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Governor signs drone regulation bill

Gov. Rick Scott on Friday approved the Legislature’s “Unmanned Aircraft Systems Act,” which gives the state authority to regulate “personal delivery devices (PDDs) and unmanned aircraft systems.”

A “personal delivery device” is a machine for use on sidewalks, usually not traveling more than 10 miles per hour.

Ground drones
Photo credit: Starship Technologies

London-based Starship Technologies, for instance, makes a six-wheeled “self-driving delivery robot” that was starting to make deliveries in California and Washington, D.C. at the beginning of this year.

“The bill authorizes, subject to local government regulation, the operation of PDDs on sidewalks, but prohibits them on certain state-owned trails,” a staff analysis explained.

It also “prohibits political subdivisions from enacting or enforcing ordinances or regulations relating to the use of unmanned aircraft systems (or drones),”  but they can “enact ordinances regarding illegal acts arising from the use of unmanned aircraft systems if the ordinances are not specific to unmanned aircraft systems.”

Limiting the operation of a drone means applying to the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA).

The bill was backed by Republicans Dana Young of Tampa in the Senate and Clay Yarborough of Jacksonville in the House.

“This bill adds important protections to Florida’s critical infrastructure and provides certainty and clarity to law enforcement,” Young said in a statement. “I’m delighted that Gov. Scott signed it into law.”

Leon County GOP head calls Andrew Gillum ’embarrassing’

The chair of the capital area’s Republican Party is firing back after Democratic candidate for governor Andrew Gillum ignited a partisan firestorm this weekend over recent subpoenas into city-backed redevelopment deals.

Gillum told the Tampa Bay Times’ Windy March on Saturday, “ ‘I just know that based on the way they have come after me ever since — prior to my jumping into this race, back during Hurricane Hermine … all I can tell you there’s enough on the record” to suggest Republicans would like to sabotage his campaign.”

March, formerly The Tampa Tribune’s longtime political writer, noted Republican Gov. Rick Scott‘s criticism of the city’s response after last year’s Hurricane Hermine, claims that Gillum quickly rejected at the time.

“I think I would say the Republicans are terrified,” Gillum told March. “And I believe that they are as intent on … trying to put as much dirt on me as they can.”

March wrote: “But asked directly whether there could be political motives behind the probe, Gillum said, ‘I don’t want to make any leaps of assumptions here … I cannot ascribe that to the FBI.’ ”

Leon County Republican Party Chairman Evan Power, in a Monday statement, called it “embarrassing that Mayor Gillum would try to point to me and my fellow Republicans as the source of the problems in his campaign.”

“We did not tell him to turn down help during Hurricane Hermine, to create a political email system with tax dollars, or generate the FBI probe of Tallahassee,” Power said.

Gillum has previously denied charges he turned down the state’s hurricane response help: “Our people were practically working side-by-side in the field,” he said in September.

The mayor now is under a separate Leon County sheriff’s investigation into whether he violated the law by using a taxpayer-funded software program to send political emails to supporters.

And the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in north Florida are looking at the city’s Community Redevelopment Agency, seeking information on redevelopment projects that involve the agency. Gillum, who was not named in the subpoenas, has said FBI agents assured him he was “not the focus” of the investigation.

“It is sad that when people start hearing the real record of Mayor Gillum he has to grasp at such fantastical straws,” Power added. “Tallahassee and the State of Florida deserve much better than the failed leadership of Mayor Andrew Gillum.”

Donald Trump signs VA reform bill backed by Marco Rubio

President Donald Trump signed a bill into law aimed at reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs by allowing the secretary to dismiss bad employees.

The bill, which was sponsored by Sen. Marco Rubio, gives the VA secretary the authority to fire and demote employees. It also adds protections for whistleblowers, by prohibiting the secretary from using his or her authority to fire employees who filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel.

The measure — which passed the Senate on a voice vote, and the House on a 368-55 vote earlier this month — had the support of VA Secretary David Shulkin, and received significant bipartisan backing, including from Sen. Bill Nelson.

The bill signing comes more than three years after a 2014 scandal at the Phoenix VA medical center, where some veterans died while waiting months for an appointment. The agency has been plagued with problems, and critics have complained that too few employees have been punished over the years.

