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News Service Of Florida

The News Service of Florida provides journalists, lobbyists, government officials and other civic leaders with comprehensive, objective information about the activities of state government year-round.

Extended lobbying ban is set to go before voters

State and local elected officials would be banned from lobbying for six years after they leave office under a proposed constitutional amendment on the Nov. 6 ballot.

The proposal, Amendment 12, is largely the handiwork of former state Senate President Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who served on the Florida Constitution Revision Commission, which meets every 20 years and has the power to place constitutional changes directly before voters.

Gaetz said offering a measure to improve ethics standards is ideally suited to a constitutional referendum, given the reluctance of the Legislature to aggressively pursue stronger restrictions.

“In the usual business of government and politics, there’s not much time or energy or space for discussions or initiatives having to do with ethics,” Gaetz said shortly before the Constitution Revision Commission approved the proposal in April.

A key provision would expand a current lobbying ban for state elected officials from two years to six years. It would mean state lawmakers and statewide elected officials could not lobby the Legislature, any state agency or Cabinet offices for six years after they leave office. Also, former state agency heads would be banned from lobbying their former agencies, as well as the Legislature and other state agencies.

At the local level, former county commissioners, school-board members, mayors, city-council members and constitutional officers would be banned from lobbying their former agencies for six years after they leave office.

And former judges would not be allowed to lobby the Legislature or state executive agencies for six years after they leave the bench.

Another provision would prohibit public officials, at both the state and local levels, from lobbying any other government entity, including the federal government, “for compensation” while they are in office.

Gaetz said the provisions are designed “to nail shut the revolving door between public office and private lobbying.”

The proposal would also establish a new ethical standard for public officials, prohibiting them from using their offices to obtain a “disproportionate benefit” for themselves, their families or their business interests. The state Commission on Ethics would have to define the terms of that benefit.

Gaetz said he knows the measure, if approved by the voters, would have an impact because of the reaction he got when he advanced the proposal this spring at the commission.

“State and local politicians have called me or come to see me, troubled that their present activities or future career plans might be in jeopardy, and that reassured me,” Gaetz said. “Everybody is for ethics until it knocks on our door.”

But some critics say the measure is too far-reaching.

Former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, a Miami Republican who also served on the commission, said he feared the amendment would inadvertently “capture people that it doesn’t mean to capture.”

“I also think it’s going to discourage people from running or being appointed to positions, and we might lose some really good opportunities to have some good people serving in office,” he said.

If approved by voters, the lobbying ban would become effective in January 2023, while the new “disproportionate benefit” standard would take effect in January 2021.

Florida voters are slated to decide the fate of 12 proposed constitutional amendments on the November ballot. The amendments were put on the ballot by the Constitution Revision, the Legislature and through petition drives.

With higher-profile amendments on the ballot dealing with issues such as gambling, dog racing and taxes, the ethics measure is not attracting much attention. Three other amendments also fall into that lower-profile category, and they each “bundle” multiple provisions into single ballot measures.

Amendment 10 would require all charter county governments to have elected constitutional officers, including sheriffs, property appraisers, tax collectors, supervisors of elections and clerks of the circuit court. Miami-Dade, Broward and Volusia counties unsuccessfully filed a legal challenge against the proposal, arguing that local voters in charter counties should have the right to decide whether constitutional officers are appointed or elected.

If adopted by voters, the charter provision would be delayed until January 2025 in Miami-Dade, which has an appointed sheriff, and Broward, which does not have an elected tax collector.

The amendment would also require the Legislature to begin its annual Session in January in even-numbered years, two months earlier than the typical start date. It would create an Office of Domestic Security and Counterterrorism in the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and would constitutionally mandate a state Department of Veterans’ Affairs, which already exists.

Amendment 7 would give constitutional authority to the governance system for the 28 state and community colleges. College presidents support the measure, arguing that it would give their system similar stature to state universities and public schools, which already have constitutional authority.

The ballot proposal also would require a supermajority vote by university boards of trustees and the university system’s Board of Governors when raising or creating student fees. It does not impact tuition decisions.

