Takeaways from Tallahassee — No-fault frustration

Blue Tally Takeaways (4)
Will auto insurance reform happen in 2022 — or is it a pipe dream?

No-fault frustration

After Gov. Ron DeSantis vetoed reforms to the auto insurance industry last year, advocates are making a big push to get mandatory bodily injury (MBI) coverage over the line this year. Among those advocates is the Florida Justice Association, again making no-fault repeal and MBI its top priority for Session.

Florida is one of only two states that doesn’t require MBI coverage. Additionally, Florida is a no-fault state and requires personal injury protection (PIP) coverage in auto policies.

FJA says those two points are significant contributors to why Florida has the third-highest auto insurance rates in the nation.

The Affordable Care Act has helped get more people health insurance than ever; PIP coverage has become redundant for 86% of Floridians, FJA argues.

Because MBI isn’t mandated, people often have to pay for their medical treatment after an accident from their health insurance or PIP policy. And because Florida is a no-fault state, it doesn’t matter if they or another driver caused the accident.

When you pull from your PIP policy, that means your premiums could go up, said FJA President Tiffany Faddis, who primarily practices auto negligence.

Ron DeSantis vetoed auto insurance reforms; Tiffany Faddis wants to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

“It’s very frustrating as a practicing attorney, and very difficult how many conversations I have had with Floridians about there’s just nothing that I can do for them,” Faddis said. “There’s no coverage for them. There’s no compensation.”

In his veto letter, DeSantis said the bill didn’t adequately address Florida’s high rates and may have had unintended consequences. FJA Executive Director Paul Jess noted last year’s auto insurance bill tackled more than repealing Florida’s no-fault system, including addressing bad faith reform. Perhaps bundling issues did more harm than good, politically.

“We know that both the Senate President and the House Speaker would be interested in passing the bill again if a formula can be found to win the Governor’s acceptance,” Jess said.

Lawmakers are already angling to try again. As the Legislature reconvened this week, Sen. Danny Burgess and Rep. Erin Grall, the two Republicans who sponsored last year’s legislation, filed the legislation again (SB 150 & HB 1525).

No-fault repeal is not the only thing FJA is prioritizing. They’re also addressing construction defects and want to stop lawmakers from shortening the window homeowners have to sue homebuilders over construction defects.

Both the House and Senate have bills dealing with construction defect claims. While Republican Rep. Clay Yarborough’s House version (HB 583) doesn’t alter the number of years on construction defect claims, the version from Republican Sen. Travis Hutson (SB 736) makes a couple of changes. Among them is to create variable time limits for suing over latent, or hidden, defects. Instead of 10 years, the length of time could fall to five or seven years on some claims.

“That means that a lot of homeowners are going to end up developing and finding out for the first time about a construction defect with their home after five or six or seven years, and they will have no remedy,” Jess said. “They’ll just have to suck it up and pay for it out of their own pocket.”

Senate President Wilton Simpson told reporters the bill is not a priority of leadership but backed the general principles behind Hutson’s bill.

“I’m not 100% familiar with it, but I do believe there’s a lot of fraud that goes on the longer you are allowed as a building owner or homeowner to go back against the general contractor,” Simpson said.

Following the collapse of the Champlain Towers South condo in Surfside last year, expect to see critics like FJA argue Florida should be expanding the time frame for claims, not shortening it.

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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 touts Florida’s freedoms in SOTS — Freedom abounds in Florida, DeSantis declared during his State of the State address this week. The Session kickoff saw the Governor claim victory in how Florida has weathered nearly two years of the COVID-19 pandemic. In schools, DeSantis said Florida beat the “hysterical media,” unions and the politicians they control. “We were right, and they were wrong, and millions of families in Florida are better for it,” he said. In his rebuttal, House Democratic Leader Evan Jenne said the Democratic caucus’s goal is to protect Floridians’ freedom to be healthy, prosperous and safe. Gubernatorial candidates also attacked DeSantis for his remarks. “He’s not there to help unless you cut him a check,” U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist said. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried called it an “ideological hit parade of fake conservatism.”

Republicans back 15-week abortion ban — The Legislature is taking its cue from Mississippi rather than Texas with abortion bills filed the morning of Session’s opening day. The measures, filed by Sen. Kelli Stargel and Rep. Erin Grall, would ban abortion after 15 weeks. The Mississippi law has made its way to the U.S. Supreme Court, which is expected to rule on the case later this year. But lawmakers say they aren’t waiting for the court’s ruling. Without seeing the proposal, DeSantis told reporters he would sign a 15-week abortion ban. “I think that will be something that we’ll be able to sign, and I think a lot of people would be happy with that,” DeSantis said.

