The century mark
Henry Benton Sayler has lived a long life. And what a life it’s been.
Born in 1921, Sayler graduated from West Point in 1943 and joined the Army Air Corps as a fighter pilot, deploying to the European Theatre of Operations in World War II.
His military service gave him a first-row seat to history.
He flew in 68 combat missions, including over Normandy Beach on D-Day. He served on then-General and future President Dwight D. Eisenhower’s staff. He trekked to the top of Hitler’s Eagle’s Nest. He saw the aftermath of the atrocities at Dachau. He did recon for the Battle of the Bulge.
And that was all in his first 25 years.
Sayler continued in the military for a while after the war and crossed paths with enough historical figures to make Forrest Gump seem believable by comparison.
He was selected to serve as a White House rotational aide under President Harry Truman. While serving with General Hoyt Vandenberg on several occasions, he flew a B-25 with Jimmie Doolittle, the first U.S. military counterattack leader landing on Japan.
When the Air Force brought on Charles Lindberg as a consultant, Sayler was responsible for making his travel plans. A three-page letter from “Lindy” is among his most prized possessions and features prominently in his collection alongside hundreds of personal letters from presidents — he counts Truman, Eisenhower, Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Richard Nixon and George H.W. Bush among his friends.
He knew Joe DiMaggio, Buzz Aldrin, Chuck Yeager, Alan Shepard and Ed Mitchell, too.
Eventually, Sayler settled down in Florida and entered politics himself. He was elected to the Florida Senate in 1966 and served 12 years, later serving as chair of the Republican Party of Florida from 1980-84, during which he helped on Reagan’s presidential campaigns.
Sayler has lived in St. Petersburg for decades and life has blessed him with a large, and growing, family with his wife of 73 years, Wyline Sayler. They had four sons, of which three are still living, and have 10 grandchildren and 14 great-grandchildren.
Today is Sayler’s 100th birthday, and he wants people up and down the Suncoast to help him celebrate with a drive-by parade.
Attendees will gather from 11:15 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Saturday at Northshore Park, 901 N Shore Drive NE, and then travel to the Bayshore side of the Museum of Fine Arts, 255 Beach Drive NE, where he will be watching alongside family. American flags, birthday signs, balloons, and birthday cards are welcome.
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:
First committee week in the books — Lawmakers met for the first time this year to prepare for the 2021 Session. COVID-19 protocols forced a unique spin on committee week. Both houses restricted public attendance. Approved attendees were relegated to chairs indicated as distanced seats. Panels streamed in public testimony from remote locations. At least once, lawmakers cut the feed when someone ran out of time for testimony. Most talk this week involved the pandemic and its implications, including the estimated $2 billion revenue shortfall it will cause in Florida this fiscal year. The House also pushed its COVID-19 liability bill through its first committee, clarifying its priorities for the Session.
Protest fears — Tallahassee is gearing up for the possibility of protests as President-elect Joe Biden‘s inauguration day nears and fears of unrest nationwide build. Gov. Ron DeSantis says there are no specific threats in Tallahassee. Law enforcement has asked the Leon County Courthouse and Tallahassee City Hall to stay closed Tuesday and Wednesday. While there are no plans to close the state Capitol, Senate President Wilton Simpson asks Senators and staff to stay away on Sunday. “We are aware of the information regarding possible protests and violence at state capitols,” the Department of Law Enforcement said Monday. “FDLE and Capitol Police continue to monitor the national situation and analyze information relevant to public safety.”
Publix partnership expands — After a successful first weekend for Publix’s vaccination program, DeSantis announced the partnership would expand this week. “Publix has done a great job with this,” the Governor said. “We knew they would because people love Publix in Florida.” DeSantis first announced the alliance last week, when 22 Publix pharmacies in Citrus, Hernando and Marion counties began offering vaccines. By Wednesday, that partnership had expanded to 105 Publix locations. But that won’t be the end, DeSantis says, because of the possibility to expand into the remaining 650 Publix locations, where vaccinating is a pleasure.
