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Florida Senate Measure Aimed At Keeping Churches Open




TALLAHASSEE (CBSMiami/NSF) – After high-profile disputes in various parts of the country about shuttering churches during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Florida Senate is poised to take up a proposal that would help prevent closures of religious institutions during future emergencies.

The Senate Rules Committee on Thursday voted 13-1 to support a measure (SB 254) intended to shield in-person religious services from being shut down because of emergency orders.

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Bill sponsor Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, said religious institutions would still have to close if lockdown orders were applied to all businesses in a crisis such as a hurricane, but “basically, if Target and Publix are open, so too should be the religious institution.”

Brodeur added that the proposal wouldn’t preclude religious leaders from acting on their own to conduct services virtually. With Thursday’s committee vote, the bill is ready for consideration by the full Senate.

Sen. Bobby Powell, a West Palm Beach Democrat who voted against the bill, said the state has a responsibility to protect people.

“There were a number of times that religious institutions decided to gather and the result of that caused many people their lives,” Powell said. “That being said, we’re stewards of the state. We do have a responsibility to always kind of move the state forward. In essence, a religious institution being within the state of Florida, thus authorizing them to buck the system by ignoring emergency orders, is not what I think we’re here to do.”

When pressed by Sen. Audrey Gibson, D-Jacksonville, about whether the measure would prevent religious leaders from requiring congregants to produce vaccination cards or wear masks to attend services, Brodeur replied, “They’re free to ask that. I don’t know that they can legally require that.”

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Gov. Ron DeSantis declared a state of emergency on March 9, 2020, as the pandemic began to hit the state. Among the more than 50 supplemental coronavirus-related executive orders that DeSantis issued, one provided that certain essential businesses and establishments could operate at reduced capacities, including churches, synagogues and other houses of worship.

The exemption came shortly after the pastor of a Tampa megachurch was arrested for holding two in-person church services in violation of a Hillsborough County ordinance prohibiting gatherings of more than 10 people. The charges were eventually dropped.

A Senate staff analysis noted that by May 2020, when then-President Donald Trump called for the reopening of religious institutions, more than 90 percent of the institutions were estimated to have been closed to in-person worship.

By April 2021, the U.S. Supreme Court had at least five times rejected California’s COVID-19 restrictions on religious exercises, the staff report said.

Rep. Nick DiCeglie, R-Indian Rocks Beach, has filed the House version (HB 215) of Brodeur’s proposal. The House bill has not started moving through committees. The annual legislative session started Tuesday.

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(©2022 CBS Local Media. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The News Service of Florida’s Jim Turner contributed to this report.)

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Joel Greenberg friend and former employee to plead guilty in federal court




Thank you for supporting our journalism. This article is available exclusively for our subscribers, who help fund our work at the Orlando Sentinel.

Joe Ellicott — a close friend of disgraced Seminole County Tax Collector Joel Greenberg and a former radio talk show host — agreed to plead guilty to conspiracy to commit wire fraud and distribution of a controlled substance, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.

Each charge carries a maximum prison sentence of 20 years and fines totaling more than $5.2 million.

According to court documents, Ellicott admitted to agreeing to pay bribes to a public official. He also pled guilty to illegally selling Adderall, an attention deficit hyperactivity disorder prescription.

Ellicott has agreed to cooperate fully with the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the investigation and prosecution of other people, according to the plea agreement.

This is a breaking story. Check back for more details.

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Baptist Health South Florida names John P. Diaz, M.D., Medical Director of Robotic Surgery and Chair of the Robotics and Innovations in Surgery Subcommittee




Gynecologic oncologist John P. Diaz, M.D., has been appointed medical director of Robotic Surgery and chair of the Robotics and Innovations in Surgery Subcommittee at Baptist Health South Florida. In his new role, Dr. Diaz will oversee the organization’s expanding robotic surgery program as new technologies and advances in the field continue to be developed at an exponential pace.

Dr. Diaz has extensive training and experience in robotic and minimally invasive surgery. In December, he was named chief of Gynecologic Oncology at Miami Cancer Institute, where he performs surgery and leading-edge research in gynecologic cancer, including endometrial, ovarian, cervical, vaginal and vulvar cancer. He was one of five founding gynecologic oncologists at Miami Cancer Institute, part of Baptist Health, when it opened in 2017.

“As our robotic surgery program continues to grow, we are fortunate to have a skilled leader and surgeon at the helm,” said Jack Ziffer, Ph.D., M.D., executive vice president, chief clinical officer and chief physician executive at Baptist Health. “We are entering a new era in robotic medicine, performing more and more complex cases with the assistance of robotic technology. Dr. Diaz has the expertise to ensure that our program maintains its excellent patient outcomes while encouraging innovation.”

