Hurricane Irma – Page 3 – Florida Politics

Feds to provide grants to schools enrolling hurricane evacuees

The U.S. Department of Education will move forward with grants to schools in Florida and other states that took in children evacuees from Hurricanes Irma and Maria and then struggled with unexpected costs, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy‘s office announced Tuesday.

Under legislation Congress pushed through and approved in February, with Murphy’s backing, the department will be making grants of $8,500 for each enrolled student who was displaced by the hurricanes that tore through Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands last September. The grants are up to $10,000 per student for students with disabilities.

According to a release from Murphy’s office, school officials will be able to use the money to pay and hire teachers, purchase classroom supplies, lease additional classroom space, mentor students, and provide transportation services.

“Schools and communities in central Florida have welcomed displaced students from the U.S. territories of Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands with grace and generosity, and this federal funding will give them the financial support they need to offer a high-quality education to both new and existing students,” Murphy stated in the release. “I’m proud I was able to lead the bipartisan effort in Congress to deliver this much-needed support to our local schools. I will keep fighting to help displaced families and the communities that have embraced them.”

The Florida Department of Education will collect data from the state’s school districts; apply for funding from the U.S. Department of Education; and then distribute the federal funding it receives to the school districts based on their documented need.

Florida’s public schools reported enrolling at least 12,000 displaced students.

Report: Florida shortchanged on Hurricane Irma unemployment assistance

A new report from the National Employment Law Project Action Fund charges that Florida’s workers got shortchanged by state and federal efforts to provide disaster unemployment assistance following Hurricane Irma last fall.

The report alleges Floridians, under Gov. Rick Scott‘s guidance, received far less from the federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance program than under any Florida governor who has overseen hurricane recovery for the past 30 years.

The federal Disaster Unemployment Assistance provides cash aid to both workers and small business owners when their paychecks are interrupted due to unemployment after a disaster.

The new report charges that the Scott administration did little to help Floridians find or access the program and contends that led to Florida having the least amount of DUA claims, approved claims, and money compared with relief programs offered for any major hurricane in decades.

Scott had received praise and improved public opinion poll job performance ratings following the state’s response to Irma. But the group behind the report charged that Scott’s high marks were unearned, at least considering how he dealt with helping Floridians access the disaster money.

Tiffany Vause, director of communications for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, responded on behalf of the administration, accusing the group of not getting its facts straight, using fuzzy math, and pushing a false narrative.

“This report is invalid and filled with inaccurate generalizations and conclusions. The NELP report uses statements of opinions as fact, is misleading and does not paint an accurate picture of disaster recovery in Florida,” she said in a written response. “It is also irresponsible for NELP to compare Hurricane Irma and Hurricane Harvey – two very different storms with vastly different impacts.

Specifically, she said the group cites a federal report that summarizes claims filed to February, but that the end date for applications was March 17, so the group “left out critical information regarding the number of DUA claimants and those who received benefits.”

NELP cites a federal report that summarizes claims filed since February but the end date to claim disaster unemployment assistance in Florida was March 17, 2018, therefore NELP left out critical information regarding the number of DUA claimants and those who received benefits.

She also insisted that the Department of Economic Opportunity “went above and beyond to ensure that families impacted by Hurricane Irma were treated fairly and got the assistance that they deserved. This includes extending the deadline for DUA twice while aggressively advertising this assistance and we also worked directly with legal aid offices during the storm.”

While Vause described a Florida that recovered quickly, NELP Action portrayed one where people had a hard time getting aid.

“Governor Rick Scott may be touring the state touting his record after Irma, but for Floridians who were forced out of work by the hurricane and needed unemployment assistance, Governor Scott was missing in action,” Paul Sonn, director of NELP Action, stated in a news release that went out with the report Wednesday. “He helped fewer workers and small business owners get jobless aid after the hurricane than any Florida governor in 30 years.”

The fund advocates progressive economic policies, particularly on wages and benefits.

Only 2,434 workers and small business owners received any DUA payments in the six months after Irma. That’s a mere 35 percent of the people who managed to apply for DUA and were found eligible by the Scott administration, the report states. It is the lowest share of eligible claimants receiving DUA in the last 30 years.

“I saw firsthand how the Scott Administration botched relief for people who’d lost their livelihoods because of Irma,” Jennifer Hill, a Miami-based legal advocate, stated in the release. “Hurricane victims couldn’t find out how to apply for unemployment insurance online, and backup phone lines were either shut down or transferred callers out of state to people who couldn’t help them. There’s no question that the Scott administration failed tens of thousands of working Floridians.”

According to the report, 7,149 Floridians applied for the disaster unemployment assistance following Hurricane Irma, 6,953 were deemed eligible, and only 2,434 received the aid, or 35 percent. Recipients averaged $138 per week in benefits.