In addition, it would require the payment of death benefits when law enforcement officers, paramedics, correctional officers and other “first responders” are killed while performing their official duties. Florida National Guard members and active-duty  military members stationed in Florida are included in the provision.

Amendment 11 is described as a “clean-up” measure by its supporters. It would remove unenforceable language in the state Constitution that prohibits “aliens ineligible for citizenship” from owning property.

It would eliminate obsolete language that authorizes a high-speed rail system. And it would revise language to make it clear that the repeal of a criminal statute does not affect the prosecution of any crime committed before the repeal, although it could allow the punishment to be adjusted in light of the repealed or modified law.

Each of those amendments was placed on the ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission. They will have to be supported by at least 60 percent of the voters to be enacted.

Conservative judges seek Supreme Court seats

A who’s who of conservative judges have lined up to try to join the Florida Supreme Court as Gov. Rick Scott fights to appoint replacements for three justices whose retirements coincide with the end of his final term in January.

The list of more than 40 candidates who filed applications before a Monday deadline includes former Republican lawmakers and state appeals-court judges appointed by Scott during his eight years in office.

Scott, who is trying to unseat incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in November and is barred from seeking a third term as governor, maintains that he has the power to appoint replacements for justices Barbara Pariente, R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince, who are leaving the court in early January because they have reached a mandatory retirement age.

But in a lawsuit asking the Florida Supreme Court to intervene, the League of Women Voters of Florida and Common Cause argue that the authority to appoint the justices’ replacements rests with Scott’s successor.

Amid the legal battling, Scott directed the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission to begin accepting and reviewing applications for the court appointments. The commission set a Monday deadline for the applications, followed by a Nov. 10 deadline — days after the general election — for submitting names of potential justices to the governor.

Among those hoping to join the state’s highest court is Hillsborough County Circuit Judge Laurel Lee, whose husband, Tom, serves in the Florida Senate. Scott appointed Lee to the bench in the 13th Judicial Circuit in 2013.

The openings also drew applications from six members of the Tallahassee-based 1st District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from across North Florida. They are Clay Roberts, who was appointed to the appellate court by former Gov. Charlie Crist, and Ross Bilbrey, Scott Makar, Timothy Osterhaus, M. Kemmerly Thomas and Thomas Winokur, who were appointed by Scott.

Four of the applicants are judges on the 3rd District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from Miami-Dade and Monroe counties. They are Barbara Lagoa, who was appointed to the court by former Gov. Jeb Bush, and Norma Lindsey, Robert Luck and Edwin A. Scales III, who were appointed by Scott.

The openings also drew applications from three judges on the 4th District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from Southeast Florida. They are the court’s chief judge, Jonathan Gerber, an appointee of Crist, and Mark Klingensmith and Jeffrey Kuntz, who were Scott appointees.

The applicants also include Samuel J. Salario Jr., a Scott appointee to the 2nd District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from Southwest Florida, and Jamie Grosshans, a Scott appointee to the 5th District Court of Appeal, which hears cases from Central Florida.

Three former lawmakers who became judges also applied for the Supreme Court positions. They are former Rep. Bruce Kyle, a Fort Myers Republican who is a judge in the 20th Judicial Circuit; former Rep. Mark Mahon, a Jacksonville Republican who is chief judge in the 4th Judicial Circuit; and former Rep. John Stargel, a Lakeland Republican who is a judge in the 10th Judicial Circuit.

Applications also came in from circuit and county judges across the state. They included Alexander Bokor and Daryl E. Trawick, who are judges in Miami-Dade County’s 11th Judicial Circuit; Michael Andrews, Thomas M. Ramsberger and Pat Siracusa, judges in the 6th Judicial Circuit in Pasco and Pinellas counties; Cynthia Cox and William L. Roby, judges in the Treasure Coast’s 19th Judicial Circuit; and Tatiana Salvador and Eric C. Roberson, judges in the Jacksonville area’s 4th Judicial Circuit.

