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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Virtual veterans

Veterans’ talents are coming in handy during the coronavirus crisis.

Virtual veterans

As anyone who has spent time in the military or known a veteran will tell you, one of the key skills they have gained in their service is an ability to assess a situation and to make the decision to change when necessary.

Calling on those talents amid the disruption caused by the coronavirus crisis, Veterans Florida has opted to take its annual expo — originally scheduled as a daylong session in Orlando — online.

The 2020 Veterans Florida Expo will be livestreamed June 18 from noon to 4 p.m. on the Veterans Florida YouTube channel.

“Like the veterans we serve, we have to be resilient and adapt to new circumstances. Holding a Virtual Expo is the best way to connect veterans and their families with career opportunities, showcase veteran entrepreneurs, bring top-notch speakers, and tout everything that makes Florida the nation’s most veteran-friendly state,” said Veterans Florida Executive Director Joe Marino. “We’re excited to reach veterans around the country who wouldn’t be able to attend an in-person event.”

Black Hawk Down veteran Matt Eversmann and Air Force veteran and award-winning entrepreneur Charlynda Scales will deliver keynote addresses on leading and succeeding in chaotic situations.

Air Force veteran and entrepreneur Charlynda Scales joins Black Hawk Down veteran Matt Eversmann ad featured guests of the Veterans Florida Expo 2020.

One of the day’s highlights will be a “Shark Tank”-like competition where participants in the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program will vie for bragging rights and funding in the “Battle of the Pitches.”

Veterans Florida partners with colleges, universities and other nonprofits to equip veteran entrepreneurs with tools to start and grow a business. These groups hold their own pitch competitions and the winners move on to the statewide contest.

“Top veteran entrepreneurs in our entrepreneurship program compete as they apply the skills they’ve acquired,” Marino explained. “There’s no limit to what a veteran can accomplish when they combine their drive to succeed with the resources Florida provides.”

In addition, career seekers will be able to hear directly from veteran-friendly employers, submit resumes, and watch panel discussions on topics like the new job search and opportunities in Florida’s high-growth economy with industries that want to hire veterans.

State agency representatives will introduce ways to access additional benefits unique to Florida such as professional licensing waivers, low taxes and government contract procurement.

Veterans Florida is a Tallahassee-based nonprofit created by the State of Florida to help veterans transition to civilian life and provide tools to take advantage of the benefits of living and working in the Sunshine State.

The virtual expo is free to veterans, separating or retiring service members, entrepreneurs, and their spouses. To register for the livestream event, visit veteransfloridaexpo.org.

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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, Jason Delgado and the staff of Florida Politics.

Take 5

Here’s the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Governor activates Guard, supports military use — Gov. Ron DeSantis activated the Florida National Guard in response to protests that engulfed the nation. Hundreds were dispatched around Florida at local government leaders’ request. The Governor also made clear that President Donald Trump, despite pushback from Defense Secretary Mark Esper, is within his rights to dispatch U.S. military trips to maintain order in U.S. cities. “Having respect for the rule of law and order in society is just a fundamental thing that has to be respected,” he told Fox News. “The federal government has the ability to come in and maintain order.”

Florida enters Phase Two reopening — DeSantis also announced from Universal Orlando that Florida could enter the next phase of reopening business this week. As of today, bars and movie theaters could reopen at 50% capacity. For casinos, specific reopening plans must be submitted and approved by local government jurisdictions and the state Department of Business and Professional Regulation, similar to what’s expected of theme parks. Other newly opening businesses include tattoo parlors, acupuncture businesses, tanning salons and massage parlors, all of which must abide by the Department of Health guidance. Gyms can now operate at full capacity. The limit for mass gatherings also rose from 10 people to 50 people or less.

U.S. Unemployment drops, Florida claims rise — While economists braced for national job losses to increase, a May report actually showed the U.S. Unemployment Rate decline from 14.7% last month to 13.3% now. About 2.5 million jobs were added nationwide. The surprise economic news shows businesses may be restoring jobs at a much faster rate than originally anticipated. But new report came a day after a U.S. Labor report showed 206,494 Floridians reporting job losses this week, up 18% from the week before. Florida’s ten-week total during the coronavirus economic collapse is now about 2.5 million since the week ending March 21. The state Department of Economic Opportunity received 2.3 million claims through Tuesday.

