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Special Session Legislation Still Unknown

November 2nd, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

The special session of the Florida Legislature called by Governor Ron DeSantis is less than two weeks away.

It was called to deal with mask policies, vaccine requirements and other COVID-related issues, but as of Tuesday, there was still no specific language for lawmakers to chew on.

With lobbyists in the hallways, Florida’s Capitol resembled pre-pandemic days this week, but vaccines and mask mandates are very much on the agenda in the coming special session.

“To add protections for people in the state of Florida,” said Governor Ron DeSantis when announcing the session in late October.

The Governor has said businesses mandating vaccines should lose COVID protections passed last year.

Republican Senator Jeff Brandes passed those protections and doesn’t see them changing.

“I don’t plan to support anything that would remove the COVID protects for business, period,” said Brandes.

“We’re gonna see where we land on that as we get ready to launch a special session,” said State Senator Travis Hutson. “I would say it’s in the discussions between the House the Senate and the Governor.”

Hutson, who represents Palm Coast, told us specific bills will be out soon.

“Friday, Saturday. We’ll probably launch some bills then,” said Hutson.

Among the legislation likely to be introduced is a plan for the state to create its own workplace safety agency, replacing the federal agency OSHA, which is about to issue vaccine mandates.

Democratic Senator Audrey Gibson argues businesses should be left alone.

“Those businesses in those communities should be able to to exercise their freedom based on the conditions that they know are happening,” said Gibson.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner and Gubernatorial hopeful Nikki Fried blasted the call for a session.

“And I do hope that this Legislature steps up to the plate, does what right for the people of our state and pulls back the request for the Governor,” said Fried.

Brandes and other GOP lawmakers told us they believe the Governor will come away with a legislative win, even if it’s not everything he wants.

The dilemma is that GOP lawmakers are pro-business at almost every turn, so they have a small needle to thread to make the results acceptable to their base, businesses and parents alike.

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Magic Johnson Talks Mental Health with Teens at the State Capitol

November 2nd, 2021 by Jake Stofan

NBA legend Magic Johnson was at the State Capitol meeting with student athletes, encouraging them to start a conversation about mental health Tuesday.

The CDC reports mental health-related emergency department visits spiked by 31 percent among teens last year.

It’s one of many stats demonstrating the strain the pandemic has put on teens mental health.

“My grandson really struggled,” said Johnson.

But the 5X NBA Champion is hoping to help students turn things around by starting a conversation.

“We sometimes in the Black community don’t talk about things like this,” said Johnson.

Talking with student athletes at the State Capitol Johnson and mental health experts and the head of Florida’s Department of Children and Families took on the topic of mental health, letting the teens know it’s okay to ask for help.

“It’s okay if you’re sad, but it’s not okay if you keep it inside,” said Dr. Lisa Gwynn, who severs as Chair of the Florida Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Johnson also encouraged the students to share how the pandemic affected them.

“Being in a classroom and just having the right mindset is a very important thing, so some people did struggle. I was one of them,” said Leana, a 10th grade student.

Johnson said he was pleasantly surprised by how willing the students were to share their feelings and called it a sign that times had changed.

“How many times will young people stand up and say and tell you the truth like that? That was just outstanding, and so for me, it helped me too,” said Johnson.

And students we spoke with told us seeing their peers being so open, made them feel more comfortable with their own struggles.

“Me in particular, I’m going through some things right now and I think this was good for me and good for the younger students,” said FAMU basketball player Cameron Reaves.

And Johnson encouraged the student athletes to take what they learned back to their schools to help keep the conversation going.

Johnson and other speakers at the event encouraged students to visit SimplyHealthyMinds.com, a new website dedicated to providing mental health resources to kids, teens and parents.

 

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Seminoles Launch Hard Rock Sportsbook App

November 2nd, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Floridians can officially place legal sports bets now that the Seminole Tribe has launched its Hard Rock Sportsbook app.

Sports betting was included in the new gaming compact reached with the tribe earlier this year and makes up $50 million of the Tribe’s $500 million annual payments to the state.

Sports betting in Florida could be short lived though.

Multiple lawsuits have been filed claiming the inclusion of sports betting in the deal constitutes an unconstitutional expansion of gaming.

However Representative Randy Fine, who chaired the House’s Gaming Committee during the special session, said he believes sports betting is here to stay no matter the outcome of the lawsuits.

“Cause once the cat’s out of the bag, you know it’s hard to put it back in. If people are using the Seminole sports betting product, it has to be turned off all of the sudden, there probably would be an outcry for us to come back and to try to fix that and I’m sure we would,” said Fine.

