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Staff Reports

Endorsements keep coming for greyhound racing-ban campaign

Former lawmaker and now Pasco County Tax Collector Mike Fasano has endorsed the Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 campaign.

The campaign announced Fasano’s support in yet another list of endorsements released late Thursday. That includes Hallandale Beach Vice Mayor Michele Lazarow

“This is an issue that has local grassroots support throughout the state,” Lazarow said in a statement. “Floridians care about dogs. Dogs are members of our families, and greyhounds are treated in a way we would never treat our own companions.”

The campaign is promoting passage of Amendment 13, put on the November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).

The proposal, which needs at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution, aims at ending commercial dog racing in the state. In Florida, live dog racing is still conducted at 11 tracks.

The latest endorsements also include:

— Hillsborough County Commissioner Ken HaganPlantation Mayor Diane Veltri Bendekovic, Hallandale Beach Mayor Keith LondonHallandale Beach City Commissioner Richard Dally, and Cutler Bay Councilman Roger Coriat

— Pinellas County Young Democrats and Speak Out Brevard. 

— Jacksonville Humane Society, Suncoast Animal League, Animal Allies, Inc., Dudley Doing Right, For Our Friends the Animals, Paws for a Cause-University of Tampa, Fido Friendly, Villages’ Greyhound Dog Club, Sunshine State’s Bichon Frise Club, Daytona Beach German Shepherd Rescue, Labrador Retriever Rescue of Florida, Lil Rascals Dog Rescue, NWFL Great Dane Rescue, Pet Rescue by Judy, Sophie’s Circle. 

Jameis Winston apologizes, vows to learn from 3-game suspension

Jameis Winston’s first order of business in training camp was apologizing to teammates.

Now, he’s appealing for continued support from unhappy fans who think he no longer deserves to be the quarterback of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

“I understand the disappointment. I’m disappointed,” the fourth-year pro said Thursday, speaking publicly for the first time since the NFL suspended him three games for violating the league’s personal conduct policy by groping a female Uber driver the winter after his rookie season.

“I should never have put myself in that situation,” Winston added. “All I can do is grow and learn from that.”

That was the underlying theme of a 10-minute media session following the Bucs’ first practice. He declined to discuss specifics about the March 2016 incident in Scottsdale, Arizona, repeatedly saying he’s focused on being a good teammate and moving forward.

“That happened after my rookie year,” Winston said. “I’ve made a lot of positive changes since then.”

The 24-year-old, who’s thrown for 11,636 yards and 69 touchdowns in three pro seasons, will miss what figures to be three of Tampa Bay’s toughest games — at New Orleans on Sept. 9, followed by home dates against defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia and Pittsburgh.

Veteran backup Ryan Fitzpatrick will take over in Winston’s absence, with Ryan Griffin — a fifth-year pro who’s yet to take a snap in a regular-season game — moving into the No. 2 role.

“It’s disappointing that Jameis put himself in that position and put our team in that position,” coach Dirk Koetter said. “But at this point, it’s done and we have to deal with it.”

Fitzpatrick, 2-1 in three starts last season as a replacement for an injured Winston, practiced with the regulars Thursday.

Griffin worked with the second-stringers, while Winston took snaps with the first, second and third teams.

Koetter did not provide details about the incident that landed his starting quarterback in trouble. He also declined to talk about what Winston said to teammates on reporting day.

“I think everybody can appreciate that what’s said in there should be between Jameis and the team,” the coach said.

And while it won’t be ideal opening the season without the No. 1 quarterback, Koetter expressed confidence that others will step up against the Saints, Eagles and Steelers, who are all defending division champions.

The Bucs, who haven’t made the playoffs since 2007, are coming off a 5-11 finish.

“I think your team has a lot of leaders. Being a leader starts with being a leader of yourself. I talk to the guys about that often,” Koetter said.

“I think that’s one of Jameis’ strengths as a football player … But right now, where we’re standing with the three-game suspension, it’s time Jameis leads from the rear,” the coach added. “And there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Winston, meanwhile, hopes fans will continue to support the Bucs as an organization, as well as him, personally.

Tampa Bay drafted him No. 1 overall despite questions about the 2013 Heisman Trophy winner’s off-the-field behavior in college.