That compares to a far more robust response in Texas following Hurricane Harvey last year, acceding to the NELP Action report. There, 26,326 people applied, 19,650 were deemed eligible, and 8,492 received benefits, 43 percent, averaging $245 apiece per week.

Floridians’ disaster unemployment program benefits for Irma relief also were less robust than what Florida experienced following Hurricanes Andrew in 2002, and Frances, Charley, Ivan, and Jeanne in 2004, and Wilma in 2005, according to the report. Following each of those storms, more than half of the Floridians applied received benefits. Of those disasters, only Jeanne resulted in fewer Florida DUA Fund beneficiaries than Irma; while more than 3,000 Floridians received benefits following Ivan, more than 4,000 for Charley and Wilma, and more than 6,000 following Andrew and Frances.

“After Hurricane Irma, most Florida workers and small business owners were unable to access Disaster Unemployment Assistance. For weeks after Irma, the Scott Administration’s online claims system didn’t list DUA as an option for applying for assistance,” the report states. “And backup phone lines were frequently shut down, left callers on hold, or transferred calls to out-of-state agents who couldn’t file claims. The Scott Administration also failed to deliver on promises to fix the system, and they denied workers’ first weeks of benefits even when they said they wouldn’t.”

State increases Irma insurance loss estimate

Pointing to “human error,” the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation on Thursday increased its latest property-loss estimate from Hurricane Irma by more than $1.2 billion.

The new number is $8.6 billion from the September storm. When updating the number of claims reported by private insurance companies last Friday, the office had posted the estimated losses at $7.38 billion, a drop of more than $600 million from a February estimate.

Department spokeswoman Karen Kees, who called the number in the initial post a “human error,” noted that some information from private insurers had initially been placed in an incorrect column.

The state agency doesn’t release data by individual insurance companies, asserting protection of trade secrets.

Thursday’s update didn’t alter the overall statewide number of 924,439 claims that had been posted last Friday.

Insurance companies have closed 90.1 percent of residential claims but just 58.2 percent of commercial-property claims. Across the state, more than 20,000 claims had been filed in 15 different counties, topped by 120,921 in Miami-Dade, 77,434 in Collier, 77,039 in Broward, 73,314 in Lee and 71,572 in Orange.

Rick Scott urges quick action on agriculture aid

Gov. Rick Scott is asking U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to move quickly to get disaster-relief funding into the hands of Florida citrus growers, as it may be another three months before farmers can start to apply for the money.

In a letter Tuesday, Scott also asked Perdue to “customize federal aid for Florida citrus growers” to meet their needs.

“Many growers, both large and small, in Florida are awaiting details on the USDA’s (U.S. Department of Agriculture’s) plan to distribute funding,” Scott wrote.

On Friday, Perdue announced that a program to distribute $2.36 billion to farmers in Florida and other areas would be running by July 16. The agriculture aid is part of a $90 billion disaster-relief package signed by President Donald Trump in February. The package is directed towards victims of hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria and wildfires in California.

Florida’s agriculture industry suffered an estimated $2.5 billion in losses from Irma, with the citrus industry accounting for at least $761 million of those damages.

Perdue’s announcement Friday said distribution information will come “at a later date.” His office also noted, in part, that compensation will be determined by producers’ individual losses rather than by average losses in particular areas and that people receiving aid obtain future crop insurance.

Scott’s letter followed a request by Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio to “avoid arbitrary limitations on disaster relief so we can get Florida’s farms, groves, and nurseries back to full operation” as soon as possible.

“USDA is right to incentivize personal responsibility through the purchase of crop insurance, however some crop policies work better than others,” Rubio wrote. “USDA should not punish citrus growers and others who understandably forgo purchasing higher levels of coverage of a poor insurance product.”

Irma insurance losses pegged at nearly $7.4B

New insurance-loss estimates from Hurricane Irma total nearly $7.38 billion, down more than $600 million from a February estimate as claims continue to be filed and closed, according to information posted by the state Office of Insurance Regulation.

The vast majority of claims involve residential property, with most in southern parts of the state.

Irma barreled up the peninsula after making landfall Sept. 10 in Cudjoe Key, less than 30 miles northeast of Key West, and making a second landfall in Collier County.

More than 56 percent of claims have been closed with some payment. Another 32 percent were closed without money changing hands, often because damage totals fell below hurricane deductibles.

The state doesn’t release figures for individual companies. State-backed Citizens Property Insurance this month noted that it was revisiting about one-third of its 66,761 claims from the storm. Reopened claims include properties with extensive damage, disputed claims and those in which contractors have not provided estimates for repairs.

Citizens had closed about 90 percent of its claims from the September storm and had made payments on about 54 percent of the closed claims. The company has incurred losses — paid plus reserves — of $845 million.

Citizens officials in September anticipated its claims reaching $1.2 billion. The overall number of claims statewide had reached 924,439 as of Friday, according to the new report.

