Through all the ups and downs of Hurricane Irma – the power outages, the flooding, the desperate quest for essential supplies – there was one place Floridians knew they could count on in a time of need. Florida’s hospitals were there for the people of our state, performing as flawlessly as anyone could hope to under the most trying circumstances imaginable.
Despite the looming threat of one of the most powerful storms ever to bear down on the Sunshine State, nearly 9 out of 10 hospitals were able to stay up and running to provide the highest quality of health care to people in need. Only a limited number of hospitals were forced to evacuate their patients as the worst of Irma bore down on our state, and even then, they made sure to arrange to have their patients cared for at other hospital locations.
It would be easy to take this for granted, to simply assume that hospitals would find a way to treat the sick and the injured. After all, it’s what they do – it’s what they always seem to do for us. But when you consider everything that’s involved with running a hospital in the best of circumstances, and then throw a major hurricane into the mix, the success of Florida’s hospitals through Irma is nothing short of extraordinary.
Thirty-six of Florida’s 330-plus hospitals chose to close and evacuate due to Irma, mostly out of precaution. Those hospitals thought it better to make certain their patients were safe and being properly cared for, rather than take even the smallest chance their patients would be at risk. And where individual hospitals might be in the path of a dangerous storm surge, administrators wisely put patient safety at the top of their priority list.
Think about that for a moment. What other kind of large organization with more than 300 locations across the vast threatened region managed to stay open at 90 percent of its sites?
We tend to think of hospitals as just part of the landscape, something that is simply THERE because we need it to be. It can be easy to overlook the importance of the hospital industry to Florida’s overall economy – the fact that it, directly and indirectly, provides more than 900,000 jobs, pumps close to $130 billion into the economy, provides almost $17 billion in taxes to help fund local, state and federal government.
Hurricane Irma, then, was a good reminder that hospitals are so much more than a source of impressive economic data. They are a beacon of hope in an emergency, a rock-solid resource that can be counted on when so much else is topsy-turvy. Florida’s hospitals are where residents, authorities, nursing homes, and so many others looked for safety and assurance when everywhere else was struggling to weather the storm.
Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.
By 2030, nearly 26 million Floridians will call Florida home. Is Florida ready to remain globally competitive, create high-wage jobs and economic opportunity, and fuel vibrant and sustainable communities? Read more
Last Call – A prime-time read of what’s going down in Florida politics.
Enterprise Florida CEO Pete Antonacci was tapped for the job only this July, but he’s now consumed with his latest challenge: Seeing that Florida snags the second headquarters for Amazon, the massive online retailer.
“Amazon HQ2 will be Amazon’s second headquarters in North America,” the company says on its website, where it asks for applications from economic development organizations. The original headquarters is in Seattle.
“We expect to invest over $5 billion in construction and grow this second headquarters to include as many as 50,000 high-paying jobs – it will be a full equal to our current campus in Seattle,” Amazon says, adding that HQ2 is ”expected to create tens of thousands of additional jobs and tens of billions of dollars in additional investment in the surrounding community.”
The competition will be tough: Philadelphia, Dallas and San Francisco are just a few of the big cities seeking to be Amazon’s next home. In Florida, Orlando, Miami and other metro areas have expressed interest.
“The good thing is the company agreed to postpone our application deadline for another week,” Antonacci said, referring to the lingering recovery from Hurricane Irma.
“The communities that are interested are working to put their (own) projects together,” he said. “We’re going to submit a state application that has a number of components,” focusing on the benefits of the various communities.
“It’s an indication that the state stands behind the (local) applications,” Antonacci added. “If they happen to choose one or two to go to the next level, we will participate in pushing those applications to the end.”
“I’m like everybody else. You get lots of voicemails and I go through the process. We have a process. If you send me, if you give me a voicemail, somebody will look at the voicemail, send it to the right agency, somebody calls them back. That’s exactly what we did in this case.” —Gov. Rick Scott, in an interview with Miami’s WSVN, on the deletion of voicemails on his cell phone from a nursing home where 11 residents now have died after losing air conditioning during Hurricane Irma.
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Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and state Rep. Robert Asencio, both Democrats, say they are chartering a cargo plane to deliver “over 7,000 pounds of needed supplies” to Puerto Rico. A press conference will be held before they depart for San Juan, the capital. That’s at 8:15 a.m., Opa Locka Airport, Orion Jet Center, 15000 NW 44 Ave., Opa-Locka.
The LeRoy Collins Institute will host a “Separate is Not Equal” conference on its latest research analyzing the state of “racial and socioeconomic segregation in Florida public schools.” It’s 9 a.m.-1 p.m., Turnbull Conference Center, Florida State University, 555 W. Pensacola St., Tallahassee. A livestream will be availablehere.
The Citizens Property Insurance Corp. Board of Directors will hold a conference call to discuss Hurricane Irma. That’s at 9 a.m. The call-in number is (888) 942-8686, and the participant code is 5743735657#.
Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will be among the speakers at the Florida Chamber Foundation’s Future of Florida Forum. It’s 11:30 a.m., JW Marriott Orlando Grande Lakes, 4040 Central Florida Parkway, Orlando.
Orlando attorney and entrepreneur JohnMorgan, who led efforts last year to pass a constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana, is slated to speak to the Suncoast Tiger Bay Club. The events starts at noon, St. Petersburg Yacht Club, 11 Central Ave., St. Petersburg.
The Florida Constitution Revision Commission continues meeting in committee this week in Tallahassee. For Wednesday:
— The Declaration of Rights Committee meets at 1 p.m., 110 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.
— The Finance and Taxation Committee meets at 2 p.m., 301 Senate Office Building, the Capitol.
The Gulf Consortium Board of Directors, which works on issues related to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, is scheduled to meet. It’s at 2 p.m., Embassy Suites by Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista South, 4955 Kyngs Heath Road, Kissimmee.
Over the past few days, the tone of the SD 40 special election has changed, as the early momentum held by Republican Jose Felix Diaz has tilted somewhat toward Democrat Annette Taddeo.
The big weekend Democrats needed appears to have materialized.
As of Monday, one day before the race to replace former Sen. Frank Artiles, 28,351 ballots have been returned by absentee and early voters; those early results appear to suggest that going into Election Day, Diaz will have a lead of only about 500-600 votes, or perhaps 1.5-3 percent.
The Party breakdown of early SD 40 vote is as follows: 11,336 Democrats; 11,827 Republicans and 5,188 no-party affiliation.
Because of Hurricane Irma and its aftermath, Tuesday’s turnout is expected to be much lower than initial estimates of 45 – 55,000. Working models now project a number closer to 32 -39,000. A larger Election Day turnout would seem to favor Taddeo.
Over the course of the previous week, however, moderate-leaning Democrats have begun to show up, an essential element of a Taddeo victory. This performance should overcome the more conservative ballots coming in earlier in the electoral process, a result of Diaz’s aggressive fieldwork during the primary for Diaz — something that continues to pay dividends with his early lead.
Indeed, his field must remain intact to overcome certain Democrat electoral advantages.
Diaz has a nearly 2-to-1 advantage over Taddeo when it comes to the most conservative versus the most liberal voters, and the only group he’s underperforming in compared to the perennial Democratic candidate are moderates — Taddeo does better with the middle of the road Dems than Diaz does with moderate Republicans.
Earlier estimates on Diaz’s significant lead assumed an 18 percent turnout model, highly unlikely after Gov. Rick Scott’s decision not to delay the election in the wake of Hurricane Irma.
To maintain his lead, and win SD 40, Diaz has two objectives: Deliver conservative voters and push turnout in the northern part of the district which includes unincorporated areas of Miami- Dade County.
One of the last places struggling with significant power outages on the FPL grid is Richmond Heights, a predominantly African American neighborhood that any Democrat would absolutely need to turn out to make a play for SD 40. Taddeo needs turnout in Richmond Heights to be at least 8,000 — the more, the better.
With those voters not yet back to their everyday lives post-Irma, Taddeo needs to keep her 11th-hour momentum into Election Day, barring one of the most perfectly executed get-out-the-vote efforts in Florida Democratic Party history heading into the final stretch.
Among other concerns, the letter cites commission rule 1.23 on open meetings and records: “All proceedings and records of the Commission shall be open to the public.”
“Will this rule be interpreted to mean that two Commissioners can meet privately to discuss Commission business?” the letter asks. That’s similar to the rule governing state lawmakers.
“Or does the more stringent Sunshine Law apply?” it then asks. That would prohibit any two or more commissioners from meeting privately.
