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GAINESVILLE ‒ Joshua Emmanuel Hall, 36, Micanopy, has been charged with the December murder of Corey Grimmage in Micanopy. Hall, who was already in custody from a Dec. 20 arrest for narcotics and firearm possession, is now being charged with second-degree murder.

Alachua County Sheriff’s Deputies responded on Dec. 7, 2022, to a call about a body found in the roadway on Northeast 6th Avenue, a rural road in Micanopy. The body of 37-year-old Grimmage was found with four gunshot wounds to his mouth, left hand, right shoulder and right arm. Deputies determined that the body had been there for more than 24 hours. Six 9mm spent shell casings were found nearby, along with a 9mm magazine for a Taurus pistol and a Ruger LCP .380 pistol. No phone, wallet or money was found.

A witness reported seeing a dark Dodge Avenger around the streets of Micanopy and hearing gunshots the night of Dec. 3. Detectives also found that a complaint had been received on Dec. 6 from a woman who had loaned her black Avenger to Grimmage on Dec. 1. He was supposed to return it on Dec. 4, but it had not been returned and she said she began to worry.

Detectives found the Avenger at Arbor Apartments on Dec. 7 and reportedly found a substance believed to be blood on the exterior of the car. Several 9mm bullets were reportedly found between the windshield and the hood, in the wiper blade area. A cell phone was also seen in plain view inside the car. The car was impounded and towed, and a search warrant was obtained.

Detectives obtained cell phone location data for the phone that showed it moved from Northwest 13th Street in Gainesville to Micanopy on the night of Dec. 3 and hit a cell phone tower about 700 meters from where Grimmage’s body was found at about 10 p.m. the same night. The phone then moved north again to Gainesville, ending where it was later found in the Avenger.

Messages on the phone, which were found to belong to Grimmage, showed a conversation with “JBanz Banz” on social media; that account was found to belong to Hall. The conversation indicated that Hall and Grimmage were involved in the purchase and sale of narcotics. That evidence led to the Dec. 20 arrest of Hall for felony criminal conspiracy, trafficking in narcotics, using a two-way communications device to facilitate a felony, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, trafficking in synthetic narcotics, possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a firearm while in the commission of a felony.

Fingerprints from the Avenger and from Grimmage’s phone were identified as belonging to Hall. Detectives also obtained a search warrant for Hall’s phone, and its location data reportedly showed that Hall had traveled the same route as Grimmage’s phone on Dec. 3.

Another witness told detectives that Hall had come to their house sometime near the beginning of December late at night, “stressed” and “out of breath.” They said Hall said some type of “situation” had occurred. That witness described Hall as being homeless and not having a lot of money, but they said he had a lot of cash that night. The witness said that Hall sells “molly” and “weed” and that he had been asking where he could get a gun.

On Dec. 18 detectives received a report from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement that matched the shell casings found at the scene of the murder to the Taurus pistol that was reportedly in Hall’s possession when he was arrested on Dec. 20.

Based on the investigation, Hall has been charged with second-degree murder (dangerous or depraved without premeditation).

Hall has 14 felony convictions and has served four state prison terms, with his most recent release in November 2020. Before the December arrest, his most recent previous arrest was in October 2021 for domestic battery and damaging a TV; he was on probation at the time. After pleading nolo contendere to the charges, he was sentenced to 228 days in jail with credit for 228 days served.

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ARCHER ‒ Quinnell Lavon Thompson, 43, was arrested on Tuesday, Jan. 10, and charged with aggravated assault, armed burglary, property damage and petit theft after allegedly entering a home under construction, stealing and returning a trail camera and threatening the property owners with a knife.

The owners of the Archer house, which is under construction, reported on Tuesday morning that they had placed a trail camera on a post facing the entry to the house and that they saw a man, later identified as Thompson, entering the house. They reported that when they arrived at the property, the camera was gone. They left and activated the GPS tracking tag on the camera, which set off an alert on the camera. The owners said that the camera was later returned and placed just inside the garage.

The victims reported that shortly after they discovered the camera, Thompson walked up to them and started yelling at them. He allegedly threatened them and held up a small knife.

An Alachua County Sheriff’s deputy responded and reported that he saw a man matching the description given by the victims and detained him. A search reportedly produced a small pocket knife in his pocket.

Thompson reportedly admitted going into the house. He denied taking the camera but then reportedly admitted taking it and returning it. He denied that he threatened the victims.

Thompson has seven felony convictions and is currently on probation for battery on a 70-year-old neighbor. Judge Walter Green set bail at $40,000.

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HIGH SPRINGS ‒ W Sheppard 32 1 scaledHigh Springs Police Chief J. Antoine Sheppard has been selected to be the new District #17 Director for the Florida Police Chiefs Association (FPCA). District #17 encompasses six counties including Alachua, Bradford, Gilchrist, Levy, Marion and Putnam. District Director is the liaison between FPCA and other police chiefs.

Sheppard has been a member of the Florida Police Chief Association for several years. “As a result, I have briefly met many of Florida's top leaders, such as U.S. Senator Rick Scott and Governor Ron DeSantis,” said Sheppard.

Explaining his new appointment Sheppard said, “My leadership role is geared toward advocating for law enforcement and the public by influencing legislation and policies in Tallahassee. Although my new role will slightly increase my workload, my heart and mind remain in High Springs, where my primary job is protecting and serving our citizens.”

The previous District #17 Director was Santa Fe College Police Chief Ed Book, who relinquished his role after being elected as City Commissioner to the City of Gainesville Commission.

The Florida Police Chiefs Association is the third largest state police chiefs’ association in the United States and is composed of more than 1,000 of the state’s top law enforcement executives and members.

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NEWBERRY ‒ Five 13-year-olds have been charged with misdemeanor battery following a fight after school on Wednesday, Jan. 18.

According to Alachua County Sheriff’s Office, Oak View Middle School’s School Resource Deputy (SRD) received word of a potential fight involving multiple students and followed a large group at about 4 p.m. as they went to a nearby business.

He encouraged one of the subjects to go home. As the student turned toward home, the deputy returned to the school to get his patrol car so he could continue to follow the group.

A fight developed off-campus and involved five 13-year-old suspects attacking a 14-year-old victim. The suspects have been charged with misdemeanor battery via sworn complaint.

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GAINESVILLE, Fla. ‒ Nearly 250 students from elementary, middle, and high schools throughout the district will face off in Alachua County Public Schools’ annual robotics competition on Thursday, Feb. 2, 2023.  There will be three robotics tournaments running simultaneously.

