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Orange County approves medical marijuana dispensaries

Medical marijuana dispensaries will be allowed anywhere in unincorporated Orange County that pharmacies might go, thanks to a unanimous vote Tuesday evening by the Orange County Commission.

After hearing scores of people testify in favor of allowing the dispensaries Tuesday and at a previous commission public hearing on Oct. 31, the board of commissioners decided that the 73 percent of Orange County voters who approved the statewide medical marijuana initiative last year can’t be wrong.

The vote came in part out of frustration as Mayor Teresa Jacobs and several of the six commissioners bemoaned the directive given them by the Florida Legislature last spring that they could either approve them without restrictions or ban them entirely. And they weren’t interested in banning them entirely, not after hearing from veterans suffering from PTSD, caregivers telling of loved ones needing something other than opioids, and assurances that the dispensaries look more like doctor’s offices than California pot shops.

Still, many of them said they must urge the Florida Legislature to give them more authority to limit where they might go. Currently, they can go in anywhere a pharmacy can be located, which includes all commercial districts, a few industrial districts, and a handful of planned developments. Jacobs suggested that the bans might wind up being ruled unconstitutional anyway, and said she wants the issue put on the county’s legislative to-do list for this Legislative Session.

With Tuesday’s approval, Orange County becomes the first in the immediate Central Florida area to allow the dispensaries. Lake County has banned them. Seminole and Osceola counties have temporary moratoriums and will take up the prospect of ban or allow later. And in Orange County, the cities of Winter Garden, Winter Park, Apopka, Windermere, Ocoee, and Oakland have banned dispensaries, while Edgewood, Maitland, Eatonville, and Belle Isle have moratoriums. Orlando has not, and it hosts the county’s first dispensary, located just north of downtown.

“There are very compelling reasons to do this,” said Commissioner Pete Clarke, who made the motion to allow them. “One is, it’s the law of the land, it’s the law of the state of Florida.”

He and the other commissioners had listened to several hours of testimony and almost all of it came from proponents. Much of the pro-effort had been organized by state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, an Orlando Democrat, who spoke at the Oct. 31 hearing, but was in Tallahassee for the Tuesday’s hearing and so sent an envoy with additional testimony.

“This is a major victory for cannabis patients in Orange County,” Smith said in a written statement afterwards. “As cities and counties across Florida are moving to ban dispensaries in their area, it’s good to see that our local efforts to mobilize cannabis patients and advocates actually made a difference. The public spoke out, and Orange County officials listened.”

Perhaps the most compelling argument for allowing the dispensaries came from Commissioner Jennifer Thompson, who said two years ago she watched her step-father go through fatal stage 4 colon cancer, and then her [now ex-] husband suffer a heart attack, on top of PTSD symptoms. Both of them would have benefitted from medical marijuana, she said, but instead her father-in-law went on opioids to control his end-of-life pain, while her husband went on a long list of drugs.

“I made up my mind on this two years ago,” Thompson said.

Even with the approval, there were concerns, mainly about the on/off choice the commissioners were forced to make. Commissioner Betsy VanderLey raised images of dispensaries popping up in Orlando’s tourist district, saying she had real concerns about “what that does to the family-friendly brand. There has to be some discussion about our ability to limit where it can be located.”

Clarke noted he grew up in the 1960s and ’70s and knew plenty of people who used marijuana, and said it destroyed some lives. But he said the only people he heard from who were opposed were hiding behind the Internet.

Commissioner Victoria Siplin said that for her it came down to numbers: those who voted in favor of Amendment 2 last year. She checked the vote in the precincts in her district.

“About 78 percent of my voters voted for the medical marijuana amendment,” she said. “I had one district that voted 100 percent for it. What the Legislature handed to us, it has issues. But besides that, I have to look at the numbers.”

Kamia Brown calls for ‘redoubled’ mental health efforts after school suicide

State Rep. Kamia Brown of Ocoee called Tuesday for the state to redouble efforts to provide mental health services for students after the apparent suicide of a student at Minneola High School in Lake County Tuesday morning.

The Orlando Sentinel is reporting that a 17-year-old student named Seth Sutherland shot and killed himself in the school’s bus loop out front of the school during a fire drill. The paper quoted school officials as saying the boy was alone and the shooting was not witnessed.

