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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Fight for your right

Celebrating a century of women’s suffrage, and considering the battles to come.

Fight for your right

In the Reconstruction era between 1865 and 1870, three amendments to the Constitution would right past wrongs and free slaves, give citizenship to former slaves and give African American men the right to vote.

During that time, referred to as the “Negroes’ Hour,” the women’s suffrage movement was active, but not always welcoming to Black women who also sought voting rights.

In a virtual session held Aug. 18, the day women won the right to vote 100 years ago, two University of Florida academics shared the stories of several African American women heroes who not only sought the vote but also were fighting for justice and equal rights on other fronts.

“African American women were very much involved in the fight for women’s suffrage, though their political activism, as well as engagement and significant reform efforts, are sometimes overlooked,” said Lady Dr. Dhyana Ziegler, immediate past chair of the Florida Commission on the Status of Women, who moderated the discussion.

African American women were very much part of the women’s suffrage movement, says Lady Dr. Dhyana Ziegler.

“On this day we stand upon the shoulders of giants,” Dr. Ashley Preston, who teaches at UF and has written three books about African American women’s activism, told the group of 270 viewers. “There’s little knowledge unless you really go out and seek it on these women and the impact that they have had all over the world.”

Dr. Sharon Wright Austin, author and Political Science professor at UF, shared the story of Ida B. Wells Barnett. Born a slave, Wells Barnett was a teacher fired from her job after criticizing conditions in schools in 1891. She would go on to start a newspaper in Memphis. Writing under the pen name Iola, she would decry the lynching of her friend and two other men and, after editorializing on the subject, her offices was burned to the ground and she moved to Chicago to continue her activism, becoming one of the co-founders of the NAACP.

Another crusader highlighted by Austin was Mary Church Terrell, born in 1863 to former slaves in Memphis who would later become wealthy, she was one of the first women to earn a college degree. She, as well as Wells Barnett, were founders of the National Association of Colored women in 1896. With her light skin, she was able to pass for white. Not, said Austin, to gain advantages for herself “but so that she could create greater links between Black and white women. She knew that bypassing for White that sometimes a White woman would be more comfortable saying things to her that they would never say to a Black woman.”

Closer to home, Preston told the group about Mary McLeod Bethune, who started a private school for African American girls in Daytona Beach, which ultimately evolved into coed Bethune-Cookman University.

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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:

Teachers tally court win on reopening — Circuit Judge Charles Dodson ruled Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran overstepped in ordering Florida school boards to reopen all schools five days a week starting in August. The Florida Education Association had sued the administration, saying such an edict violated school districts’ constitutional autonomy. DeSantis and Corcoran both remain confident they will prevail on appeal, and Corcoran on Fox News interview said teachers who won’t show up fearful of the coronavirus will be terminated; he quickly walked those words back. Dodson lifted an automatic stay on his ruling triggered by the state’s appeal.

Governor erred with Justice appointment — The Supreme Court of Florida ruled DeSantis also ‘exceeded his authority” in appointing Renatha Francis to the high court. Rep. Geraldine Thompson filed a suit alleging Francis was ineligible to serve because she had not yet spent 10 years as a member of the Florida Bar. While six justices agreed with an opinion by Justice Carlos Muniz, the body did not call for a new list of candidates, stating Thompson did not seek proper relief. The proper solution would be to require an appointment of an eligible candidate from an existing list. Regardless, Francis will meet the 10-year threshold come Sept. 24.

Nursing home visitation recommendations finalized — The Task Force on the Safe and Limited Re-Opening of long-term care Facilities released recommendations on allowing doors at long-term care facilities to reopen for select family and friends of residents. Policies are expected to go into effect in early September. The task force says masks should be required at all times inside care facilities and any caregivers must be required to wear the same protective gear as health care workers. Hugging will be allowed. Any testing of visitors for COVID-19 that nursing homes may require must be based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration guidance.

