Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at scott@floridapolitics.com.

Bill Nelson: Rick Scott doesn’t hear what Floridians demand on guns

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said the guns and schools proposal announced Friday by Republican Gov. Rick Scott has some things he supports but called Scott’s plan inadequate and said that the governor was not listening to what Floridians really want following the latest mass shooting: universal background checks and a ban on assault weapons.

“Gov. Scott should have been listing to the people of Florida. But instead he has been listening to the NRA. And as a result he has missed the major two components that the people of Florida are demanding, because they don’t want any more massacres, any more slaughters” Nelson told reporters in Orlando Friday.

“And that is a comprehensive criminal background check in the purchase of a gun, as well as get the assault rifles off our streets,” Nelson said.

Scott’s office replied that Nelson is wrong, that the governor did listen carefully to many students, families and others in the days since the Parkland massacre and his proposal is a result of their requests. His office said he has not spoken to the NRA since the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shootings, and noted the NRA opposes some of the package, notably the governor’s recommendation to raise the minimum age to 21 for the purchase of assault weapons.

Nelson’s response was sent as U.S. senator to state governor, and was offered from the confines of Nelson’s Orlando U.S. Senate office. But it might as well have come from a campaign stop, as it defines a difference between the two that is likely to be a fundamental election campaign contrast in what likely is the showdown pairing for this year’s U.S. Senate election in Florida. Scott, though, has not yet filed or announced any challenge to Nelson’s job.

Nelson found a few things he liked in the package that Scott and Republican lawmakers rolled out Friday morning in their comprehensive plans for school safety and to address gun violence, following last week’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, and this week’s protest rallies in Tallahassee led by Douglas High students who survived that mass shooting.

Nelson said he appreciates and shares the governor’s desire to “harden” schools, provide funding for school security and mental health, and banning bump stocks, but said the other proposals about guns in Florida were weak, bare-minimum responses, and inadequate.

Nelson is one of the sponsors of a bill in the U.S. Senate seeking to ban more than 200 kinds of semi-automatic weapons.

He repeated his contention that the data is clear and overwhelming that the high-powered, rapid-shooting guns’ availability has led to massive increases in mass killings, noting the periods before, during and after the sales of the guns were banned from 1994-2004. The ten year period before had 19 mass shootings with 155 deaths; the period during the ban, 12 shootings with 89 deaths, and the ten-year period after the ban was lifted, 34 shootings with 302 deaths, according to a Washington Post graphic he cited. And the post-period incidents do not include the Pulse massacre in Orlando, the concert massacre in Las Vegas, the school massacre in Parkland, or several in between, he noted.

Jerry Demings, Rob Panepinto, Pete Clarke introduce Orange County mayor’s race at Urban League

In the first event putting Orange County’s three top candidates for mayor on the same program, Jerry Demings, Rob Panepinto, and Pete Clarke presented themselves to the Central Florida Urban League Friday respectively as the known steady hand, the visionary, and the veteran of community building.

“What you get from Jerry Demings is scandal-free leadership, a man who comes to work every day to ensure that this community is the best community for us to live, for us to work, for us visit, for us to raise a family,” Orange County Sheriff Demings, who’s been sheriff, county deputy administrator for public safety, and Orlando Police chief over the past 20 years, told Friday’s breakfast meeting of the Urban League’s Gala Weekend in Orlando.

“I believe I’ve got the right breadth of experience in creating jobs, building businesses, and serving our community that we need, and a blueprint to move us to a wonderful period of growth and opportunity for the next 20 or 30 years,” said Panepinto, a Winter Park businessman, entrepreneurial-economy advocate, and former leader of the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce.

“Poverty without hope is the problem. If you look at my resume throughout my career, I give hope. That’s my mission,” said Orange County Commissioner Clarke, who has helped organize and run health care and housing non-profit groups.

The trio gave separate speeches and did not take questions nor face each other on Friday. There were no hard-edged discussions on divisive issues. But the forum gave each the opportunity to define himself and his priorities.

And in doing so, each managed to subtly define some of their differences as well.

“We are in a good place now,” Demings declared.

He stressed his career in law enforcement. He said his priorities are to make Orange County a safer, more prosperous, and stronger county, by focusing on smart growth, public safety and regionalism.

