Phil Ammann, Author at Florida Politics

Phil Ammann

Phil Ammann is a St. Petersburg-based journalist and blogger. With more than three decades of writing, editing and management experience, Phil produced material for both print and online, in addition to founding HRNewsDaily.com. His broad range included covering news, local government and nightclub reviews for Patch.com, technical articles and profiles for BetterRVing Magazine and advice columns for an online metaphysical website among others. Phil has served as a contributor and production manager for SaintPetersBlog since 2013 and lives in St. Pete with his wife, visual artist Margaret Juul.

The Delegation for 9.14.17 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

Hurricane Irma: We’re all in this together

This publication typically deals with the political and policy issues involving the federal government and how our delegation plays a role. This week, those we elected to represent us in Washington had one issue front and center. We did not need a poll to tell us that Hurricane Irma was at the top of the list among Floridians.

In last week’s edition, we discussed the many problems facing this Congress needing resolution by Sept. 30. We are one week further down the road, and none of them have been solved, but as Hillary Clinton so famously said, “What difference, at this point, does it make?”

For example, how many knew the federal debt exceeded $20 trillion this week? It will grow a bit faster shortly, and even conservative Republicans won’t mind too much because a good chunk of the borrowed money will help their constituents, whose lives and property was damaged by Irma.

Democrats, Republicans, liberals, conservatives, Caucasians, people of color, agnostics and God-fearing Floridians were all affected. It’s not a South Florida versus North Florida rivalry, either. Nearly EVERY member of the delegation represents Floridians with serious issues, whether it is flooding, or wind damage or both.

The tragedy at the Hollywood nursing home should affect anyone reading the story. It generates bipartisan disbelief mixed with outrage.

What is happening now in Florida is somewhat reminiscent of the unity we displayed following the terror attacks of 9/11. It is a sad irony that Irma chose the 16th anniversary of that dark day to darken the lives of so many.

But the good news is our delegation is working together on behalf of our residents. Examples include both Sen. Marco Rubio and Sen. Bill Nelson flying together to inspect hurricane damage. Nelson appeared with Scott, a potential 2018 opponent, at pre-landfall briefings.

Nelson, a three three-term Democrat and Florida’s lone remaining statewide elected official from his party, also praised the focus on the mission.

“There is the cooperation between the federal level, the state and the locals,” Nelson said on the CBS Face the Nation program. “That has been seamless cooperation, unlike 25 years ago in Hurricane Andrew, when you did not have that cooperation, unlike even Katrina when you did not have the cooperation and communications between the Louisiana National Guard and the U.S. military. That has been taken care of now.

Scott is receiving high marks for his administration’s handling of the Irma response and for basically browbeating residents in dangerous areas to evacuate. President Donald Trump and his FEMA operation are also earning a good grade.

Jeb Bush, who knows a thing or two about hurricane responses, said the federal response has been “very good.” Bush offered this bit of wisdom to Fox Business Network’s Neil Cavuto:

“Imagine if the government worked with this kind of compassion and efficiency in a regular order day,” he mused.

Trump will be in Florida Thursday to get a firsthand look at the damage.

Meanwhile, here are some other insights from a tumultuous week.

Marco Rubio visits Jacksonville and St. Johns County to survey the destruction caused by Hurricane Irma.

Rubio amendment seeks hurricane damage assessment to military bases

The second-term Republican is looking to determine the damage hurricanes did to military installations in 2017. Rubio introduced an amendment to the National Defense Authorization Act of 2018 requiring the Secretary of Defense to submit a report to Congress detailing the damages caused by the storms.

“Hurricane Irma has inflicted significant damage to Florida’s communities and military installations alike,” Rubio said in a release. “This bipartisan amendment will provide Congress with information it needs to ensure our national security assets and capabilities are fully repaired in the wake of these storms.”

Nelson is an original co-sponsor of the measure along with Texas Republicans John Cornyn and Ted Cruz.

The 1,330-page bill passed the House July 14 by a 344-81 majority. Every member of the Florida delegation voted for passage.

On Monday, the Senate voted to invoke cloture and proceed toward a vote by an 89-3 margin. The only nays were Oregon Democrat Ron Wyden, Vermont Independent Bernie Sanders, and Kentucky Republican Rand Paul.

Both Rubio and Nelson were among the eight not voting since the vote came on the day Hurricane Irma was making landfall in Florida.

 Delegation remembers 2001 terror attacks as Irma attacks Florida

While most of Florida was trying to get up from, or still taking, a meteorological haymaker from Hurricane Irma Monday, a solemn anniversary remained in the minds of many Floridians. With current hardships facing their constituents on their minds, several delegation members paused to remember the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001.

“As we all remember that tragic day in our nation’s history, Florida is facing the ravages of a strong hurricane,” said Panama City Republican Neal Dunn in a statement. “Let us all say a prayer for our first responders, who today, like 16 years ago, ran into the danger to save their fellow Americans. Ours is an amazing and resilient country.”

GOP Sen. Rubio tweeted “Today we honor the memories of those we lost 16 years ago. America has and will continue to triumph over evil.” Democrat Nelson, during an interview regarding Irma on CNN, said “Americans showed the strength of this country,” 16 years ago as Floridians have through Irma.

Orlando Republican Daniel Webster’s memory was “Every American made the grief of total strangers their own” while St. Petersburg Democrat Charlie Crist said “Today, we remember the lives lost on 9/11 and the heroism of our first responders and every day Americans who stood steadfast in the face of evil that fateful Day 16 years ago.”

Tallahassee Democrat Al Lawson said “Considering this tragic day in our nation’s history, we recognize the importance of coming together as a country in the face of terrorism and hatred. As we grapple with many challenges including racism and terrorism, reflecting on the attacks of 9/11 help us to remember the importance of unifying as a nation to help our neighbors in times of need.”

Miami Republican Mario-Diaz Balart said in a tweet that “Americans are resilient. Americans look out for each other. Americans have, and always will, overcome hardship.”

Putnam thanks Agriculture Secretary for helping low-income families cope with Irma

Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam thanked U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue for modifying rules involving the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The modifications helped Floridians and others affected by Hurricane Irma have access to food as the storm approached and during the recovery period.

Perdue’s actions included allowing Floridians to purchase hot meals and ready-to-eat foods with their EBT cards (formerly known as food stamps), through Sept. 30. He also moved up the times Floridians could access their benefits to Sept. 7.

Adam Putnam took an aerial tour to survey areas impacted by Hurricane Irma, including citrus groves in Central and Southwest Florida.

Residents of Puerto Rico could obtain their benefits as early as Sept. 5 as Irma prepared to hit the Commonwealth.

“I thank Secretary Perdue for his leadership and taking action in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma to assist Floridians,” Putnam said in a statement.

