Takeaways from Tallahassee — Safety first

Blue Tally Takeaways (4)
The Florida Chamber is working to make the Sunshine State safest in the nation.

Safety first

While you might not know what EHS means, the profession and its functions in the workplace have been front-and-center for the past year. 

The acronym stands for Environment, Health and Safety and covers everything from slip-and-falls to forklift accidents, carpal tunnel to workplace violence. 

Before the COVID-19 crisis, The Florida Chamber had created a group designed to help propel the state to become one of the safest, healthiest, and most sustainable in the nation. The pandemic and its impact on every business in Florida highlight the critical importance of EHS’s purpose.

“The Florida Chamber Safety Council tapped into Florida’s leading companies and their safety leaders to create an Advisory Board that is an incubator of research, leadership and education, and provides resources, tools and best practices for small to mid-sized businesses that often do not have full-time safety, health and sustainability expertise on staff,” said Florida Chamber Safety Council President Katie Yeutter.

Katie Yeutter is touting a new Florida Chamber group to focus on making the Sunshine State safest in the nation.

The Safety Council will host its inaugural Southeastern Leadership Conference on Safety Health and Sustainability May 10-12 at Disney’s Coronado Springs Resort, the Florida Chamber’s first in-person conference since the pandemic began.

Keeping with its mission, the council will implement several practices to keep attendees COVID-19-safe. The conference is limited to 330 people, and attendees are required to wear face coverings. There will also be on-site temperature screenings and COVID-19 rapid tests, as well as social distancing and hand sanitizer stations. A blood drive is part of the gathering with COVID-19 antibody testing.

“All of that has been put in place to make sure … we can be live, but we can do that in a really, really safe way,” said Ivette Faulkner, the Florida Chamber’s Executive Vice President for Strategic Communication & Marketing. The conference also offers a virtual option to attend the conference’s professional development training and 31 educational sessions.

For more information about Florida Chamber Safety Council, its mission, and details about the Conference and registration, visit flchambersafety.com.

“As we prepare for the 26 million Floridians who will call Florida home and the 2 million more jobs needed by 2030, the Florida Chamber Safety Council is an important step toward achieving our Florida 2030 Blueprint goal for Florida to be in the Top 5 states for overall well-being,” said Florida Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Mark Wilson.

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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, the staff of Florida Politics and the News Service of Florida.

Take 5

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

After lengthy debate, Senate passes HB 1 — After hours of discussion, the Senate has passed the anti-riot bill, one of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ top priorities for the Session. Only Republican Sen. Jeff Brandes crossed party lines on the key 23-17 vote Thursday, the final hurdle before the Governor could sign it into law. “With the passage of HB 1, the Florida Legislature has answered Gov. DeSantis’ call to uphold the rights of our state’s residents while protecting businesses and supporting our brave men and women in law enforcement,” DeSantis’ spokesperson said. Throughout the process, Democrats threw all they had at the bill they called racist and unconstitutional. They filed more than 40 amendments and appeared at numerous press events, including a call-to-economic-arms for businesses to boycott Florida.

House passes transgender sports bill after Senate TP — The House on Wednesday voted to ban transgender women and girls from female sports. Hours of debate that at times turned emotional preceded the 77-40. The Senate Rules Committee was scheduled to consider Sen. Kelli Stargel’s version of that bill that day, but it was postponed due to a packed agenda. The announcement came hours after the NCAA fired a warning shot at states proposing such legislation, but Stargel insisted it wasn’t due to threats from business. Senate President Wilton Simpson denied getting pressure on it. DeSantis this week criticized “woke” corporate America for trying to involve itself in state policy, and House Speaker Chris Sprowls said he “couldn’t care less” about businesses’ takes on Florida’s policies.

Budget conference begins this weekend – Lawmakers met Friday to kick off this year’s budget conference, and that process is slated to continue through Monday. Items not hammered out by then will go to the top negotiators. Conferees will negotiate $36.2 billion in general revenue expenditures. And don’t be surprised if the final budget tops $100 billion. “We’re excited to start conference, work with y’all and the rest of our Senate partners to construct a budget that prepares Florida today for a better tomorrow,” House budget chief Jay Trumbull said. “We have an exciting couple few days,” Senate budget chief Kelli Stargel added. “I’m glad we’re moving and I’m looking forward to working with you in this process.”

