Takeaways from Tallahassee — Cookies for breakfast? Yes, please.

Blue Tally Takeaways (5)
A new gourmet oasis has sprung up in downtown Tallahassee.

Cookies for breakfast? Yes, please.

I don’t typically eat chocolate chip cookies for breakfast, but I couldn’t resist the scrumptious treat calling my name from the display case at the new La Florida Coffee & Wine. Lest you judge, I also devoured a breakfast sandwich and soothing latte while sitting under a yellow outdoor umbrella.

La Florida Coffee & Wine, which had its grand opening on March 8, is a downtown oasis in the former Starbucks on Kleman Plaza. With a bright, breezy interior and outdoor tables, it works as a meeting place or a relaxing spot to linger over a soothing cup of coffee in the a.m. or after work, a glass of wine.

The chocolate chip cookies were freshly baked that morning by owner Jean Uthmeier and were still warm, oozing melted chocolate. I took one home to my husband, and he said it was probably the best chocolate chip cookie he’s ever had.

But there’s definitely more. The breakfast sandwich featured fresh spinach atop baked eggs with sliced ham and a three-cheese medley, served on homemade flatbread (some mornings, it’s a biscuit). You can get takeout, but I had my sandwich warmed up to eat on-premises. The coffee is made with single-origin beans from countries like Guatemala, Ethiopia and Sumatra and roasted locally.

Cookies for breakfast? Sign us up!

At lunch, I had two grab-‘n-go, takeout sandwiches. They were both good and hearty, served on French baguettes made by Uthmeier. The turkey is flanked by fresh spinach, provolone and ricotta, while the Italian had layers of ham, salami, provolone, spinach and ricotta.

And then there are the baked goods. Uthmeier has been a home baker for years, so she’s sharing family favorites like her pound cakes, muffins and cookies. I’m a blueberry fiend, so on another visit, I had the moist, flavorful blueberry pound cake and muffins (with lots of berries).

You’ll also find evening bites like a cheese board or charcuterie platter, pimento dip or housemade bruschetta.

Uthmeier, working with the cafe’s manager — her sister-in-law, Julia Swanson — has extended La Florida’s hours Tuesday and Wednesday to accommodate those who have to work late during Session.

On the spirit menu, there’s beer (Proof and Oyster City), cocktails made with prosecco or cold brew and vermouth or wine by the glass or bottle stemming from family-owned vineyards from Spain to Tuscany, Napa to Oregon. Included in the lineup: Venta Morales tempranillo from Spain’s Castille-La Mancha, Terra Noble’s Carmenere from Chile and pinot gris from the Solena Estate in Oregon.

“We want to highlight the local wines of small businesses,” said Uthmeier, noting that on this recent morning, she felt like the “mom and pop” purveyors on the hills of Tuscany, “working with my baby on my back.”

Uthmeier was indeed carrying on myriad tasks while toting her 11-month-old daughter, Claire, in a baby carrier.

She’s working hard to bring a certain vision to La Florida. “I want it to be a place that really cultivates the community, whether it’s people working in government, going to school or living downtown.”

And instead of a work destination, “it should be a place to break bread, loosen ties, clench your thirst and relate to people in the community.”

It already looks like La Florida is a winner in that category.

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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:

Vaccine eligibility drops to 60, and more to come — All Floridians 60 and older will be able to get COVID-19 shots beginning Monday after Gov. Ron DeSantis dropped the eligibility from 65 to 60. “I do think that this is the right time to do it,” DeSantis said. “We’re starting to see the demand soften.” People 60 to 64 won’t have to compete with nearly as many of their elders trying to get a shot now that millions already have. And the Governor is eyeing another drop to 55 soon after. If vaccine production ramps up as expected, the vaccine could open up to anyway sometime in April.

House and Senate strike Wayfair deal — Senate President Wilton Simpson and House Speaker Chris Sprowls released a plan to enforce sales tax for online purchases by out-of-state retailers. Lawmakers want to use the nearly $1 billion in projected additional revenue to avoid an increase in business taxes this year. Simpson noted consumers by law already owe online sales tax for purchases made online, but hardly anyone pays it because that requires sending money independently to the Department of Revenue. Florida and Missouri are the last two states of the 45 that charge sales tax to require online retailers to collect that cash.

