Danny McAuliffe, Author at Florida Politics

Danny McAuliffe

Karen Pence spotlights art therapy at FSU, rolls out agenda

Second Lady Karen Pence will use the next three years, if not more, to promote the legitimacy and reach of art therapy—and Florida State University is along for the ride.

On the university’s Tallahassee campus, Mrs. Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, on Wednesday announced she will use her position to champion art therapy, a healing philosophy that integrates art-making, the creative process, applied psychological theory and human experience to better mental health.

The roll-out was accompanied with an element of pomp and circumstance. The invite-only event began with an introduction from former House Speaker, state senator and current FSU President John Thrasher, followed by Florida’s own first lady, Ann Scott.

As Thrasher introduced the Second Lady, he took pride in his school’s program.

“Art therapy is truly one of the academic disciplines that many people, frankly, don’t know a whole lot about,” Thrasher said. “It’s a rigorous program that produces graduates who are scholars, educators, practitioners and researchers.

“By coming to Florida State University, [Pence] is shining a light on what I believe—obviously I’m a little biased—is one of the best art therapy programs in America.”

The university established an art therapy graduate-level program in 1987. Now, FSU says it’s one of just five institutions in the U.S. that offers an art therapy doctorate.

When Pence took the podium, she began her speech with a nod to the state’s handling of Hurricane Irma, a storm that had postponed her visit, originally planned for September. She also weaved the disaster into the cause she plans to champion.

“Of course, it should not come as a surprise that the art therapy community is also stepping up to help,“ Pence told the crowd, adding that the Florida Art Therapy Association is creating long-term plans to help those that suffered through the storm.

She provided anecdotal evidence of the effectiveness of art therapy, telling the audience her experiences and observations from meeting those who’ve participated in the unique healing process.

Mrs. Pence shared the story of a young woman who had recovered from a stroke through art therapy, along with a military veteran who uses the process to manage his post-traumatic stress disorder.

Pence, an artist, did not become aware of art therapy until 2006. Since then, she’s visited programs and spoken with art therapists around the world. She says she will prioritize elevating the understanding of the profession as something more than arts and crafts.

“I am not an art therapist,” she said. “This is a master’s or doctorate-level degree; these are highly-trained individuals.”

She also wants to help people understand it is a versatile treatment option, and encourage young people to pursue the profession.

The specific role FSU will hold in this initiative wasn’t discussed in detail, but lauding the university’s program and students was a common thread between the speakers.

“I am inspired by the FSU students in this room who are studying to become art therapists and I applaud you for your commitment to a life-changing profession,” Pence told the crowd.

Dr. Dave Gussak, chair of art education and professor of art therapy at FSU, said hosting the rollout at the university was a “worthy distinction.”

The Trump administration event was relatively quiet, especially when compared to Trump’s visit to Tallahassee last year. Still, there were small groups of proponents and protesters outside the venue.

Following the announcement, Mrs. Pence toured FSU’s art therapy program, and later the Canopy Cove Eating Disorder Treatment Center in Tallahassee, where art therapy is practiced.

Vice President Pence will travel to Orlando Nov. 2 to be a keynote speaker at a state GOP fundraising event. He met today with Greek Prime Minister Alexis Tsipras to further discussions held between Tsipras and President Donald Trump.

Industrial hemp

On heels of citrus crisis, Florida talks hemp

Could industrial hemp be Florida’s next big crop? Maybe. But it’s going to take two years to find out.

Florida citrus is a crop plagued by citrus greening and recently battered by Hurricane Irma. The U.S. Department of Agriculture released 2017 Florida orange production forecasts last Thursday; it was bleak, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam hinted the crop damage might actually be worse.

In slight irony, this was just a day before the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) held a public rule-making meeting for a law passed last year that legalized research for industrial hemp. 

Industrial hemp is modified to produce a negligible amount (less than 1 percent) of THC, the compound known for producing psychotropic effects. Hemp is said to be used in over 25,000 products — even BMWs. 

In 2014, the federal government passed a bill providing for hemp research, and perhaps commercialization, to occur on a state-by-state basis after states authorized agriculture departments and universities to conduct research and determine the plant to be effective.