Drop boxes preserved in Senate, vote postponed — Sen. Dennis Baxley and the Senate Rules Committee have amended the Senator’s election bill (SB 90) to include drop boxes. Still, the panel wasn’t able to vote on the measure this week before running out of time in committee. Chair Kathleen Passidomo said the committee would reconvene this week or next to continue debate, which now leaves next week. The elections bill had 19 amendments in addition to Baxley’s own amendment rewriting the bill, and 70 people were slated to speak on it. Baxley’s amendment brought the bill more in line with the House’s by preserving drop boxes. And like the House version, Baxley’s now calls for a closer eye on drop boxes.

DeSantis says no to unemployment benefits increase — DeSantis on Friday said he opposes proposals to boost Florida’s unemployment payments. DeSantis opposed the idea when asked by reporters in Lakeland. “Increase benefits? Look, no. I think we are getting people back to work. You see and hear these stories about ‘businesses need more.’ Our goal is to get people back to work,” DeSantis said. Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur is shepherding the Senate’s proposal to raise weekly benefits from $275 to $375 each week. However, there’s no counterpart in the House. The Governor’s opposition might just seal the deal. “We’re going to continue to work through the process and hope we can convince the Governor of the need,” Brodeur said.

Coronavirus Numbers

Positive cases:

— 2,115,191 FL residents (+43138 since April 9)

— 40,553 Non-FL residents (+799 since April 9)

Origin:

— 16,941 Travel related

— 837,941 Contact with a confirmed case

— 23,210 Both

— 23,210 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 87,943 in FL

Deaths:

— 35,000 in FL

Vaccinations:

— 12,210,832 Doses administered

— 7,823,859 Total people vaccinated

— 2,912,888 First dose

— 523,998 Completed one-dose series (+123,151 since April 9)

— 4,386,973 Completed two-dose series (+597,307 since April 9)

Resilient infrastructure

DeSantis highlighted nearly $150 million for economic awards across the state for “more resilient infrastructure” to combat future disasters. And he promises that more is on the way.

The funding comes from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development’s Community Development Block Grant program on mitigation through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s (DEO) Rebuild Florida Mitigation General Infrastructure Program.

During a stop in Lakeland, DeSantis noted a $42.9 million spend in the city’s Bonnet Springs Park as the “big enchilada.” Multiple projects will increase flood storage capacity to the drainage basin by improving the stormwater infrastructure and watershed quality.

Ron DeSantis announces nearly $150 million in federal grants to boost Florida’s resiliency against future disasters.

“This Lake Bonnet project is a perfect example of government working well,” said U.S. Rep. Scott Franklin. “It is a model for what success looks like in a public, private partnership that will help a needed community, clean up a lake ecosystem and provide a new park that the entire Lakeland community can enjoy. It is a shining example of government and the private sector at all levels, working together on behalf of our community.”

But Lakeland is far from the only locality benefiting from the latest spending tranche. West Palm Beach, the next biggest winner, is slated to get $16.8 million to build resilient sea walls, improve stormwater quality, and develop living shorelines, pedestrian hardscaping, and native landscaping.

“Under Gov. DeSantis’ strong leadership, our state continues to provide investments to ensure the resiliency of Florida communities,” DEO Executive Director Dane Eagle said. “The Rebuild Florida Mitigation General Infrastructure Program provides storm-impacted communities the opportunity to complete large, high-impact infrastructure projects that will pay dividends for future generations.”

Road warriors

More truck drivers in the private sector are being trained to keep an eye out for signs of human trafficking on Florida’s highways.

Attorney General Ashley Moody announced the expansion of a campaign called Highway Heroes in Sarasota Thursday. Moody said employees at PGT Innovations, one of the largest employers in Sarasota, would receive anti-human trafficking training through the campaign. 

Highway Heroes is a campaign that includes specialized training, awareness materials, and a website with resources to educate drivers on how to identify victims and report suspected human trafficking. 

“I am thrilled to announce the expansion of our Highway Heroes campaign. Providing anti-human trafficking materials and training to the PGT Innovations team brings us one step closer to our goal of ensuring every CDL holder in Florida knows the signs and ways to report human trafficking. I am so grateful to everyone at PGT for signing onto this noble cause and helping our state in the fight to end this horrific crime,” Moody said.

