Scott Powers, Author at Florida Politics - Page 6 of 178

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 Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused.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.

Gwen Graham announces backings of three South Florida mayors

Ninety minutes before Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine planned to announce his big plans, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham is sending a message that she, too, has South Florida support, announcing endorsements from three other South Florida mayors.

Graham’s campaign announced Wednesday morning she has the backing of West Palm Beach Mayor Jeri Muoio, Coral Springs Mayor Skip Campbell and Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis.

Levine is expected to announce his Democratic candidacy for governor at a 10:30 a.m. press conference in Miami.

“After 20 years of Republican dominance in Tallahassee, too many Florida families are struggling to find good paying jobs, to make ends meet, to stay in their homes,” Muoio stated in a news release issued by Graham’s campaign. “Gwen Graham understands the challenges Floridians face and has bold ideas to put our state on a progressive path forward. Gwen has a proven record of standing up for middle-class and working families. As governor, she’ll fight to create jobs, raise wages and build an economy that works for every Floridian.”

A new poll Wednesday morning showed that Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee, has a solid lead on other Democrats in seeking the 2018 primary nomination to run for governor, including Levine, should he enter the race. Levine, however, has show strong fundraising abilities long before he’s even announced his intentions. The other Democrats in the race are Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum and Winter Park businessman Chris King.

“I’m proud to support Gwen Graham because we need a governor willing to take on the big fights. When Rick Scott tried to cover up a sinkhole, Gwen led the fight to expose it. She’s taking on the oil industry and fighting to protect our beaches and springs from drilling and fracking,” Campbell said. “And, she’s working to hold drug companies accountable for their role in fueling the opioid crisis. I’m proud to support Gwen Graham because we need a governor who will fight for Floridians — not for special interests.”

Pembroke Pines Mayor Frank Ortis said, “Gwen Graham believes public service is about helping people. In Congress, she made constituent services a top priority and returned more than $2.5 million to Florida veterans, seniors and families. As governor, she’ll bring that same compassion to Tallahassee.

“Gwen is working for Florida’s families — not special interests or corporations.”

Jimmy Patronis announces he’ll run for full term as Florida CFO

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis wants to keep the job he was appointed to earlier this year.

Patronis, a Republican from Panama City, announced via a tweet this morning that he’ll run for a full term as the state’s CFO, a Cabinet position that gives him control over financial and insurance sectors in Florida.

“I’m proud to announce today that I have decided to run for another term as CFO! Join the team at http://joinjimmy.com #sayfie #flapol,” Patronis tweeted around 7:30 a.m. Wednesday morning.

He also has opened up a campaign website, though there is little on it except a fundraising bot as of Wednesday morning.

Patronis got the CFO job in June when Gov. Rick Scott appointed him to fill the unexpired term of former CFO Jeff Atwater, who left to become vice president of Florida Atlantic University.

Patronis is a former member of the Florida House of Representatives and also served on the Florida Public Service Commission.

Patronis enters a race that has Democratic former state senator Jeremy Ring of Parkland.

State cuts in mental health funding hamstring Orange County center

State and federal cuts in funding for mental health services are hamstringing funding for Orange County’s primary center to deal with people in crises because of mental health issues, officials told the Orange County Board of Commissioners Tuesday.

A 40 percent federal cut in grant money used by local mental health diversion centers means a $1.2 million shortfall this year for the county’s central receiving center to assess mental health crises, including those brought in by law enforcement officers seeking to get medical treatment rather than jail time for individuals.

Since its creation 14 years ago, the Belvin Perry, Jr. Central Receiving Center has been viewed statewide as a model to get people swiftly into secure, clinical settings where they can be evaluated. This allows law enforcement officers to quickly return to the street, rather than having to sit in hospital emergency rooms or simply book patients into jails.

Orange County officials are pulling together an ad-hoc plan to replace the funding for this fiscal year but that will require an additional $450,000 in county tax dollars to keep the center open. There is a long term plan of hoping to convince the Florida Legislature to restore state funding for next year, Donna Wyche, manager of mental health and homeless services for Orange County, told county commissioners Tuesday.

