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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.

Debris removal firm says it will use pre-storm pricing

As the state looks into claims that debris-removal companies haven’t fulfilled post-Hurricane Irma contracts, one of three firms in the crosshairs of Attorney General Pam Bondi announced it will complete the work at pre-storm pricing.

Randy Perkins, chairman of AshBritt Environmental, told the Parkland City Commission on Wednesday night the company will perform all debris removal at prices that had been agreed upon before the storm.

“It has been our intention to serve our clients at the agreed upon pre-storm pricing since day one,” Perkins said in a prepared statement. “Unfortunately, market forces created by back-to-back record-setting storms required debris haulers to contemplate and consider higher commodity pricing in order to serve these contracts in a timely fashion. Now that the market has settled, we are pleased to let all our clients know that AshBritt will stick to the lower, pre-storm pricing levels.”

On Oct. 2, Bondi issued investigative subpoenas to AshBritt, Ceres Environmental Services, Inc. and DRC Emergency Services. According to Bondi, the companies were not honoring pre-storm debris removal contracts with local governments.

“Sitting debris is a health and safety hazard and needs to be removed as soon as possible – but instead of doing their jobs and helping Floridians recover, apparently some contractors are delaying the work or requesting higher rates,” Bondi said when the subpoenas were announced.

Gov. Rick Scott has complained about slower-than-expected debris cleanup following Irma, which made landfall Sept. 10 in Monroe and Collier counties and then blew through much of the rest of the state.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Dennis Baxley apologizes for nursing home death comments

State Sen. Dennis Baxley issued an apology Thursday for questioning whether the deaths of residents of a Broward County nursing home were related to Hurricane Irma or were an inevitability given their advancing ages.

“As a funeral director and ordained elder of my church, I have spent my entire adult life working with families who are grieving the loss of a loved one. In addition to my faith, working in this field has shown me day in and day out that the life of each and every member of our society is special and worthy of respect. Many of the funeral services we coordinate involve elder members of our community, and I take great pride in the opportunity to ensure their lives are honored and celebrated. No family member should have to fear that their loved one is suffering in a nursing home, particularly during a natural disaster,” Baxley, an Ocala Republican, said.

But Jeff Nova, whose 71-year-old mother, Gail Nova, died Sept. 13, said Thursday he isn’t comforted by the prepared apology from the senator.

“His first comments were the real comments. That’s what he thought of, and naturally that’s what you’re going to take to heart,” Nova said in a telephone interview with The News Service of Florida. “You can say you are sorry, but it doesn’t take back what you actually said because it’s committed to memory now and it’s in print.”

Baxley made the controversial comments Wednesday during a meeting of the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee, which received an update on emergency rules that Gov. Rick Scott’s administration issued after eight residents of The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills died Sept. 13. Six other residents died later after being evacuated.

Hurricane Irma knocked out the Broward County nursing home’s air conditioning Sept. 10, leaving residents in sweltering conditions.

During the Senate panel’s meeting, Baxley started criticizing the media coverage of the tragedy and questioned if all 14 deaths were attributable to Hurricane Irma.

“Look at the population. You’re dealing with the 90-somethings. Some of these deaths would naturally occur, storm or no storm,” Baxley said Wednesday, adding “eventually everyone who was in that nursing home will die. But we don’t need to attribute those all to the storm and bad policy.”

Nova said his mother’s body temperature at the time of her death was nearly 110 degrees, which means she most likely had seizures and slipped into renal failure.

“It was heartbreaking, and it’s something I don’t know how to come to terms with,” Nova, 48, said. “So anyone that stands on the sideline and picks this apart Monday after the fact, and doesn’t understand the depth and detail of what these people went through because there wasn’t a level of care provided for them, it’s just surreal.”

His mother was a resident at the nursing home for eight years. Nova, who is visually impaired and cannot drive, said he spoke with her daily.

When he had concerns about her safety during the storm, Nova said he was told by nurses who cared for his mother that she would be fine and that the facility was prepared for the hurricane.

“You go to sleep that night confident. You don’t think of receiving a phone call telling you that something like this could ever occur,” he said.