Courts shoots down assault weapons ban — The Florida Supreme Court ruled a proposed constitutional amendment proposed by Ban Assault Weapons NOW is not ready for the ballot. Attorney General Ashley Moody, the National Rifle Association and the National Shooting Sports Foundation opposed the measure. But a number of gun control advocates including survivors and family from the 2016 Pulse shooting and 2018 Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting had supported the effort. The court ruling focused on ballot summary language that said the initiative “exempts and requires registration of assault weapons lawfully possessed prior to this provision’s effective date.” Supporters couldn’t collect enough signatures to make the 2020 ballot but sought court approval on language ahead of the 2022 election.

Florida universities reveal opening details — The state’s 12 public universities continued to flesh out details regarding housing, academics, health protocols and athletics. Florida State University, for example, will not assign triple or quadruple dorm rooms during the fall semester. Students will be expected to wear face masks when gathering in lobbies, lounges and other public spaces. University of Florida officials announced they will start the fall semester a week late and may be given the option to finish the semester at home after the Thanksgiving break. Universities are preparing detailed plans that will be presented June 23 to the Board of Governors.

Coronavirus numbers

Positive cases:

— 59,993 FL residents (+6,879 since May 29)

— 1,495 Non-FL residents (+112 since May 29)

Origin:

— 2,162 Travel related

— 28,375 Contact with a confirmed case

— 2,079 Both

— 27,377 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 10,794 in FL

Deaths:

— 2,660 in FL

Unemployment numbers

As of June 4:

Claims submitted: 2,326,412

— Confirmed unique claims: 2,135,541 (+159,166 since May 28)

— Claims processed: 1,889,814 (+258,937 since May 28)

— Claims paid: 1,213,704 (+160,394 since May 28)

Total paid out: $4.4 billion 4,400,270,211 (+$670 million since May 28)

— State money: $1,287,992,813

— Federal money: $3,112,277,398

Bills to sign

DeSantis received an additional 21 bills this week for him to sign as the Legislature slowly releases the flow of bills held up during the coronavirus response.

The headliner of the bunch is Sen. Lauren Book‘s bill for increased fertility clinic oversight, SB 698. Filed in response to reports of fertility doctors using their own sperm to inseminate women who thought they were receiving sperm from a donor, the bill criminalizes the insemination of a woman with a person’s genetic material without her knowledge. The effort was passed unanimously by both houses.

Ron DeSantis needs to get his pen ready again; another stack of bills hits his desk.

Another effort, SB 994 by Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, would help protect seniors on life support whose guardians may be too ready to pull the plug. Among the proposed changes, guardians will be prohibited from signing “do not resuscitate” orders on behalf of wards without court permission.

SB 1082 would let courts pull custody of pets during a restraining order in domestic violence cases. Research shows pets are left behind about 60% of the time when people flee domestic violence, and the ASPCA hopes the legislation would prevent animal abuse.

SB 7012 would amp up suicide prevention efforts on the state level, including doubling efforts on first-episode psychosis programs and making sure coverage gaps are addressed.

And HB 835 would create a new state-level position within the Department of Elder Affairs aimed at combating Alzheimer’s disease in Florida is headed to the Senate.

DeSantis has until June 18 to act on those and other bills presented to him this week. He has until Wednesday to act on another round of 25 bills.

Crank call crackdown

Attorney General Moody, as part of the Attorneys General Robocall Technologies Working Group, sent a letter to the Federal Communications Commission urging them to help state attorneys general and telecom companies coordinate in tracing illegal robocalls.

“Floridians have been plagued with robocalls for years. I am urging the Federal Communications Commission to work together with state attorneys general and telecom companies in an effort to catch illegal robocalls at the source. This collaboration is essential to helping law enforcement carry out robocall investigations more swiftly and efficiently,” Moody said.

Ashley Moody is cracking down on illegal robocalls.

Under the TRACED Act, which became law in December 2019, the FCC will select a single registered association to manage the work of tracing back illegal robocalls. Because a call can pass through the networks of many telecom companies before reaching its final destination, tracing that call — which is key to enforcing laws against illegal robocallers — requires collaboration among telecom companies and state attorneys general.

In their comments, the attorneys general note that traceback investigations are necessary for law enforcement to more efficiently identify and investigate illegal robocallers and expose voice service providers that assist and facilitate illegal robocallers.

Moody and the coalition have been active in engaging telecom companies to do their part as well. Last year, state attorneys general asked wireless providers to offer free call blocking, monitor network traffic, investigate suspicious calls, require traceback cooperation and, most importantly, to tell state attorneys general about recognized scams and trends in illegal robocalling.

