FBI Tapes in Federal Corruption Trial Casts Florida Political Players in Unflattering Light

This week’s witnesses in the federal corruption trial of J.T. Burnette, a Tallahassee businessman standing trial for federal extortion and racketeering, described the “dirty politics of getting things done” in Tallahassee.

The testimony exposed some of the true “power behind the throne” like that wielded by Burnette and his wife, Kim Rivers, CEO of the mega medical marijuana company, Trulieve, and by a former “rising star” in Florida Democratic politics, Scott Maddox.

Burnette is facing federal charges of racketeering, and extortion stemming from a multi-year FBI investigation into political corruption in Tallahassee. Government prosecutors are trying to prove Burnette arranged bribes for Maddox, through Governance Services, LLC, a lobbying firm owned by Maddox’s close friend and business partner Paige Carter-Smith.

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Appeals Court Vacates Decision Requiring Vaccines for Florida Cruise Ship Industry

Cruise ship next to dock

The U.S. Appeals Court for the 11th Circuit on Friday vacated its recent decision that allowed the U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention to enforce its COVID-19 safety rules related to the Florida cruise ship industry.

Just before the decision, Florida asked the United States Supreme Court to intervene and reverse the appeals court’s decision.

“I’m glad to see the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals reverse its prior decision and free the cruise lines from unlawful CDC mandates, which effectively mothballed the industry for more than a year,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “The importance of this case extends beyond the cruise industry. From here on out a federal bureau will be on thin legal and constitutional ice if and when it attempts to exercise such sweeping authority that is not explicitly delineated by law.”

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Florida Representative Anthony Sabatini Files E-Verify Bill

Florida state Representative Anthony Sabatini announced this week that he has filed a bill that will mandate the use of E-Verify by all public and private employers.

Sabatini tweeted, “JUST FILED my first Bill for the 2022 FL Legislative Session. HB 6001 will mandate the use of E-Verify in FL, requiring ALL workers prove that they are legal BEFORE they can work in our State. With 70% of all new illegals coming straight to Florida, we MUST pass this Bill!”

This is his fourth time that Sabatini has filed a bill related to E-Verify since he was elected to the Florida House in 2018.

E-Verify is a web-based system that allows enrolled employers to confirm the eligibility of their employees to work in the United States. E-Verify employers verify the identity and employment eligibility of newly hired employees by electronically matching information provided by employees on the Form I-9, Employment Eligibility Verification, against records available to the Social Security Administration (SSA) and the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).

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U.S. Rep. Al Lawson Jr. Endorses Charlie Crist for Florida Governor in 2022

U.S. Representative for Florida’s 5th Congressional District, Al Lawson Jr., announced his endorsement of 2022 Gubernatorial candidate and current U.S. Representative, Charlie Crist on Thursday. 

Lawson, a Democrat, was re-elected to his third term in 2020 and has represented the 5th Congressional District in North Florida since 2017. Before Congress, Lawson represented North Florida for 28 years in the state legislature.

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Florida Business Groups Back Equality Act

Florida businesses and business groups have thrown their weight behind the passage of the Equality Act, a bill in Congress which would extend protected civil rights status to sexual orientation and gender identity.

Among the groups joining the chorus is the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association.

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Florida Gov. DeSantis Places Ben & Jerry’s on Boycott List

On Thursday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis called on the State Board of Administration (SBA) to place Ben & Jerry’s on the Continued Examination Companies that Boycott Israel List as well as the Scrutinized Companies that Boycott Israel List.

DeSantis called on the SBA by way of letter to show the historic relationship between Florida and the nation of Israel, and the “commitment to a swift response to those who discriminate against the Israeli people.”

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DeSantis Says No Lockdowns or School Mask Mandates in Florida

In a press conference yesterday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis took time to comment on the upcoming school year saying school mask mandates and lockdowns will not be happening in Florida.

White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki called DeSantis’ comments “greatly concerning” and said her kids were used to wearing masks.

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Governor DeSantis Celebrates $270 Million for Literacy Initiatives in Florida

Almost a month after it was signed, HB 3, which dedicates $271 million in literacy initiatives throughout Florida, was celebrated on Thursday by Governor Ron DeSantis.

The bill created the state’s first statewide book distribution program known as “New Worlds Reading Initiative” (NWRI), which will provide and deliver free “high-quality” books to the home of elementary school students who are reading below grade level.

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Governor DeSantis Praises $21 Billion Settlement to Combat Opioid Crisis

Governor Ron DeSantis praised a multi-state agreement between three of the largest pharmaceutical companies in the nation, AmerisourceBergen, Cardinal Health, and McKesson, worth $21 billion.

