Takeaways from Tallahassee — Giving thanks and generosity


Hope Heroes

As the state enters the Thanksgiving season, First Lady Casey DeSantis is showing her appreciation for those boosting community service and assistance for Florida’s seniors.

DeSantis launched the Hope Florida Hero Program in August. DeSantis announced this week that the initiative, implemented by the Department of Elder Affairs in August prior to Hurricane Ian’s landfall, received a $400,000 check from the WellMed Charitable Foundation.

Casey DeSantis has had no problem raising money for the people of Florida. Image via Colin Hackley.

“We’ve seen the power of our Hope Hero volunteers in full force following Hurricane Ian’s devastation in counties where seniors made up more than half of the population,” DeSantis said in a statement. “Our vision is to have a network of businesses, nonprofits and caring individuals who can help support vulnerable seniors. I’m so appreciative of the WellMed Charitable Foundation for helping us turn that vision into a reality.”

With Hope Hero, DeSantis wants to unite the private sector with faith-based institutions, nonprofits and government entities to increase assistance for seniors in need while providing opportunities for seniors looking to serve their communities.

The donation from the WellMed Charitable Foundation was given to Advantage Aging Solutions, the Area Agency on Aging of North Florida. A portion of the funds will be used to enhance a communication system to disseminate requests from seniors in need in real time to volunteers ready to assist.

“Hope Heroes is a wonderful demonstration of how public/private partnerships help us do more than we could individually,” WellMed Executive Director Carol Zernial said in a statement. “We’re so proud to support an initiative that addresses the needs of older Floridians struggling with the damage from Hurricane Ian, and that also builds a strong foundation of volunteerism and service for years to come.”

The Hope Hero Volunteer Program provides support for Florida’s elders by working to unite normally disparate silos, such as government, business, and faith and community-based organizations, with the goal of creating opportunities that can offer assistance to seniors in need as well as provide volunteer opportunities to seniors who want to lend their talents to a cause.

Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Michelle Branham said more than 200 people signed up to help seniors in Southwest Florida following the First Lady’s call for volunteers when Ian made landfall.

“The feedback from those on the ground has been inspiring and emotional,” Branham said.

The Hope Florida Hero Program was modeled after the Hope Florida – A Pathway to Purpose initiative launched in 2021. That program, spearheaded by the Department of Children and Families, worked to unite the same normally disparate silos to work together to provide opportunities for economic stability and independence. Since its inception in 2021 more than 50,000 people have been helped.

To become a Hope Hero volunteer or to learn about additional volunteer opportunities, call 800-96-ELDER or visit helpcreatehope.com.

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Coming up, the usual assortment of news, intel and observations from the week that was in Florida’s capital city by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Christine Jordan Sexton and the staff of Florida Politics.

But first …

Take 5

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

Donald Trump makes it official. Will Ron DeSantis? — Former President Trump announced his long-expected third run for the White House Tuesday. The hourlong announcement offered a blast from the past amid questions as to whether Republicans should shop around for a 2024 nominee. “America’s comeback starts right now,” Trump said in a speech at his home Mar-a-Lago punctuated with familiar lines and bursts of applause. The early declaration seemed timed to clear the field, as Gov. DeSantis emerges as more of a favorite with each passing news cycle. About 125 miles due west from Mar-a-Lago the following day, DeSantis could escape questions about the run. “We just finished this election,” DeSantis said. “People just need to chill out a little bit on some of this stuff.”

Federal judge halts “Stop WOKE” Act — A federal judge handed the state a defeat in its efforts to stop “woke ideology” at the state’s universities, calling the state’s arguments for the law that restricts instruction on race and history “positively dystopian.” The legislation gave students and employees a reason to sue if instruction or training made them feel uncomfortable or guilty because of their race, gender or national origin. Plaintiffs — including professors, students and civil liberties groups — argue the law violates their First Amendment rights and the equal protection clause in the 14th Amendment. The suit is one of a number of challenges the legislation has spawned.

