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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Dancing with history

“Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of Americans need some serious education.”

Dancing with history

Jordan Davis was only 17 years old when he was gunned down inside of a parked SUV at a Jacksonville gas station on Black Friday in 2012. That evening, he was one of the three Black teens listening to music while they waited for a friend to return from inside. They had planned a trip to the mall.

Instead, the shooter, a White male twice their senior, fired his gun 10 times at the teens after an argument over their loud music. No weapons were ever found in the teen’s car. They never even stepped out of it. But according to the shooter’s girlfriend, he said he hated “that thug music” moments before the slaying.

In the wake of his sons’ death, Ron Davis created The Jordan Davis Foundation, a nonprofit organization focused on enhancing academics and self-esteem through life opportunities such as travel and cultural education.

Jordan Davis and his father Ron, who set up “The Jordan Davis Foundation” after a White man shot his son in 2012.

“I want to bring about change,” Davis said. “I think bringing about change is changing mindsets, changing biases, and exposing biases to let people know that this is not going to work for America. We can’t all get together and be together until this mindset change.”

The story of father and son was one of a variety told Thursday at a discussion hosted by the Innocence Project of Florida called “Inside Innocence: The Criminalization of Color.”

Panelists including Davis’s father discussed racism, profiling and policing among other things in America. Others who joined included Never Give Up Hope Founder Renata Hannans, Political Organization Expert Takeshia Stokes and Civil Rights Attorney and Advocate John Phillips.

“We are not afforded the same opportunities as our counterparts in the criminal justice system, court system, anywhere,” said Hannans. “I want the young people to understand that you are different simply because you are Black. It’s even more so when you are a Black male. You cannot walk down the street. You cannot play loud music. You cannot wear hoodies. There are certain things you cannot do that place your life in extreme danger because you are African American.”

In recent weeks, high-profile stories of police shootings and nooses have seized national attention. But Innocence Project of Florida’s Seth Miller said attention today is also needed on the less overt.

“What I’m hearing from all of you is that it’s less about the overt forms and rather about the more latent forms of racism that then find their way into people’s subconscious, find their way into the law as its written that are both stigmatizing and criminalizing people of color,” Miller summarized.

The sentiment was accepted unanimously by the panel.

“We need to confront, and we need to dance with this history,” Stokes said. “Unfortunately, it looks like a lot of Americans need some serious education.”

___

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

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

Ron DeSantis vetoes record $1 billion-plus — The Governor promised and delivered a “Red Wedding” budget signing worth of vetoes. The budget wasn’t formally presented until June 17, at DeSantis’ request, to understand the economic situation created by the coronavirus. With $1., 66 billion in shortfalls already clear, cuts were ultimately deep when he signed Monday. Pay raises for state workers and a hike in starting teacher pay survived, but an online learning resource, job growth grant fund, school recognition program, and 2nd District Court of Appeals courthouse fell to the veto pen. So did $264 million work of member projects and $140.5 million in health and human services spending.

Mike Pence promises COVID-19 support — While the Vice President canceled a political event in Sarasota, he met with DeSantis Thursday and assured the White House Coronavirus Task Force will provide Florida support during a surge. The stop happened the first day the Department of Health reported an increase in caseload of more than 10,000 positive tests in a single day. Taskforce member Dr. Deborah Birx said positivity rates began to rise in Tampa Bay at the end of May. DeSantis attributes the sudden spread to protests following the George Floyd death and to media for saying the numbers were “phony.”

South Florida rolls back reopenings — As the number of infections spiked, the Department of Business and Professional Regulation ordered the suspension of on-premises alcohol consumption at bars, the first major reversal of any part of the administration’s phased reopening efforts. In South Florida hotspots, local governments took other steps. In addition to five Florida counties closing beaches ahead of the Independence Day weekend and more limiting access, Miami-Dade County instituted a 10 p.m. curfew that began Friday and put entertainment venues back under lockdown, including movie theaters, strip clubs, concert halls and bowling alleys.

