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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Session wrap-up

Now that the hanky has dropped — metaphorically, anyway — it’s time to talk stats.

Session wrap-up

In case coronavirus news has fogged up your memory, the 2020 Legislative Session wrapped this week.

This Session had no shortage of action, seemingly entering a new act nearly every week: Teacher raises, college mergers, the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence scandal, gaming, E-Verify, and yes, COVID-19, all had their time in the spotlight.

Now that the hanky has dropped — metaphorically, anyway — it’s time to talk stats.

Gov. Ron DeSantis addresses the media after the Legislature passed the 2020-2021 state budget.

Nearly 3,600 bills were filed this year, with 208 making their way to the Governor. Nine of those have already gotten his signature, including a bill to expand the scope of practice for nurses and the fast-tracked legislation severing the state’s contract with FCADV.

But several other winners are hanging out Gov. Ron DeSantis’ inbox, including measures to require parental consent for abortions, ratchet up fees for polluters, raise teacher pay, and allow Floridians to buy fireworks without the pretense they’ll be used to scare birds.

The budget, at $93.2 billion, was also a massive accomplishment.

This year’s spending package includes $39 billion for health and human services, $27 billion in education spending, and nearly $690 million for Everglades and water quality projects.

Smaller, but no less hard-fought, items pepper the colossal spending plan. After spending the better part of two years on death row, VISIT FLORIDA was reauthorized through 2023 and funded at $50 million for the upcoming fiscal year. Also, Clifford Williams’ $2.15 million check for wrongful incarceration was one of the feel-good stories of the past 60 days.

There were some big losers, too, most notably criminal justice reform, which seemed like it had legs for most of the way but couldn’t cross the finish line. The Florida Competitive Workforce Act also got snubbed, though, with growing support among lawmakers, its future looks bright.

Gaming wasn’t in the cards either, but the book isn’t closed on that. Depending on how the next couple of months shake out, the calls to strike a new deal with the Seminole Tribe could bring lawmakers back to the Capitol.

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Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey and the staff of Florida Politics.

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

Take 5

Florida COVID-19 cases surpass 400 — The Department of Health, as of Friday morning, reported 520 individuals tested positive for coronavirus in Florida as the number of national cases exceeded 10,000. The Florida number includes 46 nonresidents. So far, 10 Floridians died from the virus. DeSantis said a shortage of pharyngeal swabs is being addressed, which should allow greater testing. The state distributed enough testing kits to run samples from 625,000 individuals. The Department of Health and Department of Emergency Management expect to increase testing at local facilities and drive-thru sites. In Florida, officials have tested 3,254 individuals. Of those, 1,696 returned negative, while 1,126 are still pending.

Budgeting for a pandemic — Senate and House leadership ultimately set aside $52.5 million in a final proposed budget explicitly earmarked for the response to the coronavirus epidemic, with much of that coming from federal distributions. The state also has $300 million set aside that DeSantis can tap for emergency response, on top of a $3 billion emergency fund also in the budget. But with economic uncertainty so high in the state, many acknowledge a Special Session may need to be called to further deal with the economic consequences of COVID-19.

Budget passed before Sine Die — Lawmakers returned Tallahassee for a final vote on the $93.2 billion state budget Thursday. Most lawmakers were in attendance, though some feeling respiratory symptoms were asked to stay home. And while a Sine Die ceremony was to be canceled initially, a small event with sergeants-at-arms for each chamber standing some 6 feet apart and dropping handkerchiefs in front of a few select attendees instead of a traditionally gathered crowd. Senate President Bill Galvano and House Speaker José Oliva held a news conference with DeSantis. They proclaimed a successful Session, but the Governor declined to shake hands amid the health scare.

