Takeaways from Tallahassee — Two disasters, one easier to fix

Blue Tally Takeaways (4)
The Governor is good at managing some disasters, but he wiffs on others.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Two disasters, one easier to fix

Twin crises — a looming storm and a deadly, racist shooting in Jacksonville — drew Ron DeSantis from the presidential campaign and the contrast in the roles he played at these events was startling — and telling.

Boos heard around the world broke out at the prayer vigil near the scene where three people died in a racist gunman’s rampage Saturday evening. But less than 15 hours later, the Governor was in a safer space — and more familiar territory — at the Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee surrounded by state officials and Florida National Guard uniforms, receiving praise for the job he was doing as he marshaled state resources to respond to the potentially deadly force of Hurricane Idalia.

“And again, Governor, I want to just say thank you for all your great leadership,” said Kevin Guthrie, director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, repeating a familiar refrain heard throughout the week.

The Governor’s performance at the Jacksonville prayer vigil had some wishing he’d never shown up at all, however.

During the one minute he spoke, DeSantis mentioned “race” once, promised funding to alleviate the shooting’s immediate circumstances, as well as beef-up security at the nearby historically Black university, Edward Waters University, and then ended his remarks.

Some noted his use of the word “unacceptable” to describe the killer’s actions might be more appropriate in arresting a young child scribbling a magic marker on the wall.

“It’s the audacity for me,” Jacksonville-born Rep. Angie Nixon posted on X. “@RonDeSantis is here and needs to apologize for his part in this.”

A photo of her shooting eye-daggers at DeSantis as he spoke stood in stark contrast to images of DeSantis surrounded by a phalanx of state officials at the Tallahassee EOC.

There’s a stark difference between Hurricane-mode Ron DeSantis and consoling-mode Ron DeSantis.

With no confirmed deaths directly attributed to the storm, quick power reconnection for Idalia’s victims and authoritative briefings, the Messenger noted that the free media DeSantis is getting for staging a rapid response to Idalia and getting quick federal aid to the state is outshining the No. 1 in the race for the Republican presidential nomination, former President Donald Trump.

But some leaders are ready to start putting more pressure on DeSantis to address a crisis that doesn’t get fixed with great pictures of linemen working with a Gulf Coast sunset in the backdrop. It’s a problem that’s bedeviled the country since its founding and is being made more acute with DeSantis’ war on woke, they say.

Friday, Rep. Dianne Hart announced a “State of Black Florida Tour.” During the tour, the Black Legislative Caucus plans to highlight the ways that DeSantis and the Republican majority are creating a more hostile environment for Black Floridians.

She’s out to win hearts and minds — potentially more fraught than storm cleanup and power reconnection.

“We realize that if we don’t speak up, the Governor is trying to cancel out our history,” the Tampa Democrat said, alluding to the recently approved state education standards that paint slavery as a positive for some people who learned skills.

She said Black leaders can’t allow this redefinition to go uncontested.

“We want to make sure that people understand why it’s so critical to vote,” she said.


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

Unwelcome visitor: Hurricane Idalia slammed into Florida’s Big Bend region this week, bringing with it a wall of water and winds up to 125 miles per hour and plunging tens of thousands of residents into the dark. The storm threatened a large swath of the state upon its approach, prompting evacuations up and down the Gulf Coast. Idalia wound up making landfall at Keaton Beach in an area that has not been hit directly by hurricanes in the past century, according to the National Weather Service. And while the storm was quite damaging to a swath of communities in North Florida, so far it has resulted in limited fatalities.

Reception not picture perfect: He came bearing a promise of money, but DeSantis’ appearance at a prayer vigil for the three people gunned down in a racist rampage at a Jacksonville Dollar Store Saturday was greeted with boos. It was a stunning visual that made national news for those following the Governor on the presidential campaign trail. Critics, saying DeSantis created the atmosphere ripe for the tragedy, pounced on his administration’s backing of measures that allow guns to be carried without a permit and prohibiting instruction or training that makes people feel guilty based on their race. Even Jacksonville City Council member Ju’Coby Pittman, who shushed the jeerers at the vigil, later said she wished he hadn’t come.