Governor signs parental consent, E-Verify — DeSantis signed a bevy of bills shortly before a July 1 enactment, including one requiring parental consent for minors obtaining an abortion and another raising requirements for employers to verify work eligibility for hires. Florida law already required parental notification if minors elected to terminate pregnancies but now they must receive a guardian’s permission or go to courts to seek an exception. The E-Verify legislation puts rules in place for public agencies and contractors but has been called a ’lite’ version for allowing private-sector employers to use the paper I-9 system and keep documents for three years.

José Oliva group slams Daniel Perez — Citizens For Ethical and Effective Leadership, a committee tied to Speaker Oliva, put out a round of political advertising criticizing Rep. Daniel Perez, in line to be speaker of the House in 2026, for a trip he took to Cuba several years ago. Neither Miami Republican would speak to the Miami Herald on the maneuver. Perez held a narrow edge in the race among the current freshman class over Bradenton Republican Will Robinson. But he must win his next three elections to land the job and faces a primary challenge from Gabriel Garcia in District 116. Democrat Bob Lynch, who helped finance Democrat campaigns across Florida, has also filed for the seat.

Coronavirus numbers

Positive cases:

— 175,718 FL residents (+63,994 since June 26)

— 2,876 Non-FL residents (+490 since June 26)

Origin:

— 2,606 Travel related

— 57,895 Contact with a confirmed case

— 2,531 Both

— 112,686 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 15,491 in FL

Deaths:

— 3,684 in FL

Unemployment numbers

As of Thursday:

Claims submitted: 2,818,554

— Confirmed unique claims: 2,597,785 (+109,865 since June 25)

— Claims processed: 2,411,896 (+83,901 since June 25)

— Claims paid: 1,626,991 (+68,593 since June 25)

Total paid out: $8.7 billion (+$939 million since June 25)

— State money: $2,075,962,755

— Federal money: $6,627,103,357

Super Senior Sleuths

For the second year running, Attorney General Ashley Moody highlighted seniors who have volunteered their time to fight crime.

The honorees, or Super Senior Sleuths, work with the Attorney General’s Seniors vs. Crime project, which investigates complaints, pursues restitution for victims, and provides advice for seniors that are vulnerable to crime.

This year, the Super Senior Sleuths are David Cunningham of Marion County office; Gary Hinthorne, volunteer at the Seniors vs. Crime Cape Coral office; Tomme Mayne, volunteer at the Seniors vs. Crime Flagler County office; Betsy Robins, volunteer at the Seniors vs. Crime Navarre office; and Jean Sporrier, volunteer at the Seniors vs. Crime Port St. Lucie office.

“I am overjoyed to be honoring these individuals for the work that they do to protect older Floridians,” Moody said. “It is wonderful to see seniors using their golden years to give back to the community and fight for justice. I only wish I was able to honor them in person. After hearing about the extraordinary work they do in their communities, I know that all Floridians will agree, Florida’s seniors have a great team standing guard against fraud.”

All five recipients were nominees for the 2019-2020 Advocate of the Year Award. Sporrier was announced as the award winner this week.

Record returns

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis announced this week that the Division of Unclaimed Property returned more than $328 million to Floridians during the 2019-20 fiscal year, which ended July 1.

The $328 million worth of unclaimed goods returned to Floridians this year is $6 million more than the year previous.

Jimmy Patronis helped give back $328 million in unclaimed property to Floridians.

“Since I took office in 2017, our Division of Unclaimed Property has returned more than $971 million back to Floridians, and I’m thrilled that we are on track to reach $1 billion very soon! This past year has been a challenge, as our staff has been teleworking for much of it,” Patronis said. “Despite these challenges, I’m extremely pleased that the Division persevered and was able to break the annual record and return a significant amount of money back to Floridians.”

Additionally, over $105 million has been put back into the pockets of Floridians since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in Florida.

“As COVID-19 continues to impact our communities, this money is critical to helping Florida’s economy,” Patronis added. “I encourage all Floridians to search now for unclaimed property at FLTreasureHunt.gov.”

