Unmasked and Dangerous
What happens when two of Florida’s funniest authors share the stage for a discussion about the absurdities of the upcoming presidential election?
Find out at 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 21, when Dave Barry and Carl Hiaasen meet up for “Derision 2020: Unmasked and Dangerous,” an hourlong virtual event to benefit the First Amendment Foundation (FAF).
“Think of it as a date night with the best seat in YOUR house,” declared the promotional information about the livestream meetup of the Miami Herald columnists and authors, who have kept us laughing — and thinking about the precarious state of our state — for decades.
“Couldn’t we all use a bit of laughter right now, in the midst of all we’ve been through together since March?” asked FAF President Pamela Marsh. “With Carl and Dave, you can count on intelligent and interesting Floridian perspectives, with a double shot of humor served up with a lime and a pinch of salt.”
Hiaasen is best known for his crime novels that put a satirical twist on timely Florida-centric subjects such as the environment, hurricanes and tourism. His latest offering, published in August, is “Squeeze Me,” which skewers the habitués of Palm Beach, featuring a missing socialite, a giant python, and a POTUS who just happens to own a palatial estate called Casa Bellicosa.
Barry made us laugh at the foibles parenthood and other boomer-centric topics in his columns and books starting in the early ’80s. Now we’re all getting on in years and his 2019 book about his dog, “Lessons from Lucy,” is a more reflective take about aging
Tickets are now available and can be purchased online at floridafaf.org. General admission tickets are $25 (plus a processing fee) and VIP tickets range from $75 to $125.
“Some ticket purchase options come with books autographed by the authors, so you get an hour of live fun and hours of reading enjoyment to follow,” Marsh said. “This ‘friend-raiser’ and fundraiser couldn’t come at a more critical time for the First Amendment Foundation. As a nonpartisan nonprofit organization serving the entire state of Florida, we have to find new ways to do things — like raise money — if FAF is to survive and continue the important work of fighting for transparency, open government and freedom of the press.”
Event sponsors also include WLRN Public Media, the Berger Singerman law firm and the Tampa Bay Times.
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Jason Delgado and the staff of Florida Politics.
The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Voter registration deadline extended, somewhat — After Florida’s voter registration website crashed hours before a state deadline, Secretary of State Laurel Lee reopened voter registration until 7 p.m. Tuesday. She also said the state would investigate and ensure “this was not a deliberate act against the voting process.” A court motion demanded more time was denied by U.S. District Judge Mark E. Walker, though he still heavily criticized the state handling of registration in the process, calling the extension a “half measure” to address mismanagement, and said continuous problems with Florida’s voting systems threatens chaos and injures the rights of voters.
Unemployment surges after dip in claims — Following several weeks trending downward, the number of unemployment claims in Florida saw a notable jump of about 87,000 jobless claims this week. The biggest surge in new weekly jobless claims since the summer, that brought the total number of claims since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic to 4.155 million. The latest increase is up 21,000 over the 66,000 new claims filed in the last full week of September. The previous month’s weekly increases usually hovered around 60,000 new filings each week and showed signs of a slowdown in jobless claims caused by the pandemic.
Democrats propose overhaul of unemployment — Lawmakers unveiled a package that would nearly double the maximum weekly benefits for unemployment, to $500 a week with a minimum of $100. The proposal would also put a three-week deadline on the state after qualified individuals file claims for the state to determine qualification. The proposal comes after months of public complaints from Floridians reporting delays in the system and often a denial of benefits with no explanation. The Democratic proposal also calls for an ombudsman’s office within the Department of Economic Opportunity to handle public complaints about potential failures in the system.
Bar license suspensions lifted — Nine alcohol license suspensions issued by the Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation between June 22 and Aug. 10 have been lifted, officials reported. The easing of punitive actions came after a year of on and off restrictions. Shortly after the pandemic hit Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis shut down bars on March 20, but later eased that to a 50% capacity limit and a requirement to seat patrons at tables. A spike in cases prompted DBPR Secretary Halsey Beshears on June 26 to reimpose a ban, which lasted until Sept. 10. Suspensions of individuals bars were handed down over a failure to adhere to guidelines intended to slow the coronavirus spread.
