing firm and continue collecting payments from efforts related to existing clients. The disagreement means Weigel’s start date could be further delayed, assuming he still plans to take the position at all. Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Cabinet voted to hire Weigel more than two months ago.
Chambers approve spending plans — The House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved their own respective budgets. The two proposals remain about $1.4 billion apart, with the House delivering the lower figure. House Appropriations has proposed a $91.4 billion budget, which is $381 million over last year but also a reduction in per capita spending. Chair Travis Cummings noted that it included $650 million for teacher salary funding and an equal amount for the environment. Meanwhile, the $92.8 billion budget in the Senate includes provisions to raise minimum classroom salaries to $47.500 and allocated $500 million to teacher raises.
DeSantis announced the launch of the Florida Foundation for Correctional Excellence (FFCE) this week, which aims to bring together public and private partners to bolster reentry programs and workforce training for former inmates.
“Reducing recidivism, expanding career readiness training and reentry programs are a vital component of the public safety mission of the Florida Department of Corrections,” DeSantis said.
“We have to do more to get inmates ready for release — ready to be employees and to be productive members of our communities. The Florida Foundation for Correctional Excellence will bring public and private sector partners together to take our efforts to the next level.”
FFCE is organized as a direct support organization of the Florida Department of Corrections. It is designed to promote innovative and effective reentry programs within Florida prisons and will also spearhead fundraising to support the programs.
“Today’s announcement is an exciting one — not only for FDC and the impacts it will have on our rehabilitative efforts — but exciting for Florida,” said FDC Secretary Mark Inch. “The majority of the approximately 95,000 inmates in custody will complete their sentences and will become returning citizens; in fact, 85% of the current inmate population will be released.
“FDC cannot do this alone. Local communities, businesses, social services providers, faith and volunteer organizations, educational providers and institutions, and local governments, must be active partners in this process.”
The launch announcement also listed DeSantis’ first round of picks for the FFCE Board, including U.S. Submergent Technologies CEO Denver Stutler, Florida Chamber of Commerce EVP David Hart, Florida Faith-Based and Community-Based Advisory Council Director Erik Dellenbeck, Grande Lakes Area Manager Jon McGavin, philanthropist Doug Deason and Trinity Broadcast Network National Director Mark Reynolds.
‘Back the Blue’
Attorney General Ashley Moody presented a Back the Blue Award to Tallahassee police officer Sean Wyman this week for his efforts to support mental health for first responders.
After noticing the high suicide rate among first responders, Wyman co-authored Going Beyond the Call: Mental Health Fitness for Public Safety Professionals.
The book provides educational training for mental health awareness, prevention, mitigation and treatment strategies relating to public safety professionals. It also focuses on social-emotional trauma, stress impacts and communication strategies to reduce the suicide rate among first responders
“Supporting mental health for our first responders is so important. Our law enforcement officers, and all first responders, carry heavy loads with them, not only physically but mentally every day,” Moody said.
“Suicide is a silent epidemic threatening our first responders, and we now see more active and retired law enforcement officers nationwide commit suicide in a year than those that die in the line of duty. We must back our first responders and let them know help is available and that there is no stigma for seeking out assistance.”
Moody presented the award to Wyman during a Cabinet meeting. In addition to authoring self-help books, Wyman is a trauma-informed care speaker and organizational trauma trainer. Wyman has served the Tallahassee Police Department for 20 years and is a former Army Ranger.
Instagram of the week
The week in appointments
Florida’s Commission on the Status of Women — Attorney General Moody appointed Melanie Bonanno to the commission. Bonanno, an attorney, currently works as the Director of Employment Law for Publix Super Markets. She is a mother of three and is the 2014 recipient of the Most Powerful & Influential Woman Award by the National Diversity Council. FCSW is tasked with studying and making recommendations to the Governor, Cabinet, and Legislature on issues affecting women in Florida.
VISIT FLORIDA’s newest round of ads might sound familiar to those who were channel surfing in the 1970s.
This winter and early spring, the state’s official destination promotion organization is rolling out some vintage Florida tourism promotion commercials, with updates.
The new ads juxtapose the classic “When you need it bad, we’ve got it good,” jingle with modern and exciting ways for travelers to escape the winter in Florida.