Perdue is the former Governor of Georgia.

Overworked weather service employees still performed during Irma

The National Weather Service is an understaffed and overworked agency, according to a recent report from the U.S. Government Accountability Office. And that was even before they had to work even more overtime to issue critical forecasts as Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma approached Texas and Florida, respectively.

“Many forecast offices are struggling to fill essential emergency shifts with the burden placed on the backs of dedicated employees,” the report said. With Harvey and Irma coming back-to-back, employees had little downtime in between.

NOAA’s satellites provide the bulk of the information for generating weather models, advisories and warnings to the nation and world.

The most recent available figures reveal that 11 percent of NWS positions remain unfilled. That includes the director of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), which oversees the National Weather Service.

St. Petersburg Democrat Crist reminded Trump of that fact before hurricane season began.

“In light of the recent Government Accountability Office report showing that NWS meteorologist vacancies are growing and ’employees are fatigued and morale is low,’ it is my hope that the next NOAA Administrator will take a hard look at this issue and move in an appropriate director to correct it,” Crist wrote. “Fatigued employees mean less accurate predictions.”

The personnel loss is not a recent phenomenon. Vacant positions increased by 57 percent between 2014 and 2016. Weather service personnel may be tired, but according to NOAA spokesman Christopher Vaccaro, employees at the NWS and National Hurricane Center are doing their job.

“As evident during Harvey and Irma, NOAA will always provide the critical forecasts and services to the public, emergency managers and other partners need to make informed decisions and remain safe,” Vaccaro told CBS.

South Florida delegation members: NOAA Fisheries staying put

NOAA had another issue during the week that did not involve Irma or National Weather Service. The headquarters of NOAA Fisheries, which is responsible for stewardship of the nation’s ocean resources, was possibly moving from their location on Virginia Key in South Florida.

Several delegation members from the region worked together to ensure that would not occur. Boca Raton Democrat Ted Deutch led the effort to offer an amendment, passed unanimously, that would deny any funds toward moving the facility. It was provided as part of the appropriations bills for Commerce, Justice and Science and related agencies.

“Here in South Florida, with our extensive network of lakes, rivers, marshes and bays, water is part of our identity,” said Deutch in a statement. “For more than 70 years, NOAA has collaborated with South Florida universities and business councils on important research projects, like discovering new and better ways to restore the Everglades and protect the Florida Keys Marine Sanctuary.”

Joining Deutch in pushing the amendment was Democrat Alcee Hastings of Miramar, Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach, and Debbie Wasserman-Schultz of Weston. Republicans Ileana Ros-Lehtinen of Miami and Carlos Curbelo of Kendall – whose district hosts the facility – were also part of the effort.

“I appreciate the support from my South Florida colleagues on this amendment, and I’m proud that it passed without opposition,” said Deutch.

No reports of significant damage from Irma to the NOAA facility or Virginia Key were available.

Gaetz, Yoho vote “no” on debt ceiling/hurricane aid package

As Hurricane Irma zipped through the Caribbean on its way to Florida, the U.S. Congress knew that additional assistance was needed to help the state cope with the impending devastation. The $15 billion approved for FEMA came through President Trump’s agreement with Democratic leaders that tied the relief funding to raising the debt ceiling.

Combining the two did not sit well with two Florida Republicans. When the measure came to the House for a vote, Gaetz of Fort Walton Beach and Yoho of Gainesville, both voted against the package. Gaetz, who said he wanted the relief to be a stand-alone item, called the entire process “generational theft.”

“Only Congress can find a way to turn a natural disaster into a trillion new dollars in spending authority,” Gaetz said. “If conservatives don’t start voting no against debt-limit increases, all the FEMA in the world won’t save us from our most unfortunate destiny.”

The debt-ceiling increase and FEMA funds passed the House by a 316-90 majority. Yoho and Gaetz were the only two among the Florida delegation to vote “no,” while eight voted yes. As the storm approached, 17 members were already back in their districts and did not vote.

Both Gaetz and Yoho previously voted for a $7.5 billion stand-alone FEMA authorization Sept. 6.

Dunn, GOP colleagues seek procurement rules waivers for clean up

The first-term Republican from Panama City led a group of GOP representatives asking Trump to help speed up recovery efforts from Hurricane Irma by cutting through red tape. In a letter, Dunn and nine other members asked Trump to waive certain federal procurement rules prohibiting “local preference” to engage local contractors more rapidly.

“While municipalities tirelessly work to rebuild infrastructure and restore critical services, the risks to public health and safety do not permit delays resulting from federal red tape,” they wrote. “Given your experience as a builder, you understand that these contracting strategies may, in exigent circumstances, save taxpayer dollars and valuable recovery time.”

Dunn and his colleagues maintain the Trump administration maintains proper authority to waive current rules under the present circumstances. The group points to precedents of waiving regulations following the state’s historic hurricane seasons of 2004 and 2005.

“Clearing debris, repairing damaged infrastructure, and resuming essential public services in a timely manner is critical to public health and policy,” the letter said.

Also signing on were fellow Republicans Mario Diaz-Balart, Francis Rooney, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Carlos Curbelo, Daniel Webster, John Rutherford, Tom Rooney, Ted Yoho and Dennis Ross.

Soto appointed to jobs task force

The first term Democrat from the 9th Congressional District has been named one of four co-chairs of a new jobs task force created by the Democratic Caucus in the House of Representatives.

Soto, an Orlando freshman, joins U.S. Reps. Susan DelBene of Washington, Debbie Dingell of Michigan, and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois as co-chairs of the newly-formed New Economy Task Force, Soto’s office announced Wednesday.

“In developing legislation to strengthen our economy, we need to think long term – beyond the next election cycle and beyond the present,” Soto stated in a news release. “Our priority must be on preparing the American workforce for the jobs of the 21st century.”

The Democratic Caucus charged the New Economy Task force with, “looking at rapidly advancing technology, artificial intelligence, advanced manufacturing, and ensuring workers are trained for the jobs of tomorrow.”

Castor wants feds to pick up all costs for debris removal

The Tampa Democrat is advocating a larger federal share in covering cleanup costs from Hurricane Irma. She is pushing for the federal government to pick up 100 percent of the expenses under FEMA’s Public Assistance Category A, which governs debris removal.

Castor cites the Robert T. Stafford Disaster Relief and Assistance Act, which cover catastrophic storms. The federal share is currently 75 percent.

“As our neighbors return to their homes and survey the damage, we begin to understand the severity of the damage inflicted upon homes, businesses and schools,” Castor said in a release. “The increased federal cost share will be critical to hiring local contractors and bolstering local government debris removal.”

Castor spoke with FEMA Director Brock Long earlier this week urging reimbursement to local partners such as Hillsborough County Public Schools, as quickly as possible.