Fool around and find out: Joseph Biggs, an Ormond Beach man and former organizer of the far-right Proud Boys extremist group, received a 17-year sentence this week, the second-longest sentence for any person involved in spearheading the attack on the U.S. Capitol to try to prevent the peaceful transfer of power from Donald Trump to Joe Biden after the 2020 presidential election. Biggs, who served in the U.S. Army and worked as a correspondent for Infowars, admitted at his sentencing he’d “messed up” that day. Next, Enrique Tarrio, from Miami and leader of the Proud Boys, is due to be sentenced Tuesday.

That was quick: Miami Mayor Francis Suarez suspended his campaign for President this week shortly after he failed to make the stage for the Republican presidential debate in Milwaukee. Suarez’s candidacy was also seen as a long shot in a field that includes two other candidates from Florida, former President Trump and DeSantis. Suarez, the lone Hispanic GOP candidate for President, said he would continue “amplify(ing) the voices of the Hispanic community” and “doing what I can to make sure our party puts forward a strong nominee who can inspire and unify the country.” Longtime Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway earlier this year touted Suarez as a possible candidate for Vice President.

Press pause: DeSantis halted his out-of-state campaign events this week as he dealt with the aftermath of a racist shooting in Jacksonville last weekend and the dangerous threat posed by Hurricane Idalia. First Lady Casey DeSantis wound up appearing on behalf of her husband at an annual barbecue in South Carolina hosted by U.S. Rep. Jeff Duncan. DeSantis noted to reporters that he halted campaign activities last year due to Hurricane Ian and said, “You do what you need to do.” His campaign team has not indicated yet when DeSantis will resume political activities.

— Back in action —

A week after the Governor and First Lady announced they had zeroed it out, the Florida Disaster Fund is back up and running.

The fund collects donations and uses the money to support efforts on the ground in hurricane-damaged areas to ensure that impacted communities have ample resources to support long-term recovery efforts.

First Lady Casey DeSantis led post-Ian fundraising efforts, raising more than $63 million for nonprofits and other organizations working on the recovery effort. The final $6.9 million of that funding was disbursed last week.

Then Idalia came.

Casey DeSantis helped raise $63 million for Ian’s victims. Now she’s calling for donations to help those impacted by Idalia.

“The Florida Disaster Fund helps us fill the gaps for impacted families and cut through red tape,” Gov. DeSantis said in a news release announcing the fund was being reactivated. “This money goes a long way for families impacted by a storm, and it is an important tool in the disaster recovery process.”

The First Lady added, “Harnessing the power of the private sector is an important tool when it comes to getting resources into the hands of the people that need it most. Following Hurricane Ian, we were blessed by the outpouring of generosity from individuals and businesses that wanted to help support Floridians. The Florida Disaster Fund is a great resource to ensure that those looking to provide relief have the maximum impact in supplementing needs and expediting recovery.”

Those able to donate can do so online or by sending a check to the Volunteer Florida Foundation, 1545 Raymond Diehl Rd. Suite 250, Tallahassee, FL 32308. Checks should include “Florida Disaster Foundation” in the memo line.

— Scam alert —

Attorney General Ashley Moody is warning Floridians to watch out for price gouging, disaster scams and fraud now that recovery from Hurricane Idalia is underway.

Millions of Floridians have been affected by the storm, which made landfall in the Big Bend region and caused catastrophic flooding far beyond ground zero. Moody said those hurricane survivors may now be seeking food, shelter, debris removal or home repairs that may leave them vulnerable to unscrupulous bad actors.

The state’s Price Gouging Hotline remains active for consumers to report allegations of extreme price increases or scams related to recovery efforts.

“As the recovery efforts from Idalia get underway, Floridians impacted by this major storm event need to remain on alert. Scammers may try to exploit this tragedy to rip off Floridians through contractor fraud, debris removal scams, price gouging or even looting,” Moody said. “I have already been in touch with local law enforcement and state attorneys in the hardest hit areas of our state, and we will not allow criminals to exploit this crisis to target Floridians trying to rebuild their lives.”

Ashley Moody is urging Floridians to get smart about post-disaster scams. Image via AP.