Overall, insurance companies had closed 90.1 percent of residential claims but just 58.2 percent of commercial-property claims.

Across the state, more than 20,000 claims had been filed in 15 different counties, topped by 120,921 in Miami-Dade, 77,434 in Collier, 77,039 in Broward, 73,314 in Lee and 71,572 in Orange.

Forecast a glimmer of good news for Florida citrus

 For the second time in a week, Florida citrus growers got what could be considered good news for the struggling industry.

A forecast Tuesday from the U.S. Department of Agriculture showed this season’s projected orange crop holding steady for the third consecutive month.

The estimate followed an announcement Friday by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue that anxiously awaited disaster-relief programs for farmers who suffered damages in Hurricane Irma will be in place by mid-July.

“After a season of crisis, our industry finds hope in a new bloom, a new crop, disaster relief on the horizon and the opportunity a new season brings,” Shannon Shepp, executive director of the Florida Department of Citrus, said in a prepared statement.

Despite the latest outlook, the citrus industry, which has been fighting deadly citrus-greening disease for a decade and then was ravaged by Irma in September, continues to be on a pace to produce the lowest citrus counts since World War II.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s estimate Tuesday said Florida will grow enough oranges in the current season to fill 45 million 90-pound boxes, a mark unchanged since the February forecast.

By comparison, the industry filled 68.7 million boxes of oranges in the 2016-2017 season, which itself was a five-decade low.

Meanwhile, estimated grapefruit production in the latest forecast fell 14 percent, from 4.65 million boxes in March to 4 million boxes in Tuesday’s report. The forecast number, if it holds, would be down 48.5 percent from the past season and 63 percent off the 10.8 million boxes filled in the 2015-2016 season.

Also, Florida’s production of specialty crops, tangerines and tangelos, is down 13 percent from the March outlook, in the latest federal numbers.

The industry had hoped to surpass 2016-2017 totals before Irma struck at the start of the current growing season, causing groves, particularly in Southwest Florida — where trees were knocked over or suffered long-term damage because of weeks of flooding that impacted root systems — to incur losses up to 70 percent, Shepp said.

In October, the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Affairs estimated hurricane damage to the citrus industry at $761 million. State officials later said damages have increased above the $1 billion mark.

Citrus officials have expressed frustration awaiting the release of $2.36 billion in federal disaster aid for farmers in Florida and other states affected by hurricanes and wildfires. The agriculture money was part of a $90 billion disaster-relief package signed by President Donald Trump on Feb. 9.

While Perdue announced Friday that programs for farmers to apply for the money will be set up by July 16, it remains unclear how claims can be filed or how money will be distributed.

Irma agriculture aid slated to start in summer

A program to distribute federal disaster aid to Florida farmers hit by Hurricane Irma will be set up within the next 100 days, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue announced Friday.

“USDA (the U.S. Department of Agriculture) is working as quickly as possible to develop procedures and a system by which affected producers can access disaster assistance,” Perdue said in a prepared statement.

The announcement added that “sign-up for the new program, authorized by the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, will begin no later than July 16,” about 100 days from now.

It remains unknown how claims can be filed or how money will be distributed.

Members of Florida’s congressional delegation have lobbied Perdue to release the money as the state’s citrus growers express frustration in waiting for federal assistance after last September’s deadly hurricane.

In all, the federal program will provide $2.36 billion to farmers in Florida and other states affected by hurricanes and wildfires, part of a $90 billion disaster relief package signed by President Donald Trump on Feb. 9. Friday’s announcement came the same week Florida’s U.S. senators joined colleagues from Texas, Louisiana and California in sending a letter urging Perdue to hurry up in making the agriculture share of the money available.

“Florida’s farmers and citrus growers are a vital part of our state’s economy and we need to make sure we’re doing everything we can to help them recover from last year’s storms,” Florida’s Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said in a statement Friday.

Perdue’s announcement said distribution information will come “at a later date.” Also, the announcement said farmers seeking aid should contact local U.S. Department of Agriculture service centers about establishing farm records.

The relief funding is directed at 2017 victims of hurricanes Irma, Harvey and Maria and a series of wildfires in California.

Florida’s agriculture industry took a $2.5 billion hit from Irma in September, according to an October estimate from the state Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services. The state’s struggling citrus industry accounted for $761 million of those losses, according to the initial estimate.

Citrus growers and state lawmakers have estimated that lingering damages have since topped the $1 billion mark.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam thanked Perdue for moving forward with the “long-awaited” disaster relief.

“We look forward to continuing to work with the USDA to ensure that this program is implemented quickly and in the best way possible to help Florida’s producers recover from the devastating hurricane,” Putnam said in a statement Friday

Calls increase for Irma aid to flow to farmers

Pressure is growing from Florida and other states as the U.S. Department of Agriculture continues to determine how to move forward with a disaster-relief package President Donald Trump signed in early February.