Instagram of the week

 

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On another record-breaking day of coronavirus numbers in Florida, Vice President Mike Pence came to Tampa with a message for the Sunshine State. ⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ “I want the people of Florida to know we’re in a much better place thanks to the leadership of President Trump,” he says. ⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ At the event held at the USF today, Pence and Gov. Ron DeSantis noted improved treatment options, expanded testing capabilities and hospitals that are ready for a surge. ⁠⠀ ⁠⁠⠀ Although the state recently banned bars from serving alcohol, DeSantis hasn’t issued any further restrictions aimed at slowing the spread of the #coronavirus. ⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ Click the link in our bio for the full story on Pence’s visit. ⁠⠀ ⁠⠀ 📷 : @ivy.ceballo / Tampa Bay Times (July 2)⁠

A post shared by Tampa Bay Times (@tampabaytimes) on

The week in appointments

Board of Nursing — DeSantis this week appointed Margaret “Maggie” Hansen to a four-year term on the Board of Nursing. Hansen, of Parkland, is the senior vice president and chief nurse executive at Memorial Healthcare System, a position she has held since 2016. Hansen has worked for Memorial Healthcare System in various roles since 1983. She earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Minnesota State University and her master’s degree in health sciences and leadership from Nova Southeastern University.

Broward County Housing Authority — DeSantis announced the appointment of John Loos III, and the reappointments of Mercedes Núñez, Mark O’Loughlin and Michael Long to the Broward County Housing Authority. Loos, of Fort Lauderdale, is the vice president of First Lauderdale Investments, a family-owned investment and development company. Núñez, of Davie, is a housing resident and represents multifamily and Section 8 residents. O’Loughlin, of Pembroke Pines, is the president and owner of TradeMark Graphics, a printing company. Long, of Lighthouse Point, currently serves as the senior director of the Healthcare Professions Division at Nova Southeastern University. All were appointed to four-year terms.

Judges of Compensation Claims — DeSantis appointed five compensation claims judges across the state this week. John Moneyham is an alumnus of Florida State University law school who runs his own law firm. He fills the open judicial seat in the Panama City District. Brian Anthony, a Stetson law grad who also runs his own practice, fills the open seat in the Tampa District. Erik Grindal is a partner at the Law Office of Erik Grindal and a St. Thomas University School of Law alumnus. He fills the open judicial seat in the Sarasota District. DeSantis also reappointed Sylvia Medina-Shore to Miami and Jack Weiss to Fort Myers.

Clay County Utility Authority — DeSantis made four appointments to the Clay County Utility Authority: Tina Clary, Thomas Hackney, Daniel Hodges and Tiffany Howard. Clary, of Middleburg, is the principal and chief executive officer of Clary & Associates, a land surveying and mapping company. Hackney, of Jacksonville, serves as director of personnel and professional services for the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office.  Hodges is the president of Hodges Management Group and was previously platform president at Scott-McRae Automotive Group. Howard, of Orange Park, is a licensed Realtor and real estate broker with Florida Real Estate Endeavors. Clary, Hackney and Howard were appointed to four-year terms. Hodges was appointed to a three-year term.

Florida’s Condominium Ombudsman — DeSantis announced the appointment of Spencer Hennings as Florida’s Condominium Ombudsman. Hennings, of Miami, was an associate at Irons Law Group, P.A. from 2019 until 2020. Previously, he was a real estate intern with Greenberg Traurig. He earned his bachelor’s degree from FSU and his law degree and master’s in law in real property development from the University of Miami.

Judges of Compensation Claims — DeSantis appointed five compensation claims judges across the state this week. John Moneyham is an alumnus of Florida State University law school who runs his own law firm. He fills the open judicial seat in the Panama City District. Brian Anthony, a Stetson law grad who also runs his own practice, fills the open seat in the Tampa District. Erik Grindal is a partner at the Law Office of Erik Grindal and a St. Thomas University School of Law alumnus. He fills the open judicial seat in the Sarasota District. DeSantis also reappointed Sylvia Medina-Shore to Miami and Jack Weiss to Fort Myers.

