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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Celebrating women’s suffrage

“Women’s voices matter, women’s leadership matters.”

As part of the 2020 commemorations surrounding the centennial of women’s suffrage, the Florida Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemoration decided to take a page from our foremothers and sponsor monthly “teas” to learn more about the subject.

Guest Florida Secretary of State Laurel Lee noted that Thursday’s virtual gathering looked a lot different from the tea-and-cakes-in-the-parlor soirees of yesteryear.

“I have no doubt their teas looked a bit different from this one does, but their message was the same,” she told the group of about 110 online participants. “Women’s voices matter, women’s leadership matters, and we need women to be full and equal participants in all aspects of our democracy.”

Florida is celebrating the 100th anniversary of the 19th Amendment, giving women the right to vote.

Lee kicked off her presentation with a recounting of Florida women instrumental in fighting for women’s suffrage. They included Mary Nolan of Jacksonville, who picketed in Washington D.C. in support of a woman’s right to vote and was jailed for civil disobedience when she was 73 years old. She would be arrested nine times and, after her release, traveled the country with other suffrage prisoners seeking support for the cause.

“Think about the contributions of the women who came before us,” Lee told the group. “Value that right to vote. It didn’t come easy. A lot of people sacrificed greatly for us to have it.”

Not that Florida’s record on women’s voting rights was all that sterling, she said, sharing a tale from 1919.

When both houses of Congress approved the 19th Amendment on June 4, Florida’s Legislature was in Session and could have been the first state to ratify voting rights for women before adjourning two days later.

Gov. Sidney Catts supported the amendment and eloquently urged legislators to vote in favor, saying: “The Legislature of the State of Florida will adjourn tomorrow, and it has an opportunity of putting itself on record to be the first state in the sisterhood of states to ratify this great movement upon the part of the federal government. Therefore, as governor of our great state, I earnestly recommend that you, by your vote, ratify this action and add an imperishable laurel to your state, which can never die.”

Didn’t happen.

Florida wasn’t one of the states to ratify the amendment until the Legislature made a symbolic approval vote in 1969 under Gov. Claude Kirk. And Florida never did ratify the Equal Rights Amendment, either.

Fast-forwarding 100 years, Lee also discussed upcoming elections, because, in addition to being the keeper of Florida history, her office also oversees the electoral process.

“I have the privilege serving at a unique and special time in history when we are preparing for a presidential election and also celebrating the centennial anniversary of the 19th Amendment,” Lee said.

She mentioned her department’s efforts to encourage voter participation and registration with help from the Electronic Registration Information Center (ERIC). The nonprofit is a collaboration of 30 states and the District of Columbia that scours databases such as voter registration and driver’s licenses to help assure the integrity of voter rolls.

ERIC also can help identify those who are eligible to vote but not registered. In 2017, the center identified 4.2 million such people in Florida, Lee said.

Secretary of State Laurel Lee speaks at a virtual gathering of the Florida Women’s Suffrage Centennial Commemoration.

“In September, we will be contacting every single potentially eligible unregistered voter in Florida to provide (them) with information on how to get registered and how to vote this year,” she said. “I am expecting that is going to yield record numbers of registration and turnout.”

The Division of Elections is proactively trying to deal with possible difficulties, including bad actors intruding in the process either by hacking election websites or spreading disinformation and changes required because of the novel coronavirus.

“There will be social distancing in place; voting may take a little longer this year,” she shared. “We ask that voters be prepared for that and be patient and understand … if that is the case, it is because we are prioritizing the health and safety of every voter.”

She also made a pitch for citizens to step up and work at the polls on Election Day.

“We absolutely are looking for election workers,” Lee said. “Some of our long-standing, most-dedicated election workers are in that vulnerable age group and aren’t able to serve as election workers this year.”

The next Florida Suffrage Tea Time is set for noon, Aug. 18 and will discuss the contributions of African American women to the suffrage movement. Registration is free. For more information, visit floridasuffrage100.org.