Odds/evens assigned in Senate redistricting — The first week of Session also marked a busy week in redistricting, capped by a peculiar process that could determine the political careers of some senators. The Senate’s resident auctioneer, Sen. Aaron Bean, drew cards from a jar to decide which districts have even numbers and which have odd numbers. All Senate seats are up for election in a redistricting year like 2022. But after just two years, odd-numbered seats will appear on the ballot again. As a result, 16 incumbents could serve 10 consecutive years before terming out, as could the future senators in three open seats.

Vaccine rulings hand Florida win, complicates care — The U.S. Supreme Court on Thursday blocked enforcement of a vaccine mandate requirement for large employers, handing a victory to DeSantis and other Republicans who had sharply criticized the move by President Joe Biden’s administration. But the Court is keeping in place a rule requiring the vaccination of health care workers employed at hospitals and providers that rely on federal funding. In Florida, that means health care facilities will have to choose between the federal rule and Florida law, which bans vaccine mandates. Attorney General Ashley Moody, a party to the lawsuit, praised the Court for striking down the Occupational Safety and Health Administration rule.

SBA official killed in road rage shootingJohn Kuczwanski, the Legislative Affairs Director for the State Board of Administration, was killed in a shootout triggered by a road rage incident in north Tallahassee. There are conflicting reports about what happened, but sources told Florida Politics that Kuczwanski caused an auto accident and later fired a gun at the other vehicle involved in the crash, a white Prius. The Prius driver drew a gun and fired back into Kuczwanski’s BMW, hitting and killing him. Kuczwanski’s wife, who was not there for the shooting, claimed her husband was trapped and “assassinated” and was trying to escape the person shooting at him. Kuczwanski was arrested for a separate road rage incident at the same intersection in 2014.

Got your back

On Monday, DeSantis attended the Florida Police Chiefs Association’s (FPCA) Orlando 2022 FPCA Mid-Winter Training Conference & Exposition.

FPCA is a law enforcement professional association representing more than 900 of Florida’s top law enforcement executives. Speaking during the conference, DeSantis signaled his support for law enforcement.

Ron DeSantis vows to provide cover for Florida police chiefs.

“I will always have your back. Whether it is popular or unpopular, I will always support law enforcement,” DeSantis said.

FPCA President Stephan Dembinsky issued a statement about the Governor’s attendance.

“Over 470 member Chiefs and supporters were honored to welcome and hear from Gov. Ron DeSantis today as we begin a new year with a new emphasis on officer well-being and supporting the law enforcement mission,” Dembinsky said. “FPCA appreciates Gov. DeSantis’s unwavering support for the profession of law enforcement and his commitment to public safety.”

Other topics and speakers at the conference discussed improving hiring and retention by partnering with Police Psychological Services, as well as improving public safety, leadership, and community relations within the context of the chief and city manager relationship.

Fentanyl fight

Moody is asking the U.S. Department of State Thursday to get tougher on stemming the influx of deadly fentanyl into Florida and the country.

In a letter sent to U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken, Moody, and 15 other attorneys general urged him to take a stricter stance on stopping the influx of fentanyl from China and Mexico. Moody said in a release that there is evidence that China is shipping precursor chemicals for fentanyl into Mexico for drug cartels to produce the lethal drug and smuggle it overland into the U.S.

Ashley Moody demands Antony Blinken to toughen up on drug trafficking.

“Our federal government cannot sit idly by as China ships chemicals to produce highly lethal fentanyl to Mexico to funnel it into our country,” Moody said. “Today, I’m calling on Secretary Blinken and the U.S. Department of State to crack down on both countries, who have formed an international triangle of death where thousands of pounds of deadly opioid drugs are flooding into our streets.”

According to the Department of State, seizures of fentanyl directly shipped from China to the U.S. shrunk dramatically from more than 128 kilograms seized in 2017 to less than half a kilogram in 2020. However, most fentanyl available in the U.S. today is trafficked from Mexico. Seizures of fentanyl at the border increased from approximately 1,187 kilograms in 2019 to about 2,939 kilograms in 2020.

Fentanyl killed more than 5,000 Floridians in 2020, according to the 2020 Florida Department of Law Enforcement’s Medical Examiner’s Report.

The attorneys general of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Georgia, Indiana, Kansas, Kentucky, Mississippi, Missouri, Montana, South Carolina, South Dakota, Texas, and West Virginia, joined Moody in signing the letter.

