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Water shortage warning for 8 million from Orlando to the Keys

A water shortage warning has been issued to 8.1 million residents from Orlando to the Florida Keys.

South Florida Water Management District Board Chairman Dan O’Keefe said Thursday that residents’ voluntary efforts will help the water supply last through the region’s dry season. If those efforts prove insufficient, mandatory water restrictions may be considered.

Drought conditions have prompted the district to prohibit fires on its lands and prepare to close navigation locks on Lake Okeechobee’s north shore.

Officials said rainfall across the district’s 16 counties since Nov. 1 has been 6.75 inches below average. Water levels in Lake Okeechobee have dropped to 12.04 feet.

Miami-Dade Water and Sewer Department Director Lester Sola released a statement Thursday reminding residents about year-round, twice-weekly watering restrictions. Sola said individuals in Miami-Dade each use roughly 134 gallons of water daily.

Material from the Associated Press was used in this post.

Florida Senate passes budget with limited cut to Aramis Ayala’s office

A Florida Legislature Conference Committee showdown appears likely over how much money will be cut from Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s office now that the Florida Senate passed a budget package Wednesday that includes a much smaller cut than is being proposed in the Florida House.

Engineered by state Sen. Randolph Bracy, an Oakland Democrat, and Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Jack Latvala, a compromise was inserted into the budget package that would cut $622,000 from the Office of the State Attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, but restore another $569,000 that the Senate initially proposed cutting.

The House of Representatives is still looking at a full $1.3 million cut to Ayala’s office. Under an arrangement put together by Republican state Rep. Scott Plakon, all the money would go to the Judicial Administration Commission, to be redistributed to other state attorneys who get 9th JC cases.

Ayala is under fire from many Tallahassee politicians, mostly Republicans, for her stance to not prosecute death penalty sentences in CD 9. As a result, Gov. Rick Scott has reassigned 23 first-degree murder cases to the neighboring 5th Judicial Circuit. On Tuesday Ayala challenged those reassignments in the Florida Supreme Court and in U.S. District Court.

The $622,000 cut from her office in the Senate budget package would go to 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King, to whom Scott reassigned the 23 cases.

Bracy said the money had been allocated last year for human trafficking and domestic violence prosecution programs, and the human trafficking problem is rapidly increasing in the CJ 9 and a top concern for the House Judiciary Committee. Those also were top priorities for Ayala during her election campaign last year.
“I felt for that reason alone she needed the money,” Bracy said.

Bracy is one of the few lawmakers to openly back Ayala. After both the cuts appeared in committees, he pushed to get money restored for her office. Earlier this week he worked out the 45 percent/55 percent split of the original $1.3 million cut with Latvala, the Republican from Clearwater.

Last week Bracy authored an op-ed column in the New York Times in which he conceded he does not necessarily agree with Ayala’s stance on the death penalty, but strongly supports her right to take that stance.

“Although Ms. Ayala’s critics have denounced her actions as dereliction of duty, they cannot point to a single law or statute that she has violated. That’s because she hasn’t,” Bracy wrote in the column. “There are no federal or state laws that say prosecutors must seek death sentences. And the United States Supreme Court has banned all state laws that make executions mandatory for murders.”

On Tuesday Plakon, a strong critic of Ayala’s stance on the death penalty, defended the $1.3 million figure, saying that capital punishment cases are very expensive so the money should follow the cases, that it’s approximately how much extra money the JC 9 office got last year, and that Ayala still has not filled many vacancies in her office, so she’s not spending what she has.

Matt Caldwell: House will take Senate Everglades bill ‘seriously’

An Everglades reservoir bill pushed by Senate President Joe Negron passed the state’s upper chamber Wednesday, with state Rep. Matt Caldwell saying the House will take the $1.5 billion plan “seriously.”

“This gives us a great starting point,” Caldwell, chair of the House Government Accountability Committee, told POLITICO Florida. “We’ve been waiting to see what the final senate proposal would look like. It’s changed several times.”

Senate Bill 10, which featured Negron’s reservoir proposal, was approved by the Senate 36-3, with its next stop the House. HB 761, the House companion, is not yet had a committee hearing.

A sugar company spokesman told POLITICO reporter Bruce Ritchie that he “hopes the House will deal with issues in the Senate bill, including the timing of the project.”

Environmentalists were supportive of the Senate measure, and expect the House will follow suit.

However, some House leaders – including speaker Richard Corcoran – have been hesitant over parts of Negron’s proposal that would purchase farmland for the reservoir, as well as calls for building the reservoir sooner than the Everglades restoration schedule beginning in 2021.