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

Take 5

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

Republican National Convention canceled in Jax — President Donald Trump announced the Republican National Convention would not hold events in Jacksonville, based on the ongoing spike in COVID-19 infections in Florida. The convention in June was largely moved from Charlotte, North Carolina, in part based on Trump’s frustration the state would severely limit crowds while Florida felt they could accommodate them. But over this week, Trump hinted at concerns about the rising number of cases, and ultimately said the event was impossible. “It’s hard for us to say we want to have a lot of people packed in a room and tell people not to do it,” Trump said.

Ron DeSantis shifts tone to resolve — As the number of COVID-19 diagnoses rocketed upward, the Governor shifted his tone. Moving away from castigating the media and the experts who predicted this very spike, DeSantis at a weekend news conference called the virus an enemy, “but so is fear.” “If we approach this with steady resolve, we’ll do better,” he said. But a few days later, he was also drawing attention to the Department of Health reports showing locations with impossibly high test rates, some as high as 100%. On Fox News, he described a “testing industrial complex.”

School opening demand walked back — With many school districts pushing reopening dates to the last day of August, DeSantis signaled he would grant greater flexibility to counties concerned about infection rates. “If a school district needs to delay the school year for a few weeks so that everything will be in good shape, have at it,” he said. He held fast to the need for districts to offer in-classroom learning in the fall and to work to get classrooms reopened. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran on July 6, issued a directive that schools must reopen five days a week, though the Department of Education says that was a clarification of requirements to meet the needed school days in a year.

Vote By Mail settlement reached — A federal judge signed off on a settlement between the Department of State and progressive groups suing Florida over vote-by-mail procedures. The groups sought extensions of deadlines for voters, but the agreement includes requirements of educating the public that vote-by-mail has prepaid postage while encouraging election supervisors to maximize the use of drop boxes where ballots can be delivered by hand. The lawsuit was filed after Florida faced disruption during the March Preference Primary, held less than two weeks after first known coronavirus cases in Florida were reported.

Randy Fine infected, Shevrin Jones recovered — Days after Broward Democrat Shevrin Jones officially recovered from COVID-19, Brevard Republican Randy Fine announced he and his entire household tested positive. Fine announced on Facebook on Monday his wife was diagnosed with the coronavirus, and a couple of days later said he and both his sons tested positive as well. All are under quarantine at their home. “We all feel under the weather now, but nothing that would raise alarms bells if it weren’t ‘COVID.’” Jones previously announced he tested positive for COVID-19 on July 1, and on July 13 was informed by the Department of Health he’s no longer testing positive.

Coronavirus Numbers

Positive cases:

— 397,470 FL residents (+74,468 since July 17)

— 4,842 Non-FL residents (+603 since July 17)

Origin:

— 3,300 Travel related

— 103,725 Contact with a confirmed case

— 3,266 Both

— 287,179 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 23,225 in FL

Deaths:

— 5,768 in FL

Unemployment numbers

As of Thursday:

Claims submitted: 3,290,579

— Confirmed unique claims: 3,086,786 (+150,235 since July 16)

— Claims processed: 2,765,984 (+105,890 since July 16)

— Claims paid: 1,794,469 (+66,631 since July 16)

Total paid out: $11.45 billion (+$960 million since July 16)

— State money: $2,556,812,089

— Federal money: $8,896,300,991

Assistance available

DeSantis announced approval this week from the Florida Housing Finance Corporation Board of Directors to release $75 million in assistance for Floridians in need of rental and mortgage assistance due to COVID-19.

The $75 million will be released to local governments and compliments the $250 million made available by the Governor through the CARES Act.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has caused profound disruption to families throughout the state,” DeSantis said. “It is my hope that these funds and the rest of the $250 million will provide some level of relief to individuals who — through no fault of their own — are now having difficulty making ends meet.”

Ron DeSantis and Florida Housing have approved $75 million to distribute to counties for rental and mortgage assistance.

