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Celebrating Black History
With Black History Month on the horizon, First Lady Casey DeSantis released details Friday on an upcoming student art and essay contest.
The contest — dubbed Celebrating African American Contributions to Florida’s History — will allow students to compete for prizes. Essay contest winners, meanwhile, will win a four-year Florida college scholarship.
“Black History Month is an opportunity for students to learn about the contributions African Americans have made throughout Florida’s history,” the First Lady said in the announcement.
According to the Governor’s Office, the art contest calls for all K-3 contestants to submit an original, two-dimensional piece of art based on this year’s theme.
Meanwhile, the student essay contest is open to all grade 4-12 students in Florida. Contestants must submit an essay no longer than 500-words on the year’s theme.
After that, the First Lady will select a winner in three different categories — one elementary student, one middle school student, and a high schooler.
“Over the next month, we will be honoring these contributions and their benefits to Florida’s communities. I encourage all Florida students to join us by participating in this month’s art and essay contests,” DeSantis added.
Educators can also get in on the action. DeSantis invites students, parents, teachers and principals to nominate a full-time educator to win the Black History Month Excellence in Education Award.
DeSantis will nominate three winners for the distinction — one educator for each grade category.
Student contest forms and educator nomination forms must be mailed to Volunteer Florida or submitted online. The deadline is Feb. 18, 2022.
Contests can mail their submission to Volunteer Florida at 1545 Raymond Diehl Road, Suite 250 in Tallahassee, Florida 32308. More information about the contest is available online.
Black History Month began in 1926 as a weeklong event dedicated to recognizing the accomplishments of African Americans, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. In 1976, however, the week was expanded into a monthlong affair.
Pensacola native “Chappie” James is among those whose story is spotlighted during Black History Month. In 1975, James distinguished himself as the first Black four-star general in American military history.
James recorded 101 combat missions in Korea and 78 more in Vietnam as a fighter pilot. He also earned numerous decorations and awards.
Coming up, the usual assortment of news, intel, and observations from the week that was in Florida’s capital city by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Jason Delgado, Christine Jordan Sexton, Tristan Wood, and the staff of Florida Politics.
The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Governor proposes map; Senate ignores it — Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office last weekend made the unexpected decision to propose a congressional map offering a vastly different alternative than what the Legislature is working with. DeSantis said he believes the current map and the maps proposed by lawmakers are unconstitutional, adding that he had lawyers review maps. The Governor is also asked to sign congressional maps, he noted Friday, a possible veto threat. DeSantis’ concerns didn’t stop the Senate from passing their proposal Thursday by a 31-4, overwhelmingly bipartisan vote. The Senate also passed its district maps Thursday while the House also began advancing its state House maps Friday.
Senate passes COVID-19 liability protections for providers — The Florida Senate this week agreed to extend legal protections for health care providers passing (SB 7014) by a mostly partisan 22-13 vote. The House Health and Human Services Committee agreed to introduce identical legislation and the bill will be heard by the House Judiciary Committee next. Lawmakers in 2021 agreed to pass legislation that gave businesses broad immunity from COVID-19-related lawsuits. That immunity never sunsets. The bill, signed into law on March 29, 2021, also gave nursing homes, hospitals and physicians immunity from COVID-19 lawsuits. Those protections, though, had a one-year shelf life and expire March 29, 2023, which means lawmakers must pass another COVID-19 liability protection bill this Session if they want the protections to stay in effect.
Critical race theory ban advances — Legislation banning critical race theory in classrooms and business training passed its first committee Tuesday. The proposal has been one of DeSantis’ priorities, and it’s part of the GOP’s nationwide culture war against “wokeism.” Republicans say the measure promotes open discussion, but Democrats and critics argue it would whitewash history. The bill attempts to ban critical race theory by preventing training and instruction that make people “feel discomfort, guilt, anguish or any other form of psychological distress on account of his or her race, color, sex or national origin.” Democrats on the Senate Education Committee called that authoritarian and censorship.