Ashley Moody announces the expansion of the Highway Heroes anti-trafficking program.

PGT Innovations has a team of commercial driver’s license-certified truck drivers to deliver products. The company pledges to train all of the drivers in their fleet to identify and report human trafficking. The pledge means there will be more Truckers Against Trafficking on Florida roads.

“Our drivers travel over 1.8 million miles per year across the entire state to deliver our products. The Highway Heroes training will provide invaluable skills for our drivers to identify and report the signs of human trafficking. In addition, we will be including this training as part of our new hire orientation for all new employees joining our PGTI family. Our team members are incredibly proud to do our part to combat these terrible crimes and save lives,” PGT Innovations President and CEO Jeff Jackson said.

The Highway Heroes campaign started in October 2020 through a partnership between the Florida Attorney General’s Office and the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

To watch the video announcement of the “Highway Heroes” program, click on the image below:

Agriculture rebound

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is encouraging businesses in the agriculture and food production industry to apply for new federal relief funds.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture this week made $330 million available nationwide. Fried said the new funding will relieve growers, support our farmworkers and food businesses and help families afford healthy nutrition.

“COVID-19 caused serious financial hardship for so many of Florida’s agriculture producers, especially our seasonal crop growers and dairy producers who struggled to get their products to consumers,” Fried said. “At the same time, food insecurity has risen dramatically in Florida, with 3.5 million Floridians — 1 million of them children — facing chronic hunger.”

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack said the Biden-Harris Administration is focused on ensuring the agricultural sector rebounds from the pandemic.

Tom Vilsack and Nikki Fried are touting millions in federal agriculture cash.

“We launched USDA Pandemic Assistance for Producers to respond in a broader, fairer way to the pandemic’s impact across food and agriculture, and we are following through on our promise,” he said.

Florida is known as the “Specialty Crop State,” according to Fried’s office. It leads the nation in orange, grapefruit, cucumber, bell pepper, watermelon and snap bean production, and it ranks second in strawberry, tomato, sweet corn, avocado, tangerine and cabbage production.

Florida’s fruit, vegetable and citrus crops produce more than $1 billion each in annual sales revenue.

During the pandemic, Florida’s agriculture industry overtook its tourism industry as the largest sector of the state’s economy. But Florida’s specialty crop producers still faced $522 million in estimated losses due to reduced demand and a weakened economy.

Treasure hunt

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis announced this week that more than $30 million in unclaimed property was returned to Floridians in March.

More than $1 billion has been returned to Floridians in unclaimed property since Patronis took office. 

Notably, unclaimed property returns have climbed in recent months amid the COVID-19 pandemic and high unemployment.

“Since becoming your CFO, I made it my mission to return every cent of unclaimed property to the rightful owners, and I’m especially proud that, since the COVID-19 pandemic began over a year ago, we have recovered and returned more than $379 million, more than any other 13-month period in the program’s 60-year history,” Patronis said in a statement.

Jimmy Patronis celebrates another round of lost treasure.

Unclaimed Property is a financial asset that is unknown or lost or has been left inactive, unclaimed or abandoned by its owner.

In March, residents of West Palm Beach, Tampa/St. Petersburg and Orlando recovered well over $14 million. 

Patronis encouraged all Floridians to search for unclaimed property that may belong to them or their loved ones. 

There’s an estimated one in five chance that you have money just waiting to be claimed,” he added.

Floridians can search for unclaimed goods online.

Schemer snagged

Authorities arrested a woman after an investigation revealed she was masterminding a life insurance fraud that had the potential to defraud eight life insurance companies $1.9 million. 

Joyce Small had so far collected more than $211,000 in life insurance benefits from the scheme. Authorities allege Small was using stolen personal information from 29 of her rental property tenants, many of them seniors, to fraudulently obtain life insurance policies. 

Jimmy Patronis and Ashley Moody announce nabbing a fraudster.

Patronis and Moody announced the arrest in a joint statement. Under the CFO, the Division of Investigative and Forensic Services (DIFS) partnered with the Office of the Attorney General, which provided additional resources and support during the investigation.

“I’m fed up with criminals looking to take advantage of Floridians to make a quick buck, and it’s especially alarming when these fraudsters target our seniors. I am committed to using every resource available to stop fraud in its tracks and put these bad actors behind bars. Our state is fighting a fraud epidemic,” Patronis said. 

