A tribute from Florida Politics’ Jesse Scheckner, Miami Palmetto Senior High Class of 1999.
By the time I crossed the stage for my diploma from Miami Palmetto Senior High, Supreme Court Justice Ketanji Brown Jackson was 11 years gone. She graduated in 1988, the year she captured a national debate title, a precursor of things to come.
She was quoted in the school yearbook, the Palm Echo, as saying, “I want to go into law and eventually have a judicial appointment.”
Mission accomplished. And then some.
In 1996, three years before I graduated, she’d gotten her juris doctor from Harvard Law School, an institution to which her high school guidance counselor recommended she not apply.
Justice Jackson, the first Black woman in history to be appointed to the highest court in the land, is hardly the first famous person to have come from Palmetto, a locally well-regarded public school in an upper-middle-class suburban area of Miami-Dade County now incorporated as the Village of Pinecrest.
Among its alums: Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos, astronaut Dominic Glorie, mixed martial artist Kimbo Slice, Olympians Matt Gribble and Jennifer Rodriguez, Surgeon General Vivek Murthy, Emmy Award-winning wildlife expert Ron Magill, pop star Camila Cabello, NBA player Tim Hardaway Jr. and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, Florida’s only statewide elected Democrat.
That’s not to mention a slew of media members, including TV producer Bill Herbstman, former Miami Herald Managing Editor Rick Hirsch, CNN managing producer Noah Gray, writer Ben Greenman, Washington Post reporter Meryl Kornfield, WSVN reporter Danny Rivero, Herald reporter Linda Robertson and, of course, yours truly.
When word of Jackson’s nomination came out in February, it was a moment for me and my fellow Panthers to rejoice, each of us adding to a list of alumni on Twitter. As a teenager crossing that stage, I had little appreciation for school spirit. As a man in my 40s with a firmer grasp on the value of legacy, it’s clear Jackson’s ascent to the highest echelon of her chosen profession is a milestone for us all.
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:
DeSantis signs visitation rights bill – Hospitals, nursing homes, assisted living facilities and intermediate care facilities for people with developmental disabilities have less than 30 days to establish visitation policies under a bill Gov. Ron DeSantis signed on Wednesday. The “No Patient Left Alone Act” (SB 988) requires health care providers to guarantee a minimum level of visitation rights. Once finalized, facilities will have 24 hours to make them easily accessible on the homepage of their websites. During the first wave of the pandemic Florida shut down access to many health care facilities, especially nursing homes, a move DeSantis regrets that cut off elderly residents from their family members.
Citizen initiatives bill signed – DeSantis also signed Republicans’ second attempt to limit spending in the ballot initiative process after last year’s proposal met legal hurdles. The proposal (HB 921) limits non-Floridians from donating more than $3,000, and out-of-state political committees from receiving donations worth more than $3,000, when it comes to ballot initiatives in the petition-gathering process. But like last year’s version, which capped all donations during petition gathering to $3,000, critics say the bill still runs afoul of the U.S. Supreme Court’s 2010 Citizens United decision protecting political contributions as free speech.
DeSantis sidesteps Wilton Simpson endorsement – DeSantis sidestepped the chance to endorse Senate President Wilton Simpson for Agriculture Commissioner on Tuesday, but said to look out for more endorsements ahead of the Primary Election season. “We will absolutely be getting involved in some of these races,” DeSantis said. The Governor sparred with the Senate at times during this year’s Legislative Session, and there’s speculation that the Ag Commissioner race’s new entrance, Chuck Nadd, could be wading in at the request of the Governor’s Office. While shying short of an endorsement, DeSantis said Simpson has been a big help in securing wins for Floridians during his less than two years as Senate President.
Alabama, other states follow Florida’s lead on parental rights – In a last-minute move in Montgomery on Thursday, the Alabama Legislature amended and passed a school bathroom bill to also incorporate legislation inspired by Florida’s parental rights in education law banning lessons about sexual orientation and gender identity for young students. The Alabama bill, also passed Thursday, goes further than Florida’s by extending the ban to fifth grade. Republican-led legislatures in Texas and Ohio are also taking a stab at what critics have called Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill. And while there’s a conservative campaign to boycott Disney over the company’s public opposition to the legislation, New York City and Chicago have launched ad campaigns to try to attract businesses from Florida over the law.
