CHARLOTTE COUNTY, Fla. – Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis on Thursday announced the disbursement of $2 million from the growing Florida Disaster Fund to several groups representing law enforcement and first responders in the state.
During a news conference at the Charlotte County Sheriff’s Office’s Willian H. Reilly Administration Building in Punta Gorda, DeSantis handed off four $500,000 checks, one each to representatives of the Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA), Florida Police Benevolent Association (PBA), State Fraternal Order of Police (FOP) and Florida Professional Firefighters, Inc. (FPF).
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The governor said the money was meant to help individuals represented by the organizations rebuild and otherwise recover from Hurricane Ian, in return for their own instrumental efforts in maintaining order and stability in their communities during and after the storm.
“You’ve seen all these people — police officers, sheriff’s deputies, firefighters — out there from the moment the storm hit,” DeSantis said. “...All (these groups) have had members that have been impacted in one way or another and all of those definitely have members whose homes were destroyed entirely as a result of this storm, so we wanted to be helpful with that. We knew they were busy raising money to help and so we thought with the first lady’s support that we could make a difference. So today, I’m happy to announce $2 million toward those efforts for our first responders to help get them back on their feet from the Florida Disaster Fund.”
The governor was joined by Charlotte County Sheriff Bill Prummel, Sheriff Billy Woods of Marion County and Hernando County Sheriff Al Neinhuis, among others.
Prummel described a large number of his staff with property damaged or displaced in the hurricane, thanking the governor for the funds.
“Now we’ve suffered a great loss here, but I can tell you from experience, I’ve lived through it before, we will bounce back and we will be stronger than ever,” Prummel said. “...They were here before, during and after the storm, and responding to your needs, lending you a compassionate ear or a helping hand. All while many, actually most of my staff, suffered some kind of damage of some sort, and I have many who suffered great loss where they no longer have their houses, but they still came to work.”
With DeSantis, too, was Steadman Stahl, president of the South Florida PBA; Steve Zona, president of the Florida State FOP; and Rocco Salvatori, vice president of FPF.
Stahl thanked the governor and first lady Casey DeSantis for putting the checks together, hearkening back to his previous experiences in a community recovering from a major hurricane.
“For those of you that are suffering right now, I started my career back in 1990 with the city of Homestead. The city of Homestead was ground zero for Hurricane Andrew, and I can tell you that the officers out there working, and I was one of them, that when you’re out there working, trying to do the job keeping the evil away from good, you always had that back of mind what you can do about your house and your family and how you’re gonna get by, and this token, I can tell you governor, is going to relieve a lot of that stress that the officers are going through out there, and behalf of all the officers I want to say thank you, and like the sheriff said, it will get better,” Stahl said.
Around noon Thursday, DeSantis held a second news conference, this time at a school in Cape Coral.
The event at Gulf Elementary highlighted the state’s latest focus on reopening Lee County schools, promising a “lucky 13″ schools plan to reopen at 9 a.m. Monday. The efforts included expedited, “record-setting” debris cleanup, as well as power and internet restoration at Lee County schools, DeSantis said.
The governor was joined by Florida Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr. and Lee County Superintendent Dr. Christopher Bernier at the event.
“So here in Lee County, under Secretary Diaz’s leadership, they have worked directly with the utility companies to prioritize the power restoration to the schools. They worked with the Department of Emergency Management to bring generators to the schools where those were necessary. They worked with our Department of Management Services to provide Elon Musk Starlink internet for the schools — I mean, some of these internet isn’t connected yet with some of the cable companies, so you have that Starlink, that could be the difference on being able to do everything — Department of Education’s also facilitated the movement of portable classrooms and classroom supplies, and of course, our Department of Transportation has helped clear debris from bus stops, bus routes and from campuses,” DeSantis said.
DeSantis also commented on a jury’s decision Thursday to recommend a life sentence for Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz, expressing his disappointment.
“I think that if you have a death penalty at all, that is a case — where you’re massacring those students with premeditation and utter disregard for basic humanity — that you deserve the death penalty. And so the jurors came back, apparently it was 11 to one with one holdout refusing to authorize the ultimate punishment, and that means that this killer is going to end up getting the same sentence of people who’ve committed bad acts, but acts that did not rise to this level. I just don’t think anything else is appropriate except the capital sentence in this case, and so I was very disappointed to see that,” DeSantis said “...But I think this one... this stings. It was not I think what we were hoping for, and so I just, it would have been a situation where if that would have gone the correct way, I would have done everything in my power to expedite that process forward. Nevertheless, we are where we are today.”
Another issue DeSantis took was the time spent leading up to and during the shooter’s trial, now more than four and a half years past the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in 2018.
“You know, they used to do this, he would have been executed in six months. He’s guilty. Everybody knew that from the beginning, and yet it takes years and years in this legal system that is not serving the interests of victims,” DeSantis said.
The governor’s office earlier Thursday announced DeSantis had issued an emergency Executive Order to “ensure ballot access for voters in counties severely impacted by Hurricane Ian.”
EO 22-234 authorizes elections supervisors in Charlotte, Lee and Sarasota counties to do the following:
- Extend the number of days for early voting and designate additional early voting locations. The early voting period may begin as early as Monday, Oct. 24, 2022, and can extend through Election Day, Nov. 8, 2022.
- Allow voters in Charlotte, Lee and Sarasota counties to request by phone that their vote-by-mail (VBM) ballot be mailed to an address other than their address of record. Voters must still provide an appropriate form of identification in the same manner as absent uniform service and overseas voters.
- Designate and provide notice of the locations for secure ballot intake stations and relocate and consolidate polling locations as necessary.
- Increase the pool of eligible poll workers who may serve within Charlotte, Lee, and Sarasota counties by making eligible any poll workers previously trained for the 2020 election cycle and thereafter and by encouraging state employees to serve as poll workers in these counties.
The three counties’ elections supervisors advised the state that obstacles remain in their way after Hurricane Ian, such as damage to polling locations, utility and telecommunications service disruptions, displaced voters and low poll worker availability, though the officials have not reported “any damage to voting machines, and all election-related equipment, including ballots, are secure.”
DeSantis on Wednesday participated in a roundtable with South Floridian residents and business owners, hearing suggestions of where else to send what help in Lee County and other such regions ripped worse than most by the storm.
It also came out Wednesday that the Treasury Department’s internal watchdog is investigating whether the governor improperly used federal pandemic aid to fly migrants to Martha’s Vineyard in September, the White House calling DeSantis’ action a “cruel, premeditated political stunt.”
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