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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Second term

Even in a pandemic, few people can resist a good read — and a great bookstore.

Second term

You can take the girl out of politics and put her in a bookstore, but apparently, you can’t completely take the politics out of the girl.

After a successful career as a political operative, Sally Bradshaw decided Tallahassee was ready to support an independent, general subject bookstore. Today, Midtown Reader is celebrating the start of its “second term” — aka its fourth anniversary — with goody bags, balloons, special sale prices and a sidewalk sale.

“We want to thank people for making us successful,” Bradshaw said. “We’ve grown our sales every year. Even in the midst of COVID, we’ve seen a 15 to 20% increase in sales.”

When the pandemic shuttered businesses this spring, “we made a decision to lean into our online sales, and we’ve grown our online business substantially,” she said. The store also instituted same-day home delivery for books (“We’re beating Amazon!”) and continues to offer appointment-only shopping on Mondays. “You can go online, book an appointment, come in, and have the entire bookstore to yourself.”

Even with the COVID-19 crisis, Sally Bradshaw’s Midtown Reader is finding success. Image via Facebook.

Bradshaw said she was “intentionally cautious” about buying too many politically themed books in the beginning. “I want readers of all political stripes to feel like they are in a safe space where they can have a civil conversation and learn and grow.” But she soon discovered Tallahassee craves the political and had to expand the department to meet her customers’ demands.

“It is the state capital, and so nonfiction and history and books about politics, really over-perform here versus in other markets,” she said. “I don’t think that has anything to do with me. I think it has to do with the fact that you have people with talent that are well-read and well educated. They care about learning about their communities.”

The store also has an entire section dedicated to books written by Florida authors or about the Sunshine State.

While author events led to packed houses in the past, Bradshaw said the now-virtual meet-and-greets might have actually expanded Midtown Reader’s footprint “because people who can’t make it to the store … can simply login on Zoom and hear from a terrific author about a terrific book.” Since its inception, she said, the store also has successfully fostered relationships to help support local schools and nonprofits.

Midtown Reader will stay open late Thursday nights in December for holiday shopping, combined with libations and small plates sold at the in-store coffee shop.

Speaking of gifts, Bradshaw has a few suggestions that might appeal to people on your guest list. “Saints of Old Florida” ($48), written by three friends from St. George Island, is a history/lifestyle book with recipes, entertainment ideas and interviews with people who have lived their lives along the Forgotten Coast.

“Designing History: The Extraordinary Art & Style of the Obama White House” ($60) was written by designer Michael S. Smith, who describes his process of redecorating for a First Family with small children and includes a history of the White House and some of the historical art and furniture he found in the warehouse. “It’s a fascinating history of the White House for anyone involved in history — and also art and architecture and design,” she said.

Bradshaw touted her store’s extensive selection of cookbooks, zeroing in on a new personal favorite, “Pie Camp” ($35) by Kate McDermott. “She wrote another cookbook called ‘Art of the Pie’ that I bought several years ago in an independent bookstore in Idaho, and I became obsessed with it,” she said. “She’s now doing online pie-making courses.”

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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:

Tropical Storm Eta drenches state — The storm delivered flooding, sustained winds and one death — a Bradenton Beach man electrocuted in his flooded garage. Eta, the 28th named storm of the season, made landfall in Florida on Sunday and crawled slowly through the state and northward. Heavy rains caused scattered flooding through the Florida Peninsula before the center of the storm eventually reached the Carolinas and then headed out to sea Friday morning. Before hitting the United States, the storm hit Nicaragua as a Category 4 hurricane; 120 deaths in Central America and Mexico resulted. By week’s end, Theta, a sea expected to remain at sea, formed and broke the record for storms in a single season.

Recount ends, final legislative race settled — Republican Ileana Garcia officially unseated Democratic Sen. José Javier Rodriguez after a manual recount, ultimately winning by a margin of 34 votes out of more than 215,000 cast. The Senate District 37 victory means Republicans will enter the next Legislative Session with a 24-16 majority, one seat greater than today. “I wished Senator-elect Garcia well and remain committed to the issues that most impact us,” Rodriguez wrote, while also pushing for an investigation of independent candidate Alex Rodriguez, who ran this year, and with the same last name may have confused voters.

