Takeaways from Tallahassee — Suits for Session

Blue Tally Takeaways (4)
Time for some spring cleaning? It's Suits for Session!

Suits for Session

If you’ve gained a few pounds, lost weight, or just want to make room for a new spring wardrobe, this is the weekend to rustle through the closet to find and donate professional wear and accessories to “Suits for Session.”

For the seventh year, Volunteer Florida is sponsoring the service project to collect new and gently worn business attire to help prepare job seekers in need. Drop off will be held Wednesday on the 2nd floor of the Capitol Rotunda. Another curbside drop-off location will be available in front of Tallahassee City Hall.

“Suits for Session is our way of uniting lawmakers, agency partners, and local change-makers to make a tangible difference in the lives of job-seekers statewide,” said Volunteer Florida CEO Corey Simon. “It’s our honor to serve and lead by that example each year with this service project.”

Spring cleaning: It’s Suits for Session time again, says Corey Smith.

Since its inception, Suits for Session has collected tens of thousands of items for distribution to organizations in Tallahassee and throughout the state. Recipient organizations this year include AMIkids Panama City Marine Institute, Bridges International, and CareerSource Gulf Coast.

“It’s a local project with a statewide impact,” said Volunteer Florida External Affairs Director Kim Hawkes. “It’s a big effort … and it will be on full display in the Rotunda.”

Hawkes said she and other staffers are already sorting donations from “agency folks and state employees” from 22 state departments and agencies.

Men’s and women’s items accepted include full suits, blazers/jackets, blouses/shirts, pants/trousers, dresses and skirts, ties, belts, shoes and handbags.

Also continuing support for this drive is Simply Healthcare Plans, a managed health care plan serving Medicare Advantage and Medicaid members in Florida.

“This service project invigorates everyone’s sprits each Legislative Session as we assemble from every corner of Florida to make a positive impact,” said Simply President Holly Prince. “In a very real way, we’re helping Floridians gain meaningful employment and get back on their feet with this donation initiative.”

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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.

Take 5

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

House and Senate pass budget proposals — With three weeks remaining in the Session, the House and Senate have each passed their budget proposals and are prepared to start the budget conference. While the Senate approved its proposal unanimously and with little debate, 13 Democrats and one Republican in the House opposed the House proposal. Many House Democrats — even those who voted for it — critiqued several portions of the plan, including withholding $200 million from 12 school districts, cuts to Medicaid, and the lack of funds for the State Apartment Incentive Loan (SAIL) and State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) programs.

House passes 15-week abortion ban — After more than five hours of debate Wednesday and after being delayed by protests and a shouting match, the House voted shortly after midnight to ban abortions after 15 weeks. The fate of abortion access is now in the hands of the Republican-controlled Senate, where passage is almost certain. However, Democrats hope lawmakers will include exceptions for rape and incest. Tensions also flared on the House floor as protesters in the gallery chanted and interrupted bill sponsor Rep. Erin Grall. Democratic Rep. Angie Nixon posted on Twitter overnight that an “unhinged” and racist Republican Rep. Cord Byrd blamed Democrats for the protest. Meanwhile, Byrd called Nixon a “one-trick pony” who routinely calls her opponents White supremacists.

Senate passes amended water bill; skeptics remain — Senators on Thursday amended a major bill changing the management of water in South Florida and state environmental land-buying programs. The amendment was an attempt to assuage concerns from critics — including Gov. Ron DeSantis — that the bill would take funding from a project key to preventing water pollution in the region. It was unclear if the move allayed all the fears of the bill’s opponents, and a DeSantis spokeswoman said the Governor is still reviewing the map but that he remains committed to protecting the Everglades.

House advances map despite DeSantis pressure — DeSantis has submitted a second congressional map, but the House is marching forward with its staff-drawn map that maintains minority access districts. While the House Congressional Redistricting Subcommittee split along party lines to approve the House’s map, the committee made clear that submissions from DeSantis’ office will not influence cartography in the Legislature. Committee members pushed back against an expert flown in by the Governor’s Office to argue prioritizing minority access over compactness “will torpedo the ability of Florida to submit a set of districts it can call narrowly tailored.” But Subcommittee Chair Tyler Sirois reaffirmed, “The process requires us to follow the law.”