Senate merges COVID-19 liability bills — Until Thursday, sponsors in both chambers have isolated business and health care provider COVID-19 liability protections in two separate measures. But with both of his bills appearing before the Senate Rules Committee, Sen. Jeff Brandes moved to merge them. The House last week approved its liability for businesses bill and sent it to the Senate. Brandes said merging the bills was the plan all along and would prevent the House from passing half the package and holding the other half hostage. “It’s easier to defend one fortress than to guard two.”

Public disorder bill cleared for House floor — The DeSantis-backed anti-riot legislation is on its way to the House floor after lawmakers cleaned up several provisions in the bill. Now, only state attorneys would be able to challenge reductions to local law enforcement budgets in their jurisdiction rather than any citizen. Changes also clarified that demonstrators must “willfully obstruct” traffic to be eligible for traffic obstruction charges. “Imminent force” is now a part of the proposed new mob intimidation charge, and the new language would add imminent threats to the definition of a riot. The key changes, sponsor Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin said, come after talks with lawmakers and others about the bill’s language.

DeSantis bashes American Rescue Plan — DeSantis is complaining that the American Rescue Plan Act is unfair to Florida. Of the more than $17 billion in federal relief coming to Florida from the American Rescue Plan Act, upward of $10 billion will go directly to the state’s coffers. But DeSantis says Florida is losing out on $2 billion because it ties funding to the number of unemployed residents rather than a state’s population. “They have high unemployment because they locked down,” DeSantis said.

Coronavirus Numbers

Positive cases:

— 1,931,613 FL residents (+31,015 since March 5)

— 36,252 Non-FL residents (+643 since March 5)

Origin:

— 15,303 Travel related

— 753,176 Contact with a confirmed case

— 20,864 Both

— 1,142,270 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 82,006 in FL

Deaths:

— 32,744 in FL

Vaccinations:

— 6,182,940 Doses administered

— 4,031,776 Total people vaccinated

— 1,827,988 First dose

— 2,203,788 Series completed (+351,322 since March 5)

Lunchroom wars!

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried this week highlighted a fun new competition lined up for students that know their way around a kitchen.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness calls it the “Lunchroom Wars,” describing it as Florida’s official student chef cook-off.

Lunchroom Wars invites young chefs and passionate student cooks from Florida to showcase their skills, win prizes and snag the ultimate bragging rights among kids who’d rather watch Iron Chef than stream Fortnite — the title of “2021 Lunchroom Wars Champion.”

This new competition aims to uplift Florida students’ culinary aspirations, highlight Florida-grown commodities, and focus on the importance of school nutrition.

To watch the video, click on the image below:

Students between the ages of 7 and 13 are invited to participate by submitting a video application discussing their unique recipe and interest in the competition. The top three students will be selected to compete May 10-14.

“One of my biggest priorities is ensuring that Florida’s students have access to nutritious meals year-round. During the pandemic, FDACS has worked with school food service professionals to help kids get the food they need to continue at-home or in-person learning,” Fried said.

“In the past year, at-home cooking trends have soared. This is the perfect time to encourage our youngest Floridians to experiment in their kitchen, develop healthy eating habits, and learn how proper nutrition impacts academic performance. And, of course, it’s an opportunity to earn the crown as Florida’s first-ever Lunchroom Wars champion! We thank our presenting sponsor Humana for their support of school nutrition and aspiring young chefs.”

Collecting from collectors

Attorney General Ashley Moody took action against a debt collection agency this week after a data breach exposed the personal information of more than 7 million individuals, including 1.25 million Floridians.

In 2019, the debt collection agency, Retrieval-Masters Creditors Bureau, failed to detect the breach despite warnings, Moody said.

The breach exposed Social Security numbers, payment information and medical history.

Ashley Moody reined in a rogue debt collection agency playing loose with personal information.

