Takeaways from Tallahassee — Monday night Special (Session)

Blue Tally Takeaways (4)
The stakes are high for this week's Special Session on gambling.

Monday night Special (Session)

Lawmakers have anted up for next week’s Special Session, locking in their first bills for Monday’s reconvening.

Sen. Travis Hutson will be the Senate’s dealer anointed to carry that chamber’s nine bills. On the House side, six representatives are carrying six bills.

The nine measures would implement the Gaming Compact Gov. Ron DeSantis signed last month with the Seminole Tribe and related gambling proposals. That Compact is expected to rake in at least $2.5 billion for the state within five years and $6 billion through 2030. The Tribe will serve as a hub for sports betting and benefit from adding three facilities to its Hard Rock Casino in Hollywood.

Travis Hutson is carrying a majority of the Senate’s Special Session gaming bills.

Reps. Sam Garrison, Chris Latvala, Bobby Payne, Will Robinson, Bob Rommel and Josie Tomkow are carrying the House’s bills.

Current law allows the Tribe to offer slots, banked card games, raffles and drawings. The Compact would expand that to the authorization to craps, roulette, fantasy sports contests and sports betting.

The range of bills cover the Compact, a proposed Gaming Control Commission, existing games and new regulations to games like bingo and lucrative fantasy sports contests.

Some topics look like they’ve already been settled. Both the House and Senate have agreed to allow card rooms and slot machines to operate 24/7. Casinos could also serve complimentary and discounted drinks around slot machines.

But just like in poker, both chambers must bet equally. The House didn’t call the Senate’s bet on bingo regulations, meaning an agreement there looks unlikely.

Hutson also expects pushback on the fantasy sports section. That’s on top of the handful of lawmakers that steadfastly oppose any and all gaming expansion.

As they currently do in a legal gray area, sites like DraftKings and FanDuel will host the sports leagues. But the Seminole Tribe would control the front end, leaving those sites to essentially sublease their operations.

On Monday, the flop, the House will hold an initial floor session before three subcommittees consider the six bills in that chamber. Similarly, the Senate will have its initial sitting before the Appropriations Committee powers through all nine bills.

On Tuesday, the Senate will hold another floor Session. Soon after, the newly established House Select Committee on Gaming and the Rules Committee will give the final OKs to the House bills.

Finally, with the river on Wednesday, the House and Senate will both hold floor sessions. Both chambers have earmarked Thursday and Friday for floor sessions if additional rounds of betting become necessary.

Unlike a game of poker, however, most players look to win something out of the Special Session.

___

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Jason Delgado, Haley Brown and the staff of Florida Politics.

Take 5

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

Lawmakers file gaming bills for Special Session — The House and Senate on Friday unveiled their gaming bills for the Special Session beginning Monday. Hutson filed nine bills while House members filed a combined six bills. There are a handful of key takeaways. First, card rooms and slot machines could operate 24/7. Second, casinos could serve complimentary drinks at slot machines. The House forwent bingo bills, meaning passing that could be a heavy lift even if the Senate passes it. Finally, expect resistance to fantasy sports betting, a lucrative option lawmakers want to move from a legal gray area into a regulated sphere.

DeSantis expands school choice options — On Tuesday, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill (HB 7045) to overhaul the state’s school voucher system dramatically. Under the proposal, a family of four earning less than $100,000 a year would be eligible for enrollment, allowing them to send their children to any school of their choice. “This is public money, scholarship money, not going to any particular institution,” DeSantis said. And to assuage Democrats’ concerns that school vouchers are state funding for private schools: “It’s going to the parents, and the parents are now in power.” The bill also merges some scholarship programs to make way for the new framework.

Pipeline cyberattack leads to gas hoarding — Despite Florida having ample access to gas amid a cyberattack that shut down gas lines from Texas to New Jersey, gas hoarding struck across Florida this week. Because Florida mostly gets its gas from tanker ships, Floridians unnecessarily created a gas shortage. DeSantis declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard to make it easier for trucks carrying fuel to enter the state. State officials like Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Attorney General Ashley Moody urged Floridians not to hoard gas. DeSantis joined them too but called on the federal government to do more to blunt the attack.