“Don’t Say Gay” heads to House floor — Controversial school-parental rights legislation dubbed the “Don’t Say Gay” bill by critics is ready for the House floor after passing the House Judiciary Committee this week. Although an amendment dialed back what had been broader language in the bill prohibiting school districts from “encouraging classroom discussion about sexual orientation or gender identity in primary grade levels or in a manner that is not age-appropriate,” classroom “instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity” for students in kindergarten through third grade, or “in a manner that is not age-appropriate or developmentally appropriate for students in accordance with state standards.” The bill advanced on a party-line vote despite opposition from Democrats.

SCOTUS shortlist

Among the shortlist for President Joe Biden’s U.S. Supreme Court pick is Ketanji Brown Jackson. On Friday, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried threw her support behind her fellow Miami Palmetto Senior High School graduate in a letter to the President.

Fried wrote that Brown Jackson is eminently qualified to serve on the nation’s highest court.

Nikki Fried backs up her fellow Miami Palmetto Senior High School alum, Ketanji Brown Jackson.

“As a fellow graduate of my alma mater, Miami Palmetto Senior High School, I am acutely aware of Ms. Brown Jackson’s unimpeachable reputation in Florida for her sedulousness and esteemed record of consensus-building,” Fried wrote.

Brown Jackson, born in Washington, D.C., was president of her high school debate team. After leaving Florida, she graduated with honors from Harvard and Harvard Law.

Brown Jackson was confirmed to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit with bipartisan support in 2021. Previously, she was a federal trial court judge, a public defender, and a vice-chair of the U.S. Sentencing Commission.

Fried also commended Biden’s pledge to nominate a Black woman to the bench, adding that it would give the Court new perspectives and experiences it hasn’t had before.

“You have the opportunity to make history with this nomination, and I believe there is no better candidate than Ketanji Brown Jackson,” Fried said.

Canned spam

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis urges the Federal Communications Commission to require all cellphone carriers to provide free spam blocking services to customers.

In a letter sent to Federal Communications Commission Chair Jessica Rosenworcel on Thursday, Patronis said customers in 2020 received 4 billion robocalls per month and lost $436 million in fraud. Some recent scams have included trying to sell fake COVID-19 tests.

Jimmy Patronis doesn’t like spam. Image via AP.

“As Florida’s Chief Financial Officer, consumer protection is a top priority for me, and I am worried about vulnerable consumers falling prey to scammers making spam phone calls,” Patronis wrote. “It is imperative that these robocalls be curbed immediately.”

Despite the risk to customers, some cellphone carriers require customers to pay for their spam blocking services. And certain carriers are charging for a higher tier of blocking services.

“I believe that all spam blocking services should be free to every customer because of how important it is to eliminate scams and protect consumers,” Patronis said. “The carriers should not be profiting off their customers when it comes to spam call prevention, nor should they be exposing their customers to identity theft and other scams in favor of profits.”

In Florida, Patronis is backing a pair of bills (SB 1292/HB 749) that would require salespersons making phone calls to provide their full legal name, license number and telephone number in an attempt to curb spam and fraud.

Heart & Trails

Lt. Gov. Jeanette Nuñez led a multi-agency expedition to Panama City Beach this week to encourage Floridians to prioritize heart health by hitting the outdoors.

February marks both American Heart Month and Florida Hiking Trails Month, and the administration saw it as an appropriate time to visit Camp Helen State Park in Bay County. Florida’s state parks have 10,000 miles of hiking, biking, equestrian and shared-use trails, as well as more than 5,000 miles of paddling trails.

“We encourage Floridians to enjoy our parks, trails, paths, and waterways to engage in physical activity, relieve stress, improve their health, and enjoy Florida’s clean air.”

Alongside Nuñez stood Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, head of the Department of Health.

Jeanette Nuñez and Joseph Ladapo celebrate Florida’s great outdoors.

“Physical activity is vital for overall health. It helps you feel better, function better, and sleep better, and it reduces anxiety,” Ladapo said. “The Florida Department of Health encourages Floridians to create and maintain healthy habits that can help lead to better health outcomes, especially through our Healthier You initiative.”