Vaccine tourism under fire — News reports allege that non-Floridians, including non-Americans, are traveling to Florida to get vaccinated. During a House panel on the pandemic, Division of Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz called that behavior abhorrent but said it is proof the state is doing a better job than others at vaccinating the public. Surgeon General Scott Rivkees shared that sentiment during a Senate pandemic panel, adding that his office would look into any shots that break the rules. DeSantis said Florida is not vaccinating tourists, but he and Moskowitz said the shot is fair game for snowbirds.
Anti-censorship legislation filed — Sen. Danny Burgess on Monday filed legislation that would require social media sites to provide notice to users who have been punished by the platform. That comes after Twitter purged President Donald Trump and other conservatives from the site. Facebook also kicked the President off their platforms in the wake of the U.S. Capitol riot last week. Within 30 days of disabling or suspending a user’s account, social media platforms would have to provide the user with electronic notice to explain the ban. Burgess believes his bill would protect Floridians from “a dangerous precedent.”
— 1,519,944 FL residents (+96,434 since Jan. 8)
— 28,123 Non-FL residents (+2,381 since Jan. 8)
— 12,636 Travel related
— 567,469 Contact with a confirmed case
— 17,180 Both
— 922,659 Under investigation
— 67,463 in FL
— 24,169 in FL
Attorney General Ashley Moody and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles have entered the second phase of the Highway Heroes campaign, which enlists commercial truck drivers in the fight to end human trafficking.
“Truck drivers play a vital role in the fight to end human trafficking. With more than 500,000 licensed commercial drivers in Florida, I am hopeful that this campaign will help us rescue victims and save lives. Thank you to all our Highway Heroes, who have been our eyes and ears on the road. With your support and participation in this lofty mission, we can end these heinous crimes and build a Stronger, Safer Florida,” Moody said.
FLHSMV Executive Director Terry L. Rhodes added, “Florida’s truckers go above and beyond to serve our communities every day, and it is no surprise that so many drivers have eagerly stepped up to join in the fight to end human trafficking in our communities. Our goal is simple: to train as many Florida truckers as possible on spotting and reporting human trafficking — all to achieve our vision of a Safer Florida.”
Funding the Highway Heroes campaign is through a U.S. Department of Transportation grant issued to FLHSMV to help train drivers and raise awareness about human trafficking on America’s roadways.
Phase two includes a strategic multimedia campaign reaching out to commercial driver’s license holders in Florida and encouraging them to get training on how to spot and report trafficking. It also includes additional outreach to drivers in the Tampa area during the week leading up to Super Bowl LV.
In phase one, the campaign targeted CDL holders via social media, direct mail and a new website with resources to educate drivers on how to identify victims and report suspected human trafficking.
Anyone who suspects cases of human trafficking, whether they drive a big rig or not, should contact local law enforcement and call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1 (888) 373-7888.
To watch the introductory video, click on the image below:
The U.S. Department of Agriculture is sending more than $5 million to Florida as part of an effort to combat invasive pests and safeguard the country’s nursery production system.
Much of the funding will land at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, supporting several ongoing projects.
“With agriculture likely Florida’s top economic driver during this pandemic-fueled recession, it’s more important than ever that we protect our crops and nursery products from pests, pathogens, and plant diseases,” Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said. “We thank USDA for this vital funding that will help us detect and address threats to some of our top agricultural commodities.”
USDA Under Secretary Greg Ibach added, “Florida has about 47,000 farms and its agriculture and agribusiness contribute more than $132 billion to the state’s economy. Protecting Florida’s agricultural industry is critical. These projects will help Florida protect its resources and contribute to USDA’s mission of keeping our nation’s agricultural economy strong.”
About $4.1 million will head to the FDACS Division of Plant Industry. The division will use $1.4 million for its high-risk pest rapid response and detector dog program and $1 million to survey invasive fruit flies. Smaller allocations will go toward African land snail eradication, citrus budwood plant stocks support, cactus moth control and Brazilian peppertree biological control.
