Time to #EndIt
Thinking about “modern” slavery in 2021 might bring to mind brickmakers in India, prisoners in China or children laboring in West African cocoa farms, but the practice also can be found much, much closer to home.
According to the Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking, Florida ranks third in the nation in human trafficking cases reported.
The Workmans, a husband-and-wife photography business based in Tallahassee, have teamed up with a nationwide effort to bring awareness to this often-misunderstood subject by creating portraits of Florida politicians, business owners and others showing a red “X” painted on the back of their hands. Many spread the word with the hashtag #endit on Feb. 25, which is “Shine a Light on Slavery Day.”
“This is happening in our backyard,” said photographer Alex Workman. “In 2019, there were children trafficked in every single one of Florida’s 67 counties.”
He also mentioned Operation Stolen Innocence, where local, state and national police agencies joined forces to investigate the sex trafficking of one 13-year-old child.
“Just this past December, right here in Tallahassee, over 170 people were arrested … with charges ranging from child pornography all the way to human trafficking,” Workman said.
The duo set up five pop-up studios in Tallahassee and Tampa and over two weeks photographed more than 200 allies. An online gallery of the portraits includes state and local luminaries such as Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis, state AG Ashley Moody, Sen. Loranne Ausley, Rep. Allison Tant, Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil and Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey.
“Advocacy without action can only go so far, so we’ve partnered with the Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking and Voices for Florida to offer practical resources, tools and steps to join in the fight,” Workman said.
Visit the Florida Alliance to End Human Trafficking website to learn more about human trafficking in Florida and ways to help end the practice. The Alliance offers a free hourlong video training program focused on detecting and reporting human trafficking, and interventions and treatment for survivors.
To watch a video of Alex Workman introducing #EndItTLH, click on the image below:
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:
Vaccine eligibility to grow in March — There are no specifics yet, but Gov. Ron DeSantis says Florida will expand who can receive vaccines next month. The Governor will have federally supported sites offer some shots for cops and teachers 50 and older, but he also plans to make the vaccines available to younger members of the general public. Currently, Floridians 65 and older can get a vaccine, and nearly half that age group now have at least one shot. The upcoming Johnson & Johnson one-shot vaccine will likely help the state move through the population faster. New age thresholds the Governor floated included 60- and 50-year-olds.
Emergency powers on the table — DeSantis wants state lawmakers to look into legislation to limit local emergency powers to prevent future lockdowns and curfews. Some Republicans, including Sen. Jeff Brandes, want to limit the Governor’s unilateral powers during an emergency. That’s not because of any mishandling on DeSantis’ part, in their mind, but because of fears that a future Governor could take the state in the wrong direction. Both the House and Senate have convened committees focused on the pandemic. Part of their scope could be to review emergency powers. Senate Select Committee on Pandemic Preparedness and Response Chair Danny Burgess said his panel should consider the Legislature’s role in a sustained emergency.
House targets rising sea levels — House Speaker Chris Sprowls introduced a lineup of priority legislation to combat “the realities” of sea-level rise. Sprowls presented a pair of proposals sponsored by coastal-district lawmakers, including legislation that would commit $100 million per year from the state to tackle issues around the sea-level rise and mitigation efforts. Sen. Ray Rodrigues and Rep. Demi Busatta Cabrera will sponsor the centerpiece legislation. That bill would also create statewide flooding and sea-level rise resilience plans that prioritize and fund projects submitted by local governments. Another proposal by Brandes and Rep. Linda Chaney would provide tax breaks to homeowners who voluntarily elevate their properties.
Senate eyes revamping scholarships — A Senate proposal would overhaul the state’s financial aid system to prioritize scholarships that successfully lead to jobs. Sen. Dennis Baxley is sponsoring that proposal, backed by Senate President Wilton Simpson. The slew of changes would ask the Board of Governors and the State Board of Education to create an annual list of public and private degree programs that lead directly to employment. It would also create a new scholarship for Pell Grant-eligible students in a certificate or associate degree program who still owe tuition and fees after receiving state and federal aid. The proposal would also change how Bright Futures is funded, putting that back into the budget process.
