Hurricane Irma Archives - Florida Politics

Irma memories spark call for homeowners to check their insurance

Hurricane Irma should have been warning enough, but insurance regulators in Tallahassee are underscoring the imperative for homeowners to make sure they’re carrying enough insurance, including flood coverage.

Most flood policies typically take effect 30 days after purchase, officials said in a written statement issued last week. With the 2018 hurricane season nearing its peak, there’s no time to waste.

“As we approach the time of year when tropical activity is at its highest, complacency is not an option,” Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier said.

“Last year, reports indicated a vast majority of Florida’s residences were inadequately insured,” he said.

“Floridians must review their insurance policies, understand their coverages, and make the necessary adjustments to ensure they are adequately covered. Prepare now, and protect your property for when the next storm arrives.”

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who oversees the Office of Insurance Regulation, recalled the damage Irma inflicted up the length of Florida last summer.

“The images of the flood damage and losses I saw when traveling the state following Hurricane Irma will forever be ingrained in my memory,” Patronis said.

“Remember, flooding isn’t just a coastal concern, but a statewide issue,” he added.

State leaders have been encouraging private insurance companies to offer flood policies, often at comparable or lower prices than offered by the National Flood Insurance Program.

The number of companies eligible to write these policies increased from 20 to 26 between June 30, 2017, and March 31 this year — and, as of April, they’d issued more than 30,000 policies.

Basic homeowners policies tend not to cover flood damage. The insurance office offered this link to private flood insurance writers.

Additionally, the insurance office maintains a Hurricane Season Resources webpage, and Patronis has his own Disaster Preparedness site.

Also available is Patronis’ Insurance Consumer Helpline: 1-877-My-FL-CFO (1-877-693-5236).

Takeaways from Tallahassee — A justice talks civics

Every July Fourth, Florida Supreme Court Justice Ricky Polston reads a copy of the Declaration of Independence reprinted in the Tallahassee Democrat.

“I always sit in the morning with a cup of coffee and read back through that,” Polston told members of the Economic Club of Florida in Tallahassee this week. “I just enjoy doing that.”

The sharing of his holiday indulgence made sense. Polston, who served as chief justice 2012-14, followed it with a thoughtful explanation of the judiciary, including how the Supreme Court acts almost like a “board of directors.”

Supreme Court Justice Ricky Polston enjoys talking civics.

Appointed to the bench in 2008, Polston spoke of the court having to handle cases sparked by the Great Recession. The justices encountered nuanced issues related to foreclosures and delinquent properties that stumped even Polston, a former CPA who keeps his license current.

Legal minds across the state were tasked with confronting problems with “shadow inventory” — delinquent properties that had not yet been foreclosed, and “ghost towns,” abandoned properties that attracted undesired or criminal activity, Polston explained.

“This presented a great problem,” Polston said, but eventually led to the court clearing a backlog of hundreds of thousands of foreclosed property cases between 2013 and 2017.

A father of 10 children, six of whom are adopted, Polston said he was dealing with a grueling and lengthy adoption process when he was appointed to the court by Gov. Charlie Crist.

He recalled a reporter asking him if the issue would weigh on his decision-making at the bench. The answer? Yes.

He remembered telling the reporter, “Justice delayed, to me, is justice denied.”

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Drew Wilson, Danny McAuliffe, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Take 5

‘Stand your ground’ under fire — Following the fatal shooting of Markeis McGlockton during a parking lot dispute in Pinellas County and a decision not to pursue charges because of the state’s “stand your ground” law, elected officials across the state are calling for the Legislature to reconsider the statute immediately. Democratic state Sen. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg this week called for a Special Session of the Legislature to address the issue. He was later joined by Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon and House Democratic Leader-designate Kionne McGhee. Democratic candidates for office also have gone public with criticisms of the controversial law, promising to fix the issue should they be elected.

State agrees to early voting change — Secretary of State Ken Detzner has decided to go along with a federal judge’s decision last week that struck the state’s practice of keeping early voting sites off college and university campuses. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker in his ruling had called the practice “facially discriminatory on account of age.” Detzner’s decision to comply, however, doesn’t automatically guarantee early voting sites will be available at college campuses for the 2018 midterms. The News Service of Florida reports that at least three counties’ supervisors of elections say they cannot open early voting sites before the Aug. 28 primary — and are unsure whether they’ll be in place by the Nov. 6 general election.

Proposed greyhound ban struck down — A circuit court judge this week struck down Amendment 13, a ballot proposal seeking to end dog racing, because the amendment title and summary were “clearly and conclusively defective.” The court decision is a small victory for the Florida Greyhound Association, which had sued to keep the amendment off the November ballot. The state, however, already has appealed the decision, asking the case be heard in the 1st District Court of Appeal. That freezes the status quo, meaning unless a higher court decides otherwise, voters will see and be able to vote for the amendment on the November ballot. Whether those votes count remains to be seen.

Economists predict changes in higher education — Economists with the state Revenue Estimating Conference released estimates for Bright Futures, a state-backed tuition scholarship program, this week that are largely in line with what the Legislature accounted for when expanding the program during the 2018 Session. The total appropriation for the program increased from a December estimate of $340.2 million for the 2018-19 fiscal year to $519.7 million, which matches what the Legislature appropriated for the changes, according to one member of the conference. The most significant changes came with the continuation of the Academic Scholars program funding of the technology fee and tuition differential as part of the 100 percent tuition scholarship and the Florida Medallion Scholars (FMS) program covering 75 percent of tuition and fees, as well FMS’ expansion into coverage of summer courses.

State estimates PECO growth dip — State economists this week predicted the funding source behind the Public Education Capital Outlay trust fund (PECO) would grow more slowly than expected over the next few years. PECO projects, used for constructing new state education facilities and maintaining, restoring and repairing existing facilities, are funded by gross receipts taxes. The Revenue Estimating Conference is reporting that actual gross receipts collections for the fiscal year 2017-2018 were almost $10 million lower than previously forecast. That estimated drop continues in the upcoming years, with FY 18-19 $15 million lower than initially anticipated; $27 million lower in FY 19-20; and $37 million lower in FY 20-21.

CORRECTION — In last week’s edition of ‘Take 5,’ we mischaracterized the results of an investigation into former Sen. Jack Latvala by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. To be clear, the agency’s report said its investigation “did not develop an indication that Latvala exerted his influence as a Florida senator to assist Ms. (Laura) McLeod in any issues she presented as a lobbyist in exchange for a continuing sexual relationship.” We regret the error.

Back-to-school tax break begins

Florida’s annual back-to-school sales tax holiday begins Saturday and ends on Monday.

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart and Department of Revenue Executive Director Leon Biegalski issued joint statements encouraging Floridians to take advantage of the chance to save on school supplies.

Getting ready for school: Gov. Rick Scott visited Educational Outfitters in Tampa, where he highlighted the back-to-school sales tax holiday that began Friday through Aug. 5.

“This is a wonderful opportunity for families to save money while purchasing the supplies their students will need for school,” Stewart said. “The start of a new school year is always an exciting time for Florida students, and the back-to-school sales tax holiday makes it easier for parents and students to prepare for a successful year.”

“We are pleased to partner with the Department of Education to promote the Back-to-School Sales Tax Holiday. This is a great time for families to gather the supplies needed for a successful school year,” added Biegalski.

According to Revenue, “qualifying items will be exempt from tax including certain school supplies selling for $15 or less per item, and clothing, footwear, and certain accessories selling for $60 or less per item.” More information is available on the agency’s website.

Anti-cancer kits heading to firefighters

Decontamination kits are on their way to Florida’s fire departments, in hopes they’ll reduce the risk firefighters face from carcinogens — cancer-causing substances — that they encounter on the job.

When many items catch fire, such as tires, the burning can produce cancer-causing compounds.

Chief financial officer Jimmy Patronis wants decontamination kits in Florida fire departments statewide.

The first kits have already reached 48 fire departments. In all, 405 departments will benefit, said Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who also serves as state fire marshal.

The Sylvester Comprehensive Cancer Center at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine is also contributing to the program.

“In 2016 alone cancer caused 70 percent of career firefighter line of duty deaths across the nation, and firefighters have a nearly 15 percent higher risk of dying from cancer,” Patronis said. “Cancer prevalence in firefighters is not up for debate, and we must make sure these heroes have the tools needed to stay healthy and safe.”

A $1 million grant is financing the program. The kits include 5-gallon buckets and heavy plastic bags, dish soap, duct tape, brushes, hoses, spray bottles, hoses and nozzles, and instruction materials.

Patronis pushes pool safety

Florida leads the nation in the number of children dying in pools and spas, at a rate that increased by 20 percent from 2016 to 2017. Now Chief Financial Officer Patronis has issued guidelines intended to reverse the trend.

“Over the past few months, I’ve met with firefighters across the state, listening to their top issues and concerns,” Patronis said. “One issue that continues to emerge is the concern of pool safety among residents and visitors to our state.

This week, Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis spoke to the American Fire Sprinkler Association Florida Chapter and the Florida Fire Sprinkler Association in Daytona Beach.

“As our population grows, and new families move to our state where pools are very common, we must keep raising awareness about the potential dangers.”

More than 90 percent of the pools in the state were built before Florida passed a law mandating safety standards for swimming pools, including barriers and pool covers. Some 80 percent of the deaths in 2017 involved children younger than 5.

The top tip was to closely supervise kids in pools: “In the time it takes to put in a load of laundry, a child can drown,” Patronis said. He also recommended motion alarms; teaching kids how to swim; and learning how to perform CPR, even if you aren’t a parent.

