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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Unintended consequences

Marsy’s Law is having some unintended consequences in two high-profile murders in the Tallahassee area.

Unintended consequences

Although the two Tallahassee women appear very different, 19-year-old Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau and 75-year-old Victoria Sims were actively engaged in the community.

Now, they are both tragically connected in death.

Salau, a Black Lives Matter activist, took part in peaceful marches in the capital city in the wake of the death of George Floyd. She was pictured in front of the Tallahassee Police Department headquarters as she recited the names of other Black people considered unjustly killed by police and others. She was last seen June 6; friends feared for her safety.

The tragic murder of Oluwatoyin “Toyin” Salau was compounded by Marcy’s Law requirements. Image via Tallahassee Democrat.

Sims was a retired Department of Elder Affairs employee and volunteer for the AARP and other local nonprofits. Her family reported her missing June 13, after finding Sims’ car had disappeared and her apartment burglarized.

Tracking Sims’ cellphone quickly led police to the home of 49-year old Aaron Glee Jr. They found her car, as well as her bound and bloodied body on a bed covered by a white blanket.

Salau’s body was discovered covered by leaves in the woods near the house.

In the early morning hours of the next day, police in Orlando booked Glee and charged him with felony murder and kidnapping. Police returned him to Tallahassee since.

But the TPD was slow to release details of the murders. It wasn’t until two days later that they officially identified the women. The Tallahassee Democrat identified Sims as a victim well before it was officially announced by police.

Since then, there has been no information released — including the times and manner of their deaths.

In recent years, TPD has been stingy in sharing information, citing Marsy’s Law as the reason not to identify crime victims and provide other details about crimes.

Last month, a brouhaha erupted when the TPD invoked the law to mask the identity of a police officer who killed murder suspect Tony McDade, saying the officer was the victim of an attack by the suspect.

The Police Benevolent Association filed suit against the City of Tallahassee, seeking to protect the officer’s identity. The First Amendment Foundation, Florida Press Association, and several large media organizations filed a motion to intervene in the lawsuit.

Although Florida already had robust victim’s rights laws in place, Marsy’s Law was enshrined in the state constitution in 2018 by nearly 62% of voters.

Florida’s Government in the Sunshine public records law is also in the constitution, setting up a conflict that the courts must settle, said FAF President Pamela Marsh.

“(Marsy’s Law) is being so inconsistently applied across the state by law enforcement departments,” she said. “We need guidance. It can’t have meant to be as broadly interpreted as some law enforcement departments or agencies are interpreting it.”

Marsh and her organization come down on the side of more disclosure.

“It’s kind of a truism in any relationship that when you withhold information that leads to distrust,” she said. “If you can’t get accurate information through a public records request, you’re going to get it from social media — and that’s not just journalists, it’s the average person. I think that’s sad that when we can’t get accurate information from government, then we’re going to rely on what’s on social media that may not be as accurate and as timely as we should be getting it.”

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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

The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Ron DeSantis won’t roll back reopening — The Governor said any return of a statewide lockdown will be unnecessary, despite a rise in recorded cases of COVID-19. That’s in part, he said, because many of those cases are in agriculture and correction facilities or attributable to an increase in testing. With the latter issue, it means many subclinical cases, including individuals who remain asymptomatic, increased the caseload but do not reflect a genuine increase in threat to vulnerable populations. “We’re not shutting down. We’re going to go forward,” DeSantis said. “We’re going to continue to protect the most vulnerable.”

Budget sent to Governor’s desk — After months of holding out because of the coronavirus pandemic, lawmakers handed DeSantis their $93.2 billion spending plan. The move happened a day after the Governor ominously warned line-item cuts will resemble the “veto equivalent of the Red Wedding from ‘Game of Thrones.’” He will look to cut between $500 million and $1 billion from the budget, and said financial concerns mean he will have to eliminate funding he included as priorities in his own proposed budget ahead of the Legislative Session — and the arrival of COVID-19 in Florida.

