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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.

Lawmakers want PSC to decide on underground lines

Two Republican lawmakers have revived a proposal that would make clear the Florida Public Service Commission has “exclusive jurisdiction” to decide whether underground transmission lines are required for power-plant projects.

Rep. Jayer Williamson, a Pace Republican, filed the House version of the proposal (HB 405) on Monday, nearly two weeks after Sen. Tom Lee, a Republican from Thonotosassa, filed an identical Senate bill (SB 494).

The proposal stems, at least in part, from a 2016 decision by the 3rd District Court of Appeal in a dispute between Florida Power & Light and local governments about transmission-line issues related to a nuclear-power project in Miami-Dade County.

Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet, acting as the state’s power-plant siting board, approved the project in 2014. But the 3rd District Court of Appeal sided with local governments and overturned the decision by Scott and the Cabinet.

A key part of the ruling said Scott and Cabinet members erroneously determined they could not require underground transmission lines as a condition of the project approval. FPL argued that the Public Service Commission – not Scott and the Cabinet – had authority over issues involving installation of underground lines.

The bills, filed for the 2018 session, would ensure the Public Service Commission makes such decisions.

The Senate passed a version of the bill during the 2017 session, but the measure did not come up for a vote in the House.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

‘Courthouse carry’ proposal filed in house

A measure that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to store firearms with security officers at courthouses was filed Monday in the state House for the 2018 Legislative Session.

The proposal (HB 383) by Rep. Cord Byrd, a Neptune Beach Republican, is identical to a measure (SB 134) filed in August by Senate Judiciary Chairman Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican.

Concealed-weapons license holders are currently prohibited from bringing firearms into courthouses. A similar proposal was approved during the 2017 Session by the Senate in a 19-15 vote. But the House did not take it up as other bills backed by Second Amendment advocates failed to get approved by the Senate.

The 2018 Session starts in January.

House leaders seek KidCare waivers

The list of those asking Florida Gov. Rick Scott to waive insurance premium requirements for low-income families in 48 counties impacted by Hurricane Irma is growing.

Five top-ranking state House Democrats sent a letter Friday to Scott and the Agency for Health Care Administration, urging the administration to waive premium requirements in the Florida KidCare program for families living in counties hardest hit by the massive storm.

The state has agreed to extend the deadline for impacted families to pay the October premium until the end of the month, but House Democrats said that doesn’t provide enough leeway for low-income families forced to make two premium payments by the beginning of November.

“We believe that AHCA should live up to its commitment that `the state will do everything in our power to help these families in the wake of Hurricane Irma,’” the letter reads. “Surely, it is within the state’s power and resources to spend $240,000 in state funds in order to provide these families financial relief and the peace of mind that their child’s health insurance is secure as they recover from the storm’s aftermath.”

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, Florida Senate Democrats and health care advocates across the state have asked Scott to waive the premium for the children’s health insurance program.

Former Gov. Jeb Bush waived KidCare premiums for Florida families during the tumultuous 2005 hurricane season and just last month the state of Texas received federal approval to waive premiums for Texas families impacted by Hurricane Harvey.

“Governor Scott, we are hopeful you agree that Florida’s low-income working families deserve the same support and that you will take action now on their behalf. Please direct AHCA to immediately waive KidCare premiums for families receiving subsidized coverage in the 48 disaster-declared counties,” the House Democrats wrote in Friday’s letter.

AHCA estimated that waiving KidCare premiums for October and November in the 48 disaster-declared counties would cost the state approximately $14.8 million. But in their letter, House Democrats say the estimate assumes premiums also would be waived for children who don’t qualify for state subsidies because of their family income level.

“However, if the state were to request federal approval to waive premiums only for the 185,000 poorest children in those 48 counties, it would cost only $240,000 in state funding because more than 96 percent of the funds come from the federal government,” the letter concluded.

The letter was signed by House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz, Democratic Leader Pro Tempore Bobby DuBose, Leader Designate Kionne McGhee, and Reps. Amy Mercado and David Richardson.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

FPL proposes replacing two Broward units with clean energy center

Florida Power & Light filed a request Friday to replace a power plant in Broward County with a more modern and powerful clean energy center that will cost an estimated $888 million to build.

