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Takeaways from Tallahassee — A furry win

With a new law signed by Ron DeSantis, furry friends earned a win.

A furry win

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a handful of priorities into law this week, mainly on education, but furry friends earned a win too.

As Florida turns the page on the fourth month of the COVID-19 pandemic, people need emotional support animals now more than ever. With changes made to the state’s service animal law, landlords will no longer be able to charge fees for any emotional support animal, trained or not.

Emotional support animals aren’t limited to dogs. Cats, miniature horses, hedgehogs, and peacocks all qualify, as does any animal that can alleviate a person’s symptoms because of its presence.

Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States, has urged more people to foster and adopt pets throughout the pandemic.

“It frees up space in the shelter to take these animals in that may be displaced because their family member, their owner is ill or financially in a troubled situation,” she said.

Humane Society CEO Kitty Block urges people to foster pets through the pandemic.

Under the bill, landlords retain the right to prohibit the animal if it poses a “direct threat” to the safety and health of others and the property. Landlords are also permitted to request written documentation from a health care practitioner from prospective tenants.

Renters with disabilities are guaranteed service animals as a reasonable accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act. Emotional support animals, not synonymous with service animals, would get similar protections under the federal Fair Housing Act.

Sens. Manny Diaz Jr. and Bill Montford sponsored the legislation through the Senate and Rep. Sam Killebrew shepherded it through the House.

But for those trying to take advantage of their furry friend, the measure also stiffens penalties for a person who fabricates documentation or misrepresents the use of an emotional support animal. Anyone caught falsely claiming an emotional support animal faces a second-degree misdemeanor punishable by a $500 fine, community service, and possible incarceration.

Sen. Kevin Rader noted during Senate debate the relatively low price, less than $100 he said, to get a fraudulent certificate for an emotional support animal.

“For years, years that I’ve been in the Legislature, my condo, condominiums have always complained about people who live there who get around emotional support animals and getting their dogs in with getting phony-baloney psychological papers that say they’re allowed to have animals in their communities,” Rader said. “And it’s an enormous problem not only in my area, but it’s also a big problem in South Florida and around the entire state, and probably around in the country.”

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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:

Teach pay, voucher expansion signed — DeSantis signed legislation setting minimum teacher salaries at $47,500. The significant increase will cost the state an estimated $500 million annually, and with concerns about revenue shortfalls expected because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the fate of legislation was in question just because the price tag represents a huge slice of the Legislature’s $93.2 billion budget. DeSantis this week also signed another education spending bill, this one raising income caps on Family Empowerment Scholarships to 300% of the federal poverty level, from 185%, and increasing the number of vouchers available.

Rebekah Jones to file whistleblower complaint — The fired Department of Health data expert who operated the state’s COVID-19 dashboard says she will file the complaint and other suits against the state. Department of Health Deputy Secretary Shamarial Roberson fired Jones for “insubordination” after she went public with concerns about censoring data on the pandemic and manipulating it to make a case for more aggressive reopening. Florida officials have denied accusations of manipulating data and maintain the DOH has been among the most transparent in the U.S. regarding information on the pandemic.

Solitary conferment limits signed — DeSantis signed the “Tammy Jackson Act,” limiting the use of solitary confinement for pregnant inmates. The bill is named for an inmate who gave birth after being put in solitary in a Broward County institution for hours after complaining about contractions. The new law requires prison officials to show cause for placing a pregnant prison in solitary confinement. In the event a pregnant prisoner ends up in isolation, guards must observe the individual at least once an hour. Additionally, reports must be filed explaining the reasoning for that method over less restrictive practices.

Nikki Fried, Congressional Dems want masks — Agriculture Commissioner Fried called on DeSantis to issue a statewide requirement for face masks to be worn in indoor public buildings. More than 40 local Florida jurisdictions have instituted some type of face-covering regulation to stop coronavirus spread. Fried called a statewide requirement a “basic protective measure.” The call from Florida’s sole Democratic statewide elected official came the same week the 13 Congressional Democrats representing Florida sent a letter to the Governor calling for a similar executive order. Rep. Donna Shalala, a former Health and Human Services Secretary, led that effort.

