Hurricane Irma Archives - Page 2 of 36 - Florida Politics

Dane Eagle rounds out slate of bills for 2018 Legislative Session

Cape Coral Republican Rep. Dane Eagle detailed a pair of bills he’s sponsoring Tuesday, one of which would provide property tax relief for Floridians whose homes were damaged by Hurricane Irma.

“Many Floridians have been unable to live in their primary residences due to the destruction caused by Mother Nature through Hurricane Irma, and adding insult to injury, they have received a property tax bill from the government for their damaged property,” Eagle said. “The Hurricane Irma Tax Relief Act will allow these homeowners to apply for a tax abatement for the days their home was uninhabitable and will allow them to retain more of their much-needed, hard-earned money.”

The bill, HB 1375, would require homeowners to apply for the tax break before March 1, 2019, and those applications must be reviewed and approved by county property appraisers by May 1, 2019.

The amount of the abatement would be based on the percentage difference in a home’s value post storm compared to its assessed value on Jan. 1, 2017, as well as the number of months the home was uninhabitable. Under the bill, if a home was unlivable for 16 days out of a month then whole month would be counted toward the abatement.

If the tax abatement comes out higher than a homeowner’s total property tax bill for 2019, the money would carry forward and apply to their 2020 tax bill.

Eagle also detailed another bill he’s sponsoring, filed in October, that would allow people who have received “not guilty” verdicts for criminal charges to have their records expunged.

HB 1075 would not apply in the case of certain serious crimes, such as sex offenses, kidnapping or fraud, though current law does not allow for expunction for any cases that make it to trial regardless of the verdict.

“Current law allows for an individual to expunge certain arrests once over a lifetime if the charges were dismissed or if adjudication of guilt was withheld. Expanding this opportunity to those who exercised their constitutional right to a fair trial for certain crimes and were found not guilty is simply the right thing to do and can better help these individuals find gainful employment and become productive members of society,” Eagle said.

HB 1075 has been referred to the Criminal Justice Subcommittee, Judiciary Committee and Justice Appropriations Subcommittee. HB 1375 was filed Monday and has not yet received committee assignments.

Gwen Graham pays $1,200 to get Hollywood Hills records request

Gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham on Monday wrote a $1,200 personal check to the governor’s Office of Open Government, saying it is a “small price to pay” for information on the 12 Hurricane Irma-related deaths at a Hollywood nursing home.

“It’s disappointing that there are financial hurdles for the information that the people of Florida deserve to have,” Graham said.

Graham, a Democrat hoping to replace Republican Gov. Rick Scott in November, was billed the amount after she accused his administration of hiding the documents she requested. But Scott’s administration said the amount charged was a result of staffers working 100 hours to review and redact her the information at a $12 per hour rate.

McKinley Lewis, a spokesman for the governor’s office, said Graham’s request was “unique” and while other media outlets have made similar requests for information, Graham got the bill because she asked for the information first, which launched the “extensive work.”

Now that the governor’s office has received the check, Graham’s request is being finalized and will be made available online “very soon,” Lewis said.

Graham’s campaign spokesperson, Matt Harringer, said she plans to make the information available to the public as soon as she gets it.

Her request revolves around the call logs, text messages and voicemails that went to the governor’s private phone before the hurricane hit the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills and knocked the facility’s power out. His phone line was made available to nursing homes and assisted-living facilities for emergency purposes.

Graham wants to know what role the governor played in these deaths and why some voicemails were deleted, which she deems to be a violation of state public records laws.

“What I want are the voicemails,” she said, “that’s what I want and I hope the voicemails will be included in the request.”

If they are not included, she said she will “take the appropriate legal action.”

Following the evacuation of the Hollywood nursing home, fourteen elderly residents died. Twelve of those deaths have been ruled homicides and legal fights have ensued.

10 issues to watch during Session

Florida lawmakers will start the 2018 Legislative Session Tuesday, with Gov. Rick Scott giving his annual State of the State address.

During the subsequent two months, the House and Senate will negotiate a state budget and consider hundreds of bills. Here are 10 big issues to watch as the Session moves forward:

Budget

Scott has proposed an $87.4 billion spending plan for the fiscal year that starts July 1. The proposal includes politically popular ideas such as boosting education funding and providing tax cuts. But the proposal is only a starting point for lawmakers, who are expected to face a tight budget. A September analysis estimated a slim $52 million surplus for the coming year — and that did not account for the state’s costs from Hurricane Irma.

Environment

Eyeing money from a 2014 constitutional amendment about land and water conservation, lawmakers will consider a series of proposals that could shield property from development and restore waterways. For example, Senate budget chief Rob Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican, has proposed spending $100 million a year on the Florida Forever program and wants to set aside $50 million a year for the restoration of the St. Johns River, its tributaries and the Keystone Heights lake region in North Florida.

Health Care

House Republican leaders likely will renew a push to ease health-care regulations, an effort they say would help increase access to care and lower costs. Examples include eliminating the “certificate of need” approval process for hospital building projects and ending a restriction on patients staying overnight at ambulatory surgical centers. Such proposals, however, have died in recent years in the Senate amid opposition from parts of the hospital industry.

Higher Education

Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican, has made a top priority of revamping the higher-education system and will continue seeking changes during his final term. Senators are expected to quickly approve a bill that would make permanent an expansion of Bright Futures scholarships and take steps to further bolster need-based aid. Negron also wants changes such as holding universities to a four-year graduation standard in performance funding.

Hurricane Irma

When Hurricane Irma smashed into Florida on Sept. 10, it reset priorities for the 2018 Legislative Session. Lawmakers are considering dozens of ideas for responding to Irma and preparing for future storms. For instance, they are looking at possibly providing financial help to the agriculture industry, which took at least a $2.5 billion hit in Irma. They also will grapple with Scott’s push to require long-term care facilities to have generators and fuel to keep buildings cool when electricity goes out.

Insurance

Insurance lobbyists will try to persuade lawmakers to revamp laws dealing with a controversial practice known as “assignment of benefits,” which the industry blames for increased property-insurance costs. The practice involves policyholders signing over benefits to contractors, who then pursue payment from insurers — often leading to disputes and lawsuits. Lawmakers also will consider renewed proposals to eliminate the state’s no-fault auto insurance system.

K-12 Education

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, has made clear he wants to continue expanding school-choice programs, which draw opposition from Democrats and many public-school officials. The House has started moving forward with a bill that would offer voucher-like scholarships to students who are bullied in public schools. Meanwhile, the House and Senate face a key budget disagreement on the use of increased property-tax revenues in funding public schools.