DeSantis also praised a separate agreement by Johnson and Johnson who will pay $5 billion over the next nine years. The agreements will aim to settle litigation regarding the opioid crisis in not only Florida, but the nation as a whole. 

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Florida State Senator Joe Gruters Cleared of Sexual Harassment Allegations

Florida State senator and chairman of the Republican Party of Florida, Sen. Joe Gruters (R-23) has been cleared of sexual harassment allegations after reports circulated earlier this week.

Florida Politics initially reported the allegations, and POLITICO stated the allegations came from four Republican Party officials and one other source who claimed Gruters sexually harassed a male aide in January who drove Gruters home from a bar in Tallahassee during Spring’s legislative session. A complaint was immediately filed with the state.

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With Less Border Restrictions, Canadian Tourism in Florida Could Increase

The number of international travelers coming to Florida is expected to increase after Canada loosened its COVID-19 border restrictions allowing vaccinated travelers in and out of the country. 

Policy coordinator for the governor’s Office of Policy and Budget, Holger Ciupalo, said that he expects the White House to “follow suit” with Canada and match their border policy in the next three weeks. 

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Hillsborough School District Renews Four Charter Schools After Fight With State

The Hillsborough County School Board announced its decision to renew charters for four charter schools after the State of Florida was threatening legal action. The school board initially opted to not renew the charters but reversed its decision this week.

Of the reasons the school board initially decided to not renew the charters was a claim that the schools were not meeting the needs of special needs students.

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Florida’s Doctors, Patients Face New Smokable Medical Marijuana Rules

Doctors and patients in Florida may be unaware of the new rules that took effect last week for smokable medical marijuana. Patients must resign a standardized consent form, which includes a new portion that explains the dangers of smoking near oxygen tanks and notifying patients of risks to exposure to mold in the marijuana.

Physicians are now required to conduct full, in-person assessments of the a patient including family, social history, and if they are pregnant.

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Florida First District Court of Appeal Dismisses Digital Ballot Lawsuit

Eight county elections supervisors were dismissed by the First Circuit Court of Appeal in Florida from a lawsuit proposing the requirement for county elections offices to save digital copies of paper ballots during elections, also known as Digital Ballot Copies.   

The suit was filed by The Florida Democratic Party and Democratic lawmakers against Secretary of State Laurel Lee, Division of Elections Director Maria Matthews, and the “Supervisors”. 

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Florida’s West Coast Still Inundated With Red Tide

red tide

Red tide is continuing to linger along the western coastline of Florida, leading to hundreds of tons of dead marine life. The Florida Capital Star previously reported on the red tide surge in the Tampa Bay area around the time of Tropical Storm Elsa, but the tide has not yet abated.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) has been collected over 100 samples of water around the Tampa Bay area last week and found high concentrations of Karenia brevis, a bacteria known to be prevalent during red tide surges.

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Injunction Blocking CDC Guidelines for Cruise Ship Industry Lifted by Circuit Court of Appeals

Aerial shot of several cruise ships in the ocean, clear water.

The future of Florida’s cruise ship industry remains in question after a panel of three judges for the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals issued a stay, or suspension, on a preliminary injunction blocking the CDC’s authority in allowing cruise ships to set sail.

U.S. District Judge Steven Merryday in Tampa issued the now-lifted injunction in June after siding with the state that the CDC’s guidelines overstepped its legal authority to control an entire industry.

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Florida Man Receives Eight Month Prison Term in First Felony Sentence from January 6 Capitol Breach

Close up of Capitol with Trump and America flag in the wind

AFlorida man, who breached the U.S. Capitol on January 6, was sentenced to eight months in prison on Monday. Paul Allard Hodgkins pleaded guilty last month to one count of obstructing an official proceeding – Congress’ certification of the 2020 presidential election results.

Prosecutors, who asked for an 18-month sentence, argued that Hodgkins, “like each rioter, contributed to the collective threat to democracy.”

“Although you were only one member of a larger mob, you actively participated in a larger event that threatened the Capitol and democracy itself. The damage that was caused that way was way beyond a several-hour delay of the vote certification. It is a damage that will persist in this country for several decades,” said U.S. District Court Judge Randolph Moss of Washington, DC.

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Governor DeSantis Celebrates the Signing of The Florida Wildlife Corridor Act

A lion with its cub

Two weeks after it was signed into law, Governor DeSantis celebrated the approval of SB 976, otherwise known as The Florida Wildlife Corridor Act.

The Act directs the Florida Department of Environmental Protection (FDEP) to promote and encourage investments towards the protection and enhancement of the Florida Wildlife Corridor. 

