Even if her company hadn’t co-sponsored the 2020 Working Parent Survey, Michelle Ubben knows all about the challenges of balancing a job and family.
Now a partner and president at Tallahassee-based Sachs Media, Ubben’s blended family includes six children. Her youngest is in college, but the public relations executive remembers her state of mind when, soon after returning from maternity leave, she was readying for an important client pitch when her infant daughter became sick with what was later diagnosed as pneumonia.
“She ended up recovering, but it was terrifying. And, of course, you feel guilt when you leave a baby to go back to work,” she recalled. “It made our workplace more family-friendly because it had to be.”
The survey, also sponsored by The Children’s Movement of Florida, concluded that instituting policies and benefits that help lighten the load of working parents is good business.
Working parents, who make up 80% of the U.S. workforce, cited paid time off, flexibility, insurance, and child care stipends as the benefits that increased their feelings of loyalty to their employer. Those surveyed reported the benefits cited — as well as backup child care assistance and on-site child care — most influenced their productivity on the job.
Despite the challenges throughout the years, Ubben recognizes her experience was more manageable than most other workers face. She and other Florida executives have joined Bosses for Babies, a group dedicated to spreading the word to employers and employees on the importance of early childhood care.
“I had flexibility because of the company I worked for and the way I was valued as part of that company,” she said. “But my heart goes out to so many parents who don’t have any of that. They don’t have quality child care. They don’t have a reliable backup plan. They don’t have a flexible workplace. They can’t work from home because they don’t have an employer who is willing to entertain that.”
“We launched our Bosses for Babies initiative last year knowing that employers have a role to play in getting all children off to a strong start in Florida,” said Madeline Thakur, president of The Children’s Movement of Florida. “Now we know that family-friendly policies and practices not only help parents be their best but also help Florida businesses attract and retain a strong, diverse workforce.”
Details of the 2020 Working Parent Survey will be discussed in a webinar set for 12:30-1 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 16.
During the Zoom event, Thakur will speak with the architect of the survey, Karen Cyphers, of Sachs Media, and Amy Ruth, the chief human resource officer at Florida Blue, about the findings and their implications for Florida businesses.
Click here to learn more and register for the webinar. For more information about Bosses for Babies and businesses championing family-friendly workplace policies, click here.
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 announces federal pharmacy program — Florida will soon receive additional COVID-19 vaccines on top of its allotment from the federal government. Ron DeSantis announced Tuesday that the Federal Pharmacy Program would be bringing vaccines to 119 Walmarts and Sam’s Clubs across the Sunshine State. The approach could, in theory, provide tens of thousands of additional doses weekly on top of the state’s allotment, which has been 307,000 per week the last two weeks, adding Walmart and Sam’s Club to the already robust traffic at more than 325 Publix pharmacies in the state. The state will continue ramping up availability at Publix locations.
“An attack on our state” — A Miami Herald report from Wednesday that the Joe Biden White House is considering domestic travel restrictions, including on Florida, sent shockwaves through the Florida media sphere. Florida appears to be the nation’s hotspot for a COVID-19 variant that is more contagious and spread here from the United Kingdom. DeSantis, a proponent of international travel restrictions and implemented domestic restrictions on travelers from the New York City and New Orleans areas early in the pandemic, railed against that suggestion as “unconstitutional.” “Any attempt to restrict or lockdown Florida by the federal government would be an attack on our state, done purely for political purposes,” the Governor told reporters.
Sprowls wants search for missing students — House Speaker Chris Sprowls sent a letter to school superintendents Thursday stressing the need to find and re-enroll Florida students who have vanished from classrooms amid the pandemic. According to an October survey, full-time student membership has decreased by more than 87,000 students statewide. That translates to more than 3% of Florida’s student population. Decreased enrollment could impact school budgets, a point of contention between lawmakers and the Governor’s Office on DeSantis’ proposed spending plan. Sprowls encouraged school districts to utilize social services and law enforcement to locate the students and return them to the classroom, calling it a moral obligation to find them.