This is what inspired Dr. Jeffrey Sharkey to push industrial hemp legislation in the state. He’s managing partner of Capitol Alliance Group, a lobbying firm, and executive director of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of FloridaHemp could potentially be a cash crop, he said. 

Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law last year, potentially paving the way for the plant, so long as research proves it safe to cultivate. Namely, lawmakers want to know whether the plant is truly invasive and what effect it might have on other Florida crops.

In accordance with the 2014 Farm Bill, the law allows the two Florida land grant universities — University of Florida (UF) and Florida A&M University (FAMU) — to develop public-private partnerships to produce hemp, analyze results and report back to the Legislature.

This research, according to the state law, must occur within two years. It’s no surprise that the two universities are working swiftly — perhaps even quicker than FDACS’ rule-making staff.

“As rules are being finalized, we’re investigating how we would import hemp seeds for planting,” said Robert Gilbert, chair of the Agronomy Department at UF.

He wants to see seeds in the ground by next spring. He says the school still hasn’t developed public-private partnerships, but the university’s research centers in Homestead, Citra and the Panhandle already are willing to begin research.

It’s not a race against time, but Gilbert explained they’re mindful of the two-year window, which for some is aggravating.

Bob Clayton, owner of Florida Hemp Processing, explained the predicament his business faces: “We are studying how to process the hemp,” he said. “We think we have that breakthrough, but we have to test that material and also we have to get it off the ‘research line.’ ”

“This law is really a two-year moratorium, so nobody can really build a factory,” he added. “We’re not going to make any jobs for two years.”

He noted his business also is handicapped since he’s competing against more than 30 other states producing hemp.

Clayton, who lives in a house made of the plant, might also feel like he’s fighting a state government that doesn’t really like the idea of commercializing cannabis.

One of the very first pockets of the proposed rules guiding the law states: “ … the purpose of the Pilot Project is to cultivate, process, test, research, create, and market safe and commercial agricultural applications for Industrial Hemp (Cannabis sativa), which is a highly invasive plant species.”

Of course, the point of the meeting was to hear public concerns over drafted rules, and it was reiterated several times that the rules were merely a draft. Still, the inclusion of the word “invasive” in a rule outlining research to determine whether hemp is invasive would’ve likely irked any proponent — especially those with business interests.

“You start with that attitude, you don’t end up with success,” Clayton said.

FEMA reimbursements uncertain, counties say

After suffering major damage from Hurricane Irma, counties told the newly-formed House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness that they are confident in their ability to handle disasters.

It seems they’re mainly concerned with reimbursements from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA)—something that might be a large focus for the new committee.

Representatives from Monroe County, which contains the Florida Keys that were devastated by Hurricane Irma, and Lee County, which also suffered a direct impact from the storm, told lawmakers how their counties fared and voiced concerns.

While each county had different qualms, both county representatives expressed uncertainty regarding FEMA reimbursements, specifically how long it would take for money to arrive and what the reimbursements would cover.

“There’s a big risk versus reward on those questions and FEMA can be a bit vague sometimes,” said Lee Mayfield, planning chief for Lee County Division of Emergency Management.

Michael Wanchick, county administrator for St. Johns County, brought with him a unique perspective, having a difficult experience awaiting FEMA reimbursements from Hurricane Matthew, which had a significant impact on St. Johns.

“I think the cash-flow situation that has been addressed is a serious one,” Wanchick said, explaining that FEMA’s process is very complicated with billions of dollars in play. 

“It’s not that the process is broken; it’s the process,” he later said. He explained that there are many estimates filed, but FEMA has a fiduciary responsibility to thoroughly check each one.

Overall, the committee meeting was introductory. There weren’t any proposals to be heard: Lawmakers were essentially there to listen.

The State Emergency Response Team and the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation also gave presentations to the lawmakers. The latter reported an estimated $4.57 billion loss and a total of 703,671 claims.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, created the committee following Hurricane Irma. He provided a list of policy considerations centering on protection of elderly, disabled, and other vulnerable persons; efficient evacuation and reentry; and mitigation of future storm damage.

