A time for giving
Local officials from in and around Tallahassee were hip-high in Satsumas after heeding the call from Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried to support the regional food bank on Giving Tuesday.
The group, gathered in the cavernous warehouse of Second Harvest of the Big Bend, was able to repackage five giant pods of the cold-hardy tangerines into 7,000 mesh bags for distribution in 16 counties. The fruit came locally sourced from farms in Jefferson and Jackson counties.
Second Harvest’s service area covers six of Florida’s 10 most-food-insecure counties. But, Fried said, the need for food is critical throughout all Florida regions for different reasons. In the Big Bend — which consists of mostly rural counties — it can be challenging to get food in far-flung impoverished communities. At the same time, Orlando’s need came after massive layoffs in the tourism-focused service industry. South Florida’s colossal population guaranteed there would be significant needs, she said.
Joining Fried in the volunteer effort was Second Harvest’s CEO Monique Van Pelt, as well as newly elected State Sen. Loranne Ausley and State Rep. Allison Tant; Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey and City Commissioners Jeremy Matlow and Curtis Richardson; Leon County Commissioners Kristin Dozier, Carolyn Cummings and Jimbo Jackson; Leon County Clerk of Court Gwen Marshall; Leon County Superintendent of Schools Rocky Hanna and School Board Members Alva Stripling and Darryl Jones; and Public Defender-elect Jessica Yeary.
Van Pelt told the group of leaders the best way individuals in communities can support the distribution to the food insecure is via cash donations. Because of Second Harvest’s ability to secure foodstuffs at rock-bottom prices, “every dollar donated is equivalent to four meals,” she said.
Jackson has been aware of the need for food since the very beginning of the pandemic. In addition to being a Leon County commissioner, he also is principal at Fort Braden School, which serves 700 pre-K through eighth grade students through a wide swath of rural Leon County. When in-school classes were canceled in the spring, the Title I school immediately began distributing daily meals to families in the area. They continue to send home weekend food packages to families in need, he said.
COVID-19 touched the school in a very personal and tragic way. Over the summer, three members of the school’s “family” — a school custodian and his mother, who was a former employee and an after-school program director — died from the disease.
“Giving Tuesday is an opportunity to come and participate … to do a little bit extra today,” Fried said. “It’s going to make such a difference to families in the Big Bend area.”
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:
Schools remain open for the spring — Despite rising coronavirus outbreaks across the state, Gov. Ron DeSantis says classrooms will remain open to students, but schools will be asked to nudge parents of students struggling with distance learning, encouraging them to return to in-person instruction. Parents will still have the final say on their children’s learning model. Under the Department of Education and Commissioner Richard Corcoran’s new order, school districts will submit plans for their interventions by Dec. 15. DeSantis, who has repeatedly declared that Florida won’t revert to lockdowns, called closing classrooms “probably the biggest public health blunder in modern American history.”
Revenue comes in better than anticipated — While lawmakers begin the search for additional state revenue without raising taxes, the Legislature’s budget experts, for the first time since spring, found the state beat monthly beat a monthly revenue forecast from before the pandemic. The report from the Office of Economic and Demographic Research indicated that general revenue coming into the state’s coffers in October was $35.4 million over a pre-pandemic forecast made in January. They also were $313.5 million above a shrunken forecast from August, giving the state three consecutive months of beating that lowered forecast.
Simpson announces committee assignments — Senate President Wilton Simpson released the next two years’ committee assignments, which include Democrats in top roles. Sen. Lauren Book will repeat as Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee Chair, Sen. Jason Pizzo will lead the Criminal Justice Committee and Sen. Darryl Rouson will sit atop the Agriculture Committee. Republican Sen. Danny Burgess will chair the new Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response. The Senate President also announced plans to promote social distancing by constraining committee hearings to the largest committee rooms. As a result, no more than three committees will be meeting simultaneously.
