Takeaways from Tallahassee — Business first

Blue Tally Takeaways (3)
The secret to job growth? Putting Floridans and business first!

Business first

Florida reached an economic milestone in October, notching 18 months of consecutive job growth, among other accomplishments.

Gov. Ron DeSantis touted the milestone and highlighted his “business first” policies as the foundation of the rebound. They, he stressed, helped Florida gain 1.1 million private-sector jobs since April 2020 ‑ marking an 89% recuperation of jobs lost during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Florida’s economy continues to grow faster than the nation because we put the needs of Floridians and businesses first and make smart policy decisions that push back against heavy-handed mandates,” DeSantis said. “With 18 consecutive months of job growth and 12 consecutive months of labor force increases, we will continue to make investments that move our economy forward.”

Ron DeSantis credits ‘smart policy decisions’ for Florida’s consistent job growth. Image via AP.

Indeed, the state’s labor force and unemployment rates are also improving. Unemployment lowered and now hovers around the current rate of 4.6%.

Meanwhile, job opportunities are plenty. More than 518,00 jobs in Florida are available and posted online, according to the Governor’s Office.

Florida’s labor force growth is also rivaling the national average, with a 5.8% increase over the year. The term ‘labor force’ refers to the number of folks working or looking to work.

“Florida continues to see job growth, increases in labor force, and a decline in unemployment rate thanks to Gov. DeSantis’ policy decisions to protect Floridians and their jobs,” said Secretary Dane Eagle of the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. “Floridians and businesses remain confident in the state’s economy, and as evidence of that confidence, Florida’s current participation in the labor force of 10,590,000 is actually larger than Florida’s February 2020 labor force of 10,461,000.”

In all, October was a good month for Floridians. The unemployment rate lowered from 4.8% to 4.9%, while job creation also increased.

Several industries reported job market growth including, particularly in leisure and hospitality, with 16,600 new jobs. The second leading industry categories were trade, transportation and utilities, with 10,400 jobs. Education, health services, and business services also reported job creation.

October 2021 employment data is available online. Statewide job opportunities are also available online.

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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, Christine Jordan Sexton and the staff of Florida Politics.

Take 5

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

DeSantis signs Special Session bills — Gov. DeSantis earned a significant win Thursday, signing a “freedom agenda” of bills to curb COVID-19 policies and mandates. The four-bill signing came the morning after the Legislature passed them during this week’s Special Session. DeSantis called the Special Session as the legislative front to combating President Joe Biden‘s vaccine mandates. “To say it should be mandated when you can still get it, this is a personal choice, so that’s what we’re doing, and that’s the science-based approach to say it should be a personal choice,” the Governor said. “There is no data that shows an improvement of health with these massive mandates for children,” said Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, who also called mandates divisive.

Hold the line, or not — Florida Democrats criticized DeSantis for pushing a Special Session that they said was more about “political theater” and future presidential aspirations than it was about responding to a real crisis. It was a surprise to watch Democrats unable to band together to block one of the four bills up during the Special Session. Legislators needed a supermajority to pass a public records exemption traveling with the main vaccine mandate bill. If Democrats had voted together, they could have stopped the legislation. But a handful of Democrats peeled off. Some of them explained they were uncomfortable with allowing the names of businesses being investigated for violating the vaccine mandate law to become public. But the result was that Republicans and DeSantis got what they wanted.

CMS rules challenged — Ten states have already challenged a vaccine mandate rule requiring health care providers dependent on federal funding to vaccinate their employees. Attorney General Ashley Moody this week filed a separate challenge on behalf of Florida in federal court in Pensacola. Moody wants a judge to block the mandate before Dec. 6, when health care employees are required to have gotten their first shot. The association that represents many of Florida’s hospitals has already said that it will follow the federal rule despite newly-enacted state law. Likewise, LeadingAge Florida spokesperson Nick Van Der Linden said: “Until we are advised otherwise by the courts, our members are obligated to follow the CMS rule.”