Forty other state attorneys general joins Moody.

“This data breach exposed the personal information of more than 1 million Floridians — jeopardizing their identities, finances and online security,” Moody said. “I’m proud to work with my counterparts in other states to strengthen this agency’s security measures to help ensure any future personal information collected remains private.”

As part of the agreement proposal, the debt collection agency may pay up to $21 million to the involved states. The agency would also need to strengthen and maintain its data security practices.

Notably, the financial conditions are suspended unless the company fails to satisfy other terms.

The debt collection agency filed bankruptcy in 2018 after incurring costs related to remedying the breach.

 The proposed consent judgment is pending judicial approval.

Treasure hunt

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis announced this week that the Division of Unclaimed Property returned more than $27 million in unclaimed property to Floridians in February.

“We’re working hard to get our economy back on its feet, and that’s why I am proud to announce that for the month of February, more than $27 million in unclaimed property went back to the pockets of Floridians,” Patronis said.

Jimmy Patronis touts another month of millions in lost treasure going back to Floridians.

Patronis also noted that the Division of Unclaimed Property returned more than $349 million since the COVID-19 pandemic’s onset in March 2020.

“This is an awesome accomplishment and a testament to the hard work of our Unclaimed Property Team,” Patronis added.

Unclaimed Property is a financial asset that is unknown or lost, or has been left inactive, unclaimed or abandoned by its owner. Some assets might include uncashed checks, stocks and dormant bank accounts.

In February, several Florida regions pulled in more than a million in returns:

— Miami: $8,038,700

— Tampa/St. Pete: $5,647,280

— Jacksonville: $1,513,100

— West Palm Beach: $4,265,000

“I will continue doing everything I can to help Floridians get through these tough times, and I encourage everyone to search now for unclaimed property at FLTreasureHunt.gov,” Patronis said.

Go Bucs!

Patronis also issued a proclamation this week celebrating the Super Bowl Champion Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“Last month, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers made the entire state of Florida proud by winning Super Bowl LV over the Kansas City Chiefs right here in Tampa,” Patronis said. “I’m honored to present the Tampa Bay Buccaneers with a well-deserved proclamation highlighting their amazing performance and making history as the first team ever to play and win the Super Bowl on their home field.

The proclamation highlights the team’s many accomplishments.

Jimmy Patronis signs a proclamation honoring the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

Patronis noted the Buccaneers made history by becoming the first NFL team to host and win a Super Bowl.

He also tipped his hat to Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady, who ranks as the oldest quarterback to win a Super Bowl Championship.

The Bucs beat the Kansas City Chiefs with a 31-9 final score, marking their second-ever Super Bowl victory since Super Bowl XXXVII in 2003.

“Congratulations to Tom Brady, Gronk and the entire Tampa Bay Buccaneers team on this incredible win,” Patronis said. “Florida is for winners!”

The Super Bowl is the most-watched sporting event in the world, drawing viewers from over 170 countries, according to the proclamation.

Instagram of the Week

 

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The week in appointments

Environmental Regulation Commission — The Governor appointed Dr. Thomas Frazer, Cari Roth, Jim McCarthy and Eric Buermann to the Environmental Regulation Commission. Frazer is Dean of the College of Marine Science at USF. Previously, he was director of UF’s School of Natural Resources and Environment and served as Florida’s first Chief Science Officer. He earned his bachelor’s degree in marine fisheries from Humboldt State University, his master’s degree in fisheries and aquatic sciences from UF and his doctorate in biological sciences from the University of California Santa Barbara. Roth, of Tallahassee, is vice president of governmental and regulatory affairs for Lykes Bros. Inc. Previously, she was a shareholder at Dean Mead and General Counsel and Assistant Secretary at Florida’s Department of Community Affairs. She earned her bachelor’s degree and law degree from FSU. McCarthy, of Ponte Vedra, is president of the North Florida Land Trust. McCarthy currently serves on the Environmental Regulation Commission and has been involved with the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce and several other organizations. Buermann, of Key Largo, is an attorney and former chairman of the South Florida Water Management District Governing Board. Buermann volunteers with the National Tropical Botanical Garden, the UM School of Law Center for Ethics and Public Service and other organizations. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Brown University and his MBA and law degree from UM.

