After a few years of Jacksonville Bold, readers notice that the product tends to have a seasonal rhythm.
During campaign season, it’s all about the Benjamins — specifically fundraising — which is a reliable indicator of who is winning a race … but not always (as supporters of Mayor Donna Deegan are quick to point out).
Campaigns, except for a certain Governor trudging through Iowa and New Hampshire, are backburnered as 2023 ends.
So, instead of donor and endorser write-ups, Bold focuses on what’s going on right now — legislation, or at least attempts to get it passed.
Tallahassee is heavy with bills in this Session, and while space does not allow us to get into them all, Bold is highlighting a number of the most interesting — for one reason or another — filings as November comes to a close.
Note that things are moving very quickly for the 2024 Session.
There are just two Committee weeks in December, and if history (this year and in the past) is a reliable indicator, only a little news will be made in those meetings full of agency requests and esoteric presentations.
The Session starts Jan. 9. If all goes well, it ends March 8.
To borrow a phrase from Donald Rumsfeld: There are known knowns, known unknowns, and unknown unknowns that can derail time frames.
Consider that just four years ago, the Florida Legislature was compelled to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic, something that Senate and House leadership didn’t envision before events dictated them noticing it.
And it’s hard to forget how, in 2018, the final Rick Scott Session required the Governor to work with a somewhat more bipartisan legislature to cobble together a response to a massacre at a high school in Parkland — one that still has ramifications to this day.
Are any of the following bills targeted to meet not just the current historical moment but one that can’t be anticipated as of this writing?
Readers can be the judge of that.
For now, these pieces of legislation are like fledgling birds. Their life spans could be short, truncated in the nest by a hostile Committee chair, or lacking in accord with the other legislative branch.
Or they could grow and take wings of their own.
— Hot, hot, hot —
Jennifer Bradley is carrying legislation in the Senate that she hopes will be effective against deaths from overheating.
SB 554, called “Ariya’s Act,” would make April “Hot Car Prevention Month.”
The bill would compel the Department of Children and Families, Department of Health, and subsidiary arms of government to sponsor events calling attention to the dangers of leaving children unattended in cars and trucks, as well as ways to prevent death.
Educational outreach would cover motor vehicle safety for children, criminal penalties associated with leaving children alone in motor vehicles, and ways bystanders can rescue “vulnerable” children left in these situations.
Rep. Chuck Brannan of MacClenny is carrying the House version, giving this legislation a North Florida nexus as it moves in 2024.
— Splish Splash —
Northeast Florida Senators aren’t just addressing heat concerns.
As new legislation from Sen. Travis Hutson suggests, water safety concerns are in play.
SB 544 would compel the Department of Health to create a Swimming Lesson Voucher Program to “increase water safety in this state by offering vouchers for swimming lessons at no cost to families with an income of no more than 200% of the federal poverty level who have one or more children 4 years of age or younger.”
Each county would be required to have one vendor, with participation made compulsory for any “vendor that offers swimming lessons at a public pool that is owned or maintained by a county or municipality must, if requested by the department, participate in the program.”
If passed, the law would take effect next July.
— So meaty —
According to the Florida Senate and House, the 2024 Legislative Session will address several meaty topics, including defining what meat is — and isn’t.
On Tuesday, Sen. Clay Yarborough filed SB 586, which would, if enacted, squash efforts to bring lab-created beef and other synthesized animal flesh products to Florida groceries, restaurants, and plates.
Yarborough’s bill is the Senate companion of Rep. Tyler Sirois’ product in the House, referred to three committees. The Agriculture, Conservation, and Resiliency subcommittee is the first stop, but the bill is not on a Committee agenda yet.
So-called “cultivated meat” was approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration earlier this year and is available in select restaurants. Rather than traditional meat harvesting that involves mass slaughtering animals, meat cultivation in this context involves growing the product from isolated cells.
Currently, those cells are sourced from animals, but expectations are that cell banks will eventually supplant living donors.
The Jacksonville Republican’s bill would deem it “unlawful for any person to manufacture, sell, hold or offer for sale, or distribute cultivated meat in this state,” with 2nd-degree misdemeanor penalties attached to violations of the law — which could earn fake-meat perpetrators 60 days in lockdown or a $500 fine.
Yarborough’s bill also contemplates penalties for a “food establishment that manufactures, distributes, or sells cultivated meat,” leaving those fake-meat purveyors “subject to disciplinary action” that could include revocation of the right to operate.
“License of any restaurant, store, or other business may be suspended as provided in the applicable licensing law upon the conviction of an owner or employee of that business for a violation of this section in connection with that business,” which would include an “immediate stop-sale order.”
— Board ban —
A Jacksonville legislator carries the House version of a bill that would keep failed bank Board of Directors from being recycled to other Boards for five years.
If SB 542/HB 543 becomes law, the individual is disqualified from serving on the board of another bank for five years after the date such bank became insolvent.
