Takeaways from Tallahassee — Bonus time

Blue Tally Takeaways (5)
Senate staffers will soon get a well-earned bonus.

Bonus time

Many front-line workers will be getting $1,000 bonuses from the state this year thanking them for their dutiful service during the COVID-19 pandemic. First responders like firefighters, police and paramedics are getting checks and teachers too.

Thanks to Senate President Wilton Simpson, all 117 Senate district staff will also be receiving $1,000 bonuses for their service, which continued through the summer last year.

In letters sent to district staff, Simpson thanked them for their hard work and dedication.

“Like other front-line workers across our state, Senate District Staff worked tirelessly during the pandemic to address the myriad essential needs of our constituents,” Simpson wrote. “From assisting with re-employment claims to food banks to identifying testing and vaccine locations and more, you served as a beacon of hope for Floridians who, in many cases, felt like they had nowhere else to turn.”

Wilton Simpson is handing out bonuses to Senate staff. Image via Colin Hackley.

March 2020 marked the end of that year’s Legislative Session, but it also marked the pandemic’s beginning in Florida.

“Constituent services are the most important operation of any Senate office and I want you to know how much I respect the critical work you do each and every day for the people of our state.”

Each of the 40 Senators has as many as four legislative assistants and they all earned it, said John Learn, an aide to Tampa Democratic Sen. Janet Cruz.

The summer is normally a time to decompress and research legislation, but staffers were instead tasked with fielding phone calls and emails from jobless Floridians, which Learn called mentally exhausting work.

“This summer, we all really became social workers, helping constituents at what was really a dire time for them,” he said. “It was up to us to try to help them navigate what was really a broken system that’s become a political football.”

Marina Braynon-Moore, an assistant for Miami Gardens Democratic Sen. Shevrin Jones, said lawmakers began hosting different events to serve their constituents during the pandemic as well. Jones began hosting COVID-19 testing sites, which became a scary prospect for staff.

“We didn’t really know much about the coronavirus at the time or how it was spreading. Information kept changing all the time,” Braynon-Moore said. “We were in gloves and people were in hazmat suits.”

Jones was in his final months as a state representative at the time, but Braynon-Moore said she was receiving 50 calls a day from constituents and was working weekends, too. A list of staff’s cellphone numbers began circulating on Facebook.

“Some of the calls we received were very hard to deal with because people were desperate,” said Dee Alexander, chief of staff to Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean.

Some staffers would joke about the possibility of receiving emergency pay.

“We seriously never considered that we would be compensated in any way,” Braynon-Moore said. “This was just our duty.”

Calls have slowed down as more people head back to work. The unemployment rate is back down to 4.8%.

But jobless Floridians continue to reach out to the offices of their lawmakers — and sometimes other legislators.

And fighting the pandemic continues. On Friday, Jones’ office volunteered with the Florida Education Fund to provide personal protective equipment and other school supplies.

Friday was Learn’s last day in Cruz’s office. With his bonus, he plans to sip a stiff alcoholic beverage somewhere in the Florida sun.

Braynon-Moore plans to finish up her bachelor’s degree in political science, which she put on hold at Florida Atlantic University during the pandemic.

Alexander is planning to rent a car to surprise her mother for her 89th birthday. She lives in Oklahoma with Alexander’s sister and has remained locked down and still practices social distancing.

“I haven’t seen my mom in a year and a half,” Alexander said.

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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, Haley Brown, and the staff of Florida Politics.

Take 5

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

Legislature ratifies Seminole Gaming Compact — Lawmakers this week ratified Gov. Ron DeSantis‘ 30-year deal with the Seminole Tribe that could bring in more than $6 billion by 2030. Lawmakers passed four bills implementing the Compact and regulating gaming in Florida. Assuming DeSantis approves the Legislature’s bill to enact the deal, it’s then off to Washington, where the state hopes to get the U.S. Department of the Interior’s approval, which isn’t guaranteed. The deal also faces an inevitable court challenge from No Casinos, a group that says the Compact expands gaming by adding fantasy sports contents to the list of approved games. Legislation expanding gambling must go to the voters first under 2018’s Amendment 3.

