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Scott Powers

Mexico Consul, ACLU, Civil Rights groups blast immigrant crime bill

The Consul of the Mexican Consulate in Orlando and several groups blasted a Florida senate bill Wednesday that would make one set of criminal codes for undocumented immigrants and another for everyone else.

Mexico Consul Juan Sabines Guerrero called Senate Bill 120 “condemnable by society as a whole” as he and representatives of the ACLU and several Civil Rights organizations called, at the Mexican Consulate in Orlando, for the Florida Legislature to stop the bill.

SB 120, sponsored by Republican Travis Hutson of Palm Coast, would require that any criminal charges against undocumented immigrants be upgraded. A first-degree misdemeanor charge brought against someone who turned out to be an undocumented immigrant would be prosecuted as a third-degree felony; a third-degree felony charge would be prosecuted as a second-degree felony; etc.

Hutson was not immediately available to respond. He has promoted the bill by arguing that undocumented immigrants already have committed another offense by being in Florida illegally.

“Any legislation that forgets basic principles of law, disregards basic human rights, and forgets the contribution of immigrants is to be condemnable by society as a whole,” Sabines said.

Sabines and others, including activists Philip Arroyo and Lawanna Gelzer, argued that the proposed law clearly violates the equal protection principle of American justice, which has been established to say that immigrants, including undocumented immigrants, are to be treated in court like anyone else.

“We think it’s racist, it’s unconstitutional, it’s a violation of human rights, and as a law student I have to say I am disgusted and embarrassed,” said Arroyo, representing the ACLU of Central Florida and the Immigrant Rights Task Force.

Arroyo said the bill is unconstitutional and said, “If this passes, expect a legal battle.”

SB 120 has cleared both the Senate Judiciary Committee and the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Criminal and Civil Justice, by one vote in each panel. It now is in the Appropriations Committee.

The bill has a companion measure, House Bill 83 by Republican state Rep. Dane Eagle of Cape Coral. It was approved by the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee Wednesday morning.

Sabines noted that the government of Mexico has opened its consulates to all immigrants, regardless of country of origin, who are concerned or in trouble with new immigration policies under the President Donald Trump administration. And he argued that bills such as SB 120 threaten all of Florida.

Val Demings, Darren Soto, Stephanie Murphy submit transportation list

Orlando’s three Democratic members of Congress, U.S. Reps. Val Demings, Darren Soto and Stephanie Murphy, have sent the White House a wish list of transportation projects that include I-4, Sunrail and the Orlando International Airport.

The trio sent the list Wednesday urging the administration of President Donald Trump to push the Central Florida package because of what they described as Orlando’s unique position.

“Central Florida – in particular the greater Orlando metropolitan area – is home to numerous high-profile destinations, venues and institutions, and therefore requires a world-class transportation infrastructure network to support the safe and efficient movement of residents and visitors,” the three lawmakers wrote.

The list they provided is essentially the consensus of local political, civic and transportation planning leaders in the Orlando area, though not all of the projects have universal backing. Among them:

– The Phase 2 expansion of the SunRail regional commuter train from DeBary to DeLand in Volusia County. This expansion is in the district of Republican U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Port Orange, who is opposed to it.

– Phase 3 expansion of SunRail running east-and west between Meadow Woods and Orlando International Airport. This would connect the now entirely-north-south railroad to the airport’s Orlando Intermodal Transportation Facility, a multi-level train station now under construction.

– The I-4 “Ultimate Improvement Project,” now underway through most of Orlando and Seminole County, expanding that freeway out to its maximum capacity.

– Orlando Intermodal Transportation Facility at the airport.

– The planned second major terminal at Orlando International Airport, which would largely serve international flights. That facility is to be built next to the train station.

“The president has called on Congress to approve legislation that produces a $1 trillion infrastructure investment. We look forward working with the administration on this initiative, and we hope that these priority transportation infrastructure projects in our region will be included,” the three lawmakers concluded in a news release Wednesday.

Illeana Ros-Lehtinen turns thumbs down on GOP health care plan

As conservatives mount pressure on Republicans in Congress to support the GOP health care plan, more moderate U.S. Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen became the first to announce she is breaking ranks.

Ros-Lehtinen, of Miami, announced late Tuesday that she is concerned about the affects the American Health Care Act would have on the poor and elderly, and cannot support it, and saying, “this plan is not the replacement South Florida needs.”

