It’s crunch time, people — six days ’til Christmas. If there are still names that need crossing off your holiday gift list, you need to get crackin’. And your go-to for last-minute presents — Amazon and other online shops — aren’t making any promises about deliveries before Dec. 25.
So now’s the time to slap on your face mask and visit a store — preferably local — to finish your shopping.
Politico Sally Bradshaw — who also owns the independent bookstore Midtown Reader in Tallahassee — strolled through her shop to give us some suggestions for books and stocking-appropriate gifts.
For starters, why not retire the stocking and fill a canvas tote bag with goodies? The store has a collection featuring sassy sayings such as this of-the-moment wisecrack: “Reading tweets doesn’t make you well-read.”
Oversized, illustrated books are always welcome on the coffee table. This year, art historian Gary Monroe added to his University of Florida press series highlighting the distinct style of Florida African American artists known as The Highwaymen. “Alfred Hair: Heart of the Highwaymen” tells the story of one painter whose short life was just as vivid as his paintings. Eighty examples of his work illustrate the book.
Kwame Alexander’s latest book is small, but the poetry in “Light for the World to See” offers a weighty view of racism and oppression by highlighting recent events in America.
Another little illustrated book, “How to Be More Tree: Essential Life Lessons for Perennial Happiness” shares 59 lessons people can learn from trees. As the book tells us, “Don’t be afraid to branch out.”
Even intrepid shoppers can find themselves at loose ends when they discover someone’s stocking is looking a little bit thin. Here are a few suggestions:
The serious reader in your house might enjoy disposable earplugs with do-not-disturb warnings such as “I’m Reading,” “Quiet Please,” and “I’m Offline.”
Everybody can use a notebook for thought-jotting and Meriwether has a line with some R-rated passive-aggressive (and aggressive-aggressive) sentiments printed on the front like “One day I will be rich & powerful, but for now I’ll just sit in this meeting with a bunch of morons.” How about “A$$holes who call me instead of texting” or “Hypothetical arguments I’ve won while in the shower (Volume 1)”?
All this abnormal in 2020 seems to have brought out people’s inner feistiness. For book lovers who look askance at people who “read” a story by watching the movie, you might want to consider a keychain with the sentiment “The book was better.”
Hurrah, now’s the time to flip the page and start 2021 with a good attitude. Rifle Paper Co. has a variety of agendas and calendars, most featuring cheery, feminine florals. And there’s a Florida connection — the company is based in Winter Park.
For the tots on your list, consider “All About Florida: ABCs of The Sunshine State,” a set of flashcards that give kids an introduction to the animals, foods and cultures that make Florida special. L is for Lovebug.
It’s a stuffed toy! It’s a bookmark! The Book-Tails Bookmark is both! Kids can pick a favorite cute critter (they all wear spectacles) to keep their place while reading.
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:
DeSantis signs for vaccine delivery — Florida received nearly 200,000 doses of Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine this week as part of the first national coronavirus vaccine rollout. Gov. Ron DeSantis personally signed for the delivery at Tampa General Hospital on Monday. Three hospital systems, including TGH, immediately began administering shots to staff, and two more joined them Tuesday. On Wednesday, state strike teams began administering the vaccine to long-term care facility residents and staff, making Florida the first state to do so. The Sunshine State also became one of 15 states cleared to vaccinate National Guardsmen on pandemic missions. Next week, the state expects to receive 367,000 Moderna vaccine doses and possibly 200,000 more Pfizer doses.
Florida sides with restaurateurs and workers — In the face of a White House Task Force report recommending that Florida roll back its reopening calendar, DeSantis stood by restaurant owners and employees Tuesday and reinforced that he wouldn’t lockdown restaurants again. Two newspapers, including the South Florida Sun-Sentinel, sued to make the task force report available. DeSantis took his show to the Sentinel’s backyard at Okeechobee Steakhouse in West Palm Beach. “If a local leader wants to put them out of work, you’re damned right I’m hobbling them from doing that,” DeSantis said. “If they want to shut down businesses, I’m going to stand in the way.”