State seeks end to school reopening fight — Gov. Ron DeSantis and Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran filed with the 1st District Court of Appeals asking the court deny a request from the Florida Education Association and others to rehear in a case involving school reopenings. That came after the courts overruled a circuit court decision saying Corcoran overstepped with an order requiring school districts to reopen schools five days a week. The teachers union and other plaintiffs in the case have filed for a rehearing, but in its newest filing, the state argues there are no other grounds to have the matter come back up for consideration.

Incoming Speaker unrolls House rules — Speaker-designate Chris Sprowls released the rules that will govern members in the coming Legislative Session, notably increasing the number of bills Representatives can file from six to seven. The incoming president officer also aims to reduce the number of proposed committee bills by reserving 7000-level bills for significant policy and necessary housekeeping. Sprowls also floated extending the deadline for lawmakers to file drafts to Jan. 29, rather than Jan. 19. Other changes in the works include allowing subcommittees to meet six weeks into Session and limiting “frivolous amendments” on the House floor.

Rodrigues, Thompson contract COVID-19 — The Estero Republican Senator-elect and Windemere Democratic Representative each tested positive the weekend after the election. Both remain in self-isolation. Ray Rodrigues said he was asymptomatic at the time of his test, done during a routine medical appointment. Geraldine Thompson was experiencing mild symptoms. The tests bring known cases among members of the Legislature to six, including Sen.-elect Shevrin Jones, Rep. Randy Fine and outgoing Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Byron Donalds, now a U.S. Rep.-elect. Florida’s positivity rates for COVID-19 testing all-around has topped 5% for more than two weeks. Notably, Sprowls has declined to require coronavirus testing ahead of next week’s organization session.

Coronavirus numbers

Positive cases:

— 858,585 FL residents (+37,059 since Nov. 6)

— 11,967 Non-FL residents (+868 since Nov. 6)

Origin:

— 7,960 Travel related

— 328,175 Contact with a confirmed case

— 9,033 Both

— 513,417 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 51,542 in FL

Deaths:

— 17,659 in FL

Grants incoming

In a Veterans Day announcement, Gov. DeSantis said $1.25 million had been awarded through the Florida Defense Support Task Force (FDSTF) Grant Program to five projects to protect military installations across the state.

Award recipients include the Santa Rosa County Board of County Commissioners, Clay County Development Authority, Polk County Board of County Commissioners, Orlando Economic Partnership, and the South Florida Progress Foundation.

A Veterans Day announcement from Ron DeSantis awarded $1.25 million in grants to protect military bases around the state. Image via Colin Hackley. 

“These grant awards demonstrate the state of Florida’s commitment to our defense communities,” DeSantis said. “Florida continues to be the most military-friendly state in the country, and supporting service members and their families is an honor and responsibility we hold high.”

“These grants reflect the high level of engagement communities throughout Florida have with our military,” added Secretary of Commerce Jamal Sowell, president and CEO of Enterprise Florida. “As a Marine Corps veteran, I take pride in knowing my home state continues to invest in those who serve us.”

$500,000 was awarded to Clay County through the Florida Defense Support Task Force Grant Program to buffer Camp Blanding from incompatible land development locally. Camp Blanding trains over 350,000 Florida National Guard troops, active duty military members and law enforcement units.

The state awarded another $110,000 to the Orlando Economic Partnership supporting their Modeling, Simulation and Training Center, emphasizing its national security value and contribution to Florida’s military installations. The funding will aid their efforts to expand MS&T education, from middle school through graduate school.

‘Paychecks for Patriots’

DeSantis has issued a proclamation recognizing the launch of Florida’s annual Paychecks for Patriots hiring fairs, taking place virtually and across the state through Nov. 21, 2020.