Opioid Epidemic

With overdoses skyrocketing and families being torn apart, lawmakers will look for ways to address the state’s opioid epidemic. Scott wants to spend $53 million to address the issue, with much of the money going to substance-abuse treatment. Scott and lawmakers also could place limits on initial opioid prescriptions that doctors write for patients. The idea is to prevent patients from getting hooked on prescription painkillers and then moving onto potentially deadly street drugs.

Tax Cuts

Since taking office in 2011, Scott has made cutting taxes a hallmark of his administration. As he enters his final Legislative Session, Scott has proposed $180 million in tax and fee cuts. The proposal, however, does not include major changes in the tax system. Instead, it includes a 10-day sales tax “holiday” for back-to-school shoppers and reductions in motorist-related fees, including fees for obtaining and renewing driver’s licenses.

Texting While Driving

Lawmakers in recent years have repeatedly rejected efforts to toughen the state’s ban on texting while driving. But the issue has a better chance of passing during the 2018 Session after Corcoran announced that he supports making texting while driving a “primary” offense. Currently, it is a “secondary” offense, meaning motorists can only be cited if they are pulled over for other reasons. But if it is a primary offense, police would be able to stop motorists for texting behind the wheel.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — What’s up with the opioid probe?

Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez wants to know if the state will take any independent action against drug companies for their role in the state’s opioid epidemic.

“As we all know, this is now, and has been for some time, a full-blown public health crisis, and there is no time to waste,” Rodriguez wrote to Attorney General Pam Bondi Friday.

Last year, Bondi announced a multistate investigation to look into potentially unlawful practices in the distribution, marketing, and sale of opioids, but no update has been given to the public yet.

Jose Javier Rodriguez is calling for independent action against drug companies for their role in the state’s opioid epidemic.

Bondi’s office said it has “publicly announced that our investigation includes: written requests for documents and information, known as civil investigative demands or subpoenas.”

But Rodriguez, a Miami-Dade Democrat, wants to know if the office has received responses from drug companies.

“More specifically,” he said, “I would like to know whether your office has taken any steps outside of the multistate investigation to determine if whether these drug companies should be held liable for their role in the opioid crisis.”

The latest numbers show that in 2016 there was a 35 percent jump in opioid-related deaths from the previous year.

Legislators are considering options this Session to stop the spread of drug addiction and patients’ dependence on prescription medicines that could lead to the use of deadly drugs like heroin and fentanyl.

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

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

Trump, Scott on drilling — Republican Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson both opposed President Donald Trump’s Interior Department plan to potentially open up Florida to offshore oil drilling. Scott, a close ally to Trump, is widely expected to run against Nelson, a Democrat, to take away his Senate seat in 2018. After Trump unveiled his plan to allow oil and gas drilling in federal waters, including Florida, Scott said his “top priority is to ensure that Florida’s natural resources are protected.” White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the Trump administration’s goal wasn’t to cross Gov. Scott, and in essence, that they should agree to disagree.

DeSantis is officially in — Republican Rep. Ron DeSantis has entered the crowded Florida Governor’s race, and he comes in with the endorsement of President Donald Trump and millions of dollars in his pocket. He announced the decision Friday and said he wants to “drain the swamp in Tallahassee. While the move was not unexpected, his rivals in the governor’s race were quick to attack him. Adam Putnam called him a “typical Washington politician who is focused on nothing more than his next promotion.” Democrats clenched to his close ties to Trump with Andrew Gillum saying he is now “even more determined to spend 2018 fighting against the Trump agenda & standing up for Florida’s working families.”

Jeb! endorses Jimmy — Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, who is running for a second term, picked up the endorsement of former Florida governor and presidential candidate Jeb Bush. The former Republican House member was appointed by Gov. Scott as CFO in June, and as he readies for another term, he is likely to face Sen. Tom Lee in the Republican primary. While Lee has said he will run for CFO, he has not yet filed the paperwork. It is not the first time Lee has had similar aspirations. If we take a look back at the archives, Lee ran a failed campaign in 2006 to be CFO, when Bush was governor. Back then, Lee reeled in the endorsement of Bush.

Hammer’s request of Latvala — It’s been a couple of weeks since Sen. Jack Latvala resigned amid sexual harassment and quid quo pro allegations. And now, a prominent National Rifle Association lobbyist has asked him to give at least $1 million in his leftover campaign funds to children with disabilities. Marion Hammer wrote a lengthy open letter to Latvala asking him to make a “profound difference” and donate some of the money he raised in his bid for governor to the Dyslexia Research Institution, for which she volunteers. POLITICO Florida’s Matt Dixon reported that there is a growing fear among Florida politicos that Latvala could “use millions of dollars in remaining campaign funds to attack political foes that he believed orchestrated his ouster.” When Latvala resigned, he blamed unnamed “political adversaries” for booting him out of office.

Strapped for cash — The Florida Democratic Party has been scrambling to raise money, after two fresh-off expensive wins. But entering into a busy election year with several high-profile, contentious races on the horizon, including the governor’s race and a few statehouse races, the party has approximately $414,000 in the bank. To raise more money, newly-elected Chair Terrie Rizzo has asked county-level leaders to contribute cash for eight regional positions and her financial team has also requested Democrats across the state to pitch in. In a 21-day fundraising effort, Rizzo’s team pulled in $253,000 before the year’s end — more than half the cash it has on hand.

Gov. Scott continues effort to aid Puerto Ricans

Gov. Scott gave an update this week on how the state is helping the thousands of hurricane-displaced Puerto Ricans.

Since the island was walloped three months ago, the governor’s office estimated about 297,000 people have traveled to Florida from Puerto Rico. While it is unclear how many of those have stayed in the state, school districts give an indication.

Florida schools have seen a spike in enrollment since the hurricane season. Scott’s office reports that more than 11,200 students from Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Island have enrolled since Oct. 3, 2017.

The governor’s office also reported that about 500 law-enforcement officers have been deployed on security missions to the island and that the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicle relief center at the Orlando International Airport has assisted more than 10,700 people seeking driver’s licenses, ID card, and other vehicle-related services.

Scott, DOH announce $5 million in grants for Alzheimer’s research

Gov. Scott and the Florida Department of Health announced this week a list of Alzheimer’s disease research projects that will receive a combined $5 million in grants through the Ed and Ethel Moore Alzheimer’s Disease Research Program.

“These grants support research programs across the state that are looking to find new treatments and preventions that give hope to finding a cure for this heartbreaking disease,” Scott said. “We are proud to build on our commitment to the many individuals and families who have been affected by Alzheimer’s and look forward to seeing the continued success of Florida’s world-class research community.”