More than 70 registered teams will demonstrate their skills in developing, building and operating robots to perform specific tasks, all before event judges. There will be team skills contests as well as a Teamwork Challenge in which teams from different schools must work together to earn points.

All teams are vying for a spot in the Central/North Florida State Vex Competitions held in late March, with the chance to possibly compete at the Worlds Competition in May.

The competition is being sponsored by Gas South, whose donation this year help fund the robotics competitions. In addition, the ACPS Robotics Program received a STEM grant from the Education Foundation of Alachua County to help purchase new and replacement equipment and field expansion kits earlier this school year.

The Robotics Competition takes place at Lincoln Middle School, 1001 S.E. 12th Street, Gainesville. Times are:

Opening Ceremony: 10:00 AM

Lunch: 10:30 – 11:15 AM

Competition: 11:30 AM – 3:30 PM., Gym/Auditorium

Closing ceremony and awards: 4 – 4:30 PM, likely in the Auditorium

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ALACHUA COUNTY, FL - The Energy Efficiency and Weatherization of Affordable Housing Grant Program is designed to help lower utility bills for Alachua County residents by creating a fund to improve the energy efficiency of rental units. Participating units can request home upgrades ranging from better attic insulation to more energy-efficient electrical appliances such as stoves and air conditioners. This program is for renters in the unincorporated areas of Alachua County, and the County’s smaller municipalities.
 
Participants can receive up to $15,000 per rental unit. Participating property owners will be asked to commit to maintaining the unit's affordability for a length of time, depending on their chosen award amount. Participation in the program requires the consent of both the renter and the property owner.
 
 
 
For more information, contact Alachua County Sustainability Manager Betsy Riley at 352-756-1403 or This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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MILTON, Fla. — Today, Governor Ron DeSantis announced the first set of awards through the Broadband Opportunity Grant Program to expand access to broadband internet for Florida’s underserved communities. More than $144 million was awarded for 58 projects in 41 Florida counties for broadband internet expansion that will impact nearly 160,000 unserved residential, educational, business, and community locations.

“I am proud to be in Santa Rosa County to announce the first awards through Florida’s Broadband Opportunity Program,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “Broadband internet access creates jobs and enhances educational opportunities for Floridians. I look forward to continued investments through this program to ensure Florida families have access to important resources no matter where they live.”

“Broadband internet service is essential for workforce development, education, and healthcare. Thanks to Governor DeSantis’ leadership, Florida has taken monumental steps to bring reliable, high-speed internet to all Floridians,” said Department of Economic Opportunity Deputy Secretary Ben Melnick. “There is no doubt that the projects awarded today will shape the future of broadband in Florida, and we look forward to supporting the Governor’s vision for a connected economy.”

Administered by the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO), the Broadband Opportunity Program funds the installation and deployment of broadband internet infrastructure in unserved Florida communities, providing valuable access to telehealth, economic, educational, and workforce development opportunities to offer a brighter future for all Floridians.
The following projects will be awarded through the Broadband Opportunity Program:

