Women in business
The Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation took a break from government business to acknowledge Women’s History Month with its eighth Celebrating Women in Business event, held Friday in Tallahassee.
“As many of us in state government approach the final week of this Legislative Session, this event’s a truly special opportunity to take a break from the process and spend a bit of time celebrating and learning from remarkable women who are setting their own pace, building their own brands and creating new opportunities for others,” said Halsey Beshears, secretary of the Department of Business & Professional Regulation, who served as host for the event.
Three Tallahassee women business leaders appeared before the group of about 100 attendees to share stories about the varied paths each followed to find success.
Calling herself an “accidental entrepreneur,” Carolyn Gosselin told of taking on a new consulting project after a 30-year marketing and public relations career. Stacy Brown, the owner of a popular carryout restaurant in Auburn, Alabama, wanted Gosselin’s help in creating a brand identity for Chicken Salad Chick and a franchising operation.
Enamored with Brown’s personal story and the popularity of her food — Gosselin would often tote coolers full of chicken salad back home for friends after a visit to Alabama — she and her husband decided to become the brand’s fourth franchise owners in 2015, now operating two stores in the Florida capital.
Today, the chain has 138 stores in 16 (mostly Southern) states.
Yuh-Mei Hutt, President of Golden Lighting, shared the story of how she went from being a “pretty conservative and pretty risk-averse” business owner to one who thinks globally — literally — and as a result, has grown her business by a factor of 10 in recent years.
After success as an attorney, developer and hotel operator, Kim Rivers took a leap of faith into an emerging, disruptive business with an uncertain and ever-evolving future — medical marijuana. The CEO of Trulieve Cannabis Corporation told of her efforts to become one of Florida’s first “seed to sale” marijuana growers. The company has been profitable since 2017, and now has about 50% of Florida’s market.
After the presentations, attendees were able to attend one of three breakout sessions with each speaker for smaller meetings as well as Q&A sessions.
“It is absolutely unbelievable to think about what they’ve done, the challenges,” said Beshears. “The humility of these women, what they do, it truly is inspirational.”
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:
Florida faces coronavirus threat — With at least three identified cases of Florida patients tested positive for coronavirus, Gov. Ron DeSantis said the priority remains to keep the illness out of Florida’s 700 nursing homes and known cases quarantined. Florida’s Congressional Delegation issued praise of an $8.3 billion emergency funding request approved by Congress and sent to President Donald Trump. There remain criticisms in Florida about transparency, especially after it took more than 24 hours to disclose the first “presumptive positive” tests in Manatee and Hillsborough counties. But the Florida Medical Association praised ‘strong’ response from DeSantis and Surgeon General Scott Rivkees for enacting appropriate protocols.
Will Session run into overtime? — Senate President Bill Galvano told members he expects budget conferences to begin this weekend. Both he and House Speaker José Oliva expressed positive feelings about the chambers working out a $1.4 billion gap in their respective budgets. At the same time, Oliva midweek said it’s unlikely a deal will come together before Friday, the scheduled end of the 60-day Session. The House presiding officer cited some policy differences, including a personal priority of legislation allowing nurses to practice independently. Galvano has pointed to Senate priorities like funding for VISIT FLORIDA and the Sadowski Affordable Housing Trust Fund.
Searching for Tiffany Carr — Revelations about vast potential mismanagement of funds for the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence has officials in Tallahassee demanding testimony from an absent and unresponsive CEO, Carr. Gov. DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody both launched legal actions alleging Coalition leadership padded Carr’s compensation and that millions need to be returned to the state, the Miami Herald reports. Speaker Oliva, meanwhile, released a subpoena for Carr on Twitter Thursday when members running a House investigation could find no other way of reaching her. That has revealed Carr collected some $7.5 million over three years.
House approves scope of practice expansion — Legislation expanding the ability for advanced practice registered nurses and physician assistants to practice without physician supervision passed in the House. The bill has been defining for Rep. Cary Pigman’s legislative career, he said earlier this Session, and remains a top priority for Speaker Oliva. The proposal still requires an APRN to log at least 2,000 of supervised practices with no adverse incidents and complete a graduate course in pharmacology. Another bill was approved that allows APRNs to admit, handle care and discharge patients from certain medical facilities.
