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Nine School Districts Face Fines Thursday

October 6th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

The number of school districts facing sanctions at Thursday’s State board of Education meeting over the districts’ mask policies is now down to nine.

Two districts, Sarasota and Hillsborough waited until the 11th hour before changing policies to allow parents to opt their children out of mask requirements.

Hillsborough County School Board members got an earful from parents Tuesday.

“We the people expect you to uphold the highest standards when it comes to parental rights,” said parent Elizabeth Thomas.

The board voted 6-1 to stop requiring a medical certificate and instead allow parents to opt out with an online form.

The move is expected to stop the state board from withholding thousands of dollars in school board salaries.

“So we have seen like a 93 percent decrease in the positive cases,” said Hillsborough Superintendent Addison Davis.

Davis told us it’s money the district could not lose.

“There are financial penalties that come with making decisions and where we are as an organization, we just don’t have the ability to lose any dollar and and cent,” said Davis.

A total of four districts have now backed down on their mask mandates.

Lee and Volusia backed down before the first fines were levied.

But there are still nine counties facing the loss of board salaries.

Alaucha and Broward also stand to lose over a half million dollars the Biden Administration sent to offset money lost in previous sanctions.

Alaucha Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon argued the state’s energy could be better spent.

“We have significant needs in our school system that have been in the present situation with COVID as well as decades prior to. I would appreciate a focus on educating our children and less on punishing school districts,” said Simon.

The State Board meets Thursday at one pm by phone.

It’s a public meeting, so you can listen in by dialing 1-800-368-1029, passcode 380771.

The meeting is also being streamed on TheFloridaChannel.org.

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Constitutional Carry Legislation Might Have Legs in 2022 Session

October 5th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Some top Florida Republican lawmakers have now said they’d support constitutional carry legislation in the upcoming session.

The policy would allow all legal gun owners to carry firearms without a concealed weapons license.

The constitutional carry legislation was filed by the Legislature’s most outspoken conservative member, Representative Anthony Sabatini.

“Our very liberal Republican Speaker Chris Sprowls has gotten tens of thousands of emails from gun groups,” said Sabatini.

The policy is split into two bills.

The first would allow gun owners to carry concealed weapons without a license.

“You don’t have to go ask the government for permission,” said Sabatini.

The second would allow for open carry.

“You shouldn’t have the duty to hide your firearm if you’ve done nothing wrong,” said Sabatini.

Democratic Representative Anna Eskamani argued constitutional carry would make Florida more dangerous place to live, because you’d no longer have to take safety courses to carry a firearm in public.

“That’s really scary,” said Eskamani.

Eskamani said she’s doubtful Sabatini’s bills will get a hearing, due to his strained relationship with the House Speaker.

“Sabatini does not have a lot of leverage within the chamber,” said Eskamani.

But recently top brass in the Senate indicated they would support constitutional carry legislation, including Senate Majority Leader Debbie Mayfield.

“I support constitutional carry. That is one of the things that we will probably be looking at this session because it is important,” said Mayfield in a Legislative Delegation meeting last week.

Florida GOP Chair and State Senator Joe Gruters said he might support constitutional carry, but doesn’t want to see assault weapons openly carried on beaches.

“Because I think that would adversely impact Florida’s tourism economy,” said Gruters.

While there seems to be some support for constitutional carry legislation in the Senate, a bill hasn’t yet been filed in the chamber.

Republicans may be weary of pursing such a controversial policy in an election year.

Twenty one states currently have some form of a constitutional carry law on the books.

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$7.90 Fee Could Lead to Class Action Suit

October 5th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida Supreme Court is being asked to interpret state law for a Federal Court, which is hearing a challenge to a five percent convenience fee Florida’s largest provider of red light cameras has been adding to red light violations.

If the court sides with red light runners, millions could be on the table for refunds.

There are just over 500 active red light cameras in Florida.

Notices of violation sent to motorists cost a flat $158, but American Traffic Solutions, which provides cameras to 31 jurisdictions, has also been adding a five percent fee to anyone using a credit card to pay.

South Florida resident Steven Pincus has chosen to fight the $7.90 add on.

His attorney Bret Lusskin argued to the Florida Supreme Court it’s not allowed by state law.

“State law says you can not add any additional fees, fines, surcharges, or costs,” said Lusskin.

But Justices seemed skeptical.

“The choice to make an electronic payment is entirely voluntary,” said Chief Justice Charles Canady.

American Traffic Solutions suggested paying the fee offered value.