Florida State begins new president search — FSU started its new presidential search in earnest this week, and the school’s Presidential Search Advisory Committee began its first round of interviews. The university is working through a list of nine candidates, a mix of politically connected local candidates and academics from universities nationwide. Among them is Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran. However, the Education Commissioner also serves as a member of the state university system’s Board of Governors, leading to a possible conflict of interest when the time comes for the BOG to approve the FSU Board of Trustees’ selection. Although six interviewees preceded him on Friday, Corcoran will be the first interviewed Saturday morning.

DeSantis signs sea level rise bills — The Governor signed a pair of bills (SB 1954 & SB 2514) Wednesday to mitigate the impact of climate change and sea-level rise. The new laws will create the Resilient Florida Grant Program, authorizing the Department of Environmental Protection to provide grants to local governments to combat rising sea levels. Additionally, it clears the way for $100 million in annual allocations to stock the trust fund to pay out those grants. That’s part of the Legislature and DeSantis’ deal to split dollars initially meant for affordable housing programs into affordable housing and environmental programs.

Coronavirus numbers

Positive cases:

— 2,243,501 FL residents (+23,261 since May 7)

— 42,702 Non-FL residents (+344 since May 7)

Origin:

— 18,022 Travel related

— 899,172 Contact with a confirmed case

— 24,404 Both

— 1,301,903 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 92,893 in FL

Deaths:

— 36,719 in FL

Vaccinations:

— 16,228,952 Doses administered

— 9,481,581 Total people vaccinated

— 2,066,446 First dose

— 667,764 Completed one-dose series (+64,118 since May 7)

— 6,747,371 Completed two-dose series (+570,152 since May 7)

Paint the town blue

Attorney General Moody is among the many Floridians who celebrated National Police Week by participating in the Paint the Town Blue campaign.

Alongside her husband, Justin, a law enforcement officer, Moody illuminated her home blue like the illumination demonstrated this week at the Florida Capitol. 

“As the wife of a law enforcement officer, I know personally the amount of commitment and sacrifice required of our officers,” Moody said. “As the job seems to grow increasingly dangerous by the day, I believe we have a duty to show our law enforcement officers gratitude and respect for their courageous decision to serve.”

Among other aims, the campaign encouraged Floridians to wear blue and thank law enforcement officers when possible. 

Ashley Moody honors law enforcement by lighting her house blue. Image via Twitter.

Notably, the recognition comes as law enforcement officers face heightened danger. According to Moody, at least 12 law enforcement officers have died this year and nearly half are due to violent acts.

“Our law enforcement officers chose a life of service when signing up for this noble profession — understanding the risk involved every time they leave for work,” Moody said. “I am thrilled to participate in this movement in honor of National Police Week, and we should always take time to pay tribute to the men and women of Florida law enforcement.”

Thin Line Tribute

Thin Line Tribute is a new initiative, created by Moody, to recognize front-line law enforcement. 

Launched through the Florida Attorney General’s Office, a news release stated the tribute will recognize “the courageous and dangerous work of front-line law enforcement officers” and “thank front-line law enforcement officers for their selfless and dedicated service to the citizens of Florida.”

“I am excited to launch Thin Line Tribute, a new initiative through my office designed to recognize the hard work and dedication of our brave front-line law enforcement officers,” Moody said in a written statement. “As the wife of a law enforcement officer, I know personally the amount of care and commitment that goes into this profession. As the dangers surrounding this job seem to increase by the day, I believe it is imperative that we show our law enforcement community just how thankful we are for their service.”

In December of last year, Moody issued a report that officers killed in the line of duty nationwide more than doubled in 2020, compared to the previous year — totaling more than 360 officers lost at year’s end. The news release said this tribute is an effort to show officers their work is appreciated despite those statistics. 

The launch of Thin Line Tribute comes on the heels of a devastating year for the law enforcement community as the COVID-19 pandemic and 2020 presented many challenges for brave men and women of law enforcement. 

This is the second law enforcement initiative Moody has launched. Shortly after taking office, Attorney General Moody launched a statewide Back the Blue campaign. The campaign highlights law enforcement officers, citizens and organizations taking steps to build positive relationships between law enforcement and the communities they serve.

Moody has issued more than 30 Back the Blue Awards since taking office.

To watch the announcement, click on the image below:

Lunch pros

Agriculture Commissioner Fried and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services honored five school nutrition professionals as part of School Lunch Hero Day on May 7.