‘Born Free’

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis unveiled his wish list for the 2022 Legislative Session this week, with a $10 million funding boost for Florida’s Urban Search & Rescue Task Forces taking the top spot.

Patronis previously announced that 2022 would be the “The Year of the US&R” — pronounced YOU-SAR, his office says — due to their heroism in the wake of the Surfside condo collapse.

Jimmy Patronis rolls out his wish list for 2022. Image via CFO’s Office.

The CFO’s “Born Free” agenda also includes support for a sales tax cut on building materials used for storm-hardening projects, which is included in bills filed by Sen. Joe Gruters and Rep. Nick DiCeglie (SB 1250/HB 863).

Another major goal: Crackdowns on fraud and big-tech.

Patronis specifically called out the annoying car warranty calls and said his office wants to require licensed warranty agencies and agents to identify their full business name and license number immediately, a move that should have a chilling effect on illegitimate telemarketers. Likewise, he wants to jack up penalties on unlicensed public adjusters who prey on Floridians who are trying to have their homes repaired following a storm.

The CFO is also on board with a suite of bills (SB 1864/SB 1848/HB 9/HB 1547) that would give consumers more control over how their personal data is shared or sold by tech companies as well as a proposal (SB 1292/HB 749) that would make it easier to cancel recurring charges for subscriptions.

Patronis pitched his agenda as reflective of the state’s “love of freedom” and counter the policies in “blue lockdown states” and the federal government.

“We’re not having ANY of it. If you’re from Florida, or you’ve just arrived, as far as I’m concerned, you were Born Free. It’s a blessing from our Creator, it’s something we cannot take for granted, and it’s something we’ll fight to protect in the 2022 Legislative Session,” he said.

The full “Born Free” legislative priority list is available on the CFO’s website.

Cancer sucks

Patronis, who also serves as State Fire Marshall, issued a proclamation Monday recognizing January as Firefighter Cancer Awareness month.

According to a report, firefighters have a 9% higher rate of cancer diagnosis and a 14% increase in cancer-related deaths than the general population. Patronis’ proclamation recognizes the increased risk assumed by Florida’s more than 45,000 firefighters while protecting communities across the state.

Jimmy Patronis stands tall with Florida firefighters. Image via @JimmyPatronis/Twitter.

“The men and women in Florida’s fire service community understand the dangers on the job, whether that is responding to a call or the increased risk of developing cancer. Yet, they show up each day to help keep Floridians safe,” Patronis said. “As State Fire Marshal, I am committed to ensuring that these heroes have the resources and tools to do the job and the peace of mind that they will be cared for once the safety gear comes off.”

There are over 200 known chemicals and contaminants found in smoke that firefighters interact with as a routine part of their occupations, which soil their personal protective equipment and everything it comes in contact with.

Between 2002-2020, 67% of firefighters recognized on the International Association of Firefighters Memorial Wall have died of cancer.

“While we have come a long way in helping these heroes if they face cancer, there is still more work to be done,” Patronis said. “We must continue to raise awareness in this fight and make sure our firefighters know they will always have our support. God bless these heroes and their families.”

Instagram of the week

The week in appointments

Florida Transportation Commission Ronald Howse and Russell “Rusty” Roberts were reappointed to the Commission. Howse is the president of Real Deal Development Group and the current chair of the Florida Transportation Commission. He earned his bachelor’s degree in engineering from the University of Central Florida. Roberts is a transportation consultant who has served as vice president of Government Affairs for Brightline Trains and as chief of staff to U.S. Reps. John Mica and Ileana Ros-Lehtinen.

Florida Athletic Commission — DeSantis reappointed Dr. Anup Patel to the Commission. Patel is a surgeon with Orlando Hand Surgery Associates and a plastic and reconstructive surgeon with the Orlando Plastic Surgery Institute. He is a member of the American Society of Plastic Surgery, the American Society for Surgery of the Hand, and the American Society of Aesthetic Plastic Surgery. He earned bachelor’s degrees in economics, biochemistry, and molecular genetics from the University of Florida, his master’s degree in business administration from the Yale University School of Management, and his medical degree from the Yale University School of Medicine.

Construction Industry Licensing Board Ashley Ross and Edward McCullers were reappointed to the board by the Governor this week. Ross, who lives in Tallahassee, is the owner of Ross Consulting. She previously worked for lobbying firm Rubin Turnbull & Associates, served as Deputy Chief of Staff to former Senate President Joe Negron, and held the Finance Director position at the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Florida State University. McCullers, of Estero, is the owner of McCullers Construction Services. He is a licensed general contractor, mechanical contractor, plumbing contractor, and a certified underground utility and excavation contractor. McCullers is a member of the Florida Groundwater Association and the American Groundwater Trust.