“I have decided to vote no on the bill as currently written,” she stated. “The bill’s consequences for South Florida are clear: too many of my constituents will lose insurance and there will be less funds to help the poor and elderly with their healthcare. I voted to repeal Obamacare many times because it was not the right fix for our broken healthcare system and did not live up to its promise to the American people but this plan is not the replacement South Florida needs.

We should work together to write a bipartisan bill that works for our community and our nation without hurting the elderly and disadvantaged among us,” she concluded.

Her lost vote comes as the conservative American Action Network has begun a nationwide cable TV ad campaign targeting at least three Republican Florida members of Congress, urging people to urge them to vote yes.

The ads so far have appeared targeting U.S. Reps. Bill Posey of Rockledge, Carlos Curbelo of Miami, and Ted Yoho of Gainesville.


Draft-Anna Eskamani for Orange Mayor movement draws Bob Poe backing

A social media campaign to draft Anna Eskamani to run for Orange County mayor is catching steam on Facebook and has convinced at least one major potential mayoral candidate to declare he won’t run because he’d rather back her – Bob Poe.

Eskamani, a 26-year-old Orlando Democrat who is director of external affairs for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said Tuesday she is inspired and humbled, and is exploring the possibility of running for the top job in Orange County this year.

“I’m definitely giving it serious thought. But at the end of the day, I’m listening to the people,” she said.

So far, no serious candidates have filed, though several are known to be organizing support for a run in 2018, when incumbent Republican Mayor Teresa Jacobs will be term-limited. The two registered candidates are Harry Legrand-Torres and Robert Edward Melanson.

Poe was one such potential candidate. A businessman and major Democratic campaign fundraiser, fresh off a failed run for Congress, Poe said on Tuesday that he has decided to not run for mayor. Instead, after he saw the draft-Anna page, Poe decided he wants to back Eskamani, and is urging others in his orbit to do so as well.

“I’m out,” Poe said. “And I’m encouraging Anna.”

By late Tuesday, the “We Want Anna Eskamani for Orange County Mayor” page started Sunday afternoon on Facebook had more than 700 likes.

Eskamani is young, but an already well-established figure in Central Florida Democratic circles. She’s known for strong progressive views, fiery speeches, sharp preparation on issues, and appearing at nearly every progressive politics event in the area.

She has a twin sister Ida Eskamani, who fits the same bill and serves as a legislative aide to Democratic state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith of Orlando.

“We deserve an authentic voice,” Anna Eskamani said. “We deserve a mayor who works for all people and pushes back against dangerous policies that come from Washington D.C. and Tallahassee. For me, organizing, fighting for equality, is what I have committed my life to.

“And I’m absolutely inspired by this new-found energy around the potential of me running for mayor. And I would be honored to serve this county and its people.”

Poe said he is attracted to her youthful energy and fearlessness, and his belief that the Democratic Party needs a new generation of leaders. He called her a leader who does her homework.

“She’s been on the cutting edge of what has been happening politically here,” Poe said. “She is a driver. I’m encouraging Anna to run. And I’m going to encourage other people to encourage Anna to run.”

While they make up their minds, so are several other potential candidates and their backers. Another draft page has been started on Facebook for Democratic Orange County Property Appraiser Rick Singh. Democratic Orange County Tax Collector Scott Randolph and Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings also been frequently projected as candidates. Potential Republican candidates have included Orange County School Board Chair Bill Sublette, former Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner and Former Orange County Commissioner Scott Boyd.

Bill to regulate high-speed passenger trains rolls on

A bill aimed at regulating private high-speed passenger train service in Florida that is effectively targeting the Brightline train planned for the east coast rolled through the Senate Transportation Committee Tuesday.

Sponsor Republican state Sen. Debbie Mayfield of Melbourne insisted that Senate Bill 425 is aimed at the general future of passenger rail in Florida.

“It sets the framework for how all future high-speed rail passenger systems are to be operated in the state of Florida, and it ensures that the proper protections for our citizens are in place,” Mayfield said.

But Rusty Roberts, vice president for All Aboard Florida, which is running Brightline, argued that railroad safety is exclusively covered by federal law, that Brightline was meeting the highest standards – the first railroad in the country to do so, he said – and that the bill’s only intention was to create the framework for litigation to slow down or stop the train.

