Takeaways from Tallahassee — Numbers don’t lie

Blue Tally Takeaways (5)
After a year, numbers tell the tale of COVID-19 in Florida.

Numbers don’t lie

It’s been nearly a year since the COVID-19 pandemic showed up in Florida. Here’s the story in numbers.

— 334: Days since Florida reported its first case of coronavirus.

— 1,698,570: Total cases reported in Florida.

— 26,254: Floridians who have died of COVID-19.

— 431: Nonresidents who have died of COVID-19 in Florida.

— 71,864: Florida residents hospitalized with COVID-19 to date.

— 6,375: People currently hospitalized with COVID-19.

— 12,203: Available hospital beds statewide.

— 1,000: Available adult ICU beds statewide.

— 243: Available pediatric ICU bests statewide.

— 47: Days since the first dose of vaccine was administered.

— 1,879,244: Total vaccine doses administered.

— 1,332,746: People who have received the first dose of vaccine.

— 273,249: People who have received both doses of vaccine.

Hundreds of people line up in Fort Myers for their chance at a COVID-19 vaccination. Image via Reuters.

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.

Take 5

The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

DeSantis proposes his budget recommendations — Gov. Ron DeSantis proposed a $96.6 billion budget Thursday, $4.3 billion larger than the current budget he approved in June. More than half the additional expenditures are to help combat the COVID-19 pandemic. The budget is the largest in state history and a significant break from his first two budgets, which were hardly budget expansions. The Governor branded his spending plan as “Florida Leads,” claiming it exemplifies the state’s ability to weather the pandemic while being economically responsible. To make room for the ballooning expenses, he also made $1 billion in reductions compared to the current year’s budget.

DeSantis says no tuition hikes — The Governor’s budget proposal does not include tuition increases for students attending public colleges and universities, which legislative leaders have highlighted as a possible target to generate more revenue. The Governor’s budget outline says tuition increases are prohibited at state schools. “It is imperative for students and families to not face any additional burdens during these times,” the Governor’s budget outline said. In November, Senate President Wilton Simpson described the option as a “viable opportunity” to make the first state college tuition hike in 10 years.

Florida getting an extra 40,000 doses — Florida will receive 40,000 more COVID-19 vaccine doses next week than in recent weeks. This month, Florida has only received about 266,000 first-dose vaccines each week, and the state can administer more than 400,000 per week at its current capacity. Receiving more vaccine doses would allow the state to open up more vaccination sites, including churches, Publix locations and state-supported sites. As of Friday morning, 1,605,995 people have been vaccinated in Florida, including 1,136,242 people 65 years and older.

Rivkees takes no questions — Florida’s top health official appeared briefly before a House panel Tuesday and took no questions, a move that drew the ire of several lawmakers. Surgeon General Scott Rivkees briefed the Florida House Professions & Public Health subcommittee for less than 10 minutes before signing off. Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith immediately voiced his frustration to Chairman Will Robinson. Smith noted that House lawmakers have not heard from Rivkees since the legislative body last convened nearly 11 months ago. “I think that it just contributes to the assumption that this process is a sham if we cannot be able to ask legitimate questions to the top public health officer in the state,” Smith said.

Patronis makes Olympics host bid — On Monday, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis sent a letter to the International Olympic Committee encouraging the group to relocate the 2021 Olympics to Florida. That letter drew international attention while others scoffed at the possibility. Patronis’ invitation comes as Japanese leaders are reportedly expressing doubts about hosting the Olympic Games amid the COVID-19 pandemic. However, the International Olympic Committee’s leaders remained confident that Tokyo could still host the games, even without fans. Patronis encouraged the committee to send a site selection team to scout Florida as an alternative. “I think most importantly, however, we have a state with leaders who are willing to get this done,” he wrote.

Coronavirus numbers

Positive cases:

— 1,667,442 FL residents (+69,593 since Jan. 22)

— 31,128 Non-FL residents (+1,374 since Jan. 22)


— 13,722 Travel related

— 626,048 Contact with a confirmed case

— 18,682 Both

— 1,008,990 Under investigation


— 71,864 in FL


— 26,685 in FL

Get creative

This week, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services kicked off the second annual Florida Agriculture History and Creativity essay contests.

The contests prompt elementary, middle and high school students to explore food insecurity and inequities.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said food insecurity affects up to 1 and 5 Floridians.

“Throughout the challenges of the past year that continue today, agriculture remains the backbone of Florida’s economy and how we feed our families — but not all of Florida’s families have enough to eat, with nearly one in five Floridians struggling with food insecurity,” Fried said. “That’s why we’re focused on food in our second annual essay contest, encouraging Florida’s youth to explore the problems, inequities and solutions surrounding chronic hunger, and rewarding creativity with Fresh From Florida scholarships for the winning students.”