“I intend to be a proactive partner to our local Tampa and Hillsborough County communities to speed recoveries,” she said. “That is why I have joined with others in the Florida congressional delegation to call for an increase in the federal share of public assistance, swift reimbursement for local partners and prompt review and approval of individual requests for assistance.”

F. Rooney, delegation thank Trump for quick action

The first-term Republican from Naples led the effort on behalf of the delegation to thank Trump for his prompt action in helping Florida cope with final preparations and recovery efforts with Hurricane Irma. Both senators and all 27 House members signed a letter of thanks.

“(Monday) I led a letter to President Trump to thank him for his quick response in assisting the victims of Hurricane Irma, as requested by the state of Florida,” Rooney said in a release. “His quick approval of Governor Rick Scott’s request is imperative to beginning recovery and assistance efforts for all Floridians.”

The letter, signed by all 29 members of the delegation, specifically mentioned the president’s rapid approval of Scott’s request for a declaration of a federal emergency. It also singled out the adoption of Public Assistance for all 67 counties in Florida and Individual Assistance for many.

The aid comes from FEMA.

Deutch “safe room” becomes new district office 

Per David Cohen of POLITICO: Throughout the day Sunday, the Democratic congressman was forced to shelter from the ferocious effects of Hurricane Irma, even as he attempted to keep atop of the situation, or, as he put it, “trying to stay abreast while running back and forth to the safe room during tornado warnings.”

That safe room was, in fact, a walk-in closet in his in-laws’ residence in Boca Raton, on Florida’s Southeast side. A string of tornado warnings complicated his efforts to remain in consultation with FEMA and other government officials, including those in neighboring states where many Floridians have fled.

Ted Deutch tried to keep up on Irma’s effects amid tornado warnings.

Deutch said he and his family — his wife, his in-laws and his dog — had remained safe and gotten a bit more accustomed to the emergency drill as the day went along.

“It was easier to find humor in it at 4 o’clock in the afternoon than 4 o’clock in the morning,” he said.

Wilson calls $15B hurricane funding a “drop in the bucket”

Not long after Congress passed a $15 billion aid package for Florida victims of Hurricane Irma, the Miami Gardens Democrat already started the call for more. With the substantial wind and flooding damage, she is likely correct.

Calling the initial funding “a first step,” Wilson said in a release the “$15 billion is a mere drop in the bucket. (Hurricane) Harvey is expected to cost about $180 billion and Irma somewhere in the neighborhood of $120 billion. Clearly, Congress will have to do much, much more and I am committed to fighting for additional funding.”

Wilson offered her assessment before Irma struck Florida. With local and state officials in the early stages of touring severely damaged areas, the extent of the devastation is still unknown.

FEMA Director Brock Long was in Florida Wednesday with President Trump set to visit Thursday.

“The many more billions of dollars that will likely be required for recovery efforts sounds like a lot of money, but it is important to remember that the aid the hurricane victims receive will also be just a first drop in the bucket toward making their lives whole again,” Wilson added.

RNC announces state director for Florida, 16 other states

The Republican National Committee (RNC) announced several new state director hires for 17 key states. One of those announced was Andrew Brey, who is now state director for Florida.

Brey, who has been on the job since August, just completed a successful 2016 election cycle as political director for Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who won an upset re-election victory. Brey spent part of the previous election cycle on the field team for Rubio’s presidential bid.

He also spent time at the Republican Party of Florida (RPOF) as field director for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s campaign and also worked on Gov. Rick Scott’s re-election in 2014.

Other state appointments have some Florida history as well. Alex Melendez, the new Arizona State Director, worked on several Florida congressional campaigns and was regional field director for Scott’s first campaign for governor in 2010.

Last cycle’s Deputy State Director for the RPOF, Dan Coats, is now Nevada State Director for the RNC. He is not related to the former Indiana Senator and current Director of National Intelligence with the same name.

“These hires represent the long-planned evolution of the RNC’s permanent data-driven field program that has been on the ground virtually uninterrupted since 2013,” said RNC Chairwoman Ronna McDaniel in a release announcing the hires. “As our candidates emerge from their primary races, they will inherit an RNC field program years in the making to help push them to victory.”

Social media helps beached manatees return to habitat

President Trump is well-known for his use of social media to offer his opinion on policy or punch back at opponents. This week we discovered Facebook or Twitter can also be used to help save animals in need.

After Hurricane Irma helped suck the water from the bay near Sarasota-Bradenton airport, Michael Sechler came upon two beached manatees.

“Went out to the bay and saw two objects out where the water receded, so we took off our shoes and walked out through the shells to find two beached manatees,” Sechler wrote. “One wasn’t moving, and the other was breathing and had water in its eyes.”

Hurricane Irma left manatees stranded on dry land.

Sechler and his companion were unable to lift the heavy creatures, so he posted a photograph on social media. According to the Bradenton Herald, two Manatee County deputies, with the help of tarps, assisted in moving the manatees to deeper water.

#SaveTheManatees

Paulson’s Principles: Dreams and nightmares

Congress considered the Dream Act in 2010 which would have provided the children of illegal immigrants to the United States with work permits and a pathway to citizenship. Supporters of the bill argued that children should not be punished for the actions of their parents. They also argued that it would be cruel to deport these children who knew no home other than America.

The Dream Act passed the House but failed to get the 60 votes needed to stop a Republican filibuster in the Senate. Many Republicans argued that America is a nation of laws and no one is above the law.

In 2012, President Barack Obama signed an executive order that permitted the children of illegal immigrants to obtain renewable two-year work permits. Some 800,000 are now enrolled in the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals or DACA program. Supporters of DACA praised Obama for the executive order, while critics said the president had no authority to unilaterally change the immigration laws. Such change required congressional action.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, candidate Donald Trump promised to end DACA on “Day One.” Eight months later, President Trump reversed Obama’s executive order but gave Congress six months to come up with an immigration reform plan.

Florida has 30,000 of America’s 800,000 Dreamers. According to the libertarian Cato Institute, Florida would lose $6 billion in tax revenues over the next decade if DACA is terminated. Studies have shown that 91 percent of the Dreamers have jobs and one-third are in school seeking bachelor’s degrees.

The initial response to Trump’s action was overwhelmingly negative. Critics called Trump’s move cruel and not in the nation’s best interest. Polls indicated strong public support for DACA, and even a plurality of Republicans supported the policy.

However, polling also showed that immigration was a far more important issue to Republicans than it was to Democrats. Trump beat Hillary Clinton by 31 points by those who said immigration was the most important problem facing the nation.