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Drug Overdoses on the Rise in Florida

Spilled pill bottle on table top with a spoon underneath

According to a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), drug overdoses are on the rise in Florida. Specifically, the death toll rose by about 37 percent from 2019 to 2020 in Florida.

One of the most notable trends was the amount of synthetic opioid fentanyl in Florida, and how so many people have become dependent upon drugs to cope with the COVID pandemic and economic hardship.

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Florida Department of Health Reports Spike in Covid Cases

Staff if Florida Health Department

The Florida Department of Health (FDOE) reported a spike in the number of COVID-19 cases for the week that ended July 15th, making it the second week in a row that the number of cases increased. 

The FDOE reported 45,604 new cases from July 9th to July 15th which increased the COVID-19 positivity rate from 7.8% to 11.5%. The number of COVID-19 deaths during that week was 59. 

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The Dismantling of Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund Begins

Ron DeSantis

An endowment fund for health programs and education in Florida started being dismantled after HB 5011 was signed by DeSantis in June, and taken into effect on July 1st. 

HB 5011 issued the termination of the Lawton Chiles Endowment Fund (LCEF) and directed the State Board of Administration to liquidate and transfer the funds into the Budget Stabilization Fund by June 30th, 2022. 

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Florida Medicaid Enrollment Tops 4.8 Million, Surpassing Forecasted Growth

Florida State Capitol

Florida’s Medicaid enrollment increased by 1% in June with 48,468 low-income residents qualifying for subsidized health care, according to the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA).

As of June 30, there were 4,846,412 low-income, elderly and disabled Floridians enrolled in Medicaid, an increase of more than 730,000 since June 2020, AHCA documents in its June enrollment report.

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Civil Rights Attorney Ben Crump Takes on White Teen’s Case

American Attorney Benjamin Crump

Attorney Ben Crump, based out of Tallahassee, Fla., and Rev. Al Sharpton announced they are taking up the case of Hunter Brittain, a white teenager killed by police last month in Arkansas.

Crump, “Black America’s Attorney General,” and Sharpton were invited to Brittain’s memorial service, where Sharpton gave the eulogy.

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Governor Ron DeSantis Joins Texas Governor Greg Abbott for Border Crisis Briefing

Governor Abbott Hosts Florida Governor DeSantis

Governor Ron DeSantis joined Governor Greg Abbott in Texas for briefing to address the current crisis that is currently happening at the border since the Biden administration lifted multiple border policies issued by former President Trump. 

Florida was the first state to provide help at the border after Governor DeSantis deployed law enforcement in June. 

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Jobless Claims Falling in Florida

Man In Suit

A new report from the U.S. Department of Labor shows jobless claims in Florida are down from the week ending on July 3. There were 6,739 jobless claims filed by July 3, down to 6,430 for the week ending on July 10.

Across the country, 360,000 new claims were filed, which is down 26,000 from the previous week. This is the lowest the country has seen its jobless claims since the start of the pandemic, indicating the recovery of the economy is slowly getting back to pre-pandemic levels.

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Marco Rubio Criticizes Black Lives Matter Statement on Cuba Crisis

Marco Rubio

Cuban-American Senator Marco Rubio criticized the Black Lives Matter (BLM) organization after it posted a statement on Instagram Wednesday night, blaming the U.S. government for the current and historical crisis in Cuba.

In addition to pointing fingers at the U.S., the statement also highlights its praise and support of the Communist regime in Cuba because of the country’s so-called history of protecting “Black revolutionaries.”

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Disney Moving Thousands of Jobs to Florida

The Walt Disney Company announced they are moving around 2,000 jobs from California to a new campus in Florida, which has yet to be built. It will be in Lake Nona, and the move will take approximately 18 months.

“Florida’s business-friendly climate” was one of the main reasons they decided to make the move while California’s lockdown measures have shuttered Disneyland’s doors for three months.

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Citizens Property Insurance Raising Rates

"For Rent" sign in window of building

Citizens Property Insurance Corp. is raising their rates after its board of directors met on Wednesday. The rate increase is a result of a new state law signed by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis and will vary across Florida, but the increase still requires approval from the Office of Insurance Regulation.

“These necessary adjustments reflect the efforts of the Florida Legislature to return Citizens to its role as a residual insurance company,” Citizens Chairman Carlos Beruff said in a press release. “Unfortunately, we have become the first choice, or only choice, in too many regions of the state.”

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Governor DeSantis Questioned About Cuban Protests and Anti-Riot Law

Gov. Ron Desantis making remarks on behalf of the Cuban protests

After multiple Cuban protests across the state of Florida made their way to the streets and highways, Governor DeSantis was questioned about the protesters who were breaking the “anti-riot” law.