Florida Housing Finance Corporation Mario Facella, Holly Raschein and Ronald Lieberman were appointed to the FHFC. Facella, of Loxahatchee, is a senior lender with TD Bank and has previously worked at several other financial institutions. Facella earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration and his MBA from James Madison University. Raschein, of Key Largo, is director of government relations for AshBritt Environmental and a former member of the Florida House of Representatives. She earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from FSU and her master of public administration from FIU. Lieberman, of Ocala, is president of the American Real Estate and Development Corporation and Steel Structures of Florida. He is involved with several charitable organizations. He attended UF and Rollins College.

Florida Prepaid College Board — DeSantis appointed John Rood, Adria Starkey and Slater Bayliss to the Florida Prepaid College Board. Rood, of St. Augustine, is chairman of The Vestcor Companies and the former U.S. Ambassador to the Commonwealth of the Bahamas. He has served on numerous boards including the Board of Governors of the State University System of Florida. Rood earned his bachelor’s degree in business from the University of Montana. Starkey, of Naples, is the Collier County president of FineMark National Bank and Trust. She volunteers with the Healthcare Network of Southwest Florida, Naples Children and Education Foundation, Gulfshore Playhouse and the Florida Gulf Coast University College of Business Advisory Board. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business finance from UF. Bayliss, of Tallahassee, is a partner at The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners. He has served on numerous boards including as chair of TreeHouse, chair of The Florida Sports Charitable Foundation, Maverick PAC and The Florida Coalition for Capital. Bayliss earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa and his master’s degree from FSU.

Florida State University Board of Trustees — DeSantis appointed Maximo Alvarez and Jorge Gonzalez to the FSU Board of Trustees. Alvarez is president of Sunshine Gasoline Distributors. He was born in Havana but came to the US at 13 as part of Operation Pedro Pan. He now lives in Doral. He attended Belmont Abbey College before earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees from FSU. Gonzalez, of Miramar Beach, is president and CEO of The St. Joe. Company and has been involved with Enterprise Florida and several other organizations. He also earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from FSU.

Greater Orlando Aviation Authority — DeSantis appointed John Evans to the GOAA. Evans, of Winter Park, is the Executive Director of Janus Labs at Janus Capital Group. He is an author and regularly contributes to the Orlando Sentinel and Barron’s Magazine. Evans earned his bachelor’s degree from UF, his MBA from the University of Miami and his doctor of education in organizational leadership from Pepperdine University.

University of Central Florida Board of Trustees — The Governor named Alex Martins to the UCF Board of Trustees. Martins, of Orlando, is the CEO of the Orlando Magic. He is a former Vice-Chair of the UCF Board of Trustees and has been involved with several economic development and charitable organizations in the Orlando area. He is a UCF distinguished alumni awardee and is in the university’s School of Business Administration Hall of Fame. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Villanova University and his MBA from the UCF.

University of North Florida Board of Trustees — DeSantis appointed Jason Barrett to the UNF Board of Trustees. Barrett, of St. Augustine Beach, is the Chief Executive Officer of Flagler Health+. Barrett volunteers with several organizations. He holds a bachelor’s degree in health science and an MBA from the University of North Florida and a master’s degree in systems and engineering from Texas Tech University.

Slow your roll

Three lawmakers held a news conference at The Capitol this week to highlight a bill that could make the trek to school a little bit safer.

Doral Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez and Miami Reps. Nicholas Duran and Anthony Rodriguez are sponsoring bills (SB 1474/HB 357) to step up speed limit enforcement in school zones.

The legislation would allow local governments to install “automated school zone safety systems,” which are like red light cams, but for flashing yellows. The legislation was inspired by Florida’s less-than-stellar school zone safety rankings — Anthony Rodriguez, a Miami Republican, cited an F rating and last-place ranking in a 2018 Zendrive report.