Others included Anthony M. Tatti, a judge in the Ocala area’s 5th Judicial Circuit; Robert Long and Jonathan Sjostrom, judges in the Tallahassee area’s 2nd Judicial Circuit; Hunter W. Carroll, a judge in the Sarasota area’s 12th Judicial Circuit; Howard Coates, Bradley Harper and Cymonie Rowe Hinkel, judges in Palm Beach County’s 15th Judicial Circuit; Angela Cowden and Michael McDaniel, judges in the 10th Judicial Circuit, which includes areas such as Polk County; Scott Duncan and Terrance Ketchel, judges in the Panhandle’s 1st Judicial Circuit; and Elijah Smiley, a judge in the Panhandle’s 14th Judicial Circuit.

Among non-judges who applied was Carlos Muniz, a former chief of staff to Attorney General Pam Bondi and aide to Bush.

While it remains unclear whether Scott will be able to appoint the three justices, the outcome of the legal battle over the issue could shape the makeup of the Supreme Court for years, if not decades. Pariente, Lewis and Quince are part of a liberal bloc, which now holds a slim 4-3 majority, that has thwarted Scott and the Republican-dominated Legislature on numerous occasions since the Governor took office in 2011.

In the lawsuit, the voting-rights groups are asking the Supreme Court to block Scott’s action through a procedure known as a “writ of quo warranto,” arguing the new governor who takes office on Jan. 8 should have the appointment power.

But in a court filing last month, Scott’s lawyers said he is following the precedent of beginning the appointment process before vacancies occur, noting numerous justices have been appointed using this procedure to avoid prolonged vacancies on the court.

Bay Medical Sacred Heart

Michael forces hospital, nursing home evacuations

More than 30 health-care facilities had to be evacuated as Hurricane Michael damaged buildings and knocked out electricity in the Panhandle, state emergency management officials said Friday.

Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Justin Senior told The News Service of Florida that several small critical-care access hospitals were evacuated before Hurricane Michael made landfall Wednesday in Mexico Beach, between Panama City and Apalachicola. The powerful Category 4 storm caused widespread damage as it tore through parts of the Panhandle and Big Bend.

Health-care facilities, including the 323-bed Bay Medical Sacred Heart hospital in Panama City, were still in the process of evacuation Friday morning.

Senior said all the patients in the intensive care unit at Bay Medical Sacred Heart had been evacuated and moved to other hospitals with the assistance of ambulances. Senior said as of Friday morning that there were “more staff than patients” still at the hospital.

“They were hoping to ride it out,” Senior said of the hospital. “It’s very localized, the damage. I don’t know if it was the storm itself or a tornado.”

Bay Medical Sacred Heart’s website featured a large message Friday morning saying, “For families wishing to locate patients who have been transferred to other hospitals, please call: 1-888-727-4568.”

During a stop Thursday at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee, Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who lives in Panama City, lamented the damage caused to health-care facilities in the area.

“The way the storm hit, we’re going to have approximately 10 hospitals that are going to have to be evacuated,” Patronis said. “Gulf Coast (Regional) Medical Center where my kids were born, Bay Medical Center where I was born, they’re empty, because they can’t support their mission.”

Senior said Friday the state will shift its focus from helping transfer patients to ensuring that facilities that were evacuated are safe to reopen.

“People think of us as having doctors and nurses,” he said. “But we have architects and engineers and we need to make sure we make the reopening process as smooth as possible and as safe as possible.”

Senior did not immediately know the numbers of patients who were transferred but said the majority involved nursing home residents.

State and local officials have sought to avoid a repeat of problems last year that authorities say led to the deaths of Broward County nursing-home residents after Hurricane Irma. The deaths came after The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills lost its air-conditioning system in Irma.

Overall, thousands of people had been reported missing because of the storm. But the numbers encapsulate all the phone calls that have been made to state and local-law enforcement officials as well as groups such as the American Red Cross.

Crews began search-and-rescue missions Wednesday night in hard-hit areas.

Alan Harris, Seminole County director of emergency management, said it’s unlikely the state will have to open a temporary morgue to handle mass casualties.