“I want to extend my deepest condolences to the friends and family of Seth Sutherland, who we so tragically lost this morning. Our hearts are with you as we all mourn a life lost far too soon,” Brown stated in a release issued Tuesday afternoon.

Brown serves on the House Education Committee and the PreK-12 Appropriations and Quality subcommittees.

“As we learn more about the causes behind today’s incident, what is clear is that we must redouble our efforts to improve mental healthcare for students throughout Florida,” she added. “When we look at ways to improve our public school system, a renewed focus on providing the types of wrap-around services that could potentially prevent these types of tragedies is key. With teen suicide rates on the rise for the first time in two decades, there’s no time to waste in making the critical investments in our children they deserve.”


Central Florida officials ask Rick Scott for more coordination for Puerto Rico evacuees

The influx of Puerto Ricans evacuating their devastated homes in Puerto Rico are beginning to test the capacities of Central Florida and in particular Osceola County, and more state coordination is needed, a group of local officials told Gov. Rick Scott Monday.

Those officials, including Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez, Osceola County Schools Superintendent Debra Pace, and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, told Scott during a roundtable meeting in Kissimmee Monday morning that they want to do all they can to help Puerto Ricans displace by Hurricane Maria but they expect to reach their limits, as Central Florida appears to be the first-choice of most of the more than 143,000 who’ve come to Florida already.

The problem is that evacuating people seek first to live with or near family they have stateside, and that means concentrated communities in South Florida, the Tampa Bay area, and the State Road 417 corridor through Seminole Orange and Osceola counties of Central Florida. While so far the vast majority of evacuees appear to be finding places to stay, mostly with families, officials are expecting an already-existant housing shortage to become a crisis. And certain schools already are crowding.

More than 6,300 children from Puerto Rico have enrolled in Florida schools since Hurricane Maria, following the pattern of their evacuee parents into communities that already have large Puerto Rican populations.

“We have 1,352 new students from Puerto Rico specifically from Hurricane Maria, and an additional 100 from the other storms,” Pace said.

That’s the equivalent of two full elementary schools of new students who arrived in a few weeks. And more are on the way, as some projections exceed 300,000 for the number of Puerto Ricans likely to relocate to Florida. Osceola schools already were peaking beyond projections before Hurricane Maria, Pace said.

“We’re welcoming them and doing all we can to serve them. But capacity is becoming a true issue: teacher needs, staffing to help support them,” Pace said. “And as you notice the conditions down there are not good, so the children are stressed. The families are stressed. It is really taking an emotional toll as well to educate them as well as to love them.”

The dilemma is created because the existing large communities of Puerto Ricans in Florida are where the evacuees are most likely to have family and friends who can offer them spare bedrooms, couches, and a few hot meals. But if they want to stay, and indications are most are expecting to stay, that’s a temporary situation that would last only a few months, and then the housing shortage and jobs pool will become bigger factors.

Housing is the next big challenge, Alvarez predicted. He made a couple of suggestions, including the placement of FEMA trailers, and the possibility of converting closed motels in the U.S. Highway 192 corridor into FEMA housing.

“We need to look at how we are going to get that resolved before that becomes a problem,” he said.

And the schools already are experiencing the imbalances, as Pace described.

“If they want to stay in Central Florida, which is a logical thing for them to want to do, even if we brought in housing, our schools may not be able to handle it,” Jacobs said. “So that’s why we’ve been looking to see if FEMA has a broader approach if we need it.”

Jacobs had written to Scott, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and Florida Division of Emergency Management two weeks ago, along with the chairs of Osceola and Seminole counties, urging a meeting such as the one Monday be set up to examine how the federal, state and local authorities could plan long term and coordinate more closely to try avoid service capacity issues by overwhelmed areas, while other areas of the state might have plenty of housing, school capacity and jobs going untapped.

In addition to providing relief resources to the island of Puerto Rico, Scott has coordinated a number of efforts in Florida to assist evacuees, starting with the creation and opening of welcome centers at the Miami and Orlando international airports which have helped direct more than 26,000 evacuees and their families toward housing, food, transpiration, education, job placement, and other services, and, last week, directing the Florida Division of Emergency Management to activate the State Emergency Operations Center to Level 2, to better coordinate transitional housing.

