Terry Roen, Author at Florida Politics

Terry Roen

The youngest of seven children, Terry O. Roen followed two older brothers into journalism. Her career started as a reporter for the Orlando Sentinel, where she wrote stories on city and county government, schools, courts and religion. She has also reported for the Associated Press, where she covered the Casey Anthony and Trayvon Martin trials along with the Pulse massacre. Married to her husband, Hal, they have two children and live in Winter Park. A lifelong tourist in her own state, she writes about Central Florida’s growing tourism industry for Florida Politics and Orlando Rising.

Rick Scott ceremonially signs legislation to fight opioid abuse

Gov. Rick Scott joined local law enforcement and legislative officials Thursday to ceremonially sign a bill that brings stiffer penalties for dealers of synthetic opioid drugs and fentanyl.

The bill cuts through the bureaucracy and allows state officials to immediately draw more than $27 million in federal grant money from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Opioid State Targeted Response Grant, awarded to Florida April 21.

Republican state Rep. Mike Miller, who co-sponsored the bill with Republican state Rep. Sam Killebrew, participated in the ceremonial signing at the Orange County Sheriff’s Office.

“The opioid crisis is affecting younger people every day,” Miller said. “Teenagers are now stumbling into a culture of drug addiction.”

Miller said the bill (HB 477) ensures that dealers of opioids and fentanyl will be charged with murder if someone dies from drugs they sold.

“This is the most damning public safety crisis in Central Florida,” said  Special Agent in Charge Danny Banks, Florida Depatment of Law Enforcement special agent in charge. “This has affected more families than any other violent crime we’ve ever seen.”

The governor spoke about his brother’s struggle with drug addiction. One of five children, Scott said his mother fought valiantly to help her son.

“It impacted my family my entire life,” Scott said. “Up until the day she (Scott’s mother) died, it was the issue she struggled with most.”

Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings said that his department has seen a 137 percent increase in heroin overdoses between January and June of this year, compared to 2016. The number of deaths during that same period jumped 127 percent to 25 this year.

The sheriff said that the purchase of Naloxone, an emergency treatment for opioid overdoses, has saved 88 lives this year.

The Florida Department of Children and Families has been awarded a federal grant of $375,000 to equip local law enforcement agencies with Nalozone.

Westgate Resorts founder David Siegel, who lost his18-year-old daughter Victoria to a heroin overdose in 2015, attended the signing and showed a nasal inhaler version of Naloxone that first responders wear in a pouch on their uniforms. Siegel pushed legislators to pass a bill allowing Nalozone to be purchased over the counter for $150 for a pack of two. Local law enforcement agencies can buy the two packs for $96.

“This is my daughter’s legacy,” Siegel said. “If 160 sailors were killed in North Korea, we would be at war. How many more lives have to be lost? This is an epidemic that kills 160 people nationwide a day.”

Orlando Police Chief John Mina said his officers put their lives at risk dealing with criminals but the drug epidemic has been tough. He said three first responders were taken to the hospital last weekend after experiencing breathing problems during a drug arrest involving fentanyl. All three were released the same day.

HUD Secretary Ben Carson says senior housing is top priority

Secretary of the Department of Housing and Urban Development Dr. Ben Carson spoke Monday about the importance of using public-private partnerships to provide affordable housing for seniors.

The neurosurgeon-turned-housing-secretary gave a 30-minute speech to senior housing and health care providers at the 54th Annual LeadingAge Florida Convention in Orlando.

Carson, who took the job in March, said senior housing was one of his top priorities.

“We have to help more people age in place, keep their health and their homes and retain their physical and financial independence,” said Carson, who told the crowd of 300 attendees that his mother has Alzheimer’s disease. “As a physician, son, aging American and HUD secretary, this is personal for me.”

Carson said his mother tried living in a health care facility and hated it. She’s now living with her favorite niece.

“Fortunately, we had the financial means to allow her to make that decision,” he said. “I’m very concerned about seniors who become destitute and are forced into low-income housing. Many look to HUD for housing but the brutal reality is the market is becoming more expensive and housing prices are surging in inner cities like New York City, Washington D.C. and Chicago.”

To combat the problem, Carson said HUD is encouraging public-private partnerships by requiring developers to provide affordable housing, while meeting the needs of their high-end buyers through creative financing and leveraging. The government provides seed money, while the developers are the primary source of the funding.