“We urge you to clarify this rule so as to avoid confusion and suspicion among members of the public, members of the press and members of the Commission.”
Attorney Tim Cerio, who chairs the Commission’s Committee on Rules, said he hadn’t seen the missive when asked after a committee meeting Monday in the Capitol.
“I want to look at the letter, but I’ll tell you: 20 years ago, (commissioners) would talk outside noticed meetings,” he said. “That’s a fact … (and) 20 years ago, they did great work, they had great results. But they were not following full Sunshine (Law) 20 years ago.”
“I stand and cover my heart for the pledge and the anthem. I think it’s stupid to do otherwise. The U.S. Constitution protects the right for a lot of people to do a lot of stupid things.” — Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, a Republican, opining Monday on the NFL’s ‘take a knee for the anthem’ controversy Sunday.
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The Constitution Revision Commission’s (CRC) Executive Committee meets at 8 a.m., 401 Senate Office Building in the Capitol, Tallahassee. On the agenda: “Presentation on the Governor’s Constitutional Authority by Peter Antonacci,” Gov. Rick Scott’s former general counsel and now CEO of Enterprise Florida.
Chris King, Winter Park businessman and Democratic candidate for Governor, will visit three universities for National Voter Registration Day:
— At 8 a.m., he’ll be at Florida State University, Union Room 315, 75 N. Woodward Ave., Tallahassee.
— At 1 p.m., he’ll be at University of Florida, 100 Fletcher Drive, Gainesville.
— At 6:30 p.m., he’ll be at University of North Florida, Building 58, 1 UNF Drive, Jacksonville.
U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, a Democrat, will host South Florida business and community leaders in Washington to discuss issues affecting the region. That’s at 8:15 a.m., National Press Club, 529 14th St. NW, Washington, D.C.
The Florida Cabinet meeting, originally set for 9 a.m. at the Capitol in Tallahassee, was previously cancelled because of Hurricane Irma.
Gov. Rick Scott will make a major announcement regarding Florida’s fight against opioid abuse in two locations:
— 9:30 a.m., at the Bradenton Police Department, 100 10th Street West, Bradenton.
— 3 p.m., at the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, 3228 Gun Club Road, West Palm Beach.
The CRC’s Bonding and Investments Committee is scheduled to meet at 1 p.m., 37 Senate Office Building, the Capitol, Tallahassee.
The Agency for Health Care Administration will hold a meeting about moving to what is known as a “prospective payment” system for nursing homes in the Medicaid program. It’s at 1:30 p.m., at Agency for Health Care Administration headquarters, 2727 Mahan Dr., Tallahassee.
The Florida Health Insurance Advisory Board is scheduled to hold a conference call at 2 p.m. The call-in number is 1-866-200-9760, and the participant code is 4288083#.
If you had any doubts about the keen interest in medical marijuana in Florida, you don’t have to look any further than how quickly demand is outpacing supply.
That’s why the Florida Department of Health is preparing to issue five additional licenses for medical marijuana businesses in early October. The people want it, and entrepreneurs are racing to get to the front of the line to meet that demand.
It’s no surprise that medical marijuana is popular — better than seven out of 10 voters approved Amendment 2 last November. State officials are now required to issue the new licenses, which will help expand treatment options for individuals suffering from various debilitating diseases.
So far, most of the operators who have sought the highly prized — and potentially quite lucrative — licenses have focused on medical marijuana as an investment opportunity. But one of the candidates for the next round caught my eye because it approaches things from a different perspective, one very much affected by its founder’s personal experience.
While doing some research on the latest contenders, I found that AGRiMED practically lapped the field in Pennsylvania, finishing miles ahead of everyone else in that state’s license process.
The organization’s CEO, Sterling Crockett, has since relocated to Florida. He brings with him an experienced and fully integrated company of dedicated professionals. But he also brings something else — the kind of inspiration that comes with almost losing a child.
Crockett came up with the idea for AGRiMED shortly after his daughter was diagnosed with kidney cancer — three weeks after giving birth to his first grandchild. His daughter suffered through the persistent and painful symptoms associated with her disease until Crockett helped her discover the tremendous healing benefits of medical cannabis. Today, Crockett cherishes every moment he can with his daughter and now granddaughter who is entering first grade.
With that experience pushing him forward, Crockett built AGRiMED with a focus on more than just the bottom line. To him, it’s also about sharing the medicinal benefits of cannabis-derived products, to help ailing people who can’t find relief any other way. To achieve his goal, he assembled a leadership team with over 200 years of collective medical and professional experience.
And AGRiMED is different in another way, too — it is a minority-owned and operated company that works to promote the next generation of minority entrepreneurs. Crockett, an African-American, aims to empower underserved and underrepresented communities to participate in the substantial growth potential of medical marijuana. In addition to funding research into the use of cannabis-derived medicines for sickle cell anemia, his company partnered with Lincoln University to provide internships and training to students for early experience in the industry.
I’m sure there are many worthy business operators among the individuals trying to land one of the five licenses the Department of Health will award soon. But wouldn’t it be nice to think there’s room in there for a company that was born of a passion for alleviating one woman’s suffering … that serves a minority community often overlooked by economic opportunity … and that works to build the next generation of executives?
Sunburn — The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.
Let’s begin the week with some exciting news …
“Personnel note: Ana Ceballos joins Extensive Enterprises Media” via Florida Politics — Ceballos, who was The Associated Press’ legislative session relief reporter in Florida this year, is joining the lineup of writers for Extensive Enterprises Media, publisher Peter Schorsch announced. Ceballos — whose stint included writing about immigration, the environment, criminal justice and social welfare for the AP — will join Capitol correspondent Jim Rosica in state politics and government coverage from Tallahassee. Michael Moline will continue to cover the insurance industry for the organization this session. She’ll also help edit and manage some of EEM’s growing portfolio of email newsletters, including the flagship SUNBURN, the “Last Call” evening news roundup, and “60 Days,” which comes out nightly during Session. Her original reporting will appear on the Florida Politics site, with guest appearances on SaintPetersblog and Orlando Rising, EEM’s newest website dedicated to Central Florida politics, as well as INFLUENCE Magazine, covering the personalities and policy in the legislative process. Ceballos, who speaks English and Spanish and also is a photographer, lately has been covering immigration stories at the U.S.-Mexico border as a freelancer. She was born in California and raised in Mexico.
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
— @AP: Sen. Collins says it’s ‘very difficult’ to imagine backing GOP health care bill, leaving plan’s fate in deeper doubt.
— @HillaryClinton: President Trump, Sec. Mattis, and DOD should send the Navy, including the USNS Comfort, to Puerto Rico now. These are American citizens.
— @PatriciaMazzei: SJU airport is a mess. Terminal is powerless: dark, hot and absolutely packed with stranded travelers and would-be travelers.
— @DavidJollyFL: It’s truly remarkable how silent elected Republicans have been during today’s Trump tweetstorm on HCare, freedom of speech, and nuclear war.
— @RealDonaldTrump: If NFL fans refuse to go to games until players stop disrespecting our Flag & Country, you will see change take place fast. Fire or suspend!
— @CordByrd: If the NFL thinks that SJWs will make up their fan base then NFL really does mean “Not for Long.”
— @GoMeteoric: I’m just grateful that we, as a nation, are finally getting into what matters most; Confederate statues and football players.
— TRUMP VS. THE NFL —
President Donald Trump’s comments about owners firing players who kneel during the national anthem sparked a mass increase in such protests around the National Football League Sunday, as about 150 players sat, knelt or raised their fists in defiance during early games.
A week ago, just six players protested.
As he prepared to board Air Force One to return to Washington from New Jersey on Sunday, Trump said the players protesting the anthem were “very disrespectful to our country” and called again on owners to stop what he considers unpatriotic displays in America’s most popular sport.
The president’s comments Friday night and Saturday turned the anthems — usually sung during commercials — into must-watch television shown live by the networks and Yahoo!, which streamed the game in London. In some NFL stadiums, crowds booed or yelled at players to stand. There was also some applause.