Board of Professional Engineers — DeSantis reappointed Jeb Mulock and Dylan Albergo to the Board of Professional Engineers. Mulock, of Bradenton, is the owner and president of ZNS Engineering. He is a past president of the Kiwanis of Bradenton and previously served on the Manatee County Children Services Advisory Board, Foundation for Dreams, and Manatee County Historical Commission. He earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration from The Citadel and a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from the University of South Florida. Albergo, of Tampa, is a project engineer with the Wantman Group. He is a member of the American Society of Professional Engineers, the Florida Engineering Society, and named the American Society of Professional Engineers West Coast Branch 2018 Young Engineer of the Year. Albergo earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering from FSU and his master’s degree in structural engineering from the University of Florida.

Board of Medicine — DeSantis reappointed Maria Garcia to the Board of Medicine. Garcia is a partner at Kozyak, Tropin and Throckmorton, where she is co-chair of the firm’s Healthcare Practice. Previously, she was a partner at Zumpano, Patricios and Winker and an associate at Houck Anderson. Garcia is a member of the CABA Pro Bono Legal Services Board of Directors. She has also served as president of the Cuban American Bar Association and the FIU Alumni Association president. She received her bachelor’s degree and a law degree from Florida International University.

Board of Osteopathic Medicine — Dr. William Kirsh has been reappointed to the Board of Osteopathic Medicine. Kirsh, of Miami, is a licensed osteopathic physician and Chief Medical Officer for Sentry Data Systems. He is a member of the American Osteopathic Association, Florida Society of the American College of Osteopathic Family Physicians, National Board of Osteopathic Medical Examiners and the Dade County Osteopathic Medical Association. Kirsh earned his bachelor’s degree from FSU, master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University, and his Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine from Southeastern University.

Florida Prepaid College Board — The Governor is giving lobbyist Slater Bayliss another term on the board. Bayliss is a partner at The Advocacy Group at Cardenas Partners and has served on many boards, including as chair of TreeHouse, chair of The Florida Sports Charitable Foundation, Maverick PAC, and The Florida Coalition for Capital. Bayliss earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Iowa and his master’s degree from FSU.

Board of Pilot CommissionersSherif Assal has been reappointed to the Board. The Miramar resident is the president and COO of American Guard Services and United Stevedoring of America. He has more than 20 years of experience in maritime security and stevedoring services. Assal is a diamond member of the Cruise Lines International Association and holds membership in ASIS International.

Greater Orlando Aviation Authority — DeSantis announced late Friday that he had reappointed Carson Good and John Evans to the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. Good is a Winter Park resident who works as president of Good Capital Group. He also holds board seats on the Alpine Income Property Trust and Metroplan Orlando. He received his bachelor’s degree from FSU and his master’s degree in business administration from Rollins College. Evans, also a Winter Park resident, is the executive director of Janus Labs at Janus Capital Group. He is an author and regularly contributes to the Orlando Sentinel and Barron’s Magazine. He earned his bachelor’s degree from UF, his MBA from the University of Miami and his Doctor of Education in organizational leadership from Pepperdine University.

Transparent health

Gainesville Rep. Yvonne Hinson and Orland Sen. Victor Torres Jr. filed legislation this week to increase transparency in Florida’s health care system.

HB 373 and SB 1742 would address denials of care by requiring hospitals and health care institutions that refuse to provide care for nonmedical reasons to disclose that fact to patients and inform the Florida Department of Health.

Vic Torres and Yvonne Hinson want a clearer picture of health care in Florida.

“Everyone deserves access to care without discrimination,” Hinson said. “Floridians are entitled to full transparency with regard to the services refused by a provider. No one should waste time and energy to be turned away at a health care facility because they were unaware of the provider’s denial.”

“Too many Floridians have few choices to access affordable health care services in their local communities,” Sen. Torres said. “If hospitals and medical providers refuse services, then people living in those communities should be made aware of these discriminatory business practices so that they can recruit health care providers willing to accept all available patients and not pick and choose the populations they want to serve.”

Calling out abuse

Rep. Kristen Arrington and Sen. Shevrin Jones have introduced bills to create a statewide Animal Abuser Registry.

HB 1341 and SB 1806 require the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to post a publicly accessible registry list on its website of persons convicted of specified animal abuse offenses. It would also limit the selling, exchanging, or otherwise transferring ownership of animals to registered abusers.