“I believe that the next mayor of Orange County is the person who has to lead and to work with mayors in our municipalities, as well as working with the other counties,” Demings said, offering a hint of criticism toward outgoing Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who sometimes has been criticized for not working closely with others. “We’re going to look at and focus on improving affordable housing in this community, on improving health care in this community, of improving the lives of our children in this community, of our seniors in this community.

“In terms of improving the prosperity of this community, we are going to work with businesses, we are going to work with young people, to encourage them to have a more entrepreneurial attitude,” Demings added.

And he also offered himself as the known commodity, someone who’s been in law enforcement or public service for 37 years, the last 20 in leadership positions.

“You don’t have to guess of whether or not I can lead in this community, because you have seen me do it,” Demings said.

“A vote for Jerry Demings is a vote for the right leadership at the right time,” he concluded.

Panepinto may be a known commodity in Central Florida business circles, but that does not extend much beyond yet, and even his introduction Friday included a botching of his name.

He quickly turned against the status quo assumption that Orange County is in a good place, arguing that with all its prosperity it still has stark income disparity, poverty and critical affordable housing problems. The challenge, Panepinto said, is that the county’s talent and potential have not been tapped. That message, he offered, was clear from the rejection of Orlando last month by Amazon for its second world headquarters. Amazon declared, Panepinto interpreted, that Orlando is not ready yet for what Amazon wants to do.

Panepinto told the gathering it’s time for people to decide “what this community should be over the next 20 or 25 years.”

Yet he outlined existing conditions that he said provide far more potential, with extremely low unemployment, a rising real estate market, low taxes, “a wonderful inclusive culture, a young community, one that came through Pulse in a way many other communities would not have.”

Panepinto framed himself as a successful entrepreneur and businessman. With experience at the Orlando Partnership and other economic development groups and business incubator and accelerator programs, he said he could help people create higher-wage jobs, and deal with social issues including housing.

“With that experience I have developed a pretty full blueprint for an even better Orange County… Job one has to be creating … and attracting more higher-wage jobs in our communities. I am a firm believer in entrepreneurial and small business growth. If you are creating jobs in this county, I want to make it easier for you to grow, not harder,” Panepinto said.

“We also have to make sure we’ve got the right workforce,” he said, stressing the need to develop more pipelines with schools technical schools, colleges and universities to “better match what business needs.”

Clarke, who spent decades working with non-profits, including helping create the Central Florida Primary Care Access Network, has made his name in two terms on the Orange County Commission for pushing for the government to work with non-profits to address community needs, and then for the government to get out of the way. His talk was one of recognizing problems such as affordable housing, health care, and income inequality, but also recognizing that government’s role should not be to solve them, but to coordinate non-profits and the private sector to solve them.

He began his talk to the Urban League by charging that income inequality was an issue 100 years ago, 50 years ago and “today we’re still trying to fight income inequality.”

The next mayor needs to focus on coordinating the county’s organizations and businesses to address the problem, he said. Government, he continued, has inherent slowness and inefficiency, while the private sector and nonprofits have inherent urgencies.

“When there are issues or problems, I’ve had the ability to bring the community together to solve them,” Clarke said. “And you need to know where the government stops and where the community begins.”

For Clarke, that includes job creation. He noted that in his District 3 in south Orange County, the economy is made up of small businesses — particularly Hispanic-owned and run businesses. Many struggle and need a clearer path, he said.

“What I mean to do is to create an environment, to continue an environment, that really does allow people to create jobs,” Clarke said.

Mike La Rosa calls gun bill vote ‘political stunt,’ and bill a ‘gun grab’

While saying he was impressed by the passion and delivery of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School students who came to Tallahassee to ask for gun legislation, Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa on Friday denounced the procedural vote taken in front of them as “a political stunt” and the bill itself “a gun grab” attempt.

“The vote that would have banned AR-15 type weapons that many media outlets have been reporting about was not only a political stunt but was in fact a gun grab that threatened our rights under the Second Amendment,” La Rosa, a St. Cloud Republican, said in a release issued by his office Friday.

La Rosa said Second Amendment rights assuring gun ownership are not just for the right of individual self-defense, but “in fact acts as a barrier to a tyrannical government.”

