Abortion in Florida, Property Insurance Crisis, Record-Breaking Home Sale, and Orlando’s ICON Park

July 8th, 2022 — Visit Floridian Today via Substack.com to subscribe and learn more.

Welcome to the inaugural edition of Floridian Today, a newsletter about all things Florida — from politics, business, real estate, and climate. These are the most important stories in the Sunshine State that you must know. If you’d like to sign-up to never miss an update, you can do so here:

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Abortion Restrictions in Florida

The U.S. Supreme Court’s recent reversal of the landmark Roe v. Wade precedent and Florida’s new 15-week abortion ban have occurred within a week of each other, creating a more rigid environment for women seeking abortion care. While abortion is still legal in Florida, the new law which took effect on July 1st, further restricts abortion access for women past 15 weeks of pregnancy unless it endangers the health of the mother. No exceptions are made in cases of rape and incest. The law, signed by Gov. DeSantis in April, replaces previous state statute that permitted abortions until 24 weeks of pregnancy. The state’s 15-week law continues to be challenged in court, with a circuit court judge issuing a statewide injunction, deeming the law “unconstitutional.” But the law remains in effect with Attorney General Ashley Moody filing an appeal that automatically suspends the decision. Several prosecutors, including Hillsborough County’s Andrew Warren have vowed not to prosecute abortions.

Despite Florida’s new limits, several states have imposed stricter abortion restrictions than the Sunshine State. For example, South Carolina and Ohio’s six-week prohibition or Oklahoma, Mississippi, and Alabama’s outright ban with minimal exceptions.

There are possibly some electoral ramifications of both Florida’s new 15-week abortion ban and the Supreme Court’s overrule of Roe v. Wade, if Democrats can energize voters on the issue. While the GOP experiences several advantages ahead of the mid-term election in November with a “red wave” predicted in the state, Democrats are hopeful the abortion issue can change the tide. Even ahead of the Democratic gubernatorial primary in August, candidate and current Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is on the offensive against her rival, Congressman Charlie Crist. The Fried campaign has released an ad that has called Crist “pro-life” and an opponent of a women’s right to choose. PolitiFact has ruled Nikki Fried’s ad as “mostly false,” calling it “misleading” and referencing the Congressman’s record on supporting legal abortion access for women. Fried trails behind in the polls, but her campaign is doubling down on the issue of abortion and women’s health care rights, hoping it will be a victorious strategy in time for August’s primary election. And it may be working, latest polls for the Governor Democratic Primary race show the gap narrowing with a virtual tie.

The Continual Crisis of Property Insurance in Florida

Another property insurer has declared bankruptcy in the state, becoming the fourth property insurance company to go insolvent since February. Southern Fidelity Insurance Company has left 80,000 Floridians searching for a new insurance provider after the Tallahassee-based company was forced to shutter — right at the beginning of hurricane season. Southern Fidelity joins Lighthouse Property Insurance Corporation, Avatar Property and Casualty Insurance, and St. Johns Insurance Company who have all been ordered liquidated in less than 6 months. Concerns circulate that these dropped homeowners will reinsure through Citizens Property Insurance Corporation (“Citizens”), the state-owned property insurance company of “last resort.” Citizens has ballooned in the number of covered policies and could put non-Citizens policyholders at risk of paying claims in the event of a devastating hurricane or other disaster. This would have negative implications on Florida homeowners as the state-run insurer has grown exponentially to nearly 900,000 policies and adds close to 25,000 per month. For reference, this is roughly twice the number of policies they covered two years ago and over 40% more than just one year ago in June 2021. Citizens has $300 billion in exposure of potential claims and has the ability to cover only $6 billion in claims. The insurer has also failed to obtain the reinsurance coverage that would be necessary to cover risks from natural disasters should they incur costs via claims that are beyond their ability to pay. But reinsurance companies themselves are leaving Florida’s tumultuous property insurance environment.

Southern Fidelity’s bankruptcy comes nearly a month after a special legislative session was held by lawmakers to address the insurance marketplace in crisis. Lawmakers agreed to legislation that works to address widespread insurance litigation and fraud that has resulted in increased costs for homeowners. There were 100,000 lawsuits against insurance companies in the state last year. The other 49 states in the U.S. had a combined total of roughly 20,000. Insurance companies say lawsuits from roofing companies are largely to blame for the rise in premiums, coverage cancellations, and insurer bankruptcies. However, insurance experts say the steps taken by the legislature won’t bring about positive results for 12 to 18 months and only then, they say it will bring marginal relief. Nine property insurance companies are in receivership while others are retreating from the state, dropping customers, or refusing to write new business altogether. As this occurs and insurers cancel policies, Citizens Property Insurance is left absorbing these abandoned policyholders, increasing the risk that Florida homeowners across the state would have to offset losses incurred if a natural event sends claims skyrocketing. Finding affordable new policies becomes a significant challenge and leaves homeowners to choose Citizens. State law puts a cap on Citizens’ annual rate increases and in 2022, that cap was 11%. Floridians pay nearly three times the national average with premiums over $4,000 compared to an average $1,544 across the remaining states.