The Department of Environmental Protection, led by Secretary Shawn Hamilton, oversees state parks.

“Here in Florida, we are fortunate to have hiking trails that span the entirety of our state and even paddling trails for kayakers and canoeists,” Hamilton said. “Florida State Parks promotes a healthy, outdoor lifestyle that the whole family can enjoy and provides unparalleled opportunities to find your path to fitness.”

Manatees First

First Lady Casey DeSantis and Madison and Mason DeSantis recently visited SeaWorld Orlando, highlighting the state’s efforts to rehabilitate manatees.

On top of being a theme park, SeaWorld Orlando is an acute care rehabilitation facility and a partner of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC). It’s also a member of the Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership.

Casey DeSantis does her part to save the manatees. Image via Twitter.

“The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, along with partners like SeaWorld Orlando and other rescue and rehabilitation facilities, are working tirelessly to provide sick and injured manatees the care they need to restore their health and, when possible, return to the wild,” the First Lady said. “I was happy to be able to see firsthand the coordinated effort to protect one of Florida’s most beloved species.”

The Manatee Rescue and Rehabilitation Partnership is a cooperative of agencies, including FWC, and organizations to rescue, rehabilitate, and release manatees. Once a manatee is rescued, it is sent to one of several critical care facilities throughout Florida. These facilities provide the care necessary to nurse manatees back to health and, when possible, return them to the wild.

The current budget includes $8 million for FWC to restore manatee access to springs and provide habitat restoration.

Gov. DeSantis’ “Freedom First” recommended budget for the coming fiscal year includes an additional $3.8 million for the care and management of manatees.

Instagram of the week

‘Spirits of the Passage’

Secretary of State Laurel Lee unveiled a new exhibit this week at the Museum of Florida in Tallahassee.

“Spirits of the Passage: The Story of the Transatlantic Slave Trade” is a temporary exhibit produced and lent by the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum in Key West.

It explores the origins of the slave trade and its historical impact. It also features a slew of artifacts, including weapons, shackles, and cultural objects honoring Western African societies.

Get your knowledge on: ‘Spirits of the Passage’ looks at the origins and impact of the American slave trade.

Many of the items underscore conditions aboard a slave shape and illustrate the “largest forced migration in human history,” a news release said.

“Spirits of the Passage is a powerful and important exhibit, and we appreciate the Mel Fisher Maritime Museum and our partners for helping to bring the exhibit to the Museum of Florida History,” Lee added. “The exhibit is an opportunity to gain insight into history through the artifacts and the stories they help to tell.”

The exhibit is open to the public from Feb. 18 to May 9.

Hours are Monday through Friday, 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Saturday, 10 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.; Sunday and holidays, noon to 4:30 p.m.

Free parking is available in the garage next to the R. A. Gray Building.

Crack down

The House and Senate are gearing up to consider legislation that would make it easier to bring murder charges against people who provide drugs to overdose victims.

Both chambers are slated to hear the measures next week, with Rep. Scott Plakon’s version (HB 95) scheduled for the House floor on Tuesday and Sen. Jason Brodeur’s version (SB 190) scheduled for the Senate floor the day after.

Prevention, education & treatment: Scott Plakon and Jason Brodeur seek stiffer penalties for drug overdoses.

Current standards make it difficult for a prosecutor to prove which substance is the proximate cause if several are found in a person’s system. However, the legislation would no longer require prosecutors to prove a particular drug was the sole direct cause of death.

Instead, it allows a murder conviction if prosecutors prove the drug was a “substantial factor” in producing the user’s death. The bill also adds methamphetamine to the list of prosecutable controlled substances in such cases and increases penalties for drug sales near substance abuse treatment centers.

The proposal is based on DeSantis’ Statewide Task Force on Opioid Abuse recommended changes.

The bills have been met with mixed support, with most Republicans supporting the measure while most Democrats oppose it. Speaking before the Senate Rules Committee on Tuesday, Brodeur attempted to persuade skeptics that additional charges are needed on lower-level dealers, which could help flip those higher up.