Freedom week and other tax relief signed — DeSantis signed this year’s tax relief package, including a “Freedom Week” tax holiday during the week of Independence Day. That and elongated disaster preparedness and back-to-school tax holidays are expected to bring are expected to bring $134.6 million in relief for Floridians. “We’re proud of being a free state, we’re proud of being open, and we want taxpayers to be able to benefit if they’re participating in all these things,” DeSantis said. The holiday covers sporting and live music events, state park admission, gym dues, and movie theater tickets for events held between those dates. It would also waive taxes on products like tents, sleeping bags, or even sunscreen purchased that week.

Dan Daley keeps fighting for standardbred industry — Among the bills lawmakers passed this week is one to decouple casinos at pari-mutuel facilities from the traditional races and games hosted at those sites. But Rep. Daley wants DeSantis to veto that bill after the House dropped a proposal to protect the standardbred horse industry by including the last remaining harness racing track in that decoupling. Decoupling casinos would pari-mutuels’ traditional operations would allow them to close those dwindling attractions but keep their business solely as a casino. Daley argues that leaving standardbred racing out of the deal would be devastating to the industry and the thousands of jobs associated with it.

Gainesville tests vaccine passport ban — Gainesville required people attending its Thursday city commission meetings to wear masks unless they showed proof of vaccination. DeSantis said that violates the “spirit” of his emergency order banning vaccine passports and “inhibits public participation in government proceedings.” A Gainesville spokesperson defended the move, calling it voluntary to show proof of vaccination. DeSantis also said it would violate an upcoming law limiting local governments’ abilities to place mandates, including vaccine passports. Violating that law would result in a fine of up to $5,000 per violation.

DeSantis vows actions against critical race theory — DeSantis continued fighting critical race theory in Florida, this time vowing to fight the academic movement in all its forms across the state. That comes as the Board of Education prepares to review a proposed rule that would prohibit the teaching of critical race theory in Florida K-12. The Governor signaled an eager willingness to remove any trace of the theory in a school’s education curriculum, even if it’s under a different name. “You can put lipstick on a pig; it’s still a pig,” DeSantis said, adding that the state would play whack-a-mole with it if it has to quash the movement he’s called indoctrination.

Coronavirus numbers

Positive cases:

— 2,261,813 FL residents (+18,312 since May 14)

— 43,047 Non-FL residents (+345 since May 14)

Origin:

— 18,210 Travel related

— 908,689 Contact with a confirmed case

— 24,607 Both

— 1,310,307 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 93,965 in FL

Deaths:

— 37,172 in FL

Vaccinations:

— 17,062,851 Doses administered

— 9,916,161 Total people vaccinated

— 2,041,959 First dose

— 727,512 Completed one-dose series (+59,748 since May 14)

— 7,146,690 Completed two-dose series (+399,319 since May 14)

No court-packing

Attorney General Ashley Moody urges President Joe Biden to “fully examine” the consequences of packing the nation’s Supreme Court.

Moody’s warning comes as the Presidential Commission on the Supreme Court of the United States prepares to meet and reportedly consider a move to pack the Supreme Court with additional Justices.

In a statement, Moody described the move as a “dangerous road.”

Ashley Moody is blasting Joe Biden for attempting to pack the Supreme Court. Image via USF News.

“I will not stand idly by while President Biden and other radicals ignore the historical travesties of court-packing and the resulting demise of economies, rule of law and freedoms in other nations,” Moody said in a statement.

Moody warned that court-packing would undermine the rule of law and respect for the courts.

Citing South American nations, she also warned that packing the court would comprise the independence of the judiciary and our constitutional system.

“That is what happened in Venezuela, where almost overnight, the rule of law eroded, and the country descended into dictatorship,” Moody said. “The story of Venezuela is one of many, where once vibrant democracies devolved, triggered largely by actions like the packing of courts.”

Moody’s letter can be viewed online.

Reinforcements

Forest fires are blazing in South Florida. With no rain in the extended forecast, the Florida Fire Service is sending a north Florida Task Force to help fight the fires.

Resources include 16 personnel, two tractor-plows, two heavy dozers and two brush trucks. Currently, 46 fires are burning 4,072 acres across Florida. Of those, 29 are south of the I-4 corridor and are burning 4,017 acres, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS).

The largest fire, Tree Frog Fire, is currently 800 acres in Indian River County, just south of the Brevard County line. Florida Forest Service crews are working to contain the fire. The cause of the Tree Frog Fire is under investigation, but officials suspect a campfire started the fire.