“I don’t need to get my stamp, I don’t need to get my money order if that’s what it’s going to take. It’s done, and so there is real benefit here,” said ATS attorney Joseph Lang.

ATS did admit it does make a profit on the fee, even after paying credit card processing costs.

After Tuesday’s hearing, their attorney declined to explain.

So why did the case get to federal court and now Florida’s high court over a $7.90 fee?

“The amount of the fine is a $158. That’s all they should be getting charged. And I think it’s unfair for a company to be overcharging people in this way,” said Lusskin.

If the Florida Supreme Court rules the fee was illegal it could lead to a class action suit, in which $30 million could eventually be available to some of the 8 million people cited so far by red light cameras.

Plaintiffs argue the profit from the fee is wrongful enrichment.

The court took the case under advisement.

It could take weeks or months to send the case back to Federal court, which could allow the case to go forward, or decide there is no case at all.

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Casey DeSantis Diagnosed with Breast Cancer

October 4th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

During her more than two and a half years as Florida’s First Lady, Casey DeSantis has fought for single mothers, better mental health for school students.

Now during breast cancer awareness month, she herself is fighting the disease.

The announcement came in an email from the Governor’s Office Monday.

The Governor called Casey the centerpiece of their family, adding she is facing the most difficult test of her life.

CDC Data shows 131,409 Florida women were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2018.

The rate of 438 per 100,000 is nearly four times higher than the national rate of 127 cases.

“Certainly breast cancer increases with age, so that is part of it,” said Dr. Shelby Blank, a surgeon with Tallahassee Memorial Hospital.

Dr. Blank told us there is always room for optimism.

“Aside from skin cancers, it’s the most commonly diagnosed cancer in women,” said Blank.

Terri Cariota is a retired police officer who got her diagnosis last week.

“I literally broke down in tears,” said Cariota.

She had this advice for the First Lady.

“Whatever her degree of breast cancer requires do it. Because health is certainly more important than physical appearance,” said Cariota.

We’ve been told the First Lady is being treated by doctors at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa.

Dr. Karen Russel, an oncologist at Tallahassee Memorial, said regular self examinations and early treatment are keys to survival.

“Still seeing a ton of women with, I’ve only had my breast cancer a month. Well, we know its been there for longer because of the lack of screening in the year of COVID 2020,” said Russel.

Regular screening is important to detection.

Cariota only got screened because she got a call from her insurer saying she was overdue.

Also in the Monday release, the Governor called his wife a true fighter and said she will never, never, never give up.

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DeSantis and Trump Downplay Potential Primary Face Off

October 4th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

A new poll shows that if a presidential primary were held now, Governor Ron DeSantis and Former President Donald Trump would be virtually tied.

However, the Governor and Former President have downplayed the prospect of a DeSantis Presidential run in 2024 in recent days.

The latest comments put a damper on a common line of attack DeSantis has faced from his likely 2022 opponents.

Both Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and Congressman Charlie Crist have repeatedly suggested if Governor Ron DeSantis were to win re-election, he’d resign and run for President in 2024.

“He’s running for President in 2024 and he’s forgetting Florida in 2022,” said Crist at a Democratic event in September.

“And then if he was to be successful, he’d be leaving halfway through his four-year term,” said Fried in a June interview.

Appearing on FOX News last Thursday, DeSantis said his focus is on Florida.

“I’m not considering doing anything beyond doing my job,” said DeSantis.

In a Yahoo Finance interview Sunday, the Former President had this to say about a potential DeSantis-Trump face off in 2024.

“I don’t think I will face him, because I don’t see that if I did it. I don’t see that. I think most people would drop out. I think he would drop out,” said Trump.

Chairman of Chairs for the Florida Republican Party Evan Power told us it’s no surprise DeSantis has attracted rumors of a Presidential run.

“What he’s done in Florida is made Florida model for the nation. And I think he’s invested as much as anything into selling how Florida has won. That of course makes him a national leader,” said Power.

As for the rumors of a potential Presidential-run working against the Governor in 2022; Republicans say they aren’t worried.

“I think it’s kind of a comical strategy for Democrats, cause they’re basically saying our Governor is doing such a great job that he’ll probably become President,” said Power.

Another idea that has been floated is the prospect of a Trump DeSantis ticket in 2024.

It’s a possibility former President Trump has said he’d be open to.

When asked about the possibility of a potential Presidential run, the Governor’s Office referred us to a response DeSantis gave in early September.

