Takeaways from Tallahassee — Unclean! Unclean!

Blue Tally Takeaways (4)
Should we start looking for locusts? News that Florida is a hot spot for leprosy recalls a biblical curse.

Should we start looking for locusts? News that Florida is a hot spot for leprosy recalls a biblical curse.

The disease from ancient times that garners 40 mentions in the Bible — marking its sufferers as being unclean in body and spirit — appears to be on the rise in Florida generally and in Central Florida, particularly.

Orlando dermatologists and a medical resident at the University of Central Florida/HCA Osceola Hospital co-authored a research letter published this month in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s latest issue of “Emerging Infectious Diseases” that found reported leprosy cases have more than doubled in southeastern states over the last decade, after drastically decreasing from 1980 to 2000.

And Central Florida is the source of one-fifth of all the U.S. cases of the disease that once required its victims to yell out, “unclean, unclean,” after a priestly diagnosis (Leviticus 13).

A 3D rendering of the Mycobacterium leprae bacteria. Stock image via Adobe.

Could it be that doctors are just getting more “woke” to this disease?

Benjamin Anderson, an assistant professor at the University of Florida College of Public Health and Health Professions, said there have been improvements in doctors’ ability to identify the slow-growing bacteria that causes the ancient disease, but the time has come for watching this more closely.

“The findings do warrant, in my view, an increase in epidemiological surveillance in the State of Florida including more active surveillance among wildlife,” Anderson said. “Right now, the surveillance for leprosy in Florida is primarily conducted using a passive system that relies on case reports from clinicians once the infection has already occurred.”

A definitive source for the cluster of cases detailed in the CDC publication has observers scratching their heads.

Leprosy is usually traced to travel to parts of the world where it’s more common — India and Southeast Asia — or exposure to armadillos. But the patient that the authors studied had none of those risk factors, the letter says.

“In the absence of traditional risk factors in many recent cases of leprosy in Florida, coupled with the high proportion of residents, like our patient, who spend a great deal of time outdoors, supports the investigation into environmental reservoirs as a potential source of transmission,” the letter, written by Drs. Aashni Bhukhan, a medical resident and dermatologists Charles Dunn and Rajiv Nathoo.

The Department of Health’s page on the disease shows the latest report on its incidence hasn’t been updated since 1999. The letter’s authors want doctors to be on the alert, however.

Left untreated, the disease can cause nerve damage that results in crippled hands and feet, paralysis and blindness, according to the CDC. Although, its victims won’t have to live alone, as prescribed in the Old Testament.

Scott Darius, executive director of Florida Voices for Health, a coalition of community organizations working for greater health care access, sees the rising case numbers as a reason to renew his commitment to his organization’s goals.

“Florida needs to do better than 48th in terms of access to care and the risk we run by leaving nearly half a million Floridians in the coverage gap,” he said.

Jacquelynn Hairston, who championed COVID-19 relief protocols with the state Department of Health and now works as a consultant improving conditions in the state’s poorest ZIP code, 32304, said that it doesn’t surprise her to hear this.

Locally acquired malaria just showed up in Florida after a 20-year sabbatical.

“Because of climate change — the whole country’s been in the red zone for the last few weeks — all of that will cause a shift in infectious disease,” predicts Hairston, who has a doctorate in public health education and promotion.

Fortunately, for physicians, the Florida Legislature has made it so they need not touch the unclean they don’t wish to. SB 1580 gives health practitioners an out on treating conditions they have a religious, moral or ethical objection to.

So, let Jesus take care of it.


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, Anne Geggis, Christine Jordan Sexton and the staff of Florida Politics.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Take 5

3 is a magic number: Former President Donald Trump pled not guilty this week to new federal charges that alleged that the Florida resident conspired to overturn the 2020 election results. This marks the third time that Trump has been indicted this past year — and there is speculation that a fourth indictment could be forthcoming from a Georgia prosecutor investigating his actions in that state following the election. Florida Republicans rallied to defend Trump and slammed federal authorities. Gov. Ron DeSantis’ also criticized the charges but also asserted that Trump and others can’t get a fair trial in Washington D.C.

