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Florida expects hundreds of displaced Puerto Rican students

Thousands of Puerto Rican children displaced by Hurricane Maria are expected to enroll in Florida and other U.S. public schools this year.

Most of the island’s 1,112 public schools are closed due to hurricane damage, and schools throughout Florida are preparing for the possibility that thousands of new students will come, the Orlando Sentinel reported.

Ten-year-old Samiliz Ruiz Collazo and her 14-year-old brother Mizraim arrived in central Florida on Friday, and immediately commented on the electric lights lit over their heads. It was something they hadn’t seen in almost a month.

Their home’s water cistern had been ripped off the roof by the storm, and they had no power. So their parents sent the children from Puerto Rico to stay with their grandmother, who lives in Deltona in Volusia County.

She bought cases of Malta India, their favorite Puerto Rican soft drink, to help them feel at home.

“I feel pretty calm,” said Beatriz Rodriguez, the grandmother. “They can be one month, two months without their parents, because they’re used to spending summers with me.”

Volusia County public schools’ spokeswoman Nancy Wait says the county overestimated the number of students they would receive, so she expects that they’ll have plenty of space.

In central Florida alone, 292 students have enrolled in Orange County, and 150 in two other area counties.

“We know it’s traumatic. We’ll do whatever we need to do to make sure they get in a classroom as soon as possible,” Wait told the newspaper.

The students from Puerto Rico will also be classified by Volusia County as homeless, meaning they won’t have to show birth certificates, immunization records and can qualify for free lunches and other programs.

Julia Keleher, the island’s education secretary, says only 167 Puerto Rican schools are open to students at the moment, so they have been working with U.S. districts in Florida and elsewhere to help support the displaced children.

“We’ll do our part, we’re going to share that responsibility until the dust settles,” Keleher said.

Pam Keith gets backing from NOW in bid for congressional seat

Pam Keith, the former Navy JAG officer who finished third in 2016 ifor the Democratic nomination for the U.S. Senate, is getting the backing of the National Organization of Women in her bid to defeat Republican Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

“Florida NOW considers Pam Keith a champion for women’s rights.  She will not let women or children fall to the wayside with bad legislation on healthcare or equal opportunity for women,” said Terry Sanders, Florida NOW President.

“Pam has long been an advocate for women’s rights.  Her legal background as judge advocate in the U.S. Navy and private practice in both Washington, D.C. and Chicago, as well as her experience in diplomatic arenas around the world, make her an excellent candidate for Congress,” added Joanne Sterner, Florida NOW political action director.

Keith is one of two Democratic challengers to emerge so far against Mast, an Army veteran who took back the Treasure Coast area seat for the Republicans in 2016. It had been held the previous four years by Democrat Patrick Murphy.

Palm Beach Gardens attorney Lauren Baer announced her candidacy for the Democratic nomination earlier this month. She served as a senior policy advisor to former U.S. Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry, as well as to Samantha Power, the U.S. ambassador the United Nations under Barack Obama.

“Women are the majority of our nation, women are the future of our nation, and I am gratified that NOW believes I am the best woman to lead our nation toward that future,” said Keith in a statement. “Brian Mast and Donald Trump have fought against the interests of women, from stealing our healthcare to endorsing sexist, hateful language in the workplace. Women are being undervalued at work, the system pays us less for the same work, ignores harassment and gave us a government that doesn’t even allow women to help write the legislation that affects so many of us. I’m going to Washington to put a stop to all that, to make women’s lives better. I joined this race to take my passion and skill to unite people of all genders, orientation, and color to fight this administration’s continual assault on women’s reproductive health. I’m glad that NOW recognizes that I am a strong ally and best advocate.”

State parks take financial hit from hurricane

Three Florida parks in the Keys opened to the public Friday for the first time since Hurricane Irma, as the state looks at overall storm damage to its parks topping $55 million.