School canceled for weeks — The Department of Education directed all K-12 schools and technical center campuses closed through April 15. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran encouraged schools to operate virtually or through other non-classroom-based means and said districts should prepare to extend their calendars through June 30. All public colleges and universities were closed through the spring semester, again with the Department of Education encouraging distance learning procedures to be put in place. The DOE also urged the School Board and Boards of Trustees to cancel meetings through the end of June.

Ashley Moody tackles price gouging — Moody, Florida’s three U.S. attorneys and state-level attorneys said they would increase focus on phishing scams. The phishing scams imply they are official government health websites, including the World Health Organization or the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Others offer fake COVID-19 cures. Attorney General William Barr‘s call for all federal attorneys to prioritize stopping scam artists during the COVID-19 outbreak. Moody previously activated a price-gouging hotline at (866) 9NO-SCAM (866-966-7226) and reporting online at MyFloridaLegal.com if consumers suspect prices on select goods have been artificially inflated in the face of a crisis.

Renewal reprieve

DeSantis has directed Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears to issue an emergency order suspending renewal deadlines for all department-issued licenses, permits, registrations, or certificates set to expire in March or April.

Late fees will not apply to licenses renewed during this extension period.

Ron DeSantis has suspended all DBPR renewal fees for licenses set to expire in March or April. 

If there are requirements that people have to complete continuing education hours to renew their professional licenses, those will also be suspended for 30 days from the existing renewal deadline.

More information on other department matters related to emergency actions, calendar changes for the board and department meetings, and other operational announcements during this state of emergency can be found at myfloridalicense.com/dbpr/emergency.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation licenses and regulates more than 1 million businesses and professionals in the State of Florida.

That includes accountants, architects and interior designers, asbestos consultants, athlete agents, auctioneers, barbers, building code administrators and inspectors, community association managers, construction contractors, cosmetologists, electrical contractors, employee leasing companies, geologists, home inspectors, landscape architects, mold assessors and remediators, pilot commissioners, real estate appraisers and brokers, and veterinarians, as well as businesses dealing in alcoholic beverages, tobacco, food service, public lodging, pari-mutuel wagering and condominiums, timeshares and other cooperative residential arrangements.

Scam crackdown

Florida’s United States Attorneys teamed up with Attorney General Moody to issue a warning: anyone who tries to use the coronavirus pandemic to scam Floridians will get the book thrown at them, especially if they target elders.

Don’t even think about scamming over the coronavirus, says Ashley Moody.

“The real threat of this pandemic is bad enough on its own — but we are going to have zero tolerance for the added risk created by lowlife scammers who would prey on Floridians at a time when their focus needs to be on protecting their own health and well-being,” said Lawrence Keefe, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida. “We will be vigilant and aggressive in our efforts to find and stop anyone trying to make even one dirty dollar off the backs of anxious Floridians.”

Keefe and fellow U.S. Attorneys Ariana Fajardo Orshan and Maria Chapa Lopez say they’re now collaborating and cooperating with Moody’s team to stop the coronavirus-related scams.

Everything from phony cures to phishing scams are in their crosshairs.

“As communities across our nation confront the COVID-19 pandemic, know that my office will not waver in its commitment to protecting South Floridians, including our vulnerable seniors. We are focused on COVID-19 scams and will prioritize prosecuting fraudsters who try to capitalize on this health crisis,” said Fajardo Orshan, whose South Florida district is home to many seniors.

Lopez added, “Unfortunately, there are those who seek to exploit others in times of crisis, without regard to who they harm or the damage they cause. Those criminals should know that we will combine our resources, at every level, to investigate and prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law.”

The collaboration comes after Moody announced she had activated the state’s price gouging hotline — and started taking aggressive action against bad actors. She also issued a consumer alert reminding Floridians to beware of potential scams.

“Floridians are eager for any meaningful guidance they can find about coronavirus, but they must be careful not to believe everything they hear,” Moody said. “Scammers are experts at taking advantage of such emotions, but we cannot and will not let them succeed.”