The Juno Beach-based company submitted a petition for a determination of need to the Florida Public Service Commission with plans to build a “combined cycle generating unit” that will rely primarily on natural gas at its Lauderdale power plant in Dania Beach. The new unit is projected to cut primary air emissions by 70 percent and, over its projected 40-year life, to be $337 million less expensive than continuing to use two existing units at the plant, according to the petition. The new facility, planned to open in 2022, is projected to produce 31 percent more power than the two facilities that would be shut down in 2018, if utility regulators approve the proposal.

“Denying the need determination will result in lower system reliability for FPL’s customers and in FPL having to acquire new resources earlier than if this need determination is approved, likely at a higher cost,” the company said in its petition.

The commission is expected to a hearing on the request early next year and rule by the end of March.

Nursing home providers quarrel over quality payments

A bruising battle over how to parcel out billions in Medicaid payments for nursing homes is showing little signs of ending anytime soon.

The latest skirmish happened this week at a meeting where both sides of the tug-of-war were supposed to be trying to draw up a detailed blueprint for a revamp of how nursing homes get paid under the state-federal health care program.

The meeting devolved into a tense exchange when Scott Hopes, a nursing home lobbyist, snapped at a fellow member of the workgroup for not answering what he said was a “simple, yes or no question.”

Keith Myers, president and CEO of West Palm Beach-based MorseLife Health System, was interrupted by Hopes three times as he tried to respond.

It’s not surprising that those involved in the nursing home industry are closely watching the workgroup, since long-term care remains one of the largest expenses in the Florida’s $26 billion Medicaid program.

The state set up a nursing home prospective payment workgroup earlier this year following a contentious battle during the 2017 session over a push by some nursing homes to alter how they are reimbursed.

A prospective payment system is a reimbursement system in which rates are determined in advance of payment and considered final upon payment. Currently, the state reimburses skilled nursing facilities on a cost-based rate and rates are generally retrospective in nature.

The Florida Health Care Association pushed the Legislature to approve a prospective payment system but LeadingAge Florida said the new calculation system didn’t make quality a top priority.

The Legislature agreed to the changes but pushed back implementation to October 2018. Lawmakers also tasked the State Agency for Health Care Administration with creating a work group to, among other things, assist in the development and refinement of quality measures that should be included in the reimbursement calculations.

Workgroup members agreed at their inaugural September meeting to use, as a starting point, quality metrics included in a 2016 report published by state-hired consultant Navigant. The report provided a roadmap for transitioning from cost-based reimbursement to a fixed-fee system.

After a lengthy discussion last month, the panel agreed to keep some of the quality metrics included in the Navigant report but left pending until Thursday’s meeting action on more than a half-dozen other recommended changes.

Some of the proposed changes include eliminating incontinence and the use of restraints as metrics in the quality payment incentive but adding weight loss for consideration.

The additional time between meetings, however, didn’t help the workgroup members to reach consensus.

After 45 minutes of debate, mostly focused on whether the proposed changes would take effect in October 2018 or in 2020, the committee voted 6-5 to delete the incontinence metric, effective next year, from consideration.

But panel member Beverly Williams subsequently said she was uncomfortable with approving any changes that would take effect in October 2018.

“I’m thinking really we should kinda stay with the way it is now until such time that we’ve gone a year or so and we know what’s going on, which ones are problematic,” she said. “I think I am changing my first vote.”

Sensing that the technical advisory panel wasn’t going to be able to come to agreement, Hopes recommended that the committee approve the quality recommendations included in the 2016 Navigant report and that a subsequent panel be appointed to further analyze the quality of care metrics.

“(Is there) such strong opposition to it (the Navigant metrics) that we cannot move this meeting forward unless we change it?” Hopes asked panel members, especially Myers.

“Some of them,” said Myers. But when Myers tried to explain his position, Hopes interrupted.

“So your problems are significant enough that you are not going to be able to live with this? We have to change it?” Hopes asked Myers.

“It’s not about the organization,” Myers said, again trying to elaborate.

But Hopes interrupted Myers for a second time, asking him again whether he would agree to submitting the Navigant report or if that made him uncomfortable.

When Myers went to answer the question, Hopes interrupted him a third time.