John Pennekamp Coral Reef, Curry Hammock and Fort Zachary Taylor Historic state parks in Monroe County were reopened for day-use, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection announced.

The announcement left just five state parks still closed: Bahia Honda, Indian Key Historic and Long Key all in Monroe County; Faver-Dykes State Park in St. Johns County; and Hontoon Island State Park in Volusia and Lake counties.

The state closed 168 state parks due to the storm, which swept through the state Sept. 10 and Sept. 11, with some of the hardest-hit parks in the Keys. Irma first made landfall in the Keys before making a second landfall in Collier County.

David Clark, acting deputy secretary of land and recreation at the Department of Environmental Protection, said Wednesday that the costs could grow.

“As we continue with the assessments, I foresee that number continuing to increase,” Clark told the Senate Environment and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee. “Hopefully it will not break $60 million. But right now, it’s approximately $55 million.”

Potentially $20 million for the repairs may come by delaying some of 100 projects that were slated to be undertaken this year, Clark said. Those projects include such things as Americans with Disabilities Act improvements, roof replacements, adding visitor parking and pier replacements.

The state recorded $1.1 million in revenue from its parks for September. But that number comes, for example, with a projected $1.7 million in lost revenue due to overnight cancellations.

One positive for the state is that the financial hit may have been tempered because September is historically the lowest month for revenue, at about $4 million annually, Clark said. The average in most other months is $6 million to $7 million, he said.

Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Noah Valenstein told the House Agriculture and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday the agency is working “around the clock” to open each park.

“Before we open a park, we need to make sure it’s safe for the public, ready for the public to recreate in,” Valenstein said.

Jack Latvala gubernatorial bid scores major endorsement with FOP backing

On Saturday in Jacksonville, state Sen. Jack Latvala promised a “significant announcement.”

And he delivered, with the 22,000 member Florida State Fraternal Order of Police endorsing the Pinellas Republican’s gubernatorial bid.

This endorsement, delivered after the FOP State Lodge Board meeting in Jacksonville, wasn’t necessarily surprising; back in August, when Latvala announced his candidacy in Hialeah, Florida FOP President Robert Jenkins was in attendance.

FOP leadership were first to encourage Latvala to run for governor; the veteran lawmaker has been a staunch supporter of law enforcement efforts and has been consistently supported by the Fraternal Order of Police throughout his career.

“There is no doubt that all the things we hold most dear start with living in safe communities because without that it is nearly impossible to do the rest,” said Latvala.

“Police officers are so critical to all of us,” Latvala added. “It is a true honor to be endorsed by this exceptional group of law enforcement professionals.”

In making the endorsement, FOP President Jenkins lauded Latvala’s advocacy for law enforcement priorities.

“There have been decades of support shown to the Fraternal Order of Police along with other first responders. It is this unwavering dedication to the men and women wearing the badge that prompts our decision to endorse Jack Latvala for Florida Governor.  He always has our back, so we back Jack!” Jenkins asserted.

Indeed, Latvala’s legislative mission has aligned with law enforcement priorities.

“Law enforcement officers know better than most what our efforts in the Senate did to help reduce crime in Florida. I helped enact the 85% rule which requires persons convicted of crimes to serve 85% of their sentences, 10-20-Life legislation which stiffened the penalties for those convicted of using a firearm in the commission of a crime, and ‘Three Strikes’ legislation that keeps career criminals behind bars,” Latvala said in 2014.

The senator has routinely advanced pro-law enforcement measures, such as leading the charge for pay raises.

Crucially for law enforcement advocates, Latvala has also fought against the dilution of defined benefit pensions, a point he made when he launched his run for Governor.

“They want to give them the same kind of pension you can get for working at Walmart,” Latvala said. “A 401(k) instead of a real pension and I think that’s the least we can do for people who put their lives on the line every day is show some appreciation in giving them a good retirement.”

The Fraternal Order of Police crosses party lines often with endorsements.

While President Donald Trump was the FOP choice in 2016, the FOP endorsed Democrats in the last two Gubernatorial races.