The committee is set to reconvene Thursday, Oct. 26.   

Adam Putnam warns agriculture loss is ‘still unfolding’

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on Thursday said he worried that the feds’ citrus forecast wouldn’t accurately reflect the devastation to the state’s citrus crop after Hurricane Irma.

“I am concerned about what that forecast may be, given that so many of the circumstances that are fundamental to having an accurate forecast have changed,” Putnam said in a news conference.

Groves are still underwater and fruit is falling to the ground weeks after Irma plowed up the peninsula.

Later Thursday, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) released a forecast showing a 16 percent decrease in U.S. orange production from last year and a 21 percent reduction in Florida orange production.

The numbers might be worse in reality, Putnam said, before they came out: “It’s important that we continue to recognize the damage done to Florida agriculture is still unfolding.”

A request for comment is pending with Putnam’s office on the USDA’s forecast.

Putnam and Gov. Rick Scott spent Wednesday in Washington, reaffirming Florida’s desire for Congress to include provisions for farmer relief assistance in the $29 billion emergency funding bill taken up by the House this week.

He explained that farmers are taking the brunt of the damage because, by the time Irma struck, they had already invested most of their yearly expenses into their crops, expecting a bountiful return.

“As with so many natural disasters, those who have the least have been hurt the most,” Putnam told reporters.

After the 2004 hurricane season, the USDA authorized a $500 million relief fund for farmers. Today, a fund like that would have to be authorized by Congress.

Putnam says it’s likely too late to include farmer assistance in the House bill, but he is working with U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson to lump that provision into an accompanying Senate bill next week.

If it’s not brought into the Senate bill, Putnam says a farmer assistance provision could be delayed to mid-December, meaning farmers would not receive any actual help until well into 2018.

Crops across the board were hit hard. Putnam expects prices to rise as a result of what he called the “winter vegetable capital of America” being out of production.

The only way prices don’t spike is as damaging to Florida’s economy, he suggested: A flood of imports from foreign countries.

Bleak outlook for Florida agriculture after Irma

Hurricane Irma didn’t just rain on Florida’s agriculture industry – it poured.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) painted a bleak picture for Florida crops in a Tuesday presentation to the House Agriculture and Property Rights Subcommittee.

Irma caused an estimated $2.5 billion in damage. Grace Lovett, FDACS’ legislative affairs director, said the damage was in addition to losses from citrus greening, already responsible for a 70 percent reduction in Florida citrus over the last decade.

Florida’s citrus wasn’t the only crop devastated.

The negative effects of the storm are starting to show in Florida’s overall produce shipping numbers. Florida fruit and vegetable shipments for September stalled at just 192,200 25-pound cartons, a staggering 76 percent decrease from the past four-year average. 

Okra shipments in September were limited to just 6,400 25-pound cartons. The previous four-year average for that crop was 40,000 cartons.

“The path of Irma could not have been more lethal to Florida’s agriculture,” Lovett told lawmakers. She says the department is working with Florida’s congressional delegation for a relief package.

For reference of what the state could expect, she cited 2004—the year notable hurricanes like Charley, Frances and Ivan passed through Florida—when a $500 million federal hurricane recovery program was created for Florida farmers.

Lovett also said Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam were in Washington, D.C. today. Florida’s congressional delegation on Friday called for $27 billion worth of federal relief.

Currently, total crop losses are estimated at a little over $2 billion; total losses to production agriculture are estimated at  more than $2.5 billion. Here’s the breakdown:

— Citrus: $760,816,600

— Beef Cattle: $237,476,562

— Dairy: $11,811,695

— Aquaculture: $36,850,000

— Fruits and Vegetables (excluding citrus): $180,193,096

— Greenhouse, Nursery, and Floriculture: $624,819,895  

— Sugar: $382,603,397

— Field Crops: $62,747,058

— Forestry: $261,280,000

Florida-issued veteran ID clears first subcommittee

In Florida, there’s currently no uniform way for veterans to prove their former military service. But after today, state lawmakers are one step closer to changing that.

