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Orlando is building the train station, not sure when or if trains will arrive

By the end of this year Orlando’s gleaming new $211 million train station should be virtually finished at Orlando International Airport, but it may be many years before trains start rolling in – if at all.

The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority is building a train station based on a vision of the future in which planes, trains, cars and buses all come together at what would be Florida’s tourism hub, with a people-mover tram connecting the station to the main air terminals, and a walkway to the next big air terminal GOAA plans to build next door. There also will be a new parking garage there.

In the vision, the planes would arrive from Sao Paulo, London, Frankfurt, New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles and elsewhere. The visitors move to the station from the main terminal on the people-mover trams, and then board high-speed trains for South Florida, commuter trains to downtown Orlando and the rest of the SunRail corridor, or light-rail trains to the Orange County Convention Center and the glittery hotels and attractions of International Drive. Or they get off those planes and trains and board buses or taxis, or rental cars, to explore the world’s tourism Mecca of Central Florida.

Construction of the station, known in transportation-jargon as the Orlando Intermodal Transportation Facility, began with contracts and promises for multiple trains and the kind of widespread civic support for which Orlando’s big projects are known.

“We’re moving along. We expect the project to be substantially complete,” GOAA Executive Director Phil Brown said of the train station, the parking garage and the people mover. “We’ll probably be operational in the fall of 2017.”

But trains never come easily for Orlando.

Brightline, formerly known as All Aboard Florida, just unveiled its first train set in West Palm Beach, with assurances that it and 15 others should start rolling, full of passengers, between there and Fort Lauderdale and Miami, by year’s end. Brightline has even begun test runs with the train, on 9 miles of test tracks. The stations there are nearly done. The tracks are nearly all ready. The marketing program is gearing up. Brightline secured $600 million in financing for it all.

The real draw of Brightline, though, may be its future connection from there to the Orlando Intermodal Transportation Facility at Orlando International Airport. With that, the state’s two biggest tourism centers could become an easy, two-day, two-attraction ticket. In addition to Orlando visitors heading south, South Florida visitors could head north.

There’s a place for Brightline at the Orlando Intermodal Transportation Facility.

Brightline has all the track corridor it needs from Palm Beach to Cocoa, has signed contracts with GOAA and the Central Florida Expressway Authority to obtain the corridors needed from there to the Orlando Intermodel Transportation Facility, and has spent at least $90 million on right of way. The company’s environmental impact statement is essentially done, and most of its permits are acquired. Planning, design and engineering work for the final track segments have begun.

Yet Brightline’s track from Palm Beach to Orlando is snarled in opposition and litigation. County and local leaders of Florida’s Treasure Coast want no part of being ride-over territory for trains traveling more than 100 mph through their scores of at-grade intersections and bridging their environmentally-sensitive rivers, canals and wetlands.

Last year Martin and Indian River counties sued in U.S. District Court and won some key preliminary decisions. Brightline’s financing was locked up. So, this past fall the company filed to split its funding plan, severing the $1 billion or so worth of tax-exempt bonds it needs for the controversial Orlando-Palm Beach portion from the rest, in case that portion never comes together. For the moment, that money is gone.

The lawsuit continues, as do other challenges, including to the environmental statement, and the permits Brightline has received from the South Florida Water Management District.

Brightline remains undaunted, though.

“We are committed to extending Brightline to Orlando, and we are exploring financing options for Phase 2,” spokeswoman Ali Soule said.

Initially, back when GOAA and All Aboard Florida reached their first agreements and the Orlando Intermodal Transportation Facility was green-lighted, the plan was for the first Brightline train to arrive at the airport this year. This year became the completion target for Orlando’s station.

Now, no specific timetables are being offered for the Brightline trains, not even ballparks, not even to GOAA officials.

The first rail of track has not been installed yet nor have any of the needed five bridges been built in the 38 miles between Cocoa and Orlando. The company also has to double-track the rest of the route, and the first rail of new track has not yet been laid, nor any of the 18 bridges upgraded, in the 129 miles between Cocoa and Palm Beach. All of that must be built after the lawsuits wrap up, and after new financing is secured.