Instagram of the Week

The Week in Appointments

Florida Commission on Ethics

Fellow commissioners unanimously selected Guy W. Norris as chair for the 2018-19 term. Norris was appointed by Gov. Rick Scott in 2015 and reappointed in 2018. He is a resident of Lake City and a partner in Norris & Norris, P.A. Kim Rezanka was unanimously selected vice-chair. She too was appointed by Scott in 2015 and reappointed in 2018. A resident of Cocoa, Rezanka is an attorney with Cantwell & Goldman, P.A.

Holmes County Hospital Corporation

Gov. Scott reappointed Larry Cook, 56, to serve a term ending Aug. 22, 2020. A resident of Bonifay, Cook is the owner of Son’s Tire, Inc.

Southeast Volusia Hospital District

Gov. Scott appointed Dr. Jan McGee to serve a term ending March 31, 2022. Succeeding Harold Smothers, McGee also is the principal of Burns Science & Technology Charter School.

West Florida Regional Planning Council

Gov. Scott appointed KarenKaseyCuchens to fill a vacant seat for a term ending at the pleasure of the Governor. A former member of the Freeport City Council, Cuchens, 58, is now the vice president of Choctawhatchee Bay Piling and Dock, Inc.

Commercialization of Florida Technology Board of Directors

Gov. Scott appointed Jim O’Connell for a term ending Nov. 3. O’Connell, 54, of Gainesville, is the assistant vice president of technology transfer at the University of Florida. Scott also reappointed Renee Finley for a term ending Nov. 3. Finley, 51, of Jacksonville, is the founder and former president of innovation for GuideWell Mutual Holding Corporation.

State celebrates breastfeeding

The Florida Department of Health is joining partners across the state to recognize World Breastfeeding Week, which began Wednesday.

“We know that an infant’s first 1,000 days are a crucial time for ensuring the child grows up healthy and thriving, and breastfeeding can significantly improve health outcomes for both mothers and infants,” said Surgeon General and Health Secretary Dr. Celeste Philip. “Supporting mom and encouraging breastfeeding in the first days of baby’s life are essential steps.”

Wednesday begins World Breastfeeding Week.

This year’s celebration theme emphasizes how the maternal practice is the “foundation of life,” according to the department. The agency claims that choosing to breastfeed helps to improve an infant’s overall health and can lead to lifelong positive effects for both parties. Mothers who breastfeed their children have a reduced risk of breast and ovarian cancer.

In addition to health, there are economic benefits associated with breastfeeding. According to the department: “Breastfeeding is a low-cost way of feeding babies and can reduce costs to the health care system and employers by decreasing costs of hospitalizations, medications and reduced absenteeism.”

The health department says it is working actively to promote breastfeeding in the state and is asking Floridians to encourage their employers and communities to support the healthy practice.

State pushes back-to-school immunizations

With Florida students gearing up to return to school in the coming weeks, the Florida Department of Health is reminding parents to double-check their child’s immunization record to ensure they have the required vaccinations.

Surgeon General and Health Secretary Dr. Celeste Philip said “making sure your child is fully immunized not only protects them, but it also protects children who cannot receive immunizations for medical reasons.”

Florida Department of Health Secretary Dr. Celeste Philip is promoting school immunizations. 

According to the Health department’s website, K-12 students should have at least four shots of Diphtheria-tetanus-acellular pertussis (DTaP) and Inactivated polio vaccine (IPV).

As well, the same students should have two doses of vaccines for Measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) and Hepatitis B (Hep B), one for Tetanus-diphtheria-acellular pertussis (Tdap) and two doses of Varicella vaccine, with some exceptions. Ask your child’s pediatrician.

The health department provides a free centralized online registry that records immunization records for children. That database can be accessed here. According to DOH, the registry is endorsed by the Florida Academy of Family Physicians, Florida Association of Health Plans, Inc., Florida Medical Association, Florida Osteopathic Medical Association, and the Florida Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics.

FDLE renews accreditation

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has once again been recognized with an “Accreditation with Excellence Award” from the Commission on Accreditation for Law Enforcement Agencies (CALEA). It’s the eight consecutive award for FDLE.

“Over the past 50 years since our founding, FDLE has grown into one of the nation’s premier state law enforcement agencies, and our nearly three decades of national accreditation bears that out,” said FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen.

FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen is celebrating renewed accreditation.

“Florida’s citizens and criminal justice partners can trust that FDLE remains dedicated to providing the highest level of professional service, all while staying at the forefront of new trends and best practices for law enforcement professionals.”

After conducting an internal assessment, CALEA found FDLE to comply with 484 standards, completing what CALEA describes as the ‘Gold Standard Assessment.’

FDLE first received accreditation in 1990. Since then, “the department has undergone rigorous inspections which include on-site visits, employee interviews and an extensive review of policies, procedures and records.”

Florida Family Action ranks lawmakers

Florida Family Action, the legislative arm of the Florida Family Council, released its legislative scorecard this week, ranking state Senators and Representatives on votes recorded during the 2018 Legislative Session.

Led by John Stemberger, an Orlando attorney and longtime conservative activist, FFA lobbies the Legislature each year for policies that protect and defend life, marriage, family and religious liberty.

John Stemberger is rolling out the Florida Family Action lawmaker scorecard.

This year’s scorecard gave legislators a letter grade ranking (A-F) based on their votes of 10 issues identified by FFA. In the House, the average Democrat score is 34 percent, and the average Republican rating is 96 percent. In the Senate, the average Democrat score is 23 percent, and the average Republican is 82 percent.

Among some of the more widely known concerns of FFA during Session were bills that would have expanded religious liberty in schools, restricted abortions by banning ‘dismemberment abortions,’ and required the state Department of Health to expand its involvement in crisis pregnancy centers that encourage childbirth.

The FFA and its affiliated organizations have staunchly opposed the Competitive Workforce Act, which would expand civil rights protections to LGBTQ individuals. FFA, in an article attached to the scorecard, called the legislation “the worst bill in the world,” saying it would “punish Christians for exercising Free Speech Rights and the Free Exercise of Religion.”

League launches voter prep guide

Less than 100 days out from the 2018 elections, The League of Women Voters of Florida is out with a new website to help voters before they show up at the polls — or seal the envelope on that mail-in ballot.

BeReadyToVote.org is a one-stop where Floridians can get directed to the information they’re looking for, be it registration status or early voting dates, without having to navigate the maze-like structure of their home county’s supervisor of elections website.

The League’s website also includes a link to a nonpartisan voter guide on the candidates running for office. Those a bit cynical about the progressive organization’s ability to give info on Republicans running for office need not fret — the Vote411.org guide includes candidate responses to questions without editorial narrative.

The website also includes bullet points for the 13 amendments slated for the ballot with plain English summaries of what a vote for or against would entail, as well as a list of the political committees working for or against the measures.

While information on registering to vote is available on the site, first-time voters looking to tick a box in the Aug. 28 primary election have missed the boat if they aren’t already on the books. Eligible Floridians face an Oct. 9 registration deadline if they want to cast a ballot in November.

Anti-rail group grades candidates

Citizens Against Rail Expansion in Florida (CARE FL) is advising Floridians with similar interests on how to vote for Treasure Coast region candidates up and down the ballot in the upcoming election.

CARE FL is primarily concerned with All Aboard Florida and the Brightline trains. The high-speed rail operations travel through Treasure Coast communities. After sending a survey gauging candidates on their prospective, rail-related policy positions, CARE FL released a report card this week, doling out letter grades to each candidate.

“We are pleased so many incumbents and candidates are finally echoing the public safety concerns that have been expressed by so many members in our communities,” said Brent Hanlon, chairman of the CARE FL Steering Committee.

Bill Posey is being recognized as an anti-rail ‘champion.’

“This is more than a regional issue, and there should be nothing more important than the safety of Florida’s residents, and visitors alike. We applaud the elected officials who have steadfastly stood with us — and for that, they are recognized in this report card as Champions.”

Topping the list as recognized ‘Champions’ are Congressmen Bill Posey and Brian Mast, along with state Reps. Erin Grall, Gayle Harrell and MaryLynn Magar, Indian River County Commissioners Peter O’Bryan and Joseph Flescher, and Stuart City Commissioner Troy McDonald.

Harrell is running for state Senate District 25, and her opponents, Belinda Keiser and Robert Levy both received A grades. The only graded candidate for Governor, Democrat Philip Levine, received an A rating.

“We believe these scores will help inform voters as they cast their ballots in the upcoming election,” said Jane Feinstein, a member of the CARE FL Steering Committee who serves as the chairman of the group’s survey initiative.

“For many residents in our region, a candidate’s position on high-speed rail is a deciding factor. We need to ensure that our elected officials know that keeping our communities safe is a top priority.”

Able Trust chips in

The Able Trust, an organization that helps students with disabilities prepare and enter the workforce, also is assisting organizations who support children who have been abused, neglected or assaulted.

This week, the organization presented the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (ECCAC) with a $35,000 grant to help ECCAC carry out its mission of helping children in need.

This week, the Able Trust presented the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center (ECCAC) with a $35,000 grant.

“This grant will help the Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center continue to provide its vital services,” said Dr. Susanne Homant, president and CEO of The Able Trust. “Making sure programs are available to help and protect children is of the utmost importance.”

ECCAC, serving children in Okaloosa and Walton counties, “assists children and their families from the investigation process through healing and restoring their childhood,” according to a news release announcing the grant.

