Headlines Archives - Florida Politics

Florida State gives big bonus, raise to President Thrasher

For the third year in a row, Florida State University President John Thrasher is getting a substantial bonus and another boost in pay.

FSU trustees on Friday voted to boost Thrasher’s annual salary by 7 percent to $555,560. Trustees also agreed to give him a $200,000 bonus for his performance. Last year, Thrasher was given a $100,000 bonus. Thrasher later this year will also get a 1.45 percent raise being given to all FSU employees.

Trustees said they were giving him a raise because they’re pleased with his performance. They noted that FSU’s national rankings have jumped during his time in office.

FSU is also extending Thrasher’s contract by another year. This means he would stay as president until 2020. If he stays on the job until then, he would get a $400,000 bonus.

FDP trades $150K with Ohio party; likely to spend in SD 40 special election

The Florida Democratic Party traded funds with the Ohio Democratic Party earlier this month, but neither party has said how the transferred money would be used.

FDP sent the Ohio party $150,000 from its federal account in exchange for funds that can be used for state-level expenses. Different rules apply to state and federal contributions and parties don’t mix the funds in the same accounts.

The Florida-to-Ohio transfer went through Aug. 9 and was reported to the Federal Election Commission in the Democratic Executive Committee of Florida’s most recent finance report, which covers through the end of August.

FDP spokeswoman Johanna Cervone wouldn’t confirm the party traded federal funds for state campaign money and only commented that the deal helped FDP “effectively allocate” resources.

The party is likely using at least some of the money to bolster Annette Taddeo’s campaign in Miami-based Senate District 40, where she faces Republican Rep. Jose Felix Diaz in the race to replace Frank Artiles.

Both parties have dumped plenty of resources into the race, and each see it as a sort of bellwether for whether voter lines are shifting since Donald Trump’s election – especially the Democratic Party.

FDP hasn’t had to report its finances to the state since July, but due to special fundraising deadlines for the truncated election cycle, Taddeo’s most recent campaign finance report provides a window into how much is being pumped into the race by FDP and other Democratic committees.

On Thursday alone, the Miami Democratic Party put $45,000 in cash into Taddeo’s campaign account, while another $47,133 in “in kind” benefits came from FDP for campaign staff. The state party has also given Taddeo’s campaign about $47,000 in cash since Aug. 23.

The Florida Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, controlled by incoming Senate Minority Leader Jeff Clemens, has also chipped in substantially. Between Aug. 11 and Aug. 24, it sent $45,000 in cash to Taddeo, and has provided another $136,000 in kind, including staffing, polls, phone banking and research.

FDP will find out Tuesday whether all the effort and money put into the race will tip the scales toward Taddeo, who has run several unsuccessful campaigns in the past few years.

Early voting numbers show Republicans with a significant advantage in turnout in a district that already has a slight GOP edge. By Tuesday, Republicans had a 1,251-vote advantage based on party registration alone and even assuming independents break 60-40 for Taddeo, that still leaves her in the hole.

Toll suspension cost $3 million a day

More than $45 million in revenue is believed to have been lost when the state suspended highway toll collections to help speed evacuations and relief efforts for Hurricane Irma, Florida’s Turnpike system estimates.

However, the estimated $3 million-a-day impact is not expected to hinder operations of the system or ongoing work programs, “as impacts such as toll suspensions due to a hurricane are taken into consideration during the annual budgeting process,” turnpike spokesman Chad Huff said in an email Friday.

Funding 404 full-time positions, the turnpike system is budgeted at $1.57 billion for the current fiscal year, which began July 1.

Tolls were lifted by Gov. Rick Scott on Sept. 5 in advance of Hurricane Irma’s trek across Florida. Toll collections resumed at 12:01 a.m. Thursday across the state, though they remained suspended on the Homestead Extension of Florida’s Turnpike south of State Road 874 in southern Miami-Dade County, as Monroe County recovery efforts continue.

Irma made initial landfall Sept. 10 in Monroe County and a second landfall in Collier County before traveling north and exiting the state Sept. 11.