Oh Pfizer, where art thou? — According to the Governor’s Office, as many as 450,000 of Florida’s Pfizer vaccine doses slotted for the rest of December could be delayed. DeSantis attributed the delay to production problems, but Pfizer says the trains are running on time, without production issues. Florida is not the only state reporting that anticipated dose numbers are being slashed. Amid the finger-pointing, with some states blaming the federal government for unexplained shipment reductions, DeSantis says 120,000 of the doses for the rest of the month are now populating the tracking system. With the Pfizer doses or not, Florida expects 367,000 Moderna vaccine doses if the federal government clears it for emergency use.
Lawmakers announce committee week protocols — The Florida House and Senate on Friday released their COVID-19 protocols for the 2021 committee weeks. Both chambers are taking measures to promote social distancing. The Senate reduces the number of committee meetings simultaneously, and the House uses split blocks to reduce the number of days lawmakers will need to be in Tallahassee. And both bodies will restrict in-person testimony to preapproved speakers while allowing for remote semi-testimony. Public comment on House meetings will be held in separate rooms in the Capitol while the Senate is partnering with Florida State University to use three rooms in the Leon County Civic Center.
Sprowls sets assignments — House Speaker Chris Sprowls announced committee assignments for the next year, providing members with the full committee assignment lists for 36 committees and subcommittees. He will assign the vice-chair and members for the Redistricting Committee and subcommittees, responsible for redrawing district boundaries after the results of the 2020 census, as the committee’s tasks approach. Overall, the number of committees and subcommittees is down from 42 total in the previous term. When Democrats make their ranking member recommendations, the House will update its website. Like with committee chairs released last month, Friday’s announcement saw no Democrats earn leadership roles, with all vice chairmanships going to Republicans.
— 1,161,953 FL residents (+73,997 since Dec. 11)
— 19,530 Non-FL residents (+1,090 since Dec. 11)
— 10,397 Travel related
— 444,946 Contact with a confirmed case
— 13,059 Both
— 693,551 Under investigation
— 59,602 in FL
— 20,690 in FL
State employees in Florida will have Dec. 24 and 31 off for the third year in a row.
DeSantis announced the extra time off in a Friday morning news release, making the Governor two-for-two on granting state workers additional time with their family.
“2020 was a challenging year for all Floridians, particularly our state employees who worked around the clock responding to the COVID-19 public health emergency,” DeSantis said.
Last year, the Governor gave employees the two days off, crediting them with “historic achievements.” That announcement came as state employee unions were at an impasse on the coming contracts, drawing criticism from one union spokesman who called the gesture “sort of shallow.”
But with the state hitting the 10-month mark of the pandemic response in the coming weeks, state employees are overdue for some much-needed time off.
“Closing state offices on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve will provide these employees with much-needed additional time off to spend with their loved ones,” DeSantis said. “The First Lady and I extend our appreciation to state employees for their hard work and wish them and their families a happy holiday season.”
Florida employees are allotted nine paid holidays off throughout the year. Those include New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King Jr. Day, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and the Friday after, as well as Christmas.
‘Back the Blue’
Attorney General Ashley Moody recognized Pasco County Sheriff’s Deputy Noah Yanzer with a Back the Blue award this week.
On Nov. 7, Yanzer sped to t house fire scene where two seniors and a dog were inside. Surrounding power lines began to catch fire, and a separate caller reported another house fire.
As the fire kept spreading due to strong winds, Yanzer knew he couldn’t wait for firefighters to arrive to start helping. At one point, Yanzer approached a woman in her driveway, unable to retrieve her dog from the raging fire. After escorting her to safety, he went into the house and rescued the dog.
Thanks to his actions, all residents and pets survived the blaze.
“I am incredibly proud of Deputy Noah Yanzer for his quick thinking and heroic work that led to rescuing a family and their beloved dog from a raging house fire,” Moody said. “Deputy Yanzer’s rapid response to multiple house fires allowed him to arrive on the scene just in time to rescue several residents and a beloved pet from destructive flames. Without his courageous efforts, this situation may have taken a much darker turn. Thank you, Deputy Yanzer, for your bravery under pressure and willingness to risk your safety to rescue others. You are a hero.”
Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco added, “Deputy Yanzer demonstrated incredible bravery, without thinking of the risk to himself, as he entered into this burning house and saved these individuals. Deputy Yanzer demonstrates the best of law enforcement and is a fantastic example of the important role that law enforcement plays in our community.”
Deputy Yanzer is the 30th recipient of Moody’s Back the Blue Award, which launched shortly after she took office last year.
Floridians can nominate a law enforcement officer, citizen or organization for a Back the Blue Award and learn more about the campaign online.
To watch the award presentation, click on the image below:
Trooper of the Year
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis recognized Citrus County State Trooper Curtis Vaughn this week as the 2019 Trooper of the Year.
On April 28, 2019, Trooper Vaughn helped the Citrus County Sherriff’s Office pursue a vehicle that attempted to run over several Citrus County deputies.
During the pursuit, the suspected fired through his rear window, striking and shattering Vaughn’s windshield.
Despite the gunshots, Vaughn continued to give chase and performed the pursuit intervention technique to stop the vehicle.
The driver was subsequently arrested without public harm.
“It was an honor to recognize Trooper Curtis Vaughn today as Florida’s 2019 Trooper of the Year for his heroic actions he displayed in April of 2019,” Patronis said. “His tireless dedication serves as an example to every law enforcement officer and every citizen of our state. Because of his valuable work, Florida is a safer, better place to live.”
Vaughn’s actions were recognized at the Dec. 15 Cabinet meeting before Gov. DeSantis, Moody and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.
Trooper Vaughn has served Troop C in Citrus County since June 15, 2013.
Protect those packages
A pile of brown boxes on the doorstep is Grinch bait. But Patronis has a few steps Floridians can take to ensure all the gifts make it under the tree on Christmas.
First, the CFO says a smart doorbell is a prudent investment — they can sense motion, whether it’s a delivery person or a criminal. Just make sure you’re home when the doorbell itself is delivered. Better yet, grab a mask and pick it up in person.
Next, reach out to neighbors for help. A short walk down the street to pick up your packages is better than filling out a police report.
Third, consider having packages delivered at work. It’ll not only limit the risk of theft, but it could prevent the kiddos from getting a sneak peek at what’s to come.
Finally, picking up packages at the post office is a surefire bet, especially for Floridians living in neighborhoods with a theft-demic.
“This year, we have seen a tremendous increase in online shopping due to COVID-19, and criminals know that the holiday season is the perfect time to try to make off with unattended packages or deliveries. By following these simple tips, you and your family can ensure crooks don’t ruin your holiday fun,” Patronis said.
Use it or lose it
Fried wants DeSantis to publicize records showing how federal coronavirus money is being spent.
Thus far, Florida has exhausted more than $4 billion of the $8.32 billion awarded through the CARES Act. This week, Fried criticized DeSantis for snubbing her repeated requests for spending details.
“I’ve asked the Governor for transparency for four months,” Fried said. “I’ve asked him to update us at Florida Cabinet meetings … Neither I nor the people of Florida who we serve have gotten a single answer from this Governor.”
Fried’s jab comes as the clock winds down on future CARES Act spending.
Federal law restricts CARES Act spending beyond Dec. 30. It also requires all unused dollars to be returned to the U.S. Treasury.
DeSantis’ management of the CARES Act has drawn the ire of Orlando Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.
“Gov. DeSantis hasn’t offered a single penny in direct assistance to small businesses using the billions in CARES Act money intended for struggling Floridians,” Smith said. “For months, he’s refused to provide details on how or if he intends to spend remaining funds in support of families facing eviction, unemployment, and food insecurity. Time is running out and Floridians deserve to know — will Gov. DeSantis be helping them?”
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The week in appointments
Alzheimer’s Disease Advisory Committee — House Speaker Sprowls appointed Rep. Matt Willhite to the Alzheimer’s Disease Advisory Committee, calling the Wellington Democrat “a strong advocate for positioning our state as a leader in the fight against this insidious disease.” Earlier this year, Willhite received the National Citizen Scientist Collaborator Award from the Global Alzheimer’s Platform Foundation for his advocacy.