Jared Perdue named FDOT Secretary – DeSantis has named Jared Perdue to be Florida’s next Secretary of Transportation. No one’s been at the wheel at FDOT since former Secretary Kevin Thibault left earlier this year to oversee Orlando’s airports as CEO of the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority. Perdue comes on as a near 18-year veteran of the Department and will be DeSantis’ second Transportation Secretary. “Secretary Perdue brings a wealth of knowledge and understands the unique aspects of Florida’s transportation industry,” DeSantis said in a statement on Thursday. “I am confident in his ability to lead FDOT and to continue to advance our transportation systems.”
DeSantis has been on a bit of an infrastructure tour across North Florida this week. He made two more stops Friday, announcing more than $24 million in awards for Panhandle communities through the Department of Economic Opportunity.
In Port St. Joe, the Governor announced more than $23.1 million in funding to Northwest Florida communities through the Rural Infrastructure Fund and Community Development Block Grant programs.
“The best defense is a good offense and the long-term resilience of the Florida Panhandle is dependent on continuing to provide resources to support the success of these communities,” DeSantis said. “Robust resources and infrastructure improvements created by each of the projects awarded today are invaluable to Northwest Florida communities that are still recovering from the impacts of Hurricane Michael and other challenges.”
The largest of those awards was nearly $4 million for the Marianna Health and Rehabilitation Center to improve air purification and HVAC systems and construct a Bio-Hazard Isolation Room for the disposal of hazardous material.
Later, in Apalachicola, DeSantis announced more than $1.3 million in awards through the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s (DEO) Rebuild Florida Hazard Mitigation Grant Match Program and the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act (WIOA).
One project will help Apalachicola construct a new vacuum sewage station on Market Street to upgrade the existing wastewater infrastructure and mitigate future sewer overflows. A second project will help Franklin County install four permanent generators as a source of backup power during future disasters.
“Between storms and the impacted oyster industry that generations of families have relied upon, this community has been through a lot,” CFO Jimmy Patronis said. “Today’s announcement reaffirms the Governor’s commitment to ensuring our Panhandle communities rebuild.”
As Florida Wildfire Awareness Week comes to a close, Fried and the Florida Forest Service are making a final ask that Floridians be ready for wildfires.
Wildfires can strike year round, but Florida’s wildfire season peaks in April, May and June.
“Nearly half of Florida is forestland, which means residents must be aware of the dangers of wildfire,” Fried said. “Wildfire Awareness Week is an important reminder of the traumatic effect wildfires can have on our communities.”
Already, wildfires are off this year at a blazing pace. Since January, over 1,100 wildfires have burned 80,526 acres in Florida. Last year, a total of 1,957 wildfires burned more than 76,400 acres across the state.
“Unlike hurricanes, there is little to no warning,” Fried said. “It’s more important than ever for Floridians to be aware of weather conditions and to be extremely cautious with any outdoor burning. I’m urging all residents to be ready for wildfire. Don’t wait. Learn how to protect your family, your home, and your community now.”
As Florida’s population increases, so do the points of contact between people, structure and wooded areas. Despite Florida’s propensity for lightning, the leading cause of wildfires in the state is people.
The Florida Forest Service is encouraging the public to “Be Wildfire Ready” — know Florida’s outdoor burning laws, prepare your yard, prepare your home and prepare an emergency supply kit.
“The potential for significant wildfire activity is forecasted above normal through May,” said Erin Albury, State Forester and Director of the Florida Forest Service. “All residents need to be very cautious with any fire and understand their role in helping ensure the safety of their families and neighbors as well as our firefighters and first responders.”
Listen to the Chief
Patronis proclaimed April as Financial Literacy Month and is encouraging Florida’s children to start thinking about the Benjamins. How to earn them and how to invest them.
“It is never too early to learn the value of the dollar, how to spend or invest those dollars wisely, and how to save those dollars for a rainy day,” Patronis said in a press release accompanying the proclamation. “As Florida’s CFO, I remain committed to ensuring every Floridian has access to the tools and resources needed to obtain financial freedom to ensure their financial future is bright.”