To debate or not to debate DeSantis this week offered in one moment to debate Vice President Kamala Harris over the state’s new African American history standards while also accepting a challenge to debate California Gov. Gavin Newsom on Fox News later this year. DeSantis asked Harris to come to Tallahassee to discuss the new standards that have created a backlash from both Democrats and some Republicans because of a portion that said enslaved people may have benefited because they acquired skills they used after slavery was over. Harris during a stop in Orlando declined DeSantis’ offer by saying there were no “redeeming qualities” to slavery so there’s nothing to discuss.

Psyched out: Just days before students in Florida start heading back to the classroom The College Board announced that the Florida Department of Education has functionally “banned” the teaching of an AP Psychology high school course because DOE told school districts content related to gender identity and sexual orientation would run afoul of state law. The College Board said it would not modify the course and urged districts to stop offering it until DOE changed course. Late Friday, Education Commissioner Manny Diaz asserted that the course could be taught in its entirety in “a way that is age and developmentally appropriate.”

Grim visit: Nine members of Congress — including U.S. Rep. Jared Moskowitz — toured the building on the campus of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School where 17 people were shot and killed on Feb. 14, 2018. Moskowitz organized the Friday tour of the building, which has remained unchanged since the shooting due to ongoing criminal and civil trials, at the urging of the father of one of the victims. The visit came a few hours before a reenactment of the shooting, which is being done in concert with an ongoing civil trial, took place. Rep. Frederica Wilson called the tour a “heart-wrenching walk” where members saw bullet holes and bloodstained spots on the floor.

End zone: Florida State University President Richard McCullough said publicly this week that FSU must “seriously” consider leaving the Atlantic coast Conference without “radical” changes to revenue distribution. His comments were echoed by FSU trustees and came after FSU officials had spent a year trying to find a remedy to a growing money gap between ACC schools and those in the Big 10 and the Southeastern Conference. One trustee suggested that the school needed to be ready to move out of the conference sometime in the next year. Questions remain, however, as to where FSU would wind up and how it can void current agreements that ACC schools are locked into.

— Night out —

Nothing would make the state’s top cop happier than to see everyday Floridians bond with their local law enforcement officers.

There are 49 other state attorneys general who likely feel the same way as Florida’s Ashley Moody, which provides the thrust for the annual “National Night Out Against Crime.” This year’s Night Out was Tuesday — it’s always the first Tuesday of August — but even if you missed it, you have nearly 150 days left in 2023 to make up for your forgetfulness.

Ashley Moody says events like the National Night Out help foster positive relationships between citizens and police.

Despite the name, Night Out is not an event where badgeless citizens are encouraged to take to the streets and hunt down bad guys. Don’t do that. Instead, consider participating in local events designed to promote positive relationships with police and support crime-prevention programs.

Moody’s office has a tranche of ‘em: her “Back the Blue” program recognizes LEOs and non-LEOs who go above and beyond; the recently launched “Hallway Heroes” program highlights top-tier school resource officers; and the **TIPS line is a first-of-its-kind statewide anonymous citizen crime reporting hotline.

“National Night Out Against Crime promotes partnerships between local law enforcement and the communities they serve. (Tuesday), events will be held across the state as people come together and take a stand with law enforcement against crime,” Moody said. “I encourage Floridians to search for a nearby event and show up to support our officers and those who take an active role in keeping our communities safe.”

To learn more about National Night Out Against Crime and to find a list of cities that held events — or are holding — events, visit NATW.org/About.

— Treasure Hunt —

The state returned more than $1 million a day to Floridians last month, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis announced.

The returned money came from the state’s collection of “unclaimed property.” That’s a catchall term for abandoned cash — unfortunately, the state doesn’t have a Raiders-style warehouse with all of the crap you left at the college apartment you neglected to move out of.

Jimmy Patronis is urging Floridians to get digging on the state’s ‘Treasure Hunt’ website.

Here’s what it does include: dormant bank accounts, insurance proceeds, stocks, dividends, uncashed checks, deposits, credit balances, refunds and even inheritances. Almost every full-blown adult has had at least one of those financial instruments at some point in their life and about 20% of them forgot about it long enough for the state to take over.

In most cases, these assets were once held by businesses. However, they will only yell into the void so many times, and the harsh reality is that the balance of the long-forgotten checking account you had as a teen was not worth their time or effort.

