Takeaways from Tallahassee — Forward March

Blue Tally Takeaways (4)
With Florida veterans, identifying problems is one challenge, funding solutions is quite another.

Forward March

The Florida Veterans Foundation (FVF) unveiled a memorial this week, honoring the growing list of businesses and individuals who support the foundation’s effort to serve veterans.

With orange juice and coffee in hand, lawmakers and guests gathered on the Capitol’s 21st floor early Thursday to welcome the new Forward March Ambassadors Wall.

The wall features several plaques displaying the names of those who’ve demonstrated an ongoing commitment to the foundation’s initiatives.

“I’d never known folks with more of a passion to help veterans in my life until I came up here,” said FVF President and CEO Lew Wilson. “This floor is entirely dedicated to helping our veterans, especially those veterans in need.”

The unveiling comes two years after Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican Sen. Danny Burgess, who then led the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs (FDVA), kicked off the Forward March Initiative.

Forward March: Florida Veterans Foundation unveils the Ambassador’s Wall of Honor at the Capitol. Image via Twitter.

The initiative aims to harmonize the state with veterans’ organizations, private partners and local communities.

FVF Chair Bob Asztalos said he traveled statewide to better understand the needs of veterans.

“We found veterans who were hurting with opioid addiction, with suicide and with transition issues,” Asztalos said.

But while identifying problems is one challenge, funding solutions are another.

Asztalos, a retired Navy veteran, said the wall honors FVF Ambassadors who “stepped forward” to bridge that gap.

He also recognized the FDVA Deputy Executive Director James Hartsell and Florida Veterans Foundation Chairman Emeritus John Haynes.

At 15-years old, Asztalos explained, Haynes hitched a ride from Monticello to Jacksonville to enlist into the Marine Corps.

Years later, Haynes led troops through conflicts around the world: World War II’s Pacific Theatre, Korea and Vietnam.

“That still wasn’t enough for him,” Asztalos said. “He came back and served the Florida Veterans Foundation. And to this day, if there’s a veteran in trouble, at 92-years-old [he] gets in his car and serves those veterans. That’s what this is about.”

Founded in 2008 by the Florida Legislature, FVF helps veterans and their families with their physical, mental and financial health. They do so through direct services and partnerships with government, educational institutions and service groups.

Among their programs is an emergency crisis hotline explicitly tailored to veterans. The 24-hour service helps prevent veteran suicide and supports veterans with drug addiction.

According to the U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs, deployed veterans are 41% more likely to commit suicide than the general U.S. population.

Burgess, who actively serves as a U.S. Army Reserve Officer, praised the foundation’s work.

“We just can’t say enough good things about them,” Burgess said. “They’ve all served our country, and now they’re serving those who served us.”

More details about the Ambassador program can be found online. Contributions help sustain the foundation and support programs, including veteran COVID-19 assistance.

To date, the Legislature hosts 21 current and former service members. Of those, six are currently serving in the reserves or National Guard, according to FVF.

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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:

Artiles arrested for backing spoiler candidate — The saga that began with a proud near-admission on election night snowballed this week when police raided the disgraced ex-Senator’s home and arrested him the following day. Authorities on Thursday accused Frank Artiles of paying Alex Rodriguez thousands to run as an independent candidate, “confuse voters and siphon votes” from the incumbent, Democratic Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez. Now Democrats call for the benefactor, Republican Sen. Ileana Garcia, to resign at the end of Session to make way for a special election. Worst of all, Artiles allegedly asked Rodriguez for a 30% cut of some cash Artiles owed him.

Brady, Sprowls and the MadsummerTom Brady was the glue that helped bring the Lombardi Trophy back to Tampa Bay, and he could be the glue for Jeffrey Soffer to move his casino to Miami Beach. According to the Miami Herald, Brady and House Speaker Chris Sprowls have now met twice on a football field-sized superyacht for a fundraiser and then Brady’s Super Bowl LV after-party. Soffer has also hosted Senate President Wilton Simpson on the Madsummer. This week, legislative leaders took part in negotiations to draft gambling legislation.