GOP Executive out in an election year — Peter O’Rourke, executive director of the Republican Party of Florida, submitted a resignation letter and will leave his post March 13. State Chair Joe Gruters, also a Senator, will take a more active role as Session wraps. Former Executive Director George Riley will also step in to help the party. The high-profile exodus became public after a POLITICO report detailed tension between DeSantis and Trump; O’Rourke previously served as acting Secretary of Veterans Affairs for the President. But DeSantis and Gruters on a conference call with state executive committee members expressed confidence about 2020 elections while thanking O’Rourke for his work over a seven-month tenure.
DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis announced $1.2 million would go to Gadsden County for a new Criminal Justice Diversion Project.
“I’m pleased to be working on this collaborative project that aims to reduce recidivism for those who struggle with mental illness and substance abuse disorders,” the First Lady said.
“With this new diversion program, Gadsden County joins a growing trend of recognizing that these individuals need real care and support to get back on their feet, find meaningful work, support their families, and ultimately rejoin their communities.”
The grant money, through the Department of Children and Families’ Criminal Justice, Mental Health and Substance Abuse Reinvestment program, will partner with Social Work leaders at Florida A&M University.
“This new diversion program in Gadsden County is a strong step in the right direction for people ensnared in the criminal justice system due to untreated mental or substance abuse issues, and the collaboration with our Department of Social Work will help ensure sound care coordination of wraparound services,” said Dr. Gari D. Tookes. Director of FAMU’s Master of Social Work Program
But it also represents a change in focus for state officials toward alternatives to hard time.
“As we move forward with this grant to reduce recidivism and bring hope to individuals and their families through the identification and treatment of mental health and substance use disorders, I want to recognize and thank our First Lady for her unparalleled commitment to improving access to mental health and substance abuse services,” said Gadsden County Sheriff Morris Young.
“Her continued efforts to bring attention to mental health and its impact on Florida’s families are vital to preserving the health, safety and welfare of the public. We look forward to bringing meaningful services to those suffering from the devastating effects of mental illness and substance abuse.”
As one Florida city hosted Super Bowl LIV and another prepared for Super Bowl LV, Attorney General Moody convened the first Statewide Council on Human Trafficking.
Major sporting events notoriously spur a spike in sexual exploitation, and the championship game in Miami last month was no exception. But Moody wants to make sure traffickers know they will be pursued when they come to Florida.
“Our statewide council, along with our partners, worked hard to stop human trafficking ahead of this year’s Super Bowl,” Moody said. “Twenty victims of trafficking were rescued, including children. While this is encouraging news, our work will not stop. Florida will be hosting several large-scale events, including next year’s Super Bowl, and will be the target of traffickers to come. We will fight hard against this evil to protect Floridians and rescue victims.”
The vigilance will continue, Moody said, as other events roll through the Sunshine State, including WrestleMania 36 in Tampa in April, the College Football Playoff National Championship in Miami in January, and, of course, the next Super Bowl in Tampa Bay in February.
Moody’s office has assigned a special prosecutor to local human trafficking task forces in every Judicial Circuit and has ordered a comprehensive review of the form those task forces do. She has worked with law enforcement statewide to prosecute traffickers and rescue victims.
More formally, she hosted a 2019 Human Trafficking Summit in Orlando and is co-chair of the National Association of Attorneys General Human Trafficking Committee.
The new council, she said, will build on existing state and local partnerships to combat human trafficking. Members include law enforcement officers, prosecutors, legislators and experts from the fields of health, education and social services.
Consumer Protection Week
Jimmy Patronis is wrapping up a successful Consumer Protection Week.
This week, the Chief Financial Officer marked the annual event by highlighting his office’s legislative priorities. Tops among them: bills that would cut down insurance claims delays following a storm.
The CFO has pushed for SB 1492 and HB 1137, also known as the “Consumer Protection Act,” since opening day, and both bills are poised to pass after making it through the committee process intact.