“Florida consumers deserve competent, fiscally responsible oversight over our banks and financial institutions. Under this bill, we will ban executives who have been party to any bank failure from serving on the board of a Florida bank,” said Rep. Dean Black, who is carrying the House version.
Sen. Blaise Ingoglia of Spring Hill is sponsoring the Senate companion.
“Floridians deserve to have trust in our financial institutions. It’s simply not fair that individuals who have contributed to putting deposits at risk be allowed to continue that behavior. This pro-consumer piece of legislation ensures that bad actors, who put taxpayers and depositors at risk, cannot be in a position to do so again,” said Ingoglia.
— Statue support —
Speaking of Black, he’s carrying a bill that would stop local governments from removing Confederate statuary — such as the controversial edifice to the Women of the Southland in what once was called Confederate Park.
New polling says people want that legislation.
The Cygnal survey of 800 likely Florida voters shows a law “that would protect historical monuments and memorials, including some for soldiers who fought for the Confederate States of America, gets support from 6-in-10 voters as only Democrats oppose the law (53% oppose; 28% support).”
Indeed, 91% of Republicans support such a law, with 81% saying they strongly support it.
Support for the war memorials extends to independent voters also, with 51% saying they support it against 30% opposition. A complete 43% of no-party-affiliated voters say they strongly support the measure.
Black’s HB 395 proposes state “protection of historical monuments and memorials,” and authorizes “all actions to protect and preserve all historical monuments and memorials from removal, damage, or destruction.”
The bill would punish local lawmakers and officials who voted to remove such memorials, authorizing a fine in the costs to replace or repair the monument out of their personal wealth for removal actions. It would also give Gov. Ron DeSantis the power to remove elected leaders from local office when the bill takes effect.
The bill language makes the state preemption explicit against “any local elected officials who may be swayed by undue influence by groups who may feel offended or hurt by certain actions in the history of the state or the nation.”
— Cop shield —
Rep. Wyman Duggan has new legislation that would take localities out of the business of fielding complaints against cops and jail workers, relegating such gripes to Tallahassee.
HB 601 preempts to the state the “receipt, processing, and investigation of,” those complaints, ensuring that “the rights and privileges afforded to such officers while under investigation, apply uniformly throughout the state.”
“Accordingly, it is unlawful for a county, municipality, special district, or other political subdivision of the state to pass or enforce any ordinance, resolution, or rule relating to the receipt, processing, or investigation of complaints of misconduct by law enforcement officers and correctional officers, except as otherwise expressly provided in this part, or to pass or enforce any ordinance, resolution, or rule relating to civilian oversight of a law enforcement agency,” the bill adds.
Duggan represents parts of Southern Duval County that cross the St. Johns River after 2022’s redistricting. This bill, like Black’s monument measure, appears to be another way to limit what Jacksonville’s Democratic Mayor can do, suggesting that Civilian Review Boards would be pointless if this bill passes and takes effect next July.
— Tiny homes —
Rep. Cyndi Stevenson has a creative answer to housing shortages in St. Johns County and elsewhere in Florida.
HB 557 would establish parameters for so-called “movable tiny homes,” specifying which “park trailers” would qualify.
“The total area of such unit may not exceed 400 square feet when constructed to standards specified in s. 320.8231(3), and 500 square feet when constructed to the United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Standards. A park trailer under this sub-sub-subparagraph may be referred to as a “movable tiny home,’” the bill stipulates.
“The total area of a park trailer is measured from the exterior surface of the exterior stud walls at the level of maximum dimensions, not including any bay window when the unit is in setup mode.”
Inspections would also be required for this designation, with stickers certifying that a “professional engineer or architect licensed in this state or by a third-party inspector who is qualified to inspect for compliance with the Florida Building Code,” actually approved the setup.
— Double play —
Speaking of St. Johns, the County Commission’s leadership now has a distinct DeSantis flavor after pre-Thanksgiving elections.
As WOKV notes, the new Chair and Vice-Chair both have one degree of separation from the Governor, who most will recall represented much of the county in Congress from 2012 through 2018.
New Chair Sarah Arnold was appointed to the Commission by DeSantis in 2021.
“I am grateful and honored for this opportunity to help guide St. Johns County forward with the support of my fellow County commissioners, our County Administrator Joy Andrews, and our dedicated team of County employees,” Arnold said.
The Governor also appointed Vice Chair Roy Alaimo was also appointed to the Commission in 2022. WOKV notes that he “worked for then-Congressman DeSantis as a district representative, where he acted as a liaison between constituents and federal agencies.”
— Downtown Dolphins —
Jacksonville University’s law school will have a new permanent home in the city’s heart in the Summer of 2024.
The new digs are at 121 W. Forsyth St., which locals might recall as the former Atlantic Bank Building.
“We’re proud and energized to be able to move into this new space, even closer to the federal and county courthouses and City Hall,” said Dean Nick Allard. “It is a priority for us to maintain a presence and contribute to the city’s vibrant, growing urban core, and we look forward to being part of the rapid development of Downtown Jacksonville.”