Paul Renner legislative vision takes shape — With the Legislature’s Organization Session coming Tuesday, House Speaker-designate Renner has been rolling out his structural vision for the House this week. He named Rep. Chuck Clemons as Speaker Pro Tempore and Rep. Michael Grant as Majority Leader for a second two-year term. Plus, House members will no longer need to file individual bills for appropriation projects to ensure they’re placed in the budget process, according to the incoming Speaker’s new proposed rules. The Palm Coast Republican is also out with the committee structure for the new Legislative Term. Gone is the Pandemics & Public Emergencies Committee, and say hello to the Infrastructure Strategies Committee.

DeSantis sticks with Ladapo — DeSantis will keep Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo around for a second term, the first major announcement from the “transition” effort. Ladapo has been a key partner with DeSantis since coming on board more than a year ago but has also been a lightning rod. He has been skeptical of COVID-19 vaccines and recently led the charge to convince state medical regulators to draft rules preventing doctors from prescribing gender-affirming care for minors. In a tweet Monday, DeSantis said Ladapo “has done a great job” in his role leading the Department of Health. “His evidence-based principles serve as a counterweight to the increasingly political positions of the entrenched medical establishment, especially on schools, masks and mRNA shots,” DeSantis wrote.

Citizens hikes Ian loss estimate by $1.2B — Citizens Property Insurance pushed up its estimate of losses from Hurricane Ian by more than $1 billion, up to $3.8 billion in total, a result of costs of litigation and other claims-related expenses added to the forecast. The new projection takes into account claims made so far, as well as litigation cost projections and national inflation, which has stood at 40-year highs for most of the year. A press release from Citizens says the estimate projects $1.4 billion of the losses could come from the Cat Fund, meaning the hit to Citizens’ surplus would be $2.4 billion. Citizens’ surplus before Ian hit was $6.7 billion.

Sunrise to Sunshine

DeSantis is making a pitch for more Japanese visitors and a boost to international tourism.

In remarks to the Southeastern United States — Japan Conference in Orlando, the Governor made the case for nonstop flights between the Land of the Rising Sun and the Sunshine State as part of a larger pitch for visitation.

Click the image to watch Ron DeSantis’ remarks.

“We would like to see an expansion of flights direct from Florida to Japan, and vice versa,” DeSantis said. “This is a great place. I think a lot of Japanese people would really love to come and visit Florida.”

DeSantis has made these targeted plays before for more direct travel between Florida and friendly countries with some success. Israel’s El Al, which had Miami nonstop flights already, expanded nonstop flights to Orlando during his first term. Japanese travelers would enjoy much of the state, DeSantis suggested.

“Of course this part of Florida you know has a lot of attractions,” DeSantis told the crowd. “But I think what people have found out, particularly over the last couple of years, is, man, there are so many other great spots you can be in the state of Florida.”

The Governor spoke for over 10 minutes, extolling Japan and its cultural products throughout. He spoke with particular relish about sushi chefs who made their way to Florida because of pandemic restrictions elsewhere.

“You have these unbelievable Japanese sushi chefs who are now in Florida, doing really, really great things! They bring in this Kobe beef,” DeSantis said. “It’s unbelievable what’s going on.”

Buprenorphine

Attorney General Ashley Moody is playing a leading role in corralling most of the nation’s attorneys general in asking the federal government to permanently preserve a pandemic-era tool to fight opioids.

The bipartisan coalition of 45 officials called on the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration to permanently extend telehealth flexibilities for prescribing buprenorphine. While opioid abuse is still at record levels, the rule is set to expire when the COVID-19 public health emergency ends and could potentially cut off an estimated 2.5 million adults from the opioid use disorder treatment.

Ashley Moody is getting Republicans and Democrats nationwide to work together. Image via Scott Powers.

