Terry Roen – Page 2 – 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.

Bill Nelson wants cable, internet providers to give Floridians a post-Irma break

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson asked the nation’s largest cable, telephone and internet providers Thursday to give Hurricane Irma victims rebates for service interruptions.

He also requested the companies provide a 60-day moratorium on late fees, interest accrual and penalties to give people time to recover from the worst storm in the state’s history.

“As we begin the recovery process, it’s important that consumers not be saddled with late fees and other necessary costs – particularly those without the means to deal with those costs,” Nelson said in the letter.

The letters were sent to the CEOs of AT&T, CenturyLink, Charter Communications, Comcast, Cox Enterprises, Frontier Communications, Sprint, T-Mobile and Verizon.

In Florida, 18 percent of cell sites were down, according to Federal Communications Commission data released Wednesday. But more than 85 percent of cell towers in a six-county area of Central Florida regained power by midday Wednesday.

Nelson is trying to prevent the companies from billing during the lapse in service.

Sprint, Boost Mobile and Virgin Mobile have agreed to waive text, call and data overage fees for its services through Friday. While AT&T extended their waiver through Sunday. T-Mobile is offering free calls and texts to all Central Florida area codes.

No crying in your beer: Flagler County suspends alcohol sales

Flagler County put the brakes on hurricane parties by issuing an emergency order suspending the sale of alcohol.

Bars, restaurants, liquor stores and grocery stores are prohibited from selling alcohol until the order is lifted.

“We don’t need hurricane parties going on that drive disturbances, and we don’t need you driving impaired while people are trying to evacuate,” Flagler County Sheriff Rick Staly told the Palm Coast Observer.

Flagler County suspended the sale of alcohol starting at 7 a.m. Sunday and expanded its curfew from just beachside residents to include the entire county.

The curfew will be in effect from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. until further notice.

Flagler County bridges will close at 6 p.m. Sunday.

Central Florida shelters still have room for evacuees

Central Florida shelters have plenty of space as Hurricane Irma’s path shifted west and many residents have decided to weather the storm at home.

Only two of 18 Orange County shelters are full. Shelters at Apopka and Colonial high schools were the first to fill.

The gymnasium at Colonial High School was covered with inflatable mattresses, blankets and cots Sunday as 493 people filled the shelter. Officials said the shelter was full by 5:30 p.m. Saturday.

Milagros Cruz packed up her two children Jafet, 7, and Faith, 2, and left her Orlando mobile home Saturday. Her husband is in the Army and stationed in Georgia and could not come home.

“When the governor gave the order, we decided to leave,” said Cruz, who joined her mother and sister and her four children at the shelter. “We wanted to be in a safe place for the kids.”

“I didn’t want to take any chances,” said Marihon Quintero, who lives in a modular home in Orlando. She packed inflatable mattresses, coloring books and Legos that her son, Christopher, found drew a crowd of new friends.

Terri Philips sat on a fold-up lawn chair surrounded by blankets, three jugs of water and a shopping bag with chips, tuna and artichoke hearts.

“I live on the top floor of an apartment with a flat roof,” said Philips. “The air conditioner is on the roof and I was afraid with the sustained winds that the A.C. or the roof wouldn’t make it.”

The Orlando woman said she will never forget driving with her family to a shelter in New Orleans during Hurricane Camille in 1969.

“My dad drove through blinding rain and over downed power lines to get us to safety,” she said. “That’s an experience you never forget and I didn’t want to wait until the last minute.”

The Salvation Army of Orlando opened its shelter to homeless women, children and men at 4 p.m. Saturday and all 250 spots were full by Sunday morning, said Tiffani Jett, spokesperson for the Salvation Army.

“We are standing with the City of Orlando to keep our most vulnerable population safe in the storm,” said Major Ted Morris, Salvation Army area commander.

Orange County fire and rescue officials have gone door-to-door at 124 mobile home communities and reached over 7,600 residents. Fifty percent said they are evacuating.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said that given the size of Hurricane Irma, “tornados are our greatest risk.” She urged residents to stay indoors following the storm until they hear it is safe to travel.