First bills filed for 2021 — Both the House and Senate this week began accepting the first general bills for the 2021 Legislative Session. Rep. Anthony Sabatini filed the first House bill (HB 6001), which would allow people with concealed carry permits to bring firearms onto college and university campuses. That bill immediately drew criticism from Democrats and Republicans, including Florida State University President and former House Speaker John Thrasher. Other highlights include legislation permanently allowing customers to take certain alcoholic beverages to go, made popular during the pandemic. Sens. Jennifer Bradley and Jeff Brandes filed a combined three bills to that end.
Vaccine acquisition — Florida is preparing to distribute the coronavirus vaccine, which could be shipped within 24 hours of federal approval, expected as early as the week of Dec. 14, according to Vice President Mike Pence. DeSantis told Floridians he would prioritize distributing the vaccine to health care workers, and those in high risk and “high contact environments” will be next in line, he said. After that, those 65 and older will be eligible. However, no one will be required to be vaccinated. Early versions of the vaccine will require two doses received weeks apart. An upcoming Johnson & Johnson vaccine, expected next year, would require only one dose.
— 1,022,354 FL residents (+58,603 since Nov. 27)
— 16,853 Non-FL residents (+1,583 since Nov. 27)
— 9,401 Travel related
— 392,170 Contact with a confirmed case
— 11,254 Both
— 609,529 Under investigation
— 56,095 in FL
— 19,236 in FL
Relief on the way
The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded Florida $28 million more through the department’s Disaster Recovery Dislocated Worker Grant this week.
That distribution comes on top of $12 million awarded through the grant for COVID-19 earlier this year. The federal funding will provide disaster-relief employment through temporary jobs, employment and training services, and supportive services to eligible Floridians.
“As our state and local communities continue to recover from the pandemic, I am proud to announce $28 million in additional funding for disaster-relief employment,” DeSantis said. “I look forward to putting these dollars to use right away to give Floridians in need an opportunity to work.”
In Florida, the state Department of Economic Opportunity administers the grant, which provides disaster relief employment, including humanitarian assistance and cleanup activities.
“I want to thank Gov. Ron DeSantis for his leadership and for his steps to reopen the state, so more Floridians can find gainful employment,” DEO Executive Director Dane Eagle said. “We look forward to helping Floridians get back to work and receive the training and support they need as we rebuild our economy.”
Dislocated workers, workers who have been temporarily or permanently laid off because of the pandemic, self-employed individuals who lost work because of the pandemic, and individuals who have been unemployed long-term qualify for disaster-relief employment.
“We are grateful for Gov. DeSantis’ dedication to helping Floridians recover from the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said CareerSource Florida President and CEO Michelle Dennard. “The Disaster Recovery Dislocated Worker Grant will help Floridians who have lost jobs by providing employment and training services. With our partners at DEO, the CareerSource Florida network is here to help our neighbors as they rebound and, ultimately, re-imagine and rebuild Florida’s economy.”
Attorney General Ashley Moody recovered more than $2 million this week for Floridians who suffered COVID-19 related cancellations and scams.
“Floridians have dealt with many challenges during this pandemic,” Moody said in a news release. “Many are struggling financially, and that is why I am glad to announce that our Consumer Protection Division has recovered more than $2 million for consumers.
In all, the Attorney General’s Office has been contacted more than 5,300 times about the price of essential goods. Those contacts have led to more than 10,000 referrals, 107 subpoenas, and the deactivation of more than 258 posts with “outrageous” prices.
The Attorney General’s Price Gouging Hotline helps handle the state’s consumer complaints.
“These efforts would not be possible without the help of the many Floridians who contacted our office,” Moody added. “Our team is still assisting consumers with extreme price increases for commodities and services related to COVID-19. We will continue to work diligently to stop those exploiting this health crisis to target Floridians.”
Price gouging violations come with stiff consequences, Moody warned.
In a 24-hour window, each violation is subject to a $1,000 fine for a maximum of $25,000 for multiple violations.
More information on price gouging can be found online.
To watch Moody’s video about scam protection, click on the image below:
‘Rally at the Restaurant’
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis kicked off his Rally at the Restaurant tour this week, stopping in cities across the state to advocate for COVID-19 liability business protections.
The CFO made stops in several cities, including Gainesville, Tallahassee and Orlando. The rallies, held in restaurants, are intended to garner more support for the protections ahead of the 2021 Legislative Session.