“As we continue to fight the deadly opioid crisis claiming tens of thousands of lives across our nation, it is important that people struggling with addiction have access to medication that can help them stop using,” Moody said in a statement. “Keeping the telehealth rules for prescribing buprenorphine in place will go far in helping us fight this crisis and save lives — and I am proud to lead a bipartisan coalition of attorneys general in this important effort.”

Buprenorphine is one of three medications that is FDA-approved to treat patients suffering from addiction. The DEA opened the treatment for prescription through telemedicine in March 2020, along with all other Schedule II-V controlled substances.

The only states whose attorneys general did not accede to the letter were Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Indiana, Missouri, Montana and Tennessee. The attorneys general of the District of Columbia, Guam and Puerto Rico also signed on.

Together with North Carolina Attorney General Josh Stein, who is the president-elect of the National Association of Attorneys General, Moody’s name appears at the top of the list.

“The number of patients receiving buprenorphine as treatment … increased significantly when telehealth flexibilities were allowed,” the attorneys general wrote in their letter to the feds. “It also improved retention in care and reduced the odds of overdose for individuals prescribed buprenorphine via telehealth for opioid use disorder treatment.”

Weed appeal

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is advancing her lawsuit against President Joe Biden’s administration over federal policy prohibiting medical cannabis patients from purchasing firearms.

Fried, a Democrat who will be out of a job in January, announced that she has filed an appeal in her lawsuit against the Department of Justice and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives over the policies. A U.S. District judge dismissed the lawsuit earlier this month.

Nikki Fried isn’t afraid to go after the Biden administration. Image via AP.

The lawsuit alleges the policy violates medical cannabis cardholders’ Second Amendment rights. The feds argue the federal government has a history of policies preventing felons, people with mental illnesses and intoxicated people from guns. And, of course, weed isn’t legal at the federal level.

Fried’s Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is tasked with overseeing firearm licensing. Whether Commissioner-elect Wilton Simpson will continue the lawsuit is yet to be seen.

“As I said when I filed this lawsuit, no patient should have to choose between their medicine and employment, or a roof over their head, or access to capital — or any of their constitutional rights,” Fried said in a statement.

“I will never stop being an advocate for full cannabis legalization. Full legalization will resolve many of the issues caused by irrational, inconsistent, and incoherent federal cannabis policies. Medical cannabis patients have the same Second Amendment rights as every American. Federal law cannot deem it illegal for a medical cannabis cardholder to purchase a firearm.”

Busted!

A Tampa-area man arrested in 2018 on 20 charges stemming from a fraudulent investment scheme has been sentenced to 10 years probation.

Robert Lee Humphrey Jr. was charged with organized fraud, securities fraud, grand theft, and the sale of unregistered securities by an unregistered dealer. Working as a DJ, he lured elderly victims at bars and restaurants to invest in High Cotton Bahamas, a fake crab fishing business.

Jimmy Patronis is working to protect seniors from scams. Image via Colin Hackley.

The case was prosecuted by the State Attorney’s Office in the 13th Judicial Circuit in Hillsborough County.

“Investment fraud is a despicable crime and especially heinous when committed against our seniors who have worked their entire life to save,” said Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who oversees the Office of Financial Regulation (OFR). “I applaud the hard work of OFR’s investigative team in bringing this bad actor to justice. Also, thank you to the State Attorney’s Office, 13th Judicial Circuit for prosecuting this case and working with OFR to protect Floridians from fraud.”

Humphrey promised up to 10% returns and the investments were to be secured by property in the Bahamas, which Humphrey didn’t own. He issued $800,000 worth of securities to victims and used the proceeds for personal use.

As part of his sentence, Humphrey was ordered to pay $412,500 to nine victims.

“Thank you to OFR’s investigative team and the State Attorney’s Office, 13th Judicial Circuit, for their hard work in this case,” OFR Commissioner Russell Weigel said. “The Office of Financial Regulation will continue to fight to protect Floridians and stop scammers in their tracks.”