“The biggest thing is to figure out how we go forward,” Scott said. “We’re going to continue to have housing, education, jobs, we’ll have all these issues.”

Jacobs said she heard what she hoped to hear.

“This addresses the need for a meeting, absolutely,” Jacobs said. “We were very pleased.”

David Santiago leads all Central Florida House candidates in October fundraising

Note: a previous version of this story inaccurately reported the campaign finances of Lee Mangold, Democrat running in House District 29 in northern Seminole County.

Republican State Rep. David Santiago led all Central Florida candidates for the Florida House of Representatives in October fundraising drawing in $21,000 for his re-election bid in Florida’s House District 27 in Volusia County.

Santiago, of Deltona was one of five candidates region-wide who were able to attract at least $10,000, along with two other Republican incumbents, state Reps. Randy Fine of Palm Bay, and Mike La Rosa of St. Cloud; Republican hopeful Tyler Sirois of Merritt Island; and Democratic hopeful Anna Eskamani of Orlando.

The trio of Republican incumbents with five-figure October hauls got virtually all of their campaign donations in October from political action committees, lobbyists, and corporations, almost all of it coming in $500 or $1,000 checks, a common occurrence across all incumbents’ campaign finance reports for October.

Santiago raised all $21,000 of his October bounty from PACs, corporations, or lobbyists. Fine, who is unopposed, raised $20,500 in the month for his re-election bid in House District 53 in Brevard County, all of it in checks of $500 or $1,000 from PACs, lobbyists or corporations. La Rosa, $13,515 in his re-election quest for House District 42 in Osceola County, including $515 that came from individuals.

By contrast, Eskamani raised $16.892 through 221 donations from individuals. Sirois also raised much of his October revenue of $10,130 from individuals, though his 36 contributions included some from a couple of local car dealerships, a gun store, and a gambling interest.

Eskamani’s quest to succeed Republican incumbent state Rep. Mike Miller of Winter Park continues to be the region’s hottest race. She now has raised $126,267, and spent about $25,000 of that. Her opponent Republican Stockton Reeves, a Winter Park businessman, reported raising $1,300 in the month. Including a $90,000 loan he made to open his campaign, Reeve’s campaign has about $93,000 in cash, not far behind Eskamani’s war chest total.

In HD 27, Santiago’s opponent, Democrat Tyran Basil of Deltona, reported raising $125 in October, giving him about $1,591 in total funds raised, and about $650 in the bank.

In House District 28, for a Seminole County seat being vacated by Republican incumbent state Rep. Jason Brodeur, Republican David Smith of Winter Springs continues to have the most dominant position in fundraising. He reported raising just $1,406 in October, but finished the month with about $113,000 in the bank. Fellow Republican Chris Anderson of Lake Mary reported raising no money in October, and finished with about $7,700 in the bank. Democrat Lee Mangold of Casselberry raised just $120. That left him with nearly $10,000 in the bank.

In House District 29, Republican incumbent state Rep. Scott Plakon of Longwood reported raising $8,000 in October, all through PACs, corporations, and lobbyists, giving him about $37,500 in the bank. October reports have not yet been posted for his Democratic opponent, Patrick Brandt of Longwood. Brandt started October with about $100 in the bank.

In House District 30, Republican state Rep. Bob Cortes of Altamonte Springs, who is unopposed, picked up $9,000 in October, all of it from PACs, corporations, and lobbyists. He finished the month with about $53,500 in the bank.

In House District 31, Republican incumbent state Rep. Jennifer Sullivan of Mount Dora reported raising $500 in October, giving her about $15,700 in the bank. October reports have not yet been posted for her Democratic opponent Debra Kaplan of Eustis, who had finished September with about $1,700 in the bank.

In HD 42, La Rosa has now raised $69,432 and spent $30,018, giving him $39,416 in the bank. October reports have not yet been filed on his opponent Barbara Cady of Kissimmee, who had finished September with about $3,500 in cash.

In House District 43, Democratic incumbent state Rep. John Cortes of Kissimmee, who is unopposed, raised $2,500, all from unions and corporations, giving him $19,000 in-hand.