Florida’s Republican U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson joined colleagues from Texas, Louisiana and California this week in prodding U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to start distributing $2.3 billion intended for farmers who sustained damages last year in hurricanes Harvey, Irma and Maria.

“We are concerned that to date there has been no implementation guidance for producers in our states,” the senators wrote Wednesday to Perdue.

The letter followed phone calls from Rubio and Gov. Rick Scott to Perdue in the past week regarding the federal money.

Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, industry representatives and members of the state’s congressional delegation have also been pushing the federal agency.

“We need these funds to be distributed quickly, but it also needs to be done the right way,” Putnam spokesman Aaron Keller said in an email.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture released a statement Wednesday night saying that it “understands the anxiety in Florida and other disaster-stricken areas that are waiting on critical assistance.”

“The Bipartisan Budget Act passed in February gave the secretary a lot of discretionary authority to establish an ad hoc disaster program,” the federal agency said. “USDA is in the final stages of outlining the parameters of the program and hopes to announce more information regarding sign-up and eligibility in the coming weeks.”

In the letter to Perdue, the senators noted that agricultural producers in a wide range of industries remain affected by the storms.

“The citrus industry in Florida was especially devastated by Hurricane Irma because the storm struck just a few weeks before harvest, destroying most of the fruit and many trees as well,” the letter said. “For an industry already weakened by citrus greening, this storm has pushed many growers to the brink of financial ruin.”

Florida citrus growers suffered at least $761 million in losses from Hurricane Irma, which hit in September and caused an estimated $2.5 billion in losses to the state’s agriculture industry.

At a March 21 meeting of the Florida Citrus Commission, Chairman G. Ellis Hunt expressed frustration as the wait continued.

“We’re still waiting, maybe not as patiently as we were to start with,” Hunt said at the meeting.

With Irma-induced losses at citrus groves in parts of Southwest Florida reaching 70 percent to 90 percent, orange production across the state is forecast to be down 34.5 percent from a year ago. At the same time, grapefruit production is off by 40 percent.

Democrats aim new website at Rick Scott

Democrats are sharpening their attacks on Rick Scott just as Florida’s Republican Governor bides his time with a no-comment period until the big announcement Monday when he’s expected to become a candidate for the U.S. Senate.

On Thursday, the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee launched a new website “” anticipating Scott’s candidacy. The site lays out several attacks on Scott, claiming he will say and do anything to help himself at Floridians’ expense.

The rollout of the site continues an aggressive anti-Scott campaign Democrats began last month as it became increasingly apparent Scott would soon formalize his long-known intentions to run against Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson. The attacks come in the period when Scott and many of his advisers and allies are reluctant to respond, lest they acknowledge a Senate candidacy before it can be rolled out with a splash.

Three weeks ago, the released two digital videos alleging that Scott had used his tenure as governor to increase his personal wealth and that he’d had several instances of forgetting or losing information that some charged could have been key evidence of crimes. Last week the Florida Democratic Party organized a news conference to charge that Scott had been avoiding accountability on tragedies.

On Wednesday, American Bridge released a memo detailing what it called Scott’s weaknesses Democrats could exploit.

The new DSCC site features the two videos the committee already has released attacking Scott, and links to several pages going into details on allegations the Democrats are making about his seven-year tenure as governor, and what they say will happen if he runs for the U.S. Senate.

Among the Democrats’ allegations:

— That he personally made lots of money on investments as wages remained low in Florida.

— That his business holdings make him a walking conflict of interest, and that he has kept his finances secret through his blind trust.

— That his offer for nursing home directors to call his cellphone in a crisis, combined with his alleged failure to respond to such calls, may put some blame on him for the tragic deaths at Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills after Hurricane Irma last September.

— That Scott supported drilling near shores and beaches even as he has claimed to oppose it in more recent times.

— That he broke a promise to expand Medicaid health care to 800,000 Floridians.

— That he let 612 days pass between the Pulse and Parkland mass murders without taking any action regarding gun violence.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Python purge

Gov. Rick Scott signed a bill this week aimed at eradicating invasive species, such as the rightly maligned Burmese python, from wreaking havoc in Sunshine State ecosystems.

SB 168 creates a pilot program within the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) allowing them to hire private contractors to capture or kill any of a long list of “priority invasive species” — currently five species of python, two species of lionfish, and a group of lizards known as tegus.

Former Sen. Frank Artiles, a Miami Republican, first filed legislation early last year to rid the state of tegus, a lizard he said was “decimat(ing) the fauna and flora of the Everglades and other natural areas and ecosystems in the southern and central parts of this state at an accelerating rate.”

Former Sen. Frank Artiles first filed legislation to stop invasive species from wreaking havoc on the Everglades.

