Takeaways from Tallahassee — Return to work

Blue Tally Takeaways (5)
'Floridians are returning to work, and Florida’s economy continues to provide opportunities.'

Return to work

When the pandemic hit, unemployment went through the roof.

The state had been flying high (or low, really), with employment rates hovering in the 3% to 4% range, a level below “full employment” — economist jargon meaning anyone willing and able to work has a job.

But things changed in March 2020, when unemployment jumped to nearly 5%. And then jumped again. And again.

At its peak in May 2020, the jobless rate stood at 14.2%, with more than 1.3 million Floridians out of work. The state’s jobless rate hadn’t hit double-digits since the Great Recession, which saw a 10.9% unemployment rate at its height.

Floridians are returning to work in droves, according to the Department of Economic Opportunity.

The post-Great Recession recovery was a slow trudge. Not so with the pandemic, according to new and increasingly bright data from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

According to data released Friday, the state has recouped the vast majority — 76.8% — of the jobs lost when the coronavirus hit, and the unemployment rate has come back down to Earth.

DEO’s numbers, based on data from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics, DEO’s numbers show Florida’s unemployment fell to 5.0% in August, a 0.1 percentage point drop from July and a 2.9 percentage point drop year-to-date.

The new report also shows the state added 19,400 private-sector jobs over the month, extending the streak of job gains to 16 months. In all, DEO says, Florida has gained 990,400 jobs since April 2020.

Meanwhile, another 65,000 Floridians joined the labor force last month, making for 373,000 new additions over the past five months.

DEO credits the growth in jobs and workers to the state’s “Return to Work” initiative and notes that online jobs postings currently sit at 520,000 — a smidgen more than the 503,000 Floridians the department lists as being out of work.

“Under the leadership of Gov. DeSantis, Florida’s unemployment rate is decreasing,” DEO Secretary Dane Eagle said. “This positive sign shows that Floridians are returning to work, and Florida’s economy continues to provide opportunities for meaningful employment. I look forward to working with Floridians to continue these economic successes.”

Regional reports show Jacksonville’s unemployment rate of 4.3% is the lowest among Florida’s major metros. Tampa and Pensacola are also beating the statewide average with an August unemployment rate of 4.5%. West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale, and Southwest Florida are also below the 5.0% mark.

And Orlando, the core of Florida’s hard-hit tourism industry, had an unemployment rate of 5.0% — a decrease of more than half from a year ago.

The lone laggard was Miami, which posted a 6.7% jobless rate, down from 9.1% year-over-year.

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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 and the staff of Florida Politics.

Take 5

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

DeSantis announces legislation canceling standardized tests — Gov. Ron DeSantis has announced plans to end annual standardized testing in schools, a move long backed by educators and the Governor’s latest top priority. DeSantis is eying legislation that would replace the Florida Standards Assessment with progress monitoring for the 2022-23 school year. “The FSA is, quite frankly, outdated,” DeSantis said. Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran similarly called the system “antiquated.” Despite concerns from critics, the DeSantis administration attests that accountability for teachers and schools will remain. Periodic progress monitoring would also allow teachers to correct course during the year.

State backs city employees against vaccine mandates — DeSantis and other state leaders rallied against vaccine mandates this week after Gainesville moved closer to firing unvaccinated employees. DeSantis, Attorney General Ashley Moody, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, and others expressed their support for city employees’ lawsuit against Gainesville. DeSantis has imposed a $5,000 fine for cities and counties requiring vaccines for public employees “for every single violation.” One city worker speaking at the rally made a false statement about vaccines. Despite standing beside the worker as the worker said it, DeSantis later denied hearing the misinformation.

Biden administration caps Regeneron therapy — The federal government is shifting how it distributes Regeneron’s monoclonal antibody therapy, and DeSantis is complaining that Florida will get half what it was initially. Florida currently uses a large share of the drug, but the Governor says that’s because he’s made it a priority. “There’s going to be a huge disruption, and Florida is going to suffer as a result of this,” he said. DeSantis had a phone call with leadership from GlaxoSmithKline PLC about buying some of its antibody therapy, sotrovimab. Trials show it reduces the risk of hospitalization or death in high-risk adults by 85%, compared to the 70% for Regeneron’s REGN-COV2. But sotrovimab can’t yet be given as a shot, making it slower.