Instagram of the Week

The Week in Appointments

Florida’s 6th Judicial Circuit Court — DeSantis appointed Dustin Anderson, of New Port Richey, to serve as judge in Florida’s 6th Judicial Circuit. Anderson moves up from Pasco County Court, where he has served as a judge for the past year. Previously, he was an Assistant State Attorney in the 6th Circuit. He earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Kentucky and his law degree from the University of Florida. Anderson fills the judicial vacancy created by the retirement of Judge Nancy Ley.

Florida’s 12th Judicial Circuit Court —DeSantis appointed Dana Moss, of Sarasota, to serve as judge on Florida’s 12th Judicial Circuit Court. Moss has served as a judge on the Sarasota County Court since 2019. Previously, she served as Felony Division Chief at the 12th Circuit Public Defender’s Office. She received her bachelor’s degree from Penn State University and her law degree from Florida Coastal. Moss fills the judicial vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Kimberly Bonner.

DeSoto County Court — The Governor appointed Guy Flowers, of Arcadia, to serve as judge on the DeSoto County Court. Flowers has been the president of Flowers Law Firm since 2012. Previously, he served as an associate at Keller Law Office and as Felony Division Chief at the 12th Circuit State Attorney’s Office. He received his bachelor’s degree from Barry University and his law degree from Stetson University. He fills the judicial vacancy created by the elevation of Judge Danielle Brewer.

Keeping it safe, part 1

To ensure the safety of all road users this holiday season the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (FLHSMV) and its division of the Florida Highway Patrol (FHP) launched the Safe Holiday Travel campaign.

The multi-phased safety messaging will be staggered throughout November and December, starting first with a focus on having a road-ready vehicle.

FHP wants drivers to have a beautiful and safe end to 2022. Image via FLHSMV.

Road ready vehicles start with road ready tires. So check them out. According to FHP, there were 2,811 tire-related crashes in Florida last year which resulted in 176 serious injuries and 32 deaths.

“Florida continues to be a top holiday destination for visitors and residents, making our roads some of the busiest during the upcoming months,” said FLHSMV Executive Director Terry Rhodes. “As you prepare to hit the road this Thanksgiving, or at any point this holiday season, make sure you and your vehicle are ready for the trip, always buckle up, and remember that safety is always in season.”

Meanwhile, there were 4,585 crashes on Florida roads last year during a five-day stretch around Thanksgiving. Those accidents accounted for 45 deaths and 255 serious injuries.

The Wednesday prior to Thanksgiving saw the most crashes last year, with 1,205. Eight people died in those accidents and 53 people were seriously injured according to the data.

The fewest number of accidents during the five-day span occurred on Thanksgiving Day. According to the state there were 687 accidents last Thanksgiving but there were 12 deaths and 45 serious injuries.

Keeping it safe, part 2

The Department of Transportation (FDOT) this week drove home a message to Florida motorists: keep critical traffic responders safe on the state’s highways and byways.

Since its launch 22 years ago, more than 6.1 million assists have been made by FDOT’s Road Ranger program, a service that provides free highway assistance during traffic incidents, reducing delays and improving safety for motorists and first responders.

Road Rangers are critical to maintaining highway safety after a traffic incident. Image via FDOT.

Road Rangers are often among the first individuals on the scene of a traffic incident and work quickly to ensure that lanes are clear and motorists are able to safely maneuver around the disabled vehicle or vehicles.

“Traffic incident responders are vital to keeping our roadways safe and efficiently moving, and this week provides us with an opportunity to highlight these roadside heroes,” FDOT Secretary Jared Perdue said in a prepared release. “Though they perform their job without thought of recognition, the quick and safe roadway management they provide has saved countless lives in every corner of the state. As these responders work around the clock to keep us safe, let’s do our part to keep them safe, too.”

Since 2014, approximately 247 Road Rangers were struck by passing motorists while tending to disabled vehicles, 47 of whom were seriously injured.