“I think we anticipate there may be a delay from when we had originally anticipated they would be completed the same time we would be completed,” Brown said. “I don’t think that’s realistic now. But not having ever built a railroad, I wouldn’t want to suggest how they do that.”

Yet Brightline might wind up being the airport’s best train option for the foreseeable future.

The aviation authority, Orlando, Orange County, the Florida Department of Transportation, and the expressway authority also have been talking for years to a group including, at various times, the Spanish train company Globalvia, Florida EMMI LLC of Orlando, and American MagLev Technologies of Marietta, Georgia, for a magnetic-letivation train or, in more recent proposals, a light-rail train, to connect the airport with the Orange County Convention Center and International Drive.

There once was talk of the train starting service to the Orlando Intermodal Transportation Facility next year. But now GOAA officials are not looking for the proposed $560 million, private-planned, -financed, -developed and -operated train anytime soon.

“I don’t think the light rail project, if it goes forward, will be in there any sooner than 2021,” Brown said.

For now, there is disagreement about how welcome it is at the airport. GOAA officials don’t see the train as adding anything for the airport, only supplanting existing transportation: taxis, buses and rental cars. That trio provides significant fee revenue to the airport, so GOAA officials want the train companies to agree to replace those fees.

“They have issues with it, and they are contemplating how that works in with their feasibility,” Brown said.

American MagLev and EMMI already had negotiated a right of way lease along State Road 528 with the Florida Department of Transportation for just over 60 percent of the proposed corridor it needs. But the option has not been exercised and may be in trouble.

Tony Morris, president of American MagLev and manager of Florida EMMI, insisted in an email to FloridaPolitics.com that talks with the government agencies are ongoing and well, and he expects to wrap them up early this year.

“We spent all of 2015 and 2016 negotiating with the local stakeholders, for a project that we are paying 100 percent of the costs. That phase took two years longer than expected, but we think we are finishing that up now, hopefully in the next 60 days. When these agreements are done, we can then do the easy part, which is to build it,” Morris wrote. “The land is 100 percent in the public domain… This is a big advantage.”

The right of way lease option was to have expired at the beginning of this year because the companies had not met required conditions demanded by FDOT, and the department reluctantly extended it six months. But only six months. “No further extension will be granted,” FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold wrote earlier this month to Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and GOAA Chairman Frank Kruppenbacher, who all are on the GOAA board.

Those Orlando-area leaders had advised Boxold, in December, that their talks with the company were leading to other potential alignments. Boxold responded sternly in his Jan. 3 letter, stating that fundamental changes in alignment would not be consistent with “the terms of the EMMI proposal or the negotiated escrowed lease.”

“If the proposal by EMMI to establish a maglev system along State Road 528 does not reach fruition, we will be happy to discuss other concepts you may have for establishing that connection,” Boxold advised the Orlando leaders.

Then there is SunRail, Orlando’s commuter train, run by the Florida Department of Transportation, which operates on a north-south line that runs from DeBary in Volusia County, through downtown Orlando, to Sand Lake Road in south Orange County.

The next phase is an extension of that line southward into Osceola County, through Kissimmee, to Poinciana. That leg is to be finished late this year. The next phase after that was to be an extension of the line northward to Deland, though that died with opposition from U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, whose district includes Deland.

The phase after that was to be a new line running eastward, to Orlando International Airport.

There’s a place for SunRail at the Orlando Intermodal Transportation Facility.

No firm plans, timetables or alignments ever have been announced, though.

The Florida Department of Transportation is still studying the prospect, and it has no federal funding, which was envisioned to pay for most of it. The region’s transportation planning agency, MetroPlan Orlando, now programs federal construction money for the airport SunRail line to become available no sooner than 2020. Another MetroPlan projection has the project completed in 2016, noting that $153 million of the estimated $195 million cost is unidentified.