“School nutrition professionals are crucial to the success of Florida students because healthy bodies lead to ready minds,” Fried said “These School Lunch Heroes undertake tremendous planning and prepare and serve more than 300,000 million nutritious meals to nearly 3 million of our students each year.”

The winners include Kay Thompson of Bryceville Elementary School, Alicia Smith of Liberty Pines Academy, Charla Hudgins of Millenia Gardens Elementary, Kaneisha Stokes of Ormond Middle School and Jeneane Rhuda of Seminole Elementary School.

Notably, Fried virtually congratulated each winner. The Division of Food, Nutrition and Wellness, meanwhile, partnered with The Dairy Council of Florida and No Kid Hungry to host School Lunch Hero Experiences at each school.

“No one thinks at their best when they’re hungry,” the Florida School Hero website says. “School nutrition professionals are crucial to the success of Florida’s students, because healthy bodies lead to ready minds.”

More information about School Lunch Hero can be found online.

To watch a video introduction, click on the image below:

Don’t struggle in silence

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Republican Sen. Keith Perry gathered with first responders in Ocala this week to recognize First Responders Mental Health Awareness Day.

“When we hear the term ‘first responder’ — we think of bravery, protection, service and sacrifice,” Patronis said. “And we should — our first responders don’t flee in the face of dangerous situations; they perform their jobs to protect Florida’s families and communities. But often, we don’t think about the firefighter, police officer or paramedic being unable to cope with what they see while on duty. Too many of these brave Floridians have suffered and struggled in silence.”

Jimmy Patronis and Keith Perry honor the mental health of first responders.

Notably, the gathering comes after the Legislature passed a resolution (SR 618) to create First Responders Mental Health Day in Florida.

The resolution, sponsored by Perry, takes note that first responders are under heightened stress amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“We must recognize the importance of supporting our First Responders, who selflessly put the lives of others above their own every day and bring awareness to the higher risk of mental health illnesses they are at risk of due to the challenging nature of their jobs,” Perry said.

Patronis and Perry were also joined by Marion County Commissioner Kathy Bryant.

Firefighter funds

CFO and State Fire Marshal Patronis presented four fire departments more than $30,000 this week in pandemic protection funding. 

The grant will provide equipment, training and supplies helping to mitigate exposure to infectious diseases and cancer-causing contaminants. 

“Florida firefighters have been on the front lines of the pandemic for over a year now, working every day to protect our communities while putting themselves in harm’s way,” Patronis said. “As a result of their dangerous profession, these heroes are also more likely to contract cancer than you or me.”

In all, the St. Johns Fire Rescue received $14,598.75, the Leesburg Fire Department collected $3,712.50, the Sanford Fire Department received $7,425.00 and the Ocala Fire Rescue collected $5,053.50.

Jimmy Patronis visits the Sanford Fire Department to present Central Florida fire chiefs with a check for $30K in pandemic protection funding.

“From running into burning buildings to helping with the vaccine rollout, our fire service community is always there supporting our state,” said Republican Sen. Jason Brodeur of Sanford. “I’m glad we are able to make this crucial investment that will keep them safe and healthy.”

Notably, Patronis championed the Cancer Decontamination Grant Program during the 2021 Legislative Session.

According to data from the International Association of Fire Fighters, cancer caused 70% of the line-of-duty deaths for career firefighters in 2016.

Instagram of the week

The week in appointments

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. — Gov. DeSantis appointed Take Stock in Children CEO Jillian Hasner and two others to the Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Board of Governors. Hasner, a Boca Raton resident, has also worked with the Florida Chamber Foundation and the Federal Judicial Nominating Commission for the Southern District, among other groups. She is a graduate of Nyack College. DeSantis also appointed Monument Capital Management president Erin Knight, an FSU grad from Coral Gables, and Proximity Works CEO Nelson Telemaco, a Penn grad from Coral Springs, to the board.

Florida Public Service Commission — DeSantis named Gabriella Passidomo to the Florida Public Service Commission. Passidomo is a Tallahassee resident and an attorney in the Regulatory Analysis Section of the Florida Public Service Commission’s Office of the General Counsel. She is the daughter of Naples Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo. As a student, she spent time as a legal intern in the United States Department of Energy’s Office of the Assistant General Counsel for Electricity and Fossil Energy and as a law clerk for the Florida Solicitor General in the Office of the Attorney General. She graduated Cum Laude from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in political science and earned her juris doctor from the Washington and Lee University School of Law.