“At the Department of Financial Services, we’re laser-focused on protecting consumers, and that’s why this Legislative Session we are aimed at fighting for consumers,” Patronis said. “After Hurricane Michael devastated parts of the Panhandle, we learned some important lessons, and that is why the Consumer Protection Act allows consumers to get out of bad public adjuster contracts and forces insurance companies to communicate with their customers more effectively to swiftly close claims.”
He added, “This bill sends a message to insurance companies and public adjusters that if you’re going to operate in the state of Florida, you must do what’s right by your customers.”
Also on the list is a bill that would protect Florida’s 1.5 million veterans from fraud. The aptly named Florida Veterans Protection Act would up the charges for white-collar crimes against veterans to a first-degree felony.
The Senate version of the bill, SB 294 by Sen. Tom Wright, earned unanimous approval from the Senate on Wednesday. The House companion, HB 167 by Rep. Bobby Payne, awaits a vote on the House floor.
The CFO added that the state’s consumer protection efforts aren’t solely on the Legislative front.
“On top of our legislative agenda, our Division of Investigative and Forensic Services works every day with local law enforcement to crack down on insurance fraud, which penalizes hard-working families by increasing their rates,” he said.
“On this Consumer Protection Week, we’ll keep working to put Florida consumers first.”
Instagram of the week
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Breathe it in
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection has announced that Florida has the cleanest air on record. DEP said it meets all of the National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS) statewide.
A news release said this is the culmination of several years of collaborative efforts between DEP, Environmental Protection Agency and industry to reduce emissions and improve air quality for Florida’s citizens. DEP said these efforts have not only resulted in Florida having the cleanest air on record, but to its being the most populous state in the United States to meet these stringent federal standards.
“Achieving our environmental protection goals takes collaboration,” said Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein. “The work that DEP, along with EPA, has done with industry members in Hillsborough, Nassau and Polk counties has resulted in improved air quality, better protecting public health and the quality of life of our residents and visitors. I am proud of our efforts that have led Florida to this important milestone.”
DEP says Florida has one of the most robust air quality monitoring networks in the country. The network includes more than 211 monitors at 99 sites and provides scientists with the data needed to ensure Florida’s air quality complies with federal standards. The department’s Spatial Air Quality System allows everyone to access updated air quality data as reported by the statewide network.
Friday was Day 53 of the Legislative Session, and finally it appears tangible progress will be made on the budget.
House Appropriations Chair Travis Cummings joked during his farewell speech that his counterpart in the Senate, Budget Chief Rob Bradley, had accepted the House’s budget offer.
He said the two chambers are close, though, and Bradley later told Senators they had finished finalizing the general revenue allocations to the tune of $35 billion.
Conferees will meet at 2 p.m. Saturday to hash out differences in the body’s proposed budgets and return their results to the budget chiefs by 1 p.m. Monday. The two top committees will then handle items still in dispute.
House Speaker Oliva was optimistic about the process, and Senate President Galvano said he felt “good” about where the Senate and House are regarding the budget.
The Legislature’s allocation agreements include $13.2 billion for Pre-K education, $4.7 billion for higher education, $10.6 billion for health care, $4.7 billion for the justice system, $201.4 million for transportation and tourism, $537.8 million for agriculture and the environment, $341.5 million for government operations and $656.7 million for administered funds and statewide issues.
Scope of practice
On Friday, the House moved a trio of bills expanding scopes of practice for nurses and pharmacists, priority legislation of House Speaker Oliva.
Oliva noted that he and Rep. Pigman had “worked on this for many years.”
Pigman, in what was an extended close (a curious time management choice, given the crowded calendar), said Oliva had “moved mountains” and that he was “proud to be a soldier.”
Pigman framed the bill as a gender equity measure that allows “predominantly female” APRNs to practice according to their education.
Under language added Thursday, APRNs would be eligible for Medicaid reimbursement.
Additionally, the House moved Rep. Tyler Sirois’ bill (HB 389), allowing pharmacists to “test and treat” for flu, strep, lice, skin conditions like ringworm and minor, non-chronic conditions.
The vote was 88-18.
Unlike St. Augustine Republican Sen. Travis Hutson’s version (SB 714), Sirois’ puts the primary rule-making of test and treat in the Board of Pharmacy’s hands instead of the Board of Medicine’s. Additionally, pharmacists could prescribe medication for substance abuse and addiction.