A fellow student at Florida State said Winston raped her, but the quarterback was never charged. The university settled a Title IX lawsuit over its handling of the allegations with Winston’s accuser in January 2016 for $1.7 million.

Since joining the Bucs, Winston has started 45 of 48 games. He’s also made an impact off the field through numerous charitable endeavors.

He reiterated he plans to remain active in the Tampa Bay community, adding he “can’t let this diminish all the hard work that I’ve been doing.”

“I’ve made a lot of positive strides since I’ve been here. I have to continue to grow as a man, as a person, as a leader, as a father. I know I can’t put myself in situations like that,” Winston said.

The quarterback offered one more reason it’s imperative he correct his behavior around women — Winston’s month-old son, born one day after the NFL announced the suspension.

“So seeing things from a different perspective, and learning that I’m going to have to teach that man how to live his day-to-day life,” Winston said, “I really took it upon myself to be proactive and make sure I’m being a great example for him and my fiancee.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Flood insurance vote cheers industry leaders

Insurance industry figures welcomed the news Wednesday that the U.S. House had voted overwhelmingly to temporarily reauthorize the National Flood Insurance Program, just about one week before it was to expire.

Nat Wienecke, senior vice president of federal government relations at the Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, issued a public statement.

“PCI is pleased the House passed legislation to protect consumers and continue the National Flood Insurance Program without a lapse,” he said.

“This four-month extension provides homeowners and businesses with certainty through hurricane season. However, PCI and our members urge Congress to pass a long-term bill with reforms that will provide more consumer options and greater financial stability to the NFIP.”

The organization represents 1,000 insurance companies nationally. The vote to reauthorize was 366-52, according to published accounts. The measure heads next to the Senate.

Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier also welcomed the development.

“With the recent rain that moved through portions of Florida and regions along the Atlantic coast this past week, we have been reminded that flooding can occur at a moment’s notice,” he said. “As conversations surrounding the NFIP continue, my office will continue looking for ways to ensure Floridians insurance needs remain at the forefront.”

The state has been encouraging insurers to offer coverage outside the federal program. The number of insurers allowed to offer such coverage increased by 30 percent between June 2017 and the end of March this year, Altmaier’s office said, and the number of policies issued by about 50 percent — and usually at priced lower than the feds offer.

Critics wanted to include reforms intended to put the federal program on better financial footing — it’s running a debt of about $20 billion. As approved, the bill would put off talk about the bigger picture at least until November, the traditional end of hurricane season.

Earlier, organizations with stakes in the housing market, including the National Association of Realtors along with the National Association of Home Builders, the American Bankers Association, and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, sent Congress a letter warning that allowing the program to lapse would harm U.S. communities.

“A lapse of the NFIP, especially during the height of hurricane season, will leave millions of Americans at risk and result in severe disruption in the over 20,000 communities across the United States that depend on the NFIP,” they wrote.

“Furthermore, a lapse in the NFIP may slow down recovery efforts in Texas, Louisiana, Florida, Puerto Rico and other States impacted by the devastating 2017 hurricane season by making it harder for disaster assistance recipients to satisfy flood insurance requirements.”

 

Tom Leek, Anna Eskamani endorse greyhound amendment

State Rep. Tom Leek, an Ormond Beach Republican, and Democratic House District 47 candidate Anna Eskamani have both endorsed the Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 campaign. 

The campaign announced the endorsements late Tuesday.

Protect Dogs is promoting passage of Amendment 13, put on the November ballot by the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC).

Aimed at ending commercial dog racing in the state, the proposal needs at least 60 percent approval to be added to the state constitution, In Florida, 11 tracks still conduct live dog racing.

“After meeting with voters across House District 47, it has become clear to me that our community is deeply concerned about the humane issues greyhounds face, including confinement, injuries, and deaths,” Eskamani said in a statement.

“I am honored to join the bipartisan movement behind the Yes on Amendment 13 campaign,” she added, “and will do my part to ensure we end the cruel act of greyhound racing in the state of Florida.”

Amendment 13 has already won support from civic groups, animal shelters, animal welfare organizations, current and former state lawmakers, greyhound adoption groups, and a slew of elected and appointed officials and candidates.