Disney Delays

The Walt Disney Company is delaying plans to open their Florida campus that would relocate 2,000 employees from California to the Sunshine State. This news comes just one year after Disney announced the plan to build a new regional campus in Lake Nona, a trendy, up-and-coming planned community near Orlando International Airport that has seen tremendous growth in the last decade. The new campus would sit roughly 20 miles east of Disney World. According to Disney officials, the reason behind the nearly 4-year delay is due to the completion date of the new campus being pushed out to 2026 — not political drama as suspected. Just a few months ago, The Walt Disney Company became a target of Governor DeSantis and Republican lawmakers when legislation passed that would dissolve the private governing jurisdiction and special taxing district that Disney controls. This was in response to the company opposing the “Parental Rights in Education” bill that opponents called the “Don’t Say Gay” bill. This legislation bans classroom instruction on sexual orientation or gender identity in kindergarten through third grade. The bill becomes effective on July 1, 2022. This news is a dramatic shift from Disney’s original announcement that compelled workers to make the move to Florida by the end of 2022. When this move to Florida does occur, it will bring a significant economic boost to Central Florida.

$1 Billion Settlement

A judge in Miami has approved a $1.02 billion is a settlement brought by a class-action lawsuit by survivors and the families of victims of the deadly Surfside beachfront condominium collapse that killed 98 people . The agreement was reached just prior to the one-year anniversary of the condominium collapse that is one of the worst building disasters in U.S. history. Of the total, most of it will go to the family members of victims killed in the 12-story building failure with $100 million set aside for legal fees and $96 million going to owners who faced economic losses from their destroyed condo units and personal belongings. The defendants in the lawsuit includes insurance companies and the developers of an adjacent building that was under construction and as a result of the work, was alleged to have damaged and compromised the structural integrity of the Champlain Towers building. However, in the aftermath of the collapse, engineering reports and maintenance documentation revealed that the building was in significant need of necessary repairs with concrete deterioration, namely with the pool deck, and defective construction noted.

Florida’s Most Expensive Home Sale Ever

Larry Ellison, billionaire co-founder of the software company, Oracle Corporation, has paid $173 million for a 16-acre estate in South Florida that ranks as the largest residential sale ever in the Sunshine State. The record-setting purchase was made by a limited liability company tied to the tech billionaire for the property in Manalapan, the affluent community just south of Palm Beach. The transaction includes a 62,200-square-foot main residence, a 7-bedroom guest house, a sports complex, and a portion of nearby Bird Island. The property was purchased from Jim Clark, another Silicon Valley billionaire who founded several companies such as Netscape. Clark paid $94.2 million for the estate last March, profiting nearly $79 million from the sale in one year. Ellison currently ranks as the eighth richest person in the world, according to Forbes, with a net worth just shy of $97 billion.

The “Stop WOKE Act”

A new state law, known as the “Stop WOKE Act,” took effect on Friday, July 1st, and attracted the attention of the corporate world that vowing to challenge it. A priority of Governor DeSantis against “woke indoctrination,” the law places restrictions on how concepts related to race and gender can be addressed in workplace training and school instruction. These prohibited concepts include the idea that “one race, color, national origin, or sex are morally superior to members of another race, color, national origin, or sex” and that “a person, by virtue of his or her race, color, national origin, or sex is inherently racist, sexist, or oppressive, whether consciously or unconsciously.” It also restricts training or teaching that people experience privilege or oppression based on their race, gender, or national origin. Several businesses are attempting to block the restrictions by asking a federal judge to issue a preliminary injunction against the law on the grounds that it violates First Amendment rights. The businesses filing lawsuits include Whitespace Consulting, LLC., a consulting company that provides diversity, equity, and inclusion training to businesses, Clearwater-based Honeyfund.com that establishes honeymoon and wedding registries, and a franchisee of the Ben & Jerry’s ice cream chain.