“We are ready to open up a temporary morgue if necessary, but it doesn’t look like that’s going to be needed so that’s an amazing thing,” said Harris, who was working at the State Emergency Operations Center. “We are very, very happy about that.”

Jimmy Patronis heads home to see the damage

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis on Thursday headed back to his hometown of Panama City, after hearing tales of friends losing roofs and worse as Hurricane Michael came ashore Wednesday as a Category 4 storm.

“The way the storm hit, we’re going to have approximately 10 hospitals that are going to have to be evacuated,” Patronis said. “Gulf Coast (Regional) Medical Center where my kids were born, Bay Medical Center where I was born, they’re empty, because they can’t support their mission.”

Patronis stopped at the State Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee while returning home from Tampa, where his wife underwent breast-cancer surgery Wednesday. He said he made his entire family evacuate ahead of Michael.

Another concern for Patronis, who is on the November ballot, is the potential of people preying on residents desperate for food and housing.

“There is fraud taking place in Bay County right now because of this,” Patronis said. “There is no Verizon in Bay County right now. There is only one operational radio station. Both television stations got knocked off the air. There is no way to communicate any of this.”

Patronis, whose family owns the landmark Capt. Anderson’s Restaurant in Panama City, said the restaurant suffered little damage and will become a food and water distribution point.

“I’m convinced that we’re built upon some type of holy ground, because there is destruction all around us,” Patronis said.

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Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Agriculture industry hit hard by hurricane

The timber, poultry, peanut, dairy, cotton, tomato and aquaculture industries across the Panhandle have been “devastated” by Hurricane Michael, Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said Thursday.

“At least 3 million acres of timber were impacted by the storm and numerous other commodities suffered severe damage,” Putnam said in a news release, which added the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services continues to assess damages from the Category 4 storm that rushed through the Panhandle on Wednesday.

The release said Putnam and Georgia Agriculture Commissioner Gary Black updated Vice President Mike Pence and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue on the storm’s impact Thursday.

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Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Tom Wright named as replacement nominee for Dorothy Hukill

Republican leaders named New Smyrna Beach businessman Tom Wright as the replacement nominee in state Senate District 14, replacing the late state Sen. Dorothy Hukill.

“I believe I have the skills, life experience, and record of success to strongly support our community as the Republican nominee for Florida Senate,” Wright wrote in a letter to party leaders.

District 14 political leaders say they have confidence in Wright as a candidate.

“We were pleased that the Brevard County Chairman and State Committeeman both gave Tom Wright their vote, giving Tom an 84 percent win for the nomination,” said Tony Ledbetter, Volusia County Republican Executive Committee chairman.

“We had many good candidates come forward for the position from both counties, however, Tom Wright was seen by us as the one most capable of immediately launching a winnable campaign with just 28 days to go until the election on Nov. 6.”

Brevard leaders showed equal enthusiasm.

“We’re very excited to rally behind Tom,” said Rick Lacey, chairman of the Brevard County Republican Executive Committee. “We feel he’ll be an excellent senator, and he’ll make us proud to be Republicans.”

Party leaders underwent the replacement process following Hukill’s departure. Hukill had previously been treated for cancer in 2016, then in September announced cancer had returned and she would enter hospice care. She died less than a week later.

State law allows party leaders to name a replacement nominee. Ballots have already been printed and Hukill’s name will appear on ballots. Elections officials will provide a letter with vote-by-mail ballots and through noticed posted at polling locations notifying voters in District 14 that votes cast for Hukill will now count for Wright.

According to Lacey, Wright has long supported Volusia County Republicans. Volusia makes up a majority of the Senate district.

Ledbetter said Wright serves on the Board of Halifax Urban Ministries and Chase Academy for Autistic Children and supports many projects for veterans.

“Tom has supported and advised Republican candidates and will serve with the same conservative voice Senator Hukill has promoted during her years in public service.,” Ledbetter said. “He has the experience and skills necessary to serve the citizens of Volusia and Brevard counties well in the Florida Senate.”

