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Pat Arends: Missed opportunity – continuing care retirement community reform in Florida

We’re nearly halfway through the 2017 Florida Legislative Session and lawmakers are missing an opportunity to protect the 30,000 senior citizens who live in Florida’s 71 continuing care retirement communities (CCRCs). Vastly different from most long-term care retirement options. CCRCs provide a campus environment that offer independent living, assisted living and skilled nursing all in one setting.

Historically, Florida’s CCRC law has been considered one of the strongest in the country. However, market forces and situations change over time and regulations have to keep pace with current trends and developments. Two important bills, Senate Bill 1430 sponsored by Sen. Tom Lee and House Bill 1349 sponsored by Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, were filed to improve the law governing CCRCs, but neither bill has received a committee hearing in either legislative chamber.

Due to the unique nature of this long-term care option, CCRCs are regulated as a specialty insurance product.

Seniors who move into a CCRC pay an entrance fee at move-in followed by a monthly fee that covers housing, health care and meals. Costs can vary widely depending on the type of contract, location of the community, and other deliverables. Entrance fees can be sizable and are equivalent to buying a home in the traditional sense, even though residents do not generally own their living unit in the CCRC.

Since 2013, there have been three CCRC bankruptcies in Florida. This is the most in over 20 years.

The most recent and most concerning bankruptcy of a CCRC occurred at University Village in Tampa. This particular case prompted Sen. Lee and Rep. Stevenson to file legislation this year to achieve meaningful reform.

During the last two years, the more than five hundred senior citizens who reside at University Village have lived under a cloud of anxiety every day, literally not knowing what was going to happen to their community. Further, the residents have seen collectively millions of dollars of hard earned retirement funds invested into their CCRC disappear.

The Florida Life Care Residents Association (FLiCRA) supports elements of the proposed legislation that would improve the ability of the Office of Insurance Regulation to protect the rights and welfare of the 30,000 residents living in Florida CCRCs. Unfortunately, the Legislature has not yet heard either bill. FLiCRA urges the Senate to consider giving CCRC Reform a hearing in the Senate Banking and Insurance Committee while there is still time during the 2017 Legislative Session.

FLiCRA fully agrees with other stakeholders, including LeadingAge Florida, that the vast majority of CCRC operators and owners are experienced, dedicated and successful in delivering quality services to tens of thousands of seniors on a daily basis. This makes it even more important to improve the law, to ensure that CCRCs continue to be seen as a vibrant and desirable long-term care option for seniors.

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Retiree Pat Arends is a resident of Freedom Village, a CCRC in Bradenton. She is president of the 14,000-member Florida Life Care Residents Association. During her career, Arends served as President of the Florida Association of City Clerks and has served as an officer with the Manatee League of Women Voters.

The Florida Life Care Residents Association (FLiCRA) was established in 1989, and is the oldest and largest association of continuing care residents in the country. Its mission is to ensure quality of life for residents living in such communities.

For more information visit www.flicra.com.

 

Tampa Bay Times to purchase Peter Schorsch’s Extensive Enterprises Media

In a move sure to send shockwaves throughout Florida’s media and political circles, Times Publishing Co. and the non-profit Poynter Institute, owners of the Tampa Bay Times, have acquired St. Petersburg-based Extensive Enterprises Media.

Extensive Enterprises is one of the nation’s fastest growing media concerns, producing Florida’s most influential political websites, including FloridaPolitics.com, SaintPetersBlog.com, OrlandoRising.com, and INFLUENCE Magazine, as well as a suite of email newsletters.

Extensive Enterprises president Peter Schorsch announced the acquisition Saturday morning. Terms of the sale were not disclosed, although Schorsch will continue to publish his websites, while also serving on the Times editorial board and authoring a once-a-week column.

“After all these years of writing in my boxers and bathrobe, it looks like I’ll have to put on my big-boy pants and work in an office,” Schorsch said.

Paul Tash, chairman and CEO of Times Publishing, said the move is just the latest in a campaign to establish a single, wholly-owned and controlled source of all information and opinion in Florida and the Tampa Bay area.