The funding can be used for rental and mortgage assistance payments, emergency repairs and new construction or rehabilitation.

“As Floridians continue to struggle with the negative economic impacts of COVID-19, Florida Housing remains committed to providing renters and homeowners with housing assistance,” said Florida Housing Finance Corporation Executive Director Trey Price.

“We are proud to stand with the Governor to ensure affordable housing remains a top priority, and that families have the necessary assistance to remain in their homes during these difficult times.”

More information on the program can be found online.

ADA Awareness Day

DeSantis issued a proclamation Friday declaring July 24 to be “Americans with Disabilities Act Awareness Day” to commemorate the 30th Anniversary of the federal bill being signed into law.

“The ADA has removed barriers to allow individuals with disabilities the chance to achieve their goals. Florida is happy to be an accommodating state. Florida’s constitution, the ADA, and the laws of our state affirm equality and inclusion for people with unique abilities,” DeSantis said.

To watch a proclamation of ADA Awareness Day, click on the image below:

The proclamation was made alongside a virtual statewide celebration held with self-advocates, state and community leaders, and disability organizations. A recording of the celebration was posted on YouTube by the Agency for Persons with Disabilities.

Kazana McKenzie, a self-advocate with Pyramid Studios, opened the event by singing the national anthem. Local and state leaders including DeSantis, Agriculture Commissioner of Nikki Fried, Rep. Loranne Ausley, Secretary of State Lee, Tallahassee Mayor Pro-Tem Dianne Williams-Cox, Leon Commission Chair Bryan Desloge, EEOC Rep. Elaine McArthur and ABLE United Executive Director John Finch.

“America is a better place because of the ADA. This landmark legislation was critical to allow people to be a part of their communities. The ADA provides vital access to buildings, jobs, education, and the entire community for individuals with special abilities,” said APD Director Barbara Palmer.

Fried added, “As we recognize the achievements of Floridians with disabilities, may we strengthen our commitment to the inclusion and support of those with diverse abilities in our workplaces and communities.”

Top cop names top SRO

Attorney General Ashley Moody and the Florida Association of School Resource Officers named Okaloosa County Sheriff Deputy Jerry Hooks as the 2020 School Resource Officer of the year.

“I am thrilled to congratulate Deputy Jerry Hooks on receiving the School Resource Officer of the Year Award for his tremendous work at Choctawhatchee High School. Deputy Hooks goes above and beyond the call of duty as an SRO through his commitment to ensuring the safety and protection of students, as well as the development of projects and programs within the school,” Moody said. “I am proud to recognize Deputy Hooks for this well-deserved award.”

Attorney General Ashley Moody named Okaloosa County Sheriff Deputy Jerry Hooks as the 2020 School Resource Officer of the year.

Outside of overseeing the safety and security of students, Hooks was recognized for being a positive influence and going the extra mile for the students of Choctawhatchee High School.

Of his several initiatives, Hooks started a clothing closet and food pantry for students in need, remodeled the CHS Spirit Hallway, and assisted the CHS Drivers Education class in creating the Department of Motor Vehicles pamphlets in Spanish.

Hooks’ other responsibilities include serving as the designated liaison for the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office Gang Task Force and working with the State of Florida Juvenile Probation Office to detect known gang members within Okaloosa County schools.

Scam at a Glance

Moody this week announced the release of a new outreach program designed to inform Floridians of common and emerging scams.

The outreach program, Scam at a Glance, will provide downloadable brochures advising Floridians how to protect themselves from falling victim to fraud.

To watch Moody announce Scams at a Glance, click on the image below:

“One of the lessons we are learning from the current health crisis, is that scammers are willing to exploit any emergency to swindle consumers,” Moody said. “Throughout this crisis, we have been working hard to stop scammers and prevent consumer fraud. I want Floridians to have the tools they need to fight back, and that is why Scams at a Glance is so important. The new program is a tool of knowledge against common scams so that Floridians and their loved ones will be protected as we continue to battle the coronavirus.”