“Currently, study continues to examine which modes of transport, from SunRail Phase 2 to the airport, would be most efficient, cost feasible, and would qualify to be federally funded in part, as well as meet the needs of the community,” FDOT District 5 public information specialist Jen Horton stated in an email. “Once that additional study/work is complete, the plan would be presented to the public in the form of a public hearing.”

The trains lost crucial support in Congress when two highly committed and active backers, U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and John Mica of Winter Park, both lost re-election bids last year. Brown had served on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, while Mica was a former chairman of that committee with considerable influence at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Both had close ties to both SunRail and Brightline.

In their place, newly-elected U.S. Rep. Brian Mast was given a seat on the transportation committee last week. Mast, a Republican whose Florida’s 18th Congressional District includes the Treasure Coast counties of Indian River and Martin, is “100 percent against” Brightline running through his district from Palm Beach to Orlando, said Mast’s communication director Brad Stewart.

Nonetheless, Orlando airport officials are pushing forward. They do have some financial security. Most of the station was paid for with state transportation grants, and they have a $10 million line of credit from Brightline, provided to help amortize the $52 million in bonds.

Though it is already clear the train station will open without trains, and may stay that way for years, it still will have some use, Phil Brown said.

“We will be using the people mover system … We’ll have a parking garage down there. That clearly will be operational as well, because we, on a regular basis in the last several months, we’ve had to shut down the structured parking at the airport because it’s full. We have a need for more parking,” he said.

Surprise to Central Florida Expressway Authority: Tom Goodson wants it in Brevard

State Rep. Tom Goodson filed a bill Thursday to expand the Central Florida Expressway Authority into Brevard County, yet it seems no one on the expressway authority knows why.

Goodson filed House Bill 299, which would expand the authority’s realm from its current Orange, Seminole, Osceola and Lake counties base, eastward into the Space Coast county. The bill includes the addition of a board member appointed by the Brevard County Board of Commissioners chairman, and opens another spot for a possible gubernatorial appointment of a Brevard resident.

Neither Goodson, a Republican from Merritt Island in Brevard County, nor his office responded to inquiries from FloridaPolitics.com on Thursday.

But expressway authority spokesman Brian Hutchings said Thursday he is not aware of any plans for the expressway authority to extend its toll-road network into Brevard County. And he said he could find no one on the authority who is aware of why Goodson would introduce a bill to expand the authority there.

“It’s the first we’ve seen of that,” Hutchings said after checking on HB 299. “Our board members have not been briefed or anything.”

The expressway authority operates 109 miles of toll roads, mostly expressways, in Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties. The closest it comes to Brevard County is with the Beachline Expressway, State Road 528. The authority operates that toll road only as far as the interchange with State Road 520, about four miles west of the Brevard line. There are some longterm plans regarding extending the authority’s East-West Expressway, State Road 408, further east from where it ends. But that plan currently doesn’t propose taking it east of S.R. 520 either.

The Central Florida Expressway Authority board currently has nine members, including three appointed by the governor, the mayor of Orlando, the mayor of Orange County, and one county commissioner each from the four counties in the system.

Goodson’s bill would expand the board to ten members.

 

SpaceX to reopen legendary Kennedy launch site

Kennedy Space Center is getting back in the rocket business, now that SpaceX is back in business.

SpaceX is planning to launch its next rockets in the next few weeks from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A . They will be the first rockets to blast off from Kennedy Space Center since the space shuttle program was shut down more than five years ago.

NASA announced Thursday that the company will launch another cargo load to the International Space Station on a Falcon 9 rocket, sometime in February, from Launch Complex 39A. The exact date has not been set.

But that won’t even be the first. SpaceX also is planning a private launch from the site before then, though the company has not announced any details on the exact date or customer. The company is in line to lift two different commercial satellite missions  into space this winter, for the Luxembourg SES-10 satellite, and for the Brazilian EchoStar satellite.