Florida Communities Trust Governing Board — DeSantis appointed Deborah Denys, Gregory Jones, Frank Mingo and Joseph Durso to the Florida Communities Trust Governing Board. Denys, of New Smyrna Beach, is a former member of the Volusia County Council. She is also a former Volusia County School Board member. She earned her bachelor’s degree in business management from the University of Phoenix. Jones, of Tampa, is the Tampa Division Manager for ICI Homes. Mingo, of Miami Lakes, is a real estate broker at All Out Realty. Previously, he was an executive with the Oliva Cigar Company and vice mayor of the Town of Miami Lakes where he served on the Economic Development Committee. Durso, of Longwood, is vice president of public affairs for Embrace Families. He is a former Commissioner for the City of Longwood. He earned bachelor’s degrees in social science and political science from FSU, a master of professional studies from George Washington University and a master of public administration from Harvard University. 

Northwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board Jerome “Jerry” Pate, Anna Upton and John Alter were appointed to the Northwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board by the Governor. Pate is a Pensacola resident and University of Alabama alumnus who owns Jerry Pate Turf and Irrigation and Jerry Pate Design. He is a former professional golfer with 15 professional wins including the 1976 U.S. Open and the 1982 Players Championship. He was also a member of the winning 1981 United States Ryder Cup Team. Pate currently serves as vice-chair of the NWFWMD. Upton is an attorney and serves as general counsel to The Everglades Foundation. She has been named a Super Lawyers Rising Star in the areas of business litigation, civil litigation defense, employment and labor law and environmental litigation. She earned her bachelor’s degree from Wake Forest University and her law degree from Stetson University. Alter, of Malone, manages a family-run tree farm and is a retired Naval Aviator, earning an honorable discharge from the U.S. Navy at the rank of Captain. He has previously served on the NWFWMD Governing Board. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Ohio University and his master’s degree in political science from Villanova University. 

St. Johns River Water Management District Governing Board DeSantis named Douglas Burnett and Ryan Atwood to the SJRWMD Governing Board. Burnett is a St. Augustine resident and the current Chairman of the Governing Board. He is a retired Major General with the U.S. Air Force and Florida Air National Guard, previously serving as the Adjutant General of Florida. He is a member of the UNF Board of Trustees and previously served on the FSCJ Board of Trustees. He is a graduate of the University of Southern Mississippi. Atwood, of Mount Dora, is a farmer at Atwood Family Farms and owner of H&A Farms. He has been a member of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association, Lake County Farm Bureau and the Florida Fruit and Vegetable Association. Atwood earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration and master’s degree in forest genetics from UF. 

South Florida Water Management District Governing Board — DeSantis named Charlette Roman, Cheryl Meads and Ben Butler to the SFWMD Governing Board. Roman, of Marco Island, served 26 years in the United States Army, earning an honorable discharge at the rank of Colonel before going to work for Northrop Grumman. She earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Loyola University and her master’s degree in business management from Webster University. Meads, of Tavernier, is the CEO of Trumpet Calls. She has served on the SFWMD Governing Board since 2019, and is a former member of the Islamorada Village Council. She earned her bachelor’s in chemistry from Western Carolina University. Butler, of Lorida, is the owner of Butler Oaks Farm, a family-run dairy farm. He previously served on the SFWMD Governing Board. Butler earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in animal sciences from the University of Florida.

Southwest Florida Water Management District Governing Board — DeSantis made three appointments to the SWFWMD on Friday. William Hogarth, of Treasure Island, is the former Director of the Florida Institute of Oceanography at USF. Previously, he served as dean of USF’s College of Marine Science. He earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees in biology from the University of Richmond and his doctorate in marine fisheries from North Carolina State University. Paul “Jack” Bispham, of Myakka City, is the owner of Red Bluff Plantation and Paul’s Parrish. Bispham has served on the SWFWMD Governing Board since 2019 and previously served on the Manasota Basin Board. Bispham earned his bachelor’s degree in agriculture from UF. Johnnie Hall, of Auburndale, is a cattle rancher and the owner of Polk Community Association Management. Previously, he served two terms on the Polk County Commission. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Saint Leo University.