The FDOT has equipped Road Ranger vehicles with added safety measures to cut down on those deaths and injuries. Road rangers can send data to navigation apps warning approaching motorists about the presence of a stopped responder vehicle to allow time for them to move over and avoid a collision.

The department continues to remind motorists that avoiding distractions, slowing down, remaining alert, and moving over a lane when passing Road Rangers is another way to keep them safe.

Helping hand

The Florida Veterans Foundation is kicking off its holiday fundraising campaign to help Florida veterans in need.

FVF is the direct support organization for the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs. Its fundraising campaign, “You’re Not Alone This Holiday Season. We Care,” will highlight the challenges veterans experience during the holiday season and help raise awareness for the organization’s mission. FVF accepts donations online and by mail.

FVF is seeking gifts to help show veterans that people care. Image via Adobe Stock.

“Many veterans struggle during the holiday season with depression, loneliness, and PTSD,” FVF Chairman Dennis Baker said. “For some vets, big crowds and loud noises trigger unwelcome memories, while others may have little or no family to provide support and togetherness. As an all-volunteer organization run by veterans, we truly understand the myriad challenges veterans experience.”

Florida is home to the third largest population of veterans in the country — more than 1.5 million vets, making up almost 7% of the state’s population. The Legislature established the FVF during the 2008 Legislative Session to address veterans’ needs that go beyond the services provided by the Florida Department of Veterans’ Affairs.

Since then, FVF has served tens of thousands of Florida veterans. Last fiscal year, FVF provided services to 70,000 veterans across the state by helping to feed and clothe homeless veterans, providing emergency dental services, distributing $373,000 in direct assistance, and helping aging veterans and their spouses recover over $17 million in earned benefits.

“Everything we can do to help veterans suffering from despair, loneliness, or homelessness is our mission,” said Lewis B. Wilson III, a U.S. Marine Corps veteran who serves as FVF president and CEO. “Florida has made strides over the last few years in reducing the number of veteran suicides, but still about 600 veterans commit suicide in the state each year, and that’s unacceptable. Our motto is No Florida Veteran Left Behind. And we mean it.”

Florida strong

Department of Corrections Secretary Ricky Dixon has been named president-elect of the American Correctional Association (ACA), and three other agency employees have been elected to positions within the organization.

Dixon will serve a two-year term as president-elect of the group and will become ACA president in 2025.

Ricky Dixon and Florida prisons are raising their national profile.

The ACA has, for 152 years, worked to improve the justice system by setting professional standards. It also is an organization that strives to serve as the voice for the corrections system.

DOC Assistant Deputy Secretary of Community Corrections Joe Winkler was elected to the ACA Board of Governors; FDC Director of Programs and Re-Entry Patrick Mahoney was elected Delegate Assembly; and Racheal Hoffman-Ots was elected to serve on the ACA Commission on Accreditation for Corrections.

“These appointments are a testament to the leading role Florida has nationally within corrections. We look forward to representing our state and our profession across the country and are grateful for the trust of our colleagues,” Dixon said in a prepared statement.

Inspecting the IG

The Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation (CFA) is inspecting the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation’s Office of Inspector General (IG). The CFA assessment team is in town next month to examine all aspects of the IG’s policies and procedures management, operations, and support services.

In the meantime, the CFA is soliciting comments from the public as well as OIR staff. Comments can be mailed to OIR at P.O. Box 1489, Tallahassee, Fla., 32302, or emailed to [email protected].

Close-up magnifying glass place on wooden table and search to edge of white documents
CFA will be checking the receipts over at OIR. Stock image via Adobe.

After comments are collected and the assessment is complete, the CFA will determine whether the IG’s office retains its accredited status. The CFA meets three times a year and is slated to meet again Feb. 20-24, 2023, at World Golf Village in St. Augustine.

Headed by David Altmaier, OIR has primary responsibility for regulation, compliance, and the enforcement of statutes related to the business of insurance and the monitoring of industry markets.

