Connect with us

North Florida News

DeSantis eases voting rules in counties devastated by Ian



FILE - Water floods a damaged trailer park in Fort Myers, Fla., on Oct. 1, 2022, after Hurricane Ian passed by the area. Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday, Oct. 13, 2022 announced an executive order expanding voting access for the midterm elections in three counties where Hurricane Ian destroyed polling places and displaced thousands of people. (AP Photo/Steve Helber, File)

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday issued an executive order expanding voting access for the midterm elections in three counties where Hurricane Ian destroyed polling places and displaced thousands of people.

The move, which followed requests from Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota counties and voting rights groups, comes as Florida begins to undertake a massive recovery from the Category 4 hurricane that hit on Sept. 28 and leveled parts of the state’s southwest.

The order extends the number of early voting days in the three counties and authorizes election supervisors to designate additional early voting locations, steps that allow voters to cast ballots at any polling place in their registered county from Oct. 24 through Election Day, Nov. 8. Election supervisors can also relocate or consolidate polling places if necessary.

It also waives training requirements for poll workers and suspends a signature requirement for voters requesting to have a mail ballot sent to an address that is different from the one election officials have on file.

The decision was praised by Tommy Doyle, the elections supervisor in Lee County, which was the epicenter of Ian’s wrath along the Gulf Coast.

“The Executive Order is crucial because it allows us to move forward with our plans to make voting as accessible as possible to the voters of Lee County,” Doyle said Thursday.

Secretary of State Cord Byrd, a Republican appointee of the governor, said state officials are working to ensure that the election is “administered as efficiently and securely as possible across the state and in the counties that received the heaviest damage.”

The changes are similar to policies allowed by former Florida Gov. Rick Scott, a Republican, after Hurricane Michael in 2018.

DeSantis has faced questions over what steps he would take to ensure voting access in the heavily damaged southwest part of the state, which has leaned conservative in recent elections. The Republican governor, who is up for reelection, has made tightening election laws a top priority over the last two years, as he and others in the GOP reacted to former President Donald Trump’s baseless claims of widespread fraud in the 2020 presidential election.

This week, a coalition of advocacy organizations sent a letter to state election officials that asked for extension of the state’s voter registration deadline, which ended Tuesday, along with a greater number of early voting days and expanded early voting hours in affected counties, among other requests.

“It’s literally about removing barriers when people are in a state of incredible hardship and in displacement,” said Amy Keith of Common Cause Florida. “Just making it so they can do their civic duty, they can go out and exercise their right to vote.”

Separately, Doyle asked for similar changes, telling state election officials that the storm has devastated the county and its neighbors.

“In Lee county, there remain few viable election day polling locations post-storm. Several established polling locations no longer exist. Securing a sufficient number of poll workers to staff ninety-seven voting sites will be problematic. Hurricane Ian has displaced countless Lee County voters and poll workers from their homes,” he wrote in a letter to the state on Oct. 2.

Hurricane Ian came ashore in Lee County with 155 mph (250 kph) winds that decimated coastal communities and inundated areas with flooding and debris. Ian was the third deadliest storm to hit the U.S. mainland this century and Lee County has reported about half of the state’s more than 100 fatalities.

A Lee County spokesperson said election officials there have mailed out approximately 170,000 vote-by-mail ballots and will continue to send ballots out daily until the Oct. 29 request deadline. She added that the county will use its most experienced polls workers at its polling places.

During a news conference last week, DeSantis said he wants to keep the election “as normal as humanly possible” and added that there may be a need to make accommodations for a county as badly damaged as Lee, as well as possibly Charlotte County to the north.

Southwest Florida leans Republican, with the counties of Lee, Charlotte and Sarasota delivering wins for DeSantis and Trump in their last general elections. Lee County voted for Trump in 2020 by nearly 20 percentage points over President Joe Biden. DeSantis is favored to win reelection this year over Democrat Charlie Crist.

DeSantis and the Republican-controlled legislature have in the last two years tightened various voting rules in Florida. A law signed by the governor in 2021, prohibits people who would help others drop off mail ballots from possessing more than two mail ballots other than their own, unless they belong to immediate family members. This year Florida increased the penalty for the so-called “ballot harvesting” to a felony.

North Florida News

AIF names 2023 Champions for Business: Senators Kathleen Passidomo, Travis Hutson, Linda Stewart, State Reps. Paul Renner, Tommy Gregory and Tom Fabricio



Tallahassee, Fla. – The Associated Industries of Florida (AIF) today released its 2023 Voting Records and announced its 2023 Champions for Business award recipients.

AIF’s Voting Records is the definitive legislative scorecard for the business community that tabulates the voting conduct of each member of the Florida Legislature during the 2023 Legislative Session. Scores are based on committee, amendment and floor votes cast on bills that were advocated, promoted or opposed by AIF, with every bill and vote carrying equal weight. By reporting on the 3,747 votes cast by legislators on 42 bills, this publication embodies the most exhaustive and complete record of the Legislature’s collective approach to the concerns of Florida’s employers.