Lawsuits against DeSantis administration mature — A federal judge rejected a preliminary injunction against DeSantis’ executive order preventing mask mandates in public schools in a lawsuit brought by the parents of children with disabilities. The parents argue that the order violates the Americans with Disabilities Act, the Rehabilitation Act and the Florida Educational Equity Act. In a separate case, eight news organizations joined Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith in a lawsuit to demand the Department of Health release COVID-19 data. This week, the agency released county-level COVID-19 death data, which Smith said was not a coincidence. “The state has a history and a pattern of only releasing public records after they’ve been sued.”

COVID-19 kills 50,000 Floridians — Florida became the fourth state to cross 50,000 COVID-19 deaths, crossing a grim milestone 18 months into the pandemic. The last 10,000 deaths came in about a month. “I think it’s been a really tough year and a half,” DeSantis said Thursday. And he acknowledged that the delta variant wave had killed more younger people than earlier waves. “You had more people, law enforcement, fire. You had folks affecting families in ways that we’re not used to, so I think it’s been really, really rough.” With 229 deaths per 100,000 people, Florida has a higher death rate than California and Texas. New York, driven by a high concentration of fatalities in New York City, has a higher death rate than Florida.

Missing Children’s Day

The Gov., Cabinet and the FDLE Commissioner came together in Tallahassee this week to mark Florida Missing Children’s Day, an annual event held to remember Florida’s missing children and recognize the state’s child protection and abduction prevention efforts.

The event included an awards ceremony, too.

“Florida’s children are the future of our state and society, and we must work to protect them. On Missing Children’s Day, we raise awareness about children whose fates are unknown and whose parents hope for the best despite suffering unimaginable grief,” DeSantis said.

“I know that every day our law enforcement officers put themselves in danger to protect Florida’s children and seek to reunite those who are missing alongside Florida’s child advocates. We thank them for their work.”

All three Cabinet members provided somber reflections empathizing with the parents of missing children. Attorney General Moody, CFO Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried also thanked law enforcement for doing their best to find missing children and bring them back home.

Florida law enforcement agencies received more than 24,000 missing child reports last year, resulting in 34 Amber Alerts — the things that make your phone blare like an air raid siren when you least expect it. FDLE said a little over half of those alerts were blasted statewide.

The jump scares produce results: The 296 Amber Alerts that have gone out since the program launched have directly aided in the rescue of 77 children.

“The continued vigilance of Florida’s citizens is one of the best tools we have for protecting our children. From sharing active AMBER and Missing Child Alerts on social media to signing up to receive email or phone notifications about new alerts, to the actions of everyday heroes like today’s award winners, I am grateful for the efforts of our fellow Floridians who help to safeguard our children and work to safely bring them home,” FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen said.

The recipients of the 2021 Florida Missing Children’s Day Awards:

— John and Revé Walsh Award: Judy Thigpin

— Citizen of the Year: Robert Riley of Hillsborough County

— Combating Human Trafficking Award: Florida Highway Patrol Trooper John Ethan Ellerbee

— Local Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award: Volusia County Sheriff’s Deputy Royce James

— State Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award: FHP Trooper Darren Morgan and Cpl. David Flores

— Jimmy Ryce K-9 Trailing Team of the Year: Flagler County Sheriff’s Sgt. Frederick Gimbel and K-9 Holmes

— Law Enforcement Task Force of the Year: Hillsborough County Sheriff’s Office Task Force

— Commissioner’s Award: Tallahassee Police Department Investigators Elizabeth Bascom, Paul Osborn and Mark Ray; Department of Homeland Security Special Agent Eric Eick; Assistant State Attorney Lorena Vollrath-Bueno and Assistant U.S. Attorney Michelle Spaven

— Evelyn D. Williams Memorial Award: Coral Springs Police Detective Jason Carter

— Bus Operator of the Year: Naesha Williams-Mathis of Leon County

More information on the award winners and a listing of current Amber Alerts are available on FDLE’s website.

To watch highlights of the ceremony, click on the image below:

Constitution Day

DeSantis encouraged Floridians to celebrate Constitution Day on Friday to commemorate the signing of the U.S. Constitution in 1787.

The Constitution, written in 1787 and ratified in 1788, is the oldest active written constitution. In a recorded video, the Governor highlighted the document’s importance to securing a republic in the United States.

“Our country was founded on the idea that our rights come from our Creator, not from government, and the Constitution that was framed by our Founding Fathers was designed to protect our preexisting rights and to create a framework of government that would preserve individual freedom and that framework has served us well,” DeSantis said.

“At the same time, we see a lot of threats in recent years to the Constitution,” he continued. “It requires eternal vigilance.”