“All the speculation about me is purely manufactured. I just do my job… I hear all this stuff and honestly, it’s nonsense. So, you know, I don’t really know what to say to rumors,” said DeSantis.

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Florida’s Space Industry is Booming

October 1st, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The space industry is booming in Florida and NASA’s Chief administrator says it’s only going to grow in the coming years.

Former US Senator Bill Nelson talked moon landings, Mars and commercial space development at a meeting of the Florida Economics Club Friday afternoon.

Floridians in the North Eastern part of the state were startled Thursday night by a sonic boom produced as a Space X capsule returned to Earth.

Nelson told us it’s probably going to become a more common occurrence.

“All of those old abandoned launch pads from way back in the early space days, they’re all coming to life,” said Nelson.

Nelson said Florida’s space industry is booming as a whole, and it’s not slowing anytime soon.

“If you add it all up it’s about $4 billion a year of dollar impact in the State of Florida just from the space business,” said Nelson.

As recently as this week, plans were announced to build a new $300 million satellite manufacturing plant in Florida.

Nelson said to expect more where that came from.

“Because it’s economical for them to do the manufacturing of satellites, that they are then going to put up in space, right from the launch center,” said Nelson.

Nelson said in the not-so-distant future humans will be landing on the moon once a year and we’ll see a manned mission to Mars within the next 20-years.

“We are in a whole new era of space activity. We are going back to the moon. We’re going to learn on the moon what we need to know and within your lifetime we’re going to the planet Mars,” said Nelson.

Nelson said NASA plans to launch an unmanned mission to the moon early next year.

The agency has set a goal of sending the first woman and astronaut-of-color to the lunar surface by 2024.

One thing is certain, no matter what the future of space exploration holds, expect Florida to be at the center of it all.

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Nurse Shortage Getting Worse

September 30th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida will face a severe nursing shortage by the year 2035 according to a report by the Florida Hospital Association and Safety Net Hospitals.

The problem is compounded by too few entering the profession and too many leaving.

The report found Florida will be short more than 59,000 nurses by 2035.

The pandemic has made an already bad situation worse.

“We have a crisis today because of what our hospitals, staff have experienced throughout the pandemic, the stress and strain,” said Florida Hospital Association CEO Mary Mayhew.

Over the next 14 years Florida’s population will increase by more than four million.

The fastest growing segment is those over 65.

“That population is the one most likely to use inpatient services, out patient services, emergency room services,” said Justin Senior, CEO of Safety Net Hospitals.

Quality healthcare is a big draw for both people and companies who want to move to Florida.

Ultimately, not having enough nurses could impact the state’s economic and population growth.

The study recommends the state adds at least 4,000 new nurses every year.

There are now more than 18 nursing schools in Florida.

Senior said there are plenty of applicants, but not enough seats or faculty.

“The number of applicants to nursing schools has actually increased, but if the number of seats doesn’t increase, the number of faculty members doesn’t increase, then all you have is more applicants,” said Senior.

Willa Fuller is the Executive Director of the Florida Nurses Association.

“More forms you have to fill out, more things we have to document. And you know, one of the things now is that even satisfaction is measured by a survey,” said Fuller.

The report also found if barriers to health care are lifted, such as expanding medicaid, the need for nurses could increase by a third, to almost a 100,000.

Recommendations include using Florida’s strengths to recruit, expanding training in non-metro areas and increasing the faculty Senior said is lacking.

The problem is also made worse by nursing staffing companies that hire nurses, then lease them back to hospitals at a premium.

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School Buses Could Soon Have Cameras to Catch Those Who Pass Illegally

September 30th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

In 2019 the Florida Department of Education conducted a survey of bus drivers and found that on any given day, school buses in Florida were illegally passed nearly 13,000 times across the state.

Lawmakers raised penalties for violations in 2020, but new legislation aims to strengthen the law’s enforcement.

The 2020 legislation doubled penalties for illegally passing a school bus, but Leon County bus driver Willie Mae Heard told us she still sees it happen at least three times a day.

“My great concern is they might hit one of our kids getting off the bus,” said Heard.

State Representative Emily Slosberg said the problem comes down to enforcement.

“Because law enforcement is not sitting at bus stops all day and they’re not following buses all day,” said Slosberg.

She’s sponsoring legislation that aims to capture violators on video by installing external cameras on buses.

“We need cameras on the long arms that can catch violators as it happens and so that we can issue citations,” said Slosberg.

Santa Rosa County recently implemented a similar initiative.

Videos captured by the bus cameras show drivers completely disregarding the the red flashing lights.