Shev Jones and Kristen Arrington go off the chain on animal abuse.

“This bill will place restrictions on a convicted animal abuser to own, adopt, live with or work with animals,” Arrington said. “This registry will help identify these individuals and prevent needless suffering and save the lives of countless animals.”

“As an animal lover and dog owner, I am pleased to work with Rep. Arrington as she takes the lead on this great bill,” Jones said. “This registry will help keep animals out of the hands of abusers, because no convicted animal abuser should be allowed to own or live with animals.”

Grand Marshal Bush

The Miami-Dade Martin Luther King Parade Committee has selected Rep. James Bush III to serve as the 2022 Grand Marshal of Miami-Dade’s Annual Martin Luther King Day Festivities.

“It is a privilege and honor to find yet another way to continue to honor the legacy and work of the late Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.,” Bush said. “In 1968, as a young man, I had the opportunity to attend the funeral and view the body of Dr. King. The experience was very inspiring and created a sense of urgency to follow in his footsteps.”

James Bush III will be the man of honor at the 2022 Miami-Dade MLK Day festivities.

Bush said he had been a participant in the parade for many years. He said he strives to use the teachings from the life and legacy of Dr. King to unify his community.

“I made it a part of my life’s mission to honor and continue to keep the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King alive for everyone whenever possible,” he said.

The parade begins on Jan. 17 at 10 a.m. The route will start along 54th street.

Crackdown or workaround?

A bill by Sen. Manny Diaz Jr. that would more strictly regulate pet sales cleared its first committee this week.

SB 994 is similar to bills filed in previous Legislative Sessions and would require retail pet stores to obtain a license from the Department of Business and Professional regulation to sell animals and to only acquire animals from qualified breeders, animal rescues, animal shelters, pet brokers, or individuals who are exempt from licensure. That includes individuals who don’t routinely sell animals.

Additionally, it and the House companion, HB 849 by Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, sets temperature ranges for pet enclosures, mandates that puppies be given 30 minutes of exercise twice a day, and requires stores to provide a copy of the most recent USDA report for each breeder they work with.

Juan Fernandez-Barquin and Manny Diaz crack down on shady pet breeders.

Supporters say the proposal would shut down shady dealers while allowing ethical pet stores to stay in business. However, the bills would also preempt local ordinances by dozens of city and county governments banning pet sales.

Animal welfare groups such as the Humane Society have described the proposal as a “Trojan horse.”

“It’s truly disguised as trying to be an animal welfare bill, and in fact, it does just the opposite,” Kate MacFall, the Florida director of the Humane Society, recently told WJXT.

The Humane Society and other animal welfare organizations have claimed that many of the provisions in the bill could be circumvented by trucking in pets from out of state. A 2021 report produced by the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals found that more than 80% of puppies sold in Florid pet stores were imported from Midwestern states.

SB 994 cleared the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on Tuesday with a 5-2 vote. It now heads to the Senate Community Affairs Committee. HB 894 is awaiting a hearing in the House Regulatory Reform Subcommittee.

‘T-CPR’

A bill that would authorize the use of telecommunicator cardiopulmonary resuscitation (T-CPR) cleared its first committee this week.

SB 890, sponsored by Sen. Danny Burgess, would train dispatchers to provide step-by-step CPR instructions that callers can put to use while they wait for emergency personnel to arrive.

Danny Burgess pushes T-CPR as the difference between life and death.

“SB 890 ensures emergency telecommunications professionals can relay potential lifesaving instructions in an emergency situation before first responders arrive,” Burgess said in a news release. “Our 911 telecommunicators are the first, essential link between an emergency and help for a person in cardiac distress.”

The bill has been endorsed by the American Heart Association, which said T-CPR could be the difference between life and death, especially in rural areas where it can take longer for emergency personnel to arrive.

“We’re grateful for the support from Florida lawmakers prioritizing this lifesaving policy,” said Tiffany McCaskill Henderson, Florida government relations director for the American Heart Association. “Telecommunicators are the true first responders and a critical link in the cardiac arrest chain of survival. We hope T-CPR training and implementation will be looked upon favorably with the goal of saving lives during the crucial seconds of cardiac arrest prior to emergency personnel arriving.”

On Thursday, the Senate Health Policy Committee cleared the bill with a unanimous vote. It now heads to the Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services.

The House companion, HB 593, is carried by Rep. Dana Trabulsy. It is awaiting a hearing in the House Professions & Public Health Subcommittee. Trabulsy said the bill “is an extremely important piece of legislation because it is good for someone who already knows CPR and for someone who does not, because in a moment of panic, we all may need someone to help guide us through the CPR process in order to save a life.”