Patronis also praised DeSantis for signing SB 1054 into law. The bill requires students beginning with those entering ninth grade in 2023 to take a half credit course in financial literacy in order to graduate from high school. SB 1054 retains the current requirement for a student to successfully complete 24 credits to earn a standard high school diploma. It does not impact students who entered ninth grade before the 2022-2023 school year.
The legislation is known as the “Dorothy L. Hukill Financial Literacy Act.” Hukill served in the state Senate between 2012 and 2018 and pushed to change Florida law to require high school students to take a financial literacy course before graduating.
Hukill, a Republican from Volusia County, died of complications from cervical cancer in 2018.
Florida returned more than $31 million in unclaimed property last month, meaning the Division of Unclaimed Property has returned more than $300 million to Floridians this fiscal year.
Unclaimed property is a lost or uncollected financial asset in the state’s possession. It can take many forms, including dormant bank accounts, uncashed checks, inheritances and even refunds.
Since Patronis took office in 2017, more than $1.6 billion in unclaimed property has been returned to Floridians.
“As Florida’s CFO, I have made it my personal mission to put money back into the pockets of Floridians where it belongs. We currently have more than $2 billion left in unclaimed property just waiting to be claimed right now,” Patronis said.
Over the years, celebrities and politicians, including former President Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, and former MLB star Derek Jeter, have been listed in the unclaimed property log.
Patronis says there’s a one in five chance Floridians have unclaimed property belonging to them or a loved one.
“It takes only a few minutes to search and there is absolutely no cost to you,” Patronis said. “I know inflation and gas prices are a real challenge to Florida families, so every little bit helps. Search for unclaimed property now for yourself, your friends, your loved ones, and even your business at FLTreasureHunt.gov.”
Instagram of the week
Can you dig it?
If you’re planning to spend the weekend filming a sweded remake of “Holes,” the Public Service Commission has a message for you: Call 8-1-1.
April is “Safe Digging Month,” a lesser-known holiday celebrating the fact that there are pipes and cables underground and that slicing them with a rusty D-handle shovel is a good way to make your neighbors hate you.
According to PSC, some poor sap either takes 50,000 volts to the dome, huffs natural gas or boots their kids from a Fortnite match every nine minutes because they are under the mistaken impression that a DIY privacy fence is “just as good” as one installed by a professional.
So, if you value your high-speed internet connection, enjoy bathing or don’t live in a house with oil lamps on every wall, you can avoid some trouble by dialing 8-1-1, the nationwide “call before you dig” hotline. There’s also a website, www.sunshine811.com.
An 811 call notifies affected utilities. About two days after you call, a truckful of people will show up to spray neon orange paint all over your yard to help you avoid catastrophe. Depriving them of that pleasure can result in fines and penalties, including repair costs.
“Whether you are installing a fence, securing a swing set, or planting trees, it’s important to call 8-1-1,” PSC Chair Andrew Giles Fay said. “Accidentally hitting an underground utility line while digging could harm you and those around you, so be safe with a free call to 8-1-1.”
“Gopher Tortoise Day” is Sunday, but the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is encouraging Floridians to celebrate it year-round. All it takes is a little yard work.
Since more than half of Florida lands are in private ownership, maintaining a friendly environment for the vulnerable species is a collective effort and an important one since they do a shell of a lot of work to keep other Florida fauna happy — their burrows, created without a call to 8-1-1, provide shelter to at least 360 other species.
Keys to a gopher tortoise-friendly yard include providing plenty of forage space and burrow protections while keeping invasive species under control. Property owners who tick all the boxes can apply for recognition and get a sign to tout their tortoise-friendly tract.
“The Gopher Tortoise Friendly Yard Recognition Program helps recognize and encourage landowners to enhance habitat and help protect gopher tortoises and their burrows,” said Katherine Richardson, FWC’s Gopher Tortoise Program Coordinator. “These kinds of efforts also benefit many other species that use tortoise burrows for shelter, foraging and nesting habitat.”