“It is paramount that we keep our children safe,” said Andrew Spar, President of the Florida Education Association.

The union represents school staff including bus drivers.

Spar told us illegal passings continue to be a common complaint.

“Whether they don’t like that they’re behind a bus, whether they’re running late or whatever it may be, it’s no excuse for someone to endanger children,” said Spar.

If the bill passes, Florida would join 23 other states that have already adopted similar laws.

“This is going to give notice to drivers that you are being recorded, and to drive properly, and to use caution and to obey the law,” said Slosberg.

The cameras could pay for themselves.

Fines for illegally passing a stopped school bus range from $200 to $400, depending on which side of the bus an offender passes.

Those fines would be paid directly to school districts that opt into the program to cover the cost of the cameras’ installation and maintenance.

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Employee Vax Deadline Thursday

September 29th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Thursday is the deadline for 750 Leon County employees to prove they have been vaccinated or lose their job.

Most have already gotten shots, but the state is likely to put the county on notice it is violating state law.

On August 5th, the Gainesville City Commission voted to impose vaccine requirements for all city employees.

On Sept 20th, a court issued an injunction against the mandate.

Three days later the commission voted to reconsider the ordinance, effectively removing the mandate, for now.

“Specifically rescinding all previous directions for COVID vaccination policies,” said Gainesville City Commissioner Adrian Hayes Santos. “That includes reasonable alternatives.”

The next day the state told the city it was still subject to being fined.

The move leaves only Leon County and the City of Orlando with employee vaccine mandates.

Both jurisdictions want proof of a vaccine by the end of Thursday.

Leon Administrator Vince Long wasn’t available Wednesday, but he did tell us on September 14th most employees were already vaccinated.

“The time for handing out free doughnuts for vaccinations for employees is over,” said Long.

Leon County is likely to soon get a letter like the one sent to the City of Gainesville, telling them they are in violation of state law.

The letter threatens $5,000 fines could be assessed for each employee.

It also asks how many were required to prove their status.

Two Leon employees we spoke with said ‘it is what it is’.

“I don’t have any problem with it,” said Solomon Hart.

“I don’t know, some of them ain’t going to take the shot,” said Bruce Hall.

In Leon, 30 exemptions have been granted for medical or religious reasons.

If the state follows through with fines, Leon could be on the hook for $3.7 million.

Leon County is predicting it will have to dismiss less than one percent of its work force after the Thursday night deadline passes.

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Florida Businesses Brace for Minimum Wage Hike

September 29th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

At midnight Thursday the minimum wage will jump from $8.65 an hour to $10 an hour and tipped workers will see hourly wages rise from $5.63 to $6.98.

The pay raise is being applauded by labor groups, but business groups fear it will add additional strain to employers still recovering from pandemic hardships.

The wage hike is the first step of a constitutional mandate to raise the minimum wage to $15 an hour by 2026.

The first jump will be the largest the state has ever seen, and that has business groups worried jobs could be on the line.

“60 to 100,000 jobs almost immediately could go away,” said Dr. Jerry Parrish with the Florida Chamber Foundation.

Dr. Parrish told us entry level jobs are the most likely to be impacted.

“And it’s going to make it much more difficult for people with low skills. They’re going to pay the biggest price here,” said Parrish.

But Dr. Rich Templin with the Florida AFL-CIO told us he heard similar doom-and-gloom predictions when the minimum wage was raised in the past.

“Nothing terrible happened. We didn’t see a loss of jobs,” said Templin.

The Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association argued things are different this time, especially with the industry still recovering from lockdowns and other strains inflicted by the pandemic.

“We hope that we see Florida’s restaurant industry continue to survive and thrive, but there is reason to be concerned right now,” said the association’s General Council, Samantha Padgett.

Supporters of the minimum wage hike assert the increased wages will be a boom for the economy as a whole.

“The more money you can put in the hands of consumers, the better we all do,” said Templin.

But Dr. Parrish is worried in an economy already seeing costs rise from inflation, a wage hike could compound the problem.

“Certainly prices are gonna go up,” said Parrish.

Lawmakers are already looking for ways to soften the economic blow.

A State Senator filed a joint resolution just hours before the wage hike, that would allow the Legislature to set a training wage, lower than the minimum wage set in the constitution.

Under the resolution employees could only be paid the lower training wage for their first six months on the job.

If approved by the Legislature, the proposal would then need 60 percent voter approval in the 2022 election.

