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ALACHUA COUNTY - On Monday, June 1, 2020, Alachua County operations will be open to the public by appointment only. Those wanting to enter County buildings should contact the needed department and schedule an appointment. Before entering County buildings, citizens will be required to wear a mask (unless they qualify for an exemption), successfully pass a temperature check. (If a person's temperature exceeds 100.0 degrees, they will not be granted access to County buildings, but alternate services may be available), and answer several screening questions (when making their appointment and when reporting to their appointment).
The screening questions include:
  • Have you traveled to the following places in the last 14 days? a. New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Louisiana? b. Outside of the country?
  • Are you experiencing any unexplained persistent coughing (e.g. not related to seasonal allergies, or of an unknown origin)?
  • Are you experiencing any respiratory issues (e.g. heaviness in your chest or trouble breathing)?
Enhanced cleaning services are on-going to protect County citizens and staff. These protocols will continue until further notice.
For more information, call 352-374-5204.
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GAINESVILLE – Despite the office being closed since March 13, the Gainesville-Alachua County Association of Realtors® (GACAR) continues to find ways to engage its members and support the community.

On Friday, May 22 and Friday, May 29 from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m., GACAR will be hosting a drive-up food drive benefitting Bread of the Mighty Food Bank.

GACAR volunteers will be on hand both days to accept any monetary and/or food donations as members drive through the office parking lot to drop off their donations. GACAR President Jeremy Thomas was not surprised when members came together to propose the food drive. “Our Association has a long history of serving this community. The members of GACAR are people of action, so when the idea to help Bread of the Mighty was mentioned, there was no hesitation and plans were immediately made. Not even a pandemic could stop GACAR from coming together to help our community,” he said.

All necessary precautions will be taken to ensure the health of volunteers and donors. Thomas said, “This contactless drive-up food drive demonstrates our members’ adaptability and dedication to service despite the challenges that COVID-19 has thrust upon us. GACAR is proud to be a source of support and example of resilience during these trying times.”

This food drive is open to all GACAR members and the community at large. GACAR members unable to participate are encouraged to visit www.GACAR.com and consider making a monetary donation. Members of the public that are unable to attend the drive-up event are encouraged to send monetary donations directly to Bread of the Mighty at www.breadofthemighty.org/donate.

Ninety-six cents of every $1 raised goes directly to the community, and every $1 provides up to 10 meals.

Critical items that Bread of the Mighty has requested include non-perishable food items * Pasta * Canned Potatoes * Peanut Butter * Jelly * Soups * Canned Veggies *Canned Fruits and Juices * Canned Proteins (Chicken, Tuna, Beans) * Canned Chili, Stew, or other meat-based foods*. Non-Food items needed *Toilet Paper * Tissues * Paper Towels * Wipes * Soap * Shampoo * Deodorant * Toothpaste * Toothbrushes.

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GAINESVILLE – A new Alachua Habitat for Humanity (AHFH) home constructed indoors at Santa Fe College’s Charles R. Perry Construction Institute is set to roll to its final destination at 3515 SE 22nd Place on Thursday, May 28. The house leaves Santa Fe College’s facility in two parts starting at 9:00 am and will arrive on-site at approximately 9:45 am.

 “These homes are part of a unique and very collaborative project,” AHFH Executive Director Scott Winzeler said. “The program allows an AHFH partner family a hand-up opportunity to become a first-time homeowner – many times the first person in the family’s history to own a home; and the partnership with Santa Fe College allows few students and apprentices a hands-on construction experience while pursuing their education.”

The home is built at the college in two sections and then each section is transported separately. When construction is completed and the structure is ready to move, each section is jacked up and loaded by crane on to a trailer and then slowly transported to the home site. (The SE 22nd Place property was donated by Alachua County.)  At the site, a crane then lifts each of the sections off the semi- trailer and sets them into place on the foundation built by Habitat. After the home is set, a front porch, back porch, driveway and landscaping will be added by Alachua Habitat partners and volunteers.

Alachua Habitat for Humanity supports its homeownership program through donations, grants, and principal payments from family partners. Habitat is a hand-up to a homeowner not a hand-out - all homeowners assume an affordable mortgage for their homes at the end of their 400 committed sweat equity hours. The principal paid by Habitat Family Partners is then used to build more homes, allowing our families the opportunity to pay forward the gift of homeownership.

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GAINESVILLE Summer with the Library lifts off May 29 with all programming and fun going online. Community members can register at www.aclib.us/summer and track their participation from May 29-Aug. 2 for a chance to win a new Samsung Galaxy Tablet, courtesy of Summer with the Library sponsor PDQ Restaurant.

Patrons of all ages can join in the Alachua County Library District’s summer program by registering online and tracking their progress with participation badges. Anyone who registers and earns at least 1 more badge will be entered into the raffle for a tablet. The more badges earned by Aug. 2, the better the chances of winning. Three winners will be selected - one child, one teen, and one adult – and will each receive a tablet. Winners will be announced Sept. 1 on Facebook and www.aclib.us.