On actual “Gopher Tortoise Day,” FWC is asking Floridians to show the species some love on social media using the #GopherTortoiseDay hashtag. Other celebration suggestions are available on GopherTortoiseDayFL.com.
Book it to the library
If you don’t own a shovel and find burrowing reptiles a tad icky, fret not, because there’s an awareness week for indoor kids, too.
Secretary of State Laurel Lee this week spread the word that April 3-9 is “National Library Week.” It’s exactly what it sounds like — an endorsement of visiting a library.
First observed in 1958, “National Library Week” is organized by the American Library Association and celebrated in libraries across the country each April. It’s a week to highlight the essential role libraries, librarians and library workers play in transforming lives and strengthening communities.
Though it’s tempting to hold off until the Friends of the Library sale’s dime day, where you can buy the same books you would have borrowed without having to give them back, libraries are beacons of knowledge and learning that provide many valuable services.
Consequently, they are staffed with experts who can help you find the exact information you’re looking for or regale you with an explanation of the Dewey Decimal System’s advantages over BISAC and LOCCN.
Libraries also have the internet, allowing them to provide online homework help and wi-fi access for students and workers who may lack internet access at home.
“I continue to be impressed by the incredible assistance provided by library staff members and volunteers in support of their communities across the state,” Lee said. “Florida libraries are responsive to local needs ensuring programs and services that are relevant.”
The Florida Criminal Justice Executive Institute announced this week that 34 first-line supervisors today from the Florida Leadership Academy.
The academy’s 50th class includes graduates who serve in leadership roles at 21 criminal justice agencies throughout the state.
Their accomplishment follows their successful completion of four week-long sessions at the Okaloosa County Sheriff’s Office in Crestview, where they learned skills necessary to support the needs of their agencies and their communities as they prepare for future challenges.
The coursework encompasses leadership, communication, accountability and professionalism.
To get into the academy, candidates must hold a supervisor position in the criminal justice system, have a resume displaying increasing leadership responsibilities, secure a written nomination from their immediate supervisor and land an endorsement from the top brass at their agency.
The goal of the Florida Leadership Academy is to prepare first-line supervisors in criminal justice organizations to exemplify the character and integrity expected of criminal justice professionals and to examine the various components necessary to being an efficient leader.
The Florida Criminal Justice Executive Institute is housed within the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and affiliated with the State University System.
It was established in 1990 by the Florida Legislature to address the need for an innovative and multi-faceted approach to the education and training of criminal justice professionals.
The gift of life
Life insurance carriers will be prohibited from discriminating against organ donors under a bill DeSantis signed into law Wednesday.
HB 1099 prohibits insurance companies from declining or limiting insurance coverage for a person based solely on that person’s status as a living organ donor.
Specifically the bill prohibits long term care policies, industrial life policies and credit life insurance policies from declining or limiting coverage of a person solely due to his or her status as a living organ donor; or precluding an insured person from donating all or part of an organ as a condition to continuing to receive coverage under the policy.
The bill also bans insurers from discriminating in setting the premium, or any other condition of the policy, for living organ donors without any additional actuarial risk.
“There is a misconception that living organ donation is risky and will impact the donor’s long-term health or life expectancy, and there is just no evidence of that,” Sen. Janet Cruz, who championed the issue in the Senate, said in a prepared statement.
“Frankly, insurance companies should want these living organ donors on their plans, not discriminate against them. We need to encourage rather than discourage individuals who are willing to give the gift of life. This bill does that by prohibiting discrimination against those brave enough to donate an organ.”
The new law comes at a time, Cruz said, when there is a shortage of organ donations in the state. In her statement, Cruz said there were 4,276 patients on the kidney transplant waiting list in Florida last year and that 1,639 kidney transplants were performed.
Medicaid patients with schizophrenia or schizotypal or delusional disorders may not be required to go through so-called “step therapy” programs before having their prescriptions filled, even if the drugs don’t appear on the state’s preferred drug list.
DeSantis on Wednesday signed SB 534 into law. Sponsored by Sen. Gayle Harrell, the bill amends Florida’s Medicaid statutes to allow Medicaid patients who had previously received prior approval for a drug therapy to continue to take the drug so long as the drug had been prescribed within the prior 12 month period.