“This is a win-win for residents, developers and taxpayers,” he said. “Seniors must not become economic refugees in their own country, forced out of housing by their nation’s own economic progress.”

Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, said Carson’s visit opened the lines of communication between health care providers and HUD. He said his members are struggling to provide more services to Florida’s growing aging population with less funding.

“We’re trying to provide affordable housing for our growing senior population when the infrastructure doesn’t exist,” Bahner said. “We have a supply and demand problem that must be addressed.”

Bahmer said seniors wait from six to seven years for affordable housing in Central Florida, three to five years in Jacksonville and four to eight years in South Florida, where more than 3,000 people are on the waiting list.

“The sad truth is that a lot of the elderly on our waiting lists will never be able to be housed,” said Juana Mejia, vice president of housing development and operations for Catholic Housing Management. “Our services are not just about providing bingo anymore. We have to find housing and financing in more creative ways.”

Mejia said she is currently partnering with a developer in Coral Springs to rehab a property that will provide 214 units for seniors.

Carson said they are increasing funding from $432 million to $510 million in the 2018 budget to improve HUD’s affordable housing program that provide vouchers to seniors for rental subsidies.

Section 202 Supportive Housing for the Elderly Program is the only federally-funded housing program designed specifically for older persons. It offers capital advances that finance construction, rehabilitation and purchasing of affordable housing properties for seniors.

To qualify for the subsidies, people must be at least 62 years of age and have incomes below 50 percent of their area’s median income. The average resident’s age in Section 202 housing is 79, and the average annual income is $10,018, according to figures from AARP. Ninety percent of the residents are women.

LeadingAge is a nonprofit whose 250 members care for seniors at nursing homes, assisted living facilities, and continuing care retirement communities. The LeadingAge convention at Omni Orlando Resort at ChampionsGate continues through Wednesday.

Eight grassroots leaders give thumbs up to Gwen Graham

Democrat Gwen Graham is adding eight new endorsements Friday in her quest to become the state’s next governor.

The endorsements announced by her campaign include a host of young and engaged grassroots leaders from across the state.

“I wake up every day focused on one mission: fighting for our shared values,” Graham stated in a news release issued by her campaign. “The passion and support of grassroots leaders from across Florida are fueling our fight, and I’m proud to have the support of these dedicated Democrats.

Graham is in a race for the Democratic primary for the 2018 election with Winter Park affordable housing developer Chris King and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum. The one major Republican candidate is Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“After almost twenty years of Republican rule, our state is running out of time, Democratic National Committeeman and former Florida Democratic Party Vice Chair Alan Clendenin. “For too long, the politicians in Tallahassee have ignored the major challenges our state faces. I’m proud to support Gwen Graham in her campaign to renew our public schools, protect our precious environment and build an economy that works for every Floridian.”

Former Chair of the Jacksonville Planning Commission Lisa King said: “Gwen Graham is committed to protecting our state’s clean air and water. Florida is Florida because of our beaches and rivers, forest and springs. As governor, Gwen will fight to protect our natural treasures for generations to come.”

FDP Committee on Clubs Chair Beth McMillen said: “Florida’s environment is vital to our very way of life in this state — and no candidate understands that better than Gwen Graham. After watching Gwen rally the Florida delegation to restore the Apalachicola Bay and spend a Workday highlighting the threat of algae in our waters, I know Gwen will fight to save the Indian River Lagoon and all of Florida’s natural treasures.”

The list of new endorsements also includes:

– Former Florida Young Democrats Treasurer Andrew Bell

– Brevard County Democratic Veterans Caucus Chair John Frazier

– Former Florida Young Democrats President Shannon Love

– State Committeeman John Parker

– Democratic Progressive Caucus founding member and former Wakulla DEC Chair Rachel Pienta

– American Muslim Democratic Caucus Miami-Dade Regional Director Duysevi “Sevi” Miyar


Corrine Brown’s motions will fail, says Ronnie Simmons’ lawyer

Less than a year ago, Corrine Brown and Ronnie Simmons were yoked at the hip, as Congresswoman and Chief of Staff.

Less than six months ago, both were off the federal payroll — yet yoked as co-defendants in the One Door for Education fraud case.

Much has changed since then.

Simmons struck a plea deal with the feds in February, pleading guilty on two counts, with his sentencing contingent on substantial cooperation with the feds.