Legislature strikes COVID-19 liability deal — Lawmakers have reached an agreement on liability legislation protecting health care providers. Sen. Jeff Brandes placed negotiated language into Senate Bill 72, which has become the vehicle for the Legislature’s complete liability package. Sprowls expects the House to pick up that bill and pass it without any amendments. The Senate voted 24-15, with Democratic Sen. Linda Stewart joining Republicans to pass the bill. Part of the Senate’s amended language deleted part of the bill that would have allowed businesses to challenge that they couldn’t substantially comply with standards due to “widespread shortages of necessary supplies, materials, equipment or personnel.”

Ron DeSantis drops vaccination age to 50 — The Governor has ordered that people 50 and older can get a shot starting Monday, a 10-year drop from the current threshold of 60. With lower demand among younger age groups and demand slowing among seniors now that nearly 70% were vaccinated, DeSantis and DEM Director Jared Moskowitz say the state can handle the additional slice of the population. The Governor also told reporters this week that he opposes the concept of “vaccine passports.” He went as far as to float legislation banning vaccine passports if local governments or businesses started using them.

Gaming deal in the works, again — The Madsummer yacht parties could be a precursor to a possible gaming deal. Leadership on Thursday met with pari-mutuel operators who are the latest players trying to cut a deal on gambling legislation. An upcoming bill that’s still being drafted would reportedly allow the owner of a gambling license attached to a jai-alai building or racetrack to transfer it to another property. DeSantis told reporters he is unlikely to look favorably on a deal that would harm the Seminole Tribe. Simpson said he and the pari-mutuel operators spoke in “generalities” about a possible framework of a compact. Former President Donald Trump could be on the winning side if the reported language gets passed.

Coronavirus numbers

Positive cases:

— 1,962,360 FL residents (+30,747 since March 12)

— 36,897 Non-FL residents (+645 since March 12)

Origin:

— 15,571 Travel related

— 768,366 Contact with a confirmed case

— 21,207 Both

— 1,157,216 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 83,189 in FL

Deaths:

— 33,273 in FL

Vaccinations:

— 7,188,709 Doses administered

— 4,710,033 Total people vaccinated

— 2,092,938 First dose

— 138,419 Completed 1-dose series (+85,795 since March 12)

— 2,478,676 Completed 2-dose series (+327,512 since March 12)

Good as gold

More than 1,600 defrauded metal investors are now eligible for restitution due to a joint civil enforcement action filed by Attorney General Ashley Moody, the Florida Office of Financial Regulation (OFR), and 28 state attorneys general.

This action accuses several companies of a “fraudulent metals investment scheme” that impacted more than 1,600 individuals, including 100 Floridians.

Moody said the scheme targeted seniors and racked in more than $185 million in customer funds.

The defendants include Metals.com, Tower Equity, Chase Metals, Barrick Capital and others.

Ashley Moody is touting a multimillion settlement with Metals.com and others for defrauding more than 1,600 metal investors, including 100 Floridians.

“We are fighting for our great seniors every day and in this specific case, we are recovering millions lost to a deceitful investment scam,” Moody said. “I want to encourage anyone defrauded by these companies to request a return of available funds by submitting a claim today.”

Notably, an injunction froze the defendants’ assets and led to the appointment of a receiver.

With court approval to begin a claims process, defrauded clients reach out to Kelly Crawford, the receiver, for more information about claims.

Crawford can be reached by email at [email protected] or by telephone at (214) 706-4213.

The deadline to return the claim form is April 30.

“We will continue to pursue bad actors who harm the integrity of the industry,” said OFR Commissioner Russell C. Weigel.

Beware!

The latest round of COVID-19 stimulus payments may lead to a resurgence in direct payment scam, Moody warned this week.

Moody’s warning comes after President Joe Biden signed the $1.9 trillion COVID-19 relief package that includes up to $1,400 payments to millions of Americans.

“Be smart,” Moody said. “Seek out trusted sources of information about when your payment will be received and never respond to solicitations asking you to provide personal information or payment to receive a stimulus check.”

In a video consumer alert, Moody provided several tips Floridians can use to protect themselves from scammers.

Moody said advertisements promising to expedite payments for a fee are likely scams.

She also advised Floridians to approach unsolicited calls, emails and high-pressure tactics with suspicion.

“The IRS will never call a consumer directly, nor will the IRS send unsolicited emails, texts or social media messages,” she added.

Last year, Moody released two downloadable brochures detailing various schemes and scam tactics.

The brochures are printable and available in both English and Spanish.

Moody encouraged Floridians to share the brochures with loved ones.