Because hurricanes cause widespread damage, qualified contractors are in high demand and can be hard to book immediately, leaving a path for scammers and unqualified workers to take advantage of Floridians desperate for service. Moody’s office is offering several tips to avoid becoming a victim:

— Have an insurance company evaluate damage before arranging repairs to ensure that the work will be covered under a policy;

— Get at least three written, itemized estimates on bids or repairs;

— Watch out for unsolicited offers or contractors claiming to perform repairs at a discount with leftover supplies from another job;

— Research a company and its reputation — look for references online, or ask a friend;

— Check to see if a company is properly licensed, insured and if there are any consumer complaints filed against a licensed contractor at MyFloridaLicense.com;

— Make sure a contractor is bonded and verified with a bonding agency;

— Read the entire contract, including the fine print, before signing to ensure it includes the required buyer’s right to cancel language. Understand penalties that may be imposed for cancellation;

— Insist on releases of any liens that could be placed on the property fr5645222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222222om all subcontractors before making final payments. Homeowners may unknowingly have liens placed against their properties by suppliers or subcontractors who did not get paid by the contractor. If the contractor fails to pay them, the liens will remain on the title;

— Never pay the full amount of a repair expense upfront and hesitate before providing large deposits; and

— Do not sign a certificate of completion or make final payment until satisfied with the work performed.

Moody is also warning Floridians to be wary of scammers posing as officials with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, which offers disaster relief to eligible victims through various programs.

FEMA officials will never call seeking personal information and always carry identification. Official workers will not ask for or accept cash and residents should be vigilant when approached by anyone offering to fill out, assist with or expedite an application for disaster assistance because they may be trying to gain access to personal information.

— Caution! Cuidado! —

In case you hadn’t heard during the last six hurricanes that left the state in darkness, getting the lights on via a gas-powered generator can also be a deadly hurricane hazard.

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis’ Office issued the alert ahead of the first storm to hit the Big Bend in 127 years.

As far as death tolls, gas-powered generators give hurricanes a run for their money.

The U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) found that 85 Americans die each year from gas-powered generators. And it can be an invisible killer — deadly in a matter of minutes — due to generators’ carbon monoxide emissions.

This generator is outdoors where it belongs.

Key items that Patronis wants gas-powered generator users to know for this hurricane and any arriving in the future are:

— Run generators in dry, well-ventilated areas, not indoors, in a garage, basement, crawl space or shed. Avoid placing generators near doors or windows to prevent exhaust fume intake. The CPSC specifically recommends 20 feet away from a dwelling.

— Use heavy-duty extension cords designed for outdoor use to ensure proper connection to appliances.

— Refrain from refueling while the generator runs.

— Disconnect devices before shutting off the generator.

— Install battery-powered carbon monoxide alarms.

Other online tips recommend reducing the risk of injuring nearby power crews by turning off the generator while they are around, after you disconnect all the powered items, of course.

So, not only does the noise annoy your neighbors, but they are dangerous and call for caution.

— Instagram of the week —

— Good news, bad news —

Florida legislators are expected to have a more than $7 billion budget surplus in 2024 with surpluses projected for the two years after that, although the size is expected to get smaller and smaller.

Legislative budget staff working with the Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR) this week released the annual long-range financial outlook that provides a detailed look at the state’s expected tax revenue as well as ongoing and growing expenses. The Joint Legislative Budget Commission will vote on the outlook at its Sept. 8 meeting.

Florida has seen a substantial windfall in money the last few years as the economy recovered quickly after the COVID-19 pandemic and an influx of tens of billions in extra federal aid that came in coronavirus relief packages freed up state money normally spent on programs such as Medicaid.

The surplus streak continues

Additionally, state economists recently removed the risk of a recession from their forecasts, which also improved estimates of how much tax revenue the state is expected to take in during the next three years. The amount of tax revenue, however, was diminished by this year’s tax cut package which included some permanent tax cuts.

The outlook projects that state legislators will have a $7 billion general revenue surplus for 2024-25 — which is unallocated money outside of the state’s reserve accounts such as the budget stabilization fund. The surplus is projected to be $5.36 billion in the 2025-26 fiscal year and $2.7 billion in the 2026-27 fiscal year.

That puts lawmakers in a relatively good position heading into next year’s Session that starts in January, although there continue to be pressing demands in several key spending areas. DeSantis is expected to release his budget recommendations in December.

The outlook, which looks at “critical needs” and “other high priority needs,” forecasts that the budget will need to grow anywhere from $4.6 billion to $5.3 billion a year during the three years covered by the forecast.

Key drivers in increased spending include Medicaid, the state-federal safety net health care program, continued enrollment increases in state schools, and setting aside extra money to deal with a projected deficit in the state employee health insurance program. The report does note that the increase in state funding needed for schools is projected to be offset by an increase in local property taxes that range between $400 million and $700 million.