In the 2016 Republican presidential primaries and caucuses, Trump did best among voters who said immigration was their top issue. This was true in every primary and caucus. In Florida, 43 percent of those who said the economy and jobs were the top issues supported Trump. 48 percent of those who thought terrorism was the top issue backed Trump, compared to 43 percent who believed government spending was the primary issue. Among those who viewed immigration as the top issue, Trump won 60 percent of their vote.

Democrats in the Florida congressional delegation uniformly criticized Trump’s reversal of DACA, while most Republicans in the delegation supported the president.

Republican Matt Gaetz said America “must be a nation of laws.” Republican Ted Yoho wrote that “For decades Washington has failed to address our broken immigration system.” Republican congressman Dan Webster called DACA “a new extreme overreach by the executive branch” and “a flagrant abuse of the United States Constitution.”

The greatest opposition in the Florida Republican delegation came from Florida’s three Republican Hispanic members of Congress. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, a frequent critic of the president, called Trump’s reversal “heartless.”

Republican Mario Diaz-Balart said DACA “serves children and young adults who came to the United States at the choice of a parent or guardian.”

Republican Carlos Curbelo, representing a district dominated by Democrats, argued that America’s children “should not have to live in constant fear of being deported to their parent’s homeland … ”  Curbelo introduced the Recognizing America’s Children Act which would codify DACA and create a pathway to citizenship after 10 years.

Will Obama’s dream become Trump’s nightmare?

 

National Republicans hire new Florida state director

Ahead of the 2018 midterms, the Republican National Committee has brought on a new political director for Florida.

Andrew Brey, who previously served on U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio‘s presidential campaign, has been in the post since July. Brey has also worked for the Republican Party of Florida as field director in support of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s campaign and was part of Gov. Rick Scott‘s re-election team.

After Rubio ended his presidential bid, Brey became political director for Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who defeated Democrat Russ Feingold despite his substantial lead in polling.

According to POLITICO, Brey’s appointment was formally announced in an RNC press release, along with the hire of state directors in 17 states across the country for the 2018 cycle.

AT&T pledges $1.4M in Hurricane Irma relief

Telecommunications giant AT&T is giving another $1.4 million in relief toward “sustained recovery” efforts in Florida, Texas and the Caribbean after a pair of devastating hurricanes.

The additional money will include $1 million in matching donations to Team Rubicon — a veteran-led nonprofit disaster response group — as well as $150,000 to Telecoms Sans Frontieres, which is working to re-establish connectivity for emergency responders and communities in the Caribbean, and $250,000 to local charities in states impacted by Irma.

Over the past 24 hours, Hurricane Irma brought dangerous winds and floodwaters, leaving more than 3 million people in Florida without power. After making landfall Sunday in Key West, the massive Category 3 hurricane moved across Florida before finally being downgraded Monday afternoon to a tropical storm.

AT&T is pledging to work with state officials to direct the $250,000 donations to the areas where they can do the most good.

“During disasters, our communities need rapid response, and they also need sustained recovery,” said Charlene Lake, AT&T chief sustainability officer, in a statement Monday. “The devastation wrought by disasters like Hurricanes Irma and Harvey require a long-term effort to rebuild. Team Rubicon and its cadre of high-skilled, mostly veteran volunteers are the best-of-the-best. We’re proud to stand with them.”

AT&T will match each dollar donated to Team Rubicon through the text-to-donate program, no matter which wireless carrier, up to $1 million.

Those wishing to donate can text RUBICON to 80077, and $10 will be donated by the customer to Team Rubicon (TR), which will then be matched by AT&T.

Contributions will go to immediate and ongoing support in communities impacted by Hurricanes Harvey and Irma and other cities to be announced in the future. TR’s crisis units consist of skilled volunteers, many of whom are veterans, ready to deploy when disaster strikes and in the ongoing recovery of communities.

“Disasters are not one-day events. We’re grateful AT&T is joining us in our goal to be ready to serve our communities at any moment, anywhere,” said Jake Wood, Team Rubicon co-founder and CEO. “AT&T’s support will not only help the communities suffering now, but will also help us deploy in more locations with even more efficiency in the years to come.”

Irma is continuing to bring maximum sustained winds of 60 mph, and even stronger gusts. As of 2 p.m. ET Monday, Irma’s center was located 50 miles southeast of Albany, Georgia, and more than 50 miles east of Tallahassee.

For more information about AT&T’s response to Hurricane Irma, visit att.com.

In response to Hurricane Harvey, which brought flooding to Houston Aug. 25, AT&T had already donated $100,000 to the Greater Houston Community Fund, $100,000 to the American Red Cross Hurricane Harvey Fund and $50,000 to the Coastal Bend Community Foundation in South Texas.   

 

AT&T offering free coverage through Sept. 17 for Hurricane Irma

Ahead of a “potentially catastrophic” impact from Hurricane Irma, AT&T is offering ways for customers to stay safe and connected through the storm expected to touch South Florida sometime this weekend.

Beginning Friday — and running through at least Sunday, Sept. 17 — AT&T is providing unlimited data, calls and texts via bill credits for wireless and unlimited calls and texts for AT&T PREPAID customers.

Services include calls and texts to and from the U.S. and Puerto Rico, and calling or texting from the U.S. to the British Virgin Islands, Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Turks and Caicos.

Impacted video and home internet customers can visit the AT&T support page att.com/esupport for information or report service outages.

The company also has a Hurricane Irma blog about.att.com where customers can find updates on retail store closings, tips and other hurricane-related news. Location based on billing ZIP code for AT&T Wireless customers and billing phone number for AT&T PREPAID customers. Credits will post in 2-3 billing cycles. Dates based on local time zones.

(Locations will be based on billing ZIP code for AT&T Wireless customers and billing phone number for AT&T PREPAID customers. Credits will post in 2-3 billing cycles. Dates based on local time zones.) In addition, Cricket Wireless will provide customers free calls to the Dominican Republic and Haiti beginning Thursday through Sunday. All plans already include calls to Puerto Rico.

In addition, Cricket Wireless will provide customers free calls to the Dominican Republic and Haiti beginning Thursday through Sunday. All plans already include calls to Puerto Rico.

AT&T will also offer unlimited calls for voice customers calling from the U.S. to these countries.

The company is also encouraging everyone to:

 — Capture and store pictures or videos of your home contents on your smartphone before the storm hits your area. These can be just as important as having pictures of damages when you need to place a claim to your insurance

— Use the Cloud to store important content and information. Personal, financial and medical records can be bulky and hard to carry. Scanning or capturing photos of these documents and saving on a cloud server will protect them and allow you to access from anywhere you have the internet Keep your phones and tablets dry and charged. If power is interrupted, having a plan to keep your devices charged will give you peace of mind that you can stay connected during the storm. Portable chargers with

— Keep your phones and tablets dry and charged. If power is interrupted, having a plan to keep your devices charged will give you peace of mind that you can stay connected during the storm. Portable chargers with the capacity to charge multiple devices and car chargers are good choices.