Fourth through 12th graders enrolled in a Florida public or private school can participate between Jan 25. to Feb. 26.

Winners will earn $1,000 cash scholarships provided by Fresh From Florida, No Kid Hungry, the Florida Association of District School Superintendents and the Florida PTA.

More essay contest details are online; 2020 inaugural essay contest winners are also online here.

To watch the video launching the essay contest, click on the image below:

‘Scam Smart’

Chief Financial Officer Patronis launched a consumer protection initiative this week to help seniors protect themselves from fraud and scams.

Each year, seniors in the U.S. lose nearly $3 billion in scams. Due to COVID-19, seniors spend more time at home and interact with family and friends mostly online or over the phone. It makes them more susceptible to fraudsters.

“Florida currently ranks second in fraud and identity theft reports nationwide and fraudsters will stop at nothing to prey on our most vulnerable population, Florida’s seniors. Recently, we’ve even seen scam artists use COVID-19 vaccines as a scam tactic,” Patronis said.

“While these scam tactics are alarming, when it comes to fighting fraud, the best defense is a good offense, and the information in our Be Scam Smart presentations helps protect our seniors from financial schemes. Now, from the comfort of their own homes, Florida’s seniors can access the videos and empower themselves in the fight against fraud.”

Patronis’ Operation S.A.F.E. “Be Scam Smart” workshops cover topics such as identity theft, annuities and reverse mortgages. The workshops are available online and on-demand. Floridians can view the first two videos on the CFO’s website, with the final four videos available by the end of March.

Two watch the first two videos, click on the images below:

Instagram of the week


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The week in appointments

Manatee-Sarasota District Board of Trustees — The Governor has appointed John Horne to the Manatee-Sarasota District Board of Trustees. Horne, of Bradenton, is the president of the Anna Maria Oyster Bar, a business he’s operated since 1996. He is a member of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, Leadership Florida and the Manatee Chamber of Commerce. Horne earned a bachelor’s degree in administrative management from Clemson University.

Early Learning Coalition of Palm Beach County Board of Directors — DeSantis named Andrea Keiser to the board this week. Keiser, of Delray Beach, is the managing partner of Keiser Legal, a firm specializing in land use and zoning matters. Keiser earned a bachelor’s degree from Fordham University’s Gabelli School of Business and a law degree and MBA from Nova Southeastern University. She also has a certification in commercial real estate analysis and investment from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Florida State Boxing Commission — The Governor appointed Anup Patel, Tina Pike, Tobias Roche and Jeremy Wehby to the Florida State Boxing Commission. Patel, of Orlando, is a surgeon with Orlando Hand Surgery Associates and a plastic and reconstructive surgeon with Orlando Plastic Surgery Institute. He earned bachelor’s degrees in economics, biochemistry and molecular genetics from UF, and an MBA and a medical doctorate from Yale. Pike, of Plant City, has served on the Florida State Boxing Commission since 2017. Pike earned a bachelor’s degree in business management and a master’s degree in education from Elmira College. Roche, of Miami, is the president and CEO for Private Eye Miami. He is a former financial investigator for the Secret Service and worked as an asset forfeiture investigator for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. He earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice from Westfield State College, a master’s in criminal justice from the American International College, and a doctorate in criminology from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. Wehby, of Plantation, is the president of Grounds Group Landscaping, a family-owned and operated commercial landscape and maintenance company. He earned a bachelor’s degree in economics, marketing and advertising from the University of Miami.

University of Florida Board of Trustees — DeSantis reappointed Mori Hosseini and Bill Heavener and appointed Fred Ridley to the University of Florida Board of Trustees. Hosseini, of Ormond Beach, is the CEO of Intervest Construction Industries and the UF board’s current chair. He is also the Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University Board of Trustees’ current Chairman and serves on Enterprise Florida and Space Florida boards. Heavener, of Winter Park, is CEO and co-chair of Full Sail University and has been a member of the UF Board of Trustees since 2013. He is a Past President and Legacy Director of the University of Florida Gator Boosters and a recipient of the 2018 Golden Gators Lifetime Philanthropist Award. Ridley, of Tampa, is an attorney and partner at Foley and Lardner, specializing in real estate and corporate transactions. He is the former chair of the firm’s national real estate practice group and is a member of its transactions practice group.