Summer with the Library launches at 3:30 p.m. Friday, May 29 with Summer Reader Palooza LIVE - a Facebook Live event featuring special library guests, kid-friendly performances, and a DJ dance party. Tune in for a behind-the-scenes look at the library and details on how to register for summer fun.

Popular library programs like story times will continue online this summer. Plus, patrons can catch special virtual programs including book clubs, DIY tutorials, Adult Summer Camp, and more. Subscribe to the Library District’s YouTube channel, www.youtube.com/alachualibrary, and follow the Library District on Facebook to watch programs and interact with librarians.

The library also offers dozens of digital resources for learning and entertainment, as well as more than 81,000 eBooks online. Patrons can pick up materials, including books, movies, and music, Monday through Saturday 9:30 a.m.-5 p.m. at any branch.

“We look forward to helping children and their caretakers continue to grow with reading all summer long,” said Alachua County Library District Director Shaney T. Livingston.

The Library District thanks the following sponsors for their generous support of Summer with the Library: PDQ Restaurant, Friends of the Library, Cox Communications, Giggle Magazine, and the Gainesville Sun. 

Contact Rachel Cook at rcook@aclib.us or 352-334-3909 for details.

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ALACHUA COUNTY – Alachua County Public Schools Superintendent Karen Clarke will host the district’s second Telephone Town Hall meeting on Thursday, May 28 from 7:15 p.m. to 8:15 p.m. to respond to questions from families, employees and the public about the impact of COVID-19 on local schools and students. Other district and school staff will also be available to respond to questions.

The Town Hall will be available in both English and Spanish and will be streamed on YouTube at

https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCydIqRtzUHvNlsReBrAu9nw

Anyone who would like to participate, either by calling and asking a question or simply listening in, can register with their name and preferred phone number at:

https://tthm.wufoo.com/forms/alachua-county-public-schools-teletownhall-sign-up/

ACPS families and employees are already registered through the primary phone number listed on the district’s database, but they can provide a preferred number at the same site. Registration for the event closes at 4:15 p.m. on May 28.

Those who are registered for the town hall will receive automated phone calls immediately before it begins. They will then remain on the line to be connected.

Anyone needing more information can call the district’s Communications Office at 352-955-7545.

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GAINESVILLE, FL - As unemployment claims continue climbing due to the job losses caused by coronavirus, more Floridians need access to critical unemployment assistance to help pay their rent and keep food on the table.

 

“Unemployment benefits are critical to helping Floridians remain stable now and recover financially after the pandemic ends,” explained Christine E. Larson, Three Rivers Legal Services’ executive director. “However, many Floridians are still having difficulty accessing unemployment benefits.”

 

Three Rivers Legal Services’ attorneys and advocates are available to provide free, legal assistance to individuals to Floridians who have questions about their eligibility for state or federal unemployment benefits, including denials of applications, terminations of benefits or questions about their benefit amount.

 

With offices in Gainesville, Jacksonville and Lake City, Three Rivers Legal Services is assisting low-income clients in Northeast Florida facing civil legal problems stemming from the pandemic. For the health and safety of our clients and team, we are not currently taking in-person applications. However, anyone in need of civil legal help can call our legal helpline at 1-866-256-8091 or apply for help through our website at trls.org.

 

“From evictions and foreclosures, to dealing with domestic violence during the quarantine, our advocates are available to help people with their civil legal needs,” said Larson.

 

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ALACHUA COUNTY - Pursuant to Executive Order 20-123, Alachua County's request to re-open vacation rental operations was approved by Department of Business and Professional Regulation Secretary Halsey Beshears today. In his acceptance of the County's re-opening request and safety plan, Mr. Beshears stated that, "Based on the Department's review of the safety plan for vacation rental operations that accompanied your request, Alachua County has established the necessary plans for operation of vacation rentals at this time. Accordingly, I approve the operation of vacation rentals in Alachua County pursuant to the plans as submitted."
"We are deeply appreciative of the careful consideration Secretary Beshears has placed in his decision to approve the County's request to re-open vacation rentals," said Alachua County Tourism Manager Jessica Hurov. "The Alachua County plan was developed in alignment with Department of Business and Professional Regulation and Centers for Disease Control recommended safety measures to ensure that our vacation rental lodging providers are offering safe and clean rental properties for our visitors. The re-opening of vacation rentals provides expanded options for visitors as we welcome them back to Alachua County, and will assist vacation lodging operators and managers in their COVID-19 business recovery plans."
Reservations and stays will be allowed from U.S. states with a COVID-19 Case Rate less than 700cases/1OOK. Reservations from areas identified by Florida's Governor as COVID-19 hot spots through Executive Orders are to be avoided for the next 45 days. In the event the Governor issues subsequent Orders addressing vacation rentals and/or "hot spots" in the U.S., those restrictions shall be incorporated into the plan. Reservations from international travelers will not be accepted. Vacation rental operators can access information on COVID case rates online.
In addition to the recommended best practices and safety measures in the re-opening plan, Alachua County vacation rental owners and operators shall follow the guidelines developed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for cleaning and disinfecting facilities; all Florida Department of Business and Professional Regulation requirements and safety measures related to vacation rentals;  and all Department of Business and Professional Regulation (DBPR) sanitation guidelines.
For more information, contact Jessica Hurov at 352-363-8619 or jhurov@alachuacounty.us.
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FLORIDA - The Florida National Guard (FLNG), under the direction of Gov. Ron DeSantis, is responding to the needs of the state alongside our interagency partners, helping to protect citizens and guests throughout this crisis.