Judicial Nominating Commissions — DeSantis announced 75 appointments and reappointments to Florida’s Judicial Nominating Commissions on Thursday. The list covers Florida’s five district courts of appeal and the state’s 20 circuit courts. A full list of appointees can be viewed here.

Miami Dade College District Board of Trustees — DeSantis is named Robert Alonso of Miami Lakes to the Miami Dade College District Board of Trustees. Alonso is an alumnus of Miami Dade College, where he earned his associate degree. He then attended Florida International University for his bachelor’s. He currently serves as the vice president of business development at the real estate firm Costa Realtors Corp. He was appointed to a four-year term.

South Broward Hospital District — DeSantis named Elizabeth Justen and Steven Harvey to the South Broward Hospital District in a flurry of evening appointments Thursday. Since 2015, Jutsen has been the assistant executive director of the Sheriff’s Foundation of Broward County, a nonprofit organization that funds community programs and initiatives. Since 2010, Justen has been the key account manager of manufacturer representation firm OFB marketing and since 2000, she has been the principal of The Marketing Experience, a market analysis company.

Drive safe

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is urging motorists to use care while traveling over the holiday weekend.

“The Florida Highway Patrol is committed to ensuring Florida motorists Arrive Alive this Fourth of July weekend,” said Director of the Florida Highway Patrol Colonel Gene S. Spaulding. “If you plan on drinking this Fourth of July, ensure you have a designated driver. The life you save may be your own. If you witness an impaired driver, we encourage you to dial *FHP (347) or 911.”

Troopers warn that they will be targeting aggressive and impaired drivers throughout the holiday weekend statewide.

The Florida Highway Patrol will be vigilant this July 4 weekend and will conduct exercises to target aggressive and impaired drivers.

Troopers also provided a list of driver safety tips ahead of the holiday weekend.

Among them, drivers are encouraged to wear their seat belts, avoid distracted or drowsy driving and use caution when driving in low visibility conditions.

Additionally, drivers are encouraged to report drunken drivers, car crashes, suspicious incidents on the road and stranded or disabled motorists by dialing *FHP or 911 in the event of an emergency.

FHP recorded more 21,041 crashes in July 2019. Of those cases, 467 involved drugs or alcohol and over 2,812 DUI arrests were made.

The FLHSMV is tasked with highway safety and security through enforcement and education services.

To learn more about FLHSMV and the services offered, visit their website.

VETS dodges veto

The Governor scratched out more than $1 billion from the 2020-21 state budget, including some of his own priorities, but Veterans Florida avoided his veto pen.

The budget, which went into effect July 1, includes a $1.72 million appropriation for the Veterans Employment and Training Services (VETS) Program.

The VETS Program, housed within the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs, helps former service members connect with businesses looking to hire. It also markets the Sunshine State as a top-tier landing spot for veterans looking for work.

The VETS program, which helps employ Florida veterans, survives Ron DeSantis’ veto pen.

“Gov. DeSantis today reaffirmed that the best home for veterans is Florida,” Veterans Florida Executive Director Joe Marino said this week.

“Separating service members, veterans, and their families may continue to access the Florida Veterans Employment and Training Services Program funded through the budget he approved. Florida’s ongoing commitment to economic support for veterans and workforce excellence for employers is needed now more than ever.”

Veterans Florida is a nonprofit created by the state to help military veterans transition to civilian life and to promote Florida as the nation’s most veteran-friendly state. It also provides veterans with tools so they can take advantage of the benefits of living and working in the Sunshine State.

Sandbox signed

Republican lawmakers and Patronis applauded the Governor this week for signing HB 1391, a measure that creates a Financial Technology Sandbox within the Office of Financial Regulation for facilitating technological innovation.

“As someone who’s run a small business, I know just how beneficial it is to our communities to attract high paying, technology-focused jobs,” Patronis said.

Ron DeSantis (joined by Rep. Jamie Grant) signs HB 1391, which sets up a Financial Technology Sandbox to promote innovation.