“The greatest casualties happen afterwards as people venture out on roads not realizing that we have power lines that may be down, or still active, hazards on the roads and signals not working,” Jacobs said.

Residents still have a few hours left to find shelter. Osceola County has 10 shelters, nine are open in Seminole County, 24 in Brevard and 23 in Volusia County.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management estimates that 6.3 million Floridians have been ordered to evacuate. There are 117,818 individuals in the state’s 489 shelters.

For a full listing of shelters and locations, go to:  floridadisaster.org/shelters/summary.aspx.

Orange and Seminole county officials have issued a mandatory curfew beginning at 7 p.m. Sunday and lasting until 6 p.m. Monday. Volusia County will have a curfew in effect from 9 p.m. Sunday to noon on Monday.

The curfews prohibit people from being on public streets, highways, parks or other public places. Exemptions include people in search of medical assistance or food, emergency personnel, medical professionals, and pharmacists.

Hurricane evacuees fill Orlando hotels

Orlando hotels are filling up fast as thousands heed mandatory and voluntary evacuation notices to stay clear of Hurricane Irma.

Many local hotels are sold out but creating waiting lists since the storm’s path is still uncertain.

Kevin Craig, director of public policy for the Central Florida Hotel & Lodging Association, said most of the area’s hotels are booked solid according to a check on availability. The association represents 80 percent of the hotels in the area.

All 5,000 rooms at seven Rosen Hotels & Resorts are sold out. Harris Rosen, owner of the hotels, dropped the prices for evacuees on Monday and by Tuesday most of the rooms were reserved, according to Mary Deatrick, spokesperson for the Rosen Hotels.

Rooms at their four leisure hotels – the Rosen Inn International, Pointe Orlando, Rosen Inn Universal, Clarion Inn Lake Buena Vista – were offered for $59 a night. The chain was selling rooms for $79 at the its luxury hotels – Rosen Plaza, Rosen Centre and Rosen Shingle Creek.

“Mr. Rosen felt it was the right thing to do because this is not a time to make money but a time to help people,” Deatrick said. “We were inundated with calls and filled up fast.”

The hotels are accepting pets and dropped all cancellation fees because the storm’s path is so unsteady. Deatrick suggested calling the hotels for reservations, in case guests cancel their plans.

Visit Florida has partnered with Expedia to help visitors and residents find a place to stay. Orlando hotels can still be found but many have “high demand” messages warning only one or two rooms left.

Grande Villas Resort dropped their rate of $163 a night to $114 and 88 people made reservations Wednesday and Thursday, according to the Expedia website.

Evacuees from South Florida have been heading north and many have found rooms in Central Florida.

Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, ordered mandatory evacuations Wednesday. Miami-Dade County evacuated people with special needs and advised residents living in low-lying areas to start evacuating. Broward County issued voluntary evacuations of mobile homes and low-lying areas, while Collier County has issued voluntary evacuations of Marco Island.

Brevard County officials have announced a mandatory evacuation order for residents living in Merritt Island and some low-lying areas along the Indian River Lagoon. There is a mandatory evacuation for nursing homes and assisted living facilities in Flagler County. The county has called for voluntary evacuations for people living east of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Additional evacuations are expected as the hurricane moves closer to Florida.

Hard Rock International to move Orlando headquarters

Hard Rock International is moving its corporate headquarters from Orlando to Hollywood in 2018.

The casino, hotel and restaurant conglomerate made the announcement on its website. It will bring staffers together by joining with its ownership, The Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Seminole Gaming organization.

Hard Rock has been based in Orlando since the Seminole Tribe bought it in 2007.

“The opportunity to combine the world-class talent of all three companies will create an even more powerful organization,” a statement from the company said. “At this time, details of the move and timing are still to be determined.”

The move may have been triggered by the resignation last year of CEO Hamish Dodds, who was based in Orlando. The current CEO Jim Allen leads the company from its South Florida casino.