“House Bill 219 would have also banned hundreds of other weapons that are clearly listed if anyone spent time reading the proposed legislation,” La Rosa continued. “I think it a shame that gun control advocates have attempted to highjack the current situation for their own personal political agenda that they are attempting to energize from this recent event.”

HB 219 was introduced last fall by Orlando Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who has made gun law reform, including the banning of semi-automatic weapons and high-capacity ammunition magazines, a political priority since the June 2016 massacre at the Pulse nightclub. Smith introduced a similar bill in the last Session, as did state Sen. Linda Stewart, an Orlando Democrat, in the house.

The vote that La Rosa called a political stunt took place Tuesday on the House floor, as Democrats sought to force the bill into debate. It came while Douglas High students, who had survived last week’s mass shooting in Parkland and come to Tallahassee to push for gun control, watched from the gallery. The image of students watching in sad disbelief ran nationally in media, as did reports that the Florida House voted down a gun bill in front of them, along strict party lines.

La Rosa’s statement Friday charged that the vote, the bill, the situation, and what the Florida Legislature should do all have been misconstrued. He said the Legislature needs to avoid taking a “kneejerk reaction” and pursue a comprehensive solution.

“Over the past several days in Tallahassee we have met hundreds, if not thousands, of students and advocates who have been impacted by the horrific events that occurred in Parkland last week. I couldn’t be more impressed by the passion and delivery of many of these young adults, it is hard not to be moved by them. The state of Florida has the attention of the entire country and the time to act is now,” La Rosa wrote.

But that action, he said, needs to be comprehensive, addressing mental health services, keeping “weapons out of the hands of those who shouldn’t have them,” hardening security at schools, and investigating failures in justice and social systems that appeared to ignore warnings that Nikolas Cruz, the charged gunman, was dangerous.

But as the Legislature considers a comprehensive plan, La Rosa said it must be “protecting the firearm ownership rights given to law abiding citizens under the Second Amendment.”

“It is important to remember that the Second Amendment not only affords each firearm owner the right of self-defense, but in fact acts as a barrier to tyrannical government.”

His Democratic opponent in 2018 for the HD 42 contest in Osceola County, Barbara Cady of Kissimmee, said this will be a pivotal issue in this year’s campaigns and she predicted it also will be in the November election. She charged that La Rosa did not hear what the students were saying, but she asserted that they heard him.

“These students, they want anyone associated with the NRA, they want them voted out,” Cady said. “We are at a watershed moment. We are going to have to do something. Florida is one of the worst states for gun safety. Our children are being slaughtered. They [students] are not going to let it go. And we Democrats are not ready to let it go.

“This vote,” she said of Tuesday’s action on HB 219, “was about kicking the can down the road again. This vote was about not talking about gun safety.”

Karen Castor Dentel files to run for Orange County School Board

Former state Rep. Karen Castor Dentel has filed to run for the Orange County School Board, for a seat that is technically not yet open yet but likely will be soon, and into a field that has quickly attracted three other candidates.

Dentel, a Democrat from Maitland who flipped the House District 30 seat in 2012, then lost it to Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes in 2014, filed late last week for the Orange County School Board District 6 seat. That seat’s current term runs through 2020, but the incumbent, Nancy Robbinson, is running for the county-wide Orange County School Board chair’s seat, and will have to resign. That would open the District 6 seat to a special election this year.

Consequently, since Robbinson filed for the chair’s position, four candidates now have jumped into the contest for her seat, representing north-central Orange County.

Dentel is a teacher with strong political connections, particularly in her family. Her mother Betty Castor was Florida education commissioner in the 1980s and 1990s, and then president of the University of South Florida. Dentel’s sister, Kathy Castor, is a member of the U.S. Congress, representing Tampa.

Since losing her Florida House seat, Dentel has remained active in behind-the-scenes politics, supporting the current campaigns of Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham, Democratic Orange County mayoral candidate Jerry Demings, and Democratic Florida House District 47 candidate Anna Eskamani, among others.

The District 6 seat also has attracted Kelvin Cobaris, a Clarcona real estate agent, who last year unsuccessfully ran for House District 45. Cobaris also has deep ties in the Central Florida Democratic Party, and with several current office holders and candidates. He filed to run for the school board seat on Feb. 5.