As of May 27, 2020, the Florida National Guard has 2,383 Guardsmen on duty in support of Florida's COVID-19 response, and are operating 24 Community Based Testing Sites (CBTS).  Those drive-through and walk-up sites have helped administer almost 279,450 sample collections to date.

The FLNG is supporting airport screening operations in support of the Florida Department of Health at seven airports:  Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport (FLL), Miami International Airport (MIA), Orlando International Airport (MCO), Jacksonville International Airport (JAX), Tampa International Airport (TPA), Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW) and Palm Beach International Airport (PBI). 

The FLNG Citizen-Soldiers and Airmen are also mobilized in support of the State Logistics Readiness Center (SLRC) in central Florida, ensuring needed supplies are getting to the right place at the right time across the state. Additionally, FLNG members are working in the State Emergency Operations Center and local emergency management offices across the state, serving as liaisons, ensuring local authorities understand the capabilities and equipment of the FLNG.

As this crisis continues, the Florida National Guard will maintain a ready force across the state for a variety of missions to include medical support and distribution of necessary commodities.

It is important that everyone follow the guidance put out by the Florida Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. For more information about COVID-19 and the State of Florida's response, visit http://www.floridahealth.gov/diseases-and-conditions/COVID-19/covid19-toolkit.html.

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TALLAHASSEE, FL — Florida retail stores are stocked up and staffed up to help Florida families load up on supplies for hurricane season during Florida’s Disaster Preparedness Tax-Free Holiday, which begins this Friday, May 29, and runs through Thursday, June 4. 

“Forecasts indicate it’s going to be an active hurricane season, and we’re here to help make sure Florida families have all the supplies they need to weather any storm,” said Scott Shalley, president and CEO of the Florida Retail Federation. “Take advantage of the tax savings and the sales this weekend at your local retail store. When you support Florida businesses, you’re supporting Florida jobs and Florida families.” 

Beginning Friday, May 29, Florida families can save on the purchase of eligible disaster preparedness items, including: 

  • Portable self-powered light source selling for $20 or less;
  • Certain portable radios selling for $50 or less;
  • Tarps selling for $50 or less;
  • Ground anchor systems or tie-down kits selling for $50 or less;
  • A gas or diesel fuel tank selling for $25 or less;
  • Packages of certain battery types, selling for $30 or less;
  • A nonelectric food storage cooler selling for $30 or less;
  • Portable generators for use in a power outage selling for $750 or less; and
  • Reusable ice selling for $10 or less.

As the state continues to safely and slowly re-open after safer-at-home orders were lifted, there are a number of ways consumers can take advantage of the tax-free holiday at Florida retail stores. Options include: 

  • Visit: Visit your local retailer to shop all the options available. 
  • Online: Find your favorite Florida retailer online to select what you need. 
  • Curbside or Delivery: Call your local retailer to place an order for curbside pick-up or delivery, where available. 

“We are grateful to Governor Ron DeSantis for supporting this measure that saves Florida families money as they stock up on supplies,” said Shalley. “Thanks also go to the Florida Senate and Florida House for pushing this important legislation through this year.”

This year’s Disaster Preparedness Tax-Free Holiday was established when Governor DeSantis signed HB 7097 into law on April 8. The legislation was championed by Budget Chairs Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Travis Cummings, and the tax-free holiday was a priority of Sen. Joe Gruters, Sen. Keith Perry, Sen. Kelli Stargel and Rep. Bryan Avila. 

Florida’s hurricane season begins June 1. Floridians can visit FloridaDisaster.org to learn more about how to prepare and what supplies are needed.

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 TALLAHASSEE — Today, May 22, 2020, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) announced Florida’s April 2020 Employment Data. This month, Florida saw considerable changes in employment data due to COVID-19.
 Florida Economic Indicators for April 2020 include:
  • Unemployment rate was 12.9 percent.
  • Labor force was down 893,000, 8.6 percent, over the month.
  • Florida businesses lost 989,600 private-sector jobs over the year.
  • Florida’s private-sector over-the-year rate of decline of 12.7 percent was less than the national over-the-year decline of 14.6 percent.
  • Consumer Sentiment Index is 75.9 in April 2020, 11.2 points lower than the March revised figure of 87.1.
 Governor DeSantis’ Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida’s Recovery Full Phase 1 Plan is providing the opportunity for many of Florida’s businesses to reopen their doors and reemploy many Floridians. Governor DeSantis and DEO continue to encourage Florida businesses impacted by COVID-19 to utilize state and federal resources currently available. For a list of federal and state resources available to businesses impacted by COVID-19, please visit Floridajobs.org/COVID-19.
 
