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Karen Pence to visit Tallahassee this week

Second Lady Karen Pence, wife of Vice President Mike Pence, will visit Tallahassee on Wednesday to make an announcement about her art therapy initiative.

Her first stop is the campus of Florida State University, which is home to a nationally acclaimed art therapy graduate education program.

After that, she will head to Canopy Cove Eating Disorder Treatment Center on Mahan Drive.

There, Mrs. Pence will meet with an art therapist and meet with clients who will share their experiences with art therapy.

Vern Buchanan pleased Homeland Security starting to track immigrants on social media

Starting this week, the Department of Homeland Security will collect and store all social-media handles, aliases, associated identifiable information and search results in the permanent files of all immigrants.

The new policy will include new immigrants, permanent residents and naturalized citizens.

The regulation — or Modified Privacy Act System of Records — also will encompass “publicly available information obtained from the internet, public records, public institutions, interviewees, commercial data providers and information obtained and disclosed pursuant to information sharing agreements.”

The policy mirrors Republican Sarasota Congressman Vern Buchanan’s legislation that he introduced in 2015 shortly after the killings in San Bernardino, dubbed “Social Media Screening for Terrorists Act.” That bill called for the Secretary of Homeland Security to vet all public records, including Facebook and other forms of social media, before admitting foreign travelers and visa applicants into the country.

“Checking social media is standard practice for thousands of employers,” Buchanan said Monday. “We need to make sure the individuals entering the U.S. are not here to harm Americans.”

In a news release touting the administration’s move, Buchanan again referenced the case of New York terror suspect Ahmad Khan Rahami.

Rahami was convicted Monday of planting two pressure-cooker bombs on New York City streets, including one that injured 30 people when it detonated last summer. Rahami became a naturalized U.S. citizen in 2011, according to an NBC News report. At the time, U.S. authorities did not check his social media accounts, but if they had, “they would have found multiple links to radical jihadi videos,” intelligence officials later told NBC News.

Buchanan introduced his legislation after reports suggested that San Bernardino shooter Tashfeen Malik posted support for jihad on social media before receiving a U.S. visa, though FBI Director James Comey disputed that the posts were easily visible on social media. Politicians of all stripes made similar calls as Buchanan.

GOP presidential candidate Carly Fiorina had said: “For heaven’s sakes, every parent in America is checking social media and every employer is as well, but our government can’t do it.”

Denise Grimsley top fundraiser last month in Ag Commissioner race

September campaign finance numbers show Republican state Sen. Denise Grimsley continuing to outpace her competition in the race to take over for Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam in 2018.

Grimsley added $51,869 to her campaign account last month, and tacked on another $27,500 through her committee, Saving Florida’s Heartland.

The Sebring Republican has now passed the $1.8 million mark in total fundraising – $690,000 through the campaign and $1.1 million through the committee – and she has about $872,000 of that money on hand.

Spending clocked in at $34,092 for the campaign, leaving it with around $433,000 available, while her committee spent nearly all it brought in and finished out the month with about $439,000 in the bank.

Topping the donor roll last month was Ft. Lauderdale-based MCNA Health Care Holdings, which chipped in $25,000 to the committee. Johnson & Johnson gave the other $2,500 to Saving Florida’s Heartland, while another 94 contributions came in through the campaign.

Five of those campaign checks were for $3,000, the maximum campaign contribution for governor and Cabinet seats.

The expense reports for last month include $14,000 paid to Tallahassee-based Empire Strategies, which took home $7,000 from each account for management consulting. Florida Finance Strategies, also based in the capital, picked up $7,500 for consulting work, followed by Ryan Smith, who banked $5,821 for data services, printing, postage and shipping costs.

The District 26 senator is still eligible for another term, but decided to forego a 2018 re-election bid and run for the Cabinet seat instead. Republican Rep. Ben Albritton is the so far the only filer and the odds-on favorite to take over Grimsley’s Senate seat.

Though she couldn’t fathom running for Agriculture Commissioner a year ago, Grimsley’s solid fundraising has positioned her well among her competition for the seat, which includes Rep. Matt Caldwell, former Rep. Baxter Troutman and Paul Paulson in the Republican Primary, as well as Democrat David Walker.

With $2.5 million in his campaign account, Troutman is still in first place when it comes to cash on hand. He’s raised $34,590 for his bid, including $8,950 in September. He has another $51,000 on hand in his committee, iGrow PC, which showed no contributions last month.

