Jacksonville Bold for 5.5.21: In their own words

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Northeast Florida lawmakers tell the tale of Session.

In their own words

This week’s edition focuses on the 2021 Legislative Session, with lawmakers from throughout the region telling Bold what they thought about this Session and its takeaways.

Everyone has a different take, a different set of priorities. But in what was a year with some very pitched debates, the focus was often on bills much closer to home. 

Quality of life issues, ones which don’t bring calls from booking agents at CNN — unlike changes to voting laws or protester rights.

Legislative business, very often, is incremental. It can take years to push modest reforms through due to the nature of the process, the time and priority constraints. And our region’s legislators, whether rookies or veterans, Republicans or Democrats, all share that understanding. 

No Cheney

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford took to Facebook to call for the departure of a member of Republican House leadership.

John Rutherford joins the anti-Liz Cheney crowd. Image via AP.

Liz Cheney does not understand the responsibilities of leadership. She claims that I, and 146 other Republicans, violated the U.S. Constitution with our January 6 vote to challenge electors. She’s wrong,” wrote the third-term Republican from Northeast Florida.

“She has now become an obstruction to leadership unity and should step down from her leadership duties as Republican Conference Chair and then go read 3 U.S. Code § 15,” Rutherford suggested, alluding to federal election law.

Calls for Cheney’s departure are nothing new: recall that Rep. Matt Gaetz went to Wyoming to protest Cheney’s rebuke of her Republican colleagues. They contended that the 2020 election results were not legitimate on the Presidential level, voting not to certify electors in one or more states. Rutherford’s adoption of the Cheney Must Go position is more recent, however. 

The rhetoric comes at the same time that Rutherford was recognized for his bipartisan voting record. According to rankings from The Lugar Center, Rutherford ranked third in the Florida delegation and No. 43 in the House for working across party lines.

Bradley reflects

Sen. Jennifer Bradley became a force in the Senate in her first weeks in office and hasn’t slowed down. She reflected on the highlights with Bold this week.

One major promise kept? You may be drinking it right now.

“I pledged to help small businesses relaunch after a once-in-a-century pandemic. My alcohol-to-go bill is a lifeline to restaurants — it removes unnecessary regulations and reflects new trends in dining,” Bradley recounted.

Jennifer Bradley is the second Bradley to score big Session wins. Image via Colin Hackley.

While that bill, which allows mixed drink delivery to continue as it did during the pandemic, was significant, the Fleming Island Republican noted it wasn’t all.

“I also focused on supporting education programs that work for Florida students. My bills expanding the PACE Center for Girls program and the Cambridge AICE program will bring new educational opportunities for countless students. Securing funding for three new rural K-12 schools is also critical for families and students in north Florida,” Bradley related.

Bradley, of course, follows husband Rob Bradley, fresh off his eight-year stretch. Like her husband, the current Senator does not expect the job to get old.

“As the only spouse of a senator to ever serve in the Florida Senate, I certainly have a unique perspective. While things sometimes felt very familiar, it never lasted long as a new substantive or procedural issue would arise daily. Rob continued to learn and discover new things about our state until his last day of service. I suspect the same will hold true for me,” Bradley asserted.

The Senator, as one would expect, had nothing but positive words about the current Governor also.

“Gov. (Ron) DeSantis is a strong, unafraid leader who effectively communicates his vision for Florida to the legislature and the public alike. He is surrounded by a stellar legislative team who worked well with members to get his priorities across the finish line,” Bradley noted.

Of course, there is some Clay County representation in the Governor’s advisers. Former county manager Stephanie Kopelousos serves as Legislative Affairs Director, an advantage to be sure.

Long view

Sen. Audrey Gibson looked back on the Legislative Session, one that had some significant victories.

Audrey Gibson has many post-Session thoughts. Image via Colin Hackley.

Among them: SB 1540, a Maternal Health Outcomes bill that was tabled and passed as the identical HB 1381 that passed the House previously. The bill “incorporates telehealth to focus on reducing maternal mortality in communities of color & provides for pilots in Duval & Orange counties & collects data for expansion,” according to the Senator. 

The Senator also spotlighted her work with Alzheimer’s disease funding and help.