Particular scams highlighted in the program include tech support scams and impostor scams.

It will also teach Floridians many general signs of common scams such as unsolicited calls or emails, and high-pressure tactics.

Moody’s outreach program will be available online in both English and Spanish.

She encourages Floridians to report fraud or file a complaint online or by phone at 1 (866) 9NO-SCAM.

Settlement reached

Moody announced this week that Florida and 49 other states would receive multimillion-dollar settlements following a massive health care fraud investigation.

According to Moody, Florida will receive a $3.7 million settlement as part of a larger $117 million settlement with Universal Health Services, one of the nation’s largest for-profit providers of hospital and health care services.

UHS is accused of submitting false service claims to Medicaid beneficiaries. Their listed infractions include excessive lengths of stays, improper use of chemical and physical restraints, failure to provide adequate staffing and training, and billing for services not rendered.

Ashley Moody announced that Florida would be part of a multimillion-dollar settlement following a massive health care fraud investigation.

“Health care fraud hurts consumers, increases costs for patients and rips off taxpayers,” Moody said. “I am proud of our attorneys, investigators, partner states, and the federal government for their roles in this massive investigation that has led to a multimillion-dollar agreement that Floridians will benefit from. Hopefully, this aggressive government action will deter future fraudulent behavior aimed at taking advantage of state and federal health care programs.”

The settlement agreement comes after 18 whistleblower lawsuits were filed in district courts across the country.

The government agencies involved in the lawsuit alleged that UHS’s actions violated the Federal False Claims Act and the Florida False Claims Act.

Protecting veterans

Agriculture Commissioner Fried hosted a town hall meeting this week to discuss with veteran affairs leaders the ways Florida’s military community can protect themselves from scams and fraud.

The group warned that the nature of their work — frequent travel, deployments, and steady incomes — can make service members susceptible to fraudsters and scammers.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is helping veterans avoid scams.

Fried said she is committed to protecting the veterans and service members.

“My message to anyone who would take advantage of Floridians, especially our military personnel and veterans, is simple,” Fried said. “We will not tolerate it, we will find out, shut you down, and hold you accountable.”

Since 2019, Fried’s office has received over 660 complaints from veterans and service members.

Upon taking office that year, she created a Veterans’ Affairs Director position to prioritize veterans further.

“Commissioner Fried’s office serves as a vanguard for those falling victim to consumer fraud and related matters,” said Florida Department of Veterans Affairs Chief of Staff Al Carter.” Together, we have a strong system in place to help veterans avoid predatory consumer practices.”

Veterans Florida Executive Director Joe Marino said the scams can be devastating to transitioning veterans.

“The impacts that these kinds of scams have on service members and veterans, especially those with young families, have a huge effect during their time of transition when seeking a new career or starting a new business,” Marino said

Florida is home to over 65,000 active-duty military personnel and more than 1.5 million veterans.

Hand it over

In the wake of Twitter’s largest-ever hack, Florida’s top financial official Jimmy Patronis has asked Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to share any information that the social media platform is gathering internally with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

CFO Patronis, in a letter penned this week, told the high-profile executive and co-founder, “as your company has indicated it is working with the Federal Bureau of Investigation in investigating the hacks, I am requesting you also provide a similar briefing to FDLE.”

Jimmy Patronis wants Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey to hand over any information gathered as a result of hacking.

Citing Twitter’s massive following and status woven “into the fabric of day-to-day life,” Patronis told Dorsey the company has a responsibility to the Florida public to be transparent, and offer up any leads it may capture for review to state law enforcement for potential prosecution.

In recent days, top brass within the social media giant has confirmed they are investigating security failures, which have exposed hundreds of verified “blue-check” accounts to exposure, including multiple elected and public officials.

Patronis also added his wishes that Twitter provides answers regarding whether any suspected criminal activity involving assets located in Florida and that the platform add safeguards to government-run accounts to prevent future breaches.