That request will come to the board next month.

Wyche outlined the effects of the state budget cuts at the request of Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke, who said they were causing long-term problems because lawmakers were being “shortsighted” about immediate state budget savings.

“At the end of the day it’s about public safety. We want to get law enforcement officers back on the street. We want to get people to the place they want to be,” Clarke said.

“The unfortunate thing that we’re hearing is we’re already looking at about a 15 percent cut even before the Legislative Session starts,” she said. “So with that on the horizon, and us [Florida] being 50th in the nation, what I can tell you is, we’re probably one of the most underfunded areas in the state, but at 50th in the nation, probably every county would say the same thing at this juncture.”

The plan Wyche outlined calls Central Florida Cares Health System, a not-for-profit organization contracted by the Department of Children and Families to oversee state-funded mental health and substance abuse treatment services in Orange County, to redirect $450,000 in state funding left over in another program, matched by an Orange County commitment, and for pledges of $150,000 grants from the city’s two largest hospital companies, Orlando Health and Florida. But it’s a one-time deal. The center has an annual budget of just over $3 million, and Orange County already puts up half of that, she said.

The state funding cut comes on top of a lost $20 million federal grant that also was providing some funding for mental health services, so operations already have been cut back, she said.

“We can keep everything operating, not at previous levels for sure, because they took that other hit,” Wyche said later.

Al Lawson, Darren Soto urge Rick Scott to seek suspension of food stamps time limit

Democratic U.S. Reps. Al Lawson and Darren Soto are urging Florida Gov. Rick Scott to extend a time-limit extension he imposed following Hurricane Irma so that food stamp recipients can continue to receive benefits without risking their 90-day deadline.

Lawson, of Jacksonville, and Soto, of Orlando, said in a letter to Scott that Hurricane Irma has created economic conditions that leave too many people needing benefits of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [formerly known as food stamps] to get by, and that at least 36 counties and eight cities are eligible for a time-table waiver that Scott should extend.

Without the governor’s consent before the beginning of November, SNAP recipients in Florida between the ages of 18 and 50 who are not disabled and do not have dependents will be limited to SNAP benefits for 3 months in any 3-year period when not employed or in a work or training program, they argued in the letter.

“In response to the devastation of Hurricane Irma, your administration ceased enforcement of this time limit for the months of September and October in the 48 FEMA declared disaster counties throughout the state,” Lawson said in a news release issued by both his and Soto’s offices Tuesday. “This move allowed the most vulnerable of Floridians to rebuild their lives without the worry of losing their SNAP benefit, and this policy must be continued.”

Both Soto and Lawson sit on the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee and the Nutrition Subcommittee.

They asked Scott to continue this policy for all 48 FEMA declared disaster counties, in addition to areas that qualify based on excessive unemployment.

“Many Floridians are still incurring disaster-related expenses, from repairing property or loss of income,” Soto said. “While recovering and making ends meet, families should first and foremost be food secured. SNAP provides a gap in income for Floridians to feed their families and we must continue to provide this essential benefit for all affected.”

Teresa Jacobs expresses frustration over lack of FEMA, state coordination plans to help evacuees

Federal and state comprehensive, strategic plans are desperately needed to coordinate services for Hurricane Maria evacuees from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands so that they can best find the services wherever they’re available in Florida, Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs said Tuesday.

Jacobs warned that someone needs to be coordinating where tens of thousands of island evacuees should consider going, because of the availability of  housing, health care, education, and other services can be provided for them, or they’re all going to wind up in the same places, where there may be limited services available while the rest of the state goes untapped.

“We’re frustrated. I’m frustrated. I think everyone is frustrated,” Jacobs said.

“What we need to be mindful of is there is no one city or county or even region that can handle all the evacuees and provide them the resources and the services that they need,” she said. “This is something we have communicated on numerous occasions to the state.”