  • City of Bonifay ($4,984,073) — to provide fiber to the home (FTTH) services to 259 unserved premises in the rural area of Holmes County north of Bonifay with speeds up to 200 megabits per second (MBPS).
  • Towns of Bell, Cross City, and Horseshoe Beach ($3,506,234) — to complete the first of three phases designed to bring FTTH services to over 11,000 of its metered customers in Gilchrist and Dixie Counties at speeds up to 2 gigabits per second (GB).
  • City of Trenton ($2,666,244) — to provide FTTH services to 1,965 premises with symmetrical 1GB speeds to residents in Gilchrist County.
  • Cities of Palm Bay, West Melbourne, and Titusville; Mims and Unincorporated Brevard County ($573,788) — to provide FTTH services to 443 unserved and underserved locations within Brevard County with minimum download speeds of 300 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • City of Bonifay ($4,998,524) — to provide FTTH services to 266 unserved premises in the rural area of Holmes County in the vicinity of Bonifay with download and upload speeds of 200 MBPS.
  • City of Keystone Heights; Clay Hill, Middleburg, McRae and Virginia Village ($1,880,000) — to provide FTTH services to 1,917 premises, 42 businesses and 8 community anchor institutions in Clay County capable of symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 MBPS.
  • Putnam County ($1,192,410) — to add 60 miles of fiber optic cable to their existing network to provide FTTH services to 1,192 unserved locations within Putnam County with symmetrical download and upload speeds of 1GB.
  • City of Archer; Town of Micanopy ($4,672,393) — to add 132 miles of fiber optic cable to their existing network to provide FTTH services to 1,701 unserved locations within Alachua County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 MBPS.
  • City of Gainesville ($1,438,610) — to add 27 miles of fiber optic cable to their existing network to provide FTTH services to 193 unserved locations within Alachua County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 MBPS.
  • City of Ocala ($1,423,488) — to add 53 miles of fiber optic cable to their existing network to provide FTTH services to 1,022 unserved locations within Marion County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 MBPS.
  • Cities of Archer and Newberry ($4,822,632) — to add 78 miles of fiber optic cable to their existing network to provide FTTH services to 795 unserved locations within Alachua County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 MBPS.
  • Town of Cross City ($5,000,000) — to deploy fiber optic cable and infrastructure to provide fiber to the home services to 1,067 unserved locations within Dixie County at minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 MBPS.
  • Town of Westville ($1,072,596) — to provide FTTH services for unserved areas within Holmes County at download and upload speeds up to 200 MBPS.
  • City of Live Oak; Towns of Mayo and Day ($5,000,000) — to add 1,016 miles of fiber optic cable to their existing network to provide FTTH services to 25,679 unserved and underserved locations within Suwannee and Lafayette Counties with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 MBPS.
  • Cities of Live Oak and Jasper; Towns of White Spring and Jennings ($5,000,000) — to add 757 miles of fiber optic cable to their existing network to provide FTTH services to 28,493 unserved and underserved locations within Suwannee and Hamilton Counties with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 100 MBPS.
  • City of Bokeelia ($63,311) — to add 1.1 miles of fiber optic cable to provide FTTH services to 110 unserved locations within Lee County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 200 MBPS.
  • City of Moore Haven; Lakeport and Ortona ($2,935,296) — to add 160 miles of fiber optic cable to provide FTTH services to 4,651 unserved and underserved locations within Glades County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 1 GBPS.
  • Town of Cross City ($2,020,902) — to add 58.8 miles of fiber optic cable to provide FTTH services to 2,612 unserved and underserved locations within Dixie County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 1 GBPS.
  • City of Riverdale; Flagler Estates and Spuds ($1,830,000) — to add 118 miles of fiber optic cable to provide FTTH services to 1,603 unserved and underserved locations within St. Johns County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 1 GBPS.
  • City of LaBelle; Montura ($2,496,672) — to add 58.8 miles of fiber optic cable to provide FTTH services to 1,424 unserved and underserved locations within Hendry County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 1 GBPS.
  • Lehigh Acres ($3,988,532) — to add 126 miles of fiber optic cable to provide FTTH services to 1,998 underserved locations in eastern Lee County with minimum symmetrical download and upload speeds of 1 GBPS.
  • Cities of Botswick and Keystone Heights; Towns of Pomona Park, Interlocken, Melrose, and Welaka; Putnam Hall, George’s Lake, and Unincorporated Crescent City ($4,496,107) — to deploy fiber optic cable service to 2,986 unserved and underserved locations within Putnam County with minimum download speeds of 50 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Lehigh Acres ($4,111,225) — to deploy fiber optic cable service to 2,640 unserved and underserved locations within Lee County with minimum download speeds of 50 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Cities of Hampton, Lawtey, and Starke ($2,160,000) — to deploy fiber optic cable service to 2,111 unserved and underserved locations in Bradford County with minimum download speeds of 50 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Columbia County ($2,646,030) — to deploy fiber optic cable service to 1,725 unserved and underserved locations in Columbia County with minimum download speeds of 50 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • City of Fort Pierce of ($1,429,400) — to deploy fiber optic cable service to 636 unserved and underserved locations in St Lucie County with minimum download speeds of 50 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Cities of Clewiston, Moore Haven, and Pioneer; Montura, Palmdale, Port LaBelle and Venus ($5,000,000) — to deploy FTTH services to more than 4,231 unserved locations in Glades, Hendry, and Highlands Counties with symmetrical download and upload speeds of between 1GB and 2GB.
  • Town of Nocatee; Unincorporated Brownsville ($1,657,558) — to provide FTTH services to 1,313 unserved and underserved residential customers in DeSoto County with 50 MBPS download and 10 MBPS upload speeds.
  • Town of Ponce de Leon ($3,639,672) — to deploy FTTH services to 259 unserved homes, businesses, and farms in Holmes County with download and upload speeds up to 200 MBPS speeds.
  • Towns of Alford, Cottondale, Grand Ridge, and Greenwood; Two Egg ($2,040,743) — to provide FTTH services to 1,082 unserved and underserved residential customers and 29 businesses and anchor institutions in Jackson County with symmetrical download and upload speeds of 1GB.
  • City of Homestead; Redlands and Unincorporated Florida City ($1,510,481) — to provide FTTH services to 800 unserved and underserved residential customers and 10 businesses and anchor institutions in Miami-Dade County with symmetrical download and upload speeds of 1 Gbps or higher.
  • Clarksville and Unincorporated Northwest Calhoun County ($2,648,194) — to add 99.8 miles of FTTH via ethernet passive optical network to connect 716 underserved homes and businesses in Calhoun County with a standard starting speed of up to 300 MBPS download and 10 Mbps upload speeds.
  • Town of Altha; Willis, Chipola, Eufala, and Unincorporated Northeast Calhoun County ($3,375,471) — to add 142.1 miles of fiber-to-the-premises (FTTP) via ethernet passive optical network to connect 1,210 unserved and underserved homes and businesses in Calhoun County with a standard starting speed of up to 300 MBPS download and 10 MBPS upload speeds.
  • City of Bunnell; Andalusia and Bimini ($527,659) — to add 20.2 miles of FTTP via ethernet passive optical network to connect 128 unserved and underserved homes and businesses in Flagler County with a standard starting speed of up to 300 MBPS download and 10 MBPS upload speeds.
  • Cities of Chattahoochee, Gretna, and Quincy; Town of Greensboro; Wetumpka ($1,844,095) — to add 281.7 miles of FTTP via ethernet passive optical network to connect 3,390 unserved and underserved homes and businesses in Gadsden County with a standard starting speed of up to 300 MBPS download and 10 MBPS upload speeds.
  • City of Pioneer; La Deca and Montura ($4,750,000) — to bring high speed internet service to eastern Hendry County through installation of fixed wireless service to 1,700 households at download speeds of 100 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • City of Punta Gorda; Port Charlotte ($2,397,636) — to provide FTTH services to 1,469 unserved or underserved residential customers and 195 businesses in Charlotte County with 1GBPS or higher symmetrical download and upload speeds.
  • North Brooksville, Spring Lake, Nobleton, South Brooksville, Hill ‘N Dale, Istachatta, North Weeki Wachee, and Unincorporated Hernando County ($4,701,477) — to add 258.5 miles of FTTP via ethernet passive optical network to connect 2,276 underserved homes and businesses in Hernando County with a standard starting speed of up to 300 MBPS download and 10 MBPS upload.
  • City of Graceville; Unincorporated Northeast Holmes County ($107,317) — to add 9.1 miles of FTTP via ethernet passive optical network to connect 97 unserved or underserved homes and businesses in Holmes County with a standard starting speed of up to 300 MBPS download and 10 MBPS upload.
  • City of Williston Town of Bronson; Morriston, Raleigh, Williston Highlands, Rosewood, and Sumner ($1,259,236) — to add 48.1 miles of FTTP via ethernet passive optical network to connect 405 unserved or underserved homes and businesses in Levy County with a standard starting speed of up to 300 MBPS download and 10 MBPS upload.
  • City of Bristol; Town of White Springs; Lake Mystic, Estiffanulga, and Unincorporated NE Liberty County ($836,705) — to add 47.8 miles of FTTP via ethernet passive optical network to connect 433 unserved or underserved homes and businesses in Liberty County with a standard starting speed of up to 300 MBPS download and 10 MBPS upload.
  • Deer Park and Bull Creek ($3,605,129) — to deploy 135.4 miles of new fiber optic cable and provide FTTH services to 1,024 unserved locations within Osceola County with download speeds of 300 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Yeehaw Junction and Kenansville ($4,067,268) — to deploy 153.5 miles of new fiber optic cable and provide FTTH services to 791 unserved locations within Osceola County with download speeds of 300 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Town of Jay; Fidelis, Berrydale, Cobbtown, and Unincorporated Santa Rosa County, ($2,363,937) — to deploy 103.7 miles of new fiber optic cable and provide FTTH services to 791 unserved locations within Santa Rosa County with download speeds of 300 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Geneva and Black Hammock ($367,000) — to deploy 51.7 miles of new fiber optic cable and provide FTTH services to 734 unserved locations within Seminole County with download speeds of 300 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • City of Lake Helen; DeLeon Springs, Balm, Farmton, Osteen, and Boden ($811,000) — to deploy 124.1 miles of new fiber optic cable and provide FTTH services to 1,622 unserved locations within Volusia County with download speeds of 300 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Cities of Fountain, Southport, and Youngstown ($866,700) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to 2,500 unserved households in Bay County with download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • Unincorporated Okeechobee County ($2,059,550) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to 2,312 unserved households in Okeechobee County with download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • Unincorporated Okeechobee County ($984,350) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to 1,290 unserved households in Okeechobee County with download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • Orangetree and Golden Gate Estates ($777,407) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to 781 unserved households in Collier County with download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • Cities of Sebring and Avon Park ($1,363,975) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to over 700 unserved households in Highlands County with download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • Chaires ($236,300) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to over 119 unserved households in Leon County with download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • Unincorporated Indian River County ($532,147) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to 674 unserved households in the unincorporated areas in Indian River County with download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • City of Jasper; Town of Jennings ($2,734,261) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to 2,156 unserved households in Hamilton County download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • Indiantown ($56,500) — to deploy fiber optic cable internet service to 50 unserved households in Martin County with download and upload speeds of up to 1GBPS.
  • Escambia County ($802,489) — to deploy 24.8 miles on new fiber optic cable and provide FTTH services to 206 unserved locations within Escambia County with minimum download speeds of 300 MBPS and upload speeds of 10 MBPS.
  • Town of Bell ($4,956,100) — to employ fixed wireless technology to provide high speed internet service to 1,350 unserved premises in Gilchrist County.
  • Polk County ($4,734,786) — to lease 8 miles of fiber optic cable to provide fixed wireless services to 22,169 unserved and underserved locations in and around the City of Lakeland, City of Winter Haven, City of Haines City and City of Lake Wales.