“Ravens and Jaguars show unity in reaction to Trump’s comments on anthem protests” via David Neal of the Miami Herald— Players from the Baltimore Ravens and Jacksonville Jaguars — and an owner who donated to Trump’s inauguration fund — locked arms and many knelt during the national anthem before Sunday’s NFL game in London. The 9:30 a.m. contest was the first since Trump stated at a political rally he wished NFL owners would respond to players kneeling during the anthem in protest of police brutality and racial inequality with “get that son of a bitch off the field right now.” Trump doubled and tripled down on those statements throughout the weekend on Twitter. While words from athletes and NFL owners, including Dolphins owner Stephen Ross‘ defense of the Dolphins who knelt last season, filled media reports, the main curiosity surrounded Sunday’s actions during the Star-Spangled Banner. According to reporters at the London game, about 25 Baltimore and Jacksonville players took a knee. Many more linked arms.
Jaguars owner Shad Khan: A “privilege” to stand arm-in-arm with players during the national anthem in London — Khan stood between tight end Marcedes Lewis and linebacker Telvin Smith at Wembley Stadium and then released a statement to express his support for players. Coaches and other team personnel from both teams did the same prior to the game against the Ravens. “It was a privilege to stand on the sidelines with the Jacksonville Jaguars today for the playing of the U.S. national anthem at Wembley Stadium,” Khan said. “I met with our team captains before the game to express my support for them, all NFL players and the league following the divisive and contentious remarks made by President Trump, and was honored to be arm in arm with them, their teammates and our coaches during our anthem.”
“Bucs’ Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson kneel during national anthem” via Greg Auman of the Tampa Bay Times— Both knelt during the national anthem in protest before Sunday’s game at the Vikings … The rest of the Bucs team stood on the field with their arms locked during the anthem, while Evans and Jackson went down on one knee several feet behind them, each with their hands on their hearts for the length of the anthem.
Miami Dolphins players show support for Colin Kaepernick in pregame warmup — A handful of Miami Dolphins players are wearing black T-shirts supporting free agent quarterback Kaepernick during pregame warmups. The shirts have “#IMWITHKAP” written in bold white lettering on the front. Kaepernick was the first athlete to refuse to stand during the national anthem as a protest. This season, no team has signed him, and some supporters believe NFL owners are avoiding him because of the controversy. Among the players sporting the shirts before their game against the New York Jets are wide receiver Kenny Stills, running back Jay Ajayi and offensive linemen Laremy Tunsil and Ja’Wuan James. Stills, also a team captain, posted a photo on Twitter of himself wearing the shirt, along with the post: “In case you didn’t know!”
“What President Trump doesn’t get about the NFL” via Sally Jenkins of The Washington Post — How the NFL responds to Trump‘s spit-foaming is hardly a test case for whether the republic will stand. Nevertheless, the league is a maker of manners in this country, so it means something that Commissioner Roger Goodell and others are getting it right, striking the perfect calm but resistant tone in response to Trump’s gutter-mouthing, a tone that says, “We’re not your personal WrestleMania, and don’t use us for your sham body slams.” The NFL, faced with whether to play to the basest instincts of the audience, declined. It adhered to civility. … The vast majority of the men on the field are not spoiled millionaires abusing their freedoms, as Trump charges. Rather, they have worked as hard as any farmers for their short-lived incomes and are dedicated to using their privilege to make things better for the people they play in front of. Brandon Marshall‘s Project Borderline foundation combats mental illness. Doug Baldwin is raising money for a family community center in Renton, Washington and Colin Kaepernick has given away $1 million to various organizations.
“Colin Kaepernick vs. Tim Tebow: A tale of two Christianities on its knees” via Michael Frost of The Washington Post — This is the tale of two Christian sports personalities, one of whom is the darling of the American church while the other is reviled. And their differences reveal much about the brand of Christianity preferred by many in the church today. Tebow was home-schooled by his Christian parents, and spent his summers in the Philippines, helping with his father’s orphanage and missionary work. During his college football career, the Heisman Trophy winner frequently wore references to Bible verses on his eye black … Kaepernick was born to a 19-year-old, single, white woman. His black father had left the picture before Colin was born. His mother was destitute and gave him up for adoption. He was raised by the Kaepernicks, a white couple from Milwaukee. His body is festooned with religious tattoos, including depictions of scrolls, a cross, praying hands, angels defeating demons, terms like “To God be the Glory,” “Heaven Sent,” “God will guide me,” Psalm 18:39 and Psalm 27:3. It seems to me that Tim Tebow and Colin Kaepernick represent the two very different forms that American Christianity has come to. And not just in the United States. In many parts of the world, it feels as if the church is separating into two versions, one that values personal piety, gentleness, respect for cultural mores, and an emphasis on moral issues like abortion and homosexuality, and another that values social justice, community development, racial reconciliation and political activism. One version is kneeling in private prayer. The other is kneeling in public protest. Sadly, with the suspicion and animosity shown toward each side of the divide by the other, I can’t see a coming together anytime soon. In the meantime, Christianity remains on its knees in the West.
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— THE DAMAGE —
“’If anyone can hear us … help.’ Puerto Rico’s mayors describe ‘horror in the streets’” via The Washington Post— In the northern Puerto Rican town of Vega Baja, the floodwaters reached more than 10 feet. Stranded residents screamed “save me, save me,” using the lights in their cellphones to help rescue teams find them in the darkness, the town’s mayor said. In Loiza, a north coastal town that already had been ravaged by Hurricane Irma, 90 percent of homes — 3,000 — were destroyed by Hurricane Maria just days later. In communities across the island, bridges collapsed and highways were severely damaged, isolating many residents. In Rio Grande, officials had yet to access a number of families stuck in their homes, three days after the powerful storm made landfall. When speaking about his town’s destruction, Ramon Hernandez Torres, mayor of the southern city of Juana Díaz, took a long pause, his voice catching and his eyes filling with tears. “It’s a total disaster,” he said.
“Unofficial death toll from Hurricane Irma now stands at 75 across the state” via Charles Rabin of the Miami Herald — Florida’s official death toll from Hurricane Irma stood at 50 through Friday night — but those numbers do not appear to include 14 storm-related deaths in the Florida Keys or the 11 seniors who perished in a Hollywood nursing home. When combined, that would raise the total number of deaths caused by the storm to 75. The statewide statistics were released Friday by the Florida Department of Emergency Management in Tallahassee. Those numbers include only those already approved by each county’s medical examiner and then submitted to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
“Head of House panel seeks tax relief for hurricane victims” via The Associated Press — The bill proposed by Rep. Kevin Brady, chair of the House Ways and Means Committee, would ease requirements for deducting individual property losses and allow people to draw on their retirement funds without penalty. The legislation also seeks to encourage people around the U.S. to donate to hurricane relief efforts by temporarily suspending limits on deductions for charitable contributions … It “helps hurricane victims keep more of their paycheck, deduct more of the cost of their expensive property damage, and have more affordable and immediate access to money they have saved for their retirement,” he said in a statement. “These tax relief measures will help more people be able to bear the tremendous expense of recovering from these destructive hurricanes.” Republican Rep. Vern Buchanan of Florida, a senior member of the Ways and Means Committee and co-chair of the state’s congressional delegation, called Brady’s legislation “a positive first step on the road to recovery.”
“Those piles of storm debris aren’t going away. And companies are getting fired for it.” via Douglas Hanks and Lance Dixon of the Miami Herald— AshBritt Environmental, a top storm-recovery firm out of Deerfield Beach, is represented by Ron Book, a top lobbyist in Tallahassee whose client list includes the city of North Miami Beach itself. But when AshBritt wasn’t removing debris piles quickly enough for North Miami Beach, City Manager Ana Garcia fired the company and offered up the contract to competitors in an emergency bidding session … “She would rather let AshBritt go than adjust AshBritt’s rate,” Book said of Garcia. “They’ll get cleaned up slower because of what they did. She’ll have to explain that to her city.” The break between North Miami Beach and Ashbritt represents one skirmish in a far larger battle involving the most prevalent legacy of Irma in South Florida: tens of thousands of debris piles clogging sidewalks, shielding driveways and generally steaming residents eager to see the decaying natural litter removed. While local governments have rules against mixing storm debris with household trash, the piles of branches and leaves are attracting garbage, too.
“Toll suspension cost $3 million a day” via Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida — More than $45 million in revenue is believed to have been lost when the state suspended highway toll collections to help speed evacuations and relief efforts for Hurricane Irma, Florida’s Turnpike system estimates. However, the estimated $3 million-a-day impact is not expected to hinder operations of the system or ongoing work programs, “as impacts such as toll suspensions due to a hurricane are taken into consideration during the annual budgeting process,” turnpike spokesman Chad Huff said … Funding 404 full-time positions, the turnpike system is budgeted at $1.57 billion for the current fiscal year, which began July 1. Tolls were lifted by Gov. Scott on Sept. 5 in advance of Hurricane Irma’s trek across Florida. Toll collections resumed at 12:01 a.m.Thursday across the state, though they remained suspended on the Homestead Extension of Florida’s Turnpike south of State Road 874 in southern Miami-Dade County, as Monroe County recovery efforts continue. The state has not estimated how many people took to the road in advance of the storm.