Vacation rental regs fizzle
A bill (HB 1011) preempting local zoning for vacation rentals may not get a House floor vote.
House Speaker Oliva told media that it was “on its last legs,” a sign that in the waning days of Session, home rule proponents may have scored a win.
The Senate never moved the bill to the floor; it stalled in committees. And DeSantis has expressed doubts about the state’s ability to regulate the sprawling industry.
The proposed legislation would protect from local regulation rentals offered through an “advertising platform,” which provides software and online access to listings for “transient public lodging establishment[s]” in the state.
Just as the state regulates public lodging like hotels and motels, and foodservice establishments, so too would it regulate Airbnb, VRBO, and the like.
Local regulations under the bill are only permitted if they apply to all properties, including long-term rentals and owner-occupied homes.
Laws passed before June 2011 would be grandfathered.
Critics of the legislation expressed concerns that state regulation would hinder communities where Airbnb and VRBO properties are prevalent, and some properties in quiet neighborhoods could wind up with short-term renters who disrupt the community with raucous, late-night parties.
It seems those critics may have gotten their way this year.
Pray to play
A requirement for the Florida High School Athletic Association to allow 30 seconds for prayer was added to an education bill in the House.
The language was added to an Education Committee bill (HB 7103) through an amendment from sponsor Jennifer Sullivan.
The Eustis Republican included a number of significant additions through an amendment to approved on the floor on Friday.
Should the bill pass, the FHSAA would be required to give 30 seconds for opening remarks to each participating school at an athletic event. The legislation states explicitly that the Association cannot prohibit prayer or otherwise control the content of the remarks.
The move will surely spark some church-and-state debate about the promotion of religion by the state, though Sullivan’s amendment also said the FHSAA must make clear it does not endorse content.
The proposal stems in part from the controversy over a 2016 football championship between Cambridge Christian School of Tampa and University Christian School of Jacksonville, according to News Service of Florida. While both teams were from private religious schools, no prayer was allowed at the start of the game because it was governed by the FHSAA, which prohibits pre-game prayer.
That prompted a lawsuit, but a federal judge in 2017 ruled the First Amendment right of the teams didn’t compel the FHSAA to turn over its public announcement system for the promotion of a religious message. An appellate court later overturned that ruling and sent the case back to the lower court.
National Guard Day
Senators honored guardsmen in the gallery and across the state Tuesday for Florida National Guard Day.
“The Florida National Guard has a long, proud history, from the first militia in St. Augustine to the 21,000 men and women who have been called to serve overseas in the Global War on Terror,” said Senate President Galvano.
Senators considered several pieces of legislation this week geared toward benefiting veterans, service members and their spouses and children. Galvano and Senate Military and Veterans Affairs and Space Committee Chairman Tom Wright highlighted measures from continuing disability benefits to safety efforts.
“We are working diligently to ensure Florida retains our great reputation as the ‘Welcome Home State’ and are honored that so many of our nation’s finest choose to call Florida home,” Wright said.
SB 7010, now in the House’s hands, extends the life of protections for the armed forces and their families’ contact information from the public eye. That exemption applies to those who served after September 11, 2001.
SB 294, also in the House, increases the penalty for aggravated white-collar crimes against 10 or more veterans to a first-degree felony. Wright dubbed that bill the “Florida Veterans Protection Act.”
And Senators approved a constitutional amendment (HJR 877/HB 879) extending property tax exemptions currently available for some veterans with disabilities to their surviving spouse if the veteran dies.
Lawmakers also passed Education and child welfare measures geared toward the military and veterans.
Senators gave their final approval this week to a bill slashing punishments for those who don’t appear for jury duty.
That measure (SB 1590), sponsored by Sen. Bobby Powell, sets the maximum punishment at a $1,000 fine, three days imprisonment and an order to perform community service. That would align state punishments for the crime with federal punishments.
“I am extremely proud of this legislation and the bipartisan effort to get it to this point,” said the West Palm Beach Democrat. “I applaud the Florida Senate for its unanimous endorsement, and the message it sent today about delivering fair justice.”