As Irma approached Florida, an estimated 6.3 million people were directed through mandatory or voluntary evacuations to find shelter inland or further away.

The state has not estimated how many people took to the road in advance of the storm.

The Florida Department of Transportation also suspended construction, clearing work zones to reduce traffic impacts for evacuees.

The turnpike system backed the governor’s toll suspension.

“Governor Scott’s top priority was to keep people safe as our state faced the threat of Hurricane Irma and to ensure Floridians had no reason to not evacuate if they were in evacuation zones,” Huff wrote. “Suspending tolls was critical to helping Floridians travel safely and quickly during the largest ever evacuation in U.S. history.”

Also Friday:

– Scott continued to focus on debris removal, which he earlier blamed for slowing efforts to restore power lost from storm and causing public health issues.

Scott on Thursday invited debris removal companies to contact the Florida Department of Transportation – if willing to work “at a fair price” – as he’s received complaints from local governments about debris-removal contractors not abiding by pre-storm contracts.

– Scott expanded license-free freshwater and saltwater fishing through June 30, 2018, for utility workers. The same offer was provided for Florida law-enforcement officers and first responders on Thursday. The offer includes free day passes to Florida state parks through October 2018.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Elderly deaths: Call for generators in Florida nursing homes

After 11 nursing home residents died in the sweltering heat of hurricane-induced power outages, Florida’s nursing home industry is now on a collision course with Gov. Rick Scott.

Days after Hurricane Irma ravaged the state, Scott used his emergency powers to put in place new rules that require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators capable of providing backup power for four days. The Republican governor, who normally brags about eliminating regulations on businesses, gave nursing homes 60 days to comply.

Nursing home officials say they can’t.

They say it’s not just the multimillion-dollar price-tag that will come with acquiring large generators for hundreds, maybe thousands, of homes. During a daylong summit by the industry Friday, engineers and contractors and others who operate nursing homes said it will be practically impossible to purchase, install and get permits to put generators and supplies of fuel in place by the November deadline.

“Compliance with the rule is impossible and time is running out,” said Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, an association that represents both nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

So far, the Scott administration isn’t backing down.

Justin Senior, the state’s top health care regulator, said the state will “aggressively” enforce the mandate, which calls for fines for those homes that fail to comply.

Senior showed up at the nursing home industry summit to explain the logic behind the rule. He said that Irma’s unpredictable path showed that is no longer acceptable for nursing homes to merely say they plan to evacuate patients when a storm is looming.

“Evacuation plans generally fell through,” said Senior, the secretary for the Agency for Health Care Administration. “There was no place to run; there was no place to hide.”

Police in Hollywood are currently investigating why the 11 patients died after Irma knocked out air-conditioning at a nursing home there, even though just across the street was a fully functioning and cooled hospital. The latest death reported is that of 94-year-old Alice Thomas, who died Thursday, and police said they are treating that as part of their criminal investigation of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills and its employees.

Eight patients died on Sept. 13, three days after Irma knocked out the home’s air conditioning. Three have died this week. Overall, 145 patients were taken from the home. The dead have ranged from 78 to 99 years old. No one has been charged.

The state has suspended the home’s license. The home has filed a lawsuit trying to overturn the state’s actions.

Senior, who called the deaths “painful” and “haunting,” said he was aware of some of the industry’s complaints, but he had a strong warning:

“We think very strongly of the cost of not complying with this rule is greater than the cost of compliance,” Senior said.

Senior did tell the nursing homes that the generators do not have to be large enough to cool their entire building. Instead, he said, they need to be large enough to keep patients safe in a cooled environment.

The tough stance that the Scott administration is taking with the nursing home industry runs counter to the governor’s usual attitude toward regulation, especially in the health care field. Scott, a multimillionaire who never ran for office before getting elected in 2010, once ran the nation’s largest chain of hospitals before he was forced out of his job as the head of Columbia/HCA.

The industry could challenge Scott’s decision to put the emergency rule in place since it is not currently a requirement under state law. Kristen Knapp, a spokeswoman for one nursing home trade group, the Florida Health Care Association, said the group was “exploring all of its options.”