— Failure to communicate —

During the latest court hearing in an ongoing legal fight over Florida’s restrictions on types of medical treatment for transgender individuals U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle is slamming the state’s two medical boards for adopting informed consent forms for transgender care that he said are confusing and misleading.

“You would be hard-pressed to do a worse job drafting a form that is intended to have a layperson understand it and give informed consent. This form is just abysmally drafted,” Hinkle said. “There’s a lot of misinformation, a lot of information that doesn’t deal with what a particular patient may be getting.”

Hinkle made the remarks Friday at a telephonic hearing. Hinkle is being asked to issue a preliminary injunction against a part of a new law (SB 254) that requires adult transgender patients to sign consent forms in front of a physician before receiving the care. The law in effect bans transgender patients from using telehealth to receive care and bans patients from receiving care from advanced registered nurse practitioners or physician assistants.

Robert Hinkle isn’t buying the state’s argument, but he’s not keen on a preliminary injunction either.

“You honor, I hear you on the informed consent forms, perhaps they were inartfully drafted, but I do note they were adopted by emergency rules,” the attorneys representing the state noted.

Hinkle noted that informed consent forms were “ostensibly” designed to provide patients with information.

“You might want to get someone who actually works on it. How to communicate with lay people to get things across clearly,” said the judge who was appointed by former President Bill Clinton.

During his commentary, Hinkle said that the adult consent forms adopted by the Board of Medicine and Board of Osteopathic Medicine could be in the running for the Wondermark Award bestowed by the Center for Plain Language. The awards are bestowed on entities for their poor communication skills.

“These forms would be good candidates for that award,” Hinkle said.” If somebody is really trying to communicate with patients, this is not how they would do it.”

But despite those comments, Hinkle hinted Friday he was not inclined to issue a temporary injunction banning the mandatory informed consent forms given that a trial on SB 254 is set for November.

Hinkle said he would be asking the state about the intent behind the forms at the trial though.

“One of the questions I’ll have for you at the trial is ‘Why shouldn’t I infer from that form that the goal was not to inform a good honest to honest person, the goal was to discourage people?”

— Yes, we’re clopen —

The state is being tight-lipped about health care facility closures and evacuations due to Hurricane Idalia.

Agency for Health Care Administration spokesperson Bailey Smith said that at the height of the storm Wednesday, 95 facilities self-reported to the state that they had evacuated but did not provide a breakout of the types of facilities that evacuated.

Well, which is it? Image via Adobe.

Indeed, she noted that while the facilities self-reported they had evacuated, some facilities may not have done so due to the “shifting path of Hurricane Idalia.”

AHCA Secretary Jason Weida, though, told reporters earlier Wednesday that 10 hospitals were evacuated due to the storm.

Meanwhile, Bailey did not respond to Florida Politics’ requests for information about the number of patients and residents who were transferred because of the evacuations.

On a statewide nursing home industry phone call Tuesday, meanwhile, Florida Health Care Association Senior Director of Strategy and Communications Kristen Knapp said 75 facilities had reported evacuating in advance of the storm, including six hospitals, 22 nursing homes and 37 assisted living facilities as well as 10 “other” facilities. Knapp said she was quoting data provided to her from AHCA.

— One new rule —

The lack of private school regulations drew much Democratic complaint as the Legislature debated the expansion of school choice during the 2023 Session.

Even though they get public dollars, private schoolteachers need not be certified or even have college degrees. Private schools are also free to discriminate in any way they see fit, including requiring girls to wear school uniforms with hijabs.

They are getting public dollars with no accountability for how the money is being spent, Democrats said.

Republicans, however, say that parents are better than any government agency in holding private schools accountable.

At last week’s state Education Board meeting, though, private schools, which number about 3,000, did get one new rule from the state: Those who were identified as female at birth must use the bathroom designated for females and the same for males.

Private schools may get free rein on most issues, but bathrooms are no longer one of them.

The rule goes into effect this month and the state’s private schools must submit a Private School Annual Survey documenting their compliance by April.

Proponents say they are hoping to make public spaces safer for everyone. But activists see an effort to stigmatize nonbinary and transgender people.

Carlos Guillermo Smith, representing Equality Florida, at the meeting, asked the state Department of Education to wield its authority over private schools just a little more and designate a single-stall bathroom as “unisex.”

“So that trans and binary folks who are impacted by this law, who are being put in a hostile and unsafe environment because of the law, can have more options to safely access a unisex bathroom,” said Smith, a former Democratic Representative now running to represent the Orlando area in the Senate.