Florida Department of Health Secretary Dr. Celeste Philip.

Secretary of Health Celeste Philip thanked Scott and the Legislature for their part in keeping state money flowing to the grant program, and commended the board that oversaw the selection process for picking “high-impact projects that represent our state’s agenda of prevention, recognition, treatment and family support.”

The grant money will primarily fund research studies at Florida universities, though the Mayo Clinic and the Mount Sinai Medical Center will also receive funds. The projects were selected through a competitive process open to all researchers in the state.

The University of Miami will pull down the most significant chunk, about $1.18 million, to fund a half dozen projects. UF will receive about $940,000, followed by USF at $821,000 and UCF at just under $500,000. Other schools across the Sunshine State are set to get smaller grant awards.

Instagram of the week

Second camp opens for wounded veterans

Peace River Camp, a camp solely for disabled veterans, celebrated its grand opening this week with Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam on hand for the ribbon-cutting ceremony.

The new camp, which includes on-site sleeping facilities, a screened-in kitchen, fire pit, dining area and restrooms, is located within the Peace River State Forest in DeSoto County. It joins Camp Prairie, near Lake Wales, as the state’s second camp solely for wounded veterans.

Adam Putnam opens the second camp dedicated to providing free outdoor, recreational opportunities to wounded veterans who participate in Operation Outdoor Freedom.

Both facilities are part of the “Operation Outdoor Freedom” initiative championed by Putnam and helped along by private donations.

In addition to the camps, the program provides wounded veterans with opportunities to enjoy outdoor activities ranging from guided alligator hunts to kayaking at no cost. Such events are held on state forests, private lands and along the coasts.

In order to use the Operation Outdoor Freedom camps or go along on the excursions, veterans must be honorably discharged with either a service-connected disability rating of at least 30 percent, or be the recipient of a Purple Heart.

This week in appointments

Gov. Scott this week announced the following appointments and reappointments:

— Kelvin Lawson and Dr. Matthew Carter to the Florida A&M University board of trustees

Lawson, 54, of Jacksonville, is a vice president at Acosta Sales and Marketing. He previously served as the director of national accounts for Johnson and Johnson. He is reappointed for a term beginning Jan. 5 and ending Jan. 6, 2021.

Carter, 65, of Tallahassee, is an attorney and business consultant on energy, economic development, and education with Carter and Associates. He is an Army veteran and previously served as a member of the Board of Governors of the State University System. Carter is reappointed for a term beginning Jan. 6 and ending Jan. 6, 2023.

These are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

— Blake Gable to the Florida Gulf Coast University board of trustees

Gable, 46, of Naples, is chief executive officer of Barron Collier Companies. He has served as a board member of the Immokalee Foundation and as a trustee of the Greater Naples YMCA. Gable is reappointed for a term beginning Jan. 6 and ending Jan. 6, 2023. This appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

— Dr. Athena Randolph and Kathryn McInnis to the Florida Gateway College District board of trustees

Randolph, 60, of Lake City, is co-owner of Randolph Medical Practices. Randolph is reappointed for a term beginning Jan. 5 and ending May 31, 2019.

McInnis, 71, of Old Town, is a retired occupational specialist for the Dixie County School Board. She is reappointed for a term beginning Jan. 5 and ending May 31, 2021.

These appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

— Kevin Madok to the Florida Keys Community College District board of trustees

Madok, 55, of Big Pine Key, is clerk of courts for Monroe County. Madok is reappointed for a term beginning Jan. 5 and ending May 31, 2020. This appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

— Four to the Lake-Sumter State College District board of trustees

Bryn Blaise, 29, of the Villages, is the construction manager for the Villages Commercial Property Management. Blaise is appointed to fill a vacant seat for a term beginning Jan. 5 and ending May 31, 2019.

Bret Jones, 38, of Clermont, is the principal attorney and owner of the Law Offices of Bret Jones, P.A. He is reappointed for a term beginning Jan. 5 and ending May 31, 2021.

Marcia Butler, 73, of the Villages, previously taught in the Pinellas County school system. Butler is reappointed for a term beginning Jan. 5 and ending May 31, 2021.

Tim Morris, 59, of Leesburg, is the vice president of Ernie Morris Enterprises, Inc. Morris is reappointed for a term beginning Jan. 5 and ending May 31, 2021.

These appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

— Dr. Daniel Calvo to the Board of Occupational Therapy

Calvo, 40, of Lakeland, is the regional consultant of clinical services for Accelerated Care Plus. He is reappointed for a term beginning Jan. 5 and ending Oct. 31, 2021. This appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

FDACS recovered $148K for consumers last month

The Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services said it recovered more than $148,444 last month for consumers scammed out of their money by Grinchy businesses.

The department received about 2,500 complaints in December, which led to 150 new investigations and 19 arrests. The agency also tacked on another 11,744 telephone numbers to Florida’s Do Not Call List.

Businesses on the naughty list last month included moving companies, vehicle repair shops, pawnshops, health studios, telemarketers, travel sellers and others.

Consumers who believe a business has bilked them out of their money or have suspicions that fraud has taken place can contact the department’s hotline at 1-800-HELP-FLA, or 1-800-FL-AYUDA for Spanish speakers.

Florida Health announces radon-themed contest winners

In celebration of National Radon Action Month, Florida Department of Health is announcing the winners of the 2018 Florida Radon Poster and Video Contest.

The contest was launched as an opportunity for students to educate communities about the dangers of radon, the top cause of lung cancer among nonsmokers and the second-leading cause of all lung cancer.

“I want to congratulate the contest winners and thank all of the students who entered this year to help raise awareness of radon,” said State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Philip.

Here is the full list of the winners and their award-winning videos and posters. Each first-place winner now advances to the national contest.

DOH, USDA team up to promote kids’ food program

The Florida Department of Health announced this week that it would work alongside the USDA to expand a program that reimburses child care providers that provide nutritious meals.

“Building lifelong healthy habits starts in childhood,” said Secretary of Health Philip. “The Child Care Food Program promotes healthy habits by exposing young children to nutritious foods to help them make healthy food choices. We encourage parents seeking child care in Florida to enroll their children in facilities that participate in this program.”

The Child Care Food Program is offered at child care centers, family day care homes, after-school programs, homeless shelters and some emergency shelters. DOH keeps an up-to-date list of participating facilities on its website.

Kids in Head Start and children from households receiving Food Assistance Program or Temporary Assistance to Needy Families benefits are automatically eligible to receive free meals benefits at participating facilities.