Whichever, it’ll be SpaceX’s first rocket launch from anywhere in Florida since the last Falcon 9 blew up on a launch pad at the adjacent Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in August, though SpaceX launched a Falcon 9 rocket from California last weekend.

The location of the next blasts-off – 39A – signals both that SpaceX is back in business launching from Florida, and Kennedy Space Center is finally back in business hosting rocket launches.

Neither NASA nor SpaceX is saying much yet about the grand reopening though.

Launch Complex 39A is legendary. It’s where about half of the Saturn V rockets carrying Apollo launches, including the Apollo 11 moon mission of Neil Armstrong, Buzz Aldrin and Michael Collins began. It’s where most of the space shuttles were launched. And almost all NASA missions in between. But NASA hasn’t used the pad since Space Shuttle Atlantis blasted off on its final mission, July 8, 2011.

SpaceX signed a 20-year lease in 2014 with NASA to take over the complex and rebuild it to support the company’s Falcon 9 and Falcon 9 Heavy rockets, including those that will carry astronauts into space in the company’s Dragon Crew capsule. SpaceX and has been pouring tens of millions of dollars into rebuilding the complex. Still many of the historic structures where Armstrong, Aldrin, Collins and other historic NASA astronauts walked remain in tact.

SpaceX’s Cape Canaveral AFS launch site, Launch Complex 40, was heavily damaged when a Falcon 9 rocket blew up on the pad on Sept. 2. A few weeks ago SpaceX announced it had identified and resolved the issues, and last weekend launched its first rocket since, from Vandenberg Air Force Base in California. SpaceX had announced earlier in 2016 that it was essentially done rebidding 39A, except for some fine-tuning for the astronaut program, and there had been widespread speculation after the Sept. 2 disaster that it might switch to that site with its return to space.

Launch Complex 39A has a twin, 39B, which has not been used since 2009. NASA is rebuilding that to handle its next big rocket, the Space Launch System. Launch Complex 39B  likely won’t be used before 2018.

NASA has no other active launch sites at Kennedy. So, since Atlantis went up its final time, the federal, civilian space agency has launched all its Florida-based missions, whether on SpaceX, United Launch Alliance, Orbital ATK, or other rockets, from Cape Canaveral AFS, just over the fence from Kennedy. All military and commercial launches also have gone up from Cape Canaveral AFS.

At first court appearance, Markeith Loyd goes on expletive-filled rant about death of girlfriend

Murder suspect Markeith Loyd appeared in court early Thursday morning for an arraignment hearing, at which he went on a profanity-laced rant aimed at the accusations against him.

The judge has also ordered Loyd held without bond.

According to the Ninth Judicial Circuit State’s Attorney’s office, Loyd does not yet have an attorney representing him. He said in court Thursday that he’d be representing himself in the trial.

The hearing was only for his alleged killing of his girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and her unborn child, in December of 2016 – he hasn’t yet been charged in the killing of Master Sergeant Debra Clayton that spurned the nine-day, widely-covered manhunt that ended earlier this week.

At the hearing, Loyd was initially quiet, WFTV reports – answering questions with a “yes” or “no.”

But then he started to open up.

He said he was “defending himself” when Dixon was shot and killed, WFTV reports.

“Ya’ll just making (expletive) up,” he said. “You’re acting like I just went down there and shot that girl.”

“Her little brother got dropped off while we were just there talking.”

The judge warned him that everything he was saying was on the record, but he did not stop. As he left the courtroom, he spat a curse at her.

Orlando gunman’s widow pleads not guilty to aiding husband

The widow of the Orlando nightclub gunman pleaded not guilty Wednesday to charges of aiding and abetting her husband’s support of the Islamic State group and hindering the investigation of the attack that killed 49 people and injured 53 others.

Noor Salman, 30, entered her plea in an Oakland, California, courtroom two days after she was taken into custody at the home she shared with her mother in suburban San Francisco.