Corcoran did admit chances for the bill were getting “better and better” after amendments to SB 10 reduced the overall impact of the plan. He still questions issuing bonds to pay for the project.

Caldwell, a North Fort Myers Republican, told reporters Wednesday he was not sure what SB 10 ultimately faces in the House, or if it’s even been scheduled for a committee hearing.

“We’re still kind of chewing on that,” he said.

Democrat Paul Chandler kicks off House District 44 campaign

The lone Democrat filed so far to run for what will be an open seat in Florida House District 44, Paul Chandler, officially kicked off his campaign this week, saying it’s time the district voters got a serious Democrat to consider.

Incumbent state Rep. Eric Eisnaugle is not seeking another term, and that has opened the door for the Republican-leaning district in southwest Orange County to get new blood, drawing Republican candidates Bobby Olszewski of Winter Garden and Usha Jain of Orlando.

Chandler, 36, a small business owner, first filed in mid-March but said he did not start his campaign until Tuesday night, with the launch of his campaign webpage, and social media.

He’ll be running on a platform focusing on economy, particularly to help and promote small businesses in HD 44; public education; equality; and health care, his professional specialty, particularly focusing on getting Florida to accept Medicaid expansion and to increase support for mental health services.

Chandler is founder, president and chairman of Ohana Healthcare, a multi-state company he runs from offices near Lake Buena Vista that provides full-service operational services and education programs to small-and medium-size physicians groups and small hospitals. He’s also a former high school U.S. government law teacher in Missouri, a former banker, and a former Walt Disney World cast member, and said he applies those experiences to his political agenda.

He said he’s new to active politics, but not new to politics.

“I’ve always been into political science. I decided it is the time to step into politics, with the growth of my company,” Chandler said. “One thing I never wanted to do is leave Ohana where I had to step down from a full-time position and go into politics, until I knew the company could still manage itself with the team I’ve put in place.”

He has a campaign manager – Ben Laube – and said he and his campaign staff had previously expected to have to raise about $250,000 over the next 18 months for a successful campaign, and that estimate may change now with last week’s entry of Olszewski, a former Winter Garden commissioner with an extensive political network.

His interest in equality is in part derived from deep concern for gay rights, and for women’s rights. Chandler is gay, married.

His past experiences, he said, have convinced him that wages need to be raised, and women need to have wage equality. His bachelor’s degree in human resources and his own experiences running a small business, he said, makes it make sense. He is upset to see so many small businesses in his district fail, from Windermere to Winter Garden, and believes the problem is not so much the costs of labor, but the costs of recruiting and retaining labor.

When businesses see rapid turnover of employees, “It adds up to up to as much as several thousand dollars every time an employee turns over. So you would be paying more in pay rates but you would have much stronger retention,” if you increased wages, he said.

Republicans have controlled HD 44 for a long time, but Chandler believes that is because Democrats have never given it a serious challenge. He said Republicans have about a 5 percent advantage in voter registration, but “basically it’s one-third Republican, one-third Democrat and one-third no party affiliation,” he concluded.

“That just means we have to work even harder. I don’t like the labels Democrat or Republican or independent or Libertarian,” he added.

Orbital ATK, United Launch Alliance to try again for space station resupply launch

After multiple delays last month, last on March 23, Orbital ATK and United Launch Alliance are now shooting for next Tuesday for launch of a resupply mission to the International Space Station.

Orbital ATK, one of NASA’s two companies under contract to ship equipment, food and other supplies to astronauts in space, will be launching its Cygnus capsule atop a ULA Atlas V rocket from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, with a 30-minute launch window that opens at 11:11 a.m.

NASA commercial cargo provider Orbital ATK is targeting its seventh commercial resupply services mission to the International Space Station for 11:11 a.m. EDT Tuesday, April 18, the start of a 30-minute launch window. The blastoff is set to occur from ULA’s Launch Complex 41.

This would be Orbital ATK’s seventh commercial resupply mission to the space station, and the third launched with a ULA rocket from Cape Canaveral. The others have gone up on Orbital ATK’s own Antares rockets, which launch from NASA’s Wallops Island launch complex in Virginia.

This one will be carrying 7,600 pounds of science research, crew supplies and hardware to the space station.

Rick Scott brings Visit Florida, Enterprise Florida pitch to Lake Nona

Surrounded by what’s billed as the world’s new center for tennis but yet also almost in the shadow of a failed medical research center, Gov. Rick Scott brought his plea for salvation for Enterprise Florida and VISIT Florida to Orlando’s Lake Nona community Wednesday – urging pressure on the mostly-Republican group of lawmakers set to bring them down.