Stay vigilant

The Department of Financial Services’ Jacksonville Regional Service Center has been closed until further notice.

DFS was notified an employee interacted with an individual outside of work who is currently testing for COVID-19. At this time, there is no confirmation that anyone with a confirmed novel coronavirus case entered the building. Floridians can still receive assistance by visiting MyFloridaCFO.com or by calling 1-877-MY-FL-CFO.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is also joining the fight against coronavirus scams. Image via Colin Hackley.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is also warning Floridians to be aware of scam tactics associated with the coronavirus. Patronis says Floridians should stay alert when receiving offers for products and services related to this public health emergency, as they may be fraudulent.

“As COVID-19 continues to affect our communities, we must stay alert and watch out for scam artists trying to make a quick buck off consumers,” he said. “I encourage all Floridians to stay informed of the latest fraud and scam tactics and know how to report these deceptive practices. Just as we’ve seen during recent natural disasters, scam artists will prey on Florida consumers during their most vulnerable times.

Patronis says to stay vigilant, never give out your personal or financial information to businesses you do not trust, and report suspected scams immediately at FraudFreeFlorida.com.

Expert opinion

Patronis asked DeSantis and legislative leaders Friday to convene the state’s budget experts to determine the possible impacts of the coronavirus on the state’s economy.

The Revenue Estimating Conference meets periodically to evaluate money drawn in from taxes and other revenue sources. Patronis asked the conference to convene early to “assess the economic realities of the COVID-19 virus and associated response effort.”

Patronis’ Department of Financial Services (DFS) is responsible for assuring the state’s budget does not run in the red.

“We all share in a constitutional obligation to ensure the state can raise sufficient revenues to finance the appropriations prerogatives of the Legislature,” he wrote.

On Thursday, the state’s lawmaking arm passed its $93.2 billion budget for the fiscal year beginning in July. House Speaker Oliva and Senate President Galvano suggested the Legislature could call its budget experts to address the anticipated crisis but remained optimistic a special Session would not be necessary.

Since the beginning of the budget-making process last year, the state’s revenue outlook has shifted significantly. Ahead of this year’s Session, budgeters predicted the state’s economic boom to slow down.

Now, COVID-19 has effectively shuttered the tourism industry and crippled the hospitality industry.

“We are at war in many ways with an unseen enemy, and a time of war is a time of uncertainty,” Patronis added. “Our job is to be as conscientious as possible when spending Florida taxpayer money.”

The CFO lauded DeSantis’ call to suspend licensure renewal requirements. But he pointed to that delay in trust fund revenue as an example of the possible impact of the state’s coronavirus response.

Instagram of the week

No cash, please

Experts recommend people keep 6 feet away from others to avoid catching the new coronavirus. That’s a tall order for the men and women who collect cash tolls on the Florida Turnpike and other roads.

To keep them from falling ill, the Florida Department of Transportation said it’ll stop accepting cash for tolls. That doesn’t mean tolls are free, just that they’ll be collected electronically. The switch-over was Thursday at noon.

During the coronavirus crisis, the Florida Department of Transportation will stop accepting cash for tolls.

For drivers with a SunPass transponder, it’s business as usual. For those who don’t, they’ll get an invoice in the mail for the tolls they owe with a $2.50 administration fee tacked on.

If cash is the only option, grab a few rolls of quarters — the “Exact Coin Lanes” will remain open.

Other than empty booths, nothing’s different: “As part of this initiative, customers should continue driving through the toll plaza and pay attention to overhead and portable signs,” FDOT said, adding that it’ll keep monitoring the COVID-19 situation and will “update customers accordingly.”

OFR understands

The Office of Financial Regulation says it’s still open for business and stands ready to assist state-chartered financial institutions as they grapple with the uncertainty brought about by the new coronavirus.