There’s also a citizen initiative circulating that seeks to put the question of outright legalizing sports betting on the 2022 ballot.

If passed, other companies like Draft Kings and FanDuel could enter the marketplace.

The Seminole Tribe would also no longer have to pay its $50 million sports betting share to the state.

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VisitFlorida Extension Gets First Thumbs Up

November 2nd, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

The state’s tourism and marketing agency’s life would be extended until 2031 under legislation approved by a Senate Committee in the State Capitol Tuesday.

The agency was nearly abolished in 2019, but its life was extended until 2022 when the pandemic hit.

Tuesday’s action was supported by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, which told lawmakers the agency has been instrumental in the state’s economic recovery.

“Extending the sunset day allows VisitFlorida to really dig into its mission, attract top talent and develop innovative marketing strategies for the short term and the long term. All of these benefit all Floridians because tourism is the engine for Florida’s economy,” said Samantha Padgett with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

The agency has been having trouble recruiting top talent who were concerned their job would only last a year or two.

The Florida House rejected a plan to keep the agency in-business indefinitely, but it agreed on the 2031 date, which future legislatures can extend or honor.

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UF Professors Under Fire

November 1st, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

After initially telling three professors they could not testify against the state in an elections lawsuit the University of Florida has now relented.

But the University has now set conditions for the professors to testify in court.

Professors Daniel Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin were all notified in mid-October that the University of Florida would not allow them to testify in a lawsuit challenging election law changes.

Documents filed in Federal court show UF believed the testimony created a conflict between the state and UF.

Senate Bill 90 prohibits unattended ballot drop boxes and prohibits the possession of more than two mail ballots by a single person.

In its suit, Rising Florida argues the changes impose substantial restrictions on voters.

The Governor and a handful of lawmakers who negotiated the deals on SB 90 are all fighting subpoenas requiring them to testify on why the legislation was needed.

Senator Dennis Baxley sponsored SB90, but on Monday he wouldn’t talk about trying to block efforts to have him testify in the case.

”It’s time for me to hush and let them do their business,” said Baxley.

The professors have testified against the state before.

Smith worked with voting rights advocate Desmond Meade to win the right of felons to once again vote.

“In our case, he was very helpful because he gave us a better idea of the number of people that was impacted by fines and fees, and so it really helped to tell our approach as to how we were going to attack that problem,” said Meade.

Democrats called the affair an example of the state’s top down management style.

“It’s the universities, they way one individual thinks they should be run, or they won’t be given their allowance,” said State Representative Evan Jenne.

The University has now clarified its position.

The professors can testify, but only on their own time and without compensation.

When asked about the university’s decision Governor DeSantis’ Press Secretary Christina Pushaw told us the Governor ‘has always championed free speech, open inquiry, and viewpoint diversity on college and university campuses’.

“The Constitution guarantees the right to free speech, but not the right to receive compensation for speech,” said Pushaw.

Full statement from UF:

“The University of Florida has a long track record of supporting free speech and our faculty’s academic freedom, and we will continue to do so. It is important to note that the university did not deny the First Amendment rights or academic freedom of professors Dan Smith, Michael McDonald and Sharon Austin. Rather, the university denied requests of these full-time employees to undertake outside paid work that is adverse to the university’s interests as a state of Florida institution.”

“It is worth noting, the university views the professors’ request as a request to be paid to testify against the state, and the university, as a public institution, is part of the state — therefore, that would be adverse to the university’s interests. However, to be clear, if the professors wish to do so pro bono on their own time without using university resources, they would be free to do so.”

Full State from the Governor’s Office:

“Governor DeSantis has always championed free speech, open inquiry, and viewpoint diversity on college and university campuses. Earlier this year, he signed House Bill 233, which requires state colleges and universities to conduct annual assessments of the viewpoint diversity and intellectual freedom to ensure that Florida’s postsecondary students will encounter diverse ideas and opinions, including those that they may disagree with or find uncomfortable.”

“UF’s statement reiterated the university’s long-standing commitment to academic freedom. UF denied the requests of full-time university employees to undertake outside paid work that the university considers adverse to its own interests. Those professors, like all UF professors, are free to express their own opinions about this and other issues. In fact, these faculty have openly stated their disagreement with their institution’s policy: For example, Professor McDonald tweeted “I won’t back down” and asserted his opinion that faculty are being denied their right to free speech. Professor McDonald and all faculty members are entitled to their own opinions.”