“It’s a simple question: yes or no,” Hopes said, quickly adding, “I’m trying to move this meeting along.”

Myers noted that he also was trying to keep the group on task. He reminded Hopes that the panel last month agreed to delay action on nine proposed changes until Thursday, which was why the items appeared on the agenda.

Myers also said that creating another committee to examine the quality metrics between now and October 2018 just adds another layer of bureaucracy to the process.

But Hope told Myers that his “sense” was that the panel wouldn’t be able to come to a consensus on the nine issues Thursday.

He reiterated his recommendation that panel members be asked whether they supported submitting the recommendations in the Navigant report.

But this time it was Myers who retorted.

“Is that an agenda item, because that’s not what I’m reading,” he said.

The back and forth ended only after Interim Assistant Deputy Secretary for Medicaid Finance and Analytics Tom Wallace suggested that the panel members submit written comments to the agency.

Wallace said he wanted the technical advisory committee’s report to be a reflection of the panel’s sentiments and, to that end, asked that each member provide written comments on the nine proposed changes. The comments would be included in the final report, Wallace said.

“We could definitely do that,” he said. “We like to do that.”

The three-hour meeting at the Agency for Health Care Administration’s Tallahassee headquarters wasn’t all controversial, though.

Nursing home technical advisory panel members agreed to temporarily defer any decision on how supplemental payments for ventilators should be applied.

The panel also agreed not to apply a 2011 law that prevents rates from being adjusted for inflation when the prospective rates are being rebased.

That recommendation was made by panelist Bob Asztalos, chief lobbyist for the Florida Health Care Association, which aggressively lobbied the Legislature to pass the prospective payment system into law.

Asztalos noted that the state retooled how it paid hospitals for inpatient and outpatient care. During that transition period, hospitals were exempt from a 2011 law restricting Medicaid rates from being annually adjusted for inflation.

After the recommendation was unanimously approved, Asztalos quipped he was beginning to feel “warm and fuzzy.”

Hopes, who had been frustrated earlier in the meeting, joined in Asztalos’ optimism.

“We went from a health debate to ending our agenda with consensus,” Hopes said.

Law enforcement: White nationalist speech results in ‘mostly peaceful day’

White nationalist Richard Spencer‘s speech Thursday at the University of Florida prompted a state of emergency, carried a $600,000 tab and drew more than 2,500 demonstrators.

But law enforcement summarized the contentious event, which devolved into an antagonistic affair, as “a mostly peaceful day.”

The emergency declaration issued by Gov. Rick Scott Monday, requested by Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell, enhanced law enforcement presence and planning in advance of Spencer’s appearance at the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts in Gainesville.

A joint law enforcement press release issued late Thursday credited lessons learned from incidents in Charlottesville, Va., and Berkeley, Calif., for a “reasoned, rational response” to Spencer and members of his National Policy Institute.

“The joint coordination and careful planning by multiple law enforcement agencies led to a mostly peaceful day, with minimal acts of violence and only two arrests,” said Darnell, University of Florida Police Chief Linda J. Stump-Kurnick, Gainesville Police Chief Tony Jones and Florida Highway Patrol Col. Gene S. Spaulding.

University of Florida President Kent Fuchs expressed gratitude to the law enforcement and Scott.

“Despite our worst fears of violence, the University of Florida and the Gainesville community showed the world that love wins,” Fuchs said in a release.

In an op-ed penned for the school newspaper, The Alligator, shortly before midnight, Fuchs wrote that “racist” Spencer “failed miserably” to disrupt the campus, inundated by journalists on Thursday.

“The whole world was watching, and the whole world saw how we responded to a hateful and despicable bully,” he wrote.

The university, which initially rejected Spencer’s request to speak, spent an estimated $600,000 to enhance security that resulted in five “minor” injuries — each treated on the scene — and two arrests.

Sean Brijmohan, 28, of Orlando, was charged with possession of a firearm on school property. According to a tweet from the sheriff’s office, Brijmohan was working as a security guard for a media outlet.

David Notte, 34, of Gainesville, was charged with resisting an officer without violence.

A total of 44 federal, state and local agencies from one end of the state to the other — including the Miami-Dade Police Department, the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office, and the Okaloosa Sheriff’s Office — participated in the joint effort.

