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Jeff Vasilinda becomes the Vasilinda Family’s first published author!

Felon Voting Rights Back in Federal Court

July 22nd, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The fight to allow felons that are too poor to pay their court-ordered fines and fees continued in an Atlanta appellate court Thursday. A

The Southern Poverty Law Center is pushing a novel argument that the state’s financial requirements disproportionately impact women of color and therefore violates the 19th Amendment.

The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Florida’s requirement that felons must pay all fines, fees and restitution before being able to vote last September.

The court ruled the financial obligations were a punishment for a crime, not a tax.

“We brought additional claims that go beyond just their wealth,” said Nancy Abudu, an attorney with the Southern Poverty Law Center.

Abudu is representing Rosemary McCoy and Sheila Singleton.

According to court documents the Jacksonville women owe a combined total of more than $24,000 in fees and restitution.

“It’s unrealistic in our clients’ situation,” said Abudu.

Attorneys are now making the case because women, particularly women of color, are less likely to be able to afford to pay, the Florida law violates the 19th amendment, which guaranteed women the right to vote..

“You have one fourth of Black women who are living below the poverty line. You have 43 percent of Black women who have a criminal conviction who are unemployed,” said Abudu.

The argument provides a rare opportunity for the courts to weigh in on the scope of the 19th Amendment, which has only been before the US Supreme Court on two previous occasions.

Earlier in the case though, a District Court Judge rejected the 19th amendment claims made by the Southern Poverty Law Center.

In the opinion the judge argued the law has a greater impact on men, who are incarcerated at much higher rates.

But Abudu said that argument misses the point.

“He didn’t take into account the disproportionate number statistically of women who are in the criminal justice system and therefore face harder burdens,” said Abudu.

Plaintiffs hope the appellate court will strike down Florida’s law based on Thursday’s hearing or that it will at least send the case back to the district court to reconsider the 19th Amendment arguments.

SPLC attorneys pointed out the For the People Act, if passed by Congress, could moot the whole case because it would require felons’ voting rights be restored upon release from prison.

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FSU Preparing for a Return to Normal

July 22nd, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

There are going to be more students coming to Florida State University for the first time than any time in history.

Add to that the feeling the pandemic could be over, which could be a recipe for disaster.

Florida State is expecting up to 7,000 new freshmen this fall and an additional 7,000 returning sophomores who weren’t on campus last year because of the pandemic.

“There adrenaline for everybody to get back together, and with that adrenaline, anything can happen,” said FSU Student Body President Nastassia Janvier.

At a forum graduate students, university and community leaders outlined what a full return to campus will be like.

“We are recommending masks if you are indoors,” said Executive Director of University Housing Shannon Staten.

All 6,700 dorm slots will be full.

Students must be cleared to move in, either by proving they have been vaccinated or by getting tested.

“Anyone who is positive for COVID has to isolate off campus,” said Staten.

Students are going to be encourage to social distance in the outdoors and have as much outdoor activity as possible.

Bar owners in nearby college town are predicting a big year.

“Could be one of our largest quarters, three and four, to date,” said Jason Burroughs, owner of Township Tallahassee.

Student Government is launching a program it is calling ‘Angel Drink’.

“For example, you would say starfruit, and you would order starfruit and this would specifically signal for the servers, I need help, I need assistance,” said Janvier.

Deputy Chief of FSU’s police department Major Justin Maloy said officers’ focus won’t be on underage drinking.

“We’re focused on the bigger picture of crime in our community,” said Maloy.

The big picture includes being aware in new surroundings, keeping heads out of phones while crossing the street and protecting personal property.

All skills many lost during the pandemic.

Tallahassee and surrounding Leon County rank sixth in the state in per-capita crime in crime figures for 2020.

First time arriving college students are often unsuspecting targets.

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Florida to Receive $1.6 Billion in Major Opioid Settlement

July 21st, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Florida and 13 states have reached agreements worth a combined $26 billion with four companies over damage inflicted by the opioid crisis.

The money flowing to Florida will be used to stem the recent spike in overdoses during the pandemic.

Florida will receive $1.6 billion over the next 17 and a half years.

Attorney General Ashley Moody says the settlement is a victory for the state at time when 21 Floridians are dying a day from opiate overdose.

“COVID-19 has exacerbated our overdose rate in Florida,” said Moody.