Her declaration at the Orange County Board of Commissioners meeting Tuesday came after reports through Commissioner Betsy VanderLey, that the biggest charity health care clinic organizations in the county, Shepherd’s Hope and Grace Medical Home, were on the verge of being overwhelmed, and the annual budget for Orange County’s Primary Care Access Network could be burned up in two months just attending to evacuees’ health care needs.

VanderLey wanted a discussion of health care services, but Jacobs insisted the discussion needed to be far bigger.

Already more than 40,000 people have arrived at Orlando International Airport from the islands, most fleeing total devastation and looking for a place to be able to live, at least temporarily until their homes are inhabitable again, and another 126,000 are expected in the next couple of months, Jacobs said.

“What you’re raising here is a symptom of a much bigger problem right this minute: That is what we need for evacuees coming to Florida and also to around the country, but a very large number are coming to Florida, and a very large number are coming to Central Florida, a really comprehensive, well-thought-out strategy, to make sure that evacuees, U.S. citizens that arrive here from Puerto Rico, have the resources that they need from housing, to access to transportation, to educational capacity in our schools, to the medical assistance that they need,” Jacobs said.

Jacobs frustration comes three weeks after she deferred to the state and federal emergency management agencies, rather than set up a coordination of services at the local level, as had been requested by three Orange commissioners, Emily Bonilla, Jennifer Thompson, and Pete Clarke.  That has drawn backlash criticism from several area leaders in the Puerto Rican community who said Jacobs was punting responsibility. But she had argued then that only the state and federal agencies could coordinate statewide as needed to be done, and anything Orange County or any other local government would try to do might only get in the way.

But that coordination never came, she said.

“Where I’ve grown frustrated, and I know Osceola County is growing frustrated as well, is we still do not have a strategic plan from either FEMA or the state Department of Emergency Management,” she said.

Florida Department of Emergency Management Communications Director Alberto Moscoso responded that the state was working closely with FEMA on assistance now including hotel vouches, but that disaster survivor sheltering “is a local initiative.”

“It is important to note that FEMA provides disaster survivor housing programs, while disaster survivor sheltering is a local initiative,” he said. “However, the state proactively and aggressively sought and secured a host state agreement to provide a 100 percent reimbursement mechanism for our community sheltering efforts. Currently, volunteer organizations, working through state coordinated airport relief centers, are providing hotel vouchers to evacuees. In addition, DEM is working with our Federal and local partners to explore and consider all available solutions with regards to housing Hurricane Maria survivors.”

Jacobs said she and leaders in Osceola and Seminole counties are preparing a jointly-signed letter to state and federal authorities, requesting a comprehensive plan, and also asking them to come to Central Florida for a meeting to better coordinate the direction of evacuees and services.

“This is a problem bigger than we can solve,” she said.

 

Florida Citrus Sports seeking addition $1M to support Pro Bowl

Florida Citrus Sports is asking Orange County for an additional $1 million in tourist tax dollars to support the 2018 NFL Pro Bowl game at Camping World Stadium.

The not-for-profit organization that operates Camping World Stadium was the key player last year in a whirl-wind effort to convince the NFL to move its end-of-the-year all star game from the long-time host city of Honolulu to Orlando for at least two years, probably at least three, and possibly longer.

To make the deal happen last year Orange County approved $1 million a year in tourist tax money to be used for incentives, and also provided another $350,000 that had previously been programmed for something else. The deal struck in a hurry in the spring of 2016 also called for another $1 million this year, and another $1 million set aside for next year, assuming that Florida Citrus Sports and the NFL exercise the third-year option on their agreement.

But the price has gone up, to a $2 million tourist tax ask for the 2018 Pro Bowl. That should have been expected, said Florida Citrus Sports Chief Executive Officer Steve Hogan.

