Through May, when the Legislative Session in Tallahassee reaches Sine Die, you may notice a lot more coverage of the House and Senate prominently in this volume.
With limited coverage of regional delegations due to media corporations starving papers and television of resources, we take a hard look at bills.
What the legislators are carrying; how they move through The Process; whether they can even get it done (or not).
These are not theoretical questions in a typical year, but they are essential in 2021, where resources are tight, tensions are frayed, and many people are already eyeing 2022.
We already know, for example, that Reps. Jason Fischer and Clay Yarborough are gunning for the Senate seat vacated by Aaron Bean.
How will politics come into play this year? Will there be splits on some piece of high-profile legislation on the horizon?
Stranger things have happened.
Expect more people in the open Senate race too.
Races to fill openings in HD 12 and 16 — with two Republicans leaving for Senate runs — will be played out all-the-way.
And Jacksonville local races are already heating up, as City Councilman Matt Carlucci runs for Mayor in 2023.
The politics? Oh, they’re coming. You can bet on that.
But policy comes first.
First-term Sen. Jennifer Bradley is making early progress with a bill that could bring meaningful changes to the world of notaries public.
The Fleming Island Republican’s SB 228 would give notaries latitude in light of evolving technologies. It has its first committee hearing Monday afternoon in the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee. Two more hearings would then stand between the bill and the Senate floor.
There is House companion legislation, carried by Rep. Sam Garrison, another first-termer from Clay County. That bill has yet to make its first committee agenda.
The legislation would give notaries choice regarding electronic technology and provider in the commission of their duties. It also would allow passports to be acceptable identification for online notary services for people outside the United States.
Bradley may be new to the Senate, but she’s firing real bullets. At this writing, two of her other bills are also on the agenda for the upcoming week.
We caught up with the former Senator from SD 5. Rob Bradley currently serves as the vice-chair of the St. Johns River Water Management Board. We noted he brought a particular urgency to proceedings, making it seem less like an appointed board meeting and more like a panel with some real swagger.
Bradley noted that the board aligns with Gov. Ron DeSantis’ “vision for the environment and clean water.” He hinted that it’s a panel worth a close watch going forward.
“We are going to aggressively pursue and build projects that clean up the St. Johns River,” he said.
We will stay tuned for both the notary bill and the river cleanup.
Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Tracie Davis filed legislation last week to add a Diversity, Equity and Inclusion office to the Executive Office of the Governor.
HB 275 would create a Chief Diversity Officer personally appointed by the Governor. The CDO post would require a Master’s Degree in human resource management, sociology, or related disciplines and three years of experience in diversity initiatives in the public or private sectors.
Among other duties, this officer would advise the Governor on “matters related to existing inequities,” including pushing for the repeal of statutes with discriminatory language or intent.
The bill also requires the Governor to contract with a third-party agency to administer “implicit bias” training.
Carrying the Senate companion is South Florida Democrat Lori Berman.
“While it is no secret that having diversity in our state’s workforce, health care, and education is important in our fight to eliminate inequities,” Davis said, “this bill would create an avenue to ensure policies and standards are in place to eradicate discrimination.”
Rep. Wyman Duggan filed a raft of bills this week, including a proposed “Dual Enrollment Scholarship Program.”
HB 281 would establish this program, along with a “bonus scheme” for state university employees.
The scholarship program, as drafted, would be phased in. The state would reimburse private and home-school students’ costs to postsecondary institutions in 2021. The following year, public schools would be added.
The bill also envisions performance-based bonuses for state university system employees, with an eye toward employee retention.
Duggan also advanced appropriations requests this week for the Northeast Florida Fire Watch and Project Save Lives.
The former is an initiative to curb suicides by military veterans. The latter is a Duval County program targeting the area’s opioid problem.
A foul odor on Jacksonville’s Westside has set residents of the Murray Hill neighborhood on a collision course with International Flavors and Fragrances, a New York perfume manufacturer.
The locals claim the company is responsible for a noxious, nausea-inducing stench and have filed a class-action suit reflecting that grievance.
For its part, IFF disclaims responsibility.