The school board seat and the election are non-partisan.

The newest candidate  for the Orange County School Board District 6 seat is Charlene Roberts Norato of Orlando, who filed to run on Wednesday. She is a longtime schools volunteer, PTA leader at her child’s College Park Middle School, and an Odyssey of the Mind Team coach for Edgewater High School.

Another relatively new candidate for the seat is Patricia Fox of Maitland, who filed her paperwork on Jan. 22. Fox previously ran for the seat against Robbinson in 2012, casting herself as a reform candidate. She lost. Fox also was a teacher, who reported in her 2012 campaign that she had developed curriculum for geography and world history courses.

Rob Panepinto announces picks filling out Orange County mayoral campaign team

Orange County mayoral candidate Rob Panepinto announced several additions to his campaign team Thursday, with key figures for strategy, communications, fundraising, and grassroots organization.

“As a first-time candidate for office, I am incredibly proud of the powerhouse team we have built,” Panepinto, a Winter Park businessman and former leader of the Orlando area chamber of commerce stated in a news release. “I am confident that our team is laying the groundwork today to ensure we have the resources to affectively communicate our message to voters across the county as election day draws closer.”

Panepinto faces Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings and Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke in the non-partisan contest for the powerful Orange County mayor’s seat. They all seek to succeed Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who is leaving due to term limits. The trio and at two other candidates in the race will face off August 28, with the top two going on to the Nov. 6 general election.

Attorney and political strategist Tim Baker, most recently a strategist for Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry‘s election and Pensacola Mayor Ashton Hayward‘s re-election, is the Panepinto campaign’s general consultant responsible for strategy.

Erin Isaac, a 15-year veteran of Florida politics in senior advisor and communications roles for statewide and local campaigns, is Panepinto’s senior advisor and communications director.

Kevin Hoffman, a Florida-based fundraiser who has worked with U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Curry’s campaigns, is finance director.

John Dowless, a Central Florida political, public relations and marketing consultant with experience in national, statewide and local levels, including as senior advisor to Jacobs’ mayoral runs, is senior advisor.

As previously announced, Brooke Renney, a Central Florida-based grassroots organizer whose experience includes Winter Park Mayor Steve Leary‘s election campaign, is campaign manager.

“Orange County is at a crossroads, and Rob has the business experience to lead us into the next 20 years of growth and prosperity,” Dowless said. “Mayor Jacobs’ leadership has laid the foundation for a better Orange County, and Rob has a plan to ensure politics as usual don’t get in the way.”

UCF gets its ear to the sky: university to take over Arecibo Observatory in Puerto Rico

The Arecibo Observatory, the huge, iconic radio telescope in Puerto Rico that has starred in movies and in important cosmic and physics discoveries, is coming under new management: of the University of Central Florida.

The university announced Thursday it is now negotiating the final terms of a five-year, $20.2 million contract with the National Science Foundation to lead a team to manage the 18-acre reflector telescope, and build research programs around it. The university expects to take over, and to hang its UCF National Champions banner there, on April 1.

UCF is leading a team with Universidad Metropolitana in San Juan and Yang Enterprises, Inc. in Oviedo. Most of the current staff at the observatory will be absorbed into the new UCF program, instantly adding a new community of 17 seasoned researchers to the university’s growing planetary sciences program. The observatory also will be available for current UCF researchers and students.

“UCF’s oversight of this crucial resource further solidifies our university as a leader in space-related research,” UCF President John Hitt stated in a news release. “The observatory will provide a valuable new dimension to space science at UCF while creating more academic opportunities for students and faculty at UCF, in Puerto Rico and beyond.”

UCF’s management also will mean new infusions into the observatory, which has been struggling some with financial, organizational, and operational limitations under the tightly-fundeed NSA. The observatory long has struggled for money. The agency is spinning it off to UCF’s team in part in recognition that some of the NSA assets, particularly Arecibo, will have more growth opportunities with outside management.

Built in 1963, the dramatic-looking facility, a huge dish and dome carved into a limestone karst sinkhole in a Puerto Rican mountaintop forest, has been used as an onsite location for several movies including the James Bond installment “Goldeneye,” “Species,” and “Contact,” as well as for the TV series “The X-Files.”

And now it’s UCFs.