Major carriers including AT&T, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Consolidated, Frontier, Sprint, T-Mobile, US Cellular, Verizon and Windstream agreed to pitch in on the robocall eradication effort.

‘Major victory’

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis declared victory for Floridians this week after a court upheld a law that required life-insurance companies to determine whether policyholders have died and inform beneficiaries of the benefits owed to them.

“This ruling is a major victory for Florida consumers,” Patronis said. “Requiring insurance companies to conduct yearly checks of master death records and notify beneficiaries of funds owed to them could put millions of dollars back into the pockets of Floridians. Special thank you to my friend and former CFO Jeff Atwater for spearheading this important initiative and helping to ensure consumers come first.”

Jimmy Patronis scores a major win for Floridians.

The 1st District Court of Appeals also stipulated that if a life insurance company cannot notify or pay a beneficiary, the funds must be reported to and received by the state as unclaimed property.

“Over the past two decades, the insurance industry’s selective use of the DMF spawned numerous investigations and reports, litigation by state attorneys general, insurer settlements over disputed practices, and ultimately nationwide reforms,” the FDCA said in a statement.

“The controversy arose because insurers were routinely using the DMF to identify and stop paying annuities to deceased annuity holders, but they were not using it to identify deceased insurance policyholders, resulting in an asymmetric practice that benefited insurers and disadvantaged consumers of life insurance.”

Read the fine print

Patronis offered several financial preparedness tips this week to help Floridians better brace for this year’s hurricane season.

“As our communities continue to face the impacts of COVID-19, we must remember severe weather and hurricanes do not care that we’re responding to a pandemic,” Patronis said.

“If you haven’t already, conduct a disaster preparedness checkup and make sure you are prepared by checking your homeowner’s insurance policy to ensure you are adequately covered. Now is the time to make sure your home and family are protected. Do not wait until a storm is approaching, it may be too late.”

Jimmy Patronis wants Florida residents to get their financial affairs in order before the next storm hits.

Patronis urged Floridians to secure flood insurance coverage ahead of the storm, particularly if you live in a flood-prone area. He also warned that standard homeowner’s insurance policies don’t cover flood damage.

Additionally, Patronis advises that Floridians ensure that their insurance coverage adequately protects their home and valuables.

Not least, Patronis recommended that Floridians not wait until the last moment to seek flood or property insurance as most policies take 30 days to go into effect.

More hurricane financial preparedness tips can be found online or by calling the Insurance Consumer Helpline at 1-877-693-5236.

Instagram of the Week

The week in appointments

Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit — DeSantis appointed Leon County Judge Layne Smith to the 2nd Judicial Circuit to fill the vacancy created by James Hankinson’s retirement. The 2nd Judicial Circuit includes Franklin, Gadsden, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty and Wakulla counties.

Read it twice

Monday marked the start of the Atlantic Hurricane Season and the Florida Office of Insurance and Regulation is urging Floridians to take a second look at their insurance policies and coverage.

“I urge all Floridians to review their insurance policy now and be prepared this hurricane season,” said Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier. “It’s also important to know that most homeowners’ insurance policies do not include flood coverage. Consumers should reach out now to their agent or insurer to make sure they have the coverage they need.”

Altmaier also urged insurers to rethink the way they do business given the complications of COVID-19.

David Altmaier is urging insurers to think about how COVID-19 will affect Floridians during hurricane season.

“My office has been actively planning for the 2020 Hurricane Season,” Altmaier added. “As we consider social distancing and other important safety measures in response to COVID-19, we are encouraging insurers to identify new ways of doing business, such as deploying virtual claims handling, to protect consumers. It will always be my expectation that insurers clearly communicate with policyholders and provide prompt, efficient, and fair claims adjustment service.”

The Office of Insurance Regulations suggests that residents should create a home inventory of valuables, keep important documents on hand and consider flood insurance which is typically not covered in a homeowners’ insurance policy.

For additional information throughout the hurricane season, visit OIR’s Hurricane Season Resources webpage.

Tele-trade shows

Enterprise Florida launched a new program aimed at developing new international export opportunities for Florida businesses.

On the heels of its Virtual Business Matchmaking program, announced last week, the public-private partnership is rolling out the Virtual Trade Show Grants Program.

The program comes as traditional business-to-business networking opportunities, including international trade shows, have fallen victim to the global coronavirus pandemic.

Enterprise Florida president Jamal Sowell introduces a new virtual trade show program to boost international exports form Florida businesses.