“We have seen scandal after scandal come out of the Department of Veterans Affairs, and today we turn to a new chapter. The VA Accountability and Whistleblower Protection Act puts meaningful reforms in place to ensure VA employees are fulfilling their duty to serve veterans,” said Rep. Gus Bilirakis, the vice chairman of the House Veterans’ Affairs Committee, in a statement Friday. “If a VA employee is involved in misconduct, they should be demoted, suspended, or fired. Certainly not promoted or given a bonus. If a VA employee sees misconduct and wants to report it, they should not fear retaliation. This legislation is common-sense, and strongly bipartisan.”

Bilirakis wasn’t the only member of Florida’s congressional delegation who applauded Trump for signing the bill, Rep. Tom Rooney, an Okeechobee Republican, called the measure a “necessary reform” that was “long overdue and is essential to ensuring that our veterans are receiving the very best care.”

“This new law makes clear to VA managers: get the job done, or make way for someone who can,” he said in a statement. “Our veterans deserve better, and it’s time for serious accountability and oversight. I’m hopeful that we are providing Secretary Shulkin with the tools he needs to run the agency properly.”

Trump promised to reform the VA on the campaign trail, and cast the bill signing as a fulfillment of a campaign promise.

“What happened was a national disgrace and yet some of the employees involved in these scandals remained on the payrolls,” he said. “Outdated laws kept the government from holding those who failed our veterans accountable. Today we are finally changing those laws.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

New mailer targets Jose Mallea over tax increases

Miami Republican Jose Mallea is the target of a new mailer, which claims he helped usher in a massive tax increase during his time in city government.

The mailer — which appears to be from Conservatives for Truth PC, a Coral Gables political committee — claims Mallea, who served as chief of staff to former Miami Mayor Manny Diaz played a role in “increasing taxes by $74 million on Miami residents.”

“Jose Mallea helped usher in a massive windfall of new tax revenue, to the tune of $74 million dollars,” reads the direct mail piece. “This massive tax increase was very damaging to many of us in the Miami area. Jose Mallea stood by and watched a 41 percent increase in taxes bleed many in our community dry.

The increases, according to the mailer, came during fiscal 2004-05 and fiscal 2006-07.

Mallea faces Daniel Anthony Perez in the special election to replace Rep Jose Felix Diaz in House District 116. Diaz, a Miami Republican, resigned effective Sept. 26 to run for the special election to replace Sen. Frank Artiles, who resigned amid scandal earlier this year, in Senate District 40.

Mallea has racked in several big name endorsements, including former Gov. Jeb Bush and former House Speaker Will Weatherford, and has raised $140,156. He ended the most recent fundraising period with $88,488 cash on hand.

Perez has raised $83,450, and ended the most recent fundraising period with $35,418 cash on hand.

The special GOP primary is July 25. The winner will go on to face Democrat Gabriela Mayaudon in the Sept. 26 special general election.

 

Medical marijuana implementation bill signed into law

As expected, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office on Friday announced he had signed into law two closely-watched medical marijuana bills.

Scott approved both the bill (SB 8-A) that implements the state’s medical marijuana constitutional amendment, passed by voters last year, and a companion measure (SB 6-A) that exempts caregivers’ personal information from public disclosure.

With Scott’s signature, the 78-page bill is effective immediately. That means personal-injury attorney John Morgan, who backed the constitutional amendment, could file suit as early as next week. He has said he will sue because lawmakers would not allow medical marijuana to be smoked.

“I’ll be filing my lawsuit for smoke as soon as it goes into law,” Morgan tweeted on Wednesday. Vaping and edibles are acceptable under the measure, however.

On Friday night, Morgan followed up, also on Twitter: “Thank you @FLGovScott for doing your part! I’ll be in Tally soon to file my suit. #NoSmokeIsAJoke.”

“We don’t believe you smoke medicine,” House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues said earlier this month. “We believe that smoking causes as much harm as the benefits, particularly when we’re offering vaping, which provides all of the benefits and none of the harm.”

The legislation also grandfathers in seven existing providers, now called medical marijuana treatment centers (MMTCs), with ten more online by October to serve those with qualifying medical conditions.

Until 2020, when these limits sunset, here are the rules: With each additional 100,000 patients, four more MMTCs will be added. Each MMTC will be allowed 25 retail shops, capped at a regional level. MMTCs can add five more for each 100,000 new patients.

The bill allows for caretaker certification, and makes the cannabis and attendant paraphernalia tax-exempt—a key consideration for the Florida House.

