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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Celebrating Herstory

Nest Session, Emily Slosberg will work to acknowledge the contribution of women in Florida.

Celebrating Herstory

Rep. Emily Slosberg said she took a look around the Florida Capitol and thought two things were missing: any sort of recognition that 2020 marks the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage and any substantial memorializing of the contributions women have made to the state.

The Delray Beach Democrat will deal with the latter during next year’s Session when she plans to propose a Florida Women’s History Museum.

Florida has little to show for the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage. That may soon change. 

“The contributions and experiences of women deserve celebration and recognition,” Slosberg said. “While we have one traveling display across at the old Capitol, it’s just not enough. The mission of the museum would be to preserve and share the stories of women and to inspire future generations of girls to follow in the footsteps of incredible women who came before them.”

As for shining a light on 100 years of women’s right to vote, Slosberg presented awards Tuesday named for Edna Giles Fuller — who, in 1928, became the first woman elected to the state Legislature. At an early bird 8 a.m. ceremony (complete with bagels and babka) on The Capitol’s 22nd floor, eight Florida women leaders and activists were lauded for their achievements.

Fort Myers Republican Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, an attorney and co-chair of the Women’s Legislative Caucus, was the first recipient.

“I can’t underscore enough how important it is to continue fighting for women’s rights. We cannot just take those for granted. Even today, we’re … we’re underrepresented in every area,” Fitzenhagen said. “I think what that means to me is that we all need to go back to our communities and mentor toward the young women … and give them the … the energy (and) the guidance to become great leaders in whatever field they’re interested in.”

Tampa Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo, also a co-chair of the caucus, was another honoree.

Nikki Fried, Florida’s first woman elected as Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services, commented when receiving her award, “it’s a recognition of where we’ve come. And the women that came before us that … were the ones who were walking and protesting and throwing off their bras and being present so that we could be here today.”

Soon to be inducted into the Florida Veteran’s Hall of Fame, Kat Gates-Skipper wore a big-brimmed hat and sash to honor the suffragettes and spoke of the early days in her 20-year military career.

“When I was in the Marine Corps in the 1970s, it was gender-segregated, and I had a tough time being welcome. No disrespect to the male counterparts; they just didn’t believe in women being in the military,” she said.

In addition to the right to vote, the Equal Rights Amendment to the U.S. Constitution was on the minds of three of the award recipients. Sen. Lori Berman, a Boynton Beach, has been an advocate for the ERA since Congress first approved it in 1972. Tampa Rep. Fentrice Driskell and Miami Rep. Dotie Joseph, both Democrats, are co-sponsoring a bill this year to ratify the ERA.

While ERA ratification bills are perennially submitted — and shot down by the Legislature — the amendment has taken on currency after Virginia recently cast a vote for approval, giving it the two-thirds majority required. While the 1982 ratification deadline had passed, the U.S. House voted Thursday to remove it. But with five states rescinding their ratification in the ensuing years and lawsuits pending, it is not a done deal, nor likely to be any time soon. In an appearance this week, women’s rights icon U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg said she thought to start the amendment process from scratch was the best solution.

After the presentations, the group adjourned to visit the Historic Capitol, where a small exhibit on suffrage called “Rightfully Hers” features information from the National Archives as well as artifacts loaned to the museum by lobbyist Ron Book and Sen. Lauren Book, who was also given the award.

Florida women worked toward suffrage, said Rachel Porter, director of research and programming at the museum, but it wasn’t one of the states that initially approved the amendment. A ceremonial ratification vote occurred in 1969.

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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

Chambers back budget plans — The House and Senate each approved their own versions of the budget on their respective floors. Speaker José Oliva saw a unanimous vote for the House’s $91.4 billion budget, while Senate President Bill Galvano and company delivered a $92.8-billion plan. That’s $1.4 billion more in spending. Key differences include full funding of $387 million for the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund on the Senate side, along with $52.5 million for VISIT FLORIDA, which the House still intends to sunset.