In House District 44, newly-sworn-in Republican incumbent state Rep. Bobby Olszewski of Winter Garden reported raising $6,200 in his first two weeks of a re-election campaign, which included $5,000 from various Walt Disney Co. companies. Democratic challenger Dawn Antonis‘s October reports were not yet posted Monday morning. She had finished September with $1,355. Democratic challenger Matt Matin just entered the race, and reported no financial activity yet.

In House District 45, Democratic incumbent state Rep. Kamia Brown of Ocoee, who is unopposed, reported raising $2,500 all from PACs and corporations, giving her $10,350. In neighboring House District 46, reports had not yet been posted for Democratic incumbent state Rep. Bruce Antone of Ocoee, who also is unopposed. In House District 48, Democratic incumbent state Rep. Amy Mercado, also unopposed, reported raising $3,500 in October, all from unions and corporations. She finished the month with $23,843 total raised, and about $16,000 in the bank.

In House District 49 Democratic incumbent state Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith now has an opponent, Jose “Pepito” Aponte, an Orlando Republican. Smith raised $5,300 in October, with $3,000 of that coming from PACs and unions. He finished the month with about $5,800 in the bank. Aponte has not yet reported any campaign finance activity.

In House District 50, Republican incumbent state Rep. Rene Plasencia, now unopposed since his former opponent dropped out last month, collected $5,500 in October, all from PACs and corporations, giving him $76,200 raised so far, and more than $50,000 in the bank.

In HD 51, Sirois’s big October puts him solidly ahead of two Republican primary candidates who had mostly kept up with him in the money chase until recently. Sirois now has raised $56,650 and finished October with about $39,000 in the bank. Republican Thomas O’Neill of Rockledge raised no money in October and finished the moth with about $5,800. Republican Jeffrey Ramsey of Merritt Island raised $500 in October, leaving him with about $17,400 in the bank.

In House District 52, Republican incumbent state Rep. Thad Altman of Indialantic reported raising $4,500 in the month, most of it from PACs and lobbyists, giving him about $12,400 in the bank. Republican Matt Nye of Melbourne reported raising $550, giving him $508 in the bank.

Pete Clarke raises $9,300 in Orange County mayor’s race, while Jerry Demings, Rob Panepinto now top $240K

Orange County Commissioner Pete Clarke reported raising $9,301 in his first month of campaigning for the Orange County mayor’s job in 2017.

That starts him off well behind the two leading candidates in the money chase so far, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings and Rob Panepinto, president of Orlando Inc., the Orlando-area chamber of commerce. They each announced or posted their campaign finance numbers early last week. Yet Clarke said he has not begun serious campaign fundraising yet, and has several major events set before the end of the year.

The October reports for the fourth major Orange County mayoral candidate, Orange County School Board Chairman Bill Sublette, have not yet been posted on the Orange County Supervisor of Elections website.

In October, Clarke picked up 20 checks, including a $1,000 donation to himself, and five other maximum-amount checks from businesses and individuals. He also received about $900 in in-kind contributions. He spent just $80, leaving him with $9,220 in cash at the start of November.

By contrast, Panepinto raised nearly $240,000 in the month of October, including $100,000 he donated to his own campaign. About $172,000 of that went into his official campaign fund, and another $69,000 went into his independent political committee, Vision Orange County. His big checks to Vision County included $10,000 from banker Sal Nunziata of Orlando, $9,000 from health care professional Davian Santana of Clermont, $8,000 from businessman David Carmany of Winter Park, and $7,000 each from Shawn Bush of Orlando and the 2013 Leford Revocable Trust.

Demings, who entered the race in July, maintains a slight edge in the money chase. He reported raising $60,676 in his official campaign fund and another $55,000 in his political committee, Orange County Citizens for Smart Growth, in the month of October. Between them, he has raised $251,412. His biggest checks to his independent committee were $25,000 apiece from the Colonial Medical Center and Mauricio Chiropractic Group, both of Orlando, and $5,000 from the Community Leadership PAC of Arlington, Va. He has spent $19,000 from his campaign committee.

Like Clarke and Panapinto, Sublette just entered the race, and did not file any previous campaign finance reports.

Dorothy Hukill raises $30K, Dennis Baxley $33K, in Florida Senate re-election bids

State Sen. Dorothy Hukill reported raising more than $30,000 in October toward her 2018 re-election bid in Florida Senate District 14 in the northern Space Coast.