Nikki Fried is calling in reinforcements to battle the Frog Tree fire in South Florida.

A news release from FDACS released Friday said told drivers to be especially cautious. I-95 is closed northbound at mile marker 156 and southbound from mile markers 166 to 173.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried released a written statement urging people in the area to be safe.

“It’s more important than ever for residents to be cautious and understand their role in preventing and preparing for a wildfire,” Fried said. “All residents and travelers in the vicinity of the Tree Frog Fire should closely monitor the media for updates on the wildfire and road conditions. Together, we can help ensure the safety of our families, communities and firefighters.”

State Forester and Director of the Florida Forest Service, Erin Albury, said firefighters couldn’t rely on the weather to put out the fire.

“With little to no rain in the extended forecast and temperatures rising, the additional resources are critical as we respond to these active wildfires,” Albury said.

On board

This week, Fried was appointed to the University of Florida’s Levin College of Law’s Law Center Association Board of Trustees (LCA).

“Thanks to this appointment, as a proud alumna of the UF Levin College of Law, I have the distinct honor and privilege of serving on the LCA Board,” Fried said.

Formed in 1960, the LSA serves as a financial support organization for the College of Law. They also help recruit top law candidates to the program, promote alumni networks and help fundraise.

Nikki Fried snags a spot on the UF Levin College of Law’s Law Center Association board.

As an appointee, Fried will help with the budgetary process, provide financial and volunteer resources and assist student mentoring programs.

“Congratulations to my fellow appointees. I am incredibly grateful for this opportunity and commit myself with enthusiasm to giving back, alongside so many other distinguished UF Law alumni, by continuing the Gator nation tradition of excellence.”

Board members serve five-year terms before they are granted Emeritus status.

A complete list of UF Law LCA Trustees can be found online. UF law ranks among the Top 25 law schools in the nation.

New kit

CFO Jimmy Patronis doled out nearly $60,000 to Panhandle fire departments to help them buy equipment to protect them from dangerous contaminants and coronavirus.

“I was proud to join area fire chiefs today in Panama City Beach to present them with a check for more than $58,000 in grant funding to ensure they have the vital equipment, training, and supplies needed to mitigate exposure to cancer-causing contaminants and other infectious diseases, such as COVID-19,” said Patronis, who doubles as State Fire Marshal.

“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. As a result of their dangerous profession, these heroes are also more likely to contract cancer than you or me. Because of the success of this program, I supported legislation this Session to double the total grant funding to ensure our firefighters are fully protected.”

Jimmy Patronis doles out big checks for fire department PPEs.

The Cancer Decontamination Grant Program was established within the Florida Department of Financial Services in 2020 to help protect the firefighters by footing the bill for equipment mitigating exposure to carcinogens and infectious diseases.

A total of $58,695 was spread across eight fire departments, including Mexico Beach Fire Rescue, Almarante Fire District, Baker Fire District, Bay County Fire Rescue, City of Niceville Fire Department, City of Milton Fire Department, South Gulf Volunteer Fire Department and Panama City Beach Fire Rescue.

“Firefighters know the risks that come along with the job, but we work each day to keep our communities safe. I appreciate CFO Patronis for understanding the needs of the fire service community and continuing to make important investments to protect our health,” Bay County Emergency Services Chief Brad Monroe said. “This funding will help ensure firefighters will have the necessary resources to lessen our exposure to cancer-causing substances and other infectious diseases.”

Busted

A Miami man fraudulently avoided $718,000 in workers’ compensation premiums, according to an investigation.

The news came from a news release from Patronis’ office, which conducted an investigation through the Division of Investigative and Forensic Services (DIFS) Bureau of Workers’ Compensation Fraud.

The Bureau revealed Damart Oshain Burnett, owner of Damart Builders Corporation, cashed millions of dollars in labor instead of the $223,600 Damart had originally reported when obtaining the policy with NorGuard Insurance Company. Had the payroll been properly reported, Damart Builders Corporation would have been charged more than $745,800 in workers’ compensation premium.

Jimmy Patronis nabs a major workers’ compensation cheat. Image via AP.

To date, NorGuard Insurance has only collected roughly $27,700 in premiums from Burnett’s company. Damart Builders Corporation effectively avoided more than $718,000 in workers’ compensation premiums based on Burnett’s alleged fraudulent actions.