Big Cypress Basin Board — Nanette Rivera, Andy Hill and Dan Waters were appointed to the board by the Governor on Friday. Rivera, of Marco Island, is a retired pharmaceutical executive and an alumna of Georgia Tech and the University of Chicago, where she earned her MBA. Hill, of Naples, is the president and co-founder of Andrew Hill Investment Advisors. He earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Canisius College and his MBA in finance from Syracuse University. Waters, also of Naples, is a project manager at Barron Collier Companies. He earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and his master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Florida.
Board of Clinical Social Work, Marriage and Family Therapy and Mental Health Counseling — DeSantis made two appointments to the board this week. Claudia Vicencio, of Hollywood, is the director for clinical services for outpatient behavioral health at Memorial Healthcare System. She is a licensed marriage and family therapist and an alumna of Florida International University, where she earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry, and of Barry University, where she earned her master’s degree and Ph.D. in social work. Tanya Kraus, of Hollywood, is the manager of social services at Broward Health Medical Center. She earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Florida International University.
Board of Physical Therapy — Andrew Koenig and Paul Kleponis are the new additions to the Board of Physical Therapy. Koenig, of Jacksonville Beach, is the center manager at Brooks Rehabilitation Hospital and a licensed physical therapist. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Ball State University, his doctor of physical therapy from Central Michigan University and his master of health care administration from the University of North Florida. Kleponis, of Miami, is a senior physical therapist at Jackson Memorial Hospital. He earned a bachelor’s degree in education from Boston University, a bachelor’s degree in physical therapy from Northwestern University and a clinical doctorate of physical therapy from A.T. Still University.
Florida Commission on Human Relations — DeSantis appointed of Pamela Payne, of Jacksonville, to the commission. Payne is the VP of Northern Florida Recruiting and Consulting Services. Previously, she was a director and supervisor with Duval County Public Schools and a Human Relations Specialist with Hillsborough County Public Schools. Payne earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Southern University and A&M College. She also holds a certificate in elementary education from the University of Southwestern Louisiana and a second master’s degree from the University of South Florida.
School Board of Sumter County — The Governor appointed Russell Hogan to the school board on Friday. Hogan, a Navy veteran, is the president of R. Hogan Construction Inc. The Center Hill resident also runs South Sumter High School Project Graduation, an independent nonprofit that celebrates graduating seniors by hosting them on their graduation night. He earned his undergraduate degree in business management from the University of Phoenix.
Southwest Florida Water Management District — DeSantis named Michelle Williamson and Ashley Bell Barnett to the SWFWMD Governing Board. Williamson is the manager of G&F Farms and a past member of the board and the Florida Farm Bureau State Board of Directors. The Dover resident earned her associate degree in business administration and management from Hillsborough Community College. Bell Barnett, of Winter Haven, is a former educator and workforce development analyst with Polk County Public Schools and current vice-chair of the Polk State College District Board of Trustees. The Leadership Florida alumni holds an undergraduate degree from Florida Southern College, a master’s from the University of South Florida and a leadership management certificate from the University of California, Los Angeles.
Suwannee River Water Management District — Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Larry Thompson to the SRWMD Governing Board this week. Thompson, of Bell, is the vice president and owner of Nature’s Source Products and the president and owner of Straw America. Thompson also volunteers with the Suwannee County Housing Authority and CareerSource Florida Crown.
And the winners are …
First Lady Casey DeSantis this week announced the winners of the Hispanic Heritage Month student contest and Excellence in Education Award.
DeSantis congratulated the winners in a statement.
“Students from across the state created incredible essay and art submissions to celebrate the accomplishments of Hispanic Americans who call Florida home,” said the First Lady. “The lasting influence of key figures commemorated — from public servants to educators to front-line health care workers — show that Hispanic Americans continue to make a mark on our great state.”
The student essay contest winners will receive a four-year Florida College Plan scholarship provided by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation.
The educators nominated for the Excellence in Education Award were also honored by Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez.