Tegus, native to South America and brought to Florida as pets, have either escaped or been released over the years, creating new wild populations in Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties.

The program, funded at $600,000 over two years, also requires FWC to identify and add species that threaten Florida’s native wildlife to a state list and set up rules for exotic pet dealers to tag them with transponders.

The measure was sponsored by Sarasota GOP Sen. Greg Steube and won unanimous approval from both chambers of the Legislature in the closing days of the 2018 Legislative Session.

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

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

Special Session on gambling, anyone? — Top officials in the Legislature are considering a Special Session to tackle unresolved gambling issues from the 2018 Regular Session, including renewal of a deal between the state and the Seminole Tribe. It’s all about the money: The Tribe paid a little more than $290 million last fiscal year into state coffers. As part of a blackjack lawsuit settlement, the sides are now in a “forbearance period” that ends March 31, after which point the Tribe is entitled to stop paying. That possibility concerns House Speaker Richard Corcoran. “The Seminoles’ potential to completely walk away from the forbearance agreement jeopardizes the stability of the state budget,” Corcoran said in a Thursday statement. “We would be forced to cut between $390 and $441 million in General Revenue, or we would have to allow our reserves to be drained, which could jeopardize our state bond rating.”

Judge orders new voting rights restoration — A federal judge ordered Gov. Scott and the Board of Executive Clemency to come up with a new system for restoring ex-felon voting rights within a month. U.S. District Judge Mark Walker deemed the process unconstitutional in February calling it a violation of the First and 14th amendments. Walker criticized the Governor and the board for threatening to ditch the ex-felon voting restoration process altogether after last month’s ruling. The Governor’s office continues to argue the process should be at the discretion of elected officials, as outlined in the state constitution.

Rick Scott planned drilling ban — When Gov. Scott and U.S. Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced in an impromptu Tallahassee news conference that Florida’s coastal waters would be “off the table” for oil drilling, speculations rose that it was a political move tailored to help Scott in an expected 2018 Senate bid. Records, text messages and emails obtained and reviewed by POLITICO Florida showed that a staffer from the Interior planned to be in Tallahassee at least four days before the announcement and was in the capital city the day before Zinke and Scott said Florida would not be subjected to drilling. “It’s no secret that our office worked with the Department of the Interior to set up a meeting that the Governor publicly requested on Jan. 4,” Scott’s spokesman McKinley Lewis told POLITICO.

Randy Fine wants gun laws repealed — Palm Bay Republican Rep. Fine is aiming to repeal three gun-control measures passed by the Legislature in the 2018 Session. He told Florida Today this week that he’ll file a bill ahead of the 2019 Session that would walk back Florida law that now bans the purchase and sale of bump stocks, raises the minimum age for firearms purchases to 21 and mandates a three-day waiting period for gun purchases. Fine voted for the firearms measures, which were included in the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act, but said he did so only to secure the funding to increase school safety, which was tied to the same package. Fine’s move follows the NRA’s recent lawsuit against the state claiming the new laws are a violation of the Second Amendment.

Adam Putnam ordered to pay up — Agriculture Commissioner Putnam was ordered this week to pay claims to 12,000 homeowners whose citrus trees were destroyed by the state more than a decade ago. Circuit Judge Keith Kyle of Fort Myers ruled those homeowners can force the commissioner to make a list of state assets to sell to cover the claims, which now total nearly $17 million. The trees were destroyed as part of a statewide initiative to eradicate citrus canker in the Sunshine State. The order focuses on claims in Southwest Florida. Judge Kyle, in his order, wrote that “wildly different amounts” have been paid for canker claims in different regions of the state. Kyle said Putnam’s office contended each case be tried in separate counties. Putnam’s spokeswoman Jennifer Meale said the department intends to appeal the ruling and that claims should be appropriated by the Florida Legislature.

Meet the new boss, same as the old boss?

Gov. Scott’s former chief of staff, Jackie Schutz Zeckman, abruptly left her position at the beginning of the week with a resignation letter that looks more like a formality than a farewell.

“Governor Scott, Effective today, 3/25/18, I resign as chief of staff. It has been an absolute honor to serve in the Governor’s office as your communications director and chief of staff. Thank you for this amazing opportunity!” the letter reads.

Jackie Schutz Zeckman, shown to the left of Florida Gov. Rick Scott, resigned abruptly this week.

For someone leaving after seven years in the Governor’s office, there’s nothing melancholy or bittersweet in that missive. Perhaps because that “amazing opportunity” may be her next job, not the chief of staff gig.

When Scott announces his run for U.S. Senate, Schutz Zeckman is likely to be one of his top campaign staffers.

It’s not the first time Schutz Zeckman has left the Scott administration — she did the same thing in 2014 to take the deputy communications director position on Scott’s re-election campaign.