Universities everywhere that have astronomy, planetary sciences, or space research programs yearn to get even pieces of management or ownership of major telescopes, but there aren’t that many such observatories out there. Arecibo is not only in UCF’s backyard, but until a couple years ago it was the world’s largest radio telescope. Now it’s the world’s second-largest, behind a new one in China.

Already UCF has placed dramatic video of Arecibo Observatory on its university homepage.

Scientists don’t usually say such things out loud, but Elizabeth Klonoff, vice president for UCF’s Office of Research and dean of the College of Graduate Studies, and Ramon Lugo, director of UCF’s Florida Space Institute, both come close to saying this is really cool, for both the telescope and for the science possibilities.

“This really does provide us with the ability to augment our work in planetary sciences in a way that, when I got here, I never thought might be possible but I hoped we could,” Klonoff said.

Already, the telescope’s work has included observations that led to Nobel Prize-winning discoveries by physicists Russell Hulse and Joseph Taylor, who monitored a binary pulsar, providing a true test of Einstein’s theory of general relativity, and the first evidence for the existence of gravitational waves, according to UCF’s news release. Last year researchers discovered two strange pulsars that undergo a “cosmic vanishing act,” upending the widely-held view that all pulsars are orderly. In 2016, scientists discovered the first repeating fast radio bursts. According to Wikipedia.org, in its 54 years, Arecibo also has been instrumental in the first detection of the pre-biotic molecules methanimine and hydrogen cyanide in distant galaxies; in finding the first concrete evidence of specific extrasolar planets; in recalculating Mercury’s rotation; in finding the first evidence of neutron stars; and in producing the first pictures of an asteroid.

And yes, as in the movie “Contact,” written by Carl Sagan and starring Jodi Foster and Matthew McConaughey, the telescope has been used for the search for extraterrestrial intelligence.

Hurricane Maria banged it up last September. But considering what the rest of the island suffered, and is still suffering, it came out pretty well, Lugo said. There was some damage to panels and reflectors, and to an important radar unit, but the telescope remains functionally operational, he said. And the disaster relief package approved by Congress last month specifically set aside $16 million for repairs, and Lugo said that should take care of it.

House vacation rentals bill clears Government Accountability Committee

The vacation rentals deregulation bill cleared its first stop in the Florida House of Representatives Thursday with a close approval won in the House Government Accountability Committee.

House Bill 773, sponsored by St. Cloud Republican state Rep. Mike La Rosa, now heads toward the commerce committee in this year’s legislative efforts to roll back and prevent local ordinances from restricting vacation rental homes, and turning licensing and regulation over to the state.

The bill got through the committee Thursday after numerous amendments were fought off and defeated.

The vacation rental issue has divided interests between state control and cities and counties declaring the need for home rule; between property rights of vacation rental property owners and neighbors, particularly when the properties are located in the middles of neighborhoods; and between the vacation rental industry and the traditional hotel, motel and bed and breakfast interests, who contend they are far more regulated.

A similar measure, Committee Substitute for Senate Bill 1400, already has cleared a couple of committees in that chamber and is headed for its final panel, the Senate Appropriations Committee.

One of the primary vacation rental home marketing companies, HomeAway, released a statement afterwards noting a recent Mason-Dixon poll that found 86 percent of Florida voters think vacation rentals are important to the state’s economy. “There is widespread demand to protect Florida’s historic vacation rental industry by creating a straightforward regulatory framework to apply to vacation rental owners and platforms across Florida.,” the HomeAway statement declared.

CNN Parkland town hall crowd expresses powerful gun-control message

If the crowd at Wednesday night’s gun discussion at the BB&T Center in Sunrise was indicative of more than just a normally Democratic community now suffering from one of the most horrific school massacres in history, then Republicans such as U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and staunch 2nd Amendment advocates can find little place there.

In the CNN post-Parkland massacre town hall meeting show “Stand Up,” televised live Wednesday night, students’, teachers’, family members’ and others’  anger and conviction over the mass murder at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School was clearly focused on gun control, on banning assault weapons, universal background checks and other gun laws.

That left Rubio, who joined Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, often in the spotlight of anger and pleading survivors, family and friends, as he defended 2nd Amendment positions opposing many of the gun restrictions the crowd was professing.