In a statement, Tash described the purchase as creating: “one holistic system of systems, one vast and immane, interwoven, interacting, multivariate, multinational dominion of dollars … It is the international system of currency which determines the totality of life on this planet … That is the natural order of things today … That is the atomic … and subatomic … and galactic structure of things today!”

“YOU have meddled with the primal forces of nature,” Tash added. “And YOU … WILL … ATONE!”

In a related matter, Schorsch announced the purchase of a controlling interest in The Walt Disney Co., where he will soon replace the retiring Bob Iger as chairman and CEO.

Kristin Incroci appointed to Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority

Governor Rick Scott announced the appointment of Kristin Incrocci to the Sarasota Manatee Airport Authority on Friday.

Incrocci, 51, of Sarasota, is the owner and pilot of SRQ Aviation.

She received her bachelor’s degree from Embry Riddle Aeronautical University, Daytona Beach.

Incrocci fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term beginning March 31, 2017, and ending November 17, 2018.

2018 Democratic gubernatorial candidates to speak in St. Petersburg Saturday

Four potential or actual Democratic candidates running for governor next year will speak in St. Petersburg on Saturday night.

Tallahassee mayor Andrew Gillum, Central Florida businessman Chris King, Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine and former Tallahassee Congresswoman Gwen Graham will speak at the Democratic County Chairs Association (DCCA) weekend-long retreat kicking off at the Hilton St. Petersburg Carillon Park.

Gillum and King are officially in the race. Levine is testing the waters, while Graham continues to inch closer to an announcement.

The weekend will also feature Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel and a panel of fellow Democrats distributing $100,000 in grants to various small- and medium-sized Democratic executive committees, as well as some Democratic caucuses and clubs.

Shortly after taking office in January, Bittel announced he was rolling out what he calls the $100,000 Janet Reno Challenge Grant.

Our goal is to ensure that Democratic organizations across the state have the freedom to implement new and creative ideas for organizing their communities and then receive the resources to implement those strategies,” Bittel said. “The new Florida Democratic Party must organize year-round regardless of election cycle, and the Janet Reno Challenge Grant will help kick-start our grassroots mobilization and put us on a path to victory in 2018.”

A total of 30 merit-based awards will be announced on Saturday – ten $5000 and twenty $2500 are to be awarded,  part of a competitive process.

The panel in charge of selecting grant winners includes Wakulla County Committeeman and DNC member Nikki Barnes, Osceola County DEC Chair Leah Carius, Miami-Dade County DEC Chair Juan Cuba, Duval County State Committeewoman Lisa King, Hillsborough County Committeeman Russ Patterson and Tampa’s Ian Whitney, a former Committeeman and Monroe County DEC Chair.

Unless legislation is changed, Joe Redner says he’ll sue over Legislature’s medical marijuana

Advocates of Amendment 2, which legalized medical marijuana in Florida, have been expressing disdain for HB 1397, moving through the Legislature this Session, sponsored by Fort Myers Republican Ray Rodrigues.

“Folks, this bill is bad,” wrote Ben Pollara, head of United for Care, the organization that campaigned for the constitutional amendment that passed with more than 71 percent support of Floridians last fall.

“If passed, it would basically cancel out the vote we had last fall, if not make the situation worse,” Pollara added.

Specifically, Pollara and others are denouncing the bill as currently written, primarily because it bans smoking, vaporizing and eating of medical marijuana. It also requires patients recertify with the state every 90 days and compels patients to sign an “informed consent” document warning them about the dangers of marijuana use and reminding them that it is illegal federally.

In the past, Pollara said he knows organizations and individuals who may sue if the ultimate legislative product has those elements.

On Thursday, Tampa adult entrepreneur and gadfly Joe Redner confirmed he would be one of those individuals.

“We have a constitutional amendment, and I loooove the court system,” Redner said Thursday on WMNF-88.5 FM.

In the 1980s and 90s, Redner frequently battled the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County over his adult nightclubs, winning more than a million dollars in damages, according to a 2012 Deadspin report.