Operated by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity and the CareerSource Florida network, Paychecks for Patriots career fairs connect vets and military family members with hundreds of employers throughout the state. This year, for the first time, Paychecks for Patriots hiring fairs are being held online, although some counties are holding socially-distanced career fairs as well

‘We’re so pleased to bring career opportunities directly to Florida’s veterans and their families through this year’s first-ever statewide virtual Paychecks for Patriots career fairs,” said CareerSource Florida President and CEO Michelle Dennar, who also tipped her cap to the veteran status of Florida’s governor.

Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs Deputy Executive Director James S. “Hammer” Hartsell added: “Florida’s eighth annual Paychecks for Patriots initiative is an excellent example of this enhanced outreach as we connect highly skilled and motivated veterans with gainful employment opportunities.”

Eligible applicants can visit paychecksforpatriots2020.com to find the virtual hiring fair in their area.

To watch a welcome video from DeSantis for the program, click on the image below:

‘Patriot Protection Week’

Attorney General Ashley Moody launched a social media campaign this week to help veterans and military families protect themselves from military-related scams.

Using the hashtag “#protectourpatriotsOAG,” Moody’s campaign also informed Florida’s military community about the different resources possibly available to them.

“As we observe National Veterans and Military Families Month, I encourage all Floridians to take the time to thank and honor our service members and veterans, as well as their families, who sacrifice so much daily,” Moody said. “I believe we have a duty to protect the more than 1.5 million veterans and service members who call Florida home from scammers aiming to exploit their courage and service.”

Notably, Moody published a new, veteran-related brochure for the Scams at a Glance program.

Ashley Moody launches Patriot Protection Week, a social media campaign to protect veterans from scam artists. Image via AP.

The Scams at a Glance program is intended to teach consumers about common and emerging scams.

The new brochure comes months after the Attorney General’s Office released the 2020 Military Consumer Protection Resource Guide. The 36-page guide offers an in-depth look at military-related scams and offers veterans various tips on protecting themselves.

Scams targeting Florida service members, veterans or their families can be reported by calling 1(866) 9NO-SCAM or file a complaint online at MyFloridaLegal.com.

Never forget

The Florida Department of Agriculture is linking up with the University of Central Florida to help memorialize and celebrate Florida’s rich, extensive military history.

Boasting some of the nation’s largest and most strategic domestic U.S. military bases, Florida, in particular, is ripe for this kind of cultural heritage project, said statewide Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.

“We are honored to partner with UCF and participate in the UCF Community Veterans History Project — FDACS will ensure that the agricultural contributions of Florida’s veterans are not forgotten,” said Fried. “We owe it to our veterans to provide them the benefits that they have earned after their years of military service, and that includes ensuring that we preserve their personal histories and the contributions that they have made to our state and nation.”

Fried says there are relatively few records that substantially describe Florida’s veteran community’s lives and work despite their outsize influence in the state’s life. With some 600 central Florida veterans who have volunteered to participate in the program since 2010, that’s set to change.

The Florida Department of Agriculture is partnering with the University of Central Florida to help preserve the memories of Florida veterans.

Students in UCF’s History Department record video interviews with the veterans and compile a digital history that highlights their personal story and military service. They are archived at UCF’s library, with many submitted to the Library of Congress. The veterans featured served in conflicts from World War II to Operation Enduring Freedom in Afghanistan and represented all military branches.

“Florida’s farming and agricultural veterans are an integral part of our state’s history and growth, and they bring a unique and valuable perspective,” said UCF interim Provost Michael Johnson. “Our students are looking forward to learning about the lives of these servicemen and women and to sharing their stories with our community and our nation.”

After Eta

In the wake of Eta’s two landfalls this week, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis‘ office provided tips and resources for those facing tropical storm damage.

Verify the contractors’ license before hiring, and be wary of services that require cash payments, he warned.