Florida Today reports Wright promised to “do you a good job and stay the course.” He will pay a candidate qualification fee to the Division of Elections out of pocket and promised he could largely self-finance the campaign, something that could be necessary with the short period between now and the Nov. 6 general election.

“I am a self-made businessman, I have no one that I owe or am beholden to,” Wright wrote to leaders. “Through hard work, I have been blessed with business success, and I know firsthand what it takes to run a business, make payroll, live within a budget and make the tough decisions that come with running a business.

“As a lifelong Republican business person, I have employed hundreds of people over the years, and know firsthand what is required of a small business to remain compliant and within the countless regulations and rules placed on them from a local level all the way up to the national level.”

Martin to date has raised $41,850 and chipped in a $2,000 loan.

The selection process was similar to the recent replacement nominee process Democrats held to replace deceased Congressional candidate April Freeman in Florida’s 17th Congressional District, though in many way the stakes could be higher in the Senate contest.

Hukill, of course, was the incumbent, one who won this district with more than 68 percent of the vote two years ago over Democrat Richard Paul Dembinsky.

Republican President Donald Trump won the district as well but by a smaller margin, with 56 percent of the vote over Democrat Hillary Clinton’s 39 percent.

Florida Today reports that Republicans make up about 39 percent of registered voters while Democrats make up 33 percent.

Wright will run against Brevard County Democrat Melissa “Mel” Martin in the November election. Martin, a former judge advocate in the U.S. Marine Corps, had raised $41,850 for the race as of last Friday and had about $27,000 in cash on hand, a finance report shows.

District 14 has not been one of a handful of high-profile Senate races that the state Republican and Democratic parties targeted this year. As of last week, for example, state Democratic leaders had provided little in-kind assistance to Martin — one indicator of attention from state parties and leaders, according to Martin’s finance report.

Hukill had raised $249,221 for her re-election bid, though she had not raised any money since mid-September, reports show.

Some high-profile names were floated as possible replacement candidates for Hukill, including former Senate President Mike Haridopolos, former House Speaker Steve Crisafulli and state Rep. Tom Goodson — all Brevard County residents.

But Wright and three other finalists considered Thursday night did not have legislative experience.

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The News Service of Florida contributed to this post. Republished with permission.

Citrus

Citrus growers get a dose of good news

A year after Hurricane Irma ravaged Florida’s citrus industry, growers are on pace to slightly surpass their production from two years ago.

Forecast numbers announced Thursday by the U.S. Department of Agriculture are still down from where the industry has been most of the past five decades. But the projections are encouraging for an industry that has been on a steady decline because of citrus greening disease and pressures from development.

Florida Citrus Commission Chairman Ellis Hunt called the forecast a reflection of the work by growers.

“To nearly come back to production levels of just a few years ago shows that we are moving in the right direction and putting the appropriate caretaking practices in place,” Hunt said a prepared statement.

The federal forecast, the first of the season, estimates that the industry will fill 86.9 million 90-pound boxes — a standard measurement — over the next nine months.

The production figure, which includes oranges, grapefruit and other specialty crops such as tangerines and tangelos, would be a 75 percent increase from the Irma-impacted 2017-2018 growing season. It also would be 11 percent above the 2016-2017 yield, though that was a five-decade low for production.

The 49.58 million boxes filled in the past season — as growers reported losses of up to 70 percent because of Irma flooding groves and uprooting trees — was the lowest crop output since the 1941-1942 season.

Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus, said officials are pleased growers are getting positive news, which they “haven’t heard in a long time.”

“After combating greening for so long and going through Hurricane Irma last season, today’s forecast means we truly could be on a path to recovery,” Shepp said in a statement.

Based on field surveys, USDA state statistician Mark Hudson said Florida is projected to fill 79 million boxes with oranges. That would be up from 44.95 million boxes filled in the past season and from 68.85 million boxes two seasons ago.

Grapefruit production is projected to increase from 3.88 million boxes in the past season to 6.7 million boxes this season. The production of red and white grapefruit is still down from two seasons ago when 7.76 million boxes were filled.