Other funding will head to UF/IFAS, USDA’s Agricultural Research Service, or USDA Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service.
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is warning Floridians to beware of vaccine-related scams.
“As the state works to prioritize COVID-19 vaccination for our seniors, it’s despicable that scam artists would prey on our most vulnerable populations,” Patronis said in a news release. “Right now, fraudsters are working overtime to take advantage of consumers in an attempt to steal your personal information.”
Patronis’ warning comes after the Better Business Bureau noted a rise in suspicious, vaccine-related texts and emails. The correspondence, which is often unsolicited, claims to offer more vaccine information in exchange for personal information.
Other scams, Moody noted last week, offer fake vaccine appointments in exchange for large sums of money.
“When it comes to scams, the best defense is a good offense, and I encourage all Floridians to educate yourself on the warning signs of fraudulent activity,” Patronis added. “Be sure to always stay on guard and monitor your financial accounts for signs of ID theft or fraud.”
To that end, the Better Business Bureau offers several tips to help Floridians avoid COVID-19 scams. Among them, officials encourage Floridians to ignore calls for immediate action.
“Scammers try to get you to act before you think,” the bureau said. “Don’t fall for it.”
When in doubt, consult your doctor, officials added.
Floridians who believe they’re a COVID-19 fraud victim can report the scam online.
More than $26 million in unclaimed property was returned to Floridians in Dec. 2020, Patronis announced.
Unclaimed property is a financial asset that is lost or unknown by its owners. It can take many forms, including dormant bank accounts, uncashed checks or safety deposit boxes.
“We’re working hard to get our economy back on its feet, and that’s why I am proud to announce that [for] December, more than $26 million went to the pockets of Floridians,” Patronis said. “Since the pandemic began last March, we have recovered and returned more than $297 million, which is especially important because now is the time when people need it the most.
Unclaimed property returns have climbed in recent months amid the COVID-19 pandemic and elevated unemployment.
The CFO encouraged all Floridians to search for unclaimed property that may belong to them or their loved ones.
“I’m looking forward to continuing to work hard and make 2021 a record-high year in returns,” Patronis added.
The Florida Department of Financial Services is the custodian of unclaimed goods. Floridians can search for unclaimed goods online.
Instagram of the week
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The Week in Appointments
Broward College District Board of Trustees — DeSantis appointed Akhil Agrawal to the board on Wednesday. Agrawal founded American Medical Depot and served as the company’s president and CEO until his recent retirement. He is currently the director of the Agrawal Family Foundation and managing director of AMD Equities. He earned his undergraduate degree in finance from the University of Florida and is a Ph.D. candidate at Florida Atlantic University.
Pasco-Hernando State College District Board of Trustees — DeSantis made three appointments to the board this week. Lee Maggard, of Zephyrhills, is a PHSC and University of Florida alum who works as an associate vice president and commercial relationship manager at CenterState Bank. Robin Schneider, of Spring Hill, also studied at PHSC. She is currently the marketing coordinator at the Medical Center of Trinity. John Mitten, of Brooksville, owns a Chick-fil-A franchise in Spring Hill and is a former Chairman of the Hernando County Commission. He is a Florida State University alum.
Ending qualified immunity
Sen. Shevrin Jones and Rep. Michele Rayner-Goolsby filed bills this week to allow civil action against law enforcement officers who violate someone’s rights.
The bills (SB 670 and HB 261) make changes to qualified immunity, a judicial doctrine that shields government officials from being held personally liable for constitutional violations, such as excessive use of force if they did not violate “clearly established” law.
The proposal would require a jury to determine that an officer or other law enforcement professional acted in good faith and believed their conduct was lawful to defend against a rights violation allegation.
“As we’ve seen in recent years, our state and country are at a moment of reckoning when it comes to how communities, particularly those of color, are treated by those in authority. The ‘shoot first, think later’ mentality from law enforcement is dangerous, and our society pays a grave price when officers are essentially allowed to gun down people without consequence. It’s long past time for reform, and I look forward to working with my colleagues to hold bad actors accountable and end this abuse of power once and for all,” Jones said.