The campaign also released yet another list of new endorsements:

Dana Cottrell for Congress (District 11)

Brad Sostack for Congress (District 13)

Kay Gray for Florida Senate (District 12)

Annisa Karim for Florida Senate (District 28)

Jim Bonfiglio for Florida House (District 89)

Vicki Garrett for Florida House (District 1)

David TK Hayes for Florida House (District 38)

Kubs Lalchandani for Florida House (District 113)

Carol Lawrence for Florida House (District 27)

Sandra Lewis for Florida House (District 46)

Phil Moore for Florida House (District 53)

Nicholas Mrozowski for Florida House (District 55)

Jonathan “JP” Parker for Florida House (District 113)

Katie Tripp for Florida House (District 25)

Joe Wicker for Florida House (District 59)

James Holcombe for Ormond Beach City Commission (Zone 4)

Bobby Agagnina for Seminole County School Board (District 4)

Judge preliminarily orders end to ban on early voting on campus

A federal judge has granted a preliminary injunction in a federal lawsuit over the state’s prohibition on early voting at college and university campuses.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in Tallahassee issued the order Tuesday. That means until further notice, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner can’t enforce the ban.

Republican Gov. Rick Scott’s administration has opposed the suit, defending its interpretation of state law to leave out state university buildings from those sites available for early voting.

The plaintiffs in the lawsuit include students at the University of Florida and Florida State.

“Gov. Scott is proud to have signed the largest expansion of early voting in the state’s history. We will review this ruling,” said McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for the governor.

In response, League of Women Voters of Florida president Patricia Brigham offered the following statement: “This is truly a victory for the citizens of Florida, especially with so many young people motivated to vote.

“The court ruling demonstrates that making it easier for our students to vote truly matters. This is the right decision, at the right time, for our democratic process.

“With this decision, we have an affirmation that making early voting accessible to all is part of a true democracy. We especially congratulate the students who raised their voices for a fair democracy. These young leaders are a positive example to us all.”

Family wants gunman charged after fatal parking lot dispute

The family of a Florida man who was fatally shot by another man he had pushed to the ground demanded Tuesday that prosecutors file charges against the gunman, despite protections that the state’s “stand your ground” law might offer.

The family of Markeis McGlockton issued an appeal through an attorney for the public to put pressure on State Attorney Bernie McCabe to file charges against Michael Drejka, a white man who fatally shot the black father of three last Thursday during an argument over a handicapped parking space outside a convenience store.

“We implore the community and the nation to contact the office of Bernie McCabe … and demand that a decision to file charges against Michael Drejka be made,” family members said in a statement.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri last week announced he wasn’t going to arrest Drejka and turned the case over to the State Attorney’s Office for a decision on charges.

Drejka confronted McGlockton’s girlfriend about parking in a handicapped space without a permit while she waited in a car outside a convenience store, authorities said. After exiting the store and seeing the argument, McGlockton shoved Drejka to the ground, and Drejka pulled out his gun. A second or two later, Drejka shot McGlockton in the chest, according to surveillance video from the store.

The case fell under Florida’s controversial “stand your ground” law, which allows people to use force without retreating if they feel threatened, the sheriff said.

“I’m not saying I agree with it, but I don’t make that call,” Gualtieri said at a news conference last Friday.

The few seconds between when Drejka hit the ground and fired the shot “gives me pause,” the sheriff said.

But the case is a classic example of the “stand your ground” law, some legal experts said Tuesday. The law gained national prominence in 2012 after neighborhood watch captain George Zimmerman fatally shot unarmed black teenager Trayvon Martin, claiming self-defense. Zimmerman, a white Hispanic, ended up waiving his right to a self-defense immunity hearing and was acquitted of criminal charges at trial.

Nova Southeastern University law professor Shahabudeen Khan said Drejka could have felt threatened while on the ground.

“The key issue that would help the gunman, it’s the physical position on the ground he is in because of that initial push,” Khan said. “He fell on the ground. He is in a weak physical position and posture even if there is a few-second pause.”

Added Khan, “The law allows him to do exactly what he did. That is stand your ground.”