Sen. Lori Berman said this is not what she wanted when she asked for more accountability for what taxpayers would be paying for via the new school choice law.

“The irony of everything that gets done in Tallahassee, especially with regard to education, is extreme,” said the Palm Beach County Democrat.

— Don’t get duped —

Florida’s Disaster Contractors Network (DCN) has been activated to support homeowners who may need home repairs following Hurricane Idalia.

DCN is a free resource that was founded by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation that connects homeowners needing emergency repairs with Florida-licensed contractors and construction suppliers and it was designed to help ensure homeowners are not duped by an unlicensed contractor.

Make sure you double-check that license before you fork over thousands.

DBPR is the state agency that regulates Florida’s construction industry and licenses contractors.

“When it comes to making home repairs, we recommend that Floridians use Florida-licensed contractors,” said DBPR Secretary Melanie Griffin. “We don’t want to see any Floridian become a victim a second time, and the Disaster Contractors Network can help prevent fraud.”

Once homeowners are safely able to assess their home repair needs, they are encouraged to log on to DCNOnline.org and search by county for a list of Florida-licensed contractors in their local community who are providing these services.

DCN has been connecting homeowners to licensed contractors for 20 years and was particularly instrumental in helping Florida get back on its feet after Hurricanes Ian, Michael and Charley.

While many Florida contractors and suppliers have already registered, additional licensed contractors and suppliers may add their names to the list by logging on to DCNOnline.org to register their licensed companies.

— Open road —

The Big Bend’s stretch of Interstate 10 was knocked out of commission by Idalia, but the Florida Department of Transportation got it back online in record time.

FDOT said its crews worked “tirelessly” to clear a 15-mile section of the highway within Madison County. An estimated 10,000 downed trees were cleared from the roadway, with 27 four-person crews focusing on the travel lanes.

The department said the highway was clear by 7 p.m. Wednesday, just 12 hours after the crews were deployed.

“I’m incredibly proud of the work our FDOT team has accomplished in the past 24 hours to ensure roads and bridges are safe for travel,” said FDOT Secretary Jared W. Perdue.

Cleanup crews put the pedal to the medal, clearing upward of 10,000 trees in 12 hours. Image via FDOT

“Thanks to the leadership and decisive direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis, FDOT was able to quickly deploy 700 crew members and staff our department’s emergency operations centers across Florida to bring a sense of normalcy to all impacted communities and provide access for first responders, utility restoration, and deliveries of necessary recovery supplies.”

Additionally, FDOT said all state-owned bridges along State Road 24, which leads to hard-hit Cedar Key, have been inspected and cleared for travel.

The bridge to Cedar Key on S.R. 24 was completely submerged following Hurricane Idalia’s landfall. FDOT bridge inspectors were deployed immediately following the storm and determined the bridge was structurally sound and passable.

FDOT said residents should continue to follow local emergency and law enforcement guidance as they begin to return home.

— Capitol Police rock star —

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has named Capitol Police Officer Timothy Rice its Office of the Year. Rice received the honor at the agency’s annual awards ceremony.

Rice is a member of the Florida Capitol Police Special Operations Unit, Honor Guard and the Drone Team. He also serves as a field training instructor and as a firearm, defensive tactics, and first aid instructor.

Hats off to Timothy Rice, FDLE’s Officer of the Year.

“Officer Rice is a leader and mentor. His professionalism and passion for helping others makes him an inspiring recruiter not only for Capitol Police but for the entire law enforcement profession,” FDLE Commissioner Mark Glass said.

Added Capitol Police Col. Seth Montgomery: “Officer Rice is very involved at Capitol Police. His willingness to take on additional responsibilities and fill in where needed is commendable. He builds a positive rapport with the state employees and members of the public who are visiting the Capitol. I thank Officer Rice for his dedication to Capitol Police.”

Rice began his career with the Capitol Police in 2020 after serving four years in the U.S. Marine Corps.

— Back online —

Post-Hurricane Idalia repairs cut power outages in Florida to 75,447 by sundown Friday as utility workers and electricity cooperatives continued to assess and address damage from the storm.

The number of reported outages at one time peaked at 288,000 at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Most pending reconnections are in the state’s Big Bend region. That includes Hamilton, Lafayette, Madison, Suwannee and Taylor counties, which were between 53% and 99% without electricity Friday night.