Flags at half-staff for Limbaugh — This week’s feud between DeSantis and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried centered around the Governor’s decision to lower flags at half-staff for Rush Limbaugh, who died last week after his battle with lung cancer. DeSantis ordered the flags lowered from sunrise to sunset Wednesday, the day of Limbaugh’s funeral. Fried, the lone Democratic member of the Florida Cabinet, refused to lower flags at her offices for the conservative radio personality, which she said would celebrate hate speech, bigotry and division. During an appearance on “Fox and Friends” last week, DeSantis credited Limbaugh for helping him reach voters and ultimately winning the Governor’s race. During his CPAC speech on Friday, DeSantis began choking up while recalling the late host.
— 1,863,453 FL residents (+40,809 since Feb. 19)
— 34,770 Non-FL residents (+987 since Feb. 19)
— 14,808 Travel related
— 717,456 Contact with a confirmed case
— 20,198 Both
— 1,110,991 Under investigation
— 79,021 in FL
— 31,162 in FL
— 4,483,197 Doses administered
— 2,895,170 Total people vaccinated
— 1,307,143 First dose
— 1,588,027 Series completed (+293,802 since Feb. 19)
Lockheed Martin apprenticeships
Lockheed Martin and CareerSource Florida have partnered for a new internship program, DeSantis announced this Wednesday.
Lockheed Martin’s Ocala facility will host the new program with support from CareerSource Citrus Levy Marion The two-year apprenticeship program, which already has 265 apprentices, trains electronics associates who will solder circuit cards and wiring harnesses used in aerospace and defense systems.
“Lockheed Martin’s new apprenticeship program with CareerSource Florida exemplifies many of the reasons why Florida is the best state to do business: we are focused on job creation, partnerships, innovation and workforce education,” DeSantis said. “The expansion of workforce education and training programs is an essential element of our mission to ensure Florida is No. 1 in the nation for workforce education.”
The global security and aerospace company first partnered with CareerSource Florida in 2019, when the company began hiring and training apprentices for five years. Company officials say the corporation will create 8,000 apprenticeships and jobs through 2023.
“These students serve as a cornerstone of our future talent and the success of our workforce, and we’re proud to partner with CareerSource Florida to help us create highly skilled and high-wage career opportunities for Floridians,” said Monet Nathaniel, vice president of human resources at Lockheed Martin Missiles and Fire Control.
CareerSource Florida is the state’s agency to connect employers with skilled talent.
“Providing customized solutions for companies like Lockheed Martin in targeted industry sectors is one of the most important contributions our team can make to help diversify Florida’s economy and grow opportunities for Floridians to prosper,” said CareerSource Florida President and CEO Michelle Dennard.
‘Back the Blue’
Attorney General Moody this week recognized the second anniversary of the Back the Blue campaign.
The campaign recognizes law enforcement officials who go beyond the call of duty and individuals and organizations who support law enforcement.
“Florida law enforcement officers risk their lives daily to protect us, and as the wife of a law enforcement officer, I have witnessed personally the sacrifice and courage necessary to keep that commitment,” Moody said in a news release. “That is why I created the Back the Blue campaign — to highlight law enforcement officers, citizens and organizations taking extraordinary steps to forge positive relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.”
More than 30 law enforcement officers, private citizens and organizations have been recognized since the program’s creation.
To watch Moody celebrate the anniversary of ‘Back the Blue,’ click on the image below:
The first award was given to Zechariah Cartledge in Feb. 2019. Cartledge, then 10-years-old, ran one mile in Winter Springs to honor Florida’s fallen law enforcement officers.
Moody recently awarded the Punta Gorda Police Department’s Veteran Crisis Assistance Team for their “innovative approach” toward helping military veterans.
A full list of Back the Blue award recipients can be found online.
“I am so grateful for each of the recipients’ contributions to building a Stronger, Safer Florida,” Moody said.
Florida emergency response teams serving in Texas continued distributing resources this week to storm-ravaged residents, Agriculture Commissioner Fried said.
The Florida Department of Agriculture’s Green Incident Management Team deployed to Texas last week amid a historic winter storm.