Ana Maria Rodriguez, Nicholas Duran and Anthony Rodriguez get tougher on speeding in school zones.

The system would measure a driver’s speed, snap a photo, or shoot a video if they’re over the limit. The vehicle owner would later get a ticket in the mail; however, lawmakers said they hope the systems will serve as a wake-up call rather than a revenue source.

“The goal is not to issue tickets or collect fines, but to protect our kids,” said Duran, a Miami Democrat. “Counties and cities with these safety systems would have to educate their communities about their cameras and issue warnings before any citations are issued. And only the worst speeders — people going at least 10 miles an hour over the limit — would be cited.”

Ana Maria Rodriguez, a Doral Republican, pitched it as “a simple, effective, and low-cost tool to save lives and prevent serious injury.”

“Two-thirds of drivers exceed the posted speed limit in school zones, and one in six drivers are distracted in school zones, according to Safekids.org. School zone safety cameras have made a big difference in other communities, and the Florida Police Chiefs Association supports this important legislation to give them another tool for their toolbox,” she said.

Birth-injured infants boost

Families with infants who suffered catastrophic birth-related injuries could soon receive a much larger initial payment from the Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (NICA) if lawmakers pass a pair of newly filed bills.

Sen. Danny Burgess and Rep. Traci Koster are running the bills (SB 1786 and HB 1165). The measures would more than double the initial cash award to parents or legal guardians of children accepted into the NICA program, raising the amount from $100,000 to $250,000 and providing annual increases to compensate for increased costs.

The funding is for families of children with substantial physical and/or mental neurological injuries for medically necessary and reasonable medical expenses. The expected average benefit to NICA families is nearly $5 million over the child’s lifetime.

Traci Koster and Danny Burgess seek to boost payments to families of children born with neurological injuries.

The Florida Legislature created NICA in 1988 in response to the medical malpractice crisis in the 1980s. The increase is necessary, sponsoring lawmakers say, because the cost of medical care has grossly increased since the program’s inception. Funding comes from doctors and hospitals found negligent in birth injuries.

Pump the brakes

A California city recently passed a ban on new gas stations, and Sen. Travis Hutson wants to make sure Florida cities and counties can’t follow suit — no ifs, ohms or buts.

The St. Augustine Republican is championing a bill (SB 856) that would prohibit local governments from blocking or restricting the construction of all kinds of “transportation energy infrastructure.”

Travis Hutson is protecting gas stations from extinction. Image via Colin Hackley.

That would include gas stations, of course, but the preemption also extends to natural gas pipelines and electrical lines.

“Some local governments may say we don’t want any gas,” Hutson said. “I applaud them for trying to get to clean energy. But let’s push the pause button, and let’s figure out what clean energy looks like.”

The Florida League of Cities says none of its membership is planning to ban new gas pumps. Still, the bill is so broad, it would prevent them from doing pretty much anything to encourage wider adoption of clean or renewable energy.

Despite objections, the bill cleared its first stop in the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on a 7-2 vote. Republicans were unanimously in favor, as was Vice-Chair Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat.

Miramar Republican Rep. Tom Fabricio is sponsoring the companion bill (HB 839), which also cleared its first stop in the Tourism, Infrastructure & Energy Subcommittee this week.

The Zoomies

Does your furry friend have the zoomies, and you don’t know why? Some lawmakers want veterinarians to be able to check that out over Zoom.

A bill by Sen. Rodriguez that would authorize (SB 1370) veterinary telemedicine in the Sunshine State — with few cat-veats.

The proposal defines veterinary telemedicine as “the practice of veterinary medicine in a remote setting, including through the use of telephone or audiovisual technology or by other means consistent with the veterinarian’s professional judgment, as long as the veterinarian/client/patient relationship is established either in person or by audiovisual technology.”

Soon, your furry companion will be eligible for telemedicine.

The only restriction: No controlled substance prescriptions unless the patient, presumably the animal, is receiving hospice services.

The Senate Regulated Industries Committee this week advanced the bill on an 8-1 vote, with Sen. Ed Hooper being the lone dissenter.