Tom Lee files ‘fiscal transparency’ bill

Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican, introduced a bill this week that would expand the scope of the Legislative Auditing Committee review to include compliance with transparency requirements.

Under the bill, the reporting requirements for specific local government economic development incentives would be revised. It would also require local government to post certain property tax information and history on their websites.

Tom Lee calls for more fiscal transparency for ‘for specific local government economic development incentives.’ 

A similar bill in the House championed by state Rep. Colleen Burton has been prioritized in the chamber and is set for a vote on week one of Session.

Burton’s bill requires local government to post certain voting record information on websites and property

Currently, local governments are required to have a CPA conduct an annual financial audit if the Auditor General has not already scheduled a review.

Robert Asencio bill aims to keep jobs in Florida

A proposal filed by Miami Democrat Asencio would cut state-backed benefits for Florida businesses that shift focus from the Sunshine State.

Under HB 1171, any company that plans to move 30 percent or more of their business out of Florida would have to give a six-month notice to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation and would become ineligible to receive grants, state-guaranteed loans, or tax benefits for five years.

Robert Asencio seeks to cut state benefits for Florida businesses that shift focus from the Sunshine State.

“We have a duty to do everything we can to help Florida’s working families. So, it makes no sense that these companies, who up and leave Florida, damaging our families, communities and our economy as a whole, would be eligible for grants, loans, or tax benefits backed by the state,” Asencio said. “It’s time we invest in the local businesses who intend to stay in our state and ensure that no companies who are here for the short term take advantage of Florida’s resources.”

The bill would put companies eyeing an out-of-state move on a public list, and businesses that try and skirt the law by not reporting their intentions to DBPR would face fines of up to $10,000 a day unless they have a good excuse for skipping town.

Bills filed to help seniors ‘age in place’

A bipartisan effort seeks to “exempt the sales tax on home improvements that help seniors age in place,” according to a news release.

Rep. Lori Berman, a Lantana Democrat, and Sen. Kathleen Passidomo, a Naples Republican, filed the legislation (HB 1123, SB 1448).

“The tax-exempt items would include bed transfer handles, handrails, bed rails and grab bars, stair lifts, shower seats and furniture recliners, all of which make homes safer for seniors and allow elderly adults to retain more independence,” the release says.

Passidomo said her district “is home to many seniors who are fiercely independent and want to remain in their homes as long as possible. These exemptions will help them to do just that.”

Berman added: “By helping the elderly to afford equipment that allows them to remain in their homes, we’re helping them maintain dignity, self-sufficiency and their overall well-being.”

The Florida Association of Area Agencies on Aging and the Florida Alliance for Retired Americans both have endorsed the bill.

ACLU: Stop ‘cruel anti-immigrant’ measure

Saying that the ‘sanctuary city’ bill prioritized by the Florida House is about “codifying racial profiling into law,” ACLU officials are asking supports to tell their representatives to oppose the bill.

“We have to keep the pressure on if we’re going to beat this terrible bill,” the ACLU’s email blast read. “Tell your representatives to protect Florida communities.”

Proponents of HB 9, which will head to the floor for a vote on week one of the 2018 Session, say the bill is about following the rule of law and about public safety.

The ACLU says it is about “putting a target on the back of people of color across Florida.”

This bill will drive victims and witnesses into the shadows, corrode community trust in law enforcement, drain valuable law enforcement resources, and make Florida less safe, according to the ACLU.

FFRW announced 2018 legislative priorities

The Florida Federation of Republican Women advocacy group has released its picks for the 2018 Session and are asking women to help promote their agenda.

Among their stances this year are opposing the “sanctuary city” ban bill — one that is prioritized by the House — supporting bills that help prevent human trafficking and educate students about the signs of such crimes as well as giving more aid to homeless veterans.

Politics is women’s work.

The group is also supporting two measures that ban a person from lobbying a community redevelopment agency until he or she has registered as a lobbyist with the agency, and making texting while driving a primary offense under state law.

The organization consists of thousands of women who have supported and worked for candidates they believe “will represent the interests of women through responsible governmental policies.”

Solar groups back bill to put up panels in the Keys

The Solar Energy Industries Association and Vote Solar came out in support of a bill filed this week that would fund a pilot program to showcase how a combo of solar power and energy storage can keep critical facilities online during natural disasters.

HB 1133, sponsored by Monroe County Republican Rep. Holly Raschein, would deck out critical facilities in the Florida Keys with on-site solar generation and storage so they can make it through major grid outages without a lengthy downtime.

Holly Raschein is promoting on-site solar for critical facilities in the Florida Keys.

“As we’ve recently experienced firsthand with Hurricane Irma, there’s nothing more crucial in the wake of a disaster than power. On-site solar energy storage systems are a forward-thinking solution to improving the security of energy supply at critical local facilities,” Raschein said. “Given that Florida is the Sunshine State, it only makes sense to tap into this resource when planning for stronger communities that are more resilient in recovering from a disaster.”

Solar groups agree, with SEIA CEO Abigail Hopper calling the bill “a crucial step in preparing Florida for future emergencies.”

“Making sure our first responders and critical facilities have the power they need to deliver lifesaving services during emergencies should be a top priority for any state, and solar plus storage is the easiest and most effective solution,” she said. “This pilot program will demonstrate the effectiveness of solar and storage in maintaining grid resilience and help lawmakers implement this strategy on a larger scale.”

PIFF releases its 2018 legislative priorities

The Personal Insurance Federation of Florida has released its annual list of legislative priorities and this year some of those include addressing the costs of any repeal of the motor-vehicle no-fault law, a bill that Uber is supporting.

PIFF says that repealing the no-fault law would have to include reasonable reforms to the state’s third-party “bad faith” law. It also wants to see legislators preserve a “proven, transparent and performance-based premium tax credit.”

The organization is in support legislation that eliminates the Assignment of Benefits, which PIFF says is the cause for homeowners’ premium increases in the state.

“In 2018, we believe the key priority should be to meaningfully address assignment of benefits (AOB) reform in a way that reduces fraud and abuse, and thereby reduces costs,” said Michael Carlson, the president of PIFF.

Senator praises undefeated UCF Knights

After an undefeated season and a Peach Bowl championship title, Sen. Linda Stewart congratulated the student-athletes that make up the University of Central Florida Knights.

“UCF has demonstrated to the entire nation that our undefeated hometown team is No. 1 with a 13-0 perfect season,” Stewart said. “I am proud of the incredible performance by our true national champions, the undefeated UCF Knights. Charge on!”