Nova hasn’t decided whether to sue the nursing home but acknowledged he is considering it. He also plans on being in Tallahassee in the coming weeks and months so he can help shine a spotlight on current laws and lobby legislators to make improvements to ensure the safety and welfare of seniors.

“Regulating health care for the elderly is paramount,” he said. “If anything, that’s my new belief system: to do justice for my mother, advocacy for the elderly.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

State tries to remove judge in medical marijuana dispute

Accusing him of bias, Florida health officials are asking that Administrative Law Judge John Van Laningham be removed from a case involving a medical marijuana license.

The highly unusual request came two days before a hearing was supposed to begin in a challenge filed last month against the state Department of Health by Homestead-based Keith St. Germain Nursery Farms.

In an affidavit filed Tuesday, state Office of Medical Marijuana Use Executive Director Christian Bax accused Van Laningham of having “prejudged the issues in this matter” and attempting to help St. Germain.

“Based on all of the facts set forth above, I have firmly concluded that the department cannot receive fair consideration of the issues and will not receive a fair final hearing in this matter if ALJ Van Laningham remains assigned as the administrative judge,” Bax said.

The tug-of-war between the judge and health officials escalated, with the judge chiding the state, lawyers for Bax refusing to back down and the nursery accusing the department of judge-shopping.

Part of Bax’s complaints about Van Laningham centered on a separate marijuana-related challenge in which the judge ruled against the health department. In that case, Van Laningham scalded agency officials for failing to follow their own rules when scoring applications for the highly coveted marijuana licenses.

The department’s “arbitrary scoring method fatally undermines its preliminary rankings, which would not survive even the most deferential standards of review,” Van Laningham wrote in a 2016 recommended order in the case involving the nurseries Plants of Ruskin and 3 Boys Farm.

Van Laningham ultimately decided that the agency should grant licenses to the two nurseries, but Bax’s office rejected his findings. Plants of Ruskin and 3 Boys Farm ultimately got licenses because of a change passed by the Legislature.

In the affidavit cited in the motion to disqualify Van Laningham, Bax said the judge had no business evaluating what method was used to score applications because that issue wasn’t part of the challenges.

Bax accused Van Laningham of making “gratuitous, derogatory comments about the department insinuating that the proposed recommended order filed by the department was designed to be deceptive and hide the department’s true positions from him, as the presiding officer.”

Setting off a flurry of filings, Bax’s lawyers Tuesday asked the director of the Division of Administrative Hearings, Robert Cohen, to disqualify Van Laningham and reassign the case to another judge.

The same day, Van Laningham canceled the hearing, which was scheduled to start Thursday, saying he had to decide on the agency’s request. He noted the ruling “requires prompt disposition” but that he had up to 30 days to rule.

Lawyers for the health agency immediately filed an angry objection to Van Laningham’s cancellation of the hearing and again demanded that the director of the division reassign the case. Florida law requires that a hearing be held by Monday, lawyers for the state argued.

But in a stinging rebuke, Van Laningham wrote that an administrative procedures law “provides no such vehicle” for the chief judge to consider the agency’s objection and that Van Laningham himself would decide whether he should be disqualified.

“To summarize, and repeat for emphasis, each case pending before DOAH has one, and only one, presiding judge at a time,” he wrote in a notice to the parties. “The undersigned is the presiding judge in this matter, notwithstanding the motion to disqualify, and will remain the presiding judge in this matter unless a successor judge is assigned in the ordinary course of the proceeding pursuant to regular, legally authorized procedures, which do not include the filing of appeals (by any name or in any form) with the chief judge (or any other judge) of DOAH who is not the presiding judge.”

The health agency is also embroiled in a jurisdictional dispute with Van Laningham regarding the challenge. Lawyers for the state agency maintain the case should be handled internally, rather than through the administrative hearing process.

The health department has tried four times to get Van Laningham to dismiss the case. He rejected each effort.

Lawyers for St. Germain accused health officials of trying to “judge-shop,” arguing that Van Laningham’s prior rulings against the agency can’t be a reason to disqualify the judge.

Health officials recently adopted a rule that requires applications for medical-marijuana licenses to be scored “quantitatively, rather than ranking them,” St. Germain’s lawyer, D. Kent Safriet, argued.