“Following any disaster, scam artists are working overtime to defraud individuals in their time of need,” Patronis said. “I encourage all Floridians to be on the lookout for bad actors trying to make a buck off the damage caused by Tropical Storm Eta. “

Jimmy Patronis gives Floridians some helpful tips on what to do post-Eta.

The CFO also offered insurance tips to National Flood Insurance Program customers. NFIP, managed by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, offers flood insurance to businesses, property owners and renters to help mitigate the effects of flooding.

Consumers can reach out to FEMA directly at 1-800-621-3362, but Floridians can also call the CFO’s Insurance Consumer Helpline toll-free helpline at 1-877-MY-FL-CFO (693-5236) Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. or visit the Department of Financial Services’ website at MyFloridaCFO.com.

Resources highlighted by the department give consumers, real estate agents, insurance agents and insurance commissioners information about the NFIP. It also includes guides on how to file flood insurance claims, how to document property damage.

The department also has post-flood tips on recovering, including on beginning cleanup, salvaging valuables and preventing future flood damage. Some advice, including elevating your home, help reduce risk and lower insurance premiums.

Treasure hunt

Patronis also announced this week that his office returned more than $27 million in unclaimed property to Floridians in October.

“With the holidays coming up, now is the perfect time to see if you have any cash available in unclaimed property,” Patronis said. “It has been a difficult year for most and this is the perfect opportunity to close out the year with good news.”

Notably, more than $1.1 billion in unclaimed property has been returned to Floridians since Patronis took office as CFO three years ago.

Jimmy Patronis’ office has returned more than $1 billion to Floridians since he took over three years ago.

“My mission as Florida’s CFO is to return every last cent back to its rightful owners, and I am committed to ensuring that happens,” Patronis added.

The State of Florida defines unclaimed property as a financial asset that is lost, unknown or abandoned.

The most common types of unclaimed property are unclaimed insurance proceeds, stocks, dormant bank accounts, dividends, uncashed checks, deposits, credit balances and refunds. Items in possession of the Division of Unclaimed Property are typically held for five years.

Patronis encouraged all Floridians to reach out to friends and families about unclaimed property.

Floridians can search for unclaimed property and make claims by going online to FLTreasureHunt.gov.

Instagram of the Week

 

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‘Defenders of Home Rule’

The Florida League of Cities has recognized Sen. Jason Pizzo and Rep. Dan Daley with Defender of Home Rule Awards for defending municipal home rule during the 2020 Session.

The Florida League of Cities offers the Defender of Home Rule Award as its highest legislative honor, given only to lawmakers who consistently advocate on behalf of the league and its member cities.

Florida League of Cities legislative affairs director Casey Cook called Pizzo “the kind of legislator you want representing you at the state level.”

Jason Pizzo is among the ‘Home Rule Heros’ honored by the Florida League of Cities.

“The bulk of what we do to protect our cities takes place in the hours spent arguing behind the scenes or in the form of legislative debate that’s both intricate and nuanced,” Pizzo said. “So, it’s intellectually and professionally redemptive to be recognized as a Defender of Home Rule.”

Pizzo has been a “brilliant star” for the community, said Sunny Isles Beach Vice Mayor Larisa Svechin.

“It is when people of our communities are at their lowest and in despair that bold and inspirational leaders shine bright,” she said.

Cook added that Daley understands the importance of local decision making because of his time as a Coral Springs commissioner and vice mayor.

“As a former local elected official, it is a true honor to receive the Defender of Home Rule Award in my first term in the Florida Legislature,” Daley said. “Local elected officials work tirelessly to make important decisions in their community on a daily basis — and Tallahassee should always respect that.”

The Representative’s experience in local government has given cities a voice in the Legislature, added Hollywood Commissioner Traci Callari.

“His tireless work helped preserve the ability for cities to make local choices that are in the best interest of their citizens,” she said.

Crackdown critique

Sen. Randolph Bracy took aim at DeSantis this week, condemning the Governor’s controversial “anti-mob” legislation proposal as “reckless and irresponsible.”