Gas prices highest in three years

Motorists in the state saw the highest prices in the last three years, averaging 3 cents more per gallon than the year before.

The highest average price for gasoline in the state last year was $2.73, 6 cents more than the national average. Prices were at their peak early in September and at their lowest in July.

“Gas prices normally decline during January and February, as gasoline demand hits the lowest levels of the year,” said Mark Jenkins, a spokesman for AAA.

Florida gas prices are some of the most expensive in the Southeastern part of the country. Within the state, the cost for fuel spikes in West Palm Beach-Boca Raton, Miami and Fort Lauderdale. Gas is least expensive in Jacksonville, The Villages and Orlando.

Oil analysts believe the market is somewhat inflated due to geopolitical tensions and supply concerns, Jenkins said.

FSU Sport Management program ranked No. 1 in nation

The Florida State University has the top sports management program in the nation, according to the independent online publication College Choice.

The master’s degree program in Sport Management at the university was graded on five key data points to receive the honor. That includes quality, reputation, affordability, value and student satisfaction.

FSU was named top sports management program in the nation.

“We are incredibly proud of the recognition our program has received,” said Jeffrey James, professor and chair of the Department of Sport Management. “This achievement is a reflection of our outstanding faculty, staff and students, and we aim to keep this momentum going.”

The program, housed in FSU’s College of Education, gives students a lesson plan that includes courses on sports marketing, sports and the media, legal issues in sports as well as a service-learning program.

Florida State continues rise in Kiplinger’s ‘Best College Values’

There’s more bang for your buck at Florida State University, according to Kiplinger’s Personal Finance, a money-focused publication that annually ranks colleges by best values.

The rankings reflect an educational return on investment. The investment is the cost of attendance.

Kiplinger ranks schools in different categories. One of the most noticeable rankings for FSU is its No. 4 status among public colleges in best value for out-of-state students.

For in-state tuition at public institutions, FSU climbed to the No. 14 spot. It landed at No. 63 across both public and private colleges. The University of Florida grabbed the No. 32 spot overall. Both institutions are well ahead of the next Florida university on the list: The University of South Florida at No. 115.

“Florida State University’s commitment to academic excellence and student success is the driving force behind our continuing rise in Kiplinger’s rankings,” said Sally McRorie, who is provost and vice president for academic affairs at FSU. “Our laser focus on high achievement serves our students well during their studies and after graduation.”

Kiplinger’s system has caught the eye of the Florida Board of Governors, too. The BOG considers the rankings when determining pre-eminence for universities.

Out with the old, in with the new

What better way to bring in the New Year than to get rid of outdated electronics and hazardous household waste?

The Leon County Solid Waste Management Division will hold the next Household Hazardous Waste & Electronics Collection Saturday, Jan. 6, from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m., at the Public Works Operations Center, 2280 Miccosukee Road.

Citizens can bring up to 50 pounds of hazardous waste, in addition to their electronics, with some provisos:

— Only one large-screen television per vehicle will be accepted.

— Propane tanks must weigh less than 40 pounds.

— There is a limit of one tire per participant.

— There is also a limit of 25 fluorescent tubes per vehicle at the collection event.

— Medical sharps, medicines and radioactive waste cannot be accepted.

— Bulky wastes such as appliances (refrigerators, stoves/ovens, washing machines, dryers, etc.), and furniture, yard waste, construction and demolition debris, household garbage and Styrofoam cannot be accepted.

The event is free for residents, but businesses and other agencies still must call (850) 606-1816 to make an appointment, Monday through Friday, to drop off their items at the Leon County Hazardous Waste Center, 7550 Apalachee Parkway. Some fees will apply.

And residents can always visit the Leon County Hazardous Waste Center during normal business hours, Monday through Saturday, 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. For more information, call (850) 606-1803 or go to LeonCountyFL.gov/HHW/collection for the complete collection schedule and safe packing guide.

Leon County opens Northeast Trail

The county will host a ‘grand opening’ of a multiuse-use trail Monday, Jan. 8, at 2:30 p.m.

Located at the intersection of Thomasville Road (U.S. 319) and Proctor Road, the two-mile trail will be open to hikers, bikers and runners. It’s the newest addition to Leon County’s trail system.

At the grand opening, County representatives will be joined by Tallahassee Mountain Bike Association, Gulf Winds Track Club and Chiles High School Cross Country Team. To find other Leon County recreation facilities, visit LeonCountyFL.gov/Parks.

City of Tallahassee OKs settlement in public record suit

A landmark settlement agreement with the Tallahassee Democrat was approved this week in a lawsuit alleging public records law violations when the paper requested text messages.

The paper reported that the City Commission unanimously approved the settlement after it admitted it violated the Florida Public Records Act when it failed to produce text messages of former City Manager Rick Fernandez.

Tallahassee City Manager Rick Fernandez is at the center of a landmark public records lawsuit settlement.

Fernandez “got four tickets worth $2,000 for a lobbyist’s box office seats to a Florida State University football game that he previously denied receiving,” the paper has reported. Text messages eventually surfaced showing an exchange about the tickets between Fernandez and the lobbyist.

The suit promoted a series of new city policies and procedures related to the retention and production of text messages. It also revised its use cellphones for city business following the case.

City Commissioner Gil Ziffer thanked the Democrat for bringing the issue to the public’s attention, adding that the city needs “to set an example.” Ziffer, who is running to be Tallahassee’s next mayor, said the city needs to be more diligent about preserving text messages and that he plans to make it a priority this year.

Tallahassee family receives free car from Recycled Rides Program

Universal Collision Center in Tallahassee recently partnered with MetLife Insurance, Brehon Family Services, and the National Auto Body Council to present a local family with a much-needed lift. Kelsey and Dante Boyer received the keys to a fully-restored 2014 Jeep Grand Cherokee. The Boyers were identified by Brehon through their participation in the Healthy Families program.

“Many of us take transportation for granted but would be unable to live our daily lives without it. It’s been a tremendous honor to support a deserving local family by helping them obtain a safe, reliable vehicle. We hope this is just the first of many families we can put on the road,” said Universal Collision Center’s Sheryl Driggers.

The Boyer family and Universal Collision Center technicians who volunteered their time and talents to restore the 2014 Jeep Cherokee donated to the family.

Recycled Rides is a community action initiative where members of the National Auto Body Council, insurance companies and collision repairers partner with local non–profit organizations to provide deserving individuals and families with the gift of a fully-restored vehicle. Since the program’s inception in 2007, the National Auto Body Council donated more than 1,000 vehicles.