Brightline intends to begin service with a 79 mph train connecting West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami this summer. Longterm, the company plans to connect West Palm with Orlando with a train going up to 120 mph. And even longer term, Roberts said, the company envisions routes to Tampa and Jacksonville as well.

But much of the political base between West Palm and Orlando is rallying in opposition over concerns about safety of high-speed trains crossing scores of at-grade intersections and numerous waterways. Mayfield’s bill offers requirements for fencing, upgraded intersection crossings and other safety measures, as well as spelling out civil liability.

“We believe, if passed, this bill will jeopardize Florida’s opportunity to connect major metropolitan centers with an express intercity passenger system. Its onerous regulations threaten our ability to complete the planned connection to Orlando, and as a consequence, will affect future expansion to Tampa Bay, and a northern expansion to Jacksonville,” Robert said. “This is the true goal of this piece of legislation: to keep this private enterprise from bringing a much needed transportation option to our growing state.”

“This is not about a particular high-rail passenger train. This is about about setting the framework for Florida so that we may have these,” Mayfield said.

The committee approved the bill unanimously.

That drew praise from one of Brightline’s biggest critics, a Treasure Coast-based group called Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida.

“The unanimous support the bill received in committee today highlights the importance of ensuring that all Floridians are protected from accidents and injuries at dangerous high speed rail crossings across the state,” said CARE FL Chairman Brent Hanlon in a statement. “This is not just about our community which will be negatively impacted. This legislation will address public safety concerns in any community across the state.”


Vacation rentals de-reg bill passes House committee

A bill that would roll back all local ordinances and regulations of vacation rental houses to 2011 codes got a split-vote approval Tuesday from the House Agriculture & Property Rights Subcommittee.

The issue was fashioned as one pitting property rights — those of people or companies that buy houses and convert them into short-term vacation rental properties, versus those of neighbors who don’t like having small hotels pop up in their neighborhoods.

Senate Bill 425, presented by state Rep. Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud, would essentially ban cities and towns from treating vacation rental houses differently from any other houses in the neighborhoods. That was Florida law after a similar bill was signed in 2011, but much of that deregulation was rolled back in 2014 after cities and counties complained.

The ensuing regulation has gotten out of hand, La Rosa argued.

“We’ve seen an obscene amount of ordinances from local government, which basically, in my mind, is a property taking: You bought this property for a certain reason, but we’re going to pass all these ordinances preventing you from being able to rent that property.”

At stake is the rapid rise throughout Florida, but particularly in tourist areas, of single-home vacation rentals, fueled by such app-based advertising services as Airbnb and Home Away, which are funneling hundreds of thousands of Florida visitors into alternatives to hotels, motels and resorts. Alternatives typically with multiple bedrooms and baths, kitchens, yards and swimming pools.

Also at stake are cities and counties alarmed by vacation homes popping up anywhere, sometimes occupied for a few days at a time by quiet families from England, and sometimes by fraternity brothers looking for wild times with loud parties, lots of trash and numerous cars taking up the street curb.

Lori Killinger, a lobbyist for the Florida Vacation Rental Managers Association and Jennifer Green of the vacation rental advertising app Home Away argued that the regulations can stifle the tourism industry. Killinger said the vacation rental business is a $31 billion a year business, but that goes to one homeowner at a time. Green argued that visitors are looking for choices.

“Some individuals are making decisions about coming to Florida on whether or not they can stay with 15 people in six hotel rooms, or they can stay all together at the beach down in the Keys, or Pinellas County or somewhere similar,” Green said. “So the question for you all is do you want to do anything to stifle tourism for Florida?”

Homes turned into vacation rentals are not homes anymore, argued opponents of the bill, such as Florida Association of Counties lobbyist Eric Poole and Casey Cook of Florida League of Cities.

Flagler County attorney Al Hadeed told stories of fraternity parties, and of one house flooded with lights by some renters who were using it to film a pornographic movie.

The 2011 law, Hadeed said, “opened up real estate syndicates that created a hotel in single-family neighborhoods.”

He drew some support, notably from Democratic state Reps. Ben Diamond of St. Petersburg and Kamia Brown of Ocoee who argued that home rule should give deference to cities and counties to decide for themselves what to do about vacation rentals.

But La Rosa responded, and won, that they still can pass ordinances to control problems, but the ordinances need to address all houses, not just vacation rental houses.

“I’m saying treat vacation rentals like all other properties,” La Rosa responded. “Whether it’s a trash issue, a noise issue, or too many cars out on the street, treat rental properties like all properties.”