“How Hurricane Irma blew away the beach in Miami Beach” via Joey Flechas of the Miami Herald — Irma smacked Miami Beach’s shoreline with enough wind and rain to reshape some of the water’s edge, including washing away chunks of sand from a recently completed $11.5 million beach-widening project. In many places, the sand blew off the beach and into the dunes separating oceanfront condos and hotels from the beach. In some places, the sand noticeably thinned out during the storm, leaving a narrower beach. At 46th and 54th streets, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers completed an $11.5 million renourishment project earlier this year to widen the beach. Irma claimed chunks of that new sand, though it is still unclear precisely how much and whether the city will request an emergency renourishment. Margarita Wells, the Beach’s environmental director … said beefing up the shore through renourishment is necessary to prevent erosion further inland, where it can affect condos and hotels. The widening of the beach is intended to provide more protection from storm surge and wind in the event of tropical weather.
— LESSONS —
“After Irma, many ask: how safe are shelters?” via Adam Smith of the Tampa Bay Times — Florida’s patchwork of shelters failed repeatedly during a storm that could have been much worse. Many of those who rode out the storm in shelters were directed there by Scott and local officials. Some shelters just weren’t adequate to serve their sole purpose of providing a safe haven. Witnesses spoke of several people fainting in long lines, miscommunication and shortages of generators, cots, sufficient food and properly trained managers. To be sure, people across Florida have stories of extraordinary kindness, commitment and sacrifice from volunteers and professionals who helped open and staff a record 600-plus shelters to handle the evacuation orders affecting more than 5.6 million Floridians. Some disorder and confusion is to be expected when a massive, erratic storm looms, and no one expects comfort at an evacuation center. A shelter is a lifeboat, the saying goes, not a cruise ship. That said, the widespread reports of snarls, disorganization, or inexperienced shelter managers winging it with little guidance is jarring for a state so susceptible to hurricanes. “Nobody was prepared for that. Not at any level,” said Dianna Van Horn, a Red Cross spokeswoman based in North Florida. Nobody expects the peninsula’s vulnerability to catastrophic storms to lessen as the coastal population continues growing, however. But the many anecdotes of shelter shortcomings suggest that Florida has lost ground in instilling the “culture of preparedness” that former Gov. Jeb Bush stressed after eight hurricanes struck Florida in a 14-month stretch in 2004 and 2005.
Smith named Rick Scott his Loser of the Week in Florida politics — “His early performance as an on-the-ball disaster management governor took some hits amid scrutiny of his record. It’s tougher to position yourself as the model of storm readiness after you’ve eased off on Florida’s tough building standards, seen Florida’s deficit of special needs emergency shelter spots double under your watch and cut oversight of nursing homes in the years leading up to 10 patients dying during Irma.”
“What FPL’s CEO says about Irma outages” via Rosemary O’Hara of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel— My (O’Hara’s) relationship with FPL had grown a little tense since I penned an editorial two days after the storm, saying the company should better communicate with its customers. We want more timely and accurate updates about when the lights will come back on, I wrote. We want a power-outage tracking website that works. And we want to know why mostly tropical storm-force winds wiped out power to 90 percent of our homes and businesses, especially after we helped finance a $3 billion hardening of the system and an upgrade to smart-grid technology. My criticism amplified last Sunday, as a panelist on WPLG’s This Week in South Florida, after host Michael Putney said FPL representatives had declined multiple invitations to appear on the show. “In the absence of communication, people think the worst,” I said. “There should be an independent, outside review.” It had now been nine days since the storm left South Florida, and eight days since it left the last of the 35 counties served by FPL. The company had restored power to 99.9 percent of its East Coast customers. And [FPL CEO Eric] Silagy, wearing a hard hat and yellow reflective vest over casual clothes, looked less like a corporate executive who pores over P&L statements and more like a coach who’d just won a championship game. As an aside, though it might prefer a trumpet, FPL would like you to know that never before has a restoration this big been done this fast — ever. But they don’t want to be seen as crowing. You have to hand it to them. Given the impact, its restoration was remarkable. But it didn’t feel that way when you’re dealing with a darkened house, which in my case lasted four days, though it felt like four weeks.
“Widespread sewage leaks after Irma showed Florida’s dependence on electric pumps” via Ryan Mills, Greg Stanley and Brett Murphy of the Naples Daily News— After Hurricane Irma cut the electricity to Southwest Florida, raw sewage flowed onto streets and into homes, and some residents contracted waterborne diseases, all because public utilities were not prepared to manage the massive, dayslong power outage. “I’m not sure any utility is equipped for the kind of storm we just went through,” said John Jenkins, the executive director of Bonita Springs Utilities. More than 500 overflows across the state have dumped at least 84 million gallons of wastewater into roads, homes, parks and waterways since Florida lost power Sept. 10, with too few generators to power thousands of underground wastewater pumps in sewage systems across the state entirely dependent upon electricity.
“Despite driver frustration, Florida to keep new hurricane evacuation plan” via Wayne Roustan of the South Florida Sun-Sentinel— Some of the record 6 million Florida residents and tourists who got stuck on roadways for hours said the state needs to keep the one-way lanes plan, ensure more gas is available and provide more evacuation routes. But Jeff Frost, with the \Department of Transportation, said the highway shoulder plan was a success and drivers can expect to see it used again. “We’re not considering a return to [one-way lanes],” he said. “We’re going to continue to work on improvements to allow shoulder-use on other corridors.” The Florida Turnpike retains the option to make all lanes one-way north of Boynton Beach, but did not do so because the governor has to give the order.
“Former Louisiana school officials affected by Katrina offer advice to Florida schools” via Annika Hammerschlag of the Naples Daily News — Beverly Lawrasonwas the assistant superintendent of a school district on the outskirts of New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit. Her district — St. Bernard Parish Public Schools — experienced “100 percent devastation” … “Every home, every church, every building — everything was destroyed,” she said. But Lawrason was determined to get the schools up and running. The school district installed portable classrooms. They took a flooded high school, gutted and deep-cleaned it, and set up classrooms on the second floor. Two and a half months after Katrina ripped through St. Bernard Parish, its schools reopened. Reopening was important, not just to re-establish a school community for the children, but for the parents who needed time away from their children to rebuild their homes. The schools offered supervision of children from 6 a.m. to 6 p.m. and daycare for infants. They extended their academic day by 30 minutes and obtained permission to waive academic requirements. Her first piece of advice is for school administrators to choose a staff member to handle FEMA-related paperwork. Secondly, she suggested educators prioritize emotional care.
— THE TRAGEDY —
“From care center to purgatory to ‘hellhole’: how 11 frail elders died after Irma” via Glenn Garvin of the Miami Herald— What happened at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills from the moment Irma struck Broward County as a tropical storm at 8 a.m. Sunday, Sept. 10, until the nursing home finished clearing away its dead almost exactly 72 hours later makes for a harrowing tale of miscalculation and miscommunication, of plans that looked much better on paper than amid the exacting standards of real life. And it’s a tale that did not end with the stifling, sweaty deaths of the victims because human rage is immortal … Some families, however, regarded the care at Hollywood Hills as substandard at any price. As Hurricane Irma stalked South Florida, though, even Hollywood Hills’ staunchest supporters were nervous about its ability to stand up to what some public officials had warned would be a “nuclear hurricane” … Gail Nova, a former Miami X-ray technician, died seven minutes after arriving at the emergency room; her temperature at death was a stunning 109.9 degrees. Estella Hendricks, of whom little is known except that she once lived in the U.S. Virgin Islands, was not far behind at 108.5 degrees. To those figures, perhaps one more stark number should be added. Within a few minutes after the end of Hollywood Hills’ evacuation, an FPL crew arrived to fix the transformer. It took 15 minutes.
“Nursing home voicemail to governor deleted” via Jim DeFede of CBS Miami— There were four voicemails left during the 36 hours before the first patient died, and they would have been a critical piece of evidence in the ongoing investigation into the patient deaths. Natasha Anderson, a vice president with The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, says she called the governor’s cellphone to say the nursing home needed “immediate assistance” in restoring the power to their air conditioning system. Scott said at no time did anyone from the nursing home suggest there was a crisis or that patients were in danger. In response to CBS4’s request for copies of the voicemails, a spokeswoman with the governor’s office, wrote in an email: “The voicemails were not retained because the information from each voicemail was collected by the Governor’s staff and given to the proper agency for handling.”