College campuses shut down parties — As students returned to state universities this week, administrators took swift action to stop parties and unauthorized gatherings. Eleven were arrested at Florida State University, including seven affiliated with the banned fraternity Alpha Tau Omega who face charges of holding an open house party where alcohol was served to minors. Florida Gulf Coast University suspended two fraternities for hosting parties that directly violated coronavirus-related guidelines. The private University of Miami also evicted students from dorm rooms for violating restrictions intended to prevent the spread of COVID-19 on campus.

Mask rule upheld, lawmaker admonished — Circuit Judge David Frank upheld a Gadsden County mask mandate, and in the process criticized Rep. Anthony Sabatini for bringing so many similar suits forward around Florida. Frank noted the Gadsden challenge, in particular, came after courts had already upheld a similar Leon County mandate in the same circuit. Continuing to bring forward cases could result in sanctions for filing frivolous lawsuits, Frank wrote. Sabatini later said all Floridians have the fundamental right to challenge laws in court, and such a threat of sanctions could have a chilling effect.

Coronavirus numbers

Positive cases:

— 609,074 FL residents (+22,051 since Aug. 21)

— 6,732 Non-FL residents (+469 since Aug. 21)

Origin:

— 4,688 Travel related

— 201,593 Contact with a confirmed case

— 4,930 Both

— 397,863 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 38,029 in FL

Deaths:

— 11,098 in FL

Honoring fallen officers

The Florida Police Chiefs Association and the Florida Sheriffs Association will recognize next month in honor of law enforcement officers that have been killed this year.

Fifteen officers have died this year, including 12 from COVID-19.

“Law enforcement officers traditionally wear mourning bands on their service badges to honor and remember their fallen colleagues,” said Chief Jeff Pearson, president of FPCA and chief of the Satellite Beach Police Department. “The Florida Police Chiefs Association calls on all law enforcement to wear their mourning bands during the entire month of September to publicly salute the service of all fallen law enforcement officers in the state of Florida.”

FSA President and Gilchrist County Sheriff Bobby Schultz said the fallen deputies gave the ultimate sacrifice for their communities and epitomized the best of law enforcement.

Gilchrist County Sheriff Bobby Shultz, head of the Florida Sheriffs Association, honors those officers who gave the ultimate sacrifice. 

While we honor and remember them daily, the world together honors them in September as we mourn each lost hero,” he said. “With our law enforcement partners across the state, the Sheriffs of Florida solemnly salute each and every law enforcement officer killed in the line of duty.”

Including 91 officers who have died with COVID-19, 169 law enforcement officers in the United States have died in action this year. That is a 67% increase from last year, according to the Officer Down Memorial Page.

Attorney General Ashley Moody joined the groups in remembrance.

“When the world was told to stay home, these officers, without hesitation, answered the call of duty to serve their communities and protect our citizens,” she said. “Even as COVID-19 cases began to multiply and protests against police made their way to Florida, these officers still put on their badge, uniform and a mask and went to work serving others.”

‘World Water Week’

Agriculture Commissioners Nikki Fried on Monday recognized World Water Week 2020 and applauded the Florida Legislature for their efforts to protect Florida’s waters.

“Water is the lifeblood of our state, and crucial to our ecology, our economy, and our way of life,” Fried said in a statement. “It’s critically important that we do all we can to remediate and restore Florida’s treasured waters for years to come, from our springs and estuaries to our lakes, rivers, and coasts.

“As we celebrate World Water Week 2020, I’m grateful to the Florida Legislature for providing important resources this year to help our department protect Florida’s waters, including funding for water restoration in the Lake Okeechobee watershed, for cost-sharing on water quality projects in the greater Lake Okeechobee basin, and for our Office of Agricultural Water Policy to help farmers and ranchers implement water-conscious practices. I’m proud of our efforts toward the continued improvement of the waters on which all Floridians rely.”

World Water Week is an annual event organized by the Stockholm International Water Institute in Sweden. The event has been held for 29 years and has “developed into the world’s most influential, innovative and dynamic movement focused on transforming global water challenges,” SIWI website says.

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) and its Office of Agricultural Water Policy are tasked with strengthening Florida’s waters.