“FinTech’s opportunities for Florida are limitless and the more we can do to create a regulatory environment that allows businesses to innovate and test new technologies, the more effective we’ll be at attracting technology jobs and investment to Florida communities.”

Rep. Jamie Grant of Pinellas County also commended the Governor’s approval.

“I was honored to work with Gov. DeSantis, CFO Patronis and many others to get these reforms and innovations passed into law,” Grant said. “Revolutionizing the way we protect and use state data is critical to our future and a reality only because of the unselfish teamwork that made this bill a reality.”

Sen. Travis Hutson of Flagler County echoes the sentiment.

“Ensuring Florida remains a top destination for companies seeking opportunities to grow is one of my top priorities, and I was honored to sponsor this important bill,” Hutson said.

Cue the music

Republican Sen. Keith Perry of Alachua County celebrated a victory this week when DeSantis signed and fully funded his bill to increase access to music classes in Florida elementary schools.

The bill, SB 156, establishes a three-year pilot program within the Florida Department of Education to implement music education programs in needs-based school districts for students from kindergarten to second grade.

“What if we could raise the I.Q. of Florida students by an average of seven points with one simple change? Studies suggest that exposure to comprehensive music education has a dramatic effect on I.Q., long-term memory and concentration,” Perry said. “I thank Gov. DeSantis for recognizing the vast benefits of increasing fine arts education and signing this transformative law to provide a more well-rounded education for our students and future workforce.”

Keith Perry scores a win with a bill to increase access to music classes in Florida elementary schools.

Perry began advocating for the pilot program in 2016. The pilot was approved in 2017, however, it wasn’t possible until DeSantis signed the bill to fully fund the program.

Success for students will be determined by the University of Florida’s College of Education and Florida International university’s College of music.

“As evaluators of the pilot program, our work will be a collaborative effort with FIU’s school of music and the state, said UF College of Education Professors David Miller and Anne Seraphine jointly. “We’re enthusiastic about music education being offered in the schools.”

Rep. Vance Aloupis, who sponsored the House companion, added, “As someone who has worked in early childhood education for more than a decade, I know firsthand the importance of music in young children’s lives. This bill will be a wonderful partnership between UF and FIU as we expand music education across Florida and support our youngest learners.”

No judgment zone

DeSantis this week signed a bill that will provide confidentiality to first responders, firefighters and law enforcement officers who seek counseling to manage the stresses related to their occupation.

Democratic Rep. Joe Casello of Boynton Beach brought forward the bill. Casello was inspired by his own experiences as a firefighter.

Casello noted the elevated level of suicide among emergency workers and highlighted the importance for peer counseling, particularly in the wake of a traumatic on-the-job event.

“As a retired firefighter, I understand the importance of being able to talk to your peers about the stress of the job without fear of judgment,” Casello said. “This law will ensure that our emergency responders have the confidentiality and support they need to deal with the trauma they experience on the job.  I’m thankful to my colleagues in the Legislature for passing this bill and to Gov. DeSantis for signing it into law.”

Joe Casello drew upon his experience as a firefighter to help address suicides among first responders. Image via the South Florida Sun-Sentinel.

The bill, HB 573, also paved the way for law enforcement agencies to request an independent investigation by an outside agency when conducting an internal investigation.

The bill’s Republican prime co-sponsor was Rep. Stan McClain of Marion County.

The law went into effect on July 1.

Fighting trafficking

Included in the state budget for the next 12 months is $250,000 to fund services for young victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

That request by Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff benefits Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health to strengthen therapeutic services and prevention efforts statewide. The nonprofit plans to increase its service capacity in community-based settings and bolster victim-centered services.

Elizabeth Fetterhoff was able to secure $250K for services to help victims of human trafficking and sexual exploitation.

“The need for this project is, unfortunately, continuing to grow and I am proud that as a state we are addressing the problem and providing funds to help children that have already been impacted by this growing issue,” Fetterhoff said.

Lindsey Phillips, Devereux Advanced Behavioral Health’s director of external affairs, thanked Fetterhoff and Sen. Debbie Mayfield for their support, and extended that appreciation to DeSantis.