Caldwell, who is terms out in HD 79 in 2018, comes in third with total fundraising measuring in at $1.25 million through his campaign and committee, Friends of Matt Caldwell. September saw the accounts take in $10,275 and $5,000, respectively.

Paulson, an Orlando businessman and former lawyer, has also seeded his campaign with plenty of his own cash – nearly $393,000 to date – but brought in the least of the GOP candidates last month with $123.

He is also in last place among the four Republican candidates in both total fundraising and cash on hand. Through September he had raised $652,000 total and has $436,000 in the bank, loans included.

Walker, who filed in mid-August, raised $750 last month. He has about $5,000 on hand after factoring in the $9,500 he put into his campaign in August.

3 appeals for hurricane aid pending in Florida since 2004

Florida communities cleaning up and making repairs after Hurricane Irma may expect the U.S. government to reimburse their costs, but an analysis by The Associated Press shows the Federal Emergency Management Agency make take years to pay those bills — if it pays up at all.

Dozens of requests for reimbursement from FEMA are still pending, including at least three cases in Florida pending for over a decade.

The Escambia County School District and the Community Action Program Committee, a nonprofit organization in Pensacola offering utility and education assistance to low-income families, each have multiple projects that followed Hurricane Ivan in 2004 still being reviewed by FEMA.

Also still under review: work completed by the Archdiocese of Miami after Hurricane Katrina hit the state in 2005 on its way to the Gulf Coast.

Among AP’s review of final appeals of public assistance from FEMA nationally were 103 rulings for requests from local governments and nonprofits in Florida from 1999 through 2013.

The vast majority of Florida’s appeals stemmed from eight hurricanes that impacted the state in 2004 and 2005. Fifteen requests from those two years involved work related to multiple hurricanes.

Overall, FEMA denied 66 appeals totaling more than $162.9 million in Florida. The denials included appeals to cover debris removal officials found ineligible for a variety of reasons, labor costs, structural repairs and projects such as sea oat replenishment at a state park and sediment removal from the St. John’s River.

Another 37 appeals were at least partially granted and received over $36.4 million from FEMA. The approved projects included debris removal from private roads, sinkhole repairs, sand replacement at some beaches and emergency generators at a water and sewage treatment facility.

There are three pending appeals in Florida, according to FEMA’s database, but the data did not include details about the projects except the date they were filed and which storms they were related to.

Miami archdiocese spokeswoman Mary Ross Agosta said in an email Friday she could not provide more information on her organization’s pending appeal, though she added a Sept. 28 statement from the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops supporting legislation that would ensure religious institutions’ eligibility for federal disaster assistance.

“Perhaps when such an Act of Congress is in place, these claims would no longer be complicated or deemed unfair,” she said.

Officials at the Escambia County school district and the Pensacola community organization did not immediately respond to AP’s requests for more information.

However, the data show another appeal for $1 million from the school district for Ivan debris removal at 25 schools was granted in 2007 after FEMA determined the amount requested as “reasonable.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Rick Scott’s political committee added $75K in September

Gov. Rick Scott’s Let’s Get to Work committee added $75,000 in contributions last month after showing just $1,000 raised in August.

The committee supported Scott’s successful re-election campaign for governor and could be back in action soon as a pot of money backing his probable campaign to challenge incumbent U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson next year.

The September money came in through just two contributions, one for $50,000 from the Florida Retail Federation’s political committee, and another from $25,000 from Tampa-based check cashing company Amscot Financial.

Both donors have a bit of a history supporting Scott’s committee.

FRF Political Committee gave Let’s Get to Work $25,000 in August 2016, while Amscot had given the committee $125,000 across four major contributions since 2014 before chipping in last month.

Let’s Get to Work’s income was offset by $66,873 in spending, with a good deal of the money heading to Maryland-based political consulting and advertising firm On Message.

The group, which took in about $21,000 last month for media production and consulting, has been Scott’s favored shop for such services for a while and has received millions of dollars from the Let’s Get to Work committee and well as the ECO of the same name that preceded it.

Grassroots Targeting picked up $15,000 for data services and Tallahassee-based ContributionLink picked up $8,000 for database services. Most of the rest of the September spending went toward various political and fundraising consultants.

With September in the books, Scott’s committee has nearly $2.8 million on hand.

Industrial hemp

On heels of citrus crisis, Florida talks hemp

Could industrial hemp be Florida’s next big crop? Maybe. But it’s going to take two years to find out.