Small chose victims that she felt were in poor health, aging, or had none or few family members in the area, according to the memo. Small, who owns rental properties along the eastern coast of Florida from Miami Dade County to Flagler County took personal data from rental applications. 

Instagram of the week

Suits for Session

There are always lots of suits in Tallahassee, but on Thursday there was an extra 670 pounds of suits in the capital city for the 6th annual Suits for Session.

Professional attire was donated to CareerSource Capital Region and the FSU Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement (CARE)’s Unconquered Scholars Program — organizations supporting job-seekers entering or reentering Florida’s workforce.

“CareerSource Florida is sincerely grateful for all the generous donations from the 2021 Suits for Session clothing drive, providing thousands of items of professional attire for job seekers in need,” Michelle Dennard, CareerSource Florida President and CEO, said.

It was another successful year for Suits for Session.

Volunteer Florida and Simply Healthcare organized the service project. 

“Thanks to Gov. DeSantis’ leadership, Florida is open for business,” said Corey Simon, Volunteer Florida CEO. “Especially this year, helping our fellow Floridians join or rejoin the workforce is priority number one. Volunteer Florida is grateful to the legislative, agency and community partners who contributed to this year’s Suits for Session and its incredible impact on job-seeking Floridians across the state.”

Volunteer Florida was established in 1994 to advocate for volunteerism throughout the Sunshine State.

Three-dollar bill

After some eventful floor Sessions in the House and Senate, the Governor has a couple of reams of paper in his inbox.

One of the bills (SB 2510) sent over on Tuesday would push back the sunset date for a $3 surcharge on traffic tickets that’s used to fund the Statewide Law Enforcement Radio System, also known as SLERS.

The fee brings in about $4 million a year, with the bounty set aside to pay for the radio system.

Wilton Simpson played hardball for the state’s law enforcement communications system. Image via Colin Hackley.

The extension comes as a years-in-the-making SLERS rebuild that has yet to break ground. The current system is based on near-deprecated tech that’s left some law enforcement losing service and listening to static — sometimes in critical situations.

The Senate’s first draft of the budget scratched out SLERS funding but kept the fee extension in place.

Senate President Simpson described it as a hardball negotiation tactic after the most recent iteration of the SLERS contract, awarded to Motorola, disintegrated after a lengthy court challenge filed by L3Harris, the company that built out the current system.

L3Harris — formerly Harris Corp. — had also bid on the contract, but effectively took its ball and headed home by saying it wouldn’t allow another vendor to use its towers.

The drama has led some watchdog, such as Florida TaxWatch, to call for a complete overhaul of the state’s procurement process.

The Governor has until April 20 to act on the bill.

Gamers, beware

In a direct response to “swatting,” the House has voted to increase the penalties for falsely and intentionally reporting a crime that did not happen from a misdemeanor to a felony.

Swatting is a dangerous prank that’s emerged in recent years, mainly in online game communities.

“Made popular by YouTubers and gamers, swatting is a malicious gag where someone calls the police and reports a serious situation like a hostage-taking or a murder,” said Rep. Chuck Brannan, who filed HB 371.

‘It’s no joke’: Chuck Brannan is putting an end to ‘swatting.’

People have also falsely reported crimes to enact revenge on someone or to set up an ambush. In the Tampa Bay area since October alone, officers have received 25 fake tips.

“It’s no joke, though,” Brannan added. “Swatting creates danger to the public and law enforcement, as well as diverting valuable resources away from protecting the public.”

Depending on how severe the physical harm stemming from the false report, an offender could be charged with varying degrees of felonies. If the false report results in police killing someone, the offender will face first-degree felony charges.

Offenders would also have to pay restitution to cover the agency’s costs for responding to the fake crime.

Brannan is a retired chief investigator for the Baker County Sheriff’s Office. He is also a former Deputy U.S. Marshal.

In one case he handled, a person called with a false tip saying they spotted a murder suspect in a different area than police were searching. The caller eventually confessed that he did it just to see police shift their search and only received a misdemeanor for it. Meanwhile, the suspect evaded police for two more days, and the ordeal cost law enforcement thousands of dollars.

In other cases, innocent people have died.

The House unanimously passed the measure. The Senate is slated to consider that or the Senate version on Wednesday.