Latvala, in addition to enjoying the support of the state’s powerful police union, is also backed by many of the state’s firefighters.

International Association of Fire Fighters locals throughout the state, including in St. Petersburg, West Palm Beach, Orlando, and Miami, support Latvala without reservation.

Endorsements from public safety unions, locally and statewide, are invaluable to Latvala’s bid for governor, offering a key difference between him and major opponents, such as Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

Latvala had, at the end of September, roughly $4.67 million cash-on-hand between his campaign account and committee; the backing of influential and politically-active public safety unions will amplify for those efforts.

In a sudden flurry, Trump looks to deliver for his voters

For the moment, U.S. President Donald Trump is going it alone.

After weeks of seeing his agenda imperiled by Republican divisions and infighting among his aides, Trump has been a whirl of activity this week, reasserting his campaign priorities and trying to deliver wins for his fervent but frustrated base of supporters.

Trump took steps to dramatically undercut the Obamacare health system, sent notice he was willing to scuttle the nuclear deal with Iran, moved to roll back coal-plant limits, and again demanded a wall along the Mexican border.

And on social media the Republican president appeared to relish his feuds with the news media, senior Republicans in Congress, and National Football League players who have protested during the national anthem.

In a sense, it was the vintage, freewheeling Trump: throwing red meat to his voter base, following his gut, and haranguing his critics.

But by the end of the week, he had made more progress in undoing the policy accomplishments of his Democratic predecessor, Barack Obama, than he had in some time.

“Trump knows he has to make good on several of his campaign promises,” said Ford O‘Connell, a Republican strategist. “The clock is ticking, Congress is useless and portions of his base are growing frustrated.”

At the same time, there is still chaos and uncertainty in the White House, so much so much so that Trump’s chief of staff, John Kelly, took the unusual step of telling reporters that he was not resigning. Meanwhile, the job status of his secretary of state, Rex Tillerson, appears to remain tenuous.

The timing of some of Trump’s measures this week was driven by external deadlines, especially in the case of the Iran deal. And his administration has also been occupied by a spate of deadly hurricanes and the shooting spree in Las Vegas, which have hampered its ability to move forward on its policy agenda.

“The president campaigned on a bold agenda, and Congress’s inaction won’t stop the administration’s tireless efforts to boost the economy, improve healthcare, and protect the American people,” said Raj Shah, the White House’s principal deputy press secretary.

When he sat in the Oval Office, Obama defiantly declared that he would circumvent a hostile Congress by using a “pen and a phone,” issuing executive orders where possible.

And when Trump ran for president last year, he frequently said that only he “alone” could fix the nation’s problems.

But once he took office, Trump attempted to follow the lead of Republicans on Capitol Hill, and he watched with dismay how little movement was made on priorities such as healthcare, immigration, and national security.

Trump, too, remains bothered by another time he deferred to congressional Republicans and supported incumbent Senator Luther Strange in a divisive primary fight last month in Alabama.

Strange lost to Roy Moore, an archconservative backed by Trump’s former adviser, Steve Bannon, with many of Trump’s core supporters voting for Moore.

The loss came after Trump alarmed some conservatives by saying he could cut deals with Democratic congressional leaders Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi to advance his agenda, particularly on providing relief from deportation for ”Dreamers” – immigrants brought to the country illegally as children.

That led to speculation that he was going to chart a more centrist course.

But there was little of that talk this week after the White House released a series of hard-line immigration proposals that stand to threaten any bipartisan deal. Pelosi called the proposals “trash.”

Trump, too, rejected the advice of Kelly, Tillerson, Defense Secretary James Mattis and other aides in decertifying the Iran nuclear deal, according to two administration officials, intent on staying true to his fierce criticism of the deal during the campaign.

Sam Nunberg, a former campaign aide to Trump, said Strange’s loss served as a reminder to Trump that he has to look after the interests of his political base.