“As a passionate supporter of the ALZ community, I am disappointed that the ALZ Bill (SB 634) related to training for care of those suffering with the disease ran into “don’t want to’s” at the end, my funding request for the statewide mobile ALZ education unit was secured,” Gibson noted.

Though the Senate often acts as a brake on the House’s more radical ideas, that wasn’t necessarily the case next year. Gibson expects more of the same pressure from the Governor’s Office to produce a particular product type.

DeSantis, according to Gibson, is “trying to keep up a certain rally cry as he faces reelection & eyes the presidency sans Trump.”

Gibson also has an eye on redistricting and suggests that Democrats plan pre-committee meetings during the summer, urging a “united front” going into the process so they aren’t damaged too much by how Republicans might want to change the maps this year. It will be interesting to see if they do that.

Big Byrd’s 

Rep. Cord Byrd had yet another high-profile Legislative Session. The third term representative from House District 11 reflected on yet another successful 60 days this week.

Cord Byrd has Senate aspirations, touted a big year in the House.

Among the wins: legislation that clamps down on violent protests and reforms to election laws.

“The biggest wins legislatively include HB 1 and the companion to it, the police practices bill. As chairman of the Criminal Justice and Public Safety subcommittee, these two bills took up the majority of my time throughout the session. I also worked closely with Chairman Blaise Ingoglia to help craft the elections integrity bill,” Byrd said, regarding Senate Bill 90.

Byrd is also enthusiastic about DeSantis, saying that despite a big 2021, there’s still plenty ahead: “The Legislature provided several wins for the Governor this Session, and I anticipate there is more work to do in the areas of school choice, civil liberty safeguards, and government accountability. I have no doubt that Gov. DeSantis will continue to outline a bold agenda for Florida.”

Of course, for Byrd, 2022 offers another challenge. He is running, along with two legislative colleagues, to replace termed-out Aaron Bean in the Senate. And he’s not backing down despite meaningful early fundraising from Jason Fischer and Clay Yarborough

“I am fully committed to running for the Senate. I have accomplished a lot during my time in the House and am ready for a new challenge. Speaker-designate Renner and I share many of the same policy goals as well philosophy of government. I look forward to being a conservative ally for him in the Senate.” 

“I never tire of talking about the importance of the constitution and its limiting principle on government which too often tries to be all things to all people. The Senate gives me the opportunity to continue this work on a larger scale. On numbers alone, a Senator has more influence to shape policy than does a Representative,” Byrd added.

Yarborough’s year

Rep. Clay Yarborough is, like Rep. Byrd, running for Senate. And like Byrd, he has some wins to point to, including specific district-level appropriations. 

Among the line items: $750,000 for the “Bigs in Badges” program (HB 3135); $275,000 for the Florida Novice Teacher Development Program through Teach for America (HB 3707); and two $1,000,000 appropriations for AMI Kids to help troubled youth with prevention and family therapy needs and also career and job placement (HB 3137 and 3705).

Clay Yarborough has several successes to tout in 2021.

He also passed two significant bills. HB 519 adds requirements to the middle and high school health curricula to teach prevention measures related to child sexual abuse, exploitation, and human trafficking. And HB 1507, the Reimagining Education And Career Help (REACH) Act, helps increase access to workforce education.

Like his colleague Byrd, and virtually every Republican willing to quote, Yarborough is enthusiastic about DeSantis.

“He had a great session. He is a bold leader with a strong track record of getting things done for the State of Florida. I would expect another aggressive agenda in 2022,” Yarborough predicted.

He also discussed his own 2022 plans, which include the Senate race mentioned above.

“I am completely committed to the effort to serve Northeast Florida in the Senate, and, Lord-willing, the voters will elect me. I have a strong conservative record in the Florida House and plan to carry that record into the Senate and make a difference for our community. Serving in the Florida Senate would be a great honor, and it was not a decision made on a whim. I look forward to campaigning, hearing from the voters, and sharing my views,” Yarborough said. 

Lessons learned

Rep. Angie Nixon looked back on her first Session representing Jacksonville’s HD 14. Despite being a former legislative aide to Mia Jones, who represented the same district between 2008 and 2016, Nixon was surprised by how the Session went.