Hukill’s haul was her biggest one-month total yet, and brings her contributions to $84,700. After expenses the Port Orange Republican had $57,400 in the bank at the end of October, according to reports posted on the Florida Division of Elections website.

Her opponent, Democrat Melissa Martin of Cocoa had a decent month herself, but remains far behind in the money chase. Martin reported raising $2,900 in October, bringing her three-month total to $8,300. After expenses, she reported having just under $8,000 in the bank.

The big difference thus far has been that virtually all of Martin’s contributions have come from individuals. She has collected but one $1,000 maximum donation, and only another 10 checks for more than $100, among her 105 donations. Meanwhile, all but a dozen or so of Hukill’s donations have come from political action committees, corporations, and lobbyists. Of Hukill’s 92 campaign donations, 47 were for the $1,000 maximum, and only one was for under $100.

Similarly to Hukill, state Sen. Dennis Baxley reported raising more than $33,000 in October, virtually all of it from political action committees, corporations and lobbyists. That brings the Ocala Republican’s fundraising total to $65,350 in his 2018 Florida Senate District 12 re-election campaign, leaving him with about $49,800 in the bank.

His Republican primary opponent, Keasha Gray of Ocala, has not reported raising any money since entering the field five months ago.

In other Central Florida state Senate contests, State Rep. Jason Brodeur‘s 2020 bid to succeed state Sen. David Simmons in Seminole County’s Florida Senate District 9 seat continues to roll three years out from the election, with another $17,150 raised in October, the most he’s collected in a month since his big start early this year.

That gives Brodeur, the Sanford Republican, $177,125 raised in his official campaign fund for the 2020 election, and he has another $1 million raised in his Friends of Jason Brodeur political committee. After expenses, Brodeur has $70,000 in his campaign fund and about $270,000 in his unofficial political committee.

The SD 9 race has one other candidate, Democrat Frederick Ashby of Oviedo, who reported raising no money last month. He’s raised $425 total since filing for the seat in May, and has lent his campaign $1,100.

State Sen. Victor Torres reported raising $6,500 in October giving him a donations total of about $31,000 for his 2020 Senate District 15 re-election campaign. Torres has about $23,000 cash on hand. He does not yet have an opponent.

State Sen. Randolph Bracy’s campaign finance reports for the month of October have not yet been posted in Florida Senate District 11. He also does not yet have an opponent. Neither state Sen. Linda Stewart nor anyone else has yet filed paperwork for the 2020 election in her Senate District 13.


Expressway Authority deal allows E-ZPass use from Northeast on Central Florida toll roads

The Central Florida Expressway Authority has approved a deal with a consortium of northern toll agencies that will allow their customers to drive Central Florida toll roads, paying tolls with their hometown transponders.

The deal, approved Thursday by the CFX Board of Trustees, is with the E-ZPass group representing 37 toll-road and toll-bridge agencies in 16 northeast states from Maine to North Carolina, and as far west as Illinois. The arrangement will become operational sometime next spring.

The immediate impact is that, among the tens of millions of visitors to Central Florida each year, anyone who drives into town and has a local toll road agency’s transponder won’t have to worry about going through the cash-only lanes on CFX toll roads. They’ll be able use the local express-pass lanes as if they were locals with E-PASS transponders. Their hometown transponders also will work on other E-PASS locations, such as the parking garages at Orlando International Airport.

The deal’s not quite reciprocal yet, though.

E-PASS users in Central Florida won’t be able to use their transponders in the E-ZPass system in northeast states, at least not right away. However the Central Florida Expressway Authority is working out details on a plan that would allow E-PASS users to eventually trade in their existing transponder cards for new ones that would work on the E-ZPass system. It’s not clear yet whether there will be a fee for that, or when the new transponder cards would become available.

The deal also does not affect other toll roads in Florida, including those of Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise, run by the Florida Department of Transportation, or users of their transponders, such as SunPass. E-ZPass transponder cards won’t work on those roads, and SunPass users won’t be able to use their transponders on E-ZPass roads.

That makes things a little complicated on Central Florida expressways, because some are split, with portions owned by the Central Florida Expressway Authority and using E-PASS equipment, and portions owned by the Florida Department of Transportation, using SunPass equipment. The dual-governed expressways include State Roads 417, 429, and 528.

CFX and Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise have a reciprocal, interoperability agreement for E-PASS and SunPass, allowing their users to drive those roads and other roads seamlessly, with their transponders working anywhere. But that interoperability doesn’t extend to the E-ZPass deal.

Still, officials insist the deal, the first in Florida with the E-ZPass group, is the next step, and a big one, toward a vision of coast-to-coast interoperability of toll-road transponders.

“By joining the E-ZPass group, CFX is furthering the conversation toward seamless travel on all toll roads regardless of where you live, work or play.” CFX Executive Director Laura Kelley stated in a news release. “Our collaboration is another example of CFX’s commitment to putting our customers first.”

The Central Florida Expressway Authority operates a 118-mile system of expressways in Metro Orlando while serving Brevard, Lake, Orange, Osceola and Seminole counties, and more than 80 percent of CFX drivers use transponders.

The E-ZPass system is in operation for all toll roads and bridges in Maine, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Delaware, Maryland, Virginia, North Carolina, West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, Indiana, and Illinois.

“Expanding our network into Florida is wonderful news for E-ZPass customers who count themselves among the estimated 68 million annual visitors to the Orlando area,” E-ZPass Group Executive Director P.J. Wilkins stated in the release. “One of our main objectives is to improve the ease and uninterrupted travel that E-ZPass customers enjoy, and portability to the Sunshine State is certainly a common request.”

The Central Florida Expressway Authority already has an interoperability deal with toll road agencies in Georgia and North Carolina.

Longwood city election spurs bill to strip cities of control of cardroom gambling

The results of Tuesday night’s elections for the Longwood City Commission – with three new commissioners elected to office – has spurred state Reps. Scott Plakon and Bob Cortes to file a bill that would strip cities from having any approval of cardrooms at pari-mutuel facilities such as dog tracks.

Longwood is home to the Sanford Orlando Kennel Club, a dog track that has been pushing for years for the opportunity to open a cardroom, but which has been rebuffed by the Longwood City Commission. The Seminole County Board of Commissioners also is on record opposing any expansion of gambling in the county.

Tuesday’s election brought Richard Drummond, Matthew Morgan, and Abigail Shoemaker to the five-member Longwood City Commission. Drummond is security manager at the dog track, and both he and Morgan received $1,000 checks from the Central Florida Greyhound Association for their campaigns.

Drummond said Thursday that he ran with no intent to push for gambling expansion, has made no promises he would support it, and would not advocate it to other commissioners, yet he is open to the prospect, saying it should be up to the citizens of Longwood. He supposed he would have to recuse himself if the matter came up to the commission, though he said that would ultimately be up to the city attorney. He also said if it does come up, he would like to see the issue put before voters in a referendum.

Plakon and Cortes filed House Bill 6029 late Wednesday, which would require the Florida Division of Pari-Mutuel Wagering to require an approving vote of the county commissioners, rather than of a municipal commission, before issuing a cardroom license.

Plakon, of Longwood, Cortes, of Altamonte Springs, and another Seminole County Republican state representative, Jason Brodeur, of Sanford, all openly backed the losing candidates in the three Longwood races, City Commissioners Mark Weller and John Maingot, and Michael Dodane.

Plakon said Thursday he is concerned that, unlike previous Longwood commissioners, Drummond’s Morgan’s and Shoemaker’s positions on gambling expansion are not publicly known.

But Plakon said the point of his and Cortes’s bill is the concern that any new gambling has impact far beyond a specific city, and should have at least county-wide review before the state would issue a cardroom license. Currently Florida law allows the division to issue licenses from pari-mutuel facilities if they get approvals from their city commissions, unless the locations are in unincorporated areas, when the law requires approvals from the county commissions.

Drummond said the bill is pay-back for his, Morgan’s and Shoemaker’s victories over the candidates that Plakon and Cortes backed.

“This needs to be decided at the city level, not at the state,” Drummond said. “The only [place] this [bill] is going to effect is the city of Longwood. … I’m very frustrated that they’re going to continue to get back at us after their candidates lost the election. It’s just sad they want to step in and then use their power and their authority to interfere with local politics.”

There are only two pari-mutuels in the entire state that do not have card rooms, The Sanford Orlando Kennel Club and Orlando Live Events, formerly known as the Orlando Jai Alai Fronton, which is in unincorporated Seminole County, in Cortes’s district.

“The previous [Longwood] commissioners, to us, had stated very clearly their opposition to expanding gambling in the dog track. But during the election it wasn’t entirely clear to us, the now new commissioners, what their position is,” Plakon said.

“The well-known deleterious affects of [gambling expansion] go well beyond the borders of that,” city, Plakon said. “So we filed this legislation thinking it’s more appropriate to empower counties to make this decision since it will likely have an impact on their constituents as well.”

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, wife Karen Dyer divorcing

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer and his wife Karen Dyer are divorcing after a a 29-year marriage, Dyer’s office confirmed Thursday morning.

News of the breakup broke through the Orlando Sentinel, which reported that the Dyers are seeking an amicable split after separating for some time.

In a statement issued by his office, Buddy Dyer stated, “After being separated for some time, Karen and I are divorcing. This was a mutual and amicable decision. We hope to continue to handle this in a private and dignified manner that can be an example for others who face this difficult decision.”

The Sentinel reported that Buddy Dyer, mayor for 14 years, filed for divorce in Holmes County on Sept. 1, describing their marriage as “irretrievably broken.”

Karen Dyer is a lawyer with Boies Schiller Flexner.

Florida Hospital Association lauds Stephanie Murphy’s ‘Disaster Displacement Act’

The Florida Hospital Association is expressing strong support and “deep appreciation” for a bill by U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy that would make Puerto Rican evacuees almost immediately eligible for full Medicaid coverage by the federal government if they have to evacuate to Florida.

The hospital association praised Murphy’s “Disaster Displacement Act of 2017,” House Resolution 4249, introduced last Friday by Murphy, a Winter Park Democrat, and co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, an Orlando Democrat, and which is an identical companion to legislation introduced in the Senate by U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, a Florida Democrat.

The bills are in response to the influx of Hurricane Maria victims evacuating the island because their homes and communities remain unlivable, and in many cases their jobs are gone. Estimates run as high as 120,000 who already have arrived in Florida, and estimates go as high as 300,000 who might eventually arrive. Many are arriving with little documentation and no insurance, relying on Medicaid for health care issues that include cancer treatment and chronic illnesses.

Murphy’s and Nelson’s bills would enroll evacuees arriving in Florida in Medicaid through an expedited process, and have federal government cover the full costs of their care for at least 24 months. In the absence of this legislation, the state of Florida would be required to pay nearly 40 percent of the cost of care, straining the state’s budget.

Nelson’s Senate Bill 2066, which, like Murphy’s was filed late last week, has already received endorsements from several local officials, including: Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, Osceola County Commissioner Fred Hawkins and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Daniella Levine Cava. The measure now heads to the Senate Finance Committee for consideration.

Murphy’s bill has been assigned to the House Energy and Commerce Committee, and the House Financial Services Committee.

“On behalf of the Florida Hospital Association’s over 200 organizational members, I am writing to express our strong support and deep appreciation,” FHA President Bruce Rueben wrote.

“In all cases, Florida’s hospitals will help everyone and anyone in need. The displaced residents of Puerto Rico are not exceptions. Our mission is to care for everyone and we will gladly meet this new challenge just as we stepped up to help our own communities during and after Hurricane Irma. This vital legislation will go far to help ensure that Florida’s hospitals continue to have the necessary funding to fulfill our mission to care.”

Murphy said the bill is modeled after a similar law passed to assist states such as Texas that took huge influxes of migrants displaced by Hurricane Katrina in 2005.

Her and Nelson’s bills also would allow local housing authorities to access additional federal funding to help provide housing for Puerto Rico evacuees.

“Florida is doing the right thing by taking in thousands of our fellow American citizens whose lives were uprooted as a result of Hurricane Maria, and the federal government should have our state’s back,” Murphy stated in a news release . “Just as we did after Hurricane Katrina, we should give states who receive hurricane victims the resources they need to provide for their current and new residents. Central Florida has received a significant percentage of the Americans leaving Puerto Rico, creating greater demand for health care services and quality, affordable housing

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