Thus far, the team has helped distribute over 3.2 million water bowls and 1.4 million meals throughout the state.
💧3,296,640 bottles of water
🍝1,490,400 Meals Ready to Eat (MRE) pic.twitter.com/Nh41uILLdc
— Commissioner Nikki Fried (@NikkiFriedFL) February 26, 2021
“We continue to stand with the citizens of Texas who are have suffered through life-threatening subzero temperatures, power outages, severely iced roads, and other emergencies,” Fried said. “Our Green Incident Management Team, composed of our hardworking Florida Forest Service personnel, are working to get millions of meals and bottles of water get to communities in need while keeping emergency responders stay safe from COVID-19.”
The emergency team is stationed at Randolph Air Force Base Auxillary Airport near San Antonio.
The deployment is scheduled to last 15 days.
“Through the seamless, collaborative efforts of our partners, we are meeting the critical needs of residents throughout the State of Texas,” said Deputy Incident Commander Bryce Thomas. “So far, more than 100 counties have received the necessary supplies of food and water that they so desperately need.”
Instagram of the week
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Sen. Lori Berman and Rep. Robin Bartleman are backing new legislation that would codify additional privacy measures shielding the identities of sexual assault victims from public view.
“Once a sexual assault victim finds his or her strength to report the crime, it is imperative that the State does its part to protect the victim,” Bartleman argued. “They should not be re-traumatized and threatened with public exposure for reporting a crime of this nature.”
The two South Florida Democrats have introduced identical bills (SB 1044, HB 767) ahead of next week’s Legislative Session. While state law does bar disclosure of victims’ names in many circumstances, the new legislation aims to fill gaps where that information can be shared. It would also give victims a mechanism to demand that information be taken down or deleted if posted or published.
Current law requires law enforcement agencies, public schools and other public entities to redact a victim’s name if, for instance, a police report or other complaint is made public. So in a criminal case, those documents identifying a victim would remain redacted.
But in civil cases, the rules are different. State law doesn’t cover disputes between private parties. There are judicial rules protecting victims’ identities inside a courtroom, but those rules don’t have the same certainty as codified law and can be challenged.
Berman said the legislation is designed to ensure victims are not inhibited to report or seek compensation for an assault due to fear of the public spotlight.
“We know that many sex criminals victimize numerous others unless stopped by law enforcement,” Berman said. “But we also know that many victims, like Karen, are reluctant to come forward out of fear for their attacker or feeling that somehow they were to blame for the assault. This bill helps prevent breaches in their security so that justice can prevail for these victims. Survivors deserve our support and encouragement, and that begins by assuring them of their privacy.”
The bills do go further, though, giving victims the right to order takedown notices should their information become public. It remains to be seen whether First Amendment advocates will raise concerns with those provisions, which would bind media outlets as well. Most media organizations already have internal rules against publishing an assault victim’s name, however.
Three state lawmakers filed legislation this week that would require Florida employers to provide paid family leave to employees.
The Florida Family and Medical Leave Act (SB 1596 and HB 1245) and Family and Medical Leave Insurance Benefits Fund (SB 1586 and HB 1247) would allow parents to take paid family leave after a child’s birth, adoption, or foster care placement.
“Our working families are the backbone of our state’s economy, and we have neglected them for far too long,” said SB 1586 sponsor Sen. Janet Cruz. “Passing legislation to ensure paid family and medical leave for Floridians will result in increased morale, improved economic outcomes, and more successful work environments throughout our state.”
In a news release, Cruz and House sponsors Reps. Angie Nixon and Felicia Robinson noted the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on Florida families and child care.
Notably, the lawmakers said some faith communities are rallying around the proposals.
“Having to choose between your newborn and your paycheck is an impossible, immoral choice, but it’s reality for too many working families,” said Rev. Tom Holdcraft of St. Stephen Lutheran Church in Tallahassee. “It’s one that I have faced as well as many in the pews.”
Fines and fees
Sen. Shevrin Jones and Rep. Matt Willhite are looking to bar candidates from seeking office if they owe certain unpaid fines or are under the scope of the Commission on Ethics.