May revenues forecast sharp declines — Senate President Bill Galvano released a memo Friday outlining shortages. Revenue reports from March and April put the state $1.66 billion under projections. A $201 million gain previously means the state is already $1.46 billion in the hole, cutting substantially into $4 billion in state reserves. May reports showing another $779.6 million in shortcomings from prior estimates. On a bright note, sales tax revenues declined less than feared, and Galvano expressed hope the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic’s economic damage was now in the past. There remains hope some of the losses in the three months will be regained in June. Notably, the memo came out shortly before the Department of Health reported nearly 9,000 new cases in a single 24-hour period, shattering prior records.

Coronavirus numbers

Positive cases:

— 111,724 FL residents (+24,081 since June 19)

— 2,386 Non-FL residents (+756 since June 19)

Origin:

— 2,439 Travel related

— 47,121 Contact with a confirmed case

— 2,384 Both

— 68,630 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 13,987 in FL

Deaths:

— 3,366 in FL

Unemployment numbers

As of Thursday:

Claims submitted: 2,696,420

— Confirmed unique claims: 2,487,920 (+114,727 since June 18)

— Claims processed: 2,327,995 (+149,017 since June 18)

— Claims paid: 1,558,398 (+109,978 since June 18)

Total paid out: $7.76 billion (+$1.04 billion since June 18)

— State money: $1,904,775,643

— Federal money: $5,859,419,402

Special delivery

DeSantis helped the Florida Department of Elder Affairs hit a milestone this week by assisting in the delivery of the 100,000th meal through the department’s “Meals of Love” program.

Meals of Love is a component of DOEA’s Restaurant Meal Initiative is a partnership between DOEA, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) and the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA). The program has delivered over 600,000 meals to seniors throughout the state as of June 6.

Meals of Love, serving Central Florida, was one of the first areas to begin delivery.

Ron DeSantis helped ‘Meals of Love’ reach a major milestone. Image via Facebook.

Meal No. 100,000 was delivered to a husband and wife living in the Viera neighborhood with food prepared from el Leoncito restaurant.

“Gov. DeSantis has helped to facilitate this process and allowed restaurants and food establishments to become emergency meal vendors for Florida’s seniors who are homebound or self-isolating for protection,” Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom said. “We’ve ensured that any older adult who received a meal from a congregate site that is now closed for safety, continues to receive a home-delivered meal and food reassurance through this program.”

Meals of Love operates in Brevard, Orange, Osceola, and Seminole counties through the Senior Resource Alliance (SRA) located in Orlando. The SRA has provided up to 2,500 prepared restaurant meals in one day.

“Drivers deliver more than a meal,” Senior Resource Alliance CEO Karla Radka said. “They deliver hope and human contact to vulnerable seniors, and in many cases, the meals include a small note, a puzzle, or a letter to keep seniors engaged and aware that they are not alone.”

Donna’s Law

DeSantis has signed a law eliminating the statute of limitations for sexual assault against minor victims.

Named after a woman who came forward with the story of her assault after the statute of limitations had lapsed, Donna’s Law replaces a system of staggered time limits on how long the victim has to report the crime, allowing victims to come forward years after they become a legal adult.

Orlando resident Donna Hedrick was sexually abused by her music teacher and finally went public with her story after more than 40 years. Orlando Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart, the bill’s Senate sponsor.

Donna Hedrick’s bravery resulted in a change in Florida’s sexual assault laws. 

“This is a major win for survivors and shows the true power of speaking out and sharing your story,” Stewart said. “This piece of legislation started as a grassroots effort and is proof that the Florida Legislature hears your voices, and that change is made by people who show the strength to come forward and fight to protect victims.”

On the House side, Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis and Longwood Republican Rep. Scott Plakon led the effort.

Currently, there is no limitation on prosecutions for sexual battery for victims under 16, first-degree felonies sexual battery against any minor or first or second degree sexual batteries against victims 16 and older who reported the crime within 72 hours. Otherwise, varying time limits apply.