As part of that cooperation, Simmons had to testify against his old boss — whose attorney, in an otherwise torpid defense, actually brought the fire in the cross-examination.

Now, as Simmons waits to find out his fate, Corrine Brown seeks to alter hers, with motions last week for a new trial and an acquittal.

The motion for a new trial was predicated on a claim that the juror who got bounced because he was compelled in decision-making by the Holy Spirit was removed erroneously. And the motion for acquittal was predicated on essentially re-litigating the trial, to again make the case that Brown was a dupe of her staffer and his girlfriend, and she was too old and enfeebled to do anything about it.

Simmons’ lawyer, Anthony Suarez, spoke with FloridaPolitics.com’s Terry Roen in Orlando Wednesday. He is skeptical of these motions.

“I’ve examined the motions and believe they’re not strong enough because they don’t cite a lot of case law,” said Suarez. “They’re not going to be successful.”

He also said he anticipated the defense attacking his client.

“I compare it to the Whac-A-Mole game,” said Suarez. “The prosecutor and Brown took turns whacking my client.”

Suarez, from the beginning of pre-trial proceedings, was frank in saying that he expected a plea deal for his client — a marked departure from Corrine Brown, who was adamant in taking the case to trial.

In the post-trial strategy discussions, there still seems to be a wide divergence between the pragmatic Suarez and Brown, whose defense seems predicated on a cult of personality that effectively expired when Brown lost her primary to Al Lawson in August 2016.

Florida Democrats ask for Brian Mast emails on World Patent Marketing

Florida Democrats have sent a Freedom of Information Act request Tuesday for copies of emails by Republican U.S. Rep. Brian Mast.

The Florida Democratic Party is seeking access to all emails Mast gave the Federal Trade Commission related to a $5,000 campaign donation received from World Patent Marketing’s founder Scott Cooper and Mast’s subsequent appointment to the company’s board in February 2016.

Miami-based World Patent Marketing is under federal investigation for allegedly defrauding investors in a patent scam that bilked more than $10 million from consumers.

“Despite being named as a member of World Patent Marketing’s board, featured in World Patent Marketing’s promotional materials, and appearing in multiple photographs with World Patent Marketing’s embattled founder, Mast has denied knowledge of or involvement with World Patent Marketing,” according to the Florida Democratic Party news release.

“Congressman Mast’s voters deserve to know if he is telling them the truth about his involvement in a company under investigation for fraud on a massive level,” said FDP spokesperson Johanna Cervone. “If Congressman Mast is, in fact, innocent, he could have shown that from the start by releasing his emails. He has chosen not to and as a result, his voters are left guessing about whether he is putting them or his own best interest first.”

Mast was elected to his first term November to represent Florida’s 18th Congressional District, which includes the northern portion of Palm Beach through Martin and St. Lucie counties.

Brad Stewart, Mast’s communications director, responded to the request by saying the Palm City Republican “offered his full support and transparency” to the FTC in their case against Cooper and is “working with them to ensure that there is justice for anybody who was defrauded by World Patent Marketing.”

“As he has said from the beginning, Congressman Mast has no knowledge of the inner-workings of the company and never conducted any business on their behalf,” Stewart added. “He has volunteered the very limited communication he had in the course of his campaign with Scott Cooper to the FTC in hopes that it may help shed light on any wrongdoing.”

Florida leads the nation in drowning deaths for preschoolers

Florida ranks highest in the nation for drowning deaths of children under the age of four. A grim statistic to consider before heading out to the beach, lake or pool this Memorial Day.

Memorial Day is the official start of the summer season and the best time to remind parents of the importance of teaching children about water safety.

Florida had the highest drowning rate in the nation for the under four age group with 7.5 per 100,000 population, according to 2013 statistics from the Florida Department of Health. Enough children to fill three to four preschool classrooms drown each year in Florida and do not live to see their fifth birthday.

Most of those incidents occur in backyard pools and studies have shown that usually an adult was nearby, but not watching the child when they fell in the pool

Children growing up in Florida are surrounded by water, whether it’s a backyard pool, canal, lake or the ocean. That’s why Kelly Whittemore, founder of Swim Life, has devoted her career to teaching children how to swim.

Whittemore said children die in Central Florida because parents don’t realize how easy it is to get distracted when watching their children around water.