In Dixie and Jefferson counties, roughly six of every 10 households were powerless.

utility bills
Crews are hard at work restoring power.

More than 487,000 power reconnections have occurred since Idalia made landfall near Keaton Beach minutes before 8 a.m. Wednesday, bringing maximum sustained winds of 125 mph and 7-foot storm surges in some areas.

The storm struck at Category 3 strength by the time it hit a part of the Gulf Coast that had not experienced such a deadly weather event in more than a century.

Just over three-quarters (57,191) of the remaining outages are due to fallen power lines and other connectivity issues reported by cooperatives, community-owned and operated utilities that largely serve rural areas.

Florida Power & Light workers restored all but 690 of its customers. Duke Energy, the state’s second-largest utility, reported 17,536 customers had no electricity.

It is expected that 95% of them will reconnect in Alachua, Dixie, Gilchrist, Jefferson, Lafayette, Levy and Suwannee counties by 11:30 p.m. Friday and do the same by 11:30 p.m. Saturday in Hamilton and Madison counties.

Duke said customers in Taylor and Columbia should have the lights back on before midnight Sunday.

Nearly 1.59 million properties in Florida rely on power from municipal providers. Of those, just 30 had no service as of 6 p.m. Friday.

Tampa Electric and Florida Public Utilities reported all their customers are back online.

— Saving lives —

The U.S. suicide rate hit an all-time high in 2022 with 46,369 lives lost, and that somber state makes the National Suicide Prevention Month awareness campaign as important as ever.

According to the CDC, from 2011 to 2022, the number of suicides has increased by 16%. Federal data also shows an alarming increase in suicide rates among youth and young adults. From 2011 to 2021, the suicide rate among people ages 10-24 increased by 60%.

The Florida Association of Managing Entities (FAME) is recognizing the month by reminding Floridians that behavioral health services are available across the state.

Don’t suffer in silence. Resources are available.

“It’s clear that the nation is in a mental health crisis. While there are a multitude of factors that are contributing to increased suicide rates, such as drug use, social isolation, social media, untreated mental health issues, and more, one thing is clear — we must continue to prioritize connecting lifesaving behavioral health services with those who need it,” said FAME CEO Natalie Kelly.

Florida’s seven Managing Entities oversee Florida’s behavioral health safety net system of more than 300 providers. The Managing Entities meet the unique needs of Florida’s communities. There are various programs that help stabilize individuals who need it and connect them with lifesaving behavioral health services, engaging partners such as faith-based and veteran communities.

These programs include Mobile Response Teams of highly trained counselors that de-escalate situations; high level of care coordination for individuals; hospital bridge programs that coordinate services after an individual is stabilized in the emergency department; and school mental health services.

Florida’s Managing Entities collaborate with providers that deliver services to over 300,000 of Florida’s most vulnerable residents, including children, expectant mothers, veterans, and the chronically homeless. Additionally, the system provides nearly 1.7 million Floridians with preventive services and reaches hundreds of thousands more through indirect preventive services, such as education initiatives.

— Thanks a million —

The Els Center of Excellence recognized Sen. Gayle Harrell and Rep. John Snyder for their successful effort to secure a $1 million appropriation to support the construction of a specialized autism recreation complex on the Center’s 26-acre campus in Jupiter.

“The Els for Autism Foundation staff and board of directors would like to extend our heartfelt thanks to Sen. Harrell and Rep. Snyder for their support in securing this appropriation in the state budget for the 2023-2024 fiscal year,” said Dr. Michael Alessandri, who chairs the foundation’s board. “We are also grateful to the entire Florida Legislature and Gov. Ron DeSantis for approving this item in the state budget.”

Els for Autism Foundation Executive Director Dr. Marlene Sotelo added, “These funds will allow us to build on our mission of transforming the lives of people with autism by providing a full range of recreation choices. This complex will include a purpose-built, sensory-friendly gymnasium and an aquatics center that will include a swimming pool and splash pad.

Sen. Gayle Harrell and Rep. John Snyder championed the funding last Session. Image via Colin Hackley.

“South Florida is surrounded by water, and the frequency of elopement and wandering behaviors of people with autism is heightened by the multitude of water access. Unfortunately, drowning is the No. 1 cause of death for kids with autism, and programs designed to prevent these tragic events are essential to this community. Water safety and swim lessons will be a core feature of our program offerings at the Aquatics Center.”