In accepting the grant, the head of ECCAC cited the importance of groups like The Able Trust: “It is through acts of generosity and kindness that we are able to continue to care for and protect the children of our community exposed to child abuse,” said Emerald Coast Children’s Advocacy Center board president, Tammy Pierce.

FSU launching Peace Corps prep

Florida State University is rolling out a new program this fall tailor-made to help prepare students to volunteer in the Peace Corps.

Dubbed the Peace Corps Prep program, the university will partner with the federal volunteer agency to “help undergraduate students (with) the skills they need to be a competitive applicant for those positions,” according to the university. Administered by FSU’s Learning Systems Institute, the program is currently accepting applications for fall.

FSU is launching its Peace Corps prep program.

The partnership enlists the College of Education to help students understand and navigate the application process for Corps prospects.

“FSU is delighted to extend its ongoing work with the Peace Corps through this program,” said Helen Boyle, associate professor of education and program coordinator. “It will be invaluable for undergraduates who are thinking about international careers in government, development or teaching abroad.”

Since 1961, FSU has produced 856 volunteers. Thirty-eight currently serve, according to the university. The Corps established the prep program in 2007, and more than 75 other institutions have formed similar partnerships. The university anticipates the effort will help increase its ranking among all other public universities.

Get growing with Leon County

Those looking to harvest their own vegetables this fall can jump-start their garden with a little help from Leon County.

The 2018 Fall Seed Library Launch is back again this year, and will take place 11 a.m.-1 p.m. Saturday at the Woodville Branch Library, 8000 Old Woodville Road. The location offers lessons in seeding, composting, cooking, pollination and site selection as part of the one-time event.

Leon County is re-launching its Fall Seed Library.

As long as supplies last, library patrons across the county can check out three seed packets per card per month from any of the seven public library locations.

Among the seed varieties: Arugula, Di Cicco Broccoli, Danvers Carrots, Champion Collards, Tronchuda Kale, Flashy Lightning Lettuce, Mizuna Green Mustard Greens, Giant of Italy Parsley, Easter Egg Radishes and Long Standing Bloomsdale Spinach.

The seeds are made available through the Seed Library Program. Now in its third year, the initiative seeks “to promote noninvasive, heirloom vegetable seed planting in Leon County and to encourage residents to grow their own nutritious food,” according to county officials.

Tallahassee Senior Services ‘invigorates’

Tallahassee Senior Services’ Lifelong Learning Extravaganza (L3X) returns during September for its ninth year and “exemplifies lifelong learning at its finest, offering educational fare for everyone’s palette,” a news release said.

The month-long program provides adults (18 and older) with the opportunity to gain knowledge about art, music, culture, science, nature, history, literature, food, drink and more. More than 50 different activities are available, including lectures, tours and field trips from hands-on soap making to viewing stalagmites.

To preview some of the planned L3X activities, Tallahassee Senior Services is hosting launch parties, which are open to the public, on Monday, Aug. 6, 8:30-10 a.m. and Tuesday, Aug. 7, 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Interested participants will be able to pick up a course catalog, meet instructors and sponsors and enjoy refreshments. While these launch parties provide a preview, they are not required for registration.

Members of the Tallahassee Senior Center Foundation will be able to register for L3X classes beginning Wednesday, Aug. 8. The general population can start registering on Monday, Aug. 13. To view the course catalog and register online, visit TallahasseeSeniorFoundation.org.

Registration is open until a class fills up. Early registration is encouraged; many classes fill quickly.

Capitol Directions

Bill Nelson airs TV ad ripping Rick Scott for ‘hurricane gouging’

Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed a statement to Monroe County Mayor David Rice. The statement was made by his predecdessor, George Neugent, who was mayor at the time of the cleanup efforts following Hurricane Irma last year.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson‘s reelection campaign is releasing a new television commercial Wednesday ripping Gov. Rick Scott and his administration’s response to last year’s Hurricane Irma, based on reports that contractors hired by the state overcharged on debris cleanup.

The 30-second spot, “Gouge,” cites news reports and uses TV news footage reporting that contractors overcharged, costing Florida taxpayers an additional $28 million to $30 million in storm cleanup in Monroe County.

The commercial starts  with Monroe County Mayor George Neugent declaring, “The governor was actually doing the price gouging.”

It ends with a narrator citing a Sun-Sentinel of South Florida report stating, “if he had to do it all over again, he wouldn’t change a thing.”

“Against the wishes of local officials, Scott gave an emergency contract to an inexperienced contractor instead of the qualified companies already in place,” Nelson’s campaign charges in a news release issued to announce the TV commercial. “Along with costing taxpayers millions, he delayed the recovery for thousands of residents in Monroe County.”

“Recent reports revealed Rick Scott wasted millions of taxpayer dollars on debris removal contracts for his donors, which is just further evidence that Rick Scott puts himself and his political agenda first, at the expense of Floridians,” Nelson for Senate spokesperson Sebastian Kitchen states in the release. “Rick Scott has been a bad governor because he’s gouged Florida taxpayers and proven time and time again, he’s only in it for himself.”

Scott’s campaign responded Wednesday morning charging Nelson was “politicizing hurricane recovery.”

“It’s disappointing to see Bill Nelson and his fellow Democrats care more about private vendors who lost their opportunity to profit off a disaster than they do about the families who were able to quickly return home thanks to the work of Gov. Scott. It’s easy for career politicians like Nelson to look back after the fact and try to score political points, but Gov. Scott was in charge of leading the state through the largest storm in recent history – his top focus was on the safety and recovery of our communities and he did that while protecting taxpayer dollars, not by helping special interests or politicizing hurricane recovery.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Budget breakdown

With a brow-raising $89.3 billion for the 2018-2019 fiscal year, the state appropriated the largest budget in Florida history, a $4.36 billion increase from last year.

Those big numbers make Florida TaxWatch’s recently released Taxpayer’s Budget Guide all the more valuable.

Authored by the watchdog group’s vice president of research, Kurt Wenner, the interactive series takes a deep dive into the budget and additional appropriations that went into effect July 1, putting some key numbers into perspective.

Research VP Kurt Wenner of Florida TaxWatch gives a budget breakdown.

The Legislature passed an $88.7 billion General Appropriations Act, and $600 million attached to other bills rounded out the state’s spending. The Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act made up the bulk ($400 million) of the $600 million attached to bills this year. The higher education plan passed and signed into law covered nearly the rest of that tab with a $123.5 million price tag.

Taking up the largest portion of the budget is Health and Human Services spending at almost 42 percent, or $37.2 billion. Education is the next highest at around 29 percent, or roughly $25.8 billion.

More than $391 million was swept out of state trust funds this year, with the largest sweep ($182 million) coming out of the affordable housing trust funds.

And as Wenner notes, while much of this year’s budget talks circled around the concept that it was “a tight budget year,” 517-member projects worth more than $560 million made the cut regardless.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Danny McAuliffe, Drew Wilson, Jim Rosica, Michael Moline and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Take 5

Prosecutor will not charge Latvala — Former state Sen. Jack Latvala, a longtime Florida lawmaker who resigned from the chamber in December amid allegations of serial sexual harassment, will not be the subject of a criminal proceeding. State Attorney Jack Campbell announced this week that he would not seek charges against the Clearwater Republican. Campbell opted not to pursue the case after reviewing an investigation conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Campbell decided he couldn’t bring a case that he could prove by the stringent criminal legal standard of “beyond a reasonable doubt” and said he’d “take no further action.” Latvala told the Tampa Bay Times/Miami Herald, “I’m appreciative of serious law enforcement people who put political considerations aside to look at the law. They drew a conclusion based on the facts and the law, as opposed to the kangaroo court the Senate put forth.”

Department of Agriculture under audit — The state’s auditor general is conducting a review of operations at the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The audit includes an examination of the agency’s concealed carry weapons permitting program, which has come under fire following media reports detailing lapses and top-down pressure to approve more permits. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam’s office, however, told The Associated Press the audit began before news broke of the agency’s trouble issuing concealed carry permits. Meanwhile, POLITICO Florida reported this week that two FDACS employees have received taxpayer-funded settlements for complaints regarding the permit-issuing program. In both cases, however, FDACS and Putnam have denied any wrongdoing.

Judge overturns early voting restriction — U.S. District Judge Mark Walker overturned the statewide practice of prohibiting early voting on college and university campuses. The injunction issued by Walker demands Gov. Rick Scott and Secretary of State Ken Detzner allow all 67 counties to use the campuses as early voting facilities this fall. Calling the practice a “stark pattern of discrimination,” Walker wrote in his ruling, “It is unexplainable on grounds other than age because it bears so heavily on younger voters than on all other voters.” Scott’s office issued the following: “Gov. Scott is proud to have signed the largest expansion of early voting in the state’s history. We will review this ruling.” The lawsuit was originally filed by students and backed by the Andrew Goodman Foundation and the League of Women Voters of Florida.

SunPass controversy continues — More elected officials are directing their ire toward SunPass, an electronic toll system that stopped billing customers during a June upgrade. The upgrade, carried out by vendor Conduent State & Local Solutions, lasted weeks longer than anticipated and resulted in 170 million backlogged transactions, according to the Florida Department of Transportation. Democratic lawmakers, including incoming Minority Leader Kionne McGhee, dubbed the problem “tollgate” this week during a news conference in Miami. McGhee also called on Gov. Scott to suspend all transactions until the system upgrades are completed and spawn an independent audit of FDOT. The state already has suspended late fees and penalties on the backlogged transactions and has halted payments to Conduent.