The law enforcement troops kept those who didn’t get inside the venue where Spencer spoke corralled on a barricaded street where uniformed officers stood watch on the road, on roofs, in nearby woods, in helicopters and through drones.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission and the Federal Bureau of Investigation also participated in the effort

“The greatest #BREAKING news is that ZERO Law Enforcement were injured during this event,” the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office tweeted Thursday night.

Scott late Thursday tweeted a thanks to “our law enforcement from across the state who worked hard in Gainesville today.”

Inside the Phillips Center, Spencer and his supporters tried to belittle several hundred members of a diverse and raucous audience that repeatedly drowned out his message by shouting and through chants that included “Nazis are not welcome here,” “go home Spencer” and “black lives matter.”

The crowd also blamed Spencer for a death at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville in August, when Heather Heyer was killed after a car plowed into a crowd of counter-protestors. Dozens of others were injured.

David Parrott, UF vice president of student affairs, tweeted he was “Very proud of our students for using their voices and rallying together in support of one.”

But Spencer mocked his critics, many of them students, accusing them of acting like “childlike Antifa” — anti-fascists — and calling them “a bunch of screeching and grunting morons.”

One of Spencer’s supporters painted the overwhelmingly negative response as a boon for the white nationalist movement.

Mike “Enoch” Peinovich, host of The Right Stuff podcast, told the crowd that their chants and actions “is the best recruiting tool you can ever give us.”

Increased attorney fees backed by Supreme Court

In a case stemming from a claim for water damage, a divided Florida Supreme Court on Thursday ruled that an attorney was entitled to receive stepped-up fees for representing homeowners against an insurance company.

The court’s majority overturned a decision by the 5th District Court of Appeal that would have prevented attorney Tracy Markham from receiving what is known as a “contingency fee multiplier” for work representing St. Johns County homeowners William and Judith Joyce in their claim dispute with Federated National Insurance Co.

Justice Barbara Pariente, writing for the court majority, said the appeals court had improperly ruled that such multipliers are only available in “rare” and “exceptional” circumstances. Pariente wrote that the possibility of increased fees can be important in getting attorneys to take cases on a contingency basis.

“After reviewing this (Supreme) Court’s precedent regarding contingency fee multipliers, it is clear that this court has never limited the use of contingency fee multipliers to only `rare’ and `exceptional’ circumstances,” Pariente wrote in a 30-page opinion joined fully by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and Justices R. Fred Lewis and Peggy Quince.

Justice Ricky Polston agreed with the outcome but did not sign on to the majority opinion.

Justice Charles Canady, in a dissent joined by Justice Alan Lawson, wrote that the majority’s decision “points unmistakably to the need for a full re-examination of this (Supreme) Court’s multiplier jurisprudence.” He said the increased fees in the case were not justified.

“Despite the fact that petitioners’ attorney may be highly qualified, no public policy supports the windfall being awarded to her in this case,” Canady wrote.

The underlying legal dispute began after Federated National Insurance Co. denied coverage for water damage to the Joyces’ home. The Joyces hired Markham on a contingency-fee basis because they could not afford to hire an attorney at an hourly rate, the Supreme Court opinion said.

The case was settled after months of litigation, with agreement that the Joyces could recover attorney fees. The Supreme Court described a two-step process in which a judge calculated that Markham should be paid a basic amount of $38,150 because of the amount of hours worked and a reasonable hourly rate. The judge then applied a contingency-fee multiplier that doubled the total to $76,300, according to the Supreme Court.

The insurance company appealed the fees. While the 5th District Court of Appeal upheld the basic amount of $38,150, it rejected the contingency-fee multiplier.

But the Supreme Court majority Thursday took issue with the appeals court’s reasoning and argued against the notion that the use of the contingency-fee multiplier would lead to a “windfall” for the attorney.

“We disagree that the possibility of receiving a contingency fee multiplier leads to a `windfall,’” Pariente wrote. “While the attorney for the insurer charges and receives an hourly rate regardless of whether the defense is successful, the insured’s attorney bears the risk of never being compensated for the number of hours spent litigating the case. This risk, among other factors, is what entitles the attorney to seek, and the trial court to consider, the application of a contingency fee multiplier.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

UF ready for white nationalist speech

University of Florida students arose Thursday to a campus outwardly expressing messages of love against the backdrop of a heavily armed law enforcement presence and the specter of a divisive mid-afternoon speech by white nationalist Richard Spencer.