DeSantis Dominates in Fundraising

Governor Ron DeSantis continues to trounce his Democratic rivals in fundraising for the 2022 gubernatorial race and it hasn’t been close. In May alone, the Republican candidate raised $10.2 million. Compared to the two candidates vying for the Democratic ticket in the primary election, former Governor Charlie Crist and Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who collected just $1 million and $302,528 in May, respectively. In total, DeSantis has hauled in over $124 million in his reelection bid, far outpacing his opponents. Crist has raised a measly $10.2 million as Fried has accumulated a miniscule $6.9 million since they both launched their gubernatorial campaigns last year. DeSantis has attracted at least 42 billionaires as financial contributors to his campaign, including a $1.25 million check from the Republican Governors Association.

Financial Behemoth Relocates Business to Florida

The world’s 53rd richest billionaire is moving the headquarters of his company to Florida. Ken Griffin, founder and CEO of the hedge fund and financial services company Citadel, announced that he is relocating the business from Chicago to Miami, a move that will bring hundreds of the firm’s employees to Florida in the next year. So why the move now? Griffin, a notable Republican donor, cites frustration with Illinois’ political governance and Chicago’s growing crime, specifically concerns over violence and employee safety in the Windy City. Citadel will embark on a multi-year process of establishing Miami as their global HQ, including building a new office. The hedge fund billionaire is no stranger to the Sunshine State. He was born in Daytona Beach, raised in Boca Raton, and just recently, moved to Miami with his family. Ken Griffin’s Citadel is the latest financial firm to call South Florida home, joining others like Goldman Sachs Group and Blackstone Group who have made similar announcements in recent years.

The Next Steps for Attractions at ICON Park

Orlando’s ICON Park has come under the microscope in the months following the tragic death of 14-year-old Tyre Sampson as officials work to address safety issues. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and State Senator Randolph Bracy held a recent community conversation about the rides at ICON Park including a discussion about Orlando Freefall, the attraction Sampson was on when he was killed. The conversation was about needed changes as Commissioner Fried stated that the first phase of the investigation is finished and a full inspection of the ride will continue. Lawmakers have called for the Orlando FreeFall ride to stay closed, but no timeline was given on the future plans for the attraction or whether it would reopen. The Slingshot Group, the company that owns and operates the ride as well as other attractions across the state, has faced much scrutiny from many Florida officials who have asked for the company to be shutdown and their rides permanently closed. Immediately following the death of Sampson in March, The Slingshot Group suspended operation of the two rides it owns at ICON Park, but rides at other locations remained operational. In calling for the company to be shutdown, Sen. Bracy expressed concerns with their sketchy safety record and referenced two other deaths related to attractions they own — one in 2020 and another in 2011. Both incidents occurred during work and maintenance on the Orlando StarFlyer at ICON Park. State leaders are asking for the pubic to provide input on the fate of the 430-foot drop tower. For now, the Orlando FreeFall remains closed indefinitely.

Coca-Cola Breaks Ground on Massive Facility in Tampa

Coca-Cola Beverages Florida (aka. Coke Florida) has broken ground on a new 800,000-square-foot sales and distribution center in Tampa that will span 156 acres as the company outgrows its current plant. When completed in an estimated 24–36 months, Coke Florida will employ more than 800 employees across sales, manufacturing, distribution, and warehousing at this facility. The company will be investing $250 million in the buildout. Coke Florida is also nearing completion of a $5 million, 22,000 square-foot distribution center in St. Petersburg that will provide 50–60 jobs when it is expected to open in September. Tampa-based Coca-Cola Beverages Florida bottles, distributes, and sells Coca-Cola products exclusively across 47 counties in the state and is the 3rd largest privately owned beverage bottler in the U.S. The company posted $1.5 billion in revenue in 2021.

No Votes on Bipartisan Gun Safety Bill

Republican Senators Marco Rubio and Rick Scott joined over two dozens of their colleagues in the Senate by voting ‘no’ on the bipartisan gun control bill. The Bipartisan Safer Communities Act of 2022 regulates firearms and focuses on mental health and school safety by providing states with incentives to pass “red flag” laws. The bill ultimately passed the Senate in a 65–33 vote and was carried in the Democrat-controlled House, where it succeeded 234–193, becoming the first gun control measure out of Congress in 30 years. While Sen. Rubio and Scott expressed some approval for portions of the legislation, both believed it went too far in impeding upon individual’s constitutional and due process rights. Interestingly, as governor, Scott signed into law the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, which raised the age limit for purchasing firearms from 18 to 21 and boosted funding for mental health care, the latter being included in the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. However, the junior senator pushed back against such comparisons, saying that the bill “automatically restores gun rights to convicted domestic abusers” after five years.