“The Constitution guarantees the right to free speech, but not the right to receive compensation for speech.”

“The fact remains that all public universities, including UF, have policies around situations where conflicts of interest may arise, including paid testimony in a lawsuit. The UF policy that requires professors to seek approval for paid outside work to prevent conflicts of interest was established well before SB 90 and the lawsuit; therefore, it could not have been a reaction to this case.”

“The governor’s office did not create UF’s policy on conflicts of interest, nor did the governor tell the university – directly or indirectly – how to enforce their own policy.”

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Health Care Industry Asking Florida Lawmakers to Address Chronic Staffing Shortages

November 1st, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The health care industry in Florida says it is in crisis and is pleading for lawmakers’ help in the upcoming legislative session to address chronic staffing shortages.

The lack of employees is already resulting in people having to wait longer for care.

Florida Hospitals saw one out of four nurses leave their job last year, the highest turnover rate the state has ever seen.

“We just saw during the Delta surge what happens when you can bring beds in but you can’t staff them,” said Florida Hospital Association President Mary Mayhew.

Additionally, 92 percent of long term care facilities say they’re facing staffing challenges.

“And for 75 percent of them it is the number one concern,” said Nick Van Der Linden with LeadingAge Florida.

Mayhew and Van Der Linden were among a diverse group of health care representatives who met Monday to raise the alarm in hopes of catching the the ears of lawmakers.

For the long term care facilities, additional Medicaid funding is the biggest ask, as the industry has seen costs increase by $600 million.

“And it doesn’t have to be strictly dollars. There can be other creative ways to do that, whether it’s looking at how we do staffing. Are there more creative ways to safely take care of our residents that will reduce costs?” said Emmett Reed with the Florida Health Care Association.

Hospitals are pushing for more faculty in nursing programs at universities.

They’re also hoping lawmakers will create incentives to increase graduation rates.

“We’ve got to replace what we’ve lost and then grow it even more for our growing population,” said Justin Senior with the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida.

If something isn’t done soon, the Florida Hospital Association estimates the state could be short nearly 60,000 nurses by 2035.

That will make it harder than it already is to find openings at nursing homes and it could also mean further delays for elective procedures.

“So it’s a dangerous situation for Floridians,” said Reed.

And with an 11 percent vacancy rate, Florida has been hit harder by nursing shortages than the nation as a whole, which has a vacancy rate of 9.9 percent.

All of the health care representatives at the round table agreed the staffing shortages have been exacerbated by the pandemic.

The turnover rate in nursing homes nearly doubled between 2017 to 2021.

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Pizza for Redistricting Lesson

November 1st, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Visitors to the State Capitol got a free piece of pizza as part of a political statement Monday.

Represent US, a grassroots organization calling on lawmakers, was making the point that during this year’s redrawing of political maps, lawmakers shouldn’t be allowed to pick who they represent, just as Represent Us was giving free pizza to the customers it was choosing.

“Pizza places shouldn’t hand pick their customers any more than politicians shouldn’t and pick their own voters. So this is a public education campaign to educate voters across the country about the redistricting process that happening right now. It’s a once-in-ten year process. And talking about the threat gerrymandering poses to our democracy,” said Joe Kabourek with Represent US.

Represent US argued the best thing voters can do is require lawmakers to be transparent about how and why maps are drawn in particular ways.

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Governor Calls Special Session, Success Far from Guaranteed

October 29th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The Governor has officially signed a proclamation calling for a special session to be held from November 15th to the 19th.

His top ask is for lawmakers to protect workers from discrimination based on vaccination status, but there are already rumblings Republican lawmakers aren’t aligned on how to deal with that issue.

And history proves just because lawmakers will gavel in, doesn’t necessarily mean anything will get done.

There’s an old adage in the State Capitol on special sessions: Don’t call one unless you know the outcome.

“You really want to try and put everything in order first,” said Pete Dunbar, who served as Former-Governor Bob Martinez’s Director of Legislative Affairs.

In a 1989 Special Session on abortion restrictions Dunbar saw first-hand what can happen if the Executive and Legislative branches aren’t on the same page.

“Governor Martinez was one example in his experience and Governor Askew had a similar experience when he tried to take Florida off Daylight Savings time and he couldn’t reach the consensus inside the legislative prerogative. That’s the challenge that we don’t know the answer to yet,” said Dunbar.

And there are early indications Republicans aren’t aligned on banning private employer vaccine mandates.

“There’s a real split on the idea of whether the state should interfere with private employers,” said Representative Spencer Roach.