At a news conference on Thursday, DeSantis alluded that the Cuban protesters broke the law but were not arrested because of the peaceful nature of the protests. 

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Florida Department of Education Adopts New Education Standards

The Florida Department of Education (DOE) adopted new education standards regarding how topics like Holocaust Education, Civics and Government, Character Education, and Substance Abuse Prevention, will be taught in schools.

In the press release on Wednesday, the DOE stated that the new standards are set to strengthen Florida’s education standards which are already “nationally recognized.”

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Governor DeSantis Sends Letter to Biden Requesting Help with Internet Access in Cuba

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis sent a letter to President Joe Biden on Wednesday requesting the federal assiatance to aid Cuba in providing internet access to the country.

The request comes amid the protests in Cuba and some parts of the U.S. advocating for a change to the oppressive dictatorship that has been affecting Cuban citizens for decades.

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BLM Questioning Enforcement of Florida’s Anti-Riot Law

Black Lives Matter activists have been asking questions about Florida’s new law, dubbed as the “anti-riot” law as a result of the many anti-communist protests taking place across Florida.

The law enhances penalties for criminals committing acts of violence during a protest as well protestors could be charged with felonies if they block roadways. A driver may also be granted immunity if they drive through protestors blocking a road.

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75 Florida Teachers Sign Petition Vowing to Defy Critical Race Theory Ban

As The Tennessee Star reported, the Zinn Education Project,  a nonprofit that pushes social justice curriculum in schools, released a petition signed by more than 5000 teachers nationwide who vow to continue to teach Critical Race Theory, even if it’s banned in their schools. 

“Lawmakers in at least 21 states are attempting to pass legislation that would require teachers to lie to students about the role of racism, sexism, heterosexism, and oppression throughout U.S. history,” the petition says.

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State of Florida Appeals Social Media Law Injunction

The law banning social media and big tech companies from “deplatforming” or “cancelling” political candidates on the internet was blocked by a federal judge a day before the law was to take effect.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle issued a 31-page order on June 30th outlining his decision to approve an injunction filed by tech companies, NetChoice and the Computer and Communications Industry Association.

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Norwegian Cruises Challenges Florida’s Vaccine Passport Ban

People boarding a cruise ship

Norwegian Cruise Line Holdings (NCLH) has filed a lawsuit against Florida’s new law banning vaccine passports and they will abandon the state entirely if the law is not reversed.

“The result would be a devastating, unrecoverable loss for everyone—not only for NCLH’s business but also for tens of thousands of passengers, employees, and stakeholders who all benefit from NCLH resuming safe operations as planned,” the lawsuit says. “The only way NCLH could maintain its protocols and operations as currently planned is by abandoning Florida altogether.”

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DraftKings and FanDuel Put Millions on Florida Constitutional Amendment

The sports betting areas inside the casinos are like trading floors.

Draft Kings and FanDuel have each contributed $10 million to the Florida Educational Champions political committee who are funding a ballot initiative which would legalize sports betting in Florida.

The chairman of the political committee, David Johnson, took time to thank the sports betting companies for their contributions to the committee.

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Florida Citrus Industry Yields Down in 2020-2021 Season

Close up of oranges

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) announced that citrus growers in Florida produced under the expected yield for the 2020-2021 growing season that ended on Monday.

According to a release by the USDA on Monday, the total yield of all oranges in 2020-2021 was 52.8 million 90-pound boxes, 4.2 million fewer boxes than what the pre-season forecast in October 2020 predicted at 57 million.

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DeSantis Announces Grants for Florida Rural Communities

A home in rural Florida

Monday, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis announced $29 million development grants for small and rural communities.

A total of 42 communities are eligible for the grants, and to qualify the towns have to have a population of under 50,000 or be in an unincorporated county with less than 200,000.

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DeSantis Backs Cuban Protestors, Media and Democrats Blame COVID

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis

Sunday on Twitter, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis (R) extended his support to the Cuban protestors voicing their opposition to the communist regime who seized control of the government when the Cuban Revolution ended in 1958.

“Florida supports the people of Cuba as they take to the streets against the tyrannical regime in Havana,” DeSantis said. “The Cuban dictatorship has repressed the people of Cuba for decades & is now trying to silence those who have the courage to speak out against its disastrous policies”

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Red Tide Resurging Along Tampa Bay Coastline

Shoreline in Tampa Bay, Florida

Red Tide is hitting the Tampa Bay area and this flare up predated Tropical Storm Elsa, although the storm might have increased its severity.