“I join the Governor and First Lady in highlighting extraordinarily gifted young Floridians as well as teachers committed to inspiring our students to learn about the diversity of Hispanic culture,” Nuñez said. “Our children are our future, and it is promising to see the talent presented in the entries this year in celebration of Hispanic Americans in Florida.”
The contests’ theme was “Celebrating Untold Stories and Contributions of Hispanic Americans in Florida.”
Hispanic Heritage Month is celebrated annually in Florida from Sep. 15 through Oct. 15.
More information about Hispanic Heritage Month can be found online.
Winning eleven 2020
The Florida Department of Revenue this week announced it received 11 2020 Tax Watch Productivity awards.
The awards go to state employees and work teams whose innovation and productivity save Florida taxpayers’ money and help the state deliver services more efficiently.
This year, the employees and teams were recognized for technical improvements and customer service advances that help licensure approval procedures during emergencies.
“Florida’s dedicated state employees deserve recognition for their creativity and commitment to improving processes at their agencies. The progress they achieve greatly benefits the people of Florida,” DOR executive director Jim Zingale said. “We’re thankful for the opportunity to publicly acknowledge our innovative team members and award them for their efforts through the TaxWatch Productivity Awards.
In all, Department employees received 10 plaque awards and one team award.
Tax Watch estimates the 20-year program has received more than 16,000 nominations to state employees who save taxpayers roughly $10 billion.
Chairing the government improvement initiative is Florida’s Lt. Governor and co-sponsored by Florida TaxWatch, The Florida Council of 100, and the state of Florida.
Veterans Florida announced four new business partnerships this week for the Veterans Florida Entrepreneurship Program.
The program has joined forces with Domi Station in Tallahassee, Groundswell Startups in Melbourne, Rising Tide Innovation Center in St. Petersburg and Tampa Bay Wave in Tampa.
The new partners will provide veteran entrepreneurs with resources, including dedicated workspaces and one-on-one mentoring, exclusive workshop admission, office amenities and more.
“Veterans Florida is the largest creator of veteran-owned businesses in the state,” said Veterans Florida Executive Director Joe Marino. “Offering coworking spaces across Florida furthers our mission to equip veteran entrepreneurs with a diverse set of tools and provide local mentorship to succeed at all stages of their business venture.”
Veterans Florida, a state-created nonprofit, is intended to help military veterans transition to civilian life.
Since 2016, the program’s participants have generated $59.6 Million in revenue, started 277 businesses, hired 392 employees, and earned industry awards and national recognition.
“We deeply value the skills, expertise, and sense of community veterans bring to our startup ecosystem, and this partnership further allows us to serve veterans in a way that helps bring their ideas to life,” Groundswell Startups COO Jarin Eisenberg said.
Veterans interested in starting their own business can apply online.
Floridians with family members behind bars are celebrating a Christmas miracle.
Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Mark Inch announced Friday that, starting on Christmas Day, all legal and biological children of inmates will be allowed to visit their loved ones.
Inch added that “a long-awaited brief embrace with masks on can take place at the beginning and end of the visit.”
The rule change comes after a monthlong visitation ban at Florida prisons, during which prison COVID-19 cases have skyrocketed. Just this week, reports emerged that nearly a quarter of the inmates at Zephyrhills Correctional Institution in Pasco County had tested positive for the virus.
Still, Inch said DOC is confident that it can bring back visitation for the holidays without a spike in COVID-19 infections.
“We are encouraged by the progress we have made together but must remain vigilant in our safety measures in order to minimize risk to the inmates as well as visitors and staff,” Inch said. “We will continue to monitor the situation and will resume normal visitation when it is safe and appropriate to do so.”
A full list of the modified visitation rules is available on the DOC’s website.
The Florida Highway Patrol will again take part in the “Drive Sober or Get Pulled Over” enforcement campaign.
The campaign will run from Dec. 18 to Jan. 1 and will target impaired drivers on Florida’s roads.
“If you drink, be responsible and designate a sober driver to get to your destination safely,” FHP Director and Col. Gene Spaulding said. “The choice to drink and drive is a bad decision that could have grave consequences. Be responsible — don’t drink and drive.”