The Governor’s proposal would, among other things, expand Florida’s Stand Your Ground law to allow business owners to use deadly force to defend their businesses from looters.

Bracy condemned the proposal in a news release.

“Gov. DeSantis’ brand of conservatism is looking more and more like Trumpism,” the Ocoee Democrat said. “His proposals to ‘crackdown on protests’ will only fuel racial unrest and violence, not dampen them.

Bracy continued: “DeSantis is treating the law as a playbook for his next election, which is reckless and irresponsible. I condemn this legislation and consider it bad policy.”

Bracy contended that Florida already prosecutes people who create violence or unrest. He also argued that Florida law already provides “strong protections” regarding self-defense.

Randolph Bracy is blasting Ron DeSantis for excessive ‘anti-mob’ legislation that expands the state’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ laws. 

“We cannot allow death to be the punishment for a property crime,” Bracy said.

Protests and riots in cities across the country seized national attention following the death of George Floyd, a Black Minneapolis man who died while in police custody.

President Donald Trump and many Republicans promised to maintain law and order during the 2020 campaign trail.

Suwannee soiree

A group of statewide environmental leaders, including Alachua Sen. Keith Perry and DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein, led a tour of critical conservation projects this week in the Suwannee Valley, a major Florida watershed and ecological linchpin.

The day included a visit to Gilchrist County’s Bell Ridge Sandhills site located within the Devil’s Ear Spring Priority Focus Area — a 3,000-acre grassland ecosystem that plays a critical role in water recharge of the Floridan Aquifer.

Keith Perry, Noah Valenstein and environmental leaders tour critical land conservation projects in the Suwannee Valley.

An ongoing proposal would preserve this land through a conservation easement funded in part by the Florida Forever program, springs funding through the Suwannee River Water Management District and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to ensure the continued protection of these vital natural resources and land.

The group began at Ruth B. Kirby Gilchrist Blue Springs, Florida’s newest state park. The group then made their way to Sawdust Spring, another property located within the Devil’s Ear Spring Priority Focus Area. Recently acquired in partnership with DEP, Alachua Conservation Trust, Suwannee River Water Management District and other local partners, the 163-acre parcel encompasses the spring and nearly a mile of shoreline along the Santa Fe River, designated as an “Outstanding Florida Water.”

Attendees also participated in a paddle tour led by local paddle legend Lars Anderson.

“When you check out the springs in North Central Florida, especially my Senate District 8, you will explore locations that are home to caves, scenic dives, and you can even be an amateur archaeologist in the springs. You will see one of the first-magnitude springs, which are the largest artesian springs ever discovered,” said Sen. Perry. “The springs, lakes and rivers are not only important to our ecosystem, but they also provide educational and recreational opportunities through these investments in preservation and conservation.”

“Our springs are a litmus test for Florida’s water quality; they are the barometer of the effectiveness of our land management activities,” Valenstein said.

“What happens on the land can affect our groundwater, creating a ripple effect that impacts every component of our environment. Protecting and preserving Florida’s natural and rural lands is a critical step in ensuring our key ecosystems are allowed to flourish. These projects highlight the importance of science-based decisions for land conservation and efforts to preserve one of Florida’s unique natural resources.”

No approps

Since 2017, House members have been allowed to file an unlimited number of project bills, an avenue for lawmakers to earn state funding for local programs.

But Rep. Spencer Roach announced this week that he wouldn’t file any project bills for the upcoming 2021 Session, citing the projected budget shortfalls stemming from the pandemic.

Citing budget shortfalls from COVID-19, Spencer Roach is not filing any project bills this Session. Image via Jacob Ogles.

“I will not file any appropriation bills and I hope my colleagues follow suit,” Roach said. “We will not increase taxes to supplement lost revenue and we will not ask the federal government to bail us out.”

The Legislature has funded 2,600 projects since project bills began, costing the state $2.2 billion. Over the next two years, the state is expected to make $5.4 billion less than previously projected.

While the state faces a tighter budget over the coming years, many Floridians have been left unemployed. Some industries face prolonged recoveries.