Scott signs ‘Condo Cleanup’ bill

The “Condo Cleanup Bill” (HB 841) was signed into law last week by Gov. Scott with this note from the press office:

“This bill revises numerous provisions relating to community associations regarding reporting requirements, official records, websites and bylaws.”

Rick Scott signs a bill to ‘clean up’ condominium associations, cooperatives, and homeowner associations.

Largely technical in nature, it “cleans up” how condominium associations, cooperatives, and homeowner associations govern themselves and conduct business.

Almost 10 million Floridians live in homes with a community association, making Florida the number one state in the country for residents in community associations.

“This will save homeowners money and headaches — and we applaud Governor Scott for signing it into law,” said Mark Anderson, Executive Director and Lobbyist for Chief Executive Officers of Management Companies (CEOMC).

“We appreciate the Florida Legislature and especially Rep. George Moraitis and Sens. Kathleen Passidomo and Debbie Mayfield for providing the clarity our association members need,” he added.

Instagram of the week

AHCA fines ALF beset with bedbugs

The Agency for Health Care Administration slapped a South Florida assisted living facility with a $1,000 fine this week after the facility was found to be infested with bedbugs.

The bloodsucking parasites were in no way bedridden — an AHCA inspection found them “crawling on the walls” in at least one room at South Hialeah Manor.

South Hialeah Manor needs a new pest control company, pronto.

A separate inspection by the state Department of Health uncovered bugs in a dozen rooms. Their take: South Hialeah Manor needed a new pest control company, proto.

AHCA also said the ALF shirked its responsibility to make sure one of the three residents who was bitten got treatment.

Topping the list of ALF resident rights in Florida law is the right to live “in a safe and decent living environment, free from abuse and neglect.”

Hurricane money available for homeowners and evacuees

The Florida Housing Finance Corporation announced this week that it has $5 million in funding on hand to help out Florida homeowners as well as Puerto Ricans and S. Virgin Islander evacuees in the Sunshine State.

Florida Housing said the money was available through the State Housing Initiatives Partnership, or SHIP, and is slated to head to the 12 counties — and the cities within them — that were the hardest hit during the 2017 hurricane season: Broward, Collier, Duval, Hendry, Highlands, Lee, Monroe, Miami-Dade, Orange, Osceola, Polk and Seminole.

Help is on the way, says Florida Housing executive director Trey Price.

“Florida Housing is following through on its commitment to provide long-term housing solutions in times of disaster,” said Trey Price, executive director for Florida Housing. “This funding will not only assist the citizens of Florida who were impacted by the hurricanes with their housing needs but also our fellow Americans from Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands that had to evacuate to Florida.”

Depending on income, homeowners and evacuees affected by Hurricanes Irma or Maria may be eligible for home repair or replacement, down payment assistance, rental housing assistance and other affordable housing assistance.

The week in appointments

Children’s Services Council of Brevard CountyAdrian Laffitte, 62, of Melbourne, is the retired director of government relations for Lockheed Martin. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Puerto Rico and his master’s degree from the University of Texas at Austin. Laffitte fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term ending May 2, 2019.

Board of Pilot Commissioners Sherif Assal, 55, of Miramar, is the senior vice president of American Guard Services, Inc. and the president of United Stevedoring of America, Inc. He is reappointed for a term ending Oct. 31, 2021. This appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Jacksonville Port Authority J. Palmer Clarkson, 61, of Jacksonville, is the president and chief executive officer of Bridgestone HosePower. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of South Carolina. Clarkson succeeds Joseph York and is appointed for a term ending Sept. 30, 2021. This appointment is subject to Senate confirmation.

Anderson to continue tenure at NICA

Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis this week reappointed Bryan Anderson to the Florida Birth-Related Neurological Injury Compensation Association, or NICA.

Anderson, a veteran of the health care industry, now will continue to provide oversight for the Florida Birth-related Neurological Injury Compensation Plan, which was created by the Legislature in 1988 to help families cover the costs of needed care for infants without having to worry about costly litigation.

Longtime health care veteran Bryan Anderson will continue to serve on the NICA board.

“Bryan is a wonderful asset to the NICA board,” said Patronis. “He will continue his good work to ensure infants with birth-related neurological injuries and their families receive the care they need without the financial burden.”

Anderson was first appointed to the board in 2009. He was reappointed again in 2012 and 2015.

In addition to his service for NICA, Anderson is vice president of government relations at Hospital Corporation of America, where he aids in the implementation of HCA’s legislative and regulatory agenda by representing the company before Florida’s executive and legislative branches of government and key state agencies.

State senators exhibit ‘upper chamber’ character

Much is said about collegiality in the Senate. Yet sometimes the public displays of mutual respect and affection still surprise and impress.