The bills, sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Rob Bradley and Sen. Dana Young, were definitely going to be signed; Scott had confirmed as much to news media.

 

Jorge Labarga names Council of Business Partners members

Chief Justice Jorge Labarga on Friday announced the first members of a panel to advise the Florida Supreme Court‘s commission on helping the state’s poor and working poor get legal help.

The Council of Business Partners will advise the Commission on Access to Civil Justice, created by Labarga in 2014.

“Employers, too, have a stake in this,” Labarga said in a statement. “Employees who have challenges accessing justice have higher absenteeism and reduced productivity.

“It is in all our interests to address access to justice,” he added.

Those appointed include:

— Tere Blanca, president and CEO of Blanca Commercial Real Estate in Miami, who will serve as liaison between the Council of Business Partners and the Commission on Access to Civil Justice.

— David Faulkenberry, president of FBMC Benefits Management, Inc., Tallahassee.

— Cathy Roth, senior vice president of legal affairs and general counsel, Universal Parks & Resorts, Orlando.

— Byron Russell, chair and CEO, Cheney Brothers, Inc., West Palm Beach. 

— Lynne Wines, Harvard University, Advanced Leadership fellow, Fort Lauderdale.

The commission has been seeking solutions to the perennial problem of providing civil legal help to those who can’t afford it. That includes things like child custody and landlord-tenant cases.

DEP doles out nearly $3 million in water grants

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) recently awarded nearly $3 million for six stormwater projects to communities across Florida, it announced in a Friday news release.

“Funded through annual appropriations from the Florida Legislature, Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL) grants support projects designed to improve water quality in  impaired springs, rivers, lakes and estuaries, which need help meeting Florida’s stringent water-quality standards,” the release said.

“The department is eager to partner with communities to improve water quality in coastal estuaries,” said Drew Bartlett, DEP’s deputy secretary for ecosystems restoration, in a statement. “Healthy waterways are a top priority for Florida’s residents and visitors.”

Here’s the rest of the release:

Specifically, the TMDL grant program provides funding assistance for communities to implement projects to better manage or treat stormwater. Stormwater runoff is generated when rain flows over land and other surfaces and does not seep into the ground. As this runoff flows over paved streets, parking lots and building rooftops, it accumulates debris, nutrients, sediment or other pollutants that could adversely affect water quality if the runoff is left untreated and runs into nearby surface waters.

Recently awarded TMDL grants for stormwater infrastructure improvements include:

Cape Coral: Awarded $800,000 for replacement of nearly 600 existing stormwater catch basin inlets throughout the city with raised inlets designed to accept runoff from roadside grassy swales. This project will help with overflow and reduce pollutants into Charlotte Harbor during intense rainfall.

Fort Myers: Awarded $250,000 for new grassy swales, sedimentation boxes, closed drainage piping and back-flow preventers throughout 379 acres of residential and commercial areas of Fort Myers Beach and Estero Bay. This project will help decrease nutrients and sedimentation into Estero Bay, Florida’s first aquatic preserve.

Village of Palmetto Bay: Awarded $550,000 for catch basin retrofits, installation of additional catch basins, sedimentation boxes, baffle boxes and exfiltration trenches throughout the village. This will help reduce pollutants flowing into Biscayne Bay, southeast Florida’s largest coastal estuary.

Pompano Beach: Awarded $300,000 for a retrofit project including grassy swales, water control structures, baffle boxes and exfiltration trenches in the Avondale community. This project will address flooding in low lying public right of way areas by intercepting stormwater runoff from those areas before it reaches three existing outfalls into the Pompano Canal, which flows into the South Fork New River, the Intracoastal Waterway and ultimately, the Atlantic Ocean.

South Miami: Awarded $100,000 for drainage improvements including storm drain systems with catch basins and exfiltration trenches along a portion of Southwest 59th Avenue. This project will improve water quality in Snapper Creek Canal and ultimately, Biscayne Bay.

Volusia County: Awarded $935,618 for drainage improvements including connection and expansion of Riviera Oaks wet detention pond to a smaller adjacent pond. This project will reduce the force of extreme storm events and reduce pollutants flowing into the Halifax River and ultimately, the Indian River Lagoon.

Since 2002, the department has awarded approximately $120 million in TMDL funding, including $6.1 million to date in fiscal year 2016-17.