Specialty fruit account for another 1.2 million boxes in the new forecast.

Through the mid-1990s, the state’s citrus growers regularly filled more than 200 million boxes a year of oranges and 50 million boxes a year of grapefruit.

The forecast comes as an application process is underway for growers to receive federal Irma assistance — via a $343 million block grant to Florida out of a wider disaster-relief package signed into law in February by President Donald Trump.

Recovery starts amid ‘unimaginable’ destruction

More than 400,000 utility customers remained without power Thursday morning as thousands of rescue and utility crew members spread out across coastal and rural Panhandle communities to respond to the devastation inflicted by Hurricane Michael.

Gulf Power, which provides electricity in hard-hit Bay County, anticipates people in the impacted areas could be without power for weeks as the utility rebuilds parts of its system.

Gov. Rick Scott called the destruction from Wednesday’s storm “unimaginable,” as “homes are gone, businesses are gone.”

A state emergency-management official said all hospitals in the impacted region have reported some form of “critical failure” — water and sewage problems or infrastructure issues such as crumbling walls — that required patients to be relocated and medical field hospitals to be set up.

The official said that after Hurricane Irma in September 2017, a field hospital was required in the Florida Keys for a year, and similar situations may be required with Michael.

Similar issues were arising at nursing homes, and crews were flying in supplies to Florida State Hospital at Chattahoochee, which serves patients with mental illness.

Meanwhile, the state is expecting a surge in humanitarian needs, from a lack of food and water to housing.

Scott was set to travel Thursday afternoon with the Florida National Guard to Panama City and Mexico Beach, where Michael came ashore midday Wednesday with 155 mph maximum sustained winds, the strongest ever recorded in the region.

Scott, who expressed frustration about people dismissing evacuation orders on Tuesday as Michael rapidly grew into a Category 4 storm, told evacuees not to return home as roads remain closed by flooding, downed trees and power lines.

“It’s going to take some time to survey and clear all the roads,” Scott said.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio tweeted late Thursday morning that President Donald Trump granted a request for federal assistance for 14 counties: Bay, Calhoun, Franklin, Gadsden, Gulf, Hamilton, Jackson, Jefferson, Leon, Liberty, Madison, Suwannee, Taylor and Wakulla.

Scott said he talked to Trump early Thursday.

“He is committed to making every federal resource available to help the recovery,” Scott said.

In a letter to Trump on Wednesday requesting assistance, Scott wrote that the state had already spent close to $40 million on its response.

The Florida National Guard has deployed 3,500 members for search-and-rescue and humanitarian aid, with assistance from National Guard units from as far away as New York and Kansas. The Florida Highway Patrol has 450 troopers working in the Panhandle, while 150 Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officers are conducting rescue missions.

Search teams — working by air, boat and on the ground — have entered Panama City, Mexico Beach, Alligator Point, Eastpoint, St. George Island and Apalachicola. The U.S. Coast Guard ran 10 rescue missions into the region Wednesday night.

The Red Cross is bringing in 500 disaster relief workers.

More than 5,000 people were in 34 shelters that have been opened across the region.

Scott said one benefit of the rapidly moving Michael was that it hit during the day and was out of the state before sunset.

More than 19,000 utility workers from companies in Florida and across the country have started assessing the damages.

The Division of Emergency Management reported 400,666 customers of Gulf Power, Duke Energy and a number of smaller utilities were without power Thursday morning.

Pensacola-based Gulf Power, which reported some 120,000 customers were in the dark at one point, said progress was made in its westernmost regions, but the hardest-hit areas may take weeks to rebuild.

“The Gulf Power system held strong from Pensacola to Fort Walton Beach — a testament to the investments we’ve made to harden our infrastructure,” Gulf Power spokesman Jeff Rogers said in a statement. “But the hardest hit areas around Panama City may need to be rebuilt from the ground up.”

Bay County, which includes Panama City and Tyndall Air Force Base, was 98 percent without power Thursday morning, according to the state Division of Emergency Management.