Come on down

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis sent a letter to the top businesses in California, New York and Chicago this week, urging them to relocate to the Sunshine State.

“My message to businesses in California, Chicago and New York is simple: your politicians don’t appreciate you,” Patronis wrote. “While states like New York and California over-regulate and overtax their businesses, Florida has a business-friendly climate with no personal income tax and limits on burdensome regulations.”

Jimmy Patronis is calling on businesses in California, New York and Chicago to give Florida a chance. 

Patronis serves on the Enterprise Florida, Inc. Board, the state’s main entity charged with business recruitment. In recent months, he has publicly welcomed business giants such as Tesla and Uber to relocate to Florida.

Florida’s low taxes are a common selling point for Patronis. With Chicago, however, he harped on the issue of public safety.

“Also, in contrast with Chicago where they can’t keep the public safe, Florida is one of the safest states to live and run your business as we have hit a nearly 49-year low in crime rates thanks to a robust network of dedicated first responders. From the Panhandle to the Keys, our state is a beautiful place to live and work and I’m here to tell the world that Florida is open for business!”

Instagram of the week

The week in appointments

Holmes County Hospital Corporation — DeSantis appointed Jerry Dixon and Jennie Goodman to the Holmes County Hospital Corporation on Thursday. Dixon, of Graceville, is a retired Holmes County School Board principal. He worked for the Holmes County School Board system for over 44 years as a principal and coach. Goodman, of Bonifay, is a registered pharmacist for Golden Drugs where she has worked since 1996. She served on the Chipola Junior College Board of Trustees from 1999-2007 and was elected chair from 2002-2003. Both were appointed to four-year terms.

Celebrate Suffrage

Secretary of State Laurel Lee announced the launch of CelebrateSuffrageFlorida.com, a website commemorating and celebrating the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage on August 26.

“The perseverance of the suffragists is inspiring and we must never take the right to vote for granted,” said Secretary Lee. “I invite everyone to explore the website to learn more about this important milestone in American history.”

The site will include the history of the struggle for suffrage, profiles of Floridians who engaged in the fight, and resources for further study. Also included on the website is a video in which Lee provides a historical overview of the suffrage movement in Florida.

The website content was generated and designed by staff from many areas of the Department, including the Division of Historical Resources, the Office of External Affairs, and the Division of Library and Information Services.

The department plans to update the website periodically to include information about new exhibits and events related to women’s suffrage and history.

In late October, the Museum of Florida History will launch a temporary exhibit, Beyond the Vote, which explores women’s activism in Florida.

To view a video of Lee honoring the 19th Amendment, click on the image below:

Distinguished service

The National Guard Association of Florida awarded Sen. Tom Wright on Tuesday with the Major General Ronald O. Harrison Distinguished Service Award.

The award is presented annually to recognize an individual who has offered “exceptionally outstanding service and contributions over an extended period of time” to the Florida Army National Guard and the Air National Guard.

“Through the years my wife Cindy and I have personally devoted our time and resources to give back to those who have given so much to secure the freedom we enjoy each day,” Wright said. “It was an honor to be recognized by the National Guard Association of Florida and to receive this award standing among our local veterans who continue to serve their communities and inspire me each day to never give up advocating for them at the local, state and national levels.”

Senator Tom Wright, right, accepts the Major General Ronald O. Harrison Distinguished Service Award from the National Guard Association of Florida. Colonel (Ret) Ronald G. Corey, left, presents the award. Image via Space Coast Daily.

Wright serves as Chair of the Senate Committee on Military and Veterans Affairs and Space. He also serves on the Florida Defense Support Task Force, Veterans Foundation of Florida and Halifax Urban Ministries, which oversees the Barracks of Hope that provides transitional housing to struggling veterans.

According to the National Guard Association of Florida, the Ronald O Harrison Award was created in 2003 to honor MG Ronald O. Harrison, who served as the Florida National Guard Adjutant General from 1992 until his retirement in 2001.

New approach

Citing the “outrageous” failures of the CONNECT unemployment system, Rep. Ben Diamond is calling on Chief Financial Officer Patronis to provide leadership on state contracting issues.

