Rally at the Restaurant
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis will take to the road next month to spotlight the need for business protections against COVID-19 liability lawsuits.
Patronis will travel to restaurants in large and mid-size media markets to garner more support for the protections ahead of the 2021 Legislative Session.
The “Rally at the Restaurant” tour will kick off the first week of December.
“The tour will focus on supporting small businesses, passing COVID-19 liability protections, and getting Florida’s economy back on its feet,” CFO spokesman Frank Collins said.
Since May, the CFO has advocated for legislation that would protect businesses from frivolous lawsuits amid the pandemic. He’s stressed that it’s a necessary step in Florida’s path to economic recovery.
“Folks are already operating on thin enough margins,” Patronis said Nov. 7 at the Florida Chamber Insurance Summit. “We need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to help them protect their employees and protect their customers.”
Patronis, a former restaurant owner, is not alone. Other lawmakers, including freshly minted Sen. Danny Burgess, have signaled support for liability protections.
Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican, said he has legislation ready to file to protect businesses that follow state and federal health guidelines from facing lawsuits. Similarly, his bill would protect individuals from being sued by businesses.
Republican Rep. Tom Leek of Ormond Beach said COVID-19 liability legislation would get airtime in the new Pandemic & Public Emergencies Committee he chairs. Additionally, Naples Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo said her chamber’s pandemic committee would consider similar legislation.
However, striking a deal on liability protections will be a delicate balancing act between protecting business and Floridians.
St. Petersburg Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond, a small-business man himself, said safety should be at the legislation’s core.
“It’s like every other hard legal issue we struggle with,” Diamond said. “But the devil’s in the details here.”
Notably, state business leaders’ task force in late September recommended that essential businesses be exempt from future COVID-19-related lawsuits.
Further task force recommendations included raising culpability and evidentiary standards. Under those proposals, businesses must have acted with gross negligence or intentional conduct to be held liable.
The task force recommended clear and convincing evidence to establish liability rather than a preponderance of evidence.
Gov. Ron DeSantis has also floated liability protection legislation as one of his priorities. He warned that businesses statewide share a profound concern over lawsuits.
“I think it holds the economy back,” DeSantis contended.
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.
The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Lawmakers swear in — With elections in the rearview, lawmakers arrived in Tallahassee for an organizational Session and swearing-in for the 2020-2022 term. In his first speech as the official presiding officer for his chamber, Senate President Wilton Simpson focused on the COVID-19 pandemic and the need to “tighten our belts” concerning the state’s budget as a result of the pandemic’s economic impact. Meanwhile, Speaker of the House Chris Sprowls promised Florida would be a home for free speech while promising to crack down on violent political protesters.
Accept the COVID-19 risks — While lawmakers officially were only required to undergo temperature checks to go to the House floor, nearly all took COVID-19 tests. Ultimately, seven House members, six Republicans and one Democrat, could not attend after testing positive or having someone close to them who had. One state Sen., Tom Wright, did not go to the Senate floor following a positive COVID-19 test. Sen. Ray Rodrigues had already announced he could not attend because he had the coronavirus; Rodrigues was hospitalized this week because of COVID-19 symptoms.
Governor outlines vaccination plan — Following a Washington, D.C. meeting with officials at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, DeSantis outlined plans for distributing newly approved vaccines for COVID-19 in Florida, suggesting the first could be administered as soon as three weeks from now. Five Florida hospitals are already able to store the vaccines manufactured by Pfizer and Moderna. The vaccines require hyper-low temperatures for storage but also report a promising 95% effective rate. DeSantis also said a new antibody treatment would be available for those suffering mild and moderate symptoms from coronavirus infections.
Mayors demand stronger action — A coalition of Mayors, meanwhile, issued a call this week for DeSantis to change his mostly hands-off approach to controlling the spread of COVID-19. That comes as infections once again begin to soar in the state. Miami Mayor Dan Gelber led a virtual news conference Wednesday, joined by St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernández, Sunrise Mayor Michael Ryan and Miami Shores Mayor Crystal Wagar. Among other actions, the group wants DeSantis to reconsider a statewide mask mandate or at least allow fines and penalties by local governments to enforce their own ordinances.