Visit the TMDL Water Quality Restoration Grant Program webpage for more information on the application process and qualification requirements.

Rick Scott reappoints picks to State University System Board of Governors

Gov. Rick Scott Thursday announced the reappointment of Syd Kitson and Darlene Jordan to the Board of Governors of the State University System.

The move comes after the Florida Senate, which must confirm Scott’s appointments, failed to do so during this year’s Legislative Session.

Kitson, 58, CEO of Kitson & Partners, “had a notable career in the National Football League, playing offensive guard for both the Green Bay Packers and the Dallas Cowboys,” Scott’s statement said.

Kitson’s term runs this Thursday through Jan. 6, 2024.

Jordan, 50, the executive director of the Gerald R. Jordan Foundation, also is a member of the Fordham University Board of Trustees, the Harvard Business School Board of Dean’s Advisors, the Oxbridge Academy Board of Trustees, the Boys and Girls Club of Boston, and the Preservation Foundation of Palm Beach.

She was previously an assistant attorney general and an assistant district attorney in Massachusetts. Jordan’s term also begins now and ends Jan. 6, 2024.

Scott also appointed Alan Levine, 49, president and CEO of Mountain States Health Alliance and formerly Secretary of Health for Louisiana and Secretary of the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration.

His term runs concurrent with Kitson and Jordan.

The Board of Governors is a 17-member board that serves as the governing body for the State University System of Florida, which includes all public universities in the state of Florida.

Governor orders flags at half-staff for FHP Sgt. William T. Bishop

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered flags at half-staff to honor the late Florida Highway Patrol Sgt. William T. Bishop, who was hit by a car on Interstate 75 Saturday night.

According to news4jax.com, Bishop was outside his patrol car investigating a traffic accident in Alachua County when he was struck.

“He was taken to Shands Hospital in Gainesville, where he died,” the site reported.

Scott directed the U.S. and Florida flags at half-staff at the Columbia County Courthouse in Lake City, the Florida Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles headquarters in Tallahassee, the Troop B Station in Lake City, and at City Hall in Lake City from sunrise to sunset this Friday.

“We are heartbroken over the death of 30-year veteran FHP Sgt. William Trampas Bishop,” Scott said in a statement. “Ann and I are praying for Sergeant Bishop’s family and loved ones during this very difficult time.

“Our thoughts are also with the entire Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and Florida Highway Patrol family as they grieve the loss of Sergeant Bishop. Every day, Florida’s law enforcement officers put their lives on the line to protect and serve Florida families. This terrible loss is a somber reminder of the work our brave law enforcement officers do to keep us safe.”

Zubaly, Amy

Personnel note: Amy Zubaly named new head of FMEA

Amy Zubaly has now gone from interim to permanent executive director of the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA), and the first women to head the organization, according to a Thursday press release.

The board of directors in January had tapped Zubaly, then deputy executive director of public affairs and strategic communications, to helm the association while it looked for a new leader. She’d been with the organization for 17 years.

Longtime FMEA executive director Barry Moline resigned last year to lead the California Municipal Utilities Association (CMUA) in Sacramento.

Now, Zubaly will continue “to manage the day-to-day operations of the association, handle member and board relations, oversee the association’s government affairs, communications and education functions and provide strategic planning.”

“As we celebrate our 75th anniversary and rich history, it’s fitting that Amy—the first woman to serve as the association’s executive director—lead us into the future,” said Clay Lindstrom, FMEA President and Fort Pierce Utilities Authority General Manager.

“Amy’s long record of service to the organization and her deep understanding of the issues important to our members make her ideal for this role,” he said. “We look forward to taking the association in new directions under her leadership.”

Zubaly added: “It is a great honor to continue serving FMEA in this capacity and I deeply appreciate the board’s confidence in me. I am thankful for the opportunity to lead FMEA as we provide support and advocacy for our members today and into the future.”

Here’s more from the release: 

Originally called the Florida Municipal Utilities Association, FMEA was established in 1942 in response to World War II fuel shortages. Today, the association actively represents and advocates for member cities’ interests on a wide variety of state and federal issues, provides education and training for members and serves as a clearinghouse for industry news and information.

Municipal electric utilities provide affordable, reliable electric service, and have been doing so for more than a century. As community-owned and locally managed organizations, these utilities are focused on serving local needs and interests while reinvesting back into the community for services, such as police and fire protection.

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