Suwannee River Water Management District Governing Board George Cole and William Lloyd were appointed to the SRWMD Governing Board on Friday. Cole, of Monticello, is a former adjunct professor at FSU and retired U.S. Coast Guard Lt. Commander. Previously, he was an engineer with the Florida Department of Transportation and Chief of the Florida Department of Natural Resources’ Bureau of Surveying and Mapping. Cole previously served on the SRWMD Governing Board. He earned his bachelor’s degree in mathematics from Tulane University and his master’s degree and Ph.D. in geography from FSU. Lloyd, of High Springs, is vice president of Suwannee Valley Feeds. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Cornell University. 

DeSoto County Board of County Commissioners — DeSantis appointed Ashley Coone and Jerod Gross to the DeSoto County Commission. Coone, of Arcadia, is the president of Ashley Coone Consulting. Previously, she was Executive Director of the DeSoto County Chamber of Commerce and co-founded Links2Success, a nonprofit that provides free college and career readiness programs to students in DeSoto County. She is a graduate of Florida Gulf Coast University and currently serves on the university’s Board of Trustees. She also holds a master’s degree in management and leadership from Webster University. Gross, of Arcadia, is the CEO of Island Grove Ag Products and an owner of Down South Blues Corporation, a family-run blueberry farm. He is the vice president of the Florida Blueberry Growers Association and a member of the UF IFAS Extension Advisory Board. Gross was named the 2019 DeSoto County School District Volunteer of the Year. 

Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe Board of Directors — DeSantis appointed Matthew Bruno and Chereen Coile to the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe Board of Directors. Bruno, of Miami, currently serves as vice-chair of the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe Board of Directors and has been appointed Chair. He works as the senior vice president and head of commercial lending at Amerant Bank and holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and a graduate certificate in accounting and auditing from FIU. Coile, of Miami, is the assistant head of school and director of operations at True North Classical Academy. Previously, she was an assistant principal at Academir Preparatory Academy. Coile earned her bachelor’s degree in early childhood education and her master’s degree in educational leadership from FIU.

Great Session

First-term Rep. Fiona McFarland, in a post-Session interview with Florida Politics, said she had a “great” Session. 

McFarland graduated from the United States Naval Academy in 2008 and spent eight years on active duty, serving on warships in the Western Pacific and at the Pentagon. And she has the benefit of a politically connected mom, former Trump Deputy National Security Adviser K.T. McFarland.

“You know my view of politics was frankly not very great when I entered, not only the race but entered wanting to pursue this. But I was completely proven wrong. We had a great Session,” McFarland said.

McFarland passed an autonomous vehicle bill and some other forward-thinking legislation that would help put more government services online. Plus she was given a bill (HB 969) that would create new laws for online data privacy. 

Fiona McFarland had a really strong first Session. Image via Colin Hackley.

The Florida Privacy Protection Act, which required companies to disclose the collection of consumers’ data, went through a few iterations before it ultimately failed on the last day of Session.

The legislation was a priority of House Speaker Chris Sprowls. DeSantis also mentioned the legislation in his state of the state address. It was the only stated priority from that DeSantis speech that did not pass during the 2021 Session.

But the bill’s failure was not because of McFarland. As many as 343 lobbyists were tracking the bill, many were working against it. When California tried to pass similar legislation, it took that state four years before something finally got through.

“It’s a really big, nuanced issue, and we started the conversation for the first time this Session,” McFarland said. “I actually think it’s the right move that we take a little bit more time to get it right.”

McFarland said she expects the bill to come back next year and she would be happy to sponsor it again.

No typical politician

Rep. Joe Harding says he’s not “your typical politician,” which is just what a politician would say. But in some ways, he might have a point.

The small-town Republican comes to Tallahassee by way of Williston, a town in Levy County with a population of around 3,000. Harding owns a landscape and construction business and describes his background as “very blue-collar,” in a post-Session interview with Florida Politics where he discussed his controversial “baby box” bill.

“The well-being of children is something that I’m really, really passionate about,” said Harding, who is one of 11 children, a father of four and an uncle 60 times over.

The bill, which passed the House but not the Senate this Session, would have increased the time a new mother has to drop off her baby at a safe haven from seven days to 30, and it would have put a “baby box” — a temperature-controlled secure place to put a baby — outside safe-havens, such as a fire station.