Juvenile arrest expungement bill moves forward — Legislation that would allow minors to have their arrest records expunged for completing diversion programs is making its way through the committee process smoothly. Rep. David Smith‘s version passed its first committee this week, and Sen. Keith Perry‘s bill is through two of three committees. Both chambers passed versions of the bill last year, but lawmakers ran out of time to reconcile differences between their proposals. However, Perry and Smith’s bills are currently identical, and both have bipartisan support. The legislation is one area where criminal justice reform looks certain this coming Session.
Legislative Black Caucus unveils police reforms — One unlikely area of reforms comes from the Florida Legislative Black Caucus, which announced a sweeping police package Tuesday, its most ambitious effort yet to reshape policing. The 16-bill package comes after a year marred by police violence, riots and political polarization. The proposals seek to “promote fair and just policing reforms” by addressing issues including no-knock warrants, police militarization and more. The package also endeavors to make policing more transparent in Florida. House Democratic Leader Bobby DuBose said too many communities distrust police. “For many of us, the reality is we live in two Americas, two Floridas,” Dubose said.
— 1,781,450 FL residents (+49,519 since Feb. 5)
— 32,972 Non-FL residents (+1,030 since Feb. 5)
— 14,357 Travel related
— 677,067 Contact with a confirmed case
— 19,569 Both
— 1,070,457 Under investigation
— 75,734 in FL
— 29,061 in FL
— 3,188,308 Doses administered
— 2,225,304 Total people vaccinated
— 1,262,300 First dose
— 963,004 Series completed (+408,502 since Feb. 5)
Family appreciation week
Gov. DeSantis proclaimed this week as Florida Foster Family Appreciation Week.
“Many people talk of wanting to make the world a better place — these families are doing it,” DeSantis said. “The impact that a foster family can make in a child’s life can truly change their entire future. I’m thankful for these families who have selflessly opened their hearts and homes to care for vulnerable children.”
The proclamation intends to recognize the thousands of foster care parents in Florida and the children they support.
“These families make an incredible difference for children across our state, and we celebrate their lasting impact on these young lives,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “Florida is blessed to have so many outstanding foster parents who help to nurture them and create stability in their day-to-day lives.”
Under the direction of former Department of Children and Families Secretary Chad Poppel, DCF launched an online portal in 2020 connecting faith and community groups to help foster families and biological families under hardship.
Those interested in supporting foster families or learning more about the program can find details online.
To watch a video of coach Tony Dungy celebrating Foster Parent Appreciation Week, click on the image below:
Attorney General Ashley Moody warned Floridians this week that there are scammers out there looking to ruin Valentine’s Day.
The most common “romance scam” is equal parts catfishing and fraud. Imposters pose as a person seeking love on dating sites, social media, or even in-person to gain trust and ultimately swindle unsuspecting sweethearts.
“It’s a trick as old as Cupid himself — seducing targets with flattery and attention to get to their wallets through their hearts. As we celebrate Valentine’s Day, it is important to be alert for scammers who may attempt to trick those seeking companionship into thinking they have found their soulmates,” Moody said.
“Unsuspecting Floridians may find out weeks or even months later that those they thought were their soulmates would be better suited to play the role of inmate in a local prison. So, remember to guard your heart, as well as your wallet, when seeking companionship this Valentine’s Day, especially online.”
For the last three years, reports of money lost on romance scams have skyrocketed higher than any other type of fraud. In 2020, grifters stole a record-breaking $304 million nationally in romance scams — a 50% increase from 2019 and a more than 400% increase from 2016.
Moody said Floridians could avoid falling victim by asking detailed questions of anyone they meet online; get opinions from friends and family; conduct a reverse image search to see whether someone is using phony pictures, and don’t send them money or gifts before you meet in person.
Also, Moody stressed, never establish a joint bank account or give your date access to your personal bank accounts.
Moody’s office has prepared a brochure, “Scams at a Glance: Swindling Sweethearts,” with more information on recognizing and avoiding romance scams.