TaxWatch pushes $6 billion annual savings — The budget watchdog recommended budget cuts and government plans that could net the state $6 billion annually. That came after April’s revenue report showed an $878.1 million shortfall, mostly from sales tax receipt drops. While TaxWatch did not suggest a Special Session, there were policy recommendations including taking up e-fairness legislation so Florida collects tax for online commerce at the point of sale. The group suggested the state postpone $700 million in teacher and state employee salaries and bonuses until the new year or July 2021, but only as a last resort.

More bills signed into law — DeSantis signed a number of bills, including Jordan’s Law, to help state workers flag threats to a child’s life before a case turns traumatic. Another bill that became law establishes a dementia director within the Department of Elder Affairs. Another new statute makes it a crime for fertility clinics to inseminate patients with genetic material without patients’ knowledge. Meanwhile, bills boosting employability verification requirements, regulating organ transplant discrimination and increasing teacher pay awaits a decision from the Governor, as does a major licensing deregulation package.

Models again show virus growth in coming months — Two reputable models show a growth rate in new COVID-19 cases in Florida but drastically different projections for how the pandemic will be hitting the state by October. A model produced in association with the University of Washington shows the state could experience 54,000 daily infections and 438 daily deaths Oct. 1. An independently produced model puts the peak of new cases at 8,000 per day in mid-July and dropping below 5,000 by Oct. 1 and daily fatalities hitting 58 in early August and dropping to 43 by October.

Coronavirus Numbers

Positive cases:

— 87,643 FL residents (+18,302 since June 12)

— 1,630 Non-FL residents (+475 since June 12)

Origin:

— 2,335 Travel related

— 38,641 Contact with a confirmed case

— 2,261 Both

— 44,406 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 12,774 in FL

Deaths:

— 3,104 in FL

Unemployment numbers

As of Thursday:

Claims submitted: 2,569,154

— Confirmed unique claims: 2,373,193 (+126,525 since June 11)

— Claims processed: 2,178,978 (+192,932 since June 11)

— Claims paid: 1,448,420 (+148,520 since June 11)

Total paid out: $6.72 billion (+$1.4 billion since June 11)

— State money: $1,692,026,640

— Federal money: $5,028,534,944

Protecting seniors

Attorney General Ashley Moody issued a resolution this week recognizing June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day.

In 2006, the International Network for the Prevention of Elder Abuse launched the event to raise awareness of elder abuse and acknowledges that it’s both a public health and human rights issue.

Ashley Moody (shown here with AG William Barr) is recognizing June 15 as World Elder Abuse Awareness Day. Image via Twitter.

“Since being elected Attorney General, one of my top priorities has been protecting Florida’s seniors from fraud and abuse. With the highest population of 65 years or older per capita in the country, it is essential that we provide seniors with the safety and dignity to enjoy their golden years,” Moody said.

“That is the mission behind the Senior Protection Team I created soon after taking office. Sponsoring this resolution is another step in my commitment to doing everything within my power to protect older Floridians.”

That team has sleuthed several scams leading to arrests and prosecutions for crimes ranging from Medicaid fraud to financial exploitation of the elderly.

In addition to catching criminals, Moody’s team tracks scamming trends. The Senior Protection Team says nefarious robocalls, contractor fraud and impostor scams — where the fraudsters pose as a relative or government agent — are currently en vogue.

The Florida Department of Elder Affairs also recognized the day by hosting a virtual event to inform the public about types of elder abuse and how to prevent it.

“Florida’s elders should be treated with respect and dignity to enable them to continue to live vibrant lives and serve as leaders, mentors and volunteers,” FDEA Secretary Richard Prudom said. “They must remain important and active members of society without the threat of abuse, neglect and exploitation.”

Webinar speakers included DCF statewide training coordinator Heather Conley, FBI Special Agent Omar Perez Aybar and U.S. Postal Inspector Adel Valdes.

Premium payback

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis announced refunds this week totaling $27.6 million in workforce premiums to roughly 13,000 policyholders with the Florida Workers’ Compensation Joint Underwriting Association.

“Today’s announcement that over $27 million is going back to thousands of policyholders is a great example of how our businesses can benefit when government operates efficiently and is accountable to its customers,” Patronis said. “This is how the system is supposed to work. With COVID-19 and the corresponding government shutdowns impacting many Florida businesses’ bottom lines, we’re working at every level of state government to identify areas where we can help our employers reopen and get back to work.”