Bahmer called a possible legal challenge “absolutely the last consideration.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Floridians line up for FEMA assistance

More than 1 million Floridians homeowners and renters have registered for federal individual assistance following Hurricane Irma.

The Florida Division of Emergency Management reported that the daily number of applicants since Hurricane Irma exited the state Sept. 11 “is steadily increasing.”

The Federal Emergency Management Agency program, available to residents in 48 counties, includes a wide range of assistance.

As of Thursday, nine counties each had more than 50,000 people register for individual assistance: Miami-Dade, 203,832; Broward, 113,890; Orange, 65,694; Lee, 65,662; Pinellas, 60,132; Palm Beach, 55,248; Hillsborough, 52,630; Polk, 52,285; and Duval, 50,932.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Bill Nelson: Graham/Cassidy would ‘eviscerate’ Medicaid

During a low-key Jacksonville media availability with our site and a couple of local TV stations, he was handed a magenta post-it note during questions about the Graham/Cassidy health care bill.

That note’s content, per Nelson: “John McCain has just announced that he’s going to vote against this latest version — which is very similar to that last version he voted against.”

“The indication is that the Senator from Kentucky [Rand Paul] is voting no. If Sen. Susan Collins of Maine votes as she indicated she’s going to vote,” Nelson continued, “then the vote will end up being the same vote that we had last time, which was the last week of July.”

Some good news for the Senator, who obviously opposes the bill, on a Friday afternoon.

___

Before being passed the note, Nelson had noted that “this latest version of the health care bill was something that had been voted on many times. It basically would throw 30 million people off of health insurance, and it would completely end Medicaid as we know it, by cutting out $700 million over ten years.”

“For the state of Florida,” Nelson added, “it would cut out $20 billion out of Medicaid over a decade. This is not something that should be done, and again it’s going to be a razor thin vote that we’ll have next week.”

Razor-thin, indeed.

“The debate and the vote this coming week is whether you’re going to end Medicaid as we know it for poor people, disabled, and veterans,” Nelson said, and “whether or not some 30 million people will lose health insurance that they have under the current law.”

“That’s the debate,” Nelson continued, “that’s what we’re going to be voting on this week.”

____

After being passed the note, his answer was essentially the same.

“When [repeal] cuts out some 30 million people from their health insurance,” Nelson said, “no, I don’t think that’s good for the country. It’s certainly not good for those people who have health insurance now, for the first time.”

“And to cut Medicaid for poor people and disabled and senior citizens in nursing homes as well as veterans, to cut away their health care by eviscerating Medicaid, no — I don’t think that’s good. And that’s why I’ve voted as I have.

ABC reopens midtown Tallahassee store

Lobbyists, lawmakers and others will “be celebrating”: ABC Fine Wines & Spirits has reopened its midtown Tallahassee store on Thomasville Road.

The location, closed since March 1, opened its doors again Friday after a demolition and new construction that cost the Orlando-based company over $2 million.

It was the first store to go “completely dark” in the company’s 81-year history, said Butch Devlin, ABC’s senior vice president. Now, a lighted sign with the ABC motto, “Always Be Celebrating,” greets customers as they walk in.

It’s been long frequented by players in The Process, mainly for wines: “This is a great wine store for us, and a great community to be in,” Devlin said.

The new store on the same site now boasts a more open, 10,000-square-foot layout, a taller ceiling, bigger cigar humidor and a new walk-in cooler for beer cases.

It has a central “activity center” where customers can buy and fill glass craft-beer “growlers” or the can variety known as “crowlers.” Wine and spirit tastings also will be held there.

ABC, which has 125 stores across the state, plans to renovate 12 more.

The midtown store, at 1930 Thomasville Road, is open seven days a week: 9 a.m.-10 p.m. Monday-Thursday, 9 a.m.-11 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m.-7 p.m. Sunday.

Restoration of electricity almost complete

Power was back as of midday Friday for all but 13,735 homes and businesses in Florida, primarily in four counties that were hit hardest by Hurricane Irma on Sept. 10 and Sept. 11, according to the state Division of Emergency Management.