Redistricting battle lines begin taking shape — Finding time amid the Special Session for some regular business, Senators reviewed four senatorial and four congressional district maps this week. With the first staff-drawn maps finally on the table, the Republican-led Senate opened itself up to criticism and gerrymandering accusations. However, those in the minority party were largely satisfied with the maps, which were more even-keeled than expected. With the additional congressional district likely going for Republicans, Florida’s delegation would likely be split 16-12 under the Senate maps. However, Republicans nationally were eyeing Florida as one place to pad their attempts to retake the U.S. House in 2022. That and whether Senate District 19 can be consolidated in only Hillsborough County without crossing Tampa Bay to Pinellas County, benefiting Black representation, remain questions.

Ben Shapiro talks CRT, “Wokeism” at FSU — Conservative commentator Ben Shapiro targeted critical race theory and “wokeness” during a sold-out speaking event hosted by the College Republicans at FSU and FSU’s Institute of Politics. Although the 1,500-person event was scheduled to start at 7 p.m. Monday, its standby line stretched the length of the hall’s courtyard by 5:30. By 6, the line snaked the building. FSU jackets, American flag shirts, and MAGA hats speckled the mostly college-aged crowd. When Shapiro approached the podium, most of the audience stood and applauded. Shapiro then began tomahawk chopping at the crowd, to further applause and returned chops. Later in the evening, he said he did not see how the chop could be considered racist.

National Adoption Month

DeSantis signed a proclamation this week, recognizing November as National Adoption Month in Florida.

The annual observance celebrates foster families and adopted children. It also brings awareness to the thousands of children awaiting adoption.

Ron and Casey DeSantis recognize the importance of foster families and adoption services. Image via Facebook.

“This month is one of gratitude for the more than 2,600 families that adopted children from our foster care system this past year,” DeSantis said. “Not only am I thankful for these adoptive parents but also for the many partners, advocates and child welfare professionals across the state who work tirelessly to ensure children have the opportunity to lead happy, stable lives through adoption.”

According to the Department of Children and Families, more than 3,800 children were adopted in the last year through foster care. Meanwhile, more than 4,500 children need adoption or go through the adoption process.

“Every child deserves to have a caring and loving environment to grow and learn. I’ve had the honor of witnessing adoption ceremonies in Florida, and the joy, care and love between the families was overwhelming,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis.

Individuals interested in adopting children from foster care can visit AdoptFlorida.org to learn more. State care agencies will host family events and adoption ceremonies throughout the month.

Hispanic heritage

Last week, the First Family honored winners of this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month contests in the Governor’s Mansion.

This year, Florida celebrated Hispanic American community leaders and champions with student art and essay contests, as students across the state learned about Florida’s culture and Hispanic heritage.

“There are thousands of Hispanic American community leaders and champions across Florida, and I’m proud of the work they do every day to enrich their communities,” DeSantis said, congratulating winners for their hard work and lasting impact on students.

Hispanic Heritage Month student and teacher contest winners celebrate at the Governor’s Mansion. Image via Pinellas County Schools.

First Lady DeSantis, who took the lead on the Governor’s Mansion’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations, thanked those who participated. Among those honored in the entries were law enforcement officers, first responders, public servants and school officials.

“I was amazed by the entries we received this year from students across our state who submitted moving stories of community, family and leadership from Hispanic Americans in Florida,” the First Lady said.

“The high quality of this year’s entries made it difficult to select a winner, but I am honored to recognize some truly outstanding students and educators,” she continued.

Kindergartner Eziel Juarez, of Pemayetv Emahakv Charter School, was awarded for his drawing honoring his mother. Second grader Julian Alexander Ruiz, of Coral Reef Elementary School, also won for his drawing of his abuelo, who is a radio show host.

Student essay contest winners were Orange Grove Elementary School fourth grader Stella Jurkovic, who wrote about Pinellas County’s first Hispanic judge; Tequesta Trace Middle School eighth grader Diana Cho, who wrote about a bilingual drug abuse and addiction recovery counselor; and Booker High School senior Giacomo Mutti, who wrote about a Sarasota County priest. Student essay contest winners each earned a four-year Florida College Plan scholarship provided by the Florida Prepaid College Foundation.