Senate President Designate Kathleen Passidomo was recently asked if she supported a ban on private employer vaccine mandates.

She would have to see the actual legislation, but indicated the policy might be a tough sell.

“I support the freedom for businesses to make sure that they’re successful,” said Passidomo.

While Republican lawmakers may have different views on whether the government should interfere with private businesses, all of those we’ve spoken with said they think it’s important to have the conversation.

“People are losing their jobs now. They have lost their jobs,” said Representative Cord Byrd.

One thing is certain, Democrats intend to pushback.

The Governor is also calling on lawmakers to limit school districts’ ability to issue mandates for COVID-19, strengthen the Parents Bill of Rights and ensure workers fired over vaccines can obtain unemployment assistance.

Those measures will likely be opposed by Democrats, but aren’t likely to be seen as controversial by the Republican majority.

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Case Against Mask Mandate Ban Will Be Expedited

October 28th, 2021 by Jake Stofan
The First District Court of Appeal agreed to hear a case brought by parents against the state’s school mask mandate ban on an expedited basis Thursday. 
The court has also given more insight into its decision to block an initial ruling that went in parents’ favor.

Judge John Cooper ruled back in August that state’s school mask mandate ban violated the Parents Bill of Rights because it didn’t allow school districts the ability to justify their policies.
“To show that their policy is reasonable and meets the requirements of the law,” said Cooper in the August hearing.
The First DCA quickly blocked Cooper’s ruling. 
In a new order it has explained why.
The court said Cooper was wrong because parents never alleged the mandate ban violated the Parents Bill of Rights, but more importantly the court suggested parents likely never had standing to sue in the first place.
“A school is not just a school board. A school is the sum of its parts and that sum of its parts have those rights to safe schools,” said Charles Gallagher, an attorney representing the parents suing the state.
Gallagher argued parents do having standing to sue because they are directly impacted by the mask mandate ban.
“Florida law does not require that a child die from COVID to be a party plaintiff,” said Gallagher.
The issue of standing was also at the heart of the First DCA’s ruling against the teachers union in the school reopening case last year.
In a statement the Governor’s Office called the court’s order a win for the Governor and parents.
 
“Today’s preliminary ruling shows that the Plaintiffs have little chance of saving the trial court’s ruling, so this is a win for Governor DeSantis and parents’ rights in Florida!” said the Governor’s Press Secretary, Christina Pushaw.
But the parents’ attorney said the case is far from over and the ultimate outcome will have lasting impacts.
“This is a matter that will allow schools and the government to have some finality relative to how they will go forward the next time this happens and sadly everyone in the know thinks there will be a next time,” said Gallagher.
Even though the case has been expedited, the parents’ attorney said a final ruling likely won’t come until late December at the earliest.
 
Also ongoing is an administrative challenge to the state’s mask mandate ban brought by six school districts. A ruling in that case is expected by November 5th.

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Leon Joins Brevard and Complies with State Mask and Quarantine Rules

October 27th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

A second school district in as many days has backed down and come into compliance with the state’s masking and quarantine policies.

Leon County Schools now says starting next week it will allow parents the ultimate choice on masking.

In late August interview, Florida’s Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran made a prediction.

“We’ll get to the middle of September, everyone will calm down cause our cases are going to decline just like they did last year,” said Corcoran.

And that prediction panned out, with case rates steadily dropping over the past two months.

“We see positivity rates hovering around three percent in Leon County,” said Leon School Superintendent Rocky Hanna.

Hanna said the district’s decision to come into compliance with state masking and quarantine rules was based not on threats from the state, but on local case numbers.

“But if things change again, if we see that another variant comes through or let’s say after the holidays those numbers go up, we’re going right back to these things,” said Hanna.

The announcement from Leon came a day after Brevard County Schools also came into compliance with state masking and quarantine rules.

But Hanna said he firmly believes masking was the right call at the start of the school year.

“We had the death of a child, we had the death of a coach, we had positivity numbers of the chain. To not do something would have been reckless and irresponsible,” said Hanna.

Districts still fighting the state on masks include Alachua, Broward, Dade, Duval, Orange and Palm Beach.

House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee Chair Randy Fine had this message for the districts still holding out.

“For many of them this is simply about politics. They’re not willing to say they were wrong and they’re just gonna stick it out and we’re going to beat them,” said Representative Fine.

While Leon and Brevard have buckled, they are still part of an administrative challenge to the state’s masking and quarantine policies.

A ruling is expected by November 5th.