Established in 2009 by World Golf Hall of Famer Ernie Els, his wife Liezl, and honorary Chair Marvin R. Shanken, the Els for Autism Foundation works to better the lives of individuals with autism spectrum disorder and their caregivers through comprehensive life span services and collaborative partnerships.

Els for Autism has provided services to families and professionals in 26 countries around the globe. In addition to its U.S. location, Els for Autism has foundations in Canada, South Africa, and the United Kingdom.

“Since starting the Els for Autism Foundation programs and services in 2015, it has always been our vision to provide the autism community with a robust offering of sports, fitness, arts, leisure, and healthy living programs,” said Liezl Els. “We are very grateful to our legislators for helping us get one step closer to making this dream a reality.”

— Man ‘splaining —

The Capital Tiger Bay Club is hosting a debate between Evan Power, Chair of the Leon County Republican Party, and Ryan Ray, Chair of the Leon County Democratic Party. The Sept. 7 event is being moderated by POLITICO-Florida journalist, Gary Fineout.

Power started his career working for the now-Sen. Marco Rubio in the Florida House of Representatives. After serving as a legislative analyst, Power was elected in 2010 as Vice Chair of the Leon County Republican Party and in 2014, he was elected Chair. Power served as chair of chairs of the Republican Party from 2019 to 2023. He currently serves as the Vice Chair of the Republican Party of Florida and resides in Tallahassee.

Ray has worked in Tallahassee government and politics since 2013 and served as a field organizer for Obama for Florida, Regional Field Director for Gwen Graham for Congress, and Communications Director at Florida House Victory during the 2018 cycle. Ray worked from 2015 to 2017 as a member of the Capitol Press Corps for Florida Politics and News Service of Florida, where he covered state government and elections. He currently serves in the Office of Tallahassee City Commissioner Jeremy Matlow.

The debate will be held at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.

— Capitol Directions —

Idalia — Crossways arrow — Well, it could have been worse.

Tallahassee — Up arrow — It’s a little soggy, but it’s still standing.

Biden-DeSantis — Up arrow — For 10 minutes they cared more about people than politics, and it was a good 10 minutes.

Ron DeSantis — Up arrow — He really does look presidential when he’s in Florida during a hurricane.

DeSantis’ boots — Up arrow — Thank you for staying in the closet.

Jimmy Patronis — Up arrow — We’re convinced he’s got a pocketful of floo powder.

Wilton Simpson — Up arrow — The FDACS stickers at the pump aren’t just for show.

Dep’t of Ed — Down arrow — Slavery bad. C’mon guys, it’s not that complicated.

Michael DiNapoli — Up arrow — Um, welcome back.

Joe Harding — Down arrow — He started the year in the statehouse, but he might end it in the big house.

Passidomo-Renner — Down arrow — The Governor they gave everything is acting more spoiled than Jean-Dominique Bauby’s mistress.

Governor’s Mansion — Crossways arrow — This is fodder for an instructional video on the property insurance claims process.

DCF — Up arrow — It’s making sure kids in the cone have food in the fridge.

Duke — Up arrow — If not for oven clocks, thousands of people wouldn’t have even known they lost power.

FMEA — Up arrow — Public power has friends in every area code, even the 308.

Anheuser Busch — Up arrow — We’d make a joke about how Bud Light is basically ersatz water, but we’re too grateful to be snarky.

Rosen Hotels — Up arrow — Kindness makes customers.

Friends of Everglades — Down arrow — Yo, can we let people get their yards cleared before we start talking about algae?

Looting — Question mark — And don’t even think about tooting and booting, either.

Uber — Up arrow — They’ll help you arrive alive, rain or shine.

“The Big Bend” — Up arrow — It’s not the Big Break.

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

  • Earl Pitts American

    September 2, 2023 at 7:19 am

    Good mornting America,
    The entire premise that any shooting is any politicians fault is what Dook 4 Brains Leftists base 99% of their platform on. When it comes down to winning in 2024 that will not float your boat. No matter how many slick media attempts are made to make the mental connection.
    Its the shooters fault PEROID.
    Its not Biden’s fault as much as its not Desantis’ fault.
    I understand thats all your side has….still America is not going to factor such crap into their vote decision.
    Its the shooters fault nobody else.
    You want to know how the votes are going to come in? IT’S THE ECONOMEY STUPID. And y’all trashed the economey.
    Thank you America,

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