Three teachers, namely West Glades Elementary teacher Estela Gonzalez, Oasis Middle School teacher Gabriel Ortiz and Doral Academy Preparatory School teacher Raquel Medina, each received $1,5000 from Volunteer Florida.

Facebook risk

Moody is leading a nationwide investigation into the company formerly known as Facebook, for conduct relating to how children and young adults used the platform.

Attorneys General across the country are examining whether Meta Platforms, as it’s now known, violated state consumer protection laws and put the public at risk by carelessly promoting the platform to younger users.

Ashley Moody is taking a deeper look into how Facebook affects children. Image via Facebook.

“We have serious concerns about how social media is impacting the lives of young people in this country, and as a mother, I want to know how Facebook/Meta is targeting youth and what strategies this Big Tech giant is using to entice children and teens to lengthen engagement on its platforms,” Moody said. “I am proud to lead these efforts with our partner states to find out if Meta violated any consumer protection laws and put our children at risk.”

The investigation targets the techniques used by Meta to increase the frequency and duration of engagement by young users and the resulting harms caused by such extended engagement. The announcement, issued Thursday, follows recent reports revealing that Meta’s own internal research shows that using Instagram is associated with increased risks of physical and mental health damages on young people. These harms include depression, eating disorders and suicide.

Moody is leading the investigation with a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general from California, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Tennessee and Vermont.

Illegal gas prices?

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried on Wednesday requested Moody to investigate any anti-competitive, potentially illegal activity by oil and gas companies.

With gasoline prices at recent highs, Biden wrote to Federal Trade Commission Chair Lina Khan, requesting that the FTC investigate whether the industry was illegally keeping prices high amid “mounting evidence of anti-consumer behavior.”

Nikki Fried thinks the soaring price of gas is criminal.

With gas prices currently near a seven-year high, oil and gas companies see record-high profits despite the declining cost of unfinished gasoline. According to the President’s letter, oil and gas companies plan billions of dollars in stock buybacks and dividend hikes, while consumer gas prices rise, and refined fuel costs decrease. The price of oil is down more than 5% this month, while gas prices have increased 3%.

In her letter, Fried noted that her office had received 80 consumer complaints about gas prices in the past two months. However, Moody’s office, not hers, has the power to investigate illegal activity in the gas industry.

“We cannot expect Floridians to bear the burden of higher gas prices while oil and gas companies line their pockets with record-high profits, despite their costs declining,” Fried wrote. “I hope that you will take all appropriate action to join me in protecting Florida’s consumers at the gas pump.”

Fallen firefighters

Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis helped honor fallen firefighters and their families at a memorial in Ocala on Thursday.

The names of 18 fallen firefighters will be etched on the Florida Fallen Firefighter Memorial at the Florida State Fire College in Ocala.

“Every day and every night, Florida’s firefighters stand ready to answer the call, leaving their families behind and risking their lives to keep Floridians safe,” Patronis said. “These are the brave men and women who, at a moment’s notice, rush toward unbelievable danger with one mission — to save lives.”

Firefighters were among those who responded to the Surfside condo collapse this summer. And September marked the 20th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks, continuing a difficult year for firefighters and first responders.

Still, they bravely served the community, Patronis said.

“Today, we honor our fallen firefighters, the ones that answered the call but didn’t come home,” he continued. “Please pray for the families of these heroes who served alongside these first responders and supported them as they worked to protect us. God bless these heroes and their families. Their service and sacrifice will never be forgotten.”

The fallen firefighters this year included firefighters from across the state. Those honored were David L. Abernathy, Thomas M. Barber, Dwain S. Bradshaw, Anthony C. Christensen, Michelle Clore, Donald DiPetrillo, Randall M. Donaldson Jr., William C. Donaldson, Walter “Pete” Gee, James G. Gunter, Lloyd Losinger, Jeremy J. McKay, Scott R. Neumann, Jimmy D. Riley, Jeremy J. Saunders, Eric M. Siena, Brian S. Smith and Hervè Thomas.