First week of Session super spreader event? — Days after Lawmakers, their spouses, former Lawmakers and Florida Supreme Court justices packed into House Chambers to watch DeSantis deliver his State of the State address, Legislators, lobbyists and even reporters fell ill to COVID-19. State Sen. Darryl Rouson tested positive for COVID-19 on Jan. 14. Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith and POLITICO Florida reporter Gary Fineout tested positive for COVID-19 Jan 18. Including Rouson, four Senators had excused absences for a whole or portion of the second week of Session. Senate spokesperson Katherine Betta said Sen. George Gainer’s absence was not COVID-19 related. Betta didn’t comment on Sen. Jason Brodeur and Sen. Ileana Garcia. Including Smith, nine Representatives were absent from the House Jan. 18, a spokesperson for the chamber said. Smith posted on social media he was COVID-19 positive. Rep. Dan Daley, who was absent that day, attended Michael Moskowitz’s funeral. House Democrats have sounded off about the lenient COVID-19 protocols in the chamber.
Chemo complete — First Lady DeSantis completed her chemotherapy treatments, the Governor said at a news conference Thursday. DeSantis has previously said that the First Lady will be “cancer-free” this year, and the recent comments suggest that an optimistic prognosis still prevails. However, he says there’s still more to do. “But that’s a big milestone because it’s nasty stuff when they’re doing that. And so, I just wanted to let everyone know she got through that. She ran that gauntlet. She’s doing well,” the Governor added. On Friday, the First Lady tweeted the bell she rang for her final chemo treatment at Moffitt Cancer Center is at the Governor’s Mansion. “Hopefully, their display will symbolize hope, humility and faith.
Year of growth
Florida finished 2021 with 20 consecutive months of job growth and 14 consecutive months of labor force increases, according to the latest labor force statistics.
DeSantis highlighted the news Friday, owing the recovery to his pandemic policies. Floridians remain confident in their ability to find employment, the Governor said, as Florida businesses created 479,300 total jobs increasing by 5.6% over the year, faster than the national job growth rate of 4.5%.
“Month after month, the data continues to show that freedom first economic policies create jobs and keep our economy moving,” DeSantis said. “Our new businesses and workforce growth show that Floridians have the opportunities they need to thrive. We will continue to lead the nation in economic growth because we value the individual freedoms of Floridians and protect the ability for our citizens to succeed.”
Florida’s major industries have continued to gain jobs over the year. Among those are construction; trade, transportation, and utilities; financial activities; and professional and businesses services.
“Gov. DeSantis continues to prioritize investments in industries that further diversify our state’s economy,” said Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Dane Eagle. “Floridians have remained confident in their ability to find good jobs to continue providing for their families and enhancing their quality of life. Along with Gov. DeSantis, I remain committed to continuing to make Florida an attractive state for business and workforce growth for years to come.”
Online Safety Toolkit
Attorney General Ashley Moody is helping crackdown on human trafficking during Human Trafficking Prevention Month with the latest edition of the “Online Safety Toolkit.”
The 2020 Federal Human Trafficking Report shows that 83% of active sex trafficking cases involved online solicitation. According to reports, more than half the children in the United States have smartphones by the age of 11.
The 2022 edition of the Online Safety Toolkit, available in English and Spanish, contains red flags, risk factors, and statistics relating to human trafficking recruitment via the internet. The initiative is designed to help empower parents to instruct their children about the dangers of human trafficking online and create effective online safety plans for safe internet use.
“It’s important that as parents we take steps to protect our children from online predators,” Moody said. “To help with this daunting task, I am releasing my 2022 Online Safety Toolkit during Human Trafficking Prevention Month. I hope this comprehensive resource guide will better equip parents to protect children from human traffickers, or anyone else trying to use social media to harm them.”
Moody’s Online Safety Toolkit contains pages of educational material aggregated from federal, state and local public agencies, as well as private organizations, including the U.S. Department of Justice, the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children, Florida law enforcement and technology companies.
A few tips from the toolkit say discussing internet safety and developing an online safety plan; adjusting privacy settings and using parental controls; being alert to potential signs of abuse; and teaching children about body safety and boundaries.
“Power comes from information, and we need all parents armed with the power to combat human trafficking,” Osceola County Sheriff Marcos Lopez said. “The Attorney General’s Online Toolkit is a great way to get informed about the signs of human trafficking and ways to prevent your children from being victims.”
To watch the announcement, click on the image below:
Florida Arbor Day
The third Friday of January marks Florida Arbor Day, and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and the Florida Forest Service are using the day to recognize the importance of Florida’s trees.
While Arbor Day is celebrated nationally in April, many states recognize a state Arbor Day to coincide with the local tree planting season.
“Florida has a variety of native tree species that play an important role in protecting our ecosystems. They not only make our neighborhoods more beautiful, but they can also reduce energy costs, store carbon, and help keep our air and water clean,” Fried said. “I encourage all residents to get involved in community tree planting and help protect the natural Florida we love.”