Angie Nixon reflects on a tough Session.

“I knew there would be some partisanship, but I was still shocked that some great bills that both sides could agree on weren’t even heard because they were] sponsored by Democrats,” Nixon said.

While bills that Nixon co-sponsored got through, including measures to curb annoyance calls from telephone solicitors, legislation she primarily sponsored was stalled. 

“It’s sad that funding for infrastructure in my district, which was funded, possibly wouldn’t have received that amount simply because I have a D beside my name,” Nixon noted.

“Lessons learned, too many to name. I’m happy with the three appropriations I was able to secure,” Nixon said, referring to money in the budget passed last week for the Coding in Color program, for the Treating Trauma Now program, and for the Wayman Ministries Community Development At-Risk Youth Program. Like all appropriations, DeSantis makes the final decision on that money.

Nixon appreciated the efforts of Democratic leadership, spotlighting the assistance of Reps. Ramon Alexander and Tracie Davis specifically, and Chairs Jay Trumbull, Scott Plakon, Majority Leader Michael Grant and Rep. Sam Garrison.

View from St. Johns

Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, one of the most thoughtful House members, looked back on another effective Session representing northern St. Johns County.

Among the highlights: a new leadership role in 2021, helming the State Administration & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee

“This was my first year serving as Chairman of an Appropriations Subcommittee. I worked to improve accountability for taxpayer dollars on some major contracts. My committee vetted many important bills this session. I am proud of the work we accomplished,” Stevenson spotlighted to Jacksonville Bold this week.

Stevenson was generally upbeat about the state’s budget and economy.

Cyndi Stevenson had a busy Session.

“While we expected one of our most difficult budget years ever, Florida’s economy has performed better than expected. We also received certain federal funds that have helped fill holes in the state budget,” Stevenson noted. 

And some holes in the local capital budget will be filled too, including improvements on A1A in Ponte Vedra and help with a septic-to-sewer conversion project in West Augustine, and preservation funds for the St. Augustine Lighthouse and Flagler College. UF Health’s Childhood Abuse Pediatric Fellowships, a special needs shelter, and the STEM-centered North East Florida 21st Century Workforce Development Project are also lined up for funds. A new judge is coming to the area also, a long-term ask of Stevenson’s. All this, of course, depends on the Governor’s ultimate approval.

And then, of course, there are the bills. Stevenson was “delighted to pass HB 701.” 

That bill, says Stevenson, “increases transparency about the rights of people covered by health insurance and HMOs to have Behavioral Health Services covered in the same manner as other Health Care Services. The bill requires insurance companies to notify their customers about their rights and provide them with contact information for the Department of Financial Services to report problems they are experiencing with access and cost of such care under those plans. I brought this bill forward because I had received too many complaints where the family had suffered serious consequences because of delays or denials for this type of care.”

Stevenson recognizes the unprecedented nature of the 60 days that was.

“Much of this session was taken up with the headline issues of the day … and we have had our share. We saw great focus on threats to election integrity in other states and in Florida as well, a global public health emergency, tremendous attacks on government and private-sector computer systems, the failure of our state unemployment system of claims unlike we have ever seen, peaceful protest used as cover for riots, violence and looting, death and misuse of force against our citizens, most notably George Floyd at the hands of police. We made real strides on one of Speaker Sprowls priorities to harden Florida against the threat from sea level rise.”

2022, meanwhile, looks likely to focus on redistricting.

“That will take up a lot of time and energy next session,” Stevenson predicts. “We will, of course, have the budget and likely a glitch bill or two.”

For her part, election security is a major preoccupation still.

“I remain concerned about the privacy of information that our voters give their Supervisors of Election for the privilege of voting. Some of this information can be used for identity theft. Florida is way behind on this issue; I will continue to look for a solution,” Stevenson said. 

Points of pride

Garrison had a successful first Session, and the Fleming Island Republican spoke to some highlights.

“I’m particularly proud of the Personal Care Attendant and AHCA reform bills I ran this session. They were complicated and challenging, passed with strong bipartisan majorities, and are on their way to the Governor’s desk,” Garrison told Jacksonville Bold this week.