Calhoun, Gadsden and Jackson counties, which are north of Bay County, were 100 percent without power. Gulf and Franklin counties, which are on the coast, and Holmes County, which is to the north, were all more than 90 percent without power.

The storm forced the closure of Interstate 10 west of Tallahassee, requiring some rescue crews to take alternate routes west from staging areas.

Although Tallahassee avoided a direct hit from the Category 4 storm, Mayor Andrew Gillum said on Facebook that “our community has been pretty significantly impacted.” He said 110,000 residences and businesses were without power Thursday, morning, representing about 90 percent of the customers served by the city’s electric service.

In addition, Gillum said the storm knocked out one of the city’s sewage systems, including the backup power source.

By comparison, about 75,000 customers lost power during Hurricane Hermine, which struck Tallahassee in 2016, said Gillum, the Democratic candidate for governor.

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Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Bay County temporarily blocks re-entry

Imploring people to be patient, the Bay County Sheriff’s Office said Thursday morning on Facebook that it was temporarily preventing Hurricane Michael evacuees from re-entering the county.

The Facebook post said checkpoints had been set up on three major highways and that the only people allowed to enter were members of relief crews.

The sheriff’s office pointed to numerous “snapped power poles and downed lines” and said clearing roads was a top priority.

“Many of those that did evacuate are asking about re-entry,” the Facebook post said. “Sheriff [Tommy] Ford is working hard to make that happen as soon as possible.”

Bay County was one of the hardest-hit areas Wednesday when Michael came ashore with 155 mph maximum sustained winds.

Judge rules against Democrats on extended registration

A federal judge has rejected a request from the Florida Democratic Party to force the state to extend a voter-registration deadline because of Hurricane Michael.

U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle turned down the party’s request for a temporary restraining order to extend the registration deadline to Oct. 16, a week later than the original Tuesday deadline. The party contended an extension was needed because the hurricane, which devastated parts of the Panhandle on Wednesday, could prevent people from registering to vote in the Nov. 6 election.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner this week issued a directive authorizing county elections supervisors whose offices were closed Tuesday to accept paper registration applications on the day that their offices reopen. Detzner did not extend a Tuesday night deadline for voters to register online.

Hinkle wrote that the Democratic Party believed the directive did not go “far enough” — but he denied the request for a temporary restraining order, with a few caveats.

“The party has asked for a statewide extension of one week for all forms of registration. But there is no justification for this,” Hinkle wrote. “Some parts of the state were affected little by the hurricane. Extending the deadline in those parts of the state would not level the playing field or provide a remedy for the hurricane’s effects. Large numbers of voters register shortly before the deadline, but that happens routinely, with or without a hurricane. A state could set a later deadline or no deadline at all, but that is not the course Florida has chosen. The party does not challenge in this lawsuit the state’s decision to set a deadline 29 days before an election.”

The caveats included in the order dealt with how Detzner’s directive would be carried out. For example, Hinkle sought to make sure Detzner’s directive is considered mandatory for the counties where elections offices were closed Tuesday. Similarly, he sought to make sure it applies on the first “full” business day county elections offices open all of their locations.

“Nothing in the directive suggests the secretary intended anything contrary to these understandings,” Hinkle wrote. “If the secretary asserts these understandings are not correct, or if a supervisor fails to heed the secretary’s directive as properly understood, the party, of course, may renew its motion for a temporary restraining order.”

In the case filed Tuesday, the Democratic Party argued that Detzner’s directive was “insufficient and confusing” and said it “does not adequately protect the voting rights of Florida citizens who cannot register to vote by the October 9 registration deadline.”

Without the extension, “there is a strong likelihood that the right to vote of thousands of Floridians, including plaintiffs’ members and constituents, will be severely burdened (if not eliminated entirely) in the 2018 general election,” the party’s lawyers wrote.

Three groups — Common Cause, New Majority Florida Education Fund and Mi Familia Vota Education Fund — filed a similar case against the state Wednesday. That case remained pending Thursday morning, according to an online docket.

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Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

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