The bill was filed in response to the 10-day imprisonment sentence imposed last year on Deandre Somerville, a 21-year old who was found in contempt of court for oversleeping and missing his jury duty appearance. Somerville was also sentenced to one-year probation, 150 hours of community service, and $223 fine, even after apologizing to the court.
Although that measure garnered unanimous Senate support, Riviera Beach Democratic Rep. Al Jacquet’s version (HB 1125) earned no consideration in House committees.
A separate bill (SB 738) by Stuart Republican Sen. Gayle Harrell would give full-time students under 21 years old a pass on jury service. The companion for that bill (HB 393) will likely come up in the lower chamber Friday in preparation for a final vote.
Rising tides may lift all boats, but they aren’t that great for buildings.
A measure sponsored by Sen. José Javier Rodríguez aims to prevent new buildings built with state money aren’t knee-deep in saltwater due to sea-level rise.
The Miami-Dade lawmaker has been pushing the idea for a few years, often donning rain boots emblazoned with the hashtag “#ActOnClimateFL” to drive the point home among his colleagues.
In 2020, it appears the plan has traction. On Friday, the Senate passed the bill with a unanimous vote.
“This is the most transformative piece of legislation coming out of this Legislature that directly relates to the impact of climate. Through the passage of this bill, the Legislature is taking step one in defending taxpayers by ensuring state funds are only used for coastal infrastructure projects once sea-level rise has been accounted for,” Rodríguez said.
“I look forward to building upon this legislation to take more action in protecting residents from the impact of climate and addressing its causes.”
The bill now heads to the House, and it seems poised for a warm reception. The House companion, HB 579 by Miami Rep. Vance Aloupis, skated through its committee stops with unanimous support, and it’s currently on second reading.
BOLO for bad insurer
Lawmakers and Puerto Rican interest groups urged the state Tuesday to investigate an insurer now eyeing the Florida market that reportedly left thousands of claims unanswered following Hurricane Maria.
MAPFRE left property owners with $1.6 billion in unpaid insurance claims, according to The New York Times. Sens. Annette Taddeo and Victor Torres and Reps. John Cortes and Amy Mercado joined officials from Alianza for Progress and Victimas de Maria at a news conference to ask DeSantis and the Florida Insurance Commissioner to investigate the company.
“We need to step up to the plate and start suing or locking these people up for fraud. We can’t sit here and do nothing. We have to do something,” Cortes said.
Two-and-a-half years after the hurricane — the costliest in Puerto Rican history — struck the island territory, tens of thousands of victims have reportedly seen little return from their claims.
“In the end, my household was given a $600 check,” said Alianza for Progress communications director Adriana Rivera. “We never cashed it because it was an insult.”
Taddeo noted the Sunshine State had been a primary destination for those displaced by Maria.
“Here in Florida, we cannot let these private insurance companies now be a part of Florida’s insurance market … because we will end up in the same situation that Puerto Ricans are dealing with on the island,” Taddeo said.
Bonus Instagram of the week
‘Elected Official of the Year’
The National Association of Social Workers of Florida’s (NASW-FL) Central Unit named Rep. Anna Eskamani its Elected Official of the Year.
“In congruence with NASW’s Code of Ethics, your service to the State of Florida shows how passion merges with advocacy for underrepresented populations,” said NASW-FL legislative chair Kristina Ramos. “Your commitment to advancing policies related to women’s health care, mental health, workplace issues, school safety, access to public school education, affordable housing, immigration, and criminal justice upholds the values of the social work profession.”
Eskamani, an Orlando Democrat, along with other Social Work Month award winners will be recognized at NASW-FL’s Central Unit’s Annual Celebration on March 31 at Oakmonte Village in Lake Mary.
“It is an honor to be recognized by (NASW-FL’s) Central Unit as their Elected Official of the Year,” she said. “Social workers lead with an intersectional lens and work with communities hand-in-hand to solve complex and wicked problems. I am inspired each day by their compassion and commitment to go good — often with little resources, and am proud to serve Florida with social workers by my side.”
Founded in 1955, NASW is the largest professional social work organization in the United States and has more than 130,000 members.
Rep. Bobby Payne hopped on the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Bottom Line to discuss environmental and other efforts he’s spearheaded this Session.