“Elderly deaths: Call for generators in Florida nursing homes” via Gary Fineout of The Associated Press — Days after Irma ravaged the state, Scott used his emergency powers to put in place new rules that require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators capable of providing backup power for four days. The Republican governor, who normally brags about eliminating regulations on businesses, gave nursing homes 60 days to comply. Nursing home officials say they can’t. They say it’s not just the multimillion-dollar price-tag that will come with acquiring large generators for hundreds, maybe thousands, of homes. During a daylong summit by the industry Friday, engineers and contractors and others who operate nursing homes said it will be practically impossible to purchase, install and get permits to put generators and supplies of fuel in place by the November deadline. “Compliance with the rule is impossible and time is running out,” said Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, an association that represents both nursing homes and assisted living facilities. So far, the Scott administration isn’t backing down. Justin Senior, the state’s top health care regulator, said the state will “aggressively” enforce the mandate, which calls for fines for those homes that fail to comply.
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— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —
“On the run with Bill Nelson, no signs of slowing down” via Alex Leary of the Tampa Bay Times — Nelson, who turns 75 on Sept. 29, has been around politics a very long time. For years he has been a unique species in Florida — the only statewide elected Democrat — and now he’s campaigning for a fourth, six-year Senate term. He would be 82, two years shy of the current oldest senator, Dianne Feinstein of California, who is considering running again next year.
At what point does a politician hang around too long? Does age matter in an era when voters in November elected the oldest president in history? Does it matter in Florida, the state with the highest population of senior citizens? Nelson’s expected opponent is Gov. Scott. At 64, Scott doesn’t have a generational argument but he entered elective politics in 2010, contrasting with Nelson’s career, which began in 1972. Nelson can counter that he’s built up experience. He’s the top Democrat on the Commerce Committee and second on Armed Services. “If I can’t be at peak performance, I shouldn’t be doing it,” Nelson said from a park bench in Fernandina Beach the day before the run. “I feel like I’m still at peak performance. I don’t have any plans that I’m going to stay there forever. I’m not going to be a Robert Byrd.” So he keeps jogging, doing pushups and crunches, eating “nuts and twigs” and swigging low-calorie lemon-lime Gatorade. “Exercise is just part of my life,” he said.
Four local mayors endorse Republican David Smith for HD 28 — “David has a reputation for honesty and integrity,” said Oviedo Mayor, Dominic Persampiere. Winter Springs Mayor, Charles Lacey: “David’s leadership experience from a career in the U.S. Marine Corps is needed up in Tallahassee. His conservative values reflect those of our community. “David has my full support,” said Sanford Mayor, Jeff Triplett. “He has the leadership skills, business experience, strong moral values and the fiscally conservative principles we need in Tallahassee to represent the people of Seminole County.” “David is well-known for his honesty, leadership and work ethic,” said Longwood Mayor, Joe Durso. “I’m confident he will represent the people of Seminole County extremely well in the Florida House of Representatives.” After 30 years of service in the United States Marine Corps that included several deployments overseas, Smith retired and now works as a business consultant in Central Florida’s Simulation & Training industry.
“House candidate Lawrence McClure has not voted in a nonpresidential primary election, records show” via Mitch Perry of Florida Politics — Presumably, McClure will vote for himself in next month’s Republican primary election in House District 58. If so, it would be the first primary election in which the 30-year-old Dover native has voted. An inspection of McClure’s voting record shows that since 2005 when he was first eligible to vote in Florida, he has never participated in a primary election. In 2006, the first election year in which he could cast a ballot, McClure declined to do so, neither in the August primary nor the November election for Florida governor and U.S. Senate. McClure didn’t cast a ballot in the 2008 presidential preference primary in which John McCain won the Sunshine State, effectively clinching the Republican nomination with his victory over Mitt Romney. Nor did he vote in the presidential primary in January 2012. McClure also didn’t vote in primary elections in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2014 or 2016.
“Second Democrat enters race for Sarasota state House seat” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune— Sarasota Democrat Ruta Jouniari filed paperwork this week to run for the District 72 state House seat being vacated by former GOP state Rep. Alex Miller, who resigned earlier this month. Jouniari’s entrance in the race sets up a Democratic primary in the special election to fill the District 72 seat, which covers most of northern Sarasota County. Jouniari will face off in the primary against Margaret Good, a Sarasota attorney who filed to run for the seat last week. A business professional who spent many years in the health care industry, Jouniari started her own staffing agency more than a decade ago. She recruits former U.S. military members to help service military vehicles and other equipment in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, which purchases large amounts of military equipment from the United States.
“Tom Knight backs James Buchanan in HD 72 special election” via Florida Politics — Sarasota County Sheriff Knight is backing Buchanan in the special election for House District 72, which was vacated by Alex Miller on Sept. 1. “I know James will give law enforcement the support we need to keep our community safe. He stands with us, so I will stand with him,” Knight said in a news release Knight joins other area Republicans, including future Senate President Bill Galvano and state Rep. Jim Boyd, in endorsing Buchanan, who is the son of U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan. “Tom Knight is beloved by our community and is one of the most respected Sheriffs in our state. I am proud to have him on our team,” Buchanan said.
“Daniel Perez piles up cash ahead of special election” via the News Service of Florida — With backing from major players in the state Capitol, Republican Perez raised $134,353 in little more than a month as he prepares for a special election in Miami-Dade County’s House District 116, according to a newly filed finance report. The haul between Aug. 19 and Thursday brought the overall total raised by Perez to $320,988. Contributions during the latest period came from companies and groups such as AT&T Florida; the Florida Chamber of Commerce; the Florida Bankers Association; the Florida Retail Federation; the HCA health care chain; NextEra Energy; Publix Supermarkets; the Florida Medical Association; and the insurer Florida Blue.
“Omar Khan to shepherd Rick Kriseman campaign during final weeks” via Florida Politics — Kahn is joining the Kriseman campaign as a senior adviser. “I have known Mayor Kriseman for years and have always valued his work and dedication to the people of St. Petersburg,” Khan tells FloridaPolitics.com. “I am very excited to join an already strong team to help re-elect such an outstanding public servant.” An alum of the Barack Obama administration … Khan worked as National Associate Political Director for Obama’s 2012 re-election effort and held various leadership roles in the 2008 Obama Presidential Campaign throughout several states. Locally, Khan managed Charlie Crist‘s 2014 gubernatorial bid; he first rose to prominence by helping former state Rep. Charlie Justice win a highly competitive 2006 state senate race in Pinellas County. Khan recently teamed up with Democratic businessman Chris King in support of his bid for Florida governor. “I love him. He loves Florida,” Crist told The Washington Post in 2014.
— LATEST FROM SD 40 —
“Diaz dominates fundraising” via the News Service of Florida — Republican JoseFelixDiaz will head into a special election Tuesday in Miami-Dade County’s Senate District 40 with a major financial edge over Democratic opponent Annette Taddeo. Diaz raised $425,785 for his campaign account from Aug. 19 through Thursday, bringing the overall total to $1,477,515, according to a new report on the state Division of Elections website. Taddeo collected $143,827 during the period for her campaign account, bringing the overall total to $334,279. The special election, which has been closely watched by both parties, was called after former Sen. Frank Artiles, R-Miami, resigned in April.
“Marijuana law challenged over black farmer license” via Jim Saunders and Dara Kam of the News Service of Florida — A lawsuit challenges the constitutionality of part of a new state law that requires a coveted medical-marijuana license to go to a black farmer. Columbus Smith, a black farmer from Panama City, filed the lawsuit, alleging that the law is so narrowly drawn that only a handful of black farmers could qualify for the license. The lawsuit contends that the measure is what is known as an unconstitutional “special law.” While the law called for an overall increase of 10 licenses by Oct. 3, it also specified that one license go to a black farmer who had been part of settled lawsuits about discrimination by the federal government against black farmers. The law also said that the black farmer who receives a license would have to be a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association-Florida Chapter. The lawsuit said Smith meets the qualification of being part of the litigation about discrimination against black farmers. But it said he has not been allowed to join the black farmers association, effectively preventing him from receiving a license. “There is no rational basis for limiting the opportunity for black farmers to obtain a medical marijuana license to only the few members of that class of black farmers who are also member of a specific private association,” said the lawsuit, filed in Leon County circuit court.