Just as video conferencing has subbed in for office work, virtual trade shows are, for the time being, replacing big booths on convention center floors.

In many cases, participating companies can select a predesigned or custom exhibit booth in a 3D virtual format, upload digital marketing and promotional materials, and connect with trade show visitors through web-based applications.

“The Virtual Trade Show Grants provide another opportunity to assist Florida companies as they reopen and begin to operate in this new normal,” said EFI President & CEO Jamal Sowell. “As more and more international trade shows switch to an online platform, Florida companies can continue to make global connections and grow their businesses here at home.”

Through the Virtual Trade Show Grants Program, Florida companies can select trade shows in markets of interest and apply to receive a reimbursable trade grant to cover the cost of the event, up to $2,500.

More information on the program, including application instructions, can be found on EFI’s Virtual Trade Show Grants Program website.

Democrats back protesters

Incoming House Democratic co-leaders Bobby DuBose and Evan Jenne voiced their support for protesters calling for action against police brutality in the wake of George Floyd’s death.

They voiced their support for the marches and protests, and both leaders pledged that their caucus will work with local officials to enact changes and develop legislative solutions to systemic police brutality.

Reps. Evan Jenne and Bobby DuBose support protesters who call for an end to police brutality.

“We are beyond sick and tired of seeing black people being killed by government agents without consequence,” DuBose, of Fort Lauderdale, said. “We have been begging America to see that there’s a problem.”

Demonstrations across the country erupted over the week and a half since Floyd’s death, some turning violent. Protests across Florida have remained mostly peaceful.

“We have two Floridas: one where people understandably live in fear of law enforcement officers, and one where people implicitly trust and rely on them for safety,” Jenne, of Hollywood, said. “If you, like me, are privileged enough to live in the second reality, you owe it to your neighbors to listen and learn.”

DuBose shared that parents have taught their black children how to not be targeted, assaulted or killed by the police for generations.

“I’m a father and I do not want my kids, or any kids, to grow up in fear of the very officers that should be protecting them,” he said.

Jenne said societies built on fear and antagonism between law enforcement and the community are broken.

“There are good officers in our communities, but there are also abusers of power that have irreparably harmed those they swore to protect,” he said. “The system doesn’t seem to do enough to empower the good and punish the evil.”

I-10 checkpoint

The state is deactivating a highway checkpoint at the Alabama border on Interstate 10 erected more than two months ago to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Florida.

Lifting the checkpoint coincides with the start of Phase Two of the state’s reopening process, which began Friday just after midnight.

The state is ending its I-10 COVID-19 checkpoint at the Alabama border. Image via News4Jax.

Phase Two extended the limitations on people entering Florida after leaving the New York area but let lapse the order that added Louisiana to the restriction. The lapsed order also allowed the Florida Highway Patrol and local authorities to establish screening checkpoints under the direction of the Department of Transportation.

While the I-10 checkpoint is dissolved, the highway checkpoint along Interstate 95 will continue until further notice.

When he announced the order establishing highway checkpoints in late March, DeSantis said the plan would limit the spread of COVID-19 along the Gulf Coast. That order came at the request of leaders in the Panhandle.

“There’s a fear that as New Orleans becomes more of a hot spot that you could have an influx of people into the Florida Panhandle from Louisiana,” DeSantis said at the time.

As of Thursday, 41,562 people have been diagnosed with the virus in Louisiana, including about 20,000 in the New Orleans area alone and 2,772 Louisianans who died. But the number of daily new cases in the state has plateaued around a few hundred after the state saw thousands of new cases some days in early April.

In Florida, 61,488 people have tested positive while 2,660 Floridians have died as newly reported cases began rising again this week.

FDOT is encouraging those driving past the closing checkpoint to drive safely as crews work to dismantle it.

Invaders from the deep

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s “Lionfish Challenge” is back.

The annual event, which began Tuesday and will run through Labor Day, tasks competitors with rounding up and removing as many lionfish from Florida waters as possible.

Solo competitors must register to be eligible for prizes, which will be announced each month after a raffle. Last year, prizes ranged from top-tier angling gear to cold hard cash.

It’s that time again: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s ‘Lionfish Challenge.’ Image via Facebook.

The competition also has a commercial category — everyone with an active Saltwater Products License and lionfish sales within the last year will automatically be included in the commercial category. The recreational category is open to all divers who do not have an SPL.