The “throwback” videos will be featured on VISIT FLORIDA’s Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts and are aimed to invoke a sense of nostalgia while reminding travelers that Florida should remain their top choice for travel.
This campaign also demonstrates that Florida tourism promotion sponsored by the state has been a widely accepted practice for the better part of a century.
“The promotion of vacations to Florida is a tried and true practice with proven results. Throughout the winter, VISIT FLORIDA has been actively inviting vacationers to Florida from across the world, and we are glad to continue to highlight ways to escape cold weather while showcasing the history of tourism promotion in Florida,” said VISIT FLORIDA President and CEO Dana Young.
“Our state’s relentless promotion is the very reason we are known globally as a welcoming travel destination, and at VISIT FLORIDA, we are proud to continue inviting the world to the Sunshine State.”
To watch the ad, click on the image below:
Environmental activists rallied at the Capitol Thursday, calling on lawmakers and DeSantis to address climate change concerns as the Session approaches its halfway point.
Activists from Environment Florida and ReThink Energy Florida called for a fracking ban, a transition to renewable energy, resilient infrastructure, and climate justice for underrepresented communities.
“Taking action to thwart climate change becomes more urgent each day. This year, there is great potential to pass effective climate legislation, but we need our Legislature to move,” said Kim Ross, ReThink Energy Florida’s executive director. “Floridians are here making sure that legislators know where their constituents stand.”
The movement, dubbed Reclaiming Florida’s Future for All, urged DeSantis and the Legislature to target health, environmental and economic challenges stemming from climate change.
“Pollution, extreme weather, habitat loss — these are major threats to public health,” said Port Charlotte registered nurse Gary Mousseau. “We are excited to see legislation addressing extreme heat, but there is more work to be done.”
But despite the state’s Sunshine moniker, Sen. Lori Berman believes the state’s solar power potential is unrealized. Though the Lantana Democrat could not attend the rally, the advocates back her bill (SB 1290) to allow schools to switch to solar energy.
“By harvesting the untapped power of the sun in Florida’s K-12 school facilities, we can lead new generations of young Floridians into a brighter, cleaner future,” she said.
A line of advocates finished the rally by delivering nearly 1,000 promissory notes from Floridians asking to collect on the Governor’s campaign promise to “[o]n Day One … advocate to the Florida Legislature to pass legislation that bans fracking in the state.”
‘Stay at the Scene’
February is Hit and Run Awareness Month, and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) is reminding all motorists to “Stay at the Scene” when involved in a crash.
The FLHSMV initiative is geared toward solving and reducing the number of hit and runs in Florida. Joining them in the effort are the Florida Department of Transportation, the Florida Sheriffs Association, the Florida Police Chiefs Association, the Florida Association of Crime Stoppers and AAA.
“If you are involved in a crash, Stay at the Scene. For starters, it’s the law, but staying at the scene could also save a life,” FLHSMV Executive Director Terry L. Rhodes said. “Leaving the scene of the crash will only ensure you receive more serious penalties, no matter the severity of the crash. I urge members of the public to report any information on hit and run crashes anonymously to Crime Stoppers.”
Under Florida law, a driver must stop immediately at the scene of a crash on public or private property that results in property damage, injury or death.
FLHSMV data shows there were more than 105,000 hit-and-run crashes in Florida last year. Leaving the scene of a crash is a felony, and a driver, when convicted, will have their license revoked for at least three years and can face prison time.
“Leaving the scene of a traffic crash is a crime. You must stop immediately at the scene of a crash on public or private property, which results in property damage, injury or death,” said Florida Highway Patrol Director Gene S. Spaulding. “Staying at the scene will not only prevent significant legal penalties but may save a life.”
After sticking around, the most important thing a driver involved in a crash can do is call for help. Those who witness a high-tail it after a crash can dial *FHP to report them.
Complete count Jax
Jacksonville Sen. Audrey Gibson wants to make sure everyone in Duval County is accounted for in the 2020 U.S. Census.
To ensure an accurate count, the Senate Minority Leader announced this week that she’s set up a local “Complete Count Committee” to help in the outreach efforts.
“Our ‘We Count’ committee will be ambassadors in the community,” Gibson said. “In churches, and neighborhoods and community centers, we will reach out to residents across Duval County, and particularly in Senate District 6, to make sure that everyone understands how important it is to be a part of the 2020 Census.”