In a letter released to the press, Diamond outlines several measures to enhance oversight and accountability.

The suggestions include bringing in experts to oversee large contracts, ensuring contracts contain accountability provisions, enhancing training for agency contract managers, and disclosing more information to the public.

Ben Diamond is calling on CFO Jimmy Patronis to tighten up state contracting issues.

“State agencies have had special difficulties with private technology vendors, leading to poor outcomes and poor service. The debacle with the CONNECT system and DEO’s poor oversight is only the latest example,” Diamond wrote. “As the saying goes, the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.”

Florida “needs a new approach to procurement,” Diamond concludes, “one that ensures accountability, transparency, and proper oversight in every phase of the contracting process, and gives citizens confidence that political pressures will not inappropriately influence vendor selection.”

The letter comes shortly after Deloitte, who built the CONNECT system, was granted a $135 million contract to design a data “warehouse” for the state’s Medicaid system. The Agency for Health Care Administration was in charge of vendor selection.

It is only the latest list Diamond has sent to Patronis in the pandemic era. In March, he wrote a letter asking him to call an emergency meeting of the Florida Cabinet to discuss and address the fiscal impact of the spreading COVID-19 virus.

In it, he implored the CFO “to explore all possible ways to slow spending, conserve cash, and freeze new hiring.”

Veteran entrepreneurs

Veterans Florida is partnering with St. Petersburg-based JULO Strategy to facilitate its Entrepreneurship Program. JULO will offer the CEO Mindset Facilitated Growth program, which aims to assist veterans in developing as business owners.

“Enhancing veteran entrepreneurs’ natural leadership skills with JULO’s mentorship allows them to delegate responsibilities and focus on growing their businesses,” said Joe Marino, Veterans Florida Executive Director.

Veterans Florida is partnering with St. Petersburg-based JULO Strategy to bolster its Entrepreneurship Program.

JULO plans to hold meetings virtually due to COVID-19. The program is open to qualified veteran entrepreneurs across Florida.

“We are absolutely thrilled to be working with the team at Veterans Florida again this year. It is really rewarding to witness the impact that our programs are having on veteran business owners’ growth and profitability in Florida. Our hope is that we’ll reach even more veterans this year. Thank you to Veterans Florida for recognizing and supporting these entrepreneurs. It’s just good business … for them and for Florida’s economy,” JULO Strategy Chief Strategist Juliann Nichols said.

Veterans Florida is the state’s nonprofit created to help military veterans transition to civilian life. They claim to have generated $24 million in revenue, opened 154 businesses, and hired 209 employees since 2016 through their Entrepreneurship Program.

Resiliency funds

A $2.3 million grant was awarded this week to help more than two dozen Florida communities prepare for rising sea levels.

The Resilience Planning Grants and Resilience Implementation Grants were awarded to 30 coastal communities in 17 coastal counties. They are intended to help local governments prepare for the current and future effects of rising sea levels, including coastal flooding, erosion and ecosystem changes.

“Florida continues to lead the nation in resiliency and preparedness,” said Florida Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein. “These grants help balance the needs of our resources while protecting residents’ homes and livelihoods in coastal communities.”

DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein says Florida is leading the county in resiliency preparations.

RPG funding is designed to help cities and counties to improve their resiliency planning. In particular, the grant will help local governments comply with the “Peril of Flood” statute, which helps ensure coasts will recover and move forward faster after natural disasters.

The Peril of Flood statute requires coastal communities to analyze the current and future effects of flooding from sea level rise, storm surge, and precipitation in their coastal management plan.

The RIG funding is intended to help coastal communities support nature-based options for erosion and flood control. Those efforts might include coral reef and mangrove restoration, elevating public structures and other projects in existing resilience plans.

COVID-19 AmeriCorps funding

Volunteer Florida is distributing $360,000 to five organizations that are developing AmeriCorps Programs in their communities with a focus this year on alleviating the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I am so proud of the work that Floridians are doing to not only stop the spread of COVID-19 but help their neighbors in need,” DeSantis said. “I applaud these organizations and the many others across our state that are stepping up and supporting community members who need a little extra help during this difficult time.”