“Property insurance bill proposed in Florida Senate moves to committee” via Glenn Minnis of FloridaRecord.com — Dorothy Hukill thinks the potential turmoil property owners could face in the aftermath of Hurricane Irma demonstrates the urgent need for the assignment of benefits legislation she is pushing. “I think this bill is now more important than ever,” Hukill told the Florida Record. “As people start filing claims stemming from this hurricane, it will be important that they have certain protections. It’s especially critical in South Florida given the consistent rise in insurance policy premiums. Over the last couple of years, even more lawsuits have been brought there based on assignment of benefits disputes.” Senate Bill 62 would create a new section of law dealing with assignment of benefits. Among its provisions, the law would prohibit certain awards of attorney fees to certain persons or entities in suits deriving from property insurance policies. The law would also stipulate that an assignee meet appointed requirements before filing suit under a policy. The bill has now moved to committee and Hukill insists that she will be there to push it every step of the way.
Assignment editors — Sen. Tom Lee will speak to the Florida Lifecare Residents Association during its Region 7 membership meeting beginning 11:30 a.m. at Freedom Plaza, 1010 American Eagle Blvd. in Sun City Center.
Constitution Revision Commission committee meets — The Rules and Administration Committee of the Florida CRC will meet at 2 p.m., 401 Senate Office Building in the Capitol.
— STATEWIDE —
“In Hialeah, money meant to feed poor kids pays for Las Vegas trip for city officials” via Francisco Alvarado of FloridaBulldog.org — Two years ago, Hialeah Mayor Carlos Hernandez signed off on spending $7,621 from a $10,000 corporate grant for feeding poor children. Instead, the money went to pay for airline tickets and posh hotel accommodations for himself, his chief of staff, a police detective and four other city employees to attend a parks and recreation conference in Las Vegas. News of Mayor Hernandez’s curious city spending surfaced in documents filed in a recently closed joint public corruption investigation by Miami-Dade’s State Attorney’s Office and Commission on Ethics and Public Trust. Another strange finding: Hernandez never traveled to Las Vegas to attend the annual conference of the National Recreation and Park Association (NRPA) from Sept. 13-17, 2015, and his whereabouts for seven days remain a mystery. Hernandez was the investigation’s focus, but he won’t face criminal charges.
“FSU trustees reward John Thrasher with $200,000 bonus, raise” via Byron Dobson of the Tallahassee Democrat — In addition, trustees voted to seek a one-year extension of Thrasher’s five-year contract signed in 2014. If approved by the Board of Governors and if Thrasher completes the six-year term, he’ll receive a $400,000 longevity bonus. The 7 percent raise, coupled with a 1.45 percent raise approved for all university faculty, will boost Thrasher’s annual compensation from the current $519,213 to approximately $563,000. “I’m appreciative of the board’s actions,” Thrasher said following the trustees meeting, which was postponed a week because the university was closed due Hurricane Irma.
Happening today — Florida’s Public Service Commission will start hearings on a Florida Power & Light proposal to shut down a Jacksonville coal-fired power plant St. Johns River Power Park owned jointly by FPL and the Jacksonville municipal utility JEA. FPL asked the PSC in May for approval to pay $90.4 million to the municipal utility, saying it will ultimately save customers an estimated $183 million by eliminating future costs. The meeting begins 1:30 p.m. at the Betty Easley Conference Center, 4075 Esplanade Way in Tallahassee.
— OPINIONS —
“Dave Aronberg: Fix Obamacare so unethical sober homes don’t exploit opioid crisis” via George Bennett of the Palm Beach Post— Aronberg says in a Time magazine op-ed that unscrupulous drug treatment providers have manipulated Obamacare “to foster a cycle of relapse, rather than recovery” and cash in on the opioid crisis. Aronberg … says Congress can address the problem by incentivizing treatment programs that demonstrate successful outcomes. Drug relapses must be covered by insurers as an essential health benefit and cannot be excluded as a pre-existing condition under the Affordable Care Act and other federal laws, Aronberg writes. The requirement that children be allowed to stay on their parents’ insurance policies until age 26 also makes young addicts a target for unethical operators, Aronberg says. Obamacare already reduces Medicare payments to hospitals with high readmission rates; Aronberg suggests a similar model for drug rehab programs.
“Is this the year Felix Garcia goes free?” via Florida Politics — A deaf man from Tampa who claims innocence for his role in a 1981 murder will be back up for parole Tuesday. Garcia, who turns 56 next month, is serving a life sentence in the death of Joseph Tramontana Jr. His case will again go before the Florida Commission on Offender Review, which will consider whether to release him on parole. Florida abolished parole in the 1980s, but inmates whose crimes were committed before Oct. 1, 1983, are still eligible. Garcia has long claimed that his brother and sister framed him and they have since admitted to doing so, even while he remains behind bars. That’s despite a seven-hour alibi that places him 6 miles away from the crime scene with his girlfriend, their 6-month-old daughter, his girlfriend’s mother, and— — t least briefly— — ith a Domino’s Pizza delivery man. But Garcia, sitting in a Tampa courtroom in 1983, says he could not understand the proceedings, in part because he was not provided a sign-language interpreter. Still behind him are Pat Bliss, a retired paralegal who has been working to secure Felix’s freedom for years; Reggie Garcia (no relation), a clemency expert who’s been representing Garcia for free; and Sachs Media Group, providing media relations pro bono. Garcia last was up for parole in November 2014, when the commission turned him down but agreed to reconsider his case in another three years. That time is now. And the time for justice for Felix Garcia, inmate #482246, is long overdue.
— MOVEMENTS —
Spotted at the Able Trust 2017 Ability Awards Ceremony & Disability Employment Awareness Month Launch at the Rosen Shingle Creek on Friday in Orlando was Sen. Jack Latvala, Rep. Sam Killebrew and Florida Department of Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, among other notables. At the celebration, The Able Trust recognized individuals, nonprofit agencies, employers and other organizations that have made outstanding contributions toward providing employment opportunities for Floridians with disabilities.
“Sprint hires Ballard Partners amid deal talks” via Florida Politics — Sprint Corp. has hired Brian Ballard’s lobbying firm, adding to Sprint’s stable of federal lobbyists as it nears a deal to merge with wireless rival T-Mobile US Inc, according to disclosures filed with the U.S. Congress this week. T-Mobile is close to agreeing to tentative terms on a deal with Sprint that would merge the third and fourth largest U.S. wireless carriers, people familiar with the matter said on Friday. The deal would face multiple regulatory hurdles, needing signoffs from antitrust regulators and the Federal Communications Commission. Ballard will lobby on “general government policies and regulations,” according to the disclosure, which did not include financial details.
New lobbying registrations:
Matt Bryan, David Daniel, Thomas Griffin, Jeff Hartley, Lisa Hurley, Jim Naff, Andrea Reilly, Smith Bryan & Myers: National Council of State Boards of Nursing
Robert Diffenderfer: Flying Cow Ranch HC, LLC
Nicole Fogarty: City of Fort Pierce
Gertrude Novicki: Florida Impact
— ALOE —
“Florida State unranked in the AP poll” via Wayne McGhee of the Tallahassee Democrat – — For the first time since Nov. 26, 2011, Florida State is not ranked in the AP Poll. The Seminoles had been ranked for 89 straight weeks, which was the second longest streak in college football behind Alabama. The Crimson Tide have been ranked for 152 straight weeks. Three Florida schools are ranked with Miami at No. 14, South Florida at No. 18, and Florida at No. 21.
“Memorial held for loved, record-setting, 69-year-old manatee” via The Associated Press — The South Florida Museum [held] a memorial for Snooty, the oldest manatee in captivity who died recently during an aquarium accident. The memorial [was] Sunday at the museum in Bradenton. The event was originally scheduled for Sept. 10 but was postponed due to Hurricane Irma … The museum was open for free as the staff and the community celebrates the 69-year-old Snooty, who was beloved in the Gulf Coast city.
Happy birthday to our wonderful friend, Christina Johnson. Also celebrating today are Travis Mitchell, Tara Reid, and one of Pinellas’ best, Nancy Riley.
Florida abolished parole in the 1980s, but inmates whose crimes were committed before Oct. 1, 1983 are still eligible.
Garcia has long claimed that his brother and sister framed him and they have since admitted to doing so, even while he remains behind bars.