“I cannot wait to sue the state Legislature. Please don’t pass a good law!” he joked about the efforts of Rodrigues, who is pushing the main medical marijuana bill in the Florida House.

“There were definitely people who believed that they were voting to smoke it because those people have contacted me since we had filed that bill and expressed that sentiment,” Rodrigues recently told a Tampa radio station.

“However, I do not believe that is the majority of the people,” Rodrigues explained. “Clearly, the majority of the people believed they were voting for medical marijuana, and as long as they get the benefits from medical marijuana, the way that it is administered is irrelevant. And I would say that the science is on our side.”

Accompanying Redner at WMNF were Adam Elend and Jeff Marks, his former “Voice of Freedom” cable access show co-hosts back in the aughts.

Redner said the two had been working in Colorado on marijuana-based businesses after the state legalized pot in 2012. Redner intends to work with them on a medical marijuana-related business in Tampa.

Whether he gets that opportunity is again subject to the whims of the Legislature, which seems bent on reducing the field of companies that can grow and distribute medical pot — keeping it to seven companies statewide. However, that number could grow if the patient population does.

Of all the medical marijuana bills now floating in the Florida Legislature, only a measure from St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes would open competition two more than those seven companies.

Brandes’ proposal would also let cities and counties determine how many retail facilities would be required.

During the interview, Redner admitted that despite proclamations to the contrary, Democrat Bob Buesing asked him to drop out of the four-person Senate District 18 race against Republican Dana Young last fall.

At the time, Buesing said Redner’s presence would not hurt him in his battle against Young. Young defeated Buesing by 7 percent, while the independent Redner took 9 percent.

Recently, Redner said he would not enter another race in 2018 if Buesing was again the Democratic candidate.

Redner also revealed that he had not spoken to his son, Cigar City Brewing head Joey Redner, until just recently, since Joey gave a financial contribution to Young in the Senate race.

“To me, it was my son telling me, he thought she was a better person than I was,” Redner said, adding that he is not sure he will ever get over it.

 

Vern Buchanan ‘disappointed’ feds changed manatee endangered status, calls for reversal

Congressman Vern Buchanan is attacking an announcement Thursday from the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service downgrading protections for the Florida manatee from “endangered” to “threatened.”

It’s a “huge disappointment,” the Sarasota Republican said.

“The decision to weaken protections under the Endangered Species Act threatens the survival of the manatee, one of Florida’s most beloved animals,” Buchanan added. “It needs to be reversed.”

Buchanan plans to contact Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke to ask him to reconsider and overturn the decision.

Florida manatees have been protected under the Endangered Species Act since 1973. By 1979, FWS officials estimated there were only 800 to 1,000 individual manatees.

Through careful management of the manatee and its habitat, both the FWS and the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have helped the animals’ population rebound.

Now Florida waters are home to more than 6,000 manatees.

However, manatee deaths are on the rise. In 2016, there were 520 deaths, more than 100 of which were caused by boats and other watercraft.

In January, the FWS proposed to remove the manatee from the endangered species list reclassify it as “threatened” after “significant improvements” in its population and habitat conditions.

This prompted Buchanan to pen a formal objection letter to the Fish and Wildlife Service to emphasize that any push to weaken protections for the manatee would be “misguided and premature.”

In 2014, following a three-year period in which 1,600 manatees died of cold weather or red tide, Buchanan also called on FWS to maintain federal protections for manatees.

Charlie Crist joins bill rolling back Doanld Trump’s efforts to weaken Clean Power Plan

Two days after President Donald Trump directed the Environmental Protection Agency to start the legal process of withdrawing and rewriting the Obama-era Clean Power Plan.

St. Petersburg Congressman Charlie Crist joined 35 other Democrats to file legislation to prevent its implementation.

HR 1812, known as the Congressional Leadership in Mitigating Administration Threats to the Earth (CLIMATE) Act declares the anti-environment executive order null and void and prohibits federal funds from implementing, administering, or enforcing the order.