Revelations mar domestic violence coalition — An audit of the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence revealed more misspending, including paying more than $7 million over three years to former President and CEO Tiffany Carr, despite initially reporting her annual salary at $750,000. The information came as part of 104,000 documents turned over to the Legislature after a year of withholding the information. Board members, who refused to resign even in the wake of the revelations, may also have financially benefited at the nonprofit. Members of the House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee characterized the numbers as ‘shocking.’

House advances university merger proposal — A bombshell plan to merge New College of Florida into Florida State University and Florida Polytechnic University into the University of Florida put campus leaders on the defensive but moved out of the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee. “We have an obligation to taxpayers to generate degrees at the lowest possible cost,” said Subcommittee Chair Randy Fine. Florida Poly has an enrollment of more than 1,400 while New College started the year with 724 students. Senate President Galvano, whose district includes New College, said he’s willing to hear more about the proposal.

Pushback grows on E-Verify — The Senate Judiciary Committee this week advanced a requirement for private sector businesses to verify workers’ employment eligibility using a federal database but carved out requirements for Agriculture and small businesses. Speaker Oliva, meanwhile, said he did not want to see legislation that treated individual companies differently from others. But he also expressed concerns about making employers act as a “policing arm” for the government at all. Passage of requirements remains a priority for Gov. Ron DeSantis, but one that leaders in both chambers seem reluctant to embrace.

House burns Nikki Fried on Energy — The House in a party-line vote approved a proposal to move the Office of Energy out of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. Agriculture Commissioner Fried slammed the move as a “partisan power grab” and “dangerous precedent.” The Energy Office had previously been part of the Department of Environmental Protection, which falls under the Governor’s auspices until 2011. That’s where House leaders want it to return. But the proposal has yet to find any traction in the Senate, which did not include any oversight shift in its budget.

FinTech funds

This week, DeSantis announced the launch of the Northeast Florida FinTech Initiative at the Florida State College at Jacksonville and St. Johns River State College.

The initiative will see the schools receive $3.6 million from the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund to partner with colleges, regional schools, nonprofits, and numerous financial services companies to provide new financial technology, or “FinTech,” training and certification opportunities.

Ron DeSantis announces a $3.6 million grant from the state’s Florida Job Growth Grant Fund. Image via Sky LeBron/WJCT.

“I’m pleased to launch the Northeast Florida FinTech Initiative in conjunction with Florida State College at Jacksonville and St. John’s River State College,” DeSantis said. “This innovative collaboration to provide new FinTech-related training and certifications will help equip Floridians with skills in demand by Northeast Florida’s growing FinTech industry.”

The initiative sets up two certificate programs.

The first is a FinTech Support Technician Boot Camp Academy, which will embed FinTech related skills and coursework into existing programs related to Accounting, Business Administration, Financial Services and Information Technology.

The second is a new externship program and working connections program, which will provide leaders of nearby K-12 schools with valuable skills and information needed to introduce students to the FinTech industry and will offer real-world industry experiences to college faculty.

The funding will be used to support the cost of facility improvements, equipment, personnel, scholarships, training materials and support services.

Cop killing questioned

Agriculture Commissioner Fried, the sole statewide elected Democrat, on Friday called for justice in the case of a college student gunned down after being pulled over for a seat belt violation.

“In light of concerns expressed by the family of Jamee Johnson and members of the Florida House of Representatives and Florida Senate, please consider this a formal request for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to conduct a review of the use of deadly force by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office on Dec. 14, 2019,” Fried wrote.

FAMU professor Kalena Green wipes away a tear as Sharon Robinson consoles her during a vigil for FAMU student Jamee Johnson. Johnson was killed by a Jacksonville police officer during a traffic stop in December 2019. Image via Alicia Devine/Tallahassee Democrat.

Johnson was a student at Florida A&M University. He was shot dead shortly after 5 p.m.

“A thorough review by FDLE’s expert Special Agents and Analysts will allay any concerns and bring closure to all the parties involved, the Johnson family, the Sheriff’s Deputies involved, JSO and the citizens of Florida,” a letter from Fried’s office added.