Education lawsuit awaits Supreme Court decision — A legal battle over a 1998 constitutional amendment that in part provided for a “high quality” system of public schools is beginning to brew in the capital city. On Thursday, reports the News Service of Florida, six Republican appointees of the 1997 Constitution Revision Commission filed a brief in response to a legal challenge filed by 10 of their Democratic counterparts, who are suing the state for allegedly failing to meet the “high quality” threshold for education. The Leon County Circuit Court and 1st District Court of Appeal already have ruled against the plaintiffs. The Supreme Court announced in April it would hear the case, and the state last week filed a 72-page brief asking the high court to uphold prior decisions.

‘Military-Friendly Guide’ now online

Gov. Scott this week released the 2018 Florida Military-Friendly Guide, an annual guide created by the Florida Defense Support Task Force that offers a summary of “laws, programs and services benefiting military service members and their families.”

Rick Scott is proud of his Navy career, pushing Florida to be the most military-friendly state in America.

It also highlights Florida’s low tax and financial advantages, educational benefits, professional licensure opportunities and fee waivers for servicemen, women and their families stationed in Florida.

“As a proud Navy veteran, and the son of a World War II veteran, I want to make sure our military and their families have access to the services they need,” Scott said in a statement. “Florida is the most military and veteran-friendly state in the nation, and since I took office, we’ve invested hundreds of millions in funding for services and benefits for our military and veterans.

“Our Florida Military-Friendly Guide is another great resource for our military members to learn more about these great benefits and everything Florida has to offer to those who serve.”

Florida is home to more than 1.5 million veterans, 20 major military installations, and three unified commands. A digital copy of the 2018 Florida Military-Friendly Guide is available here.

Scott highlights more than 88K businesses spawned during tenure

The jobs-focused Governor shared an impressive statistic this week: 88,245 new businesses have opened in Florida since December 2010, just a month before Scott took office.

That complements the job growth legacy Scott sought to leave from the start; it is an indication that more and more businesses are choosing to open up shop in the Sunshine State.

Rick Scott touts a legacy of more than 88,000 Florida jobs created since Dec. 2010.

“When I took office, our economy was in freefall, taxes had skyrocketed and businesses across the state were forced to close their doors, causing unemployment to climb out of control,” Scott said. “Less than eight years later, Florida is not only back on track, but we are serving as the success and turnaround story for the entire nation to follow.”

Scott also discussed the 1.5 million new private-sector jobs his administration claims to have created, saying, “it is undeniable that our playbook of cutting taxes, eliminating burdensome regulations and building the country’s most business-friendly environment is working. I’m proud of our great businesses and we’ll never stop fighting to make sure Florida is the best place for families to succeed.”

Cissy Proctor, who oversees the Department of Economic Opportunity — often referred to as the ‘jobs agency’ — said, “We are excited that businesses are confident in our economy and choosing to make Florida their home. Our pro-business policies are supporting an environment where small, medium and large businesses can succeed and create opportunities for families across the state.”

Florida helps California battle blazes

The Florida Forest Service said this week it deployed 20 wildlands firefighters to help suppress the Ferguson fire in the Sierra National Forest in California. The 36,500-acre wildfire began July 13.

“Our wildland firefighters rise to the occasion time and again to assist wildfire suppression efforts not only in Florida but throughout the country,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, who oversees the service. “I applaud their dedication to help the brave men and women out West keep our fellow Americans safe.”

Adam Putnam is sending 20 Florida firefighters West to battle California blazes.

This year, the Florida Forest Service has deployed 127 wildland firefighters across the country. In addition to the 20-person crew deployed to California, there are currently 47 other resources deployed to assist with wildfire suppression in Texas, Colorado, Utah, New Mexico, Nevada, California, Oregon and Wyoming.

“There are currently 140 wildfires burning throughout the western United States, and our firefighters are ready to support suppression efforts in any way we can to help protect California’s residents, homes and wildlife,” Forest Service Director and State Forester Jim Karels said.

Patronis touts record-breaking unclaimed returns to Floridians

More than $321 million is back in the hands of Florida residents and businesses, according to Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

That sum, tallied from Patronis’ July 2017 assumption of the office, is a record. It exceeds the previously held record by more than $8 million, according to Patronis. The Division of Unclaimed Property, overseen by the CFO, returned the money by processing more than 635,000 claims.

Jimmy Patronis sets records for returning unclaimed money to Floridians.

“Since taking office, we not only broke the yearly record, but also set a new monthly record during April,” Patronis said. “Florida has remained a national leader with our proactive efforts to return unclaimed property, and we will continue working to raise the bar even higher.”

Currently, roughly $2 billion remains unclaimed across more than 14 million accounts. Per the CFO’s office, “This unclaimed property comes from dormant accounts in financial institutions, insurance and utility companies, securities and trust holdings. In addition to money and securities, unclaimed property includes tangible property such as watches, jewelry, coins, currency, stamps, historical items and other miscellaneous articles from abandoned safe deposit boxes.”

Business owners and Floridians are encouraged to visit www.fltreasurehunt.gov to check for accounts that could be tied to them.

Instagram of the Week

The Week in Appointments

Florida State College at Jacksonville District Board of Trustees

Palmer Clarkson, 61, of Jacksonville, is the chief executive officer and president of Bridgestone HosePower. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina. Clarkson succeeds Randy DeFoor and is appointed for a term beginning July 20 and ending May 31, 2022. The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Greater Orlando Aviation Authority

Steven “Dean” Asher, 50, of Orlando, is the Vice President of Don Asher and Associates, LLC and Asher Maintenance Services, LLC. He received his bachelor’s degree from Mercer University. Asher is reappointed for a term ending April 16, 2020. Julian Fouche, 70, of Windermere, was the former Senior Vice President of Disney Destinations. He received his bachelor’s degree from Georgia Southwestern University and is a member of the Florida Council of Tourism Leaders. Fouche is reappointed for a term ending April 16, 2022. These appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

District Medical Examiners

Dr. Riazul Imami, 84, of Port Charlotte, is the chief medical examiner of District 22. He is reappointed for a term ending July 1, 2020.

Lake Shore Hospital Authority

Joseph Brooks, 34, of Lake City, is the chief financial officer for Haven. He fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending July 20, 2022.

Union County Housing Authority

Vanzetta Thomas, 46, of Lake Butler, is a supervisor with the Tacachalee Center. She fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending August 7, 2020.

Jackson County Hospital District

Michael Nuccio, 55, of Marianna, is a physician assistant at Tallahassee Orthopedic Clinic at Marianna. He succeeds James Ward and is appointed for a term ending August 27, 2019. Chuck Hudson, 49, of Marianna, is a market executive for First Commerce Credit Union. He succeeds Dr. Bob Hoff and is appointed for a term ending July 19, 2022. Dr. Joe Gay, 69, of Marianna, is a general internist at Chipola Medical Associates, LLC. He is reappointed for a term ending June 23, 2021. Sarah Clemmons, 65, of Marianna, is the president of Chipola College. She is reappointed for a term ending June 23, 2020.

19th Circuit Court

Michael J. Linn, 39, of Port St. Lucie, is an Assistant State Attorney for the 19th Circuit. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of West Florida and his law degree from University of Florida College of Law. Linn fills the judicial vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Paul B. Kanarek.

5th District Court of Appeal

Judge Jamie R. Grosshans, 39, of Winter Garden, is a county judge for Orange County, and previously served as an Assistant State Attorney for the 9th Judicial Circuit. She received her bachelor’s degree from Thomas Edison State College and her law degree from the University of Mississippi School of Law. Grosshans fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge William D. Palmer. Judge John M. Harris, 51, of Mims, is a circuit judge for the 18th Judicial Circuit, and previously served as county judge for Brevard County Court. He received his bachelor’s degree from Oklahoma University and his law degree from Florida State University College of Law. Harris fills the vacancy created by the resignation of Judge Thomas D. Sawaya.

Septic-to-sewer project gets $2.4M

The Department of Environmental Protection this week announced a partnership with the St. Johns River Water Management District, Indian River County and the Indian River Lagoon National Estuary Program to provide $2.4 million for the West Wabasso septic-to-sewer project.

Florida’s septic-to-sewer project will help improve the water quality of Indian River Lagoon, says DEP’s Drew Bartlett.

The project, which will work to improve water quality, includes the construction of a centralized gravity sewer system in the Whitfield subdivision and conversion of approximately 54 properties currently on septic to the new sewer system.

Said Drew Bartlett, DEP’s deputy secretary for ecosystems restoration: “The Indian River Lagoon is one of Florida’s most iconic natural treasures and projects like this help us improve water quality in this ecosystem and protect Florida’s environment.”

Nutrients, specifically nitrogen and phosphorous, are naturally present in the water, but too much can harm water quality. Excess nutrients can come from insufficient treatment at wastewater treatment facilities, stormwater runoff, densely clustered septic systems and fertilizer use.

Septic systems can contribute to nitrogen pollution of surface waters, especially in areas in Florida with highly permeable (sandy) soils, like the Indian River Lagoon basin. This makes addressing septic tanks an important component in water quality restoration.

Sheriffs association brings in new board

The Florida Sheriffs Association, one of the largest law enforcement associations in the country, announced this week its new leadership team for the 2018-2019 year.

Topping the list is Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter, who will be responsible for presiding over the association.

Columbia County Sheriff Mark Hunter will now lead the Florida Sheriffs Association.