The five named organizations will receive up to $75,000 for a one-year planning period to prepare for managing a future AmeriCorps program. Volunteer Florida will also offer technical assistance and support for managing those programs.

Volunteer Florida’s Clay Ingram says when times are tough, Florida rises to the challenge.

“We were overwhelmed by the number of applications that we received for this funding opportunity — a true testament to the giving spirit of our state,” Volunteer Florida CEO Clay Ingram said. “When times get tough, Floridians rise to the occasion by protecting each other and serving each other. We look forward to supporting the work of these organizations in the years to come.”

Children’s Home Network in Hillsborough County, Literacy Alliance of Northeast Florida, the University of Central Florida, Senior Resource Alliance — Area Agency on Aging of Central Florida and the Florida Association of Healthy Start Coalitions were named the five recipients. Their projects will benefit education, high-risk young families and seniors.

The organizations may apply for grant awards subsequent to their planning year to implement their proposed program.

Biggest BHCon ever

More than 2,000 registered for the Florida Behavioral Health Association’s annual conference last week, marking the most ever in the conference’s history.

The event, known as BHCon, is the largest behavioral health conference in the southeast.

BHCon leaders credit the virtual format, prompted by COVID-19, for the larger audience.

“While it was not the three-day, in-person conference we are all used to, I am proud of our staff for creating a remarkable event where our attendees were able to learn and grow in mental health and substance use knowledge,” said FBHA President and CEO Melanie Brown-Woofter.

Casey DeSantis, Ashely Moody and Mary Mayhew were among the special guests at the virtual 2020 BHCon, the biggest ever. 

The event featured several notable speakers including First Lady Casey DeSantis and Attorney General Moody, who spoke on the opioid epidemic.

Attendees also heard from Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma, who recently spoke on the opioid crisis with DeSantis and the First Lady at a mental health roundtable in Orlando.

In his opening remarks at BHCon 2020, Lemma said his county loses over 80 annually to overdose. He also credited medical-based treatment and cognitive behavioral therapy as the best path forward toward recovery.

“We can help change the face of addiction,” Lemma said.

Speaker videos and PowerPoints from BHCon 2020 can be found online.

Quality care

Community Health Centers across Florida are to receive over $6 million in quality improvement awards from the federal Health Resources and Services Administration (HRSA).

The HRSA-funded centers will use these funds to strengthen quality improvement activities and expand primary health care service delivery. The quality improvement awards recognize the highest performing health centers nationwide, as well as those health centers that have made significant quality improvements from the previous year.

“Florida’s Community Health Centers deliver unparalleled patient care to over 1.6 million people, and these grants will support their vital efforts to help vulnerable Floridians during this unprecedented pandemic,” said Andrew Behrman, president of the Florida Association of Community Health Centers.

Community Health Centers often serve people for whom other primary health care is inaccessible and are committed to treating all patients regardless of their insurance or ability to pay. There are more than 600 sites across the state.

In recent months, health centers have been on the front lines preventing and responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency — Florida’s Community Health Centers have administered nearly 350,000 coronavirus tests, many of them among Black and Hispanic communities that have been disproportionately impacted by the virus.

Job well done

The American Bar Association awarded Miami-Dade County Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin their 2020 Robert B. Yegge Award, noting his trailblazing and transformative work in judicial administration.

The ABA cited Ruvin’s efforts to transform an antiquated, cumbersome, paper-based system into the nation’s first paperless court system. Digitizing property records, moving foreclosures to an online format, and countless other strategic innovations have saved money, increased efficiencies, and enhanced accessibility.

Last year, Ruvin launched a paperless, all-digital system in the 11th Judicial Circuit. More recently, Ruvin implemented solutions to keep Clerk’s office services accessible amid the COVID-19 pandemic. He and his team collaborated on creative solutions to continue providing access to essential court services.