Florida Medicaid has a “preferred drug list.” Drugs appearing on the list are subject to state and federal rebates. State negotiated rebates, along with federally negotiated rebates, can reduce the per-prescription cost of a brand name drug to below the cost of its generic equivalent.
It is not clear whether the new law will increase the costs of the Medicaid program. According to a staff analysis there were 108,670 Medicaid recipients with a schizophrenia, schizotypal or delusional disorder diagnosis in the Florida Medicaid program between 2018 and 2020.
In that two year time frame there were 6,313 requests for prior authorization from patients with those conditions that wanted drug therapies not included on the Medicaid PDL. Of those, 74 were denied. Another 457 resulted in the patient changing the drug therapy.
More than 2.37 million claims for drug therapies to treat schizophrenia, schizotypal or delusional disorders were made and Medicaid, the bill analysis shows, spent $497 million. Of those claims just 50,836 were for non-PDL drug claims.
But the bill analysis notes that if more prescribers write orders for non-PDL drug therapies it could reduce the amount of drug rebates coming into the state. Florida currently collects over $2 billion per year in federal and supplemental rebates for PDL drugs dispensed to Medicaid recipients.
Lot of volunteering
The Florida State Parks Foundation has honored 31 people who provided exceptional volunteer service to Florida’s state parks between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021.
Florida State Parks Foundation President Tammy Gustafson said the volunteers racked up 946,282 hours over the course of the year at the following parks: Alfred B. Maclay Gardens State Park, Camp Helen State Park, Three Rivers State Park, Fort Clinch State Park, Paynes Prairie Preserve State Park, Rainbow Springs State Park, Talbot Islands State Park, Gamble Rogers Memorial State Recreation Area at Flagler Beach, Silver Springs State Park, Dade Battlefield Historic State Park, Highlands Hammock State Park, Lake Manatee State Park, Myakka River State Park, Oscar Scherer State Park, Werner-Boyce Salt Springs State Park, Bahia Honda State Park, Curry Hammock State Park, Dagny Johnson Key Largo Hammock Botanical State Park, and John D. MacArthur Beach State Park.
“Throughout the year, volunteers serve as a backbone to our state parks. This National Volunteer Appreciation Month, we are recognizing their outstanding work,” Gustafson said. “Florida’s award-winning state parks are made even better through the energy and commitment provided by our volunteers,”
The Florida State Parks Foundation is a nonprofit corporation whose mission is to support and help sustain the Florida Park Service, its 175 parks and trails, and more than 20,000 park volunteers.
The National African American Insurance Association Florida announced this week it received its first $40,000 pledge from Builders Insurance for an endowed scholarship for Risk Management/Insurance at the Florida State University College of Business.
NAAIA Florida founding board member and Colodny Fass Shareholder, Maria Abate, has spearheaded the scholarship initiative, along with fellow NAAIA Florida Board Member, Charles Watkins with the defense litigation law firm, Kubicki Draper.
In a prepared statement announcing the funding pledge, Abate said NAAIA chose FSU as its partner because of the Risk Management/Insurance program’s elite ranking in U.S. News & World Report. That, Abate said, well positions NAAIA to achieve its goal of creating a diverse, equitable and inclusive insurance industry.
“Given the growing insurance talent gap, pending boomer retirements, and the effects of the ‘Great Resignation,’ this holistic approach will have real world impact and is a win-win for students and companies alike,” Abate said in a prepared statement announcing the funding commitment.
Builders is an Atlanta-based commercial insurance carrier that has total assets that exceed $1 billion. It has more than 150 employees and 350 agency locations across the nation.
“We are proud to support NAAIA’s mission to create a pipeline of talent and opportunity for students of color,” said Builders COO Antonio Barner. “The industry is stronger when we support diverse, top-notch RMI graduates on their way into the professional world.”
Save the date
A trio of James Madison Institute Policy Directors will host a webinar on the 2022 Legislative Session, the bills that passed, the bills that died, and the role JMI played in the process.
Andrea O’Sullivan, the director of the Center for Tech and Innovation; William Mattox, director of the Center for Education Options; and Sal Nuzzo, director of the Center for Economic Prosperity; join JMI President and CEO Bob McClure Wednesday April 13 at 2 p.m. for the event.