Blue-collar Joe Harding is not your typical politician. Image via Colin Hackley.

The bill received pushback from some members who said the new laws would encourage a mother to anonymously surrender her baby rather than surrender the baby in a more formal way where the mother can also be offered counseling or other services that might result in her keeping the infant.

But Harding said he also thinks the bill got caught up in partisan rhetoric.

“Both sides do it. We say things like pro-life or constitutional rights or individual liberties or whatever the catchphrase is, and we immediately go to this partisan place,” Harding said.

Harding said he will be running the bill again next Session. 

“We’re a hot, humid state and if people are getting left in a Dumpster or a trash can, it’s horrific to talk about, but it’s a reality. And every one of those stories is different than the other,” Harding said.

Rank freshman

Tallahassee Rep. Allison Tant passed three bills this Session, which is pretty good for a “rank freshman and Democrat,” as she described herself in a post-Session interview with Florida Politics.

Two of the bills that passed were the result of Tant’s real-life experience with her son Jeremy and his disabilities. Tant’s son is grown now and still requires a helper to live out his daily life. 

Allison Tant’s first Session was ‘pretty good’ for a newbie. Image via Colin Hackley.

“With a child with disabilities, the easiest thing in the world to do is look and look away — glance over and look away — like a car wreck, right? You look at it, and then you take off. And that’s a very natural reaction but the fact is we are not helping these families,” Tant said. 

Though some help should be coming if Gov. Ron DeSantis signs Tant’s bills.

One of the bills (HB 117) directs the Agency for Persons with Disabilities (APD) to create a road map of state resources for families with disabilities and requires that road map to be given to every family with a disabled person regardless of whether they’re eligible for services or not. 

“These are all things that I learned along the course of my son’s path that every child should have the same opportunities for,” Tant said. 

Tant’s other bill (HB 173), starts the process of workforce planning for disabled people, sometimes called transition, as early as middle school — it currently starts in high school — and requires schools to let parents know about transition opportunities. 

Tant’s work to help people with disabilities is not done. Next Session she plans to work to eliminate the ADP waitlist for health care services for disabled people and guided decision making to help families with people with disabilities make decisions. 

Gail’s Law

After a brutal rape, an Orlando woman lived in fear for more than 30 years not knowing her rapist had already been put in jail. A bill hopes to keep that from happening again in Florida. 

Rep. Emily Slosberg is now celebrating the passage of her bill that hopes to keep that from happening in this state. 

The bill, called “Gail’s Law,” requires the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) to create and maintain a statewide database to track the location, processing status, and storage of sexual assault evidence kits known as “rape kits.” The rape kits would be tracked from evidence collection throughout the criminal justice process. Both law enforcement and victims would be able to track the kits. 

Emily Slosberg is speeding up rape kit processing. Image via Colin Hackley.

“There is no reason why we should be able to track a pizza more efficiently than we can track critical evidence in a sexual assault case,” Slosberg said. “By passing Gail’s Law, we are addressing the historical lack of accountability surrounding sexual assault investigations, reducing the potential for evidence to go untested, and empowering survivors of sexual assault.”

The bill is named after Gail Gardner, who was raped at knifepoint with her son nearby when an intruder broke into her home in 1988.

It wasn’t until 2019 that Gardener found out her rapist had been apprehended years before and was already serving a life sentence. Gardener and police did not know because her rape kit was sitting untested on a shelf.

“I am proud to have this bill named after me and to know that it will bring information and answers to sexual assault survivors, like me,” Gardner said. “I waited 32 fear and anxiety-filled years to hear anything about my kit and my case, and I know others are experiencing that tragedy right now. My heart aches for them. Gail’s Law will help fix the problem and bring some healing to survivors who deserve no less.”

The bill still needs to be signed by DeSantis to become law. 

Scholarship opportunity

Applications are still open for the Florida Conference of Black State Legislators 2021 Scholarship, Orlando Democratic Rep. Travaris McCurdy said in an email this week.

Prospective recipients will need to attach their high school transcripts, a photo and be prepared to write 100 words on why they think they should receive the scholarship and 500 words on their goals after college.

Travaris McCurdy is calling for high school student applications to award the Florida Black Lawmaker Scholarship.