The Governor also referenced Benjamin Franklin’s remarks that the Constitution created “a republic, if you can keep it.” He also cited President Ronald Reagan’s line, “Freedom is one generation away from going extinct. It is not passed along in the bloodstream.”

“Take time to reflect on how lucky we are, but also take time to reflect on the challenges that are before us,” DeSantis said.

To watch the Constitution Day video, click on the image below:

QR code scams

QR codes are the latest ploy scammers use to swindle unsuspecting Floridians.

This week, Moody urged consumers to exercise caution when scanning the black and white pixilated bar code with their phones.

The Better Business Bureau, Moody warned, is noting a rise of fake codes designed to breach payment apps and seize personal data.

“Many businesses are innovating how they share information to reduce person-to-person contact during the pandemic, turning to QR codes to eliminate the sharing of printed material,” Moody said. “Sadly, scammers are taking advantage of this by changing QR codes to reroute consumers to malicious websites. Be wary when using QR codes and make sure that what you scan is approved by the business.”

Moody offered Floridians several tips to protect themselves from swindlers.

She encouraged consumers to avoid QR codes with an unknown source or codes in a random location.

Consumers should also watch for shortened URL links after scanning a QR code. The links, she warned, may lead to malware.

“If malicious malware is downloaded, visit the Google Support Help Center for information on how to remove unwanted ads, pop-ups and malware from a mobile phone or computer,” Moody said. “Additionally, the Federal Trade Commission supplies a detailed guide on how to recognize, remove and avoid malware.”

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

Life insurance fraud

The Bureau of Insurance Fraud arrested a Jacksonville insurance agent for insurance fraud and organized fraud.

Patronis announced the arrest of Phoenix Insurance agent Reuben Dunbar, who law enforcement said sent fraudulent life insurance policy applications without the knowledge or consent of the named policyholder to obtain advanced commissions. Dunbar, now booked into the Duval County Jail, faces up to 10 years in prison.

The Department of Financial Services, which Patronis oversees, revoked Dunbar’s agent license.

Jimmy Patronis nabs a major life insurance cheat.

“Fraud committed by a Florida-licensed insurance agent is especially despicable as it breaks the important confidence consumers must have in a trusted insurance adviser,” Patronis said. “Insurance fraud like this drives up insurance rates for all Floridians, and I thank my dedicated fraud detectives for uncovering this financial scheme to prevent further victims. As your CFO, I will continue to do everything in my power to hold fraudsters accountable, and further protect the insurance consumers of Florida.”

The Bureau of Insurance Fraud, which works under DFS, revealed that Dunbar filed more than 98 fraudulent life insurance policies. Those policies held his address, phone number, and bank account information rather than the purported insureds. He would pay the first premium, then receive the commission from selling the policy.

Instagram of the week

The week in appointments

4th Judicial Circuit Court London Kite was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Karen Cole. Kite has served on the Duval County Court since her appointment in 2020. Previously, she served for 17 years as an Assistant State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida and her law degree from the University of Florida.

9th Judicial Circuit Court Eric Netcher and Michael Snure were appointed to fill new judgeships created by the Florida Legislature. Netcher has served as a Shareholder at Walker, Revels, Greninger, & Netcher, PLLC since 2020. He served as a judicial law clerk for U.S. District Judge David A. Faber from 2013 until 2014. He received his bachelor’s and law degrees from the University of Florida. Snure has run Michael J. Snure, P.A. since 2015. Previously, he served as an associate and partner at Kirkconnel, Lindsey, Snure, & Ponall, P.A. He received his bachelor’s degree from Lambuth College and his law degree from the University of Arkansas.

11th Judicial Circuit Court Ariana Fajardo Orshan and Diana Vizcaino will fill vacancies in the Circuit. Fajardo-Orshan most recently served as the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Florida. She served on the 11th Judicial Circuit Court from 2012 until 2018. She received her bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and her law degree from Nova Southeastern University. Orshan fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Rosa C. Figarola. Vizcaino has served on the Miami-Dade County Court since her appointment in 2015. Previously, she served as an Assistant City Attorney for the City of Miami from 2008 until 2015. She received her bachelor’s and law degrees from St. Thomas University. She fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Martin Zilber.

15th Judicial Circuit Court Bradley Harper was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Krista Marx. Harper has served as a judge on the Palm Beach County Court since 2017. He received his bachelor’s degree from Morehouse College and his law degree from the University of Florida.