Florida citrus is a crop plagued by citrus greening and recently battered by Hurricane Irma. The U.S. Department of Agriculture released 2017 Florida orange production forecasts last Thursday; it was bleak, and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam hinted the crop damage might actually be worse.

In slight irony, this was just a day before the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) held a public rule-making meeting for a law passed last year that legalized research for industrial hemp. 

Industrial hemp is modified to produce a negligible amount (less than 1 percent) of THC, the compound known for producing psychotropic effects. Hemp is said to be used in over 25,000 products — even BMWs. 

In 2014, the federal government passed a bill providing for hemp research, and perhaps commercialization, to occur on a state-by-state basis after states authorized agriculture departments and universities to conduct research and determine the plant to be effective.

This is what inspired Dr. Jeffrey Sharkey to push industrial hemp legislation in the state. He’s managing partner of Capitol Alliance Group, a lobbying firm, and executive director of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of FloridaHemp could potentially be a cash crop, he said. 

Gov. Rick Scott signed the bill into law last year, potentially paving the way for the plant, so long as research proves it safe to cultivate. Namely, lawmakers want to know whether the plant is truly invasive and what effect it might have on other Florida crops.

In accordance with the 2014 Farm Bill, the law allows the two Florida land grant universities — University of Florida (UF) and Florida A&M University (FAMU) — to develop public-private partnerships to produce hemp, analyze results and report back to the Legislature.

This research, according to the state law, must occur within two years. It’s no surprise that the two universities are working swiftly — perhaps even quicker than FDACS’ rule-making staff.

“As rules are being finalized, we’re investigating how we would import hemp seeds for planting,” said Robert Gilbert, chair of the Agronomy Department at UF.

He wants to see seeds in the ground by next spring. He says the school still hasn’t developed public-private partnerships, but the university’s research centers in Homestead, Citra and the Panhandle already are willing to begin research.

It’s not a race against time, but Gilbert explained they’re mindful of the two-year window, which for some is aggravating.

Bob Clayton, owner of Florida Hemp Processing, explained the predicament his business faces: “We are studying how to process the hemp,” he said. “We think we have that breakthrough, but we have to test that material and also we have to get it off the ‘research line.’ ”

“This law is really a two-year moratorium, so nobody can really build a factory,” he added. “We’re not going to make any jobs for two years.”

He noted his business also is handicapped since he’s competing against more than 30 other states producing hemp.

Clayton, who lives in a house made of the plant, might also feel like he’s fighting a state government that doesn’t really like the idea of commercializing cannabis.

One of the very first pockets of the proposed rules guiding the law states: “ … the purpose of the Pilot Project is to cultivate, process, test, research, create, and market safe and commercial agricultural applications for Industrial Hemp (Cannabis sativa), which is a highly invasive plant species.”

Of course, the point of the meeting was to hear public concerns over drafted rules, and it was reiterated several times that the rules were merely a draft. Still, the inclusion of the word “invasive” in a rule outlining research to determine whether hemp is invasive would’ve likely irked any proponent — especially those with business interests.

“You start with that attitude, you don’t end up with success,” Clayton said.

State tries to scuttle matching-gift case

The state is asking a Leon County circuit judge to dismiss a case alleging the state has failed to match $460 million in private donations to universities and state colleges that were made under Florida’s matching-gift laws.

University of Florida graduates and Florida State University donors filed separate class-action lawsuits, which were consolidated, seeking to force the state to come up with $600 million in matching funds for the gifts.

In a motion filed Wednesday, lawyers for the state said the matching-gift laws are subject to annual budget decisions by the Legislature and it would violate the constitutional separation of powers if the judiciary ordered lawmakers to spend the money.

“As with all other funding programs the Legislature has created, the statutes create programs but they do not appropriate any state funds for those programs; the programs are subject to future appropriations,” the motion said.

Noting the “firm separation” of constitutional authority among the legislative, executive and judicial branches, the motion added: “Because plaintiffs’ requested relief would violate the separation of powers, it cannot be granted.”

The state’s motion also attacked an alternate request for relief that asks the court to issue an order requiring the executive branch, including the governor, to make a request to the Legislature for the matching funds.

“But they lack standing to pursue this alternate relief as it cannot remedy any harm they allegedly have suffered; a budget request, after all, is only a request,” the motion said.

