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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.

Democratic Progressive Caucus endorses Annette Taddeo in SD 40 special election

The Democratic Progressive Caucus of Florida is backing Miami businesswoman Annette Taddeo in the Senate District 40 special election, saying she will be a “progressive champion” who will represent the interests of everyday Floridians in the Florida Legislature.

“DPCF’s endorsement questionnaire covers a wide variety of topics, including charter and voucher school accountability, gun safety, state preemption of local control, and access to affordable healthcare,” said DPCF President Susan Smith. “The caucus is committed to implementing progressive policies in Florida as a way to enhance quality of life and we cannot do that without legislative leaders like Annette Taddeo. Residents of SD 40 deserve a senator who will fight for them and not special interests.”

Taddeo is perhaps best known as being Charlie Crist‘s running mate in the 2014 gubernatorial election. She’s been unsuccessful in previous runs for Congress, including a loss last year in the Congressional District 26 primary to Joe Garcia.

Taddeo is running against former state representative and Miami-Dade School board member Ana Rivas Logan for the Democratic nomination in the Southwest Miami Dade district race to succeed Senator Frank Artilles on July 25.

Rivas Logan served in the House from 2010 to 2012, as a Republican representing House District 114. According to the Miami Herald, she publicly disavowed the Republican Party in 2014, and changed parties to become a Democrat.

The winner will take on the Republican nominee in September. The GOP race is between state Rep. Jose Felix Diaz, former Sen. Alex Diaz de la Portilla and Lorenzo Palomares.

Artilles, a Republican from Hialeah, resigned from the seat in disgrace back in April, days after he made a racist and sexist rant at two Democratic black lawmakers.

 

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.”

Federal authorities launch probe into city of Tallahassee

In a move that could shake-up next year’s race for Florida governor, the FBI has launched an investigation into redevelopment deals involving prominent business owners and developers in the state capital.

Federal grand jury subpoenas this month seek five years of records from the city of Tallahassee and a local redevelopment agency that involve high profile projects and developers including an ally of Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

Gillum, one of several Democrats in the 2018 governor’s race, is not named in the subpoenas to the city and agency, which were provided Thursday to The Associated Press in response to a public records request.

“We expect the city to respond fully and completely to the subpoena and we hope the situation is resolved quickly,” Geoff Burgan, a spokesman for Gillum’s campaign, told the AP.

The subpoenas ask for any documents and communications between the redevelopment agency, the city, their officials, and a list of people and corporations. The material is to be turned over to the grand jury in July.

The companies cited have developed the Edison, an upscale restaurant frequented by lawmakers and lobbyists in a city-owned building; and Hotel Duval, which features a steakhouse and a rooftop bar blocks from the Capitol.

The Edison received financial assistance from both the city and the local Community Redevelopment Agency. Gillum sits on the agency board and one of the owners of the restaurant is a lobbyist who once served as his campaign treasurer.

The list of individuals, corporations and entities in both subpoenas include donors to Gillum and a political committee backing his run for governor. One of them is the chief executive of a company that has been setting up medical marijuana dispensaries in the state.

Amy Alexander, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Northern District of Florida, said she had no public information about the investigation.

Lewis Shelley, the Tallahassee city attorney, said by email that the FBI has requested records and “that other than the request for information by subpoena, the City has no further information on this matter. City staff is fully cooperating and has begun gathering the requested records.”

Gillum has been viewed as a rising star for Florida Democrats and had a speaking slot at last year’s Democratic National Convention. He was just 23 and still a student at Florida A&M when he became the youngest person elected to the Tallahassee city commission in 2003. He was elected mayor in 2014.

But he has already weathered controversy during his bid for governor. According to the Tallahassee Democrat, Gillum used $5,000 in city money to buy software from a Democratic Party vendor to aid in sending out campaign emails. He paid the city back and apologized after the report.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Kathy Castor calls Senate health care proposal ‘even worse’ than House bill

Upon the first review of what Republican Senators euphemistically call the “Better Care Reconciliation Act,” Kathy Castor says it’s “worse” than the much-derided “American Health Care Act” passed earlier this year by the GOP House.

What most upsets the Democratic congresswoman from Tampa is that the bill “radically” restructures Medicaid.

“This is a dramatic overhaul of Medicaid that will cause families to lose care and present a very difficult budget to Florida,” she said in a conference call Thursday afternoon.

Medicaid is a federal/state program partnership that is administered by the states but mostly funded by Washington. In Florida, it’s mostly provided to children, people with disabilities and the elderly living in nursing homes suffering from specific ailments.

Currently, the feds pay on average about 64 percent; states pick up the rest.