Deloitte, state win lawsuit over website — A Leon County circuit court dismissed a potential class-action lawsuit against DEO and the contractor that created the CONNECT website, which crumbled this spring under a flood of unemployment claims during the coronavirus pandemic. But Judge John Cooper gave attorneys for the plaintiffs an opportunity to file an amended complaint, which could refuel the legal fight. Plaintiffs originally filed a suit in April after hundreds of thousands of complaints overwhelmed the state website, which critics alleged was intentionally designed to fail to discourage claims and keep Florida’s unemployment numbers artificially low.
— 720,001 FL residents (+16,789 since Oct. 2)
— 8,920 Non-FL residents (+328 since Oct. 2)
— 6,135 Travel related
— 266,762 Contact with a confirmed case
— 6,516 Both
— 440,588 Under investigation
— 45,675 in FL
— 15,372 in FL
DeSantis and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced more than $2 million in grants for military-related programs had been awarded through the Defense Reinvestment Grant Program and the Defense Infrastructure Grant Program.
These grants are aimed at helping defense-dependent communities diversify their economies and improve military community relations.
“During my time with the Navy, I was able to experience firsthand the tremendous impact a military installation has on its surrounding community,” DeSantis said. “I’m proud to provide an opportunity for these organizations to continue to support and enhance the great partnerships Florida’s communities have with our military.”
DEO head Dane Eagle added, “During these unprecedented times, it is imperative that we continue to support Florida’s military installations and their surrounding communities. Across our state, military installation communities support not only military personnel and their families, but they create jobs and opportunities for many Floridians.”
The Defense Reinvestment Grant Program provides support to community-based activities that protect existing military installations. These grants are awarded to applicants that represent a local government with a military installation that could be adversely affected by federal actions.
The grants range in size from $5,000 for veteran support initiatives in Walton County to $85,000 to support and partnerships for the community surrounding Eglin Air Force Base in Okaloosa County.
The other war
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed a lot of things, but it hasn’t lessened Attorney General Ashley Moody’s resolve to end the deadly opioid crisis plaguing Florida.
“Our nation and our state face many challenges, but be assured that nothing will dampen my resolve to put an end to the national opioid crisis that continues to claim lives in our great state,” Moody said.
“Even before the COVID-19 pandemic struck Florida, we were working hard to stop opioid misuse and save lives, and as we continue to work together to stop the spread of COVID-19, please know that our fight against the deadly opioid crisis has not abated.”
The Attorney General said she’s been issuing statewide recommendations to address the opioid crisis, creating new partnerships to help Floridians struggling with substance abuse and crafting criminal justice training to assist prosecutors in shutting down the sham sober homes.
“There are signs that the pandemic may be contributing to an increase in opioid deaths, and that is even more reason why we cannot waiver in our fight to stop drug abuse — and why I will continue to work every day, on the local, state and national level, to end this deadly crisis affecting Florida families.”
Florida has been battling the opioid epidemic for years, and new national statistics illustrate the toll of the public health crisis is growing — Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows 70,980 fatal overdoses in 2019, with about 1,000 more deaths to likely be added.
That’s a 4.8% increase from 2018, and depending on how far upward the total is adjusted, it may break the grim record of 70,237 overdose deaths set in 2017.
This week was Malnutrition Awareness Week in Florida, as dubbed by Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried.
The national campaign aimed at informing people about the value of nutrition and treating malnutrition spanned from Monday to Friday.
“Malnutrition is a growing crisis in our nation, which continues to be exacerbated by economic disparities, food insecurity and the COVID-19 pandemic,” Fried said. “It’s crucial that we raise awareness and help educate Floridians on the dangers of malnutrition and its devastating impact on children, adults and especially the elderly.”
The American Society for Parenteral and Enteral Nutrition launched Malnutrition Awareness Week in 2012 to target the largely preventable and treatable disease.