“Over the years, time limitations have continued to expand for victims, but the time has finally come for them to be removed altogether for minors,” Stewart said. “This is just the right thing to do, and I thank my colleagues in both chambers for listening to the experiences and being a part of this positive change for the future.”

Snagging swindlers

Attorney General Ashley Moody announced this week that her office had recovered more than $700,000 for consumers from COVID-19 scams.

“As Florida’s Attorney General, I will always do whatever it takes to help consumers that have been taken advantage of — especially in times of crisis,” Moody said. “That is why even before the emergency declaration went into effect; we were working with businesses and consumers to secure refunds, remove online posts offering items for outrageous prices and stop deceptive business practices.”

To watch the announcement, click on the image below:

 

Since the activation of the Florida Price Gouging Hotline, the Attorney General’s office has received roughly 5,800 consumer contacts with pricing concerns, made contact with 7,800 merchants about allegations of price gouging and issued 82 subpoenas to further investigations.

Moody’s office has also deactivated 224 online posts selling items for “outrageous” prices.

“I am pleased with the results we are getting for consumers, but rest assured, our work is far from over and we continue to wake up early every day and focus on building a stronger, safer Florida,” Moody said.

Violations of price gouging laws can cost offenders $1,000 per violation up to $25,000 for multiple violations in a single 24-hour period.

Price gouging can be reported by phone at 1 (866) 9NO-SCAM or by visiting MyFloridaLegal.com.

Don’t suffer in silence

Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis raised awareness this week of the mental health challenges facing some of Florida’s first responders.

“PTSD within our first responder community is real,” Patronis said. “Firefighters alone attempt suicide at a rate much higher than the general population, and these heroes encounter unthinkable tragedy on the job as they work to protect our communities.”

In recognition of PTSD Awareness Day on June 27, Patronis highlighted the state’s availability of PTSD training and benefits for first responders.

Jimmy Patronis is raising awareness of the mental health challenges facing Florida’s first responders.

“Three years ago, I was fortunate to meet Megan Vila, and she told me the story of her brother Stevie LaDue, a Tampa firefighter who tragically lost his fight with PTSD because he couldn’t get access to the help he needed,” Patronis said. “I’m proud to say with Megan’s help, our first responders now have access to vital training and benefits for PTSD, and now they know they are not alone.”

Patronis also highlighted his advocacy for legislation to help first responders recognize and manage PTSD as well as provide special benefits through Florida’s workers’ compensation system.

“I’m proud today to highlight these benefits and stand by Florida’s first responders, just as they stand with us,” Patronis said.

Applications open

The Florida Forest Service this week announced that applications are now being taken for three community and urban forestry grant programs.

“Urban forestry accounts for over 80,000 jobs and contributes more than $8 billion to Florida’s economy,” said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried. “Now is the time for our cities and towns to take advantage of these opportunities. Restoring and sustaining our urban forests is vital to improving the livability of Florida’s communities and the quality of life of our residents.”

Nikki Fried says Florida forestry accounts for 80K jobs and $8B in revenue.

The first program, Hurricane Michael Urban and Community Forest Recovery Grant, provides financial assistance to impacted communities for recovery efforts such as planting trees, tree inventory, and canopy assessment. Those qualified are eligible for up to $50,000 and applications are being accepted through Aug. 21.

The second program, Urban and Community Forests Grant Program, helps increase and protect existing tree canopies in developed areas. Qualified participants may be eligible for up to $20,000. Applications end Aug. 21.

The third program, Managing Community Forests Grant Program, is intended to help communities create a forest management program. Funding includes up to $50,000 for three projects over a three-year window and is designed for counties with a population between 10,000 to 100,000. Applications end Aug. 21.

More information is available online.

