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Lauren Baer raises $250K, Pam Keith $150K for CD 18 primary

Democratic congressional challenger Lauren Baer raised more than $250,000 and her Democratic rival Pam Keith raised $150,000 in the third quarter of 2017 for their battle to decide who might take on Republican incumbent U.S. Rep. Brian Mast in Florida’s 18th Congressional District.

Yet combined the two Democrats did not raise as much during the quarter as Mast, who pulled in more than $411,000 in July, August and September.

The pair of Democrats, Bauer, a former senior U.S. State Department under President Barack Obama, and Keith, a labor lawyer who was an insurgent U.S. Senate candidate last year who surprised many with double-digit support in the three-way primary, are focusing on a Treasure Coast district that’s likely to be an intense battleground next year.

Mast has raised more than $1.5 million overall toward his re-election. His campaign also spent $294,000 during the quarter, giving him an early start on creating a campaign foundation for next year. That left him with $921,000 cash-on-hand on Oct. 1

He also already is drawing national support form outside groups. Those outside groups, for both parties, likely are to weigh in heavily next year in a district that Mast flipped, which the Democrats already are targeting as one they think they can win back.

Baer, did not enter the race until August 1, yet raised $250,156 from individuals, plus another $1,514 she contributed herself. That left her with more than $236,000 in the bank on Oct. 1.

Keith reported raising $150,000, which included $60,000 from herself, $85,000 from individuals, and $5,000 in political action committee money. Her campaign reported 800 individual donations from more than 400 individual donors, averaging just over $100 per contribution.

“While it is true that the hurricanes temporarily delayed fundraising efforts, I am in awe of how my supporters rallied to provide a strong close to the quarter. I am not now, nor will I ever be beholden to the moneyed donor class. This is truly a grassroots effort and we are just getting started. “ Keith stated in a news release. “What we’ve accomplished is truly remarkable and it shows that you don’t have to come from money, you don’t have to be a billionaire, and you don’t have to be famous to have people recognize that you are the real deal.”


Supreme Court sets arguments in red-light camera battle

The Florida Supreme Court will hear arguments in February in a battle about a red-light camera program in the city of Aventura that could have broader implications across the state.

The court issued an order Monday that scheduled oral arguments for Feb. 7.

The case, like others, focuses on whether Aventura gave too much authority to a private company that contracted to help run the red-light camera program.

The 3rd District Court of Appeal upheld the Aventura program in a decision involving a motorist who received a ticket for improperly turning right at a red light.

In challenging the ticket, motorist Luis Torres Jimenez contended the city had illegally given “unfettered discretion” to a red-light camera company to review images of potential violations and to print and send out citations.

While the 3rd District Court of Appeal sided with Aventura, it also urged the Supreme Court to take up the case, saying the “lawful use of cameras to enforce red lights has attracted the attention of the public, local governments, and the Legislature.”

Red-light cameras have long been controversial, and the Florida House has started moving forward with a bill (HB 6001) for the 2018 session that would repeal a state law that allows local governments to use the cameras.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

State of emergency declared for white nationalist speech

Citing past clashes and protests, Gov. Rick Scott on Monday declared a state of emergency in advance of a speech white nationalist Richard Spencer is scheduled to give at the University of Florida.

The state’s Republican governor warned in an executive order Monday that a “threat of a potential emergency is imminent” in Alachua County, in north Florida. Spencer is slated to speak at the campus on Thursday and his pending appearance has already sparked protests in the university town.

Spencer participated in a white nationalist rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, that led to deadly violence in August.

Scott’s executive order will allow local law-enforcement authorities to partner with state and other law-enforcement agencies to provide security for the event. The university has already said it expects to spend $500,000 on security.

The governor is also activating the Florida National Guard to help with security if it is needed. Scott said he declared the emergency after discussing Spencer’s speech with Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell.

“We live in a country where everyone has the right to voice their opinion, however, we have zero tolerance for violence and public safety is always our number one priority,” Scott said in a statement. “This executive order is an additional step to ensure that the University of Florida and the entire community is prepared so everyone can stay safe.”