The decennial population count is used to allocate federal funding, the number of representatives states get in the U.S. House, and it’s also used by state lawmakers to redraw maps for the House and Senate.
The weighty implications didn’t translate in Duval 10 years ago, when the last Census was conducted — Gibson noted that the participation rate fell from 2000 to 2010.
“If we aren’t counted, we lose millions of dollars and representation,” Gibson said. “’We Count’ is on a mission to educate, inform, and engage our residents so that everyone benefits.”
Gibson’s “We Count” committee consists of policymakers, clergy, advocacy groups and union retirees. The group’s outreach will begin in advance of the 2020 Census, which is expected to get underway next month and initially be web-based.
Bring it home
Cops are going to be able to park their cars at home from now on, and there’s nothing the HOA can say about it.
SB 476/HB 307, carried by Sen. Ed Hooper and by Rep. Chip LaMarca in their respective chambers, passed the Senate and the House this week.
Each vote was unanimous, an easy decision for legislators of both parties on legislation seen as common sense by law enforcement.
Hooper, a Clearwater Republican, noted in October the genesis of the bill was an incident in his district, where a police car parked in a subdivision ran afoul of the homeowner association (HOA).
The bill takes effect upon becoming a law.
Public campaign financing repeal?
A resolution that could end in a repeal of the state’s public campaign financing program moved forward in the House this week, earning approval from the first of three committees.
The House Oversight, Transparency & Public Management Subcommittee unanimously approved the measure (HJR 1325). It’s being shepherded by Rep. Vance Aloupis, a Miami Republican.
The resolution would add an amendment repealing that program to the ballot. That amendment would then require 60% approval from voters to eliminate the program.
The state first authorized a version of public financing in 1986 with the Florida Election Campaign Financing Act. A trust fund was created to fund a match for donations up to $250, but that’s no longer available.
“That trust fund was exhausted,” Aloupis explained to the subcommittee. “So, we have now moved to matching campaign contributions through general revenue.”
In 1998, the program was added to the state constitution via an amendment. That means another amendment is required to remove the provision.
In 2010, voters rejected such a measure. That year, 52% of voters say they wanted to remove the program, but that fell short of the 60% required to repeal the provision.
Aloupis argued, and the panel agreed, that the massive increase in election spending in the last 30 years makes a public financing program less vital.
For comparison, Aloupis cited numbers showing $15 million was spent during the 1990 gubernatorial race.
“I hear chuckles from the committee, Aloupis joked upon relaying that information. “That’s a state House race now.”
Using inflation, $29.5 million of today’s dollars was spent in that 1990 race. For comparison, in 2018, gubernatorial campaigns and political committees spent $110 million. That doesn’t include money from outside organizations.
The 2018 cycle saw $10 million coming out of the state’s general revenue fund, which marked a 66% increase from 2010.
Aloupis said he would rather have that money going toward member appropriation projects.
Estates and trusts
A bill by Rep. Fentrice Driskell that would clean up some of the rules in Florida’s estates and trusts laws cleared the House this week with unanimous support.
This legislation (HB 505) amends the Florida Probate Code to clarify multiple provisions, including that causes of action owned by a decedent at the time of death, are property of the estate and that tangible personal property includes precious metals, such as coins and bullion, which may have significant sentimental value and should not be treated as legal tender.
The bill also closes the gap in the statutes relating to relationships that are conflicts of interest for personal representatives, improves the quality of notices of administration, and clarifies that formal notice, which is served by certified mail, does not confer personal jurisdiction under the Florida Probate Code.
“My Estates and Trusts Bill will help protect the rights of property owners in Florida and clarify important provisions in Florida’s Probate Code, some of which previously resulted in inconsistent judicial opinions. I would like to thank Speaker José Oliva for allowing this good legislation to be brought to a full vote on the floor,” the Tampa Democrat said.
The Senate companion, SB 358 by Sen. Lori Berman, has cleated two of its three committee assignments.
Recovery care moves
Legislation creating recovery care centers is heading to a floor vote in the House.
The bill (HB 827), sponsored by St. Johns Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, would allow the licensure of recovery care centers, where patients could stay up to 72 hours after undergoing surgery in hospitals or ambulatory surgical centers.
It passed the House Health and Human Services Committee Thursday 15-2. Democratic Reps. John Cortes and Joy Goff-Marcil voted no.