Please reconsider

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis urged Citizens Property Insurance Corp. this week to reconsider their plans to drop unpaid homeowner’s insurance policies next month.

“Hurricane season is just beginning to heat up, and we are in the middle of an unprecedented health and economic crisis,” Patronis said. “This is not the time to cancel Citizens’ home insurance policies. Citizens is the state-created insurer of last resort.”

This year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecast an above-normal Atlantic hurricane season with 13 to 19 named storms.

Jimmy Patronis is urging Citizens Property Insurance Corp. not to drop unpaid homeowner’s insurance policies.

Moreover, federal forecasters estimated that three to six of those named storms could strengthen into hurricanes.

Given the hurricane season forecasts and the rampant unemployment brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Patronis said arrangements should be made with policyholders.

“We have a responsibility to work with every policyholder who is unable to pay their premiums due to the COVID-19 pandemic and develop plans to get them back on their feet quickly,” Patronis said. “What they owe must still be paid, but canceling their policies during hurricane season should not be an option.”

Customers with unpaid obligations have until Aug. 15 before policy cancellations are scheduled to resume.

“It is my hope and expectation that the leadership of Citizens Property Insurance Corporation will move quickly and reverse their August 15 cancellation decision.”

Instagram of the week

 

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Wayne Lawrence photographed Rep. John Lewis in his Washington, D.C., office in February 2019. “I’m always a little nervous at the beginning of a session, but when he greeted me, he looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘It’s so good to see you here,’ and I knew exactly what he meant,” Lawrence recalls. “When you step into his office, if you had no idea who he was, the walls had dozens of stories to tell. Amazing photographs, and so much more, were evidence of the incredible sacrifices that him and others have made so that people who look like me could be recognized and respected in this country.” Lawrence’s portrait accompanies a remembrance by activist, educator and writer Brittany Packnett Cunningham (@mspackyetti): “Among the greatest to farm the lands of liberation, John Lewis sits high in the American canon of heroes because his blood and tears watered the ground on which we now stand.” Read more at the link in bio. Photograph by @waynelawrence

A post shared by TIME (@time) on


The week in appointments

3rd District Court of Appeal — DeSantis appointed Alexander Bokor of Miami to the court. Bokor has been a judge on the 11th Circuit Court since 2018. The University of Pennsylvania Law School alumnus fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Vance Salter.

6th Circuit Court — The Governor named Joshua Riba of Safety Harbor to the 6th Circuit Court. Riba, a graduate of the University of Florida College of Law, has been a judge on the Pinellas County Court since 2016. He fills the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Dee Anna Farnell.

Florida Commission on Human Relations — DeSantis made a half-dozen appointments to the commission. Joining the panel are Darrick McGhee, a lobbyist at Johnson & Blanton; Dawn Hanson, the director of administration for the Executive Office of the Gov.; Angela Primiano, the administrative director of employee relations for Memorial Healthcare System; Monica Cepero, deputy county administrator in the Office of the County Administrator for Broward County; Libby Farmer, bureau chief for the People First program at the Florida Department of Management Services; and Lee County Tax Collector Larry Hart. All were appointed to four-year terms.

Certified pros

Another 384 child advocate managers have joined the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program with groundbreaking certifications.

Florida became the first state to establish uniform standards for independent child advocates, according to Guardian ad Litem. Child advocate managers serve abused and neglected children in dependency court.

Sen. Gayle Harrell gave the keynote speech at the virtual certification ceremony on Friday.

Sen. Gayle Harrell gave the keynote speech at the virtual certification ceremony of the Statewide Guardian ad Litem Program.

“It raises the whole level of expertise,” the Senator said in a statement. “It ensures a well-trained workforce. These kids have been through trauma, and we want them to have the very best.”

The certificate shows the advocates have received education, training, and on-the-job experience, as well as other training standards.