In 2020 Florida saw a 37 percent spike in fatal overdoses, with more than 7,500 losing their lives.

The litigation targeted three opioid distributors including AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health and McKesson.

Also included is opioid manufacturer and marketer Johnson & Johnson.

“And today’s announcement shows that they are willing to be held accountable. They know they need to provide redress to the states that are suffering,” said Moody.

As part of the settlement the distributors will be subject to new overbite and accountability requirements.

Johnson & Johnson has also agreed to stop selling opioids for 10 years and is banned from lobbying activities related to the drugs.

But the opioid crisis has grown beyond pharmaceutical pain medicines.

In recent years blackmarket opioids like fentanyl have largely taken their place as the leading killers.

“We have to be just as purposeful, directed, focused on our border that is out of control with the fentanyl flooding in and making sure that we’re holding the traffickers accountable in our communities. And we will continue to do that. It’s a multi-front fight: courtrooms, the streets and our border,” said Moody.

Even with the settlement, the state will continue its battle against Perdue Pharmaceuticals.

It’s a battle which has been complicated by the company filing for bankruptcy.

This is the third major victory for Florida in the fight to make drug companies pay for their role in the opioid crisis.

Earlier this year Florida won a lawsuit against McKinsey & Company and in 2019 the state was part of a settlement against a British opioid manufacturer.

Combined all of the opioid settlements to date will bring $1.9 billion to the state.

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First Ever Guardianship Taskforce to Meet

July 21st, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

The plight of pop star Britney Spears is shining a spotlight on thousands of Floridians who have had their lives hijacked by overzealous and sometimes corrupt guardians.

A first ever task force to recommend legal changes for incapacitated people being abused by the legal system holds its first meeting Thursday.

90-year-old Albert Hogue is back living with his daughter Hillary in her Naples home, but only after a multi-year fight to keep him out of a guardianship initiated by Hillary’s sister.

“These lawyers, they have such cozy relationships with the judge. They file something, and it’s just basically rubber stamped,” said Hillary.

The first ever guardianship task force is set to hold its first meeting.

Pinellas Clerk of Court Ken Burke is its chair.

“And Florida with our elderly population certainly should be a leader in this area, and we’re not currently,” said Burke.

Rather than reinvent the wheel, the task force will look at what’s succeeding in other states.

Hillary, who is also on the task force believes judges should see actually see someone before taking away their rights.

“The alleged incapacitated person is never in court. So here we have a judge who has never even set eyes or spoken to the person who will be more than likely will be losing every single right,” said Hillary.

Burke believes reform starts with more information.

“Judges have no set of troops to go out there and find out if the guardian is doing a good job or a bad job. They are relying on a lot of reports and and a lot of paperwork. And so maybe we just need to look at, first of all, creating a database of guardians out there with their credentials, how long they have been a guardian. How many active guardianships they have,” said Burke.

The panel hopes to change what has become the axiom of guardianships: The only way out is to die.

The panel has both advocates for change as well as some members who favor the status quo.

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Statewide Taskforce Faced With New Urgency to Vaccinate Black Floridians

July 21st, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The Statewide Coronavirus Vaccination Community Education and Engagement Taskforce met Wednesday with an urgent plea to Floridians to get vaccinated as the state saw new cases nearly double this week.

The Taskforce is primarily focused on encouraging Black Floridians to take the vaccine.

The current vaccination rate among Black Floridians is 23 percent, compared to 43 percent of white Floridians.

Taskforce Chair Dr. Reverend RB Holmes pushed other members to double their efforts in light of what he described as a deplorable Black vaccination rate.

“Somebody said the definition of madness is doing the same thing the same way over again and expect miraculous outcomes. It doesn’t work that way. We as pastors and leaders, bishops, we must be the ones advocating for our people. We allowed a lot of things to happen prior to COVID-19. That’s why minorities and people of color have died and gotten sick at a disproportionate rate. It’s a moral call,” said Holmes.

The group discussed efforts to partner with Black media to reach millennials and older Black Floridians alike.

The Taskforce also emphasized the need to push local governments to ensure federal dollars meant to be used for vaccination education and outreach efforts are used for their proper purpose.

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Florida Overdose Deaths Skyrocketed in 2020

July 20th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Early estimates from the CDC show 93,000 overdose deaths throughout the United States in 2020, a 30 percent increase over the year prior.