“Patients with malnutrition are more likely to experience longer hospital stays, higher hospital costs and higher inpatient deaths,” said Ainsley Malone, an ASPEN clinical specialist and nutrition support dietitian.
Even apart from the pandemic, the community has a responsibility to protect the health of its aging population, said Florida Malnutrition Work Group Chair Dona Green.
“For all their sacrifices and love shared, we must dedicate a higher level of priority on protecting our seniors, who are more at risk of malnutrition than other age groups,” she added. “Nutritional status has been referred to as a vital marker of older adult health — it helps improve health outcomes, reduce health care costs, and improve overall quality of life.”
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis this week announced that more than $28 million in unclaimed property was returned to Floridians in September.
“We’re working hard to get our economy back on its feet and that’s why I am proud to announce that for the month of September more than $28 million went to the pockets of Floridians,” Patronis said.
Unclaimed property is a financial asset that is lost or unknown by its owners. Unclaimed property can take on many forms including dormant bank accounts, uncashed checks or safety deposit boxes.
The unclaimed goods are sent for holding to the Florida Department of Financial Services typically after five years of dormancy.
Notably, unclaimed property returns have climbed in recent months amid the COVID-19 pandemic and high unemployment.
“Since the pandemic began in March, we have recovered and returned more than $216 million, which is especially important because now is the time when people need it the most,” Patronis added.
The CFO encouraged all Floridians to search for unclaimed property that may belong to them or their loved ones.
Floridians can search for unclaimed goods online.
“I’m looking forward to continuing to work hard and closeout 2020 as a record-high year in returns,” Patronis concluded.
Patronis this week released a statement in observance of the two-year anniversary of Hurricane Michael.
Hurricane Michael struck the Florida Panhandle as a Category 5 storm on Oct. 10, 2018.
“Every resident in the Panhandle was affected by this massive storm and my family and I will never forget the heartbreak it caused our friends, neighbors, and the great people of Northwest Florida,” Patronis said in a statement. “Two years later, I am proud that as a community, we have worked together to make vital strides in rebuilding our neighborhoods, schools and businesses.”
Although the storm impacted the Panhandle two years ago, recovery in some areas is still underway. Patronis, a Panhandle native, recognized the ongoing recovery and spoke optimistically about the process.
“It hasn’t been easy but every day we take one more step toward coming back better and stronger than before,” he added. “While there is still much work to be done to fully recover from the devastating impacts of Hurricane Michael, one thing I learned is that Floridians are resilient, and our Panhandle communities will forever be 850 Strong.”
The Florida Panhandle earlier this month was struck by Hurricane Sally, a Category 2 storm that brought devastating floods to the region.
Instagram of the week
The week in appointments
Florida Commission on Human Relations — DeSantis on Friday announced the appointment of Vivian Myrtetus to the Commission on Human Relations. Myrtetus is the Senior Government Relations Manager for Lime. Previously, the Miami resident was CEO of Volunteer Florida and Chief of Staff for the Florida Department of Children and Families. Myrtetus currently serves on the board of the Florida Network of Youth and Family Services and was Founding Board Chair of the Florida Technology Council. She earned her bachelor’s degree from San Francisco State University.
Florida Virtual School Board of Trustees — The Governor this week appointed John Watret, Linda Reiter, Edward Pozzuoli and Robert Kornahrens to the Florida Virtual School Board of Trustees. Watret, of Ormond Beach, is the Worldwide Campus Chancellor for Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University. Reiter, of Miramar, is a deaf and hard-of-hearing specialist who currently works with deaf and hard-of-hearing students learning virtually. Pozzuoli, of Fort Lauderdale, is an attorney and the CEO of Tripp Scott, focusing on educational and commercial litigation. Kornahrens, of Fort Lauderdale, is the president and CEO of Advanced Roofing.