Hard Rock International has venues in 75 countries, including 176 cafes, 24 hotels and 11 casinos. One of the company’s two most successful hotel and casino properties is in Hollywood and operated by the Seminole Tribe. The other is in Tampa.

Former lawmaker Dwayne Taylor guilty of misusing campaign contributions

A former state lawmaker was convicted Thursday of misusing campaign funds.

Dwayne L. Taylor, 49, was found guilty in federal court on all nine counts of wire fraud for using campaign contributions to pay for personal items that ranged from a wedding at the Waldorf Astoria in New York to a meal at McDonald’s, the Daytona Beach News-Journal reported.

He faces a maximum of 20 years in federal prison for wire fraud and misappropriating more than $60,000 in campaign funds by concealing cash withdrawals, writing checks to himself and to petty cash.

Taylor was elected to the Florida House of Representatives in 2008 and reelected in 2012. Because of term limits, he ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in 2016 but was defeated in the Democratic primary. He served two terms as a Daytona Beach commissioner from 2005 to 2009.

His sentencing is scheduled for Nov. 16.

Richard Corcoran accuses tourism councils of hiding taxpayer-financed activities

House Speaker Richard Corcoran sent letters Friday to 12 tourism development councils that severed ties with Visit Florida demanding accountability and transparency in the way they spend taxpayer dollars.

Visit Orlando is one of the 12 councils that cut ties with Visit Florida, after the state marketing agency was criticized for spending $1.25 million to sponsor a London soccer club and $1 million to rapper Pitbull to promote the state on social media.

Corcoran accused the councils of avoiding new accountability measures passed last November by the Florida House. He said their removal from partnerships with Visit Florida was “a vain effort to hide taxpayer-financed activities from the public.”

The Land O’ Lakes Republican pushed aggressively to pass the legislation.

The new rules require Visit Florida to cap employee salaries and require legislative oversight for vendor contracts worth $750,000 or more.

“Let me be painstakingly clear, if you spend one dime of taxpayer money you will do it in a transparent and accountable way,” Corcoran said in a statement after sending the letters.

“It should also alarm every Floridian that these 12 organizations in particular, funded with hundreds of millions of dollars of your money, made the choice to hide from transparency rather than embrace it.”

Visit Orlando received more than $245.6 million last year in tourist development taxes, also called bed taxes, according to Corcoran’s statement. The 12 councils collected $585 million in bed tax revenue last year, or 62% of total bed taxes statewide.

Officials at Visit Orlando did return calls asking for a response to Corcoran’s letter.

“Because local tourist development entities receive far more taxpayer funds than Visit Florida – nearly $1 billion vs. $76 million – I will be doubling my efforts to ensure that we are fiscally conservative in the use of taxpayer funds funneled to tourist development entities so that the public knows exactly what they are getting for their money,” Corcoran said.

Corcoran warned the councils that ending their partnership agreements with Visit Florida does not protect them from legislative inquiry, accountability, or transparency.

The Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations, which unites the tourism promotion agencies, released a statement saying the tourism councils did not renew partnerships with Visit Florida because of it was “difficult to tell what direction the organization will take.” It added that the tourism councils already make information about their expenditures available to the public.

“Local tourism marketing organizations already operate under multiple layers of transparency and accountability, and are happy to comply with these measures,” said Robert Skrob, executive director of the Florida Association of Destination Marketing Organizations. “As responsible stewards of local tax dollars, every destination marketing organization has the obligation to ensure any dollars spent on tourism promotion will yield the best return on investment for their community.”

The other councils that received letters include: Brevard County Tourism, Experience Kissimmee, Franklin County Tourist Development Council,  Greater Miami Convention & Visitors Bureau, Orlando North Seminole County Tourism, Santa Rosa County Tourist Development Office,Visit South Walton, Visit Tampa Bay, Florida Keys & Key West Tourism Development Council, Amelia Island Convention & Visitors Bureau and Discover the Palm Beaches.

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


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