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

Instagram of the week

The week in appointments

Department of Juvenile Justice — DeSantis on Friday named Eric Hall as Secretary of DJJ. The gig will mark Hall’s first state agency job. In 2019, Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran tapped Hall to serve as the first Chancellor for Innovation and Senior Chancellor. The role oversaw a slew of divisions, including K-12 Public Schools, the Florida College System, Career and Adult Education, Vocational Rehabilitation, Blind Services, the Office of Safe Schools, and the Office of Early Learning. He replaces Interim Secretary Josie Tamayo, who will remain aboard the DeSantis administration. More information on Tamayo’s next role is soon to come, the Governor’s Office said. The previous DJJ Secretary was Simone Marstiller, who left the position in February to lead the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Florida Department of Corrections Ricky Dixon was appointed as the next Secretary of the Florida Department of Corrections. Dixon is no stranger to the state prison system. The 25-year veteran has held numerous positions throughout his career. He most recently served as Deputy Secretary, a second-in-command position that oversaw the agency’s overall operations. He earned his degree in criminal justice from Florida Gulf Coast University, graduating Summa Cum Laude. Dixon replaces outgoing Secretary Mark Inch, who is retiring after nearly three years leading the third-largest prison system in the nation.

Department of Elder Affairs — DeSantis has appointed Michelle Branham to lead the Department of Elder Affairs. She comes to the department from the Florida Alzheimer’s Association, where she has worked as vice president of Public Policy since September 2021. Branham has over 28 years of experience in public policy, public health, and public relations and more than a decade of senior executive experience in federal and state-level public policy initiatives, including advanced health care and Florida senior initiatives. She has served as Chair of the State of Florida Alzheimer’s Disease Advisory Committee and was an Advisory Member for the State Plan on Aging Task Force. Branham earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Stetson University and a master’s degree in theological studies from Emory University. She replaces retiring Secretary Richard Prudom.

Chief Resilience Officer — The Governor named Wesley Brooks as the state’s next CRO, a position tasked with preparing Florida for the environmental, physical and economic impacts of sea level rise. Brooks most recently served as Director of Federal Affairs for the Department of Environmental Protection. He also previously worked as a staffer for members of Florida’s Congressional delegation, including under U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, where he worked on policies for Everglades restoration, coastal resiliency, coral reef conservation, water quality, and harmful algal bloom monitoring. Brooks earned bachelor’s degrees in political science and biology from Duke University. He earned his doctorate in ecological science from Rutgers University. The position has been vacant since March 2020, when former CRO Julia Nesheiwat resigned to serve as then-President Donald Trump’s Homeland Security Adviser.

Board of DentistryNicholas White, Tinerfe Tejera, Fabio Andrade and Karyn Hill are the Governor’s picks for the Board of Dentistry. White, of Winter Park, is a pediatric dentist and owner of Lake Mary Pediatric Dentistry. He earned his bachelor’s degree in health sciences from the University of Nevada and DMD from the University of Florida. Tejera, of Fort Myers, is an oral and maxillofacial surgeon at Southwestern Florida Oral and Facial Surgery. He earned his bachelor’s degree in biology from Spring Hill College, DMD from the University of Alabama at Birmingham and medical degree from the University of North Carolina. Andrade, of Weston, is the Managing Director of FAAC Consulting. He has served on the Board of Dentistry since 2016 and is a co-founder of the Americas Community Center. Hill, of Parkland, is a dental hygienist at Dental Hygiene Services of Broward and a traveling dental hygienist with the Dental Wellness Team of Coral Springs. She earned her associate degree in dental hygiene from Palm Beach State College and a bachelor’s degree in oral health promotion from O’Hehir University. The appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