Garrison is also proud of his bill that would have created a 21-day public records exemption for applicants for college presidencies, even though it fell just short in the Senate. It passed the House by a 101-16 vote, suggesting it may have a future. 

As a first-termer, Sam Garrison notched up some solid wins.

We also got Garrison’s take on the Governor. He’s expecting another big year next year from the Plaza Level.

“If we’ve learned one thing about Gov. DeSantis these past three years, it’s that he doesn’t rest on his laurels. I expect to see another strong conservative policy agenda in 2022 that focuses on jobs, public safety, education and the environment,” Garrison noted.

Garrison also reflected on his first year in the House, a helpful meditation that may extend to more than just politics.

“My goal coming into this year was to watch, listen and learn. It didn’t take long to see that success in the House requires hard work, supporting your colleagues, and being a person of your word,” he said.

Card subject to change

We continue to see flux when it comes to open House seats in Northeast Florida.

In HD 12, two plausible candidates looked poised to square off for the chance to replace Rep. Yarborough: Former Rep. Lake Ray, termed out in 2016, and Rogers Towers lawyer Adam Brandon. Brandon is moving on, however, to run in HD 16, citing family reasons in changing his candidacy.

“My family and I are moving within Jacksonville to be closer to our work, our kids’ schools, and our church,” Brandon said in a media release. “Over a decade ago, when I was on active duty, we bought our first home to be near Naval Station Mayport. We love our city, and this move puts our family in a better location for everything going on in our lives today.”

Adam Brandon with his wife, Kristi, and their children, John and Katherine.
Adam Brandon switches up for a different House race.

Will they remain unopposed in these races? We hear that 16 may get more crowded soon. HD 12? Even last year, Yarborough faced a primary, so you can’t rule anything out 15 months ahead of voters voting.

Meanwhile, in HD 11, rumblings persist that the three candidates in the race currently aren’t getting it done. Jacksonville Beach trial lawyer Heath Brockwell is the leading fundraiser but hasn’t topped $15,000 combined in his first two months in the race. May fundraising is due by Monday the 10th; we will see if his pace picks up.

The other candidates have not bothered to fundraise to any meaningful degree. Will other candidates jump in? Back in 2016, when Byrd won, that was an expensive race in the end, with lots of Tallahassee money adding to the official tallies.

North Florida marshlands

The North Florida Land Trust is partnering with a regional organization to help protect even more environmentally sensitive lands.

The Trust has entered an accord with the South Atlantic Salt Marsh Initiative overseen by the Southeast Regional Partnership for Planning and Sustainability. The North Florida Land Trust board members voted to take part in the agreement Tuesday afternoon.

The North Florida nonprofit organization is now one of about two dozen similar groups to join the partnership. The objective of the accord is to develop a comprehensive plan to save saltwater marshlands throughout six southern states.

“Partnerships like this have been proven effective when it comes to conservation, and we look forward to working with SERPPAS on a plan to protect these important ecosystems,” said Jim McCarthy, president of the North Florida organization.

The North Florida Land Trust has aggressively acquired land with environmentally sensitive ecosystems and designated them protected parcels in vast acreage for decades, including 4,000 acres of salt marshes. McCarthy said the saltwater marsh accord should help accelerate that effort in North Florida.

Marshlands in Jacksonville Beach the North Florida Land Trust wants to acquire. Image via North Florida Land Trust.

One of the priority projects the North Florida Land Trust has in its sights is the potential acquisition of 245 acres of salt marshland along the Intracoastal Waterway off Butler Boulevard in Jacksonville Beach.

Volunteers wanted

St. Johns County residents who have been suspect of local government or who have a volunteer streak can now apply to multiple local governmental boards and committees.

The county is now accepting applications for service on some 10 different panels that oversee government functions and services in St. Johns County. The volunteer seats on the boards make recommendations for action that are reviewed and voted on by the St. Johns County Commission.

The different boards with open seats are diverse, and they include:

Architectural Review Committee, application deadline May 22.

Arts, Culture and Heritage Funding Panel, application deadline May 28.