— Save battery life. Using the Power Save Mode on your device can help you get more connected time on your device. Power Save Mode limits some of the device’s performance to conserve battery life.

— Keep informed. Download your local news or favorite weather apps to keep informed of conditions in your area.

— Minimize mobile phone use when possible — AT&T recommends you keep lines open for first responders. Limit your calls and social media use to the most important ones. If there is severe weather, chances are many people will be attempting to place calls to loved ones, friends and business associates. And text rather than call; texting uses fewer resources and helps keep the lines open for emergency calls.

 

Florida Wildlife officers save hundreds trapped by Harvey floods, rescue continues

Florida volunteers have reached out to Texas in its time of need.

The state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, including hundreds of volunteers from the Sunshine State, are continuing disaster response efforts in Texas, rescuing hundreds of people trapped by floodwater in the Houston area.

What was formally Hurricane Harvey — now downgraded to a tropical depression by the National Hurricane Center — has dumped an average of 40 to 50 inches of rainfall throughout much of southeast Texas in the past week, the Weather Channel reports.

The storm brought nine days of heavy rain in many parts of Texas starting Aug. 25 through Sept. 1. As the water begins to recede, rescue crews found 32 bodies, with many fearing a rising death toll.

Meteorologists have estimated Harvey dumped as much as 20 trillion gallons of water across Texas. A reported 30 percent of Harris County, which includes Houston — the nation’s fourth largest city — is under water. That’s an area of about 530 square miles.

According to the FWC, agency officers have rescued more than 500 Texans since arriving in the area after Gov. Rick Scott responded to Texas’ call for emergency aid. Nearly 125 FWC officers — with a fleet of 40 boats, 17 high water vehicles, two Mobile Command Centers, and eight shallow draft vessels — are actively involved in search and rescue and disaster response efforts.

Additionally, more than 400 Florida volunteers were deployed to Texas and Louisiana, part of Volunteer Florida, which continues to coordinate activities of 11 disaster relief organizations.

FWC officials say other volunteer efforts include:

— The Salvation Army has 43 volunteers who have served approximately 1,270 volunteer hours so far as well as an Incident Management Team (IMT) on-site in Texas.

— The Southern Baptist Convention will deploy more than 50 volunteers to Louisiana tomorrow and will be offering feeding, chain saw teams, roofing teams and portable showers.

— The American Red Cross has deployed 24 volunteers to Texas and 40 to Louisiana as well as 11 Emergency Response Vehicles.

— Feeding Florida is working with Feeding America to package, store and deliver food to Texas.

— Volunteer Florida is coordinating with local Pensacola business Two Men and a Truck on a nonperishable item drive. Two Men and a Truck is actively collecting donated items from the local community and has volunteered to use their own storage facility to host all donations until it is possible to make the trip to Texas. Drivers have also volunteered to use their trucks and time to make the trip.

— Volunteer Florida is also coordinating with national manufacturer Kellogg’s, which has donated 200 trucks of food items, to deploy food items to areas in need.

Volunteer organizations are asking those wishing to help to donate to a recognized, nonprofit organization operating in Texas. A list of agencies is available at nvoad.org.

A slideshow of Florida’s rescue efforts in Texas:

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

State University Board of Governors discuss 2018 budget, praise ‘remarkable progress’

Thursday, Florida’s University System Board of Governors reviewed its legislative budget requests for the 2018-19 fiscal year which will be sent for consideration by the governor and the Legislature.

LobbyTools reports that requests for performance-based funding will increase by $100 million in state funds – totaling $690 million. The state and the institution’s investments would amount to $345 million each.

Another request: $206.7 million for university initiations, including $14.3 million for operations and maintenance for new facilities, $40 million for research staffing and $15 million to recruit and retain nursing faculty.

The total ask is 4.2 percent more over its base budget, now standing at $5.1 billion.

A release of meeting highlights obtained by Lobby Tools shows the System is on track to meet or surpass several key goals, including “retention and graduation rate, degrees in areas of strategic emphasis” and more.

“Due to performance funding and other accountability initiatives, the State University System’s progress in recent years has truly been remarkable,” said Board Chair Tom Kuntz. “We’ve seen nearly across-the-board improvement on several quality indicators, and we have every reason to believe our momentum will continue.”

For the 2015-16 academic year, 86 percent of first-time students met the System standard for retention – a 7 percent increase since 2005-2006. Also, over the past five years, four-year graduation rates have increased by 10 percent; six-year graduation rates have risen to a degree where Florida is now ranked second among the 10 largest states.

In addition, the System has reached its goal of meeting Florida’s demand for degrees in strategic areas, including STEM, four years ahead of schedule.

The meeting also included presentations of strategic plans for the University of West Florida, the University of Central Florida, Florida A&M University and Florida State University.

AT&T deploying drones to assess Harvey damage

To help assess the impact of Hurricane Harvey, ravaging the Gulf Coast since Saturday, AT&T will use a fleet of drones to get a better look at damage throughout Southeast Texas.

Twenty-five drones, part of AT&T’s Network Disaster Recovery Team, will be used to inspect cell towers, helping assess the storm’s effect on the AT&T wireless network. Using drones allows access to flooded areas that cannot be reached by cars or trucks.

According to the Federal Communications Commission, Harvey knocked out more than 280,000 cable and wireline telecom hookups in Texas and Louisiana as of Tuesday afternoon. That number rose significantly since Monday when the FCC reported nearly 190,000 cable and wire-line customers were out of service.

Drones will take HD video and photos of a cell site, giving AT&T technicians a birds’ eye view of the tower. With high-quality visuals of equipment, components and cabling, engineers can remotely view cell sites safely from the ground – all in real-time.

AT&T also announced plans to deploy two Satellite Cell on Wheels (Sat COLTs) in Beaumont, Texas.

Sat COLTs are mobile, highly portable base stations to offer almost immediate mobile coverage in areas without the need of an established infrastructure.

The company will be staging an additional dozen units to support customers and first responders in the path of the second landfall of Harvey, which has been downgraded to a tropical storm. After hammering Houston through Tuesday, the storm moved back into the Gulf of Mexico, once again reaching land Wednesday morning near the Texas-Louisiana border.

Widespread rains and flooding affected Texas towns in its path, including Orange, Port Arthur and Beaumont, pummeling them with more than 2 feet of rain. Over four days, Houston – the nation’s fourth largest city – saw more than 50 inches of rain.

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Personnel note: Tim Knowles stepping down from FL Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs

Tim Knowles, a founding member of the Florida Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs, is stepping down from the board of directors after two decades of service.