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  • 03 February 2023

GAINESVILLE, Fla. – After a jury couldn't agree on the death penalty in Florida's deadliest school shooting, Republican lawmakers in Tallahassee are proposing to make it easier to send condemned convicts to death row.

The changes – which would allow a jury to recommend the death penalty even when only eight of 12 jurors agree – align with plans endorsed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.

Rep. Berny Jacques, R-Clearwater, introduced a bill in the House on Tuesday that would allow death sentences in cases when only eight jurors agree. Florida law currently requires a unanimous agreement, or a judge would sentence a defendant to life in prison without parole.

Sen. Blaise Ingoglia, R-Spring Hill, introduced a version of the same bill in the Senate late Monday.

Florida’s Republican governor called for the change last year, after the jury that convicted Cruz in the school shooting split 9-3 in favor of the death penalty in October. 

“If you have a death penalty at all, that is a case – where you’re massacring those students with premeditation and utter disregard for humanity – that you deserve the death penalty,” DeSantis said after the sentencing.

Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, who represents the district where Nikolas Cruz, 19, fatally shot 17 people at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High in Broward County in 2018 said she was withholding support for the proposed changes until she can speak with victims' families. 

Broward County is home to more registered Democratic voters in Florida than any other. It is unclear if Democrats will object to the proposed changes.

“It's much larger than just one case,” Polsky said in an interview, adding she was unhappy with last year’s verdict in the Cruz case. “I need to really take a deep dive, which I haven't done. It's just something I need to really look into, understand and speak to my constituents.”

The chair of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Tommy Gregory, R-Lakewood Ranch, cautioned that lawmakers were facing an “almost infinite number of topics that the state has to address every year,” adding that issues surrounding Florida’s death penalty have not been a priority until this year.

Gregory said it was important for lawmakers to reevaluate laws when the state sees challenges or changes in its system.

Jacques said in an interview he and Ingoglia worked for weeks on the legislation, and he did not coordinate with the governor. He said the governor’s public demands for a supermajority among jurors in death penalty cases was “music to our ears.”

Jacques said he preferred requiring only seven jurors to accept a death penalty recommendation. He said that was the system in place when he was a prosecutor. He said he and Ingoglia settled on a requirement for eight jurors as a compromise.

The sentence for Cruz reignited debate surrounding Florida’s capital punishment statute. Florida lawmakers meet for 60 days starting in March to consider thousands of new legislative proposals. 

Neither the House or Senate bill was designated a top priority for legislative leaders. But support from DeSantis – who wields considerable influence over the Capitol – and the overwhelming majority Republicans hold in the Legislature made the effort’s passage highly likely.

No lobbyists from any public-interest organizations immediately registered to try to influence the outcome of debate over the bills, according to lobbying records reviewed Tuesday.

Prior to 2016 in Florida, a defendant could be sentenced to death by a majority 7-5 vote. Additionally, judges, rather than the jury, could also rule that aggravating factors made a defendant eligible for the death penalty. But the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 2016 that the state’s death penalty procedure was unconstitutional.

In response to the court’s ruling, lawmakers in 2017 adopted the unanimous sentencing law.

In a case in 2020, the Florida Supreme Court opened the door to imposing death sentences even when jurors do not agree unanimously. 

Jacques said he is confident the new procedure would hold up to legal challenges in state or federal courts. 

The bill also proposes a jury recommendation, rather than jury determination, of a death sentence. Jacques said a judge could overturn a jury's recommendation and impose his or her own sentence. 

“At the end of the day, the judge is the one who does sentencing,” he said. “This is an advisory recommendation that the jury provides.”

With his life spared, Cruz's whereabouts in Florida's prison system are unknown. The Department of Corrections has not released which prison Cruz has been sent to serve his life sentence. The state is permitted in rare cases to withhold such information when it is necessary to protect the safety of an inmate.

Family members of some victims of the school shooting have openly said they hope Cruz would be killed in prison by fellow inmates. 

Michael Schulman, whose son was a teacher who died in the school shooting, told Cruz in a courtroom in November that he hoped “that the prisoners and the inmates you associate with execute the judgment that this court can’t.”

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GAINESVILLE, Fla., Feb. 1, 2023 – A federal judge has sentenced the CEO of Airsign Airship Group to more than five years in prison for defrauding the government over $7.8 million meant to help average Americans during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic. He is the brother-in-law of a former Florida lawmaker who resigned after he was accused of federal fraud, too.

Patrick Parker Walsh, 42, of Williston, Florida, was sentenced Tuesday in U.S. District Court in Gainesville to five and a half years in prison followed by three years of supervised release. He pleaded guilty to one charge of wire fraud and one charge of money laundering in August as part of a deal with prosecutors. He must also pay back the $7.8 million to the U.S. Small Business Administration.