Patronis, in a written statement, said his office will continue to hold businesses that act fraudulently accountable.

“Businesses must protect their employees, and that means carrying the correct amount of workers’ compensation coverage. As your CFO, I will continue to hold those accountable who choose to avoid obtaining the proper coverage at the expense of their workers. I thank the dedication of my fraud detectives for conducting the investigation and working to ensure this alleged criminal is held responsible,” Patronis said.

Burnett was arrested Tuesday and faces charges of workers’ compensation premium fraud, organized scheme to defraud, and conspiracy grand theft. If convicted, he faces up to 25 years in prison. Burnett was taken to the Turner Guilford Knight Correctional Center in Miami-Dade County.

Instagram of the week

The week in appointments

Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University Board of Trustees — The Governor has reappointed former Miami Herald publisher and longtime education advocate David Lawrence Jr. to the FAMU Board of Trustees. Lawrence has served as a FAMU Trustee since 2015 and is also Director Emeritus on The Everglades Foundation Board of Directors. He formerly chaired the Children’s Trust of Miami-Dade County and the Early Learning Coalition of Miami-Dade/Monroe. He earned his journalism degree from the University of Florida and an Advanced Management Program Certificate from Harvard Business School.

Florida International University Board of Trustees — The Governor reappointed Marc Sarnoff to the FIU Board of Trustees. Sarnoff is an attorney and partner at Shutts and Bowen as a member of the firm’s Real Estate Practice Group. He is also a former two-term chair of the Miami City Commission. He earned his undergraduate degree from the University of Tampa, his law degree from Loyola School of Law, and his master of laws in admiralty from the Tulane School of Law.

University of Central Florida Board of Trustees — DeSantis appointed John Miklos to the UCF Board of Trustees on Wednesday evening. The Orlando resident is the president of Bio-Tech Consulting and a former Chair of the St. Johns River Water Management District Governing Board. Miklos earned his bachelor’s degree in limnology from UCF.

Lake-Sumter State College District Board of Trustees DeSantis made five appointments to the board. Jennifer Hooten, a reappointment, is a Bushnell resident who teaches government and economics at South Sumter High School. She earned her bachelor’s in education from Saint Leo University. Emily Lee lives in Eustis and formerly led the Children’s Services for Lake County. She holds a bachelor’s in education from Southern University and a master’s in counseling from Minnesota State University. Ivy Parks is an administrator with Parks Consulting Services. She earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in business from UCF. Peter Wahl, of The Villages, is the former president of The Villages Health System. Wahl earned his bachelor’s degree from Winona State University and his master’s in social work from the University of Texas at Arlington. Bryn Blaise, also of The Villages, is a licensed engineer with Blaise Engineering. He earned his electrical engineering degree from UCF.

Florida Transportation Commission — The Governor appointed Alex Lastra and Russell “Rusty” Roberts to the Transportation Commission. Lastra, of Miami, is a managing member of Desarrollo Florida. He is a Certified General Contractor, a two-time Latin Builders Association Developer of the Year, and a past president of the Latin Builders Association. Roberts, of Longwood, is a transportation consultant who has serviced as Chief of Staff to U.S. Reps. John Mica and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen. He has also served as vice president of Government Affairs for Brightline Trains. Roberts is a member of Floridians for Better Transportation, the Orlando Economic Partnership and the American Public Transportation Association.

Florida Development Finance Corporation Board of Directors — DeSantis appointed Moshe Popack, Andrew Russell and Heather Shubirg to the Development Finance Corporation Board of Directors. Popack, of Miami Beach, is the owner of YMP Real Estate Management. Popack earned his Master of Business Administration from Long Island University and his juris doctor from Touro Law Center. Russell, of Jacksonville, is president of Sound Payments Inc. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of the State of New York and a master’s degree from Troy State University. Shubirg, of DeLand, is executive vice president of Team Volusia Economic Development Corporation. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in economics from the University of Central Florida.

North Lake County Hospital District Board of Trustees — The Governor appointed Timothy Sullivan, of Leesburg, to the North Lake County Hospital District Board of Trustees. Sullivan is an adviser at Prudential Financial. He served on the Lake County School Board, two terms on the Lake County Board of County Commissioners, and 33 years in the United States Army, Army National Guard and Florida National Guard. He earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from The Citadel and a master of strategic science from the United States Army War College. Sullivan is a member of Leadership Lake County Alumni, the American Legion and the Leesburg Partnership Advisory Board.

Martin County Children’s Services Council — DeSantis reappointed James Campo and Susan Burrows and appointed Susan Kinane, Joe Flanagan and Jodie Certosimo to the Martin County Children’s Services Council. Campo, of Stuart, is a Certified Financial Planner and President of Campo Financial Services. Campo earned his bachelor’s degree in political science from Florida Atlantic University and his Certified Financial Planner certificate from the Florida Institute of Technology. Burrows, of Stuart, is the retired principal of the Challenger School of the Martin County School District. Burrows earned her bachelor’s degree from The College of New Jersey and her master’s degree from Nova Southeastern University. Kinane, of Palm City, is CEO of the SM Kinane Corporation. Kinane earned an associate degree from the State University of New York. Flanagan, of Stuart, is an assistant principal at Dr. David L. Anderson Middle School. He earned his bachelor’s degree in music education from Troy State University and his master’s degree in education from Georgia Southern University. Certosimo, of Jensen Beach, is the coordinator of Title 1 programs at St. Lucie County Public Schools. She earned a bachelor’s degree in exceptional education from the University of Central Florida, a master’s degree in education, and a Ph.D. in education leadership from Florida Atlantic University.

Disaster preparedness

This year’s tax relief package prominently includes a “Freedom Week” tax holiday, but it also consists of this year’s iteration of the disaster preparedness sales tax holiday.

However, lawmakers this year agreed to extend it from a weeklong holiday to a 10-day holiday beginning May 28 and ending June 6.

“We’re anticipating for it to be a relatively active season, and Floridians should just understand that this is something that we may have to deal with, and so it’s best to be prepared,” DeSantis said in Pensacola.

Ron DeSantis signs a tax-free Hurricane Preparedness Holiday.

Sales tax would be exempt on qualifying items like water, first aid kits, flashlights and generators. Rentals and repairs don’t apply, nor do purchases made at theme parks, airports, and other specific sites.

“The approach of hurricane season is an excellent reminder to prepare not just for storms, but for all potential disasters,” said Jim Zingale, Executive Director of the Department of Revenue. “The 2021 Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday is an excellent opportunity for Floridians to save money while gathering the supplies they need to be safe.”

The Department has created a 2021 Disaster Preparedness Sales Tax Holiday website with information and promotional materials for consumers, businesses, and other interested parties.

‘Humanitarian of the Year’

Two Floridians receive national recognition for their work on Alzheimer’s.

U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch and Jacksonville native Sherri Walker were presented with national awards for their support of those living with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias at the 2021 Alzheimer’s Impact Movement (AIM) Advocacy Forum on Wednesday.

Deutch, who represents Florida’s 22nd Congressional District, was one of two elected officials to receive the Humanitarian of the Year Award, sharing the honor with Sen. Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia. Deutch was the lead House sponsor of the Promoting Alzheimer’s Awareness to Prevent Elder Abuse Act, signed into law in December.

“Congressman Deutch was instrumental in growing support among his colleagues for the bill and in ensuring its passage,” said Alzheimer’s Association Chief Public Policy Officer Robert Egge, who also serves as the executive director of AIM.

Sherri Walker is receiving a national award for her work with those living with Alzheimer’s disease.

Upon receiving the award, Deutch said in part, “What an honor to be recognized by the Alzheimer’s Impact Movement and to be awarded the AIM Humanitarian of the Year Award; I’m so grateful. For our loved ones living with Alzheimer’s and dementia, we want a healthy and peaceful life for them.”

“While the COVID-19 pandemic has been a difficult time for all Americans, it’s been particularly hard for the nearly 6 million Americans living with Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia,” Deutch added.

Walker received the award for Advocate of the Year. Walker was a caregiver to four different family members with Alzheimer’s disease and has been a dedicated volunteer for the Alzheimer’s Association for 11 years.

“I learned my purpose — to turn my pain into passion — and working with the Alzheimer’s Association has given me that, where I’m able to share my personal story about my grandmother to help others,” Walker said.

Main Street

This week, four communities joined the Florida Main Street program, earning a shoutout from Secretary of State Laurel Lee.

Florida Main Street is the state-level implementation of the National Main Street Center’s “Four-Point Approach,” which encourages economic development within the context of historic preservation to revitalize downtown districts.

“I am thrilled to recognize Allapattah Main Street of Miami, Main Street Fort Meade, Glenwood Main Street of Panama City and Millville Main Street of Panama City as the newest Florida Main Street communities,” Lee said. “I look forward to your future successes and achievements.”

Fort Meade is celebrated as one of Florida’s ‘Main Streets.’

Secretary Lee designated the four communities on October 30, 2020, following the 2020 meeting of the ad hoc Florida Main Street Advisory Committee.

Allapattah is a culturally rich and diverse neighborhood in the City of Miami. It was initially settled as agricultural land for the surrounding Miami area. Due to decades of economic and environmental stress, Allapattah has seen disinvestment. However, recent years have seen small businesses thrive and created a neighborhood “micro-economy” that continues to flourish.

Fort Meade, the oldest city in Polk County, is predominantly characterized by the cattle and citrus industries. Over the past few years, dedicated teams of community leaders, local officials, and volunteers have worked diligently toward community revitalization that culminated in their application to join the Florida Main Street program.

Glenwood was founded in the 1920s and continues to be the heart of Panama City’s Black community. A stop on the Florida Chitlin’ Circuit, Black-owned businesses, restaurants, entertainment venues, and faith organizations were plentiful in the mid-20th century. In recent years, community groups have worked alongside Panama City’s Downtown North Community Redevelopment Agency to spur new investment in the area.

Millville is another historic neighborhood of Panama City. Located on the Watson Bayou, the community is home to once-thriving lumber, sawmill, and shipyard industries. The Millville commercial district, mainly located on 3rd Street, is within walking distance of the waterfront.

Emancipation Day

Emancipation Day was celebrated in Florida Thursday. The historic day commemorates the day African Americans in Florida were granted their freedom.

Sen. Randolph Bracy offered a bill this Session that would have made two legal holidays in Florida, one on June 17, when most of the U.S. celebrates emancipation, and another holiday on May 20 when Florida celebrates emancipation because the path to emancipation was staggered across the nation.

Randolph Bracy floated two bills to honor African Americans; one would create a holiday marking the emancipation of slaves in 1865. Image via Colin Hackley.

June 19 is the day emancipation was announced in Texas, and is commonly used to celebrate emancipation across the nation. But in Florida, emancipation was proclaimed on the steps of the Knott House in Tallahassee on May 20, 1865.

While Bracy’s measure passed the Senate, it did not have the same support in the House.

“I believe the Senate made a powerful collective statement by passing this legislation,” Bracey said. “Slavery evokes one of the most painful chapters in our Nation’s story. Yet, the action we took in the Florida Senate should also prompt reflection on how far we’ve come as a nation. It’s a chance to recommit ourselves to the ongoing work of securing liberty and equal rights for all Americans.”

“I am going to push even harder next Session to get this measure across the finish line,” Bracy added.

New leaders

While in Tallahassee for the Special Session, the House Democratic Caucus made critical leadership decisions Wednesday, one of which will make history.

Tampa Rep. Fentrice Driskell was unanimously elected to lead House Democrats for the 2024-2026 term. Driskell, a Harvard and Georgetown educated lawyer, will be the first Black woman to lead the Caucus.

“I am honored the House Democratic Caucus elected me to be their Leader designate for the 2024-26 cycle,” Driskell said in a written statement.

Driskell is already serving as the House Democratic Caucus Policy Chair for the 2020-22 term. This past Session, she championed a police reform bill and led the House opposition to House Bill 1.

Congratulations to Fentrice Driskell, unanimously chosen to lead House Democrats for the 2024-2026 term. Image via Facebook.

“As Policy Chair, I worked hard to strengthen our Caucus through focused and inclusive leadership that led to increased unity within our ranks. It’s not lost on me that the Caucus chose to make history and elect the first Black woman to lead our Caucus. My colleagues have placed their trust in me, and now I look forward to rising to the occasion and working closely with them to continue making history for the betterment of Florida.”

House Democrats also voted Rep. Ramon Alexander to lead the Caucus in the absence of Rep. Ben Diamond, who was slated to lead the lower chamber Democrats for the 2022-2023 term but is leaving his state position to run for a congressional seat vacated by Charlie Crist, who is running for Governor.

“I appreciate the trust that members have placed in me to serve in this role. I am confident that the election today shows a united House Democratic Caucus, and I am ready to lead the way to meet the challenges ahead,” Alexander said in a written statement.

Hurricane season

Floridians should brace themselves for another busy hurricane, according to the 2021 Hurricane Season outlook provided by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).

While NOAA expects a milder season compared to last year, forecasters predict a 60% chance of an above-average season with 13 to 20 named storms.

Of those expected storms, six to 10 could become hurricanes, and three to five may develop into major hurricanes with winds 111 mph or higher.

In contrast, the average hurricane season produces 14 named storms, of which seven become hurricanes and three grow into major hurricanes.

Jimmy Patronis says the time to prepare for hurricane season is now.

“Although NOAA scientists don’t expect this season to be as busy as last year, it only takes one storm to devastate a community,” said Acting NOAA Administrator Ben Friedman.

Notably, 2020 hosted a record-breaking Atlantic Hurricane Season. So much so, NOAA upgraded its outlook from “above-normal” to “extremely active” midway through the season.

In all, last year’s season recorded 30 named and 13 hurricanes, including six major storms with winds reaching 111 mph and up.

Notably, it also marked the second time in history that the 21-name list used to name storms was exhausted.

Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Patronis is urging Floridians to prepare in advance.

Hurricane season begins June 1 and ends on Nov. 30.

Safety first

Nobody wants to have a boating accident, but having one during National Safe Boating Week would only add insult to injury.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission wants to make sure you don’t end up being that guy (or gal) who makes headlines for naval incompetence.

“National Safe Boating Week is May 22-28, and we want to encourage boaters to boat safely while enjoying Florida’s year-round boating season,” said Maj. Rob Beaton, FWC’s Boating and Waterways section leader. “Reminding people to be safe and slow down is our top priority. Nothing can ruin an enjoyable and memorable experience on the water faster than a boating accident.”

It’s National Safe Boating Week, and the FWC wants you to take care while on the water. Image via WFC.

Rule 1: Pump the brakes or whatever it is boats use to slow down — you should know this if you’re going out on the water. And stop cracking open beers unless you have a designated driver. You can even call him Captain Awesome if it prevents him from getting as drunk as a sailor.

According to FWC boating accident statistics, almost half (402) of all reportable boating accidents last year were due to collisions, and 44% of those were attributed to operator inattention or improper lookout. Adding speed and booze to the equation only makes it worse.

“Life-changing tragedies often happen because individuals choose to operate a boat while distracted or, worse yet, impaired. Those tragedies are preventable,” Beaton said.

Rule 2: Put on your life preserver. Yes, we know you can swim. Yes, we know it looks dorky. And yes, we know it’ll leave tan lines. If you want to leave a beautiful corpse, don’t die in the water, it’ll just make you look bloated.

Rule 3: Take the first two rules seriously. Beaton said that “FWC law enforcement officers will be doing their part to ensure the safety of Florida’s recreational boaters.” Translation: If you act like a moron on the water, prepare to get boarded.

Kingfish record

There’s a new record for the largest Gulf kingfish caught in Florida.

William Joseph Peckham caught a 2.4-pound fish on April 18 while fishing off Pensacola Beach. That beat out the previous Florida Saltwater Fishing Record of 2.19 pounds.

“I’ve had so many exciting, memorable experiences fishing on Pensacola Beach,” Peckham said. “Catching this record-breaking whiting tops the list.”

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently approved that record, and it’s looking for more fishermen to claim their records. There are no records listed yet for white grunt, blueline tilefish, and schoolmaster snapper conventional tackle categories, as well as many fly-fishing tackle categories, giving anglers an exciting opportunity to hold the record for these species.

Florida pompano (left) and a record-breaking 2.4-pound Gulf kingfish/whiting (right) caught by William Joseph Peckham off Pensacola Beach on April 18. Image via FWC.

FWC maintains state records in conventional tackle and fly-fishing categories for 81 species caught in Florida state and federal waters. Saltwater record holders win certificates of accomplishment, prize packs, recognition in various publications, and custom ink fish prints from Fish Print Shop to memorialize their catch.

For a catch to qualify for a record, it must be weighed with a certified scale on land, and photographs must show the weight as displayed on the scale, the scale’s certification, the rod and reel used to make the catch, the angler with their catch and other pictures to identify the fish. The angler must also apply with a notarized signature.

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Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704




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