“Last year I acknowledged that year two, I wouldn’t actually know what to ask for until we got to year two,” Hogan said. “The factors that are forcing an increase are the rights fee to the NFL incrasesd for year two. Second, the [Kickoff Classic] dollars, as you know tourism development tax already had a placeholder for kickoff dollars that we were able to use for year one, which we can’t us for year two, because that’ll be used for the Louisville-Alabama game to open the season.”

That was $350,000 that was programmed for the 2017 Pro Bowl above the $1 million the county had committed earlier.

On Sept. 29 the Orange County Tourist Development Council unanimously voted to back the request for the additional $1 million request for the 2018 game, even though there was no explanation provided about what the additional money was for. There also were no questions and no debate at the council’s meeting before the recommendation was approved.

At the Sept. 29 TDC meeting, Hogan reviewed the successes of the 2017 game, noting that it had an economic impact of $40-45 million for the Central Florida economy, and that an estimated 70 percent of the attendees came from outside the region. He also noted the game itself was a sell-out and had higher-than-expected ratings for ESPN.

“I can tell you by every estimate we knocked it out of the park,” Hogan told the council.

Space Florida moves forward with spacecraft, mag-lev deals

Space Florida on Monday gave board approval to state financing  and a lease being used to spur three new technology expansions in Florida, including two companies that want to expand satellite component operations in Florida and one that wants to build a magnetic-levitation ground-transportation test track at Kennedy Space Center.

Meeting Monday in Orlando, the Space Florida Board of Directors approved a complex financing deal that would allow Matrix Composites of Rocklege to access nearly $3 million in loans, and approved another financing deal for $750,000 for York Space Systems to establish a satellite components manufacturing facility at a place to be determined in Florida.

Matrix manufactures composite materials which Space Florida officials said are critical to the supply chain of spacecraft and satellite companies either coming to or being wooed to the Cape Canaveral area. The company is projecting 105 new full-time jobs with an average annual salary of about $48,000, said Howard Haug, executive vice president and chief investment officer for Space Florida, the state’s official space industry development corporation.

The deal authorized by the board would allow Space Florida to arrange for $2.75 million in private financing for tools and equipment in a lease-buy arrangement for Matrix. Space Florida also would provide a direct $250,000 “credit enhancement” loan for Matrix to use to leverage more financing.

York Space Systems, which builds satellite components, would be getting a $750,000 loan in a complex deal that would allow Space Florida to chose between being paid back with cash or ownership in the company at some point. York is promising 24 jobs averaging $70,000 a year.

“Bringing another satellite manufacturer to Florida is a win,” said Board Chairman William Dymond.

The third deal is a lease, for terms yet to be determined, that would allow skyTran to set up a test track and research center  with a longterm lease for 15 acres at the former NASA space shuttle landing strip at Kennedy Space Center that Space Florida now controls.

While skyTran is the only one of the three committing to build and operate at the Florida Space Port at Cape Canaveral, its business shows the curious charge and opportunities Space Florida confronts. The company wants to build pioneering ground-based transportation systems, having nothing to do with space. But Space Florida President Frank DiBello pointed out to the board that its magnetic levitation technology had wide-ranging applications.

And Space Florida leases, controls and seeks to sublease 55-60 developable acres around the landing site, yet, for the time being, space companies that could use landing facilities, such as Virgin Galactic and Sierra Nevada Corp., aren’t fare enough along to commit.

Equality Florida endorses Anna Eskamani in HD 47 race

The political committee for Florida’s largest LGBTQ public policy organization is endorsing Anna Eskamani in Florida’s House District 47.

Equality Florida Action Political Action Committee announced Eskamani’s endorsement as the group’s first in the 2018 election cycle, noting that HD 47 is home to both a large lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer community, as well as the Pulse nightclub, site of the horrific 2016 mass murder and now an international symbol for the community’s fight for rights and acceptance.

Eskamani, an Orlando-based executive with Planned Parenthood and a Democrat, faces Winter Park businessman Stockton Reeves, a Republican, in the 2018 contest.