University of Florida alumni Ryan and Alexis Geffin filed a lawsuit in July, alleging their undergraduate education was harmed because matching funds weren’t provided for construction projects at the school.

The programs cited by the lawsuit included two construction-related funds, the Alec P. Courtelis University Facility Enhancement Challenge Grant Program and the Florida College System Institution Capital Facilities Matching Program, as well as the Dr. Philip Benjamin Matching Grant Program and the University Major Gifts Program.

A second lawsuit was filed by two Florida State University law-school graduates, Tommy Warren, a former FSU football player, and his wife, Kathleen Villacorta. The suit cited their $100,000 donation to the FSU law school for a scholarship fund that was never matched by the state and their $100,000 donation for a scholarship program for students studying marine conservation that was also never matched by the state.

Under a 2011 law, the programs cannot be restarted until a backlog of $200 million in donations for the Courtelis program as well as the other three matching-grant programs have been matched.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

States that elected Donald Trump, including Florida, most affected by his health care decision

President Donald Trump‘s decision to end a provision of the Affordable Care Act that was benefiting roughly 6 million Americans helps fulfill a campaign promise, but it also risks harming some of the very people who helped him win the presidency.

Nearly 70 percent of those benefiting from the so-called cost-sharing subsidies live in states Trump won last November, according to an analysis by The Associated Press.

The subsidies are paid to insurers by the federal government to help lower consumers’ deductibles and co-pays. People who benefit will continue receiving the discounts because insurers are obligated by law to provide them. But to make up for the lost federal funding, health insurers will have to raise premiums substantially, potentially putting coverage out of reach for many consumers.

Some insurers may decide to bail out of markets altogether.

“I woke up, really, in horror,” said Alice Thompson, 62, an environmental consultant from the Milwaukee area who purchases insurance on Wisconsin’s federally run health insurance exchange.

Thompson, who spoke with reporters on a call organized by a health care advocacy group, said she expects to pay 30 percent to 50 percent more per year for her monthly premium, potentially more than her mortgage payment. Officials in Wisconsin, a state that went for a Republican presidential candidate for the first time in decades last fall, assumed the federal subsidy would end when they approved premium rate increases averaging 36 percent for the coming year.

An estimated 4 million people were benefiting from the cost-sharing payments in the 30 states Trump carried, according to an analysis of 2017 enrollment data from the U.S. Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Of the 10 states with the highest percentage of consumers benefiting from cost-sharing, all but one — Massachusetts — went for Trump.

Kentucky embraced former President Barack Obama‘s Affordable Care Act under its last governor, a Democrat, and posted some of the largest gains in getting its residents insured. Its new governor, a Republican, favors the GOP stance to replace it with something else.

Roughly half of the estimated 71,000 Kentuckians buying health insurance on the federal exchange were benefiting from the cost-sharing subsidies Trump just ended. Despite the gains from Obama’s law, the state went for Trump last fall even as he vowed to repeal it.

Consumers such as Marsha Clark fear what will happen in the years ahead, as insurers raise premiums on everyone to make up for the end of the federal money that helped lower deductibles and co-pays.

“I’m stressed out about the insurance, stressed out about the overall economy, and I’m very stressed out about our president,” said Clark, a 61-year-old real estate broker who lives in a small town about an hour’s drive south of Louisville. She pays $1,108 a month for health insurance purchased on the exchange.

While she earns too much to benefit from the cost-sharing subsidy, she is worried that monthly premiums will rise so high in the future that it will make insurance unaffordable.

Sherry Riggs has a similar fear. The Fort Pierce, Florida, barber benefits from the deductible and co-pay discounts, as do more than 1 million other Floridians, the highest number of cost-sharing beneficiaries of any state.

She had bypass surgery following a heart attack last year and pays just $10 a visit to see her cardiologist and only a few dollars for the medications she takes twice a day.

Her monthly premium is heavily subsidized by the federal government, but she worries about the cost soaring in the future. Florida, another state that swung for Trump, has approved rate increases averaging 45 percent.

“Probably for some people it would be a death sentence,” she said. “I think it’s kind of a tragic decision on the president’s part. It scares me because I don’t think I’ll be able to afford it next year.”

Rates already were rising in the immediate aftermath of Trump’s decision. Insurance regulators in Arkansas, another state that went for Trump, approved premium increases on Friday ranging from 14 percent to nearly 25 percent for plans offered through the insurance marketplace. Had federal cost-sharing been retained, the premiums would have risen by no more than 10 percent.