The committee approved an amendment to keep recovery care centers from treating children until the state Agency for Health Care Administration adopts a rule defining the minimum standards that must be met to treat children.
The centers would be for patients recovering from surgery and or other medical procedures who don’t need emergency hospitalization. Recovery care services do not include intensive care, coronary care or critical care services.
House Republican leaders have repeatedly pursued creating recovery-care centers in recent years, but the Senate has not gone along. The Florida Hospital Association is opposed to the legislation. It says recovery care centers would not be subject to the same requirements that hospitals, or nursing homes, are expected to meet. It adds that the centers would not be required to treat the uninsured and would likely serve only paying patients.
A revamped prescription drug repository program looks set to pass the Legislature next week.
Last week, the House passed Jacksonville Republican Rep. Clay Yarborough and Miami Democratic Rep. Nicholas Duran‘s bill (HB 177) on a 118-0 vote. And Plantation Democratic Sen. Lauren Book‘s version (SB 58) was placed Thursday on the Senate’s special order calendar for Wednesday.
Both bills would create the Prescription Drug Donation Repository Program within the Department of Health. Health care practitioners’ offices, pharmacies, and certain hospitals, nursing homes, and free or nonprofit clinics would be eligible to accept approved drugs or medical supplies.
“It is based on a very successful program that is included in Georgia and Iowa and several other states,” Duran told the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee when the panel approved the bill in November.
He added that the program provided $17.7 million in cost savings on prescriptions for low-income Iowans.
The repository may only accept drugs that are in their original packaging, show no signs of tampering, and have been stored at normal room temperature, among other restrictions. Drugs may also not be submitted to a specific person in need.
Florida already has a version of this program, but it’s restricted in scope.
In 2018, Book’s version of the bill made it through committees and was approved by the full Senate, but died in the House. And the following year, the House passed its version, but the Senate did not hear it.
But the third time might be the charm. Both bills were already rolling through the committee process before the Session began.
The Florida Association of Health Plans lauded the House Health & Human Services Committee for passing a bill (HB 747) that would end balance surprise medical bills — also known as balance billing — for emergency air transport.
“We applaud the Florida House Health & Human Services Committee today for advancing HB 747 that would, once and for all, put an end to balance billing in the State of Florida,” said Audrey Brown Bridges, president and CEO of FAHP.
“In 2016, the Florida Legislature enacted comprehensive reform effectively ending most surprise medical bills. Now, the Legislature is taking the next step to end it completely by banning air ambulances from leveling balance bills against Florida families.”
HB 747, sponsored by Rep. Jayer Williamson, and its companion in the Florida Senate, SB 736, addresses the unintended federal pricing shield that allows air ambulances to continue skirting the balance billing rules.
“Without this legislation, air ambulance companies will continue to hide behind a federal pricing shield, which is designed for commercial airliners, and send enormous bills in excess of the cost of the actual emergency transport, making Florida families suffer under the weight of unfair air ambulance bills,” said Brown. “We thank Rep. Williamson for championing this good public policy on behalf of Florida families and look forward to it being considered by the full Florida House of Representatives.
“We stopped bankrupting families when a loved one receives life-saving medical care in an emergency room; now, it’s time to stop bankrupting them for the transportation to get there,” Brown concluded.
The nation’s only African American news network, based in Tallahassee, will launch nationwide Monday.
Founded by chairman J.C. Watts Jr. and CEO Bob Brillante, the Black News Channel (BNC) represents the African American community in mainstream media. The network plans to target unique challenges facing urban communities and the “image gap” that exists today between the negative black stereotypes in the media.
“The launch of Black News Channel will be not only historic, but also transformational,” Brillante said. “We will shed more light on the stories that demonstrate our commonality, rather than those that highlight our differences.”
“I have traveled around the country participating in interviews, serving on panel discussions, and sharing BNC’s mission and commitment to telling a more complete story of the African American community,” Watts said. “There is growing interest and anticipation about the Black News Channel, as well as a palpable level of excitement about our launch.”
While Watts is a Republican, he said the channel will be about African American culture and won’t cater to political ideologies. Former Democratic Tallahassee Mayor John Marks is part of its management team.
The launch also coincides with the 45th national Black History Month. Historian Carter G. Woodson, a founder of the Association for the Study of African American History, created the first celebration that became the annual tradition.