“When we think about what the state’s doing now with regard to Enterprise Florida and VISIT Florida, we’re missing opportunities, if we’re not in the right place at the right time to make things happen,” Scott said.

Enterprise Florida and Visit Florida, Scott’s prize economic development and marketing organizations, are the targets of fellow-Republican House Speaker Richard Corcoran and others in the Florida Legislature who are convinced the organizations have grown fat and sloppy for years dolling out tax and other financial incentives and marketing efforts without sufficient accountability. Corcoran and other House Republicans are on a path to defund Enterprise Florida and severely restrict VISIT Florida.

So Scott and his economic team including Florida Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Cissy Proctor and VISIT Florida President Ken Lawson are on and extended tour of Florida preaching for the organizations’ salvations. They’re meeting with largely bipartisan gatherings of local political and business supporters who also want to keep the state business incentive, recruitment and marketing efforts available, extolling the successes, warning of dire drop-offs in business opportunities without them, and seeking to rally broader support.

This pitch came at the new $70 million USTA National Campus at Lake Nona, home to the United States Tennis Association headquarters and more than 100 pristine courts. The freshly-opened complex has become an Orlando poster child for the kinds of state and local efforts, including financial incentives and marketing and promotion that Enterprise Florida and Visit Orlando use.

The complex, said USTA Executive Director Gordon Smith, was “courted all over the country. The team that came together here including [Orange County] Mayor [Teresa] Jacobs, [Orlando] Mayor [Buddy] Dyer, the city, Visit Orlando, Visit Florida, the governor, worked together in a way that was unique.

“So, we’re bringing tens of thousands of visitors here every year,” Smith added.

For Scott, the facility is a perfect location to warn of the risks of not having an Enterprise Florida or VISIT Florida.

“USTA, they’re a class act. And it’s a significant deal to get USTA here. Let’s all think about this for a second. They’re not going to make a decision like this five times. They’re going to make a decision once,” Scott said. “So we had one opportunity to put our best foot forward… This is not the only place they could go.”

Scott’s latest pitch, however, also came less than two miles directly up Lake Nona Boulevard from the former Sanford Burnham Medical Research Institute, which has become a poster child for the occasional failure and overblown promises of public and private financial incentives. Sanford Burnham pulled out last year despite receiving about $350 million in incentives, and never achieved the levels of job generation, economic development, and technology prestige promised when Florida won a bidding war for it in 2006.

Scott’s voting rallies also include targeting a bipartisan collection of area House members who are voting with Corcoran.

“Here’s who I would like you to reach out to: Bruce Antone, Bob Cortes, Jennifer Sullivan, voted to eliminate Enterprise Florida, eliminate the Florida Defense Alliance, and on top of that to severely restrict the ability for Visit Florida to market our state,” he said. “Jason Brodeur did the same thing. Now, who voted the right way? Kamia Brown, Eric Eisnaugle, Amy Mercado, and Rene Plasencia. Now Mike Miller voted to keep Enterprise Florida but he didn’t vote to support Visit Florida. Carlos Guillermo Smith voted against Enterprise Florida and for Visit Florida.”

Antone, Brown, Mercado and Smith are Democrats; Cortes, Sullivan, Eisnaugle, Plasencia and Miller, Republicans.

Former lobbyist, Apopka official Richard Anderson gets probation in hit-and-run case

Former lobbyist and Apopka official Richard Anderson was given three years probation and a suspended driver’s license in a plea deal filed Tuesday that ended prosecution of the hit-and-run case against him in Lake County.

Anderson, 62, agreed to a deal Circuit Court in Lake County in which prosecutors dropped three counts against him and he plead no contest to counts of leaving the scene of an accident and leaving the scene of an accident with injuries.

Prosecutors in Florida’s 5th Judicial Circuit agreed to drop charges of reckless driving, reckless driving causing injuries, and tampering with physical evidence.

Anderson agreed to punishment of three years probation and three years of a suspended driver’s license for the count of leaving the scene of an accident with injuries, and six months probation for leaving the scene of an accident. The sentences will run concurrently, according to Lake County court records.

Anderson is a former city administrator for Apopka who was working on a two-year, $22,000-per-month consultant contract with that city, as well as serving as city manager for the city of Belle Isle. He also was a lobbyist for Ballard Partners.