“Each legislative session, AIF works tirelessly, day in and day out, to advocate on behalf of Florida’s business community and ensure lawmakers understand the impact that proposed legislation would have on employers throughout our state,” said AIF President & CEO Brewster Bevis. “We track everything – bills, amendments, votes – and we’re committed to keeping the business community informed of what happens in Tallahassee. That’s why each year for the last 49 years AIF has compiled its Voting Records report, to provide businesses with a thorough review of how lawmakers voted on the issues that matter to them and let them know who their greatest advocates are.”

AIF Vice President of Governmental Affairs Adam Basford added, “Florida’s business community saw some significant victories this legislative session, from transformative tort reform legislation that will help end lawsuit abuse to a comprehensive workforce housing package that will help Floridians live where they work. But not every bill passed will have a positive impact on our state’s job creators, so we will continue to work with our members and legislators to hopefully continue to improve the business landscape in Florida. This is also why AIF’s Voting Records report is so important. It takes a complete look at every relevant bill filed and every vote cast to provide a full picture of where every lawmaker stands on the issues that really matter to the business community.”

AIF recognizes Senator Linda Stewart for her willingness to cross party lines and be the only Democratic Senator to vote for the sweeping tort reform bill. She also sponsored a bill that will significantly cut back on the amount of litigation in the auto glass industry.

AIF’s 2023 Voting Records report is available in full here. The Voting Records Database, which includes over 230,000 votes, more than 2,400 bills, and over 900 legislators from the last nearly 50 years, is available at

Along with its Voting Records report, AIF also names its Champions for Business every year since 2003, which recognizes the elected officials who provided strong leadership in advancing key legislation and has taken risks for their beliefs in the success of Florida’s business community.

“AIF’s Champions for Business went above and beyond this session and took an active role to show their support for the business community in Florida,” said Bevis. “These lawmakers served as our greatest advocates and have worked to defend free enterprise and economic prosperity time and time again. We are proud to call them our champions and are grateful to have them on our side in the Florida Legislature.”

For the 2023 Legislative Session, AIF awarded the following elected leaders with the Champions for Business distinction:

  • Senate President Kathleen Passidomo for her impeccable leadership during the 2023 Legislative Session, including playing an essential part in passing a historic tort reform bill, as well as spearheading efforts to increase access to affordable workforce housing. President Passidomo also worked closely with AIF to promote business-friendly solutions to several bills that pose significant challenges.
  • House Speaker Paul Renner for his bold leadership that helped pass one of the most monumental civil justice reform bills in history that will finally begin to put an end to lawsuit abuse in Florida.
  • House Judiciary Chairman Representative Tommy Gregory for his dedication to reshaping the legal climate in Florida by spearheading the revolutionary tort reform law, HB 837. As the bill sponsor, Chairman Gregory faced fierce opposition from the powerful trial bar, yet, instead of watering down the bill through the committee process, he pushed to provide even stronger protections for businesses who are at risk of frivolous litigation.
  • Senator Travis Hutson for his role in passing the Senate’s tort reform package during the 2023 Legislative Session. Senator Hutson made a concerted effort to work with all the relevant stakeholders to ensure that the reforms passed were meaningful and had a lasting impact on businesses and consumers.
  • Senator Linda Stewart for her willingness to cross party lines and be the only Democratic Senator to vote for the sweeping tort reform bill. She also sponsored a bill that will significantly cut back on the amount of litigation in the auto glass industry.
  • Representative Tom Fabricio for his stellar work as prime co-sponsor of HB 837 that will help put an end to lawsuit abuse in the Sunshine State. Rep. Fabricio also sponsored HB 761 that clarifies the Florida Telephone Solicitation Act to prevent frivolous litigation when businesses call or text customers for legitimate reasons.

Continue Reading

North Florida News

Commissioner Wilton Simpson Announces 2023 Winners of Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award



TALLAHASSEE, Fla.— Today, Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Wilton Simpson announced the 2023 winners of the Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award: Rocking K Cattle, Island Grove Wine Company, and Brite Leaf Citrus Nursery. The Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award has been presented annually since 1994 and spotlights environmentally innovative growers and ranchers who share a commitment to protecting and preserving Florida’s resources while continuing to produce the world-class agricultural goods we rely on.

“I am proud to recognize these three proud and innovative Florida agriculture operations as the recipients of the 2023 Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award,” said Commissioner Wilton Simpson. “These growers and ranchers exemplify innovation, environmental stewardship, and sustainable practices that are essential for the future of Florida agriculture. Their commitment to preserving Florida’s natural resources while continuing to produce the highest quality agricultural goods is truly praiseworthy.”