“This funding will expand our efforts to prevent human trafficking before it starts and provide the therapeutic services needed to empower victims to recover from their trauma,” she said.

The project funds clinical services, training and education, therapeutic consultation and support, and outreach to promote access to services, efforts to reduce symptoms of trauma in youth.

The Statewide Human Trafficking Task Force and the Office of Program Policy Analysis and Government Accountability have reported the services are necessary as the state identifies more sexually exploited children.

First line of assistance

Among the more than 100 bills that took effect this week is legislation providing students with more mental health services.

Democratic Reps. David Silvers and Jennifer Webb‘s legislation pulls from the Marjory Stoneman Douglas Public Safety Commission and the Department of Children and Families to focus on mobile response teams, coordinating children’s system of care and crisis stabilization services.

“We have a responsibility to ensure our schools, teachers, administrators and others have access to the support and services needed for children and youth in our schools struggling with mental and behavioral health challenges,” Silvers said. “The goal for this bill is to protect children from additional trauma like the use of the Baker Act while also providing a safe, caring environment for children as well as their classmates and teachers.”

Legislation from Jennifer Webb and David Silvers puts more resources toward students’ mental health services.

The measure allows for school districts to employ Mobile Response Units and Crisis Stabilization Services as the first line of assistance to children needing mental health care. Additionally, ensures parents and guardians can access mobile crisis providers and creates a protocol model for school districts to use.

“The Baker Act can be an important tool for helping children,” Webb said. “But, as we know, a good tool in the wrong situation can cause serious and lasting damage. We want to reinvest in our communities and ensure that our families are given new and diverse intervention options, so that our children can grow and thrive.”

Democratic Sen. Bobby Powell filed accompanying legislation in the Senate.

Parks cash spared

The Florida State Parks Foundation applauded Gov. DeSantis’ decision this week to fully fund state parks in the Sunshine State.

“We understand the pandemic has resulted in unexpected costs but also understand how valuable Florida State Parks are to the recovery of Florida’s economy and the health of Floridians and our tourism guests,” said Foundation President Gil Ziffer.

In total, DeSantis approved $41 million for state parks in his veto-heavy budget.

In Ron DeSantis’ veto-heavy budget, he spared Florida state parks, funding them fully.

The Foundation said state parks have a $2.6 billion economic impact and attracted 30 million visitors last year.

Moreover, the Foundation pointed out that many Floridians are turning to state parks for both entertainment and solace throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“In recent months, Floridians have spent a significant amount of time sheltered at home,” Ziffer said. “As we transition to reopening, spending time in Florida State Parks is an important part of our physical, mental, and economic health recovery. Some might say, it is just what the doctor ordered.”

The Foundation was created in 2003 as Friends of Florida State Parks. It was later renamed to the Florida State Parks Foundation in 2018.

The nonprofit corporation is devoted to supporting and sustaining the Florida Park Service and its 157 parks and trails.

Volunteer grants available

Volunteer Florida announced a $496,000 grant to help nonprofit organizations in Florida recruit and retain skill-based volunteers.

“Florida’s nonprofit organizations rely on highly-skilled volunteers to provide essential services to our communities, from mental health support to reading interventions in our schools,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “I am pleased to join Volunteer Florida as they make this funding opportunity available through the Volunteer Generation Fund and I encourage Florida’s nonprofits to apply.”

The grant comes by way of the Volunteer Generation Fund and is funded by the Corporation for National Community Service.

Casey DeSantis was a champion of Volunteer Florida, helping get $496,000 to help nonprofits recruit and retain skill-based volunteers.

The funding is expected to help nonprofits support 9,600 skilled volunteers who together will contribute roughly 72,000 hours of service, the value of which is assessed at $1,73880.

“As Florida’s lead agency for volunteerism and service, we are proud to announce this funding opportunity which will support and strengthen the operations of our state’s nonprofit organizations,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Clay Ingram. “Whether you are just beginning your journey as a nonprofit or have been serving Florida’s communities for years, the Volunteer Generation Fund is a great opportunity for those interested in expanding their reach through national service.”