“This certification will increase the public’s confidence in the skills and integrity of the credentialed Child Advocate Manager,” said Neal McGarry, CEO of the Florida Certification Board, which oversaw the transition.

Because certified managers must meet the Code of Ethical and Professional Conduct, he said, the system offers a real-time, public-access database of their certification status and ethics history.

Chris Groeber, a professor at the University of South Florida School of Social Work who developed the certification course curriculum, said professional certification “sets a quality baseline standard,” and “it shows our commitment to families that we will guarantee you this standard.”

Spike the hike

Sen. Victor Torres wants the Florida Healthy Kids Corporation to waive a $31 monthly rate increase coming in September for children’s Medicaid.

Starting Sept. 1 for October MediKids’ full-pay program coverage, the monthly cost will rise from $157 to $187.96. Torres found that price increase was concerning during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Although I can understand the need for an increase, now is not the time to be presenting this to families and would encourage your organization to hold off for at least six months before instituting the change,” he said. “This pandemic has caused enough hardships on the citizens of Florida who have faced layoffs, terminations, and furloughs, which must be taken into consideration.”

The Florida Legislature won’t meet again until March, but Torres asked Florida Healthy Kids Corporation CEO Ryan West to delay the increase to allow lawmakers to discuss premium increases.

Sen. Vic Torres is asking Florida Healthy Kids Corporation CEO Ryan West to delay any premium increases.

MediKids recipients receive their health care services through Medicaid’s Managed Medical Assistance program.

Mary Mayhew, secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, warned this week that the state Medicaid program could face a significant funding gap.

The agency in April estimated a $1 billion general-revenue hole in the 2020-21 Medicaid budget if enrollment reached at least 3.78 million, but enrollment had topped that with 4.1 million enrolled by the end of June — a result of families hit financially by the pandemic.

Flounder rules

Florida’s fisheries have likely overfished flounder in recent years, leading the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to draft precepts for flounder fishing.

If the new rules are approved in October, recreational fishing would close in November. The commission also looks to halve the recreational bag limit to five fish per person.

New regulations would limit commercial trips and vessels to catches of 50 pounds in November. Outside of November, vessels would be limited to 150 flounder.

To combat overfishing, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is drafting rules for flounder fishing.

For both recreational and commercial fishing, the proposed rules would increase the minimum size 2 inches to 14 inches total length.

Additionally, all of the commission’s regulations would extend into federal waters.

Those regulations would attempt to limit overfishing on Florida’s Atlantic coast, revealed through a 2019 Fish and Wildlife Research Institute stock update. A south Atlantic multistate assessment found similar results in the region.

“Florida’s flounder fishery is a popular inshore fishery and in recent years staff has heard a variety of concerns from anglers and requests for management changes to address those concerns,” according to an FWC memo.

The commission gathered public input on proposed rules over the past two month with mixed results. The new guidance would replace regulations in place since 1996.

A majority supported a November recreational closure but opposed a commercial closure. Others wanted the recreational closure to last more than one month.

Accessibility matters

One in five state park visitors have taken advantage of accessibility features, according to the Florida State Parks Foundation.

That’s according to a survey of 760 park visitors that found that 90% of families experienced no accessibility issues while at the park. Another fifth of survey respondents said they did not realize the accessibility features — including free all-terrain wheelchairs, rollout mats accessible kayak launch sites and special signage for deaf and blind guests — were available.

“It is encouraging to see that Florida State Park Service annual improvements have resulted in most people having no accessibility problems in our parks,” said Gil Ziffer, the foundation’s president.

One in five state park visitors have taken advantage of accessibility features.

People said they would like to see more wheelchair-friendly trails, ADA-camping spots, more ramps and more benches on trails.

“The Florida Park Serve and the Foundation are committed to ensuring that our visitors with disabilities are included and immersed in our park experience,” he said.

Each of the last several years, the Florida Park Service has budgeted $4 million for accessibility. This year, the Foundation is funding the design and construction of the first-ever wheelchair-accessible glass-bottomed boat for Silver Springs State Park.