“We will tighten our belts like Florida families by scrutinizing every dollar in the state budget. I was elected as a fiscal conservative and I intend to govern that way,” Roach said. “We should prioritize the health care, education, and public safety of our children and service for the most vulnerable — not pork projects for members.”

VALOR

The Florida Department of Health announced that since 2013, more than 8,490 military fee waivers have been issued, saving Florida’s veterans and their families nearly $1 million.

The waivers were primarily issued for licensure fees for vets applying to be nurses, health care techs and other medical professionals.

The Veterans Application for Licensure Online Response (VALOR) system provides an expedited licensing process for honorably discharged veterans. Since 2014, nearly 1,700 military veterans were certified through VALOR across 38 different occupations.

“Our state’s active military and veterans are an essential component of our economy, our communities and our health care system,” said Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez. “Programs, such as VALOR, are a small token of Florida’s commitment to aiding the U.S. Armed Forces and their families with opportunities in the nation’s fastest-growing industry.”

Jeanette Núñez is touting expedited occupational licensure for honorably discharged veterans.

“I am grateful and proud to recognize the honorable service of our veterans, active-duty military and their families,” co-signed State Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees. “The Department is committed to supporting Florida’s veterans and I’m proud that we have been able to help thousands of veterans connect with great employment opportunities in health care.”

Going national

Florida Public Service Commissioner Julie Brown has been appointed to the National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners and the U.S. Department of Energy’s Natural Gas Partnership.

The Partnership includes members representing 16 state public utility commissions. NARUC represents state public service commissioners who regulate essential utility services, such as electricity, telecommunications, gas, water and transportation.

The partnership’s goal is to share regulatory and technological solutions to the safety, reliability, resilience, affordability, and environmental performance of natural gas infrastructure, NARUC President Brandon Presley said in a statement.

“I am grateful for this opportunity and look forward to working with fellow NARUC members and the DOE to examine the critical issues related to natural gas regulation,” Brown said. “Our collaboration through this Partnership will benefit consumers as we study new technologies and best practices for natural gas distribution infrastructure.”

As a member of NARUC, Brown serves on NARUC’s Board, Committee on Gas, Subcommittee on Nuclear Issues — Waste Disposal, and its Presidential Natural Gas Access and Expansion Task Force to help expand natural gas service in neglected and rural areas. She previously served on the NARUC-DOE Natural Gas Infrastructure Modernization Partnership.

Since October 2018, Commissioner Brown has served as Chair of the Gas Technology Institute’s Public Interest Advisory Committee.

Billion-dollar boost

The Florida Department of Transportation has given a significant boost to the small business sector during an economically uncertain year, agency leaders say.

“The department is proud to have invested more than $1.2 billion in the businesses that are crucial to the economic prosperity of our communities,” FDOT Secretary Kevin J. Thibault said this week, summarizing annual spending that went to some 199 projects totaling more than $60 million in contracts for certified small businesses.

FDOT reserved nearly $430 million in “Minority/Women Business Enterprise firms,” which FDOT says is an increase of over $40 million compared to the prior state fiscal year.

FDOT Secretary Kevin J. Thibault is cheering $1.2 billion in small business investments.

“As Governor and a veteran, I understand that veteran-owned and small businesses are vital to the success of our communities and our state’s economy,” added Gov. DeSantis. “I am proud of the Florida Department of Transportation’s ongoing commitment to invest in these businesses because this investment provides veteran-owned and small businesses more opportunities to thrive for years to come.”

The state transportation agency also nearly $770 million with Disadvantaged Business Enterprise during the federal calendar year, an increase of close to $87 million over 2019.

Lionfish challenge

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission has announced the winners of its 2020 Lionfish Challenge.

This year’s Lionfish King in the Recreational category was David Connerth of Palm Beach County, with a whopping 1,141 lionfish caught. In second place was Russell Peter of Duval County with 842 removed, followed by Shane Rasch of Palm Beach County, who reeled in 619.