Rayner-Goolsby added, “I made a commitment to my constituents and supporters that I would continue to pursue solutions for equitable justice and accountability as an elected official as I have through my work as a Civil Rights attorney. With the filing of this bill, I hope to heal the fragmented relations within our communities with law enforcement. Taking measures to show that every life has value and that no one is above the law is one way we can make that future a reality, and I urge my colleagues to support qualified immunity reform.”
If you’re old enough to drink a beer, you’d be old enough to light a blunt under a new bill filed by Senate Minority Leader Gary Farmer.
Without getting into the weeds, SB 664 would make it legal for Floridians 21 and up to buy, use and grow cannabis for personal use, no prescription necessary.
Currently, Florida law only allows for medical cannabis use, which requires a doctor’s appointment and putting their name on a patient registry. Patients are not allowed to grow their own supply.
The proposal sets the max bag weight at 2.5 ounces per person. It would also allow Floridians to sprout a half-dozen cannabis plants and keep their harvest on-site.
It also opens the door for storefronts, defining a “retail marijuana store” as “an entity licensed to purchase marijuana from a marijuana cultivation facility and marijuana products from a marijuana product manufacturing facility and to sell marijuana and marijuana products to consumers.”
The bill also would rename the Department of Business and Professional Regulation’s Division of Alcoholic Beverages and Tobacco to the Division of Alcoholic Beverages, Marijuana, and Tobacco.
Sen. Annette Taddeo and Rep. Dan Daley, two South Florida Democrats, filed bills this week to allow local governments to enact more restrictive gun control measures.
Currently, Florida law blocks municipalities from passing gun control measures stricter than the state’s.
“Except as expressly provided by the state constitution or general law, the Legislature hereby declares that it is occupying the whole field of regulation of firearms and ammunition, including the purchase, sale, transfer, taxation, manufacture, ownership, possession, storage, and transportation thereof, to the exclusion of all existing and future county, city, town, or municipal ordinances or any administrative regulations or rules adopted by local or state government relating thereto,” the relevant section reads.
The bills (SB 672 and HB 6033) would delete the provision from state law.
“We need to repeal this preemption law enacted in 1987 that circumvents the will of the people to have elected officials pass common-sense gun laws in their communities,” Taddeo said.
Daley added, “In the wake of the shooting at my alma mater, Stoneman Douglas High School, I joined with fellow local elected officials to bring the lawsuit to overturn the draconian and unconstitutional punitive provisions. This NRA-backed law was wrong when it was passed in 1987 and is wrong today.”
Taddeo and Daley pitched a similar measure last Session, but with Republicans firmly in control of the Legislature, neither bill advanced through a single committee.
Rep. Dianne Hart and other members of the Tampa community will host a free PPE giveaway Saturday.
The Personal Protective Equipment Give-Away Drive-Thru will offer face masks, hand sanitizer, face shields, disinfectant sprays and other PPE at no cost. Hart is hosting the drive-thru at Club 1828 from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m.
“I am excited about the opportunity to provide Personal Protection Equipment to anyone that needs it,” Hart said. “It is our goal to make sure that while the community waits on the vaccine to become widely available, they are equipped with the resources they need to stay safe.”
Participants will be asked to remain in their vehicles.
“Even as individuals are able to get the vaccine, health officials encourage us to continue to wear masks, socially distance, and follow all CDC guidelines to stop the spread,” Hart said.
Hart is also partnering with East Tampa Business and Civic Association Inc., 400 Bosses, the Eddie Session Foundation, Haram Temple No. 23, Health Matters Community Pharmacy and Exit Us Bail Bonds.
Answering the call
When DeSantis launched his “Seniors First” vaccination plan, he directed the Florida Division of Emergency Management to partner with nurses to help get shots into seniors’ arms ASAP.
The Florida Association of Nurse Anesthetists answered the call.