Near-unanimous support

The Senate has approved a relief bill that would require Hillsborough County to pay $2.45 million to the estate of a 30-year-old woman who died from negligence by paramedics.

Sponsored by Tampa Democrat Sen. Janet Cruz and Indian Rocks Beach Republican Rep. Nick DiCeglie, the Senate passed the bill (HB 6511) by a 38-2 vote, with Republicans Sens. George Gainer and Keith Perry opposing.

Nick DiCeglie and Janet Cruz shepherded a seven-figure claim bill for a woman who died by neglect from paramedics.

“There’s usually one or two dissenters because some people just philosophically won’t vote for a claims bill, but this is not my decision,” Cruz said. “Whether people know about the situation behind a claim or not, for them to just arbitrarily vote no because it’s a claim bill is unfair. We have three kids here that don’t have a mom.”

The bill stems from a lawsuit filed by Crystle Galloway’s mother, Nicole Black, back in 2019. The suit alleges negligence by county paramedics, who appeared to deny Galloway proper medical action, which in turn led to her death. Galloway left three children behind, who would have a trust established under the legislation.

The Senate took up the House bill on Wednesday after Cruz moved to take it up for a vote. The House unanimously passed the bill last week.

“What I really care about is the fact that she has three surviving children under the age of 17,” Cruz said. “I like the fact that this bill establishes a guardianship and a trust fund that will be set up for the children.”

Vizcaino-Aday relief

The Legislature has approved a $350,000 payment to the estate of Emilio Jesus Vizcaino-Aday, who died after he was struck and killed by a Miami-Dade County Police vehicle in 2018.

The House approved a relief bill earlier this month (HB 6503) via a unanimous 115-0 vote. Republican Rep. Anthony Rodriguez fronted that legislation.

This past week, the Senate substituted that House bill for the Senate measure spearheaded by GOP Sen. Ana Maria Rodriguez. After swapping in the House measure, the Senate approved the payment package by a 37-3 vote. Republican Sens. George Gainer, Keith Perry and Tom Wright were the only “no” votes.

Ana Maria Rodriguez spearheaded the claims bill in the death of Emilio Jesus Vizcaino-Aday.

“(O)n March 6, 2018, Emilio Jesus Vizcaino-Aday was lawfully traveling in his vehicle south on SW 147th Avenue toward the intersection at SW 260th Street in Miami-Dade County, wearing his seat belt and traveling at or below the posted speed limit,” the relief bill stipulates.

“Mr. Vizcaino-Aday was struck by a Miami-Dade Police Department vehicle owned by Miami-Dade County, which was operated by one of its law enforcement officers.”

Vizcaino-Aday’s estate then sued the county, alleging the crash was due to the officer’s negligence. The parties settled the lawsuit for $650,000, with $300,000 set aside to partially complete that agreement. The relief bill will authorize the remaining $350,000.

“The total amount paid for attorney fees may not exceed $70,000, and the total amount paid for lobbying fees may not exceed $17,500,” the bill adds.

In-home cuts

Mobile barbershops could become a reality if a bill headed to the Governor’s desk gets DeSantis’ signature.

The legislation (HB 855) will allow licensed barbers to shampoo, cut or style hair in a location other than a registered barbershop.

Orlando Sen. Linda Stewart, a sponsor of the Senate companion, said the pandemic has changed the way Floridians use services like barbershops. 

Haircuts can go mobile, thanks to Linda Stewart. Image via Colin Hackley.

“Convenience and comfort have been aiding in the way we conduct our everyday life since the pandemic began. Barbers should have the same ability as cosmetologists to practice their trade outside of their shop and increase convenience and accessibility for all Floridians,” Stewart said.

This bill is only about changing up the location. Barbers will still need to be licensed by the state and adhere to all current licensing requirements.

Rep. Daisy Morales, a sponsor of the House version of the bill, said the new law would even the playing field between barbers and cosmetologists.

“I’m grateful and excited this bill passed with bipartisan support in both chambers. We’ve leveled the playing field for barbers to thrive, extending more freedom to make outside location calls since cosmetologists are already providing mobile services for their clients,” Morales said.

K-911

The Senate blessed a bill this week to allow paramedics to provide emergency medical care to an injured police K-9. 