In Florida the picture is even more bleak, with the state seeing a 37 percent increase in overdose deaths in 2020.

There were more than 7,500 overdose deaths in Florida in 2020 compared to just over 5,500 the year before.

The main driver of fatal overdoses: synthetic opioids like fentanyl.

“And we think that these overdoses were unintentional because the majority of individuals did not know that the substance that they were ingesting contained fentanyl,” said Melanie Brown-Woofter with the Florida Behavioral Health Association.

Brown-Woofter said during the pandemic the state saw a dramatic decrease in Floridians seeking help for substance abuse problems.

“And we think that was a reaction to the anxiety and the strain of the pandemic. You know the economic uncertainty, the isolation,” said Brown-Woofter.

The fear of exacerbating mental health and substance abuse issues was one of the main drivers behind Governor Ron DeSantis’ push to reopen the state last summer.

“We do know that opening things back up increased access. So we now have treatment providers who have an increased number of detox beds, of residential services that are available,” said Brown-Woofter.

Mental health experts say there’s no clear pattern to show states that locked down did better or worse at curbing overdose deaths.

Florida ranked second in the nation for total overdose deaths, but 13 states and the District of Columbia saw larger year over year increases than the Sunshine State.

Brown-Woofter did note that there have been some positive indicators here in Florida in recent months.

“We are very thankful that since March of 2021 we’ve seen an increase in the number of individuals receiving medication assisted treatment and the number of individuals coming into recovery. So there is a bright spot to all of this bad news,” said Brown-Woofter.

And according to the Florida Behavior Health Association, state lawmakers committed $273 million towards medication assisted treatment for substance abuse this past legislative session.

If you or a loved one is suffering from a substance abuse issue, Florida’s Attorney General is encouraging Floridians to visit DoseOfRealityFL.com, which offers information and resources to those seeking help.

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Former Justice Questions Executions

July 20th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty are circulating a video of a former Florida Supreme Court Justice who believes the state has executed innocent people.

The retired justice also questions the costs.

Gerald Kogan spent 11 years on the Florida Supreme Court, the last two as Chief Justice.

“Originally, I believed in the death penalty. I thought it was a proper penalty,” said Kogan in the Floridians for Alternatives to the Death Penalty video.

More than two dozen people were executed during Kogan’s time on the court.

”Our system is not perfect,” said Kogan.

In the newly released video Kogan, who died earlier this year, questioned what he calls an imperfect system.

“I began realizing that we’re executing people who are probably innocent,” said Kogan.

The State doesn’t keep records about the costs of an execution, but in the video Kogan estimated each one costs$5 million from conviction, to appeal, to burial.

Prosecutor Brian Haas said errors may have occurred in the past, but not any longer.

We asked him directly if he thought his office had convinced an innocent person.

“No I don’t,” said Haas. “It is expensive. It is expensive, but I thing that the family members of the victims in the cases I’m handling they absolutely feel that it’s necessary.”

But the Florida Catholic Conference it quick to point out there have been 30 modern exonerations.

“We don’t know how many more innocents are on death row today, which is why we support ending the death penalty all together,” said Ingrid Delgado with the Conference.

99 people have been executed since the state resumed executions in 1979.

The most recent was two years ago.

Florida now requires a unanimous jury verdict and allows a judge to override a death sentence.

Those on death row also have an automatic appeal to the state Supreme Court.

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Big Dollars Flowing to Amendments

July 19th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

The signing of an exclusive, thirty year gambling deal, including sports betting, with the Seminole Tribe has major out of state companies seeking to expand gambling on the 2022 ballot.  As Mike Vasilinda tells us, tens of millions are already earmarked for petition gathering efforts for at least three amendments.


Big out of state interests are bankrolling efforts to create more gambling here after they were shut out by the new Seminole Tribe gaming compact this year.

“This is the agreement.” Said Governor Ron DeSantis moments after signing the compact. No Casino’s President John Sowinski suggests they don’t have Flordia’s best interests at heart.

“A lot of gambling interests looked at that and said they would rather have a free for all for what happens in Florida” says Sowinski.

More than 60 million flowed to campaigns in June. 

Las Vegas Sands put 17 million behind two proposed amendments. It hasn’t decided which to push, but one would allow three new casino’s. The other would allow a casino somewhere between Jacksonville and Pensacola, with Jacksonville the top choice. Sowinski says a new casino will hurt where ever it’s located.

