September 23, 2021

Florida Policy Institute Names 2021 Policy Award Recipients

Think tank honors legislators and advocates committed to shared prosperity

ORLANDO, Fla. - Florida Policy Institute (FPI) today announced that Rep. Robin Bartleman, Sen. Jeff Brandes, Florida Voices for Health CEO Scott Darius, and Florida Policy Institute Board Member Damian Thorman will all be receiving 2021 policy awards from the organization for their dedication to improving economic mobility and the quality of life for all Floridians.

“On behalf of Florida Policy Institute’s staff and our board of directors, I thank this year’s recipients for their unwavering dedication to building a state where every person can thrive and their efforts to improve health equity and achieve criminal justice reform,” said Sadaf Knight, CEO of FPI. “During this period of economic uncertainty and a health crisis like no other we’ve seen, they have stepped up and are pushing for policy solutions that put Floridians’ recovery front and center.”

2021 Policy Pioneer Award: Rep. Robin Bartleman

A special education teacher at heart, Rep. Robin Bartleman (D-Weston) brings a passion for better, more equitable services for all Floridians to the state House. In her first year as a state representative in 2021, she spearheaded a bill, “Managed Care Plan Performance,” which would ensure that Florida’s Medicaid Managed Care Programs collect performance measures to monitor and improve the state’s health systems and reduce health disparities. The bill passed the House — a big feat for a freshman legislator — and the wheels are turning for the bill to gain traction once again in 2022.

Rep. Bartleman’s focus on improving the health and well-being of Florida’s children is reflected in her pursuit of better public services, including broadening the eligibility for KidCare.

“I am honored to receive the Florida Policy Institute Policy Pioneer award,” said Rep. Bartleman. “Their policy briefs and research assist legislators in making informed decisions to improve the lives of all Floridians. During my first session, FPI supported me in my efforts to pass HB 899, legislation to identify health care disparities in Florida's Medicaid Program and helped with HB 201, which expands KidCare to Florida's families. I look forward to working with the Florida Policy Institute and championing critical legislation to ensure all Floridians have access to affordable healthcare.”

2021 Legislative Leadership Award: Sen. Jeff Brandes

With a penchant for data and commitment to asking the hard questions, Sen. Jeff Brandes (R - St. Petersburg) has long been a champion for smart and compassionate criminal justice reform. Over his 11-year career in the Florida legislature, he has sponsored dozens of criminal justice reform bills, pushing to the forefront issues like reducing the prevalence of mandatory minimums and ending driver’s license suspension for unpaid court fines and fees. As a past chair of the Senate Judiciary and the Criminal Justice Appropriations committees, he has served as a vocal proponent of the idea that smart reforms and rehabilitative programs will pay dividends not only for the state budget but also for returning citizens and communities. In 2021, he spoke out and voted against a damaging proposed budget for the Department of Corrections, and he also opposed House Bill 1, which curtails the freedoms of Floridians and regresses the state’s criminal justice system.

Throughout his tenure, Sen. Brandes has been known for his willingness to talk through the merits of policy ideas, even with those who may disagree with some of his proposals.

As he rounds out his time in the Legislature, Sen. Brandes leaves a legacy of prioritizing a more equitable justice system over political considerations, and working with advocacy groups across the ideological spectrum in pursuit of meaningful criminal justice reform.

2021 Florida Legacy Award: Scott Darius, Executive Director, Florida Voices for Health

As executive director of Florida Voices for Health, Scott Darius has been a quiet force behind a broad coalition of grassroots organizations and community members coming together to fight for affordable, accessible health care for Floridians, fully embracing the motto: #FightLikeHealth. Darius has developed a reputation for being an inviting, friendly, collaborative leader — a happy and humble warrior for health equity in Florida. Throughout law school at the University of Florida and his time working organizing health advocates and consumers at Florida CHAIN, and subsequently Florida Voices for Health, Scott has always had a passion for health care issues and hopes to be engaged in the process until quality affordable health care is truly available for everyone.

“In doing this work, I've learned just how much we, as people, need each other,” said Darius. “I am blessed to be part of a great team, coalition, and community and this award reflects their hard work as well.”

Board Service Award (2015-2021): Damian Thorman

As a founding board member at FPI, Damian Thorman leveraged his experience from the philanthropy and government sectors — as director of the White House’s Social Innovation Fund, at the Knight Foundation in Miami, as a senior advisor on Capitol Hill, among other roles — to help lay the foundation for the nonprofit, nonpartisan organization. His conversations with stakeholders across Florida in 2014 helped to determine the need and vision for a fiscal policy institute for the state. During his six years on the board of FPI, Damian has served as board secretary and witnessed the growth and maturity of the think tank into a significant presence in Florida’s policy landscape.

“Serving on the Florida Policy Institute board has been a labor of love and an enormous privilege to be a small part of our work to stand up for those in the shadows of life in Florida,” said Thorman. “As our country goes through a great reckoning and the turmoil that is necessary to cleanse ourselves and move forward better, I’m proud of the work I know FPI will do to give voice to millions of children and families in Florida to be part of that more optimistic future.”

FPI is an independent, nonpartisan and nonprofit organization dedicated to advancing state policies and budgets that improve the economic mobility and quality of life for all Floridians.

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