“The decisions we make can affect local municipalities and statewide budgets,” Willhite said of his and his colleagues’ legislative work, which ramps up with Tuesday’s start to the 2021 Session. “If we have to make those important decisions, it isn’t too much to ask that we properly take care of our campaign expenditures as well.”
The legislation explicitly blocks candidates from qualifying for an election if the Commission on Ethics has found probable cause that the candidate or lawmakers have violated the code of ethics or other public trust. Individuals who owe fines for failing to submit timely campaign finance reports.
“When you hold public office, the public puts its trust in you. As public officials, we have a responsibility to the voters that put us in office. Those same voters that put us in office trust that we will be good stewards of their resources,” Willhite added.
“Nonetheless, even some of the most informed voters don’t have the time to scan through the intricate details of campaign finance reports. By just being on the ballot, they assume that we have done everything properly to get there.”
Jones and Willhite are both Democratic lawmakers hailing from South Florida. Their legislation could have impacted former Rep. Al Jacquet, a Riviera Democrat who lost his seat last cycle amid ethics questions. Democratic Rep. Anika Omphory also faced an Ethics Commission investigation last year over failing to pay fines. She narrowly held off a primary challenge.
“Voters deserve transparency and accountability in government, and those running for office have a responsibility to rebuild and uphold public trust,” Jones said. “This bill is an important step in reforming a system that’s enabled special interests to game the system in their favor and further stack the deck against real people.”
Democratic Sen. Annette Taddeo returned to a proposal (SB 652) that would tax bottled water companies 12.5 cents per gallon should they tap into Florida’s springs.
The bill filing comes on the heels of the state approval of Nestlé’s plan to pump up to 1 million gallons a day from a Florida spring for bottled water.
“It is unconscionable that certain corporate water bottling companies exploit our state water, without paying their fair share, while all other companies who bottle water through municipalities pay for their water. This is a corporate welfare loophole that has allowed these companies to exploit our precious water supply,” Taddeo said.
“This bill will help us bring to an end this abusive practice. At a time when we desperately need funding for septic to sewer projects, we should not be giving bottling companies our springs water for free.”
Taddeo introduced a similar measure last year as a way for the state to collect revenue when corporations seek to bottle up the state’s resources. Democratic Rep. Joe Casello is behind the House version (HB 1237) this Session, replacing last year’s sponsor, Rep. Willhite.
The money collected through the tax would be placed in a trust fund to help support water quality projects throughout the state, such as promoting septic-to-sewer transitions.
Casello added, “Freshwater is not a sustainable resource and thinking otherwise is taking this precious commodity for granted. Nestlé made $7.8 billion in global sales in 2019 from just bottled water. We cannot stand by while the industry drains our State and profits off resources that belong to all Floridians, for the meager price of a $115 permit fee.”
Session might be around the corner, but Sen. Perry Thurston is still pushing for remote testimony from members of the public.
Simpson has shot down that idea, at least for the 2021 Session. But Thurston, a Broward County Democrat, has been persistent and sent a letter Thursday to the Senate President asking for the rules change, a follow-up to a request he made earlier in the month.
“Allowing for greater access by the public to matters that will directly impact their lives and their businesses is essential for any true democracy to thrive,” Thurston wrote.
Opening up public testimony, typically held in committee rooms, with online access could potentially open the door to thousands of witnesses who wish to speak on a bill. Simpson dismissed the idea of online testimony as “pretty ridiculous” last week because of the logistics behind it. However, he will assemble a working group over the summer to explore allowing remote testimony in future sessions.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, members of the public can testify before Senate committees remotely from the Leon County Civic Center. Thurston wants similar sites to go online at the state’s other colleges and universities in Jacksonville, Tampa, Orlando, Gainesville, Daytona and West Palm Beach, and Broward and Miami-Dade counties.
“There is a growing concern that the limited input of voices in advance of the upcoming 2021 Legislative Session has essentially granted a green light to a very narrow agenda tailored more for the well-heeled than the average citizen,” Thurston wrote. “Given the stakes and the consequences they will face should these bills pass, it’s not that fully opening up the doors to the people is ‘pretty ridiculous.’ It’s the idea that we would not.”