Such was the case Tuesday when state Sen. Linda Stewart realized that there was no way that Orlando traffic was going to let her get to a Tiger Bay of Central Florida gun control debate on time. She and Republican state Sen. Dennis Baxley were the headliners.

She wasn’t going to make it, and she needed a pinch-hitter.

Orlando traffic forced Linda Stewart to call on a last-minute pinch-hitter for a gun control debate.

There were plenty of Democrats in the room, certainly including a few who would have jumped at the chance to be the impromptu fill-in for the Democratic senator from Orlando who had proposed banning assault weapons. Hello, Anna Eskamani? Hey, Geraldine Thompson? Hi, Eddy Dominguez?

But whom did Stewart call? Republican state Sen. David Simmons of Altamonte Springs. He was honored, he said. And of course, he would, allowing that he couldn’t and wouldn’t represent Stewart’s views, but would do his best to debate at least the nuances with Baxley, author of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law and a fervent Second Amendment advocate. As it happened, Stewart arrived as Simmons was finishing opening remarks, arguing there could be acceptable language dealing with assault weapons, and she took over.

Smith gets props for Publix PrEp win

Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith received the Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation’s Legislative Leadership Award this week for his work to change Publix’s mind on covering PrEp, an HIV prevention pill, for its employees.

“Our recent success with encouraging Publix to change their employee health plan to begin offering PrEp is a great example of how we can get things done when politicians are unresponsive to important issues facing our communities,” the Orlando Democrat said.

Carlos Guillermo Smith earned recognition for his work to change Publix’s mind on covering PrEp, an HIV prevention pill.

“I am extremely humbled to be recognized by The Elizabeth Taylor AIDS Foundation for our work to educate the private sector on both the modern science of HIV transmission and on how they can be responsible corporate partners to local, state and federal HIV prevention strategies.”

Earlier this year the grocery giant, which employs more than 130,000 Floridians, revealed the medical coverage it offered employees did not cover PrEp. Officials cited an internal policy that their plan only covered “only covered identification, treatment or management of a medical condition” and not preventive care for ailments employees might get in the future.

Shortly after the news broke, Smith met with Publix’s government relations team. Less than 24 hours later the company announced it had changed its policy.

CRC coming back in ‘style’

The Constitution Revision Commission (CRC) noticed the following meeting schedule for next week. Most meetings are of the commission’s Style and Drafting Committee, charged with grouping amendments and writing ballot summaries:

Monday, April 2: No meetings scheduled.

Tuesday, April 3: Style and Drafting Committee, 1-6 p.m., 102 House Office Building.

Wednesday, April 4: Style and Drafting Committee, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., 102 House Office Building.

Thursday, April 5: Style and Drafting Committee, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., 102 House Office Building.

Friday, April 6: Rules & Administration Committee, 8:30-9 a.m., 401 Senate Office Building; Style and Drafting Committee, 9 a.m.-6 p.m., 102 House Office Building.

Daily agendas are available on the commission’s Calendars Page.

Insurers urge evacuations for wildfire-affected homeowners

As numerous wildfires scorch the state, a large insurance association is reminding Floridians that their policies provide coverage for additional living expenses — should those homeowners feel the need to evacuate.

Property Casualty Insurers Association of America, or PCI, sent the alert out this week, as fires sprouted across the state, particularly in Southwest Florida. PCI represents more than 1,000 member companies nationwide.

Insurers remind Floridians that additional living expenses are covered in the case of wildfire evacuations.

“PCI urges Florida homeowners and renters impacted by the severe wildfires occurring in Southwest Florida to evacuate if instructed to do so and contact their insurance companies immediately to help in the recovery process,” said Logan McFaddin, PCI’s regional manager. She added that in instances of evacuation, policyholders typically are covered for hotel expenses.

The alert provided other tips for homeowners, including updating policies to cover new additions to homes, developing an inventory of household items, and reviewing the fine details of policies with professionals.

The group also explained preventive measures homeowners can take to prepare for and protect against wildfires. Among them: Clear dead brush around your home and in gutters, cut anything growing over a chimney, create a family wildfire plan, keep an extinguisher on hand and consider landscaping with fire-resistant plants.

Hurricane claims keep insurers busy

It’s been months since Hurricane Irma ravaged the state, and as time lapses, circumstances change for those who experienced damage.

Citizens Property Insurance Corporation to date has received 66,400 claims from the storm — roughly 37 percent of which have recently been reopened to reassess and revise damage estimates.

Hurricane Irma is keeping insurers busy, says Citizens’ chief of claims Jay Adams.

“We want to reinforce to people that what we have provided them is an estimate and that estimates may change as repairs begin,” said Jay Adams, Citizens Chief of Claims. “The initial estimate and payment does not necessarily mean your claim has been concluded.”

Ninety-percent of Citizens’ claims are closed. The insurance group doled out initial payments immediately after the storm based on the actual cash value of damages incurred. But in the repair process, additional costs may arise.