The Florida Forest Service, a division of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, manages more than 1 million acres of state forests and provides forest management assistance on more than 17 million acres of private and community forests. The Florida Forest Service is also responsible for protecting homes, forestland and natural resources from the devastating effects of wildfire on more than 26 million acres.
“Trees are a significant part of Florida’s landscape and infrastructure, from those lining our community streets to working forests managed by landowners across the state,” said Erin Albury, State Forester and Director of the Florida Forest Service. “We are proud to work with partners like the Arbor Day Foundation to ensure that these valuable resources remain available for generations to come.”
Eastbound and up
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis trolled California again this week, firing off a letter urging Golden State officials to tell businesses to move to Florida.
Patronis drafted the letter in response to reports that a bill filed in the California Legislature would double state taxes for California households and businesses.
He said the proposal epitomized the state’s supposed derision for its population and likened California elected leaders to “prison administrators who control the day-to-day lives of people.”
Instead of forcing them to fork over more money to the state, Patronis called on California Gov. Gavin Newsom, Lt. Gov. Eleni Kounalakis, Secretary of State Shirley Weber, Attorney General Rob Bonta, Treasurer Fiona Ma and Controller Betty Yee to tell businesses they could save some cash by moving to Florida.
“Again, save yourself the headache of running a bill to shove more people out of your state, and instead encourage them to go to www.VISITFLORIDA.com so they can begin mapping out their exit strategy. I wish you all the luck,” he wrote.
He also used some inches to laud the Governor’s proposed gas tax cut, which he asserted could pay for itself if California tax policy spurs “mass migration” to Florida.
“We haven’t run the figures yet, but I am willing to bet that over time your tax increase proposal would make the Florida Governor’s billion-dollar tax cut effectively budget neutral,” he wrote.
Instagram of the week
Republican Rep. Kaylee Tuck of Lake Placid is the latest addition to the Florida High School Athletic Association Public Liaison Advisory Committee.
House Speaker Chris Sprowls appointed Tuck to the position Thursday and highlighted the lawmaker’s “strong commitment” to community service and students.
Tuck spearheaded a proposal last year that would’ve banned transgender girls from participating in women’s sports.
“I am confident that Representative Tuck will represent the Florida House and the interests of Florida high school athletes well in this important role,” Sprowls said in a statement.
In the role, Tuck will serve as an intermediary between the public and the Florida High School Athletic Association. She will also relay public input and complaints.
Tuck thanked Sprowls in a statement.
“I know firsthand the positive impact that high school athletics can have on students’ academic performance, and it is my honor to be a liaison between the Association and Florida parents and students to ensure that every child can have a fair and beneficial experience,” Tuck said.
According to a news release, the committee is tasked with hosting public meetings about rules, operation and management.
The committee also drafts an annual evaluation that contains findings and recommendations.
Voters elected Tuck to represent HD 55 in 2020.
Sen. Randolph Bracy will hold a news conference in Orlando today to announce the opening of COVID-19 testing sites in West Orlando.
The news conference will be held at 10 a.m. at Village Square, located at 927 S. Goldwyn Ave. COVID-19 testing will be available at the site throughout the day, and it will operate from 10 a.m. through 7 p.m. every day.
Bracy jabbed DeSantis in a news release announcing the news conference, saying he helped coordinate the new sites because the Governor has refused to reopen state-sponsored testing sites despite a surge in COVID-19 cases caused by the new, more transmissible omicron variant.
The news release said the Ocoee Democrat “is committed to providing more access to testing to create better health outcomes in the communities he serves.”
According to CDC data, Florida reported another 38,614 COVID-19 cases Friday and has averaged 41,203 cases and 70 deaths per day over the past week. To date, the state has reported nearly 5.3 million cases and 63,574 deaths.
In the loop
Rep. Matt Willhite and Sen. Audrey Gibson, both Democrats, have filed bills to improve the lines of communication between the members of nursing home residents’ care teams.
The bills (HB 1361/SB 1734) would ensure communication between a resident’s personal physician, whom they have the right to keep even as a nursing home resident, the resident’s power of attorney, and the medical director of the nursing home facility they live in.
It would require the nursing home director to consult with a resident’s personal physician and power of attorney before prescribing medications that conflict with those prescribed by the resident’s physician.
“When signed into law, this bill will create a better line of communication and a set of standards between a resident of a nursing home, their doctor, and their power of attorney. When we talk about health care, our primary obligation must always be the patient. By putting in place this set of standards, the patient will receive care that is more accurate,” Willhite said.