The Commercial category crown went to Duval County’s Isidoro Bedoya, who landed 1,196.5 pounds of lionfish this year. Josh Livingston brought in 943 pounds, while Rachel Bowman of Monroe County rounded out this year’s lionfish angling masters with 932.75 pounds.

The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission presents the winners of its 2020 Lionfish Challenge.

Livingston also took home the Largest Lionfish prize, landing a monster 408 mm lionfish in his native Okaloosa County.

A variety of prizes were awarded to participants, such as Shearwater Perdix dive computers, Paralenz dive cameras, GoPro Hero 9s, steel scuba cylinders, customized neck gaiters, Engel backpack coolers, polespears, Dive Rite steel backplate buoyancy control devices and more.

The agency uses the challenge to incentivize the reining in lionfish, an invasive species that has ravaged aquatic wildlife in several key Florida waterways.

Quick fix

The Florida State Parks Foundation announced plans this week to restore the Barrier Island Trail in Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park in Dania Beach.

The restoration is made possible by a $5,000 grant from REI Co-op. The funds will be used to fill in a waterlogged trail area with crushed coquina shells.

“Filling this area with natural, crushed coquina shell will make the trail safer, more inviting and, most importantly, will allow visitors access to the entire front loop of the trail,” said Foundation CEO Julia Gill Woodward. “We expect that stabilizing the wet, muddy section of trail will increase its safety and usability by many different groups of people.”

Florida State Parks and REI are partnering to restore a trailhead at Dr. Von D. Mizell-Eula Johnson State Park.

REI is an outdoor recreation retail company based in Kent, Washington. The company recently opened a new location in Boca Raton and named Mizell-Johnson State Park as one of the store’s community partners.

“REI invests deeply in the stewardship of the outdoor places its members know and love,” a news release said. “REI actively works with nonprofits across the country to steward and maintain local trails and public lands and connect people to the outdoors.”

The Florida State Parks Foundation helps support the state’s 175 parks and trails and more than 20,000 park volunteers.

‘Salute Our Soldiers’

The Florida Housing Corporation reminded military veterans this week about their newly launched “Salute Our Soldiers” military loan program.

The Salute Our Soldiers program offers down payment and closing cost assistance, coupled with low-interest rate first mortgage loans.

Florida Housing Finance Corporation Executive Director Trey Price said the corporation remains committed to serving veterans.

“We recognize that having a place to call home is an important aspect in all individual’s lives, but especially for veterans and active-duty military,” Price said. “We hope that this program will continue to improve the lives of veterans and the communities in which they live by assisting Florida’s large military population in finding a place to put down roots in our great state.”

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation launched the initiation in March 2020 with $8 million in funds available to military members statewide.

To date, more than 250 individuals have utilized the Salute Our Soldiers program to purchase a home.

The funding is expected to help more than 1,000 military families by the program’s end.

More information on Florida Housing and the Salute Our Soldiers Military Loan Program can be found online.

The program is offered exclusively to veterans and active-duty military members.

To watch a video of the “Salute Our Soldiers” program, click on the image below:

Keep your distance

The Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) is urging Floridians to be mindful of COVID-19 during the Thanksgiving holiday.

“We understand everyone wants to see their family and friends during the holidays, and we need to consider our parents and grandparents who are living in our state’s long-term care centers, as well as the caregivers who are working tirelessly every day to keep these residents safe from the virus,” FHCA Executive Director Emmett Reed said.

With Thanksgiving less than two weeks away, the FHCA encouraged families to follow CDC guidance during their holiday gatherings.

Notably, the CDC recommends limiting the number of attendees, maintaining social distance at all times and requiring masks, among other suggestions.

A full list of CDC guidelines can be found online.

The CDC is outlining ways to stay safe during the Thanksgiving holiday.

“Wearing a mask and practicing physical distancing not only protects you, but it is a sign of respect for our elders and our health care heroes who care for them,” Reed contended.