Cultural Resource Review Board, application deadline May 22.

Fire Code Board of Appeals, application deadline, May 22.

Health & Human Services Advisory Council, application deadline: May 22.

Mid-Anastasia Design Review Board, application deadline, May 22.

North Coastal Corridor Overlay District Design Review Board, application deadline May 22.

Planning and Zoning Agency, application deadline May 22.

South Anastasia Design Review Board, application deadline May 22.

Tourist Development Council, application deadline May 22.

The Castillo de San Marcos is one of St. Johns County’s biggest tourist attractions. Image via Florida Politics.

Anyone interested in applying for service on those boards can submit applications by visiting the county website www.sjcfl.us/Boards. Requirements and responsibilities are listed on that site, and residents wanting more information can contact the County Commission offices at (904) 209-0300. They can also email [email protected]

Mental health

About 50 people received special training as part of a St. Johns County Sheriff and Florida State University Institute for Justice Research and Development program designed to enhance mental health measures.

The training conducted on April 26 and 27 focused on peer support for co-workers during high-stress situations. About half the participants were employees of the sheriff’s office, while the other half were professionals in St. Johns County workplaces.

Ultimately, the training provided steps and measures to take if a co-worker mental health support in an office or workplace setting.

Florida State University and St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office officials take part in mental health training. Image via St. Johns County Sheriff’s Office.

“We are grateful to FSU IJRD for developing this one-of-a-kind training that is critically important to our law enforcement personnel who are constantly exposed to violence and suffering, which, in turn, manifests as post-traumatic stress,” said St. Johns County Sheriff Robert Hardwick. “This program will ensure they have the skill set necessary to identify this stress and take action to handle it not only in themselves but with their peers.”

FSU officials said the program is designed to prevent trauma from overwhelming those in high-stress work environments.

“We developed this program because we know the trauma caused by the on-the-job stresses law enforcement face all the time — from seeing the most painful and terrifying events in citizens’ lives to being confronted with dangerous, imperiling circumstances,” said Carrie Pettus, founder and executive director of the FSU justice institute. “We believe equipping them with the training we have developed through in-depth research and field testing will ready them to better identify and manage this stress, leading to more effective job performance.”

Women with Vision

St. Johns Chamber of Commerce is hosting the “Women with Vision Council,” its first in-person luncheon in over a year!

The sold-out event, sponsored by Flagler Health+, will discuss paths for more women to get involved in politics, as an investment in a more just and equitable society. Stevenson of HD 17 is the featured guest.

Also set to appear are Sen. Bradley and Beth Sweeney, director of Community and Government Relations at Flagler College.

Women of Vision is the first in-person Chamber meeting in a year.

Fiorentino Group Partner Mark Pinto, Jr. will moderate.

The panel will “explore the unique strengths women bring to the political arena, why increasing female representation in politics is crucial for our society, and how we can all be involved in the political process.”

Located at the outdoor courtyard of the Palencia Club in St. Augustine, the meeting starts Thursday, 11:30 a.m. with a networking period and lunch; the discussion begins at noon. The Palencia Club is at 600 Palencia Club Dr., St. Augustine.

Aced it

Flagler Hospital received an “A” grade in the spring 2021 Leapfrog Hospital Safety Grade.

The Safety Grade is a national distinction that recognizes Flagler Hospital’s achievements in protecting patients from errors, injuries, accidents, and infections. Grading is by The Leapfrog Group, an independent national watchdog organization committed to health care quality and safety.

Flagler Hospital Aces it.

Facilities are assigned an “A,” “B,” “C,” “D,” or “F” grade to all general hospitals across the country and is updated every six months. It is the only hospital rating program based exclusively on hospitals’ prevention of medical errors and other harms to patients in their care.

“To be recognized for our dedication to patient safety in one of the most challenging times in our history is a true testament to our team members,” stated Flagler Health+ President and CEO Jason Barrett. “Providing quality — and safe — patient care is our highest priority in any given year, but it is particularly meaningful as our team members have risen to the challenges brought by the COVID-19 pandemic. We are honored to be recognized by The Leapfrog Group for our excellence in ensuring the highest level of safety for our patients.”

Staff Reports



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