“We know we need more education; we know we need more prevention; we know we need more treatment; we know we need more recovery,” Brodeur said. “This deals with a very narrow window.”

Toxic mold

It might be too late for lawmakers to start considering a bill from a pair of Democrats, but Sen. Shevrin Jones and Rep. Geraldine Thompson are still trying to bring awareness to toxic mold.

Their bill (SB 1394/HB 933), called the Toxic Mold Protection Act, would establish the Toxic Mold Protection Advisory Council. The panel would work with the Department of Health to develop and adopt certain limits, standards, and guidelines related to mold in indoor environments. Additionally, it would establish specific disclosure requirements and enforcement standards.

Moldy: Geraldine Thompson and Shevrin Jones’s mold bills may be gathering dust.

“Many people are ill and are not aware that their illness is due to exposure to high levels of toxic molds which are present in their living or work environments,” Thompson said. “This bill will establish appropriate levels of mold in environments and require that renters or purchasers of properties be informed of the presence of mold.”

Mold is a significant and frequently encountered threat for many residents in Florida due to the prevalence of moisture. There are currently no federal or state regulations addressing a landlord’s rights and duties concerning mold specifically, nor are there any disclosure requirements for existing mold issues.

“Individuals who suffer from respiratory problems or allergic reactions will benefit from this bill which will address unacceptable levels of toxic molds in dwellings,” Thompson said. “This will allow for appropriate diagnosis of illnesses caused by mold.”

Cutting time

Legislation that would allow Floridians with a criminal record to become licensed barbers or hairdressers is ready for a hearing before its final House committee.

The bill (HB 87), filed by Democratic Rep. Kevin Chambliss, would prevent barber or cosmetology licensure boards from denying applicants because they committed a felony within the three years prior. Additionally, it would allow inmates to count training earned while incarcerated toward their license.

Styling: Kevin Chambliss seeks to make it easier for those with criminal records to get licensed.

Chambliss’ bill has passed unanimously from two committees on its way to the House Commerce Committee as members like Republican Rep. Webster Barnaby noted barbering and cosmetology as a way, especially within the Black community, to start a business. He also pointed to it being Black History Month.

“I think it’s commendable that people are looking for a way up, a way to achieve the dream and the hopes that their parents wanted for them,” Barnaby said.

Despite the bipartisan support in the House, the analogous version in the Senate (SB 1118), carried by Republican Sen. Keith Perry, has never been scheduled for a hearing.

In 2019, the Legislature created a time-limited review process for considering applicants’ criminal history for licensure as a barber or cosmetologist. Chambliss’ bill would drop that time from five years to three years in most cases.

Puppy love

A bill that would upgrade aggravated animal cruelty penalties if the feathered or furred victim is a family pet received a nod from Criminal Justice & Public Safety Committee this week.

Republican Barnaby’s bill (HB 121) has a slim chance of advancing to the full House floor, according to animal advocates, as similar legislation in the Senate hasn’t made it past introduction. But the Deltona lawmaker wanted to honor the special role that animals play in human life.

Doggo: Webster Barnaby’s bill is for the dogs.

“The love of an animal is incredible,” said Barnaby, who is the human of Samson, a black Labrador. “It is so pure. It’s so true.”

The legislation was also inspired by a real-life case in Barnaby’s neighboring city. In September, Steven Parsons of DeBary was arrested for shooting his girlfriend’s dog, Chappo, a pit bull mix, between the eyes. Two children, ages 8 and 10, were also in the house at the time of the shooting. The dog bit Parsons while he was intoxicated and arguing with his girlfriend, according to the Volusia County Sheriff’s Office.

The case had a visceral effect on Barnaby.

“We are called to be good stewards of our pets,” Barnaby said. “They are so beautiful.”

Chappo, amazingly enough, was expected to make a full recovery from the incident. The sheriff’s office said he was “friendly toward deputies, walking around and wagging its tail” despite the injury. Charges are still pending against Parsons, according to the court record.

Half-staff

DeSantis has ordered flags at half-staff for Officer James McWhorter, 31, who died last week during a car accident while on duty in Nassau County.

McWhorter joined the Department of Agriculture in the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement in January 2019 and was certified in June 2019 after graduating from the Florida Gateway College Public Safety Training Center.