SpaceX launches from Cape — Crewed spaceflight returned to the Space Coast with the SpaceX Dragon launch. Four astronauts rode in the capsule lifting off from Cape Canaveral, then docking with the International Space Station. It marked the second human-crewed flight for SpaceX, which launched its first rocket in May. The astronauts will stay in the station for five to six months until another SpaceX crew arrives to relieve them. The launch was bumped for 24 hours because of weather connected to Tropical Storm Eta. The regular flights hold significance in that there is once again regular traffic by astronauts through the spaceport since the retirement of NASA’s space shuttle program in 2011.
— 910,065 FL residents (+51,480 since Nov. 13)
— 13,353 Non-FL residents (+1,386 since Nov. 13)
— 8,450 Travel related
— 348,303 Contact with a confirmed case
— 9,762 Both
— 543,550 Under investigation
— 53,091 in FL
— 18,110 in FL
‘National Adoption Month’
Gov. DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis joined the Department of Children and Families this week in recognizing November as “National Adoption Month.”
The annual observance is meant as a sign of appreciation for and families who have adopted children and also serves to raise awareness of the many children in Florida waiting to find safe, loving homes.
“Last year, over 4,500 children were adopted into more than 3,000 families in Florida — I thank those families and commend the child welfare professionals and legal teams who work tirelessly to support them,” Gov. DeSantis. “These children can grow up healthy and happy, with the potential to have a significant, long-term impact in our communities and the state as a whole.”
To watch First Lady DeSantis introduce National Adoption Month, click on the image below:
The First Lady added, “I’ve had the honor of witnessing an adoption ceremony as First Lady and I was so moved by the children’s big, bright smiles, and the overwhelming sense of love in the courtroom. I strongly encourage all Floridians who have the ability to adopt to seriously consider it.”
Throughout November, DCF and its child welfare partners statewide will share adoption success stories, profiles of children available for adoption, and resources to help those considering adoption through the social media initiative, #MyForeverFamILY.
“I think it’s important to note that adoptive parents come from many different walks of life, and whether they’re adoptive or not, no two families look the same,” DCF Secretary Chad Poppell said. “It doesn’t matter if you’re older or younger, married or single or already a parent; if you have a place in your heart for one of the 700 Florida children who currently need someone to love and care for them, I hope you will explore adoption.”
Drop a line
To the delight of Florida anglers, DeSantis announced that Red Snapper Season will be extended for several days in November.
Private recreational anglers can now throw a line into the Gulf of Mexico and federal waters Nov. 21, 22, 27, 28 and 29. State for-hire operations, meanwhile, are limited to red snapper fishing in Gulf state waters only.
“Gulf Red Snapper Season is one of the many reasons Florida is the Fishing Capital of the World,” DeSantis said. “I’m pleased to offer these additional fishing opportunities so close to Thanksgiving weekend, which is a great time to reconnect with family and friends and take advantage of Florida’s abundant coastline.”
The Governor’s Office credited the State Reef Fish Survey for making the additional days possible. The survey provides the authorities with data to be better to monitor the reef fish population and more.
Notably, those 16 or older who fish from a private vessel must sign up as a State Reef Angler if they plan to catch reef fish. Anglers can sign up cost-free online or at any location that sells fishing licenses.
Those without a license, however, can legally test their luck on Nov. 28.
“Saturday, Nov. 28 is also a saltwater license-free fishing day, a great time for Florida’s residents and visitors to try out fishing in Florida without needing a license,” highlighted FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton.
More on red snapper season is available online.
‘Back the Blue’
Attorney General Ashley Moody recognized Palm Beach Sheriff’s Deputy Corey Reece this week for rescuing a four-year-old girl while off duty and on vacation in Tampa.
“I am incredibly honored to recognize Deputy Corey Reece with a Back the Blue Award for his courageous efforts in rescuing a four-year-old child from an attempted kidnapping,” Moody said. “The fact that Deputy Reece was off duty and on vacation during this horrific incident speaks volumes to the dedication law enforcement officers have to protect and serve, not only their own communities, but anyone in need.”