Sponsored by Republican Sen. Tom Wright of Volusia County, the bill (SB 388) would also allow EMS to transport injured police K-9s to a veterinary clinic or emergency room as long as no person requires medical attention or transport on scene.

“As you may know in recent years, we’ve had multiple K-9s assassinated in our state just for wearing a badge,” Wright said Wednesday on the Senate floor. “In these horrific instances, we should attempt to do all we can to save the lives of these four-legged officers.”

Tom Wright wants police K9s to receive medical treatment, as well.

According to a staff analysis in Florida, 49 police canines were killed in the line of duty.

“Police dogs are frequently used in conjunction with high-intensity, criminal situations and are often deployed by their handlers to chase after fleeing felons,” the staff analysis adds.

The bill comes as the Legislature’s latest move to protect police dogs.

In 2019, the Legislature increased penalties for harming or using a deadly weapon against a police canine.

Criminals who injure or use a deadly weapon against police dogs now face a third-degree felony instead of a second-degree felony.

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

Successful transition

Veterans are praising the House after lawmakers passed a bill Thursday to help service members transition to civilian life. 

The bill (HB 435) creates a statewide awareness and employment program built on the Department of Defense SkillBridge Program, allowing service members to gain workforce training at private businesses while on active duty as they are transitioning out of the military. The program designates Veterans Florida as the state’s principal SkillBridge assistance organization to employers and transitioning service members.

Tyler Sirois and Tom Wright get props for a bill helping veterans transition to civilian life.

Joe Marino, Executive Director of Veterans Florida, said the legislation makes Florida the best state for transitioning service members.

“The Florida House of Representatives sent a strong message in passing House Bill 435, the SkillBridge bill, and firmly planted Florida’s flag as the top state for transitioning service members to live and work after their service. Veterans Florida thanks Rep. Tyler Sirois and Sen. Tom Wright for their leadership on this vital workforce issue. We encourage the Florida Senate to continue to move the companion bill, SB 586, toward final passage,” Marino said.

Veterans now serving as members on the House floor also applauded the bill’s passage during the floor Session.

Florida is home to 20 military installations and 65,267 military personnel. Florida also has the nation’s third-largest veteran population, with roughly 1.5 million veterans.

Beware of bears

Beware of bears. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) cautions Florida’s outdoorsmen and women to be cautious when leaving food out to avoid attracting bears.

As temperatures warm up, bears become more active, and opportunities increase for conflicts with people.

Bears may be cute, but not up close. Image via FWC/Facebook.

“Bears are coming out of their winter dens and they’re searching for food,” Dave Telesco, director of the FWC’s Bear Management Program, said. “Secure trash, pet food, bird feeders and other food items that could attract a bear to your yard or neighborhood. If you don’t give them a reason to stay, they’ll move on.”

Black bears generally are not aggressive, but the black bears have injured people in Florida, FWC said in a memo. To avoid dangerous interactions with black bears, FWC said not to approach any bear intentionally and, when walking dogs, keep the dog close to you on a non-retractable leash. Dogs can trigger defensive behaviors from bears, especially females with cubs, which are more prevalent in the springtime.

Female bears give birth to 12-ounce cubs near the end of January and are begin to travel with their young in springtime when the cubs weigh 5 to 10 pounds, according to FWC. The family unit will roam further as the cubs continue to grow, which will increase the likelihood of contact with humans. 

Costly no-fault repeal

An analysis from the American Property Casualty Insurance Association says the Senate’s no-fault auto insurance repeal legislation could cost 40% up to $876 more.

SB 54, filed by Sen. Danny Burgess, passed the Senate Wednesday by a near-unanimous vote. Increased minimums could cost drivers between $165 and $876 more per year.

Danny Burgess’ no-fault auto insurance repeal could cost Florida drivers more. Image via Colin Hackley.

Logan McFaddin, the American Property Casualty Insurance Association’s assistant vice president of state government relations, warned the measure could make coverage unaffordable for low-income drivers, possibly leading to more drivers going uninsured. Approximately 20% of the state’s drivers are uninsured, one of the highest rates in the country.

“The Florida Senate’s passage of Senate Bill 54 is bad news for Florida drivers, but especially those who live paycheck-to-paycheck and carry the minimum levels of auto insurance coverage,” McFaddin said. “In Florida, approximately 40 percent of drivers carry minimum limits that are below what would be required under SB 54.”