To view the April 2020 jobs report by region, please see below:
 
  

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TALLAHASSEE — Following the direction of the Florida Legislature, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) established a partnership with the Florida 211 Network to provide support and post-release resources to inmates and offenders. Services such as crisis counseling, health and human services and employment assistance will fill gaps between incarceration or probation and enable a successful re-entry back into Florida communities.

“Following release from prison, returning citizens often discover a world much different than the one they previously knew. We hope to prepare them with the skills, education and counseling they need to succeed, but we know it takes the community to welcome them with support when they leave our supervision,” said FDC Secretary Mark Inch. “By integrating our resources with 211, we’re able to provide released inmates and offenders a number to call and an avenue to learn about resources and support in their community.”

FDC established a partnership with the Florida 211 Network to build upon an existing and well-known community resource service. Their services, combined with FDC Re-Entry Resource data, will strengthen the referral services available to the previously incarcerated.

“211 offers around-the-clock support and connects individuals and their families with local resources to help ease the re-entry period and ensure a successful transition. We believe that this important partnership between the Florida Department of Corrections and the Florida 211 Network is a best practice model that will ultimately enhance individual success and reduce recidivism,” said Sheila J. Smith, President/CEO of Florida Alliance of Information and Referral Services.

The hotline is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week, and is offered in more than 180 different languages. All communication is confidential and those wishing to remain anonymous may do so. Trained professionals are standing by for those in need. For more information, visit www.211.org.

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FLORIDA - The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding the public that it’s waterbird nesting season. Many Floridians and guests are returning to the state’s beaches to celebrate Memorial Day weekend but this is also a critical time for Florida’s vulnerable wading birds, shorebird and seabird populations. By respectfully sharing our beaches and waterways with these birds, people can help ensure their survival.

Shorebirds and seabirds, such as snowy plovers and black skimmers, build shallow nests on the ground. Their eggs and chicks are well camouflaged and can easily be missed and even stepped on. Wading birds, such as herons, egrets and pelicans, are also nesting now. They typically nest in mangroves and on tree islands around the state. When people come too close to their nests, they can cause birds to abandon their nesting sites, leaving eggs and chicks vulnerable.

“Startling birds might not seem like a big deal, but disturbing shorebirds and seabirds can actually be deadly,” said FWC Florida Shorebird Alliance Coordinator, Shea Armstrong. “If a mother bird is forced to leave her nest, her eggs or chicks are left behind where they can be eaten by predators, exposed to the hot sun, or trampled by unsuspecting beachgoers.”  

Boaters and beachgoers can make a big difference for Florida’s vulnerable nesting shorebirds and seabirds by following these simple guidelines:

  • Keep your distance from birds, on the beach and on the water. If birds become agitated or leave their nests, you are too close. Birds calling out loudly and dive-bombing are signals to back off.
  • Respect posted areas. When possible, stay at least 300 feet from a posted nesting area. Avoid entering areas marked with signs for nesting birds and use designated walkways.
  • Do not enter Critical Wildlife Areas. CWAs are established to give wildlife the space needed for nesting, roosting and foraging, and they are clearly marked with signs or buoys to alert boaters to areas that are closed to public access.
  • Avoid intentionally forcing birds to fly or run. This causes them to use energy needed for nesting, and eggs and chicks may be left vulnerable to the sun’s heat or predators. Teach children to let shorebirds and seabirds rest instead of chasing them, and encourage friends and family to do the same. Shorebirds and seabirds outside of posted areas may be feeding or resting and need to do so without disturbance.
  • It is best to leave pets at home but if you bring them to the beach, keep them leashed and avoid shorebird and seabird nesting areas. Pets are not permitted on most beaches, including state parks, so always check and be respectful of local rules when preparing for a day at the beach.
  • Keep the beach clean and do not feed wildlife. Food scraps attract predators, such as raccoons and crows, which can prey on shorebird eggs and chicks. Litter on beaches can entangle birds and other wildlife.
  • Spread the word. Let your friends and family know how important it is to give shorebirds space and share the message on social media!
  • Report disturbance of nesting birds to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or by texting Tip@MyFWC.com. You can also report nests that are not posted to our Wildlife Alert Program.

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Editor’s Note: High Springs Fire Chief Bruce Gillingham is also the Emergency Management Coordinator in High Springs, a position he has held for nine years, and he is the key contact between the City and other agencies regarding the Coronavirus. He meets remotely with Alachua County Department of Health three times per week, the Department of Health EMS twice weekly and the Florida Fire Chief’s Association weekly. He is knowledgeable about the Coronavirus pandemic, and periodically he will be writing about the pandemic and updates on best practices.

“Uncharted territory.” “Unprecedented times.” “Flatten the curve.” All phrases we have heard way too often. COVID-19 has changed life as we know it. Businesses have closed. There are now lines at grocery stores and millions out of work. To a certain extent, a modern day Pearl Harbor: “A [time] which will live in infamy.” (President Franklin Roosevelt)

As we continue to learn about this deadly virus, I encourage us all to do our part. The Stay-At-Home order is in place to protect your family and mine. Unless you need to travel for essential purposes, such as grocery shopping or going to an essential job, try to stay home. The only way to prevent the spread of this virus is to wash our hands often, wear a mask when in public and maintain social distancing.