“The OFR understands that this unique and evolving situation may pose operational challenges to financial institutions and their customers or members,” OFR Commissioner Russell Weigel wrote in a statement. “Financial institutions should not wait to take the operational steps they deem necessary in response to COVID-19. Please communicate with the OFR as soon as logistically possible, and we will work with you regarding any necessary alterations to business operations.”

The Office of Financial Regulation is still open for business, says Russell Weigel.

OFR oversees mortgage brokers, collections agencies, money services businesses, title loan companies, and consumer finance companies. The office said institutions should continue to live up to sound business practices and encouraged them to work with all borrowers, especially those who are in the industries hardest hit by the pandemic.

“Reasonable efforts to make new loans and modify the terms on existing loans of affected customers will not be subject to examiner criticism,” Weigel wrote.

As far as examinations, OFR says they will work to make them as painless as possible and will be “understanding regarding the impact of COVID-19 and the efforts being made by financial institutions to work with customers or members in response to this public health emergency.”

Cat fund formula

The Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund Advisory Council introduced its reimbursement premium formula for its reinsurance program on Tuesday.

Andy Rapoport, a Casualty Actuarial Society fellow, issued the CAT fund formula report. He has given the report for 26 straight years.

The average coverage selection among member companies increased this year to 86.2%, up from 81.1%, reflecting the number of companies that moved toward the highest tier of coverage, 90%. About 91% of companies now use that tier, up from 76% last year.

Meanwhile, the industry loss layer dropped by about a billion dollars, from $20.8 billion to $19.7 billion this year.

Florida is modifying the way it calculates the Hurricane Catastrophe Fund.

“If more people want the bigger slice versus the lower slice, but we only have the same size meatloaf, everybody’s slice shrinks a little bit,” Rapoport said.

The coverage selection is the highest level it has been at since 2014 when it reached 89.9%. In 2018, coverage dropped to 73.5%.

For the first time in several years, there is a positive trend in modeled exposure for mobile homes.

But while premiums dropped for residential, tenants, condos and mobile homes, premiums for commercial businesses increased 11.7%.

Deadline extended

In light of the recent activation of the State Emergency Operations Center and requests by potential applicants, the Volunteer Florida Foundation has extended the application window for the Florida Disaster Fund grant funding so organizations can focus on responding to COVID-19.

Applications will now be due by 5 p.m. on April 10. The foundation is accepting applications for assistance recovering from Hurricanes Irma and Michael.

The Florida Disaster Fund is the State of Florida’s official private fund established to assist Florida’s communities as they respond to and recover during times of disaster. More information about the grant process, including FAQs, may be viewed here.

CEO Clay Ingram says Volunteer Florida Foundation has extended the application window for the Florida Disaster Fund grant funding.

“The Volunteer Florida Foundation is pleased to announce additional funding that will help Floridians who are still recovering from Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Michael,” Volunteer Florida CEO Clay Ingram said earlier this month.

The available grant funding for Hurricane Irma recovery activities is $3,875,000, and the available grant funding for Hurricane Michael recovery activities is $2,795,000.

In 1994, Volunteer Florida was established in Florida Statutes to manage national service programs, such as AmeriCorps, and advocate for volunteerism throughout the Sunshine State. Since then, Volunteer Florida has evolved to serve as the state’s lead agency for mobilizing volunteers and coordinating donations before, during and after disasters, including managing the Florida Disaster Fund.

FWC hunkers down

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says it’s taking proactive measures such as canceling and/or postponing meetings and other large group gatherings to protect stakeholders, staff, and volunteers from the novel coronavirus. Guidance from the White House Coronavirus Task Force is recommending to limit gatherings to groups of less than 10 people for at least the next 15 days.

The FWC says it will provide updates about when events and activities will resume as information becomes available.

Wildlife management areas remain open to the public. However, out of an abundance of caution, we recommend hunters and other recreational users monitor the open/closed status of the location they’re interested in visiting. A few cooperators have closed their recreation sites and/or campgrounds.

Florida wildlife management areas will remain open, but hunters will need to use extra caution in certain areas.