To watch a video honoring Reece, click on the image below:
Reece was on vacation when heard a commotion outside of his hotel room. When he checked the hallway outside his room, he encountered a man attempting to grab a 4-year-old from their mother.
Reece confronted the man and was able to free the child. He held on to the man until police arrived.
“We are very proud of our deputy’s quick actions and attention to what could have been a very volatile situation,” said Palm Beach County Sheriff Ric Bradshaw. “We are also honored that Attorney General Moody would take the time to recognize Deputy Sheriff Corey Reece with the Back the Blue Award for his heroic actions.”
It’s a wrap
Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried concluded this week the first-ever Florida-Israel Agriculture Innovation Summit.
The four-day virtual summit touched on various topics, including agricultural technology, drones and agrobotics, hemp and cannabis and challenges facing the industry. Participants heard from growers, scientists and government officials.
“The Florida-Israel Agriculture Innovation Summit is a collaboration between two agriculture powerhouse governments, bringing together growers, scientists, and leading Florida and Israeli ag-tech experts to share innovative solutions for challenges facing our farmers and ranchers,” Fried said. “The summit was an incredible opportunity for businesses and individuals to gain insights on important issues facing both Florida and Israel’s agriculture industries.”
In all, more than 600 registered attendees heard from 63 speakers from 27 companies.
The summit came after several Florida officials, including Fried, traveled on a trade mission to Isreal last year.
There, Fried formed Florida’s first Agriculture Innovation Workgroup.
“Innovation and agriculture must go hand in hand since we are obligated to continue producing food while managing strained consumable natural resources, climate change and unexpected pandemics,” said Acting Consul General Galit Paleg of the Consulate of Israel in Miami.
Videos from the summit can be viewed online.
To watch a promotional video for the summit, click on the image below:
Instagram of the week
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The week in appointments
Florida Defense Support Task Force — House Speaker Sprowls reappointed Rep. Thad Altman as chair of the Florida Defense Support Task Force and appointed Rep. Wyman Duggan as a member. Altman, an Indialantic Republican, represents District 52, which includes Patrick Air Force Base. He has served in the Legislature since 2003 and co-sponsored numerous military- and veteran-friendly bills during his tenure. Duggan, a Jacksonville Republican, represents District 15, which includes the Naval Air Station Jacksonville. Duggan served in the United States Marine Corps Reserve from 1993 to 1995. He is an attorney by trade and the former chair of the Jacksonville Charter Revision Commission.
Courage, commitment and compassion
During the State Board of Education Meeting this week, First Lady DeSantis presented the Courage, Commitment and Compassion Award to Phillip Adams, a child advocate and abuse survivor.
Adams, originally from Boston, Massachusetts, survived child abuse and now speaks about the importance of schools as a safe haven for at-risk youth. Adams, 43, is a father of seven.
“I want to commend Phillip Adams for lending his voice to the countless children who suffer abuse and cannot advocate for themselves,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “His story is compelling and a testament to the mentorship provided every day by our teachers to students who are struggling. Phillip’s advocacy for mentorship as a key tool to promoting and supporting mental well-being and resiliency in our children and youth will continue to make a lasting impact across Florida.”
In 2019, First Lady DeSantis created the Courage, Commitment and Compassion Award to recognize those who live by the Golden Rule and whose actions exemplify kindness.
“First Lady Casey DeSantis continues to fight for the well-being of all Florida’s students and is laser-focused in her mission to help all children become resilient and persevere through any of life’s challenges,” said Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran.
In October, Adams spoke before the Children and Youth Cabinet, which the First Lady also leads.
“First Lady Casey DeSantis has shown time and time again her passion for helping Florida’s students and families,” said State Board of Education Chair Andy Tuck. “Her work has established better cross-agency coordination and bolsters student’s long-term resiliency. I applaud her continued efforts, and look forward to our continued collaboration to ensure all Florida students receive a world-class education.”
New and improved
The Florida Department of Education has overhauled an online portal that helps families get information on how their kids’ schools perform.
