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Takeaways from Tallahassee — Connecting Florida

 Broadband Summit

The Florida Association of Counties is bringing together federal, state and local governments and private organizations to create a smooth download for federal broadband support.

FAC is hosting a Broadband Summit Jan. 26 and 27 as a way to spread the word and connect the agencies and private organizations providing the up to $2 billion in infrastructure funding with the local governments who need it.

The pandemic brought forward the need for high speed internet.

Seminole County Commissioner Lee Constantine, a former state lawmaker and FAC’s president, says each of Florida’s 67 counties have underserved areas. Plus, each county comes with its unique needs.

“Unless you’re sitting at the table, you really can’t have any input, so that’s what we’re trying to do,” Constantine told Florida Politics.

With Florida’s population boom, the broadband funding will also help counties accommodate the influx of new residents.

“The more broadband we can provide to outlying areas, the more we can provide for people to be able to remotely work and live the life they want to lead,” Constantine said.

The public consensus is that the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of high speed internet. People were isolated from one another, making the internet critical for working, going to school or simply communicating.

“We all understood it, but this laid it right at our doorstep,” Constantine said.

The summit will feature events with the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, the Federal Communications Commission, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity — which hosts the Office of Broadband — and more. At those events, local governments can learn which agencies and organizations hold the funding.

Private companies will be able to exhibit their programs and connect with county leaders.

“Private companies … will have a part, because each community will have to decide what their best solution is,” said FAC Director of External Affairs Cragin Mosteller.

Registration is open for the event, which will be held at the Sawgrass Marriott in St. Johns County. An estimated 300 to 400 people are expected to attend, and FAC anticipates 90% of counties will be represented.

Until Jan. 19, counties can register for $275; city, state and federal governments can register for $325; and businesses, corporations and individuals can register for $500.


Coming up, the usual assortment of news, intel and observations from the week that was in Florida’s capital city by Peter Schorsch, Drew Wilson, Renzo Downey, Christine Jordan Sexton and the staff of Florida Politics.

But first …

Take 5

The “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Special Session gears up — The bills are drafted, the committees are assigned, the schedule is set. Everything is coming together for next week’s Special Session on property insurance and more. The biggest news breaking Friday was the publication of the House and Senate’s $1 billion plan to stabilize the property insurance industry. A second stab at a reinsurance program, changes to Citizens and tort reforms are part of a sprawling 100-plus-page bill that comes about half a year after the Legislature first tried to stymie the industry crisis this year. Also ready for the Special Session are bills for hurricane and toll relief.

Joe Harding resigns after indictment — Rep. Joe Harding has resigned from the Florida House after facing federal charges alleging he committed wire fraud, money laundering and more. Federal prosecutors say he committed two acts of wire fraud through a scheme in which he attempted to obtain $150,000 in COVID-19 relief meant for small businesses. If convicted, Harding faces up to 20 years in prison for wire fraud, up to 10 years for money laundering and up to 5 years for making false statements. “There will be a time when I can tell my story in detail, and I will,” Harding wrote. “For now, let me reassure my constituents and the taxpayers that I repaid every penny of the loan I obtained, and I have done my best to cooperate fully with all authorities.”

Gov. DeSantis admin takes shape — Gov. Ron DeSantis is gradually unveiling who’s staying or leaving for his second term. The latest officials who will be staying on board are Department of Environmental Secretary Shawn Hamilton and Department of Elder Affairs Secretary Michelle Branham. Departing are Department of Economic Opportunity Secretary Dane Eagle and Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles Executive Director Terry Rhodes. DeSantis begins his second term on Jan. 3.

Kent Stermon found deadStermon was found dead in his car at the Mayport Post Office Thursday night. No foul play is suspected and the investigation is being treated as a suicide. Stermon, one of the most connected political figures in Northeast Florida, died just hours after being discharged from hospital for a stroke. The Florida Times-Union’s Nate Monroe reports Stermon was the subject of an active investigation by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office. First Coast News filled in further detail, including a statement from Sheriff T.K. Waters. “Mr. Stermon was the subject of an active investigation by the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, which began a few weeks prior to his death,” Waters said. “This investigation remains ongoing at this time and will continue until its completion.”

Joe Gruters announces bid for RNC Treasurer — Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) Chair Gruters is launching a bid for Treasurer of the Republican National Committee (RNC). “We have had tremendous success here in Florida,” Gruters told Florida Politics. “My whole focus is getting Florida represented at the national level.” Gruters previously secured support from RPOF members to move the state party’s executive board elections to Feb. 17 and 18. That effectively extends his own tenure as state Chair until next month, which in turn makes him eligible for the national officership.

Hispanic heritage

Better late than never for the teachers and students who took part in this year’s Hispanic Heritage Month celebrations.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and First Lady Casey DeSantis were forced to cancel the ceremony for this year’s contest winners because of Hurricane Ian. But on Wednesday, the First Family hosted those winners at the Governor’s Mansion.

The DeSantises made sure to honor the young and the wise for with a belated celebration. Image via the Governor’s Office.

“It is important for students to learn about contributions Hispanic Floridians have made to the success of our state, and educating our students about those contributions requires great teachers,” Gov. DeSantis said. “Congratulations to the winners of this year’s contest.”

Hispanic Heritage Month is recognized and celebrated from Sept. 15 through Oct. 15 every year. This year’s celebration in Florida included an art and essay contest for students and awards for exceptional educators.

“Hispanic Floridians have played a tremendous role in the history of our state and it is important that we honor those contributions and teach our students about those pieces of history,” said First Lady Casey DeSantis. “I am honored to host the winners of this year’s contest at the Governor’s Mansion and recognize the contributions of Hispanic Floridians.”

Teachers who earned recognition received $1,500 gifts from Volunteer Florida.

Education Commissioner Manny Díaz called Hispanic heritage an integral part of Floridians’ shared history.

“Congratulations to this year’s contest winners and to all those who participated in advancing our world-class education system by learning about the many contributions of Hispanic Floridians,” Díaz said.

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