At the peak, Irma knocked out electricity to 6.7 million homes and businesses.

In Monroe County 3,986 homes and businesses were still offline, 6 percent of the customers.

Hardee County had 1,019 of homes and businesses without power, or about 5 percent.

Collier County was down to 2 percent without power, or 5,109 customers.

Lee County was at 1 percent, or 3,452 homes and businesses.

Smaller numbers – 25 to 54 – of outages remained in Broward, Charlotte, Glades and Polk counties.

A state update indicated 1,530 of those without power were customers of Florida Power & Light in Collier and Lee counties. The rest of the power outages are customers of municipal utilities or electric cooperatives.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Flags at half-staff for St. Lucie County sheriff’s captain

Gov. Rick Scott has ordered flags at half-staff in memory of St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Capt. Charles Scavuzzo, the Governor’s Office said Thursday night.

Flags will be flown at half-staff at the St. Lucie County Courthouse, St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office, Port St. Lucie City Hall and the County Administration Building in Fort Pierce from sunrise to sunset on Friday.

Scavuzzo, 49, died suddenly at his Port St. Lucie home last Friday, according to his obituary.

Scavuzzo commanded the Criminal Investigations Division of the St. Lucie County Sheriff’s Office and was in law enforcement for over 28 years.

He is survived by his wife of 20 years, Tonya; children Sydney, Nicholas, and Lyndsey; his mother Ethel; and siblings Lori and Robert Quist of Grand Rapids, Michigan.

“My wife, Ann, and I are saddened by the passing of Capt. Scavuzzo, a father, husband and law enforcement officer with more than two decades of service protecting Florida’s families and communities,” Scott said in a statement. “We honor him and all law enforcement officers for their service.”

Black lawmakers: Rick Scott is suppressing the vote in SD 40 special election

With four days left before voters decide the winner of a heated contest for an open Senate seat in Miami, the Florida Legislative Black Caucus (FLBC) is accusing Gov. Rick Scott of suppressing the vote in District 40.

After power was knocked out in large parts of Miami-Dade County, Florida Democrats asked Scott to postpone the Sept. 26 special election between Democrat Annette Taddeo and Republican former state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz. Scott did not take up the request.

In a press release distributed Friday, the FLBC notes that many in the predominantly African American communities of Richmond Heights and West Perrine were still without power and struggling to recover from the devastating effects of Hurricane Irma.

“African American neighborhoods are disproportionately without power,” said state Senator Perry Thurston. “The Governor must extend the election to ensure that every constituency has an equal opportunity to vote. Refusing to extend this election while black voters are disproportionately without power is a blatant act of voter suppression to win a special election already suffering from low voter turnout. I am hopeful that the Governor will take this opportunity to advocate for the black community and ensure that our vote counts.”

So far, “there are no changes” for the Sept. 26 election, and early voting is still on at three public libraries, beginning at 8 a.m. Saturday, according to Suzy Trutie, a deputy supervisor of elections for the county.

“All three early voting sites have power,” Trutie said in an email Thursday to the News Service of Florida.

J.C. Planas, a lawyer representing Diaz’s campaign, scoffed at the idea of postponing the election. Planas, whose home was without electricity this week, said he’s been in contact with elections officials — and visited the early voting sites — and “everything is ready to roll.”

Switching the election dates “would cause chaos,” Planas said.

“Everything’s fine. Everything’s working. There’s no reason not to start early voting this weekend,” he said.

Planas pointed out that Florida Power & Light has pledged to have electricity restored to the region by Sunday.

“If FPL doesn’t have power up by Sunday, then maybe we can have this discussion,” he said. “If there’s no power Sunday, there’s going to be mobs of angry people in the street and the election is going to be the last thing on people’s minds. We will have other issues.”

One member of the FLBC questioned why Scott has postponed elections in one part of the state, but not others.

“Postponing the election to give folks time to recover and rebuild is the right thing to do, but it didn’t matter to the Governor except in Ft. Myers and Cape Coral,” said state Senator Audrey Gibson. “Once again the Governor puts party before the people of Florida.”

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