Gibson added, “Getting a pharmacy bill in the mail is not the way a nursing home resident’s family and power of attorney should find out about new medication being administered to their loved one, and lab work should not be diverted from the residents’ physician who ordered the lab work.
“SB 1734/HB 1361 will ensure safety and important health outcomes for residents who cannot speak for themselves. Florida’s percentage of senior population over 65 is the second-highest in the country; many may end up in nursing homes. They deserve to be properly cared for.”
House Democratic Leader-designate Ramon Alexander urged students at his alma mater to act during his Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Convocation address at Florida A&M University.
Reciting poetry from memory, the three-term lawmaker recalled significant dates in American history when African Americans thought they had overcome.
He noted Jan. 1, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. He listed Jan. 31, 1865, when Congress passed the 13th Amendment amid the Civil War. Next came April 9, 1865, when Confederate General Robert E. Lee surrendered to the Union army.
“We knew for sure then that the war was over, and the system of bigotry, hatred, and oppression had finally come to an end,” Alexander said.
But neither the end of the Civil War nor 12 years of Reconstruction, which immediately followed, “brought us to the promised land,” he continued. All the other strides in the 150 years since then are reminders that the struggle isn’t over.
The last date he mentioned was Nov. 4, 2008, when Barack Obama became the first African American elected President of the United States.
“Just like Dr. King and other great leaders and fighters for equality and justice for all … At every step of the way, we have experienced triumph and disaster and learned how to treat those two impostors just the same,” Alexander said.
During the ceremony, FAMU President Larry Robinson recognized five individuals who have played a leading role in the university’s battle against the pandemic: FAMU Director of Student Health Services Tanya Tatum, Institute of Public Health Director Cynthia Harris, Division of Cardiopulmonary Science Director Mary Simmons, Assistant vice president of Alumni Engagement and Director of Alumni Affairs Carmen Cummings, and Trustee and Student Government Association President Carrington Whigham.
“FAMU has been, and will always be, at the forefront of change,” Robinson said. “From the Tallahassee bus boycott, the sit-ins, and nonviolent protests, to the COVID-19 Testing and Vaccination Site, FAMU will be a leader for progress.”
Lawmakers, agency heads and advocates are among those slated to attend the Florida Juvenile Justice Association’s upcoming Legislative Reception.
The Association and Department of Juvenile Justice Secretary Eric Hall will partner at the event to recognize DJJ’s Youth Ambassadors. The duo will also announce its winners of the Service Excellence Award.
“These are direct-care staff serving kids on the front lines who have gone beyond the call of duty in ensuring our kids have positive outcomes and go on to lead lives of success,” said FJJA Executive Director Christian Minor.
The event is scheduled for Feb. 2 — Youth Success Day — at 5:30 p.m. inside the Florida Historic Capitol Building.
The Florida Juvenile Justice Association works to “bring together juvenile justice system professionals and agencies, organizations, and private and nonprofit corporations all committed to improving Florida’s juvenile justice system for children and families,” the Association’s website says.
RSVPs can be sent by email to [email protected] or by phone at (321) 233 4232.
Spread the word
Veterans Florida and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity are taking their partnership to the next level.
The two organizations said they will expand their efforts to promote the DOD SkillBridge Program among veteran employment and outreach specialists at CareerSource Florida’s 24 workforce development boards.
The DOD SkillBridge Program enables active-duty service members — with commander approval — to get on-the-job experience through internships, fellowships and apprenticeships during their final six months in the military. The program is open to service members of any rank or branch.
“This partnership tackles Florida’s workforce needs head-on,” Veterans Florida executive director Joe Marino said. “Collaborating with DEO enhances the already unparalleled services that Florida offers transitioning service members and employers who need their skills.”
DEO Secretary Eagle added, “DEO is proud to work with Veterans Florida to provide career growth resources and transition services for veterans who call Florida their home. The high-level skills, leadership, and experience that Veterans possess are essential to help propel Florida’s economy forward.”
Last year, Gov. DeSantis signed legislation creating a statewide SkillBridge initiative — the first of its kind in the nation — and putting Veterans Florida in charge of the effort.
“With Gov. Ron DeSantis’ leadership, many Florida businesses are growing and seeking the training, work ethic and teamwork military veterans bring to the workforce,” said CareerSource Florida President and CEO Michelle Dennard. “The DOD SkillBridge program has quickly become a valuable tool for our local workforce development board partners to help transitioning military service members embark on rewarding new careers.”