Following COVID-19 guidelines regarding large gatherings, the Northwest Florida Water Management District has closed some recreational sites until further notice. Nothing is currently closed in the North Central region. Some areas in the Northeastern region have some closings due to storm activity or for repairs/renovations. The Southwest Regional Office is closed to the public through April due to construction. There’s some construction in the South region.

The FWC continues to be in close communication with the Governor’s Office, the Florida Department of Health, and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) regarding the most recent COVID-19 status and guidance.

No reform

The Southern Poverty Law Center says it’s disappointed that the Legislature adjourned sine die Thursday without passing any criminal justice reform. It says lawmakers chose not to act on multiple reform proposals widely supported by Floridians.

Polling conducted by Tulchin Research shows more than four out of five voters in Florida believe the system needs reforms, including 49% who think major reforms are needed. Voters also don’t believe that prisons in Florida are doing a good job rehabilitating people, and 72% favor reforming sentencing laws, so incarcerated people can get more time off their sentence for good behavior and participate in rehabilitative programs.

SPLC argues the Legislature didn’t pass multiple bills that would have given people more time off for good behavior and also failed to pass sentencing reforms that would have prohibited long imprisonments for people who purchase or possess small amounts of illegal drugs for personal use and allow judges to use their discretion to depart from mandatory minimum sentences for a person convicted of trafficking under certain circumstances.

The group pointed out that the prison population is now almost 100,000 people and costs taxpayers nearly $3 billion a year. Amid the coronavirus pandemic, prisons are overcrowded, understaffed and underfunded.

“Criminal justice reform is both needed and widely supported in Florida,” said Scott McCoy, senior policy counsel for SPLC Action. “It is mystifying that the Florida Legislature chose to ignore common-sense policy changes that would have saved the state money and gotten more people out of prison.”

Fireworks

PETA, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, wants DeSantis to veto a bill that would allow Floridians to legally buy fireworks for use three days a year.

The animal rights group voiced concerns about the bill (SB 140) passed by lawmakers last week. It would allow adults to buy fireworks to use on New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, and Independence Day. In a letter from PETA President Ingrid Newkirk, she described her worries about the effects of noise and smoke on both animals and humans.

PETA President Ingrid Newkirk says the noise from fireworks is harmful to animals. She is calling Ron DeSantis to veto a bill that would legalize the sale of fireworks. 

“Many humans have been injured in fireworks accidents, and the displays can exacerbate asthma and other respiratory problems,” she said. “Veterans and others suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder are also sensitive to and can be deeply disturbed by the noise of the explosives and the smell of the gunpowder.”

Currently, sparklers are legal to buy, but explosives such as firecrackers, torpedoes, and roman candles are off-limits. However, people can buy them if they sign a waiver saying they will use the fireworks for agricultural purposes, such as “frightening birds from agricultural work” and fish hatcheries. The legislation on the Governor’s desk would eliminate the need for people to say why they are buying fireworks if they use them during the three holidays.

Map it out

ExcelinEd launched a public database, including an interactive map, to show steps taken by schools nationwide regarding the COVID-19 pandemic.

The website documents what states have closed schools, when they will reopen, and how decisions impact testing and other school accountability.

For example, the database shows statewide closures in Florida lasting until April 15, and the suspension of testing for 2020. It also shows the state has been granted a USDA waiver enabling school lunch programs to serve meals off school sites and outside congregate settings (read cafeterias).

ExcelinEd has developed an interactive map that would track the effects of coronavirus on schools across the country.

“As states and districts address many challenges, we hope this timely information will help education leaders stay abreast of activities and state-level decisions across the nation,” wrote Patricia Levesque, ExcelinEd CEO, in a mass email.

It also makes it easy to see how Florida’s response compares to other states on the national level. For example, Florida is one of just six states so far to waive state accountability measures, though as of Friday morning, three others have requested a waiver.