Florida Dems in Congress blast GOP health care plan after budget report

As expected, the scoring of the Republican health care plan in Congress affirmed many of Democrats’ biggest warnings.

And, as expected, many of Florida’s delegation wasted no time Monday attacking the “American Health Care Act” as “wrong,” “inhumane,” “alarming,” and “ruthless and cruel.”

No word yet from any of Florida’s 17 Republican members of Congress on how they feel about the Congressional Budget Office legislative analysis of the bill Republicans introduced last week. Its aim is to replace “Obamacare,” the Affordable Care Act President Barack Obama and Democrats pushed through in 2010.

Democrats loaded up Monday at several of the CBO findings of the bill being dubbed both “RyanCare” for House Speaker Paul Ryan and “TrumpCare,” for President Donald Trump. The CBO reported that 14 million people would drop from being insured in the first year, and that a total of 24 million now covered would be without health insurance in a decade. The CBO also projected rapidly increasing premiums for the first couple of years, that it would cut $880 million from Medicaid, and increase costs for seniors on Medicare. And it reported that cuts to Planned Parenthood would mainly affect low-income women.

Almost all 12 Florida Democrats decried all those findings, through news releases, social media posts and statements on their websites. Among the responses:

“It is wrong to take away health insurance for 24 million people, as well as increase the cost to seniors,” wrote U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson.

“This legislation is terrible for those in their golden years, our seniors. And most distressing is how this bill treats the poor and the disabled of our society,” wrote U.S. Rep. Charlie Crist of St. Petersburg, representing Florida’s 13th Congressional District. “The Gospel of Matthew teaches us that we will be judged by how we treat the ‘least of these.’ But this bill treats the least among us in the most inhumane way possible.”

“Biggest non-shocker of the week #Trumpcare knocks 24M people off insurance,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Darren Soto of Orlando, representing Florida’s 9th Congressional District.

“This report from the nonpartisan CBO confirms what we already knew to be true, millions of Americans will lose health insurance, hardworking families will be forced to pay higher premiums, and Medicaid recipients will suffer greatly,” declared U.S. Rep. Val Demings of Orlando, representing Florida’s 10th Congressional District. “As Republicans recklessly work to push through this plan, the people who need it the most, working families, seniors, and children stand to lose the most. The GOP plan is not better than the Affordable Care Act and Republicans know it.”

“This bill does not make good on claims by @SpeakerRyan,” tweeted U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, representing Florida’s 22nd Congressional District. “It will block millions from coverage in exchange for cutting taxes for the wealthy.”

“Despite numerous promises by Trump that no one would lose health insurance, Republican scheme does just that!” tweeted U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa, in Florida’s 14th Congressional District. “Irresponsible @SpeakerRyan!”

“Yanking insurance coverage from 14 million people and leaving them uninsured next year would be ruthless and cruel,” wrote U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, representing Florida’s 23rd Congressional District.

“House Republican leaders are rushing this process with closed-door meetings and midnight committee sessions,” wrote U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park, representing Florida’s 7th Congressional District. “We need to slow down, bring both parties together, and get health care reform right so there aren’t any unintended consequences that hurt families, seniors, and small businesses.”

Florida scientists urge Trump to support Earth sciences. Again.

More than 30 scientists representing fields ranging from marine biology to allergy diagnostics to coastal ecology to geology have sent a letter to President Donald Trump today urging him to support continued funding for Earth sciences at NASA and NOAA.

It’s the third letter some of the scientists have banded together to send, though their ranks keep growing, now numbering 32 representing virtually all of Florida’s research universities as well as some private institutes and private companies. This time they’re calling for the president to reconsider a proposed 17 percent cut in funding for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and to support continued funding for NASA’s Earth science, to recognize the threats of climate change, and for appreciation of scientific integrity.

“America should invest heavily in our effort to understand our home planet and be aware of how physical changes will impact industry and society,” the letter states.

Both NASA and NOAA lead much of the scientific research being done to understand climate activity, as well as chemistry, geology and oceanography. Both also fund numerous research efforts at universities and institutes. A news release notes that the proposed cuts will affect most, if not all of the scientists on the letter, and that Florida universities are home to multi-million dollar research programs funded through NOAA and NASA grants.

NOAA faces proposed cuts.