St. Johns River Water Management District Governing Board — DeSantis named Doug Bournique, Jon “Chris” Peterson Jr. and Cole Oliver to the SJRWMD Governing Board. Bournique, of Vero Beach, is the Executive vice president of the Indian River Citrus League. Previously, he served on the United States Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Technical Advisory Committee for Fruits and Vegetables and on the Federal Reserve Bank’s Agriculture Advisory Council. Peterson, of winter Park, is President of Hell’s Bay Marine, a shallow-water skiff boat manufacturer. Previously, he was president of Heath-Peterson Construction Corporation. Oliver, of Merritt Island, is an attorney and partner with Rossway Swan. Previously, he was an Attorney and Partner with McClelland Jones.
Suwannee River Water Management District Governing Board — DeSantis appointed Alphonas Alexander and Larry Sessions to the SRWMD this week. Alexander, of Madison, is a Consultant with The Forestry Company of Perry. He is a former vice-chair of the SRWMD Governing Board and a current member of the Florida Forestry Association. Sessions, of Live Oak, is the Administrator of the Suwannee Valley Transit Authority. Previously, he was a Suwannee County Commissioner and a member of the North Central Florida Regional Planning Council.
Big bend buy
The Florida Department of Environmental Protection and The Nature Conservancy closed a deal for a 17,088-acre land buy last week.
DEP said the newly acquired Dickerson Bay property, also known as the Bluffs of St. Teresa, is an “essential tract of land in Florida’s Big Bend in the midst of a protected landscape spanning over 1 million acres.” The state has been after the land for a quarter-century.
The buy fills in the blanks between Bald Point State Park and Tate’s Hell State Forest, creating a contiguous protected landscape that includes the Apalachicola National Forest, St. Marks National Wildlife Refuge and the Ochlockonee River State Park.
“The Bluffs is an incredibly important acquisition for the state of Florida and is the largest fee acquisition approved by the Board of Trustees in over a decade. Not only does this area connect multiple state parks and federally preserved lands, it also protects estuarine and freshwater resources that make up the economic and ecological lifeblood of the nearshore Gulf,” DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said.
“I thank the Nature Conservancy for their dedication to securing this property, and for working together with DEP and other partners to finalize this acquisition and protect it for future generations. This acquisition is a great step forward for the future of conservation in Florida.”
The Nature Conservancy pitched in $2.4 million toward the buy and the Department of Defense contributed $2 million.
“Securing the protection of the Bluffs of St. Teresa is a once in a generation win for the environment, for the local community and for Florida. Considering its immense conservation value, it’s no surprise that The Nature Conservancy has been working tirelessly to connect this remarkable piece of coastal habitat to the 1-million-plus acres of protected land surrounding it for the past decade,” Nature Conservancy director Temperince Morgan said.
Florida’s Silver Alert program is halfway to its silver anniversary.
The program, launched in 2008, alerts the public when seniors with Alzheimer’s or related dementia go missing in a car. The Department of Elder Affairs estimates that more than 580,000 Floridians are living with those conditions.
Over the 12 years since, 400 Silver Alerts have been issued, and Florida’s Silver Alert program has been directly responsible for 248 recoveries of missing senior citizens.
“The success of Florida’s Silver Alert system is largely thanks to everyday citizens who care about one another — even if that person is a stranger,” said FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen. “I encourage every Floridian to sign up to receive Silver Alerts so that, together, we can help protect one of our state’s most vulnerable populations.”
Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Richard Prudom added, “As the number of Floridians affected by Alzheimer’s disease and dementia continues to rise, important programs such as Silver Alert play a key role in ensuring the safety of our loved ones affected by dementia. We are proud of this program’s success and of the commitment from our partners to safely bring home missing elders.”
Floridians can learn more about the program and sign-up to receive Silver Alerts on the Department of Elder Affairs website.
Remember the Forgotten Coast
Democratic Senate Candidate and State Rep. Loranne Ausley attacked Republicans this week for their handling of those impacted by Hurricane Michael.
The jab comes near the two-year anniversary of the Category 5 storm’s impact on the Florida Panhandle and less than 25 days before Election Day.
In a news release, she lamented the “neglect of Republican leadership in Tallahassee.”