The ‘Great Debate’

More than 300 students gathered in Orlando this week for a national debate contest, hosted by the Florida Civics and Debate Initiative (FCDI), a program of the Florida Education Foundation and Florida Department of Education.

Following three days of rhetorical swordplay, Sofia Mohring from Lake Mary Preparatory School was crowned the high school champion and Daniella Rothberg from I-Prep Academy North was crowned the middle school champion of “The Great Debate: The National Speech and Debate Championship.”

Florida civics education is on a forward trajectory, says Manny Díaz. Image via Colin Hackley.

“Florida is leading the way in civics education. It’s our goal to strengthen the focus on civics education so that today’s students will be tomorrow’s great leaders,” said Education Commissioner Manny Díaz. “To see all these students from across the nation demonstrate their skills and capabilities in debate was remarkable.”

DeSantis started the FCDI in 2020 and has now expanded to 243 schools in 54 districts.

The event, which took place Nov. 11-13 at the Caribe Royale Resort and Lake Buena Vista High School in Orlando, included 38 teams out of the original 40 who signed up, with a couple dropping due to Hurricane Nicole, which hit as a Category 1 storm in Vero Beach on Nov. 10.

“The Great Debate is beginning to shape into the event that we’ve imagined from the beginning,” said Rebecca Matthews, Board Chairman of the Florida Education Foundation. “We are thrilled to welcome students from all over the country to demonstrate their civics and debate skills here in the Sunshine State.”

Passing the torch

When the Senate convenes for the Legislature’s Organization Session on Tuesday, its first vote will be to install Tracy Cantella, a former Rules Committee staff director, as the chamber’s Secretary.

Senate President-designate Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, wrote a memo to senators on Tuesday naming Cantella, 45, as the replacement for former Secretary of the Senate Debbie Brown, who retired last month after serving serving in the role for 30 years.

Tracy Cantella has big shoes to fill.

“For returning Senators, Tracy is the friendly and familiar face from the Rules desk who provides concise, accurate and impartial interpretations of the Senate Rules during sittings,” Passidomo wrote.

“As Rules Chair, I worked closely with Tracy over the last two years,” she added. “I did not hesitate to rely on her thoughtful, fair, and decisive knowledge of our floor process, and I am confident she will provide the same careful guidance as we serve on the rostrum together.”

The Secretary of the Senate is not a member of the chamber but serves as its parliamentarian, keeps its records and authenticates all its acts and resolutions. The Secretary keeps the journal of the chamber and provides bill drafting as well as bill and amendment filing services and operates the electronic voting board during floor sessions.

Senators unanimously passed a resolution honoring the outgoing Brown in May during the last Regular Session.

Giving spirit

Two South Florida lawmakers are coming together to prepare some Thanksgiving care for the people of their communities.

Sen. Shevrin Jones, Rep. Felicia Robinson and others are providing Thanksgiving turkeys to constituents Saturday. The turkeys will be available on a first-come, first-served basis, while supplies last.

Shevrin Jones and Felicia Robinson are teaming up to help their North Miami-Dade constituents.

“The holiday season calls on each of us to reflect, give thanks, and help those who are less fortunate,” Jones said in a statement. “I am grateful for all of our partners and neighbors coming together to pay it forward as we work to ensure community members have a hot meal to enjoy this Thanksgiving.”

Added Robinson: “Thanksgiving is about coming together with your family, friends, and community and making sure no one goes hungry during a season of giving and thankfulness.”

The event will be held at Robinson’s Miami Gardens district office, just off the Palmetto Expressway (3964 NW 167th St.). It will begin at 10 a.m. and run no later than 2 p.m.

Those participating must have proof of registration. However, the event already shows as sold-out.

Jones and Robinson are also seeking volunteers, who are asked to show up at 8 a.m. Volunteers can sign up through the Google Form here.

Feed the people well

Food is a fundamental part of good health. To that end the charitable arm of Molina Healthcare of Florida is joining efforts with Farm Share, providing Homestead-area residents with fresh produce and other staples of a healthy diet at a drive through giveaway event Saturday.