Rocking K Cattle, located in Odessa, Florida, stands out for its sustainable cattle ranching and hay production. Kelly Fulford, who operates Rocking K Cattle is a trailblazer in the field, has implemented multiple Best Management Practices from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services to safeguard water quality and local wildlife. By employing rotational grazing across seven cross-fence pastures, Kelly provides fresh forage to cattle while allowing the land to recuperate. To prevent erosion, feeding areas and mineral boxes are rotated and placed away from sensitive areas. Using GPS-guided systems, precise nutrient application is based on soil test results. Kelly also diligently preserves the water quality of natural ditches and cypress ponds on her property. Her commitment extends beyond her ranch, as she actively engages in educating the public about sustainable cattle ranching, hay production, and responsible land management. Kelly is a proud recipient of the Farm Bureau CARES award.

Island Grove Wine Company, situated in Hawthorne, Florida, encompasses a blueberry farm, a nursery, and a winery. Originally founded by Ken Patterson, Island Grove Wine Company is currently managed by Jerod Gross and Sarah Aschliman, VP of Marketing, who diligently implement Best Management Practices across their locations in Putnam, Alachua, and DeSoto counties. Sustainability and the production of a safe product are paramount to the Island Grove family. The north Florida operation operates entirely on organic production, utilizing drip soil water conservation techniques, drain tile systems to minimize runoff, organic weed control measures, grass buffers for nutrient filtration, wetland conservation, and wildflower areas to support native pollinators. Notably, Island Grove maximizes its harvest by transforming leftover fruit into wine, effectively achieving zero waste. Island Grove wines can be found in prominent retail chains such as Publix, Target, Whole Foods, and Total Wine across Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, and Louisiana. Island Grove Wine Company is a proud recipient of the Farm Bureau CARES award.

Brite Leaf Citrus Nursery, located near Lake Panasoffkee, Florida, specializes in the growth of commercial, retail, and wholesale citrus trees within fully enclosed, inspect-proof greenhouses spanning 90,000 square feet. Owners Nate and Anna Jameson prioritize land sustainability and have implemented eco-friendly measures to reduce water and fertilizer usage through Best Management Practices. Transitioning from overhead to drip irrigation has resulted in a remarkable 60% water savings, reducing water consumption from 24,000 to less than 10,000 gallons per day. Brite Leaf Citrus Nursery also employs coconut coir, a sustainable by-product of coconut oil, as their potting medium due to its sanitation properties and compatibility with a liquid fertigation system. Outside the greenhouses, the nursery has planted pine trees as windbreaks and to create natural habitats for local wildlife. Brite Leaf Citrus Nursery is a proud recipient of the Farm Bureau CARES award.

Visit for more information about the Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award, including past winners.

For more information about Commissioner Simpson and the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, visit

Continue Reading

North Florida News

VIDEO: Attorney General Moody Releases 2023 Hurricane Preparedness Guide



TALLAHASSEE, Fla.—On the first day of the Atlantic Hurricane Season, Attorney General Ashley Moody is releasing the 2023 Hurricane Preparedness Guide. Earlier this week, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced it is predicting a near-normal season this year, with 12-17 named storms and one to four major hurricane events. While experts do not expect an active season, it only takes one storm to be deadly—and a just-released report suggests as many as one in five Floridians do not plan on preparing for a potential storm strike.

Attorney General Ashley Moody said, “Today marks the beginning of the Atlantic Hurricane Season and a new survey claims one in five Floridians do not plan to make preparations for a potential storm strike. This is extremely concerning, especially on the heels of last year’s devastating season that caused tremendous damage and flooding in our state. I want to encourage those Floridians defying the experts to reconsider their strategy and check out our 2023 Hurricane Preparedness Guide—for tips on how to protect life and property.”

Florida experienced a deadly hurricane season last year. Although Florida saw fewer storms than in previous years, three deadly storms did impact the state, two of the storms’ names are being retired. The guide contains information about major storm events, preparing property for a hurricane strike and avoiding scams that may arise before, during and in the aftermath of a storm.

Here are some important hurricane preparedness tips from the 2023 guide:

  • Know evacuation routes and shelter locations;
  • Stock up on enough food, water and emergency supplies for the entire household for at least seven days;
  • Check that storm-related products are hurricane-proof or impact-proof before purchasing;
  • Verify charities before donating;
  • Beware of unsolicited contractors and extremely low or high prices for quotes; and
  • Report price gouging on the No Scam app.

To access the 2023 Hurricane Preparedness Guide in English, click here.

To access the 2023 Hurricane Preparedness Guide in Spanish, click here.

Floridians can stay informed about serious storm events using the Florida Division of Emergency Management’s website, Floridians can monitor a storm’s progression and the latest weather alerts using the NOAA’s Hurricane Center by visiting

In the event of an incoming tropical storm or hurricane, Floridians should look for further guidance from local officials and emergency managers.

Florida’s price gouging laws are designed to protect consumers from becoming victims before, during and after a disaster. Throughout a declared state of emergency, it is unlawful to sell essential commodities or services for an amount that grossly exceeds the average price for that commodity or service during the 30 days before the emergency declaration.

For more information about price gouging, click here.

Continue Reading