The trio of federal lawmakers found their roles well defined from the start, and found that the questioners, including teenagers, harbored no fear or intimidation whatsoever in pressing powerful members of Congress.

Deutch, the hometown congressman who has been a strong, longtime advocate of gun control, gave fiery calls for banning what he called “weapons of war,” and denouncing opposition to gun reforms. And for those he drew standing ovations.

Nelson, who’s been through all of this before, from previous horrible tragedies, sought to balm and inspire the crowd, declaring, “Your hope gives me hope. You’r determination gives me more determination…. You have been so strong. Keep it up.”

And on the other side was Rubio, who drew flat-out confrontations, and stood up to them with compassion and respect, and expressing sincere empathy and understanding, yet with convictions to positions the questioners and the crowd did not like. He took it.

“I want to like you. Here’s the problem: Your comments this week, and those of our president have been pathetically weak,” Rubio was told by Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jaime Guttenberg was killed last week.

“Tell me guns weren’t a factor in the hunting of our kids,” Guttenberg demanded.

At another point, student Michelle Lapidot asked, rhetorically, because she said she wanted to ask someone from the National Rifle Association, but there wasn’t anyone there yet, “Was the blood of my classmates and teachers worth your blood money?”

Rubio made some news pledging some concessions on gun control stands He renewed and strengthened vows to support a ban on bump stocks, an increase the minimum age for the purchase of a rifle to 21, an expansion background checks on gun purchases. Finally, he promised a new breakthrough, to consider restrictions on ammunition magazine sizes, an issue that had been front and center in the gun debate 20 months ago, in the weeks after the Pulse massacre in Orlando, and which Rubio had then strongly opposed.

The last concession was one he said has come to him from what he had learned from law enforcement briefings about what happened inside the high school last week. He said it was evidence in politics that people can change their minds.

“I traditionally have not supported looking at magazine clip size. … I’m reconsidering, and I’ll tell you why,” Rubio said. “While it may not prevent an attack, it may save lives in an attack. I believe there will be evidence that in a key moment in the incident, three or four people, three or four people, might be alive today because of something this deranged killer had to do.”

But Rubio’s other arguments, seeking to explain, for example, how complicated it could be to ban the kinds of guns that killed in Stoneman Douglas High School and in Pulse, fell flat, sounding as if he was nickel-and-diming the issues on technicalities. And he was doing so in front of young people who had stared down a blazing AR-15 just days ago, and in front of grieving parents and siblings.

At one point he asked Deutch if he would be so bold as to support a ban on all assault rifles, as if such was an absurdly-broad ban.

Deutch said yes. The crowed thundered.

Rubio looked surprised. He said, “Fair enough, fair enough.”

Still, Rubio fared better than Florida Gov. Rick Scott and President Donald Trump. CNN invited both, and they both declined. And they both suffered  numerous unanswered hits during the town hall, for not participating.

Nelson, who likely will be facing Scott later this year in the U.S. Senate race, took several opportunities to criticize the pro-2nd Amendment governor.

“My colleague and I, Marco Rubio, have a good relationship. I told him before I came out tonight he had guts coming here, when in fact there is no representative of the state of Florida here. Our governor did not come here, Gov. Scott, but Marco did,” Nelson offered.

Rubio’s empathy and connection with the crowd was not shared by his successor on the 2nd Amendment side of the issue.

In the second half of the show, CNN brought out Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel and NRA national spokeswoman Dana Loesch.

Loesch started out condescending and lecturing, trying to draw distinctions between selling weapons to people she called “nuts,” and to anyone else. Almost continuously, Loesch tried to blame the school massacre, and redirect questions and arguments, to being being about the madness of charged shooter Nikolas Cruz, and how the justice system, the schools, and society had missed all warning signs that should have signaled the blood to come, and led someone to intervene.

But the students and others, and the crowd reactions sounded as if they heard her argument as offensively irrelevant, as completely tone deaf to what they wanted to discuss: the role of the guns in Cruz’s hands. She was accused of avoiding questions, and Loesch occasionally retreated into the position of the cornered righteous.

That didn’t get by Israel, who told her she had not earned the right to tell the audience, as she had, that she fought for them. He declared there was no reason for the NRA’s opposition to universal background checks and assault weapon restrictions, declaring, “We’re calling BS on that!”