Spencer said the emergency declaration was “flattering” but “most likely overkill.”

“I’m not a hurricane or an invading army, at least not literally,” he said during a telephone interview Monday.

However, Spencer expressed concern that the emergency declaration could be used as a pretext for blocking his speech. He noted that Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe had declared a state of emergency on the day of the Charlottesville rally before Spencer and others could speak.

“That was basically a means for suppressing the rally,” Spencer claimed.

When he issued the declaration, McAuliffe had said via his Twitter account that he did it in order “to aid state response to violence” at the Charlottesville rally.

University of Florida officials said it was the violence in Virginia that led them to reject a request from Spencer and his National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank, to allow him to speak in September. After they threatened to sue, school officials said they would try to accommodate Spencer if he renewed his request for a different date.

University of Florida President Kent Fuchs earlier this month asked students to stay away from the campus event. He wrote in an email that Spencer and his group seek only “to provoke a reaction.”

Darnell said Scott’s executive order was not intended to “alarm anyone,” but to make sure that her office has the “resources and equipment to help us prepare for violence or widespread property damage.” Darnell said currently they are expecting both protesters and counterprotesters to show up in connection to Spencer’s appearance.

“We are hoping this is a nonevent,” Darnell said. “We are hoping this will go very smoothly and peacefully. But in the reality of this world we have to be well prepared.”

911 calls on nursing home dying: ‘Oh my God, this is crazy’

At first there was no hint of distress in the 911 calls, no sense of panic. But newly released emergency calls from a sweltering South Florida nursing home that lost its air conditioning to Hurricane Irma showed staffers becoming increasing agitated by an unfolding disaster that would ultimately claim 14 elderly lives.

The city of Hollywood on Monday released eight 911 calls made by employees of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills on Sept. 13, when eight patients died. By the second call, an employee is heard muttering “Whatta night.” On the fourth call, another tells someone, “Oh my God, this is crazy.”

The ninth call reported problems at the adjoining mental hospital owned by the same company.

Police are investigating. There have been no arrests and no charges filed.

Ted Yoho blasts ‘morally repugnant’ Richard Spencer, Antifa

Gainesville is under a state of emergency ahead of a Thursday speech from white nationalist Richard Spencer and U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho has a message for his constituents.

Urging them not to attend Spencer’s speech on the University of Florida campus, Yoho drew parallels between Spencer and leftist activist group Antifa, which will be on hand to protest the event.

“I refuse to be anywhere near this event because Richard Spencer and Antifa’s viewpoints are both morally repugnant. I choose not to offer either of them an audience,” Yoho wrote.

Yoho depicted Spencer and Antifa as two sides of the same coin in his lengthy press release, with Spencer’s support of “ethnic nationalism, racial division and white supremacy” counterpointed by “Antifa, a so-called ‘anti-fascist’ group comprised of radical Marxists and anarchists.”

“Hate groups and groups that promote violence and anarchy have no place in our society. They simply have a self-serving agenda and feed off mob-like participation and divisiveness,” Yoho asserted.

While Yoho urges peaceful assembly from the groups descending upon Gainesville, he adds that, should there be a lapse into violence, he “will press state and federal prosecutors to bring charges against malefactors to the fullest extent permitted by law.”

University of Florida officials said it was the violence in Virginia that led them to reject a request from Spencer and his National Policy Institute, a white nationalist think tank, to allow him to speak in September. After they threatened to sue, school officials said they would try to accommodate Spencer if he renewed his request for a different date.

University of Florida President Kent Fuchs earlier this month asked students to stay away from the campus event. He wrote in an email that Spencer and his group seek only “to provoke a reaction.”

— Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Kayser Enneking denounces Richard Spencer; Keith Perry silent

Senate District 8 challenger Kayser Enneking condemned alt-right personality Richard Spencer Monday ahead of his planned visit to Gainesville this week and called on all area leaders and elected officials, including incumbent Republican Sen. Keith Perry, to do the same.