Raising the bar
On the eve of the Legislative Session, a Senate committee is scheduled to hear a bill that would make it harder for proposed constitutional amendments to win on Election Day.
SJR 1238 by Doral Republican Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez would up the threshold proposed amendments need to hit for passage from 60% to two-thirds, or 66.66% plus one vote.
Rodriguez’s proposal is a resolution, not a bill. Assuming the bill makes it through the Legislature, Florida voters would have to approve the change on the 2022 ballot.
The measure would need to earn 60% support from voters to pass.
The resolution includes a second standard for ditching prior ballot amendments, essentially making it easier to undo an amendment than to pass one in the first place.
It reads, “the repeal of an amendment to or a revision of this constitution only requires the approval by a vote of at least the same percentage of the electors as was required at the time of passage of such amendment or revision.”
SJR 1238 is on the agenda for the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee’s meeting at 4 p.m. Monday.
Rep. Rick Roth, a West Palm Beach Republican, is carrying the House version (HJR 61). It has not yet been scheduled for a committee hearing.
Regional energy board
House Speaker Chris Sprowls on Tuesday appointed Rep. Bobby Payne to the Southern States Energy Board.
Congress helped create the panel in the ’60s to enhance economic development and innovations in energy and environment programs.
The Palatka Republican has helped lead the state on land and water use, sponsoring part of the state’s 2020 environmental legislation package. He is currently the House Ways and Means Committee Chairman and has been the House Energy and Utilities Subcommittee Vice Chairman in the past.
Additionally, he served several roles during a 38-year career at Seminole Electric Cooperative, including Manager of Operations at the Seminole Generating Station in Palatka.
“Rep. Payne’s long, impressive record in the energy sector will serve him well on the Southern States Energy Board,” Sprowls said. “His extensive knowledge in electric power generation, transmission and distribution across the state of Florida will prepare him well for this new role serving Florida’s consumers and our energy industry while protecting our natural resources and wildlife.”
The board represents 16 southern states and two territories from Texas to Maryland and the U.S. Virgin Islands. Each Governor and two lawmakers from each delegation serve on the panel. Sen. Jeff Brandes also serves on the panel.
Lead in school water
Rep. Christine Hunschofsky filed a bill on Wednesday calling for a study on the prevalence and effects of lead in public school drinking water.
The federal government has banned the use of lead materials in public water systems since 1986 when Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. But more than 1,700 public schools in Florida were built before the act and may still have lead systems.
The state currently doesn’t know how many children may be drinking from water supplies that use lead.
“According to the Environmental Protection Agency, even the lowest dose of lead ingested by a child can lead to behavior issues, learning problems, hearing impairments and hyperactivity,” Hunschofsky said. “We send our children to school to learn, not to be poisoned by the water fountains just outside their classrooms. As lawmakers, we have a responsibility to determine where these drinking fountains are so that we can protect our children’s health.”
“This issue is simple,” Cruz said. “There is no safe level of lead for our children, and the onus is on us to fix this problem that affects hundreds of thousands of children throughout our state.”
Rep. Ardian Zika’s legislation to crack down on COVID-19 vaccine fraudsters will go before its third and final committee on Monday.
HB 9 would create stiffer penalties for vaccine-related fraud schemes, which have sprouted up over the past few months. Common vaccine scams falsely offering access to vaccines or appointments in exchange for money.
Some scams are more than simple grifts, however. Attorney General Moody has warned that all offers of in-home vaccinations through Medicare are phony, as well as offers to get on a waitlist, secure an appointment or expedite access to the vaccine.
Many scammers are also purporting to be county health officials or vaccination site representatives.
All of the above and more would become third-degree felonies. A second violation would bump the charge to a second-degree felony.
Zika’s bill is backed by House Speaker Sprowls and will likely clear the chamber in the early days of the 2021 Legislative Session. It is scheduled to be heard in the House Judiciary Committee when it meets Monday at 2 p.m.
The National Federation of Independent Businesses this week unveiled their 2021 Legislative priorities.