Though the Clearwater Republican said he supports the concept and that virtual visits would benefit his cat — which “hates every veterinarian that’s ever been licensed in any state” — his scratching point was an amendment that allowed establishing said “veterinarian/client/patient relationship” without an in-person visit.

The bill now moves to the Senate Agriculture Committee. The companion bill, HB 911 by Osprey Republican Rep. James Buchanan, passed the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee earlier this month and is awaiting a hearing in the House Commerce Committee.

‘Free kill’ fix

Florida parents can’t sue for malpractice if their adult child dies as a result of medical negligence.

Current law allows victims of medical malpractice to sue for damages. It will enable children, even adult children, to sue if their parents are hurt. It also allows parents to sue on their minor child’s behalf.

But once they turn 18, they lose the right.

And if they are unmarried and have no children of their own, the law is clear: tough luck.

Florida is the only state where that’s the case, and Republican Rep. Spencer Roach is looking to change that “Dr. Kevorkian-like” and “free kill” statute with HB 651.

Spencer Roach is looking to expand the scope of medical malpractice suits.

The proposal earned a unanimous vote in the House Civil Justice and Property Rights Subcommittee last week, with several parents making the trek to Tallahassee to share how they were left without recourse when their child died.

Marcia Scheppler’s son, JoJo, died after he was refused treatment at the emergency room, and an investigation determined that the delay contributed to his death. The facility faced no consequence.

And Archibald Black told the committee how his 33-year-old son died during a botched procedure to treat a blood clot.

Health care providers and malpractice insurers provided some pushback, saying the bill would raise Florida rates, which are already among the highest in the country.

But Roach and committee members viewed it through the lens of physician accountability.

It now heads to the Judiciary Committee. If it earns an affirmative vote, it will head to the chamber floor. The companion bill is sponsored by Sen.Rodriguez (SB 1112) but not yet heard in committee.

Monopoly buster

A bill that seeks to prevent monopolies from developing in the health care market is moving through the Legislature’s committee process.

Sponsored by Republican Rep. Erin Grall, the proposal (HB 1219) would amend the Florida Antitrust Act to address transactions between hospitals, hospital systems and health providers.

Under the legislation, health care entities would be required to report when a health market transaction could lead to a monopoly. After that, the Attorney General’s Office would review the transaction to determine any antitrust implication and if there is a need to intervene.

Erin Grall wants to block health care monopolies in Florida. Image via Colin Hackley.

Entities that fail to meet the reporting requirements can face a fine of up to $500,000.

“When large hospitals systematically acquire smaller physician practices — a process known as vertical integration — such transactions can lead to less competition, price increases, and sometimes, coercive monopolies,” a staff analysis explains.

The House Finance and Facilities Subcommittee voted unanimously to advance the legislation Monday.

The bill moves next to the House Appropriations Committee and the Health & Human Services Committee.

If signed into law, the bill would take effect July 1.

Meanwhile, a similar bill (SB 1046) is also moving in the Senate. Sanford Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur is the Senate sponsor.

On the agenda

The Florida House will consider bills next week that would require schools to survey about “intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity” and mandate daily moments of silence in the classroom.

Sponsored by Republican Rep. Randy Fine, the bill (HB 529) would provide students a one- to two-minute window during the day’s first-period for a moment of silence.

The bill would prohibit teachers from influencing a student’s moment of silence and disallow other students from interfering.

Randy Fine’s classroom moment of silence is on the House agenda. Image via Colin Hackley.

Republican Rep. Roach’s proposal would require higher-education institutions to survey the ideological beliefs of Florida’s college professors.

The bill (HB 233) would require the State Board of Education to conduct an annual assessment on the viewpoint of college professors in order “to assess the status of intellectual freedom and viewpoint diversity,” according to a provided analysis of the bill. The Board of Governors would annually compile and publish the survey.

The legislation comes as conservatives voice concerns about an alleged liberal indoctrination in college classrooms. It would also prohibit universities from denying controversial speakers the right to speak on campuses to combat “cancel culture.”