The Senate GOP plan would repeal this structure, replacing it with caps on how much money states receive each year. Castor says this is a problem, because Florida already spends less on the program than most other states, despite it being the third largest in population.

Bloomberg News reports that, starting in 2025, the Senate bill would index Medicaid spending to a slower growth rate than the House version, which indexed Medicaid to the faster growth rate of medical inflation plus 1 percentage point, to try to keep pace with the disproportionate growth in health care costs.

Approximately 3.6 million Floridians rely on Medicaid, close to 20 percent of the state’s population.

“The Senate bill includes enormously consequential changes, that will clearly move the country backward on child and parent coverage,” says Joan Alker, executive director of the nonpartisan Center for Children and Families and a research professor at Georgetown University.

“The only question on my mind is how quickly and sharply this U-turn would occur,” she added, saying that it would ultimately end the guarantee to the state of federal funding for Medicaid.

Alker says what’s most provocative is that the restructuring of Medicaid has nothing to do with the repeal of the Affordable Care Act: “This is just something that Congress is doing while they’re in the neighborhood.”

The American Hospital Association, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network and the Association of American Medical Colleges all came out in opposition to the bill Thursday afternoon.

Under the Senate bill, the federal government would continue paying subsidies to health insurance companies through 2019. It would also provide $50 billion to help stabilize insurance markets and hold down premiums from 2018 through 2021 — in other words, until after the next presidential election.

Castor says that the Senate bill, unlike the House counterpart, does preserve pre-existing conditions protections. But she says that provision is “totally undermined” by the fact that states can waive other insurance rules that could weaken the protections for essential health benefits, as well as lift caps on what a patient pays to an insurer. Also, the bill would provide $62 billion in grants to states for similar purposes from 2019 to 2026.

Also, the bill would provide $62 billion in grants to states for similar purposes from 2019 to 2026.

At least four GOP senators are already indicating they cannot support the bill as written, raising the possibility there won’t be an up-or-down vote on the bill within the next week, a self-imposed deadline created by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell.

Bill Nelson blasts Senate health care plan, Marco Rubio says he’s looking at it

Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio released a video statement Thursday saying he won’t judge the new Republican Senate health care bill until he has studied it, while Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson blasted it.

“Now we know why they tried to keep this secret,” Nelson said in a statement issued by his office a couple of hours after the bill, which was drafted under closed doors for weeks, was released.

“This bill is just as bad as the House bill, taking coverage away from millions of people and making huge cuts to Medicaid,” Nelson added. “If that weren’t enough, it also allows insurance companies to hike rates for older Americans. Fixing our nation’s health care system shouldn’t be a partisan issue. We should be working together, not plotting behind closed doors to make it worse.”

Rubio released a video statement in which he said he made it clear that if Sen. Majority Leader Mitch McConnell wants to have the bill passed by the end of next week — 4th of July weekend — that might or might not be possible.

“It may take me one day; it might take me a week,” Rubio said. “I think it’s really important that we do it the right way. I think it’s important that we know clearly what we’re voting on, what its implications are, and every question is answered.”

Rubio’s nine-minute video laid out several points he’ll be looking for, all having to do with Medicaid and the individual buyer’s marketplace.

He said he wants a bill that protects pre-existing conditions, yet provides flexibility so that if someone wants to purchase only catastrophic health insurance, that will be available as an acceptable option. He also wants health insurance tax credits tied to age and income.

His other issues dealt with how the federal legislation could impact Florida uniquely, particularly dealing with Medicaid. In particular, he noted that Florida has a “low baseline” for Medicaid payments, and he does not want the state penalized by a system that builds from a baseline forward in coming years.

 

No tapes: Donald Trump says he didn’t record meetings with James Comey

President Donald Trump said Thursday on Twitter that he “did not make” and doesn’t have any recordings of his private conversations with ousted former FBI Director James Comey.

“With all of the recently reported electronic surveillance, intercepts, unmasking and illegal leaking of information,” Trump said he has “no idea” whether there are “tapes” or recordings of the two men’s conversations. But he declares he “did not make, and do not have, any such recordings.”

The tweets are the latest chapter in a high-stakes guessing game after Trump hinted that he might have recordings of his private conversations with Comey at the White House and over the phone.

The tale of mystery began last month, just days after Trump fired Comey, who was then leading an investigation into contacts before and after the election between the president’s campaign and Russian officials.

The absence of recordings almost certainly elevates in significance to investigators the notes made by Comey right after his conversations with Comey.

A New York Times report cited two unnamed Comey associates who recounted his version of a January dinner with the president in which Trump asked for a pledge of loyalty. Comey declined, instead offering to be “honest.” When Trump then pressed for “honest loyalty,” Comey told him, “You will have that,” the associates said.