While the free food gets doled out beginning at 9 a.m., MolinaCares Accord will present a $100,000 check to Farm Share to support the food bank’s efforts to serve nutritious food to families adversely impacted by Hurricane Ian.

Molina, Farm Share and even the local PD are coming together for this food giveaway. Image via Twitter/@FarmShareFL.

Molina Healthcare established a self-named charitable foundation in 2020. The MolinaCares Accord oversees community investments funded by the Molina Healthcare Charitable Foundation.

In addition to the fresh produce and other available goodies at the event, the Miami-Dade Police Department also has agreed to put on display a department helicopter and police vehicle at the site, located at 14125 SW 320th Street in Homestead.

Easy 93.1 and Hot 105 will spin tunes and provide the entertainment.

Molina Healthcare of Florida is a state contracted Medicaid managed care plan. The health plan also offers state residents access to so-called Obamacare plans sold on the federal health insurance exchange and Medicare plans.

All the essentials

All education staff professionals deserve recognition and appreciation, say the state’s largest teachers union.

The Florida Education Association (FEA) launched a digital advertising campaign this week to promote the contributions of essential public school employees beyond teachers alone. The campaign announcement coincided with American Education Week, which ends Saturday, and Education Support Professionals Day, which was Wednesday.

Teachers aren’t the only essential staff. Image via FEA.

“We want to lift up our education staff professionals for the great work they do every day. They deserve it,” FEA President Andrew Spar said in a statement. “Bus drivers, paraprofessionals, food service workers, custodians, administrative staff and other support employees are fundamental to the education of Florida’s children and the functioning of our schools.”

DeSantis and lawmakers have invested in education and raising teacher salaries, but Florida school districts still struggle to hire enough employees. In August, the FEA counted a total of 10,771 advertised vacancies on district websites, with 6,006 for teachers and 4,765 for education staff professionals.

As lawmakers gear up for the next Legislative Session, with interim meetings starting next month, FEA wants lawmakers to prioritize addressing shortages for support staff, not just teachers.

FEA’s digital advertising campaign honoring support staff will begin running in Central Florida during Thanksgiving week. Ads will be distributed through digital platforms such as YouTube, and through social media. View the first ads in the series in both English and Spanish.

Classic Tailgate

The Florida A&M University College of Law is hosting its annual Classic Tailgate on Saturday ahead of its Florida Classic rivalry game against Bethune Cookman University.

The event promises music, great food and fun for FAMU alumni, students, faculty, staff, family and friends. It will be held at 201 FAMU Law Lane in Orlando from 11:30 a.m. to 2:30 p.m., when the game will kick-off.

Ben Crump is set to make an appearance at the FAMU Law Classic Tailgate. Image via AP.

Just before the Classic Tailgate, FAMU Law Dean Deidré Keller is scheduled to dedicate an office to the late Dr. Frederick Humphries at 11 a.m. Humphries served as FAMU president from 1985 through 2001 and was the Regent Professor at the FAMU College of Law from 2003 through 2014. He died last year at the age of 85.

At 12:30 p.m., attorney Ben Crump is scheduled to make a check presentation. There is also a special plaque presentation to the Class of 2011 for winning the 20th Anniversary Class Challenge by donating the most money toward the $25,000 goal.

Confirmed

The Florida Board of Governors confirmed Justin Roth’s appointment to Florida State University’s Board of Trustees on Nov. 9. He begins his term immediately.

Roth, a Miami native, is a partner at LINK Public Affairs, where he leads the Washington, D.C. office and provides strategic advice and counsel to clients on public affairs matters.

Justin Roth is returning to his alma mater. Image via FSU.

A 1997 FSU graduate who double-majored in history and political science, Roth is a seasoned political and policy professional with expertise in legislative strategies, domestic policy matters and foreign affairs. He has more than two decades of experience in government affairs and lobbying.