Banners hung outside fraternity and sorority houses called for “Love Not Hate #TogetherUF.”

The Lubavitch Chabad Jewish Student Center had been open since Wednesday for a three-day “Good Deed Marathon,” which drew praise from University President Kent Fuchs.

Spencer, a self-described “identitarian” whose supporters chanted “Jews will not replace us” at a Charlottesville, Va., rally that turned deadly this summer, has been labeled an anti-Semite and white supremacist by groups such as the Anti-Defamation League.

“Another example of countering darkness with Light on Oct 19,” Fuchs, who has repeatedly called on students to Spencer and “his racist and anti-American message,” tweeted Wednesday night of the “Good Deed Marathon.”

Just before 11:30 a.m., the first of Spencer’s supporters, claiming they “like being part of a collective,” arrived. At the same time, the first protesters showed up, one carrying a sign stating “No Trump Nazis.”

Wary of clashes that have erupted on campuses elsewhere, Gov. Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for Alachua County Monday night, at the behest of county Sheriff Sadie Darnell.

The head of the National Policy Institute, Spencer was one of the key speakers at an August “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., that turned deadly when a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters. Heather Heyer, 31, was killed, and dozens were injured.

Girding for the Thursday afternoon speech in Gainesville, streets near the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, where Spencer is to speak, were barricaded. Heavily outfitted law enforcement, some carrying riot helmets, marched along roads near the performing arts center.

Hundreds of journalists from around the globe inundated the campus of the state’s premiere university.

Some facilities near the center were closed, but the campus remained open, adding to the anxiety of students and faculty, many of whom strongly objected to the university allowing Spencer to appear.

While touring barricaded roads near the performing arts center and away from the heart of campus,  Jawamza Tucker, a 21-year-old telecommunications major from Miami, said that the university has been calm during the past week.

The emergency declaration issued by Scott “kind of set a precedent,” he said.

“A lot of my friends are telling me to be careful, and I’m not taking their words lightly, but I’m not worried,” said Tucker, who said he intends to “observe” the event. “I will proceed with caution. You never know what people have up their sleeves.”

Spencer, Tucker said, “feels threatened,” adding that the UF appearance won’t change things.

“This is, honestly, just one big event to get attention, to increase his platform, to increase his notoriety and infamy,” Tucker said.

The school had initially denied Spencer’s request to speak. But Fuchs has noted that, while Spencer’s appearance isn’t sponsored by any student group, the public university couldn’t lawfully prohibit the event based on the content or views expressed in the speech.

Security costs for the UF event have grown to $600,000, and an estimated 500 law enforcement officers, from the city, county and state, are said to be on campus.

It is unknown how many of Spencer’s supporters will attend the speech — organizers are distributing 600 tickets to individuals they view as friendly — or how many others will show up to protest his appearance and white ethno-state platform.

Antifa – anti-fascists – members from Atlanta and Orlando are expected to flood into Gainesville, even though they may not have access to the venue where Spencer will speak.

Organizers of the event decided to distribute tickets to the speech, instead of the typical process in which the center provides the tickets, after reports that ticket-holders could exchange the passes for free beer or even money.

A group called No Nazis at UF, which called for classes to be canceled and asserted that their mobilization kept “fascists” from marching Wednesday night, used Facebook to plan a demonstration for Thursday. More than 1,000 people expressed interest for the event.

University graduate U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio is among state leaders, including Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi, urging students to boycott Spencer’s event.

“#GatorNation not asking u to ignore his racist message.” Rubio tweeted Wednesday. “I am suggesting you embarrass him by denying him the attention he craves.”

Richard Spencer group denies being ‘hateful’ as UF braces

Supporters of Richard Spencer, the firebrand white nationalist whose upcoming appearance at the University of Florida sparked a state of emergency, say he’s not a racist.

And, they insist, he’s not to blame for violent clashes like the one at a “Unite the Right” rally in Charlottesville, Va., that left one woman dead and dozens more injured.