“This begs the question that if the ALJ’s analysis was so off the mark, why did the department follow the analysis in adopting the new rule? It appears the department simply cannot admit it made a mistake. Instead, the department takes aim at the ALJ,” Safriet wrote in a motion filed Wednesday.

St. Germain filed the challenge last month after Bax’s office denied the grower a license in August, following the passage of a new law.

Under the law, passed during a June special session, health officials were required to issue licenses to applicants who had legal challenges pending as of January or who scored within one point of the highest-ranked applicants in five regions.

St. Germain came in second in the Southeast region, scoring 1.1875 points below Costa Farms, which received a license. Health officials said St. Germain is ineligible for a license because the difference between the scores was greater than one point.

Also Tuesday, St. Germain filed a lawsuit in Leon County circuit court, alleging that Bax’s office is stalling on providing public records related to the case.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

‘LIP’ money falls short of initial estimates

At the height of a budget showdown earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott boasted that his friendship with President Donald Trump‘s administration would result in Florida getting $1.5 billion to help the state’s hospitals.

But months later, the final amount will be considerably smaller, a top state Medicaid official said Wednesday. Instead the state will have about $790.4 million in supplemental Medicaid funds to spend this year.

Beth Kidder, a deputy secretary at the state Agency for Health Care Administration, told the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee that the agency has $303 million in funding commitments from counties to help fund the Low-Income Pool. The money will be used to draw down $487 million in federal Medicaid dollars bringing the total available to just more than $790 million for the supplemental program widely known as LIP.

“The $1.5 billion is not $1.5 billion,” Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairwoman Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, said.

Kidder told the panel that the size of the Low-Income Pool has always been contingent on the receipt of matching local dollars to fund it. While the state in the past has been able to fully fund the program, the federal government has changed its expectations on how money can be spent. For instance, money can no longer be used to help offset losses hospitals incur while treating Medicaid patients. Under the new rules, only charity care can be considered for reimbursement.

The restrictions, Kidder said have made it “onerous and difficult for funders” to agree to provide the required local matching dollars. She also noted that the state didn’t get final approval of what is known as a Medicaid 1115 waiver and accompanying special terms and conditions until August, after local governments had already prepared budgets. The Medicaid 1115 waiver gives the state the authority to operate its mandatory Medicaid managed-care program as well as the LIP program.

Kidder tried to remain optimistic, though. She told the committee that the $790.4 million in LIP funds for fiscal year 2017-2018 is more than the $590 million Florida had for the program last year. Additionally, she reminded lawmakers that the Trump administration agreed to keep available a $1.5 billion LIP program for the next five years.

“It’s out there, it’s a target,” she said of the $1.5 billion annual commitment.

Under the approved waiver, three groups of providers can tap into LIP funds: hospitals, medical school faculty and federally qualified health centers. All of them must agree to certain requirements to get the money. For instance, hospitals must agree to sign contracts with at least half of the standard Medicaid health plans that operate in their regions.

Meanwhile, the Agency for Health Care Administration posted details on how it plans to distribute the $790 million in LIP funding. More than $654 million is being directed to 204 hospitals, $85 million is being directed to eight medical faculty teaching practices and another $50 million is allocated to federally qualified health centers.

The federally qualified health centers, though, say they have problems with a provision in the Medicaid 1115 waiver’s special terms and conditions that requires all reimbursements to the clinics to be made by managed-care organizations, rather than the state paying bills directly.

Kidder told lawmakers that the agency has met with the federally qualified health centers to discuss the concerns, including a meeting Wednesday.

Florida Association of Community Health Centers President Andy Behrman told senators that the Wednesday meeting with state officials was a “good move forward” and that there may be a way to solve some of his members’ concerns.

He said the clinics don’t want to walk away from $50 million but that they need to be protected.

The state has asked counties contributing matching dollars to the LIP program to send signed letters of agreement to the state by Nov. 15 and to send the funds to the state the following month.

After the state receives the funding, Kidder said, it will submit a proposed budget amendment to legislative leaders for approval. The budget amendment will include a 2017-2018 LIP distribution model that shows the government entities that contributed the funds as well as the funding distribution by provider.