Universal Collision Center brought the Recycled Rides program to Tallahassee, joining with the Brehon Family Services organization to select a family in need. Universal Collision obtained the vehicle from MetLife Insurance Company. As part of the Recycled Rides effort, Universal Collision technicians voluntarily repaired the vehicle involved in the event.

“This incredible gift is life-changing,” said Jackie Malone, executive director of Brehon Family Services. “It’s so exciting when businesses find creative ways to support families in our community. The Boyer family now has easier access to work, education, child care, health care and other daily necessities. We are so grateful to Universal Collision Center, MetLife Insurance and the National Auto Body Council for their generosity.”

The Boyers participate in Healthy Families Gadsden/Leon, a voluntary family support and coaching program that helps parents provide the safe and stable environments children need for healthy growth and development.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

 

Governor’s office seeks $1,200 to respond to Gwen Graham’s Hollywood Hills query

Gov. Rick Scott‘s office wants $1,200 from Gwen Graham before it will deliver anything to respond to her public records request, contending that’s how much staff time cost to research her inquiry into whether he spoke with nursing home administrators during the September 2017 tragedy at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.

The governor’s office sent an invoice for $1,200 to Graham after her campaign issued a press release Thursday alleging that Scott and his office had not responded to her September open records request. In that press release, Graham, a leading Democratic candidate aiming to succeed Scott as governor, demanded, “What is Rick Scott trying to hide?”

In September Graham had followed up on media reports that had suggested Scott may have had telephone contact with nursing home officials during the slow-motion tragedy that unfolded at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills.

During the several days of power outage following Hurricane Irma, 14 residents died from heat exposure. Several investigations of the tragedy have been launched, including a criminal investigation.

Graham filed a records request under Florida’s public records laws for communications between Scott and his staff and nursing home administrators, particularly focusing on cell phone activity, but also seeking records from state agencies involved.

Thursday morning, more than 90 days later, Graham and her campaign charged that Scott had not responded to her records request, and appeared to be stonewalling.

The response came hours later, in a letter dated Thursday contending that the executive office of the governor had spent about 100 staff hours researching what records might apply to Graham’s request, and for that she must pay $1,200 to reimburse taxpayers before anything might be delivered.

“Ms. Graham,” the Office of Open Government wrote, “Upon review of your records request for the item “Copies of phone records (not limited to, but including call logs, text messages, and voicemails) from the phone account Governor Rick Scott gave out to healthcare executives for hurricane emergency related issues,” it has been determined that a cost estimate of taxpayer dollars spent is required, pursuant to Chapter 119.07(4)(d). To produce Governor Rick Scott’s September and October 2017 personal phone logs, approximately 100 hours of staff resources have been expended. This has been due to the strenuous time and resources that were dedicated to determining the identification of each individual number on the phone logs, as well as then identifying each call as state related business. The hourly rate indicated on the cost estimate is that of the lowest hourly rate of an individual who assisted with this assignment. This cost estimate has been provided in order to recover the taxpayer dollars spent processing this request.

“Please find the cost estimate attached to this email. As always, please feel free to reach out with any questions,” the office advises her.

Graham, a former congresswoman from Tallahassee, is pushing open records and government transparency in her campaign seeking to succeed Scott as governor. Her campaign’s press release Thursday alleged that “Scott and the all-Republican Cabinet have paid more than $1 million to settle lawsuits stemming from public record violations. And, last month, Scott pulled the plug on Project Sunburst, an online database of the governor’s emails.”

She faces fellow Democrats Chris King of Winter Park, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, and Republican Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“Governor Rick Scott does not care about transparency. Throughout his administration he has shown a complete disrespect for the spirit and letter of the Sunshine Laws,” Graham stated in the news release. “Florida used to be proud of our transparency laws. Scott has made a mockery of them.”

Ratepayers could be on the hook for millions due to Hurricane Irma

Duke Energy and Tampa Electric Company asked the Public Service Commission this week to approve plans that would allow them to pass to ratepayers more than $600 million in costs related to Hurricane Irma and other storms.

Duke Energy’s proposal would see the company collect $513 million from customers, who would see their average bill jump by $5.20 a month. The proposal would increase bills in March and would run for three years.

“This past hurricane season impacted Florida significantly, from damaging homes and infrastructure to affecting agriculture and tourism. Duke Energy Florida understands the impact this filing has on both our residential and business customers,” Harry Sideris, Duke Energy Florida state president, said in a prepared statement Thursday. “We will continue making smart investments to significantly enhance service reliability throughout the year, including during storm season.”

Duke’s commercial and industrial customers would see spikes between 2.5 percent and 6.6 percent if the plan is approved by the PSC.

TEC is seeking $87.4 million to help it recover from this year’s storms, with $77.7 million of that sum due to Irma. That proposal would also start in March and last for three years. The rest of the money would pay for costs related to hurricanes Matthew and Hermine in 2016.

Under TEC’s plan, residential customers who use 1,000 kilowatt-hours of power a month would see their bill jump by about $4 for the duration.

In both plans, the bulk of the money will be used to replenish reserves depleted by Irma as well as pay for additional costs brought by the storm.

No surprise: Poll shows Floridians don’t like sexual misconduct by candidates

Nearly three-quarters of Florida voters say they could not vote for a candidate who has been accused of sexual misconduct, according to a new statewide public opinion poll conducted by Gravis Marketing of Winter Springs.

Gravis found almost widespread agreement on that position. Voters in nearly all age groups, genders, religious affiliations, races, and education backgrounds overwhelmingly agreed with that position. Overall, 72 percent of registered voters polled said they could not vote for someone accused of sexual misconduct, while 28 percent said they could, and almost all demographic breakouts showed at least 65 percent also saying they could not vote for someone accused of sexual misconduct.

However, differences emerged among political beliefs, with Republicans and conservatives, who may still be suspicious of the issue following the Alabama U.S. Senate special election two weeks ago, offering far less certainty on that question.

Among Republicans, 46 percent said, yes, they could vote for a candidate accused of sexual misconduct. Those who called themselves “conservative” or “very conservative” weighed in at 46 and 47 percent yes, respectively.

Among Democrats, 87 percent said they could not vote for a candidate accused of sexual misconduct, and among independents, 74 percent said they could not.

The findings were among several public opinion issues Gravis polled last week in matters also including gay marriage, needle sharing, greyhound dog racing, the federal tax reform law approved by Congress and signed by President Donald Trump last week, gambling, gay conversion therapy, and the performances of Gov. Rick Scott and Trump to prepare for and respond to Hurricane Irma back in September.