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DeSantis Asks Secretary of State to Investigate Facebook

September 28th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The Governor has called on the Secretary of State to open an investigation into Facebook after a Wall Street Journal article suggested the company may have given preferential treatment to incumbent candidates in the 2020 election.

State Democrats are calling the move political.

The Wall Street Journal article found Facebook had ‘whitelisted’ 5.8 million accounts, providing them preferential treatment if they were accused of violating the company’s rules.

The article also states while most government officials were whitelisted, not all candidates were.

“It’s definitely problematic,” said Democratic State Representative Anna Eskamani.

Eskamani is concerned about the alleged favoritism.

“It speaks to the larger conversation around big tech,” said Eskamani.

But the Governor has gone further, calling on the Secretary of State to investigate.

In a statement, the Governor’s Press Secretary Christina Pushaw explained the state wants to know whether the whitelisting could have benefited some candidates’ sponsored posts.

“The Secretary of State’s investigation would seek to determine whether Facebook’s actions amounted to undisclosed in-kind contributions to state and local campaigns in Florida,” said Pushaw.

An investigation like this is rare for the Division of Elections.

Usually alleged election law violations are pursued by prosecutors and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“The Secretary of State doesn’t do investigations,” said Eskamani.

Eskamani argued favoritism of incumbent candidates would have been more likely to benefit Republicans in Florida.

“The irony is that if this is a so-called investigation, then he needs to be investigating his own party for benefiting from some sort of exclusive service from Facebook, not actually Facebook,” said Eskamani.

The Governor’s Office made no mention of political party in its statement.

“If Facebook’s double standards amounted to interference in state and local races in Florida, then Floridians deserve to know the extent of that interference,” said Pushaw.

We also reached out to the Department of State for comment on this story, but did not hear back in time.

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Disability Community Applauding Rish Park Move

September 28th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Wheelchair bound Floridians haven’t been able to use a beachside park specifically created for them for more than three years.

They have been asking for change and now they are getting it.

The Agency for Persons with disabilities is giving control of the park to an agency that knows how to run a park.

Rish Park in Gulf County has been closed for almost three years, upsetting the disabled who use it.

“And memories and opportunities have been denied for too long,” said disability advocate JR Harding.

Since we first reported on the story at the start of September, it has been announced the park is getting new management.

The Agency for Persons with Disabilities, has agreed to turn over operation the State Park System.

“It’s really important to the disable community. It’s been closed since Hurricane Michael. And APD is not an agency that deals with state parks,” said State Senator Lorrane Ausley.

The transfer to the Department of Environmental Protection is set for December first.

“So this is a great move,” said Harding.

Harding proposed to his wife at the Park.

He has been the leading advocate for getting it open after Hurricane Michael.

“We’re excited about new opportunities and we’re excited about being involved,” said Harding.

Those who use Rish Park have told us it’s a place where they go to feel normal, have fun and not made to feel different by others using the park.

The plan now is to open the Rish in phases, with beach access likely coming first.

Harding said time is of the essence.

“If it goes six more months with a few bells and whistles, that would be okay. Another year would be completely unacceptable,” said Harding.

When fully functional again, the park will have it all: Boating, fishing, beach going, camping and a place the disabled can call their own.

Once in the hands of the State Park System, Rish Park will have the benefit of a full time ADA compliance officer, something the Agency for Persons with Disabilities does not have.

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Wide Array of Gun Bills Filed Ahead of 2022 Legislative Session

September 27th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Thirteen bills seeking to either increase or loosen gun restrictions in the state have already been filed for the 2022 legislative session, but whether the Legislature actually plans on hearing any gun legislation is yet to be seen.

Ten of the 13 bills would add additional firearm restrictions.

They include a repeal of stand your ground, implementing universal background checks for firearms and ammo as well as banning those convicted of misdemeanor domestic violence from owning a firearm.

“There’s no single solution to the epidemic of gun violence,” said Democratic Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith.

Smith has filed a bill banning assault weapons for the 5th year in a row.

“Because it’s important for me to stay focused to honor the 49 who were taken at Pulse nightclub with action,” said Smith.

Other gun restrictions filed for the 2022 session include strict safe storage requirements and repealing a prohibition on record keeping of firearms and firearm owners

On the other hand, Republican Representative Anthony Sabatini has filed three bills, all aimed at loosening gun restrictions.

Among his proposals is legislation that would make Florida a ‘constitutional carry’ state.

“It allows you to actually open carry a firearm in the State of Florida. I think that’s really important because you know, you have the right to defend yourself and you shouldn’t have the duty to hide your firearm if you’ve done nothing wrong,” said Sabatini.