Lionfish are native to the Pacific, but the venomous saltwater fish has been abundant in Florida waters ever since the mid-1990s when Hurricane Andrew flung a handful of very prolific aquarium specimens into the ocean. The invasive species has quickly multiplied over the past few decades to the detriment of Florida’s native fishes.

In recent years, FWC has turned to the public to help them keep the invaders at bay. Last year, competitors snagged 23,451 lionfish. The top prize winner caught a whopping 1,194 lionfish.

To qualify for the Challenge, harvesters must collect 20 lionfish (recreational) or 20 pounds of lionfish (commercial). Once those initial lionfish have been submitted, the participant will receive a commemorative 2020 Lionfish Challenge Coin and Dri-Fit long-sleeve T-shirt.

Nominate a veteran

The Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame Council announced they will begin accepting nominations this week for the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame Class of 2020.

Anyone is permitted to nominate a veteran for the class of 2020 and nominations will remain open until June 30.

Nominations are based upon selection criteria that evaluate a nominee’s significant contributions to the Sunshine State through civic, business, public service, or other areas. Posthumous recommendations are also welcome.

Preference is given to veterans who were born in Florida or have adopted Florida as their home state.

The Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame Council looks for nominees for the Florida Veterans Hall of Fame Class of 2020.

The Florida Legislature established the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame to honor and recognize veterans for their post-military service to the state.

The Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame Council is a seven-member advisory panel tasked with accepting nominations to be considered for induction.

Once the council makes its determinations, the council forward the list of recommended nominees to the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs who shares the list to the Governor and Cabinet for final determination.

Those who wish to nominate a veteran can download the nomination packet online.

More information and a list of frequently asked questions on the Florida Veteran’s Hall of fame can be found on their website.

Backup on the way

U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe announced a wave of grants heading to law enforcement agencies within the Northern District of Florida.

The round totals $500,000 and includes five recipients. The Gainesville Police Department’s grant was the largest at $213,171, followed by $130,054 for the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, $81,254 for the Pensacola Police Department, $52,441 for the Santa Rosa County Sheriff’s Office and $41,132 for the Taylor County Sheriff’s Office.

The funding comes from a pot of money included in the federal Coronavirus Emergency Supplemental Funding program and is aimed at helping law enforcement respond to the public safety challenges posed by the outbreak of COVID-19.

Larry Keefe says a wave of grant money is coming to the Northern District of Florida. Image via the Tallahassee Democrat.

“Throughout the many weeks our district and the nation have been dealing with the threat of COVID-19, our public safety first responders have worked tirelessly to make sure members of the public are safe,” Keefe said. “The resources of local agencies have been stretched thin, and these grant funds will help ease the financial burden on public safety agencies so they can continue protecting and serving our citizens.”

The law enforcement agencies announced this week join Bay County, Leon County, Madison County, and Walton County, which were awarded a combined $240,000 in Department of Justice grants last month.

The awards are among $1.3 million directed to 14 Florida counties and cities under the program, which also provided $31.8 million to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement for use statewide.

“The outbreak of COVID-19 and the public health emergency it created are sobering reminders that even the most routine duties performed by our nation’s public safety officials carry potentially grave risks,” said Katharine T. Sullivan, principal deputy assistant Attorney General for the Office of Justice Programs.

“These funds will provide hard-hit communities with critical resources to help mitigate the impact of this crisis and give added protection to the brave professionals charged with keeping citizens safe.”

Patent powerhouse

Florida State University earned the distinction this week of being among the Top 50 universities in the world for producing patented technologies, according to a new report by the National Academy of Inventors and the Intellectual Property Owners Association.

“We are pleased to see the hard work of our inventors reflected in this annual report,” said Vice President for Research Gary K. Ostrander. “Our researchers work daily to break new ground in a variety of fields — health and medicine, materials science, education — and this is one metric that shows the success of our faculty in developing new technologies.”

FSU VP for Research Gary Ostrander touts the hard work of inventors, which made the university place in the Top 50 for producing patented technologies.

The Tallahassee based university earned the global rank of 43rd for patent production by producing 60 patents in 2019. The previous year, Florida State ranked 60th in the world.

The NAI and IPO have annually ranked the top 100 universities on granted utility patents by the U.S. Patent and Trademark Offices since 2014.

Other ranked Florida Schools include the University of South Florida, Florida International University and the University of Central Florida.

The four ranked Florida schools all finished within the top 65 of 100 for granted U.S. utility patents.

A full list of the top 100 ranked universities can be found online.

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