They will also need to list which state lawmakers represent them. Luckily, the Florida Senate has a handy tool that will make that section a cinch. Students can also double-check with the supervisor of elections for their county.

Last year, ahead of the 27th Annual State of Black Florida Events, the Florida Conference of Black Legislators and the Florida Legislative Black Caucus announced that they had provided more than $75,000 in scholarships to high-achieving Black students attending Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University and Florida State University.

The groups also provided internships to several students, allowing them to get hands-on experience in Florida politics by working alongside legislators during the Legislative Session.

The application form is available online. Completed applications should be sent to [email protected] by May 28.

Fins up

Florida’s saltwater fishermen are snatching defeat from the jaws of … well, sharks.

They aren’t just fish tales — the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission notes an increase in “shark interactions” with fishermen, such as sharks taking an anglers’ catch before they manage to get it off the line and into the boat. 

“Sharks interacting with fishermen’s catch is an issue we are hearing about more and more,” FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto said at a roundtable discussion covering the current strains on human-shark relations.

Shark interactions are on the rise.

The roundtable was a who’s who of shark experts, including a federal fisheries manager and the owner of a leading shark deterrent business.

Capt. Bill Taylor of Black Dog Fishing Charters described a scene more reminiscent of Amity Island than the Jupiter marina he sails from.

“Monday alone we lost 45 rigs to sharks,” he said. “We are seeing five times what we saw three to four years ago. We have to look into why so many of these sharks are here. How do we get this back to balance?”

The general consensus is there are more sharks in the water. But Dr. Robert Hueter, senior scientist emeritus for Mote Marine Laboratory and chief scientist for OCEARCH, said the problem was more complicated and that researchers need to know more about what kinds of sharks fishermen are pulling out of the water.

“Knowing which of these species have recovered, which have not, and which are interacting with fishing gear is essential because with the wrong management measures we could drive the past 30 years of conservation success right back into the ground,” he said.

Fay day

Florida Public Service Commissioner Andrew Giles Fay is joining the Federal Telecommunication Relay Services Advisory Council after years of public service in Florida.

National Association of Regulatory Utility Commissioners President Paul Kjellander selected Commissioner Fay to the TRS Advisory Council to represent state regulatory commissions.

The council’s mission is to provide interstate telecommunication services to individuals who are hard of hearing, deaf, or have difficulty speaking. The TRS Advisory Council is made up of 14 representatives, including advocates of the deaf and hard of hearing community, advocates of the speech disability community, and state relay administrators.

Andrew Giles Fay is taking a federal advisory role.

“I am confident that Commissioner Fay will represent our utility commissions and relay service customers as a passionate advocate who brings a fresh perspective to the Council,” Kjellander said.

In March, Fay helped lead a meeting of the Florida Public Service Commission with Florida Telecommunications Relay, Inc. representatives and disability advocates to discuss ways to improve and expand relay services by embracing new technologies within the telecommunications sector. The PSC also discussed various ways to improve consumers’ access to the available information regarding the federal and state relay service programs.

Gov. Rick Scott appointed Fay to the PSC in 2018. Immediately prior to that, Fay was Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s director of legislative affairs and Cabinet affairs. He had service with Bondi since she took office in 2011.

“I am honored to represent Florida and other state commissions and I am grateful to President Kjellander for the opportunity to serve,” said Commissioner Fay. “I believe to put the customer’s best interest first, we must continue to strengthen the communication and coordination between the federal TRS programs and the state relay service programs.”

New metal

This week, the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) unveiled three redesigned specialty license plates.

The remodeled plates include NASCAR, University of Miami and Conserve Wildlife.

“The delivery of these plates to all tax collector offices and license plate agencies across the state is currently underway and is expected to be completed by May 12,” the department said in an announcement.

As of April, 3,360 motorists sport the Florida NASCAR specialty license plate. The plate has been redesigned twice since first enacted by the Legislature in 2007. The annual fee associated with the plate is provided to Enterprise Florida. 

Florida NASCAR plates get another redesign.

Meanwhile, nearly 27,000 motorists drive with a University of Miami specialty license plate. The plate has been redesigned twice since first enacted by the Legislature in 1989. Plate fees go toward academic enhancement and scholarships. 

Not least, roughly 13,500 motorists are registered with a Conserve Wildlife specialty license plate. Unlike the others, 2021 marks the plate’s first redesign. 