“Whatever the form of gambling is that’s introduced, it doesn’t generate new money. It simply diverts discretionary spending from bars, restaurants, movie theaters” Sowinski told us.

Neither idea violates the Indian gaming deal. Not so with another proposal to allow sports betting…which the Seminole Tribe got exclusive rights to in the new compact.

If it passes, the tribe would lower its payments to the state.

The amendment on sports betting was already being anticipated by the Governor on the day he signed the new compact. 

“We’re not authorizing that. That’s a referendum, so you could deduct the payment from that portion, but still have the other stuff” said the Governor this past April.

The Seminole Tribe says it will spend its Flordia money to stop the amendments. 

While Fan Duel and Draft Kings each pitched in ten million. 

Then there is another 15 million from the owners of a south Florida casino to a campaign that doesn’t even exist yet. Ironically, all the money is likely to create a bidding war for signatures, making each campaign more expensive in the end.

The rush to fund the amendments is because a new law limits contributions to amendment gathering efforts, but on the day it took effect, July first, a judge granted an injunction, erasing the three thousand dollar contribution limit, at least temporarily.

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83,000 Floridians Rejoined Labor Force in June

July 16th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Florida’s unemployment rate was up a tenth of a percent in June and now sits at 5.0 percent, which is still below the national average of 5.9 percent.

While the unemployment rate may be up, state economists see it as a positive sign signaling more Floridians are returning to the labor market in search of jobs.

Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Chief Economist Adrienne Johnston said the state’s economic recovery continued in June with the labor force rising by 83,000.

“People are both adding jobs and then connecting to them,” said Johnston.

The state has recovered seven out of ten jobs lost during the pandemic and a new WalletHub survey ranked Florida’s workforce recovery the third fastest in the nation.

“We are continuing to see an increase in online job ads, which is an indicator that businesses are growing,” said Johnston.

State economists said the June numbers don’t reveal the impact of the Governor’s decision to end federal unemployment benefits early.

On the ground, Geoff Luebkemann with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association said businesses are seeing some positive signs.

“They are seeing some green shoots, encouragement in application numbers,” said Luebkemann.

The biggest winner for the month of June was by far leisure and hospitality, which added 41,500 new jobs.

“We’re cautiously optimistic,” said Luebkemann.

Florida has experienced a steady rise in COVID cases over the past three weeks.

It’s too early to tell how that might impact the state’s economic gains.

“It will all be dependent on how people respond,” said Johnston.

While Luebkemann said the case numbers are a concern, it hasn’t made a significant impact yet.

“The vaccine has been immensely helpful both on the employee side and on the patron side,” said Luebkemann.

While the unemployment rate for June was up slightly, it was still six percentage points lower than the same month last year.

Florida’s total labor force sits at nearly 10.4 million.

523,000 of those workers remain unemployed.

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State Requests $1.1 Billion for Home and Community Based Medicaid Services

July 15th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Florida is looking to secure an additional $1.1 billion from the federal government to bolster Medicaid funding over the next two years.

The move is being applauded by health care groups, but the request for additional federal dollars isn’t exactly the Medicaid expansion Democrats have been pushing for a decade.

The $1.1 billion request is made possible by the American Rescue Plan, which allows states to draw down 10 percent more federal dollars for home and community based Medicaid services than in previous years.

“This is really called one-time rescue money,” said Executive Director of the Florida Developmental Disabilities Council Valerie Breen.

Breen said the programs help elderly and disabled populations that require services at their homes.

“What it will help with is the infrastructure of some of the huge crises that we were seeing,” said Breen.

More than $300 million will be used to cut down on lengthy waitlists to get into the programs, but Miriam Harmatz with the Florida Health Justice Project said the bulk of the funds will go to address chronic staffing shortages.

“And these are people who need a lot of help with the basic activities of daily living who were going days on end, and some living alone, with nobody coming,” said Harmatz.

Before the money can go out, it must be first approved by the federal government and then by state lawmakers.

State Senator Aaron Bean said just because the state is accepting additional federal funds for these Medicaid programs doesn’t mean lawmakers have shifted their attitude on overall Medicaid expansion.

“No one is talking about Medicaid expansion. This is one-time money to deal with a system that has been stressed, overburdened by COVID,” said Bean.

And while these dollars are a one-time deal, health care groups are pushing Florida’s federal lawmakers support making the increased funding permanent, especially considering the state’s ever growing elderly population.