K9s for Warriors hopes the Legislature can help it increase its output by funding a new, state-of-the-art training facility, and their odds of success are looking good in the early days of Session.
An appropriations bill (HB 9049) sponsored by future House Speaker Sam Garrison would ship the organization $2.5 million to put toward the facility, which, once complete, could pair another 200 to 250 service dogs a year with veterans dealing with post-traumatic stress disorder, traumatic brain injuries and military sexual trauma.
This week, the bill cleared its first hurdle, earning an OK from the House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee.
“With roughly 20 veterans dying by suicide every day, we need to do everything we can to support and save our veterans,” Garrison said. “K9s For Warriors has proved the incredible impact Service Dogs can have on veterans suffering from the invisible wounds of war. This Mega Kennel facility will exponentially increase the number of Service Dogs available to veterans in need and allow more of them to get their lives back.”
In addition to lauding Garrison, a Fleming Island Republican, K9s For Warriors thanked Senate President Wilton Simpson and Speaker Sprowls, Sen. Jennifer Bradley, Sen. Travis Hutson and Rep. Cord Byrd for their support of the project.
“We are extremely grateful to our state leaders and representatives for their support in our mission to continue saving veteran lives by building the world’s largest rescue-to-Service Dog facility,” said Rory Diamond, CEO of K9s For Warriors.
“This Mega Kennel training facility will support the K9s For Warriors mission to end veteran suicide by pairing veterans with highly trained Service Dogs. The current wait time to receive a Service Dog is approximately four years; this facility will cut that time in half. This gives us the ability to get Service Dogs in the hands of our Warriors sooner so they can regain a life of dignity and independence.”
The Florida State Parks Foundation has teamed up with Duke Energy Florida to check a few projects off its to-do list.
One venture will replace the current, outdated playground at Edward Ball Wakulla Springs State Park with a new ADA accessible one featuring wheelchair-inclusive swings, sensory activities, and ground-level play activities.
The second project will bring six all-terrain power beach and trail wheelchairs to parks statewide. These chairs give people with mobility limitations the freedom to get out on the beach and unpaved trails — places where their own wheelchairs could not go.
The projects are estimated to cost $100,000 combined, and Duke Energy Florida will pick up the tab. The company has also awarded a $50,000 grant to enhance the Florida Park Service’s strike team trailer to assist in emergencies, such as wildfires or post-storm cleanup.
“We are delighted to be partnering with Duke Energy and its foundation on three separate park projects that will have enormous benefit,” Foundation President Tammy Gustafson said. “It is thanks to our corporate partners like Duke Energy Florida that we are able to achieve so much for our award-winning parks.”
Duke Energy Florida state president Melissa Seixas added, “At Duke Energy, we are strong supporters of diversity and inclusion. Through our Duke Energy funding and the Duke Energy Foundation grant, we are proud to support the Florida State Parks Foundation and the amazing work they do to preserve and protect Florida’s natural resources and expand access to outdoor recreation opportunities for all Floridians.”
Florida State University students Travis Waters and Shaina Ruth were included in the inaugural class of John Robert Lewis Scholars announced by the Faith and Politics Institute earlier this month.
The program was established in honor of the late U.S. Rep. John Lewis, a civil rights and voting rights icon.
Participants in the program, which includes a $2,000 award, will “examine Lewis’s nonviolent philosophy from a historical perspective; define its principles and strategies; and identify their applicability to modern times and movements, current issues, and everyday life.”
Waters is a junior studying political science. The Orlando native was one of nine scholars in the program’s first cohort. Ruth, a third-year law student from Jacksonville, is one of 12 fellows who received the honor.
“I’ve always had a sense of awe and reverence for civil rights leaders, including Martin Luther King and John Lewis,” Waters said. “To be able to pick up that mantle and get into that ‘good trouble’ that John Lewis talked about is a dream.”
Ruth, who is also pursuing her master’s in applied American politics and policy, said now is the perfect time to study Lewis’ legacy and work to implement the nonviolent policies he espoused.
“People aren’t talking to each other right now, and the pandemic is a great example of what common ground could do for us,” she said. “If we have empathy for one another, if we all talked about why some people are handling things the way they are and why some people are handling things in another way, it creates commonality. That commonality is how things get done.”
The 21 winners were selected from a pool of 120 applicants at 61 universities, including Dartmouth, the University of California-Berkeley and Stanford University.