Before his sentencing, Walsh choked back tears at times while addressing the court. He said he made a series of bad decisions.

“I tell my children that it’s in the moments when no one is watching that you can measure a man’s character,” Walsh said. “Unfortunately for me, when I was in that situation, I failed.”

Walsh’s attorney, Nicole Waid, said he saw the federal government loans as a way to save his business.

“His business skills are not the greatest. He took out high-interest loans and made some dumb choices,” Waid said. She said Walsh intended to save his business and help his employees.

Prosecutors painted a different picture. Assistant U.S. Attorney Justin M. Keen said up to $2 million may have covered payroll due to any pandemic-related slowdown in his business, but Walsh used the rest for his own benefit.

“He stole the money and got it by fraud. Theft is theft,” Keen said. “He made many false statements to the government to get the loans.”

The sentence was imposed by U.S. District Judge Allen C. Winsor. He said he considered Walsh’s lack of previous criminal activity and statements of support from his family and friends. However, Winsor said financial disclosures Walsh made since pleading guilty were incomplete and that he had a foreign trust set up in Belize to avoid creditors.

“These were many, many transactions and different loans through different financial institutions,” Winsor told Walsh during his sentencing. “You used your wife’s name to get some of the loans, which can be considered identity theft.”

Court documents show Walsh obtained some of the loans under Hannah Walsh’s name without her knowledge or consent. Hannah is the sister of Joe Harding, the former Republican state representative from Ocala who was indicted on similar charges in early December and resigned from the Legislature the following day.

In his signed plea agreement, Walsh admitted to defrauding the federal government in 2020 by submitting falsified loan applications for several companies he owned to the Paycheck Protection Program and Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program, two federal loan initiatives intended to help small business owners keep their companies afloat during the economic crisis caused by the pandemic.

Among other expenses, Walsh used some of the stolen money to buy a private two-acre island in the Gulf of Mexico off the coast of Yankeetown, Florida; put a downpayment on a luxury ski lodge in Jackson Hole, Wyoming; and pay off the 78-acre farm where he lived south of Gainesville, according to court records.

Winsor said the prison sentence was in the middle of federal guidance for such crimes. He also said the sentence should serve as a deterrent for others.

“There is too much fraud out there, particularly with PPP,” Winsor said. “There is a greater need to deter white-collar crime.”

Both federal loan programs, especially the Paycheck Protection Program, have been the focus of investigations into the fraudulent theft of billions of dollars of taxpayer money.

Each program was created under the Small Business Administration with the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act passed by Congress and signed into law by President Donald Trump at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020.

Harding, 35, another Williston native, was elected to the House in 2020, representing much of Marion County. He was successfully re-elected to the reorganized 24th District in 2022. 

He gained notoriety for being the house sponsor of Florida’s Parental Rights in Education Act, derisively called by critics the “Don’t Say Gay” Act, which was signed into law by Gov. Ron DeSantis in March.

Prosecutors allege Harding obtained and attempted to obtain over $150,000 in federal COVID-19 relief loans for two inactive companies he owned, The Vak Shak Inc. and Harding Farms LLC. Prosecutors say the fraudulent claims to the Economic Disaster Loan Program took place between Dec. 1, 2020, and March 1, 2021. Harding was first sworn into office in November 2020.

Harding is charged with two counts of wire fraud, two counts of making false statements to a federal agency and two counts of money laundering for which he collectively faces up to a maximum of 70 years in prison. He pleaded not guilty on all charges.

Walsh initially pleaded not guilty to all charges before changing his plea as part of his August deal with prosecutors.

The signed plea agreement itself, made just over three months before Harding’s indictment, does not require Walsh’s cooperation in any other cases, such as Harding’s upcoming trial, nor does it indicate that Walsh provided any evidence that could have contributed to Harding’s indictment, according to court records.

Harding’s trial is scheduled to begin May 10 at the federal courthouse in Gainesville.

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla.   The Florida Department of Environmental (DEP) is launching the Hurricane Restoration Reimbursement Grant Program this week to help Floridians in the hardest hit counties offset costs associated with addressing coastal beach erosion from Hurricane Ian or Hurricane Nicole. The online grant application portal will accept applications beginning at 9 a.m. on Feb. 1, 2023.

Funding assistance is available for eligible homeowners who apply and qualify for this program in Brevard, Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Duval, Flagler, Indian River, Lee, Manatee, Martin, Nassau, Palm Beach, St. Johns, St. Lucie, Sarasota and Volusia counties. Projects may include construction projects for sand placement and temporary or permanent coastal armoring.

“We are grateful we are able to help support recovery for these communities,” said DEP Secretary Shawn Hamilton. “DEP has been in these communities since the storms hit, and we look forward to continuing our efforts through this new program to help expedite recovery for affected areas.”

During the December 2022 special legislative session, Gov. Ron DeSantis and the Florida Legislature created the Hurricane Restoration Reimbursement Grant Program and allocated $50 million to help coastal homeowners address the damages from coastal erosion during the storms. DEP developed emergency rules for this new program in accordance with Chapter 2022-272 Laws of Florida.

To be eligible for this grant, the owner must be an eligible applicant of an eligible residential property with an eligible project and eligible costs. Additionally, applicants must provide required submittals for reimbursement. The application is designed to help Floridians understand their eligibility. All projects must be permitted prior to implementation and reimbursement, and DEP may reimburse 50% of eligible project costs, up to a maximum of $150,000 per parcel.

Applicants will be able to complete and submit their projects through this portal as well as upload any required documents for their projects, including invoices and payable receipts. DEP has developed tutorials and a Frequently Asked Questions document to help applicants navigate the application portal and understand the provisions of the emergency rules. Although the department encourages online submittal, a paper application is also available.

Applications will be processed on a first-come, first-served basis, and priority will be given to low- and moderate-income homeowners.

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TALLAHASSEE - The Florida Sports Foundation, the official sports promotion and development organization for the State of Florida, presents the 2023 Sunshine State Games, beginning with a new partnership, the Beach N Boards Fest in March in Brevard County.

Registration opens on Wednesday, February 1 for a variety of sports (Archery, Artistic Swimming, Canoe/Kayak, Fencing, Table Tennis, Taekwondo and Ultimate) at www.sunshinestategames.com.  Check the individual sport pages for competition and registration information.

The 11th Annual Beach N Boards Fest, features water sports on boards and on the beach, in Cocoa Beach and surrounding areas. 