“My home county of Pinellas is quite literally a peninsula on the peninsula of Florida, and we feel the effects of climate change daily. Our shorelines are impacted by severe storms and constant coastal erosion. And, as a result, there are real concerns that one of our key revenue sources — tourism — may wash away bit by bit,” Crist said. “We can’t afford to roll back these key environmental protections — more pollution and more climate change are direct threats to our community’s health, safety, energy independence, and economy.”

Obama’s Clean Power Plan would have closed hundreds of coal-fired power plants, frozen construction of new plants and replaced them with vast new wind and solar farms. It also undercuts regulations on methane emissions.

“This executive order ignores both the science and the impacts of global climate change, and jeopardizes our children’s future by reorienting our policies backwards toward higher-emission sources of energy,” says Illinois Democrat Brad Schneider, another co-sponsor of the bill. “The United States must continue to play a leadership role in the international effort to confront climate change, or risk losing that role to other countries. We need to lead not just to protect our environment and national security, but to also ensure that the green energy jobs of tomorrow are created here at home.”

Trump signed the order while surrounded by coal workers and executives earlier this week.

“C’mon, fellas. You know what this is? You know what this says?” Trump reportedly said to the miners as he signed the order, according to The New York Times. “You’re going back to work.”

Rowdies, Al Lang referendum an easy sale for Rick Baker

This week, St. Petersburg residents start receiving ballots for the May 2 referendum asking to give the Tampa Bay Rowdies a 25-year lease for Al Lang Field.

St. Pete Entrepreneur Bill Edwards is advocating — and paying for — the measure.

However, considering the questions fielded in public forums by Edwards’ spokesperson Rick Baker, the referendum will be something of an easy sale.

Baker, the former (and possibly future) mayor, is making his pitch to neighborhood and community groups throughout the city.

Speaking to about two dozen members of the Sunset Rotary Club at the St. Petersburg Museum of History, Baker began with a bit of recent history. He spoke of St. Pete’s barren downtown in the 1980s, to his declaration to become mayor in 2002, where the goal was for his city to become the “cultural center of Florida.”

“We made it the cultural center,” Baker says, making comments that could have easily come from the campaign trail.

Baker alluded to negotiations opening the door for a new Dali Museum, rebuilt Mahaffey Center, a new American Stage Theater, and the Chihuly Museum.

“We stole the Florida Orchestra from Tampa,” he adds, saying they were all part a mix that led to St. Petersburg becoming such a dynamic city.

Baker’s main pitch – a bigger stadium for the Rowdies, part of a bigger league – is that it is another “thing” making St. Pete special: “Some people love the Dali, some people love Janus Landing.”

Although a simple call to Stuart Sternberg can serve as a reminder exactly how sensitive St. Petersburg residents are about the waterfront, Edwards’ proposal faces little controversy.

First of all, it’s not costing taxpayers a cent. Edwards is footing the bill for the referendum’s estimated $250,000 cost.

If Major League Soccer allows the Rowdies inside its private club (11 franchises are vying for four expansion spots), Edwards would also have to pick up the tab for construction and expansion, which is estimated at around $80 million.

And Edwards and investors would have to pay the $150 million franchise fee to get into the MLS.

Unlike the Rays proposal that first became known in 2007, the Rowdies aren’t asking to expand the physical footprint of the venerable Al Lang Field, built in 1947 and restructured in 1976. Plans for the structure preserves its open views of the water, and expands pedestrian rights-of-way to include sidewalks and cafe seating.

“To bring some of that Beach Drive experience,” Baker explains.

“I did not want to mess up the Grand Prix,” he says about the stadium expansion. “We wanted to add some restaurant facilities for the Saturday Morning Market, work it so that everybody will be with us. “

The biggest questions Baker faced from the public seems to be about parking. For example, he’s had to shoot down rumors about a new parking garage at Demens Landing.

The former mayor cites a 2016 parking study by the city that found that there are 9,500 public parking spaces available in the downtown core. A study of the availability for a Saturday night 8 p.m. game shows 51 percent of those spaces were unused at that time, Baker says, adding that the Edwards Group will continue to work with the city’s traffic department.