“After Hurricane Michael, the incredible humanitarian crisis facing the people of the Florida Panhandle was immediately clear,” Ausley said in a statement. “Over the last two years, the recovery has been slow and many are still suffering, a fact that can be directly attributed to the lack of action by Republican Leadership in Tallahassee and their refusal to prioritize the people of our Panhandle communities.
Ausley is jockeying for the Senate District 3 seat against Republican Marva Preston, who has been endorsed by Gov. DeSantis.
SD 3 is a Democratic-leaning seat that covers all of Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Hamilton, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Taylor and Wakulla counties in North Florida.
“In the Florida Senate, it will be my top priority to continue to fight on their behalf and to ensure that the people of the Forgotten Coast and the surrounding communities will never be forgotten,” Ausley added.
While COVID-19 introduced unexpected challenges, Tallahassee lawmakers say bipartisan efforts in the Legislature prepared Florida in surprising ways. A situation like this didn’t necessarily loom over talks about telehealth and broadband availability, but access to such services proved critical this year.
“There’s a value-added there folks didn’t see before,” said Rep. Nicholas Duran, a Miami Democrat.
At a GrayRobinson-hosted panel entitled “Purple State Politics: Discussing Florida’s Unique Geographical and Political Diversity,” three House members and one likely incoming freshman discussed how a civil atmosphere ensured the Legislature could find solutions to problems at the state level even as partisanship cripples Washington.
Rep. Alex Andrade, a Pensacola Republican, said the requirement of a balanced budget and certain restrictions on campaign finance do contribute to a better working atmosphere. While he can’t promise processes like redistricting next year won’t stoke partisan passions, he said the House remains somewhere any lawmaker can log achievements. “Anybody will let you make your case,” he said.
Rep. Dan Daley, a Parkland Democrat, credited the fact there’s just one cafeteria. The Legislature doesn’t have separate cloakrooms and gyms for Republicans and Democrats the same as Congress. But he also said there’s a practical approach to deal with real, undeniable issues in Florida like sea-level rise and storm resiliency.
Michelle Salzman, a Panhandle Republican who just won a primary, agreed the responsibility of problems at hand demanded collaboration. “We have to respect each other and see the bigger picture,” she said.
As Hurricane Delta is pouring down on the Gulf Coast, advocates for the Florida Panhandle say the region’s recovery is far from over — and continued attention and investment are sorely needed.
Saturday marks the second anniversary of Hurricane Michael’s landfall in the Florida Panhandle as a brutal Category 5 storm.
The storm wreaked havoc across the board — homes, schools, crops, timber farms and even Tyndall Air Force Base were dealt devastating blows. Two years later, the scars remain.
“The storm itself was traumatic, but that trauma has been compounded by a painfully slow recovery. We’ve made progress, but there is still a long, long way to go,” said Allan Bense, a former House Speaker and the Co-Chair of Rebuild 850, an organization dedicated to advancing the Michael recovery effort.
In all, Michael claimed the lives of 50 Floridians and caused $25 billion in damage, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
“Florida’s Panhandle residents are strong and resilient, have great resolve and aren’t given to complaining. But these are also some of Florida’s most financially challenged communities, least able to endure a disaster like this financially,” said state Sen. Bill Montford, whose district was hit hardest by Michael.
“To put things in perspective: Hurricane Michael destroyed hospitals and schools, eliminated jobs and left tens of thousands of people homeless, including thousands of children. Our neighbors lost more than $1.4 billion in crops, timber, and livestock — some of that representing generational wealth that will not be recovered for generations, if ever.”
One South Florida disabilities advocate and educator gave a lending hand to direct $15 million in federal grant funds for autism research.
The Florida Developmental Disabilities Council had nominated its chair, Susan Kabot, to be a consumer reviewer for the Congressionally Directed Medical Research Programs’ Autism Research Program within the Defense Department. Since the 2007 fiscal year, consumer reviewers have been voting members on the panel and given voices to patients, offering commentary on how research could improve health care.