According to FHP, December 2019 recorded 467 alcohol-impaired crashes, 36 drug-impaired crashes and 38 crashes involving both drugs and alcohol.
To ramp up the campaign. FHP will call up auxiliary troops to patrol during the holiday.
“FHP will be out in force on the highways to aid motorists and remove impaired drivers from the road,” the announcement said. “FHP’s increased presence throughout Florida helps to deter traffic violations and enhance services to motorists who need assistance while traveling.”
FHP will also launch impaired driving education and awareness campaigns. Troopers will use billboards, social media, and radio PSAs throughout the state.
The public is encouraged to report dangerous or suspected drunken drivers by dialing *FHP (*347) or calling 911.
The Florida Public Service Commission named the Bay County Council on Aging as its “Helping Hand” for December.
The PSC said the designation is in recognition for the council’s role in raising awareness for the Lifeline Assistance telephone and broadband discount program, energy and water conservation, and scams affecting Florida’s seniors.
“We appreciate Bay County Council on Aging’s willingness to share the PSC’s consumer information with Bay County residents,” said PSC Chairman Gary Clark. “We can help consumers apply for discounted telephone service, recognize potential scams, and better understand how conservation can help them save money on their utility bills.”
The PSC “Helping Hand” program highlights partner agencies and organizations whose clients are eligible for the federal Lifeline Program or need help reducing energy and water bills.
The regulatory body said Helping Hand partnerships spread vital information that helps consumers better manage their resources to meet their monthly bills and avoid falling for utility-related scams.
“We are excited to be named a PSC Helping Hand,” Bay County Council on Aging CEO Elizabeth Coulliette said. “The Council’s aim is to assist Bay County residents with achieving and maintaining an independent, healthy lifestyle. We appreciate the PSC’s educational forum to assist our clients and look forward to continuing our partnership.”
Bracy’s 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 until Dec. 16.
West Palm Beach businesses are teaming up to give kids a happy — and educational — Christmas.
The Gaines Firm, MCO Construction and Tay B. Gaines & Associates are hosting a book and gift giveaway titled “The Gift of Financial Literacy.”
Children who drop by Gaines Park, 1501 N. Australian Ave., between 6 p.m. and 8 p.m. on Dec. 23 will receive one gift and a copy of “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” Masks are required.
The book, authored by Robert Kiyosaki and published in 1997, informs readers about the importance of financial literacy, financial independence and wealth-building through investing and starting businesses.
Its narrative is told through a set of parables about a “rich dad” who attains financial security and a “poor dad” who does not despite years of hard work.
For those who fall into the “rich dad” category, event organizers have set up donation drop-offs at the park and at the Gaines Center in North Palm Beach, 721 US Highway 1, Suite #115. The cutoff for donations is Dec. 21.
Donors can contact Tay Gaines at (561) 889-2366 for more information.
Hillsborough County’s legislative delegation unanimously elected Rep. Dianne Hart as chair.
Hart will lead Hillsborough County delegation meetings, including the next one slated for February, amid the 2021 Session.
“Thank you all so much for trusting me,” Hart said after being elected following her nomination by Rep. Susan Valdes. “I hope to do a very good job for you.”
The delegation is made up of Hillsborough County’s nine Representatives and four Senators, who meet to hear from residents in the county and occasionally work together on local bills.
Hart was first elected to HD 61 in 2018 and has served on the State Affairs Committee, the Ways & Means Committee, the Energy & Utilities Subcommittee and the Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee. In 2021, she will serve on the Judiciary Committee, Criminal Justice & Public Safety Subcommittee, Ways & Means Committee, Infrastructure & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee and the Joint Committee on Public Counsel Oversight.
The role as chair was previously held by former Rep. Wengay Newton, who resigned to run for a seat on the Pinellas County Commission, which he lost to Rene Flowers.
After Newton stepped down, Vice-Chair Sen. Janet Cruz became acting chair.
The delegation heard from about 70 individuals on Friday, many concerned about funding in the upcoming year. Cruz said the legislators will face the challenge of crafting a budget with a deficit of about $2 billion in 2021.