Hunter is a Columbia County native with 24 years of dedicated law enforcement service. He’s been elected to sheriff three consecutive times.

“This is a once in a lifetime opportunity to fill the role as President,” Hunter said. “I am honored to serve in this position and make the association and our community proud.”

Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson, the outgoing FSA president, is optimistic of his successor.

“The Florida Sheriffs Association could not have a more appropriate leader taking charge,” said Adkinson. “Sheriff Hunter will represent the association, his county, his state, his country and fellow sheriffs well. I am honored to pass the reigns onto and help transition him into the position.”

Other changes include: Vice President Sheriff Bob Gualtieri of Pinellas, Secretary Sheriff Bobby Schultz of Gilchrist; Treasurer Sheriff Tom Knight of Sarasota; Chair Sheriff Bobby McCallum of Levy; and Vice-Chair Sheriff Al Nienhuis of Hernando. Adkinson will serve as Immediate Past President.

$3M algae-targeting grant launched

The state Department of Environmental Protection launched a $3 million grant program this week to help local governments clean up waterways affected by increasingly problematic algal blooms.

News of the grant follows Gov. Scott’s issuing an executive order earlier in June that declared the algae crisis a state emergency.

Goop: Florida is offering $3 million in grants to help clean up algae blooms.

“As our state once again faces harmful algal blooms from federal water releases, we continue to take a multifaceted approach to protect families and ensure Florida’s pristine environment and natural treasures are protected,” Scott said in announcing the grant.

The funding will help affected communities clean up algae in marinas, boat ramps and other public access areas. According to Scott’s office, “Funding from this grant program can be used for services including containment, removal, cleanup, elimination, transportation and disposal of harmful algal blooms in key areas identified by Florida’s local counties.”

DEP Secretary Noah Valenstein said his agency is committed to partnering with local governments to help mitigate the toxic blooms. “We encourage local counties to work with DEP to take advantage of this grant program and to help us move forward with these longer-term solutions,” he added.

Health Dep’t promotes Hep testing

The Florida Department of Health recognizes today (July 28) as World Hepatitis Day.

“Every year, this day is set aside to raise awareness about the global burden of viral hepatitis and promote influential prevention strategies,” the department said in a news release.

Dr. Celeste Philip helps mark July 28 as World Hepatitis Day.

Hepatitis is inflammation of the liver, which processes nutrients, filters the blood and fights infections.

“If left undetected, viral hepatitis can cause serious health consequences or even death, but a large portion of people living with hepatitis B and C are unaware of their status,” said State Surgeon General and Secretary Dr. Celeste Philip. “I encourage everyone to be sure of their status by knowing their risk factors for contracting viral hepatitis and getting tested.”

For more information about hepatitis vaccine and testing availability, contact your local health department through the county health department locator, or refer to the department’s Florida Hepatitis Resource Guide.

You can also learn the ABCs of hepatitis from the Centers for Disease Control and Health Protection (CDC) or take an online risk assessment.

Amberjack, triggerfish fishing starts Aug. 1

The recreational harvest of greater amberjack and gray triggerfish will reopen in Gulf state and federal waters Aug. 1, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission said in a news release.

Florida’s Amberjack season starts August 1.

The amberjack season will remain open through Oct. 31 in state waters. The triggerfish season will remain open through Dec. 31 in state waters.

For greater amberjack in the Gulf, the minimum size limit is 34 inches fork length and the daily bag limit is one fish per person. For gray triggerfish in the Gulf, the minimum size limit is 15 inches fork length and the daily bag limit is one fish per person.

To learn more about regulations for these species, visit MyFWC.com/Fishing and click on “Saltwater Fishing” and “Recreational Regulations.”

Call for Volunteer Generation Fund proposals

Volunteer Florida’s Volunteer Generation Fund (VGF) grant funding enables nonprofits to recruit and retain skills-based volunteers, using their education and experience to serve Florida students, families and communities.

Volunteer Florida will distribute $360,000; each grantee will receive $15,000. Proposals must be submitted before 5 p.m. (Eastern time) Tuesday, Aug. 7.

— Click here to listen to a recording of the 2018-2019 VGF Technical Assistance Call.

— Click here to view the slides from the 2018-2019 VGF Technical Assistance Call.

— Click here to view the 2018-2019 VGF FAQs.

— For more information, including the Request for Proposal, click here.

Volunteer Florida is Florida’s lead agency for volunteerism and national service, administering more than $32 million in federal, state and local funding to deliver high-impact national service and volunteer programs in Florida.

It promotes and encourages volunteerism to meet critical needs across the state. The organization also serves as Florida’s lead agency for volunteers and donations before, during and after disasters.

FSU summer commencements set

Florida State University will host two summer commencement ceremonies featuring FSU trustee Jorge Gonzalez, president and CEO of The St. Joe Company.

Trustee Jorge Gonzalez will host not one, but two FSU Summer commencement ceremonies.

Gonzalez, who has led the real estate operating and development company since 2015, will deliver the keynote address at the Friday evening and Saturday morning ceremonies at the Donald L. Tucker Civic Center.

Florida State will award degrees to 2,454 students this summer, including 1,639 bachelor’s degrees, 613 master’s and specialist’s degrees and 202 doctorates. About 1,500 students are expected to participate in the two ceremonies.

The events will take place Friday, Aug. 3, at 7:30 p.m., and Saturday, Aug. 4, at 9 a.m.

The civic center is at 505 W. Pensacola St. in Tallahassee.

If you can’t make it, the ceremonies will be live-streamed at learningforlife.fsu.edu/fsu-graduation/.

Etiquette class coming to Tallahassee

The National League of Junior Cotillions (NLJC), a program of “etiquette, character education and social dance training for middle school students,” says it is re-establishing its program in Leon County.

“We will be selecting a director for a local chapter who will receive complete training and an exclusive territory for expansion,” said Charles Winters, the league’s president. “This program is making a positive impact on students across the nation and we are delighted to know that more young people in this area will have the opportunity for this vital training.”

Tallahassee middle schoolers get a little class.

The purpose of the program is to “give students instruction and practice in the courtesies that make life more pleasant for them and those around them,” a news release said.

“Students actively learn courtesies through a creative method employing role playing, skits and games. Standard ballroom and line dancing is taught using nationally approved top 40 music.

“Character instruction is also provided regarding the following: honor, respect, ethics, sportsmanship, acknowledgments of gifts, behavior at cultural and civic events, correspondence, interaction in groups, introductions, paying and receiving compliments, receiving lines, table manners, instructional dinners, electronic etiquette, cellphone courtesy, and many other areas of social conduct.”

The organization currently has directors operating hundreds of chapters in 30 states. To apply or nominate someone for Leon County director, call (800) 633-7947, visit www.nljc.com, or email.

TPD, homeless man story goes viral

An act of kindness in the capital city took the internet by storm this week, and the fallout of positivity has even involved U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio.

The story starts with Tallahassee police officer Tony Carlson, who noticed a homeless man attempting to shave outside of a nearby Circle K gas station.

A true hero: Tallahassee police officer Tony Carlson helps a homeless man with a shave.

The man, who has only identified himself as Phil, did not have a mirror and told Carlson he needed to shave to get a job at a local McDonalds. Carlson then shaved Phil’s beard for him on location.

A video capturing the touching moment quickly went viral, with media publications like Fox News, CBS and MSNBC republishing the snippet.

On Facebook, Carlson said he contacted Rubio’s Tallahassee office to help Phil get his Social Security card. Rubio’s local staff was willing and able to get the ball rolling.

“Phil was in my Tallahassee office today to fill out paperwork so we can help get his ID and Social Security cards for employment,” Rubio tweeted this week. “ … We’re rooting for you, Phil!”

Capitol Directions

Gwen Graham gets hands-on during cleanup duty in the Keys

Democratic candidate for governor Gwen Graham and ‘Team Graham’ were all hands on deck Sunday, as she and her family were on cleanup duty in Big Pine Key.

Graham was there to join the Conch Republic Marine Army (CRMA), a group formed after Hurricane Irma slammed the Keys last year. The group was formed after several volunteer groups combined together to lead the area in its clean-up effort.

“We are are usually ones calling politicians for help, or at least awareness of the challenge we face here in the Florida Keys,” said CRMA’s founder, Brian Vest.

“In this case, the Grahams called me and asked if they could come see what we do.”

Vest’s life was uprooted by Irma when he lost his home in the storm. But he decided to take the lead when it came to getting the area back to normal.

Since it began eight months ago, CRMA says it’s cleaned more than 90 tons of trash. The all-volunteer force has worked more than 6,000 hours so far. Some of those volunteers still live in transitional housing after losing their homes.

“Almost a year after Irma hit, there is so much work left to do to restore the Keys,” Graham said.

“It’s inspiring to see how much progress the Conch Republic Marine Army, a volunteer organization, has made in cleaning up the beach on their own — but they should not have to do it alone.

“As governor, I will always fight for communities hurt by hurricanes to have the resources and responders they need to get back on their feet.”

Graham was there along with her parents, sisters and children to help with the work. The visit began a statewide tour labeled “Grassroots with the Grahams,” which serves as a way to connect with voters.

The campaign continued those efforts Monday, canvassing in Miami’s Little Havana neighborhood. Graham plans to attend the opening of a new office in Wynwood tomorrow, followed by a community grilling event Wednesday in Miami Lakes.

On Thursday, she will be volunteering in Fort Myers and attending a grassroots fundraiser in Sarasota. Friday will see her on a tour of Ulele Springs in Tampa.