Spencer, who coined the phrase “alt-right” through his website AlternativeRight.com, is coming to the Alachua County town Thursday to speak at the University of Florida’s Phillips Center for the Performing Arts.

The 39-year-old self-described white supremacist employs Nazi imagery and phrases in his advocacy for “peaceful ethnic cleansing” of the United States with the end goal of creating a “White Ethno-State” in North America – a neutered, newspeak way of saying he wants to force all non-white Americans out of the country to set up a whites-only nation.

“The America we know and love values every individual regardless of race, gender, orientation or socio-economic status. We are stronger when we work together for common goals. We are best when we celebrate our differences. We are greater when we recognize the contributions of all in the weaving of the fabric of America. Hateful, divisive, and violent rhetoric have no place in Gainesville, Florida, or our nation today,” said Enneking, who is running as a Democrat for the Alachua County-based seat.

The University of Florida physician and professor added that while she respects Spencer’s First Amendment right to express his political views, that “it is incumbent on our leaders to condemn heinous and hateful speech.”

She went on to single out Perry by name in the Monday press release.

“Speech that separates one American from another must be called out for what it is, shameful and despicable. I call upon all elected local officials, including my opponent Keith Perry, to condemn these views in the strongest possible terms and speak out against them. We cannot be indifferent to this hateful speech foisted upon our community. We must take a stand against it,” she said.

Florida Politics reached out to Perry’s district office in Gainesville for comment Monday, and also put in a call with his legislative assistant, but neither were prepared to offer a a response from the senator regarding Spencer’s Gainesville visit, nor were they willing to speak in his stead.

The Thursday speech got the attention of a different Republican, however.

Gov. Rick Scott announced Monday that he had approved a request by Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell to activate Florida’s Mutual Aid Plan, which allows the state and Darnell to quickly coordinate resources from other state, county and municipal law enforcement agencies if the need arises.

“We live in a country where everyone has the right to voice their opinion, however, we have zero tolerance for violence and public safety is always our number one priority,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “I have been in constant contact with Sheriff Darnell who has requested this Executive Order to ensure that county and local law enforcement have every needed resource. This executive order is an additional step to ensure that the University of Florida and the entire community is prepared so everyone can stay safe.”

The University of Florida is cordoning off a large chunk of its campus Thursday beginning at 8 a.m. in preparation for attendees and protestors, including the parking lots and parking garages surrounding the venue.

UF road closures map
A map released Oct. 11 by the University of Florida showing the restricted area surrounding the Phillps Center, where Richard Spencer is expected to speak Thursday. The closures go into effect 8 a.m. Thursday. The Gainesville Police Department may also close segments of SW 34th Street in preparation for the event.

Maguire Village and University Village South, two on-campus married and family housing units, are included within the restricted zone.

All those entering the designated areas will be required to pass through a metal detector, and those found with any items on an extensive list of contraband – ranging from cigarette lighters to water bottles – will not be allowed to enter the zone.

The University of Florida is reportedly spending around $500,000 to secure the area for the event. Spencer has paid UF $10,000 to rent the Phillips Center, with only about $4,000 of that money designated to cover security costs.

No cars will be allowed in or out of the area, a precaution likely designed to prevent a repeat of the events at the Charlottesville “Unite the Right” event in August, where a rally-goer aligned with the alt-right rammed his vehicle into a crowd of protesters, killing one person and injuring 19 others.

Florida’s 2 main political parties could pay hefty fines

Florida’s two political parties could get hit with some hefty fines.

State officials this month levied a $110,000 fine against the Republican Party of Florida. The party turned in a campaign finance report dealing with a South Florida House race 11 days late.

Republicans are appealing the fine to the state elections commission.

The Florida Democratic Party could also get hit with a large fine. The state Division of Elections notified the party on Oct. 9 that Democrats had failed to turn in a report associated with a central Florida House race.

Blaise Ingoglia, chairman of the state Republican Party, said it was an “oversight” that the report wasn’t filed on time.