The amendment will be approved within 14 days of submission unless the chair and vice chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission or the Senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives oppose the amendment in writing.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Hurricanes leave uncertainty in school enrollment

The impact of hurricanes may be a complicating factor as lawmakers try to figure out how many students are in Florida’s public schools this year and how many might show up next year.

An enrollment estimate will be critical as the Legislature creates a roughly $24 billion public-school budget for the 2018-2019 academic year. If more students show up than estimated next year, it will result in a reduction in per-student funding, as money will have to be pro-rated among the 67 school districts to account for the population increase.

“If you have more students (than the estimate), you spread it thinner,” state Sen. Bill Montford, a Democrat from Tallahassee, said about the public-school funding formula, which is known as the Florida Education Finance Program. “If you have less students, you don’t get the money.”

Currently, lawmakers are working under an estimate that an additional 26,764 students will enroll in 2018-2019 in the kindergarten-through-high-school system, for a total of 2.86 million students. The estimate would require an additional $197 million in the next budget, according to legislative analysts.

But that estimate, which was done in the summer, did not account for the impacts on schools from Hurricane Irma, which struck Florida last month, and Hurricane Maria, which ravaged Puerto Rico.

State and local education leaders are expecting an influx of students from Puerto Rico who may have connections to the nearly 1 million Puerto Ricans living in Florida.

House PreK-12 Appropriations Chairman Manny Diaz, a Hialeah Republican, said there are no firm estimates on how many Puerto Rican students will show up, but state officials are preparing for additional students on top of the normal growth in the system.

“We have been showing growth as a state which naturally means more public-school students regardless,” Diaz told his panel Wednesday. “This could accelerate that. We don’t know how much or the timing of it. But everybody is well aware of the issue, and we will have to deal with it.”

Florida has a system in place to adjust public-school enrollment estimates. Schools are conducting a headcount this week that will be used to adjust the estimate.

Local school officials are concerned the October headcount may not capture the full enrollment impacts of the hurricanes, and the next headcount is not scheduled until February.

But under another provision, 13 school districts have asked for an “alternative” headcount that will be conducted later this fall, Linda Champion, a deputy commissioner for finance in the Department of Education, told Diaz’s panel.

State forecasters will use the October headcount along with any alternative headcounts by the districts to develop a revised school enrollment estimate in December. That will guide lawmakers as they develop the new state budget during a 60-day session that begins Jan. 9.

But if the estimate is faulty and the student population exceeds the forecast next academic year, it will result in a pro-rated reduction in per-student funding for the districts in 2018-2019.

Tim Elwell, staff director of the Senate Pre-K-12 Appropriations Subcommittee, told senators on Wednesday that the estimates for the last half-dozen years have fallen short of the number of students who actually show up in classrooms. One year, it was an undercount of 21,000 students, resulting in a $103 million pro-rated reduction in the per-student funding, he said.

If more students show up in classrooms this year, with the budget already set, it will also result in a pro-rated reduction in per-student spending in 2017-2018, unless offset by some action by the Legislature or governor to supplement the public-school budget.

Diaz warned House members that their first obligation will be to fund any student increases in the next budget, and higher growth numbers will impact the Legislature’s ability to significantly boost per-student funding.

“It’s always good to keep that in perspective,” Diaz said. “All of us would like to invest more in education. But we have a responsibility, and we live in a state where we are continuously growing.”

Appeals court upholds major tobacco verdict

Though it raised concerns about a jury instruction, a state appeals court Wednesday upheld a nearly $35 million verdict against R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in the death of a longtime smoker.

A three-judge panel of the 1st District Court of Appeal sided with Colette O’Hara, who filed the lawsuit in Escambia County after the death of her husband, Garry O’Hara. A jury awarded $14.7 million in compensatory damages and $20 million in punitive damages.

R.J. Reynolds appealed on a series of grounds, but Wednesday’s ruling focused heavily on the propriety of a jury instruction sought by Colette O’Hara’s attorneys. The instruction involved an issue about whether Garry O’Hara relied on tobacco-company advertisements.

The appeals court found problems with the instruction but concluded it couldn’t determine whether the instruction affected the jury’s decision.

