Takeaways from Tallahassee — Veteran bill blitz

Blue Tally Takeaways (4)
This week, Ron DeSantis goes on a bill-signing frenzy ... and tomatoes are on the menu.

Veteran bill blitz

Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a slew of veteran-related bills into law Friday, including a measure that helps military families select schools tailored to their unique circumstances.

The measure (HB 429) mandates the Department of Education to establish a Purple Star Campus Program in Florida.

Under the program, schools will be recognized as a Purple Star Campus if they meet certain requirements such as military liaisons and reserved seats for military-connected students.

“We understand that people are coming and going from Florida all the time,” DeSantis said. “We also understand that there are academic challenges that some of these students face as they relocate to new schools when their parent [who] serve in the military are transferred.”

Ron DeSantis goes on a bill-signing blitz.

Notably, Florida is just the 10th state to develop and implement a Purple Star School Program.

DeSantis also signed a bill (HB 435) to make Florida the first state in the nation to codify a federally funded program connecting veterans with job training, apprenticeships and internships.

That measure, proponents such as Republican Sen. Danny Burgess said, could keep transitioning service members in Florida or otherwise attract them to the state.

“We here in Florida are hoping to be that landing pad, that place where veterans and their families know they can come, and they can start their life after service,” Burgess, who serves as an Army Reserve officer, said.

Not least, DeSantis signed a third bill (SB 922) that will waive secondary education requirements for veterans applying to state and political entities.

The measure also bolsters veteran hiring preferences.

“Enhancing veteran preference opportunities expands our ability to attract and retain top talent as another way to ensure Florida remains the most military and veteran-friendly state in the nation,” DeSantis said.

DeSantis also announced plans to reserve at least $7 million to “expand employment pathways and support services for Florida’s veterans and for Florida’s military spouses.”

Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs Executive Director James S. “Hammer” Hartsell, a retired U.S. Marine Corps Major General, cheered the bill signings later Friday.

“We appreciate Gov. DeSantis for signing these important veteran-related bills, which will create additional employment and advancement opportunities as our service members transition from their uniforms into civilian attire,” he said. ‎“Working together to ensure a positive future for Florida veterans and their families, we’ll ensure ‎Florida continues ‎to be the most sought-after state by veterans in the nation.” ‎

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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:

Budget signed, $1.5B in vetoes issued — DeSantis signed a $101.5 billion budget for next year. That comes after a record $1.5 billion in budget vetoes, most of which comes from the American Rescue Plan portion of the spending plan. The biggest veto item was $1 billion to create a state emergency preparedness fund, one of the Governor’s own priorities. However, he had to scramble that because of federal guidance clarifying that the COVID-19 relief funds couldn’t be used for that purpose. Another major veto item was $2 million to increase access to long-lasting, reversible contraception for low-income women, which Senate President Wilton Simpson prioritized. DeSantis also vetoed a $150,000 project providing services through the LBGT+ Center Orlando for Pulse survivors.

DeSantis signs transgender athletes bill — In another move impacting the LGBTQ community, the Governor signed the Fairness in Women’s Sports Act, which would ban transgender women and girls from women’s school sports. DeSantis approved that Tuesday, coinciding with the start of Pride Month. There was no hidden message to the timing of the signing, he told reporters. That didn’t stop Democrats from attacking the Governor over that connection. Florida could even face retribution from the NCAA, which issued a warning against “discrimination.” The collegiate sports association could pull championships from states enacting transgender athlete laws. But Republicans and DeSantis say the measure is about creating a level playing field.

Florida and CDC reach cruise impasse — Mediation talks in the ongoing legal battle between Florida and the CDC over a federal no-sail order have reached an impasse. According to its latest directive, the CDC wants cruise ships to prove 95% of passengers are vaccinated before setting sail. But DeSantis has signed bills and executive orders banning businesses from implementing vaccine passports and leveraging a $5,000 fine per individual violation. “They were very unreasonable about some of the things that they were asking,” he said Thursday. In a news release following the impasse, the Governor’s Office called it the CDC’s “power trip over America.”