“That was a big punch in the stomach,” Nunberg said, one that showed the president that “this is not a cult of personality. It’s about deliverables.”

Those deliverables are the fulfillment of the campaign promises that Bannon once featured on a whiteboard in his White House office, said Nunberg, who added that Bannon’s shadow “still hovers over the West Wing.”

Bannon has pledged to support primary challengers to Republican Senate incumbents in several states next year in a bid to unseat Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whom he blames for impeding Trump’s policy agenda.

A Reuters/Ipsos poll released this week showed Trump’s approval slipping among the rural voters he so successfully courted in last year’s election.

In September, 47 percent of people in rural areas approved of Trump while 47 percent disapproved, the poll found. That was down from Trump’s first four weeks in office, when 55 percent said they approved of the president while 39 percent disapproved.

The poll found that Trump has lost support in rural areas among men, whites and people who never went to college. He lost support with rural Republicans and rural voters who supported him on Election Day.

— James Elephant, Reuters

Twitter turns over ‘handles’ of 201 Russia-linked accounts

Twitter has handed over to Senate investigators the profile names, or “handles,” of 201 accounts linked to Russian attempts at influencing the 2016 presidential election. The company has stepped up its efforts to cooperate with investigators after it was criticized for not taking congressional probes seriously enough.

The handover occurred this week, according to a person familiar with the matter who was not authorized to speak publicly about it.

What remains unclear is whether posts associated with those accounts have been deleted from Twitter’s servers. Politico reported on Friday that the company had deleted the tweets in line with its privacy policy. Twitter had no comment on that report.

The company’s policy calls for removing tweets that a user deletes on their own. But that policy also states that some tweets can survive the process. For instance, retweets of deleted tweets will remain live if the retweeter added a comment. Twitter also can’t remove tweets that have been temporarily stored, or “cached,” by services such as Google or reposted on other sites.

Twitter might be able to recover some information about any deleted tweets, according to another person familiar with the situation who requested anonymity because of the sensitivity of the investigation. That person added that the company is working with investigators to find information that’s useful.

The account handles previously hadn’t been submitted in part due to legal privacy issues, the person said.

Twitter is set to appear Nov. 1 before the Senate intelligence committee at a public hearing. Both Facebook and Google have been invited to testify at the same hearing.

Twitter previously uncovered the accounts linked to Russia’s Internet Research Agency — a notorious “troll farm” known for pushing out pro-Russian positions via fake accounts — by using information provided by Facebook, which found 470 Russia-linked pages or accounts. After looking for patterns linking those accounts and pages to accounts on its service, Twitter said it had suspended 22 accounts that pushed divisive social or political issues during the 2016 campaign. It found another 179 related or linked accounts and took action against those that violated its spam rules.

The company enforces an anti-spam policy against bots and human users that exhibit unusual behavior. Such flags include having multiple accounts repeatedly retweet the same posts or having multiple accounts follow or block other users.

After Twitter’s initial closed-door briefing with the Senate committee late last month, Virginia Sen. Mark Warner — the top Democrat on the committee — called the company’s findings “frankly inadequate ” and “derivative” of Facebook’s work.

$50 million sought to tackle opioid epidemic

Skyrocketing numbers of overdoses. Burned-out first responders. Families torn apart.

Those are just some of the woes a key Senate budget panel heard about during a discussion Thursday focused on the opioid epidemic engulfing Florida and much of the nation.

Echoing what a separate Senate committee heard this week, substance-abuse treatment providers, community agency representatives and law-enforcement officials pleaded with the Senate Appropriations Committee for a comprehensive approach to the complicated issue, along with more money.

The state this year received $27 million in federal funds to deal with a mushrooming opioid crisis that has resulted in some counties seeing a 300 percent increase in overdoses.

Gov. Rick Scott – who declared a public health emergency about the opioid issue this year – announced that he will seek $50 million from the Legislature to deal with the issue, but he has yet to release a detailed plan for how the money would be spent.