18th Judicial Circuit Court William Orth was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Marlene Alva. Orth has served as a litigator primarily in family and criminal law for the last 20 years. Previously, he served as an Assistant State Attorney for the 18th Judicial Circuit from 1998 until 2000. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Cincinnati and his law degree from Case Western Reserve.

NICA Board of Directors — Patronis appointed Steven F. Herrig to the Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association (NICA) Board of Directors, standing for casualty insurers. Herrig is the CEO and chairman of SUNZ Insurance Company and the founder and former CEO of Progressive Employer Services. His appointment comes after a new law passed in the 2021 Legislative Session expanded the NICA board from five to seven members. “As CFO, I am committed to improving the lives of the kids and families in the NICA program and ensuring they receive the service and benefits they deserve,” Patronis said, adding that “Herrig’s background and expertise will be a tremendous asset, and he will bring a fresh perspective to ensure that NICA is putting the overall well-being of these families and children first.” The University of Dubuque graduate will serve a term ending Aug. 31, 2023.

Statewide Task Force on Holocaust Education — Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran selected Michael A. Igel as chair of the Commissioner’s Task Force on Holocaust Education. Igel, who is also Chair of the Florida Holocaust Museum board and a descendant of Holocaust survivors, will advise Corcoran on key issues related to Holocaust education. “I am confident that education is the key to winning the battle against antisemitism and am motivated to carry the lessons from my grandparents and all Holocaust victims and survivors with me to ensure it never happens again,” he said. Professionally, Igel works at Johnson Pope as an attorney specializing in health care law.

Citrus County Court Charles Helm was appointed to fill a new judgeship on the court. Helm has served as an Assistant United States Attorney in Ocala since March 2021. Previously, he served as an Assistant State Attorney for the Fifth Judicial Circuit from 2015 until 2021. A former police officer, Helm received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his law degree from Liberty University.

Hillsborough County CourtLeslie Schultz-Kin, Jeffrey Rich, Joseph Tompkins and Michael Hooi were appointed to fill one vacancy and three new judgeships. Schultz-Kin has served as Chief Assistant Attorney General and Bureau Chief in the Tampa Civil Litigation Bureau of the Florida Office of the Attorney General since 2020. She previously worked as Of Counsel to Akerman and as an associate and shareholder at Carlton Fields. She received her bachelor’s degree from Ohio University, her master’s degree from the University of South Florida, and her law degree from Stetson University. Rich has worked as a sole practitioner since 2008. Previously, he served as an Assistant Public Defender in the Twelfth Judicial Circuit. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Michigan and his law degree from Florida Coastal. Tompkins has been an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Middle District of Florida since 2018. Previously, he served as a senior law clerk on the 2nd District Court of Appeal for the State of Florida. He received his bachelor’s and law degrees from Ave Maria University. Hooi has served as an associate attorney at Stichter, Riedel, Blain, & Postler since 2009. Previously, he served as a law clerk and Staff Attorney to Judge Charles R. Wilson from the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals. He received his bachelor’s degree from Vanderbilt University and his law degree from the University of Florida.

Lee County CourtErik Leontiev was appointed to fill a new judgeship. He has served as an Assistant State Attorney in the 20th Judicial Circuit since 2007. He received his bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and his law degree from the University of Miami.

Miami-Dade County Court Laura Gonzalez was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Miguel Mirabal. Gonzalez has served as Of Counsel to Kobre & Kim since 2020. Previously, she served as an Associate at the same firm and as an Associate at Holland & Knight. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and her law degree from Columbia University.

Monroe County CourtJames “Jimmy” Morgan was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Ruth Becker. He previously worked as chief of staff for Spottswood Hotels in Key West. He was also an Assistant Public Defender in the 16th Judicial Circuit and served on active duty as a prosecutor in the U.S. Marine Corps from 2010 until 2018 and is presently in the U.S. Marine Corps Reserve. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his law degree from the University of Miami.

Orange County Court Brian Sandor was appointed to fill a new judgeship. Sandor has served as a trial attorney for The Morgan Firm since 2020. Previously, he served as an Assistant State Attorney in the Fifth Judicial Circuit from 2011 until 2015. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Central Florida and his law degree from Michigan State University.

Palm Beach County Court April Bristow was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Sandra Bosso-Pardo. Bristow has served as General Counsel to the 15th Judicial Circuit since 2019. Previously, she served as a Career Attorney for Judge Dorian Damoorgian in the 4th District Court of Appeal. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and her law degree from Stetson University.