For the past 13 years, Florida’s “stand your ground” law has eliminated a citizen’s duty to retreat before using deadly force in responding to an apparent threat. A change to the law last year switched the burden of proof from defense attorneys making a case for it to prosecutors having to disprove the self-defense claim.

The change to the law likely contributed to the sheriff’s office punting a decision to the State Attorney’s Office, said Orlando defense attorney David Hill, who is not involved with the case.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press

Delegation for 7.24.18 — Insights from the Beltway to the Sunshine State

FBI surveillance tactics have ally in Rubio

In a huge document dump on Saturday, the FBI released a heavily-redacted version of the bureau’s request to initiate surveillance on a lower-level staffer of the Donald Trump for President campaign. The timing could not have been better for setting up the focus of the Sunday talk shows.

Despite the lack of full context, Republicans said it confirmed what they said all along; there was too much reliance on an “unsubstantiated” dossier to seek a FISA surveillance warrant on campaign staffer Carter Page. Democrats said it confirmed what they had said all along that Page was targeted by Russia as a possible asset, making it necessary to listen to his conversations.

With that backdrop, the Sunday shows proved to be interesting. Page told CNN the reasoning stated in the FISA application is “so ridiculous, it’s just beyond words” and “literally, a complete joke.”

Marco Rubio breaks with Donald Trump, saying FBI ‘did not spy’ on campaign. (Image via Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)

While Florida Republican Congressmen Matt Gaetz and Ron DeSantis have loudly proclaimed misbehavior by the FBI and the U.S. Department of Justice, their fellow Republican, Sen. Marco Rubio has stood up for both. He did so again during Sunday’s Face the Nation program on CBS.

“So they look at all this information and say we have a guy here who is always in Russia, brags about Russian, and we have reason to believe and they list those reasons why this someone we should be watching and they follow the legal process by which to do so,” Rubio said. “I think that’s different from spying on a campaign.”

Rubio, a member of the Senate Intelligence Committee, has frustrated many in his party for not being more outspoken on the FBI’s use of what is known as the “Steele Dossier” as part of the application process. The operatives who produced the document were paid by the Democratic National Committee and the Hillary Clinton campaign.

Moderate Republican Lindsey Graham of South Carolina disagreed with his Republican colleague. Appearing on the same program, Graham said the surveillance was “not at all” justified.

Graham said the whole FISA process needs to be reviewed and described the dossier as “a piece of garbage.” During the interview, Graham also pointed out Trump’s inability to separate an important inquiry from what Trump calls a “witch hunt.”

“You didn’t collude with the Russians, or at least I haven’t seen any evidence, but Mr. President, they meddled in the elections,” Graham said to the camera. “They stole [John] Podesta’s emails. They hacked into the DNC.”

For his part, Rubio has indicated that he also believes there was no collusion with the Trump campaign and the Russians, because if evidence existed, it would have leaked long ago. DeSantis echoed that on Monday.

Next up will likely be a fight to release a full, unredacted (as much as possible) version of the FISA application.

Nelson helps secure extension for Haitian workers

Many among the more than 30,000 Haitians living in Florida under the Temporary Protected Status Program (TPS) were facing yet another deadline. With their designation set to run out late last week, many could immediately lose their jobs.

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson was among those sounding the alarm bell and urging the Department of Homeland Security give them another extension. In a letter to DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, he requested the department’s “immediate attention.”

Bill Nelson, shown here visiting Correct Craft in Orlando last week, is helping Haitian refugees in the U.S.

By Friday, the administration took action. The Trump administration said it was “automatically extending the validity of certain employment authorization documents” for another six months.

In other words, those Haitians would not lose their jobs because of the deadline. Nelson tweeted the news.

“Per our request, DHS just announced they are automatically extending work authorization for all 4,650 Haitian TPS beneficiaries whose applications were still pending as of today,” he said.

Rubio: ‘Strong U.S. reaction coming’ to Nicaraguan regime

With violence escalating in Nicaragua, Rubio believes that at the current pace, a civil war is coming. On a Sunday appearance on CNN’s “State of the Union,” Rubio blasted Marxist President Daniel Ortega for undermining democratic reforms ad predicted things could get much worse.