Revenue collected from the specialty plate goes to the Wildlife Foundation of Florida and the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission for nature programs. 

Specialty plates can be purchased statewide at the local tax collector office or DMV.

A complete list of Florida’s specialty license plates can be found on the department’s website.

Save that money

New laws to help the state’s resilience to flooding could lead to lower insurance premiums for Florida property owners.

The Personal Insurance Federation of Florida (PIFF), represents national insurance carriers and their subsidiaries, including many of the state’s top writers of private passenger auto and homeowners multiperil insurance.

Michael Carlson, president and CEO of PIFF said the new laws, which the Governor signed this week, will decrease the risk of flooding and could have an effect on insurance costs as a result. 

“A more resilient Florida will be beneficial to homeowners and insurance consumers, and it has been encouraging to see bipartisan support for this policy throughout Session,” Carlson said. “Amid rising sea levels, mitigating flood risk starting at the community level and building our understanding of local vulnerabilities will help protect Florida homeowners and decrease flood insurance risks for the long-term.”

Michael Carlson celebrates Florida’s movement to resiliency.

This law establishes the Resilient Florida Grant Program within the Department of Environmental Protection and requires the department to complete a comprehensive statewide flood vulnerability and sea level rise data set and assessment.

The department will also be required to develop an annual Statewide Flooding and Sea Level Rise Resilience Plan, which will be submitted to the Governor and Legislature. The department will be implementing a scoring system for assessing projects eligible for inclusion in the annual plan.

Seniors won Session

Older people should be happy after this Legislative Session, that’s according to the AARP.

Jeff Johnson, AARP Florida State Director, said 50-plus Floridians had a lot of legislative wins.

“This Legislative Session was like no other, and AARP showed up as a wise friend and fierce defender of Floridians 50-plus. Multiple consumer-friendly bills flew under the radar while many controversial issues took center stage,” Johnson said in a written statement.

“AARP Florida supported the following bills because they will help older Floridians across the state. We encourage Gov. DeSantis to sign these good bills to benefit older consumers. Remember to review these changes to Florida law and understand how they could affect you and your loved ones.”

Among AARP’s stated legislative wins: fewer phone calls from telemarketers. A bill requires all sales telephone calls, text messages, and direct-to-voicemail transmissions to have the receiving consumer’s prior express written consent if the call will be made using an automated machine to dial the recipient’s phone number or will play a recorded message upon connection with the recipient.

Another major win, according to AARP, is legislation that will protect seniors from exploitation. The new laws will expand the Attorney General’s jurisdiction to include authority over crimes against elders and disabled adults. It prohibits any person who is convicted of abuse, neglect, exploitation or manslaughter of an elderly or disabled person from serving as a personal representative or from inheriting from the victim’s estate, trust, or other beneficiary assets. However, a victim may choose to reinstate the person as a beneficiary.

AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to Americans 50 and older.

Strong defense

A cyberattack may have knocked out the Colonial Pipeline, but if hackers set their sights on Florida State University they’ll run into an all-star defense — rain or shine.

The squad at FSU’s Emergency Management Division and Information Technology Services were recently recognized with a CSO50 Award from CSO, the top publishing company informing Chief Security Officers at businesses and public agencies across the country.

FSU was one of only two universities in the country to land a CSO50 (props to Western Governors University as well), putting it in the same league as Fortune 500 companies such as Intel, Verizon, TIAA and FedEx.

Curtis Sommerhoff is among the FSU tech security all-stars.

The recognition came as the product of hard work — FSU has spent the last several years setting and meeting cybersecurity goals. Part of the plan included the development of Seminole Secure, a four-part program designed to improve disaster preparedness and response at FSU.

While the type of disaster may vary, the end goal is always the same — to enable essential university business functions and services to continue to support the needs of the FSU community.

“I am proud of the partnership that has formed between our two offices,” said Curt Sommerhoff, director of the Emergency Management division. “Seminole Secure is one more resource in our disaster toolbox that allows us to integrate plans, stabilize campus lifelines and restore services.”

Information Security and Privacy Office program director Joseph Brigham added, “We view the collaborative approach we have established for working with university units, the support of FSU leadership, and our partnership with FSU Emergency Management as critical success factors — required to ensure necessary capabilities are in place.” 

Capitol Directions

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