Pasco County Court Dustin Anderson was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Judge William G. Sestak. Anderson has served as an Assistant State Attorney for the Sixth Judicial Circuit since 2018. Previously, he served as the Supervising Attorney for the Pasco County Offices of Criminal Conflict and Civil Regional Counsel from 2007 until 2018. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky and his law degree from the University of Florida.

Polk County Court Brandon Rafool was appointed to fill the vacancy created by the elevation of Judge Lori Winstead. Rafool has served as the Managing Partner of The Rafool Firm since 2002. He has been a litigator since 1992. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and his law degree from Stetson University.

St. Johns County CourtLauren Blocker was appointed to fill a new judgeship created by the Florida Legislature. Blocker has served as corporate counsel to Fidelity Information Services since 2018. Previously, she served as a judicial law clerk to U.S. Magistrate Judge Carol Mirando, U.S. Magistrate Judge Patricia D. Barksdale and U.S. District Judge Marcia Morales Howard. She received her bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and her law degree from Florida Coastal.

Hispanic heritage

First Lady Casey DeSantis is hosting arts and essay contests and awards for teachers during Hispanic Heritage Month.

The theme for this year’s National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15 to Oct. 15, in Florida is “Celebrating Hispanic American Community Leaders and Champions.”

Students in kindergarten through third grade are invited to join an art contest for two-dimensional artwork celebrating this year’s theme. Two winners will be selected.

Meanwhile, fourth through 12th graders are invited to join an essay contest. Three winners will be selected — one from fourth or fifth grade, one from sixth through eighth grades and one from ninth through 12th grades.

Essays must be 500 words or less. Each winner will receive a 4-Year Florida College Plan scholarship provided by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation.

“There are thousands of Hispanic American community leaders and champions across Florida, and I’m proud that as a state we will honor them this month,” the First Lady said. “This Hispanic Heritage Month, I encourage every student in our state to take the time to recognize and thank the Hispanic American leaders in their community and take part in these contests.”

Students, parents, teachers, and principals can also nominate educators for the Hispanic Heritage Month Excellence in Education Award.

Volunteer Florida is accepting contest entries and nomination forms.

“Gov. DeSantis and I are proud to offer this opportunity to recognize outstanding students and educators for their unique efforts and talents,” the First Lady said.

To watch the announcement, click on the image below:

Half-staff

DeSantis ordered flags at half-staff twice this week, first to honor the late former Florida Supreme Court Justice Stephen H. Grimes and the second time to honor the late Monroe County Commissioner Mike Forster.

Grimes, who died Sept. 10, was appointed by Gov. Bob Martinez in 1987 and he served until 1997. He was Chief Justice from 1994 to 1996.

He earned his undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Florida. Grimes served the U.S. Navy in the Korean War, interrupting his time in law school.

RIP: Monroe County Commissioner Mike Forster, a well-regarded restauranteur, and public servant.

Before Martinez appointed him, Grimes served as a judge on the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Lakeland starting in 1973, serving as chief judge from 1978-1980.

On the Supreme Court, he ushered in the court’s first website.

“It is abundantly clear given the praise and admiration from those who knew him and worked with him that Justice Grimes was an extraordinary man,” the Governor’s Office said in a statement. “He served the Florida Supreme Court and the people of Florida with exceptional knowledge and humility, and his legacy serves as an example of what it means to be a great Floridian.”

Foster, who died Sept. 6, served Islamorada for 12 years, twice as a Mayor and twice as Vice-Mayor. He was elected to the Monroe County Board of County Commissioners in November 2020.

Foster was known in the Keys as an owner and operator of Mangrove Mike’s Cafe and Catering, established in 1998.

“Forster will be remembered for his passion for the Keys’ environment and people,” the Governor’s Office said.

Flags were lowered at the Leon County Courthouse, the Tallahassee City Hall and the State Capitol on Wednesday for Grimes. On Friday, flags were lowered for Foster at the Murray Nelson Government Center in Key Largo, the Islamorada Administrative Center and the Public Safety Headquarters of Islamorada.

CLG inductee

Secretary of State Laurel Lee announced this week that the Town of Davie had been granted membership into an elite club: the Certified Local Government Program.

Set up in 1980 by the National Park Service, the Certified Local Government Program is a federal, state and local preservation partnership. Nationwide, there are about 2,000 CLGs.

CLG member rewards include training, technical aid, and grant funding to further preservation efforts. The state’s Division of Historical Resources will be the main source of training and preservation help.