Substance-abuse treatment providers on Thursday also asked for $50 million to address what at least one doctor called “chemical warfare” as lawmakers begin to put together a state spending plan in advance of the 2018 legislative session, which begins in January.

The number of Floridians dying from overdoses – involving prescription drugs, street drugs like heroin or the synthetic opioid fentanyl, or combinations of the drugs – has steadily increased over the last few years, following a dip after lawmakers cracked down on prescription drug “pill mills” in 2011.

Heroin overdoses jumped by 1,000 percent between 2007 and 2015, and most experts agree the number of deaths is much higher than what is being reported by the state’s medical examiners.

Overdoses related to fentanyl, which is often mixed with heroin, are also climbing.

The information about the rising number of deaths associated with opioids is perplexing for lawmakers who thought they stymied the state’s opioid plague by shutting down the pill mills.

“My concern as a policymaker is, how do we make sure we don’t do the same thing … because if not, then three years from now, instead of saying fentanyl and heroin, there it will say something else,” said Sen. Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, referring to a chart of deaths due to overdoses. “I don’t want to see fentanyl and heroin in three years just turn into x, y, z.”

Bay County Sheriff Tommy Ford offered a suggestion.

“One of the answers is going to be the investment in treatment resources,” he said.

“I think that’s the ultimate point. How do we get to the root of the problem? Is it a mental health issue? We gave it a Band-aid, but the underlying (root) is still there,” Flores said.

While the picture appears grim, Ann Berner, CEO of the Southeast Florida Behavioral Network, told the committee that the state can “turn the tides” on the opioid epidemic.

The $50 million sought by providers to address the issue would go toward housing vouchers and employment assistance for people in recovery, medication-assisted treatment programs that use drugs like Suboxone to help keep addicts off opioids such as OxyContin and heroin, residential treatment and detox beds, which are a critical first step in getting users clean.

The request for the funds comes as lawmakers begin to grapple with what will certainly be a tight budget year, made even leaner because of the impacts of Hurricane Irma.

Senate budget chief Jack Latvala wouldn’t say if $50 million is enough to combat the state’s opioid crisis.

“We just started working on this. This is the very first meeting of committees, very first meeting that this has been discussed. We have a lot of work to do before we can make opinions like that,” Latvala, a Clearwater Republican who is running for governor, told reporters after the meeting.

Latvala has made battling opioid addiction one of his top priorities, and asked Scott to use executive authority to release $20 million in emergency funds for the problem. Scott recently activated a $25 million emergency loan program for the citrus industry, which was devastated by Hurricane Irma.

“I asked for $20 million on an emergency basis to get us through the rest of this year. I’m still waiting. People are still dying. Nobody’s dying because oranges fell off of a tree,” Latvala said.

He again called on Scott to release the money.

“I think we need to treat the opioid crisis just like we’re treating the economic crisis from the hurricane. He (Scott) has the same ability on the opioid crisis to deal with that through the executive order as he has on the hurricane,” Latvala said.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Nursing homes seek variances from generator requirement

As industry attorneys waged a legal battle over new rules that require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators that can power air-conditioning systems, providers worried that they cannot meet the mandate by Nov. 15 are asking for variances from the rules.

Thirty-three providers requested variances Wednesday and Thursday, a review of state documents shows.

And that’s just beginning, said Florida Health Care Association spokeswoman Kristen Knapp.

“Wait until next week,” said Knapp, whose association represents hundreds of nursing homes. “I suspect you are going to see a lot more.”

Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration last month issued the emergency generator rules after eight residents of a sweltering Broward County nursing home died following Hurricane Irma. Six more residents died later after being evacuated.

Hurricane Irma knocked out the air conditioning at the nursing home, The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, which did not have a backup generator for the cooling system.

But nursing homes and assisted living facilities have objected to the emergency rules because they were only given 60 days to comply. That has led this week to facilities seeking the variances.