“We do not disagree that the instruction may have unduly swayed some jurors in favor of O’Hara,” said the nine-page ruling, written by appeals-court Judge Scott Makar and joined by judges Clay Roberts and Harvey Jay. “But we cannot determine from the record whether this effect on the jury was the cause of prejudice to RJR.”

The ruling provided few details about the case. But a 2015 Pensacola News Journal story about the verdict said Garry O’Hara was a 30-year Air Force veteran who started smoking at age 14 and was diagnosed with fatal lung cancer at age 49.

Rick Scott, Adam Putnam to seek post-Irma federal aid

Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will be in Washington, D.C. Wednesday to meet with members of Florida’s congressional delegation to discuss federal assistance after Hurricane Irma.

A focus of the meeting will be the state’s citrus industry, which accounted for more than $760 million of the storm’s estimated $2.5 billion impact on Florida’s agricultural industry.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican who is co-chairman of the delegation, said a meeting will take place at 10 a.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building.

Changes slated for state worker health insurance

As many as 2,000 obese state employees who suffer from conditions such as diabetes or hypertension can enroll online for a program that provides coverage for treatment and management of obesity and related conditions.

The offering is one of a number of changes legislators authorized to the state group health-insurance plan during the 2017 Session. Available to employees who were enrolled in Aetna, AvMed, Florida Blue or UnitedHealthcare plans in 2017, the benefit is available for 2018.

Tami Fillyaw, director of the Division of State Group Insurance in the Department of Management Services, appeared Tuesday before the House Health & Human Services Committee and the Senate Governmental Oversight and Accountability Committee to update lawmakers on steps the department has taken to retool the health-insurance program, which, as of June 30, provided benefits to more than 367,000 state employees, spouses and dependents.

Fillyaw told lawmakers that the state inked a contract last week with the independent benefits consultant Foster & Foster to meet requirements of the bill approved during the 2017 Session. Among other things the consultants will analyze the state group plan, compare its benefits to that of other large employers and submit a report to the Legislature by Dec. 1.

Foster & Foster also will assist the state as it moves forward with two new health-care offerings that will be made available in the 2019 plan year: an online tool to shop and compare the quality of available in-network providers; and a service that offers employees access to comprehensive pricing for surgery and other medical procedures.

Both of those benefits also will include a “shared savings program,” where employees can receive a portion of any savings attributable to their health-care choices.

Fillyaw said employees’ shared savings will be deposited into flexible savings accounts, health savings accounts or health reimbursement accounts (which would be a new benefit offering) or could be used for out-of-pocket medical expenses.

Fillyaw said the state has met with potential vendors interested in both initiatives and issued requests for information about the potential services. She said the state will issue invitations to negotiate in January and hopes to have signed agreements with vendors by April. “Ideally,” she said, the offerings can be in place for the 2019 benefit year.

As part of an overall budget agreement that included pay raises for state employees and changes to the Florida Retirement System, the Legislature during the 2017 Session agreed to pass SB 7022, which directed the Department of Management Services to begin offering state employees a variety of health plans.

Currently, employees have access to HMO coverage, PPO coverage and a high-deductible health plan.

One of the biggest changes will take place in 2020 when the Department of Management Services offers access to four different levels of insurance: platinum, gold, silver and bronze. The plans will have different actuarial values — ranging from a high of 90 percent, meaning the policy will cover 90 percent of health-care costs — to a low of 60 percent.

The higher the actuarial value of the plan, the more it will cost. If an employee chooses a health plan that costs less than what the state contributes in premium, the employee can request that the difference be directed toward other benefits or to salary.

While the legislation was not touted as a cost-saving measure, expenses in the state group health insurance are a growing concern for lawmakers. State economists say the trust fund that pays the costs of the program will have a $357.3 million deficit by June 30, 2019.

Helping drive the costs increase, Fillyaw told lawmakers Tuesday, are prescription drugs.

Fillyaw said that regardless of the plan, all employees are enrolled in the state’s self-insured prescription drug program. Pharmacy costs for state employees are projected to be $693.1 million this year, a jump of more than $81 million from the previous year’s spending.

To help curb the costs, the Department of Management Services will ask the Legislature to consider changes to the pharmacy program.