Davie is recognized for its connection to history.

“I am pleased to welcome Davie as Florida’s 80th Certified Local Government,” Lee said. “The Town will now partner with the Division of Historical Resources to preserve resources associated with its historic agricultural industry, equestrian lifestyle and rodeo events.”

Davie is in Broward County, just west of Ft. Lauderdale.

Its origin story: Davie was founded by people flooding in from the Panama Canal Zone — the town’s first name was “Zona” before it was rebranded to honor R.P. Davie, the man responsible for draining the swamp to make farmland.

The first Davie residents, however, were American Indians. Modern-day Davie is working to conserve the ancient “ridge” areas that include archaeological resources from those peoples.

The town also keeps its historical and cultural ties to the past through its annual Orange Blossom Festival, rodeo events and its western-themed downtown area.

Davie’s website has a more in-depth rundown of its preservation efforts for those interested.

A Department of State news release says its induction to the CLG Program “solidifies its mission to protect its unique historical, cultural and archaeological resources for future generations.”

Bear necessities

Fall is coming. Bears are, too.

In the fall months, bears start looking for anything and everything to eat so they can pack on the pounds for their winter naps. Proper prep requires bears to eat upward of 20,000 calories a day — that’s five times the caloric intake of a (human) bodybuilder trying to bulk up.

With such a voracious appetite, anything edible will do — even garbage.

It’s the black bear season.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says that means it’s time to batten down the hatches on your trash cans and any other caches of food — such as bird feeders and pet food bins — that could entice bears to barrel out of the woods and into your yard.

If you don’t, you aren’t doing bears any favors. You’re committing a crime.

Nobody wants to spark human-bear conflicts, so the state made it illegal to intentionally feed bears or leave out food or garbage that will attract bears.

FWC has plenty of tips to keep your ursine interactions minor. And if you catch a bear-feeder red-handed, FWC has a snitch line at 1-888-404-FWCC (3922).

FWC also warned Floridians to watch out for bears on the road. Considering that they’re about the size of a subcompact, that’s not a big ask. If, for some reason, you need a primer on how not to hit a bear with your conveyance,

To watch a video tutorial from the FWC, click on the image below:

Above and beyond

Three Florida Department of Corrections officers were recently awarded the Medal of Valor by the North American Association of Wardens and Superintendents for displaying courage and selflessness in the line of duty.

Captain Eric Booth and Sergeant Shawn Dyer were recognized for their actions on the night of Aug. 26, 2020. As the pair tried to counsel a violent inmate, Dyer was attacked and injured. Booth stayed calm and protected Dyer until backup arrived.

Three Florida Department of Corrections officers were recognized for exceptional courage and selfless service.

Officer Erin Fields earned her Medal of Valor for her actions on the morning of Nov. 11, 2020, when she responded to an agitated inmate armed with a homemade weapon. Faced with danger, she put her intervention techniques and training to use, keeping the inmate focused and allowing others to reach safety without harm. Fields diffused the situation without using any force.

“Correctional officers fulfill an important public safety mission daily, despite unknown dangers. They rely on their decision-making and training to protect their fellow officers and inmates in their care and custody,” FDC Secretary Mark Inch said. “Officers Fields, Booth and Dyer exemplified our agency’s core values of respect, integrity, courage, selfless service and compassion. I am proud they received this well-deserved national recognition.”

The awards were delivered during NAAWS’s annual conference, held in Daytona Beach the week of Aug. 30. The event recognized numerous corrections officers from across the country for going beyond the call of duty. NAAWS brings communication, tools, education and best practices to active and retired wardens nationwide.

Superhero Award

The American Children’s Campaign has honored Rep. Bobby DuBose with the Superhero Award for reforming the treatment of public-school children with disabilities.

DuBose, a House Democratic Co-Leader, filed legislation (HB 149) last year that ended seclusion and limited physical restraints for students with disabilities. That bill passed the House and Senate unanimously, and DeSantis approved it in June.

“Seclusion and restraints are traumatizing, especially to children with disabilities who are among the most vulnerable,” DuBose said. “I’m very pleased we were able to finally carry this good legislation over the finish line this year. Thankfully, this dangerous and ineffective practice will not happen in Florida schools anymore.”

Bobby DuBose is an honest-to-goodness superhero.

The Superhero Protector of Children Award honors people who envision or lead a transformational change for children. Thirteen people, primarily private citizens and advocates, have received the award since the American Children’s Campaign began in 1992.