Get to work

The Florida Rights Restoration Coalition is working with Sen. Keith Perry and Rep. Spencer Roach to secure passage of bills that would make it easier for Floridians with criminal records to land a job.

The bills (SB 1548/HB 1259) would prohibit occupational licensing boards from denying an application for licensure based on a criminal conviction that’s irrelevant to the job a convict hopes to attain.

Spencer Roach and Keith Perry are advancing a bill that would help former convicts gain meaningful employment.

The proposals would only allow applications to be denied if certain job-specific conditions are met, and a license could not be denied due to an applicant’s record if the person can show rehabilitation and ability to perform the job.

FRRC noted that one in four jobs in Florida requires an occupational license, and about 1 in 3 people has a criminal record. Currently, people with criminal records convictions can be denied a job license simply for having a record, and they may have to wait five years from the date of a conviction to become eligible for a license, even if their record has nothing to do with the work they’re striving to do.

“Our entire society benefits when people with past convictions are able to find meaningful employment,” FRRC Executive Director Desmond Meade said. “Tearing down barriers to employment is not only a win for returning citizens and our families, but for employers and the entire community as well. It is a win-win.”

The current labor crunch only increases the need for such legislation, the bill sponsors and FRRC argue.

“SB 1548 is about expanding opportunities for those with a criminal history. Increasing education and employment opportunities is directly linked to lowering recidivism rates. Additionally, this bill will expand the size of our workforce, which is essential as we tackle the hiring crisis left over from the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Perry.

Roach added, “The best social welfare program ever created is a job. Once a citizen has paid their debt to society, they should not be placed at a competitive disadvantage from entering the workforce. This bill will eliminate regulatory burdens that prevent or delay returning citizens from being productive members of society once again. This is a common-sense approach that is good for society, good for our economy, and good for Florida.”

Farewell

On the eve of Session and the eve of the Special Election Primary in South Florida, Sen. Perry Thurston said his final goodbyes to the Florida Senate.

The now-former Senator served five years in the Senate after serving eight years in the House, including as Democratic Leader. But after running for Congress in the Special Election to replace the late U.S. Rep. Alcee Hastings, Thurston stepped down.

Perry Thurston gives a heartfelt goodbye to the Florida Senate.

“While I will not hold this office after Jan. 10, I will continue to be an active advocate. I will always work to better my community,” Thurston wrote in his parting letter.

The letter didn’t mark Thurston’s ceremonial goodbye — the Senate made sure to give him a proper send-off in November — but it was his final chance to bid farewell to his constituents and staff.

“To my staff Latoya, Kirstie, Malcolm and Ella. You all have been the heart of our legislative office, the face of exemplary service, and have remained on the front lines during a turbulent period of governance in Florida,” Thurston said. “There are not enough thanks I can impart in this message, but just know I will always be indebted to you for your tireless service.”

Thurston also encouraged his “seasoned supporters” to reach him by phone.

School Safety Champions

Stand With Parkland, a national organization representing American families formed after the Parkland shooting, honored six legislators with awards Wednesday for recognition in their advocacy for school safety.

Reps. Chris Latvala, Chip LaMarca, Christine Hunschofsky and Dan Daley and Sens. Shevrin Jones and Gayle Harrell received honors ranging from School Safety Partner of the Year to School Safety Champion of the year.

Chris Latvala, Chip LaMarca, Christine Hunschofsky and Dan Daley are celebrated for their fight for school safety.

Tony Montalto, Stand with Parkland President and father to Gina Montalto, one of the students killed in the Parkland shooting, said it is imperative to honor those who have become champions and advocates for school safety.

“The 17 lives lost that tragic day must not go unremembered or celebrated, and these elected leaders have shown bravery and courage to fight on behalf of Florida’s families,” Montalto said. “As we move into yet another Legislative Session, we implore them to keep up the fight so no family will ever have to experience the pain we have experienced since that tragic day.”

Invest in the future

The Florida College System is the top system of its kind in the country, and the leaders of the state’s 28 FCS schools say there are three things that lawmakers can do to keep it that way.

“While we work with Florida’s elected leaders to bring forward these priorities, our system will continue to do everything we can to support all students, wherever they reside in our state, because they deserve excellence. Leaders know excellence requires ongoing investment and continuous improvement,” said Dr. Angela Garcia Falconetti, the Polk State College president and chair of the FCS Council of Presidents (COP).

Angela Garcia Falconetti touts the success of Florida’s College System.