The Palatka Republican joined the Chamber’s infrastructure and governance policy director, Christopher Emmanuel, to discuss HB 1343. That water bill is a comprehensive package building off of measures left off last year’s bill.
The proposal and its Senate companion (SB 712), which passed that chamber on a unanimous vote, address nutrient loading in water, sewage systems and overflows.
“Let’s face it. We know that we’re at a point – and the Governor pointed that out very well last year – we’re at a point that if we don’t do some things now, we’re going to continue to have these problems in the future and it’s going to be worse for our children,” Payne said.
Additionally, the bill prevents local governments from granting rights to nature, a response to efforts underway in at least five counties. Those rights fringe upon business and industry growth except if there is a compelling historical component.
“Rights are granted to humans. Rights are of humans. They’re not of those things in nature, so we’re preventing local governments from doing that,” Payne said.
Raze the prisons?
Organize Florida will stage protests Saturday in Tampa and Largo over failure for the House to hear certain sentencing reform bills.
A news release from the social justice-focused organization said lawmakers have “utterly failed the families of those unjustly incarcerated.” The frustration comes after several bills failed to be heard in committee.
So protesters will demonstrate outside the Tampa office of Rep. James Grant, chair of the Criminal Justice Subcommittee, and at the headquarters for the Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office. The joint events will run from 3:30 to 5:30 p.m.
The group suggested a desire to look “tough on crime” meant lawmakers failed to consider several changes in thresholds for sentencing. The dereliction of duty will contribute to a continuing opioid crisis and the deterioration of families.
“Dozens of states around the country, and even the United States Congress, have found the courage and will to reform sentencing laws and prison systems while Florida House Republicans have refused even to debate these proposed reforms in committee,” a group statement said.
“The result is a status quo in which drug overdose deaths continue unchecked, thousands of citizens are warehoused unnecessarily in conditions that shock the conscience, and racial disparities that should be intolerable are ignored and even welcomed.”
Families of many Floridians in jail for lengthy sentences will be part of the crowds expressing displeasure with the process.
Of course, Grant himself will likely be in Tallahassee, awaiting budget conferences.
Jazz it up
Those looking for a place to hang out while between budget conferences may want to check out the 2020 Cool Breeze Art and Smooth Jazz Festival.
The event runs from 6 p.m. to 10 p.m. on Saturday at the Railroad Square Crafthouse, about a mile away from the Capitol. Admission is free, but those who hand over $20 bill at the door can top-tier seats and an exclusive VIP bag.
The JWB Band is flying in from Kansas City to headline the event, sponsored by Mary’s Visions Folk Art Museum and Gallery.
For the uninitiated, The JWB Band blends R&B, Jazz and Funk with a dash of Frankie Beverly and Maze. JWB’s opened for David Sanborn, Stanley Clarke, and Jonathan Scales, so fans of those acts should feel right at home.
Local band Operation 1254 will also plug-in for a set.
Bishop Holifield was instrumental in reviving Florida A&M University College of Law after it was shut down by the state.
The Rattler community hasn’t forgotten, and it’s making sure Holifield’s contributions will be remembered by future students.
This week, supporters and friends gathered for a moving tribute and the unveiling of a special digital portrait of the legal giant.
“The legal struggle took 15 years, and we never gave up,” Holifield said. “We were persistent. We were triumphant. FAMU Law in Tallahassee was snatched away from us, and it was eventually returned, resulting in this beautiful facility we have here in Orlando.”
Holifield’s undertook the effort at the direction of former FAMU President Frederick Humphries, who said he knew the Holifield was up to the task.
“This law school will make a major difference and has made a major difference in the lives of the students who are educated here. These students are our future. They will fight for justice just as attorney Holifield did.”
FAMU said the portrait dedication is just a small way to say thank you to a Rattler for Justice, who made a significant contribution to society.
The school added that the portrait, which hangs in the atrium of FAMU Law, will serve as a permanent reminder of the sacrifices required to reestablish the law school for visitors to the FAMU College of Law campus.
“We are honored to recognize a true pioneer in the legal industry and higher education-attorney Bishop Holifield,” said Nicky Boothe Perry, FAMU Law’s Interim Dean.