Among other proposals, the Florida House will consider a bill by Democratic Rep. Christina Hunschofsky of Parkland. The proposal (HB 217) would name a portion of Florida’s coral reef system after former Rep. Kristin Jacobs.

Jacobs died last year of cancer.

Local support

The Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce is out stumping for Republicans’ proposed COVID-19 liability protection bill, which would help shield Florida businesses from lawsuits related to the coronavirus.

On Friday, the regional Chamber released a video advocating for the proposal and featuring several South Florida business owners speaking in favor of the legislation.

“These are men and women who have spent countless dollars on PPE, keeping their employees safe, their customers safe and employing those employees even though sometimes there was nothing for them to do,” said Alfred Sanchez, president and CEO of the Greater Miami Chamber of Commerce.

Late last week, the House approved one version of the bill sponsored by Republican Rep. Lawrence McClure (HB 7). The bill protects businesses, schools, nonprofits and religious institutions making a “good faith effort” to follow health safety rules. If a plaintiff sues after contracting COVID-19, the measure would require that the individual proves with “clear and convincing evidence” that a defendant acted with “gross negligence” to expose them to the virus.

To watch the Chamber video, click on the image below:

“We’re really concerned about customers and guests taking advantage of our small businesses,” said Pamela Weller, vice president of asset management at Bayside Marketplace

The Chamber is lining up behind the bill, which Republican DeSantis also supports. The issue is a priority for business owners looking to either reopen or regain lost customers due to the pandemic. A flurry of lawsuits related to the disease would surely hamper that effort.

“I think in general that companies should not be sued for COVID because it’s been out here for a while. People know the precautions they should take,” said Todd Wiley, chief operating officer, SPR Cold Storage and Distribution.

“That’s like suing someone for catching a cold or catching the flu.”

Democrats, however, point to concerns about employees losing the ability to sue should they get sick during work. But Paul Greenberg, founder and owner of American Social, argued companies are trying to take their employees’ safety into account.

“We are doing everything we can to keep our guests and our staff safe and employed and providing food on the table for their families,” Greenberg said. “Without protection [from these lawsuits], it would be very tough for every restaurant in the state of Florida.”

As the House bill moves over to the Senate side, the Senate is working on merging the proposed legislation with another bill adding lawsuit protections for health care providers. Sen. Jeff Brandes is spearheading that effort.

Spring Aboard

With spring around the corner and the call of the outdoors, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is encouraging boaters to take their “Spring Aboard” boating safety course.

Last year, among accidents in which the boat operator’s boating education was known, 72% of boating deaths occurred on boats where the operator had never received boating education instruction.

Boating education courses aren’t required to operate human-powered watercraft like paddleboards and kayaks. But FWC wants people who own those watercraft to take boating lessons so they are aware of critical boating knowledge that anyone who plans to get out on the water should have, and be better prepared for the risks they may face while boating.

Springtime means boating safety! Image via FWC/Facebook.

Boaters born Jan. 1, 1988, or later are required in Florida to complete and pass a boater safety education course.

“But everyone interested in boating should take a course,” said Maj. Rob Beaton, FWC’s Boating and Waterways Section Leader. “There’s no reason to head out on the water without this knowledge.”

Boaters can take boating safety courses in classroom courses offered by the Coast Guard Auxiliary and United States Power Squadrons. They can also take online classes, some located on FWC’s website at MyFwc.com/boating/safety-education/courses.

Recycling champions

The National Waste & Recycling Association’s Florida chapter has named Sens. Ben Albritton and Keith Perry and Rep. Toby Overdorf as legislative champions for 2020.

“The backbone of NWRA is our state chapters. Some of the most significant issues impacting our industry are at the state level. It is important that we recognize the efforts of lawmakers who support our industry,” said NWRA President and CEO Darrell Smith.

Ben Albritton, Keith Perry and Toby Overdorf are recycling champions.

Albritton continuously includes NWRA when working on legislation dealing with recycling and renewable energy, the group said. He has also supported the solid waste and recycling industries.