Her arrest came after she was interviewed numerous times by FBI agents investigating the June 12 attack in Florida.

Federal prosecutor Roger Handberg said in court Tuesday that Salman knew about the plan by her husband Omar Mateen to attack the gay nightclub and then lied to investigators after it was over. Mateen was killed at the scene by authorities.

Handberg declined further comment on the indictment outside court, and no further details of the charges have been disclosed.

Salman will return to court Feb. 1 to argue for her release pending trial on the counts that could result in a life sentence if she is convicted.

Salman’s uncle Al Salman has defended his niece, saying she is an innocent person who was physically and mentally abused by Mateen.

He said she remained in the marriage because she feared losing custody of the couple’s 4-year-old boy.

Noor Salman was living with Mateen in Fort Pierce, Florida when he proclaimed his allegiance to Islamic State and attacked the nightclub.

The indictment charges her with aiding and abetting Mateen in providing material support and resources to Islamic State between April and June of last year. She was also charged with obstruction, accused of misleading and lying to police and the FBI during their investigation.

Charles Swift, her lead attorney, declined comment Wednesday outside court. He is director of the Texas-based Constitutional Law Center for Muslims in America.

Salman told The New York Times in an interview published in November that she knew her husband had watched jihadist videos but that she was “unaware of everything” regarding his intent to shoot up the club. Salman also said he had physically abused her.

Republish with permission of The Associated Press.

Randolph Bracy applauds the arrest of suspected killer Markeith Loyd

District 11 Senator Randolph Bracy, who has made criminal justice a priority from the start of his term, applauded the capture of suspected killer Markeith Loyd Tuesday night.

Loyd is suspected in the murders of his pregnant girlfriend, Sade Dixon, last December and of Master Sergeant Debra Clayton earlier this month.

Bracy said the arrest was a victory for the area.

“I am happy to hear that Markeith Loyd was captured last night, and that this dangerous individual is no longer on the streets of Orlando,” he said. “I commend the brave officers and detectives of the Orlando Police Department and the Orange County Sheriff’s Office for apprehending this man and finally ending his killing spree. I am glad that Mr. Loyd is going to be brought to justice for the horrific killings and crimes he has committed in our community.

“My thoughts and prayers are with the families, friends, and colleagues of Loyd’s victims, and I wish them continued strength in the days to come.”

Bracy was recently named the chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee.

David Simmons weighing Florida attorney general, congressional runs

While giving his blessing to state Rep. Jason Brodeur to run for his current post, state Sen. David Simmons says he’s weighing his options to go after the Florida attorney general’s post, Florida’s 7th Congressional District seat, which Democrats just flipped, or staying full-time with his growing law firm.

The attorney general option could come sooner rather than later, as Attorney General Pam Bondi is widely reported to be in the running for a position in President-elect Donald Trump‘s administration.

If Bondi leaves, Gov. Rick Scott would be appointing a successor. If she stays, she’ll be term-limited out in 2018, the same year that U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy comes up for her first re-election bid in CD 7, a seat Republicans had held for generations before her arrival. Simmons said it was premature to say if he has spoken to Scott about the prospect of being appointed as attorney general.

One way or the other, Simmons, a Longwood Republican, leaves by 2020, when he term-limits out. That’s the year for which Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, announced he was filing to run to succeed Simmons in Florida Senate District 9, which covers Seminole County.

“I am looking at my options,” Simmons told FloridaPolitics.com.

“I know that in 2018 the attorney general position will be open, and maybe earlier. And so, at this point in time, we’ll see what happens,” Simmons said. “And then of course, with the events that occurred in Nov. 2016, I believe that there is a need to have a Republican who represents Congressional District 7. And so I’ll look at option as well. When it gets to be 2020, or 2018 — you know how politics is volatile that we don’t’ know what’s going to happen, and who is going to be running for what positions — predicting what is going on is a very difficult thing.”