“A child can drown in the seconds it takes to return a text message,” said Whittemore, who has been teaching swim lessons for 25 years. “Hollywood has done us all a big disservice. They’ve made it look like there’s lots of splashing and noise involved. In reality, a child can slip in without a splash and there’s no noise. That’s how quickly and silently it happens.”

Whittemore said she believes every parent has the best of intentions when watching their children in the water, but there are so many distractions, like cellphones, text messages, alcohol and conversations with friends that interrupt their watch.

“So many parents sign up for swim lessons after a near miss,” she said. “They say, ‘all I did was answer a text or run inside because the oven was beeping.’”

Those interruptions are the reason Whittemore suggests every parent enroll their child in a water safety program early and often. She said swim lessons should be refreshed every year because as the child grows, so does their body.

“And before you open your home and pool to guests, be a responsible homeowner, host and parent — set pool rules, have life jackets on hand for kids who can’t swim and ensure they wear them at all times,” said Whittemore, who founded Swim Life, which has swim schools in seven states and Okinawa, Japan. “When pool barriers are open, an adult, one who can swim well, should be perched on deck with no phone and no alcohol in them, so their eyes can be on the pool and the kids in and around it.”

Swim Life offers lessons at several Central Florida locations. The 15-minute, one-on-one lessons are held four days a week for five weeks for a total of 20 lessons. The cost is $80 a week plus a $60 registration fee. Scholarships are available for those who cannot afford the lessons.

The survival swim school started in 2012 with two locations in Lake Mary. Due to demand, they are expanding this summer and adding a third pool in Sanford, which will be indoor for year round lessons.

May and June are the most popular months for swim lessons and some of Swim First’s 21 instructors are already booked through July.

 Top 5 Tips for Pool Safety

— Designate a responsible adult to be a “water watcher” to ensure constant, attentive supervision of the pool — phone and alcohol-free

— Put a life jacket on anyone who can’t swim and float independently

— Use pool fences and latched gates at all times — never assume a child won’t wander into the pool unsupervised

— If a child goes missing, check the pool first. And make sure at least one adult knows CPR

— Enroll kids in lessons that teach independent swimming and floating — people don’t drown because they can’t swim; they drown because they can’t breath

Top 5 Tips for Beach Safety

— Look for a lifeguard stand, only swim on beaches with a lifeguard and swim as close to one as possible

— Put young or inexperienced swimmers in a life jacket

— Parents set up on the beach with a direct line of site to the water, and take a picture of your child in whatever he’s wearing — bright colors are easiest to spot on a busy beach

— Educate kids who can swim about rip currents by practicing with them how they should swim parallel to the shoreline

— Avoid swimming near plants and marine life

Photos courtesy of Swim Life.

NOAA predicts active 2017 hurricane season

The 2017 Atlantic hurricane season is forecast to be more active than normal, with five to nine hurricanes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration forecasts 11 to 17 named tropical storms will develop in the region, which includes the Atlantic, the Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico, the agency announced Thursday. NOAA predicted that five to nine could become hurricanes with winds of 74 mph or higher, including 2 to 4 major hurricanes with winds of 111 mph or higher.

Hurricane season officially begins June 1 and runs through Nov. 30.

The upcoming season could be comparable to the 2016 seasonthe most active since 2012, with 15 named storms, including seven hurricanes and four major hurricanes. An average season produces 12 named storms of which six become hurricanes, including three major hurricanes.

The numbers include Tropical Storm Arlene, a rare pre-season storm that formed over the eastern Atlantic in April.

“The outlook reflects our expectation of a weak or non-existent El Nino, near- or above-average sea-surface temperatures across the tropical Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and average or weaker-than-average vertical wind shear in that same region,” said Gerry Bell, Ph.D., lead seasonal hurricane forecaster with NOAA’s Climate Prediction Center.

Strong El Ninos and wind shear typically suppress the development of Atlantic hurricanes, so the prediction for weak conditions points to more hurricane activity this year. Also, warmer sea surface temperatures tend to fuel hurricanes as they move across the ocean.

“Regardless of how many storms develop this year, it only takes one to disrupt our lives,” said Acting FEMA Administrator Robert J. Fenton, Jr. “Get ready now with these easy, low-cost steps that will leave you better prepared and will make all the difference: Know your evacuation route; tune into your local news or download the FEMA app to get alerts, and finally – listen to local authorities as a storm approaches.”