“Prescription drug spend is the most unpredictable cost driver in our program,” Fillyaw told lawmakers, adding that there are formulary-management programs in 18 state-employee health insurance programs across the country.

State seeks to scuttle marijuana smoking case

Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office is asking a judge to toss out a challenge to a new law that bars patients from smoking medical marijuana.

A 39-page motion filed last week in Leon County circuit court argues that a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana did not require smoking to be allowed – and that lawmakers had good reasons to approve a smoking ban.

Orlando attorney John Morgan, who largely bankrolled the medical-marijuana legalization drive, filed a lawsuit in July contending that lawmakers violated the constitutional amendment by barring smoking.

The disputed law was passed during a June special session, as the Legislature took steps to carry out the constitutional amendment.

The law allows medical marijuana to be used in other ways, including by allowing patients to vaporize, or “vape,” marijuana products. The motion to dismiss the lawsuit said lawmakers pointed to health reasons for approving the smoking ban.

“The Legislature considered several significant health-related factors and reasonably determined that the harms caused by smoking were ample reason to exclude smoking from the definition of `medical use,’” the motion said.

It also contended that the constitutional amendment did not specify that smoking would be allowed.

“Had the framers or the voters intended to legalize smoking by adopting the amendment, they could have done so,” attorneys in Bondi’s office wrote. “There was ample opportunity for smoking to be specifically provided for or required in the amendment. But however hard plaintiffs may look for it, a smoking requirement is not in the amendment.”

Circuit Judge Karen Gievers has not scheduled a hearing in the case, according to an online docket.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Annette Taddeo sworn into Senate after ‘long journey’

Two weeks after pulling off a major victory in a special election, Annette Taddeo was sworn in Tuesday as the first Hispanic Democratic woman to serve in the Florida Senate.

Florida Supreme Court Justice Peggy Quince administered the oath of office to Taddeo, who was joined by her 11-year-old daughter, Sofia, husband, Eric Goldstein, and mother, Elizabeth Taddeo. Annette Taddeo defeated former Republican House member Jose Felix Diaz during a Sept. 26 special election in Miami-Dade County’s Senate District 40.

“I’m looking forward to serving with each and every one of you,” Taddeo told senators gathered in the Senate chamber for the ceremony. “It’s been a long journey to get here, to say the least. But I am very familiar with long journeys.”

The ceremony was held just minutes after the state Elections Canvassing Commission certified the results of the special election, along with Republican Daniel Perez’s victory Sept. 26 in a special election in Miami-Dade’s House District 116.

The Colombia-born Taddeo replaces former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican who resigned in April after a crude, racially tinged tirade at a private club near the Capitol. Diaz resigned from the House District 116 seat to run for Senate, setting off a ripple that led to Perez’s election.

While the Senate has had Hispanic Republican women — and Hispanic Republican and Democratic men — lawmakers said Taddeo is the first Hispanic Democratic woman to serve in the chamber.

“Today is a wonderful and historic day,” Sen. Lauren Book said before offering an opening prayer at Tuesday’s ceremony.

Taddeo’s victory also was a major boost politically for Democrats, who have been in the Senate minority for more than two decades. The GOP still holds a 24-16 advantage in the chamber, but Taddeo defeated the well-known, better-funded Diaz in a swing district.

Taddeo, a former chairwoman of the Miami-Dade County Democratic Party, was U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist‘s running mate in Crist’s unsuccessful gubernatorial campaign in 2014. She also unsuccessfully ran for a South Florida congressional seat in 2016.

But she handily defeated Diaz by a margin of 51 percent to 47.2 percent, with a no-party candidate receiving the rest of the vote.

Taddeo told reporters Tuesday said she wants to focus on public-education and environmental issues. She has been assigned to four committees and a subcommittee, including the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee.

During the swearing-in, she also smiled as she gave senators a glimpse of her varied background.

“I do want to warn you that sometimes this Latina will start speaking with a little bit of a Southern accent. And I don’t want you to think I am being disrespectful to anybody with a Southern accent. I learned English in Alabama,” said Taddeo, who received a bachelor’s degree at the University of North Alabama. “So I just want you to know why sometimes you’ll hear the, `I’m fixing to tell you a story,’ or the Southern twang, with a little bit of Hispanic accent.”

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