For policyholders, Citizens said it’s important to reach out before beginning repairs not covered under the initial estimate. The group wants homeowners to know that supplemental payments are available, and field adjusters are working diligently to help with any questions.

Free-market solutions for Florida?

Florida’s known for its competitive business environment — but according to liberty-minded thought leaders, there’s still work to be done.

A new policy brief from Florida’s premier free-market think tank, The James Madison Institute, suggests two major reforms for the Legislature to consider that could lead to a “more prosperous Florida.”

Sal Nuzzo is pushing two free-market proposals for a ‘more prosperous Florida.’

“While we do get much correct in the policy trajectory, Florida is by no means perfect,” reads the introduction to the brief, authored by JMI Vice President of Policy Sal Nuzzo and Goldwater Institute’s Director of National Litigation and General Counsel Jon Riches.

JMI wants lawmakers to look to The Right to Earn a Living Act, recently adopted by Arizona, to reform occupational licensing in the Sunshine State. The legislation would require regulators to show they are restricting an industry because of a public health, safety, or welfare concern. It also gives businesses a legal pathway to repealing existing barriers to entry enforced by regulators.

The think tank also points to the REINS Act as a potential solution to encourage free enterprise in the state. If adopted by Florida voters, language provided in the REINS Act would require new agency rules that significantly affect the economy be approved by the Legislature before coming into effect.

FSU College Of Law Moot Court team wins national competition

The Florida State University College of Law Moot Court Team has earned first place in the Seigenthaler-Sutherland Cup National First Amendment Moot Court Competition. The tournament was held March 23-24 in Washington, D.C.

Third-year law students Jenna VonSee and Brenda Czekanski won the Seigenthaler-Sutherland Cup National First Amendment Moot Court Competition. They were coached by FSU College of Law alumni Jonathan Martin (left) and Ian Waldick (right).

Twenty-four law school teams took part in the competition, including teams from some of the nation’s top law schools. Florida State beat South Texas College of Law Houston, which is ranked by preLaw Magazine one of the nation’s best law schools for moot court, in the final round of competition at the Newseum.

Winning team members are third-year law students Brenda Czekanski, from Miami and Jenna VonSee, from Orlando. FSU College of Law alumni Jonathan Martin (’15), assistant general counsel at the Florida Department of Financial Services, and Ian Waldick (’16), a staff attorney at the Florida Supreme Court, coached the team to victory.

Martin and Waldick previously won a national moot court competition in 2015 when they were law students at FSU.

Leon County designated leader for disaster preparedness

Communities across the U.S. will now look to Leon County as a prototype for hurricane and disaster resilience.

The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes (FLASH) in partnership with FEMA this week designated the capital city’s surrounding area as the first #HurricaneStrong community in the nation. That means other areas will look to Leon’s response to hurricanes Irma and Hermine as textbook examples of how to bounce back from a disaster.

Leon County Commission Chair Nick Maddox.

“This is big. It is a reflection of the tremendous emphasis we have placed on one of our most important responsibilities,” said Leon County Commission Chairman Nick Maddox. “Keeping our citizens safe and informed in the event of a hurricane and getting our community back to normal as quickly as possible afterward has always been a top priority.”

Through the 2018 hurricane season, the county will continue to codify criteria for other local governments to use in the event of natural disasters. Leon will work alongside FLASH, which launched three years ago as an outreach campaign to beef up personal safety, financial security, family preparedness, damage prevention and community service across states.

“Every emergency gives us the knowledge and opportunity to build a more resilient community ahead of the next storm,” said Leon County Administrator Vincent S. Long. “And our County’s partnership with FLASH will make us even stronger as we leverage national networks, best practices and other resources.”

Wading birds bounce back

Bird watchers and ornithologists rejoice: Florida’s wading bird nesting season produced one of the highest nest counts the past decade.

The South Florida Water Management District (SFWMD) released its annual South Florida Wading Report this week. In the Greater Everglades Ecosystem, it showed 2017 increases when compared to the 10-year average in several species, including the Wood Stork, White Ibis, Great Egret and Little Blue Heron.

Everglades Little Blue Heron is one of Florida’s wading birds on the rebound.

“The 2017 numbers represent a ray of hope for the future of wading bird populations in America’s Everglades,” said Celeste De Palma, director of Everglades policy for Audubon Florida, an environmental group known for its focus on bird preservation.

Audubon attributed the success to near-historic water conditions. But, the group noted, conditions were worse in Florida Bay and Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, and consequently, nesting counts for individual species in those areas continued to decline.

“Though the count was one of the highest in nearly a decade, the underperformance of special wading bird historic strongholds like Audubon’s Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary and Florida Bay, should put the impetus on accelerating Everglades restoration efforts to get the water right for the entire watershed,” De Palma said.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

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