Getting down to brass tacks, Tampa Bay area residents dug up the most gold last month at $9.2 million. Miami took the No. 2 spot at $7.6 million, followed by Orlando at $6.3 million, West Palm Beach at $4.3 million, Jax at $1.8 million, Fort Myers/Naples at $1.6 million and Pensacola at $1 million. The smaller markets — Gainesville, Panama City and Tallahassee — each hit the mid- to high-six-figure mark.

If you missed out in July, worry not, there’s still plenty to go around.

“Currently, Florida has unclaimed property accounts with a total value of nearly $2.7 billion and what better time to find a little lost cash than when your students are getting prepared to head back to school this fall,” Patronis said.

Since Patronis took over as CFO six years ago, the state has returned more than $2 billion in unclaimed property. The Panama City Republican encouraged Floridians to visit the state’s online unclaimed property database at FLTreasureHunt.gov and get digging.

— Instagram of the week

— Book ‘em —

A man thought accused of being a prolific gas and dash artist is behind bars, thanks to the top-tier sleuths in the Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement.

Agriculture Commissioner Wilton Simpson, who oversees OALE, said agents arrested and booked Gonzalo V. Almanza on more than a dozen felony charges connected to a string of fuel thefts in Central Florida.

OALE’s investigation began when a RaceTrac fuel station located in Kissimmee noticed its tank was a little light. Following extensive surveillance and analysis, investigators put the heat on Harold Blanco, who was arrested in May and currently faces 30 criminal charges. Blanco’s arrest helped investigators identify Almanza as a co-conspirator.

If this is not what it looks like when you gas up your car, OALE might come knocking.

Almanza is now sitting in Osceola County Jail and is being charged with one count of engaging in racketeering activity, one count of organized schedule to defraud, five counts of obtaining fuel fraudulently, and five counts of unauthorized access to an electronic device.

“I am proud of the hard work of our Office of Agricultural Law Enforcement to bring to justice criminals who are brazenly defrauding and stealing from Florida’s businesses — something we will not tolerate or turn a blind eye to in Florida,” Simpson said in a news release.

“This arrest marks another significant milestone in our ongoing effort to combat fuel theft and protect Florida’s consumers and businesses. We will continue to work collaboratively with our law enforcement partners and fuel retailers to combat these organized criminal activities.”

Earlier this year, Simpson pushed lawmakers to toughen up punishments for the possession, installation, use, or aiding in the use of contaminant devices — such as fuel dispenser pulsars — which are inserted into retail fuel dispensers to impede standard functionality.

In addition, Florida law was changed to create criminal penalties for possessing or using an auxiliary fuel tank to commit retail fuel theft. The changes went into effect on July 1, 2023.

— The week in appointments

Southwest Florida Water Management District — DeSantis appointed Nancy Watkins and reappointed Ashley Bell Barnett, Kelly Rice, and Joel Schleicher to the SWFWMD. Watkins, of Tampa, is a Certified Public Accountant at Robert Watkins & Company. She currently serves on the Hillsborough Community College District Board of Trustees and was previously appointed to the University of South Florida Board of Trustees. Watkins earned her associate degree from Hillsborough Community College and her bachelor’s degree from the University of South Florida. Bell Barnett, of Winter Haven, is a community advocate and serves her community in a variety of capacities. She currently serves on the Polk State College District Board of Trustees and the Polk Arts Alliance Advisory Committee. Bell Barnett earned her bachelor’s degree from Florida Southern College and her master’s degree in public administration from USF. Rice, of Webster, is the President of Prime Property Resources, Rice Cattle Company, and Physical Therapy Services of Brooksville. He was previously appointed to the Lake-Sumter State College District Board of Trustees and was a State Director of the Florida Farm Bureau Federation. Rice earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from USF. Schleicher, of Sarasota, is an experienced entrepreneur and is the founder and former Executive Chair of Focal Point Data Risk. He was previously appointed to the Florida Talent Development Council and was a member of the Business Executives for National Security. Schleicher earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Minnesota.