COP’s top priority for the 2022 Legislative Session is a $60 million investment into the FCS program fund, which will be used to expand nursing and other medical support training programs as demand for quality employees in the industry remains high. The fund also supports programs that output job-ready workers in cybersecurity, drone manufacturing and other advanced industries.

Second, COP said it will also push for $39.8 million in Public Education Capital Outlay funding, which educational institutions use to build and maintain facilities.

Finally, the council hopes to land a $25 million reinvestment in performance funding for the 2+2 Student Success Incentive Fund and the Work Florida Fund, as well as $14 million for industry certification incentives.

“The FCS fast-tracks Florida’s future workforce by ensuring the state’s employers have the pipeline of workforce talent they need, as they need it, at a price point that is accessible to all Floridians,” said St. Petersburg College President and COP Policy and Advocacy Chair Dr. Tonjua Williams.

“With 95% of graduates remaining in the Sunshine State to work or continue their education, the training FCS institutions provide remains essential to supporting businesses in local communities and the overall prosperity of the state’s economy. The FCS Council of Presidents looks forward to working with our elected leaders to pass meaningful legislation benefiting students and the economy.”

New crew

This week, the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association announced its 2022 Board of Directors Executive Committee members.

Innisfree Hotels Regional Manager Olivia Hoblit will serve as Chair for the hospitality trade association, representing a $112 billion industry that employed 1.5 million Floridians before the pandemic struck.

“As Chairman of the FRLA Board, I am optimistic for the state of the hospitality industry and am excited to work with my peers to achieve solutions to our current challenges,” Hoblit said. “Local, state and federal advocacy is key to keeping our businesses thriving and ensuring our continued recovery, and we are grateful for all of the support we have received from Florida’s leaders.

Olivia Hoblit becomes the new chair of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

“As we address historic staffing shortages, engaging and mentoring young adults will be a focus of mine as Chair to encourage our growth and alleviate these existing labor gaps. There has never been a greater time to join hospitality, and I am eager to work with our educational institutions to share the many opportunities that are available and secure the future of our industry.”

FRLA also announced that Anna Maria Oyster Bars owner John Horne will serve as vice-chair, and Palm Beach Marriott Singer Island Beach Resort & Spa General Manager Roger Amidon will serve as secretary/treasurer.

The Lodging Director position goes to Barbara Bowden, who works as area managing director for Loews Hotels at Universal Orlando. Meanwhile, Saltwater Restaurants COO Nick Sarra and Sergio’s Family Restaurants CEO Carlos Gazitua will both serve as Restaurant Director. Immediate Past Chairman Jim Shirley of Chef Jim Shirley Enterprises rounds out the Executive Committee.

“I could not be more proud of the FRLA Board of Director’s executive leadership, which is comprised of lifelong hospitality veterans and entrepreneurs whose passion and sacrifice for the industry are without comparison. I am confident we have the right team in place to achieve success for this Legislative Session and beyond,” FRLA President and CEO Carol Dover said.

Rise to the challenge

Ocean Conservancy, the nation’s oldest marine conservation nonprofit organization, says the state faces “tremendous environmental challenges” and that lawmakers must prioritize preserving and protecting the ocean and the coastline this Session.

Their call comes after a record number of manatees died in Florida’s waters last year, a grim statistic caused by the loss of tens of thousands of acres of sea grass in critical ecosystems such as the Indian River Lagoon.

The organization also cited the west coast red tide bloom that killed thousands of tons of fish and the Piney Point disaster that caused more than four hundred million gallons of toxic water to flow into Tampa Bay.

Florida faces enormous challenges to protect one of its most valuable resources.

“Florida is blessed with incredible ocean, coastal environments, and wildlife. We must do everything we can to protect our pristine waterways, not just for us, but for future generations,” said J.P. Brooker, director of Florida Conservation for Ocean Conservancy. “That’s why legislators need to make targeted improvements to ensure clean, healthy waters this Legislative Session.”

Ocean Conservancy wants lawmakers to strengthen the effectiveness of Basin Management Action Plans, establish a permanent Office of Resilience to be led by a statewide Chief Resilience Officer and pass a law that would allow local governments to pass beach smoking bans.

“Florida is home to 8 of the best beaches in the U.S., according to TripAdvisor. Millions of tourists come to the Sunshine State to walk along our sandy shores. It shouldn’t look like an ashtray with cigarette butts littered everywhere, which adds to our massive plastic pollution problem,” Brooker said.

“Not only that, but people go to the beach to relax, listen to crashing waves, and take in the best sunsets. No one wants to be inhaling secondhand smoke instead of that fresh coastal air.”