As a department, we are taking extra steps to ensure our firefighters remain healthy and safe. Our lobby remains closed and new cleaning procedures, both for equipment and our personal gear, are in place.

While we manage a new normal, we are also trying to focus on a certain area of our community that is impacted the most by COVID-19—our seniors. Those are the people who may live alone, and who now find themselves in near total isolation with the cancellation of countless services and programs once available to them.

We recently launched the Caring Card Drive. With the help of members of our own community who are creating thoughtful and encouraging “caring cards,” we plan to deliver these cards to those in need in an effort to bring a moment of joy, and to remind them they have not been forgotten. This is the perfect activity to do with the kids. Cards can be big or small, simple or elaborate. Cards can include a saying, positive words, a poem or whatever card creators think fits best. A bin has been positioned outside of the main High Springs Fire Station lobby as a drop off location for cards. The address is 18586 N.W. 238th Street, High Springs.

In closing, let us remember to all do our part. We are in this together and we will persevere.

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During this time of crisis, America’s courageous patriots in uniform still deserve our utmost respect and admiration for keeping us free and safe from the bad guys of this world.

They are fulfilling an undying and faithful commitment to ‘'duty, honor, country” for every American no matter how they look or what they believe.

Today, these military heroes are joining countless millions of other American heroes in the brutal war against an adversary we call “Coronavirus or COVID-19.

The list of these patriotic heroes is long and consists of American warriors from every walk of life. They include:

  • Doctors, nurses, and other medical workers and support personnel,
  • Hospitals, nursing homes, and pharmacies,
  • Law enforcement and first responders,
  • Truckers and warehouse stockers,
  • Supermarkets and local grocery/convenience stores,
  • Restaurants and fast food chains who are finding creative ways to feed us and provide some degree of normalcy in our lives,
  • School systems for developing creative methods to teach our children,
  • Volunteers who are courageously putting others above self,
  • Corporations and small business who are “retooling” operations to make respirators, masks, and other personal protective equipment,
  • City, county, state, and national government bodies,
  • Broadcast and print media outlets, and
  • The millions of Americans who are faithfully committing to “social distancing” to combat the spread of this insidious and deadly disease.

Got the picture? We are all in this battle together. Sadly, just like every other war: “Some are giving some while others are giving all.”

Let us continue together as “One Nation Under God” in faithful commitment to “duty, honor, country” in fighting this war against humanity.

I am confident we will defeat this brutal enemy and come out stronger with renewed respect for one another. I know we can do it; I have to believe; I can do no other.

God Bless America!

Robert W. Wilford

City of Alachua

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There is no legitimate argument for making this change now and sending government further into a black hole and out of the light.

If you haven’t heard, the Florida Legislature is attempting to abolish the requirement that governmental agencies publish legal notices in newspapers, which would push government further into the shadows and make it harder for Floridians to learn about public policy issues, make their voices heard and hold their leaders accountable. This bill, HB 7 is scheduled to be heard by the full House on Tuesday. 

First off, this bill flips public notice on its head by reducing government transparency. Simply put, putting legal notices on government websites means very few Florida citizens will ever read them.  Public notice along with public meetings and public records have been part of our nation’s commitment to open government since the founding of the Republic. Our Founders placed public notices in newspapers to be noticed.

Secondly, from the perspective of efficient use of technology, I believe the bill takes a step backwards by placing these notices on government websites. 

The Florida Press Association has a comprehensive website which aggregates and places all of the notices under one umbrella – it’s called floridapublicnotices.com.  We have invested hundreds of thousands of dollars building this website to serve Florida’s state government as well as its towns, municipalities, businesses and taxpayers. To date, we have over 32,000 registered users and over 70,000 monthly page views in addition to the notices in the newspapers and their websites. And, it’s free for the public to use. Why re-invent the wheel now? 

If this bill is passed, city and county governments will be required to recreate the same infrastructure currently in place to make notices easily searchable, mobile friendly, and provide email notification upon request of a specific notice (which newspapers do today), that recreation will not be cheap. In fact, the promised savings may not be there.  Nor will the audience, without a major investment in marketing to direct our citizens to what would be hundreds of government websites.

Further, the bill has the impact of significantly reducing notice. 

Despite what you read and hear, newspapers or should I say, media companies are alive and well. Our weekly newspapers are growing, and our dailies are growing digital subscriptions and page views. In some cases, double-digit online growth.  

Newspapers in Florida alone are reaching 7.5 million readers in any given week, and our websites typically will reach more audience than most city or county websites. Our websites draw a minimum of 58 million unique online users in any given month.

By moving notices to less-frequently visited government websites, not only will you reduce the reach to the Florida public, you also lose the active and well-informed citizen. These are people who read often and find notices while they’re staying current with other community news. 