But the Anti-Defamation League brands Spencer as a white supremacist whose buttoned-down appearance and articulate speech belies a hateful, anti-Semitic ideology.

Attorney General Pam Bondi this week painted Spencer, the head of the National Policy Institute, as a dangerous provocateur who has incited violence across the nation.

“This guy is out there espousing violence and hatred and anger,” Bondi told reporters Tuesday.

Gov. Rick Scott, who declared a state of emergency in Alachua County this week, has also urged people to avoid the event Thursday.

Bondi’s and Scott’s take on Spencer and his followers is “complete nonsense,” Evan McLaren, executive director of the Washington, D.C.-based National Policy Institute, told The News Service of Florida in a telephone interview.

“And they know it’s nonsense, because they have no substantial or serious response to our message and to our presence and so they’re trying to deal with it by portraying us as violent and hateful,” McLaren said. “There’s nothing hateful about what Richard or myself or National Policy Institute expresses.”

Spencer calls himself an “identitarian” who wants “to preserve the white majority” in the country.

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and University of Florida President Kent Fuchs also urged people to boycott Spencer’s speech as Gainesville braces for the kinds of skirmishes between Spencer’s supporters and opponents, including “Antifa,” or anti-fascists, that have erupted on campuses elsewhere.

The university initially balked at allowing Spencer to speak, but relented after his attorney threatened to sue.

“I think Gov. Scott and the attorney general would be well-advised to see that the First Amendment is protected and upheld instead of injecting themselves into a political dialogue that they are obviously not able to handle like responsible adults,” McLaren said.

McLaren blamed Antifa, many of whom wear black helmets and carry pepper spray, for the melees at Spencer’s other appearances.

“When we hold events by ourselves that we control, there is no violence,” McLaren said. “The only time that there is violence is when the left shows up to counter-demonstrate and attack us, or even when elements of the left show up on their own.”

At the Charlottesville rally in August, Spencer supporters carried tiki torches and chanted “Jews will not replace us” before a car plowed into a group of counter-protesters, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens of others.

But counter-protesters and Spencer supporters may not be the only ones in danger.

McLaren went to work for Spencer shortly after passing the Bar exam in late July.

“My first business purchase was a ballistics vest. So we’re definitely mindful of the threat that we face. But this is just how the game is played. If you want to say something serious and meaningful and change-oriented, then obviously it’s going to upset a lot of people,” McLaren said.

Antifa members from Atlanta and Orlando are expected to flood into Gainesville, even though they may not have access to the Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, where Spencer will speak.

Organizers of the event decided to distribute tickets to the speech, instead of the typical process in which the center provides the tickets, after reports that ticket-holders could exchange the passes for free beer or even money.

McLaren said he will hand out tickets inside the venue to people who make it through a primary security check, and he won’t give them to anybody who looks like they are there to create a disturbance.

The selective ticket situation could heighten tensions already ramping up at the university.

“It made us all upset because it’s happening on our campus and we can’t even attend the event,” said Christopher Wilde, a 21-year-old senior from Miramar who is a member of the “No Nazis at UF” group opposing Spencer’s speech and the university administration’s handling of it.

In Gainesville, barricades are already erected, streets will be shut down and Florida Highway Patrol officers are on the ground, creating a forbidding aura.

Many students are torn between boycotting the speech, as advised by Fuchs and others, protesting or attending. Despite the state of emergency issued by Scott, Fuchs has not canceled classes Thursday.

Dozens of members of the “No Nazis at UF” group marched to the school’s administrative offices Monday to protest Spencer’s appearance, pledging to show up en masse on Thursday. The group, which collected more than 3,500 online petitions urging the university to cancel the speech, participated in a sit-in on campus Tuesday evening to protest the university’s refusal to cancel classes.

“They’re pretending you can go to campus safely if you stay away from the Phillips Center, but they’re shutting down buildings that are far away,” Wilde said in a telephone interview. “It’s a mixed message. School isn’t closed but we’re going to have cops and National Guard all over campus and buildings are shut down. If it’s safe out there, why is there such a heavy police presence and why are buildings being closed early?”