Valencia College District Board of Trustees — DeSantis appointed Beth Smith and Angel De la Portilla to the board. Smith, of Winter Park, is government and education manager for Cigna, a health services organization. Smith earned her bachelor’s degree in organizational communication and her master’s degree in public administration from the University of Central Florida. De la Portilla, of Ocoee, has been the president of Central Florida Strategies, a government consulting firm, since 2008. He earned his bachelor’s degree in management from Florida International University.

Volunteer cheer

Volunteer Florida is thanking DeSantis for investing in the state’s service programs in his proposed state budget.

Volunteer Florida is the state’s lead agency for mobilizing volunteers and coordinating donations before, during and after disasters.

Volunteer Florida is thrilled with Ron DeSantis’ proposed budget.

“When we invest in service, we make our communities stronger and our state a better place for all Floridians,” Volunteer Florida CEO Corey Simon said. “Thank you, Gov. DeSantis, for making service a priority in your administration and the Sunshine State.”

Funding through the Department of Education and Division of Emergency Management allows Volunteer Florida to continue administering national service programs, like AmeriCorps. It also allows the program to keep promoting volunteerism throughout the state and ensuring disaster resilience in Florida.

State funding allows Volunteer Florida to leverage federal funds from the Federal Emergency Management Agency and AmeriCorps.

Volunteer Florida administers more than $34 million in federal, state and private funding.

Longleaf pine planting

The Florida State Parks Foundation and the Florida Park Service held a tree planting event last week with Bass Pro Shops’ representatives for their statewide Plant a Pine project.

On Earth Day in April 2020, the State Parks Foundation announced its goal to plant 100,000 longleaf pine trees by this year’s Earth Day on April 22.

Florida Park Service is partnering with Bass Pro Shops for the ‘Plant A Pine’ restoration program. 

Last week’s event took place at Gold Head Branch State Park in Keystone Heights. The park is one of Florida’s oldest state parks, developed in the 1930s. It now covers 2,000 acres of rolling sandhills on the North Central Ridge of Florida, with one of the few remaining examples of an old-growth stand of longleaf pines.

“We are delighted that Gold Head Branch State Park is one of the first to benefit from this project,” Foundation President-elect Don Philpott said.

The longleaf pine is native to the Southeast and once flourished over a range of 90 million acres, but it is now endangered and covers less than 3% of its original range. It has long been prized for commercial use in building houses, ships and railroads and its resin is used for making turpentine.

In October, Bass Pro Shops and Cabela’s Outdoor Fund generously contributed $50,000 to the project, enabling the planting of over 50,000 seedlings across 10 different State Parks, Philpott said.

“We all have a role to play in conserving Florida’s treasured natural resources and, by working together, look forward to seeing these pines grow and enrich our state parks,” Bass Pro Shop’s Steve Washburn said. “We send a special thanks to our customers who, by rounding up purchases in our stores, enabled the Outdoor Fund grant to support this project.”

Sunshine Scholarship

A new measure from two Democratic legislators will create a new state scholarship to help students pay for technical or associate degrees while incentivizing them to apply their skills in Florida.

Sen. Shevrin Jones of West Park and Rep. Felicia Robinson of Miami Gardens, are backing companion measures in the Senate (SB 888) and House (HB 503), respectively.

The “Sunshine Scholarship Program” would be available to students whose families have a household income of $50,000 or less. It would cover full tuition costs “for Florida residents pursuing an associate degree or a career certificate from an eligible postsecondary institution,” the legislation reads.

Shevrin Jones and Felicia Robinson are promoting tech degrees for Florida students.

“As a state that touts itself as one that puts people to work, it’s important that we be both attentive to businesses coming to our state as well as to the people seeking higher earning power through their education and workforce development,” Jones said in a statement touting the bill.

“We have a role to play in alleviating the student debt crisis that burdens so many families and students entering the workforce, especially considering our current crises. This bill puts Florida on a path toward true economic development and prosperity.”

Money from other financial aid sources — such as Pell grants, Bright Futures Scholarship money, and the Florida Public Student Assistance Grant Program — would be applied to a student’s tuition before the Sunshine Scholarship cash kicks in.

And that money will also encourage students to remain in Florida. Graduates must work inside Florida “for the same period of time he or she received funds from the program,” or else pay those funds back to the state.

“Retaining talent in the state of Florida is extremely important,” Robinson said. “The Sunshine State Scholarship program gives students an opportunity to work in their fields while keeping their expertise in Florida. This is a great step to stopping the brain drain that has become the norm in our great state.”

Good trip

Democratic Rep. Mike Grieco wants to allow Floridians to use psilocybin — the hallucinogenic compound found in magic mushrooms — to aid in mental health treatment.

Clinical studies have shown the drug may provide benefits for individuals suffering from specific ailments, such as anxiety and PTSD.

Grieco’s bill (HB 549) would task the Department of Health to study the strength of those beneficial effects to inform the public about potential treatment. The eventual goal would be to allow individuals aged 21 and older to seek treatment at a “psilocybin service center” operated under supervision by a trained professional.

Mike Grieco wants Florida to use magic mushrooms to help treat PTSD.

“Florida does not have to be the last state to catch up with science every time. Between medical marijuana and climate change, our state seems to never miss an opportunity to miss an opportunity,” Grieco said.

“The science regarding psilocybin is real, cannot be ignored, and soon will be a universally-accepted form of treatment in the U.S. Veterans and veterans organizations should be watching closely on behalf of folks suffering from addiction, PTSD and depression. I recognize that I have authored a very ambitious 59-page bill, but the conversation needs to start somewhere, and I am ready to work with both my Republican and Democrat colleagues to create a framework designed to help those patients who need it.”

That program would be set up over a yearlong period ending no later than Dec. 2023. Grieco’s bill would have Florida follow in Oregon’s footsteps. In November, Oregon became the first U.S. state to authorize the drug to be used as a treatment.

Champion for education

House Speaker Chris Sprowls this week appointed Rep. Chris Latvala to the Education Commission of the States.

The Education Commission of the States “gathers and analyzes data concerning education needs and resources as well as encourages research in all aspects of education,” the announcement said.

It was established over 50 years ago as an interstate compact on education policy.

Chris Sprowls names Chris Latvala to a key education post.

“Rep. Latvala is a champion for education in Florida, and he has a deep understanding of its importance — from early childhood literacy to workforce training and development,” Sprowls said in a news release. “I am proud to announce his appointment to the Education Commission of the States. Rep. Latvala will bring the same passion for effective education policy to the Commission that he brings to the Florida House every day.”

Sprowls appointed Latvala as Chair of the Committee on Education & Employment earlier this month. Over the last two legislative sessions, Latvala led the House’s PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee.

He also served as the House’s PreK-12 Innovation Committee Chair from 2016 to 2018.

Latvala is a Clearwater Republican representing HD 67. He currently sits on the Appropriations Committee and Commerce Committee.

Hospice champion

The Florida Hospice and Palliative Care Association has awarded Rep. Scott Plakon as its 2020 Hospice Champion Award winner.

That distinction goes to Florida lawmakers for outstanding support and advocacy for hospice care in Florida.

“Representative Plakon is a strong advocate for hospice services, established in his personal experience and conviction that hospice provides invaluable services to patients and families at a very difficult time,” FHPCA President and CEO Paul Ledford said. “His quiet leadership and experiential insights are genuinely appreciated.”

Scott Plakon is honored for his work to end Alzheimer’s disease.

During the 2020 Session, Plakon sponsored and presented the association’s primary legislative initiative and advocated for the issue among his peers.

That legislation exempts health care practitioners from a requirement to have a conversation about ‘non-opioid alternatives’ with hospice patients because the discussion is not appropriate for patients at the end-of-life and is likely to lead to confusion at a very difficult time.

Over the last several years, Plakon has become known as a strong champion for the fight to end Alzheimer’s disease. For many years, he was the caregiver to his late wife, Susie, who lost her battle with Alzheimer’s in 2018.

Housing budget hailed

This week, the Florida League of Cities applauded DeSantis for his “commitment to affordable and workforce housing.”

“On behalf of the state’s 411 municipalities, the Florida League of Cities applauds Gov. DeSantis for prioritizing workforce and affordable housing in his budget released today,” the statement said.

“It’s important we provide affordable housing for Florida’s essential workers. Florida is currently in a housing crisis, and the pandemic has made this problem even bigger. We hope that as the House and Senate craft their budgets, they give attention to the housing needs of Florida’s cities by fully funding the Sadowski Trust Fund.”

Ron DeSantis gets kudos for his commitment to affordable housing in the proposed budget. 

DeSantis this week released his budget recommendations for the next fiscal year. Despite the pandemic, the Governor said his proposed $96.6 billion budget is $4.3 billion larger than last year’s, $2.6 billion related to the pandemic.

The proposal contains $126 million for the State Apartment Incentive Loan Program and $296 million for the State House Initiatives Partnership Program.

The Florida League of Cities, which describes itself as the “united voice of Florida’s municipal governments,” was established in 1922.

Its goals are “to promote local self-government and to serve the needs of Florida’s cities, towns and villages,” the League website says.

Park plates

There is now bipartisan support for the State Parks Foundation to get a specialty license plate to support state parks.

Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley filed SB 676.

“Florida’s state parks are a treasure that need to be protected for future generations, but this will require significant and ongoing funding. I am delighted to support a specialty Florida State Parks license plate which would provide some of this much-needed funding,” he said.

Meanwhile, Democratic Rep. Allison Tant filed HB 249.

Florida may soon see a state park specialty license plate, thanks to Dennis Baxley and Allison Tant.

“Although our state parks are the only four-time National Gold Medal winners for excellence, there is much that needs to be done to ensure they continue to be recognized as world leaders. Funds from a specialty license plate will help us achieve this,” she said.

According to the State Parks Foundation, Florida’s state parks need about $1 billion to improve aging infrastructure and add required facilities. A specialty Florida Park Service license plate could provide the effort with the necessary funding.

State parks attracted 28 million visitors in 2019 and generated almost $3 billion in local and statewide economic impact, generating over $205 million in state sales tax and creating over 48,622 jobs. The parks also likely were a tourism driver during the pandemic, when people sought safe ways to vacation.

“As 2020 clearly demonstrated, Florida’s state parks play an important role in providing open spaces where people can recreate and exercise in a safe, socially distanced environment,” Foundation President Gil Ziffer said. “The demand for these open spaces will continue to increase as Florida’s population is expected to top 23 million by 2025 and tourism numbers grow.”

Expanded vax

Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez filed a bill this week to allow Florida pharmacists and registered pharmacy interns and techs to order and administer vaccines.

That legislation (SB 898) would make permanent DeSantis’ current emergency order allowing the pharmacists and interns, when supervised by a pharmacist, to administer vaccines to people ages 3 to 18. In addition, the bill authorizes pharmacy techs to administer the vaccine under pharmacists’ supervision and expands eligibility to individuals of all ages.

The Florida Retail Federation is praising Rodriguez for filing the bill.

“Thank you to Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez for her leadership in protecting the health and safety of Florida residents of all ages,” said Scott Shalley, Florida Retail Federation’s president and CEO.

Ana Maria Rodriguez is hoping to expand the pool of people who can administer vaccines.

Florida pharmacists have safely performed COVID-19 tests and effectively administered COVID-19 vaccines in long-term care facilities and at over 261 retail pharmacy locations across the state.

“Now more than ever, it’s important to allow Florida pharmacists to continue to give Floridians much-needed access to health care,” Shalley said. “The COVID-19 pandemic has been devastating to our state and nation. We are grateful for our Florida pharmacists, who continue to serve on the front lines in the fight against COVID-19 by performing tests and administering vaccines to those most in need.”

The FRF supports legislation that will allow Florida pharmacists to continue ordering and administering vaccines to individuals of all ages, per the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) immunization schedules, and any vaccine approved by the Food and Drug Administration to immunize individuals against COVID-19.

‘Physician Anesthesiologists Week’

Next week is Physician Anesthesiologists Week in Florida, thanks to a proclamation signed by DeSantis.

The document describes physician anesthesiologists as medical doctors who “provide various types of anesthesia care in operating rooms, delivery rooms, intensive care units and pain management clinics, to ensure you are as comfortable as possible before, during and after your procedure.”

The proclamation says “years of education and training” prepare physician anesthesiologists “to navigate life-and-death moments, transitioning from the operating room to the emergency room and acting as airway management experts for Florida’s patients.”

It continues, “Physician Anesthesiologists Week in Florida is an opportunity to recognize the significant role physician anesthesiologists play in Florida’s health care system and the impact they make on our families and communities.”

Physician Anesthesiologists Week starts Jan. 31 and runs through Feb. 6.

On board

Dannette Lynch, who serves as the Membership Director for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, was appointed this week to the International Society of Hotel Associations (ISHA).

Lynch will serve as ISHA’s Second Vice-Chair.

“I am honored that FRLA has provided me this opportunity to represent our association on a national level, working with other partner states, hotel brands, and industry partners across the country,” said Lynch. “I am able to provide information that benefits our Association and share FRLA’s efforts nationwide. This partnership greatly benefits our industry as we work together to strengthen hospitality and tourism in Florida and across the U.S.”

Congratulations to Dannette Lynch of the FRLA, named vice-chair of the International Society of Hotel Associations.

Lynch has served as ISHA’s Member-at-Large for four years and has been involved with the association for eight.

She is also FRLA Regional Director for the Pinellas, Hillsborough, Suncoast, Space Coast and Volusia chapters.

ISHA represents “the unified voice of state lodging associations in collaboration with national industry partners and provides professional development and networking opportunities for lodging association executives,” a news release said.

Members consist of lodging association executives and staff from across the United States, Canada and the Caribbean.

More information about ISHA can be found online.

Corona Directions


Staff Reports


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