Jimmy Patronis touts millions in workers’ compensation insurance refunds. Image via CFO Office.

The Florida Legislature created the FWCJUA in 1993 as a self-funding plan to offer workers’ compensation and employer liability insurance to employers who are required by law to have such insurance but are unable to purchase insurance through the market.

The $26.7 million refund compliments an authorized a $6.4 million policyholder refund for the 2013 policy year. An additional $21.2 million refund was also awarded to certain policyholders for the years 2001 to 2007 and 2012.

The FWCJUA is supervised by a nine-member Board of Governors, eight of whom are appointed by the Financial Services Commission. The ninth member is appointed by Patronis and serves as the Insurance Consumer Advocate.

Instagram of the Week

The Week in Appointments

10th Judicial Circuit — DeSantis appointed Heather Beato to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Bruce Smith. Beato, of Sebring, has worked as an assistant state attorney in the 10th Judicial Circuit since 2002. She is an alumna of the College of William and Mary and the Florida State University College of Law.

19th Judicial Circuit Brett Waronicki, of Stuart, was appointed to replace Judge Barbara Bronis in the 19th Judicial Circuit. Waronicki has been a Partner and Shareholder for Wiederhold, Kummerlen, and Waronicki, P.A. since 2011. He previously served as an assistant public defender in the circuit. He is an alumnus of the University of Florida and the West Virginia University College of Law.

Duval County Court London Kite is replacing Judge Anthony Salem on the Duval County Court. Kite has worked as an assistant state attorney for the 4th Judicial Circuit since 2003 and has also worked as an adjunct professor at the Florida Coastal School of Law for the past 10 years. She is an alumna of the University of South Florida and the UF College of Law.

Orange County Court — DeSantis appointed Orlando attorneys Andrew Bain and Elizabeth Gibson to the Orange County Court. Bain is a graduate of the University of Miami and the Florida A&M University College of Law who has worked as an assistant state attorney in the 9th Judicial Circuit since 2013. He replaces retiring Judge Nancy Clark. Gibson is a graduate of the University of Maryland and the UF College of Law. She has been a general counsel for Christian Care Ministry since 2019 and previously worked as an assistant state attorney in the 5th Judicial Circuit. She replaces retiring Judge Maureen Bell.

Presidential appointment

Florida Public Service Commissioner Julie Brown was appointed this week to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners Presidential Task Force on Emergency Preparedness, Recovery and Resiliency.

NARUC represents a collection of State Public Service Commissioners who are generally tasked with regulating essential utility services such as gas, water, and electricity.

PSC member Julie Brown gets a new federal gig.

“I’m extremely grateful for the opportunity to help lead NARUC’s efforts in responding to existing and emerging issues and opportunities associated with emergency preparedness, recovery and resiliency,” Brown said. “I look forward to addressing how we manage our response to COVID-19 and what tools we can develop to use in our response to future emergencies affecting utilities and their customers.”

Brown was reappointed for a third term on the PSC beginning January 2, 2019.

Before her role as Commissioner, Brown worked as Associate Legal Counsel of First American Corporation, where she handled myriad legal issues including corporate compliance with regulatory authorities for the Fortune 500 company.

Her experience also includes time as a corporate attorney at Shumaker, Loop and Kendrick, LLP in Tampa.

Brown holds a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and a juries doctorate from the University of Florida Levin College of Law.

Reproductive battery bill signed

DeSantis signed a bill this week making it illegal for a doctor to inseminate a patient without her knowledge.

In addition to criminalizing “reproductive battery,” the law (SB 698) puts increased regulations on fertility clinics and aims to prevent unwanted pelvic exams.

With the advent of in vitro fertilization and now with easily accessible genetics tests, some people are learning they have unexpected half-siblings.

Lauren Book scores a win when Ron DeSantis signs her forced insemination bill. Image via Colin Hackley.