And later this year, work is slated to begin at Wekiwa Springs State Park on the Serenity Garden, a park specifically for people with disabilities and special needs, which Ziffer called the first of its kind in the nation.

Road worries

Florida TaxWatch is raising questions about the financial viability of the Suncoast Connector, one of three new toll roads approved in last year’s Legislative Session.

The state has no cost estimate for any of the three roads commissioned through the Multi-Use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) program. But TaxWatch believes it could cost between $4 billion and $10.5 billion — or $25 million to $70 million per mile.

“Today, Florida TaxWatch urges further analysis of the costs, benefits, and practicality of the Suncoast Connector, especially now that our state is facing unprecedented revenue shortfalls due to COVID-19,” TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro said.

The Suncoast Connector would need to generate $2.37 million in toll revenue per mile to satisfy projected bond costs, based on the midpoint of TaxWatch’s estimate. That is 10% more than the average revenue per mile of the entire Florida Turnpike System.

On the high end of the watchdog’s cost estimate, that percentage rises to 60%. TaxWatch doubts the Suncoast connector could break even in the required time frame.

“It is our sincere hope that our analysis of the need for, cost of, and revenue potential from the Suncoast Connector helps ensure this program proceeds thoughtfully to strengthen the self-supported and self-funded Florida Turnpike System and serve Floridians well throughout the state as a positive investment of taxpayer dollars,” Calabro said.

Thanks a million

With $5 billion in federal funds coming to long-term care facilities nationwide, the Florida Health Care Association is thanking the Trump administration for helping protect the state’s elderly population during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We deeply appreciate President Trump and CMS Administrator Seema Verma’s prioritization of nursing homes as we work to protect our residents and staff from COVID-19,” FHCA Executive Director Emmett Reed said. “This additional federal funding will support our state’s nearly 700 nursing centers in their ongoing vigilance to keep residents safe and staff protected.”

The elderly and people with preexisting conditions are the most at-risk for a severe infection. As of Friday, 2,599 of the 5,653 Floridians who have died from COVID-19 have been residents and staff of long-term care facilities.

Florida senior advocates praise Donald Trump and CMS Administrator Seema Verma’s prioritization of nursing homes.

DeSantis has touted the state’s elder care response as the best in the nation, citing the decision to keep positive residents out of nursing homes and facility testing and support efforts. The federal Provider Relief Funds would bolster that effort.

“Having added resources will reinforce the support we’ve already seen from Gov. DeSantis, the Florida Legislature, and the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA), who continue making our long-term care facilities a priority throughout this state of emergency,” Reed said.

The state has also supplied personal protective equipment, but outbreaks have not relented.

“The COVID-19 crisis is resulting in enormous cost increases to facilities associated with PPE, infection control supplies and meeting staffing needs,” Reed said. “This support will go a long way in meeting the needs of our members, who we know will be in this battle for months to come.”

New power generation

The state’s association of municipally run utilities has selected a new slate of officers to lead the “public power” organization.

Now heading up the FMEA’s executive leadership board are President Allen Putnam, utility director of Beaches Energy Services in Jacksonville Beach; President-elect James Braddock, Director of Support Services and Internal Auditing for the City of Wauchula; Vice President Robert McGarrah, general manager of the City of Tallahassee electric and gas utility; and Secretary-Treasurer Paul Jakubczak, Director of Electric & Gas Systems for the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority.

Allen Putnam is heading FMEA’s executive leadership board as president.

“I’ve been a proud member of Florida’s public power network for more than 17 years and I am excited to not only further serve my own public power community through this leadership role, but all of Florida’s public power communities,” said Putnam, whose election as head of FMEA was made official on Thursday.

“Even in the midst of these challenging times, our association and our members will continue to be trailblazers in our efforts to provide the most affordable, reliable and locally owned power to our customers.”