Graham is competing for the Democratic nomination with Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, Palm Beach real estate billionaire Jeff Greene, Winter Park entrepreneur Chris King, and former Miami Beach mayor Philip Levine.

Vest says today’s efforts helped influence his vote in 2018.

“Gwen showed up with her whole family and got right to it. It was inspiring to see a candidate who takes action and does the hard work. We need a governor who cares and Gwen showed us she cares.”

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Weathering the storm

Clouds are brewing over the journalism industry, but the long-term forecast is promising.

That’s according to Diane McFarlin, the former publisher of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune and current dean of the University of Florida College of Journalism. She delivered a media ‘forecast’ to an audience of UF alumni in Tallahassee this week.

Diane McFarlin offers a grim warning for the short-term, with hope on the horizon.

In the short term, “It’s all clouds and storms,” according to McFarlin. And it’s not getting any better soon, in fact, it “looks like a hurricane is coming upon us.”

“Financially, a decline that began more than a decade ago for the newspaper industry has accelerated,” McFarlin said, adding that newspaper employment pales in comparison to its glory days stats.

But there’s hope.

Describing the “silver linings from what has probably been the most tumultuous decade in the history of American media,” McFarlin expressed faith in the future of journalism. Her extended forecast: “Partly cloudy skies with rays of sunshine.”

She cited reputable recent polling that found increased trust in professional journalists and other “voices of expertise.”

As well, the proliferation of fake news and deceitful information has been met by a push for media literacy, noted McFarlin.

She also estimated that the shuttering of local news publications will be counterbalanced by an increased demand for journalism, perhaps through new media publications.

And from her post overseeing prospective journos, she is optimistic about the upcoming professional class of Americans.

“They are not impressed by power and influence, they are impressed by authenticity and veracity,” McFarlin said. “That’s what they want in their bosses. That’s what they want in their leaders. That’s what they want in their country.”

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Drew Wilson, Danny McAuliffe, Jim Rosica and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Take 5

Scott battles wealth lawsuit — Attorneys for Gov. Rick Scott are encouraging a state appellate court to dismiss a lawsuit challenging Scott’s financial disclosures. An attorney representing the Governor this week asked the court to let wealth disclosure compliance issues be decided by the Florida Commission on Ethics, as the law prescribes. But Donald Hinkle, who filed the original lawsuit challenging Scott’s 2017 disclosed net worth, argued the Commission does not provide a reasonable avenue for appeal. “It was dismissed. We cannot appeal. That’s the end of the road,” Hinkle said, according to the News Service of Florida. “Is there to be no opportunity to review the disclosures of any elected official, every constitutional officer in this state?” The appellate court has not yet ruled on the matter.

Lawmakers plan to boost election security — Federal funding is on its way to county elections offices. During a Joint Legislative Budget Commission meeting this week in Tallahassee, lawmakers approved a request from Secretary of State Ken Detzner to distribute $19.2 million from the federal government to Florida’s 67 counties. Each county will at least receive $50,000. The money will be used to beef up elections security systems and voting facilities. It will also be used to fund five cybersecurity specialists and voter education. The news is welcome to those who fear election systems can be compromised, but concerns still were raised over how the money will be spent. Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley told the News Service of Florida that he fears counties could spend the money recklessly if they are forced to spend it all ahead of the Nov. 6 general election.

Extra citrus, medical marijuana dollars approved — More money than originally planned is on the way for regulators of the state’s medical marijuana industry and citrus growers affected by Hurricane Irma. The Joint Legislative Budget Commission agreed in Tallahassee this week to dole out another $13 million to cover operating costs at the Office of Medical Marijuana Use. The group of lawmakers also approved a $340 million federal grant for citrus growers to cover the buying and replanting of trees, grove rehabilitation and repairs to irrigation systems. The extra money requested by OMMU will be used to fund ongoing litigation, review four new provider licenses and develop a new computer tracking system. The citrus grant money was announced by the United States Department of Agriculture in May, and Gov. Scott urged the Commission to approve the dollars ahead of its meeting.

State readies Hope scholarships — Florida students who are bullied could be eligible for a new remedy as early as the upcoming school year. The Florida Board of Education approved a rule this week that authorizes school districts to send parents a form giving them the option to enroll their student in another public school or charter school if he or she is bullied, harassed, or is the victim of other violent acts at school. That action follows a new law passed this year that created the Hope scholarship program. The voucher-like scholarships will fund bullied students’ transitions to different schools. Reports the News Service of Florida, “State analysts project 7,302 partial-year Hope scholarships being awarded in the 2018-2019 school year, with some $27 million in funding.”

Marsy’s Law challenged — A South Florida defense attorney is challenging a proposed amendment that seeks to expand rights granted to victims of crime. The attorney, Lee Hollander, filed the amendment last week, arguing the ballot summary is misleading. The suit alleges that the amendment “fails to inform voters that it will result in the loss of current constitutional rights of criminal defendants, purports to ‘create’ constitutional rights for victims of crime even though rights for crime victims already exist in the Constitution (and) fails to inform voters that it curtails time allowed for criminal appeals,” according to the suit. Known as Marsy’s Law, the bundled provisions are set to appear on the ballot this November as Amendment 8. The language focuses largely on enumerating certain rights to victims of crime and their relatives. Amendment 8 was placed on the ballot via the Constitution Revision Commission. It needs 60 percent voter approval to pass.

Scott, Nelson appear at sportfishing convention

Last Friday, a niche audience attracted two top-ballot Florida candidates in Orlando.

Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and challenger Gov. Scott spoke separately to fishing industry leaders at the International Convention of Allied Sportfishing Trades — or ICAST.

“Fishing is more than a pastime in Florida: it’s part of our heritage. And I believe it’s part of our future. So we must restore and conserve the lands and waters, the corals and the mangroves, and ultimately: the fish. The fishing industry supports thousands of jobs and helps our local economies in Florida,” said Sen. Nelson.

In 2016, Rick Scott proclaimed July as Keep Florida Fishing Month.

Scott, citing 128,000 supported by the fishing industry, told the crowd, “We’ve worked hard to protect fishing opportunities in our state by offering license-free fishing days, fighting to expand the federal red snapper season and securing legislation to encourage safe boating. We have also stepped up and made major state investments in the natural resources that help make Florida the ‘Fishing Capital of the World,’ such as our iconic Everglades and Lake Okeechobee.”

ICAST, the largest sportfishing trade show in the world, drew more than 15,000 attendees. It’s produced yearly by the American Sportfishing Association.

Jobs numbers still strong

Gov. Scott announced Friday that “Florida businesses have created 16,900 private-sector jobs in June and 172,600 in the past year, for 1,554,800 jobs since December 2010.”

Florida’s annual job growth rate has outpaced the nation for 74 of the past 75 months, according to the Governor’s Office. The only month that Florida did not exceed the nation was due to Hurricane Irma.

Rick Scott touts job growth at a campaign stop in Jacksonville.

In June, Florida’s unemployment rate remained at a low 3.8 percent, a drop of 7 percentage points since December 2010; this drop is faster than the national decline of 5.3 percentage points.

“We proudly serve as a model for the nation on how to build business and secure continued economic growth and success,” Scott said in a statement. “Our playbook of cutting taxes and eliminating thousands of burdensome regulations has created real momentum in Florida, allowing us to make historic Investments in things families care about — like education, safe neighborhoods and our environment.

“As our economy keeps booming and bringing thousands of families to Florida, the entire country is taking note.”

Florida’s annual job growth rate of 2.3 percent continues to exceed the nation’s rate of 1.9 percent. In the past year, 130,000 people entered Florida’s labor force, a growth of 1.3 percent, which is greater than the national labor force growth rate of 1.2 percent.

USDA launches disaster-relief sign-up

Florida growers are one step closer to receiving some of the more than $2 billion in disaster-relief funding passed by the federal government this year.

United States Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced this week the farmers nationwide who were affected by wildfires and hurricanes in 2017 can now apply for assistance money approved by Congress and President Donald Trump.

Farmers can now apply for federal assistance money, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced this week. (Image via Getty)

“Hurricanes and wildfires caused billions of dollars in losses to America’s farmers last year. Our objective is to get relief funds into the hands of eligible producers as quickly as possible,” said Perdue. “We are making immediate, initial payments of up to 50 percent of the calculated assistance so producers can pay their bills.”

The funding spawned the creation of the USDA’s 2017 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program (WHIP), which seeks to distribute $2.36 billion worth of federal funding to “agricultural producers to offset losses from hurricanes and wildfires during 2017,” according to the USDA.

The program will cover losses of crops, trees, bushes and vines for producers.

WHIP will distribute individual payments to farmers worth up to $125,000. But, per the USDA, “Producers who derived 75 percent of their income in tax years 2013, 2014 and 2015 will be subject to a $900,000 payment limitation.” Producers who did not insure crops will receive 65 percent of their expected crop value if they are eligible for WHIP funding. Meanwhile, insured producers could receive up to 95 percent of their expected crop value.

FDACS targets phony charities

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services is now part of a growing list of government bodies seeking to help Americans avoid fraudulent charities that claim to aid veterans or current members of the military.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam this week announced that his agency joined “Operation Donate with Honor,” a nationwide partnership, spearheaded by the Federal Trade Commission.

Adam Putnam is teaming up with FTC, Pam Bondi to crack down on veteran charity scams.

“The brave men and women who sacrifice so much to protect our freedom deserve all the support we can provide. It is deplorable to exploit our nation’s heroes by scamming Floridians out of hard-earned money,” said Putnam.