The statewide association said more than 900 volunteers, 500 of whom are FANA Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, have stepped up to help.
“The response by our members has been nothing short of amazing,” FANA president and CRNA John McDonough said. “They are quite literally helping save lives with every dose they administer — as well as pushing our country one step closer to gaining control of this national health crisis once and for all.”
Among the volunteers was Jose D. Castillo III, a CRNA who preceded McDonough as FANA president. He helped vaccinate seniors in Bradenton last week.
“Hearing directly from seniors, knowing that this is exactly what we signed up to do, can be very moving,” he said. “Our volunteers reported seeing some who were actually in tears, having just received their vaccine. Others say both men and women, despite their masks, were displaying extreme relief and gratitude.”
McDonough also offered a nod to the Governor, noting the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recent decision to reverse course and follow Florida’s lead in prioritizing seniors for vaccinations.
“We are clearly on the right path and feel strongly that his aggressive plan will continue to help us vaccinate as many qualifying Floridians as quickly as possible,” he said.
The Florida Health Care Association is pursuing COVID-19 liability protections for long-term care, among other legislative priorities for the coming Session.
FHCA, which represents nearly 700 nursing homes and assisted living facilities across the state, also hopes to protect the 2020-2021 Medicaid funding increase and address long-term care centers’ workforce challenges by making the Personal Care Attendant Program permanent.
Long-term care facilities house some of the state’s most vulnerable residents who are older, have underlying medical conditions, and live in communal arrangements.
The pandemic created an environment ripe for opportunistic litigation, according to FHCA. Liability protections for long-term care providers would ensure they can continue focusing resources on their residents’ needs.
“Caregivers were left to make clinical, lifesaving decisions in the most difficult of circumstances,” said Mel Beal, an FHCA board member and Facility Support Company spokesperson. “Without protections, I fear the liability risks will divert precious resources from resident care and send a dangerous message to the health care heroes on the front lines — that those clinical, lifesaving decisions they made to safeguard our residents will be used against them.”
The Agency for Health Care Administration approved the Personal Care Attendant Program in the early stages of the pandemic last March to give nursing centers additional staff to meet residents’ care needs while also meeting minimum staffing requirements. More than 1,000 individuals have joined the long-term care workforce as PCAs to date, but the program expires at the end of the COVID-19 State of Emergency.
“This is a time when we should be focused on protecting the long-term care sector, which was more challenged than any other, and redoubling our efforts toward workforce recruitment, training and retention, appropriate funding and substantive reforms that will ensure centers can continue delivering high-quality care,” said FHCA Executive Director Emmett Reed.
This week, the Florida Municipal Electric Association announced its annual “Restoring Communities Awards,” which recognizes public power utilities that have helped get the power back on after it’s knocked out by severe weather or other emergencies.
The winners: GRU, City of Tallahassee, OUC, Town of Havana, JEA, Lakeland Electric, KUA, UCNSB, FPUA, City of Homestead, Keys Energy Services, Beaches Energy Services and the Ocala Electric Utility.
“The utilities celebrated today went above and beyond to help public power communities in need, and to make matters more challenging, did so during a pandemic. While we’re happy to put 2020 behind us, we will not forget our members’ level of service and commitment to powering our communities,” said Allen Putnam, FMEA president and utilities director of Beaches Energy Services. “Whether utilities are responding to their neighboring community or venturing into other states, mutual aid has and will continue to uplift public power everywhere.”
Despite the pandemic, Florida’s public power communities provided mutual aid to other communities nearly a dozen times between February and December, most recently on Christmas morning following severe storms across Florida.
“The public power utilities honored today truly embody the dedication and neighborly spirit of mutual aid,” FMEA Executive Director Amy Zubaly said. “While 2020 seemed to unfold with challenge after challenge, our public power members adapted quickly to respond to partners in need. Many of our members responded to back-to-back events that kept them away from their homes and families for weeks at a time, but they answer the call for help every time, even on Christmas Day.”