“My biggest fear about Nicaragua is, unlike Venezuela, the possibility of arms — of a civil war in Nicaragua is real,” Rubio said. “It would trigger a migratory crisis. It would undermine our anti-drug efforts in the region.”

Marco Rubio warns that escalation of Nicaragua’s months-long crisis “would trigger a migratory crisis.”

Rubio described Ortega as an “old and dying man,” whose desperate desire to cling to power has led to recent escalating violence in the country. He pledged that Ortega and his wife, who serves as the country’s vice-president, will pay “a big price for their crimes against their own people.”

In a tweet, the two-term senator said the current regime has “no future in power,” and a “strong U.S. reaction is coming. He pledged additional sanctions against Nicaragua and individuals associated with the regime for the recent crackdown government protesters.

Dems want Trump interpreter to appear before Congress

Marina Gross is not a well-known name in Washington, but if Democrats have their way, millions will know who she is and how she sounds.

Gross was Trump’s interpreter during his one-on-one meetings with Russian President Vladimir Putin last week in Helsinki. With Trump seemingly doubting Russia’s culpability in election meddling, and his subsequent correction, Democrats want to know what was actually said in the meeting and are calling to subpoena Gross.

Democrats want interpreter Marina Gross to spill the beans on Helsinki.

“Given the public concessions President Trump made to Vladimir Putin by siding against the US intelligence community, law enforcement, and our military officials about Russia’s attack on our democracy, Congress and the American public deserve to know the details of their private conversation,” New Jersey Democratic Rep. Bill Pascrell said in a letter.

Such a move would be controversial and likely unprecedented. No one asked could remember an interpreter ever being subpoenaed to testify before Congress.

“If you did that, then no one would ever serve as an interpreter in the future,” Rubio told Fox News.

Pascarell acknowledged the unique nature of the demand, but “Trump’s actions are unprecedented in a way that harms our national security.”

In an interview with The Hill newspaper, Gaetz said: “I don’t think that when two leaders get together, there’s an expectation that their translators would be testifying about their private conversations.”

Senate confirms new VA secretary

Interim Secretary Robert Wilkie was confirmed Monday as the permanent Secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) with a bipartisan vote. He replaces David Shulkin, who officially resigned, but said he was forced out.

The VA is the second largest department in the U.S. government with more than 350,000 employees, a $200 billion-dollar budget and almost 20 million American veterans depending on it for care and benefits. Wilkie is a Navy veteran and a current member of the Air Force Reserves.

Senators confirmed Robert Wilkie as the new VA Secretary.

He inherits a VA that is commissioning ambitious changes in the next year, including a significant overhaul of ways to pay for private care, a realignment of the VA’s aging infrastructure, and an expansion of a caregiver program for disabled vets. All of these were supplementary to the passing of the VA Mission Act, which Congress is now working on ways to fund.

Considering how Shulkin, many senior staff, subject matter experts and career officials were fired and or resigned, Wilkie faces many challenges. Some Democrats feared a political purge of the department was underway.

While the 86-9 vote to confirm seems impressive, the vote for a VA Secretary is ordinarily unanimous to show a shared sense of the importance of a unified effort on behalf of the country’s veterans. Both Rubio and Nelson voted to confirm.

 Gaetz pleased not to make news with legendary prankster

A comedy program has visited Capitol Hill and other parts of America. The latest gag from British comedian Sacha Baron Cohen, he of “Borat” fame, had him posing in a number of disguises to get prominent figures from Sarah Palin to Bernie Sanders, to say and do some goofy things in front of a camera.

Matt Gaetz speaking to ‘terrorist terminator’ Col. Erran Morad (Sacha Baron Cohen) in Showtime’s ‘Who is America?’

One of those “interviewed” was Gaetz. During the first week of Cohen’s comedy program “Who is America” on Showtime, he tried to get Gaetz to support arming “three and four-year-olds with firearms.”

Fortunately for Gaetz, he did not take the bait. However, in another segment, Republican state Rep. Jason Spencer actually dropped his pants and yelled a racial slur on camera.