The Alliance is a leading statewide group to help secure state funding for clubs working to create positive experiences for Florida children.

Knowles is a 65-year-old Bradenton native and principal at the Porges, Hamlin, Knowles & Hawk law firm. He graduated from the Webb Institute of Naval Architecture in 1975, earning a law degree from Stetson University in 1982.

In early 1997, Knowles, joined by volunteers from the Florida Area Council of Boys & Girls Clubs, began a strategy of getting state backing for an Area Council. This led to an organized effort to add Boys & Girls Clubs to the Florida budget.

By August, Knowles and his group developed the blueprint for a statewide Alliance.

A special State Development Committee was launched in October 1997, led by Knowles and Roy McBean (Chairman Emeritus-FL Alliance) with assistance from John Herring and Mary O’Connor (BGC of Palm Beach County), Jack Kane (BGC of the Big Bend), Bob Sokoloski (BGC of the Suncoast), Tom Condron (BGC of Manatee County), Mack Reid (BGC of Sarasota County), Danny Lyons (BGC of Martin County) and Ronnie Jenkins (BGCA Regional Service Director — SE).

In 1998, the Florida Alliance of Boys & Girls Clubs received its first budget appropriation of $1,000,000, with Knowles serving as the organization’s first “stand alone” president. During the next two decades, Knowles would help the Alliance usher in an era of strong relationships between member organizations, Boys & Girls Clubs of America and the Florida Area Council of Clubs.

The original 22 Alliance member organizations served just over 84,000 children in 116 Club facilities. By 2005, the Alliance grew to 38 organizations, serving over 174,000 youths through 228 Club sites, with more than $68,000,000 going for Florida’s Boys & Girls Clubs.

 

Latest on the legislative staffing merry-go-round

With a tip of the hat to LobbyTools, here are the latest movements – both on and off – of the legislative merry-go-round.

Off: Sean White is no longer listed as a legislative analyst in the Senate Majority Office.

On: Angela Herndon became administrative support for the House Government Accountability Committee and its subcommittees (Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs; Natural Resources & Public Lands; Oversight, Transparency & Administration; and Transportation & Infrastructure).

On: Amaura Canty became administrative support for the House Justice Appropriations Subcommittee and Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee.

On: Tracy Sumner became policy chief for the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee.

On: Jessica Krause joined the House Health & Human Services Committee as administrative support.

On and off: David Marin is replacing Allesandro D’Amico as the legislative assistant for Miami-Dade Republican Sen. Rene Garcia.

On and off: Leisa Wiseman is replacing Mark Hodgest as a district secretary for Tallahassee Democratic Rep. Loranne Ausley.

On: YuVonda Steward is a new legislative assistant for Jacksonville Democratic Rep. Kimberly Daniels.

On: Maddie Dawson is the new district secretary for Naples Republican Rep. Byron Donalds.

On: Lynne Holicky is replacing Jana Lambert as a district secretary for Jacksonville Republican Rep. Jay Fant.

On: Pam Nickell is the new district secretary for Venice Republican Rep. Julio Gonzalez.

On and off: Jenny Bonostro replaced Venusmia Lovely as a district secretary for Miami Democratic Rep. Roy Hardemon.

Off: Coleton Reece is no longer the district secretary for Clearwater Republican Rep. Chris Latvala.

On: Doniel Wolfe is a new district secretary for Destin Republican Rep. Mel Ponder.

Off: Amber Smith is no longer the legislative assistant and Robyn Bryan is no longer the district secretary for Plant City Republican Rep. Dan Raulerson.

On and off: Anna Stearns moved from district secretary to legislative assistant for Palm Harbor Republican Rep. Chris Sprowls, replacing Omar Raschid.

 

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Back to court

An Orlando entrepreneur is now demanding a jury trial in his suit against Attorney General Pam Bondi, in which he claims she forces businesses to donate millions of dollars to unregistered charities as part of settlements in consumer protection cases.

John D. Smith, who invented Storm Stoppers plastic panels, marketed as a “plywood alternative” to protect windows during storms, filed papers this week in Leon County Circuit Civil court. He had been investigated on a consumer fraud allegation by Bondi’s office in 2015.

In another filing, Smith said Bondi “should have at least affirmatively stated that her exercise of powers comports with Florida law.”

The latest filings are in response to Bondi’s request for a summary judgment, which allows parties to win a case without a trial.

But such motions are granted only when there is a significant dispute as to the facts of a case. They allow requiring enough evidence to make that determination. And Smith’s lawyer, Scott Siverson, has said he hasn’t been able to get information from Bondi’s office.

Bondi’s motion says “there is no statutory requirement that … settlements under (Florida law) be made to a charity, much less to a registered charity.”

Siverson countered: “A mere possibility that any of the charities were unregistered (or) solicited the contributions they received creates factual disputes which cannot be resolved on summary judgment.”

He added: “Nowhere does the Florida Legislature authorize the (Office of the Attorney General) to forward (a) contribution to whomever it pleases.”

Since she first assumed office in 2011, Bondi’s office settled enforcement actions with 14 businesses in which they wound up paying more than $5.5 million to 35 unregistered charities, Smith’s suit says.

Bondi has called the legal action “meritless” and “harassment.” The next hearing in the matter is set for next Monday.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jim RosicaPeter Schorsch and Andrew Wilson.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was.

Corcoran just says ‘no’ — Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran asked the state’s Constitution Revision Commission to consider a proposal to repeal a section of the state constitution that provides for public financing of statewide political campaigns. State Rep. and Agriculture Commissioner candidate Matt Caldwell quickly said he wouldn’t take any public campaign dollars, while Republican gubernatorial candidate Jack Latvala and Democrat Andrew Gillum said Corcoran, expected to toss his hat in the race next year, had his priorities misplaced.

First execution in months — Thursday, the state executed 53-year-old Mark Asay, the first capital punishment in more than 18 months, with an anesthetic never used before in a U.S. lethal injection. Asay was convicted of two racially motivated murders. Prosecutors say Asay made racist comments in the 1987 fatal shooting of a 34-year-old black man, Robert Lee Booker. Asay also was convicted of the 1987 murder of 26-year-old Robert McDowell, who was mixed race, white and Hispanic.

FSU fights shooting lawsuit — The university asked a court to drop a lawsuit filed by a former student paralyzed in a 2014 shooting at its main library to be dismissed, saying the school is not liable for the “action of a madman.” Farhan “Ronny” Ahmed seeks damages for pain and suffering, disability and medical expenses. The 21-year-old former biomedical engineering was paralyzed from the waist down. He was shot outside the library by Myron May, a former FSU student and 31-year-old lawyer, who was shot and killed by campus police. FSU denies liability for the incident.