Florida also has the highest auto insurance premiums in the country. Additionally, she said it doesn’t go far enough on Florida’s bad faith laws, letting the state’s litigious legal environment continue unchecked.

“Amid the ongoing pandemic with many still struggling financially, now is not the time to implement a major public policy change that could raise costs for Florida drivers,” McFaddin said.

Madam president

This week, Disney named Florida A&M University (FAMU) alumna Kimberly Godwin as president of ABC News. 

The hiring, a news release notes, ranks Godwin among the “most powerful African American women in broadcast media.” 

“I have immense respect and admiration for ABC News,” Godwin said. “As the most trusted brand in news, they are to be commended for the extraordinary work and dedication of the journalists, producers, executives and their teams across the organization. I am honored to take on this stewardship and excited for what we will achieve together.” 

FAMU alumna Kimberly Godwin is the new president of ABC News, the first African American woman to run a network news division. Image via ABC.

During her 14-year run at CBS News, Godwin served as Executive Vice President of News. In that role, she boasted editorial oversight on worldwide newsgathering. 

In her new position, Godwin will oversee editorial and business operations across the network, including flagship broadcasting such as “Good Morning America,” “World News Tonight,” “20/20,” “Nightline,” “The View,” and “This Week.” 

“The FAMU community is immensely proud of her accomplishment,” said FAMU President Larry Robinson, Ph.D. “Her hard work and excellence have carried her to the pinnacle of her profession as president of ABC News.”

Godwin is also a journalism educator. She currently serves as Chair of the FAMU School of Journalism & Graphic Communication Board of Visitors. 

Power move

The Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce appointed Daniel Martell to its Board of Governors, the group announced this week. 

Martell currently serves as the vice president of state legislative affairs for Florida Power & Light. 

“Florida’s economy relies upon Florida Power & Light for clean, reliable, and affordable energy to power our small-businesses and statewide commerce, which is a priority for our chamber members. The appointment of Daniel Martell to our Board of Governors is very timely and augments our commitment to a sustainable and diversified power grid,” said Chamber President and CEO Julio Fuentes.

“We look forward to working with Daniel, benefiting from his leadership and legislative experience, ensuring Florida’s future energy policies are as forward-thinking as our Florida business community.”

Martell joined FPL in June of 2016. Before FPL, he served as the president and CEO of the Economic Council of Palm Beach County, a nonprofit business advocacy organization. He also served as vice president of real estate for Florida Crystals Corporation. 

Martell earned his law degree from Nova Southeastern University, Shepard Broad College of Law, and a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida. He’s served on multiple statewide and local nonprofit boards and continues to serve his community. Martell is a Jacksonville native and currently resides in Tallahassee with his wife, Cheryl, and three children.

“I’m honored to be part of the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce’s Board of Governors, which represents the interests of more than 600,000 Hispanic-owned businesses across the state, and look forward to serving with these distinguished leaders,” Martell said. “Florida Power & Light is committed to partnering with the Florida State Hispanic Chamber of Commerce to ensure energy in our state keeps businesses moving forward.”

Game on

Two Florida A&M University students will compete this month at the 2021 Collegiate Esports National Championship (CENC).

The duo, Sidney M. Lyght and Miles Armstrong, will represent the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC).

Their game of choice: Super Smash Brothers Ultimate.

“I’m just having more fun with a hobby that I had for a long time,” said Lyght, a senior computer science student.

Game on: Sidney Lyght is one of two FAMU students to take part in the 2021 Collegiate Esports National Championship,

The virtual event is scheduled from April 29-May 2. It will be livestreamed on Twitch and re-aired on ESTV.

There are also plans to air a documentary on ESPN or CBS Sports.

“We are excited to bring together these amazing students to represent the MEAC and their institutions,” said Sonja Stills, MEAC chief of staff, chief operating officer and Esports director.

The MEAC team will include student-gamers from Coppin State University, Morgan State University, and North Carolina Central University.

The event will feature two other games, including Rocket League and Overwatch.

“This is a great opportunity to bring attention to our esports initiative for the MEAC, our member institutions and HBCUs,” Stills added.

Separately, there are also plans to hold a college esports competition for two-year schools.

All involved schools compete for automatic bids during the regular season. 

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St. Petersburg, Florida 33704