“I’ve spoken to countless business owners and held meetings with Chambers of Commerce statewide, and they all share the same open-ended liability fears and concerns,” Patronis said in Gainesville. “We must allow business owners who follow the proper health and safety guidelines to be protected from frivolous lawsuits and sue and settle tactics that will stifle our state’s recovery.”
During my Rally at The Restaurant Tour this week, we met small biz owners looking for leaders in Tallahassee to have their backs & protect them from frivolous #COVID19 lawsuits. It’s my top priority to support these job creators & get FL’s economy back on it’s feet. #FlaPol pic.twitter.com/kl4oXSr3Nx
— Jimmy Patronis (@JimmyPatronis) December 4, 2020
Patronis, a former restaurant owner himself, has led the push for liability protections in Florida.
He contends the protections are necessary for the state to rebound economically.
“No doubt, unless we take action to protect our small businesses, we’ll see big problems: businesses will close, insurance rates will continue to grow, and critical services will get squeezed,” Patronis said.
Notably, several lawmakers, including freshly minted Sen. Danny Burgess, already signaled support for the idea.
Patronis is optimistic about the legislation’s chances.
“I’m confident that we can pass meaningful liability protections and add Florida to the list of 21 other states that have enacted some sort of liability shields for businesses,” he said.
First responders first
State Fire Marshal Patronis sent a letter to the head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Thursday, urging the agency to reconsider guidance that excludes firefighters from the first wave of people receiving COVID-19 vaccinations.
The CDC ranked health care workers and long-term care residents this week as the highest-priority group for vaccine distribution.
Notably absent among the first recipients: firefighters, law enforcement and other first responders.
Patronis noted that 90% of Florida’s 38,000 firefighters are EMT or paramedic certified.
“Frankly, treating our heroes as though all they do is shoot water from a truck demonstrates an incredible lack of understanding of what is expected of today’s professional firefighters,” Patronis wrote to Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC’s director.
The CFO further contended that firefighters are involved throughout the life support process, often in hazardous and uncontrolled environments.
“In many cases, they do not have the benefit of operating in properly prepared or well-sanitized environments,” he wrote.
With the Food and Drug Administration set to approve coronavirus vaccines within days or weeks, Patronis urged CDC officials to reclassify firefighters as health care personnel.
“If you want to save lives, let’s fix this classification error,” he wrote.
Instagram of the week
View this post on Instagram
The week in appointments
Barbers’ Board — DeSantis appointed John Henry to the Barbers’ Board. Henry, of Ocoee, is a licensed barber of 36 years and earned his barber certificate from the Orlando Barber College. He has owned and operated J. Henry’s Barber Shop since 1991. He volunteers with the Orlando City Soccer Historic Preservation Board, the Steve Harvey Dreamers Academy, the City District Board of Directors, and mentors children in the Parramore community as a PKZ partner. Henry was also a member of the Orange County Economic Recovery Task Force.
Volusia County Court — The Governor appointed Wesley Heidt to the Volusia County Court. The New Smyrna Beach resident has been the Bureau Chief in the Office of the Attorney General since 2008 and previously served as Assistant Attorney General. He is an alumnus of Valdosta State College and the University of Florida College of Law. Heidt fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Dawn Fields.
Holiday toy giveaway
Sen. Randolph Bracy is looking for Secret Santas and Santa’s helpers to bring gifts to children in need in Central Florida.
The Ocoee Democrat’s office is accepting toys to prepare for its Holiday Toy Giveaway on Dec. 19 during the season of giving.
“I hope you will be able to help spread some holiday cheer for some deserving children,” Bracy said.
The Senator has hosted three giving drives in the past. But with the pandemic raging this year, he thinks the safest plan for distributing gifts will be a drive-thru.
“It’s not like how we did it before where kids and their parents could pick out any toy they wanted,” he told Florida Politics.
Bracy’s office has received $2,000 or $3,000 in toys in past years, which he noted can go a long way. Still, they usually run out of toys by the end of the event, so he is hoping for a more extensive collection this year as more people struggle financially amid the pandemic.