Evers dies in wreck — Greg Evers, the former state senator, died Monday in a one-car accident near his home in northwest Florida. The 62-year-old strawberry farmer most recently applied unsuccessfully for a seat on the Public Service Commission. Evers was remembered for “championing causes, such as criminal justice reform and higher pay for state employees. Greg was a tireless force for his constituents and ‘working folks’ across Florida. His personality was larger than life, with a signature wit and a toothy grin,” his family said in a statement this week.

Miller quits the House — GOP state Rep. Alex Miller of Sarasota resigned this week, citing a need to spend more time with family and on running her medical-supply business. That will create the need for a special election, with less than a month before the first committee week and about four months before the start of the 2018 Legislative session. James Buchanan, a Realtor and son of Congressman Vern Buchanan, already has announced he will seek the seat.

Scott touts job gains in visit to Fort Myers

Gov. Scott credited incentives money and tax cuts for Florida job growth this week during a visit to a Fort Myers health care and commercial construction management firm.

“Our commitment to cutting taxes and reducing burdensome regulations has helped businesses like Stevens Construction create more than 1.4 million jobs in Florida over the past six and a half years,” Scott said. “We will continue to fight to keep taxes low and find ways to use the newly established $85 million Florida Job Growth Grant Fund to ensure Florida continues to be the leading destination for job growth.”

Scott said the company, which builds commercial, health care and hospitality facilities, had grown from 18 employees in 2011 to 50 employees today.

When he first ran for Florida governor in 2010, Scott promised 700,000 new jobs on top of what the state would have added naturally. Scott dropped that requirement in his re-election campaign; in recent weeks he has claimed to have “doubled” the promised job gains inside the deadline.

Baez, Campbell file child marriage bans

Rep. Daisy Baez, a Coral Gables Democrat, this week filed a House companion to a Senate bill banning minors from getting married. The legislation (HB 71SB 140) repeals language now in state law governing weddings of those under 18.

But Baez’s bill, unlike the Senate bill, also changes the language in state law defining marriage as between a man and a woman, instead referring to “two parties.” The U.S. Supreme Court in 2015 ruled that state bans on same-sex marriages are unconstitutional.

Under Baez’s proposal, “marriage would be prohibited to anyone under the age of 18 with no exceptions,” a news release said.

“It is absolutely outrageous that children who are unable to legally sign a lease or cast a vote are still allowed to be legally married in our state,” Baez said in a statement. “It is time to exercise common sense and ensure that no more children are forced into a marriage they’re not emotionally mature enough to understand.”

Also, state Sen. Daphne Campbell, a North Miami Democrat, filed her own version (SB 208), but it would allow teens as young as 16 to be wed.

In Florida, 16,417 children — one as young as 13 — were married from 2000-15, state Vital Statistics data show, said Fraidy Reiss, the group’s founder and executive director. In one extreme example, a 17-year-old female married an 83-year-old man in 2004, Reiss said. Overall, Florida data show 80 percent of minors who marry are girls wed to adult men, she added, tracking the national average.

Fine files “Scouts Access Bill”

Republican state Rep. Randy Fine of Brevard County this week filed legislation that he calls the “Scouts Access Bill.”

The bill (HB 95) “guarantees the Boy Scouts, (Girl Scouts) and other congressionally chartered patriotic societies the ability to recruit in school, as they have for decades,” Fine said in an email.

“A district school board must allow a representative of a patriotic society the opportunity, during school hours, to speak with and distribute instructional materials to students to encourage participation in the patriotic society and its activities,” the bill says.

The bill would require 60 days’ written notice before a group can speak to students and would require them any presentation to take up no more than “10 minutes of instructional time.”

If enacted, the bill would go into effect July 1, 2018.

CRC puts out infographic

Proposed constitutional amendments used to have a “long, long journey to the capital city,” but luckily the Constitution Revision Commission the online submission process is pretty easy.

The CRC released an infographic Tuesday detailing the process for Floridians who have some changes in mind for the state’s governing document. Just create an account on the CRC website, fill out some forms and do your best to translate your idea to legalese before clicking submit.

“The submission tool on flcrc.gov offers a simple, streamlined process to create and share proposed constitutional amendments with the CRC. Just follow the steps in our new infographic and make sure your voice is heard during this historic process,” CRC chair Carlos Beruff said in an email.

The commission is considering making Sept. 22 the filing deadline for public submissions, and any that miss the window will have to wait until the commission reconvenes in 20 years or go through the regular amendment process.

Lauren Book’s big check

State Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, presented a $500,000 check to Memorial Regional Hospital this week for its maternal addiction treatment program.

The funding will help combat South Florida’s “tragic and costly opioid epidemic, allowing Memorial to conduct outreach, substance abuse screening and treatment for pregnant women, as well as provide aftercare for nine months after delivery,” a news release said.

The check was presented during the South Broward Hospital District’s commission meeting at its corporate offices in Hollywood.

From left to right: Vic Narang, Laura Miller, Karen Harrington, Jose Basulto, Sen. Lauren Book, Rep. Shevrin Jones, Doug Harrison, Frank Ledee, Hobel Florido.

Frank White preps for disasters

Rep. Frank White, a Pensacola Republican, and the Florida Department of Financial Services hosted an emergency preparedness workshop this week at the studios of Pensacola’s WSRE-TV.

“As the Atlantic Hurricane Season heats up, it’s more important than ever for Floridians to be as informed and prepared as possible,” a news release said.

The event, free to area residents, taught tips to ensure that homeowners “have adequate insurance coverage to protect their home and belongings in the event of a storm.” The department also provided “one-on-one access to insurance specialists” to answer insurance-related questions.

Rep. Frank White (center) at this week’s disaster preparedness workshop in Pensacola.

House Democrats to dine at “Dreamer Dinner”

Democratic state Reps. Daisy Baez and Robert Asencio are meeting up with Florida families Sunday to talk about the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program over dinner, which is on the Donald Trump administration’s chopping block.

The two lawmakers will be joined by an assortment of advocates and beneficiaries of the program, which since 2012 has allowed certain immigrants who entered the U.S. illegally as minors to receive a renewable two-year period of deferred action from deportation as well as eligibility for a work permit.

The “Dreamer Dinner” will be held at the Winston Park Clubhouse in Miami starting at 6:30 p.m. The event was set up by America’s Voice, an organization that pushes civil and political rights for immigrants and their families.

AFP-FL praises lawmakers for new health care bills

Republicans Sen. Tom Lee and Rep. Danny Burgess got a pat on the back this week for bills they filed to expand direct primary care — a system that allows doctors and patients to negotiate prices for care directly.

The bills, HB 37 and SB 80, and the lawmakers earned praise from the conservative group Americans for Prosperity Florida, which said the proposal would cut “bureaucratic and overly costly insurance companies.”