Gravis reported it conducted a random survey of 5,778 registered voters from Dec. 19-24, citing a margin of error of 1.3 percent.

Many of the queried issues did not inspire absolute majorities on positions, but a few did, including an overwhelming [70 percent] approval of Scott’s overall job performance dealing with Hurricane Irma. Support for gay marriage and needle sharing programs, and opposition to gay conversion therapy also drew majorities, albeit tighter.

Scott and Trump also got pluralities approving of their performances managing nursing homes and other medical facilities during Hurricane Irma, but uncertain votes left both of them without absolute majorities on those questions. Forty-four percent approved of Scott’s performance relating to nursing homes and medical facilities during Irma, and 30 percent disapproved, perhaps tied to the shock and concerns raised by the tragedy in Hollywood Hills. Trump drew 46 percent approval and 45 percent disapproval on the same question.

Fifty-nine percent of voters told Gravis they support the legalization of gay marriage, while 30 percent opposed.

Forty-six percent of voters said transgender individuals should not be banned from using the bathroom of the gender with which they identify, while 36 percent said they should be banned from doing so, with the rest of voters uncertain. When locker rooms replaced bathrooms in the question, the spread was 43-38 saying they should not be banned.

Forty-eight percent of voters said they supported legalizing poker and other forms of gambling in Florida, while 30 percent opposed.

Fifty-seven percent said they supported needle exchange programs, while 19 percent opposed.

Forty-six percent said greyhound dog racing should be made illegal in Florida, while 32 percent said it should remain legal.

Forty-six percent also opposed the federal tax bill approved last week, while 37 percent supported it.

Sixty-nine percent believe “gay conversion therapy” should be illegal in Florida, while 11 percent think it should be legal.

Many of the issues, particularly those involving gay and transgender questions, saw strong partisan splits, with Democrats and Republicans overwhelmingly lining up on opposite sides, and strong pluralities or majorities of independent voters preferring the Democrat’s primary positions. The same was true of the tax reform bill, which got 73 percent support among Republicans; 27 percent support among independents; and 8 percent support amend Democrats.

The gambling and greyhound opinions were much more uniform across party affiliations. Pluralities of Republicans and independents opposed dog racing and supported gambling, while slight majorities of Democrats opposed dog racing and supported gambling.

Health care spending, regulations confront lawmakers

Battles over health-care spending and regulation of Florida’s vast health-care industry are likely to command a great deal of time and attention when the Florida Legislature convenes in January for its annual Session.

Lawmakers are again expected to engage in a tug-of-war about what type of regulations should be in place for health care facilities, but a main focus will be on Florida’s strained safety-net health program at a time of tight state finances.

Florida’s Medicaid program already costs $26 billion and covers an estimated 4 million people.

A July snapshot by the Kaiser Family Foundation estimated that Medicaid along with a major children’s health-insurance program provide coverage to two out of every five low-income people in the state, half the state’s children and more than three-fifths of all nursing home residents.

The bulk of money for Medicaid comes from the federal government, but this year more than $6 billion comes from general revenue, the state’s main budget account funded primarily by sales taxes.

House Health Care Appropriations Chairman Jason Brodeur, a Sanford Republican, said hurricanes Irma and Maria put “a bit of a strain” on the budget he oversees, and as a result that could hamper any requests for new social-services spending.

“From the explicit costs of providing more health and human services to a larger than anticipated population, to the implicit costs of things like the overtime paid to our (state employees) who are in charge of registering and providing (benefits) to all those new enrollees, all of those costs must be paid for before we can start looking at new programs,” he said.

Nevertheless, Brodeur said members have filed more than 200 requests to fund local projects “which is the exact opposite of `small government.’ ”

During the 2017 Session, legislators agreed to change how the state pays nursing homes to provide care for the poor and seniors who rely on Medicaid. Lawmakers decided to scrap a longstanding system where nursing homes have been paid based on audited cost reports and agreed to implement a prospective payment system where payments are determined in advance, regardless of the intensity of the services provided.

While lawmakers agreed to change the payment methodology, they delayed implementation of the new system until 2018. Brodeur said the conversion “is our next step in efficiency.”

Senate President Joe Negron, though, wants the Legislature to do more than pull the trigger on the prospective-payment system. He wants to increase the amount of money the state directs to paying nursing homes.

“That’s a very strong priority of mine,” said Negron who, quoting Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto, notes that the average Medicaid-funded nursing home resident in Florida is an 85-year-old woman.

“These are the women who shaped our communities. We have a responsibility to give them the highest level of care,” Negron said.

The Stuart Republican also said he would like to help the industry offset the costs of generators that Gov. Rick Scott has mandated for nursing homes after deaths at a Broward County nursing home following Hurricane Irma. Negron predicted that the generators “will ultimately be a shared endeavor between the state and the industry.”

But Negron’s push to increase reimbursement for nursing homes and offset the costs of generators also comes at a time when two state agencies are requesting funding to help plug deficits.

The Agency for Persons with Disabilities is asking for $34 million in general revenue to help cover a $89 million deficit in a Medicaid waiver program that enables developmentally disabled people to live in communities instead of institutions. Also, the Department of Health is requesting $25 million to plug a shortfall in the Children’s Medical Services program, which pays the health care costs for medically complex children covered by Medicaid.

Negron downplayed the deficits in the programs and the effects they could have on new funding requests during the 60-daysession, which starts Jan. 9.

“You have to make difficult decisions,” Negron said of crafting the state budget. “That’s why I think the budget process is fascinating.”

While the annual budget is the only bill the Legislature is required to pass when it meets, it isn’t the only piece of health-care legislation that members will focus on.

Indeed, there are hundreds of bills filed for consideration, from requiring birth centers to report adverse events to state health care regulators (SB 510 and HB 673) to authorizing new needle-exchange programs to try to prevent the spread of infectious diseases (SB 800 and 579).

The Legislature will once again consider passing a bill that would allow ambulatory surgical centers to keep patients overnight. Florida law currently requires the surgical centers to release patients the same day they are admitted and cannot keep patients overnight.

“It’s silly that people have to be discharged the `same work day’ and not 24 hours. The marketplace could open up for consumers if they could adjust their schedules for the 24-hour standard,” Brodeur said.

The legislation (HB 23) is already ready for the House floor. While the House bill also would authorize and license so-called “recovery care centers,” to provide post-surgical and post-diagnostic care to patients for up to three days, the Senate version (SB 250) would only authorize overnight stays at ambulatory surgical centers.