That’s despite a seven-hour alibi that places him six miles away from the crime scene with his girlfriend, their 6-month-old daughter, his girlfriend’s mother, and—at least briefly—with a Domino’s Pizza delivery man.
But Garcia, sitting in a Tampa courtroom in 1983, says he could not understand the proceedings, in part because he was not provided a sign-language interpreter.
He had a 4th-grade reading and comprehension level. He experienced the entire trial as “incoherent noise,” his advocates say.
He answered “yes” to indicting questions because he thought his cooperation would speed up the trial, so he could go home sooner.
When Felix saw his sister Tina take the stand, he assumed she was doing so to come to his defense. On that, too, he was wrong.
The main piece of evidence against Felix: A pawnshop ticket that his brother Frank asked Felix to sign. It was for a ring that Frank had taken from the murder victim.
Knowing nothing about the ring’s origins but willing to oblige, Felix’s information was filed with the ring at the Tampa Gun and Pawn Shop.
That would forever change his life.
His brother Frank was convicted as well, though on lesser charges. Over time, Frank and Tina each came clean. In 1989 and again in 1996, Frank Garcia admitted under oath that Felix had nothing to do with the shooting or robbing of Tramontana. In 1996, Tina did the same.
Those attempts to absolve Felix were in vain.
Still behind him are Pat Bliss, a retired paralegal who has been working to secure Felix’s freedom for years; Reggie Garcia (no relation), a clemency expert who’s been representing Garcia for free; and Sachs Media Group, providing media relations pro bono.
Garcia last was up for parole in November 2014, when the commission turned him down but agreed to reconsider his case in another three years.
That time is now. And the time for justice for Felix Garcia, inmate #482246, is long overdue.
The first sentence of a Reason blog post this week got House Speaker Richard Corcoran’s attention: “Mere hours after Hurricane Irma, Miami-Dade County was ticketing residents for building code violations on their wrecked properties.”
Corcoran tweeted it with the message: “Revealed: Hours after Hurricane Irma hit, Miami-Dade County issued 857 known notices that could result in fines. Outrageous.”
The Reason post had focused on resident Celso Perez, who “was helping his neighbors remove some fallen trees blocking their street when a county code enforcer rolled up and issued him a safety notice for having a downed fence.
“ … The official told Perez that the downed fence — which encloses a pool — was a safety hazard, and that if it wasn’t fixed by the time he returned, Perez would be hit with a fine. The official then hung the safety citation on the portion of Perez’s fence that remained standing, leaving him and his neighbors to finish clearing the debris from their street.”
The blog opined: “it’s quite possible that Perez and the other people might have more pressing things to do right after a hurricane than bring their homes back up to code. You know: clearing the streets, seeking medical attention, checking in on family members, trying to find food.”
The county, in a follow-up statement to Reason, defended its actions: “We were looking to advise residents of the following hazards on their properties that they may not have been aware of, but that pose a life safety threat: damaged structures that rendered them unsafe, unsecured pools with no barriers, electrical hazards (downed lines, damaged meters) and gas hazards (damaged meters).
“If any of these hazards were found, our inspectors gave out a safety notice, which is neither a notice of violation warning nor a citation. That means there is no fine attached. The safety notices given to property owners identify the hazard, steps that should be taken to correct the hazard, and who to contact for additional information.”
As Perez put it: “All the stores were closed. It’s not like I can go to Home Depot and find some temporary barrier.”
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Jim Rosica, Peter Schorsch, Scott Powers, Michael Moline and Andrew Wilson.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
Irma’s effect still felt — The hurricane that ripped through the state has still left more than 30,000 homes and businesses without power at last count. Thousands of Floridians need help with insurance claims; some are still in need of food and shelter. Gov. Rick Scott and other officials continue touring the state to view the damage. Scott said he’d like to see storm-battered Key West “open for business” within two weeks, but tourism officials say it could take longer. Some tourism hot spots have started to reopen in the Lower Keys, as electricity is back for more than 90 percent of Monroe County.
Citrus in dire straits — A long wait may be ahead for broad federal relief for Florida’s beleaguered citrus industry, “decimated” by Irma at the start of the growing season, according to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. The agriculture industry — the state’s second-largest industry after tourism — could be at the mercy of Congress to land broader federal assistance for ravaged crops. “Comparable disaster assistance programs, to what we’ve seen in the past, will now require an act of Congress,” Putnam, a former member of the U.S. House, said. “And as a recovering congressman, I can assure you that nothing moves as fast as we’d like in Washington.”
Florida becoming redder — Republicans are boasting they have taken voter-registration edges over Polk and Volusia County Democrats, continuing a trend of trimming a once-sizable advantage for Democrats statewide. With Polk and Volusia counting slightly more Republicans than Democrats in registration data recorded through Aug. 31, the Republican Party of Florida says it’s flipped 12 counties to a Republican advantage in two years. But it’s not just there. Democrats in August 2013 had more than 500,000 statewide registered voters over Republicans. With the latest count, the Democrats advantage was cut nearly in half to just 275,000.
Miami-Dade election nears — The special election for Miami-Dade County’s Senate District 40 is Tuesday. Republican Jose Felix Diaz, Democrat Annette Taddeo and no-party candidate Christian “He-Man” Schlaerth are vying for the seat. Diaz got a boost this week with an endorsement from his hometown newspaper, the liberal-leaning Miami Herald editorial board. But Taddeo came back Wednesday with an endorsement from former Vice President Joe Biden, who recorded a get-out-the-vote call for her. The winner will replace ex-Sen. FrankArtiles, who stepped down in April after a controversy over his use of racially-charged language with two black lawmakers.
Constitutional panel gets ready — The Constitution Revision Commission is gearing up for its first committee week, starting Monday in the Capitol. Among those meeting: Rules and Administration, Executive Committee, Bonding and Investments, Declaration of Rights, Finance and Taxation, and General Provisions. All meetings are open to the public and will be live-streamed by The Florida Channel. The commission is formed every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document. Any amendments put forward by the panel must be approved by at least 60 percent of voters statewide on the 2018 ballot to be added to the constitution.
Rick Scott visits Irma shelter with Homeland Security chief
Gov. Rick Scott visited a Monroe County hurricane shelter this week alongside U.S. Department of Homeland Security Acting Secretary Elaine Duke and American Red Cross CEO Gail McGovern.
After visiting with families at the shelter, Scott and Duke split off to meet with state and local officials about recovery efforts in the Keys. Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, was one of the areas hardest hit by Irma.
As of Friday, power had been restored to about 94 percent of accounts in the county, but there is still a long road to ahead before the Keys are back to normal.
Able Trust honors Jack Latvala
A group that helps disabled Floridians land jobs handed its “Senator of the Year” award to Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala this week, citing the Senate Appropriation Chair’s commitment to their cause.
The Able Trust gave Latvala the award during a ceremony in Orlando Friday morning.
“People with disabilities have been greatly served by Senator Latvala’s continued public service,” said Karen Moore, who chairs the Able Trust’s board of directors.
Moore added that Latvala, who is running for Florida governor in 2018, has shown his commitment to helping Floridians with all types of disabilities and has shown “steadfast support” for the Able Trust while in the Legislature.
Food assistance on the way
State and federal officials are starting a “Food for Florida Disaster Food Assistance Program” in the 48 counties most affected by Hurricane Irma, a news release said.
“We are working around the clock to provide relief to those affected by Hurricane Irma,” Department of Children and Families Secretary MikeCarroll said. “We encourage those in need of food assistance to preregister if possible through the website so we can quickly serve those in need.”
To qualify, applicants must be financially eligible, have lived or worked in one of the counties declared for FEMA Individual Assistance Sept. 5, and not be receiving food assistance through the regular Food Assistance Program.
Details on local Food for Florida sites will be posted on the Food for Florida website as they become available.
‘Sanctuary cities’ bill in Senate
Fernandina Beach Republican Sen. Aaron Bean filed a bill this week that would outlaw “sanctuary” designations and fine cities that don’t fall in line.
The “Rule of Law Adherence Act” (SB 308) would force local governments to follow federal immigration laws and require full compliance with detention requests from U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and U.S. Customs and Border Protection.
Cities that don’t toe the line could face fines of up to $5,000 for each day they keep “sanctuary” policies on the books.
Bean filed a similar measure in the 2017 Legislative Session that didn’t make it through committee. The House companion got through with a party-line vote but wasn’t taken up in the Senate.
At the time, critics slammed the measures for unfairly targeting minorities and claimed that forced compliance without funding for enforcement was an unfair burden on local governments.