Register for the webinar here.
Seen any blue and silver pinwheels staked in lawns across Florida? The plastic spinners are a small reminder that April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
On the latest episode of the podcast “Nurturing Well-Being with Kurt Kelly,” Prevent Child Abuse Florida executive director Chris Lolley explains that pinwheels aren’t just a small reminder. The plastic spinners are also allegorical.
“It’s a great symbol, because it denotes action,” Lolley said. “It only takes a little bit of wind to make the pinwheel turn, just like it takes a little bit of effort on all of our behalf to contribute to supporting parents and preventing abuse and neglect by doing so.”
Department of Children and Families Secretary Shevaun Harris, Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo, Department of Education Senior Chancellor Henry Mack and others also joined Lolley on Monday to kick off the month by placing pinwheels on the lawn of the Historic Florida Capitol.
“Nurturing Well-Being with Kurt Kelly,” hosted by the president and CEO of the Florida Coalition for Children, aims to change the conversation around Florida’s child welfare system. The podcast features conversations with stakeholders, legislators and others who share our vision of transforming Florida’s child welfare system into a child well-being model.
“April really gives us a chance to focus on what we want. But what we really want is children who are happy and healthy, carefree, free from abuse and neglect,” Lolley said. “We know what Child Abuse Prevention Month means to us, and that is being proactive in our approach and really being supportive of parents.”
Governor’s Office — Down arrow — So, what’s the Guv’s “equity” in Halsey Beshears’ spending records?
Eric Adams — Up arrow — The only way he could troll DeSantis harder is with a “Free City of New York” campaign.
Chicago — Down arrow — The Second City should leave the ad campaigns to NYC.
Nikki Fried — Up arrow — Solid fundraising and endorsements … if she can get Alice in Chains to play a campaign rally, she’s gold.
Jimmy Patronis — Up arrow — Twitter isn’t moving to Florida, but you have to respect the effort.
Jared Perdue — Up arrow — The DeSantis administration opened up the books and pulled him to the top spot at DOT.
Bipartisanship — Up arrow — It’s gold.
Lauren Book, Fiona McFarland — Up arrow — Scratch that. It’s liquid gold.
Jen Bradley, Ralph Massullo — Up arrow — At least we don’t have to worry about “Parental Rights in Emergency Medical Care.”
Randy Fine — Down arrow — As his bullying continues, we wonder: who hurt you, Randy?
Joe Harding — Up arrow — Every time you blast “Don’t Say Gay,” he gets a check.
Freedom week — Crossways arrow — It’s a gimmick, but we’ll take the $10 savings on a new rod and reel.
Americans for Prosperity — Up arrow — Zoom, zoom, alakazam — enjoy your alprazolam.
FBHA — Up arrow — DeSantis signed so many behavioral health bills, his pen ran out of ink.
FHCA — Up arrow — Their long-sought staffing modernization plan is finally on the books.
Akerman — Up arrow — They’re going to bat for Joseph Woodrow Hatchett, even if the Florida Delegation won’t.
Mori Hosseini — Crossways arrow — ICI Homes scored big. But it took some icky maneuvers.
FHSAA — Up arrow — Praise be unto thee.
Swim-up bars — Double up arrow — You can find me in the tub, bottle full of bub.
Florida horse conch — Down arrow — Two feet long, but inches from extinction.
News 6 — Up arrow — Actual relevant coverage … from a TV station?
Jim Rosica — Double down arrow — He’s leaving the Democrat for my bête noire, the News Service of Florida. He’s dead to me.
Mike Vasilinda — Up arrow — A press corps legend, signing off.
April 9, 2022 at 9:08 am
Laugh rear axel off, America’s Gov never suffers a down arrow. You gotta be kidding. Oh yeah n. fraud gets a up arrow, how convenient.
Here is this factoid, per Bureau Labor Stats as Florida under America’s Gov is third in nation with increased wages, 8.7%.
Florida, America’s Gov, is a economic renaissance under Ron’s leadership. Do for America what you have accomplished for Florida.
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