“We expect scammers will devise schemes to exploit the massive spending to trick recipients into parting with personal or financial information,” Moody said.

To watch Moody’s video alert, click on the image below:

Fight against hunger

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried hosted a virtual news conference during National School Breakfast Week to bring attention to legislation on school nutrition, chronic hunger and food insecurity.

“For so many Florida kids, school meals are the only meals they can count on. COVID-19 has only made hunger so much worse, and it’s shed light on the need to continue improving how we help feed Florida’s families,” Fried said.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Sen. Darryl Rouson and House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee member Rep. Allison Tant joined the Commissioner for her news conference. Rouson is carrying SB 1768, which he says will put Florida in the right direction with pilot programs, such as supporting transportation projects to connect low-income Floridians to healthy food outlets.

To watch a video of the news conference, click on the image below:

“We know that the pandemic, as the Commissioner said, has and will continue to exacerbate problems with food insecurity, especially for children,” Rouson said.

Tant is carrying the bill’s House companion, HB 1191. It would establish universal free school breakfast and lunch across Florida and put nearly $10 million toward buying locally-grown food, grants and programs.

Tant said food insecurity “is not theoretical.”

“Leon County has among the highest level of family food insecurity in the state, where one in three children are food insecure,” Tant said. “My mother was one of eight children, and they grew up in poverty at the height of the Great Depression, picking produce to earn a few pennies and put food on the family table.”

DFS package advances

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis praised the House Insurance & Banking Subcommittee this week for giving its stamp of approval to the consumer protection bill.

HB 1209, sponsored by Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff, would make it a criminal offense to knowingly aid and abet an unlicensed insurance transaction, one of Patronis’ top priorities this Session.

The bills would have a slew of other facets endorsed by the CEO:

Among them, the bill designates the Division of Public Assistance as a fraud-fighting criminal justice agency and allows it to target unlicensed funeral and cemetery activity.

Jimmy Patronis praises the advancement of a major consumer protection bill from Elizabeth Fetterhoff. Image via Colin Hackley.

It would also make cancer coverage available to firefighters through DFS’s Risk Management Program and fortify sexual harassment protections related to victims’ personal information.

“Every year as CFO, I have been focused on further supporting Floridians by enhancing the services provided by the Florida Department of Financial Services,” Patronis said.

“House Bill 1209 aims to enhance our vital fraud-fighting efforts, further supports Florida’s firefighters in their battle against cancer, and better protects victims of sexual harassment by prohibiting those who fall under the Risk Management Program from engaging in retaliatory conduct.

“A huge thank you to Speaker Sprowls, Chair Nick DiCeglie and Rep. Elizabeth Fetterhoff for their leadership and support of our agency package.”

HB 1209 will move next to the State Administration & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee. A similar bill in the Senate, SB 1408, has cleared one committee and is now awaiting a hearing in Appropriations.

Instagram of the week

The Week in Appointments

Indian River County Hospital District Board of Trustees — The Governor appointed Kerry Bartlett to the Indian River County Hospital District Board of Trustees. Bartlett, of Vero Beach, is the founder and managing director of The Bartlett Company, focusing on nonprofit and philanthropic consulting. She is a member of the Association of Fundraising Professionals and the Kindergarten Readiness Collaborative of Indian River County. Bartlett earned her bachelor’s degree in public relations from the University of Florida and an MBA from Nova Southeastern University.

Escambia County Children’s Trust Board of Directors — The Governor appointed Stephanie White, Rex Northrup, Lonnie Wesley, Tori Woods and David Peaden to the board. White is an adoption attorney and a member of the UWF Board of Trustees. She is a graduate of Vanderbilt University and Southern Methodist University’s Dedman School of Law. Northrup is a retired medical doctor with over 35 years of experience in pediatrics, child health and well-being. He earned his bachelor’s degree from UWF and his medical degree from USF. Wesley is the pastor of Greater Little Rock Baptist Church. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Alabama State University, a master’s degree from Selma University, and a doctor of ministry in biblical preaching from Anderson University. Woods is a licensed practical nurse currently working in marketing for Centene. Woods earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from FAMU. Peaden is the executive director of the Home Builders Association of West Florida. Peaden earned his bachelor’s degree in communications from the University of Alabama. All five are Pensacola residents.