Also yet to be settled is a lawsuit brought by parents seeking to overturn the state’s school mask mandate ban.

That case is still working its way through an appellate court.

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US DOE Threatens Florida DOE Over School Masking

October 26th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The US Department of Education is warning the Florida’s Department of Education it could face sanctions if it continues to penalize school districts that implement mask mandates.

The letter is the latest escalation in a continued back and fourth between local governments, the state and feds over masking in schools.

The letter from the US Department of Education comes in response to the state vowing to withhold additional money from school boards if they backfill their salaries with federal dollars.

Alachua Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon told us her district never took the federal aid.

“But we are watching and in the event that we need to draw down funding from the federal government, when we do, we will let the commissioner know,” said Simon.

The letter threatens enforcement action, but the state isn’t backing down.

In a statement, the Florida Department of Education called the letter ‘legally hollow’ and said it would continue forward, ‘lawfully, as we have this entire time’.

“Governor DeSantis is in the catbird seat,” said State Representative Randy Fine.

Fine, who chairs the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, said while it’s not clear exactly what the feds are threatening, he sees no reason for the state to worry.

“It ends when California and New York taxpayers pay for education in Florida, which I think would be an outstanding outcome and I hope President Biden does it,” said Fine.

The school masking debate is expected to enter the halls of the Capitol in an upcoming special session, and it’s a Republican State Senator from Alachua County who is leading the charge.

Senator Keith Perry’s bill would make any school mask mandate null and void.

Dr. Simon called the proposal shortsighted.

“Right now we’re talking about COVID. What about other future viruses that might come about?” said Simon.

And Rep Fine told us beyond the legislation, school districts that fought the state over masking should expect additional punishment saying he doesn’t think they will have a good budget year.

Rep Fine also said he believes local officials that implement mask mandates should face criminal charges, but the legislation currently on the table does not include any specific penalties.

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Election Supervisors Pushing Back Against Misinformation

October 26th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

For the second week in a row, Florida’s elections Supervisors are reaching out.

Last week it was a letter to officials asking them to tone down the rhetoric and this week it’s a letter to voters asking them to not to be fooled by misinformation.

Last November, Governor Ron DeSantis said the ghost of the Florida’s contested 2000 election was finally dead.

“Finally vanquished the ghost of Bush v Gore,” said DeSantis.

But for some doubts remain.

A Walton County man is facing $50-a-day fines for violating sign regulations for displaying a ‘Trump Won’ banner.

Rep. Anthony Sabatini has filed HB 99, calling for a forensic audit of Florida’s 2020 election, which Trump won by four points.

“There’s a lot of people in the state who do not trust the verification of this election. They don’t trust it, and they know an audit will show it was either completely fine or not completely fine. That’s the only thing it will show,” said Sabatini.

Next year’s August primary is 300 days away and the November General is in 377 days.

Election Supervisors are already worrying the chatter and rhetoric from elected officials and others is casting doubt over what they do.

Mark Earley is the President-Elect of the Supervisors Association, which has now sent letters to elected officials and voters attempting to instill confidence in the system.

“The power of social media and combined with human frailty. Those two are mixing together in a way that’s never happened before. I think some people have used that, are abusing that, to sway people’s opinion and undermine their faith in elections,” said Earley.

Supervisors told us they had to start their campaign more than a year from next fall’s election to fight through the clutter of social media and assure people their votes really do count.

If the mistrust lingers, it’s only going to make the supervisors job that much harder.

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Republicans Pitching Florida’s COVID Policies to Out-of-State Businesses

October 25th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

In-N-Out burger could become the next Florida convert as a result of the state’s COVID policies, or at least that’s what Florida’s Chief Financial Officer hopes.

When Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis heard the burger chain In-N-Out was fighting back against San Francisco’s vaccine passport policy he reached out to the company with a proposal: Why not come here?

“Why wouldn’t In-N-Out want to come to the bastion of freedom that we call the State of Florida?” said Patronis.

While In-N-Out hasn’t responded yet, it’s clear plenty of other businesses have bought what Florida is selling.

The latest numbers show Florida is adding jobs at a rate three times higher than the national average.

“Florida is the place to be,” said Florida TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro.

Calabro said Florida hit the mark creating a business climate free from government mandates.

“To make sure that we did not have the Californiacation of Florida,” said Calabro.

But Democrats warn the state is toeing a thin line on COVID-business policy.

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith argued the Governor’s call to penalize companies with employee vaccine mandates goes too far.

“Businesses should have the freedom to be able to make their own decisions without Governor Ron DeSantis telling them what to do,” said Smith.