But he contended state officials did not follow the law because they didn’t immediately notify party leaders. Ingoglia said the fines should be waived.

Brightline February train car derailment comes to light; critics call it ‘disturbing’

A Brightline train derailed in February and opponents of the planned, east-coast, high-speed passenger rail service expressed frustration Monday that they only recently learned about the accident and criticized the company for not mentioning it during Florida Legislature testimony about rail safety.

Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida and the counties of Indian River and Martin said Monday that it took them months to confirm the Feb. 11 accident, and only after they hired a Washington, D.C. law firm to pursue it. They criticized All Aboard Florida (AAF) for not disclosing the incident to the Florida Legislature while company officials offered opposition to bills that had sought to set state safety regulations on the railroad.

“Soon after this incident, officials attended not one but two state legislative hearings about rail safety and never once disclosed facts about the derailment, while they sought to table the safety legislation under consideration,” Brent Hanlon, chairman of CARE FL, stated in a news release issued Monday by that group and the two counties.

The critics said records show the accident caused $408,000 in damage.

“The disconnect between the derailment and AAF’s failure to make it public is disturbing,” Indian River County Attorney Dylan Reingold stated in the release. “The safety and well- being of our communities require greater transparency.”

A letter from the Federal Railroad Administration indicated that one car derailed, at low speed, at an All Aboard Florida rail yard.

A Brightline spokesperson called the incident minor, on private property, and fully and properly reported, and then dismissed the critics’ concern raised Monday as a “baseless fear tactic.”

“As confirmed by the Federal Railroad Administration, Brightline followed all applicable rules by providing prompt notification about the minor incident that occurred on its private property. This is another baseless fear tactic by Treasure Coast consultants,” the statement read.

Brightline is planning to open a private passenger train service from West Palm Beach to Miami later this year. Eventually the company intends to extend the line through Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River, and Brevard counties, and then into Orange County to connect the Orlando International Airport by high-speed train to West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami.

Some residents and public officials of those ride-through counties have arisen in opposition, arguing safety, environmental, and other concerns regarding a train that would be traveling through their communities at up to 110 mph. Last February the two sides battled in Florida House and Senate committee meetings over House Bill 269 and Senate Bill 386. Those bills, which failed, would have imposed additional, state-mandated safety requirements. Company officials insisted the train already would be governed by the highest-possible federal standards, meeting all the strict requirements for high-speed rail service.

All Aboard Florida also has had a couple major victories in court against opponents who contended more environmental requirements were needed. One as recently as Sept. 29, from a Florida administrative law judge denied a challenge brought by Martin and St. Lucie counties and the Town of St. Lucie Village on the South Florida Water Management District’s decision to issue an environmental resource permit. That court victory for All Aboard Florida essentially cleared away all pending litigation, allowing the company to go forward.

According to the Federal Railroad Administration, on Feb. 11, “a Brightline locomotive derailed its trailing truck while negotiating a switch at four miles per hour within the Brightline yard facility.

“The derailed Brightline locomotive was the second locomotive in a consist led by an FEC [Florida East Coast Railroad] locomotive into the Brightline yard and maintenance facility,” reads an Aug. 21 Federal Railroad Administration letter to a law firm hired by CARE FL and Martin County. “Brightline and FEC promptly notified FRA of the incident.”

That letter came after the law firm of McDermott, Will & Emery had inquired to the FRA, on May 30, about unconfirmed reports of the incident.

“It is unfortunate that Martin County is forced to spend taxpayer money to make sure our safety concerns are addressed at the state and federal levels. A simple confirmation of a derailment took three months to get from DOT, but six months after the derailment itself. We would have never known about this significant public safety issue had we not demanded to know the facts,” Ruth Holmes, senior assistant Martin County attorney, stated in the news release.

Farmers may get loans to help with Irma damage

Florida farmers in 44 counties may be eligible for federal loans to help cover damage inflicted by Hurricane Irma, the U.S. Department of Agriculture has announced.

Still, Florida might have to wait months for broader federal assistance to the agriculture industry, which sustained more than $2.5 billion in losses from the storm.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue notified Gov. Rick Scott on Friday that the federal agency determined that Florida had sufficient production loss to warrant a “secretarial natural disaster designation” for most of the peninsula.

The designation makes farmers eligible to be considered for Farm Service Agency programs, including emergency loans, Perdue wrote in a letter to Scott. Farmers have eight months to apply for the loans.

“FSA considers each emergency loan application on its own merits, taking into account the extent of production losses on the farm and the security and repayment ability of the operator,” Perdue wrote.

The federal designation names 19 counties as “primary” natural disaster areas and 25 as being in “contiguous” counties. Farmers in primary and contiguous counties are eligible to apply for loans.

The state on Sept. 28 had requested the primary designation for 19 counties. Irma made landfall in Monroe and Collier counties on Sept. 10 and then barreled up the state.

Under Perdue’s designations, the primary counties are Alachua, Bradford, Broward, Charlotte, Collier, Gilchrist, Glades, Hendry, Highlands, Hillsborough, Indian River, Lake, Lee, Marion, Miami-Dade, Monroe, Osceola, Palm Beach and Sumter.

The “contiguous” counties are Baker, Brevard, Citrus, Clay, Columbia, DeSoto, Dixie, Hardee, Hernando, Lafayette, Levy, Manatee, Martin, Okeechobee, Orange, Pasco, Pinellas, Polk, Putnam, St. Lucie, Sarasota, Seminole, Suwannee, Union and Volusia.

A preliminary report from the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services released Oct. 4 estimated that citrus industry losses from the storm approached $761 million. The state’s vegetable, nursery, cattle, dairy, sugar, non-citrus fruit and timber crops all were impacted by the massive storm.

In a statement Friday about the federal designations, state Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam said, “it’s important to recognize that the damage is still unfolding.

“By making more federal help available, combined with our Florida Citrus Emergency Loan Program, we are giving farmers a way to immediately address the losses they incurred during Hurricane Irma,” Scott said in a prepared statement.

Scott has authorized a $25 million interest-free loan program for citrus farmers.

The federal designation also came as Florida officials have turned their attention to the U.S. Senate, which this week is expected to take up a $36.5 billion disaster-relief package directed at hurricane damage in Texas, Florida and Puerto Rico and the ongoing wildfires in California. The money doesn’t include agricultural assistance for Florida.

The House on Thursday did not attach a measure to its relief package to cover losses incurred across Florida’s agricultural landscape. The measure was proposed by U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney, a Republican whose district covers rural lands northwest of Lake Okeechobee.

Putnam, a former congressman who is running for governor, told reporters Thursday that the federal assistance may not be available until early next year if the Florida agricultural funding isn’t added to the current relief package.

“If we’re not in that one, it could be as late as mid-December before the next one moves,” Putnam said “And then when you back that up from how long it would take to implement a program to get assistance out the door you’re looking at well into the first quarter of next year before growers are seeing any relief.”

Putnam, expressing concerns that foreign growers could make inroads into Florida, criticized the “traditional” disaster relief programs as “wholly inadequate.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

New Florida driver license, ID card expanding statewide

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (DHSMV) Monday said it was expanding its issuance of a new, more secure Florida driver license and ID card.

Through December, DHSMV will add the more than 200 remaining service centers to the list of offices offering the new credential throughout Florida, according to a news release.

“We understand our customers’ credential is the most valuable item in their wallet,” DHSMV Executive Director Terry L. Rhodes said in a statement.

“Through coordination with law enforcement, tax collectors and our statewide partners, Florida’s new credential is the most secure over-the-counter credential on the market today, delivering enhanced security features, up-to-date technology, convenient designations and a design unique to the Sunshine State.”

The new design includes nearly double the fraud protection measures compared to the previous design, the department said.

Security features on the new credential include redundant data, ultraviolet (UV) ink and optically variable features.

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