The 44th Annual Sunshine State Games also features its mainstay of Olympic sports, many of which have begun the careers of Olympic athletes from Florida.  Justin Gatlin, a sprinter from Pensacola, Ashleigh Johnson, a water polo player from Miami and swimmer Ryan Lochte, from Daytona Beach, all began their journey to Olympic gold in the Sunshine State Games.

“The long-standing tradition of the Sunshine State Games is to provide a path for Florida’s amateur athletes to advance to national and international competitions,” said Florida Sports Foundation President/CEO, Angela Suggs.  “We hope the 2023 Sunshine State Games calendar has some athletes involved with aspirations for the 2028 Olympic Games in Los Angeles.”

On the current calendar of events, 20 sports will be contested in Alachua, Broward, Charlotte and Polk Counties. Charlotte County is new to the Sunshine State Games host communities and offers Pickleball and Canoe/Kayak, the weekend of June 2-4.

Competition and registration information can be found at the individual sports pages of www.sunshinestategames.com or by going directly to the registration page at https://sunshinestate.fusesport.com/registration/1925/

The Sunshine State Games dates back to 1980 and the inaugural event in Gainesville.  Since that time, more than 60 sports have appeared on the annual calendar of events. 

2023 Sunshine State Games Calendar of Events
Schedule Subject to Change

March 8-12, 2023
Beach N Board Fest SSG, Shepard Park, Cocoa Beach, More information at https://beachnboardsfest.com

April 8-9, 2023
Sunshine State Games AAU Volleyball, Game Point Event Center, Orlando
 
May 14, 2023
Sunshine State Games Artistic Roller-skating, Semoran Skateway, Casselberry

May 19-21, 2023
Sunshine State Games Figure Skating Championship, Florida Panthers Ice Den, Coral Springs

May 28, 2023
Sunshine State Games Track and Field Championships, Cypress Creek High School, Wesley Chapel

June, Date TBA
Swimming, Dwight H. Hunter Northeast Pool, Gainesville

June 2-4, 2023
Pickleball, PicklePlex, Punta Gorda

June 3-4, 2023
Canoe/Kayak, Port Charlotte Beach Park (Registration available February 1)

June 9-11, 2023
Artistic Swimming, Location TBA, Gainesville, (Registration available February 1)

June 10- 11, 2023
Archery, Easton-Newberry Archery Center and Gator Bowman Archery Range, Gainesville, (Registration available, February 1)

June 10-11, 2023
Fencing, Legacy Park Multipurpose Center, Alachua (Registration available, February 1)

June 10-11, 2023
Ultimate, Jonesville Soccer Park, Gainesville (Registration available, February 1)

June 17, 2023
Judo, Polk State College, Winter Haven 

June 17-18, 2023
Taekwondo, Auburndale Community Center, Auburndale (Registration available, February 1)

Table Tennis, Simpson Park Community Center, Lakeland (Registration available, February 1)

June 24, 2023
Powerlifting, Lift District Fitness Center, Margate

June, 2023
Sunshine State Games Water Polo Championship, Date and Location TBD

Artistic Roller-Skating, Beach N Boards Fest, Figure Skating, Track and Field and Volleyball will have separate registration.  Look for more information on those sports pages at www.sunshinestategames.com.

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TALLAHASSEE – Today, Florida TaxWatch (FTW) is releasing an economic commentary entitled An Update on Florida’s Housing Rental Market. The report builds on previous FTW commentaries, Beyond the Pandemic: Long-term Changes and Challenges for Housing in Florida (October 2021) and Too Expensive to Rent: Florida’s Rental Market and Eviction Moratorium (March 2022), to examine the current strain on Florida’s rental market and the resulting price growth. FTW notes that the circumstances, which are being experienced across the state, are the consequence of Florida’s significant population growth, a decade of slow housing construction, and a post-COVID-19 housing boom.

Florida TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro said, “Florida is the best state in the nation to live, work, and play, and over 800 new residents arriving every single day is proof positive. But having the fastest-growing population in the nation doesn’t come without challenges, particularly when it comes to attainable housing.

“Supply and demand pressures help explain the recent surge in housing and rental prices. More and more, would-be homebuyers are choosing to rent, which has placed further pressure on the state’s rental market and subsequently caused price spikes. In fact, there has been a 36 percent increase from January 2020 to December 2022 alone, adding burden to household budgets that were already straining from inflation.

“Thankfully, preliminary forecasts suggest relaxed rental demand and additional supply that will ease price growth in the coming months. But that still doesn’t mean existing prices will decrease, and it can be expected that individuals and families throughout Florida will continue to grapple with housing affordability well into 2023.

“Housing is heavily intertwined with Florida’s success. Florida TaxWatch thanks Senate President Kathleen Passidomo, House Speaker Paul Renner, and the Florida Legislature for prioritizing this challenge, and we look forward to working with them to identify real, effective solutions on behalf of all Floridians during the upcoming session.”  

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, about 2.5 million Floridians were occupying rental units in 2019, and an additional 100,000 residents were renting in 2021. FTW writes that this increase is actually a sign of a strong economy, as those who lived with family or friends are now financially equipped to live on their own, and residents from other states are being attracted to the gainful employment offered here.

In Florida’s metropolitan areas, such as Miami, Tampa, and Fort Myers, median rent prices have drastically increased since 2020, which FTW contends is the result of these cities’ popularity among job seekers in general, but especially remote workers.

 ftw table.png

In fact, rent prices have grown so much that they surpassed the prices predicted by historical trends. According to one index cited by FTW, of the 25 most overvalued rental markets nationwide, with costs ranging from 7.06 percent to 18.05 percent higher than predictions, Florida is home to nine: Cape Coral (#1), Miami (#2), North Port (#3), Tampa (#7), Orlando (#12), Deltona (#14), Palm Bay (#16), Jacksonville (#18), and Lakeland (#21).

Moreover, FTW notes that housing advocates suggest that the price of rent is often considered affordable when it costs 30 percent or less of a household’s income, and when it costs more, the household is cost burdened. With the state’s average median income (AMI) coming in at about $61,777, most households earning the AMI or less are cost burdened, paying 40 percent or more of their household income on rent, though many households often have more than one earner, making it more attainable if housing stock were available.

FTW asserts that there are multiple contributing factors to Florida’s high rent, including the slowed construction of both houses and rental units. Construction has steadily risen since the Great Recession of 2008, with 213,000 units under construction in 2021, though this number could have been higher but for supply chain disruptions caused by the pandemic.

For more information and to access the full report, please click here.