“I just think it means something when you’re able to do it in this economic climate,” Bracy said.
Givers can drop off new, unwrapped toys at Bracy’s Orlando district office from Dec. 4-16.
Reducing regulatory red tape
Americans for Prosperity-Florida are commending Sen. Manny Diaz for introducing legislation to reduce regulatory red tape by capping the current number of legally binding rules and requiring the elimination of old regulations to implement new ones.
The libertarian organization, founded by brothers David and Charles Koch, focuses on fiscal responsibility, including cutting taxes and reducing business regulations. Diaz, a Hialeah Republican, filed his bill (SB 152) Friday.
“In a time when many Floridians are hurting, taxpayers cannot afford to be victims of bureaucracies producing counterproductive rules that increase barriers to prosperity and opportunity,” AFL Florida state director Skylar Zander said in a statement. “Too often, regulations and rules result in unfair protection of well-connected businesses and industries from competition.”
Red tape reduction for state governments was part of AFP’s prescribed policy recommendations in its “Recover Stronger” plan to help lawmakers build a more robust economy as the country recovers from COVID-19.
“This bill is what we need to get agencies to cut red tape and help jump-start our economy while still protecting public health and safety,” Zander said. “We will work to educate Floridians on how this bill will make the rule-making process more democratic, accountable, and enable economic growth for our state.”
AFP President Tim Phillips also wrote an op-ed in the Tampa Bay Times this summer with U.S. Sen. Rick Scott on how regulatory reform is key to economic recovery.
Two stretches of highway were renamed this week in honor of Florida Highway Patrol troopers who died in the line of duty.
A section of Interstate 75 between mile marker 399 and mile marker 404 in Alachua County now bears the name of Master Sergeant William Trampas Bishop. He was struck and killed by a vehicle in 2017 while he was investigating a crash.
In Dixie County, the portion of U.S. Highway 19 between County Road 351A and Southwest 307th Avenue was dedicated in remembrance of Patrolman Royston Earl Walker. Walker was shot and killed after stopping a vehicle with faulty headlights in Cross City shortly after joining FHP in 1936.
The designations were made possible thanks to a law ushered through the Legislature by Democratic Sen. Lauren Book and Republican Rep. Chuck Brannan.
“The brave men and women of the Florida Highway Patrol put themselves in harm’s way daily to keep our roadways and those who travel them safe. I was proud to sponsor legislation honoring our fallen troopers who made the ultimate sacrifice in the line of duty,” Book said. “With these designations, our first responders will know that their sacrifice and heroism will never be forgotten by Floridians.”
Brannan added, “It was my privilege to sponsor this legislation so that we can permanently honor those troopers who have given their lives in defense of all we hold dear. It is my hope that the motoring public will always remember their sacrifices as they pass by these markers on our state highways.”
The ceremony for Bishop was held at the FHP office in Gainesville and the ceremony for Walker was held Wednesday at the FHP office in Cross City. Attending both ceremonies were family members, FHP leadership, and state leaders.
“Paying respect to Master Sergeant Bishop and Patrolman Walker by naming a portion of our roadways in their honor is a great tribute,” FHP Director and Col. Gene Spaulding said. “I would like to thank the Florida Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis for ensuring the sacrifices of our fallen heroes are memorialized.”
Tag it up
The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles rolled out its new dashboard tracking specialty license plate sales this week.
The dashboard tracks specialty license plate presale voucher transactions statewide since the presale process began Oct. 16, 2020. It allows users to sort through how many plates have been preordered by Florida drivers down to the county level.
A law sponsored by former Rep. Jamie Grant paved the way for the new dashboard. The legislation also added 32 new specialty license plates, established a cap of 150 specialty plates and formalizes a discontinuation process for low-performing plates.
New to the catalog, assuming they sell through, are plates for the “Divine 9” fraternities and sororities, Walt Disney World and the Coastal Conservation Association.
Notably, FLHSMV is also taking orders for plates repping out-of-state schools such as the University of Alabama, University of Georgia and, of course, Auburn University — getting a War Eagle plate on the back of his car was one of Grant’s top side missions during his time in the House.