DeSantis approves Biscayne Bay Commission — The Governor approved legislation Thursday, setting up a Biscayne Bay Commission to help rehabilitate the area. Miami-Dade County has designated Biscayne Bay as a conservation area, but the popular tourist spot has still dealt with serious pollution problems. The new panel would bring government agencies, businesses and residents together under the Department of Environmental Protection. It would also have oversight over the county’s existing commission. DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein, who left the administration Friday, noted the bay’s importance to South Florida’s vista and tourism. The new commission and $20 million in funding should help the bay “rebound exponentially,” he added.

Fried jumps into Governor’s race Nikki Fried is officially in the gubernatorial race after filing her candidacy Tuesday. That sets up a Democratic primary between the Agriculture Commissioner and U.S. Rep Charlie Crist. Fried, who was elected the same cycle as DeSantis, has long been one of the Governor’s most vocal critics. He opened fire against her Thursday, calling her a “lockdown lobbyist” with no achievements so far. Fried countered, calling the Governor’s tirade a “Tucker tantrum” and comparing him to President Donald Trump. Meanwhile, the Agriculture Commissioner is facing a scandal for recently amending prior financial disclosures to show she made an additional $350,000 as a marijuana lobbyist.

Coronavirus numbers

Positive cases:

— 2,286,332 FL residents (+8,862 since May 28)

— 43,535 Non-FL residents (+187 since May 28)

Origin:

— 18,931 Travel related

— 920,896 Contact with a confirmed case

— 24,985 Both

— 1,321,520 Under investigation

Hospitalizations:

— 95,607 in FL

Deaths:

— 37,717 in FL

Vaccinations:

— 17,967,048 Doses administered

— 10,397,299 Total people vaccinated

— 2,004,239 First dose

— 823,311 Completed one-dose series (+37,613 since May 28)

— 7,569,749 Completed two-dose series (+167,569 since May 28)

Be aware

Attorney General Ashley Moody provided consumer protection tips to Floridians this week, urging them to use caution while navigating today’s red-hot housing market.

Escrow wire fraud, rental scams, loan-flipping scams and foreclosure relief scams are among the most common real estate scams, Moody said.

To protect yourself, Moody offered several homebuying tips.

Among them, she advised consumers never to sign a blank or incomplete contract and encouraged consumers to obtain binding estimates for things like moving expenses.

“Buying a home is often the largest and most important purchase a person makes,” Moody said. “So, it’s important to ensure scammers don’t take advantage of the situation to turn a dream purchase into a financial nightmare.

She also warned Floridians to be wary of unsolicited offers from lenders and demands for cash deposits by rental property owners.

Swindlers, Moody said, often pose a fake property owner.

“I encourage all Floridians looking to buy a home to be on guard against scammers trying to exploit Florida’s hot real estate market,” Moody added.

More tips and information on moving scams can be found online.

Meanwhile, real estate and moving scams in Florida can be reported to the Attorney General by calling 1(866) 9NO-SCAM or filing a complaint online at MyFloridaLegal.com.

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

Scam alert

With the start of hurricane season this week, Agriculture Commission Fried is encouraging Floridians to remain mindful of disaster-related scams.

“Getting prepared, staying safe, and recovering from a hurricane are enormous challenges — the last thing anyone needs when disaster strikes is a scammer stealing their hard-earned money or personal identity,” Fried said. “I urge all Floridians to prepare for an active hurricane season, which includes guarding themselves against disaster-related scams.”

In partnership with the Federal Trade Commission, Fried provided several consumer protection tips this week.

Among them, she urged consumers to use caution when seeking cleanup and repair services.

Nikki Fried urges all Floridians to take time for hurricane preparedness and watch out for disaster-related scams.

Scammer and unlicensed contractors often demand payment upfront, Fried said.

To avoid being ripped off, Fried said Floridians should always seek a second opinion, carefully review contracts, and verify licenses and proof of insurance.

Consumers should also be mindful of impostor scams, where someone tries to convince you to send them money.

In many instances, fraudsters pose as government officials, utility workers or inspectors.

Not least, Fried said Floridians should also beware of charity scams, fraudulent rental listings and fake employment opportunities.

“As Florida’s consumer protection agency, our Division of Consumer Services is working hard to prevent these predatory practices,” Fried said. “To help stay alert, visit FloridaConsumerHelp.com for tools and helpful information.”

Wear Orange Weekend

Fried is ordering Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services buildings to light up orange this weekend to support gun violence awareness.

Wear Orange Weekend runs Saturday and Sunday. Friday was also National Gun Violence Awareness Day.

The department is illuminating the historic Mayo Building located across from the Florida Capitol, as well as the department’s Tallahassee Regional Licensing Office, where the department processes concealed weapons permit applications.

Nikki Fried is bathing her office building orange to raise awareness of gun violence.

“With so many lives lost to gun violence in the Sunshine State and around the nation, it’s important to send a message: we remain determined to see common-sense gun violence prevention reforms enacted to protect our communities,” Fried said. “As the lives of children, parents, friends, loved ones and fellow Floridians have been cut short by firearms, we will stand strong to demand change that honors their memory. I’m proud to work with Everytown for Gun Safety to mark this occasion, which I hope will lead to reflection, persistence, and long-overdue action on gun violence.”

Fried proclaimed Friday, June 4, as Gun Violence Awareness Day in Florida in a proclamation on behalf of the Florida Cabinet.

The key department buildings are lit orange in a partnership with Everytown for Gun Safety, America’s largest gun violence prevention organization.

“Gun violence has devastated far too many families here in Florida,” said Jenna Preble, a volunteer leader with the Florida chapter of Moms Demand Action, part of Everytown for Gun Safety’s grassroots network. “This weekend, thousands of Floridians will Wear Orange because we know that gun violence is a preventable crisis, and we all must do our part to help end this terrifying epidemic.”

Get ready

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis is urging Floridians to prepare now for hurricane season.

“As we begin the 2021 Hurricane Season, it is my top priority to ensure Floridians have the tools and resources they need to prepare for the next storm before it takes aim at our state,” Patronis said. “While Floridians know all too well the devastation hurricanes can have on their lives; it’s easy to not take the threat seriously.”

Among his suggestions, Patronis encouraged Floridians to visit the PrepareFL.com website.

There, Floridians can find an emergency preparedness tool kit. It also contains a guide to help Floridians navigate flood insurance claims, homeowner insurance claims, and the assignment of benefits process.

Jimmy Patronis says get prepared now!

“An above-normal hurricane season is predicted, with the possibility of up to five major hurricanes,” Patronis said. “As we’ve seen in the past, hurricanes can form and strengthen quickly, leaving little time to prepare and evacuate. The time is now to prepare and protect your home and business. Do not wait until a storm is approaching.”

This year, The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts a 60% chance of 13 to 20 named storms, with six to 10 reaching hurricane strength.

Meanwhile, three to five are expected to develop into major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or higher.

Hidden treasure

More than $27 million in unclaimed property was returned to Floridians in May, Patronis announced this week.

Held by the state, unclaimed property is a financial asset lost or uncollected by its owners.

“As your CFO, I’ve made it my mission to return every last cent of unclaimed property back to its rightful owners, and I’m excited to announce that in May, we returned more than $27 million in unclaimed property to Floridians,” Patronis said. “Just this fiscal year alone, we’ve already returned more than $326 million in unclaimed property.”

Unclaimed property can take many forms, including dormant bank accounts, uncashed checks or safety deposit boxes.

It may not be a pirate treasure hunt, but some hidden cash may be out there for you.

In May, roughly $4.2 million was returned to Orlando residents and $8.8 million to residents in Miami.

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

“There’s a good chance that we’re currently holding unclaimed funds for you or a loved one, as an estimated one in five Floridians has money just waiting to be claimed,” Patronis said. “Did you forget to collect an old utility deposit or stock proceeds? Maybe an uncashed check from an old job?”

Floridians can search for unclaimed goods online.

Instagram of the week

The Week in appointments

11th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission Pedro M. Allende previously served as Deputy Assistant Secretary for Infrastructure, Risk, and Resilience Policy at the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. He received his bachelor’s degree, master’s degree, and law degree from the University of Florida. Allende is appointed for a term ending July 1, 2023. Jesus M. Suarez is a partner at Genovese, Joblove & Battista, P.A. in Miami. His practices include the areas of business litigation, bankruptcy, and governmental law. He received his bachelor’s degree from Loyola University Chicago and his law degree from the University of Florida. Suarez is appointed for a term ending July 1, 2024.

13th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission Pedro F. Bajo, Jr. is a partner at Bajo Cuva Cohen Turkel, P.A., a boutique law firm in Tampa that specializes in all aspects of trial and appellate law. Bajo previously served as the Thirteenth Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission Chair from 2009 to 2010 and as a member from 2006 to 2010. He received his bachelor’s degree from the Southern Methodist University and his law degree from Florida State University. Bajo is appointed from a list of nominees submitted by the Florida Bar for a term ending July 1, 2024.

17th Circuit Judicial Nominating Commission Camille Coolidge Shotwell owns a law firm, Coolidge Law Group, P.A., specializing in commercial real estate and family law in Fort Lauderdale. She received her bachelor’s degree from Western Carolina University and a law degree from Nova Southeastern University College of Law. Shotwell is appointed for a term ending July 1, 2024.

Shots & shop

Rep. Daisy Morales praises President Joe Biden for his “Shots at the Shop” initiative to add vaccination sites in barbershops and salons.

Biden launched the Black Coalition Against COVID-19 initiative to target barbershops and beauty salons and leverage their role as hubs of activity and information in Black and Brown communities and beyond.

Morales, an Orlando Democrat, sponsored a barber services bill (HB 855) the Legislature passed in the recent Session. She highlighted the effort as “a great way to help curb vaccine hesitancy.”

Daisy Morales is all-in for getting barbershops on board the vaccination train.

“When people in the community get the vaccine at the barbershop or beauty salon, they’ll encourage others to get it as well,” Morales said. “We want to help Americans, especially Floridians, get back to some sense of normalcy.”

Biden said the effort was made in the spirit of “meeting people where they are.

“Local barbers, stylists, they become key advocates for vaccinations in their communities, offering information to customers, booking appointments for them, even using their own businesses as vaccination sites,” Biden said Tuesday. “We’re going to work with shops across the country to make an even bigger impact over the next month.”

J Henry, an Orlando barbershop owner DeSantis recently appointed to the state Barber’s Board, told WKMG News 6 that he hears about a lack of education and faith in the system when cutting clients’ hair.

“We are somewhat role models, if you will, in the community,” he said. “A lot of people follow and trust and believe in the things their hairdresser or barber gets into.”

Drop a line

Red snapper fishing is starting up.

Recreational red snapper fishing opens June 4 in Gulf waters and runs through July 28. DeSantis announced the season dates in April.

“This will be the longest summer season anglers will have since the FWC started setting seasons for fishing in the Gulf state and federal waters off Florida,” DeSantis said. “The State is proud to provide continued access and opportunities for Florida families to enjoy the Fishing Capital of the World.”

Fishing for reef fish has different requirements than a standard fishing permit. To fish for reef fish, like red snapper, from a private vessel in Florida, anglers must sign up to be a State Reef Fish Angler.

Time to cast a line! Recreational red snapper season in Gulf state and federal waters off Florida is open through July 28, closing July 29. Image via FWC.

“Anglers across the state look forward to red snapper season each year,” FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto said. “Our agency looks forward to providing 55 days of red snapper opportunities in Gulf state and federal waters.”

This season will apply to those fishing from private recreational vessels in Gulf state and federal waters, as well as charter vessels that do not have a federal reef fish permit and are limited to fishing in state waters only.

More information on recreational red snapper season, including season size and bag limits, is available on FWC’s website.

Hog wild

If you want to kill a wild hog, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is happy to help facilitate that. No hunting license is required.

The FWC offers public hunting opportunities for wild hogs at 26 wildlife management areas across the state during spring and summer. A news release from FWC said wild hog hunting is a good way to “sharpen your hunting skills” and restock your freezer with “delicious wild game meat for all those summer cookouts.”

Hunters may use dogs and any legal rifle, shotgun, crossbow, bow, pistol, or air gun (including airbow). There is no size or bag limit, and all genders may be harvested. Traps and dogs are also allowed.

No hunting license is needed to hunt wild hogs in Florida. Image via FWC.

One thing to know before you get up close and personal with your dinner, wild hogs can carry parasites and diseases — some transmittable to people, pets and livestock. The FWC encourages hunters and trappers to take precautions when handling, field dressing and butchering wild hogs.

By the way, an area permit is needed to hunt in the wildlife management area. Find out more information about wild hog hunting on the FWC website.

Slow your roll

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) launched its Safe Summer Travel campaign this week to educate motorists on an array of travel safety issues.

The statewide campaign aims to educate motorists on aggressive driving, seat belts, pedestrian safety, DUI, boating safety and more.

“As many Floridians and visitors are preparing for their much-anticipated trips, family reunions, and vacations this summer, FLHSMV is working to ensure safe summer travel for all,” FLHSMV Executive Director Terry Rhodes said. “The drive to your destination can be half the fun, so remember to slow down, enjoy the ride, and keep your cool behind the wheel.”

The FLHSMV wants you to stay cool on the roads this summer.

The warning comes as authorities prepare for a surge of travel over the summer and the wave of traffic accidents that follow.

In June and July 2020, authorities recorded 53,766 crashes in Florida, resulting in 2,423 serious bodily injuries and 526 fatalities.

“As a record number of travelers hit the road this Summer, it is critical to stay safe behind the wheel,” said Matt Nasworthy, Florida Public Affairs Director, AAA — The Auto Club Group. “Be courteous with other drivers even if they’re not and stay alert around all road users, including pedestrians.”

League of Cities policy team

The Florida League of Cities has made 10 appointments to its Legislative Policy Committee for the 2021-2022 term.

The league has five policy committees, each with two municipal government officers serving as chair and vice-chair. Lakeland City Commissioner Phillip E. Walker, the league’s incoming president, appointed the leaders.

“Policy committee members play a huge role in the League’s legislative efforts,” Walker said. “In addition to setting the legislative priorities, policy committee members help to provide League staff with a better understanding of the real-world implications of proposed legislation.”

Phillip E. Walker names the Florida League of Cities policy team.

“On behalf of the officers and Board of Directors, we appreciate their willingness to serve and thank them in advance for the time and energy they’ll dedicate to advocacy efforts during their terms.”

Palm Bay Deputy Mayor Kenny Johnson will chair the Finance, Taxation and Personnel Committee with Largo Commissioner John L. Carroll serving as vice-chair.

Lake Alfred Vice Mayor Jack Dearmin will head the Land Use and Economic Development Committee, with Oakland Commissioner Joseph McMullen taking second in command.

Lake Park Vice Mayor Kim Glas-Castro will chair the Municipal Administration Committee, and Bowling Green Vice Mayor Sam Fite will be its vice-chair.

Palatka Commissioner Rufus J. Borom will be the Transportation and Intergovernmental Relations Committee chair, with Royal Palm Beach Councilman Jeff Hmara serving as vice-chair.

Finally, Deltona Mayor Heidi K. Herzberg will chair the Utilities, Natural Resources and Public Works Committee, with Sarasota Commissioner Jen Ahearn-Koch serving as vice-chair.

Mental health money

Florida Behavioral Health Association thanked DeSantis for prioritizing mental health in the budget he signed.

Included in the $101.5 billion state budget is $2.5 billion for mental health and substance abuse prevention.

“Gov. DeSantis upheld the Legislature’s health care recommendations, keeping funding for crucial services a priority for all Floridians,” said FBHA President and CEO Melanie Brown-Woofter. “The important dollars that are included in the state budget allow for statewide mental health and substance use disorder treatment providers to continue to save lives and create stronger communities.”

The Governor lauded the spending plan as “one of the best budgets the state’s ever done” for behavioral health.

DeSantis approved $137.6 million in funds for community-based services for Floridians with behavioral health needs. The budget, which will kick in on July 1, also expands the state’s 211 crisis network and provides additional telehealth services for children in rural counties.

FBHA also thanked the Governor for promoting First Lady Casey DeSantis’ mental health agenda throughout his tenure. The Governor, too, gave a nod to the First Lady before signing the budget.

Both Ron and Casey DeSantis get kudos for promoting mental health. Image via AP.

“My wife, the First Lady, has done a lot to bring awareness and for advocating for folks, particularly school-aged children, who may be struggling along these lines and try to make sure that the money that’s out there is actually going to the right places,” he said.

The budget includes a $20 million increase for school mental health initiatives for a total of $120 million. There is also $5.5 million to continue the Youth Mental Health Awareness and Assistance Training in schools.

Well-engineered budget

Florida’s engineers are among the many groups thanking DeSantis for signing the state’s budget. The Florida Engineering Society is happy about investments in Florida’s environment, water and transportation future.

“Planning today for Florida’s long-term water and transportation solutions will help ensure our state continues to prosper for generations to come,” Allen Douglas, American Council of Engineering Companies of Florida & Florida Engineering Society, said.

The Florida Engineering Society is particularly pleased about the state spending $50 million for water storage north of Lake Okeechobee. Addressing water flows north of Lake Okeechobee is a key strategy for restoring Florida’s Everglades, the group said in a news release.

Using Aquifer Storage and Recovery (ASR) technology, Florida will now have the ability to keep lake levels from rising too high in the wet season and make water available for release in the dry season.

“This is exactly the type of technology that’s needed to continue safely and effectively restoring Florida’s Everglades, Lake Okeechobee and our delicate coastal estuary systems,” Douglas added.

The engineers also applauded efforts to mitigate the impact of sea level rise by establishing a new statewide resiliency program to address flooding, highway projects like retrofits for existing roadways and route connections, and widening projects on rural highways.

For more information on the ACEC, click on the image below:

$250M life preserver

A bailout for the state’s sinking cruise ship industry is on the horizon.

The Florida Ports Council (FPC), which pushed for seaports to be included in pandemic relief funding during budgeting this Session, is thanking DeSantis for signing the budget bill that gives the cruise industry $250 million of federal stimulus money to offset COVID-19 issues.

FPC estimated Florida had lost 169,000 jobs and nearly $23 billion in economic activity through 2020 because of COVID-19 impacts on the cruise industry. The U.S. cruise industry is currently under a conditional sailing order due to the pandemic. A no sail order had been in place from March through September of last year.

Florida Ports get a COVID-19 lifeline.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in significant and ongoing economic impacts to Florida’s seaports, and this important investment will help ensure Florida’s ports continue to deliver necessities to businesses and consumers,” Michael Rubin, Interim President and CEO of the Florida Ports Council, said.

The money will be dispersed through a grant program administered through the Florida Seaport Transportation and Economic Development Council (FSTEDC) within the Department of Transportation. One of the duties of the FSTEDC under state law is to develop a priority list of projects based on criteria like the economic benefit, readiness for construction, noncompetition with other Florida ports, and capacity within the seaport system. FSTEDC then submits the list to FDOT, which determines funding priorities.

FPC is a Florida nonprofit corporation that serves as the professional association for Florida’s 15 public seaports and their management.

FPC estimates Florida’s seaports generate 900,000 direct and indirect jobs and bring $117.6 billion to Florida’s economy through cargo and cruise activities.

Free clinics

The Florida Association of Free and Charitable Clinics (FAFCC) is praising $9.5 million in funding for member clinics in the upcoming budget.

During the 2020-2021 fiscal year, the appropriation helped FAFCC provide more than $187 million in care through 98 volunteer-driven, nonprofit, faith and community-based clinics throughout the state.

“These annual funds are critical to keeping us operating at full capacity, ensuring our most vulnerable Floridians get the care they need, especially as we try to come out of this pandemic,” said Rev. Michael Daily, Board Chair for FAFCC and CEO at Good News Care Center free clinic in Homestead. “We are grateful to the Florida House, the Florida Senate, and the Governor for recognizing and supporting the work of our hundreds of volunteer health care providers.”

FAFCC became a nonprofit corporation in 2013, based on an idea that emerged from the mid-2000s when clinic leaders saw statewide organizations in other states. The group represents and supports clinics and networks that provide quality, cost-effective health care services at little or no charge to low-income, uninsured and underserved Floridians.

The $9.5 million project is annually recurring.

Free dental care

The Florida Dental Association is thanking DeSantis for preserving $225,000 in funds for the Florida Mission of Mercy, an annual clinic providing free dental care.

That will support the annual edition of the 2022 event, which will be held March 11 and 12 in Tallahassee at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.

“The Florida Dental Association thanks Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature for including funding for the Florida Mission of Mercy in this year’s budget,” said the FDA President Dr. Andrew Brown. “This will have a tremendous impact in providing critical treatment and services to patients in need of dental care who might otherwise seek temporary care at hospital emergency departments.”

The large-scale event’s goal is to serve underinsured and underserved Floridians who would otherwise go without care.

Florida Mission of Mercy gets to keep its funding intact.

Since 2014, Florida Mission of Mercy events held in Tampa, Jacksonville, Pensacola, Fort Myers, and Orlando provided nearly 10,000 patients with dental care worth more than $9.4 million. The Florida Dental Association Foundation will host the 2021 Florida Mission of Mercy in Jacksonville on July 30 — 31.

“All Floridians should have the opportunity to have good oral health,” Brown said. “We appreciate Gov. DeSantis and the Florida Legislature’s recognition of the importance of investing in oral health as it is a critical component of overall health.”

Nurse anesthetists recognized

The Florida Association of Nurse Anesthetists (FANA) is praising its members for stepping up over the past year to face historic challenges during the COVID-19 pandemic head-on.

Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetists, known as CRNAs, are highly trained health care professionals who provide comprehensive anesthesia care to patients before, during, and after surgical and obstetric procedures, such as when intubating a patient. They are the primary anesthesia professionals in rural and medically underserved areas, as well as U.S. military personnel.

“I’m proud of the immediate, unselfish, patient-first response of FANA’s members to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ clarion call to action when the pandemic hit,” FANA President John McDonough said. “FANA’s members made an incredible difference as part of Team Florida’s work to keep the state moving when the world came to a standstill.”

Nurse anesthetists get their due respect. 

The Florida Division of Emergency Management recently recognized FANA for its work to recruit volunteer nurses to staff vaccine-injection sites across Florida. According to the division, more than 3,300 advanced practice registered nurses, including FANA’s members, volunteered to immunize people at key locations.

“When the pandemic hit, there was no way to lock down FANA’s health care heroes urgent, driving commitment to serve our state’s most vulnerable people,” McDonough continued. “Our members immediately stepped up and went from supporting fellow health care providers in overtasked hospitals in the early days of the pandemic to injecting lifesaving vaccination shots into the arms of Floridians.”

Upward Bound

FSU’s Upward Bound program appears to be working for high school seniors in Gadsden County.

Despite disruptions from the pandemic, students participating in FSU’s Upward Bound Program at Gadsden County High School maintained high levels of academic excellence. The cohort of 12th graders achieved a 100% graduation rate. Ninety-five percent of the students will go on to postsecondary school. That same percentage will graduate with a 3.0 GPA or higher. Three students have already earned associate degrees.

“While we continued to offer college advising and academic support, our primary focus this year was on student well-being, mentorship and offering other nonacademic support to help students through a new learning environment,” Inika Williams, director of FSU Upward Bound, said.

FSU Gadsden County Upward Bound 12th-graders Lakenya Brown, Danielle Baker, Tee’Anna Weston and Ja’Mia Brown will begin the Florida State University CARE program in June. Image via FSU.

The federally funded pro-college program is designed to enhance high school student’s academic and personal skills while preparing them for college admission, retention, and graduation.

“I’m proud that, despite a pandemic, our students continued to meet the high expectations and standards of excellence that this program is known for achieving,” said DeOnte Brown, assistant dean of Undergraduate Studies and director of the Center for Academic Retention and Enhancement. “Their achievements are the result of their determination, abilities, and an outstanding support network.”

The program also exposes students to cultural activities to supplement their regular high school curriculum.

Tomato Feastival

If you’re in Tallahassee and you’re hungry Sunday, consider the Tomato Feastival.

The Red Hills Small Farm Alliance’s annual Tomato Feastival is in-person this year. There are tomato contests, but eating seems to be the main attraction.

A news release listed food items like “classic southern tomato sandwiches” made with farmer-grown tomatoes, sausage dogs by Glendower Farms, ice cream by Southern Craft Creamery, tomato pie by KitchenAble as well as beer from local breweries.

Hungry? Check out Red Hills Small Farm Alliance’s annual Tomato Feastival this Sunday.

The tomatoes are judged for best, ugliest, or largest.

The event will also hold lawn games, live music, a cakewalk and a farmers market.

The Tomato Feastival is a fundraiser for the Red Hills Small Farm Alliance nonprofit supporting local food producers.

The event runs from 2 — 6 p.m. at Goodwood Museum and Gardens. Adult tickets are $10.

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