About Florida TaxWatch
As an independent, nonpartisan, nonprofit government watchdog and taxpayer research institute for more than forty years and the trusted eyes and ears of Florida taxpayers, Florida TaxWatch works to improve the productivity and accountability of Florida government. Its research recommends productivity enhancements and explains the statewide impact of fiscal and economic policies and practices on citizens and businesses. Florida TaxWatch is supported by its membership via voluntary, tax-deductible donations and private grants, and does not accept government funding. Donations provide a solid, lasting foundation that has enabled Florida TaxWatch to bring about a more effective, responsive government that is more accountable to, and productive for, the citizens it serves since 1979. For more information, please visit www.floridataxwatch.org.

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Today, we pause in reverence to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. for his unyielding courage in the face of adversity, his boundless love in the face of hate, and his servant leadership in the face of supremacy. This great American not only chartered a new course in the fight for civil rights, he also illustrated how we should boldly advocate for our causes while exhibiting grace and humility. 

 Our nation and the City of Gainesville are still grappling with many of the same issues Dr. King fought valiantly for more than 68 years ago. While we face serious matters – lack of affordable housing, poverty, racial and social inequities – I truly believe this community has the talent, heart, drive and resolve to find lasting solutions. Like Dr. King eloquently proclaimed in his Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in 1964, "I have the audacity to believe that peoples everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality, and freedom for their spirits." I also believe we can pay our neighbors a living wage and provide desirable housing that is affordable for all. 
 
So, as we observe this holiday in honor of Dr. King, I implore you to commit with me to be stalwart in efforts to alleviate inequities in our community. Join me in protecting the unique charm of our beloved Hoggetowne, while building a city in which all its neighbors are able to thrive. Together, as One Gainesville, we can do this.
Harvey Ward
Mayor, City of Gainesville

As a 501(c)(4) nonprofit, the Alachua County Labor Coalition typically avoids weighing in on electoral contests. And we never endorse political candidates. But a recent dark-money mailer attacking one of our dedicated activists who is running for office and two of our signature policies he worked on requires us to speak up.

Residents of Gainesville Commission District 2 recently opened their mailboxes to find a cowardly postcard attacking Commission candidate James Ingle. It was paid for by the so-called Responsible Leadership Committee, Inc.—a dark money PAC. Two of three false claims made in the mailing are that Ingle “worked to limit our private property rights” and “fought for more government control over our wages.” These are references to the Alachua County Renters’ Rights and Wage Theft ordinances, respectively.

The Renters’ Rights ordinance does not limit private property rights any more than do laws prohibiting retail shops on your neighborhood cul-de-sacs or rats in restaurants. The reality is that the ordinance offers three simple, commonsense protections for Alachua County’s tenants. First, it requires universal inspections of rental properties. This merely ensures that landlords are adhering to the rules and regulations of the building code that ALREADY EXIST. Without universal inspections, tenants are forced to choose between blowing the whistle on hazardous living conditions or risking retaliation from a minority of bad landlords. Second, it requires landlords to inform tenants of the rights they ALREADY HAVE. Why should landlords be afraid of their renters knowing the law? Third, it sets reasonable water and energy efficiency standards for rental properties. These are necessary to lower utility costs for renters, reduce greenhouse emissions that cause climate change, and protect our aquifer. Why landlords would want to deplete our aquifer, unnecessarily spew harmful emissions into the air, and subject their tenants to unaffordable utility bills is beyond our understanding. But the bottom line is this: the landlord-tenant relationship is a business relationship, not a relationship between a landholder and their serf, and it should be regulated as such.

Describing the Wage Theft ordinance as “government control over our wages” is possibly more bizarre. This ordinance merely provides an avenue for workers to ensure the contracts between them and their employers are enforced—an avenue much cheaper than seeking recourse in the courts. The ordinance does not limit how much an employer can pay their workers, which is what I presume the mailer attempts to falsely imply. What’s more, the program has been a smashing success! Since, 2014, the ordinance has allowed the Office of Equal Opportunity to win back over $100,000 of unpaid wages for 152 workers.

It should be clear by now that the folks over at the so-called Responsible Leadership Committee, Inc. are not trying to protect your freedoms. They are promoting serfdom!

Lastly, the mailer asserts that James Ingle’s leadership has “failed us.” While we cannot endorse James or any other candidate (and this letter is not an endorsement), readers should know this is as big of a lie as any other in the mailer. James Ingle has been a great leader in the Alachua County Labor Coalition, the AFL-CIO, and his own union—International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers 1205. In fact, the basic protections afforded to tenants in Alachua County and the over $100,000 returned to workers would not be possible without him. We thank him for his leadership on these issues. Perhaps the best description for James is, in fact, responsible leader.

Bobby Mermer, Gainesville, Florida, PhD, ACLC Coordinator

 

It’s high time the local business owners speak up. I am a small business owner in High Springs for seven years now, and before that, helped run the High Springs Art Coop for six years. As we all know, our area is growing at a crazy rate. People have discovered our area for the treasure it is, as we all have at one point, so we have to learn to accept change in a reasonable way. The key word is reasonable.

Landlord greed with unreasonable rents kills business, most of all small business. Even big business suffers. I remember a story before Covid of the famous Barney’s of NYC, an icon for years that closed because the owners of their building raised the rent. They were already paying a million dollars a month!

Locally, look how the lovely town of Alachua went from being a vibrant historic downtown that we in High Springs envied and now it struggles to make it. Why? I feel it is because of large land owners who own the majority of real estate. They get renters in the first year at a low rate and after a year jack up the rent. I was told by a previous store owner than they over charge for utilities, too. These small places can barely make $1,000 to $1,500 a month total and most don’t bring in a monthly salary for themselves. How are they going to pay over $2,000 a month rent? Shame on what has happened in that lovely town.

Micanopy is another depressed town because of unreasonable people and then just look at downtown Gainesville. I wonder how long all those huge apartment houses will sit empty because of the humongous rents they are charging.

We can still save High Springs. We can make it a model historic small-town success. Here we have a few local hero landowners who are logical, honest and smart business owners. They charge rents that these small businesses can sustain.

The Barber and Grady families in our town are a blessing to all who rent from them—unlike some of the newbies who have bought up some of our buildings. The newbies’ unrealistic expectations can kill small businesses, or no one will pay such high rents, so their structures remain empty.

For example, in downtown High Springs there is the corner spot where River Run Olive Oil sat. It is a prime location, and here it is another year that it sits empty. The original owners sold because they wished to retire.