Congress just approved a $19.5 million  budget for NASA that now sits on Trump’s desk awaiting a signature or veto. The bill does not get into details on how NASA should spend money on specific directorates such as its Earth sciences program, which include numerous satellites and monitors aboard the International Space Station. Trump has not made any specific statements regarding them, but NASA’s Earth sciences programs have been targeted for several years by conservatives.

The scientists also make a business argument for their values, pointing out that America needs to continue its investment in Earth science to remain competitive with China and Europe.

They also make a deeply concerning, if not ironic, warning.

“Aptly dubbed, ‘Our nation’s gateway to exploring, discovering, and understanding our universe,’ NASA’s Kennedy Space Center and Cape Canaveral are home to multiple launch pads, several of which are directly on the coast and vulnerable to rising seas, erosion, and storm surge. Please recognize that NASA cannot fulfill its mission to explore outer space if rising seas damage NASA facilities,” they write.

“Many Florida properties, including Mar-a-Lago – the Winter White House – are vulnerable to sea level rise. If we do nothing to address climate change, we may see a foot or more of sea level rise by 2060. America must be vigilant and take action to reduce greenhouse gas emissions,” they continue. “Climate change can be viewed as a threat or as an opportunity. NOAA and NASA both play a crucial role in helping us to understand those risks. We are confident that the many discoveries accomplished thus far are only the beginning. With continued research, Americans can better understand future challenges and find ways to solve them.”

The signatories stress they do not necessarily speak for their institutions. The signatories include:

Todd Albert, chief executive officer of Nebular Design;

Senthold Asseng, professor in Agricultural & Biological Engineering Department University of Florida;

Donald Axelrad, assistant professor, Institute of Public Health, Florida A&M University;

Ray Bellamy, Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic, Tallahassee;

Leonard Berry, emeritus professor of geosciences, Florida Atlantic University;

Henry Briceño, research professor, Southeast Environmental Research Center, Florida International University;

Kristen Buck, assistant professor, College of Marine Science, University of South Florida;

Jeff Chanton, professor, Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, Florida State University;

Eric Chassignet, professor, and director, Center for Ocean-Atmospheric Prediction Studies, Florida State;

Allan Clarke, Adrian E. Gill professor of oceanography, Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, Florida State;

James G. Douglass, assistant professor in the Department of Marine and Ecological Sciences, Florida Gulf Coast University;

Marc E. Freeman, Lloyd Beidler professor of neuroscience emeritus and distinguished research professor emeritus, Florida State;

David Hastings, professor, Marine Science and Chemistry, Eckerd College;

Barry Heimlich, vice chair, Climate Change Task Force, Broward County;

Ben Kirtman, professor, Department of Atmospheric Science, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Miami

Marguerite Koch, professor, Department of Biological Sciences, Charles E. Schmidt College of Science, Florida Atlantic;

David Letson, professor, Department of Marine Ecosystems and Society, University of Miami;

James MacDonald, associate professor of geology, Marine and Ecological Sciences,
Florida Gulf Coast;

Heather Mason Jones, professor of biology, Department of Biology, University of Tampa;

Mason Meers, professor of evolutionary biology & anatomy, Department of Biology, University of Tampa;

Vasu Misra, associate professor of meteorology, Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Science, Florida State;

Frank Muller-Karger, professor, Institute for Marine Remote Sensing/IMaRS, College of Marine Science, University of South Florida;

John H. Parker, emeritus professor of environmental science and chemistry, Department of Earth and Environment, Florida International;

Randall W. Parkinson, research faculty affiliate, Institute for Water and Environment, Florida;

Joelle Richard, assistant professor of marine sciences, Department of Marine and Ecological Sciences, Florida Gulf Coast;

Ron Saff, Allergy and Asthma Diagnostic Treatment Center, Tallahassee;

Michael Savarese, professor of marine science, Department of Marine & Ecological Sciences, Florida Gulf Coast;

Philip Stoddard, Department of Biological Sciences; Florida International;

John C. Van Leer, associate professor, Department of Ocean Sciences, Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Sciences, University of Miami;

Linda Walters, Pegasus professor, Department of Biology, University of Central Florida;

Harold R. Wanless, professor and chair, Department of Geological Sciences, College of Arts and Sciences, University of Miami; and

John Weishampel, professor, Department of Biology, University of Central Florida.