Putnam’s agency joins the FTC, Attorney General Pam Bondi, and law enforcement officials and charity regulators across the country in the partnership.

Offering tips to prospective charity donors, FDACS suggests Floridians ask questions like: “Who is the fundraiser and who will benefit from the donation?”; “How much of the contribution goes to the charity mentioned in the request?”; and “How much of the donation goes toward administrative and fundraising expenses?” Charities registered with the agency can be found at FloridaConsumerHelp.com.

Instagram of the Week

The week in appointments

Florida Independent Living Council

Tyler Morris and Whitney Harris were reappointed to the council. Morris, 33, of Jacksonville is the executive director for Independent Living Resource Center, Jacksonville Center for Independent Living. His new term ends June 30, 2021. Harris, 27, of Tallahassee, is the comptroller for the Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology. Her term also ends June 30, 2021.

Pinellas County Commission

Jay Beyrouti fills the vacancy created by the passing of former Commissioner John Morroni. A Redington Shores resident, Beyrouti, 66, is a small-business owner. He received his bachelor’s degree in accounting and international business from Sacred Heart Business School.

Holmes County Hospital Corp.

Joseph Sowell, 76, was reappointed for a term ending Aug. 10, 2021. He is a retired district supervisor with General Telephone and Electronics.

North Florida Community College District Board of Trustees

Alton Williams Jr., 75, of Live Oak, is the retired sheriff of Suwannee County. He also served in the Florida Army National Guard from 1960 until 1968. Williams is reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2022.

Billy Washington, 42, of Pinetta, is the past president of Briggs, Washington and Thompson Land Surveying, Inc. and serves as the Madison County Clerk of Court. He received his bachelor’s degree from Florida State University. Washington is reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2022.

Sandra Haas, 70, of McAlpin, is a retired attorney for the 3rd circuit for Guardian Ad Litem in Florida. She received her bachelor’s and juris doctorate degrees from the University of Florida. Haas is reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2022.

The appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Public Swimming and Bathing Facilities Advisory Review Board

Gerald D. Robinson, 47, of Auburndale, is a professional engineer with the Florida Department of Health. He succeeds Darrel Graziani and is appointed for a term ending Sept. 30, 2021.

Eastern Florida State College District Board of Trustees

Bruce Deardoff, 70, of Cocoa Beach, is the chairman of Deardoff Automotive Group. He received his bachelor’s degree from Fordham University. Deardoff succeeds Dewey Harris and is appointed for a term ending March 31, 2022.

Dr. Edgar Figueroa, 62, of Melbourne, is a trauma surgeon with Health First Melbourne. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico and his Doctor of Medicine degree from the University of Central del Este. Dr. Figueroa succeeds Myra Haley and is appointed for a term ending March 31, 2022.

The appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Group urges AHCA on behavior analysis

The Florida Association for Behavior Analysis, or FABA, is calling on the state Agency for Health Care to address delays in approval and authorization of behavior analysis centers.

FABA is faulting a third-party contractor, for harmful delays that last a month or longer. Children with autism or other developmental disorders are hurt by these delays, FABA claims.

“These delays are inexcusable and are causing heartache for so many children and families who desperately need the services provided by qualified behavior analysts,” said Nikki Dickens, president of FABA. “Our state government simply cannot sit back while these vulnerable children suffer as a result of an ineffective and inefficient bureaucratic system.”

The contractor, eQHealth Solutions, was hired by AHCA “to process Medicaid assessments, authorizations, and claims for behavior analysis services.” But once working under AHCA, eQHealth terminated all prior approvals from a different contractor and required all behavioral analysis providers to once again seek authorization by the state.

“AHCA has repeatedly said there will be no loss of service for children who need behavior analysis services, but we are hearing from countless providers and families across the state who say that is simply not true,” Dickens said.

“This problem must be addressed immediately, and it must be addressed with the top priority on helping those Floridians who need the services that skilled professionals can provide.”

FHP breaks ground on new training complex

The Florida Highway Patrol this week began construction of the state’s Advanced Vehicle Operations and Training Complex.

It’s an addition to the agency’s Florida Public Safety Institute in Havana and will feature a 1.4-mile driving track to sharpen law enforcement officers’ driving skills.

Construction has begun at Florida’s Advanced Vehicle Operations and Training Complex at the Florida Public Safety Institute in Havana.

“I am incredibly proud to break ground on the Advanced Vehicle Operations and Training Complex. The support for this new, innovative complex is a testament to the state’s commitment to law enforcement officer safety and the safety of motorists on our roadways,” said DHSMV Executive Director Terry L. Rhodes. “This new facility enhances training for law enforcement by providing real-world scenarios, best preparing our Troopers and officers to safely navigate the events they will undoubtedly experience as they work to protect us each day.”

The Legislature, Governor and Cabinet supported funding the new complex, according to the DHSMV.

The agency said its officers drive 32 million miles each year and expressed confidence that the track will make a significant difference in statewide vehicle operations.

“The complex will offer advanced training to include traffic incident management, high-speed driving and comprehensive vehicle operations to improve public safety,” said Colonel Gene S. Spaulding, Director of the Florida Highway Patrol.

Florida shines at UK airshow

Enterprise Florida, the state’s public-private jobs incentive initiative, once again displayed the largest exhibit of any U.S. state at the Farnborough International Airshow in the United Kingdom.

Dubbed the Florida Pavillion, the exhibit housed 12 participating Florida aviation-related companies and organizations. Per Enterprise Florida: “Last year, leading Florida-origin exports reached $6.3 billion in civilian aircraft, engines and parts. Another $678 million in turbojets, turbo propellers and parts was exported to countries around the globe.”

Florida reaps millions in contracts from the Farnborough International Airshow.

Enterprise Florida and businesses demonstrated to airshow attendees Florida’s competitive advantage in aviation.

“Events like the Farnborough Airshow allow us not only to help small and medium-sized Florida businesses expand their international footprint, but also to meet with leadership and decision-makers for some of the world’s leading aviation and aerospace companies,” said Joe York, vice-chair of Enterprise Florida’s Board of Directors. “The Florida Pavilion demonstrates the state’s leadership in the industry in a way no other state can match.”

Space Florida, the state’s aerospace economic development organization, attended the airshow.

“Space Florida is again pleased to join Enterprise Florida in representing the State of Florida at the Farnborough Air Show,” said Space Florida President Frank DiBello. “Such opportunities significantly help Space Florida and Enterprise Florida continue our path to make Florida the leading U.S. state in the global aerospace industry.”

FSUPD releases active shooter PSA

An unfortunate sign of times: Florida State University Police Department is instructing students on how to act during active shooter scenarios.

Titled “Run. Hide. Fight,” the law enforcement arm of the university released a nearly 7-minute-long instructional video this week depicting an active shooter storming a campus building in broad daylight.

The university warns that viewer discretion is advised. According to campus authorities, the video “is designed to educate and prepare citizens to deal with an active aggressor in any setting.” The actors in the video, who depict law enforcement and students, offer realistic tips throughout the clip.

To view “Run. Hide. Fight.,” click on the image below:

While the attack in the video is fictional, its rooted in some truth at FSU and the state. In 2014, a gunman opened fire at Strozier Library on the campus, injuring three students. Earlier this year, a shooter killed 17 students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

“The video was created to enhance the in-person training provided to employees and students at the university. We hope people will remember these important and potentially lifesaving tips when they are on or off campus,” said David L. Perry, FSU chief of police and assistant vice president for Public Safety. “Being prepared mentally is a major component to surviving a serious event, and we believe the video will encourage people to consider their options when an emergency occurs.”

Summer safety in Tallahassee

Authorities this week convened at the FHP Troop H building in Tallahassee to promote safety tips for the hot summer months.

Visuals depicted the dangers of leaving pets or children in the car during times of extreme heat. Specifically, observers were shown a life-size doll in a hot car. The doll was later transported by Leon County EMS for treatment.

To prevent accidents this summer, parents must be proactive, says DCF Secretary Mike Carroll.

The effort is ongoing via a partnership between the state Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles and the state Department of Children and Families. Local law enforcement personnel throughout the state also are involved.

“It only takes a moment to be proactive and ensure your child is safe, to prevent a fatal accident,” DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said. “During the upcoming months, take advantage of the information shared with you today and throughout the next few months, so that your summer will be filled with wonderful memories and fun times.”

“Florida summers are extremely hot and leaving a child in a car for any amount of time is neglectful and can have deadly consequences,” said DHSMV Executive Director Terry L. Rhodes. “DHSMV encourages all motorists to Arrive Alive by not only driving safely but by also confirming that all passengers are out of the vehicle when they reach their destination.”

FAC recognizes Leon commissioners

The Florida Association of Counties (FAC) recognized Leon County Commissioners for their commitment to public service and leadership during the 2018 FAC Annual Conference in Orange County.

At the conference, Leon County Commissioner Nick Maddox rose to president-elect of the association. Next year, Maddox will serve as President and oversee the direction of policy, advocacy, and the administration of the Florida Association of Counties.

Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge is among those recognized by the Florida Association of Counties.

In addition, some Leon County commissioners were recognized:

— Commissioners Maddox, Bryan Desloge, Kristin Dozier, and Mary Ann Lindley received the Presidential Advocacy Award, given annually to county commissioners “who have shown exceptional leadership in partnering with FAC to advance the legislative agenda of counties.”