The grant will take special consideration for organizations serving rural communities and help create economic opportunities.

More details on the grant can be found online.

More volunteer grants

Volunteer Florida has $120,000 available for local governments, districts and higher education institutions launching Community Emergency Response Team or Citizen Corps programs.

“My administration is proud to make these programs available which further promote disaster response and resiliency in Florida’s communities,” DeSantis said. “As a state, it’s important that we all do our part to prepare so that we can work together and help our neighbors in need.”

Individuals learn basic disaster skills through the CERT and Citizen Corps programs, individuals learn basic disaster skills, allowing them to provide support to their communities during emergencies and disasters. The programs also help communities become safer, stronger and better prepared to respond to an emergency situation through education and training, according to Volunteer Florida.

Volunteer Florida’s Clay Ingram is promoting programs to help individuals learn basic disaster skills.

“As Florida’s lead agency for volunteers and donations before, during and after disasters, Volunteer Florida is proud to offer this funding which prepares citizens to take action in times of emergency,” Volunteer Florida CEO Ingram said. “CERT and Citizen Corps grantees strengthen the work of emergency management officials and play a key role in response and recovery efforts.”

Volunteer Florida administers both programs together with the Division of Emergency Management and FEMA.

“Every year, Florida can count on a large volunteer base as a part of our hurricane response, but we know many of those volunteers are older and will not be able to support our state this year while staying protected from COVID-19, which is why this funding is so important to tap into additional resources and expand our volunteer base,” DEM Director Jared Moskowitz said. “While this hurricane season brings many challenges, we are fully prepared to respond in collaboration with our partners at Volunteer Florida.”

Fixing glitches

With a new law signed this week by DeSantis, the Florida Commission on Human Rights says the agency can more efficiently serve Floridians by fixing technical glitches.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Darryl Rouson and Rep. Bruce Antone removes the requirement that 55-plus retirement communities register with the commission (FCHR). The communities no longer need to register, but the commission says it will continue to investigate allegations of discrimination there.

A bill by Darryl Rouson removes a technical glitch that requires 55-plus retirement communities to register with the FCHR. Image via Colin Hackley.

Additionally, the measure allows the commissioners to meet with a quorum of six members rather than seven. Twelve members — appointed by the Governor and approved by the Senate — comprise the commission, but there are currently only six commissioners, rendering the panel unable to conduct official business.

The Legislature established FCHR in 1969 as the agency enforcing the Florida Civil Rights Act and Fair Housing Act. Through education and partnerships, the commission aims to prevent discrimination and litigation by teaching best business practices and fostering understanding among Floridians.

Furthermore, it allows the commission to nominate fewer than 10 nominees to the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

“On behalf of the Commissioners and staff of the Florida Commission on Human Relations, I want to thank Gov. DeSantis for signing this vital legislation into law today,” said FCHR Executive Director Michelle Wilson.

Puppy power

K9s For Warriors is getting another round of state benefits in the new budget.

The organization trains service dogs to assist veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder and help prevent veteran suicide.

Last year, the organization received $500,000, and this year, the Legislature approved $300,000 of its $612,271 ask.

CEO Rory Diamond thanked DeSantis and legislative chiefs for their leadership and belief in the nonprofit’s mission.

“Truly grateful that @k9sforwarriors was treated incredibly well in the state budget,” Diamond tweeted.

Rory Diamond’s K9s For Warriors was treated ‘incredibly well’ in the new budget.

Sen. Aaron Bean congratulated Diamond and K9s for Warriors in a tweet, and Senate budget chief Rob Bradley joined in the praise.

Rep. Nicholas Duran filed the funding request on behalf of K9s For Warriors.

Florida stands up for its veterans. And … we love dogs. Keep up the great work. @RoryDiamond. @k9sforwarriors makes us North Florida Proud!

The organization pinned the cost at less than $25,000 for each veteran to graduate with a service dog in 2019. Veterans go through a free three-week in-house training program to receive their service dog.

The funding also helps cover staffing needs.