‘Bullet-proof glass’ among measures getting nod for Jewish schools’ security

The dramatic rise in threats and incidents aimed at Jewish community centers and day schools has led to a proposed $1.5 million request to the state for security measures that include installation of bullet-proof glass at Jewish schools around Florida, and a Florida House subcommittee overwhelmingly approved Monday.

“There has been a dramatic rise in the threats against Jewish Day schools and Jewish institutions since the first of the year,” said state Rep. Randy Fine, a Republican from Brevard County who successfully presented House Bill 3653 to the House PreK-12 Appropriations Subcommittee Monday.

That dramatic rise, by his count, included 17 incidents in Florida this year, and 154 nationally, including an incident in Indiana when someone shot a bullet through the window of a Jewish school in late February.

“People are scared. Students are missing school. Parents are withdrawing their children from school and considering putting them in an alternative school,” Fine said.

With that, the panel unanimously approved HB 3653, one of a dozen special requests for funding made by schools throughout Florida. Other bills that got the committee’s blessing included one to replace a decaying middle school dormitory at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind in St. Augustine; two aviation school programs, including one in Seminole County; and, in a close vote, to save a historic pre-school in an impoverished neighborhood of St. Petersburg. All of the approved items head for the full House Appropriations Committee next.

Fine’s bill would provide emergency funding for a variety of physical security improvements such as fencing to 35 Jewish day schools in Florida, including some spread across South Florida, Duval, Hillsborough, Lee, Manatee, Orange, and Volusia counties. They serve 10,000 students.

Mimi Jankovitz, of Orthodox Union in Hollywood, said the safety concerns are very real. She told of bomb threats at a school near her Broward County home, and watching little children having to be lead across a street as helicopters circled overhead.

“Our schools are facing increasing security threats and it’s very experneisve to provide security,” she said. “It’s already expensive, and now with the increased security they have to put in, we need help.”

The largest special project appropriation the committee reported favorably was $5.4 million to replace an aging middle school girls’ dormitory at the Florida School for the Deaf and the Blind. The building is suffering problems ranging the roof to the sanitary sewers beneath it. The money will come from Florida’s Public Education Capital Outlay program.

The strongest debate came on a plan put forward by a St. Petersburg non-profit seeking to take over, rehabilitate and run a old – and by some standards historic – pre-K school that is failing in a low-income neighborhood there. State Rep. Wengay Newton, a St. Petersburg Democrat, and a representative of the non-profit agued that the $350,000 they sought from the state could save the Happy Workers Learning Center, help save the neighborhood, and provide hope.

But some committee members expressed concerns that the plan brought by R’Club Child Care Inc. of St. Petersburg was not sufficiently formed, and others, notably state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, a Mount Dora Republican, argued against using public tax dollars to bail out what she said was a private company’s attempt to take over and save another private company. The vote was razor close, approved only after Chairman Manny Diaz, a Republican from Hialeah Gardens, said the bill was flawed and he was concerned for its chances, but that he could not vote against helping the kids.

For Newton, the matter was not about private companies, and he hayed R’Club as an organization with an outstanding record.

“There is a lot of need,” Newton said. “When we don’t make an investment in these kids, we fail these kids. This Happy Workers Learning Center is historic. What they’re asking for is a little bit of help from the state.”

Federal grant to provide $8.5 million to help Pulse victims

The U.S. Department of Justice is awarding an $8.5 million grant to help the victims of last June’s massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.

The grant, to be awarded Tuesday by the Department of Justice to the Florida Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi, was announced Monday by the office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida.

Florida will get $8,466,970 to assist survivors and victims’ families of the mass shooting, which left 49 dead and 53 wounded, as well as to help witnesses, and first responders. The Antiterrorism Emergency Assistance Program grant, administered through the DoJ’s Office for Victims of Crime, will aim to ensure that victims, witnesses and first responders receive necessary services to help them adjust in the aftermath, begin the healing process and cope with re-traumatization, according to an advisory from the department.

The money also will be used to reimburse authorities for the family assistance center that Orlando, Orange County, Heart of Florida United Way, Florida and the non-profit foundation Orlando United established in the days after the massacre.

The Orlando United Assistance Center was initially opened at the Camping World Stadium in the days immediately following the tragedy, but was moved to a building at 507 Michigan Street later on, where it has remained, with funding set for 2017. There, patients have access to mental health care and other needs, such as referrals for housing and rental assistance, emergency financial assistance, employment, training and educational opportunities.

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