“House District 47 is going to be one of the most competitive state legislative races of 2018, and we’re putting a marker down for our members and supporters early and clearly. It’s no accident that this is our first 2018 endorsement,” Joe Saunders, Equality Florida’s senior political director and a former member of the Florida House himself, said in a news release issued by Equality Florida.

“Anna Eskamani has a long history of fighting for all marginalized people, especially LGBTQ communities,” Saunders continued. “She’s the real deal and we can’t think of a better person to represent downtown Orlando, Winter Park and South Orlando’s diverse LGBTQ communities. We need her passion, vision and talent in Tallahassee now more than ever.”

Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park is running for Congress rather than a third term.

“I have had the honor of standing shoulder-to-shoulder with Equality Florida and our LGBTQ community in efforts to ensure that all people can be their authentic selves without judgement, shame, or fear,” Eskamani said in the release. “I refuse to forget those we lost at Pulse or those whose lives were shattered by the horrific intersection of gun violence and bigotry. When I’m elected I promise to do everything I can to take on discrimination against our LGBTQ community, honor with action those hurt or taken at Pulse and fight for the thousands who die senselessly from gun violence every year.”

Victor Torres seeking FEMA help for housing for Puerto Rico evacuees

State Sen. Victor Torres is urging the Federal Emergency Management Agency to provide more housing relief programs in Florida for Puerto Rican and U.S. Virgin Island Hurricane Maria refugees to afford housing in Florida.

Torres’s request follows a similar call earlier this week from the Central Florida Heart of Florida United Way, seeking federal assistance to help tens of thousands of people fleeing storm-ravaged Puerto Rico to come to Florida, when many arrive finding dire options on where to live.

Torres said he’s pushing for FEMA to provide Temporary Stabilization Assistance grants, which would allow Puerto Rico evacuees to use FEMA money immediately to rent hotel or motel rooms for up to 14 days while they find a longer-term place to stay. FEMA also has programs that could provide vouchers for longer term rentals, and set up temporary housing in mobile homes — provided the local governments assist in identifying places to put them.

As of a week ago, more than 60,000 Puerto Ricans had arrived in Florida. Some estimates suggest the number will climb over 100,000. The two primary places they are arriving, Miami and Orlando, already have housing shortages, especially for affordable housing.

“The impacts of Hurricanes Irma and Maria are placing huge demands on our public services,” Torres said in a news release. “We need to focus on building and expanding more housing options for Floridians and evacuees from the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico who are seeking refuge in our great state.”

Torres gave impassioned testimony before the Senate Appropriations Committee on Wednesday when he called on members to increase funds for state education, healthcare and housing needs to accommodate the refugee migration.

Earlier this week, Central Florida Heart of Florida United Way Executive Director Jeff Hayward called on the federal government, through FEMA, to engage in providing support for additional housing options in central Florida.

Torres’ district includes parts of both Orange and Osceola counties which contain the highest concentration of Puerto Ricans living in Florida.

FEMA has designated Florida as a go-to state for evacuees from the islands and approved costs could be eligible for 100 percent reimbursement by the federal government. Torres said he is working with local and state officials for FEMA approval of both the deployment of mobile housing units and authorization of TSA for evacuees to receive rental housing funds.

Jeff Clemens not attending Democrats’ convention

Incoming Senate Democratic leader Jeff Clemens is not going to be at the Florida Democratic Party’s convention in Orlando this weekend.

Clemens, dealing with the breaking news that he engaged in an extramarital affair with lobbyist Devon West, is spending time with family instead of with the party, spokesman Christian Ulvert said Friday.

The news broke Friday morning when POLITICO Florida reported that Clemens was apologizing for having an affair with the lobbyist during the last legislative session.

He was not among the featured speakers during the three-day 2017 FDP State Conference that began today at Disney’s​ ​Coronado​ ​Springs at Walt Disney World. Party officials did not respond to inquiries about whether Clemens, of Lake Worth, was scheduled to speak at any of the break-out sessions, or if he was to be featured in any other capacities.

“He’s going to be with his family,” Ulvert said.

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