Across the street from me is the largest group of modern local store spaces. There was a quilt store there for a bit, but she couldn’t sustain the high rent. The same with rentals on the other side of her, the buildings have sat empty for years now. The owner is from Miami and thinks she is going to get Miami prices. All of these are prime real estate, front and center on Main Street and empty.

The main inspiration to this letter is The Florida Springs Institute. It is our local nonprofit, which does so much good protecting and bringing awareness to our local waters. I understand they are being kicked out of their corner space by their landlord. I heard they weren’t even given the offer to stay at a higher rate. The landlord is going to put someone in there at a huge increase in rent.

Although the landlord professes to support the springs, it seems that is the bottom line is taking precedence. We will see if the “new” business can sustain the ridiculously high rent or will downtown have another empty store front?

I had to say something and bring attention to this issue, even though I don’t think there is much we can do. The town is at the mercy of landowners who decide the bottom line. We can only hope and pray that our little town of High Springs continues to grow with sweet businesses that add to our charm with newbies coming who want to add to our world.

We are not against “reasonable” change. We welcome new and younger people looking to share in our small-town dream. Younger entrepreneurs bring vitality and freshness. We are just asking new and old landlords to keep it real and not let the over inflated prices for everything else invade common sense business practices. We expect you to make “reasonable” incomes, just not overpriced ones.

The future is determined right now. We either jack up rents, run the little charming business out and we get replaced by offices, empty stores and decay, or we support the small-town flair, encouraging the entrepreneur and make a small local business possible for everyone.

Remember that a store that sits empty for years produces zero rent. The more spaces that are filled, the better it is for all businesses.

Tina Corbett

High Springs, Florida

It is a great honor to serve High Springs as your new Postmaster. In my years with the United States Postal Service, I have seen firsthand the role the Postal Service plays connecting neighbors and our community to the nation.

Our Post Offices serve as a lifeline for our small businesses to reach customers no matter where they are. Under Postmaster General Louis DeJoy’s leadership and Delivering For America, the Postal Service’s 10-year plan, we are maintaining universal six-day mail delivery and expanded seven-day package delivery, stabilizing our workforce, and spurring innovation to meet the needs of our modern customers.

Just as the Postal Service continues to provide a vital service for our nation, the staff of the High Springs Post Office will proudly continue that same public service in this community.

On behalf of the 650,000 women and men of the United States Postal Service, I thank you for continuing to support the Postal Service. Providing reliable mail delivery while strengthening the future of this treasured institution is our commitment to you.

Angel Cruz

Postmaster High Springs, FL 32643-9998

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. As a volunteer and advocate with the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, this month I am asking everyone to join us and demand #MoreForMentalHealth.

I am doing more by calling on my legislators at the federal and state levels to support legislation that will fund the implementation of 988 and the suicide and mental health crisis system across our nation, particularly for those in underserved communities.

Currently, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available at 1-800-273-8255 and de-escalates the crises of tens of thousands of callers each day. On July 16, those in distress and those that support them will be able to reach the Lifeline through a simple 3-digit number: 988.

By making the Lifeline more accessible through this shorter number, calls, texts, and chats to the Lifeline's network of crisis call centers are expected to increase. It is vital that the federal government work with states to ensure callers in distress will have: 1) someone to call, 2) someone to come help, and 3) somewhere safe to go.

We must act NOW to secure funding to equip call centers and community crisis response services throughout the country with the staff and resources to respond to everyone in crisis.

Join me this month in urging our federal and state public officials to do #MoreForMentalHealth. You can start by visiting moreformentalhealth.org.

Together, we can help #StopSuicide.

Peggy Portwine

Alachua, Florida

“I say to you today, my friends, though, even though we face the difficulties of today and tomorrow, I still have a dream. It is a dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up, live out the true meaning of its creed: ‘We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.’” These words are as moving today as when first spoken by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the passionate and influential civil rights leader who stood as a “pillar of hope and a model of grace” in his fight towards equality for all.

On January 17, we will reflect on the life and legacy of Dr. King, who, with his brave supporters, stood in strong opposition to racial discrimination, as well as the wrongful and unequal treatment of people who differed in national origin and religious beliefs.

The State of Florida continues to carry Dr. King’s legacy forward, committed to ending discrimination and ensuring all within our state have fair and equal access to employment and housing - because every person deserves to live the American Dream. The Florida Commission on Human Relations (FCHR) was established in 1969 to enforce the Florida Civil Rights Act and address discrimination through education, outreach, and partnership. Annually, the FCHR recognizes and honors Floridians who advance civil rights throughout the state in the Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame.

As we take this time to honor Dr. King, let us consider how we can improve our own communities. Everyone should have the opportunity to live the American Dream. Dr. King paved the way for our society to embrace equality, and it is our job as Americans and Floridians to ensure the civil rights of all people.

Angela Primiano, Vice-Chair

Florida Commission on Human Relations

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla., Jan. 13, 2023 – Today, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson announced the voluntary dismissal of the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ (FDACS) lawsuit against the Florida Department of Law Enforcement (FDLE) regarding background check information for concealed weapon license applicants after reaching a resolution.

“I’m proud to announce today my decision to voluntarily dismiss the department’s lawsuit against FDLE after agreeing to a resolution that meets the needs of both departments. I want to thank FDLE Commissioner Mark Glass and his team for their solutions-oriented approach to this issue,” said Commissioner Wilton Simpson. “Our two offices are now aligned in our commitment to protecting the integrity of our law enforcement agencies as well as Floridians’ Second Amendment rights and the issuance of concealed weapon licenses – and this dismissal today marks the beginning of a new cooperative partnership. I look forward to continued collaboration with FDLE on shared priorities through the Cabinet process.”

Law enforcement is foundational to the safety, security, and prosperity of communities across the state and nation, and this agreement builds upon Commissioner Simpsons’ support for the law enforcement community. As Senate President, Simpson supported and fought for law enforcement, including protecting law enforcement from violence and rioters (HB 1), protecting sheriff budgets against the “defund the police” movement (HB 3), funding a $5,000 signing bonus for new law enforcement recruits and other recruiting and training incentives (HB 3), securing significant increases to the starting salaries of state law enforcement and corrections officers, and providing over $15 million to Florida’s fiscally constrained counties to support local law enforcement.

In 2022, the previous FDACS administration filed a petition for enforcement of subpoena in a pending Division of Administrative Hearings (DOAH) case. Today, the department filed a motion to voluntarily dismiss this petition after reaching an amicable resolution, where FDLE, moving forward, will provide legally sufficient information during DOAH hearings for individuals denied a concealed weapon license.

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