Trump tweeted the next day that Comey “better hope that there are no ‘tapes’ of our conversations before he starts leaking to the press!”

Trump’s tweets on Thursday raised questions about why the president would have staked his reputation and political capital on promoting something that wasn’t real.

His earlier suggestion about tapes immediately evoked the secret White House recordings that led to Richard Nixon’s downfall in the Watergate scandal. Under a post-Watergate law, the Presidential Records Act, recordings made by presidents belong to the people and can eventually be made public. Destroying them would be a crime.

Comey says any recordings that might exist would support his version that Trump asked him to pledge loyalty and urged him to drop the investigation into Trump’s former national security adviser.

“Lordy, I hope there are tapes,” Comey declared at a congressional hearing.

But the president has steadfastly refused to clarify whether any tapes existed.

Two weeks ago, he teased reporters in the White House Rose Garden by saying that he’d explain “maybe sometime in the very near future.” He cryptically added: “You are going to be very disappointed when you hear the answer.” White House deputy press secretary Lindsay Walters said Wednesday that an answer would be provided this week, presumably by the Friday deadline set by the House intelligence committee for turning over any tapes.

The Secret Service had said it had no audio copies or transcripts of any tapes recorded within Trump’s White House, according to a freedom of information request submitted by The Wall Street Journal. But that didn’t exclude the possibility that recordings were created by another entity.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Vague cannabis comments from Adam Putnam highlight news-free Q&A

In a Facebook Q&A Thursday, Adam Putnam came closest to making news in discussing medical marijuana, albeit briefly and with no traceable scent of policy position.

In his last Q&A, Putnam noted, he called for a Special Session on the subject. And it came to pass.

With the Special Session wrapped, Putnam is “glad the elected officials” rather than “unelected bureaucrats” set up rules.

“I want to make sure Florida doesn’t turn into California or Colorado,” Putnam added regarding the future of cannabis, the vague red meat belying any hint that he has spent his entire life in one policy-making position or another.

Putnam didn’t address the controversy about “smokable” marijuana not being included in the new rules, and contentions from such as John Morgan that the pending law flies in the face of Amendment 2.

On or off the subject of cannabis, Putnam truncated any specific policy detail, in favor of the kind of big-picture blandishments road-tested in his campaign appearances elsewhere.

In a political climate that privileges the outsider pitch, Putnam — as has been the case during this campaign — hewed closely to the accomplishments and mindset of the Rick Scott era, and Scott-esque rhetoric suffused by an almost incantatory blandness.

Putnam asserted that Florida should be the most “veteran … military … and senior” friendly state, a position that no one really could disagree with.

Regarding schools, teachers should get the “honor” they deserve and “great principals” to work with.

Putnam also asserted that he’s a “true conservative” on issues such as the 2nd Amendment; limited government, said Putnam, would make Florida the “launchpad for the American dream.”

A surprising amount of questions for a midday Q&A focused on policy minitua about being Commissioner of Agriculture, allowing for such as epic digressions into the role of the Florida Forest Service.

Marco Rubio, Nikki Haley talk Israel, UN reform needs

On Thursday, Sen. Marco Rubio spoke on Capitol Hill with U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Nikki Haley, addressing U.S. international engagement and needed reforms at the U.N.

It was more like a puff-piece interview than a probing dialogue, with no daylight between positions and rhetoric of the two.

Rubio referred to one of Haley’s challenges being that Trump’s campaign positions on foreign policy were less than clear; Haley saw that as an opportunity, especially in the wake of the strikes on Syria, which showed that the U.S, is “moving things.”

Much of the conversation came back to Israel.

Rubio was shocked by a permanent agenda item on the Human Rights Council targeting Israel, which both he and Haley found to be appalling.

Rubio described it as a “disproportionate focus on Israel,” with Haley emphatic about how Israel was getting bashed by “every single country.”

“It was abusive. They did it in a way that you could tell was a habit,” Haley said. “I did say that things needed to change.”

“Israel was kind of like the kid in the schoolyard that got picked on,” Haley said, with Rubio asserting that Haley’s “challenge” caused a reappraisal of UN member nations toward Israel.

Later on, Haley added that Israel is “getting ready” for Hezbollah, noting that conflict between Israel and Jordan would present a crisis.

Haley also lauded Jordan’s intake of Syrian refugees, noting that they prevent fraud by using “eyescans” at shop check out counters.

“We should be doing that,” Haley marveled, to prevent fraud.

“It is our job to support those host countries,” Haley said, regarding Jordan and Turkey.

 

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