DOE says parents who visit the newly updated KnowYourSchools portal will find that it’s easier to get the information they’re looking for, such as school- and district-level educational outcomes.
The “beta” version of the portal was first unveiled in early 2019, and DOE used feedback it received during the beta period to inform the redesign.
“Florida’s KnowYourSchools portal has now surpassed all other states’ school report card websites in the nation by bringing educational data to Floridians in a way that is both informative to families and empowering for educators and school leaders. I am confident parents will find it especially valuable when looking for student academic growth and progress at their child’s school,” Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran said.
“Through our KnowYourSchools information portal, we are providing a central location that will help communities gain the insights necessary to help our students improve, achieve their unique goals and become lifelong learners.”
The KnowYourSchools portal allows users to search for schools by ZIP code, school name or city; view state, district and school report cards; and get an in-depth look at school-specific reports on enrollment, per-pupil expenditures, race/ethnicity, gender, assessments, educator experiences and more.
DOE said it would continue improving the portal with “new enhancements that will help families and communities stay informed about their schools.”
A different kind of National Adoption Month
In the world of child protection, November is a special month.
It’s National Adoption Month — and today, coincidentally, is National Adoption Day. Kristen Solomon, the statewide director of operations at the Florida Guardian ad Litem Program, says the observance represents the culmination of the program’s work to help abused and neglected children find safe, loving homes.
“Sometimes those homes are their own, when their parents succeed in reunifying the family. When that cannot be, we celebrate adoption as another way for children to find the homes they deserve,” she said. “This year, due to COVID-19, our celebrations have been different, but no less heartfelt. We’ve seen thousands of online adoptions, and this month we’re cheering new forever families in car parades statewide.”
Alysha Jackson’s family held the first Zoom adoption in Lake County from their kitchen in April. She and her husband, Nathan, adopted two children, then 1 and 2 years old.
“I really would not have had it any other way,” she said. “Our entire family was able to attend — grandparents, great-grandparents.”
Jackson also sings the praises of her adoption case manager, Chelsey Atkinson of Kids Central, and Nicole Cole, the Guardian ad Litem who represented the children in dependency court. They always responded quickly to her “millions of questions.” And the Jacksons’ friends and church family stepped up, too, bringing food and babysitting.
“All too often, the child welfare system’s tragedies are the only events made known to the public,” says Marcia Hilty, the GAL circuit director for Lake County. “In this instance, the Jackson family’s actions represent the remarkable good being done here locally and throughout the state.”
Solomon said National Adoption Month is about “cheering not only for the forever families, but for the big-hearted people who make adoptions happen, both professionals and volunteers. We’ll see a lot of them in November, but they are in all our communities, working every day of the year, for which we should all be thankful.
More than 10,000 Floridians volunteer as Guardians ad Litem, working with program attorneys and social workers in teams to represent abused and neglected children in court and advocate for their best interests.
Those interested in learning more about the Guardian ad Litem program or volunteering can call 1-866-341-1425.
The Florida State Parks Foundation applauded Florida’s Greenways and Trails System this week for welcoming more than 10 million annual visitors during the last financial year.
“During this period of restrictions and social distancing due to COVID-19, it is very encouraging to see that people are taking advantage of all Florida’s state parks, greenways and trails and turning out in record numbers,” said Foundation President Gil Ziffer.
Marjorie Harris Carr Cross Florida Greenway ranked as the most popular trail over the year, boasting 71,000 acres and 3 million visitors.
“The trail welcomes exercise enthusiasts and casual visitors alike, with plenty of outdoor recreation activities for everyone from hikers, paddlers and mountain bikers to young families with strollers and friends enjoying a refreshing walk through nature,” a news release said.
The Office of Greenways and Trails works with stakeholders to plan and implement some of Florida’s more than 7,500 trail miles and 4,000 miles of paddling trails.
The Florida Parks Foundation is a nonprofit corporation intended to support the Florida Park Service and its 175 parks and trails.
The last financial year concluded June 2020, the news release said.
Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein this week joined leaders from the Florida Cattlemen’s Association, the Florida Wildlife Corridor campaign and DEP’s Division of State Lands to tour some of the conservation projects underway on the state’s working lands.
“Florida’s working lands and ranchlands are crucial pieces of the state’s past, present and future,” Valenstein said.
“Not only do they sustain an important pillar of our state’s economy and cultural history, but they are also living, breathing laboratories that provide invaluable insight to better inform our efforts to protect and preserve Florida’s natural resources and the wildlife that depend on them. A science-based approach to land management must be part of the foundation of Florida’s land conservation efforts and our path forward.”
On the agenda were Archbold Biological Station, Buck Island Ranch and Hendrie Ranch. DEP said those on tour were able to observe firsthand the research and sustainable agricultural practices to protect and maintain the natural landscape of the Lake Wales Ridge/Sandhills ecosystems.
Comprising more than 13,000 acres of working land, Buck Island Ranch and Hendrie Ranch include ecologically diverse habitats and pasture areas, semi-native grasslands and wetlands. These ecosystems are home to plants and animals found nowhere else on Earth. In particular, Buck Island Ranch serves as critical habitat for the Cooper’s hawk and short-tailed hawk.
Both sites are under consideration for acquisition through Florida Forever, the state’s conservation lands acquisition program.
If purchased, the state would preserve the land in perpetuity through conservation easements, enabling landowners to sustain their trade, support the local economy and continue conservation stewardship.
Florida TaxWatch has named its executive officers for the 2021 Board of Trustees, including former U.S. Sen. George LeMieux as chairman.
“In the historic and unprecedented times we find ourselves in today, the hard work, oversight, and data-driven research of Florida TaxWatch has never been more important,” LeMieux said. “I am truly honored to serve as Chairman of this respected and valuable nonpartisan research institution and look forward to continuing our critical work with Florida’s government and business leaders to ensure a strong future for our state and its taxpayers.”
Piyush Patel, president and CEO of Kyra Solutions, will serve as the Chairman-elect. Former State Sen. Pat Neal will stay on the Board as Immediate Past Chairman.
“We are thankful for the hard work and guidance of Immediate Past Chairman Sen. Pat Neal and look forward to the good work of our new Chairman, Sen. George S. LeMieux, and the rest of our talented Executive Officers as we fight together on behalf of Florida taxpayers,” said TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic Calabro.
Other officers on the board are James Repp of AvMed Health Plans as treasurer, and Marva Johnson of Charter Communications, serving as secretary. Twelve others make up the Executive Committee.
“Florida TaxWatch is humbled by the dedication of our volunteer leadership and grateful for their commitment to serve not only our organization, but the taxpayers of our state,” Calabro said.
‘Business Leader of the Year’
The Florida Council of 100 has named John Ramil the winner of the 2020 Governor’s Business Leader of the Year Award.
Since 2002 the Council of 100, which represents more than 140 major companies in the state, and the Governor have coordinated the annual award to highlight a leader excelling in business and civic or philanthropic work. The award’s purpose is to recognize consistent stewardship in Florida, showcasing model leaders within the state.
Ramil, the chairman of Guidewell and the former president and CEO of TECO Energy, began his 40-year career as an entry-level employee while still attending the University of South Florida. Under his leadership, TECO grew to a market cap of more than $7 billion, making it the largest natural gas distribution business in Florida.
During his tenure, shareholders were rewarded with a 13% compound growth rate and a 48% stock price premium when the company went through a merger.
“John Ramil perfectly exemplifies the values that the Governor’s Business Leader award stands for,” said Steve Halverson, chairman of The Haskell Company. “He combines a long, tremendously successful business career and has been a dedicated, impactful Florida civic leader. His imprint in Florida is large. We are a better state for having John Ramil as a citizen.”
Ramil is also a director of the H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center, past chair of the Tampa Chamber of Commerce, past chair of the American Cancer Society of Tampa and a leader for other civic organizations. He has also served as a trustee and chair of the University of South Florida.
“Long before social responsibility was a popular idea in corporate America, John engrained this principle into his strategic priorities at TECO,” said Pat Geraghty, president and CEO of Florida Blue and GuideWell.