Becoming just a private attorney with de Beaubien Simmons Knight Mantzaris & Neal also is attractive, he added. That firm, now using the logo DSK Law, has been growing rapidly and now has 50 lawyers and a full-spectrum practice, headquartered in Orlando with offices in Tampa and Tallahassee. Simmons is the financial managing partner, and practices large commercial litigation trial law.

Simmons first entered the Florida House in 2000 and was elected to four terms. He ran and was elected to the Senate in 2010.

The state attorney general’s prospect appears to be leading his current interests. Simmons said he and Bondi are close friends, and was hesitant to speculate about whether she would leave early, or — out of respect — whether he already was posturing to replace her.

Yet Brodeur’s relatively early announcement of interest in Simmons seat may signal that at least Brodeur anticipates that Simmons’ seat might open up soon.

“Certainly I am very interested in the attorney general’s position,” Simmons said.

“I am an attorney who has been involved in the practice of law, has three board certifications, all of them relating to the active practice of law, and having been now the Legislature and the Senate, and having been actively involved in many major issues.”

Simmons said he supports Brodeur to replace him.

 

Jason Brodeur announces 2020 state Senate bid

Jason Brodeur has his eyes on the Florida Senate.

The Sanford Republican announced this week he plans to run for the Florida Senate in 2020. Brodeur said in plans to run in Senate District 9, which is currently held by Sen. David Simmons.

“My roots in Central Florida run deep. Growing up here, I witnessed first hand how a community can thrive when citizens are given the freedom to work hard and pursue their passion,” he said in a statement Wednesday. “From graduating high school to starting my own local business, this community has always given me the chance to succeed. Now I want to continue to make sure every other resident of our community has that chance too.”

First elected to the Florida House in 2010, Brodeur served as the chairman of the House Health & Human Services Committee and the vice chairman of the Select Committee on Affordable Healthcare Access during the 2014-16 term. He’ll serve as the chairman of the House Health Care Appropripations Subcommittee during the 2016-18 term.

“Over the years, I’ve had the chance to serve on numerous local organizations and develop a deep understanding about the problems affecting everyday residents of Central Florida,” said Brodeur in a statement. “Whether it’s keeping our schools in the community’s hands, supporting small businesses or preserving our God-given rights, I’ll always do what it takes to protect our community in the State Senate.”

Brodeur spent 12 years working for Proctor and Gamble, and later started his own health care consulting company. He currently serves as the president and CEO of the Seminole County Regional Chamber of Commerce.

 

John Mina: ‘Great police work’ led to the capture of murder suspect Markeith Loyd

Markeith Loyd, suspected in the killing of Master Sergeant Debra Clayton in a shootout last week, was caught after over a week of hunting by the Orlando Police Department Tuesday night. He’ll face multiple charges of first-degree murder and aggravated assault.

Loyd has been the subject of a nine-day-long manhunt by the OPD as well as the Orange County Sheriff’s Office, the FBI and a slew of other agencies. He is suspected to have killed Clayton in a shootout at a Walmart on Princeton Street and John Young Parkway the morning of Jan. 9.

Clayton was pursuing Loyd because he was wanted for the December 2016 murder of his pregnant girlfriend, Sade Dixon.

Before a crowd of reporters at the OPD Headquarters, Police Chief John Mina relayed what had happened.

Around 7 p.m., Orlando Police tracked Loyd to an abandoned house on Lescot Lane in Carver Shores and a SWAT team was notified. Before they could arrive, Loyd allegedly tried to escape, but he ran back inside after being confronted by OPD officers.

Then he allegedly came out the front door clad in body armor, wielding two handguns, one of which had 100 rounds in it. But from there, he was apprehended and taken into custody. He threw the guns on the ground as he went, Mina said.

He did resist arrest as handcuffs were put on him and sustained some minor head injuries.

Mina said the arrest did not come from a tip, but from good old fashioned police work.

“This was great police work,” he said. “It was nine days of officers working nonstop. They were living in their vehicles, going to the bathroom in their vehicles. They talked to every associate who had come in contact with him since December. They tracked every single lead down.”