Florida Polytechnic University Board of Trustees — DeSantis reappointed Robert Stork and Mark Bostick to the board. Stork, of Vero Beach, is the founder and CEO of Communications International. He volunteers with Florida TaxWatch, the State Government Efficiency Task Force and the Indian River Exchange Club. He has served on the Florida Polytechnic University Board of Trustees since 2012 and was also named Citizen of the Year by the Broward County Sheriff’s Office. Stork is a graduate of Indian River Community College. Bostick, of Lake Wales, is chairman of Commercial Warehousing, Inc. and the former president of Comcar Industries. He is a past chair of the Florida Polytechnic University Board of Trustees and the Florida Trucking Association. He was also a founding general partner of the Tampa Bay Rays. Bostick earned his bachelor’s degree in economics and his MBA from Tulane University.

Leon County Children’s Services CouncilMark O’Bryant, Carmen Conner, Zandra Glenn, Paul Mitchell and Liza McFadden were named to the council. O’Bryant is president and CEO of Tallahassee Memorial HealthCare. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Brigham Young University and his MBA and master of health care administration from Georgia State University. Conner is the principal of Pineview Elementary School. She earned her bachelor’s degree and her master’s of elementary education from FAMU. Glenn is a senior consultant at Financial Transformations and a former FAMU professor. She holds a doctor of pharmacy degree from FAMU. Mitchell is a partner at The Southern Group and a former chief of staff at the Florida Department of Financial Services, Department of Insurance and the Department of Education. He earned his bachelor’s degree in communications from FSU. McFadden is the president of Liza and Partners and the former served as president and CEO of the Barbara Bush Foundation for Family Literacy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in professional writing from Fitchburg State University and a master’s degree in American literature from FSU. All are Tallahassee residents.

Children’s Trust of Miami-Dade County Board of Directors — DeSantis made three appointments to the council. Annie Neasman, of Hialeah, is president and CEO of Jessie Trice Community Health Center. She earned her bachelor’s degree in nursing from FAMU and her master’s degree in adult education from FIU. Marissa Leichter, of North Bay Village, is the training and engagement manager at Florida Foster Care Review. She earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan, master of public administration from FIU and a law degree from the University of California, Hastings College of Law. Richard Dunn, of Miami, is the senior pastor at Faith Community Baptist Church. Dunn earned his bachelor’s degree in business management from Central State University and a master of divinity in counseling and pastoral care from the Interdenominational Theological Center.

Board of Pilot Commissioners — The Governor made three appointments to the board. Michael Jaccoma, of Davie, is a harbor pilot for Biscayne Bay Pilots. He currently serves as vice-chair on the Board of Pilot Commissioners and has been actively engaged in the piloting profession in Florida since 1988. Jaccoma is a United States Coast Guard Licensed Unlimited Master with a First Class Pilot Endorsement for the Port of Miami. He earned his bachelor’s degree in nautical science from Maine Maritime Academy. Brendan Barry, of Sea Ranch Lakes, is a senior partner at the law firm of Shutts & Bowen in Fort Lauderdale. He earned his bachelor’s degree from FAU and a law degree from New York Law School. Sherif Assal, of Miramar, is the president and COO of American Guard Services and president of United Stevedoring of America.

Board of Opticianry — DeSantis named Jeffrey Taylor of Deerfield Beach to the board. Taylor is a licensed optician at Fort Lauderdale Eye Associates. Previously, he was an optician at LensCrafters. Taylor has been a member of the Professional Opticians of Florida since 1982 and is an American Board of Optometry Master Optician. He attended UF and FAU. His appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Board of Optometry — The Governor appointed Robert Easton to the board. Easton, of Oakland Park, is the president of Easton Eye Care and a certified optometrist. He is a past member of the Florida Board of Optometry and has been involved with the Association of Regulatory Boards in Optometry, Florida Optometric Association, Broward County Optometric Association, Rotary Club of Fort Lauderdale and Leadership Broward. Easton earned his bachelor’s degree in chemistry with a minor in physics from UCF and a doctorate in optometry from the University of Houston.

University of South Florida Board of Trustees — DeSantis named Michael Carrere USF Board of Trustees. Carrere, of Tampa, is the former CEO of Lykes Brothers Inc. He is a former member of the Florida Citrus Commission and has been involved with the Krewe of Gasparilla, The American Meat Institute, Florida Chamber of Commerce, The University Club and Florida’s Natural Growers. Carrere earned his bachelor’s degree from Washington and Lee University and an advanced management degree from Duke University.