AV cash trashed

One of the many casualties of DeSantis’ $1 billion veto “Red Wedding” was funding for autonomous vehicle shuttles in Northeast Florida.

The price tag for the three autonomous vehicles, including their purchase and maintenance costs, was $2,362,000. Of that, lawmakers had approved a $1 million expenditure.

Elite Parking Services of America, a Jacksonville-based parking service, filed the request. In 2018, the company jumped into the autonomous vehicle industry as Autonomous Transit.

Clay Yarborough’s ask for autonomous vehicle money in Jacksonville is trashed in the ‘Red Wedding’ budget.

“To further promote and accelerate the State and (Northeast) Florida’s leadership in this technology, Autonomous Transit will share the data and research with universities in the area,” according to the budget request. “This will help (Florida) become leaders in this technology thus creating a new economic and workforce opportunity.”

Lawmakers approved the funding while leaders were just starting to consider the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. But in light of more than $1 billion in revenue shortfalls during the pandemic, the cost was too much for the Governor to approve.

Rep. Clay Yarborough was the project’s legislative advocate.

Testing on the vehicles would have started on Jacksonville University’s campus, but Autonomous Transit framed the project to stimulate innovation in autonomous and artificial intelligence technology and economic growth.

Perdido Bay boost

The Pensacola and Perdido Bays Estuary Program is getting a $500,000 boost from the state to improve water quality in the western corner of the state.

DeSantis approved that spending for Escambia County in the new fiscal year’s budget. And that project carried another $2 million funds matched by the federal government.

The project aims to improve wastewater, stormwater and surface water quality in the watershed.

The Pensacola and Perdido Bays Estuary Program gets a boost to improve water quality.

According to the budget request, the combined $2.5 million will help cover pilot projects, water quality monitoring equipment and supplies, and personnel. Pilot projects include oyster restoration, living shorelines, stormwater treatment through green infrastructure retrofits, and education and outreach activities.

The funding will also help cover a Vibrio and algae bloom study by the University of West Florida.

Escambia County says the project will bring habitat restoration and protection and improvements to commercial and recreational fisheries. The county added that the Department of Environmental Protection’s local watershed management plan and the Northwest Florida Water Management District’s Surface Water Improvement and Management plan call for the improvements.

Following the budget’s signature Monday, Florida’s branch of The Nature Conservancy thanked Sen. Doug Broxson and Rep. Alex Andrade, the local lawmakers who advocated for the funding.

“It is a great day for @PPBEP_FLAL and this valuable program to protect our Gulf,” the charitable organization tweeted.

‘Full responsibility’

Old social media posts must haunt the 2nd Circuit Court because a candidate is once again under fire for old posts. And for a second time in a row, the fallout from those controversial comments will play out in a candidate forum hosted by the Tallahassee Bar Association.

Kevin Alvarez, a criminal defense lawyer — and an apparent Jeezy fan — looking to unseat Judge Angela Dempsey, made a series of Facebook posts between 2009 and 2011 using racist, sexist and vulgar sexual terms, according to the Tallahassee Democrat.

Attorney Kevin Alvarez, judicial candidate and apparent Jeezy fan, made a number of questionable social media posts more than a decade ago.

“The insensitivity of quoting song lyrics and the insensitivity of using inappropriate language before I became a lawyer is not a reflection of how I would act today or even in the past five, six, seven years,” Alvarez told a reporter. “I take full responsibility for my juvenile stupidity.”

However, those comments remained on his Facebook page until recently.

In 2018, candidate Christine Thurman similarly came under fire for posts made in 2014 aimed at Muslims and other minorities. She ultimately garnered 25.9% of the vote, good enough for third and last place.

Community members had an opportunity to ask questions of Thurman and other 2nd Circuit Court candidates during that year’s forum, where questions about those posts poured out.

Questions are flowing in ahead of Tuesday’s forum, hosted in conjunction with Tallahassee Barristers and Tallahassee Women Lawyers. But with the Zoom setting this year, the fireworks will likely be different.

Corona Directions

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