The group represents Jacksonville’s JEA, GRU in Gainesville, and more than a dozen public utilities across Florida at the state level in Tallahassee.

Mega millions

Florida Agricultural & Mechanical University has set an institutional record, pulling in some $60.8 million from state, federal, and private sources to fund research.

FAMU garnered 167 individual grants toward the impressive 2020-2021 annual total, including a $3.4 million research grant from the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Center for Coastal and Marine Ecosystems; $4 million to Patricia Green-Powell and staff of the FAMU Medical Marijuana Education and Research Initiative (MMERI) from the Florida Department of Health for medical marijuana public service education; and $5.5 million National Institutes of Health grant to Karam Soliman, Ph.D., of the FAMU Center for Health Disparities Research.

A $4 million grant is going to Patricia Green-Powell and staff of the FAMU Medical Marijuana Education and Research Initiative. Image via FAMU.

Stephen Leong, Ph.D., has also brought home a $1.8 million USDA grant for the FAMU Evans-Allen Research Program that runs from 2018 to 2020, while Kellie O’Dare, Ph.D., secured $1 million from the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services for the Northwest Florida First Responder Resiliency Project.

The nation’s largest historically Black university by enrollment, FAMU is categorized as a “Carnegie Research 2” institution for the volume of its research activity. It has set reaching Research 1 status as a key goal, to which this year’s bevy of new and ongoing research projects represents significant progress.

Taking action

Amid both local and national conversations about race relations and remediating historical injustices, Florida State University has named members of its Anti-Racism, Equity & Inclusion Task Force.

Chairing the panel will be Maxine Montgomery, a professor of English on the FSU faculty. She will be joined by staff members Brandon Bowden, Assistant Vice President for Student Affairs, and Michelle Douglas, Director of the school’s Equity, Diversity and Inclusion Office.

Dr. Maxine Montgomery, a professor of English at FSU, will lead the Anti-Racism, Equity & Inclusion Task Force.

Other notable members include Miles Feacher, an undergraduate who recently led the charge on removing a statue of Francis Eppes from campus, Kyle Doney from the Seminole Tribe of Florida, and Cassandra D. Jenkins, parliamentarian fo the college’s Black Alumni Association.

The appointments — 30 in all — were announced in a Thursday letter penned by FSU President John Thrasher.

“We have a long history of addressing difficult racism and inclusion issues on this campus, and we know there is still much work to do. As the nation faces great unrest and an urgent call for change, we, as a university, will continue to listen, learn and evolve,” he wrote.

Thrasher said he’s “asked the group to identify racial and ethnic disparities on campus and to implement a range of initiatives, such as developing mandatory diversity and inclusivity training for all campus employees and students and fostering the recruitment and retention of students, faculty and staff from underserved groups.”

The Task Force will report its progress bi-monthly and will produce a final report at the end of the 2020-2021 academic year.

Applications open

The Tallahassee Police Department is seeking young people to join a Youth Citizen’s Advisory Council designed to provide input for consideration by Police Chief Lawrence Revell, who was installed in December 2019.

“An open dialogue with our youth is important. It builds trust and provides perspective. I look forward to working with these young leaders to find solutions that lead to a safer community for everyone,” Revell said.

Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell is seeking young people to join a Youth Citizen’s Advisory Council. Image via Tallahassee Democrat. 

Youngsters wishing to apply can do so at TPD’s headquarters at 234 E. Seventh Avenue in Tallahassee. Due to social distancing guidelines, the building is currently closed to the public. Those picking up or dropping off a paper application will need to ring the bell near the front door for assistance.

Establishment of this council began in March and was halted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Applicants who turned in their application before the pause don’t need to reapply.

For questions about the Youth Citizens’ Advisory Council, contact Deputy Chief Tonja Bryant Smith at 850-891-4411 or Tonja.Smith@Talgov.com.

TPD has been beset by controversy over multiple deadly police-involved shootings this year, as well as a subsequent failure to produce body camera footage in some incidents.

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