HB 107 cleared the Local, Federal and Veterans Affairs House Subcommittee unanimously Tuesday. The bill, if implemented into law, would require the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles, with cooperation from the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs, to create an ID for veterans to prove veteran status in order to obtain discounts or waivers available.

Before the vote, state Rep. Neil Combee, a Polk County Republican and a sponsor of the bill, explained to the subcommittee that not everyone who served in the military is eligible for a VA card.

“We want to be a veteran-friendly state,” Combee told other lawmakers, citing that Virginia already has implemented a veteran ID. Delaware also offers a state-issued veteran ID.

To receive the card, veterans must pay a $10 fee. It would contain a photograph, full name, the branch of service, date of discharge and the words “Proof of veteran status only.”

A similar bill was filed last year as HB 179, but, after passing unanimously on the House floor, died in Senate Transportation.

Senate committee passes on search bill for now

Should Florida law enforcement be required to inform subjects of their right to refuse a search? A Senate panel says that’s a question for another day.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday postponed a bill (SB 262), filed by Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, that seeks to prevent police from conducting searches without first informing subjects they have a right to decline.

The bill’s language will need to be revised before the committee reconsiders it—Farmer’s intent was to have the requirement apply strictly to consent searches, but the language doesn’t quite specify that enough.

The measure says an officer would have to inform the subject of their right to refuse “unless the law enforcement officer is carrying out a valid search warrant or the search is based upon another legally sufficient justification.”

The big problem? The meaning of “legally sufficient justification.”

Farmer argued that analysis of the phrase included search instances related to a lawful arrest, a stop and frisk during a Terry stop, vehicle searches where the officer’s safety or evidence preservation is a concern, or when something is in plain view.

After the senator listed the exceptions, he told the committee he’d be willing to include them in the bill.

Another ambiguity raised by the committee: Whether a law enforcement officer would have to read something scripted, as is the case with the Miranda warning, or whether it could be more of an off-the-cuff statement like, “Do you consent to the search?”

Farmer said he did not include a scripted phrase for officers because he is not trying to increase their burden.

The most important concern voiced by members was whether the bill would result in excluding evidence from actual criminal cases. Senators feared criminal evidence might be stricken if officers neglect to inform subjects.

But Farmer said there isn’t anything in the bill that directs judges to exclude the evidence, and he brought up the fact that judges already consider whether a subject was informed of their right to refuse. He maintained that he’s “trying to strengthen, or protect, the word ‘consent’ in consent searches.”

Still, the bill’s language will need to be revised before the committee hears it again.

Florida calls for $27 billion in hurricane recovery funding

In the wake of Hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria, U.S. Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson, along with 26 U.S. representatives from Florida, submitted Friday a line-item list of budget requests totaling $26.945 billion worth of federal hurricane recovery funding.

In a letter penned to members of the House Committee on Appropriations, nearly the entire Florida delegation outlined specific recovery funding requests in addition to the $29 billion requested this week from the White House.

“Three hurricanes have hit U.S. soil in a short time, stretching our federal agencies, first responders, and community resources thin,” the lawmakers wrote in the letter. “With more than a month left in the 2017 hurricane season, and another storm brewing in the Gulf of Mexico, Americans need to know that the federal government is ready to respond.”

The letter stresses that additional funding will likely be needed once a more thorough damage assessment is complete, and the funding sought in the letter will likely cover only part of the state’s overall recovery costs.

“This supplemental package should serve as a down payment on hurricane recovery efforts while we await full assessment of needs later this month,” the lawmakers wrote.

The largest of the requests include $10 billion for the Army Corps of Engineers to help repair and sustain port and river functionality, along with repairing any damage to ongoing projects like the Herbert Hoover Dike; $7 billion for the Community Development Block Grant to fund any unmet needs, including seawall restoration in South Florida; and $5 billion for the Department of Agriculture to assist with crop and livestock losses from Hurricanes Maria and Irma.

Congressman Daniel Webster, a Republican from Florida’s 11th district, was the only Florida delegation signature absent from the letter Friday.

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