The FHCA stressed that following CDC guidelines could help protect Florida nursing homes and long-term care facilities from the virus.

“Long-term care facilities cannot lose the progress we’ve made to reduce COVID rates,” the FHCA said in a news release. “To protect vulnerable seniors and long-term care staff, members of the public must do their part to keep the virus from spreading.”

League affairs

The Florida League of Cities this week unveiled its list of priorities for the 2021 Legislative Session.

Some of the League’s priorities this session include sales tax fairness, annexation, short-term rentals, affordable housing and more.

“Florida’s local officials are actively engaged and hard at work as we prepare for the 2021 Legislative Session,” said Florida League of Cities President Tony Ortiz, commissioner for the City of Orlando. “We’re eager to work with our partners at the state level during the upcoming session, and while we’re optimistic about that partnership, we remain committed to our mission of protecting local decision-making for Florida’s cities, towns and villages.”

Each year, the League publishes a Legislative Action Agenda before the legislative session kicks off.

Florida League of Cities President Tony Ortiz is working hard on the group’s legislative priorities for the upcoming Session.

The priority issues are intended to address areas that have a statewide impact on daily municipal operations and governance.

Casey Cook, the league’s legislative affairs director, said the priorities were drafted through policy committees and with consideration for member feedback.

“Local decision-making remains key to ensuring the continued safety and well-being of residents, and this agenda showcases the important role that Florida’s 411 cities play in the success of our state,” Cook said.

The League’s 2021 Legislative Action Agenda items can be found online.

Florida’s Legislative Session begins on March 2, 2021.

Mega money

This week the Florida Lottery announced its contributions to state education funding has reached more than $38 billion since its inception 32 years ago.

The state’s lottery proceeds flow to a dedicated fund called the Educational Enhancement Trust Fund, from which lawmakers appropriate funding for programs for students of all ages from K-12 to postgraduate. Public schools have received more than $20.3 billion, while colleges and universities have received a combined total of more than $9.9 billion.

”We are thrilled to announce this latest milestone in the Lottery’s mission to enhance education in Florida,” said Florida Lottery Secretary John F. Davis.

”Each time a player purchases a Lottery ticket, they are helping students and schools across our state excel. From the first day of kindergarten to college graduation and every day in between, these Lottery dollars are enhancing education in Florida and helping students have brighter futures.”

Additionally, more than $6.8 billion has been used to fund the Bright Futures Scholarship Program, which the agency says has helped over 880,000 students attend college since 1997.

Special guest

CDC Director Dr. Robert R. Redfield visited Florida A&M University (FAMU) on Monday to discuss the university’s COVID-19 response.

During his visit, Redfield highlighted the important role young people and universities play in helping slow the virus’s spread.

“Universities are really key partners in our efforts to combat this epidemic,” Redfield told Florida Surgeon General and Health Secretary Dr. Rivkees, Deputy Health Secretary Shamarial Roberson and university officials.

From Left: CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield, FAMU President Larry Robinson and Florida Surgeon General and Health Secretary Dr. Scott Rivkees at the FAMU Bragg COVID-19 Testing Site. Image via Florida A&M University.

Redfield also noted Pfizer’s emerging COVID-19 vaccine. He encouraged FAMU to help educate and reassure the public about the vaccine’s importance.

“I am going to call on you for another important mission,” Redfield said. “Confront vaccine hesitancy and replace it with vaccine confidence. People who need it the most must have the confidence. You are a trusted source in the community.”

FAMU President Larry Robinson described Redfield’s visit as a welcomed opportunity to discuss and learn more about the COVID-19 pandemic with experts.

“It was wonderful to have him on the campus,” Robinson said. “It was a great exchange.”

Notably, FAMU hosts one of several public COVID-19 testing sites in Tallahassee.

Redfield applauded FAMU’s efforts to combat the COVID-19 pandemic. He encouraged them to continue mitigation measures.

“We are going to get through this,” Redfield said. “We are people of faith.”

Corona Directions

 

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