The group named Perry a champion for his work on legislation to reduce contamination in recycling. They also called him a strong supporter of the Florida chapter over his years in office.

Overdorf, now a two-time recipient of NWRA’s champion distinction, was recognized for his work on legislation to help curb contamination in residential recycling programs.

The NWRA represents the private sector waste and recycling services industry in all 50 states. Association members conduct business in all 50 states and include companies that manage waste, recycling and medical waste, equipment manufacturers and distributors and a variety of other service providers.

Child health scorecard

Now people browsing the Florida Scorecard can check the state’s child health ranking.

The Florida Chamber Foundation puts on the Florida Scorecard dashboard, which includes data on areas like business climate, infrastructure, innovation and more. Users can find the child health ranking under the Quality of Life and Quality Places section.

The Chamber Foundation added the new ranking in partnership with Nemours Children’s Health System.

To watch The Chamber’s “Blueprint for Success,” click on the image below:

“The announcement of the Child Health Ranking tile exemplifies a real opportunity for Florida to demonstrate its unwavering pledge to our pediatric population,” said Robert Bridges, an executive at Nemours Children’s Health System. “Collectively, we must remain committed to ensuring we are delivering integrated and innovative care to the next generation of Florida leaders.”

The annual ranking, listed as 38 and improving, is based on health indicators that include the percentage of babies born with low birth weight, children lacking health insurance, child and teen deaths per 100,000, and overweight or obese children and teens.

The Florida Scorecard is designed to track progress toward the Chamber of Commerce’s Florida 2030 Blueprint. Among those goals are to prepare all children for kindergarten and have all kids reading at or above grade level by third grade. The goal also calls for less than 10% of children to live in poverty and for those who do to have a pathway out of poverty.

“Florida is primed to be a destination for children and their families,” said Bridges, who is also a Florida Chamber Foundation Board Trustee. “We look forward to working alongside the Chamber to see Florida annually ranked among the Top 10 states for children’s health and well-being.”

Art in The Capitol

The Art in The Capitol Competition’s winning submissions were displayed this week in The Capitol’s Fourth-Floor Rotunda.

The showcase features art from 22 Florida students from school districts across the state.

The fifth-annual Art in The Capitol gallery is available via a 360° virtual tour online.

The annual competition features art pieces from middle school students from sixth to eighth grade.

School districts from across the state are showcasing their best artists on The Capitol’s Fourth Floor.

The submissions are judged by a panel of art teachers within the student’s respective school district.

The winning pieces are then delivered and displayed in The Capitol. The logistics are done in coordination with the student’s respective legislator.

A detailed digital brochure featuring the art pieces is also available online.

Megamillions!

Farm Share announced this week that it distributed more than 135 million pounds of food since the COVID-19 pandemic began a year ago.

The nonprofit is the state’s largest food bank and has teamed up with community leaders — and even some lawmakers — to get help get food to families struggling amid the economic fallout of coronavirus.

The other landmark tallies: More than 18,000 community events and more than 25,000 agency pickups at its warehouses.

Farm Share hits a milestone of more than 135 million pounds of food donated since the pandemic began.

More than 3.5 million Floridians were food-insecure even before the pandemic, with 850,000 of them being children. The pandemic only increased those numbers.

“Every day, our Farm Share partner agencies are picking up thousands of pounds of food in order to take back to their neighborhoods and distribute the food to those who need it. The demand for food has not slowed down, and we continue to experience high volumes of demand all over the state,” said Farm Share CEO and President Stephen Shelley.

Farm Share meets Floridians’ hunger needs by working hand in hand with local farmers to recover and redistribute produce that would otherwise be thrown away due to aesthetic imperfections. With the 2021 Legislative Session underway, Farm Share is urging the Legislature to fund Farm Share, so the state’s largest food bank can continue to meet the needs of food-insecure Floridians.

Farm Share currently serves all 67 counties in Florida. Since its inception, Farm Share has distributed more than 722 million pounds of food, with a value of more than $1.5 billion.

Corona Directions

Staff Reports



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