According to Tampa area officials, 15,000 dead fish were collected on Jul. 9 alone, and over a total of 25,000 dead fish have been collected in the 10 days leading up to the ninth. St. Petersburg officials have over 120 employees working to remove dead fish, while the numbers are increasing daily.

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Broward County Man Connected to the Assassination of Haiti’s President

Christian Emmanuel Sanon

Christian Emmanuel Sanon, a self-proclaimed doctor who lives in Broward County, Florida, has been arrested for being one of the masterminds behind the brutal assassination of Haitian President, Jovenel Moïse on July 7th.

The head of Haiti’s police force, Léon Charles, says that Sanon is responsible for recruiting the gunmen involved in killing the President through a firm that provides politicians with security.

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Florida Congressman Byron Donalds Slams Critical Race Theory

Byron Donalds

  U.S. Representative Byron Donalds, from Florida’s 19th congressional district, recently slammed Critical Race Theory in an opinion article from a very personal perspective. Donalds, who is African-American, has a White wife and biracial children. Donalds, like many other critics of CRT, views the movement as tool of the left…

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Florida Roofing Company Files Lawsuit Against New Property Insurance Law

A construction company out of Hillsborough County, Gale Force Roofing and Restoration, LLC, challenged the new property-insurance law in Florida that took effect on July 1st.

The case, filed in June and reviewed by Chief U.S. District Judge Mark Walker on Friday, argues that a section of the new law (SB 76) violates the company’s first amendment rights by prohibiting them from certain advertisements that encourage homeowners to file roof-damage insurance claims.

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Opening Capitol Police Field Offices Raises Questions About Jurisdiction

U.S. Capitol Police car

Six months after the incidents at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, U.S. Capitol Police (USCP) announced they will be opening two field offices. One will be in Florida and another in California to investigate threats against members of Congress.

The Florida field office will be located in Tampa, despite Tallahassee being Florida’s capital city. USCP selected the two states because they said it is where a large portion of threats originate.

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Governor DeSantis Trails Florida Cabinet Members in Net Worth

Recently filed financial disclosure forms filed by state-wide elected leaders show that the net worth of Florida Governor Ron Desantis is significantly less than Florida’s three cabinet members.

The financial disclosure forms, known as Form 6, are required to be filed annually by state elected officials and some state employees. The forms were due to the Florida Commission on Ethics by July 1, 2021.

Desantis reported a 2020 net worth of $348,832 on his Form 6 filed on June 20, 2021. This is up 16.5% from the $291,449 reported for 2019.

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Val Demings Announces $4.6 Million Raised in First Quarter of Her Campaign

U.S. Representative Val Demings of Florida’s 10th Congressional District has raised $4.6 million in the first quarter of her campaign to unseat Marco Rubio as Senator in 2022.

Neither Demings or Rubio have officially submitted their campaign finances to the Federal Election Commission (FEC) for quarter two, but both parties have released information regarding what those numbers should look like when they do.

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The Florida Bar Creates Task Force in Response to Surfside Building Collapse

Miami-Dade Fire Rescue

The Florida Bar announced the creation of the Condominium Law and Policy on Life Safety Task Force, in response to the recent events in Surfside.

The Task Force will aid the Florida Legislature and Governor DeSantis by reviewing “all aspects of Florida condominium law, development, association operations, and maintenance,” to determine if changes are needed to “minimize the likelihood of a similar tragedy,” the news release stated.

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Report: Charlie Crist Used Condo Repeal Bill to ‘Woo’ Democratic Voters

A report from 2010 indicates that then Governor Charlie Crist signed a condo repeal bill, which is now being investigated for playing a role in the Surfside condo collapse, to “woo” democratic voters in his race for the U.S Senate.

The report, published in the Palm Beach Post on June 25th, 2010, stated that “Gov. Charlie Crist was on the photo-op express Thursday signing the same bill three times in a two-hour period.”

The bill, SB 1196, was sold as a way to “help distressed condominium associations” during a down real estate market by repealing certain regulations that were put in place in 2008.

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Florida Supreme Court to Hear Tobacco Industry Case

The Florida Supreme Court announced they will be taking up a case potentially making it harder to sue cigarette companies.

Florida’s high court decided to hear the case after the 1st District Court of Appeals overturned a verdict in a 2006 class-action lawsuit which saw individuals had the ability to sue cigarette companies for potentially misleading information regarding the dangers of smoking.

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Governor DeSantis Announces Property-Tax Relief for Families of Surfside Victims

Governor Ron DeSantis announced property-tax relief for the families of victims and survivors of the Champlain Towers South collapse in Surfside in the early morning of June 24.

The announcement was made during a news conference that included statements from Governor DeSantis, South Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Surfside Mayor Charles Burkett, and Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava.

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