Florida law says that the “strict application of uniformly applicable rule requirements can lead to unreasonable, unfair, and unintended results” and, as a result, agencies are authorized to grant variances and waivers to rules that cause a substantial hardship.

To clarify the existing variance process, the Scott administration Thursday issued another emergency rule that, in part, laid out information the Agency for Health Care Administration wants providers to include in the requests for variances.

The changes, however, do not mean the governor is backing off his power policy, the administration says.

“It has no effect on the emergency generator rule and its enforcement. AHCA has made it clear that they will enforce this rule aggressively, and they will continue to do just that.” Scott spokesman McKinley Lewis said.

Long-term care facilities are seeking the variances because the Nov. 15 compliance deadline is nearing, and facilities that aren’t in compliance face steep penalties, including possible license revocation.

“They are working to comply,” Knapp said, but added that “there’s just a lot of issues involved in installing generators.”

Industry groups LeadingAge Florida, the Florida Assisted Living Association and Florida Argentum filed legal challenges to the validity of the emergency rules.

Attorneys spent a second day Friday in a hearing before Administrative Law Judge Garnett Chisenhall. The emergency rules require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have enough power to keep ambient temperatures at 80 degrees for 96 hours.

Chisenhall has two weeks to issue an order.

Though the Agency for Health Care Administration has regulatory oversight of assisted living facilities, the Department of Elder Affairs is required to work with AHCA in drafting rules.

Catherine Ann Avery, bureau chief of elder rights for the Department of Elder Affairs, testified that she worked with the department’s general counsel on the emergency regulations.

But during cross-examination, attorney Amy W. Schrader, who represents Florida Argentum, referenced an email between the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Elder Affairs and noted that the majority of the rule language was proposed by the agency.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Sweeping measure addresses prescription pills

Doctors would be limited to prescribing seven days’ worth of opioids for patients with acute pain and would have to check a statewide database before ordering most prescription pain medications, under a proposal filed Friday in the state House.

The 114-page bill, sponsored by House Commerce Chairman Jim Boyd, a Bradenton Republican, incorporates proposals put forward by Gov. Rick Scott aimed at curbing the opioid epidemic that has engulfed the state.

Scott’s office issued a news release Friday announcing the filing of the measure, an indication of the importance of what will be one of the most pressing issues for the Legislature during the session that begins in January.

“Families across our state are struggling with pain and loss inflicted by the national opioid epidemic and today I am proud that Senator Benacquisto and Representative Boyd are filing important legislation to help combat this terrible crisis,” Scott said in the release. Senate Rules Chairwoman Lizbeth Benacquisto, a Fort Myers Republican, is expected to file a companion measure to Boyd’s bill.

The proposal (HB 21) would limit doctors to writing prescriptions for three days’ worth of opioids, such as highly addictive oxycodone, unless the practitioner decides a seven-day prescription is “medically necessary to treat the patient’s pain as an acute medical condition.”

For the week-long supply, physicians would have to document the patient’s “acute medical condition and lack of alternative treatment options to justify deviation” from the three-day limit.

Some doctors, especially those who work in emergency rooms, have balked at a three-day limit and the requirement for documentation, which they say would take away time from patients.

Critics of a three-day limit also say that prescription-drug restrictions, while possibly stopping new patients from becoming addicted, won’t do anything to address the growing number of overdoses on heroin and fentanyl, a deadly synthetic opioid often mixed with heroin.

“In the emergency department, we see four to five overdoses a day,” Aaron Wohl, an emergency doctor in Lee County, told the Senate Health Policy Committee this week. “They’re not any using (prescription) medications. They’re using fentanyl and heroin.”

The limits are grounded in research that shows patients who took powerful pain medications for the first time had a higher chance of developing dependencies with longer prescriptions.

For example, new patients with a three-day prescription have a 3 percent chance of becoming addicted, compared to patients with a 30-day prescription, who have a 30 percent chance.