“The common denominator for receiving a Superhero award is the large-scale transformative change that can be achieved,” said the group’s president, Roy Miller. “It recognizes system reform that fundamentally changes children’s lives for the better.”

Florida currently averages over 8,500 incidents of physical restraints being used on children in public schools annually. Most restraints were on third graders.

DuBose’s legislation limits manual restraint techniques requiring “significant force” to emergencies where it is necessary to protect the safety of students or others. It also mandates that schools adopt crisis intervention plans the second time a child is restrained in a semester.

The law bans confining students alone in a room or area.

Rural tool kit

Enterprise Florida has launched its Rural Expansion Toolkit for this fiscal year, offering grants to communities to help economic engagement and building efforts.

Enterprise Florida is expected to award over $400,000 in grants through the toolkit’s programs.

“We know that our rural communities offer some of Florida’s best opportunities for transformational economic prosperity,” said Enterprise Florida CEO Jamal Sowell. “Enterprise Florida is committed to supporting our rural partners as they explore new opportunities and expand their footprint for job creation. The Rural Engagement Toolkit is one of many ways we are committed to coming alongside our fellow Floridians and supporting their initiatives for a brighter future.”

Enterprise Florida is giving rural areas the tools for prosperity.

The initiative includes the Marketing & Training, Consulting Services and Site Preparedness grants. Enterprise Florida is accepting applications for all three programs through May 20, 2022.

The Marketing & Training Grant and Consulting Services Grant are for activities completed between July 2021 and June 2022. Meanwhile, the Site Preparedness Grant’s term will be 24 months from the date of execution.

“Rural communities in Florida are the backbone of our economy and state,” Vice-Chairman of Enterprise Florida Board of Directors Holly Borgmann said. “Enterprise Florida is proud to offer an important tool to help facilitate unprecedented opportunity for those eligible to receive grants. I look forward to hearing of all the great success stories from Florida’s rural areas empowered by the Rural Expansion Toolkit.”

New memorial

Hundreds gathered outside the Florida Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Tallahassee on Friday to honor the dedication of a new monument pioneered by Republican Sen. Danny Burgess and Rep. Mike Giallombardo.

Found near the state Capitol building, the memorial stands roughly 7 feet tall and honors those reported missing in action during the Vietnam War.

Fully funded by Big Bend Chapter 96, the monument replicates the POW-MIA bracelets worn by many to honor service members who didn’t return home. It also features a stone-like placard explaining the history of the commemorative bracelet.

Danny Burgess and Mike Giallombardo were point-men for a new POW-MIA memorial at The Capitol. Image via Jason Delgado.

“I think the magic within this band is not just that we honor the person that’s missing in action,” Burgess said. “It’s also that when you think you’re having a heck of day, it could be a hell of a lot worse, and this reminds you of that.”

According to Big Bend Chapter 96, more than 2,600 Vietnam veterans are still unaccounted. Of those, 54 are Floridians.

Giallombardo recognized the moment as an opportunity to give due thanks to generations past.

“A lot of folks don’t realize that when the Vietnam veterans came home, they weren’t as respected as we are today,” Giallombardo said.

Burgess and Giallombardo — members of the U.S. Army themselves — pushed for the monument during the 2021 legislative session.

Sept. 17 is POW-MIA Day in Florida.

Loose wire

The Florida Sheriffs Association Task Force has helped crack down on escaped and neglected livestock with Operation Loose Wire. The task force released the results of that monthlong initiative this week.

The task force tracked 1,142 complaints statewide that found 415 animals outside of their owner’s property. Additionally, 388 animals were returned to their owners.

Fourteen animals were seized during the operation and 180 people were arrested. The task force referred 48 cases to the state attorney.

The operation also targeted illegal waste dumping. Sheriffs’ offices checked 387 habitual dumping areas and contacted 252 citizens about agricultural lands.

Florida Sheriffs are cracking down on errant livestock.

“With ample rural areas and the current growth of local communities, Florida is a hot spot for criminal activity, ranging from illegal dumping to loose livestock, which contributes to the defacing of our state’s pristine agricultural land,” said Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum, President of the Florida Sheriffs Association.

“We are proud of the success Operation Loose Wire has had in reducing livestock at large and apprehending those committing criminal activities.”

Law enforcement developed 225 external messages and hosted 88 citizen education events across the state. Seventeen sheriffs’ offices, mostly in Central and Southwest Florida counties took part in the operation.