Go west

Lithia Rep. Mike Beltran has a bill (HB 1283) to improve regional mobility in the Tampa Bay area. The bill would rename the Tampa-Hillsborough Expressway Authority (THEA) as the West Florida Expressway Authority, transferring responsibilities and obligations to the new agency.

It would mean that, with the approval of the Hillsborough County Commission, the expressway could be expanded to neighboring counties.

Mike Beltran is working to make Tampa Bay area transit a little easier. Image via Colin Hackley.

Joe Waggoner, THEA executive director and CEO, backs the legislation.

“With these legislative changes, the West Florida Expressway Authority has the ability to impact and shape local and regional mobility like never before,” Waggoner said in a February news release.

“Our current statute provides for an Expressway in Hillsborough County. My legislation will allow the expressway to expand to neighboring counties. Many of my constituents travel on the Expressway every day and I hope that the Expressway Authority will use this scope to service additional areas. Expressways provide an additional means to provide roads without directly impacting the taxpayer,” Beltran said.

THEA already had the authority to expand its transportation services outside Hillsborough County to Hardee, Manatee, Pasco, Pinellas and Polk. This new legislation would include Citrus and Hernando counties.

The bill has not yet been heard in committee.

School safety measure revived

Republican Rep. Chip LaMarca is carrying this year’s major school safety legislation. The move comes after last year’s safety measure failed in the closing days of the 2020 Session.

“The bill, similar to what was passed by the House last year, reflects ongoing conversations and recommendations among legislators, parents, the Department of Education, the MSD Commission and the grand jury,” LaMarca said during Tuesday’s hearing on the measure (HB 7035) in the House Early Learning & Elementary Education Subcommittee. The PCB originated in that subcommittee.

Chip LaMarca is behind the big school safety bill this Session. Image via Colin Hackley.

“This bill brings about much-needed advancements in [a] timely notice to parents, family reunification plans during an emergency, clarifies what acts require a school to refer a student to a pre-arrest diversion or intervention program, and strengthens mental health coordination for students to get them the services they need and deserve,” LaMarca added in a Wednesday statement on the legislation.

“I am honored to be trusted by House Leadership and Chairman Latvala to carry such an important piece of legislation for Florida’s students.”

Lawmakers have sought to revise and beef up school safety measures in each Session following the 2018 shooting at Stoneman Douglas High School. The 2018 and 2019 Legislative Sessions each saw new major legislation emerge successfully.

Stand With Parkland’s Tony Montalto said he’s hoping this year’s measure can break through after the stumbling last Session. Montalto lost his daughter, Gina, in the 2018 attack.

“We are pleased to work with Rep. LaMarca as he leads the way for further improvements to Florida’s education system,” Montalto said. “This bill captures recommendations from both the MSD Public Safety Commission and the statewide grand jury interim reports. Stand with Parkland hopes to see leaders from both chambers join in a bipartisan effort to improve the safety of all Florida’s students and staff at school.”

Added LaMarca, “Being a product of public schools in Broward County, the Marjory Stoneman Douglas tragedy was not just close to home; it was close to my heart. Getting to know some of the parents like Lori Alhadeff when I worked to help pass Alyssa’s Law, Ryan Petty of the MSD Commission, and working with groups such as Stand With Parkland run by Tony Montalto to make real school safety progress and change, has been a privilege.”

Tuesday’s committee hearing saw some Democratic lawmakers seeking more detail on several of the bill’s provisions. Ultimately, all voted in favor, as the measure advanced via an 18-0 vote.

‘Money back guarantee’

Jacksonville Rep. Clay Yarborough is working on legislation (HB 1507) Speaker Sprowls deemed a priority. It’s one of two bills that would revamp the state’s workforce system.

Yarborough said a feature of the program is a ‘New Money Back Guarantee.’ Students can get their tuition money back if they maintain good attendance, attend career events and enroll in an internship or apprenticeship, among other things.

Clay Yarborough is offering a ‘New Money Back Guarantee.’ Image via Colin Hackley.

“That’s an innovative approach Texas has used, and in the six years Texas has had that money-back guarantee, they have only had to repay tuition one time. Because the student who ultimately is that job seeker when they’re done, they have that skin in the game, so there’s accountability on them. They have to commit to doing it, or they’re not eligible for that money back,” Yarborough said.