Wilde is ignoring advice from his parents, who told him to treat the rest of the week like a hurricane and stay shuttered in his apartment, even though he said he is afraid of what might happen Thursday.

“I’m worried for everyone’s safety but I also know that we have to show our opposition to this kind of ideology because in history the only thing that has stopped it is opposition to Nazism or white supremacy,” he said. “It’s scary but it’s the only way.

Meanwhile, a group of students has organized an online event scheduled to take place at the same time as Spencer’s 2:30 p.m. speech.

“If people want to protest, they’re going to protest. But there’s also people on campus who feel very unsafe and would rather stay inside so this gives them an outlet to engage with the university community and not be alone on that day,” said Cassie Bell, a 22-year-old senior from Margate who is one of the organizers of “TogetherUF.”

The Facebook event, which Bell called an “online assembly” and will be accompanied by live social media posts, gives students “an opportunity to stay safe and be inside if that’s what they prefer to do.”

The speech coincides with exams for most students, adding to anxiety, said Bell, who hasn’t decided what she will do on Thursday.

But participating in the TogetherUF group has given students like Bell an outlet to protest Spencer’s platform, even if only from afar.

“I obviously don’t agree (with him). I have yet to meet somebody that does. But I almost feel that they’re so radical I’m not sure what I can do as an individual to combat their beliefs,” she said in a telephone interview. “It’s given me a sense that I’m not just sitting on my hands, that we’re actively making an effort.”

State board approves schools for ‘Hope’ money

With 13 school districts challenging the constitutionality of Florida’s new “schools of hope” law, the State Board of Education on Wednesday used the law to select 11 low-performing public schools to receive additional funding.

The schools will qualify for up to $2,000 in extra per-student funding over the next two years to carry out improvement plans that will include efforts such as tutoring, after-school programs, counseling and teacher development.

At the state board’s meeting in Jacksonville, Education Commissioner Pam Stewart said the schools were part of a group of 59 schools that had sought the funding. Schools that did not make the initial cut will have a chance to reapply in the near future, Stewart said.

Miami-Dade County has five schools on the approved list, followed by Palm Beach County with three, Bay County with two and Seminole County with one.

Among the districts that did not make the initial selection were Polk County, with eight schools; Orange County, with six; and Duval County, with five schools.

Stewart said she and Public Schools Chancellor Hershel Lyons will work on “strengthening” the proposals of schools that submitted applications but did not make the cut.

She also said schools that did not apply for the extra funding can still submit applications in the next selection process.

Lawmakers this year set aside $140 million in the new “schools of hope” program, specifying that a portion of the funding would be used to provide extra funding for up to 25 low-performing traditional public schools. The rest of the funding would go to “hope operators,” who could set up charter schools within five miles of “persistently” low-performing public schools.

With the state Department of Education still working on rules for the new “hope operators” program, no charter school companies have sought approval under the new law.

In a lawsuit filed Monday in Leon County circuit court, 13 school districts challenged numerous provisions of the “schools of hope” law related to the charter schools. They argued the law is unconstitutional because it limits the power of local school boards to “control and supervise” all public schools in their districts.

Charter schools are public schools, though they are often operated by private entities.

Bay County was the only district that joined the lawsuit and received approval Wednesday for extra funding for two of its public schools under the “schools of hope” law.

The 59 public schools that sought the extra “schools of hope” funding were part of a larger group of 80 schools that received performance grades of two consecutive “Ds” or an “F” and had to submit turnaround plans to improve their standing. The turnaround plans were approved Wednesday by the Board of Education.

Under another provision in the new law, the state board also approved 643 “schools of excellence,” which because of high performance will have more autonomy. The designation will provide the school principals with more power over budget and personnel decisions. It will lift mandates for reading instruction time and it will give the schools more flexibility in dealing with class-size requirements.

The schools approved for additional funding under the “schools of hope” program were:

— Miami-Dade County: Homestead Middle, Lorah Park Elementary, Miami Carol City Senior High, Toussaint L’Ouverture Elementary and West Homestead K-8.

— Bay County: Lucille Moore Elementary and Springfield Elementary.

— Palm Beach: Gove Elementary, Palm Beach Lakes High and West Riviera Elementary.

— Seminole County: Idyllwilde Elementary.

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