The business community is keeping fairly silent on the Governor’s special session agenda.

Since last week’s announcement we’ve reached out to the Florida Chamber to weigh in twice, and twice our inquiries have gone unanswered.

Calabro said when dealing with the private sector, lawmakers should be cautious.

“Businesses want to do what’s best for their employees, their customers and their stockholders and they’re going to be held accountable and responsible for it. And they really can’t be held as directly accountable and responsible if somebody else is making those decisions for them,” said Calabro.

How to balance free-market ideals and personal liberties is sure to be the focus of many debates at the State Capitol over the coming weeks.

Despite the Governor’s announcement last week, there still has not been an official date has been set for a Special Session.

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Surgeon General Under Fire Over Masks

October 25th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida’s new Surgeon General has only been on the job a month and he is already taking heat after refusing a request to put on a mask in a state Senator’s office.

Last week, Joseph Ladapo was making the rounds in the State Senate Office building.

He stopped in to see Senator Tina Polsky, a Democrat.

She told him she has a serious health condition and asked he wear a mask.

“I ask everyone to wear a mask in my office,” said Polsky, who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.

He refused.

“It was like a negotiation, and at some point I said, you know, if you won’t wear a mask, I know all I need to know about you. You can leave now,” said Polsky.

One the way out, Polsky told us one of her aides heard Ladapo say: “Sometimes I try to reason with unreasonable people for fun”.

“He doesn’t have the basic human skills of a human. He doesn’t have the skills of a physician to care about me as an individual when I told him I had a serious medical condition,” said Polsky.

Senator Polsky was upset because two aides with the Surgeon General did nothing to encourage mask wearing and did not wear one themselves.

Calls to the Department of Health have gone unanswered.

Over the weekend, Polsky’s office received an anti-Semitic voice mail and numerous hateful emails.

“A couple of them were threatening. Someone said they hoped I died of cancer,” said Polsky.

In a memo to Senators and staff, GOP Senate President Wilton Simpson called the encounter unprofessional and disappointing.

Agriculture Commissioner and Gubernatorial Hopeful Nikki Fried said she believes Ladapo has no place in Florida.

“And certainly this is not someone who should be leading our state during a health care crisis,” said Fried.

Even before the incident Sen. Janet Cruz was unhappy with Ladapo, but lamented there was little Democrats could do during his confirmation.

“The majority vote rules,” said Cruz.

After last weeks incident, some Republicans might share her concerns.

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Ruling on State’s School Masking and Quarantine Policies Expected November 5th

October 22nd, 2021 by Jake Stofan
The state and six school districts called their final witnesses Friday in an administrative hearing over the state’s school COVID policies. 
 
The judge now must decide whether the Department of Health overstepped its bounds when creating its emergency rules on mask mandates and student quarantine protocols.

Only two witnesses were heard from on the final day of the trial
The first, infectious disease expert Dr. Aileen Marty, argued masks in schools work.
“There’s no if’s, and’s or but’s about it,” said Marty.
She also said parents shouldn’t have the final say on whether their child is safe to return to the classroom after being exposed to COVID.
“Even I would not know if my child was asymptomatic,” said Marty.
The Department of Health emergency rule allows a parents to send their child back to school after an exposure, so long as they have no symptoms.
“Parents know their child the best and ultimately they should be the decision makers,” said Jacob Oliva, Chancellor of Florida’s Division of K12 Public Schools.
Oliva testified the DOH rule came as a response to districts, that had expressed concerned quarantines were getting out of hand.
“They’re really concerned about the amount of learning loss,” said Oliva.
Both sides agreed to forgo closing arguments. 
 
The judge said to expect a ruling by November 5th.
After the hearing, the school districts’ attorney Jamie Cole told us the biggest problem with the DOH rule is that it was premised on a COVID emergency, as cases were already trending downward.
“Based on that rationale, they could just keep doing emergency rules from March 1st, 2020 till the end of COVID,” said Cole.
Leon Superintendent Rocky Hanna told us this case is likely to set an important precedent on the authority of local school districts going forward.
“At the end of the day it comes down to state control versus local control and we’ll see what the judge has to say,” said Hanna.
Either side is likely to appeal if the judge’s decision doesn’t go their way.
 
Even if the DOH rule is struck down, this debate is likely far from over. 
In his call for a special session, Governor Ron DeSantis asked lawmakers to codify the rights of parents to make masking decisions for their children more clearly in state law.Ruling on States School Masking and Quarantine Policies Expected November 5th

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