The Foundation for Excellence in Education, founded by former Gov. Jeb Bush in 2008, provides school resources nationwide, and is focused on increasing student learning, education equity and readying graduates for college or careers.

FEA praises COVID-19 action

The state’s largest teacher union is praising DeSantis for his decision to cancel standardized testing and other education requirements after shutting down schools to prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“We are concerned first and foremost with the health, safety and well-being of students, families, educators and their communities,” said Florida Education Association President Fedrick Ingram.

FEA President Fedrick Ingram is cheering Ron DeSantis’ work on the Coronavirus crisis response.

“Student learning also must be addressed under the reality of the current crisis, and the Governor is taking steps to do that by canceling standardized testing for our students, extending certification testing deadlines for teachers and lifting the burden of K-12 school grades from districts for this year.

“The FEA and our members still have many unanswered questions regarding how this crisis will affect students and educators, and we hope that other issues also will be quickly resolved.”

The statement followed a Tuesday news conference where DeSantis made the call to shut cancel in-person classes. The Governor also said standardized testing funds would be shifted toward providing students from low-income families with the equipment they need to continue the school year online.

Though it praised the Governor overall, FEA still has a few questions, including how online learning would take place and when students will be able to return to classrooms.

The union also worries about the students who rely on school meals, though later in the week, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried activated a hotline to find meals for kids during school closures. Families can find the nearest school lunch distribution spot by texting 211-211, calling 211, or online.

ACLU blasts lawmakers

The American Civil Liberties Union of Florida is blasting lawmakers for its 2020 Legislative Session.

It says that instead of taking the next step toward comprehensive criminal justice reform, legislators passed bills that will gut Florida’s citizen initiative process, require employers to use the E-Verify program or a similar program for all newly hired employees, and force young people to obtain notarized written consent from a parent or receive a judicial waiver from a court to access abortion care.

ACLU of Florida executive director Micah Kubic criticized SB 1794, which increased the signature requirements necessary for the Supreme Court to review citizen initiatives. It also decreases the length of time signatures are valid and makes the verification process more expensive.

ACLU of Florida executive director Micah Kubic decries the lack of criminal justice reform in the 2020 Session.

“Rather than enhancing our state’s democratic process, the legislature chose to build upon last year’s citizen’s initiative bill and shut out even more Floridians from directly participating in our democracy,” he said.

“The Governor has a chance to do right by Floridians and veto this bill,” he added. “We hope that he does.”

Kirk Bailey, also with the ACLU, says E-Verify is a flawed and error-prone system that can bar Floridians from working.

“It is a system that can deem a worker unemployable based on errors in government databases, such as typos, name changes due to marriage, and even additional spaces after someone’s name,” he said.

Kara Gross, also with ACLU of Florida, said the parental consent bill will harm minors.

“This bill is not about facilitating better family communication,” she said. “It’s about banning access to safe and legal abortion, just as our southern neighboring states have tried to do.”

Everglades funding praised

DeSantis has made funding Everglades restoration a priority through his first two Legislative Sessions, and lawmakers have granted his wish, providing more than $300 million for restoration in the 2020-21 state budget.

The Everglades Foundation, a leading advocate for Everglades restoration, is celebrating the budget victory and thanking the Governor and lawmakers for including the funding in the budget despite the “uncharted territory and the uncertain times we are facing.”

Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg is grateful for the $300 million set aside for the Everglades in 2020. Image via Ricardo Rolon/news-press.com.

“We thank the Florida Legislature for investing more than $300 million in Everglades restoration. Sustained funding at this level is essential to advancing and completing key restoration projects that protect our tourism-based economy and preserve Florida’s one-of-a-kind environment,” Everglades Foundation CEO Eric Eikenberg said.