“Floridians have been saddled with double digit insurance rate increases since Obamacare became the law of the land. Florida lawmakers need to take matters into their own hands to ensure our most vulnerable, the elderly, and anyone who just wants easy and affordable access to their doctor can get the care they need. This bill will allow consumers to directly connect with the physician of their choice at a price they negotiate directly with their physician,” said AFP-FL head Chris Hudson.

LIBRE puts out lawmaker scorecard

A group focused on pushing conservative values among Hispanic Americans graded all 160 state-level lawmakers on their performance during the 2017 Legislative Session.

Unsurprisingly, Republicans got better marks from the group, with many GOP legislators picking up scores far over 100 percent: Rep. Bryan Avila got the top score in the House at 113 percent, while Sen. Kathleen Passidomo took the crown in the Senate — and overall — with a 125 percent rating.

LIBRE added or subtracted one point from lawmakers’ scores for every vote on a bill the group supported — both in committee and on the floor — and even let lawmakers rack up multiple votes for the same bill. The group also doled out points for sponsors of their preferred bills and took away for bills they were against.

View the score card.

Florida Association of Counties opens annual photo contest

The association now is accepting photo submissions for its annual contest. The theme for the 2018 FAC Calendar is “Bodies of Water,” and it seeks photos of Florida bays, beaches, springs, lakes, rivers and any other natural water bodies.

Last year’s contest, “Florida Flora and Fauna,” brought in nearly 1,000 photos from across the country.

“This calendar is a way for Floridians to show off their county,” said FAC Executive Director Ginger Delegal. “Florida is a spectacular place to live; this calendar lets us share that beauty with everyone.”

For more information, guidelines and to submit a photo, visit the website at www.flcounties.com. The contest ends September 8, 2017.

Winning photos will be announced at the 2017 FAC Legislative Conference in November in Sarasota County.

FSU welcomes record busting freshman class

If Florida State University seems a little more crowded when classes start Monday, you aren’t seeing things.

FSU announced ahead of the fall semester that it’s welcoming 6,500 first-year students this year. That’s about 300 more than last year, and is the highest total in school history. The class isn’t only the biggest, it’s also the brightest, with an average GPA of 4.1 and an average ACT score of 29.

“We’re excited to welcome another outstanding group of freshmen to Florida State,” said President John Thrasher. “This uptick in freshman enrollment means more and more students are selecting Florida State as their top choice. It’s a testament to FSU’s rising academic reputation.”

With 42,000 undergraduate and graduate students now attending the university, FSU is the fifth-largest state university by enrollment.

Instagram of the week

 

FDOH picks new chief for Marion County ops

The Florida Department of Health has tapped Mark Lander to run the departments operations in Marion County.

“Mr. Lander’s previous leadership experience in Columbia and Hamilton communities coupled with his institutional knowledge of the department will serve Marion well,” said Deputy Secretary for County Health Systems Paul Myers. “Mark understands that successful outcomes in public health come from an active alliance between the department, local government, and community organizations.”

When Lander walks in the doors of his new office on Sept. 15, he’ll be bringing a couple of decades experience at FDOH with him. He started with the department in 1990 and since 2012 has served as FDOH’s administrator for both Columbia and Hamilton counties.

Lander earned a Bachelor of Science in Food and Natural Resource Economics in 1989 and a Master of Science in Soil and Water Science in 2003, both from the University of Florida.

FMEA celebrates Florida Lineworkers

Saturday is Florida Lineworker Appreciation Day, and the Florida Municipal Electric Association said it’ll take advantage of the opportunity to “honor the men and women who risk their lives daily to ensure reliable delivery of electricity throughout Florida.”

“Lineworkers literally put their lives on the line every single day to make sure the lights go on when we flip that switch,” said Chip Merriam, FMEA President and Orlando Utilities Commission VP of Legislative, Regulatory & Compliance. “I commend and thank all of Florida’s lineworkers for their service to our communities.”

Lawmakers created the appreciation day in the 2012 and chose Aug. 26 in remembrance of a lineworker for Lakeland Electric, Marc Moore, tragically killed on the job in 2002.

DEO awards grants to pair of small towns

Polk City and Williston each picked up $36,000 worth of Competitive Florida grants from the Department of Economic Opportunity this week.

“DEO is dedicated to improving the future of Florida communities, especially in rural areas. Competitive Florida grants help to improve infrastructure, business development and the quality of life for families,” DEO head Cissy Proctor said.

DEO said the money will be used to help the towns roll out economic development strategies, conduct asset-mapping exercises, and kick-start development projects. The two-year program also includes assistance to help towns develop their economic development strategies.

 

State employees ratify new contract

This week, state employees that are part of the AFSCME Florida bargaining unit voted 99.5 percent in favor of a new three-year master contract, the union said in a news release.

Voting took place across 25 ratification locations around the state Wednesday and Thursday. The contract will be effect through June 30, 2020.

“This contract represents a real investment in our state’s future by investing in those that make it happen through their dedication and hard work,” said AFSCME Florida executive director Andy Madtes. “State employees have taken a big step forward for their careers and their communities and I applaud them for turning months of organizing and unity into real results.”

Tallahassee DIA elects new officers

The Tallahassee Downtown Improvement Authority elected Chris Dudley as its chair and added Claudia Davant as vice chair during its annual meeting.

Dudley, of Southern Strategy Group, said he was excited to be a part of the board and is proud of TDIA’s efforts to turn Tally’s downtown around with big-city amenities. Davant, president of Adams St. Advocates, was also enthusiastic about her new role with the Authority.

“I am thrilled to be elected Vice Chair of the TDIA because I own a business and real estate downtown. I believe in my community and have seen it grow and prosper. Nothing excites me more than to see Tallahassee become the city we all want to work and live in,” she said.

TDIA CEO Paige Carter-Smith said the group has been “blessed with outstanding officers.”

FSU convocation is Sunday

Sunday is Florida State University New Student Convocation, which, among other things, means traffic is going to be crazy on the west side of town.

Doors open 12:30 p.m. at the Civic Center, 505 W. Pensacola St., with convocation starting at 1:30 p.m.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will deliver the convocation address, and Provost and Executive Vice President for Academic Affairs Sally McRorie “will give a charge to the new students, encouraging (them) to take full advantage of the academic opportunities that are available to them,” a news release said.

Highlights include a “Torch Ceremony,” in which “three upperclassmen will pass torches to three first-year students, symbolically passing the university’s ideals from one class to the next.”

Freshman and transfer students are later invited to join University President John Thrasher and first lady Jean Thrasher for a reception. The entire university community and the public are invited to attend. The event will also be live-streamed at learningforlife.fsu.edu/fsu-convocation.

Here’s this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

 

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