“I think it’s hilarious that Sacha Baron Cohen duped me into an interview and got some of my colleagues to say some bizarre things,” Gaetz told Fox News’ Martha MacCallum. “It was all very normal until the questioning went a little awry and something did not seem right to me and so I was trying to say something that was not all that newsworthy.”

Others weren’t so fortunate.

Soto ad punches back at Grayson

With the primaries a little more than a month away, it is starting to get a bit personal in the District 9 Democratic matchup between incumbent Darren Soto and former Rep. Alan Grayson. After Grayson began running an ad accusing Soto of ignoring hurricane victims, Soto ended a pledge to run a positive campaign by launching an attack ad of his own.

The ad, which began running on Friday, starts with “Alan Grayson is at it again, this time lying about Darren Soto.” If further accuses Grayson of leading a “double life running a hedge fund in Congress where he tried to profit off natural disasters in a shady Cayman Islands account.”

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

Grayson responded with a statement saying “When we go high, Soto goes low,” he said. “To attack an ad of ours that is 100 percent true as dishonest demonstrates that Darren Soto can even lie about lying.”

The ad, which ran on at least four Orlando television stations, also took pains to point out Soto’s efforts to help Central Florida after Hurricane Irma struck. Soto “led the fight for Puerto Rican evacuees and stopped Trump from cutting off food and water aid to the island,” it says.

Crist bringing Kennedy to rally

One of the remaining members of the Kennedy dynasty will be in Florida campaigning soon. Massachusetts Democratic Rep. Joseph Kennedy III will join his Democratic colleague, Rep. Charlie Crist, in St. Petersburg for an event to promote finding solutions to fix the struggling Affordable Care Act.

The #ProtectOurCareEvent will take place on August 7 and will focus on “fighting attempts to undermine protections for those with pre-existing conditions, holding ‘Big Pharma’ accountable for rising prescription drug prices, and calling on Florida to expand Medicaid.”

Charlie Crist is bringing Joseph Kennedy III to Florida for a rally.

While Crist is not in any apparent danger in his re-election race to district 13, he should expect some kind words from Kennedy. Crist tweeted the impending arrival of the grandson of Robert F. Kennedy in a tweet.

“Excited to welcome @JoeKennedy to St. Pete next month to #ProtectOurCare by supporting the #ACA, Medicaid expansion, and fighting efforts to repeal protections for those with pre-existing conditions.”

The event begins at noon in St. Petersburg’s Williams Park.

Deutch calls for Homeland Security chief to resign

Remarks made by Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen has brought calls for her resignation with the latest coming from Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton. During an interview with NBC’s Peter Alexander at the Aspen Security Forum, Deutch accused Nielsen of being untruthful.

During the interview, Nielsen said that Russian election interference was not intended “to favor a particular political party.” When asked if the hacking of Democratic Party emails was designed to help Trump, Nielsen responded by only saying she agreed with the assessment of the intelligence community.

Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen is facing calls to resign.

Deutch was also critical of Nielsen’s description of the policy that has led to the separation of children from adults at the border.

“Secretary Nielsen has repeatedly spread misinformation and lied to the American people,” he said. “Just [last] week, she claimed that the child separation policy was the result of court rulings — not the intended result of the Trump administration’s own cruel policies.”

“She also said she has yet to see any evidence that Russia orchestrated a cyberattack on our democracy to support President Trump’s candidacy,” Deutch continued. “In both cases, she is ignoring the facts and denying reality.”

Deutch believes that Nielsen’s comments, as well as her role in Trump’s immigration policy, are grounds for her to tender her resignation.

“By rejecting facts and refusing to directly face obvious security threats, Secretary Nielsen is betraying our values and failing to lead the agency responsible for public security. Secretary Nielsen should resign.”

Diaz-Balart announces passage of large funding bill

Everglades restoration will continue to move along if funding approved by the House becomes part of a final budget. Republican Rep. Mario Diaz-Balart said more than $63 million in restoration funds was included in environmental appropriations passed late last week.

Diaz-Balart, a senior member of the House Appropriations Committee and chairman of the Transportation Subcommittee, highlighted the continued progress of Everglades restoration and the funding for other ecosystem programs.

Mario Diaz-Balart is announcing significant funding for Everglades restoration. 