Miami Dade College District Board of Trustees — DeSantis named Maria Bosque-Blanco to the Miami Dade College board. The Miami resident works as a guidance counselor at Our Lady of Lourdes Academy. She is nationally certified in school psychology and was previously a school psychologist in Broward County Public Schools. Bosque-Blanco is a member of the National Association for College Admission Counseling. She attended Miami Dade College and earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in school psychology from Barry University. Her appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

We wanna workgroup

This week, health care representatives asked the Agency for Health Care Administration to create a workgroup to help guide the state as it moves forward on proposed new rules for patient safety surveys. During Tuesday’s workshop, there were requests for the agency to create a workgroup, but AHCA made no commitments.

The agency released a proposed rule as well as draft copies of proposed surveys for hospital staff and ambulatory surgical center staff. The proposed new rule implements a 2020 law that requires AHCA to collect, compile, and publish patient safety culture survey data submitted by hospitals and ambulatory surgical centers.

John Couris praises the state for its willingness to consider the regulation of neonatal care. Image via TGH.

The law requires the agency to use patient safety surveys developed by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality. The law does require AHCA to customize the surveys to include questions that will generate specific data, including whether staff would seek care — or have their family treated — at the facility both in general or within a particular unit.

Meanwhile, Tampa General Hospital President and CEO John Couris praised AHCA earlier this week for its willingness to negotiate proposed rules regarding the regulation of neonatal intensive care units.

Inaugural debate championship

Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran is congratulating the two winners of the inaugural National Civics and Debate Championship.

DeSantis established the Florida Civics and Debate Initiative last year. Among the FCDI’s goals was to host a national civics and debate championship. That goal came to fruition over the weekend.

“The three-day contest fostered leadership, teamwork, analytical skills and a deeper understanding of our responsibilities as Americans,” Corcoran said. “That is a win-win for our schools, students, state and our country.”

Simon Denahan of Kanapaha Middle School was declared the Middle School Champion, while Alex Vihlan of Lake Mary Preparatory School was declared the High School Champion.

Simon Denahan and Alex Vihlan are Florida’s debate champions. Image via Florida Department of Education.

“National” might be a stretch for the new competition, but it’s the first of its kind. And it’s helped debate programs expand in Florida.

Since 2020, the FCDI has added over 160 debate teams in 48 Florida school districts. When the initiative began, Florida students could access speech and debate programs in only 11 school districts.

The Florida Civics Debate Initiative aims to create access and opportunities for all students to have the best civics education, including curriculum, debate programs and high-quality teachers that are catalysts for them to become great citizens who can preserve our constitutional republic for future generations. Students engaged in well-rounded civics education and debate extracurriculars realize an increased chance of exceptional academic success, exceeding college-readiness benchmarks and leading to an almost 99% chance of attending college with expanded scholarship offerings.

Participating schools receive funding to support the development of their debate teams, including funds to offset educational resources, tournament transportation coach stipends, and membership in the National Speech and Debate Association.

Safe holiday travel

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles is kicking off the holiday season with a safe travels’ initiative.

For November and December, the Safe Holiday Travel campaign strives to educate Floridians and visitors on all aspects of safe driving. Millions of travelers are expected to hit Florida’s roadways over the next two months.

“Safety is always in season, and what better gift to give your loved ones this holiday season than your safe arrival,” FLHSMV Executive Director Terry Rhodes said.

“As traffic volume increases, FLHSMV urges travelers to be proactive when making their travel plans, and practice safe driving behaviors to ensure the safety of all,” she continued.

In 2020, during November and December, there were 1,052 crashes involving alcohol, drugs, or a combination of both in Florida, and 5,442 DUI citations issued across the state.

Safety is always in season. Buckle up and don’t drive impaired.

The multi-phased safety messaging will be staggered throughout the months, starting with a focus on having a road-ready vehicle. Tires are a vehicle’s first line of defense on the road, so it’s critical to check your tires before hitting the road. In 2020, there were 3,069 tire-related crashes in Florida, resulting in 184 serious bodily injuries and 61 fatalities.