The Center for Robotic Surgery at Baptist Health is designated as a Center of Excellence for Robotic Surgery (COERS) by the Clinical Robotic Surgery Association (CRSA) and a Center of Excellence in Minimally Invasive Gynecology (COEMIG) by the American Association of Gynecologic Laparoscopists (AAGL). The Center specializes in general, bariatric, oncologic, colorectal, gynecologic, thoracic and urologic surgery, as well as ear, nose and throat surgery.

“Dr. Diaz is a world-renowned leader who is passionate about his patients and his research,” said Michael J. Zinner, M.D., CEO and executive medical director of Miami Cancer Institute. “We are excited that he will continue to use his outstanding leadership skills to lead and advance our gynecologic oncology program and clinical trials.”

Dr. Diaz helped pioneer fertility-sparing surgery for cervical cancer and sentinel lymph node mapping for gynecologic malignancies ― both of which are now standards of care. “Surgical innovation is fundamental to improving patient care,” Dr. Diaz said. “I’m enthusiastic about my new roles because as we explore new technology, devices and techniques, the people of South Florida and beyond benefit from our latest breakthroughs.”

Born and raised in Miami, Dr. Diaz earned his undergraduate and medical degrees from the University of Miami. He completed his obstetrics/gynecology residency at the University of Miami/Jackson Memorial Hospital and his gynecologic oncology fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering in New York, where he received the Department of Surgery Chairman’s Award. He then returned to Miami and served as an attending physician at the University of Miami’s Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center.

He currently serves as an associate professor for the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Florida International University. His research interests include novel surgical techniques for ovarian cancer and innovative cancer therapies, including hyperthermic intraperitoneal chemotherapy and immunotherapy. In 2019, Dr. Diaz was awarded a $1.8 million grant to investigate immunotherapy and PARP inhibitors for cervical cancer treatment.

Dr. Diaz’s research has been published in numerous peer-reviewed medical journals, such as Oncology, Gynecologic Oncology, the Journal of Minimally Invasive Gynecology, the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology, and Gynecologic Oncology Reports. He is also a reviewer for Gynecologic Oncology, BioMed Cancer, International Journal of Gynecologic Oncology and the Annals of Surgical Oncology.

He has been an invited speaker and presented his research nationally and internationally at the Society of Gynecologic Oncology, American Society of Clinical Oncology, International Gynecologic Cancer Society and many others.

About Baptist Health South Florida

Baptist Health South Florida is the largest healthcare organization in the region, with 11 hospitals, more than 23,000 employees, 4,000 physicians and 100 outpatient centers, urgent care facilities and physician practices spanning across Miami-Dade, Monroe, Broward and Palm Beach counties. For more information, visit and connect with us on FacebookInstagramTwitter and LinkedIn.

About Miami Cancer Institute

Miami Cancer Institute brings to South Florida access to personalized clinical treatments and comprehensive support services delivered with unparalleled compassion. Selected as Florida’s only member of the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer (MSK) Alliance, Miami Cancer Institute is part of a meaningful clinical collaboration that affords patients in South Florida access to innovative treatments and ensures that the standards of care developed by their multidisciplinary disease management teams match those at MSK.

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Governor Ron DeSantis Highlights Florida’s Educational Leadership in “Florida School Choice Week” Proclamation




Gov. DeSantis has issued an official proclamation declaring Jan. 23-Jan. 29 Florida School Choice Week. The proclamation from Gov. DeSantis comes on the heels of a year of historic school choice expansions nationwide, including the expansion of Florida’s voucher, tax-credit scholarship, and education savings account policies.

The proclamation highlights Florida’s nationwide leadership in offering families choice opportunities, including the funding of “more than 192,000 scholarships, more than 55% of which were funded with private donations, for students with special needs, students from low-middle income families, students who have endured bullying, and students who struggle with reading.”

In issuing the proclamation, Gov. DeSantis joins a bipartisan group of more than 30 governors and more than 400 state, city and county leaders across the U.S. who have recognized the Week. This year marks the twelfth annual School Choice Week, which will feature more than 26,000 events nationwide.

Families will celebrate Florida School Choice Week with more than 3,000 events and activities across the state, planned by parents, teachers, and other community members. These fairs, informational sessions, rallies, and more aim to inspire conversations about the school choices parents have or want for their children, and encourage families to play an active role in their children’s education.

“Florida families have shown time and time again how deeply they care about their children having access to diverse learning opportunities through different school types and scholarship programs,” said Andrew Campanella, president of National School Choice Week. “We are grateful to Gov. DeSantis for officially recognizing the importance of educational choice, and we cannot wait to see pictures of all the wonderful events happening across Florida.”

National School Choice Week shines a spotlight on effective K-12 education options for children. As a not-for-profit effort, the Week focuses equally on traditional public, charter, magnet, online, private, and home education options. Every January, participants plan tens of thousands of events and activities –– such as school fairs, open houses, and student showcases –– to raise awareness about school choice across all 50 states. Year-round, National School Choice Week develops resources and guides to assist families searching for schools or learning environments for their children. The effort is nonpolitical and nonpartisan and does not advocate for legislation.

For more information, visit

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