Most recently, Roth served as Chief of Staff to three U.S. Representatives — one of them being DeSantis — and former Arizona U.S. Sen. Martha McSally.

Throughout his tenure, Roth has leveraged his experience in public policy and communications to advise representatives and shepherd major legislative victories.

Working closely with local and national media, Roth has been deeply involved in press and communications and has also overseen most facets of the legislative and policy process with expertise in the areas of financial services and foreign affairs. During his time as Chief of Staff, he also oversaw the political operations of each member he served.

Roth utilized his legislative and policy background to advance the interests of major trade associations such as the National Association of Mutual Insurance Companies and the Independent Insurance Agents and Brokers of America. Acting as their senior lobbyist, he served as a leading government affairs professional, running federal lobbying efforts, providing strategic planning and representing members on all federal legislative and regulatory issues.

In addition to his degree from FSU, Roth earned a master’s in history of international relations from The London School of Economics. He splits his time between Northern Virginia and New Smyrna Beach with his wife, Jill, and their two sons, Brayden and Beckett.

Ready, set, bake and decorate

Registration for the fourth annual Community Gingerbread House Competition opens for Leon County residents Saturday and runs through Nov. 30.

Aspiring bakers and gingerbread house decorators must have perfected their holiday classics and dropped them off at the Leon County Public Library on Dec. 3 between 10 a.m. and 12 p.m. at the main Library, located at 200 West Park Ave.

Think you can top last year’s winner? Image via Leon County.

The combination of ginger, clove, nutmeg, cinnamon and sugar was a popular confection at medieval European festivals and fairs. Decorating gingerbread houses became popular in early 19th century Germany, perhaps fueled after Hansel and Gretel was published in 1812.

Competitors will be placed into one of three categories (child, teen, adult) based on their age. One winner and an honorable mention will be announced at 2:30 p.m., and gifts and cash prizes awarded.

Meanwhile, after the goodies are dropped off and before the winners are announced, the library will host a family friendly event with interactive learning opportunities between 1 p.m. and 3 p.m.

Visitors can also browse the gingerbread houses that will be on display.

For more information, contact Sally Mason, Learning & Workforce Services Manager, at (850) 606-2665 or [email protected].

Capitol Directions

Off-season — Down arrow — Never heard of it.

DeSantis-ism — Down arrow — It’s the Pollo Tropical of political ideologies … Floridians love it, Americans don’t.

DeSanta Claus — Up arrow — Give us a heads-up next time and we’ll put out cookies and milk.

Mark Walker — Crossways arrow — His ‘Stop WOKE’ ruling won’t stop anything, but he’ll probably get a lot of book club invites out of it.

Kathleen Passidomo — Up arrow — The incoming Senate Prez picked a solid leadership lineup.

Paul Renner — Up arrow — Make that 85 House Republicans. His Speakership is on easy mode.

Michael Grant — Up arrow — More like Supermajority Leader.

Chuck Clemons — Up arrow — Alachua County’s most relevant Rep. since … Turlington? No, really, it’s been a while.

Patricia Hawkins, Jason Pizzo — Crossways arrow — They’re leading the largest Democratic legislative delegation, which probably means something to someone.

911 dispatchers — Crossways arrow — Not all heroes wear capes … or get $1,000 bonuses.

Anthony Sabatini — Down arrow — Can people stop paying him to do nothing? Four years is enough.

State employees — Up arrow — They’re going to need bigger stockings.

GOP consultants — Up arrow — Their clients pay. A lot.

Ballard Partners — Up arrow — Threepeat complete.

Jose Felix Diaz — Up arrow — Ballard Partners also has one of the best lobbyists in the biz, according to NLIE.

Emily Duda Buckley — Up arrow — It’s official. The powerhouse Dean Mead lobbyist is now a mother of twins.

Earley’s — Down arrow — You don’t have to wait until after Thanksgiving to eat expired turkey.

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