“This review is needed for the truth to be known,” Fried added on Twitter.

Energy crisis

Speaking of Fried, the House delivered her a setback of sorts when it voted to remove the Office of Energy from the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs.

However, Fried hopes that “cooler heads” prevail in the Senate, where she thinks the measure won’t float.

Fried has criticized DeSantis for pushing moves to undermine her office, but a Friday call found her back on “state before party” messaging.

At least, for the most part.

Nikki Fried blasts Ron DeSantis for attempting to move the Office of Energy away from her agency, but still sees ‘eye to eye’ with him on many issues. 

“He and I still see eye to eye on many important issues,” Fried said, though conceding that this Session has been tough, with politics “getting in the way of good public policy.”

“Even though they’re trying to take my power,” Fried said, “they can’t take my vote and voice.”

“There were over 8 million votes … and I was declared the winner,” Fried added, a nod to the narrow margin of victory over Republican nominee Matt Caldwell.

‘Bigs in Blue’

In July, Attorney General Ashley Moody teamed up with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles to encourage more cops to mentor kids.

The partnership resulted in the “Bigs in Blue” initiative, which champions participation in Big Brothers Big Sisters. Seven months later, Moody said the initiative is proving successful, with 115 new mentorships and four new Bigs in Blue programs.

‘Bigs in Blue’ mentoring program has been a success, says Ashley Moody.

“I’m excited to report on the progress we’ve seen in this area of bridging gaps between law enforcement and the communities they serve,” Moody said.

“Forming positive relationships with children and providing a structured environment to learn and grow, as well as showing at-risk youth that officers care about their well-being, are important goals of this program, and I am pleased it is already impacting communities across our state.”

Moody’s office added that each Big Brothers Big Sisters location in Florida reported increases in law enforcement mentor volunteers since the announcement of the partnership, which was forged shortly after Moody presented a Back the Blue Award to the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Tampa Bay for its pioneering Bigs in Blue program.

Priority update

As the Session enters its second half, CFO Jimmy Patronis highlighted his office’s priorities working their way through the Legislature.

Republicans Sen. Tom Wright and Rep. Chuck Clemons’ legislation (SB 1492/HB 1137) for insurance consumer protections, especially after hurricanes, is nearly ready for the Governor’s signature. The House version is ready for a floor vote while the Senate version awaits one committee before heading to the floor.

Jimmy Patronis is having a successful Session, so far.

“After a disaster, Florida laws should favor Floridians, NOT insurance companies, public adjusters and attorneys,” Patronis said.

Building on the CFO’s firefighter cancer prevention initiative, Sen. Aaron Bean and Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff’s legislation (SB 1092/HB 487) for a cancer decontamination equipment grant moves forward. Fetterhoff’s version awaits a House-wide vote while Bean’s is still working through committees.

And Speaker-Designate Chris Sprowls’ genetic protection bill (HB 1189) has already been sent to the Senate. But Sen. Kelli Stargel’s version (SB 1564) might throw a wrench in the works with a carveout if test results appear on medical records, a step too far for Sprowls.

Meanwhile, Patronis backs Rep. Chip LaMarca’s proposal (HB 1077) bolstering whistleblower protections for victims of sexual harassment hit the House floor Thursday. The measure expands protections by prohibiting the dissemination of any personal identifying information.

Investigation gains support

DeSantis this week asked Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel to launch an investigation into the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence’s board of directors, and the state’s Chief Financial Officer is on board and ready to help.

“Government should do the right thing by its citizens — and I applaud Gov. DeSantis for decisive action in investigating FCADV,” Patronis said. “The Coalition is clearly not being transparent, and that’s a problem.

Tiffany Carr’s exorbitant salary has prompted a state investigation.

“As such, I’ve alerted our auditing team at the Department of Financial Services (DFS) to review and provide any relevant documentation to the Governor’s Office that may aid in getting to the truth.