“Our location is ideal, especially for our students, who regularly make good use of the libraries and observe law in action in the county and federal courthouses. This keeps them embedded in the legal epicenter of the region with unparalleled access to these invaluable resources for learning,” Allard added.
JU seeks $6.5 million in city funding that the City Council will ultimately need to approve, and the Deegan administration is definitely on board.
“This is exactly the type of transformational project that Jacksonville needs in its Downtown revitalization goals — the economic vitality of hundreds of college students living and learning in the downtown core and the preservation of one of Jacksonville’s iconic historic buildings,” said Karen Bowling, Chief Administrative Officer for the City of Jacksonville.
— Award tour —
Speaking of Downtown, some of its brightest lights will bring home the hardware Thursday night, courtesy of the #DTJax Awards, as has been the case since 2015.
The event kicks off at 5 p.m. at The Lark on Hogan Street, with tickets available for $75 per person, which covers “heavy appetizers” and drinks.
Downtown Vision, Inc., host of the event, says it’s a way “to recognize and show our appreciation for those who love and serve Downtown Jacksonville.”
The awards include honors for Downtown Ambassador of the Year, Downtowner of the Year, Downtown Project of the Year, Small Business of the Year, and Downtown Achievement Award.
Previous honorees include people ranging from former Mayor Lenny Curry and Ambassador John Rood and former Times-Union editor Frank Denton to restaurant and bar owners, and we expect this year’s winners to present a similarly diverse profile.
— Jaguars top seed —
After surviving in Houston, the Jaguars are tied with three other teams with the fewest losses in the AFC. Along with the Baltimore Ravens, Kansas City Chiefs, and Miami Dolphins, the Jaguars sit atop the division standings and have a realistic chance of earning the top seed in the AFC playoffs with six games remaining.
How can they do it?
Let’s start with the Jaguars’ remaining schedule. Jacksonville opens December with a Monday Night Football game at home against the Cincinnati Bengals. Let’s leave aside the fact that the Jaguars haven’t played in or hosted a Monday Night Football game in a dozen seasons and examine the matchup.
While this game appeared to be one of the AFC’s marquee matchups when making the schedule, the Bengals have been dealing with injuries, specifically to quarterback Joe Burrow. Former Vikings draft pick Jake Browning led the Cincy offense to one touchdown drive in a 16-10 loss to the Steelers Sunday. The Bengals may be a contender when Burrow is playing and healthy. Without him, they are average at best. The Bengals come into the matchup at 5-6 and with only one win against an AFC team.
After the Monday Night game, the Jaguars have a short week and travel to Cleveland. Road games following Monday Night Football games are challenging, but the Browns also play a backup quarterback after DeShaun Watson’s injury. Rookie fifth-round draft pick Dorian Thompson-Robinson has thrown one touchdown and four interceptions this season.
The Jaguars then host the Baltimore Ravens in a massive game. Should the Jaguars beat the Ravens, they would hold the tiebreaker over Baltimore. The Jaguars lost out in a tie with the Chiefs after Kansas City beat them earlier this season, so a win over the Ravens is essential if the Jaguars are going to earn the top seed in the AFC playoffs.
After that, it’s three teams without playoff hopes. The Jaguars travel to Tampa Bay to face the Buccaneers, host the Carolina Panthers, and close out the regular season in Nashville against the Titans.
If the Jaguars (8-3) win five of their last six, and one of those wins is against the Baltimore Ravens, they could wind up with the best record in the AFC. But they need some help.
Here’s what the other AFC division leaders have left on the schedule.
The Ravens (9-3) have a bye this week, then host the Los Angeles Rams, who must fly cross-country for the matchup. Then, the meeting with the Jaguars was followed by a cross-country flight to face the 49ers in San Francisco. Baltimore finishes the season with home games against the AFC East-leading Dolphins and a rivalry game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, a team likely to be playing for playoff positioning. Baltimore’s schedule appears more complex than that of the Jaguars.
The Chiefs (8-3) travel to Green Bay this week to face the Packers. Weather forecasts for Lambeau Field are calling for a rain and snow mix and temperatures in the low 30s at kickoff. The Chiefs then host the Bills, travel to the Patriots, and host the Raiders and Bengals before finishing the season at the Chargers.
It’s not as taxing a schedule as the Ravens.
Finally, the Miami Dolphins (8-3), who face three teams out of playoff contention in the next three weeks, on the road at Washington and then home against the Titans and Jets. Miami’s finishing stretch, however, is a gauntlet. They host the Cowboys, then travel to the Ravens and finish the season at home against a Bills team that may need the win to make a wild card spot.
The Jaguars don’t entirely control their destiny. If the Chiefs and Jags win, KC will get the top spot. However, the Jaguars could find themselves in a situation in December or early January where all they need to do to earn a home-field advantage is to win the rest of their games.