Sen. Greg Steube, a Sarasota Republican sponsoring the Senate version, said he does not plan to take the House bill as it has been drafted. “It’s my intention just to get the 24-hour piece done,” he said.

The House also is poised to vote on a measure (HB 27) that would eliminate a controversial regulatory program for hospitals that’s known as certificate of need. Bill sponsor Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen, a Fort Myers Republican, said ending the regulations would remove “barriers to entry” and increase competition in the hospital industry.

“I think competition is healthy in almost all settings,” she said.

But critics have raised questions about how lifting the regulations, which require state approval of new facilities and programs, would affect older public hospitals that provide a wide array of services.

And while the legislation is touted as eliminating artificial barriers that impede competition, the bill would only eliminate so-called CONs for hospitals. New nursing home beds and facilities would still be regulated by the CON program.

The Florida Health Care Association, a statewide nursing-home group, has lobbied against legislative efforts to eliminate CONs for long-term care providers.

House Health Quality Subcommittee Chairman Rep. James Grant said he supports eliminating CONs for hospitals and nursing homes but said he won’t vote against Fitzenhagen’s bill for not including nursing homes.

“Some repeal is better than no repeal,” Grant, a Tampa Republican, said.

The Senate does not have a companion bill, though, and the potential CON elimination is opposed by much of the powerful hospital industry.

Florida Hospital Association President Bruce Rueben said certificate-of-need requirements have ensured that low-income communities and rural communities have access to inpatient, acute-care health services.

“CON deregulation would allow a proliferation of these services in affluent communities and undermine hospitals serving communities with high numbers of uninsured and underinsured Floridians,” Rueben said.

Airbnb a key player in record-setting year of Florida tourism

Florida and Airbnb are making an excellent pair, as a new report shows users of the global vacation rental website had a significant role in the state’s record-setting tourism year.

In 2017, nearly 40,000 Florida Airbnb hosts earned a combined $450 million from approximately 2.7 million guests, according to company figures released Thursday. That is a 75 percent increase over the previous year, with each host earning an estimated average of $6,700 annually.

In addition to its regular Florida tourism revenue, Airbnb also played a vital role in the aftermath of September’s Hurricane Irma, as many hosts offered their properties at no charge to evacuees of the storm as part of the company’s Disaster Sponsor Program.

The report’s statewide data suggests the vacation rental community complements — not harms — the state’s hotel industry with strong growth in occupancy rates, prices and revenue throughout 2017. This also indicates the use of vacation rental websites such as Airbnb actually opens Florida to a broader range of tourists, instead of restricting competition, as some in the hotel industry argue.

For example, Airbnb extends options for the nontraditional traveler, such as visitors unable to afford higher-end hotels or those families preferring an affordable vacation, wanting to stay together under one roof.

“We are proud to contribute to Florida’s record-setting tourism by opening up the state to new segments of visitors,” said Jennifer Frankenstein-Harris, President of the Florida Vacation Rental Management Association (FVRMA). “We are committed to partnering with the Governor and lawmakers to further infuse Florida’s economy with additional revenue and elevate Florida’s status as a global hub for family-friendly tourism.”

Not only do Airbnb hosts enjoy additional personal income renting everything from apartments and homes to villas and tree houses, but the overall expansion of the state’s short-term rental industry generates more money for both the state and dozens of communities where the company has tax agreements.

While Airbnb pays state sales tax on all Florida bookings, it also collects and pays local bed taxes in 39 of the Sunshine State’s 67 counties. This year, the company secured new tax arrangements with Miami-Dade, Broward, Sarasota, Polk, Hillsborough and Leon counties.

Florida’s top Airbnb county for 2017 was Miami-Dade, with more than 667,000 hosts generating $134.6 million, followed by Osceola with $39.6 million from 358,000 rental hosts.

As well as vacation rentals, Airbnb in 2017 developed Experiences, a program that gives users exclusive access to communities and their unique activities as recommended by locals.

Courtesy: Airbnb

New survey shows Tampa voters really like Bob Buckhorn, police

Tampa residents really like Bob Buckhorn.

A new citywide poll is showing three-quarters of Tampa voters approve of the mayor’s job performance — and more than half will support a mayor like Buckhorn, one who will continue his policies.

They also favor Tampa developing a citywide rail system to ease traffic congestion, paid for by taxpayers.

The survey, taken in late November, was from Washington D.C.’s Keith Fredrick, a frequent Buckhorn campaign pollster. The poll asked 350 registered city voters — nearly half on cellphones — with a margin of error of +/- 5.3 percent.

Sixty-two percent of respondents said the city is headed in the right direction, with about 26 percent saying it was mixed (or they didn’t know); 12 percent say Tampa is going the wrong way. Fifty-one percent said they want the city’s next mayor — Buckhorn is term-limited from running again — to be “like Buckhorn and will continue with his policies.”

In addition to Buckhorn’s job approval — 75 percent saying he is either “excellent” (23 percent) or “good” (52 percent) — 88 percent of respondents said they liked the job performance of Tampa police. Seventy percent felt safe and “free from the threat of crime.” And 68 percent were feeling positive about race relations.

African-Americans in Tampa gave the police very or somewhat positive ratings (82 percent), as did 90 percent of Hispanic respondents and 88 percent of Anglos.

Among other issues, 64 percent of city voters support a higher sales tax for a citywide rail system; 28 percent opposed. Traffic congestion is the biggest concern on the minds of Tampainians (51 percent said it was either first or second on a list of six top issues), followed by “better-paying jobs” (34 percent and “street flooding and sea level rise” (27 percent).

Buckhorn also received high marks for how he handled Hurricane Irma, with 81 percent saying it was either “excellent” (45 percent) or “good” (36 percent). On that, Hispanics were the most favorable, with 91 percent applauding both the city and mayor in how they handled September’s storm.

Seventy-eight percent of voters overall also support the mayor’s welcoming residents of Puerto Rico to Tampa after Hurricane Maria. Fifteen percent opposed.

The also poll asked how Tampa residents felt about President Donald Trump and how he managed Puerto Rico relief efforts in the wake of Maria. Nearly two-thirds (62 percent) of respondents felt either somewhat or very negative about Trump and how he managed the territory after the storm; only 28 percent were positive. As for Republicans, however, they approved of the president 67 to 23 percent.

Pollsters also asked whether voters agreed with a national organization recently rating Tampa as one of America’s Best Cities to live; 81 percent agreed overall — with Republicans favoring most (88 percent), followed by independents (80 percent) and Democrats (79 percent). Only 15 percent of all respondents disagreed.

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