To view Moody’s video tips, click on the image below:
Instagram of the week
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The week in appointments
Alzheimer’s Disease Advisory Committee — DeSantis appointed Jonathan Weiss of Miami to the Alzheimer’s Disease Advisory Committee. Weiss is the director of strategic innovation for INSIGHTEC. Previously, he was consumer experience and loyalty manager for MetroPlus Healthplan, director of rehabilitation for Excellent Home Care and a physical therapist for Visiting Nurse Service of New York. He currently serves as director of the Israel Service Organization and the Focused Ultrasound Neuroscience Research Institute. Weiss earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in physical therapy from Touro College and his doctorate in physical therapy from Utica College.
Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority — DeSantis appointed Jesse Biter of Sarasota to the board on Friday. Biter is the CEO of Biter Enterprises, a Sarasota-based company with interests in information technology, real estate, marketing, and transportation. He is also the CEO of PropLogix, a real estate technology company he founded in 2014. Biter is the chairman of the Florida Sports Foundation and serves on Enterprise Florida and Space Florida boards. He is an ATP rated jet pilot with 25 years of flying experience and attended Shippensburg University.
Condemn White supremacy
Sen. Shevrin Jones, a West Park Democrat, is behind a Senate resolution seeking to condemn White supremacy after escalating attacks in recent years have put a spotlight on the hateful ideology.
Last year, reports showed a draft document from the Department of Homeland Security described White supremacists as the most serious terror threat to United States citizens. Jones — who is Black and Florida’s first-ever openly-LGBTQ Senator — now wants his body to call out White supremacists in a formal resolution.
“White supremacy poses a grave threat to our democracy, our national security, and the lives of people across the country,” Jones said. “We saw, just last month, its deadly consequences as violent domestic terrorists descended upon the U.S. Capitol with the intention of assassinating elected officials and overturning an election. This hate-fueled violence will continue to grow if we fail to denounce and dismantle it. If we truly want to be better than this, we must root it out.”
The Jan. 6 U.S. Capitol riot was driven mainly by false conspiracies, amplified by former President Donald Trump, that the 2020 presidential election was stolen. Multiple White supremacists and right-wing agitators were among the crowd that stormed the Capitol building, resulting in five deaths. Two law enforcement officers and a suspected rioter also committed suicide following the attack.
Jones’ resolution calls the Senate to recognize that “White nationalism and White supremacy are rejected and condemned as hateful expressions of intolerance which contradict the values that define the people of Florida and the United States.”
Added Jones, “Only when we denounce White supremacy can we start creating real safety and security for the millions of Black Floridians who call our state home. It’s our constitutional duty to build an inclusive, equitable, and respectful place for all residents. That’s what good government is all about.”
Mental health training
Democratic lawmakers are again looking to require law enforcement officers to respond to mental health crises more effectively.
The legislation would update Florida’s law enforcement training standards, adding a section mandating continued mental illness training. The legislation is filed to cut down on officer-involved shootings where individuals may be affected by mental illness.
“The training component must include, but need not be limited to, instruction on the recognition of the symptoms or characteristics of an individual with a mental illness and appropriate responses to an individual exhibiting such symptoms or characteristics,” reads the Senate version of the bill (SB 1192), sponsored by Sen. Bobby Powell.
Powell has pushed for similar changes in the past. That program on mental illness could count toward officers’ 40-hour minimum for continued employment training.
“Florida is not immune to headlines of police shootings involving individuals experiencing a mental health crisis,” Powell said in a statement stumping for the bill. “In recent conversations centered on police reform, it is imperative that we include discussion on the absence of specific law enforcement training geared toward dealing with individuals experiencing a mental health crisis.”
Freshman Democratic Rep. Christine Hunschofsky is joining Powell as a House sponsor (HB 879). Hunschofsky is the former Parkland Mayor.
“Additional mental health training would be a valuable tool for our law enforcement officers,” she said. “The ability to recognize a person is in a mental health crisis, de-escalate the situation, and provide help or call in a crisis team will absolutely save lives and provide people the help and support they need. The mission of our officers is to ‘serve and protect,’ and this bill absolutely does just that.”
Rep. Anna V. Eskamani hosted virtual events this week to celebrate women and girls’ accomplishments in science and inform Floridians about the upcoming reopening of the health care marketplace.
The first event was Thursday to recognize the “International Day of Women and Girls in Science.” Eskamani joined Tech Sassy Girlz director Dr. Laine Powell to highlight the organization’s work to empower middle and high-school-aged girls planning to enter STEM fields.
On Friday, Eskamani joined Anne Packham, the Primary Care Access Network marketplace project director, to inform Floridians how to sign up for a health care plan.
Due to COVID-19 and many losing their jobs, the Biden administration will reopen the enrollment period in Marketplace Healthcare. Coverage obtained during open enrollment can cover essentials such as doctor and hospital visits, prescription drugs, mental health treatment, and maternity care.
This plan can also cover testing and treatments for COVID-19.
More information on Tech Sassy Girlz is available online. A recording of the health care marketplace event is available on Eskamani’s Facebook page.
Rep. Matt Willhite, a Wellington Democrat, is looking to change the Port of Palm Beach’s charter in the upcoming Legislative Session.
Willhite filed a measure (HB 915) to eliminate specific bond requirements for the board of commissioners and secretary-treasurer, allow for annual pay adjustments and install other technical changes.
“The Port of Palm Beach is an economic engine for South Florida,” Willhite said in a statement supporting the shifts.
“Thousands of people rely on the Port of Palm Beach for work, making it one of Palm Beach County’s largest employers. The Port exports 100% of the raw sugar that is produced in the Glades area and has been an asset to our neighbors in the Caribbean, especially when they have needed resources after natural disasters such as hurricanes. The Port of Palm Beach has been an asset to Palm Beach County for decades, and it is crucial that we do what we can to ensure the Port’s success.”
The Port of Palm Beach District is an independent special taxing district. The port is the fourth-busiest container port in the state and covers 971 square miles. According to data from Willhite’s office, “the port and its tenants directly employ nearly 3,000 people. An additional 6,082 jobs are associated with importers and exporters using the port.”
More than $7 billion worth of commodities move through the site annually.
Court Clerks’ costs
Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers is praising Sen. Jim Boyd and Rep. Webster Barnaby for filing legislation to address Court Clerks’ long-standing budget issues.
Those problems are magnified by declining funding from fines, fees and court costs, as well as the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Florida’s Clerks of Court and Comptrollers continue to face an unsustainable funding system that has resulted in statewide budgets lower than the budget from 15 years ago,” said FCCC President Tara S. Green, the Clay County Clerk of Court and Comptroller. “To stabilize and improve this system and ensure the services we provide are accessible to Floridians, we developed thoughtful legislation and look forward to working with the Legislature on these solutions.”
Unlike many government entities, Clerks’ offices operate on a cash basis month-to-month, depending on fines, fees and court costs to fund critical public services. Many services and activities have no associated fees or revenue, such as domestic violence injunctions and indigence cases.
As Florida’s population grew, funding for Clerks’ offices has decreased sharply due to the instability of revenue generated in the fines-and-fees-based system. Additionally, Clerks are not funded in the General Appropriations Act and cannot carry statewide reserves to help with emergencies.
“Clerks of Court and Comptrollers make up a large, essential piece of our court system, and throughout the pandemic, they remained vigilant to ensure their services were available to residents,” Boyd said.
COVID-19 further exposed the flawed funding system, with Clerks’ offices across the state facing severe budget reductions from July 2020 to September 2020 that averaged nearly 50%.
“Florida’s Clerks of Court provide many necessary and essential services to our state,” Barnaby said. “I’m excited to move forward with this legislation that proposes common-sense, practical solutions for long-standing issues that have been present for our great Clerks across the state.”
The Florida State Parks Foundation has announced a $200,000 grant for the Serenity Garden at Wekiwa Springs State Park.
Work on the garden is expected to start by early summer. According to the foundation, it will be the only one of its kind in the United States.
“We are delighted to support this innovative project that will expand access and enhance the park experience for visitors with diverse abilities and special needs,” foundation President Gil Ziffer said.
The Wekiva Wilderness Trust, which received the grant, has worked with a team of international experts for more than two years to finalize the design of the 1.5-acre site.
The Serenity Garden will create accessible experiences and enrichment activities for vulnerable populations and groups such as fragile seniors, the visually impaired, people in wheelchairs, veterans with PTSD, people with autism, those with chronic conditions, and their families and caregivers. Visitors will see, touch, smell, and hear nature and interact with it in a safe environment.
“The Serenity Garden is a unique project that aims to serve as a sanctuary for a largely underserved population throughout Central Florida,” project leader Don Philpott said. “Hopefully, it will be the first of many to be created around the country and overseas,” he added.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce launched a mental wellness initiative this week to address the COVID-19 pandemics’ toll on mental health and addiction.
The mental wellness initiative includes a video series and a statewide webinar with national mental health expert Dr. Aaron Weiner.
“The Florida business community’s response to the mental health crisis and the actions we take to provide resources to Floridians is more important than ever,” said Mark Morgan, chair of the Florida Chamber Safety Council’s Leadership Advisory Board.
According to a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention survey, 40.9% of respondents reported at least one adverse mental or behavioral health condition. The described symptoms include anxiety and other stress-related disorders.
What’s more, 13.3% said they started or increased substance abuse to cope with COVID-19 related stress.
“The only way to reduce and remove the negative stigma around mental health is to talk about it, and that is exactly what the Florida Chamber Safety Council is doing by creating resources and hosting educational webinars,” Morgan said.
The Florida Chamber Safety Council and AdventHealth are working to share mental health tools and resources with other businesses.
Safety will be at the Saturday in Daytona this week as Team Hardpoint takes the track to compete in the Rolex 24.
The team’s car will sport the Florida Chamber Safety Council logo to raise awareness and promote workplace safety in Florida.
“Racing is an incredible sport, but it can be a dangerous workplace for drivers, crew members and spectators,” said Katie Yeutter, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber Safety Council at the Florida Chamber of Commerce.
“It is necessary for employers to commit to safety culture in workplaces of all kinds, including the racing community. The Florida Chamber Safety Council is proud to invest in team Hardpoint to promote workplace safety as they race in a safe and competitive fashion.”
During the race, the Florida Chamber Safety Council will be creating a video series with the team’s drivers, crew and other safety leaders to highlight safety best practices in the workplace.
In June, the Florida Chamber launched the Safety Council as part of its efforts to grow the state economy from the 17th largest in the world to the 10th over the next decade. At its founding, Chamber leaders said Florida businesses lacked a leading organization to work exclusively on preventing workplace injuries and deaths.
In November, it became the National Safety Council’s official chapter in Florida. It strives to be a one-stop platform to help Florida employers develop employee-driven workplace safety and health programs.
The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association (FRLA) recently announced their newly installed 2021 Board of Directors Executive Committee.
“FRLA is incredibly proud to have such exceptional leadership on our FRLA Executive Committee,” said FRLA President and CEO Carol Dover. “As Florida hotels and restaurants fight to survive and recover from devastating COVID-19 pandemic impacts, it is critical that we have engaged and passionate people helping our efforts.”
Jim Shirley, owner of Chef Jim Shirley Enterprises in Santa Rosa Beach, will serve as Chairman.
Innisfree Hotels Regional Manager Oliva Hoblit, meanwhile, will serve as Vice-Chair.
Anna Maria Oyster Bars Owner John Horne will serve as Secretary and Treasurer.
Loews Hotel Area Managing Director Barbara Bowden will serve as Lodging Director.
Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach and Resort & Spa General Manager Roger Amidon will serve as Lodging Director.
Sergio’s Family Restaurant President and CEO Carlos Gazitua will serve as Restaurant Director.
Hawks Cay Resort Vice President and Managing Director Sheldon Suga is the immediate past Chairman of the Board.
“This year, we face new challenges with COVID-19 liability protections, vacation rental regulation, alcohol-to-go, and a proposed federal minimum wage that may eliminate the tip credit for restaurants,” Dover said. “This Executive Committee brings more than 200 years of combined experience to build on as we implement innovative and lasting solutions to improve and rebuild our hospitality industry.”
Ad spending data from the American Tort Reform Association show law firms spending top dollar on ads related to the COVID-19 pandemic.
From March through December last year, Florida accounted for approximately 20% of ad spots and spending across the country on legal services TV ads mentioning COVID-19 or coronavirus.
Florida ranked No. 1 in the nation on ad quantity and spending. An estimated $6.6 million were spent to air the nearly 35,000 ads.
“These numbers show just how important it is for Florida lawmakers to work together on a legislative solution to support health care providers, businesses, and their employees who have been on the front lines, responding to the pandemic, as they’re targeted with lawsuits by plaintiffs’ attorneys,” ATRA President Tiger Joyce said.
Republicans in the Legislature are pushing for COVID-19 liability protections for both general businesses and health care providers. DeSantis came out in support of liability protections in September.
To date, 21 states and the District of Columbia have enacted some level of COVID-19 liability protections.
“It is encouraging to see Florida’s Legislature working toward enacting reasonable liability protections for businesses, health care providers, and countless other organizations to protect them from entrepreneurial trial attorneys who seek to profit from the pandemic,” Joyce said.
ATRA’s report comes down hard against Morgan & Morgan, which spent more than $10 million nationwide on 70,000 ads. That was more than double the money than the next top spender and about eight times as many ads as the next most prolific advertiser.
The Orlando media market led the state with $1.9 million spent. Next came the Tampa market with $1.3 million, the Miami market with another $1.3 million, the West Palm Beach market with $674,420, the Tallahassee market with $525,830, and the Jacksonville market with $470,350.
Florida A&M University College of Law is elevating Ava K. Doppelt as the chair and 9th Judicial Circuit Judge Faye L. Allen as vice-chair of its Dean’s Advisory Council.
Both have served on the volunteer board since its creation in 2019. Doppelt replaces John Crossman, president of the real estate advisory company CrossMarc Services, and Allen replaces Emerson Thompson, former 9th Judicial Circuit senior judge and senior judge for the 5th District Court of Appeals.
“We are so pleased to have these two consummate legal professionals leading the committed team of ambassadors who comprise our Dean’s Advisory Council,” said College of Law Dean Deidré Keller. “I am confident that Attorney Doppelt and Judge Allen will quickly build upon the strong foundation established by Mr. Crossman and Judge Thompson during the Council’s formative years.”
Doppelt manages trademark and copyright portfolios and has substantial litigation experience in federal and state courts and administrative agencies. She is a shareholder with Allen, Dyer, Doppelt & Gilchrist, P.A.
“I am honored to have the opportunity to work with Dean Keller and the Advisory Council to promote the mission of the College of Law,” Doppelt said. “Our goal is to ensure that FAMU law students receive the highest quality of preparation and training so they have the tools to achieve success in their professional pursuits, whatever they may be.”
Allen has been a judge in Orange County since 2005. She is currently assigned to the county criminal division.
“FAMU College of Law has been committed to providing an excellent and accessible legal education to a broad and diverse student body since its inception,” Allen said. “The times we are in call for legal professionals who are sensitive to the growing legal and social issues facing poor and marginalized communities.”
Best rate in state
Florida State University (FSU) has earned the distinction of having the best four-year graduation rate of any public university in Florida, the university announced this week.
According to the announcement, the university’s four-year graduation rate is 74%, ranking FSU first in the state and within the Top 10 nationally.
Additionally, the rate is the highest in university history.
“This is a tremendous accomplishment that reflects well on our academically talented students as well as our dedicated faculty and staff who inspire and support them,” said FSU President John Thrasher. “The Florida Legislature, the Florida Board of Governors and the FSU Board of Trustees have championed our efforts, and the investments we have made in student success are paying off, not only for our students and their families but for Florida taxpayers who support our state universities.”
The university credits the milestone to strategic investments in advising, coaching and tutoring.
“Everyone at the institution really pulls together to challenge our students and give them lots of opportunities and support,” said FSU Academic Affairs Provost and Executive Vice President Sally McRorie.
FSU also achieved a six-year graduation rate of 84%, marking another university record.