“Everglades restoration has a significant return on investment for the state. In fact, we’re already seeing benefits from recent investments made by the state, including the improved flow of water into Everglades National Park under the bridges of Tamiami Trail, enhanced water quality in the Everglades Protection Area, and expanded habitat for fish and wildlife — all while ensuring South Florida’s water supply and flood protection.

“Continued investment in Everglades restoration is critical to maximizing benefits to communities across South Florida, and we’re thankful that this budget addresses that critical need for the next fiscal year.”

The Everglades restoration money was among about $690 million in water spending included in the budget approved by lawmakers this week.

More water praise

Sportfishing advocacy group Keep Florida Fishing joined the chorus of organizations praising the Legislature for its Everglades restoration and water quality spending plan, which weighs in at a whopping $690 million.

KFF is particularly excited about the $20 million appropriation for coral reefs and resiliency, and a $3 million item for a new State Reef Fish Survey, which is aimed at improving data collection for the state’s marine recreational fisheries.

The American Sportfishing Association is also celebrating legislative wins, including the passage of the Clean Waterways Act (HB 1343/SB 712) and the Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve (HB 1061/SB 1042).

Keep Florida Fishing Director Gary Jennings is joining the chorus of voices praising the money set aside for Everglades restoration.

“Florida is known as the ‘Fishing Capital of the World,’ and we are thrilled to have such strong legislative leadership in support of our mission for anglers to have clean waters, abundant fisheries and access to both,” KFF Director Gary Jennings said.

“We particularly thank Sens. Debbie Mayfield, Rob Bradley and Ben Albritton and Reps. Holly Raschein, Travis Cummings, Bobby Payne, Blaise Ingoglia, Toby Overdorf, and Ralph Massullo for their tireless efforts on spearheading the Clean Waterways Act, the Nature Coast Aquatic Preserve and expanding the Gulf Reef Fish Survey statewide.”

Kellie Ralston, the Southeast Fisheries Policy Director at the American Sportfishing Association, said the budget and bills will help maintain fishing’s impact on the state economy — current stats show the pastime supports more than 106,000 jobs and contributes more than $11.5 billion to the economy.

“We appreciate the Legislature’s leadership as well as Governor DeSantis, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection, and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on water quality, Everglades restoration, habitat restoration and conservation, and strong fisheries management for the state’s more than 4 million anglers who contribute more than $56.7 million for fisheries conservation,” Ralston said.

Brain Bus

$319,000 out of a $93 billion-plus budget may seem insignificant, but it means the world to the Alzheimer’s Association.

The 2020-21 spending plan sets aside that cash to fund the Alzheimer’s Association Brain Bus, a mobile outreach unit of the Alzheimer’s Association that provides helpful resources and information about Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia to Florida’s most vulnerable communities.

The bus’s odometer racks up plenty of miles, making 300 stops a year to promote brain health and dementia awareness. Rep. Scott Plakon was instrumental in making sure the bus got the funds to keep making the rounds.

The 2020-21 spending plan sets aside cash to fund the Alzheimer’s Association Brain Bus, a mobile outreach unit of the Alzheimer’s Association.

“I’m honored to again take part in securing funding for the Brain Bus in this year’s state budget,” he said. “This much-needed resource will be able to continue helping our rural and underserved communities.”

He issued a share the credit with fellow Rep. MaryLynn Magar and Sen. Aaron Bean, who chair the House and Senate health appropriations panels.

Senate Minority Leader Audrey Gibson was also a key supporter.

Alzheimer’s Association in Florida VP Michelle Branham added, “Here in Florida, the impacts of Alzheimer’s and dementia on our state continue to grow at an alarming rate. That’s why it is so crucial that we continue to raise awareness among all Floridians, and especially those who do not have easy access to care.

“We are so grateful for the dedicated efforts of Rep. Plakon and Sen. Gibson, who have proved time and again to be strong supporters of our mission to eliminate Alzheimer’s and all other dementia, and we look forward to the day when we can all finally say, ‘Mission accomplished.’”

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