The legislation is a response to the shootings at a Buffalo, New York, grocery store and an elementary school in Uvalde, Texas, that both occurred in May. Some of its changes include enhancing background checks for gun buyers under 21 years old, narrows the “boyfriend loophole,” establishes new criminal penalties for straw purchases and gun trafficking, and provides $750 million in federal grants to incentivize states to implement crisis intervention programs. It also sets aside billions of dollars to boost school safety and increase mental health services. President Biden signed the legislation into law on June 25th.

Gillum’s Continuing Fall from Grace

Former candidate for Governor and rising star in the Democratic Party, Andrew Gillum, has been indicted by a federal grand jury on 21 felony counts, including wire fraud, conspiracy, and making false statements related to his candidacy in the 2018 gubernatorial race. According to the indictment, from 2016 to 2019, Gillum and his campaign advisor, Sharon Janet Lettman-Hicks, “conspired to commit wire fraud, by unlawfully soliciting and obtaining funds from various entities and individuals through false and fraudulent promises and representations that the funds would be used for a legitimate purpose.” Gillum, who served as mayor of Tallahassee from 2014 to 2018, is further alleged to have accepted gifts from an undercover FBI agent as well as use campaign funds concealed as payroll payments for personal use. In a statement, Gillum called the case against him “political” and declared his innocence. He faces up to 20 years in prison, if convicted.

This isn’t the first time Gillum has faced negative headlines following his narrow defeat by Republican Ron DeSantis. In 2020, the once national political figure and media darling was swept up in a scandal when he was found unresponsive in a Miami Beach hotel room with a male sex worker who had overdosed on drugs. Police said they found suspected drugs that were believed to be crystal meth in the room. No charges were ever filed, but Gillum did admit to alcohol abuse and later came out as bisexual.

DeSantis Signs Alzheimer’s Education Bill

A bill that directs the Department of Health to provide enhanced education to certain health care practitioners related to Alzheimer’s disease and related forms of dementia has been signed into law by Gov. DeSantis. The “Ramping up Education of Alzheimer’s Disease and Dementia for You,” or READY Act, also provides for the state health department to improve community outreach programs. The Alzheimer’s Association and other advocates say the bill will save lives by increasing awareness and knowledge of the signs of Alzheimer’s and dementia, especially in early stages. Increasing education to health practitioners will be important to prevent misdiagnosis of the disease and ensure early detection of cognitive impairment. The bill encourages doctors, often the first point of contact for people expressing health concerns, to discuss the warning signs of these diseases with patients over 60 years of age. The 2022–23 budget includes over $52 million for the Alzheimer’s Disease Initiative Program, a 60% increase from 2019 and $12 million more than the previous budget year.

Children’s Hospitals Rank Among the Nation’s Best

A congratulations are in order for three children’s hospitals in Florida, which recently ranked as among the nation’s top-ranked hospitals, according to U.S. News & World Report. Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children, Nicklaus Children’s Hospital in Miami, and UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital in Gainesville, all tied for №1 as the “Best Children’s Hospitals in Florida” and №8 in Southeast region. Across five specialities, these hospitals all ranked within the top 50 children’s hospitals in the nation, with UF Health Shands Children’s Hospital earning the highest ranking as the 13th best in the Pediatric Diabetes & Endocrinology specialty. Our kids are in good hands…

A Perfect Time for Pet Adoption

Looking to expand your family? That is, your family of fury pets. Now is the perfect time to adopt as Alachua County Animal Resources and Care waives adoption fees due to overcrowding. In fact, the problem is so severe that county officials are weighing possible euthanization. The problem of overcrowding is not unique to North Central Florida, however. Animal shelters across the state are reporting a spike in the number of animals needing to be adopted. One shelter in Tampa Bay is operating at over 500% capacity with an overabundance of kittens and cats being of particular concern. Why has this become such a problem? For one, it’s kitten season, when cats start reproducing and have several litters at a time, contributing to an influx of intakes to animal shelters. Others are blaming inflation, saying rising costs are resulting in more people being unable to care for their pets.

Gainesville Mayoral Race Grows

If you were around Gainesville in the 1980s, then you may be familiar with the name, Gary Gordon, who served as Mayor-Commissioner from 1985–86 and City Commissioner from 1983–86. Nearly four decades later, Gordon is once again throwing his hat in the ring as he enters Gainesville’s diverse and crowded mayoral race. Gordon is focused on combatting overdevelopment, preserving single-family zoning, and addressing the City’s “budget problems.” Nine candidates have qualified for Gainesville City Mayor with District 2 Commissioner Harvey Ward Jr. leading in fundraising totals. Current Mayor Lauren Poe is term-limited.

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Floridian Today

A newsletter about Florida. Covering politics, business, real estate, and climate.