He said there would be more arrests coming, too, for those who may have aided and abetted Loyd since the killing of Sade Dixon.

Mina said they had notified Clayton’s husband as soon as they’d arrested him – but that the feeling was bittersweet.

“Where we caught Loyd was right around the corner from [Debra’s] mother’s house,” Mina said – and at that there was an audible gasp of surprise in the audience.

He also said they had used Clayton’s handcuffs on Loyd when they took him into custody – a long-held tradition to honor a fallen officer.

Sheriff Jerry Demings said they were relieved to have caught Loyd and that there were going to be multiple charges against him even aside from two counts of first degree murder for Clayton and Dixon.

Demings said the charges included two counts of aggravated assault for allegedly shooting one of Dixon’s brothers last December and pointing a gun at another brother.

Above all, though, they were relieved that the ordeal was over.

“The whole community has been impacted by these events,” Demings said. “All of America was watching these events unfold.”

“We’re very excited to go back to normal business of keeping this community safe,” Mina added. “We’re extremely happy that he is off the street and we can bring closure to Debra Clayton’s family, and Norm Lewis‘s family, and Sade Dixon’s family. It’s been a roller coaster of emotions. Some officers broke down in tears once they heard he was in custody – it was like they were finally able to cry.”

Loyd was escorted, with his face heavily bandaged, from the OPD HQ at around 9:30 p.m. Tuesday night.

High tech money, septic tanks, HIV funding, duck hunting: no shortage of needs as Orange County lawmakers listen

It was like meeting with Santa Claus in January as Central Florida political officials, lobbyists, activists and a few ordinary citizens lined up in downtown Orlando Tuesday afternoon to tell Orange County’s state lawmakers what they want in the upcoming Florida Legislative Session.

Eighteen million dollars for Osceola County’s high tech advanced research manufacturing center. Fifty-five million to take a newly-developed approach to treating septic tank sewage that’s polluting rivers, estuaries and groundwater. Three and a half million to support pre-K programs. Local abilities to ban medical marijuana dispensaries in cities and towns. A ban on duck hunting in the Lake Conway chain of lakes. HIV funding. No guns on campuses.

There may have been only a few surprises for the 12 members of Orange County’s Legislative Delegation as they sat through at least three hours Tuesday of citizen input, delivered in two-minute presentations, as many of the big ticket items were matters already widely discussed and lobbied.

One of the more discussed requests came from Dr. Kevin Sharin, county health department director for the Florida Department of Health, whose two-minute presentation turned into almost 10 minutes as the delegates pushed for more information on his requests. Speaking for the state department he pushed for money to hire 23 epidemiologists and other upgrades from $4.9 million to upgrade computer bandwidth, to statewide funding to address HIV. Florida, he said, has the fifth-highest HIV transmission rate in the United States, and Orange County has the third-highest rate in Florida.

Under further questioning, particularly from state Reps. Kamia Brown, Carlos Guillermo Smith, and Amy Mercado, Sharin delved deeper into the local need.

“Can you tell me how does the funding for Orange County specifically compare to other counties our size?” Mercado asked.

“We’re dead last,” Sharin responded.

But duck hunting?

According to Lydia Pisano, mayor of the tiny suburb of Belle Isle, it has become a big problem for many residents crowding the lake shores, and the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission has declined to address it.

“We have a huge safety issue,” she told the delegation, imploring them to declare the lakes a bird sanitary. “We are not trying to hinder anybody’s hunting rights or gun rights. We want safety. Our residents are out on their docks early in the morning, with their kids fishing.

“We need to put a stop to it,” she said of the duck hunting.

The meeting reflected the recent flip in control of the delegation.

State Reps. Mike Miller and Jennifer Sullivan, both Republicans, ran the meeting as chair and co-chair. Democrats state Sen. Victor Torres, Brown and state Sen. Linda Stewart were elected chair, vice chair and secretary for the next year.

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