For a glimpse of the City of Tallahassee’s award-winning utility workers, click on the image below:
Careers after the military
Veterans Florida has thrown its support behind Sen. Tom Wright‘s SB 586, which would create a statewide awareness and employment program for military veterans.
That venture would build on the U.S. Department of Defense SkillBridge Program, allowing service members to gain workforce training at private businesses while transitioning out of active duty. Outgoing members within 180 days of separation may participate in apprenticeships, internships and fellowships, putting them on a career path after service.
“Florida leads the way by establishing a coordinated statewide SkillBridge initiative. Doing so trains the veteran workforce of tomorrow and keeps the state competitive for employers and industry,” said Veterans Florida Executive Director Joe Marino. “We thank Sen. Wright for his dedication to military families by introducing this important legislation. Veterans Florida is committed to connecting transitioning service members with DOD SkillBridge opportunities throughout Florida.”
The bill names Veterans Florida as the state’s principal Department of Defense SkillBridge assistance organization. Veterans Florida would inform service members of available SkillBridge training and assist employers with developing new SkillBridge training.
“The Department of Defense SkillBridge Program provides a pipeline of veteran workforce talent to Florida’s high-tech industries straight from within our 21 Florida military bases,” said Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs Deputy Executive Director James S. Hartsell. “Veterans Florida is uniquely qualified to lead the state’s efforts creating awareness of the program’s opportunities with employers and service members and their families.”
Florida Conservation Voters will fight for carbon emissions reduction, Florida Forever land and water conservation funding, and M-CORES toll road proposals’ repeal this Session.
The environmental advocacy group includes those goals and more in its 2021 Legislative Priorities and recommendations to support Florida’s climate and democracy.
Climate change is Florida’s single biggest environmental threat, the group says. Rising sea levels and damage to drinking water sources are among the key reasons the group is pushing for a transition to clean, renewable energy, land and water conservation.
Among the group’s priorities are resiliency planning, more aggressive pollution reduction goals and improving wastewater treatment. They also want full funding for Florida Forever and an end to the M-CORES program.
FCV also wants “fair, representative and pragmatic districts that avoid partisan gerrymandering” when lawmakers begin drawing the district maps ahead of the 2022 election. They’re also advocating for enhancing the citizen initiative process, which the Legislature has restricted in recent years.
Support: Creating fair and representative political districts that avoid partisan gerrymandering
As constitutionally mandated, the Florida Legislature will redraw Florida’s legislative and congressional political district maps during the 2021-2022 legislative sessions based on population information supplied by the United States Census Bureau. FCV will participate in this process by advocating for transparency and fair, representative, and pragmatic districts that avoid partisan gerrymandering.
The Wakulla Republican Executive Committee selected a new slate of officers this week.
The party picked Marcia Mathis as its new Chair, effective immediately. The Wakulla REC also named Greg Diehl as Vice-Chair, Rick Parks as Treasurer and Anne Henson as Secretary.
Mathis was raised in rural Wakulla County and comes from a long family history of public service. Marcia has spent almost 25 years in public service, primarily with the Florida Legislature.
She is a graduate of Tallahassee Community College and Liberty University, where she attended on a volleyball scholarship and served as team captain. Currently, Mathis works as the Community Relations Director for Northwest Florida Health Network, a nonprofit organization that coordinates care for child welfare and behavioral health.
“Clearly, we have had great leadership for the Republican Party in both Wakulla County and the State of Florida. I am excited about working with our outstanding team to carry that momentum forward. We see more people engaged than ever before, and there is a place for everyone in the Wakulla County Republican Party,” Mathis said when asked about her expectations and direction for the party.
Outgoing Chair Ralph Thomas said, “For the past few years, we have seen a shift in Wakulla County, from a minority of registered Republicans to a large majority. We have gone from very few Republican Elected Officials to nearly every position filled by a Republican. As the Party of freedom, liberty and personal responsibility, I’m honored to have been a part of the shift. I look forward to seeing continued success under the new leadership.”