Finally, while this bill claims to save cities and counties money, the unintended consequence is that notices will lose both readership and the legally important third-party verification. 

With notices in newspapers -- in print and online -- it provides a verifiable public record through sworn required affidavits of publication.   Does the government really want to take on this responsibility of residents not being properly notified? 

In closing, 250 years ago our founders decided to place these public notices in a public forum -- newspapers – an open space where The People were most likely to see them… not on hundreds of different government sites hoping folks will find them.

Let’s keep Florida transparent and informed.  Please feel free to call your local legislator to share your voice before it’s too late.

Jim Fogler is the President & CEO Florida Press Service

336 E. College Ave. Suite 304, Tallahassee, FL  32301

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 This Valentine’s Day, many Veterans who fought to preserve our freedoms will be hospitalized, receiving the medical care they earned, but separated from the homes and communities they defended.  No one should be alone on Valentine’s Day, and with the help of our grateful community, no Veteran has to be.

I would like to personally invite every one of your readers to show their love and appreciation to Veterans by visiting the Malcom Randall or Lake City Veterans Affairs (VA) Medical Centers as part of the National Salute to Veteran Patients Feb. 9-15.

During the National Salute, VA invites individuals, Veterans groups, military personnel, civic organizations, businesses, schools, local media, celebrities and sports stars to participate in a variety of activities at the VA medical centers.

During the week we are excited to host many various organizations, groups, schools and others that are taking the time out of their busy schedules and visit our some of our facilities.

The love doesn’t have to end on Valentine’s Day.  Many of our Veterans are coming to the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with special needs and challenges that require the hearts and hands of a new generation of VA volunteers. North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System invites citizens, young and old, to join us in honoring our Veterans year-round by learning more about VA’s volunteer program as well.

Every citizen can make a positive difference in the life of a Veteran patient.  Visits from community groups do so much to lift the spirits of our patients.  I invite every member of our community to participate.

Call our Voluntary Service office at 352-548-6068 for the Malcom Randall VAMC or 386-755- 3016, ext. 392032 for the Lake City VAMC to schedule a visit and learn how to join the VA’s National Salute to Veteran Patients.

Thomas Wisnieski, MPA, FACHE

Director

North Florida/South Georgia Veterans Health System

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When I started graduate school at Florida State University, I had never seen a sawfish in the wild but I was excited to be part of the recovery of a species I had been so awestruck by in aquariums.

The smalltooth sawfish, the only sawfish found in Florida, has been protected in Florida since 1992 and became federally listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act in 2003. Little was known about the species when it became listed but since that time, scientists have learned a lot about its biology and ecology.

As sawfish recovery efforts continue, we expect there to be more sawfish sightings, especially in Florida. This includes anglers who may accidentally catch one on hook-and-line while fishing for other species.

Sawfish encounters

Sawfish can be encountered when participating in a number of activities including boating, diving and fishing. Further, the species may be encountered by waterfront homeowners and beach goers in the southern half of the state where juvenile sawfish rely on shallow, nearshore environments as nursery habitats. When fishing, targeting sawfish is prohibited under the ESA, though incidental captures do occur while fishing for other species. Knowing how to properly handle a hooked sawfish is imperative as sawfish can be potentially hazardous to you. One of the first things that stood out to me while conducting permitted research was the speed at which a sawfish can swing its rostrum (commonly referred to as the saw). For creatures that glide along the bottom so slowly and gracefully, they sure can make quick movements when they want to. It’s best to keep a safe distance between you and the saw.

If you happen to catch a sawfish while fishing, do not pull it out of the water and do not try to handle it. Refrain from using ropes or restraining the animal in any way, and never remove the saw. It is important that you untangle it if necessary and release the sawfish as quickly as possible by cutting the line as close to the hook as you can. Proper release techniques ensure a high post-release survival of sawfish. Scientific studies show us that following these guidelines will limit the amount of stress a sawfish experiences as a result of capture. Note that a recent change in shark fishing rules requires use of circle hooks, which results in better hook sets, minimizes gut hooking, and also maximizes post-release survival. 

In addition to capture on hook-and-line, sawfish can easily become entangled in lost fishing gear or nets. If you observe an injured or entangled sawfish, be sure to report it immediately but do not approach the sawfish. Seeing a sawfish up close can be an exciting experience but you must remember that it is an endangered species with strict protections.

If you are diving and see a sawfish, observe at a distance. Do not approach or harass them. This is illegal and this guidance is for your safety as well as theirs.

An important component of any sawfish encounter is sharing that information with scientists. Your encounter reports help managers track the population status of this species. If you encounter a sawfish while diving, fishing or boating, please report the encounter. Take a quick photo if possible (with the sawfish still in the water and from a safe distance), estimate its length including the saw and note the location of the encounter. The more details you can give scientists, the better we can understand how sawfish are using Florida waters and the better we can understand the recovery of the population. Submit reports at SawfishRecovery.org, email sawfish@MyFWC.com or phone at 1-844-4SAWFISH.