It’s no secret Democrats don’t have the votes to push gun restrictions through the Republican controlled Legislature, but that doesn’t necessarily mean there’s an appetite for loosening gun restrictions.

“We don’t have Republican officials right now, a lot of them anyways, who are standing up for the Second Amendment sadly,” said Sabatini.

Rep. Smith fears that because 2022 is an election year, Republican leadership might entertain the easing of some gun laws.

“In election years Republicans, who are in the majority of the Florida Legislature, often like to throw red meat at their conservative base,” said Smith.

Marion Hammer with the NRA was unavailable for an interview Monday, but told us the organization’s goal in 2022 is the same as always: “Protect the constitutional rights of law-abiding gun owners”.

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Ben & Jerry’s Ice Cream Now a Scrutinized Company

September 27th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

The clock is ticking for the parent company of Ben and Jerry’s ice cream.

The state has given Unilever until October 26 to reverse Ben and Jerry’s plans to stop selling in occupied Jerusalem and the West Bank.

If the policy isn’t reversed, the company faces economic consequences.

On July 19, Ben and Jerry’s announced it would no longer sell its ice cream in the West Bank after 2022, saying “We believe it is inconsistent with our values for our product to be present within an internationally recognized illegal occupation”.

“I have not seen any meaningful response from Unilever, period,” said Executive Director of Florida’s State Board of Administration Ash Williams at the September cabinet meeting.

At the meeting, the cabinet gave the go ahead for the state to divest all Unilever stock if the company doesn’t reverse its West Bank policy within 90 days.

“It’s a small part of our overall portfolio as you might imagine,” said Williams.

Those investments now total about $139 million.

“If 90 days tolls from the notice they are given, then we are barred by law from making any additional investments in the securities of that firm, so that’s exactly what we’ll do,” said Williams.

The state won’t just be selling its shares in Unilever.

Once the 90-day period is over, no government agency in Florida can buy its products.

The clock runs out on Unilever October 26th.

“I would guess there are probably a fair number of public institutions that are buying those products. I don’t think they will be after the 26th of October unless Unilever is responsive on this issue,” said Williams.

In 2019, the state put Airbnb on the scrutinized list after it said it would refuse to offer listings in the West Bank.

The company relented just days before the penalties would have kicked in.

In a statement, Unilever told us that while they will not sell Ben and Jerry’s in the occupied zone, it will remain in Israel, where it employs 2,000 people in four factories.

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New State Mask Rule Shuts Down Challenge Brought by School Boards

September 24th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Florida school boards bucking the state’s mask mandate ban were supposed to have their day before an administrative judge Friday, but that didn’t happen.

The case was rendered moot because the Department of Health rescinded the rule being challenged and replaced it with another.

The new Department of Health rule is nearly identical to the original mask mandate ban.

Now school boards who had challenged the original rule are experiencing deja vu.

“Same problem, different rule,” said Alachua Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon.

Dr. Simon said the school boards are likely to file another administrative challenge in hopes of striking down the new mask mandate ban.

And with federal dollars now backfilling pay check sanctions from the state, the school board isn’t likely to reverse course on its masking policy.

“If anything progresses further, we will still be able to lean on their support,” said Dr. Simon.

The Governor has justified the masking policy by saying case rates in mask mandatory and mask optional districts have been the same.

More troubling to school districts, is that the new DOH rule also includes new quarantine protocols that allow parents to decide whether to leave their children in school after an exposure if they have no symptoms.

“This new rule, unfortunately I believe is more risky and problematic than the first rule because this removal of quarantining for asymptomatic individuals and having this be a parental choice,” said Dr. Simon.

Dr. Simon is concerned some parents may abuse their new discretion.

“Easily we could have parents who have decided that their child is asymptomatic, or they’re going to mask it and make them appear asymptomatic, and they’re going to send a child who is shedding the virus into our schools,” said Dr. Simon.

The quarantine changes prompted Congressman and Gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist to call for the removal of Florida’s new Surgeon General.

“This is a reckless and baseless endangerment of our entire classrooms and schools across the state,” said Crist.

The Governor has said it’s rare a quarantined student actually ends up testing positive and the harms of missing school outweigh the risks.

A state appeals court also rejected a request for a lawsuit brought by parents challenging the mask mandate ban to be expedited to the Florida Supreme Court on Friday.

Instead the Appellate Court will rule on the case, which could be months away.

 

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