“IFF has engaged environmental experts to conduct an independent review and full evaluation of the odor complaints and IFF’s facilities. We have concluded that IFF’s operations are in full compliance with the Title V air permit issued by the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and could not be responsible for the odor complaints in the Murray Hill neighborhood.”
The matter has been a talker for residents for some months, but with media interest from WJXT and other outlets, it appears that Murray Hill will be able to clear the air, one way or another.
Jacksonville is pleading with its youth to not vape, and this week the city rolled out an information campaign to that end.
“Every day, teens in our community are tempted to vape. As the father of three in middle and high schools, this hits particularly close to home,” asserted Mayor Lenny Curry.
Included in the rollout: a microsite called VapingGetsUgly.com, hosted on the city server. The site warns against the “chemical madness” vapers hazard, with the site delineating various adverse health effects.
The site includes a video spotlighting the difficulties encountered in school by a young vape addict, who ends up locked out of her classroom and ridiculed by her classmates as she was once again arriving after the bell.
To watch the video, click on the image below:
It’s only the beginning, the city notes.
“Over the next few months, expect to see communications efforts throughout our community to reduce the use of vaping products among Jacksonville youth,” promised a city social media account this week.
Despite allies in the White House through Wednesday at noon and in the Governor’s Mansion, Curry suffered the fate of many local and state leaders: there’s simply not enough COVID-19 vaccine to go around.
“The city will run out of its first dose of vaccines Thursday by the end of the day,” Curry said at an event heralding the state-run Regency Mall test site becoming a vax center.
“To be clear, at this moment in time, we run out on Thursday, and at the end of Thursday, we can no longer operate those centers for new vaccinations.”
The state of Florida ultimately doles out the vaccines, a pass-through from the federal government.
“Many of you have expressed frustration with the availability. Please understand that we do not control the supply chain. While the State of Florida determines who receives their weekly allotment and how much, even they don’t know what they will get week to week.”
“At this pace, it could take months before most of us receive the vaccine,” Curry said. “We would love to have control of supplies … but that’s just not where we are. We are facing a national logistics issue.”
“We stand ready to open more sites if, and the if is important, more supplies become available.”
Whether the Joe Biden administration can create an uptick in vaccines is still an open question. On the local level, the plea is to pick up the pace, however.
Lot J redux?
Just last week, as the Lot J deal fell one vote shy of the needed supermajority, existential questions loomed about the future of the NFL franchise in the city.
Then, in a plot twist worthy of the final quarter-hour of an All Elite Wrestling angle (like the Jacksonville Jaguars, another Khan family production), a new dashing main character was introduced.
Head football coach Urban Meyer took the helm, and with him, he brought expectations. He wants an “elite” staff, and regarding facilities, he wants “the best of the best.”
It was easy for locals to pooh-pooh the Jags’ concerns about market viability when the team was trotting out marginal head coaches and a revolving door of unmotivated and squandered talent on the field. But now? With Coach Meyer? Shad Khan has the ultimate negotiation tool.
Four to six. A to B.
— NFL (@NFL) January 19, 2021
It took a quarter-century without a single AFC Championship. But it’s coming under Meyer. And in turn, the city is going to have to pay up to keep the team.
While Lot J is “dead,” it’s easy to imagine some regrets from those who killed the deal, as a national spotlight descends on Jacksonville with a newly viable team that could win the division title next season.
The First Coast is getting a cybersecurity forum next month.
The event, sponsored by the Associated Industries of Florida, Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, FloridaMakes and U.S. Department of Defense Office of Economic Adjustment aims to give northeast Florida businesses a crash course in cybersecurity best practices.
It’s slated for Feb. 9-10 in Jacksonville and virtually.
Discussion topics on day one will cover the health care, insurance, energy, transportation, manufacturing and managed service provider industries.
Day two focuses on the U.S. Department of Defense’s new Cybersecurity Maturity Model Certification (CMMC) requirements for defense contractors, which mandates companies to be certified by a third party to be eligible for defense and government contracts.
“As companies who are out there compete, either as the contracts they’re currently working on come up for re-compete or they want to go after new work, they are going to have to show evidence that they’ve been certified by these third-party organizations,” said Elizabeth Niedringhaus, CEO of SSE Inc., a cybersecurity firm certifies companies.