The NFIB highlighted COVID-19 liability protections and PPP loan tax deductions as their top two priorities.
Other NFIB priorities include litigation finance reform, reducing the regulatory burden on home-based businesses and stabilizing the state’s workers’ comp system.
“Sixty percent of the small business owners surveyed last month by the NFIB Research Center said they didn’t think the nation’s economy would fully recover until 2022 at the earliest, and 15% warned they might not last another six months unless conditions improve soon,” said NFIB State Director Bill Herrle. “That’s why it’s essential that the Florida Legislature address these issues. We need the legislature to do everything it can to help small businesses get through this crisis so they can once again grow and continue to create jobs.”
Currently, the Republican-controlled Legislature is fast-tracking legislation that would shield businesses from COVID-19 related lawsuits.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls said the protections are one of his top priorities. Speaking to reporters last week, he said expects the legislation to be among the first issues addressed during the session.
The 2021 Legislative Session begins March 2.
This week, the Florida Engineering Society (FES) and American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida (ACEC-FL) announced its 2021 Legislative Session priorities.
Among their priorities, the groups are seeking Urban Search and Rescue Engineer liability protections and long-term water, energy and transportation solutions.
According to a news release, licensed engineers offering search and rescue services have dropped by 60% due to liability threats.
“Engineers serve as boots on the ground to Florida’s growing resiliency and infrastructure needs, and are frequently the ‘go-to’ resource for engineering-related search and rescue missions during times of natural disasters,” said Allen Douglas, Executive Director of FES and ACEC-FL. “While lawmakers will rightly place a leading focus on the health and safety of Floridians and our state’s economic recovery from COVID-19, we encourage elected leaders to also take bold actions on the tremendous infrastructure-related needs facing “
The groups are also calling on lawmakers to address Florida’s growing demand for water, energy and transportation infrastructure.
The groups noted that Florida expects more than 3 million new drivers on the road by 2030.
Therefore, Florida’s roads, airports and seaports should become a priority.
Lawmakers should “support a transportation plan that puts safety, infrastructure condition, mobility, Florida’s economy and our environment as interrelated goals to create Florida’s transportation future,” the groups said.
Liability protections opposed
A coalition of consumer, labor, justice and community advocacy organizations have written a letter opposing the package of bill expanding COVID-19 liability protections to businesses and health care providers.
The bill’s opponents and proponents cite wildly different counts for how many lawsuits are making their way through Florida’s court system regarding COVID-19. This coalition, which includes organizations like the Florida AFL-CIO and the NAACP Florida State Conference, agreed on six, rather than hundreds or thousands.
“Why are Florida lawmakers rushing to fix a nonexistent problem?” they wrote. “Our courts are already perfectly equipped to weed out lawsuits that lack merit, with many safeguards in place to ensure each case is carefully scrutinized.”
Despite the requirement that businesses make a “good faith effort” to prevent the virus’ spread, the group fears the legislation could reward bad actors who cut corners and don’t follow infection protocols.
The bill’s proponents are also businesses rather than workers, the coalition said, groups they believe want to suppress legitimate claims.
“Our laws should encourage health care providers and all public and private employers to act responsibly and to take every possible precaution to protect their patients and workers; these bills only protect irresponsible health care providers,” they wrote.
Class of 2021
Florida State University plans to hold its first in-person graduation since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Tallahassee-based university will hold 11 “smaller” ceremonies for Spring 2021 graduates at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center, a news release said.
FSU President John Thrasher will serve as the featured speaker.
“We plan to retain many elements of our traditional ceremonies while taking the necessary steps to ensure that we can gather in the safest way possible,” Thrasher said.
Graduates will be permitted to bring four guests into the audience.
Attendees will be required to remain socially distant and wear masks.
The university warned graduation plans may change pending the pandemic.
“Due to the unpredictable nature of the pandemic, plans are subject to change,” the news release said. “University officials will continue to monitor the situation and follow the guidance of federal, state and local officials.”
The university also plans to hold in-person ceremonies for its spring, summer and fall 2020 graduates.
During the pandemic’s early stages, graduates were recognized in virtual ceremonies.