South Florida Water Management District — The Governor reappointed Chauncey Goss, John Steinle, and Scott Wagner to the SFWMD. Goss is a Managing Partner of Goss Practical Solutions. He was previously a Deputy Staff Director for the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Budget and a Program Examiner for the Executive Office of the President. He currently serves on the United Way of Lee, Hendry, and Glades Board of Directors. Goss earned his bachelor’s degree in area studies from Rollins College and his master’s degree in public policy from Georgetown University. Steinle is a Partner at Atlantic Street Capital. He was previously the Managing Director at Lighthouse Investment Partners. Steinle earned his bachelor’s degree in environmental studies from the University of Vermont. Wagner is the Founder of Wagner Legal. He is a member of the Orange Bowl Committee and the Greater Miami Jewish Federation. Wagner earned his bachelor’s degree in history from Yale University and his law degree from the University of Miami.

Big Cypress Basin Board — DeSantis appointed Michelle McLeod, Michael Romano, and Patricia “P.J.” Smith to the Big Cypress Basin Board. McLeod, of Naples, is the Director of Business Development for Lutgert Construction. She was elected as a Naples City Councilmember in 2016 and serves on the board of the Collier County Community Land Trust. McLeod earned her bachelor’s degree in communications from Saint Mary’s College and her master’s degree in business administration from Florida Gulf Coast University. Romano, of Naples, owns Romano Canvas & UPH. He has 40 years of experience in the marine canvas industry and is a member of the Rotary Club of Naples. Smith, of Naples, is the owner and broker of Naples Golf to Gulf Real Estate. She previously served on the Naples Design Review Board and is the Treasurer of the Naples Area Board of Realtors. Smith earned her bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and her master’s degree in integrative health from Capital University Integrated Medicine. The Governor also reappointed Andrew Hill and Daniel Waters to the board. Hill, of Naples, is the Co-Founder and President of Andrew Hill Investment Advisors. He is a board member of the Greater Naples Area Chamber of Commerce and was previously a board member of the Naples Chartered Financial Analyst Society. Hill earned his bachelor’s degree in accounting from Canisius University and his MBA from Syracuse University. Waters, of Naples, is the Vice President of Peninsula Engineering. He previously served as a Regulatory Administrator for the South Florida Water Management District. Waters earned his bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and his master’s degree in environmental engineering from the University of Florida.

— Cover shoot —

Florida’s iconic “Black and Tan” is a national phenomenon, at least among members of the American Association of State Troopers.

The Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles announced this week that the Florida Highway Patrol won AAST’s 2023 “Best Looking Cruiser” competition.

A close competition, it was not.

FHP’s photo submission featured a 2019 Dodge Charger cruiser parked on a lush landscape with a smiling (and very real) 8.5-foot gator in the foreground. It snagged a whopping 181,071 votes. California lagged by nearly 39,000 votes to finish No. 2. Nevada and Indiana were the only other states to crack six figures.

Meet the cover model for AAST’s 2024 calendar. Image via FLHSMV/Florida Highway Patrol.

“I am incredibly proud that the Florida Highway Patrol won first place in this year’s competition,” said FLHSMV Executive Director Dave Kerner. “I know that the effort displayed by those pushing us toward this victory came from a deep love and respect for the patrol and its history as Florida’s finest.”

By winning the competition, Florida’s Black and Tan earned the cover spot on the 2024 AAST calendar. Anyone interested in picking up a copy of the calendar, stay tuned, AAST will be taking online orders later this year.

“FHP certainly deserves to be the winner of the Best-Looking Cruiser contest! They went all-out with their media platforms, law enforcement partners and engaged the citizens of Florida to all get involved,” said John Bagnardi, Executive Director American Association of State Troopers. “We are very proud to have the Black and Tan on our cover!”

FHP did, indeed, did mount a formidable get-out-the-vote effort on social media. Still, regular TFT readers deserve a share of the credit, too — many of you clicked through and (presumably) cast a vote for the eventual winner.

— Property insurance opp —

Senate President Kathleen Passidomo is hosting office hours for Citizens Property Insurance Corporation customers on Aug. 15 from 10 a.m. until 1 p.m. at her Naples office located at 3299 East Tamiami Trail in Suite 203.

Constituents should call 239-417-6205 to schedule an appointment.

“Our Southwest Florida communities are strong and resilient, and while we have seen a great deal of progress in the year following Hurricane Ian, there is still more work to do. I hope those with lingering questions or issues related to a Hurricane Ian claim with Citizens Insurance or anyone with a question on a Citizens policy will take this opportunity to call and set up an appointment,” Passidomo said.