Moving up

LeadingAge Florida announced Tuesday it is promoting Dawn Jiménez to the position of chief operating officer. Jiménez most recently served as the association’s vice president of Operations.

“Dawn has been instrumental in the leadership and overall growth of our association,” said LeadingAge Florida President and CEO Steve Bahmer. “Last year, her leadership and vision helped secure nearly $3 million in grant funding to bring quality improvement programs to our nursing home members, all while simultaneously overseeing our day-to-day operations.”

Dawn Jiménez steps up at LeadingAge Florida.

Jiménez will continue to oversee LeadingAge Florida’s daily operations in her new role while managing new member growth initiatives and implementing innovative non-dues revenue strategies.

A graduate of St. Mary’s College of California, Jiménez earned a degree in Industrial and Organizational Psychology and was a member of the college’s first National Champion women’s soccer team. She lives in Tallahassee with her two daughters and husband.

Pro bono bon mots

Later this month, Chief Justice Charles Canady will recognize Ausley McMullen, a Tallahassee-based law firm, with the 2022 Law Firm Commendation for its pro bono work.

The firm is receiving the award as part of the Florida Supreme Court and The Florida Bar’s annual Pro Bono Service Awards.

The Florida Supreme Court commends Ausley McMullen for its commitment to service.

Florida’s Chief Justice presents the statewide Law Firm Commendation Award to single out a law firm that dedicated substantial time to pro bono legal services to groups or individuals who cannot otherwise afford the services.

Individually, lawyers from Ausley McMullen have taken more than 100 cases pro bono from Legal Services of North Florida (LSNF) and Legal Aid Foundation of Tallahassee (LAF). The firm’s lawyers also helped create the Promise Zone Mobile Law Clinic, the first comprehensive expungement program in the 2nd Judicial Circuit, and Thunderdome Tallahassee, a statewide pro bono lawyer training program.

Among others, Ausley McMullen’s award will be given during the Pro Bono Service Awards at 3:30 p.m. Jan. 20 at the Florida Supreme Court. You can watch the awards live on Facebook, WFSU: Gavel to Gavel, and the Florida Channel.

Capitol Directions

Staff Reports


4 comments

  • Tom

    January 15, 2022 at 9:16 am

    Gutless ex POTUS needs to get his mouth shut.
    Is now on the fringe, a political dinosaur like Biden. America’s Governor sets the table without Trump.

    Nikki Fraud lied bout tests, feds extended tests as requested. A set up story on behalf F P, which was obviously playing along with frauds sophomoric antics. FP ran 3 anti DeSantis stories within 24 hrs.

    FP is a bastion of Manchurian socialists. It’s a obvious nest.

    Reply

  • Monique Chavez

    January 15, 2022 at 7:04 pm

    PIP repeal and mandatory BI mandates are being forced down our throats by the “woke” libs in the FJA, blue-state refugees, and millionaire left wing trial lawyers. We don’t need California style auto insurance in Florida.

    Do not be fooled, folks. There is no data to support proponents’ arguments that the bill as proposed will reduce insurance rates. Experts and commissioned studies instead point to massive rate increases for millions of working-class and low income minority drivers who buy PIP only policies. The rich, who purchase high limit BI policies for their luxury German sedans, are estimated to save big bucks from this proposed bill.

    In turn, massive auto insurance premium increases will lead to more working-class Floridians not buying auto insurance at all. They’ll risk it, instead of paying for much more expensive MBI auto insurance, they’ll be forced to buy food for their families or pay rent to keep a roof over their children’s head.

    This is quintessential reverse Robinhood. Stealing from the working poor and giving it to the wealthy elite lawyers. Driving with insurance shouldn’t be a luxury in Florida.

    Reply

  • just a comment

    January 16, 2022 at 1:29 pm

    With the insurance you need to pay more make it easy to play sue in traffic we call it the money grab

    Reply

  • Tinesely

    January 16, 2022 at 5:44 pm

    Erin Grall, who has made auto-insurance a pet project of hers, is in truth, an ambulance chasing attorney. These changes that she is advocating for will simply allow her, and her fellow ambulance chasers the chance to increase their profits by at least 3-5k per case they take on.
    They are willing to let the hospitals and other healthcare providers sit in limbo wondering when, or even if they might get paid for rendering care to an injured auto accident victim, while it is business as usual for the greedy trial bar.
    Her pursuit of these law changes is nothing short of a big conflict of interest. Erin is the modern day robin hood of personal injury.

    Reply

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