Yarborough said an audit shed light on inefficiencies in the state’s workforce system.

“What they discovered and released in an audit about two months ago was that there were about 50 areas where Florida needed to improve and make some changes. So today we’ve corrected about 46 of those, but there’s still some that are outstanding, which is the impetus behind this bill, which will bring a high degree of accountability to the system,” he said.

PAs & anesthesiologists

Physician Assistants were left out of last year’s nurse practitioner scope of practice law last year and hoped to be added this year. But that looks less likely now after the Senate Health Policy Committee struck that language from a bill.

The panel voted 7-3 to remove autonomous practice language from SB 894, carried by Sen. Manny Diaz. Instead of letting PAs practice without oversight, the committee advanced the bill with language to remove the limit on how many PAs a doctor can supervise.

Physician Assistants were cut from Sen. Manny Diaz’s scope-of-practice bill. Image via Colin Hackley.

Some lawmakers worried about what the bill could do to Floridians’ quality of care. Sens. Ben Albritton, Janet Cruz and Gary Farmer voted against the measure.

The committee also advanced Sen. Ray Rodrigues’ SB 1142, which would declare that the term “anesthesiologist” only applies to a medical doctor. Some nurse anesthetists call themselves “nurse anesthesiologists,” which physician anesthesiologists say could be misleading and confusing for patients.

Both bills are now in their second of three committee stops.

Rep. Ralph Massullo is carrying the anesthesiologist bill’s House companion (HB 721) while Reps. Alex Rizo and Bob Rommel are carrying scope-of-practice bills (HB 1299 + HB 431). Massullo’s and Rizo’s bills haven’t been scheduled for a hearing yet, but lawmakers will consider a proposed committee substitute to Rommel’s HB 431 that removes the autonomous practice language.

Search & rescue

The Florida Engineering Society and the American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida are praising senators for advancing Sen. Jennifer Bradley’s legislation (SB 1060) to extend liability protections to urban search and rescue structures specialists.

Structures specialists sometimes volunteer their services during declared disasters to help rescue crews to move or shore up debris to rescue victims in and around collapsed structures. However, due to Florida’s highly litigious environment, the number of professionals volunteering their services has dramatically diminished.

Additionally, hurricane season is becoming more intense with climate change, and the job is getting more dangerous, specialists say.

Jennifer Bradley seeks to expand liability protections for search and rescue specialists. Image via Colin Hackley.

According to the organizations, since 2017, the number of professional engineers volunteering their services to aid first responder crews in rescuing victims from collapsed structures has dropped by 6%.

“In the event of a large-scale disaster such as a hurricane hitting a large coastal metropolitan area like Tampa Bay, Miami, Orlando or Jacksonville, requests for urban search and rescue structures specialists will immediately exceed availability,” said Executive Director Allen Douglas.

To fix that, Bradley wants Florida to join 25 other states that already have some form of liability protection.

“The services provided by engineers during a disaster are critical to our recovery efforts and to ensuring the safety of first responders and the public,” Bradley said. “I’m pleased to sponsor legislation that protects these professionals under the Good Samaritan Law.”

Bonus Instagram of the week

DD Day

With the pandemic raging and the Capitol still closed, Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day is going virtual on March 30.

During the annual event organizers and hundreds of people with intellectual and developmental disabilities, their families and advocates gather to spotlight issues that impact their survival and well-being.

This year’s online event will take place at 8:30 a.m.

“While we may not be gathering at the State Capitol this year, our goals for DD Day remain the same,” said host Valerie Breen, executive director of the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council. “By taking the event virtual, we are still able to connect with hundreds of individuals and family members seeking to advocate for Floridians with developmental disabilities. They will still have an opportunity to make their voices heard.”

Florida’s Developmental Disabilities Awareness Day is going virtual in 2021. Image via Facebook.

“DD Day,” which takes place during National Developmental Disabilities Awareness Month, is an effort to bring legislative change.

Speakers will include advocates like Sara Gaver and lawmakers. The Florida Developmental Disabilities Council will focus its message on preserving the iBudget Waiver and securing the funding to keep nearly 35,000 Floridians on the state’s public health insurance program available to people with disabilities.