“The Interior Appropriations legislation funds continued restoration of the Everglades, preserving this natural treasure for future generations,” Diaz-Balart said in a news release. “I have fought for adequate funding to support the restoration process, and I believe this year’s funding of $63.83 million is a significant accomplishment,” Diaz-Balart said in a news release.

Other items included in the package: funding for national parks, water infrastructure, and the land and water conservation fund, among many others.

The funding bill passed by a vote of 217-199 with all delegation Democrats voting against it. Except for Vern Buchanan of Longboat Key, all Republicans voted in favor.

Curbelo’s carbon tax bill faces long odds in House

Knowing his proposed bill will almost surely fail, Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo of Kendall is plowing ahead anyway. Curbelo’s Market Choice Act imposes a $24 per ton levy on carbon monoxide emissions while eliminating other taxes.

Its prospects are dim at best. Last week, the GOP-led House passed by a 229-180 vote, a “sense of Congress” resolution that states carbon taxes “would be detrimental to the United States economy.”

Carlos Curbelo is pushing a long-shot carbon tax bill.

Even if his bill fails, Curbelo said the issue is not going away. In fact, he predicts Republicans will eventually come around to it.

“I truly believe that one day this bill, or legislation similar to it, will become law,” Curbelo said on Monday.

Curbelo is the co-founder and co-chairman of the House Climate Change Caucus, along with Democratic Rep. Ted Deutch of Boca Raton. Deutch slammed the resolution soon after its passage.

“It is astounding that House Republicans would pass an anti-climate resolution with outrageous and factually dubious claims that rejects outright one viable option for addressing climate change,” he said.

Along with most Republicans, Curbelo has the most powerful anti-tax organization in Washington opposed to it. Americans for Tax Reform, headed by Grover Norquist, is all in to ensure the bill fails.

“Carbon doesn’t pay taxes, families pay taxes,” Norquist said during an appearance at the National Press Club. “This is just the most recent attempt by the left to find a way to get into your pockets.”

Under the bill’s provisions, the carbon tax would increase each year, but other taxes would go away. If enacted, taxes on gasoline and aviation fuel would go away.

On this day in the headlines

July 22, 1969 — America’s moon explorers shot themselves out of lunar orbit this morning and began the 240,000-mile journey home to earth. Behind them, they left the historic little craft named Eagle that carried Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin to the surface of the moon and a towering place in history.

USSR Premier Alexei Kosygin complimented the U.S. on their success on landing astronauts on the moon. He made the comments during a meeting with former Vice President Hubert Humphrey.

July 22, 2006 — The House voted overwhelmingly to extend the USA Patriot Act, the nation’s main anti-terrorism tool, just hours after televisions in the Capitol beamed images of a new attack in London. Most Democrats supported the concept but expressed concern about an intrusion on civil liberties.

The measure passed by a vote of 257-171. Forty-three Democrats joined 214 Republicans voting in favor.

Year-long celebration of Apollo 11 mission kicks off

At this time 49 years ago, astronauts Neil ArmstrongBuzz Aldrin and Michael Collins were racing back to earth after successfully landing on the moon (see above). Planning is underway to celebrate the 50th anniversary next year.

On Saturday, the Apollo Celebration Gala was the kickoff for a year-long celebration marking the legendary event. The Saturday gala was a sold-out affair at the Kennedy Space Center.

An education-fundraising gala is held under the Apollo Saturn V Rocket at Kennedy Space Center Visitor Complex to kick-off a 12-month celebration of 50 years since the Apollo 11 moon landing.

Among the award winners was Virgin Atlantic’s Richard Branson, who is also involved in space flights. He said none of what he has accomplished in the latter category could have happened “had it not been for Apollo astronauts” and those that supported them.

The involvement of the astronauts is unknown. Armstrong died in 2012, while Collins is 87 and Aldrin is 88 years old. Neither attended Saturday’s event.

Ross Spano recovering from ‘mild cardiac event’

Republican state Rep. Ross Spano is recovering from a “mild cardiac event” he suffered Sunday.

Spano, a candidate for Congressional District 15, was transported to a nearby hospital after the health complication, which followed a strenuous workout.

“His prognosis is good, and he is expected to make a full and complete recovery,” spokesperson Sandi Poreda wrote in an email to reporters on Monday.

