Takeaways from Tallahassee — Gassed up for October

Blue Tally Takeaways (4)
Will voters care about or notice lower gas prices?

Gas tax jumpscare

With the start of October, Florida has entered the spooky season. But Florida has also entered the Motor Fuel Tax Relief Holiday season.

From now until Halloween, the state is waiving state and local gas taxes, a move that is expected to save Floridians an estimated $200 million.

Dominic Calabro, President and CEO of Florida TaxWatch thanked Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Republican-led Legislature for implementing the holiday, which was inspired by rising gas prices that peaked in mid-June.

Dominic Calabro and Florida TaxWatch say saving Floridians cash at the pump is a prudent move. Image via Florida TaxWatch.

“This year, people all across the country encountered record high costs at the gas pump, but fortunately for Floridians, they will receive some much-needed relief throughout the month of October with the new Motor Fuel Tax Relief holiday,” Calabro said.

Republicans say they chose to hold the holiday in October because it is one of two months with the least number of tourists on the road, meaning the benefits are more exclusive to Floridians — maybe help them pay for a trip to Halloween Horror Nights.

However, Democrats fear Republicans were pulling a more sinister stunt. Oct. 31 carries the gas tax holiday to about a week before the General Election, helping keep gas prices top of mind for voters, which could become a jumpscare for Democrats.

“While gas prices in Florida hit another record high, Floridians are stuck paying an extra 25 cents on every gallon so that Ron DeSantis can time a gas tax holiday around Election Day,” Florida Democratic Party spokesperson Kobie Christian said in a statement June 8. “Voters should remember that every time they’re feeling pain at the pump, it’s because Governor DeSantis is hoping it helps his reelection campaign.”

Republicans say the holiday was made possible by Florida’s record level of reserves. However, the state intends to use dollars from the American Rescue Plan, passed by Democrats in Congress and signed by President Joe Biden, to backfill the missing tax dollars.

Beyond the political implications, Calabro warned against the other horrors that could spawn from a sustained gas tax holiday.

“As a trusted government watchdog for over 40 years, we must urge leaders and decision-makers to be conscious of the impact any permanent gas tax reduction could have on critical transportation infrastructure or bonds,” Calabro said. “Anything that could potentially compromise Florida’s bond rating or the competitiveness that comes from having strong transportation infrastructure must be taken into consideration.”

___

Tallahassee should also buckle up for the Senate District 3 debate on Monday.

The debate, which will feature Democratic Sen. Loranne Ausley and Republican challenger Corey Simon, will begin at noon at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center. The Capital Tiger Bay Club is hosting the event, and POLITICO’s Gary Fineout will moderate. The debate will be preceded by a luncheon at 11:30 a.m.

It’s Ausley vs. Simon in Senate District 3.

___

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, Christine Jordan Sexton and the staff of Florida Politics.

But first …

Take 5

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

Hurricane Ian strikes Southwest Florida — At least 21 people died during Hurricane Ian, according to state officials. The cyclone made landfall as a Category 4 hurricane, bringing storm surge as high as 18 feet to parts of Southwest Florida. Gov. Ron DeSantis has called Ian a “500-year flooding event” with “biblical storm surge,” which left barrier islands like Sanibel inaccessible from the mainland. President Joe Biden feared it could be the deadliest hurricane in Florida history, a possibility DeSantis disputed. The state raised $10 million in two days of donations to the Florida Disaster Fund. While the immediate recovery is expected to take weeks, the long-term recovery could take months, years and even decades with state officials just starting to assess the devastation.

Biden declares major disaster, opens federal purse — The President declared a major disaster over Hurricane Ian. That opens the door for the federal government to take on 100% of the cost of debris removal and emergency protective measures, including public assistance and direct federal assistance for 30 days. While it’s not the 60-day order DeSantis had asked for, Biden and DeSantis appear to be working together effectively despite two years of being at political odds. The order will also allow individuals in nine impacted counties to receive federal funding for temporary housing, home repairs and low-interest loans for property losses. As DeSantis predicted, Biden later added four Central Florida counties to the declaration with more expected to come.

Quarter of Floridians impacted by outages — Nearly one quarter of Florida customers were without power at the peak of outages caused by Hurricane Ian. As of noon Friday, that number had fallen to 16%. Only 61 customers have power in Hardee County. Meanwhile, more than four-fifths of customers in Charlotte and Lee counties are without power. Friday marks the first full day of restoration work. More than 21,000 workers, with help from linemen from 30 states, will work at all hours to restore power.

Insurance market, DeSantis record under scrutiny — While a gentleman’s political truce is on as Florida responds to Hurricane Ian, it hasn’t stopped politicians and industry experts from sounding the alarm — yet again — on Florida’s fragile property insurance market. News that a sixth insurance company would be leaving the state broke Monday, as Floridians were ramping up preparations and evacuations ahead of Ian’s landfall. While lawmakers presented DeSantis with their insurance package cobbled together in the legislative off-season, some wonder whether it will be enough and whether DeSantis and Republicans should have acted sooner. Other parts of DeSantis’ record are also resurfacing, like his 2016 vote against Hurricane Sally aid as a member of Congress.

Medicaid providers sue AHCA over minimum wage hike — Three health care organizations and a Largo-based provider sued Florida on Tuesday, arguing that lawmakers illegally opened them up to class-action lawsuits if they fail to pay employees at least $15 an hour as required in the new state budget. The lawsuit, filed in circuit court in Leon County, asks a judge to issue a temporary injunction and block the enforcement provision from taking effect. The minimum wage hit $11 an hour on Friday, but minimum wages for state employees — and Medicaid providers — will jump to $15 an hour in January. The budget language allows employees to file class-action lawsuits.

Antonacci honored

DeSantis has ordered flags at half-staff for Pete Antonacci, a longtime government official who passed away last week.

Most recently he served as the Director of the new Office of Election Crimes and Security within the Department of State. But throughout his career, he served in numerous leadership roles, including as Chief Judge of the Division of Administrative Hearings, Statewide Prosecutor, Deputy Attorney General, CEO of Enterprise Florida, State Attorney for the 15th Circuit, General Counsel to Gov. Rick Scott, and Executive Director of the South Florida Water Management District.

Republicans and Democrats remember Antonacci as a compassionate person and a dedicated public servant.

DeSantis’ memo orders flags at half staff at the State Capitol, at the Miami-Dade County Courthouse and Hialeah City Hall on Monday from sunrise to sunset.

While he was largely known for his service during Republican administrations, he also worked alongside Democrats. He was a top aide to Democrat Bob Butterworth during his time as Attorney General.

DeSantis said Antonacci “epitomized public service.”

“It goes without saying that Pete was the consummate public servant and will be remembered for his dedicated service to our state and the notable legacy he left behind,” he continued.

The Tallahassee community will also gather Monday to celebrate his life. The event will take place at 3 p.m. at the Florida State University Alumni Center.

Aid for agriculture

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried wants Florida farmers, ranchers, families and businesses affected by Hurricane Ian to know that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) has multiple programs to provide Florida producers assistance in the wake of Hurricane Ian.

Some of the available USDA programs that reimburse producers for a portion of the value of livestock, poultry and other animals that were killed or severely injured by natural disasters include the Livestock Indemnity Program and the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees and Farm-raised Fish Program.

Nikki Fried wants producers impacted by Ian to report losses as soon as possible. Image via AP.

Also available is the Tree Assistance Program which provides cost share assistance to rehabilitate or replant orchards and vineyards when storms kill or damage the trees, vines or bushes. The Emergency Conservation Program and Emergency Forest Restoration Program also assists landowners and forest stewards with financial and technical assistance to restore damaged farmland or forests.

Moreover, Fried is reminding Florida producers impacted by Ian to report losses as soon as possible to maintain eligibility in crop insurance programs and to more timely receive help.

Producers who suffer losses and whose crops are covered for the 2021 crop year by the Federal Crop Insurance Program or the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) should report damage to their crop insurance agent or local FSA office, respectively, within 72 hours of discovering damage and follow up in writing within 15 days.

USDA encourages residents and small businesses in impact zones to contact a local USDA office to determine which assistance programs might meet their individual needs.

Don’t think about it

Attorney General Ashley Moody is encouraging state attorneys to get tough on criminals who might try to take advantage of people following Hurricane Ian.

Moody sent a memo to state attorneys in all 20 judicial circuits in Florida, reminding them that defendants who are charged with a theft crime in an area under declared state of emergency may be held until a first appearance hearing.

Ashley Moody joins Ron DeSantis in his “law and order” push. Image via AP.

Additionally, Moody requested that state attorneys seek pretrial detention to the fullest extent possible for defendants who commit crimes during the current state of emergency. Her memo flagged a Florida law that directs that “no non-monetary releases shall be granted for dangerous crimes at the first appearance hearing under certain circumstances,” her office announced in a press release.

Moody also recommended that state attorneys meet with the chief judges in their circuits to discuss augmenting the circuit bond schedules. The move would allow them to enhance, increase or eliminate altogether the standard bonds for theft, burglary and other crimes related to the chaos caused by Hurricane Ian and the emergency declaration.

“Floridians displaced by Hurricane Ian have enough to worry about without having to fear theft or burglary at the hands of offenders previously arrested for crimes during the state of emergency. These unscrupulous offenders must remain locked up where they can no longer prey on vulnerable Floridians,” she said in a prepared statement. “I strongly urge state attorneys to seek pretrial detention to the fullest extent possible for any criminal heartless enough to victimize Floridians during this extremely challenging time.”

Looking for fraudsters

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis announced Friday that he has deployed two Anti-Fraud Strike Teams to Orlando and Tampa and is sending four additional teams to Southwest Florida with two teams headed to Charlotte County and two teams headed to Lee County.

Each team consists of six fraud officers to ensure contractors are following Florida laws and to also track down potential fraud and open cases when necessary. Each Anti-Fraud Strike Team has six officers from the Department of Financial Services’ Division of Investigative and Forensic Services (DIFS) who are trained insurance fraud investigators.

Jimmy Patronis wants to stop fraudsters from praying on Ian victims.

The fraud teams specialize in property and casualty fraud and workers’ compensation fraud.

“We want to eliminate any incentives for illegal acts and that’s why our DIFS team is in the community to deter any fraudulent activity,” Patrons said in a prepared statement noting that there will be nearly 40 fraud officers on the lookout for suspicious activity,” he said. “Let me be clear — if you attempt to defraud Floridians following Hurricane Ian — you will be caught and you will be thrown in jail.”

While Patronis did not mention “assignment of benefits” he did note in his release that consumers need to be on guard for fraudsters and “should not feel pressured to sign anything without doing your research first. Patronis also asked that consumers report suspicious activity to the Fraud Tip Hotline at 1-800-378-0445.”

More Patronis tips

Patronis warned individuals and businesses looking to contribute to Hurricane Ian relief efforts about imposter GoFundMe-type crowdfunding websites that may pop up and encouraged them to donate to the Florida Disaster Fund instead.

“I’ve seen disasters bring out some of the best in humanity but unfortunately the worst in some. As we saw during the tragic Surfside building collapse, scam artists will use the devastation caused by Hurricane Ian to scam people for their own personal gain,” Patronis said in a prepared release.

Jimmy Patronis is pointing your to FloridaDisasterFund.org. You’ll be hearing about it a lot, and for good reason. Image via @JimmyPatronis/Twitter.

“Do not give to a cause unless you have verified its legitimacy and never feel pressured to donate. If a charity forces you to donate in cash or by gift card, that’s a scam. To avoid fraud, I encourage anyone who wants to give to those across Florida who were impacted by Hurricane Ian to donate to FloridaDisasterFund.org.”

Patronis’s office also released tips on avoiding charity scams that were first issued by the Federal Trade Commission. Those tips include using a credit card or check to make a contribution and keeping a record of all contributions.

Disaster Fund

First Lady Casey DeSantis announced Friday that the first $1 million has been dispersed from the Florida Disaster Fund to help Hurricane Ian recovery efforts.

The Florida Disaster Fund is Florida’s official private fund that — working in partnership with public, private and other non-governmental organizations — provides financial assistance to help communities respond to and recover from emergencies or disasters.

Casey DeSantis is taking charge of the Florida Disaster Fund. Image via Casey DeSantis/Instagram.

“We know that for many Floridians there will be a long road to recovery, and we are committed to helping,” the First Lady said in a statement. “Through the charitable contributions and generosity from people across the country, we have issued the initial one million dollars in payments to groups working on the front lines to help Floridians in need. Thank you to all who are supporting these heroic efforts.”

Ten organizations have received the first round of funds, namely Save the Children, The Salvation Army, the American Red Cross, Team Rubicon, Catholic Charities, Feeding Florida, Midwest FoodBank, ToolBank, Operation BBQ Relief and United Way Collier County.

By Thursday, the First Lady had announced that Florida had already received more than $10 million in donations to the fund. Among some of the largest donations were $1.5 million from Walmart and $1 million from groups like Amazon, Centene Charitable Foundations, Ian MacKechnie and Florida Blue. More about MacKechnie later.

“We are grateful to First Lady Casey DeSantis for her continued leadership and to all who have contributed to the Florida Disaster Fund,” Volunteer Florida CEO Josie Tamayo said. “The amount of donations received is a true testament to the resiliency of Florida. Our thoughts and prayers are with everyone affected.”

Instagram of the Week

The Week in Appointments

Public Service Commission — DeSantis has reappointed Gary Clark and Gabriella Passidomo to the Florida Public Service Commission. Clark, of Chipley, has been a Commissioner on the Florida Public Service Commission since 2017. Previously, he was Deputy Secretary of Land and Recreation for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from the University of Phoenix. Passidomo, of Tallahassee, has been a Commissioner on the Florida Public Service Commission since 2021. Previously, she was an attorney in the Regulatory Analysis Section of the Florida Public Service Commission’s Office of the General Counsel. She graduated Cum Laude from the University of Florida with a bachelor’s degree in political science and earned her law degree from Washington and Lee University.

Oct. 1 bills

It’s the start of October, which means a number of new laws take effect today.

The list includes a requirement in the 2022-23 budget that direct care providers who care for Medicaid patients be paid $15 an hour. Employers that don’t pay that wage could face civil suits, including class action lawsuits, beginning Jan. 1, 2024.

Florida’s specialty license plate program can begin the development process for license plates representing the following interests: Inter Miami CF, Safe Haven for Newborns, Pap Corps Champions for Cancer Research, Learn to Fly, Florida Swims, Down Syndrome Awareness, Take Stock in Children, and Gopher Tortoise. The changes were contained in SB 364.

David Beckham’s Inter Miami CF soccer team is one group slated for a plate.

Florida’s boating safety laws get updated today as the provisions of SB 606 take effect. The new regulation requires a written agreement between the parties with a list of names and addresses of those onboard be kept and those agreements made available to law enforcement for at least one year. The laws are meant to improve boating safety.

In 2020, the most recent year for which data has been tabulated, Monroe and Miami-Dade counties ranked first and second statewide for boating accidents, according to a Fish and Wildlife Commission report.

First responders will have more time to file workers compensation claims. Starting today first responders suffering from post traumatic stress disorder will have 52 weeks following their diagnosis to file a claim. Previously the claim had to be filed within 52 weeks within the triggering event. The changes were contained in HB 689.

Meanwhile, school districts will have to annually certify that at least 80% of their personnel have received mandatory youth mental health awareness training. The requirements were included in HB 1421 which made updates to Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

Roach joins law firm

Rep. Spencer Roach has joined a Naples-based law firm that specializes in a variety of areas from elder law to Medicaid and estate planning to personal injury, including nursing home abuse and medical malpractice.

Roach, who served in the U.S. Coast Guard for 20 years, graduated from the University of Miami School of Law, which he attended on a military scholarship after being selected for the Judge Advocate General (JAG) program. A Republican from North Fort Myers, he is licensed to practice law in both Florida and Texas.

We’d say it’s been a good summer for him, but now he’s dealing with Ian. Wishing him the best on his home recovery. Image via Colin Hackley.

For the last two years, Roach has served on the House Judiciary Committee. Roach also has sponsored legislation to eliminate the ban in Florida law that prevents parents of adult children who are single and have no children from pursuing wrongful death claims in medical malpractice cases.

Roach has said this gives doctors a “free kill” if the patient is single and childless.

“We warmly welcome Spencer Roach to the firm and know he will be an incredible asset to our team,” Jeffrey Janeiro, a managing member of the firm, said in a prepared release announcing Roach joining the firm. “We greatly look forward to working with him.”

Ballots in the mail

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley announced Thursday that his office has started mailing more than 63,000 vote-by-mail ballots to Leon County voters who requested them.

Voters who haven’t already requested vote-by-mail ballots but want to take advantage of that option have until Oct. 29 to make the request, either online at LeonVotes.gov or by calling Early’s office at (850) 606-8683, Monday through Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m.

Leon County is sticking to the schedule despite Ian throwing a wrench in the process statewide. Image via Leon County Supervisor of Elections.

Early’s office already has mailed more than 1,200 ballots to military and overseas voters to ensure they have the extra time to receive their ballot and return it on time.

Vote-by-mail ballots must be returned to the Elections Office by 7 p.m. on Election Day, Nov. 8, except for overseas voters who have an additional 10 days to return the ballots.

To make the Nov. 8 deadline the United States Postal Service recommends ballots be mailed one week before Election Day. Alternatively, ballots can be dropped off at any drop box at an early voting site or at the Leon County Supervisor of Elections Office on Apalachee Parkway.

Voted ballots must be returned in the green envelope, with the voter’s signature and date signed.

Recovery tips

AARP Florida state Director Jeff Johnson is reminding residents that there are free tips and resources on AARP’s website for residents to use as they begin to recover from Hurricane Ian.

Johnson said AARP is committed to helping its 2.8 million Florida members as well as all the residents in the state.

Jeff Johnson and AARP’s are exclusively for those 50 and older.

“AARP Florida is staying focused on the safety of long-term care residents, closely monitoring search, rescue, and relocation efforts of seniors in areas of major devastation, and critical supply distribution and power restoration for older adults and their families,” Johnson said in a prepared statement in which he also thanked DeSantis, the Division of Emergency Management team, the Federal Emergency Management Agency team and all first responders.

“While each of these aspects of hurricane recovery revives difficult memories of past storms, we are eternally grateful for the dedicated staff in our long-term care facilities, the first responders who are answering the calls for help, and linemen who are working around the clock to restore power for families and their loved ones.”

Ian offers Ian aid

MacKechnie, founder of Tampa-based Amscot Financial, has donated $1 million to The Florida Disaster Fund.

“I wasn’t born in Florida, but I have spent much of my adult life here. I built a business and we raised our family here, and (my wife) Jean and I are thankful to be able to help give back when so many are in need,” MacKechnie said. “One thing I’ve come to know is that people in Florida step up to help their neighbors. Hurricane Ian wreaked havoc across so much of the state we love and we are grateful to be able to support the state’s recovery efforts.”

Ian MacKechnie is lending a big hand to help his adopted home recover.

Amscot Financial provides financial services to non bank members and its core services include check cashing, bill payment, prepaid access cards, payday loans, free money orders, wire transfers, notary services, fax services, and postage. When first moving to Florida from his native Scotland, MacKechnie initially bought a bakery but sold it and launched Amscot Financial after noticing his bakery employees would cash their paychecks at convenience stores.

“Under the leadership of Governor Ron DeSantis, First Lady Casey DeSantis, and other state leaders, the Florida Disaster Fund is working quickly to accumulate the means to help as many Floridians as possible,” MacKechnie said. “Countless Floridians have lost literally everything, and Jean and I encourage others to help however they can if they are in a position to do so.”

Health community

Health care providers across the state are offering their water, support and supplies to support neighbors in Southwest Florida impacted by Hurricane Ian.

Sunshine Health employee volunteers will be offering water and supplies at its Fort Myers Welcome Room Saturday from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Sunshine Health and others are lending a hand in Fort Myers.

Meanwhile, Molina Healthcare of Florida is working with employees and service providers to ensure extra coverage.

“We want our members in the path of this storm to know they will be well taken care of before, during, and after Hurricane Ian,” said Mike Jones, plan president of Molina Healthcare of Florida. “Molina providers and staff will continue delivering urgent, emergency, and other necessary services regardless of prior authorization status until the state of emergency declared by Governor DeSantis has been lifted.”

Molina has suspended prior authorization requirements for all prescriptions and medical services during the state of emergency. It is also covering medical services regardless of participating or non-participating provider networks.

Molina is also proactively contacting high-risk members to ensure their medical needs are met.

Molina’s customer service line is (866) 472-4585.

Top 100

Sachs Media Group once again has a spot on the wall of PRNews’ “Agency Elite Top 100” firms.

The annual award recognizes top innovators in the field of communications, marketing and digital content creation and their dedication to creating, promoting and maintaining their clients’ positive reputations. It’s yet another honor bestowed on the decorated Tallahassee public relations firm.

Sachs Media has made another breakthrough.

“It’s a tremendous honor to be so highly recognized by PRNews as one of the nation’s top firms,” said Sachs Media founder and CEO Ron Sachs. “It’s a great joy and privilege to lead such an extraordinary group of professionals. Our supportive work environment promotes excellence, and our team of dedicated professionals delivers outstanding work that creates a strategic advantage for our clients.”

PRNews lauded Sachs Media for navigating a transition of ownership from Sachs and President and Senior Partner Michelle Ubben to five longtime partners. Sachs Media excelled with content production, social and digital media and analytics.

“The world we live in and the field of communications in particular are changing exponentially, and it takes top talent and bold innovation to succeed,” Ubben said. “We are gratified by this national recognition because it reflects that our work on behalf of our clients is best in class.”

Sachs Media, founded in 1996, carries clients like Ben Crump Law, HCA Healthcare, The Florida Bar, BlueTriton Brands and AmeriHealth Caritas.

Give ‘em a line

Tallahassee electric crews and firefighters have been deployed to help communities impacted by Hurricane Ian.

Tallahassee Fire Department’s (TFD) Urban Search and Rescue has deployed a 25-person team to the Lee County area and is prepared to move in where needed as directed by the state Division of Emergency Operations.

TFD’s USAR Task Force 7 team is in Lee County after Hurricane Ian. Image via @CoTFire/Twitter.

TFD members also have been at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee assisting with activities and drone needs

Meanwhile the city’s electric crew is part of a team of 45,000-plus that have been dispatched to help with the restoration of utilities. Twenty one or the city’s electric crew members have been dispatched to Orlando Utilities along with a variety of trucks and machinery needed to help get the job done

“We stand with our neighbors to the south. Our highly skilled crews will perform rescue operations and rebuild electric infrastructure,” said City of Tallahassee Mayor John Dailey. “Through it all, they will demonstrate the professionalism and heart that Tallahassee is known for. To our fellow Floridians, stay strong. Help is on the way.”

Eyes in the skies

Tallahassee isn’t just sending its best people to help in Southwest Florida. Florida State University has a drone team ready to support search and rescue efforts.

David Merrick, director of the FSU Center for Disaster Risk Policy, said seven members of the school’s drone team, including four students, have traveled south to help.

Every man and machine is on deck in areas struck by Ian. Image via AP.

“Our team is currently deployed to the Orange County Convention Center,” Merrick said late Wednesday in a dispatch from Orlando. “We are staged here with a lot of other state resources waiting for the weather to abate enough for us to move forward.”

Merrick said the FSU contingent is part of a 16-person team that includes fire and rescue workers from Tallahassee and Miami-Dade County, plus two researchers from Texas A&M University. The FSU team will manage all unmanned aircraft and remote sensing missions for reconnaissance and search and rescue.

In the wake of the hurricane, the drones provide accurate, near-real-time data in lieu of maps that are typically weeks and months old. That information helps in the allocation of resources, saving valuable time — and lives.

“It’s a unique experience, to say the least,” Merrick said. “Ian is going to be a significant event, and we are happy to be part of the team.”

Wild escape

For those seeking an escape while they wait to return home after Hurricane Ian, Wild Adventures Theme Park in Valdosta, Georgia, is offering free admission to evacuees this weekend.

“Our hearts go out to those affected by Hurricane Ian, and we understand there is so much waiting and worrying for those affected by the storm,” said Jon Vigue, vice president and general manager. “We want to provide an opportunity for those who have taken shelter in our community to step away and have a few hours of fun at Wild Adventures.”

Wild Adventures is inviting evacuees to their annual pumpkin event. Image via Wild Adventures Theme Park.

This Saturday and Sunday, visitors with a valid ID or proof of residency from 26 counties under mandatory evacuation will be given free park admission. The listed counties are Alachua, Charlotte, Citrus, Clay, Collier, Flagler, Franklin, Gilchrist, Glades, Hernando, Highlands, Hillsborough, Lee, Levy, Manatee, Nassau, Orange, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, Seminole, St. Johns, Taylor, Volusia and Sarasota counties.

Wild Adventures Theme Park is located at the halfway point between Atlanta and Orlando off Interstate 75. The park is home to more than 40 family and thrill rides, hundreds of exotic animals and Splash Island Waterpark, which U.S. News and World Report ranks as a “Top 30” waterpark.

Currently, Wild Adventures is hosting its second annual Great Pumpkin LumiNight event, featuring towering tigers, gigantic giraffes, super-colossal spiders and more — all made of pumpkins. Guests can also enjoy the tasty treats of The Pumpkin Spice Festival.

Campaign Directions

Climate change — Double down arrow — When can we expect Ian’s little brother?

FEMA — Up arrow — Faith in government isn’t completely restored, but we’re heading in the right direction.

Ron DeSantis — Crossways arrow – Hey, Sandy! He was only funnin’, but he had it comin’.

Casey DeSantis — Up arrow — DeSantis’ better half is where she belongs — front and center, watching over the Florida Disaster Fund.

DeSantis’ Appointments Office — Down arrow — At least it wasn’t the Secretary of State this time.

DeSantis’ China rhetoric — Down arrow — That’s all it is.

Jimmy Patronis — Up arrow — When disaster strikes, he’s not afraid to get his hands dirty.

Kevin Guthrie — Up arrow — Master of Disaster Jr.

David Altmaier — Crossways arrow — Props for banning policy drops. But we shouldn’t be in this position in the first place.

Florida Task Force 2 US&R — Up arrow — There’re still three months left in the “Year of the US&R.”

Chef Andres — Up arrow — He delivers.

Expedia — Up arrow — They’re living up to their mission statement: “Travel is a force for good.”

Farm Share — Up arrow — A half-million-pound power lift. Impressive.

FHCA — Up arrow — Health care workers need a hand, too. The “Hurricane Relief Fund” should help.

Publix — Up arrow — Where giving back is a pleasure.

Lesley Abravanel — Down arrow — You know Twitter has an edit button now, right?

Spencer Roach — Crossways arrow — We’re sorry his home was destroyed, but we expect he’ll be that much more motivated to help Lee County because of it.

Gas prices — Down arrow — Will gas stations actually flip the 9/10ths digit? We’ll enjoy the 25¢ discount either way.

Richard McCullough — Up arrow — If FSU’s rank keeps rising, his salary should, too.

Frank Fincham — Up arrow — To forgive is divine. So is cashing a $3.4 million check.

Mantis shrimp — Down arrow — Unless they can do the Five Point Palm Exploding Heart Technique on lionfish, get them outta here.

Staff Reports



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