“The Florida Highway Patrol encourages motorists to remain vigilant on Florida’s roadways in the upcoming weeks,” said Lt. Col. Troy Thompson, acting director of the Florida Highway Patrol. “As you travel Florida’s roadways this holiday season, remember, safety is always in season. We can all do our part to ensure all travelers Arrive Alive by buckling up, slowing down, and never driving impaired.”

Environmental alliance

Sen. Loranne Ausley is a finalist in the national NewDEAL 2021 Ideas Challenge, recognizing her efforts to protect natural resources through agricultural and environmental alliances.

Ausley, a Tallahassee Democrat, this month filed the “Protecting Florida’s Natural Resources Act” (SB 864) to bring environmental, aquaculture and agricultural communities together to quantify ways that these industries contribute to long-term sustainability and resiliency goals. For that bill, her Ideas Challenge submission, Ausley was named a finalist in the “securing our communities and our planet category.”

Loranne Ausley has some winning ideas about the environment. Image via The Workmans.

“I am honored to be named a finalist and to be included in this group of talented leaders across the country,” Ausley said. “Political rhetoric will not solve our problems; it takes common sense solutions proposed by state and local leaders closest to the needs of our constituents and communities. The NewDEAL Ideas Challenge does just that, and I’m excited to share our legislation that creates a program to bring the agriculture, aquaculture, and environmental communities together to create a more sustainable Florida.”

The annual NewDEAL competition focuses on innovative state and local policymakers’ ideas to solve our nation’s problems in six key areas. The proposals are judged by a diverse panel of judges and policy experts who select the winners based on which idea will most improve Americans’ quality of life.

Amazon fraud

Sen. Dennis Baxley has a plan to help prevent fraud on online marketplaces like Amazon.

The Ocala Republican on Tuesday filed a measure (SB 944) that would require online marketplaces to have high-volume sellers to provide certain identifying information and other information. Those marketplaces would have to suspend sellers that don’t certify or update their information.

Sellers that make 2,000 or more transactions over 12 months and generate $5,000 or more in revenue would be subject to the reporting requirements.

Dennis Baxley is fighting online shopping fraud.

If the seller is an individual, they need to provide a photo I.D. that includes their address. If the seller is not an individual, the seller would need to provide an I.D. of someone representing the seller or a tax document that includes the seller’s business name or physical address. In both cases, the seller would need to provide a valid email address and working phone number.

The bill also asks the Department of Legal Affairs to adopt rules on collecting and verifying the identifying information. It also preempts seller verification rules to the department, preventing local governments in Florida from implementing their own verification policies.

Another measure (SB 956) Baxley filed this week would allow public schools to enroll eligible students part-time.

Davie’s preservation

Senate Democratic Leader Lauren Book filed — on Davie’s 96th anniversary — a resolution (SR 928) honoring the town for its role in environmental and historical preservation.

In September, Davie, which falls within Book’s district, entered into the preservation-focused Certified Local Government Program, becoming one of only about 2,000 places to receive the distinction. Secretary of State Laurel Lee noted Davie is the 80th local government in Florida to join the program.

Member rewards include training, technical aid, and grant funding to further preservation efforts.

Lauren Book is pushing to get Davie certified.

“Davie has a rich agricultural history which lives on today through its annual Orange Blossom Festival, rodeo events, and Western-themed downtown,” Book said. “We are so proud of Davie for earning this elite honor.”

Davie is in Broward County, just west of Ft. Lauderdale. Settlers from the Panama Canal Zone first named the area “Zona.” The Town was later named “Davie” in honor of R.P. Davie, who was responsible for draining thousands of acres of swampland to make the land suitable for agriculture.

More modern conservation efforts succeeded in preserving the ancient “ridge” areas known to include archaeological resources from the earlier Native American presence. The Town maintains its historical and cultural ties to the past through its annual Orange Blossom Festival, annual rodeo events, and Western-themed downtown area.