Florida ranks 43rd in the nation on spending for home and community based services and last in long-term services and supports.

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3 Million Florida Families to Receive First Child Tax Credit Payment Thursday

July 14th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Starting Thursday an estimated 3 million Florida families will begin receiving payments as part of the American Rescue Plan’s child tax credit program, which provides families $250 to $300 a month per-child until the end of the year.

Faith leaders, activists and Democratic political figures held a virtual press conference Wednesday to get the word out.

The American Rescue Plan increased the child tax credit from $2,000 per child to $3,000 for children ages six to 17 and to $3,600 for children younger than six.

“This is transformational tax relief to hard working parents,” said Sean Shaw with People Over Profits.

Families will receive half the money over a period of six months, and see the remainder on their 2021 tax return.

To receive full credit, joint income households must make less than $150,000, $112,500 for heads of households and $75,000 for single parent households.

“For so many working families, it may be insignificant to others, but to them $250 or $300 a month is extremely important,” said Pastor John Newman from The Sanctuary at Mt. Calvary in Jacksonville.

The stimulus will inject $150 billion into the economy nationwide and its estimated the money will raise 270,000 Florida children out of poverty.

“And what’ll that mean? It’ll mean we’ll cut child poverty, possibly as much as in half,” said Congressman Darren Soto (D-Fla.).

Families can opt out of the monthly payments if they’d rather receive a lump sum credit on your 2021 income taxes.

“Families need to think about whether right now they have the income that is needed to pay for their basic necessities,” said former Democratic Florida Congresswoman Debbie Mucarsel-Powell.

It’s too late to opt out for the July payments if you haven’t already.

You have until August 2nd to opt out for next month’s payment, but once you opt out you can’t opt back in.

The Biden Administration and Democratic lawmakers are hoping the new child tax credit formula won’t be a one-off occurrence.

The American Families Plan would make the changes permanent.

To learn more about the American Rescue Plan Child Tax Credit visit ChildTaxCredit.gov.

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July 13th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

A Miami man is facing 114 charges stemming from an alleged scheme to defraud the state’s Division of Unclaimed Property.

The man is out after posting a $178,000 bond and prosecutors are just now getting their heads around the scope of the alleged crimes.

According to charging documents from the Department of Financial Services, Alvero Abreu is accused of illegally claiming more than $2 million from the Division of Unclaimed Property in a fraud scheme that spanned more than a decade.

Abreu was apprehended and booked in Broward County before he was released on a $178,000 bond, but his prosecution will take place in the state’s capital city.

“We will be filing formal charges probably within the next week,” said State Attorney of Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit Jack Campbell.

Campbell is in the early stages of understanding the scope of the alleged crimes.

“This is the first time I’ve seen anything involving the unclaimed property particularly. And certainly it’s a large fraud in general,” said Campbell.

The Division of Unclaimed Property is responsible for holding onto and facilitating the return of money or valuables Floridians may have forgotten about like old bank accounts or abandoned safe deposit boxes.

Campbell himself has taken advantage of the service.

“I think I had a utility deposit from when I was in college. I never realized that I didn’t get that money back. 20 years later it was sitting in the bureau of unclaimed property,” said Campbell.

Campbell added the crimes alleged in this case aren’t just a concern for the state coffers.

“You’re really stealing from two. One, the rightful owner of that property. Just like with my utility deposit when I got that back. It was my money that I put down and I just failed to get it back when I moved,” said Campbell.

The Department of Financial Services had been working on the case as far back as 2017.

The charging documents also list a second suspect Christopher Abreu, whose last known address is listed in Venezuela.

According to the Department of Financial Services, Abreu is accused of making a total of $2,036,122.68 in fraudulent claims between 2009 and 2020.

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Ag Commission Pushes for Red Tide Emergency Declaration

July 13th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried is calling on Governor Ron DeSantis to declare a state of emergency in response to the ongoing red tide blooms on the state’s West Coast.

Fried said an emergency declaration is necessary to free up additional state resources that could aid in mitigating the toxic algal blooms.

“This is something that is too big for our local governments to bear on themselves, between just the resources to clean up the waters, look at different treatment opportunities. So this has to be a partnership between the state and the local, which unfortunately we haven’t seen as much with this governor as we may have seen in year’s past,” said Fried.