Plantation Democratic Sen. Lauren Book fronted the effort after reports of fertility doctors using their own sperm to inseminate women who thought they were receiving sperm from a donor.

When the bill goes into effect July 1, it will be a third-degree felony to inseminate a woman with genetic material she did not consent to. If that material belongs to the doctor himself, the offense becomes a second-degree felony.

Book and her husband used IVF to help conceive.

“We put our whole lives, a small fortune, and complete faith and trust into the hands of a physician,” Book said.

“On my IVF journey, I learned that there are many, many good infertility doctors who do the right thing and work to do the best thing by their patients,” she added. “But since that time, I’ve come to learn about many others who have fallen prey to careless and even intentional harm inflicted in a largely unregulated industry.”

Begin transmission

The Florida Public Service Commission approved Orlando Utilities Commission’s need for a proposed Orlando/St. Cloud Regional Resiliency Connection transmission line during a Thursday meeting.

The 230 kV line will connect OUC’s Magnolia Ranch North Substation in Orange County to its St. Cloud East substation in neighboring Osceola County.

“The PSC determined that this project will support growth in demand for electric service in the St. Cloud and southeastern Orlando area and reinforce the reliability of OUC’s existing electric system, which serves the Orlando metropolitan area,” said PSC Chair Gary Clark. “It will also support future development of renewable energy resources.”

PSC Commissioner Gary Clark says a new power transmission line will ‘support growth in demand for electric service in the St. Cloud and southeastern Orlando area.’

State law directs the PSC, which regulates utility companies in the state, to hold hearings on a petition for determination of need for jurisdictional transmission lines. The Thursday meeting concluded the need determination process for OUC’s petition.

The Orlando Utilities Commission is a municipally-owned public utility providing water and electric service to residents and businesses of Orlando and portions of adjacent unincorporated areas of Orange County, as well as St. Cloud in Osceola County.

Anti-Semitism

After anti-Semitic comments made online by the new Florida State University Student Senate president came to light last week, Rep. Mike Caruso issued a statement denouncing anti-Semitism and calling for the Senate President’s possible removal.

“As private citizens in the United States, we are blessed with free speech, however, it is imperative that leaders at any level are held to a higher standard,” Caruso said.

The Representative pointed to the university’s motto, “Vires, Artes, Mores,” or “Strength, Skill, and Character.”

FSU Student Government President Ahmad Daraldik is being accused of anti-Semitism, which forced FSU President John Thrasher to respond.

“A strong sense of character demands awareness of what you say along with wisdom in what you believe and how you see others,” he said, adding that it also leaves room for self-improvement.

If the Student Senate finds no tangible evidence that its new leader has changed, Caruso suggested the body impeach him.

“Simply staying silent on past issues of character does not represent absolution or a change of ways,” he added. “Action does.”

Ahmad Daraldik became the school’s SGA president two weeks ago after his predecessor was removed over transphobic comments. However, Daraldik survived the no-confidence vote against himself.

School President John Thrasher also denounced discrimination this week and voiced support for Jewish students and families.

“I want every single person at Florida State University to be proud of the diverse environment we offer and, when they are not, to speak up and be engaged in the solution,” he said. “Let’s work together to help each other advance the university we love and to ensure all students feel a part of Florida State.”

Tool time

U.S. Attorney Lawrence Keefe encouraged residents in the North District of Florida this week to make use of a new Department of Justice online reporting tool for potential civil rights violations.

“Until now, there have been more than 30 different pathways for citizens to report suspected civil rights violations, and this new tool will ease the burden on victims to identify the proper reporting channel,” said U.S. Attorney Keefe, who oversees activities in the 23 counties of the Northern District of Florida.

U.S. Attorney Larry Keefe has a new tool in the fight against civil rights abuses.

“The Department of Justice is committed to upholding the civil rights of every person and making it easier for the public to report suspected violations will in turn make it easier for us to pursue cases.”

The Civil Rights Reporting Portal was unveiled this week by the DOJ and is currently available in English and Spanish. More languages will be added to the portal over the next year.

The app was created, in part, to make it easier for Americans to report potential civil liberty violations.

The DOJ has an entire division within its ranks devoted to defending civil rights and pursuing violations. The department also has the ability to refer complaints to other agencies for specific types of civil liberty complaints.

Angler app

Need a refresher on saltwater fishing rules? There’s an app for that.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission announced this week that it’s partnered with Fish Rules App to educate anglers on the do’s and don’ts of the sport.

“FWC staff and law enforcement have been using this tool for years now due to its excellence in keeping Florida anglers up to date on the latest in saltwater fishing regulations,” said Jessica McCawley, FWC’s Director for the Division of Marine Fisheries Management. “We are thrilled to be able to now support and promote this amazing app to Florida saltwater anglers and expand it to our freshwater anglers, too.”

The app is more than a digital rule book — with location services turned on, the app will automatically update to show the specific regulations for the area a user is in.

“Partnering with FWC means we can more easily communicate fishery regulations with anglers,” app co-creator Albrey Arrington said. “This partnership increases anglers’ confidence when they are on the water that they have a reliable guide to fishing regulations.”

The Fish Rules App gives saltwater angles a heads up on the do’s and don’ts in specific areas.

Another feature: Fish identification. App users can swipe left or right on pictures of fish to see more pictures and clues on how to identify a fish. Fish can also be sorted by name or by picture.

There’s more to come, too. FWC said a new freshwater version of the app is in development and on track for release later this summer.

“We thank Fish Rules app for expanding to make a freshwater version. Our partnership with Fish Rules will strengthen the communication of fishing regulations with our anglers,” said Jon Fury, FWC’s Director for the Division of Freshwater Fisheries Management. “We look forward to sharing the new version of Fish Rules app with our 1.4 million anglers and encourage them to use the app whenever they are fishing one of Florida’s extraordinary waterbodies.”

The app is available for iOS and Android devices. More information is available at FishRulesApp.com.

Drive safe!

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is launching its Safe Summer Travel Campaign to remind drivers to plan ahead and prepare for safe travel this summer.

With residents and visitors starting to reemerge as the economy reopens, FLHSMV and its Florida Highway Patrol division are teaming up with the Florida Department of Transportation, Florida Department of Children and Families, Florida Police Chiefs Association, Florida Sheriffs Association and AAA — The Auto Club Group to help ensure all travelers “Arrive Alive.

This summer, be sure to check your tires, obey all posted speed limits and never leave children and pets unattended in a motor vehicle.

“This summer, your safety is of utmost importance. Take time to make sure your vehicle is travel-ready before your trip, and remember, no matter how eager you are to get to your destination, speeding and driving aggressively is against the law and extremely dangerous,” FLHSMV Executive Director Terry Rhodes said. “Whether it’s a day trip or a long-overdue road trip, remember to slow down, stay cool and be safe.”

Stay cool applies both literally and figuratively.

FLHSMV stressed that parents shouldn’t leave children in the car unattended as it can get dangerously hot within minutes. Aside from the summer heat, staying cool also applies to motorist’s temperament when they’re behind the wheel — FLHSMV emphasized that aggressive driving increases the probability and severity of a crash.

“As summer arrives, FHP Troopers remain committed to public safety,” Florida Highway Patrol Colonel Gene Spaulding said. “Your family is precious cargo, so please ensure your vehicle is well maintained and you allow sufficient time to arrive at your destination safely.”

If the safety risk isn’t enough, there’s also a significant chance of getting a ticket. In June and July of last year, FLHSMV wrote 120,336 of them.

‘Change is gonna come’

After being sidelined by COVID-19, the Florida School Boards Association held a virtual General Membership Meeting this week and swore-in the 2020- 2021 leadership slate.

Those virtually sworn included President Jane Goodwin of Sarasota, President-Elect Chris Patricca of Lee, Vice President Thomas Kennedy of Citrus, Treasurer Wendy Atkinson of Charlotte and Immediate Past President Tim Weisheyer of Osceola.

“I hope that in the future, we’ll all have brighter days, but we don’t know what next year will bring,” said Goodwin. “We hope that communities will rally around public education. I know that our teachers are valued more today by parents who have done distance learning for 12 weeks, more than ever before.”

The Florida School Boards Association held a virtual Membership Meeting, swearing-in the 2020- 2021 leadership slate.

Goodwin continued by quoting Otis Redding.

“I believe that change is gonna come’, and I am committed to making sure that change is going to come. So, my question to you is, are you committed to working with me?”

FSBA Executive Director Andrea Messina spoke highly of Goodwin and her background.

“Jane has been an active and engaged member of FSBA for many years; she will be a valuable asset this year,” Messina said after the meeting. “We are looking forward to enlisting her talents and benefiting from her professional, volunteer, and school board experience.”

The FSBA provides leadership development opportunities and is a network for school board members to further their mission.

Preserve the wins

The Florida Policy Institute joined the ranks of 35 organizations this week to urge DeSantis to preserve several state budget priorities amid looming cuts.

“The Governor must protect crucial programs and services, or else we will see existing racial and economic disparities exacerbated in Florida,” said FPI CEO Sadaf Knight. “This can be achieved in a number of ways that would help sustain our state budget and also make Florida stronger in the long run.”

Together, the groups are calling on DeSantis to “pursue every available avenue” before axing this Session’s accomplishments.

The letter specifically called for DeSantis to lobby President Donald Trump and Florida’s Congressional Delegations for federal aid and more flexibility with the CARES Act.

Presently, the Treasury has decided that CARES Act funds cannot be used to mitigate state budget shortfalls, the group said.

The letter also called for “common-sense measures” to raise state revenue such as an online sales tax and an increase.

The letter additionally suggested an increase and extension of the Federal Medical Assistance Percentage for Medicaid.

DeSantis said Wednesday he will take a heavy-handed approach to manage the state’s revenue shortfalls.

“It’s kind of the veto equivalent of the Red Wedding from ‘Game of Thrones,” DeSantis said.

Changing college plans

A staggering 42% of Floridians enrolled in college or post-secondary training programs say they have taken time off, transferred schools or otherwise changed their college plans.

That’s according to a survey released this month by Florida College Access Network. Additionally, more than a quarter of parents of high school graduates said their children were postponing enrollment or changing to a more affordable school or one closer to home.

“These findings are troubling because education is the key to getting Floridians back to work in well-paying, in-demand jobs,” FCAN executive director Laurie Meggesin said. “If Floridians are having to put off education, it will be harder for our economy to recover.”

FCAN’s Laurie Meggesin is noticing a disturbing trend in college enrollment, thanks to COVID-19.

Of all people surveyed, 58% said they had suffered job loss, reduced hours or pay cuts. And 35% said they would need additional education or training to find work with the same wages or income.

Floridians with a high school degree or less report the highest combined rates of job loss, pay cuts or reduced work hours due to COVID-19.

“As our policymakers and business community grapple with the economic fallout of COVID-19, it’s critical that they help Floridians access the education and training they need — now more than ever,” Meggesin said.

Leading lady

Film Florida named Commissioner Gail Morgan as the organization’s new president this week at the Film Florida annual meeting.

“It is an honor to serve as President of Film Florida. The organization continues to grow and I’m proud of our accomplishments in recent years,” Morgan said.

“I look forward to working side by side with industry professionals as we seek opportunities to strengthen the film, television and digital media production industry. Our state faces unique challenges right now. Our industry can be an important piece in Florida’s economic recovery, and we look forward to doing so as we compete for high wage jobs in the film, television and digital media production industry.”

Morgan has served as the Commissioner of the Destin — Fort Walton Beach Film Commission for 10 years. Before becoming a Commissioner, she worked for more than 20 years as a producer and production manager.

Morgan will take the helm with the blessing of Immediate Past President Bonnie King.

“It has been a privilege to serve Film Florida and our entire Florida entertainment production community over the past three years,” King said. “I enthusiastically support Gail Morgan and believe that her vision, enthusiasm, and tenacity will continue to show the far-reaching benefits our industry has on the state of Florida including creating jobs, spurring economic development and enhancing tourism.”

To watch a recent interview with Morgan and Film Florida Executive Director John Lux, click on the image below:

Corona Directions

 

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