Sawfish background

Sawfishes, of which there are five species in the world, are named for their long, toothed “saw” or rostrum, which they use for hunting prey and defense. In the U.S., the smalltooth sawfish was once found regularly from North Carolina to Texas but its range is now mostly limited to Florida waters.

In general, sawfish populations declined for a variety of reasons. The primary reason for decline is that they were frequently caught accidentally in commercial fisheries that used gill nets and trawls. Additional contributing factors include recreational fisheries and habitat loss. As industrialization and urbanization changed coastlines, the mangroves that most sawfishes used as nursery habitat also became less accessible. For a species that grows slowly and has a low reproductive rate, the combination of these threats proved to be too much.

Engaging in sawfish recovery

During my thesis research, which focuses on tracking the movements of large juvenile and adult smalltooth sawfish, each tagging encounter is a surreal experience.

The first sawfish I saw was an adult, and what struck me the most was just how big it was. I also remember being enamored by its mouth. Like all other rays, its mouth is on the underside of its body. The mouth looks like a shy smile and I found it almost humorous how different the top of the sawfish was compared to the bottom. After seeing my first baby sawfish, the contrast seemed even greater. It’s hard to believe upon seeing a 2 to 3 foot sawfish that it could one day be 16 feet long! No matter the size, anyone who has encountered a sawfish will tell you it’s an experience like no other.

The hope is that one day the sawfish population will be thriving once again, and more people will be able to experience safe and memorable encounters with these incredible animals. Hopefully, we can coexist with sawfish in a sustainable and positive way in the future.

For more information on sawfish, including FWC’s sawfish research visit:
MyFWC.com/research, click on “Saltwater” then “Sawfish.”

For more information on smalltooth sawfish and their recovery watch:
YouTube.com/watch?v=NSRWUjVU3e8&t=3s

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Sadly, 10 law enforcement officers have already died in the line of duty this month in the United States.

In addition to two dying in vehicular crashes related to crime, three were mercilessly killed as a result of gunfire by cowards who had no respect for human life or the rule of law.

Please let us never forget the bravery our men and  women in blue display each day for EVERY American as they don their uniform and leave for duty. Unfortunately, they do not know if they will return home to loved ones at the end of their shift.

As Americans, we take for granted:

- When turning on the faucet, without thinking, we expect clean water to pour out.

- When flipping a switch, without thinking, we expect the room will be illuminated.

- When purchasing something to eat from a grocery store, restaurant, or fast food establishment, without thinking, we expect these edible products will not be contaminated.

- When sending our children off to school each day, without thinking, we expect they will be educated by qualified and dedicated teachers.

- When resting our heads on the pillow at night, without thinking, we expect our faithful members of the armed forces will protect us from the bad guys of this world.

- When venturing out into the community, without thinking, we expect our highly trained and brave police officers will keep us safe from harm.

It is acceptable to expect these things we take for granted because our forefathers believed each American was special and declared every citizen had certain unalienable rights.

Let us remain steadfast in never forgetting, and do think about and honor, the tremendous sacrifices America’s men and women in blue make by courageously: “putting others above self.”

Robert Wilford

Alachua, Florida

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 TALLAHASSEE — Today, May 22, 2020, the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) announced Florida’s April 2020 Employment Data. This month, Florida saw considerable changes in employment data due to COVID-19.
 Florida Economic Indicators for April 2020 include:
  • Unemployment rate was 12.9 percent.
  • Labor force was down 893,000, 8.6 percent, over the month.
  • Florida businesses lost 989,600 private-sector jobs over the year.
  • Florida’s private-sector over-the-year rate of decline of 12.7 percent was less than the national over-the-year decline of 14.6 percent.
  • Consumer Sentiment Index is 75.9 in April 2020, 11.2 points lower than the March revised figure of 87.1.
 Governor DeSantis’ Safe. Smart. Step-by-Step. Plan for Florida’s Recovery Full Phase 1 Plan is providing the opportunity for many of Florida’s businesses to reopen their doors and reemploy many Floridians. Governor DeSantis and DEO continue to encourage Florida businesses impacted by COVID-19 to utilize state and federal resources currently available. For a list of federal and state resources available to businesses impacted by COVID-19, please visit Floridajobs.org/COVID-19.
 
To view the April 2020 jobs report by region, please see below:
 
  

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TALLAHASSEE — Following the direction of the Florida Legislature, the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) established a partnership with the Florida 211 Network to provide support and post-release resources to inmates and offenders. Services such as crisis counseling, health and human services and employment assistance will fill gaps between incarceration or probation and enable a successful re-entry back into Florida communities.

“Following release from prison, returning citizens often discover a world much different than the one they previously knew. We hope to prepare them with the skills, education and counseling they need to succeed, but we know it takes the community to welcome them with support when they leave our supervision,” said FDC Secretary Mark Inch. “By integrating our resources with 211, we’re able to provide released inmates and offenders a number to call and an avenue to learn about resources and support in their community.”

FDC established a partnership with the Florida 211 Network to build upon an existing and well-known community resource service. Their services, combined with FDC Re-Entry Resource data, will strengthen the referral services available to the previously incarcerated.