Orlando airport board votes to send ultimatum to TSA

The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority Board of Directors voted Wednesday to tell the federal Transportation Security Administration that if it does not start pleasing Orlando International Airport officials more the airport will seek to replace federal screeners with a private company.

The board essentially is telling the federal agency that Orlando International Airport leaders are so fed up with what they contend has been a lack of communication, cooperation and accountability by the local TSA leadership, that they’re willing to pursue the extreme measure of becoming just the second or third major airport in America to throw out TSA screeners and replace them with private security.

In a nutshell, the board told TSA Wednesday it wants the local TSA leadership replaced with someone who will work with local officials to cut wait times and improve passenger satisfaction levels, and if the agency won’t do it, Orlando will. Both GOAA Board Chairman Frank Kruppenbacher and Airports Executive Director Phil Brown told the board they have repeatedly tried to get TSA to address their concerns about wait times, passenger satisfaction levels, operational flexibility, and dealing with new rules coming out of Washington D.C.

“I’m taking the gloves off with this: there is a leadership problem at TSA locally,” Kruppenbacher said.

“I don’t think any of us really desire deep in our hearts to go down this road but we’ve talked and talked, and so this is like, we’re moving in this direction,” he said.

Among the seven board members, there appeared to be a wide range of what was in their hearts regarding whether and how aggressively Orlando should begin what could be a year-long process of switching to private passenger screening services.

On one hand, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer voted against the ultimatum-laiden resolution approved Wednesday. He argued that the board was already sending a clear message, and didn’t need to actually begin a game of chicken with federal officials, heading toward something that at least a few of the board members appeared to not really want, private screeners.

Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs was not far from Dyer’s position, but she grudgingly, after several rewrites of the resolution, voted yes.

On the other hand, a couple of the board members, notably Ed Fouche, appeared adamant, sounding convinced that Orlando International Airport might be better off with a private passenger screening company.

Kruppenbacher contended he was more with Jacobs, but did not want to show any weakness to the agency, not after years of frustration. And so he sought a firm resolution that would have to be stopped if negotiations between the airport and federal officials succeed in the next 60 days, not a stopped resolution that could be restarted if such negotiations fail.

“I’m sorry; it’s time to go to Washington and tell TSA we mean business,” Kruppenbacher said.

Private screening at airports is available through the TSA’s Screening Partnership Program. The vast majority of the 22 airports that have opted into the program, such as those in Bozeman, Roswell, and Tupelo, are small, and they include four in Florida: Key West, Sarasota, Punta Gorda, and Orlando-Sanford. Only the San Francisco and perhaps Kansas City airports are in Orlando’s class. San Francisco International Airport is a little bigger, in terms of passenger counts, while Kansas City’s is less than half of Orlando’s size.

A switch to a private passenger screening service would come first with Orlando submitting an application to the TSA, while Orlando simultaneously begins interviewing and researching the 15 or so companies authorized by TSA to do the work.

The board struggled with how far members wanted to go Wednesday in a stare-down with the TSA, leading the resolution to be recast at least twice.

Kruppenbacher wants Airports Executive Director Brown and key staff and board members to meet with TSA. And before Wednesday’s meeting, Dyer arranged a meeting with airport officials, federal officials and the Central Florida congressional delegation, notably U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Darren Soto, and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, for March 30. [Word that such a meeting already had been arranged, critical to a process that had not yet been voted on, and involving more than one GOAA board member, clearly irked Jacobs, who only found out about it when Kruppenbacher first mentioned it. Dyer tried to ease her by saying Demings actually arranged it, and texted him about it earlier Wednesday.]

Ultimately, the board offered a 60-day window for TSA to “meet the triggers,” in Kruppenbacher’s words. Those triggers were not explicitly spelled out.

“The step we would take today is to begin the process; the board will not be formally voting to file the application,” he said.

The matter has come up before in past years, previously pushed aggressively by then U.S. Rep. John Mica, who fought a long political battle with the TSA and its unions, and wanted to have his hometown airport become a leading example of one that abandoned the agency.