“Additionally, as the investigation moves forward, DFS is staffed with well-qualified auditors, and we’re prepared to provide support that may be needed for analyzing any complex financial activities the Coalition may have undertaken in an attempt to hide their actions.”

The investigation comes after a document dump showed FCADV, the state’s leading domestic violence organization, had paid former President and CEOCarr more than $7 million over three years. The board had initially claimed her salary was $750,000.

Instagram of the week

 

View this post on Instagram

 

Time does not heal all wounds. Two years ago today our community changed forever. While most of the world has moved on, I know that many in our community are still healing. Many are still dealing with the pain and frustration. Many deal with PTSD, depression, and guilt. Many will never get to hold their friend or loved one again. A day rarely goes by that I don’t think about MSD in some form or fashion. That afternoon and the days that follow flash through my memory regularly, along with the questions — How did this happen and how can we make sure it never happens again. The MSD 17 are in our hearts today, and every day. As time moves forward, we will never forget, but I know for my part and my community, we will never stop working either.

A post shared by Dan Daley (@dandaley97) on

The Week in Appointments

Children’s Services Council of Broward County — DeSantis made five appointments to the board. Jeffrey Wood, of Wilton Manors, is an attorney at Tripp Scott. David Kenton, of Coral Springs, is the senior associate director for enrollment management and services at Florida International University. Maria Schneider, of Plantation, is the assistant state attorney for the Juvenile Division for the 17th Judicial Circuit. Tom Powers, of Coral Springs, previously served as vice mayor of the City of Coral Springs from 2008-2014. Cathy Donnelly, of Ft. Lauderdale, is the director of community relations for Castle Group. Wood and Kenton are new appointments; the rest are reappointments. All will serve four-year terms.

Children’s Trust of Alachua County Advisory Board — DeSantis appointed Dr. Patricia Snyder, Nancy Hardt, Dr. Margarita Labarta, Dr. Karen Cole-Smith and Charles “Lee” Pinkoson to the Children’s Trust of Alachua County Advisory Board. Snyder is the director of the Anita Zucker Center for Excellence in Early Childhood Studies at the University of Florida. Hardt was a professor at the UF College of Medicine from 1981 until her retirement in 2014. Labarta recently retired as the president and chief executive officer of Meridian Behavioral Healthcare. Cole-Smith is the executive director of community outreach at Santa Fe College. Pinkoson, of Gainesville, served as an Alachua County Commissioner from 2002 until 2018. Snyder, Hardt and Labarta will serve four-year terms. Pinkoson will serve a three-year term and Cole-Smith will serve a two-year term.

Statewide Task Force on Opioid Abuse — DeSantis named Randy Katz, Selima Khan and Michael Graves to the task force. Katz, of Davie, is a board-certified doctor of emergency medicine. Khan, of Coral Springs, is the vice president of marketing and corporate communications with Memorial Health Care System. Graves, of Ocala, is the elected public defender for the Fifth Circuit, which encompasses Lake, Hernando, Citrus, Sumter and Marion counties. The task force is charged with researching and assessing opioid drug abuse in Florida and developing a statewide strategy to identify best practices to combat the opioid epidemic

‘The Facts. Your Future.’

First Lady Casey DeSantis officially launched “The Facts. Your Future.” website this week with guidelines for how Florida middle and high school students can begin posting entries in a video competition backed by a $34,000 prize pool.

“This campaign is about giving our children the facts they need to make well-informed, educated decisions about their futures,” DeSantis said. “The video competition aims to empower our kids to realize that their voice and vision can have a real impact on influencing how their peers and their communities think about the decisions they make.”

Casey DeSantis wants high school students to make informed, fact-based decisions about their future.

The video competition rules: the submission must be student-created, have a clear theme of “These are the facts. This is your future.” Using concepts of empowerment, peer support and substance abuse awareness, and be no longer than 90 seconds. Students can team up for the project or go solo.

A panel of judges from the Florida Department of Education, the Florida Department of Health, and the Florida Department of Children and Families will review the videos.

They’ll pick six videos in all, three from middle schoolers and three from high schoolers, and rank each set. The two first-place finishers will snag $5,000 cash, and their schools will get an equal amount. Second place measures in at $2,500, and the third-place selection will earn a $1,000 prize.

“The Department of Education is proud to partner with First Lady Casey DeSantis to announce the video competition as part of ‘The Facts. Your Future.’ campaign,” Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said. “It is my hope that this campaign will bring awareness to substance abuse, and students will take advantage of this opportunity to participate in the video contest. I am looking forward to seeing the submissions and announcing the winners.”

Park it

Legislation allowing police officers to park their law enforcement vehicles in residential neighborhoods is headed to Desantis’ desk.

The bill (CS/SB 476), sponsored by Clearwater Republican Ed Hooper would prohibit condominium, homeowners, and cooperative associations from creating bylaws that prevent law enforcement officers from parking their official vehicles in community areas where they would normally have a right to park. It would apply to homeowners, tenants, or guests of the homeowner. 

Ed Hooper wants to have law enforcement officers to be able to park their vehicles at home, despite HOA rules. Image via Colin Hackley.

The legislation was prompted by reports of a Clearwater police officer who faced hundreds of dollars in fines last summer for violating an HOA rule in an East Lake Woodlands subdivision for parking her police car in her driveway. While the HOA later created an exemption for the officer, future homeowners with government-issued cars may face the same penalties.

State law says HOA’s can prohibit commercial vehicles from parking in driveways but an opinion issued in 2005, by then State Attorney Charlie Crist, a law enforcement vehicle is not considered commercial. But the HOA had also apparently banned government vehicles from parking in the community’s driveways.

DeSantis has until Feb. 21 to act on the bill. It passed both chambers unanimously.

Two more bills to DeSantis

The Keep Our Graduates Working Act and the   Prescription Drug Donation Repository Program both passed in the Senate this week.

The former, sponsored by Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Nicholas Duran, will prohibit a state agency from denying, suspending, or revoking a person’s professional license solely based on delinquency or default in payment of his or her student loans.

Travis Hutson believes those with defaulted student loans shouldn’t lose professional licensing.

“Student loan debt and prescription drug availability are two central issues in our state. I am proud to work hand in hand with Sen. Hutson, and both Sen. Lauren Book and Rep. Clay Yarborough, to affect substantial change and reform for Floridians.

“This Legislature must ensure that Florida’s professionals are able to continue to earn a living and contribute to the economy without the fear of losing their job due to student loan debt. We must also make certain that every person, indigent or otherwise, has access to the critical medicines needed to stay healthy.”

The Senate accepted the House version and passed it with near-unanimous support.

The latter is a bipartisan effort that will allow pharmacists, doctors, and health care facilities to donate unopened prescription drugs to a Department of Health repository that could be accessed by low-income, uninsured or underinsured patients.

The Senate accepted the House version, passing it unanimously.

‘Champion for Equality’

The LGBT+ Center Orlando has picked Democratic Rep. Anna Eskamani for a “Champion for Equality” award, which it hands out to people and businesses will be recognized for significant leadership or influence in championing or progressing the local LGBT+ community.

“It’s an incredible honor to be recognized by the LGBT+ Center Orlando as a Champion of Equality,” Eskamani said. “I have committed my life’s work to ensuring equality for all people and believe firmly that no matter who you love, how much money you make, the color of your skin, your gender identity, disability status or who you worship — that every person should have the opportunity to reach their fullest potential.”

The LGBT+ Center Orlando is honoring Anna Eskamani as a ‘Champion of Equality.’

The Center’s Executive Director, George A. Wallace, added, “Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast & Awards is personally one of my favorite events we host yearly. It’s an opportunity to highlight local leaders, champions, and allies that amplify what Harvey Milk’s legacy represented for the LGBT+ community. It brings me joy to announce the 2020 honorees.”

Though the announcement dropped this week, the awards ceremony is still a ways off — the Center will celebrate Eskamani and other honorees May 20, during the 8th Annual Harvey Milk Diversity Breakfast & Awards event in the Oscar Wilde Ballroom at Sheraton North.

Eskamani won’t be the only Florida politician recognized. The group also plans to present U.S. Rep. Darren Soto with an “LGBT Ally” award.

Homeowners’ hike

An insurance company told the state this week that it needs to raise rates on some 35,000 policies to keep its top-tier credit rating.

Phil Bowie of Velocity Risk Underwriters, which provides Florida policies as National Specialty Insurance Co., said the 28% rate hike is needed for the company to handle an expected uptick in claims without sacrificing “A” credit rating from AM Best Co.

If the Office of Insurance Regulation approves the hike, it will go into effect on Feb. 28 for new customers and on April 26 for current customers renewing their policies. Inland customers will shoulder more of the increase than coastal customers.

In a departure from other recent rate increase requests, the company isn’t pinning the blame on plaintiffs attorneys, just its desire to maintain a solid credit score.

“This would help us secure future capital and continue growth in Florida,” Bowie said.

Florida Housing hits 40

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation has been helping Floridians with their housing needs for four decades.

As the state’s housing finance agency (HFA), Florida Housing partners with developers, lenders, and nonprofits across the state to finance affordable housing properties, specifically tailored to demographics such as senior citizens, families, veterans, homeless and persons with disabilities. Florida Housing also offers a variety of programs and resources that aim to make the renting and homebuying process easier for all families.

“Florida Housing works daily to assist families in attaining affordable housing options, without compromising important safety and design features,” said Trey Price, Executive Director of Florida Housing Finance Corporation.

Florida Housing Finance Corporation head Trey Price says people thrive when they have stable, quality housing. Image via Florida Housing. 

“We know people thrive when they have stable, quality housing — it increases employment, increases children’s performance in schools, and improves health. Our team is proud to celebrate this 40-year milestone and the impact Florida Housing programs have made on those choosing to take the next steps toward renting or purchasing their first home.”

Throughout its history, Florida Housing has provided more than $8.5 billion disbursed to help Floridians with their first mortgages and more than $674 million in down payment assistance. Another $2.5 billion has gone to local government affordable housing initiatives such as the State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program, better known as SHIP.

Florida Housing has also provided emergency funds for those left in need after a natural disaster.

“When Hurricane Michael hit, my kids and I were left stranded with nowhere to call home,” said Kristin Cummings, a first-grade teacher and Hurricane Michael Recovery Loan participant. “Florida Housing Finance Corporation allowed my family to move out of the RV we’d been living in for almost a year, and move into our current home. Without Florida Housing, we would still be recovering from mass devastation.”

Recycling leaders

The Florida Recycling Partnership announced its 2020 leadership team this week.

The leadership elections resulted in Waste Management of Florida Communications & Community Relations Director Dawn McCormick retaining her spot as Chair.

Keyna Cory will continue as Executive Director of the Florida Recycling Partnership, a coalition of companies at the forefront of developing and adopting sustainable business practices that promote recycling.

Keyna Cory is retaining her position as Executive Director of the Florida Recycling Partnership.

Filling out the executive team are Florida Beverage Association Executive Director Elizabeth Castro DeWitt, who will serve as Chair-Elect and International Bottled Water Association Director of Government Relations John P. Toner, who will serve as Secretary/Treasurer.

Also on the board: Karl Berven of Bealls, Erin Black of Coca-Cola Beverages Florida, Lisa Gilliard of Publix Super Markets, Donn Githens of Florida Goodwill Association, Steve Lezman of PepsiCo, Tomey Tuttle of Florida Power & Light, Doug Wheeler of the Florida Ports Council, and Andrew Williams of MARPAN.

The mission of the partnership is to educate policymakers, business leaders and the general public about the benefits of recycling.

In the past six years, the organization has grown from 5 to 26 members and conducted 12 recycling workshops/summits throughout the state. They are also responsible for coordinating Florida Recycles Day at the Capitol.

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