According to the FHP, shortly before 1:30 a.m. April 5, a 2014 Dodge Ram pickup truck owned by Anderson crossed into the opposite lane on State Road 46 and slammed head-on into a Toyota Corolla driven by a Michael Falcon of Grand Island. Falcon suffered debilitating injuries and was airlifted to a hospital.

On that morning of April 5, passers-by quickly stopped and later told the highway patrol they encountered Falcon laying on the ground and another man talking on a cellphone, according to an arrest warrant affidavit filed by the investigating officer, FHP Trooper Joshua Evans. The second man had left before the highway patrol arrived. Two of the passers-by later identified Anderson, the owner of the abandoned truck, from photo lineups, according to the arrest warrant affidavit filed by Evans.

The tampering with physical evidence charge may come from a post-crash situation that involved arrangements made by others to retrieving some things, including three laptop computers, from Anderson’s truck after it had been towed to an impound lot.

Governor’s office affirmed prosecutorial discretion, state attorneys’ independence, in letter last year

Among material filed Tuesday with Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala‘s Florida Supreme Court challenge of Gov. Rick Scott‘s executive orders stripping cases from her is a year-old letter from his office affirming her position – that her prosecutorial decisions cannot be overridden.

Ayala’s attorneys Roy Austin Jr. of Washington D.C. and Marcos Hasbun of Tampa included the letter as an appendix to their writ of quo warranto, which asks the Florida Supreme Court to vacate Scott’s 23 executive orders used to strip cases from Ayala.

The governor issued those orders reassigning first-degree murder cases from her to 5th Ocala’s State Attorney Brad King because the governor believed she overstepped her authority when she claimed prosecutorial discretion and refused to pursue death penalties.

Yet almost exactly a year ago, April 21, 2016, Scott’s office wrote to support the prosecutorial discretion exercised by Ayala’s predecessor, then-9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jeff Ashton, whom Ayala beat in the election last year. The letter came from Warren Davis in Scott’s Office of Citizen Services.

The governor’s office issued the following response Tuesday:

“Governor Scott stands by his decision to assign State Attorney Brad King to prosecute Markeith Loyd after State Attorney Ayala refused to recuse herself. Markeith Loyd is accused of executing Lt. Debra Clayton, a brave law enforcement hero who was on the ground fighting for her life, and murdering his pregnant ex-girlfriend Sade Dixon. Orange County Sheriff’s Deputy Norman Lewis was also killed while actively searching for Loyd. As Governor Scott has continued to say, these families deserve a state attorney who will aggressively prosecute Loyd to the fullest extent of the law and justice must be served.”

The response, however, did not specifically address the Davis letter.

“Although we appreciate your concerns,” Davis wrote to concerned citizen in the 9th Judicial Circuit, “each state attorney is an elected official charged with certain discretionary duties, including the duty to determine whether or not to prosecute any particular crime committed within his or her jurisdiction. This decision is based on the quality and the quantity of the evidence of guilt shown, and in the best interest of justice.

“The state attorneys operate independently, and as elected officials, they answer only to the voters of their individual jurisdictions,” Davis’s letter continued.

Ayala’s petition for a writ, filed Tuesday by Austin and Hasbun, cites amendments to Article V, Section 17, to the Florida Constitution, adopted in 1972 and 1986 saying they “expressly required for the first time that ‘the state attorney shall be the prosecuting officer of all trial courts’ in his or her judicial circuit and made it clear that any exception to this must be ‘provided in this constitution.’

“Until the last few weeks,” the writ continues, “the Office of Governor Scott agreed that the Ninth Circuit State Attorney had discretion over the cases in his judicial circuit.” It then cites the April 21, 2016 letter.


Republicans put up billboard targeting Stephanie Murphy

The Republican National Congressional Committee is targeting Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy‘s Affordable Care Act support with a billboard in her hometown of Winter Park.

The digital billboard message has gone up on Fairbanks Avenue, diagonally facing both westbound Fairbanks traffic and eastbound [really northbound at that point] I-4 traffic, including those coming down the off-ramp at one of the most traffic-congested points in all of Central Florida.

“Tell Stephanie Murphy No To ObamaCare! No to Single-Health Care!” the billboard reads, with a picture of the freshman Congressional District 7 congresswoman. It then provides her office number.

“Stephanie Murphy supports ObamaCare, yet her constituents are suffering under it,” NRCC Spokesperson Maddie Anderson stated in a press release from the organization. “The voters of Florida’s 7th Congressional District need to know that their representative is a supporter of the failed law, and is doing nothing to fix the problems they are experiencing because of it.”

“Now, the Democrats are moving even further left to a push for single payer,” Anderson continued. “Murphy’s constituents should make sure she is not in favor of implementing this radical, costly, and sure to fail system.”