“211 offers around-the-clock support and connects individuals and their families with local resources to help ease the re-entry period and ensure a successful transition. We believe that this important partnership between the Florida Department of Corrections and the Florida 211 Network is a best practice model that will ultimately enhance individual success and reduce recidivism,” said Sheila J. Smith, President/CEO of Florida Alliance of Information and Referral Services.

The hotline is available 24-hours a day, seven days a week, and is offered in more than 180 different languages. All communication is confidential and those wishing to remain anonymous may do so. Trained professionals are standing by for those in need. For more information, visit www.211.org.

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FLORIDA - The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is reminding the public that it’s waterbird nesting season. Many Floridians and guests are returning to the state’s beaches to celebrate Memorial Day weekend but this is also a critical time for Florida’s vulnerable wading birds, shorebird and seabird populations. By respectfully sharing our beaches and waterways with these birds, people can help ensure their survival.

Shorebirds and seabirds, such as snowy plovers and black skimmers, build shallow nests on the ground. Their eggs and chicks are well camouflaged and can easily be missed and even stepped on. Wading birds, such as herons, egrets and pelicans, are also nesting now. They typically nest in mangroves and on tree islands around the state. When people come too close to their nests, they can cause birds to abandon their nesting sites, leaving eggs and chicks vulnerable.

“Startling birds might not seem like a big deal, but disturbing shorebirds and seabirds can actually be deadly,” said FWC Florida Shorebird Alliance Coordinator, Shea Armstrong. “If a mother bird is forced to leave her nest, her eggs or chicks are left behind where they can be eaten by predators, exposed to the hot sun, or trampled by unsuspecting beachgoers.”  

Boaters and beachgoers can make a big difference for Florida’s vulnerable nesting shorebirds and seabirds by following these simple guidelines:

  • Keep your distance from birds, on the beach and on the water. If birds become agitated or leave their nests, you are too close. Birds calling out loudly and dive-bombing are signals to back off.
  • Respect posted areas. When possible, stay at least 300 feet from a posted nesting area. Avoid entering areas marked with signs for nesting birds and use designated walkways.
  • Do not enter Critical Wildlife Areas. CWAs are established to give wildlife the space needed for nesting, roosting and foraging, and they are clearly marked with signs or buoys to alert boaters to areas that are closed to public access.
  • Avoid intentionally forcing birds to fly or run. This causes them to use energy needed for nesting, and eggs and chicks may be left vulnerable to the sun’s heat or predators. Teach children to let shorebirds and seabirds rest instead of chasing them, and encourage friends and family to do the same. Shorebirds and seabirds outside of posted areas may be feeding or resting and need to do so without disturbance.
  • It is best to leave pets at home but if you bring them to the beach, keep them leashed and avoid shorebird and seabird nesting areas. Pets are not permitted on most beaches, including state parks, so always check and be respectful of local rules when preparing for a day at the beach.
  • Keep the beach clean and do not feed wildlife. Food scraps attract predators, such as raccoons and crows, which can prey on shorebird eggs and chicks. Litter on beaches can entangle birds and other wildlife.
  • Spread the word. Let your friends and family know how important it is to give shorebirds space and share the message on social media!
  • Report disturbance of nesting birds to the FWC’s Wildlife Alert Hotline at 888-404-FWCC (3922) or by texting Tip@MyFWC.com. You can also report nests that are not posted to our Wildlife Alert Program.

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TALLAHASSEE -- Florida's investigation into a domestic-violence nonprofit and its alleged misappropriation of millions in state funds ramped up this week with a lawsuit against the group's executive leadership.

It says Tiffany Carr, who led the Florida Coalition Against Domestic Violence, was paid $761,000 a year at the time of her resignation and, with paid time off, received $7 million in compensation over three years - even as the shelters under her group's management were short on funding.

Ben Wilcox, research director with the watchdog nonprofit Integrity Florida, says the state probe is long overdue.

"I think it's corruption, yeah," says Wilcox. "I think potentially, you know, criminal corruption. We'll have to see how it plays out. It may be more of a kind of legal corruption."

The Department of Children and Families, which has contracted with the coalition since 2003, filed a lawsuit Wednesday targeting Carr, the coalition's board of directors and executive officers. Yesterday, the Florida House also approved a motion to serve Carr with a subpoena "by any means necessary," after the department accused her of stonewalling oversight attempts.

According to the lawsuit, the coalition received $42 million from the Department of Children and Families in fiscal year 2017 to manage 42 domestic-violence centers that provide victims with an array of services.

Wilcox says department officials should also hold themselves accountable.

"The Department of Children and Families also failed to keep tabs on this situation," he says. "And there should be someone looking at compensation packages for these nonprofit associations that are doing business with the state."

The governor's lawyers are asking the court for more than $30,000 in damages for each of the 51 counts in the complaint against the coalition, Carr and 11 other defendants.

State Rep. Juan Fernandez-Barquin, R-Miami, and Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Jacksonville, sponsored legislation that the governor has signed, repealing a guaranteed state partnership with the coalition.

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