Baker also fields questions about bicycle access. “We intend to have access to the trails that lead right into the stadium,” he says, adding that there will be “sufficient” bike parking.

The team expects 16 percent of the attendees to be coming to games via alternative forms of transportation, Baker says, either through public transit, biking, pedestrian walk-ups and ridesharing services.

For the project, the Rowdies are working with Populous, one of the world’s largest architectural firms specializing in the design of sports facilities and arenas better known in the U.S. under its earlier moniker, HOK Sports.

Populous representatives say the firm would be able to reconstruct the stadium without affecting the main field, meaning that the Rowdies would not need to stop playing in St. Petersburg if they get permission for the expansion.

“We’re very confident that this will be successful,” Baker told Rotary Club President Adam Hopkins, after he wondered if the market could support a bigger stadium.

Hopkins pointed to recent attendance woes affecting the Rays and the Buccaneers.

“We think the market has the capacity, we think the city has the capacity,” Baker says.

“My main priority is what’s good for the city,” Baker said before the meeting, describing how he connects with the public on the plan. “So, it helps that I really believe that this is a great thing for the city if we could make it all come together.”

Baker didn’t have to use the hard-sell to win support from the Tampa Bay Times editorial board.

On Thursday, a day after the former mayor spoke with editors about the plan, the Times published a full-throated recommendation for the referendum.

Documentary on Florida’s troubled foster care system draws big St. Pete crowd

A new film focusing on Florida’s troubled foster care system drew a large crowd at a screening in Gulfport Wednesday night.

Foster Shock’ is a documentary highlighting the ills of the state’s child welfare system showed how a government body had completely turned over the responsibility and care of children to contracted, for-profit companies, who, in turn, contract out the work to other companies, exposing minors to dangers such as violence, drugs, sex trafficking and criminalization.

Directed by Mari Frankel and narrated by Tim Malloy, with cinematography by Brian Bayerl, Foster Shock takes the viewer inside the world of foster children after they are yanked from their homes. They screened the movie at Stetson Law School in Gulfport to a packed room.

Frankel, who once worked as a Guardian ad Litem in Palm Beach County, addressed those in attendance, setting the mood for the film. She told the story of the first child she advocated — a 12-year-old boy with special needs who had been sexually abused in his foster home. After she came and got the boy, the caseworker was nonchalantly prepared to put the young man back in the same home.

That didn’t happen, Frankel said, but soon after that, another child was placed in that home and was sexually abused, even though Department of Children and Families staff knew of the earlier sexual abuse.

“We need to raise the bar, and we need to raise the bar high,” she said. “We need to know that we can make a change. I know it doesn’t take legislation to be caring, to be loving.”

Sometimes the parents screwed up or are abusive. Sometimes, children are just prematurely or wrongly removed from their homes. No matter what, they often wind up being placed in settings that were worse than where they came from, enduring life-scarring traumas.

At one hour, seven minutes, the film follows the stories of several young adults who “aged out” of the foster car system or in a couple of lucky instances, were adopted and allowed to flourish to be who they wanted to be — something they were not able to do in the prisonlike group homes scattered across the state, housing thousands of children due to a lack of housing placements.

In the homes, privacy is nonexistent; fights are commonplace; staff abuse is rampant and inappropriately large dosages of psychotropic drugs are forced onto children by staff lacking any kind of credentials.

While film does a good job of portraying group homes, it mentions nothing of the murders, killings and ongoing deaths occurring throughout the state on a routine basis under the care of the so-called “CBCs,” or community-based care agencies, like Our Kids of Miami-Dade Monroe, Eckerd Youth Alternatives, Community Partnership for Children, Inc., etc., who continue to have the contracts with DCF renewed, despite the continuing deaths.

Meanwhile, filmmakers say CEOs of CBCs are grossly overpaid — as an example, David Dennis, the chief executive officer of Eckerd, made $708,028 in fiscal year 2015.

After the screening, four young adults in their late teens and mid-20s fielded questions from a Pinellas County dependency judge, sharing their experiences with the crowd.

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