In October, Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan, worth an estimated $8 billion, announced he would be the network’s majority owner. He also owns the Fulham Football Club of the English Football League, Four Seasons Hotel Toronto and All Elite Wrestling.
Putting on a clinic
On the opening day of the Legislative Session, House Speaker José Oliva named Vicky Stone-Gale as the “Nurse Practitioner of the Day.”
This week, the South Florida APRN received some more recognition — Oliva invited her to work a shift in the Legislative Clinic. Her day on call in the Capitol came as Rep. Cary Pigman made a case for his bill to allow APRNs and physician assistants to practice independently.
“It is an honor to serve as the Nurse Practitioner of the Day in the Legislative Clinic at our state’s Capitol today,” said Stone-Gale.
“While House Bill 607 is important to the more than 32,000 APRNs in Florida, as it allows us to work to the full extent of our training, it is even more important to the millions of Floridians it would help receive access to safe and quality care. I thank House Speaker Oliva and Rep. Cary Pigman for supporting this legislation that will modernize the way we provide health care in Florida.”
Floridians Unite for Health Care also highlighted the bill — and Stone-Gale — this week.
“We thank House Speaker Olivia for inviting Dr. Stone-Gale to serve as the APRN seeing patients today in the Legislative Clinic,” said Nicole Livanos, senior associate in state advocacy and legislative affairs for National Council of State Boards of Nursing and a spokesperson for the Floridians Unite for Health Care.
“This recognition is indicative of the level of support House Speaker Oliva has for addressing the 278 shortage areas we are seeing in Florida that could benefit from APRNs supplementing health care options for patients and providing specialty services for patients across the Sunshine State. The majority of states have taken action to remove barriers to APRN practice; it is time for Florida to get on the bandwagon and help improve the overall health of Floridians.”
The Leroy Collins Institute says Florida’s charter schools are a mixed bag.
The institute released a report this week that delves analyzes the trends in racial and economic diversity, accountability, innovation and transparency, and provides recommendations for how Florida charter schools can improve.
The report, Florida Charter Schools: Not as Good, Or as Bad, as Advertised, has some good news and some bad news for advocates on both sides of the school choice debate.
“The Collins Institute’s careful study of charter schools provides nonpartisan clarity to what has become a sometimes heated discourse,” said Lester Abberger, LeRoy Collins Institute board chair. “While it does not boost the claims of either side, it does something more important — provides useful information for Florida citizens, parents and students.”
The study found Florida’s charter schools are just as racially diverse as traditional public schools, but they aren’t as economically diverse. The report also shot down a criticism often lobbed at charters — that they increase segregation in traditional K-12s. The report also says charter oversight is strong but could be improved.
One area where charters and traditional schools were both found lacking: transparency.
Bottom line, in terms of segregation, location and student performance, charter schools are very similar to traditional schools.
“Our hope is that this study can lead to a careful assessment of the development of charter schools in Florida,” said Dr. Carol S. Weissert, LeRoy Collins Institute director. “We hope the state will take this opportunity to do just this through a revisiting of the charter school laws as they have developed over the past two decades.”
‘The City That Talks’
The Florida League of Cities is rolling out a new book, but it’s not geared at City Hall regulars.
Instead, “The City That Talks” is a picture book designed for children ages 4-8 that introduces them to cities and a sample of services they provide in a fun and entertaining way.
The book is the cornerstone project of FLC President Isaac Salver’s Readers2Leaders initiative, which focuses on connecting students to cities through reading, mentoring and resources.
“I’m passionate about education and engaging our youth specifically on the importance of civics education,” said Salver, who’s also a council member for the Town of Bay Harbor Islands.
“Being able to put that passion into both this book and my Readers2Leaders initiative is a dream come true. I am excited to have this opportunity to connect with our youngest residents and educate them about the important role cities play in our everyday life.”
Written and illustrated by League staff, The City That Talks tells the story of a student’s journey to find the one thing she loves most about her city.
As she explores, she discovers that different parts of her city love to talk to and tell her why they’re the best, leading her ultimately to learn that cities have a voice.
The book is available online in English, Spanish and Creole. It’s also being mailed out to every elected city official, city manager and city clerk in the state.
FLC’s Readers2Leaders initiative also includes other resources that can help city leaders engage the youth in their communities.