Kathleen Passidomo is encouraging Southwest Florida residents to schedule an appointment if they need help with Citizens coverage. Image via Colin Hackley.

She noted the approaching anniversary of Hurricane Ian, which devastated parts of Southwest Florida when it made landfall.

“Citizens remains committed to assist our policyholders with Hurricane Ian claims and those who may have other questions or concerns related to their Citizens policy,” said Citizens President, CEO and Executive Director Tim Cerio.

Citizens, the state’s property insurer of last resort, is increasingly burdened in Florida. It added nearly 9,600 policies last week, bringing its total number of policies statewide to more than 1.34 million.

Cerio has said the insurer’s policy count could reach 1.7 million by the end of the year.

The exponential growth comes as private insurers continue canceling policies in the Sunshine State as hurricanes and climate change make policies more of a financial risk. Just three years ago, Citizens only had less than 487,000 policies in Florida.

— Collateral damage —

Sen. Linda Stewart says Gov. Ron DeSantis’ war with Disney has now compromised the safety at Central Florida’s attractions.

“When government attempts a hostile takeover of a business to enforce a political agenda and puts a rogue oversight board in place like we’re seeing here with Disney, it not only jeopardizes public safety, but the job security of our police officers and the skilled workers that keep our community safe and thriving,” the Orlando Democrat said in a statement.

She issued her missive after the Central Florida Tourism Oversight Board, made up entirely of members appointed by DeSantis, voted to abolish diversity, equity and inclusion elements in any awarding of contracts.

History shows Ron DeSantis’ beef with Disney could have very real — and potentially deadly — consequences, Linda Stewart says.

That decision came shortly after the board voted to cut property taxes by 7% and to consider cutting public safety spending by $8 million and eliminating pay for extra Orange County Sheriff’s Office deputies.

That decision is a dangerous one, the Senator said.

“We know the important role the presence of law enforcement plays at major tourist destinations,” Stewart said.

“For instance, federal prosecutors suspected that on the night of the Pulse nightclub shooting, the shooter decided against targeting the House of Blues in Disney Springs after surveying the location and seeing the large police presence. If major funding and policy changes like this continue to happen, we can only speculate as to what could happen next.”

Security footage shown in federal court showed Pulse shooter Omar Mateen hours ahead of the 2016 shooting at the House of Blues.

— Come one, come all —

Rep. Dianne Hart, the Chair of Florida’s Legislative Black Caucus, is having a Town Hall meeting in her district, promising that constituents will get help registering to vote, enrolling in Medicaid, or navigating insurance issues. And maybe an earful.

The Tampa Democrat’s event will be held Thursday from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at the C. Blythe Andrews Public Library, 2607 E. MLK Blvd. in Tampa.

Dianne Hart will be answering questions on a range of topics during a Thursday town hall meeting.

“Come and learn about the laws passed last Session and give ideas for new laws for the upcoming Session,” Hart wrote on X, the platform formerly known as Twitter.

Hart is hosting the Town Hall with the Tampa Chapter of the Links, The Gamma Zeta Lambda Chapter of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc., The Urban League of Hillsborough County, and the East Tampa Business and Community Development Alliance.

The announcement doesn’t list it as a topic, but Hart has emerged in the last few weeks as a fierce critic of the African American history curriculum guidelines that the state Board of Education approved in the 216-page set of social studies guidelines. She was among those gathered in Orlando when Vice President Kamala Harris touched down to rip the Governor some more over the controversial standards.

“Thank you, @VP Harris, for coming to Florida and joining us in the fight for truthful history in our classrooms,” Hart wrote on X, including pictures of the event.

— House hunters —

Rep. Yvonne Hayes Hinson is hosting a workshop for new homeowners on Thursday, Aug. 17 at the Santa Fe Blount Center in Gainesville.

The workshop, which will run from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., is designed for residents interested in purchasing a home for the first time who may need additional information about various resources to help them. Local and state programs are available for those who qualify, but identifying appropriate resources can be a challenge.

Attention first-time homebuyers: Yvonne Hayes Hinson is hosting a crash course on how to navigate buying a house.

The workshop aims to point prospective buyers in the right direction, particularly as the state continues to face soaring home prices and unrelenting inflation despite a leveling off nationwide.

The workshop will include resources from the city of Gainesville, Alachua County and Housing Assistance Programs.