In a statement the Governor’s Office told us us the state has been engaged with impacted local governments and has provided resources to aid and assist in the clean up of fish kills.

The Governor’s Office also explained why it has so far refrained from issuing an emergency order.

“In 2018, a state of emergency was declared which freed up a funding source to provide financial support to local communities to assist in cleanup efforts. For the time being, DEP has identified a funding source and is already working to provide grants to assist local communities with cleanup efforts,” said DeSantis Deputy Communications Director Jared Williams.

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Republicans Make Their Pitch to Florida Voters Ahead of 2022 Election

July 12th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Florida Republicans are honing in their messaging for the 2022 election cycle and have launched a new internet ad describing themselves as a ‘Freedom Firewall’.

Florida Republicans are feeling confident going in to the 2022 election.

House Republican Campaign Committee Chair Rep. Paul Renner said the party will be playing offense.

In the new internet video, which features a handful of Republican State Representatives, their pitch could be boiled down to a simple message: We’re not Democrats.

“Crazy liberal ideas, they don’t fly here,” said State Representative Josie TomKow in the video.

Renner said the party wants to remind Floridians elections have consequences.

“What we have today in Florida is different than what you have in a state like California because of the choices that Floridians have made,” said Renner.

In the video, Republicans highlight their pro-police/anti-riot stance and their focus on election security.

Democrats however have a very different way characterizing Republicans’ actions on those issues.

“They basically have to use the power that they have in Tallahassee to actually roll back freedoms. This was a priority for them. Whether it was the voter suppression bill that they passed or the anti-protest bill that they passed,” said Jose Parra, Senior Communications Adviser with the Florida Democratic Party.

Neither Republicans or Democrats can target specific seats yet, because all the boundaries will change when lawmakers draw new maps early next year.

Parra said Democrats will be watching the redistricting process with the ‘eyes of a hawk’.

“We need defined concrete districts that represent the people of Florida. Not districts that are drawn just to benefit the Republican Party of the state,” said Parra.

When state lawmakers return on January 11th for the 2022 legislative session, the process of redistricting will begin.

Once that’s complete they’ll have a better idea where their strengths and vulnerabilities lie.

In 2020 Florida Republicans managed to pick up an additional seat in the Senate and seven in the House.

Currently Republicans hold a 78-42 majority in the House and a 24-16 majority in the Senate.

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DeSantis and Fried Square off in Food Fight Over School Lunch Funds

July 9th, 2021 by Jake Stofan
Governor Ron DeSantis and Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, a Democratic Gubernatorial hopeful, are in a food fight over school lunch funding.
Fried claims the Governor ignored her request to direct emergency funding to offset pandemic-related losses to school districts’ nutritional programs, but the Governor said he’s been helping all along.

This week, Commissioner Fried announced she secured $93 million to help school districts make up losses to their nutrition programs incurred throughout the pandemic.
During that announcement she took this jab at the Governor.
“We sent at least one, if not two, letters to the Governor asking for money to be allocated to the school nutritional program and never received a response,” said Fried.
And that comment has started what might be described as a political food fight.
Governor Ron DeSantis’ Office is pushing back against Fried’s claim.
In a statement the Governor’s Office told us, “We absolutely support providing funding for schools to make sure they can continue to provide nutrition programs, that is not what is up for debate. The fact is that without provocation, the Commissioner of Agriculture alleged that Governor DeSantis did not support this funding, or providing meals for students. This is unequivocally false. Again, the Governor’s Office authorized the budget amendment to make the funding possible.”
The Governor’s Office also pointed to $9 billion in direct federal emergency funding received by school districts, plus an additional $1.4 billion the Governor allocated himself.
His office said school districts had the ability to use that money how they saw fit, including on school lunch programs.
We did ask the Governor’s Office for specifics on many of the federal dollars were actually used for school lunch programs, but that number wasn’t readily available.
Regardless, Commissioner Fried said the Department of Agriculture found school districts had lost $262 million in nutritional funding in the 2020 school year, even with the federal dollars they received.
“Other Governors in other states like California gave $112 million from their CARES dollars, North Carolina $75 million, Kentucky $30 million. But unfortunately here in the State of Florida that didn’t happen,” said Fried.
The dispute seems to boil down to whether it’s better to let districts make their own decisions on how to spend relief funds, or to set aside a separate pot of money for the specific purpose of nutritional funding.

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