‘Call the Shots’
Florida A&M University’s College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Institute of Public Health has launched a “Call the Shots” campaign urging everyone six months and older to get an annual flu vaccine.
With the COVID-19 pandemic overlapping with the impending flu season, health experts stress the need to be vaccinated.
“It is always important to get your flu vaccination, but as our community continues to fight COVID-19, it is especially important for anyone six months and older,” said Claudia Blackburn, health officer with the Leon County Health Department. “In 2019, we lost 2,703 Floridians to influenza and pneumonia. Pneumonia is often a complication from the flu. Compounded with a global pandemic, our bodies and health care systems could use all the protection we can possibly get this year.”
FAMU President Larry Robinson said given the global pandemic threat, everyone should take advantage of flu shots.
“COVID-19 has put a spotlight on what can happen to communities and persons of color where there are underlying health disparities when faced with a major public health threat. Call the Shots provides an opportunity for individuals to protect themselves, their families and their communities. That’s the truly important message,” Robinson said. “COVID-19 is disrupting households, communities, and businesses, even how we operate at Florida A&M University. This flu season can compound those issues. That’s why I am urging everyone to go out and get their flu shot.”
Florida A&M University is partnering with universities and health care institutions across the state to work on a $1 million National Institutes of Health grant on community outreach and engagement to minority communities disproportionately affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Led by population health experts and physicians with the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine, the effort is titled “Community Engagement Alliance Against COVID-19 Disparities” or the Florida CEAL Team. It includes a group of partner experts at Florida International University, the University of Florida, FAMU, Moffitt Cancer Center and Health Choice Network.
FAMU’s project is led by principal investigator Cynthia M. Harris Ph.D., who directs the FAMU Institute of Public Health and is associate dean of the FAMU College of Pharmacy & Pharmaceutical Sciences.
In collaboration with UF, FAMU will conduct community outreach and promote community engagement to determine the level of awareness and understanding of COVID-19 in the African American community.
University researchers will identify corresponding solutions to increase engagement by utilizing community health workers focusing on African American communities in Leon, Wakulla, Gadsden, and Jefferson counties.
FAMU also will work with communities to understand and promote participation in clinical trials and implement and evaluate the impact of strategies that increase the enrollment of African Americans into COVID-19 vaccine and therapeutic trials, Harris said.
“Given the devastation COVID-19 has caused on African Americans and other communities of color, all of these projects are vital,” Harris said. “If we are to end the tragedy of this pandemic, we must be proactive in our outreach and understand the disproportionate challenges faced by communities of color.”
The Florida State University Board of Trustees this week voted unanimously to make the Dedman School of Hospitality FSU’s 18th college.
The decision is more than a simple renaming. It also positions the college for growth in several ways, according to Don Farr, Dedman Professor of Hospitality Management and dean of the new college,
“I think it gives us a little more independence and a bit more control of our destination as far as our vision is concerned,” he said. “We are redoing our five-year plan because — through hard work — we’ve been fortunate to achieve many goals ahead of schedule. But there are things, such as a new Ph.D. program that, hopefully, we’ll add in the future.”
Farr credited Sally McRorie, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, for helping to shepherd Dedman from being part of the College of Business to become its own school and now a college.
McRorie said the change acknowledges the success and commitment of Dedman’s faculty and students.
“The Dedman College of Hospitality has a long history and great recent expansion of working with hospitality industry leaders and preparing our graduates for outstanding careers,” she said. “This latest milestone brings the college into the same highly competitive market as its peers, both those we already outperform and those that remain aspirational. This recognition will give the college a clear advantage as it looks toward new opportunities in the state of Florida, nationally and around the world.”
The newly minted college will add a new undergraduate degree program in Recreation, Tourism and Events in the spring semester. The College of Applied Studies at FSU Panama City previously housed the program.
In recent years, Dedman has shot up the charts at the Shanghai Ranking Consultancy, the preeminent university hospitality programs ranking. Dedman is currently ranked No. 7 nationally and No. 15 in the world.