The delegation saw several new electeds at the meeting, including Republican Sen. Danny Burgess, as well as HD 59 Rep. Andrew Learned, HD 64 Rep. Traci Koster and HD 70 Rep. Michele Rayner.
Relief well runs dry
On Dec. 30, the Florida Housing Finance Corporation will close its Coronavirus Relief Fund program, which is providing more than $200 million in relief to Floridians.
The program, paid for by the CARES Act, provides mortgage and rental assistance to residents of Florida Housing’s multifamily and special needs developments. Florida House is encouraging homeowners and renters who haven’t yet applied to do so immediately before all funds must be spent by Dec. 30, when the CARES Act closes.
“As the state’s housing finance agency, providing housing assistance to those who need it most has always been our top priority,” said Florida Housing Executive Director Trey Price. “As the CRF program comes to a close, we are proud to have assisted tens of thousands of Florida households in just five months. With only a few weeks left until the end of this program, we strongly encourage homeowners and renters impacted by the pandemic to contact your local government housing office today if you are in need of assistance.”
The Coronavirus Relief Fund program has provided rental assistance for tenants in Florida Housing’s portfolio, rental and mortgage assistance for homeowners and renters, and operations assistance for housing that serves the homeless or people with special needs.
A new vision
AARP Florida called on lawmakers to re-envision long-term care in what’s traditionally been America’s grayest state.
The call for action comes as the coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on elder-care facilities across the state, with 7,800 deaths in types of elder-care facilities and virtually all nursing homes reporting at least one COVID-19 infection.
AARP noted that four in 10 of Florida’s COVID-19 deaths stem from elder-care facilities, whose residents make up less than 1% of the state’s population. And even now, one in seven Florida nursing homes say they have less than a week’s worth of PPE on hand for staff, residents and visitors.
“In many ways, the pandemic has forced us to confront challenges in caring for older Floridians,” said Jeff Johnson, AARP Florida’s state director. “It is clearly time for a better, more effective system that helps millions of older Floridians live as long as possible in their homes and communities, and then receive the care they deserve if residential facilities are the appropriate setting.”
To help Florida policymakers, opinion leaders, news media professionals and residents familiarize themselves with the state’s long-term care system, AARP Florida produced a video briefing that outlines the issues facing the Sunshine State.
AARP Florida said it will continue to work with lawmakers, elders-care advocates and others to help build a more modern, safer and more effective long-term care system for the state.
To watch the briefing, click on the image below:
Members of the Florida A&M University Gospel Choir will serenade America on Christmas morning in true Disney fashion.
The choir was invited to perform at the Disney Parks Magical Christmas Celebration, and it will have three songs featured when the event is broadcast on ABC from 10 a.m. to noon on Christmas Day.
The tracks: “Joy To The World,” “Someday at Christmas” (feat. Keedron Bryant), and “Let It Snow” (feat. Tori Kelly).
Viewers who tune in to the Magical Christmas Celebration can also catch performances from Tituss Burgess, Julianne Hough, Becky G, Jon Batiste, Maddie & Tae and Trevor Jackson.
The FAMU Gospel Choir usually includes about 50 members. Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, only 16 members made the three-day trip to Orlando.
Still, choir director Darien Bolden said the opportunity was a godsend.
“This pandemic has been a gloomy time for the FAMU Gospel Choir. We have not been able to sing together since the early portion of March this year,” he said. “To have the opportunity to mold and shape gifts that will be shared with the entire country on Christmas morning is an exciting yet humbling feeling to know that you have the opportunity to put FAMU’s name on the map once again.”
Advisers Valeria Singleton and John Harris accompanied the group to Orlando from Dec. 3 to Dec. 5.
“We don’t know why we were afforded this awesome opportunity for our students, especially during this pandemic,” said Harris, an academic adviser in the School of Allied Health Sciences.
“They made the holiday great for our students even before the holidays got here,” he said. “Students were able to make the holiday season great for other people. We were excited they chose our university and our university gospel choir to be part of it.”