Instagram of the week

The week in appointments

Board of Chiropractic Medicine — DeSantis this week appointed Gretchen Saunders and Ellen Ostman to the Board of Chiropractic Medicine. Saunders, of Tampa, is currently the chief business officer with Hillsborough County Public Schools, a position she has held since 2005. Ostman, also of Tampa, has been a senior attorney with Givens, Givens, Sparks, PLLC, a trial law firm, since 2000. Both were appointed to four-year terms. The appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Florida Defense Support Task Force — Senate President Bill Galvano appointed Sen. Tom Wright to the Florida Defense Support Task Force. Wright, a New Smyrna Beach Republican, is the chair of the Senate Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs and Space. He replaces Pensacola Republican Sen. Doug Broxson, who completes his term as Task Force Chair on July 1, 2020. The Florida Defense Support Task Force is a legislatively-mandated council whose mission is to preserve, protect, and enhance Florida’s military missions and installations. The position of Task Force Chair rotates annually between appointees of the Senate President and the House Speaker.

University of Florida Board of Trustees — DeSantis reappointed Rahul Patel and appointed Richard Cole to the University of Florida Board of Trustees. Patel, of Atlanta, is a partner with King & Spalding LLP, where he has been since 1997. Cole, of Miami, is a managing partner and lawyer with the law firm of Cole, Scott & Kissane, P.A., one of the largest law firms in Florida, a position he has held since 1997. Both earned their bachelor’s and law degrees from UF. The appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Crackdown cash

The Department of Justice is spreading more than $42 million in grants across the country for state-level law enforcement to combat illegal drug manufacturing and distribution.

The Northern District of Florida will receive a sizable chunk: $2.2 million.

“The award of this funding to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is a tangible demonstration of the Justice Department and U.S. Attorneys’ commitment to our partnerships with law enforcement agencies at all levels. We will continue to implement every tool at our disposal to combat the national epidemic of opioid abuse and misuse,” said Lawrence Keefe, U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Florida.

Larry Keefe’s Northern District of Florida will receive $2.2 million to crack down on illegal drug manufacturing.

The funds, sent by the DOJ’s Community Oriented Policing Services (COPS Office), are aimed at snagging criminals who are cooking up methamphetamine or furthering the opioid epidemic by slinging heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil or other prescription painkillers.

The Northern District of Florida’s share will flow to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“The scourge of opioid and methamphetamine use continues to take a devastating toll on our nation’s communities,” said COPS Office Director Phil Keith. “By providing these resources to law enforcement to help combat the further spread, the COPS Office is demonstrating our commitment to this Administration’s priority of reducing drug use and protecting our citizens from this public health and safety crisis.”

‘Plant a Pine’

The Florida State Parks Foundation says its “Plant a Pine” campaign is a success.

This week, Foundation President Gil Ziffer said the initiative had landed enough support since its Earth Day launch to get at least 55-acres of seedlings into the ground — that’s an estimated 20,000 longleaf pines.

The majority of the first round of seedlings are being planted at Torreya State Park, which was devastated by Hurricane Michael in 2018.

“This campaign has really resonated with the public,” Ziffer said. “For every $1 donated, we will plant one longleaf pine seedling in a Florida State Park. People can even dedicate a tree to a loved one. It is a gift that will continue to grow and flourish for many years to come.

The longleaf pine is native to the southeastern United States. Only 3% of the original longleaf pine forest remains due to timber harvesting.

“This campaign has been so successful that we are well on our way to our goal of planting 100,000 trees by Earth Day 2021. The trees are planted in coordination with the Florida Park Service in park areas identified for restoration efforts,” said Ziffer.

The longleaf pine is native to the Southeast and once flourished over a range of 90 million acres. They have long been prized for their commercial use in building houses, ships, and railroads and their resin used for making turpentine.

Due in part to their industrial uses, the species is now endangered and covers less than 3% of its original range. Mature longleaf ecosystems support more than 30 endangered and threatened species, including red-cockaded woodpeckers, gopher tortoises and indigo snakes.

Groups interested in supporting hands-on tree planting projects can contact the Foundation through its website floridastateparksfoundation.org.

New board

Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers have announced its 2020-2021 board of directors, led by incoming president Tara Green.

Board members will serve one-year terms under Green, Clay County Clerk of the Circuit Court, with a theme this year of “Leading the Drive for Excellence.”

“Clerks are innovators. When we work together, our true potential is tremendous,” Green said. “I want to focus this year on how Clerks can drive innovations in efficiency, service and technology to serve this state and our constituents.”

Clay County Clerk of Court Tara Green is the new president of the Florida Court Clerks and Comptrollers. Image via Twitter.

The board includes seven directors for each of its seven districts. Three past presidents, including immediate past president Stacy Butterfield, Polk County Clerk of Court and Comptroller, round out the panel.

“It has been a wonderful and challenging year,” Butterfield said. “From our very successful statewide driver’s license reinstatement Operation Green Light events in October, to statewide shutdowns due to COVID-19, I’ve been proud of the leadership I’ve seen from Clerks throughout Florida — and I have been proud to be part of the leadership team as the 2019-2020 President.”

Tiffany Moore Russell, Orange County Clerk of the Circuit Court, is the newest member of the group’s executive committee. Russell has served on the board of directors since 2016 and will be the new treasurer and communications committee chair.

The executive committee also includes president-elect Angel Colonneso, Manatee County Clerk of Court and Comptroller; vice president Carolyn Timmann, Martin County Clerk of Court and Comptroller; treasurer Barry Baker, Suwannee County Clerk of Court and Comptroller; and Russell, who doubles as the secretary.

Who’s liable?

With local mask ordinances en vogue, the National Federation of Independent Businesses is raising a red flag about who’s to blame if a customer or employee shirks the requirement.

“Over the past several days, local governments from the Panhandle to the Keys have passed ordinances requiring people to wear masks in public to help prevent the spread of the deadly coronavirus. This patchwork of local regulations has created confusion and underscored the challenges small businesses face as they struggle to recover from the shutdown,” NFIB State Executive Director Bill Herrle said.

Mask requirements are opening up a world of questions about legal liabilities for businesses.

“Under many of these ordinances, owners could be held criminally liable if customers don’t follow the rules and wear a mask. We believe draconian rules that arbitrarily punish small-business owners are unfair, especially when the owners are doing everything they can to protect their customers and employees and prevent the virus from spreading.”

Liability is only one facet of NFIB’s opposition — the group also worries ordinances could attract trial attorneys looking to put the thumbscrews on businesses.

According to Herrle, a recent survey of NFIB members found more than two-thirds reported increased liability was one of their most urgent concerns related to the recovery.

“The fact of the matter is that the shutdown was devastating to Florida’s small businesses. Owners who follow the rules and do everything they can to protect the safety of their customers and employees should not have to defend themselves against predatory lawsuits when they’re at their most vulnerable,” he said.

“That’s why NFIB is calling on the Florida legislature and Congress to pass measures to prevent frivolous lawsuits related to the coronavirus. Without these protections, more small businesses could end up closing their doors for good.”

Tech director

The James Madison Institute named Andrea O’Sullivan this week as the think tank’s Director of Technology and Innovation Policy,

“We are pleased to welcome Andrea O’Sullivan as our new director of the Center for Technology and Innovation,” said JMI President and CEO Dr. Bob McClure. “Her background and policy knowledge along with her shared belief in the principles of freedom and liberty make her the perfect candidate to help the leaders of our state navigate both the challenges and opportunities in this critically important arena.”

The James Madison Institute named Andrea O’Sullivan as Director of Technology and Innovation Policy,

O’Sullivan will specifically examine the current technology policy issues facing Florida in the decade ahead and will educate policymakers on “how market-centered policy can make Florida a pivotal force.”

Her background includes experience as a tech policy expert with knowledge of cybersecurity, surveillance, internet freedom, and the economics of technology.

The Technology and Innovation Policy Center addresses issues of data privacy, broadband infrastructure, antitrust, transportation innovation, and the future of work in the digital age.

“As the information age navigates its third decade, it is imperative that Florida position itself globally as a welcoming home for innovation, entrepreneurship and opportunity, said Vice President of Policy Sal Nuzzo. “That requires a commitment to sound public policy that embraces free markets, promotes long-term vision and ensures global leadership.”

Fond farewell

Leon County Pace Center for Girls Executive Director Kelly Otte announced this week she will depart the organization after more than a decade of service.

“We’re grateful for Kelly’s commitment and deep passion for girls and young women and for the work we do at Pace Center for Girls,” said Mary Marx, president and CEO of Pace Center for Girls. “Kelly has been an integral part of Pace for more than a decade, transforming the Leon County Center and also making a true difference in the Tallahassee community she has served over many years. Her ability to make a positive impact in her community is inspiring.”

After a decade of service, Kelly Otte is stepping down as executive director of the Leon County Pace Center for Girls. Image via Facebook.

Otte’s accomplishments include serving nearly 1,000 girls through education, counseling and advocacy, and increasing funds raised by 80%.

She is also credited for the creation of the Girl Council under the Commission on the Status of Women & Girls.

Otte is currently a candidate for the Leon County Commission.

“I’ve been proud to further Pace’s mission to support girls and young women across Leon County for more than 10 years,” Otte said. “My hope is to continue to create opportunities for people in this next chapter.”

The Pace Center for Girls is a nationally recognized program providing education, training, counseling, and advocacy for girls and young women.

Digital future

Florida A&M University entered into an agreement with education technology company Cengage that will save students cash on textbooks.

Beginning this fall, FAMU students will be able to purchase a subscription from FAMU’s bookstore for $123.36 — less than the cost of most hardcover textbooks — and get digital access to course materials for many of the programs offered at FAMU.

That’s two-thirds less than the $400 a typical FAMU student spends on course materials every academic year.

After a deal with Cengage, FAMU textbooks are going digital, saving students hundreds of dollars every semester. 

According to a recent survey from Morning Consult, the costs of textbooks have become one of the most significant financial stressors for college students. The financial barrier hasn’t gone unnoticed by the Florida Board of Governors, which has created a textbook affordability action plan to research and make recommendations on the prohibitive costs of textbooks.

“The cost of course materials is a barrier for many students, and our partnership aims to address affordability issues while providing access to quality learning — whether in person or online,” said Fernando Bleichmar, executive vice president and general manager of higher education and skills at Cengage.

FAMU provost and vice president for academic affairs Maurice Edington, Ph.D., added, “FAMU has a strong commitment to ensuring that our students have access to a high-quality, affordable education. This resource will help reduce some of the financial barriers that our students encounter, providing access to modern educational technology offerings and enable our students to become more successful during their educational tenure.”

Presidents, protests and police

Florida A&M University interim Dean Nicky Booth is hosting a panel discussion Monday on policing, presidential powers and peaceful protests.

The official description says it will “focus on the issues facing American communities today centered on the protests and demonstrations ignited by the death of George Floyd.”

Florida A&M University interim Dean Nicky Booth will hold a panel discussion on peaceful protests. Image via FAMU.

The virtual event comes at a time of peak relevance. Floyd’s death at the hands of a Minneapolis police officer sparked protests of police brutality, particularly against Black men, across the country, with the demonstrators being celebrated or vilified by large swathes of the country.

The conversation will feature a trio of FAMU College of Law professors: Patricia Broussard, LeRoy Pernell and Shelley Page.

Per her official bio, Broussard teaches constitutional law, First Amendment, advance appellate advocacy, and advanced topics on women and the law at FAMU and also writes on disenfranchisement issues.

Pernell has served as dean of FAMU Law twice. In 1992, U.S. Rep. John Conyers of Michigan appointed him as the chair of the Congressional Black Caucus Criminal Justice Brain Trust’s subcommittee on Juvenile Justice. He has also testified before the Criminal Justice Subcommittee of the Judiciary Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives.

Page, a visiting professor, specializes in criminal law, human rights, education law, domestic violence law and civil rights. Before teaching, Page served as a criminal prosecutor in Austin, Texas, and a staff attorney for the State Board for Educator Certification, also in Austin.

The panel is open to the public and will be hosted on Zoom, from 4 p.m. to 5 p.m. The meeting ID is 960 2225 8372; the password is 367161.

The non-tech savvy can still tune in by calling in. A list of dial-in numbers by country is available on FAMU’s Zoom page.

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