This time the matter appeared to be more driven by airport staff, as Brown laid out a case Wednesday for why TSA screening operations had become disappointing and frustrating in light of the airport’s standards and objectives. Essentially, the agency appeared unable or unwilling to participate in big-theme-park levels of customer service and satisfaction, what airport officials long have called “the Orlando Experience.”

Kruppenbacher expressed annoyance that TSA officials left Wednesday’s meeting early.

Meanwhile, many of the thousand or so TSA employees at Orlando International Airport could lose their jobs and their federal pensions if Orlando switches to a private company. A number of TSA employees and union officials, some from other aviation unions such as flight attendants, spoke Wednesday, pleading with the board to not switch to a private security company.

“Screeners, you’re in the middle of it, but this is not about you,” Kruppenbacher said.

The screeners and others insisted no private company could offer more dedication to safety than they do.

Sara Nelson, international president of the Association of Flight Attendants, noted she was working out of Boston the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, when terrorists, screened by pre-TSA private security screeners, boarded two planes there and crashed them into the World Trade Center. Air safety is very personal for those in the business, she reminded everyone.

“It could have been me on that plane that fateful day. Instead, it was my good friends…. We can never go back to giving private companies the enormous responsibility of airport screening,” Nelson said.

Osceola County finds sweet spot for medical marijuana dispensaries

It may have taken 16 months, an attempt by the Florida Legislature to tie local authorities’ hands, and threats of a lawsuit, but the Osceola County Commission has found what many may consider the sweet spot in approving retail sales of medical marijuana.

As a result, one medical marijuana company gets exclusive rights to open stores in Osceola County, but just three of them.

On Monday the Osceola County Commission approved two measures that will allow three medical marijuana dispensaries in the county, one on U.S. 192 between Kissimmee and Celebration; one on U.S. 192 between Kissimmee and St. Cloud; and one on South John Young Parkway between Kissimmee and Poinciana; and then to ban any additional cannabis dispensaries in the county.

The medical marijuana business was awarded to San Felasco Nursery of Gainesville, which is also known as Grandiflora, and which is operating its medical marijuana retail business under the name The Green Solution, in association with a Colorado-based medical marijuana company of that name.

“I’m really happy to see Osceola County residents are going to have access to the medicine that a lot of them need, without having to go way out of their way to get it,” said Osceola County Commissioner Viviana Janer, who supported The Green Solution stores getting their certificates, and who nonetheless also voted for the countywide ban.

Elsewhere, throughout Florida, most cities and counties have struggled with their options on medical marijuana.

That’s because last summer the Florida Legislature restricted local options to essentially allowing as many medical marijuana stores as the market would bear, to go in anywhere that a pharmacy could be located; or to ban them entirely. Many local officials who knew they have Walgreens and CVSs around the corner from schools, churches, and prize tourist attractions, shuddered at the “anywhere” option. So many cities and counties voted to ban them, even though many of the same officials involved said they wouldn’t mind a small number of stores in carefully-chosen locations.

In Osceola County’s case, their first assessment was to provide for three or four stores countywide. They’re getting three.

“Things just seemed to work out,” said Osceola County spokesman Mark Pino.

Here’s how they worked out: In October 2016 the county commission approved a regulatory ordinance detailing how “medical marijuana treatment centers” would be approved for operation certificates. San Felasco applied and got preliminary county approval for three locations. Meanwhile, Florida voters approved Amendment 2 in November 2016, greatly expanding the state’s medical marijuana industry. So before The Green Solution certificates could be issued, Osceola County backtracked, and approved a temporary moratorium, buying time to see what the Florida Legislature would do about the new, expanded law. The legislature’s response was to pass the enabling legislation that included the all-or-nothing choice for counties and cities. The Green Solution threatened to sue Osceola County to get its already-approved certificates. Osceola settled.

On Monday the board of county commissioners approved the settlement with The Green Solution, and then approved a county-wide ban henceforth, under the state-mandated all-or-nothing provision.

“This is an equitable solution to this matter and gives us, as the local jurisdiction, the power to prevent an out-of-control proliferation of these facilities,” Commission Chairman Fred Hawkins, Jr. stated in a news release. “When voters approved Amendment 2, I don’t think they wanted dispensaries on every street corner in the community. This agreement and our ban cements this intent while allowing those who need this service the ability to access it.”

Show Buttons
Hide Buttons