A memo from the Governor’s Office said McWhorter “will be remembered for his dedication to public service, his colleagues, and his family,” including his fiancee and four children.

Fried said her department was devastated to learn of McWhorter’s death.

End of watch: James McWhorter was ‘an excellent officer and devoted to his family, co-workers, and the public.’

“Our hearts are with Officer McWhorter’s loved ones during this incredibly difficult time,” Fried said. “We are so grateful to him for his service to our state, and we owe him and his family a debt of gratitude that can never be repaid.”

McWhorter was stationed on Interstate 95 in Nassau County.

On Saturday, flags will fly at half-staff at Agricultural Inspection Stations 16A and 16B on Interstate 95 in Yulee, the Clay County Courthouse, and the Orange Park City Hall.

“Officer McWhorter was an excellent officer and devoted to his family, co-workers, and the public he served,” said Colonel James Wiggins, director of the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement. “We will miss him greatly and send our condolences to his family, friends, and fellow officers during this difficult time.”

Power pros

The Florida Lineman Competition returns for its 21st annual event next week after taking a year off due to COVID-19.

Electric lineworkers from across the state will demonstrate their skill and knowledge during the competition held in Fort Pierce at the end of next week, beginning with an 8 a.m. ceremony on Friday. At the competition, journeyman linemen and apprentices can compete for professional recognition, attend training courses and practice essential skills.

Charged up: After skipping a year, the Florida Lineman Competition returns!

This year, 20 journeyman lineman teams will participate, including 65 journeyman competitors, 72 apprentices, and 43 judges from 11 utilities. Winners will be announced at an awards banquet Saturday evening.

The Florida Municipal Electric Association established the event, and the Fort Pierce Utilities Authority is the host.

“This event gives lineworkers the chance to showcase their skills and demonstrate the type of work they do day-to-day in a fun and safe environment,” said Amy Zubaly, executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association. “We are extremely excited that the event is returning this year. Electric utility customers across the state will be able to see just how hard our Florida linemen work to ensure they are getting power safely and reliably.”

The event is free and open to the public. Activities for children, including a bounce house and children’s area, and food trucks will be on-site. Attendees are encouraged to bring chairs and blankets. Coolers are permitted, and parking is free.

Black History Month

Leon County is hosting events during the rest of Black History Month with the Leon County Public Library System to honor Black Americans’ contributions, achievements, and struggles.

The Dr. B.L. Perry, Jr. Branch Library hosts genealogist Dr. Juanita Gaston to show people how to trace their enslaved African American ancestors using record collections available on Ancestry.com. The event is on Feb. 19 at 1 p.m.

Ancestral: Juanita Gaston helps people trace their roots.

The Leon County Main Library is hosting Dr. Kendra Mitchell to lead an interactive and interpretive discussion about the life and works of African American novelist Toni Morrison. The event is on Feb. 21 at 6 p.m.

The R.A. Gray Building is hosting Johnathan Grandage to discuss Toni Morrison’s novel “Beloved” and its connections to the lived experiences of Black Floridians before and after emancipation. The event is on Feb. 28 at 6 p.m.

Rattler for life

Florida A&M University Trustee David Lawrence Jr. will be stepping down from the school Board of Trustees.

Lawrence announced his intentions during a board meeting on Friday. He plans to be closer to home and his ailing wife, Roberta, who has Alzheimer’s.

Lawrence, a former newspaper publisher who called himself a “Rattler for life,” pledged his continuing support to the state’s only public Historically Black College or University (HBCU).

Rattler for life: David Lawrence Jr. caps off an extraordinary career.

“I served on a lot of boards but never a board that was more meaningful to me than this one,” Lawrence said. “I’ve already made a commitment to help in any way I can. Thank you for the opportunity to serve. It’s been a privilege to be part of a university that makes so much sense for the future of the United States of America.”

Lawrence, of Coral Gables, was reappointed to a second board term in June 2021. He was first appointed in 2015. During his career in media, Lawrence was publisher of The Miami Herald, publisher and executive director of the Detroit Free Press, and editor of the Charlotte Observer.