Aramis Ayala files challenges of Rick Scott with Florida Supreme Court, federal court

Arguing Gov. Rick Scott had no legal basis to strip murder cases from her jurisdiction, Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala filed challenges Tuesday morning in both the Florida Supreme Court and federal court.

In complaints filed by her attorney, Roy Austin Jr. of Washington D.C., Ayala contends that she legally exercised prosecutorial discretion in deciding not to pursue death penalty prosecutions in the 9th Judicial Circuit. Ayala was not found by guilty of any misconduct.

Consequently, Ayala argues that Scott’s executive orders stripping 23 first-degree murder cases from her and reassigning them to another state attorney were only because he disagreed with her determination not to pursue death penalties.

The state action, seeking a writ of quo warranto, asks the Florida Supreme Court to vacate Scott’s 23 executive orders. Ayala’s petition cites Article V, Section 17, of the Florida Constitution, which declares that “the state attorney shall be the prosecuting officer of all trial courts in that circuit,” and contends that Scott has no legitimate grounds to overcome that.

Ayala’s federal suit, filed in Florida’s Middle District of U.S. District Court, seeks injunctive and declaratory relief against Scott in his official capacity as Governor of Florida and in his individual capacity, as well as against Fifth Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King in his official capacity.

It argues that Scott denied both the will of the voters of the 9th Judicial Circuit and the due process clause of the Fourteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

“This is about justice and it’s about fairness,” Austin said in an interview with FloridaPolitics.com. “Ms. Ayala was elected to ensure the fair administration of justice in the 9th Judicial Circuit. That is what she plans and is going to fight for. That involves everybody, the people in her office, the families of victims, the community she represents.”

The moves set forth the anticipated monumental showdown that will determine both the breadth of the power of the governor and breadth of prosecutorial discretion of Florida prosecutors.

The federal suit asks the federal court to defer for now to the Florida Supreme Court, so the state will get the first crack at the issues, based on state law and the Florida Constitution.

Scott said he hadn’t seen the filing, but when Ayala declined to seek the death penalty for alleged cop-killer Markeith Loyd, also charged with killing his pregnant girlfriend, “it bothered me, personally.”

He recounted the grisly details of the crimes of which Loyd stands accused.

“I’m going to continue to look at cases. I’ve moved other cases there,” Scott said.

“I’m going to think about the victim, and I’m going to think about the victim’s family. What she’s filed, I don’t know.

“But I want to thank Brad King for his willingness to take on this responsibility — to do the job that all citizens expect our state attorneys to do, and that is prosecute individuals to the full extent of the law.”

There is no question that Ayala’s decision to not pursue death penalties ignited a political firestorm, with Scott, State Attorney General Pam Bondi, many other Republicans and many police representatives expressing angry disagreement, while a number of Civil Rights, faith-based and legal organizations and a handful of Democrats have sided with Ayala, a Democrat.

The key questions are: how far can a state attorney take the long-standing legal concept of “prosecutorial discretion,” which essentially holds that the prosecutor can decide how to prosecute cases; and how much power does the governor have to manage the affairs of state and local officials whom the governor determines have overstepped their authorities.

The federal suit stands ready to test the issues on a bigger scale.

The complaint charges: “Scott violated the Constitution of the United States, usurped Ayala’s authority, and deprived voters in the 9th Judicial Circuit of their chosen State Attorney when, under color of law, he removed Ayala from 23 pending homicide cases in her circuit and replaced her with King, a State Attorney who was not elected by voters from Orange and Osceola Counties.”

For the first time, the federal case argues Ayala did indeed consider the facts of the case of Loyd, the alleged Orlando cop-killer who is also charged with killing his pregnant girlfriend.

Loyd’s first-up on her agenda, and it was her refusal to pursue a death penalty that led Scott’s first action, taking that case from Ayala and reassigning it to King.

“After extensively researching the relevant law, as well as the facts of the Loyd case, Ayala determined that she would seek a sentence of life without the possibility of parole in Loyd’s case, not a sentence of death,” the suit states.

“Separately from building her case against Loyd, Ayala began formulating her office’s policy for handling death-eligible cases generally. She reviewed research showing that the death penalty: has no positive impact on public safety; is racially discriminatory; discriminates against the poor; is enormously expensive; leaves victims’ families in a state of uncertainty, and is imposed on innocent people too often

“She also met with victims’ families, reviewed files from other cases, and spoke with other people involved with the criminal justice system,” the suit contends.

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