But none of those plates have sold more than the tag honoring the Blue Angels, garnered 1,250 presales. Fittingly, the tag honoring the F-18 Super Hornet squadron is selling like hotcakes in Escambia County, which is home to NAS Pensacola — the Blue Angels’ HQ.
The Florida Public Service Commission says Florida Power & Light Company’s SolarNow Program is not ready for sunset.
The panel, which regulates utilities, extended the pilot program’s tariff through Dec. 3, 2025, after previously approving a one-year extension late last year to examine the overlap of the SolarNow pilot program and the previous pending SolarTogether petition.
“The SolarNow program was created to build solar assets directly benefiting the communities they serve in FPL’s service territory, while also encouraging participants to learn more about the benefits of solar,” said PSC Chairman Gary Clark. “New and participating customers can still benefit from this program through December 2025 and also have the option of joining FPL’s SolarTogether program when the extension ends.”
SolarNow is a voluntary program that allows FPL customers to opt-in for $9 a month. The money is used to support the construction and maintenance of new solar power facilities. Customers pay the same rates for electric service whether or not they choose to enroll.
As of August, SolarNow had 51,049 participants.
The electricity generated by the solar facilities displaces fuel that otherwise would have been used for generation, resulting in avoided fuel costs. FPL’s estimated 2020 fuel savings is $67,000, resulting in an estimated positive impact to all FPL customers of $340,000.
SolarTogether, meanwhile, allows FPL customers to support the growth of solar in Florida by subscribing to receive a portion of new solar capacity built through the program and to receive a credit on their bill based on a portion of the system savings produced by that solar capacity.
In a letter published by the Daytona Beach News-Journal this week, domestic violence survivor Misty Hicks detailed how Marcy’s Law helped her achieve a just trial outcome.
Marcy’s Law provides domestic violence survivors various rights, including the right to be adequately notified of court proceedings, the right to attend court proceedings, and the right to talk with prosecutors before a plea is offered to a defendant.
In Hicks’ experience, Marcy’s Law stopped her abusive, criminally-charged ex-boyfriend from accepting a plea deal offered by prosecutors without her knowledge.
The law empowered her to object to the offer and ultimately resulted in a modified sentence, requiring the abuser to attend classes and remain under supervision.
“The plea did not take my concerns into consideration, including concerns that his prior record of abuse of other women and children had not been considered,” Hicks wrote to editors at the newspaper.
Marsy’s Law is named after Marsy Nicholas, a California woman stalked and killed by an ex-boyfriend in 1983.
Voters in Florida passed Marsy’s Law with over 61% of the vote in 2018.
“Marsy’s Law is the only reason the sentence was made right,” Hicks said, noting that it provided her “legal recourse and a voice in the process.”
Youth camp giveaway
The Florida Youth Conservation Centers Network hosts contests and giveaways as part of a social media campaign this December and January to celebrate its 10th birthday.
The campaign also includes a new partner rewards program, donor recognition and a virtual, crowdsourced fundraising event.
FYCCN credits its growth to its partnership with the Fish and Wildlife Foundation of Florida and parents’ desires to get their children outdoors and away from devices. More than 2 million youth have participated in the program, part of the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, through its first decade.
“We are thrilled with the success of FYCCN’s efforts not just to get kids outside but also to offer conservation education and positive outdoor experiences that shape how the next generation engages in conservation of our natural resources,” said FWC Executive Director Eric Sutton. “It’s a sad fact that youth are spending less time outside every year, but FYCCN — with huge community support — is reversing that trend.”
In honor of their decennial, FYCCN will give away a free week of residential summer camp at the Everglades Youth Conservation Center in West Palm Beach, a free week of summer day camp each at the Joe Budd Youth Conservation Center in Tallahassee and the Suncoast Youth Conservation Center in Apollo Beach, free rod and reel sets, and a family 4-pack of passes to the Florida Aquarium.
“Anyone who participates in our ‘pillar challenge’ on Facebook and Twitter will be entered into the giveaways, and they can win some great prizes,” said Daniel Parker, the program’s director. “We want to encourage kids and families to go outside, make some memories, and enjoy all the natural resources our great state has to offer.”