“It was encouraging to see the amazing proposals that were submitted to advance our knowledge in autism and support individuals and their families,” Kabot said.
The research program fills funding gaps in autism spectrum disorder research to improve outcomes for service members, their families and the American public.
CDMRP’s Director Col. Sarah Goldman thanked Kabot for her advocacy.
“Integrating consumer perspectives into our decision-making process brings energy and focus to our research programs. Patients, caregivers, family members, and advocates help us keep our efforts centered around what is truly important to those impacted. We very much value this critical input from our consumers who help ensure that CDMRP’s work remains critical and relevant,” she said.
Kabot’s career in the field of autism has spanned 34 years. Her expertise is in children and young adults.
Mourning families want rollback
During the national week of mourning this week for those who died from COVID-19, health advocates who have lost loved ones to the pandemic called on DeSantis to reverse course on reopening the state.
More than 15,000 people have died with the virus in Florida, composing part of the 210,000 Americans who have died this year from the disease.
The Governor has lifted all state-level restrictions in Phase Three of the virus response, which critics — including Diane Russo, Marco Reyes and Nancy Batista — say flies in the face of the thousands of deaths.
“Gov. DeSantis is gambling with peoples’ lives by reopening too quickly and lifting important restrictions before it’s safe to do so,” said Sydney Riess with the U.S. Public Interest Research Group. “We can reopen safely and protect peoples’ health, but only if we follow public health protocols, and right now that’s not what the governor’s doing.”
Daily new cases are a quarter of what they were during the virus’ peak in Florida in July, but Riess and the advocates argue cases aren’t low enough yet to reopen bars and indoor dining.
“DeSantis failed my dad, he failed every single person that has passed in the State of Florida and all those who have been affected by COVID,” Reyes said. “His lack of leadership is deadly, and he turned Public Health into a partisan battle. My dad believed in the Governor and it cost him his life.”
Florida’s most vulnerable citizens are seniors and children, Russo argued.
“We protect them by protecting ourselves,” she said. “We need to be proactive, we need to wear masks when we go out in public, no matter how uncomfortable or inconvenient. We need to stop the social gatherings and we need to practice social distancing.”
FAMU College of Law has announced the editorial board of its student-run Law Review for the 2020-2021 school year.
Mikayla Almeida, of Melbourne, will be the editor-in-chief and Jakob Uzzle, of Daytona Beach, will serve as executive editor. Asia Evans, of Syracuse, New York, will be the executive articles editor. Elliot Jackson, of Charlotte, North Carolina, will be the notes and comments editor and Angelica Prince, of Fort Lauderdale, will be the business managing editor.
All five board members are third-year law students.
“It is an honor to be the Editor-in-Chief of Law Review,” Almeida said. “I am humbled and excited to work with such talented individuals and lead our efforts to publish quality content.”
The Law Review publishes one fall and one spring semester journal each year for practitioners, judges, professors and students to utilize.
Joseph Grant returns this year as the review’s faculty adviser.
“The Law Review allows our student editors to advance their legal research, writing and editing skills,” Grant said. “The editors work very hard to produce a quality journal each semester.”
FAMU lifted its student curfew Friday, citing declining COVID-19 positivity rates in the community.
For seven weeks, since late August, on-campus students have had a midnight curfew.
Dean of Students Bomani Spell announced the change, which also includes expanding the limit on-campus gatherings to 30 people. But he cautioned against relaxing precautionary practices.
Students must wear masks, practice social distancing, take temperatures when entering offices and notify school health offices if they develop symptoms or had contact with someone who tested positive.
“Violation of any of FAMU’s Emergency Procedures is still considered an offense in the Student Code of Conduct with penalties that can lead to suspension from the University,” Spell said.
The school is also asking students, faculty and staff to take self-assessments through the school’s app before arriving on campus or attending class.
“We would like to thank students, parents, staff and faculty for adhering to our Emergency Procedures and for continuing to “Protect the FAMUly,’” Spell said. “We will remain diligent in our efforts to combat the spread of the virus on our campus and will keep all stakeholders informed of our progress.”