“The Town of Davie is proud to be one of the newest Certified Local Governments for historic preservation,” Mayor Judy Paul said. “We value our heritage and appreciate Senator/Leader Lauren Book and the Florida Senate’s recognition of this accomplishment.”

Christmas spirit

Sen. Randolph Bracy is looking for Secret Santas and Santa’s helpers to bring gifts to children in need in Central Florida.

“It’s that time of year again. My office is preparing for our annual Holiday Toy Drive, and we need your help,” the Ocoee Democrat said in an email. “While many in our community are shopping and decorating, many children will go without gifts this year.”

The second-term Senator said constituents — or anyone in the giving spirit — can bring unwrapped toys to his district office located at 6965 Piazza Grande Ave. in Orlando. The office will be accepting Holiday Toy Giveaway donations through Dec. 15 at noon.

Will Randolph Bracy be your secret Satna?

The Senator had hosted several giving drives in the past, even last year, when the then-raging pandemic forced his office to adopt a drive-thru-only policy for donations and distributions.

Bracy’s office has received $2,000 or $3,000 in toys in past years, which he noted can go a long way. Still, they usually run out of toys by the end of the event, so donors can rest assured — if you bring a toy, it will be given a happy home.

More details can be had with a call to Bracy’s district office, (407) 297-2045, or by emailing [email protected]

Long-distance learning

Attending out-of-state schools is commonplace for college students, but it could soon be an option for K-12 kids as well.

This week, Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. filed a bill that would open the door for Florida youngsters to enroll in virtual schools even if the institution doesn’t have a physical footprint in the Sunshine State.

The bill, SB 980, scratches out a handful of requirements that currently prevent out-of-state schools from operating in Florida, chief among them a mandate that a school’s administrative office be in the state.

Manny Diaz seeks to widen the scope of virtual schools.

The proposal would also delete requirements that an institution’s administrators be Florida residents and that their instructors be Florida-certified teachers.

Schools would still be required to conduct background checks on all employees and adhere to the same standards as schools with a nexus in Florida.

The bill, filed Thursday, does not yet have a House companion and is currently awaiting committee assignments. If passed, it would take effect in July 2022.

Diaz, a Hialeah Republican, is one of the top school choice advocates in the Legislature. In the 2021 Legislative Session, he was the Senate sponsor of a bill to streamline Florida’s education choice programs by merging five scholarship programs into two. That House version of that proposal ultimately became law.

He’s also a former chair of the Senate Education Committee and current vice-chair of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Education.

Charging plan

Sen. Keith Perry is bringing forward an initiative to expand Florida’s electric vehicle charging capacity.

The Gainesville Republican’s bill (SB 920) asks the Public Service Commission to develop an “electric vehicle transportation electrification plan” and rules to implement it. The measure calls for a “competitively neutral manner, and that includes reasonable and affordable electric rates for investor-owned electric utilities that offer electric vehicle charging to the public.”

The Commission must propose the rules by the start of 2023 and adopt the rules by the beginning of 2024.

Keith Perry wants to charge up the state’s electric vehicle capacity.

“The expanded use of electric vehicles provides this state with increased energy security and health and environmental benefits by reducing the consumption of fossil fuels and street-level air pollutants, carbon dioxide, and nitrogen oxides,” according to the bill’s legislative findings.

It continues: “Electric vehicle charging station infrastructure has the potential to lessen climate impacts, expand infrastructure investment, improve environmental and economic conditions, and help make this state a leader in new and innovative technologies.

Expanding electric vehicle infrastructure has been a priority of Florida for several years.

Lawmakers on the Senate Transportation Committee, for which Perry is the vice-chair, heard a briefing earlier this fall laying out the findings from a recent electric vehicle study.

Expanding the grid would help address the problem of “range anxiety,” fears that electric vehicle drivers won’t find the power stations necessary to make their trips — kind of like running out of gas. According to the Department of Transportation’s highest estimate, electric vehicles could make up 35% of cars on the road in Florida by 2040. Moderate estimates place that percentage around 20%.