The event will also feature former campers who benefited from one of FYCCN’s programs.
Tallahassee’s SouthWood community’s latest luxury community will be named Maple Ridge.
The new development will feature custom homes and green spaces, including parks and walking and biking trails surrounded by majestic oak trees.
“The Maple Ridge project is more evidence that Tallahassee continues to be one of the best places in the country to live, work and play,” Mayor John Dailey said. “In addition to highlighting our city’s natural beauty, this project will increase housing options in our community and create more jobs for our residents.”
Maple Ridge, conceptualized by Drew Developments of North Florida CEO Kerry Drew, will offer new luxurious homes on estate-sized lots with larger green space than other nearby developments currently have to offer. The plan incorporates existing old-growth trees into the vision of giving the lots a more natural, established feel — something that homeowners have requested.
Nearly every lot will have a view of Mission Lake, one of the largest spring-fed lakes in the SouthWood community.
“The idea for Maple Ridge was started nine years ago when my wife Wendy and our son William and I first moved to Tallahassee and made the SouthWood community our home,” Drew said. “During that time, I have listened to the suggestions and requests made by local residents who wanted a neighborhood that offers more privacy with larger lots and custom homes with plenty of green space. After four years of planning and incorporating those suggestions, I am thrilled to see this vision begin today, and I want to thank all those who set aside their time and energy to see it begin its journey to fruition.”
Teacher of the Year
Florida A&M University has selected Tiffany Packer, Ph.D., and Jorge Olaves Hernandez as its Teacher of the Year winners for the 2019-2020 school year.
Packer is an assistant professor of history who joined the College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities faculty in fall 2018.
She earned her undergraduate degree at FAMU. Afterward, she earned a master’s degree in history at the University of North Carolina-Charlotte and a Ph.D. in history at UNC Greensboro — the first African American to do so. Packer sees her mission as preparing students who can one day become teachers.
“I like to teach my students in a way that will prepare them to teach my children,” said Packer, a mother of three. “I need to make sure I’m shaping and molding teachers for the next generation. I take that very serious.”
Meanwhile, Olaves was named the Advanced Teacher of the Year. He has spent more than three decades teaching at FAMU and is currently an instructor and director of FAMU’s aquatic center.
Olaves, a native of Venezuela, developed free classes and taught and coached swimming for 44 years. His swimming team was HBCU champion for three years.
Olaves is also heavily involved in minority swimming research. He is the principal investigator for the research titled Perceptions and Motivation Toward Water Safety and Aquatic Activities in College Students. He’s committed to helping more African Americans and other minorities learn to swim.
“Remember, seven out of 10 minorities don’t know how to swim. It is my life commitment to educate about this topic,” Olaves said. “We need support to reopen the Olympic Pool and keep it open to address the needs of this population. We are losing opportunities for minorities to be part of this lucrative business.”
‘Keep the Wreath Green’
‘Tis the season for presents, sparkling lights, Christmas trees and … house fires.
The Tallahassee Fire Department reminds residents to take fire safety seriously this holiday season with a special wreath at Dorothy B. Oven Park.
The “Keep the Wreath Green” program, now in its 11th year, serves as a visual reminder of the importance of home fire safety during the winter holiday season. It’s adorned with 50 bulbs, and the first day it goes up, all of them are green, but a red one is swapped in after every house fire where TFD responds.
“The holiday season is, unfortunately, one of the busiest times of the year for home fires,” Tallahassee Fire Chief Jerome Gaines said. “We want to encourage the members of our community to be safe by providing the wreath as a visual reminder.”
The Keep the Wreath Green program began in 2010. By the end of that year’s holiday season, 41 bulbs had been changed to red. Last year saw the fewest red bulbs, with only eight residential house fires occurring during the holidays. Still, those eight fires caused an estimated $467,000 in damages.
TFD has some best practices to avoid becoming a twinkly, holiday-themed statistic: test your smoke alarms, keep children away from cooking areas, don’t leave cooking areas or lit candles unattended, water your Christmas tree daily, throw away fraying or damaged holiday lights, and use a fire screen to keep embers and logs from escaping when using a fireplace.