DD Day is free and open to anyone who registers by March 22. For additional information and to complete the registration form, go to ddday2021.com.

Broadband tax relief

Florida Internet & Television hosted a discussion this week on ways to best provide broadband access to Florida’s “unserved” communities.

Panelist Rep. Josie Tomkow said she filed the legislation (SB 1592/HB 1239) with Sen. Danny Burgess “to create a better environment for internet provider companies to invest more in Florida’s unserved communities.”

Over 750,000 Floridians lack any or sufficient broadband access.

In a typical urban or suburban area, there are more than 10 homes per utility pole. But in the state’s rural areas, it can take more than 10 poles to serve a single house. That compounds financial and legal difficulties for high-speed internet.

Taxes on Florida internet providers is ‘exorbitant,’ says Grover Norquist.

“Most utility poles are owned by local city and county governments, and broadband providers often encounter myriad rules and regulations in simply getting permission and permits to use these poles to expand services,” said former Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Michael O’Rielly.

Private companies have invested over $10 billion in Florida’s internet infrastructure. A sales tax exemption for broadband equipment would allow opportunities for providers to spend capital on connectivity service, proponents say. Americans for Tax Reform President Grover Norquist called the current variety of taxes on internet service providers “exorbitant.”

“President Ronald Reagan said, ‘if you want less of something, tax it,’” he said. “If Florida wants more investment in broadband, it should join the 13 states that do not tax capital expenditures for telecommunications and cable network equipment and facilities. This would free up more resources to be invested in expanding access to connectivity.”

FAFCC cares … a lot

The Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics released a comprehensive valuation report of services its member clinics provided in 2020.

The grand total: $187,954,953.91.

“I’m so proud of how our free and charitable clinics are responding during this pandemic, serving as a critical partner for hospitals, saving countless lives,” said Rev. Michael Daily, board chair for FAFCC and CEO at Good News Care Center free clinic in Homestead. “Our front-line workers and volunteers couldn’t have done it without the 2020 funding from the Florida Legislature and we are hopeful our funding will continue in 2021. We know what we do works.”

The total value of care reflects health care visits, specialty care, prescriptions, imaging services, dental services and durable medical equipment. When defining health care, this includes medical, vision, wellness and mental health care.

Free clinics are stepping up for health care in the age of COVID-19, says Nick Duran.

Clinics were able to, in most categories, choose one of two ways to report data — direct reporting of the value of care that they receive from partners, or a standard value based on Medicare rates.

The report also says that FAFCC served 194,377 patients last year with the help of 17,151 volunteers, 1,053 of whom were nurses and 3,695 of whom were doctors.

“As health care costs continue rising, the COVID-19 global pandemic changing the ‘norm’ of how health care is provided, Florida’s free and charitable clinics are lowering those costs for the state, by decreasing indigent care at emergency rooms and reducing avoidable hospitalizations and readmissions,” said Rep. Nick Duran, the executive director of FAFCC. “We’re providing jobs for our communities, and dignity for our patients. We’re helping keep vulnerable, uninsured Floridians healthy and working.”

The 2020-2021 Florida Budget included a $9.5 million appropriation to fund 98 volunteer-driven, nonprofit, faith and community-based clinics throughout the state.

The search continues

Florida State University’s President Search Advisory Committee will meet on Tuesday, marking the latest development in the university’s national search to replace President John Thrasher.

The meeting will be in FSU’s Augustus B. Turnbull III Conference Center in Room 208 at 4 p.m. It will also be accessible online.

Thrasher announced plans to step down as president in a September 2020 news release.

The next FSU president will have huge shoes to fill. Image via Colin Hackley.

He will remain in office until a new president can take the helm, the release adds.

“Thrasher, an FSU alumnus who has served as president since November 2014, said the time is right to begin planning for his transition as he looks toward a future where he can focus on his family and pursue other interests,” the release adds.

A former House speaker from St. Augustine, Thrasher left his state Senate seat and role as chair of then-Gov. Rick Scott’s reelection campaign to take the position.

Thrasher, who also served as a chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, had been a major supporter of FSU in the Legislature, including helping the university establish a medical school.

In the September announcement, Thrasher said his FSU degrees are evidence of the “transformative power of higher education.”

“It has been an honor and a privilege for Jean and me to contribute to this institution that has changed so many lives,” he added.

Corona Directions

Staff Reports



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