Florida may get state bovine
Forget state birds, flowers or butterflies: state Rep. MaryLynn Magar says Florida needs a state cattle breed.
The Tequesta Republican filed a bill for the 2018 Legislative Session this week, HB 155, that would name the Florida Cracker the state’s “heritage cattle breed.”
The Florida Cracker, also known as the Florida Scrub or simply the Cracker cow, has a long history in the Sunshine State. The small, horned and hardy cattle breed was brought to Florida by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century, making them one of the oldest breeds in the U.S., and the trend toward larger and larger cattle for beef production has made the Florida Cracker one of the rarest breeds as well.
If approved, the Florida Cracker’s designation would put it in the same company as several other official state flora and fauna — the American alligator, the Florida panther, the manatee and the dolphin, to name a few.
Citizens says: Avoid AOB ‘scams’
State-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. is hoping to deter policyholders from opting for a quick fix post-Irma by urging them to avoid assignment of benefits “scams.”
Assignment of benefits, or AOB, is a practice where policyholders can sign away their insurance policy to a third party that will make needed repairs and attempts to collect the cost from the insurer later — often by taking them to court.
Citizens said “unscrupulous contractors and repair companies thrive in the frenzied days following any storm” and warned policyholders to be on the lookout for contractors operating without a license or any “deals that sound too good to be true.”
The insurer of last resort said customers should call them first after any home damage, with CEO Barry Gilway adding that Citizens’ “claims representatives are ready to help. All you have to do is call.”
Get your tetanus booster before Irma cleanup
The Florida Department of Health said Floridians should take some extra precautions before jumping feet first into their post-Hurricane Irma cleanup.
Chief among the department’s advice: Ask your doctor if it’s time for a tetanus booster.
Booster shots for tetanus, the bacteria that causes lockjaw, typically last 10 years. Tetanus can be found in soil, dust, manure and, as FDOH warned, could be prevalent in floodwaters brought on by Irma.
Due to the risk, FDOH recommends all cleanup be done with waterproof gloves and rubber boots. If an accident happens, clean any wounds with soap and disinfected or bottled water before seeking medical attention.
DOH said Floridians with up-to-date vaccinations still need to take care when working out in the heat. The department said workers should drink plenty of water even if not thirsty, wear lightweight clothes and sunscreen, and make sure to take breaks inside the A/C.
FWC cancels Okeechobee meeting
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission nixed a two-day meeting scheduled for next week in Okeechobee, citing Hurricane Irma.
“FWC’s top priority is to provide significant resources to the statewide efforts to help our citizens and visitors recover from the devastating impacts of Hurricane Irma,” the commission said on its website. “In order to assure all resources are focused on recovery efforts, the FWC Commission meeting that was scheduled for Sept. 27 and 28 has been canceled.”
With the September meeting scratched off the calendar, the only remaining commission meeting this year is set for Dec. 6 and Dec. 7 in Gainesville.
FWC relaxes fees post-Irma
Gov. Scott told the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to ease up on regulations and waive fees for the South Florida commercial fishing industry as it tries to bounce back from Hurricane Irma.
“Hurricane Irma affected nearly our entire state, and we are aggressively working to make sure the every family and industry has the ability to recover quickly. This week, I’ve traveled across the state to tour damage and hear directly from families and communities on what we can do to help. Florida’s commercial fishing industry plays a large role in our economy, and I am proud the FWC can waive fees and reduce regulations so they can get back to work,” Scott said.
Among the temporary rule changes is an extension of the renewal period for some commercial fishing permits set to expire Sept. 30 and delaying the deadline until Dec. 1 for commercial lobster harvesters in Collier, Dade and Monroe to tag their traps.
Fees for replacement trap tags have also been waived.
FWC chairman Brian Yablonski said the commission was “glad to reduce these regulations and waive fees,” and agreed with Scott that the move will help Florida fishermen and women to get back on the water.
Florida Chamber forum next week
The Florida Chamber Foundation’s Future of Florida Forum is coming to Orlando next week to discuss issues facing the state and ask “Is Florida Ready?”
Key speakers heading to the JW Marriott Grande Lakes for the Wednesday and Thursday event include gubernatorial candidate and Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam, Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis, Enterprise Florida head Pete Antonacci, Visit Florida chief Ken Lawson, DEO Director Cissy Proctor and Education Commissioner Pam Stuart.
Topics include the state’s cradle to career continuum, Hurricane Irma recovery, an update on the Florida 2030 Initiative, a special Florida Women’s Hall of Fame presentation, and the Constitution Revision Commission.
With the Jewish holy day of Rosh Hashana earlier this week and Hurricane Irma’s effects still lingering, Leon County said rescheduled a pair of public hearings on millage rates.
The tentative millage rate hearing scheduled for Sept. 20 was moved to Sept. 26 at 6 p.m., while the hearing on final millage rates originally scheduled for Sept. 26 was also moved back a week to Oct. 3 at 6 p.m.
The county said it took the Florida Department of Revenue’s advice in rescheduling the hearings, both of which will be held in the County Commission chambers on the fifth floor of the Leon County Courthouse, 301 S. Monroe St.
There will be time for public comment at both hearings. Those looking for more info can reach out to county community relations contact Mathieu Cavell via (850) 606-5300 or cmr@LeonCountyFL.gov.
Leon County: Bring us your trash
It’s been nearly two weeks since Hurricane Irma barreled through Florida, but there’s still plenty of debris to be carted off throughout the state. Luckily, Leon County Emergency Management said residents will still be able to slough off that extra yard trash free-of-charge through Sept. 24.
The Solid Waste Management Facility, 7550 Apalachee Parkway, will be open Saturday from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., while the rural waste service centers in Woodville, Fort Branden and Miccosukee will be open Saturday and Sunday from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.
Those who can’t cart away their own debris can wait for curbside collection, which is set to start up this week and will keep going until all the waste is collected. The county put out a guideto help residents do their part in keeping the curbside collection process moving smoothly.
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Tallahassee going solar
After months of preparation, City of Tallahassee crews and Origis Energy will be installing the first of 230,000 solar panels on a new “solar farm,” according to a news release.
“Once in service, these solar panels will produce 37 million kilowatt-hours (kWh) of electricity each year — enough to power 3,400 homes and businesses in the Capital City,” it said.
The city’s solar farm will be on the southside, off Springhill Road. It’s expected to be completed this winter. When finished, the 20-megawatt solar farm, near the Tallahassee International Airport, will be one of the biggest in the Sunshine State.
A second 40-megawatt solar farm is planned.
Bring a newbie hunting or fishing
Saturday is National Hunting and Fishing Day and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission want Florida outdoorsmen to “create new conservationists” by bringing a pal or two on their weekend excursions.
“Not only do hunting and fishing allow you to connect with nature on a profound level, those who take part in these activities also contribute to conservation,” FWC Director Nick Wiley said. “Every time someone buys a firearm, ammunition, archery equipment or fishing tackle, they are contributing to science-based fish and wildlife management through the Wildlife and Sport Fish Restoration program.”
Such purchases fund the program, as do fees from hunting and fishing licenses, which Wiley said “is critical for conserving fish and wildlife” in the Sunshine State.
FWC encouraged any sportsmen or women who have an extra seat on their boat or a little extra space in their hunting stand to pledge to bring someone along.
Those who do will be eligible to win prizes including a VIP package for the Richard Childress Racing weekend or an “Ultimate Outdoor Experience” at the Big Cedar Lodge in Missouri — just be sure any companions grab a license online before they reel in a whopper.
First responders fish for free
Gov. Scott said this week that Sunshine State law enforcement and first responders don’t have to worry about grabbing a fishing license before heading out for some R&R post-Hurricane Irma.
“Before and after Hurricane Irma, Florida’s brave law enforcement officers and first responders have been tirelessly working around the clock to meet the needs of our families and communities. Even as their own families were evacuating or working to begin the recovery process, they have been putting their own lives on the line to keep our state safe,” Scott said when he announced rule change.
FWC Chairman Brian Yablonski added he hopes “this small token of appreciation will give these dedicated men and women an opportunity to get a break” from the stress brought on by the storm.
Scott said the deal applies to both freshwater and saltwater fishing, and that it will last through the end of June 2018. The licenses cost $37 each for Florida residents, or $54 for an “Avid Angler” license, which bundles freshwater and saltwater permits.
The Associated Press and the News Service of Florida contributed to this edition.
Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions: