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Rick Scott to appear at Donald Trump rally in Orlando

Florida Governor Rick Scott will appear at Friday night’s “thank you” rally in Orlando for President-elect Donald Trump.

The governor’s schedule has him slotted for a 6:00 p.m. appearance at the Trump event, to be held at the Central Florida Fairgrounds’ Orlando Amphitheater.

Trump’s event officially starts at 7:00 p.m., however.

Friday night’s gubernatorial appearance at the Trump rally in Orlando will be the first one for Gov. Scott in some time.

Scott introduced Trump at a June rally in Tampa, but the governor made no other appearances with Trump on the campaign trail.

Scott ran a Super PAC for Trump, Rebuilding America Now, so he was still involved heavily in Trump’s path to the White House.

“I’ve known Donald for about 20 years, long before either of us ever ran for office. He is a businessman and an outsider and he will bring the major change to Washington that our country needs right now. Donald’s race is also a lot like my race for Governor. No one said I had a chance of beating the career politicians when I ran, but I won anyway. We are going to win this Presidential race too,” Scott predicted over the summer.

Scott, termed out in 2018, is eyeing his own next move.

A Senate run has been rumored, and Scott’s own state PAC, Let’s Get to Work, is fundraising appropriately, with a $442,500 haul reported in November.

Trump’s rally was described by Randy Ross, the Orange County chairman of his 2016 campaign, as having an “eye on 2020.”

The crowd reaction for Gov. Scott, whose eye is on 2018, will be worth noting.

Our own Scott Powers will be on hand at the Trump rally Friday night; check back with FloridaPolitics.com and its sister site, OrlandoRising.com, for coverage from the event.

Gov. Scott will also make his monthly jobs numbers announcement in Orlando Friday morning, and Scott Powers will be on hand for that one as well.

Space Coast reports rising tourist trade

Florida’s Space Coast saw solid increases in tourism and hospitality employment fostered by rising hotel and cruise ship occupancies but tempered slightly by a drop in gambling boat passengers in the past year.

A new “Space Coast Tourism Report” from the Economic Development Commission of Florida’s Space Coast projects that 2016 will break the tourism records set in 2015 in Brevard County.

The cruise ship industry continues to boom out of Port Canaveral, according to the report. Just over 3 million passengers boarded the cruise ships in 2016, through the end of September. That’s an increase of 8 percent over the same period in 2015. However, single-day cruise passengers – primarily aboard gambling ships leaving Port Canaveral, are down just over 7 percent during that period, to about 233,000.

Hotel occupancy rates are up 5 percent overall and was averaging 60 percent through the first nine months of 2016. That’s in spite of the fact that room charges also are up, almost 9 percent on the year, to an average price of about $94 a night. Together, those two factors have driven up hotel operators’ revenue per room almost 25 percent in the period.

Leisure and hospitality employment climbed 2.5 percent during the year, and averaged about 25,800 jobs during the first nine months. Overall, however, Brevard’s unemployment rate of 5.2 percent is down just a half-point since September 2015.


Central Florida reps pleased with tourism, health care subcommittee chairs

While no one from Central Florida will be chairing full committees in the Florida House of Representatives this spring, several local representatives will be chairing key subcommittees, Health Care Appropriations, Tourism & Gaming Control, and Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs.

The committee appointments came down Monday from House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

State Rep. Mike La Rosa, a Saint Cloud Republican, will chair the Tourism & Gaming Control Subcommittee of the Commerce Committee, a panel that’s not only critical to Central Florida’s economy but highly populated by Central Florida members. Orlando Republican Mike Miller will be vice chair, while Altamonte Springs Republican Scott Plakon and Orlando Democrat Amy Mercado also will be on it.

Sanford Republican Jason Brodeur will be chairing the House Subcommittee on Health Care Appropriations in the Appropriations Committee, a committee likely to be highly active as president-elect Donald Trump and the Republican Congress vow to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, moving responsibilities to the states.

Plakon will chair the Local, Federal & Veterans Affairs Subcommittee of the Government Accountability Committee, another panel likely to be busy with fall-out from the ObamaCare dismantling planned in Washington. Miller, Orlando Democrats Carlos Guillermo Smith and Kamia Brown also will serve on that subcommittee.

La Rosa that the Tourism & Gaming Control appointment is critical because, “Florida can enhance its position as a global leader in tourism and also optimize the current gaming industry arrangement for the mutual benefit of all Floridians. Now is the time to recognize that Florida needs to focus on gaining more visitors for our state and also realize this must be balanced by keeping our focus on keeping the advantage of being a family friendly region.

“The tourism industry is the largest employer in our state and we must also work on creating and promoting a positive business environment for companies involved in these endeavors,” he added.

His other assignments include the Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee, the Pre K-12 Quality Subcommittee, and the Ways & Means Committee.

Brodeur, who last year chaired the full Health & Human Services Committee, said he was thrilled to get the Health Care Appropriations chair, and said he’ll be in positions to affect both policy and budgeting of health care.

“We need to make sure we are spending all of our dollars in a way that really delivers to our most vulnerable citizens,” he said. “I think we need to look at every way we put money into health care and decide whether these are areas that truly need state help. There are many, many wonderful partners in health care in Florida, but there are a number of competing priorities for a finite number of dollars.”

Brodeur also is getting a seat on the Health & Human Services Committee, Public Integrity & Ethics Committee, Rules & Policy Committee, and the Joint Legislative Budget Commission.

Plakon’s subcommittee chair is similar to one he held in 2011, when there was a Federal Affairs Subcommittee. This one also takes in local affairs, and “this one has more substance,” he said.

He’ll also be on the Judiciary Committee and the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee, appointments he said he is excited about.

Among other appointments, Republican Rene Plasencia of Orlando, a high school teacher in Orlando, landed a key Education Committee appointment, something he’s long sought. He’ll serve on the full committee and be vice chair of the Pre K-12 Quality Subcommittee. He’ll also serve on the Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee.

“I spent the last month making phone calls and meeting with the appoint people to plead by case. They listened,” Plasencia said of education appointments. “I’m excited because this is the whole reason I got into this in the first place.”

State Rep. Bob Cortes of Longwood will be vice chair of the full Education Committee, and also serve on the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee and the Ways & Means Committee.

Republican Eric Eisnaugle of Windermere will be vice chair of two subcommittees, Justice Appropriations and Energy & Utilities.

David Santiago of Deltona will be vice chair of the full Health & Human Services Committee and of the Insurance & Banking Subcommittee.

Jennifer Sullivan of Eustis will be vice chair of the Public Integrity & Ethics Committee, and of the Pre K-12 Innovation Subcommittee.

Miller also will serve on the Transportation & Infrastructure Subcommittee, and the Justice Appropriations Subcommittee.

Central Florida Democrats also got some key committee assignments.

Smith, whose district includes the University of Central Florida, Full Sail University and other colleges and universities, was named to the Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee and the Post-Secondary Education Committee, as well as the Government Accountability Committee.

“From day one, the Bright Futures Scholarship program has been my number one issue in the campaign,” said Smith, who is a freshman. “Having the opportunity to have a seat at the table to not only influence higher education policy, but also having a direct role in shaping financing, and supporting the Bright Futures program, is a huge win for the constituents of House District 49,” he said.

Bruce Antone of Orlando will be the ranking member on the Pre K-12 Quality Subcommittee, and also serve on the Pre K-12 Appropriations Committee and on the Ways & Means Committee.

John Cortes of Kissimmee will be ranking member on two subcommittees, Government Operations & Technology Appropriations, and Health Innovation. He’ll also serve on the Judiciary Committee.

Mercado also got seats on the  Health Care Appropriations, and Public Integrity & Ethics Committee.

Brown of Orlando also will serve on two key education committees, the Pre K-12 Appropriations, and for Pre K-12 Quality.

Six months later Orlando contemplates unity, loss from Pulse

The sun never quite rose in Orlando Monday morning as fog and thick overcast lay a mourning atmosphere for the city’s six-month remembrance of the day it can never forget.

Southeast of downtown Orlando, at the city’s Greenwood Cemetery, the Earthly remains of Cory James Connell, Anthony L. Laureano Disla, Leroy “Indara” Valentin Fernandez, and Alejandro Barrios Martinez reside together in still-fresh graves, grouped near the fence along Anderson Street. The flowers adorning their stones also are fresh, as is the loss, the horror, and the pain of the June 12 Pulse gay nightclub shooting that put them there.

It’s been six months since madman Omar Mateen shot Connell, Laureano Disla, Fernandez, Barrios Martinez, and 45 other people to death, wounded scores of others, and injured the lives of countless others. The city, the region, the LGBTQ community, and the Hispanic community all were shaken and pledged unity forever. Orlando United. Remarkable political embraces have taken place and appear to have brought new shared understanding.

No place might ever know how such binding of souls necessary in the wake of something like Pulse can change people, and a city.

On Monday an early-morning vigil took place at Pulse. Events are planned later today at The LGBT Center of Central Florida, and the Orange County Regional History Center

Yet it is at Greenwood and other grave sites scattered around Orlando, Kissimmee and elsewhere that the true measure of the loss can be found.

Months after brother died at Pulse, sister reopens his salon

Six months after her brother and his longtime partner were killed in Orlando’s gay nightclub massacre, Jessica Silva is re-opening the couple’s beauty salon.

Half a dozen black salon chairs are in place. One of them faces a large photo of the brother Juan Rivera Velazquez and his partner Luis Daniel Conde, who died June 12 in the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history. It’s the same chair where Velazquez once styled hair.

Velazquez’s black toy-sized dog, Juicy, again roams the salon in a purple tutu, just like before. Velazquez’s big sister, Jessica Silva, her mother and a cousin are ready to welcome back the customers who relied on Velazquez and Conde to make them feel beautiful.

The two men had owned the salon for about six years.

“I remember when he was starting, he said he was going to be an artist. He was going to make changes for women, make them feel more beautiful, free the best in them, and he did,” said Jessica Silva, Velazquez’s sister.

She spoke Thursday, shortly before a small ceremony to reopen the business. Silva and other family members shouted “woooo” as they cut a red ribbon outside the salon in a strip mall. Later, they ate ceviche on cocktail tables.

The new salon has a different location, and a slightly different name. Silva considered re-opening in the Kissimmee, Florida, space where it once was, but she and her mother were haunted by his memories there and decided to move shop five miles away to south Orlando.

“My mom used to work with him. She worked behind him and when she moved her head halfway, she would see him,” said Silva, who is five years older than her little brother, who was 37 when he died. “When she went back to the old salon, she started getting nervous and anxious.”

The name also is now D’Magazine By Juan P, instead of Alta Peluqueria D’Magazine, as a tribute to Velazquez. Velazquez and Conde were a couple for 16 years.

Silva and her parents view re-opening the salon as continuing Velazquez’s legacy, as painful as his absence may be.

“This was his dream,” Silva said. “You can see me smiling but it’s not been easy what we’re doing today. There’s a lot of tears every time we put something that belongs to him, that was in another location, and he’s not going to be here to tell us, ‘OK, I don’t want this here. I want this there.'”

Velazquez’s father, Ramon Rivera, said, “He left but he’s here like an angel for me.”

The doors to the salon have been closed in the six months since Velazquez and Condo were killed in the Pulse nightclub, along with 47 others. Dozens of others were hospitalized, many with severe injuries. Gunman Omar Mateen, who was killed in a shootout with SWAT team members after a three-hour standoff, had pledged allegiance to the Islamic State group.

Silva remembers being awakened by a caller, then rushing to find her brother.

“A friend of us called us at five in the morning telling me that something happened there and they were there, and they posted pictures during the night,” she said. “I got in my car and I went looking for my brother. But unfortunately, I had to wait 24 hours to find out that I was not going to be able to hold him, kiss him, and have him near us anymore.”

Monday marks the six-month anniversary of the attack, and hundreds of central Florida residents are expected to join officials in a memorial observance that day.

The opening of the salon is part of the healing process for the family and the community, said Cheryl Grieb, vice chair of the Osceola County Commission.

“They really wanted to keep the salon open because, initially, afterward, it was ‘Do we keep it? Do we not? Finances?’ It was a back-and-forth experience for them,” Grieb said. “In the end, they knew that this is what he wanted and they wanted to keep that dream alive.”

Scott Plakon files bill that would allow guns on college campuses

Representative Scott Plakon is spearheading a new bill to remove a prohibition on guns on college campuses.

The bill, HB 6005, amends an earlier ruling on where guns are and are not allowed, deleting the portion stating that a license to concealed carry a firearm does not allow guns into “Any college or university facility unless the licensee is a registered student, employee, or faculty member of such college or university and the weapon is a stun gun or nonlethal electric weapon or device designed solely for defensive purposes and the weapon does not fire a dart or projectile.”

If the bill passes, guns will be much looser-regulated on college and university campuses.

Plakon sponsored a bill that would have done the same thing in 2015, which died on the calendar.

If it goes through, guns will still be banned from police and sheriff stations, jails, courthouses, polling places, schools and government meetings.

Plakon was initially not a supporter of guns-on-campus bills – initially, he was “ambivalent” about the issue. But an incident in 2013 at his daughter Jeanne‘s school, in which there was thought to be an active shooter on campus, spurred him to change his mind.

“I got a text message from my daughter Jeanne,” he said. “‘Daddy I’m so scared,’ is the way it started off. It was believed there was a shooter loose in Lake Mary High. It took me 13 mins to get there. No parent wants to be in this situation… to have their child on a campus with a shooter, with no way to protect, no one with a firearm anywhere near. I was parent with face against chain link fence, and she’s texting me, crying, scared, hunched under a desk.”

Fortunately, it turned out there was no shooter at Lake Mary High that day. But the incident forever changed Plakon’s view on guns on campuses.

“It seems that every one of these tragedies, these mass shootings, happens in a gun free zones,” he said. “Right now we have gigantic gun free zones on college campuses.”

He said he hadn’t talked to the NRA about the bill at all – this was strictly a personal endeavor for him.

“I’ve evolved on it,” he said. “It’s been an evolution over nine years for me.”

Now with Sen. Greg Steube in the Senate, Plakon feels he has a good chance of moving the bill further than last time. With Steube, he said, he likes his chances.

House Democratic Policy Chair Evan Jenne was strongly opposed to the bill, calling it “an attempt to rile up the Republican base at the expense of all Floridians,” and said the bill was against the known will of the majority of Floridians, from students to law enforcement to other regular citizens – no one wants guns on college campuses, Jenne said.

He brought up an anecdote of a girl shot by her roommates’ boyfriend by accident on a college campus in Tallahassee some years ago, which he said illustrated his point: guns on campus won’t make anything safer.

“It’s not going to protect anyone,” he said. “It’s just another power play to get guns everywhere. We believe that we’re joined by many other groups of people who want college to be a safe place to learn, and not worry whether the person behind you is packing heat. We’re not taking anyone’s guns away. We just want to make sure college campuses are safe places.”

Alan Grayson adds amendment to get U.N. to hire Americans

Talk about stopping the export of jobs: U.S. Rep. Alan Grayson has added an amendment to a likely to pass bill that seeks to get the United Nations to hire more Americans.

Citing U.N. data, Grayson’s office argued that the United States pays 22 percent of the international organization’s budget; yet only 6 percent of New York-based organization’s employees are Americans.

Grayson’s amendment was included in the Department of State Authorities Act for Fiscal Year 2017, Senate Bill 1635, which was approved by the U.S. House of Representatives by a 374-16 vote on Monday might.

According to a press release from Grayon’s congressional office, the amendment calls on the U.S. Secretary of State to issue an annual report on whether the United Nations Secretariat and its supported agencies are “taking good faith steps to increase the staffing of United States citizens,” as well as assessing what “additional steps the organization could be taking to increase such staffing.”

The bill would apply to United Nations agencies, not just its headquarters. Grayson’s office stated that if the U.N. hired a proportional share of Americans based on funding, 12,000 more jobs would go to Americans.

Senate Bill 1635 was approved by the U.S. Senate in April. But that version did not have Grayson’s amendment nor other amendments added by the house Monday. So the amended bill must go back to the senate for approval before heading to the White House.

“The United Nations building is the only place within the U.S. border where you might find an implicit sign saying: ‘Americans not welcome,’” Grayson said. “Given the massive amount of funding we provide, the UN should hire more U.S. workers. This amendment will accomplish that goal.”

His office touted it as the 121st amendment he had successfully passed, and it will be one of his last. Grayson, a three-term Democrat from Orlando, leaves office Jan. 3.

Buddy Dyer at State of Downtown address: ‘We have one downtown’

Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer appeared before a crowd at the Bob Carr Theater to deliver his annual State of Downtown address, which focused not so much on new ideas as it did on refinement of old ones.

Namely, he spent most of the speech focused on the betterment of the Parramore neighborhood, long an area of concern for the city.

Once a thriving community, the neighborhood had sunk into crime and poverty by the time Dyer took office. Since then, local government organizations have put together programs to advance jobs and education in the area, intending to help the residents who need a hand.

Dyer said things have gotten better in Parramore this year, with lower crime rates (with juvenile crime down 61 percent as of Tuesday) and programs like Parramore Kidz Zone having helped many youths in the area go to school. There are more jobs, he said, and they’ve added new parks and amenities to make Parramore a more pleasant place to live.

“A lot communities would consider our work done,” he said. “But here in Orlando, we dream bigger, and the residents of Parramore have dreamed bigger, and they want more for their neighborhood. Our shared dream is to return Parramore to a neighborhood of opportunity that celebrates its rich history. We want Parramore to be a place where someone can grow up, have immediate access to education, and apply that education to a modern career, all without ever leaving downtown Orlando.”

Dyer then went on to speak of a number of improvements laid out for the years to come – UCF and Valencia’s new downtown campus, slated to open in 2019, and beyond that, a creative village poised to make downtown Orlando a hub of innovators, residents and businesses for as far in the future as one could imagine.

They’re also looking at more housing, especially with the intent of getting more people into Parramore – the numbers, as it has been reported in the past and as Dyer reiterated Tuesday, have shrunken drastically in the last few decades.

“In the 1960s, there were 18,000 residents in Parramore,” he said. “There are just over 6,000 today. The future of Parramore depends on bringing residents back. Anyone who wants to live here should be able to live here.”

Then he rattled off some of the city’s projects coming up: they’ll be putting out a RFP in 2017 for the development of over 20 city-owned lots into new affordable housing.

A vacant six-acre site will be transformed into a mixed-income housing development called Parramore Oaks, which will have 211 units split between affordable housing, permanent supportive housing and market-rate housing.

A new 256-unit multi-family development called Amelia Court at Creative Village will provide a new option for those looking to live near the Parramore Community School and the UCF/Valencia Downtown Campus, with groundbreaking expected late next year. That project will cost $56 million.

Dyer also touched on the fact that I-4 “divides” downtown into east and west factions, which is something he’d rather not have anymore.

“I-4, and the parking lot underneath, has been a barrier to downtown Orlando,” he said. “The overhaul going on – you’ve noticed it, right? – gives us an opportunity to transform that lot into a gathering space that will help tie downtown together, rather than divide us.”

The Under I project, as it’s been dubbed, will be a three-block park area full of various athletic, food, art and technology-based activities.

The underlying theme of everything Dyer brought up, from the city’s upcoming sports events to its efforts at helping the homeless the past few years, was unity. He posed that if the city could erase any semblance of being divided, that there was nothing that could stop it from growing and thriving into something of a modern Metropolis.

“We have one Downtown,” he said. “And every block, every street, every business every home is important to its prosperity and vitality.”

Owner of Pulse changes mind on selling club to City of Orlando

The owner of the Pulse nightclub, Barbara Poma, has decided not to sell the building to the City of Orlando – or anyone else for now, she said.

In a release issued by her lawyers, Benitez Law Group, Poma says the Pulse nightclub simply means too much to her to sell to anyone else.

“Pulse means so very much to my family and to our community,” she wrote. “And I can’t just walk away. I feel a personal obligation to ensure that a permanent space at Pulse be created so that all generations to come will remember those affected by, and taken on, June 12.

“I intend to create a space for everyone, a sanctuary of hope, and a welcoming area to remember all those affected by the tragedy. I plan to do that directly with the involvement of the communities impacted by this tragedy, the families of the victims and any private or public sector individuals or organizations who wish to assist. We must do this together as a community.”

She then goes on to express her hope that they can join together and “build a place to memorialize our Angels.”

On Monday morning, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said he had not talked to Poma personally yet, but that the city would be taking a step back and figuring out how to move forward in their own way in terms of creating a Pulse memorial. He spoke of the items collected by the Orange County Regional History Center and the memorial put up by Orlando Health, which is right down the street from Pulse – these were all things they could consider in terms of working to enact a permanent city memorial.

He also spoke of the dissent on the board in terms of purchasing Pulse.

“I know there were two commissioners who did not want to pay more than the asking price to buy the club,” he said. “But I consider that sacred ground. It’s important.”

He said whatever action they took would heavily involve public input – it wouldn’t be a decision made behind closed doors.

Delta IV launch with Air Force satellite set for Wednesday

A powerful Delta IV rocket is set to blast off from Cape Canaveral Wednesday evening to carry an Air Force satellite into space.

The United Launch Alliance launch is set to take place between 6:53 and 7:42 p.m. Wednesday from Launch Complex 37 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station.

The rocket is to carry the Air Force WGS-8 satellite into orbit. The spacecraft is the eighth in the military’s Wideband Global Satcom constellation of weather satellites. Space.com reported last week that the satellite cost $452 million.

The Air Force 45th Space Wing Weather Squadron is reporting an 80 percent chance of favorable weather for Wednesday’s launch, with the main concern being cloud cover.


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