“We are grateful to the 17 counties that participated in this important operation. The goal, as always, is to protect Floridians and those visiting our beautiful state” said Pasco County Sheriff Chris Nocco, who chairs the FSA Task Force.

“I credit the unique approach our offices took to its success, especially to support Florida’s agricultural community. We not only focused on effective response but also on providing impactful education along with partners that will allow us to further develop community-based resources while reducing victimization.”

Decide to Ride

Tri-Eagle Sales, as an Anheuser-Busch wholesaler, is promoting the brewery’s latest alcohol responsibility program, Decide to Ride.

The campaign encourages people to plan ahead for a safe ride home before the evening begins. The program also partners with Uber to create more incentives to catch a ride with $10 off consumers’ Uber rides.

Tri-Eagle Sales, which works in North and North Central Florida, will launch a new commercial that highlights the key moment when someone decides to ride. Its goal is to remind consumers to always plan for safe rides home.

The company encourages everyone to join its mission to put an end to alcohol-impaired driving and invites you to recognize those in Tallahassee who are doing their part.

“Drunken driving is 100% preventable,” Tri-Eagle sales director of Marketing Brittany Foster said. “We have localized our program by using local students, athletes, young professionals, and showcased the talent that lives here. We want to remind everyone to drink wisely and plan ahead for a safe ride home.”

The commercial will air on local television stations and can be viewed on the Tri-Eagle Sales social media channels.

To watch the video, click on the image below:

FSU drone assist

Florida State University’s drone team was among the sea of out-of-state resources authorities used during the search and rescue effort in Louisiana after Hurricane Ida.

Led by Center for Disaster Risk Policy Director David Merrick, the drone team spent six days in Louisiana last month. They slept on floors and made hourslong commutes daily into impacted areas aboard a Blackhawk helicopter.

Among other tasks, the team flew video reconnaissance missions to provide updated mapping with geotags.

FSU fixed-wing drones are used to help survey damage after disasters. Image via David Merrick.

“The first day we took 1,200 still images. We use software that stitches that together into a single map,” Merrick said. “All those tools go to help the people in charge of the recovery effort make good decisions about what’s going to happen next.”

Notably, this wasn’t the team’s first deployment. They responded to Texas after Hurricane Harvey in 2017 and aided authorities in Florida after Hurricane Michael in 2018.

“One of the big challenges after any major event is about where to send resources first,” Merrick said. “Those decisions are made from operations centers that are 10, 20, 100 miles away. So, answering those questions in a faster, convenient way helps minimize mistakes and ensures the right communities get the right supplies and the right help faster.”

FSU launched the drone certification program in 2014, ranking it among the first programs of its kind in the country.

FAMU storms Tampa

The Florida A&M University Concert Choir, along with Alicia Keys, made history this month by becoming the first group to perform “Lift Every Voice and Sing” — often called the Black national anthem — live at an NFL game.

Keys and the FAMU Concert Choir performed it at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa on Sept. 9, the opening night of the NFL season. The student choir, led by FAMU Director of Music Industry Mark Butler, performed at the beginning of the game between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and the Dallas Cowboys.

FAMU’s Marching “100” was the opening act for Ed Sheeran. Image via FAMU.

Sianna Hayden, a third-year music student from Orlando, said this opportunity for the FAMU Concert Choir was long overdue.

“I am so excited that we got to showcase our talents on this platform, and I believe it is going to take us very far,” Hayden said.

FAMU’s Marching “100” also took to the Julian B. Lane Riverfront Park as the opening act for Ed Sheeran.

Lift Every Voice and Sing is a hymn composed by J. Rosamond Johnson with lyrics written by his brother, James Weldon Johnson. James Weldon Johnson wrote the lyrics for the anniversary of President Abraham Lincoln’s Birthday in 1900.

The NFL first commissioned Keys to sing the song for the 2020 season, but she recorded it as a video performance on account of the pandemic. The NFL has now committed to having the anthem sung at every game.

Capitol Directions

Staff Reports


One comment

  • Tom

    September 18, 2021 at 7:48 am

    Yes, the Governor is correct about Regeneron monoclonal med. The media and partisan cheap shots fail miserably.The W H didn’t even know about it but Gov did. Per Govs initiative, 25 centers set up in less then 30 days. Million people treated, illness and hospital stays decrease. Furthermore, the cheap shot AP smear failed miserably attacking the Gov, was debunked. Florida Politics owes Governor Ron an apology. He once again shows his ability to make a difference,

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