But Scott and his administration have indicated that the governor is open to increasing the three-day limit.

“The goal is to have a conversation and get everybody involved so as we go through this legislative session we have a bill that passes that is going to work to deal with the crisis,” Scott told doctors at a Florida Medical Association opioid summit in Tampa last week, after speaking about the prescription restrictions.

Shortly after Scott spoke, John Bryant, assistant secretary for substance abuse and mental health at the Department of Children and Families, expanded on the governor’s comments, saying Scott was offering an opportunity for doctors to “get it in a way that you think is something less than harsh.”

“We had this discussion in our shop and find that there are a lot of reasons … why three days may be more of a constraint than an aid at this point,” Bryant said.

The bill also includes a controversial component that would require doctors to look up patients on a prescription drug database, called the prescription drug monitoring program. The program has been aimed at keeping patients from getting multiple prescriptions for pain medications from different doctors.

Scott’s push to expand the use of the program is a dramatic departure from where he stood when he took office in 2011.

Then, the governor called for a repeal of the database, known as the PDMP. He reversed his opposition to it as Attorney General Pam Bondi lobbied heavily for the program to curb prescription-drug abuse.

State law now requires pharmacists to check the database before they fill prescriptions for controlled substances, but doctors are not required to consult it.

Many doctors and other health-care providers complain that the system is slow, difficult to use and takes too much time.

Even the state’s surgeon general admitted the database needs work.

“I have heard from many users that our current system is not that user-friendly,” Surgeon General Celeste Philip, who serves as secretary of the Florida Department of Health, told the doctors at last week’s meeting.

Philip said the department is working on updating the system and the revamped program “will be a lot less work.”

Law enforcement officials such as Bondi and some treatment providers view the PDMP as a critical tool.

Mary Lynn Ulrey, a nurse practitioner and CEO of Tampa-based Drug Abuse Comprehensive Coordinating Office, called the plan released Friday “the beginning of the beginning.”

“I do think the problem is on multi-levels. If people can’t get prescription drugs for pain management, they will turn to other drugs, like heroin. So, it’s a start,” Ulrey told The News Service of Florida in a telephone interview. “I am glad to see discussion around the bill. I’m hopeful that they’re paying attention. They know it’s a crisis. And they’re trying to do something.”

The proposal would also require pharmacists to check photo identification of patients before handing over controlled substances. A Senate panel heard complaints this week about patients who use aliases as a way of avoiding being tracked in the PDMP.

The bill drew praise from Walton County Sheriff Michael Adkinson, the president of the Florida Sheriffs Association, who noted that Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, and House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’ Lakes, were also quoted in Scott’s news release Friday.

“I think that tells you that they understand what we’re all dealing with here. It’s that serious,” he said.

Republished with permission of The News Service of Florida.

Flags at half-staff for late Tallahassee mayor

Gov. Rick Scott ordered the U.S. and state flags at half-staff for the late James Ford, Tallahassee’s first African-American mayor.

Flags will be lowered at the Tallahassee City Hall and at the Capitol in Tallahassee, from sunrise to sunset on Monday. Ford died Wednesday. He was 91.  

Ford

Ford became Tallahassee’s first black mayor in 1972, serving three terms, according to a news release. At that time, the mayor’s position rotated among city commissioners; the city now separately elects a “leadership” mayor.

Ford was a Tallahassee native, earning an undergraduate and master’s degrees from Florida A&M University. He was a veteran of World War II and Korea, serving in the U.S. Navy and Army.

Before his election to the Tallahassee City Commission, Ford spent 37 years as a school teacher, administrator, and principal in the Leon County Schools. He was later the first black elected to office in Leon County since Reconstruction.

“Ford was instrumental in helping progress Tallahassee’s government,” the release said. “His efforts helped establish the Minority Business Department, the Frenchtown Development Authority, the Affirmative Action Office and the first community center on the south side. Today, that community center bears his name – the Walker-Ford Community Center.”

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