The First Coast Cybersecurity Forum is designed to be relevant to a diverse array of professionals. According to event organizers managers, safety professionals, HR professionals, company managers, attorneys and, of course, IT workers, would all glean relevant information from the conference.
More information and registration details can be found online.
Bad news for those who wanted an Edward Waters College license plate. If you didn’t get it by now, you’re not going to get it.
EWC has had its plate since 2002, but legislation passed last year greenlighted new plates but requiring the discontinuance of the lowest-performing tag each year.
With just 714 in circulation, the college lost out. While other independent schools had fewer, they adopted a new template for that cohort of plates, and the Jacksonville HBCU did not.
The state has up to 150 plate slots, but they are prized commodities often, and even with the addition of 32 in the last Session, there simply will never be enough to accommodate demand.
X marks the spot
For the Jacksonville Port Authority, 2021 represents the start of some important things.
JAXPORT Chair Jamie Shelton and Chief Executive Officer Eric Green will unveil the port’s new Strategic Master Plan — dubbed “X Marks the Spot” — during the port’s first-ever virtual State of the Port address Tuesday, Feb. 23.
JAXPORT’s road map to success for the next five years used in-depth assessments of industry trends and forecasts to outline the port’s top business goals and the strategies to achieve them.
The address will also identify JAXPORT’s major growth projects, including the federal project to deepen the Jacksonville shipping channel from its current depth of 40 feet to 47 feet. Deepening through Blount Island is fully funded and scheduled for a 2022 completion, three years ahead of schedule.
On hand will also be JAXUSA Partnership President Aundra Wallace and JAXPORT’s Director and General Manager of Business Development Robert Peek to discuss the latest industry trends, including the rise of e-commerce, and how they will affect JAXPORT and the state of Florida.
“As we continue to make significant progress on our major growth initiatives, we are working closely with our economic development partners to maximize the dollars invested in our port and attract new business to Northeast Florida,” Shelton said in a statement. “Our updated strategic plan ensures we can build on our role as a global leader in diversified trade while bringing more jobs to our community.”
The Propeller Club of the United States — Port of Jacksonville, a nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting the maritime industry and the longest-running Propeller Club in the nation, hosts the virtual ceremony.
To learn more, contact the Jacksonville Propeller Club at PropClubJax@gmail.com.
St. Johns literacy
The Investing In Kids! program in St. Johns County hopes to give a leg up to more reading with their “Hats Off to Literacy” efforts to round out the month of January.
INK! officials are running the program from Jan. 25 through Jan. 29 to help raise funds for the program for children. It’s part of the state Department of Education 2021 Celebrate Literacy Week.
But the local effort in St. Johns County will see the Pacetti Bay Middle School and Brighton Day Academy in St. Augustine helping to drive funding to INK! Students in those schools can pay their teachers $1 to wear a hat in school during the drive. The funds from that effort will help INK! pay for the Five Learning Years program.
FLY, as it is known, aims to increase graduation rates among students in St. Johns County.
“Children who start behind tend to stay behind without the proper intervention, and the gap increases over time,” said Donna Lueders, INK! Executive Director. “It is crucial that children receive the support they need at the earliest age possible, and our FLY program helps students and teachers achieve this important goal.”
The Players Championship tournament, along with the First Tee of North Florida, launched a new program to develop a more diverse group of leaders and participants in golf and the golfing culture.
The initiative was unveiled Monday, on Martin Luther King Jr. Day, to produce rising leaders in the Jacksonville area. The program’s kickoff came 50 days out from The Players Championship, beginning at Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach. The new initiative organizers are partnering with Duval County Public Schools to help recruit more young people into the sport and encourage them to become community leaders.
About 30 young people will be identified in public schools around Jacksonville and “introduce them to the game of golf, using it as a powerful vehicle to empower kids to build inner strength and life skills they can carry to everything that they do,” a Players announcement said.
The program is free to the kids who are selected to participate. The students selected will be middle school kids.
Most of those selected for the program will likely be geographically located in schools near Jacksonville’s Brentwood golf course. That’s where their guides and support adults will provide golf instruction and associated mentorship.