During Lawrence’s tenure as publisher, the Miami Herald won five Pulitzer Prizes. Since his retirement in 1999, Lawrence has made it his mission to improve Florida’s education system.

In addition to his work on the FAMU board, Lawrence founded the Children’s Movement of Florida, advocating for more and better early childhood education and child care. He was also among the most vocal supporters of the successful 2002 constitutional amendment establishing voluntary prekindergarten for all 4-year-olds in the state.

BOT Chair Kelvin Lawson thanked Lawrence for his “tremendous contributions” to the Board. And FAMU President Larry Robinson said Lawrence’s contributions had made a significant difference.

“Trustee David Lawrence has been a tireless advocate for FAMU,” Robinson said. “He brought his depth of experience and wisdom to the cause of advancing and improving our University.”

Lawrence also promised at least one more appearance. He’ll be in Miami Gardens on Sept. 4 to root for the Rattlers against Jackson State University in the Orange Blossom Classic.

Capitol Directions

Ron DeSantis — Up — He plays to his base … and 60% of NPAs.

DeSantis’ Wallet — Up — Bet his next book will sell more than “Dreams from our Founding Fathers.”

DeSantis’ Comms Team — Crossways — Unless you’re an Austrian noble, you probably shouldn’t start a war with the Catholic church.

DeSantis’ Staff — Crossways — Yeah, people are dishing on them, but hasn’t DeSantis always gotten what he wants?

Kevin Thibault — Up — DOT to MCO, ETA right about now.

DCF — Down — Psst, you’re supposed to protect kids, not your public image.

House, Senate Mapmakers — Up — We may make it the full 10 years without a redraw. What a novel concept.

Kathleen Passidomo — Up — By protecting her constituents AND standing up in defense of the current President, it’s clear why she will be leading the Chamber next Session.

Randolph Bracy — Up — Emancipation Day and Juneteenth aren’t CRT, they’re American history.

Danny Burgess — Up — The Governor got his rainy-day fund. He delivers.

Chuck Brannan — Up — His testimony was so powerful, you could hear a pin drop even without a hearing aid.

Qord Byrd — Down — If Angie Nixon was wrong, he’d be the presumptive heir to SD 4. Just sayin.

Mike Caruso — Up — If principled decisions are censurable, then it should be worn like a badge of honor.

Elizabeth Fetterhoff — Crossways — Her re-election campaign is cashing checks. So is her husband. Unfortunately, they’re the same checks.

Randy Fine — Down — Is it still an “accountability” measure if it directly harms school safety?

Mike Grieco — Up — Justice never sleeps. Apparently, he doesn’t either.

Bob Rommel — Down — Lawmakers gave his Big Brother bill as much attention as it deserved … none.

Eric Eikenberg — Up — The squeaky wheel gets the oil.

Sunshine State Health Plan Inc. — Down — Delay, delay, delay is a viable legal strategy, but it doesn’t translate well to children’s health care.

Freedom Week — Up — We thought every week was supposed to be Freedom Week in the “Free State of Florida,” but we’ll take the discount.

Critical Care Funding — Crossways — Grab some popcorn, we’re in for a show.

Electric Vehicles — Crossways — The charging network bill got a jolt, but less scrutiny is rarely a good thing.

Florida TaxWatch — Up — If the Compliance Determination Workgroup is signed into law, FTW won’t be watching from the sidelines, they’ll get a seat at the table.

Leos — Up — Crime doesn’t pay. Being a cop does.

Lottery Winners — Up — Now, winners can call a financial adviser before a financial adviser calls them.

Space Florida — Down — In space, and in the Legislature, no one can hear you scream.

Space Florida — Down — A Starbucks Traveler is like $13, so where the heck are they getting this coffee?

Visit Florida — Up — The tourism numbers speak for themselves.

Swim-Up Bars — Double up — Sipping a Grand Marnier floater in your floaties is the definition of freedom.

Alligator Trappers — Up — Who needs sleep? There are gators to catch.

Circle K — Down — Come for the gas, stay for the incident report.

FSU Athletics — Up — Back in (the) black.

FSU Online — Up — You can earn a Top-25 bachelor’s in your PJs.

Staff Reports



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