NOAA will update this outlook in early August, just before the peak of hurricane season.

Orlando is the number one destination in the U.S.

Visit Orlando announced Thursday that a record 68 million visitors came to Orlando last year, making it the number one destination in the United States.

The number was released during Visit Orlando’s annual Travel & Tourism Luncheon at the Hilton Orlando.

“Orlando’s visitation number represents the emotional connections we make with millions all over the world,” said George Aguel, president and CEO of Visit Orlando. “The love they show us never ceases to inspire us and led us to launch a yearlong campaign about two important words: thank you.”

To mark the occasion, Visit Orlando achieved a Guinness World Records title by gathering 3,144 handwritten thank you notes from local attractions and hotels to mail to visitors that supported the Orlando destination. The cards will be mailed to visitors that used Visit Orlando’s social media channels, destination websites and member programs.

“Orlando and Orange County continue to be the number one vacation destination in the nation,” said Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. “But this wouldn’t be possible without the many millions of guests who choose to come here year after year for our world-renowned attractions and entertainment options.”

Orlando Trust Coalition urges legislators pass protections for immigrants

The TRUST Orlando Coalition Friday unveiled statewide legislation designed to protect the safety and constitutional rights of Florida’s immigrant communities.

Carmen Torres, wife of Senator Victor Torres, and Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith, spoke on the steps of Orlando City Hall urging passage of House Bill 1407 and Senate Bill 1674.

“Florida is home to 925,000 undocumented immigrants, and 110,000 live in the Orlando Metropolitan area,” said Smith, whose parents were immigrants. “This is very urgent legislation that will protect our hardworking immigrants.”

The bills would protect the constitutional rights of immigrants and prevent harassment from law enforcement without a court order. It would also prohibit Florida’s public schools and universities from releasing information about immigrant families to federal officials.

Smith conceded that the bills might be difficult to pass.

“It will be really challenging,” said Smith. “But we need to send a message that there are leaders that have their (immigrants) back.”

Fernan Lauro Gregorio, an 18-year-old UCF student who moved to the U.S. from Argentina in 2004, said he lives in fear for his family.

“We fear for our family members, not aliens, who might hear a knock on their door and ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement) might come and get them,” Gregorio said.

More than 40 people gathered on the steps of City Hall and carried posters that said “We are here to stay” and “All families united to protect immigrants and refugees.”

“We are sending a loud message that we are united in solidarity, justice and equality,” said Rasha Mubarak, a Palestinian, Muslim American who is a member of the Council on American-Islamic Relations Florida. “Let us stop this rhetoric of hate and division.”

TRUST Orlando Coalition is a collaboration of 28 nonprofits that have banded together to protect immigrants and refugees. Groups that attended Friday included The Farmworker Association of Florida, The Interfaith Council of Central Florida, Council on American-Islamic Relations and UNITE HERE Local 737.

Enterprise Florida names Mike Grissom interim CEO

Enterprise Florida’s Executive Committee named Mike Grissom interim CEO Tuesday, a day after the embattled agency’s CEO abruptly resigned.

Former CEO Chris Hart IV resigned after serving only three months on the job.

Stan Connally, vice chairman of the Enterprise board of directors, hastily called the meeting Tuesday and nominated Grissom, who served as interim CEO last year. Grissom is the current executive vice president of the economic development agency.

“Mike Grissom served in the previous interim CEO role,” said Connally. “He has familiarity with the issues and it makes good logical sense to put him in that role again.”

Grissom served as interim CEO from June 2016 to January 2017, before Hart officially became the CEO. Connally suggested that there would be no time limit on Grissom’s interim role.

“Let’s let the dust settle from the last day and half before we make bigger decisions,” Connally said.

The measure passed with a unanimous vote, ending the 13-minute meeting.

Hart was hired Nov. 30, after the agency spent five months looking for a replacement for former CEO Bill Johnson, who resigned 15 months into his two-year contract. Hart never signed a formal contract with Enterprise Florida. He left the department leaderless amid a battle with the state House, which is pushing a bill to eliminate both Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida.

Before joining Enterprise Florida, Grissom served as a senior director at the Florida Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Republican Party of Florida. He also held positions in the offices of Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Bill McCollum.

Grissom will continue his duties as both executive vice president and interim CEO of the agency.

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