In Mississippi, another state Trump won, an estimated 80 percent of consumers who buy coverage on the insurance exchange benefit from the deductible and co-pay discounts, the highest percentage of any state. Premiums there will increase by 47 percent next year, after regulators assumed Trump would end the cost-sharing payments.

The National Association of Insurance Commissioners has estimated the loss of the subsidies would result in a 12 percent to 15 percent increase in premiums, while the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has put the figure at 20 percent. Experts say the political instability over Trump’s effort to undermine Obama’s health care law could prompt more insurers to leave markets, reducing competition and driving up prices.

In announcing his decision, Trump argued the subsidies were payouts to insurance companies, and the government could not legally continue to make them. The subsidies have been the subject of an ongoing legal battle because the health care law failed to include a congressional appropriation, which is required before federal money can be spent.

The subsidies will cost about $7 billion this year.

Many Republicans praised Trump’s action, saying Obama’s law has led to a spike in insurance costs for those who have to buy policies on the individual market.

Among them is Republican Rep. Andy Biggs of Arizona, a state Trump won. An estimated 78,000 Arizonans were benefiting from the federal subsidies for deductibles and co-pays.

“While his actions do not take the place of real legislative repeal and revitalization of free-market health care, he is doing everything possible to save Americans from crippling health care costs and decreasing quality of care,” Biggs said.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

NFL not seeking mandate for players to stand during anthem

Commissioner Roger Goodell, along with the head of the NFL Players Association, will meet with the owners from Oct. 17-18 in New York where the issue of player protests during the U.S. national anthem is expected to command much attention.

“(Goodell) has a plan that he is going to present to owners about how to use our platform to both raise awareness and make progress on issues of social justice and equality in this country,” NFL spokesman Joe Lockhart said on a conference call.

“What we don’t have is a proposal that changes our policy, we don’t have something that mandates anything. That’s clear. If that was the case I doubt the head of the NFLPA would have put a joint statement out with us.”

The statement released on Wednesday said Goodell invited NFLPA Executive Director DeMaurice Smith to the meetings and that the agenda will be a continuation of how to make progress on the important social issues that players have vocalized.

The protests, in a league where African-Americans make up the majority of players, have continued through the current season, with some players kneeling and others standing arm-in-arm in solidarity.

The gesture is intended to call attention to what protesting players see as a pattern of racism in the treatment of African-Americans by U.S. police.

The issue has been exacerbated after U.S. President Donald Trump said last month that players who did not stand during the anthem should be fired.

Lockhart said the discussions will focus on how to use the broad platforms of the NFL, players and clubs to try and make progress on issues of equality, social justice and criminal justice reform.

“These are issues that are important to our clubs, issues that are important to our players, issues that are important to the communities in which we play,” said Lockhart.

”That’s what we are discussing. So for everyone who has speculated over the last few days that somehow there is a proposal that is set for a vote on Tuesday or Wednesday you are speculating.

“Those who are reporting it as fact are reporting it incorrectly.”

— Via Frank Pingue of Reuters.

Chris King to roll out jobs and economic policy this month

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Chris King said he plans spend the next month rolling out policy proposals detailing how his administration would improve Florida’s job market and economy if elected next year.

“Too many people are stuck in low-paying jobs, and they’re not moving up the ladder,” King said in a video. “So we’ve got to move fast to create a more fair and homegrown economy that creates the type of jobs that support Florida families.”

King highlighted that half the jobs in the state pay less than $15 an hour, a figure many state and national Democrats have said is the minimum living wage for employees.

“Our number one priority as a state – my number one priority as your next governor – is to do something about this,” he said.

King added that the Sunshine State was at the “back of the pack in almost every economic and quality of life measurement” and said Florida is in last place among the 10 most populous states when it comes to wages, incomes and per-capita GDP.

The would-be governor’s policies include “investing in and lifting up and caring for” small businesses. King said he is confident helping grow small business will bring living wage jobs to the state due to his experience with his own business, Elevation, which provides affordable housing options to seniors in the southeastern United States.

The Orlando businessman also pitched better skills training programs to help Florida workers compete in the modern job market.

“This can be a front-of-the-pack state,” King said. “Our prized climate, our beautiful state, our hardworking people. We can be first in class, but we need fresh vision for Florida’s future and I intend to work with you to get us there.”

King is one of the three major Democrats to announce campaigns for governor. His primary opponents are former congresswoman Gwen Graham and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.

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