Digitizing history

Tallahassee’s John G. Riley Center and Museum of African American History and Culture won a three-year grant to digitize its vast array of archives in a partnership with Florida State University and the Riley Museum Archives at Tallahassee Community College.

The $246,250 grant will improve access to the archives by producing digital versions of a collection that includes photos, historical documents, rare books, oral histories that tell the story of Black Floridians, focusing on those from Leon and Gadsden counties.

John G. Riley Center and Museum is going digital. Image via Visit Tallahassee.

“We are excited to get to work digitizing materials and to see this collaboration, which has been years in development, take off,” said Katie McCormick, Associate Dean of Libraries for Special Collections and Archives at Florida State University.

The grant will also provide training for members of the Florida African American Heritage Preservation Network.

The grant comes from the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) Museum Grant for African American History and Culture. The center received a grant from IMLS back in 2010 to assist its archival efforts.

Althemese Barnes, Riley Museum founder and executive director emeritus, first started gathering community oral histories 25 years ago to preserve community history.

“This current award is a next important step in creating access to people’s stories,” Barnes said. “These are the stories of the people who built our community. They are irreplaceable. This is our way to carry important lessons through time.”

Promise Fund

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association is rising in support of The Promise Fund of Florida, a nonprofit founded to improve the outcomes of breast and cervical cancer patients in Palm Beach County.

“The hospitality industry is the largest employment sector in the United States and has one of the largest impacts on people across Florida,” said Carol Dover, President and CEO of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association. “We know the impact that breast cancer has on people in our industry, and as a breast cancer survivor, I know the personal impact it can have on one’s life.”

Carol Dover makes a ‘promise’ to hospitality workers dealing with breast cancer.

“Women of diversity are dying of breast and cervical cancer at an alarming rate, and they are dying right here in South Florida,” said The Promise Fund of Florida founder Nancy Brinker. “Our goal is to reduce early deaths from breast and cervical cancer in our community, and The Promise Fund is the way to do it.”

In addition to The Promise Fund of Florida, Brinker also founded the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the world’s largest nonprofit source of funding for the fight against breast cancer, in honor of her sister who died from breast cancer in 1980. This organization has invested more than $2.9 billion in groundbreaking research, community health outreach, advocacy, and programs in more than 60 countries.

Noles alumni directors

The National Board of Directors of the FSU Alumni Association is accepting applications to serve as national director.

Applications are available through Jan. 10. Applicants must be FSU Alumni Association members.

Directors may serve up to two 3-year terms and are expected to participate on various board committees, based upon their expertise, skillsets and interest levels. These committees will review goals, evaluate and provide input on strategic objectives, and work closely with Association leadership to directly impact the organization and the greater university community.

Do you have what it takes to represent Garnet & Gold? Image via Instagram.

The Board of Directors has the responsibility to ensure the success of the association through the approval of an annual budget, setting policy, following the strategic plan, providing input, guidance, oversight and expertise.

Directors are expected to be active and participatory, not just in meetings, but also as members, ambassadors and representatives of the FSU Alumni Association in their home areas. According to the application, all directors should aspire to support the association financially on an annual basis above and beyond a yearly membership in the association.

Directors must attend three meetings in Tallahassee throughout the year. Directors are responsible for their travel and lodging expenditures. Interim discussions and meetings are held via email/conference calls with directors participating on an as-needed basis.

The application portal can be found here: alumni-fsu-sm.smapply.us.

Capitol Directions

Staff Reports


One comment

  • Tom

    November 20, 2021 at 11:14 am

    Great economic report on jobs and unemployment coming down further!
    Gov Ron leading the way. 4.8% down from 4.9%, continuing the slide down, 1.2% reduction from a year ago. Jobs opportunity are abundant in Florida. Florida freedom, liberty, jobs opportunity. America’s Governor is showing the way on jobs, liberty, freedom, education and environment.

    God Bless America’s Governor.

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