— Commissioner Jimbo Jackson was honored with the Certified County Commissioner (CCC) designation, “a voluntary program of study designed for county commissioners who want to learn the ins and outs of county government while enhancing their skills as an elected official. To earn the CCC designation, participants must complete 45 hours of coursework, the majority of which is offered during FAC conferences and events.”

— Dozier received the status of Advanced County Commissioner (ACC), “a program that consists of three sessions that focus on leadership development and issues affecting Florida’s future. Altogether, the courses total 27 hours. To earn the ACC designation, participants must have completed the CCC program and all three ACC sessions.”

— Desloge, Lindley and Maddox received Torchbearer Recognition, “ACC alumni who continue to be engaged in FAC activities and education programs. The Torchbearer program recognizes those ACC Alumni for their ongoing commitment to FAC and continued learning.”

Dozier elected vice chair of Florida Counties Foundation

Leon County Commissioner Kristin Dozier was elected vice chair of the Florida Counties Foundation. She will assist with “providing high quality and comprehensive educational opportunities for county commissioners and staff throughout Florida,” a press release said.

The Florida Counties Foundation has continued to build FAC’s educational offerings over the last 20 years. Specifically, the programs are designed to educate commissioners and county staff on their duties and to encourage them to be leaders within their communities as well as FAC.

Leon County Commissioner Kristin Dozier.

Dozier said, “As county commissioners committed to serving our citizens, we do our best work with an in-depth knowledge of government structure, ethics laws, budgeting methods and strategies, as well as economic development and growth management. This role is an exciting one to help set curriculum and goals that will shape our future.”

The Foundation oversees the County Commissioners Voluntary Certification, Advanced County Commissioner Education programs and the content for FAC’s Annual Conference.

Leon County tops in tech

For six consecutive years, Leon County has earned top honors by “harnessing technology to increase services and efficiencies for its citizens,” a press release this week said.

The county ranks among the top 10 in the nation in its population category for implementing the best technology practices, according to the 2018 Digital Counties Survey conducted by the Center for Digital Government (CDG) in partnership with the National Association of Counties (NACo).

“Leon County is proud to yet again be recognized as a local government leader in the area of technology,” Commission Chairman Nick Maddox said in a statement. “We’ve raised the bar in many areas, such as in disaster communication with our Citizens Connect mobile app, which provides up-to-the-minute emergency updates right to your phone.”

NACo Executive Director Matthew Chase.

In the past year, Leon County has completed or made substantial progress on important technology projects. Just a few examples include implementing digital signage at county facilities and continuing to deploy an updated permitting system that takes advantage of mobile and online technologies to further improve service.

Leon County’s “embrace of cutting-edge approaches has benefited residents while ensuring good stewardship of taxpayer resources,” added NACo Executive Director Matthew Chase.

It’s spiny lobster season

The 2018 spiny lobster mini-season will soon be upon us.

The two-day recreational mini-season takes place July 25 and 26. In 2016, more than 69,000 people participated.

It’s spiny lobster time!

“Florida residents and visitors look forward to the start of spiny lobster season all year,” said Bo Rivard, chair of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission. “This Florida tradition is one of the many reasons Florida is the fishing capital of the world.”

You can learn about bag limits, size limits, where to harvest and other regulations at MyFWC.com/Fishing and click “Saltwater Fishing,” “Recreational Regulations” and “Lobster.”

Get your license and spiny lobster permit at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com. Lobster mini-season is followed by the regular commercial and recreational lobster season, which starts Aug. 6 and runs through March 31, 2019.

Capitol Directions

Lawmakers sign off on money for citrus farmers

Gov. Rick Scott said the state will “soon” begin accepting applications from citrus farmers whose crops and groves were damaged by Hurricane Irma, after the Joint Legislative Budget Commission on Thursday accepted $357 million in federal funding for the industry.

“It’s great that the LBC approved this funding today,” Scott tweeted. “We look forward to continuing to work with @freshfromFL and accepting applications from growers soon.”

The state Division of Emergency Management will administer the funding, which is part of $2.36 billion appropriated by Congress to the U.S. Department of Agriculture for 2017 disaster relief. With an initial estimate of $761 million in damages from Irma to the state’s citrus industry, Florida was the only state to get a block grant specific to an industry as part of the “2017 Wildfires and Hurricane Indemnity Program.”

The so-called WHIP program will compensate farmers in Florida and other states for expenses related to losses from hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria and various wildfires last year. Citrus growers who receive money through the program can use it for such things as buying crop insurance and replacing damaged and destroyed trees if they had at least 15 percent fruit loss in the past season.

Citrus officials have projected that many South Florida growers suffered more than 70 percent losses from Irma. The Joint Legislative Budget Commission is made up of House and Senate members and has the authority to make mid-year budget adjustments.

As part of the money accepted Thursday, $17 million is expected to cover administrative costs of the block grant program.

Rick Scott pressures lawmakers to OK citrus grant

Ahead of Thursday’s state Legislative Budget Commission meeting, Gov. Rick Scott is making it clear that he wants the panel to approve a $340 million federal block grant designed to help Florida citrus growers get back on their feet.

“I look forward to the legislature approving these important funds tomorrow so we can get this money to our growers,” Scott said in a statement released Wednesday. 

Sonny Perdue, U.S Secretary of Agriculture, announced the grant in May. Unlike other federal remedies made available to farmers across the country this year, the grant is exclusive to Florida growers. The money will be used to cover damages caused by Hurricane Irma, including the buying and replanting of trees, grove rehabilitation, and repairs to irrigation systems. 

While the state tentatively accepted the federal grant, the dollars require approval from the Legislative Budget Commission before dispersal.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam also expressed his support for the grant’s approval.

“Thanks to the hard work of so many, this much-needed piece of disaster assistance is finally on the way and will go a long way to help Florida’s citrus industry rebuild,” Putnam said. 

The sizeable grant, if approved on Thursday, will be a victory for Scott’s administration. The term-limited Republican governor cited a December meeting with Perdue on Thursday, during which he discussed “Florida’s iconic citrus industry.” The grant also appears to stem from Scott’s relationship with President Donald Trump. In announcing the grant in May, Perdue said he was instructed by Trump to work with Scott and Putnam to “put a process in place that will ensure the Florida citrus industry maintains its infrastructure and can continue to be the signature crop for the state.”

If approved, the news will be favorable to Florida growers, who this year experienced one of the worst citrus seasons in decades. They also await $2.36 billion worth of federal disaster-relief funding. The USDA plans to distribute that money through the 2017 Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program. The program’s signup period began Monday and expires November 16.

Final forecast brings close to gloomy citrus season

The Florida citrus season is ending on a sour note, with growers on track to produce just under 45 million boxes of oranges.

The harvest numbers were posted to the United States Department of Agriculture’s website on Thursday, ending what’s come to be a tragic 2017-18 growing season.

Before Hurricane Irma’s landfall last September, Florida growers were on track to harvest 75 million boxes, according to private estimates. The final numbers reflect 30 million fewer boxes than those early estimates. Each box weighs 90 pounds.

The USDA released its first forecast for the past season in October as farmers and authorities were assessing the extent of the damage caused by the storm. The agency then estimated Florida growers would produce 54 million boxes of oranges, the most optimistic forecast of the season.

In November the USDA forecast dropped to 50 million boxes, and trended downward or remained the same each following month.

Meanwhile, authorities estimated the flooding and wind damage that came with Irma resulted in a $760 million blow to the industry. They described the storm’s path as one that could not have been “more lethal” to Florida citrus.

The latest numbers are a continuation from June and May forecasts, and mark only a slight dip from April. A spokesperson for the Florida Department of Citrus attributed July’s unchanged numbers to the fact that Florida growers likely wrapped up harvesting in June. 

“This brings a very difficult citrus season to a close,” Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus, said in June. “We look forward to a quiet, resilient season in the fall.”

The state’s citrus industry also has been hit by the citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease attacks the fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree. The epidemic has waned citrus production in recent decades, though farmers were on track to bounce back — until Irma.

The losses have put a financial strain on growers, but remedy awaits them at the federal level.

The Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program will distribute $2.36 billion worth of disaster relief to growers affected by catastrophes across the country. The USDA expects to open a sign-up period for the program no later than July 16.

As well, the federal government announced in May a block grant totaling $340 million that will be made available to citrus growers in Florida to cover the buying and replanting of trees, grove rehabilitation, and repairs to irrigation systems.

The first forecast for the upcoming season will be posted at noon, October 11.

State looks to give tourism boost to Keys

The state’s tourism-marketing agency is again focusing attention on the Florida Keys after the area was battered less than a year ago by Hurricane Irma.

While boasting about how quickly the Keys were able to reopen after last September’s storm, VISIT FLORIDA’s approximately $200,000 “Keys to Summer” campaign is intended to reaffirm the islands are open.

Unlike a $5 million post-Irma marketing effort last fall and winter, a big part of the upcoming drive will involve the use of social media.

The campaign also is employing digital billboards in West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami that show the miles to the Keys and includes a partnership with American Airlines highlighting a new direct route from Dallas/Ft. Worth International Airport to Key West International Airport.

A report for VISIT FLORIDA by Tourism Economics, an Oxford Economics company, found that Irma cost the state $1.5 billion in visitor spending, based on tourism trends before the storm swept through the state.

Irma made landfall in the Keys and Collier County before barreling north. Even with the storm, Florida attracted a record 116.5 million visitors last year.

The Tourism Economics report estimated the number could have been 1.8 million visitors higher without the storm.

State lawmakers approved providing $76 million to VISIT FLORIDA for the current year and the same amount for the fiscal year that starts Sunday.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

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