“With skyrocketing rent and out-of-control homeowner’s insurance, there is no better time than now to emancipate yourselves from the unstable dependency of rent. New homeowners have an opportunity to gain up to $35,000 in assistance from three unique programs: Hometown Heroes, SHIP, and SAIL. This workshop will help you understand how to move into your own home while building generational wealth,” Hinson said.

The Santa Fe Blount Center is located at 530 W. University Ave. in Gainesville. The event is free and open to the public.

— Seatmates maybe? —

Florida will send a bipartisan pair — Democratic Miami area Rep. Kevin Chambliss and Republican Rep. Berny Jacques of Seminole — to the Millennial Action Project (MAP)’s Future Summit in Indianapolis next weekend, an event billed as a conference for the country’s most promising, effective lawmakers.

MAP is a nonpartisan organization of millennial elected officials in the U.S., dedicated to activating young leaders to bridge the partisan divide and transform American politics, according to a news release. And their selection reflects how they collaborate with their colleagues across the aisle, the same news release says.

Berny Jacques is one-half of a bipartisan pair of Florida lawmakers heading to the MAP Future Summit. Image via Colin Hackley.

“Despite common misconceptions about the partisanship of rising generations, the data tells a different story: Millennials and Gen Zers consistently work across the aisle more than their older peers, authoring over 33% of bipartisan bills signed into law across the country. Future Summit provides these rising lawmakers with the tools and skills they need to continue this trend,” said Layla Zaidane, MAP’s President & CEO.

In the case of Chambliss and Jacques, though, that would appear to be news to organizations that issue report cards on lawmakers’ voting records.

By the Florida Chamber of Commerce and the People First Report Card grading, these two represent the most extreme ends of the spectrum.

The People First Report Card rates Jacques with the lowest grade possible and Chambliss gets an A, though not the highest.

— Gold star lawmakers —

Legislative efforts to restore state retirement benefits for the state’s first responders back to the way they were before the state’s 2011 economic downturn and protecting police chiefs from “arbitrary” firing are among the efforts that earned lawmakers the annual awards of the Florida Police Chiefs Association this year.

The association that bills itself as the voice for 1,300 of Florida’s top law enforcement executives, awarded Legislator of the Year Awards to Republican Reps. Demi Busatta-Cabrera and Berny Jacques as well as Republican Sens. Ed Hooper and Danny Burgess for those efforts.

Busatta-Cabrera and Hooper shepherded legislation (SB 7024) that will allow first responders in the state retirement system to retire earlier. The Special Risk Class of employees — law enforcement, firefighters, corrections guards and emergency medical care positions — can now retire at 55 with full benefits instead of risking it until age 60.

The same legislation also expanded the time window to participate in Florida’s Deferred Retirement Option Program (DROP) and increased the state’s contribution to all state employees’ retirement investment plans by 2 percentage points.

Demi Busatta-Cabrera was one of several lawmakers earning praise from the Florida Police Chiefs Association. Image via Colin Hackley.

Jacques and Burgess, meanwhile, championed legislation (SB 935) that seeks to protect police chiefs from willy-nilly firings. The new law means there must be public notice and a public hearing for police chiefs to be fired, changing them from “at will” employees who can be fired for any reason.

Republican Rep. Mike Giallombardo, who was given the Guardian and Warrior Executive Director Award, was honored for his efforts on behalf of that bill as well.

The Florida Police Chiefs Association this year also gave its Distinguished Service Awards to Senate President Kathleen Passidomo and House Speaker Paul Renner for their support for both those pieces of legislation as well as showing “tremendous concern” about the well-being of first responders.

The contentious nature of this past Session also prompted the police chiefs’ association to dole out kudos for the Capitol’s guardians who maintained decorum even in the face of protests that the association said were “not civil and instead threatened both the safety and security of elected officials, state employees, and visitors, and the Legislature’s ability to conduct its business.”

Flying underpants rained down on lawmakers as bans on gender-affirming care were discussed, for example.

Honored for keeping lawmakers, staff and visitors safe with the Guardian and Warrior Executive Director Award were Col. Seth Montgomery of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Capitol Police, House Sergeant-At-Arms Russell Hosford, and Senate Sergeant-At-Arms Damien Kelly.

— Engineers of the Year —

Someone get Eric M. Jimenez and Corey Chascin golden slide rules — they deserve it.

This week, the Florida Engineering Society announced that Jimenez, of Orlando, earned the prestigious Florida Engineer of the Year Award. Chascin, of Jacksonville, is the organization’s pick for Florida’s Young Engineer of the Year.

“Florida is fortunate to have highly talented engineers that have been designing and shaping Florida’s future, and we’re pleased to honor their excellence and achievement in this industry,” FES Executive Director Allen Douglas said.

Jimenez is a 28-year engineering professional and a graduate of the University of Puerto Rico. In 2017, he founded his own practice, Construction Professional Services in Orlando, and soon after joined forces with Ardmore Roderick, a Chicago-based company, to expand their design and construction services in Florida. He has been responsible for over $1 billion in design and construction services for clients including Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Osceola County, Dart Interest, and the Greater Orlando Aviation Authority.

Congratulations to Corey Chascin, Florida’s Young Engineer of the Year. Image via the Florida Engineering Society.

Chascin, meanwhile, earned a degree in civil engineering from the University of North Florida and is a CEI Project Administrator at VIA Consulting Services, with a background in geotechnical engineering and materials. She works with the City of Jacksonville and the Downtown Investment Authority on revitalization projects, such as the McCoys Creek Restoration and RiversEdge: Life on the St. Johns.

Jimenez and Chascin were the top-bill award winners announced at the FES Annual Conference in Marco Island last week, although they weren’t the only ones who picked up hardware.

FES announced nine other award winners in a variety of categories. The honorees:

—The Outstanding Service to the Engineering Profession honor was awarded to William E. Wilson Jr. of Jacksonville.

—The Award for Outstanding Technical Achievement went to Kamal S. Tawfiq of Tallahassee.

—Engineers designated as 2023 Fellow Members of FES include John M. Carroll Jr. of Vero Beach; David C. Carter of Winter Haven; Fernando V. Gomez of Miami; and Lin Li of Miami.

—The Engineering Faculty Member of the Year honor went to Matthew Trussoni, Ph.D., of the University of Miami.

— Forever families —

NWF Health Network, the lead agency for child protection services in 16 North Florida counties, led the state in adoption placements last fiscal year.

The organization said that between July 1, 2022, and June 30, 2023, it found permanent homes for 526 children living in the DCF Northwest Florida service area.

In announcing the milestone, NWFHN credited three regional partner providers — Twin Oaks Juvenile Development, FamiliesFirst Network and Camelot Community Care — “for their exceptional work and dedication to the children and families served in this region.”

NWFHN set a feel-good record last year. Stock image via Adobe.

NWFHN Adoptions Manager Kathy Donofro also got a shoutout for working hand in hand with regional partners.

“On behalf of the entire NWF Health Network family — our staff, our employees, and our regional partners — congratulations and kudos. We began the year with hard-to-reach goals and have far exceeded all expectations,” said CEO Mike Watkins. “Because of the efforts of all involved, over 500 children now have forever homes. We simply could not have achieved this without everyone’s focus, passion, dedication, and commitment to excellence.”

DCF data shows there were 3,562 finalized adoptions statewide during Florida’s 2022-23 fiscal year. The NWFHN accounted for more than one in seven of those adoptions.

“We of course want to congratulate the Florida Department of Children and Families and all adoption case workers throughout the state for a job well done,” Watkins added. “We are thankful for every child that now has a loving family.”

NWF Health Network provides a range of services to children and families in northwest Florida, including adoption services, case management, child abuse prevention, extended foster care and independent living, foster care placement, and kinship support.

The agency also provides substance abuse and mental health services to children, adults, and their families through a managed network of accredited providers. For more information about NWF Health Network or to learn how to become a foster or adoptive parent, visit nwfhealth.org.

—Honorary Nole —

Paul Reubens became famous out west but the comic who was known to the world as Pee-Wee Herman was in many ways a Florida man — and that included a loose connection to Florida State University.

Reubens, who died this past week at the age of 70, was born in New York, but eventually, his family moved to Sarasota when he was nine. It was during his time in Sarasota that he worked at the Asolo Theatre Company, which is now known as the Asolo Repertory Theatre.

Paul Reubens, the man who brought a smile to millions of people across the world, had a dash of garnet and gold on his resume. Image via AP.

“A Sarasotan through and through, Paul was the President of the National Thespian Society at Sarasota High School, performed in numerous stage productions at the Players of Sarasota, and was an apprentice actor at Asolo Repertory Theatre with Asolo Rep’s production manager Vic Meyrich describing him as funny and a ‘great friend,’” the theater posted on Facebook.

“Paul’s life was a tapestry of triumphs and trials, but his spirit remained eternally youthful, and his whimsical charm captivated both young and old. Pee-wee Herman became a household name, and Sarasota found its place on the world stage thanks to his enchanting persona.”

Asolo in 1973 first partnered with FSU on a master’s in fine arts (MFA) program that has been ranked among the nation’s top drama programs.

The building, which contains a 503-seat professional repertory theater, an acting conservatory, and a film and television school, underwent a $15 million makeover. Burt Reynolds, who did attend FSU, personally donated $1 million to the project.

— Capitol Directions —

DeSantis v. Newsom — Up arrow — Pass us the popcorn!

Casey DeSantis — Crossways arrow — Part of the argument for her ‘26 candidacy will be her stewardship of Ian relief $. But what happens if that becomes an issue?

Throats — Down arrow — Every day is ‘Wear Your Gorget to Work Day’ in DeSantis’ America.

Orlando Magic — Down arrow — Pshh … like $50K could convince DeSantis basketball is a “meritocratic” sport.

Ashley Moody — Crossways arrow — Is her opposition to the pot initiative grounded in facts — or her personal feelings?

James Uthmeier — Down arrow — If the “Star Wars” bar scene ever needs to be recast, he has an eye for that kind of talent.

Chris Spencer — Up arrow — Come to think of it, when’s the last time the ethics commission actually dropped the hammer on someone?

State coffers — Up arrow — Approps lobbyists, it’s your year. Again.

AHCA — Down arrow — At least pick a cooler nickname than “J-Man.”

AP Psychology — Down arrow — Sometimes a class is just a class, guys.

Florida Tourism Oversight District— Down arrow — For their next trick, they’re freeing Song of the South from the Disney Vault.

Moms for Liberty — Down arrow — Wait, is this the new name for MSbP?

Spencer Roach — Down arrow — Stop. Having. Your. Staff. Cut. Your. Hair.

One America News — Down arrow — They gazed into DeFuture and discovered there’s no need for a Tally bureau anymore.

Leprosy — Down arrow — In the sequel to “God Made a Fighter,” DeSantis shambles through Apopka shouting “be clean” at random strangers.

Local lobbying registrations — Down arrow — Why pay $500 to be a lobbyist when you can be a “consultant” for free?

The Southern Group — Up arrow — The move to add an ‘Advisors’ silo is them playing chess while others play checkers.

ACC — Down arrow — Cough up some cash before FSU tomahawk chops you into irrelevancy.

“Civil” — Up arrow — Emmy or not, it’s worth a month’s subscription.

Drew Wilson

Drew Wilson covers legislative campaigns and fundraising for Florida Politics. He is a former editor at The Independent Florida Alligator and business correspondent at The Hollywood Reporter. Wilson, a University of Florida alumnus, covered the state economy and Legislature for LobbyTools and The Florida Current prior to joining Florida Politics.

One comment

  • Suze

    August 5, 2023 at 9:17 am

    With the new healthcare law my conscience says I can’t treat any MAGAs, proud boys, insurrectionists, DeathSantis supporters , evangelicals, white nationalists. Thank you Florida legislators. My job is going to be so much easier. To hell with my oath to care for all.

Comments are closed.


Florida Politics is a statewide, new media platform covering campaigns, elections, government, policy, and lobbying in Florida. This platform and all of its content are owned by Extensive Enterprises Media.

Publisher: Peter Schorsch @PeterSchorschFL

Contributors & reporters: Phil Ammann, Drew Dixon, Roseanne Dunkelberger, A.G. Gancarski, Anne Geggis, Ryan Nicol, Jacob Ogles, Cole Pepper, Gray Rohrer, Jesse Scheckner, Christine Sexton, Drew Wilson, and Mike Wright.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @PeterSchorschFL
Phone: (727) 642-3162
Address: 204 37th Avenue North #182
St. Petersburg, Florida 33704