In a statement, Spano said he expects to return to the campaign trail “very soon.” He is up against former state Rep. Neil Combee in the CD 15 Republican primary. The district’s territory covers parts of Lake, Hillsborough and Polk counties.

“I want to thank the first responders, nurses and doctors for the exceptional care and treatment they have provided me and my family,” said Spano. “They are true heroes.”

“Amie and I also deeply appreciate the outpouring of support and prayers we’ve received from the members of this community,” he added. “God has work for me to do, and I’m grateful I have the opportunity to serve Him through my service to my constituents and our country.”

AAA: Price of gas goes down some more

Gasoline prices declined for the ninth consecutive day on Sunday, the AAA reported Monday.

Gas prices in Florida dropped 5 cents during the past week. The average price for gasoline in Florida is averaging $2.75 per gallon.

Sunday’s state average is 3.5 cents more than a month ago, and 55 cents more than this time last year.

The most expensive gas price averages in Florida are in West Palm Beach-Boca Raton ($2.86), Miami ($2.82), and Crestview-Fort Walton Beach ($2.82).

The least expensive gas price averages in Florida are in Punta Gorda ($2.66), Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater ($2.70), and Orlando ($2.70).

The national average declined 4 cents during the past week. Sunday’s average of $2.84 per gallon is 2 cents less than a month ago, yet remains 56 cents more than last year.

“Oil prices averaged $3-$5 less than the previous three weeks, allowing gas prices to lose value,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman for AAA-The Auto Club Group.

“Although prices are lower, there is still volatility at the pump as gasoline demand remains high during the summer driving season and global supply concerns persist.”

Market prices were mixed last week due to higher oil production and supplies versus lower gasoline stocks in the face of strong demand.

The latest supply report from the Energy Information Administration (EIA) showed U.S. crude production finally reached the much-anticipated 11-million-b/d mark. Conversely, gasoline stocks dropped as demand ramped up.

For gas price tools, visit GasPrices.AAA.com, download the AAA Mobile app or check the AAA Gas Cost Calculator.

Fetish video producer’s prison term nears end

Jeffrey Williams

A fetish video producer imprisoned for exploiting homeless people will soon be released from prison.

Jeffrey Williams, owner of J.P. Productions and the force behind kink website SheFights.net, made national headlines when videos of scantily clad women beating “hobos” outraged advocates for the homeless and mentally ill.

The videos were made in Tampa Bay, many in Williams’ St. Petersburg townhome and pushed out across a number of digital platforms including SheFights.net and ShePunishes.com.

The State Attorney’s Office in Pinellas County learned the company paid homeless individuals $25 to $50 to be beaten for extended periods of time on camera. In 2014, prosecutors took Williams and Zuzu Vergo, a performer in videos, to court on charges of aggravated abuse of a disabled person.

A jury in 2014 found both Williams and Vargo guilty. A judge in 2014 sentenced Vargo to three years in prison; she was released in June 2016. Williams, sentenced to seven years, will be released on Oct. 1 according to the state Department of Corrections.

During his sentencing hearing, Williams said he was unaware one of the men paid to be on the video was schizophrenic. The sadomasochistic fantasy videos worked on the principle no one faces more pain than they desire or consent to receive, he argued.

“I deeply regret the pain and the anguish that we caused,” Williams said in court, according to the Tampa Bay Times.

In an email later released by the team at ShePunishes.net, Williams remained adamant about his innocence.

“We never coerced or manipulated anyone to be in our videos and we are confident we will win on appeal,” Williams wrote. “The state allowed the jury to be swayed by manipulative and lurid allegations and emotionally charged ‘evidence’ that we took advantage of a participant that was never adjudicated to be mentally incompetent.”

But Williams’ appeal did not succeed. In 2013, four homeless men featured in the videos won a civil case against Williams and his company, and a judge ordered Williams and his business to pay each of the men $14,000 and cover attorney’s fees.

Williams, who appeared in some SheFights.net videos himself, previously promised filming would resume once he was released from prison.

SheFights.net and other domains remain dormant except for third-party sponsored listings, and the company Twitter handle @shefights has not been updated since April 2012.

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