The American Bar Association honored longtime Miami-Dade County Clerk of Courts Harvey Ruvin its 2020 Robert B. Yegge Award.

His initiatives have been so successful that many are serving as models for other clerk’s offices around the state and country.

“I am deeply honored by this national recognition, and I proudly accept it on behalf of my 1,147 colleagues who come to work every day in the spirit of public service and innovation. They revel in being on the cutting edge of technology and are dedicated to maintaining the people’s access to the courts, even in these pandemic days,” Ruvin said.

The Robert B. Yegge Award, given annually by the ABA’s Judicial Division Lawyers Conference, recognizes a current or former ABA member for exceptional and noteworthy work through legal, scholarly or civic avenues. It is named in honor of Robert B. Yegge, former Dean Emeritus of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and former Chair of the Lawyers Conference.

Leasing the Turnpike

Leasing the Florida Turnpike could pad Florida’s coffers with $11 billion to $17.9 billion, according to a study released this week by Reason Foundation.

A 50-year lease could bring in an average of $14.5 billion to help fund other transportation projects, the think tank found by extrapolating from comparable toll road leases worldwide. That’s after paying off remaining Turnpike bonds.

“The bottom line is that the immense value of the Florida Turnpike system could be used to greatly improve the state’s fiscal condition,” said Robert Poole, the think tank’s director of transportation. “The lease agreement would ensure meaningful state oversight of the toll rates and key performance indicators for the Turnpike system while providing greater accountability and transparency for the public and toll-payers.”

Leasing the Florida Turnpike could bring in billions in revenue.

Five U.S. toll roads have entered into long-term leases in recent years, including the Chicago Skyway, Indiana Toll Road, and the San Juan, Puerto Rico, toll roads. A growing number of states, including Florida, have asked the private sector for finance, build and operate new facilities.

“Most toll road leases limit annual toll rate increases to the rate of inflation, as is already the practice in Florida, so drivers shouldn’t fear that,” Poole said. “And as an investor-financed business, a toll road company would likely speed up modernization efforts and Florida’s ongoing elimination of toll booths in favor of all-electronic tolling.”

The study focuses on three possible ways Florida could use the cash haul. It could reduce state debt, pay nearly half the state’s 2018 unfunded public employee pension liability or go toward some of the Department of Transportation’s $64.3 billion in unfunded highway projects in its 2045 Multi-Modal Plan.

#PledgeTLH

With the first week of classes complete at Tallahassee’s three colleges and universities, the student government associations at each are asking students and community members to pledge to protect public health amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Florida State University, Florida A&M University and Tallahassee Community College are partnering with local leaders to promote a safer environment for the entire community.

“It is imperative that we as students come together to ensure that we are united for our institution and for the Tallahassee community,” said Jonathan Levin, FSU Student Body President. “Regulations have been established, processes have been explained, and it is up to us to be responsible and accountable for our actions moving forward.

In signing the pledge, students, Tallahassee residents and business owners agree to only meet in small groups, practice social distancing, wear face coverings and practice good hygiene.

FSU Student Body President Jonathan Levin calls on all students to ‘come together to ensure that we are united for our institution and for the Tallahassee community.’

“We all know that college is the best four years of our lives, but safety has to be our No. 1 priority through these difficult times,” said Xavier McClinton, FAMU Student Body President. “We all must do our part to help protect the FAMILY and the Tallahassee community from the spread of COVID-19 because these tough times won’t last forever and the best way to push through this is together.”

TCC Student Body President Micah Mitchell added: “Be mindful of your health, as you determine the health of your community.”

The City of Tallahassee, Leon County and Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce are supporting the student-led effort.

“I commend the student leaders at FSU, FAMU and TCC for their leadership in this campaign,” Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey said. “I have taken the pledge because we each have a role to play in slowing the spread of the virus and keeping our campuses and our community safe.”

People can sign the pledge at pledgetlh.fsu.edu.

“It has been a blessing and a privilege to return to Tallahassee and walk around our campus,” Levin said. “However, for this blessing to once again become a daily part of our FSU experience, we must take the necessary precautions to fight COVID-19.”

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