Hurricane Irma Archives - Page 5 of 36 - Florida Politics

Member projects top $1 billion

House members are proposing to spend $1.12 billion through hundreds of projects they hope to take back home from the Legislative Session that starts Jan. 9.

Riding high atop the wish list is Rep. Bobby Payne, a Palatka Republican who offered 17 proposals on Tuesday totaling more than $105 million.

Last week, House members proposed 310 separate projects, worth more than a half-million dollars, while in Tallahassee for a pre-Session committee week.

Being away from the Capitol for the Thanksgiving holiday didn’t slow down the requests, even though most of the proposals won’t make it very far.

On Monday and Tuesday, 159 projects, collectively worth $267 million, were filed.

Payne’s proposals include what is now the single largest ask: $69.5 million (HB 3259) for drinking water infrastructure improvements in Palatka.

As of Wednesday morning, House members had created a 673-strong project list for the session. But the proposals will have to compete with diminishing revenue, rising health-care and education costs, and the need to cover Hurricane Irma repairs and an influx of Puerto Rican evacuees from Hurricane Maria.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican, has made clear that the priority will be on relief related to Irma, which caused billions of dollars in damage to the state in early September.

Unlike the Senate, the House requires members to submit each spending proposal as an individual bill.

Overall, Republicans had filed 451 project bills collectively worth $819.8 million. Democrats have rolled out 221 bills worth $295.7 million. There is one bipartisan proposal (HB 2135) regarding a livestock pavilion in Marion County.

Orlando Republican Rep. Rene Plasencia had made the second-largest request. He’s seeking $34.4 million for a Lake Nona campus building for Valencia College (HB 2437).

Meanwhile, Republican Rep. Manny Diaz Jr. of Hialeah, is asking for $52 million through 23 projects, including $28 million for a STEM Center on the north campus of Broward College (HB 2423).

Across the political aisle, Democratic Rep. Roy Hardemon of Miami is pitching for $50.9 million in 25 projects, including a $25 million intermodal logistics center at Poinciana Industrial Park in Miami-Dade County (HB 2767).

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Bouncing back from Irma: Florida citrus

One of the state’s messages on the impact of Hurricane Irma was that its path could not have been “more lethal” for Florida agriculture — especially citrus.

The damage is still unfolding, as shown by changing USDA citrus forecasts. It’s hard to grasp the full extent of what’s happened to Florida oranges.

Ahead of Thanksgiving, a Florida grower spoke with Florida Politics to shed light on the crisis facing the state’s citrus.

Kyle Story is a fourth-generation Florida grower and the vice president of The Story Companies, which owns or manages about 7,000 acres of citrus, peaches and blueberries across the lower half of the state. 

In the scope of Florida’s expansive citrus field, Story considers his company to be mid-sized. He volunteers with Florida Citrus Mutual, which he described as the legislative “advocacy arm” for Florida citrus growers.

He walked through the before and after of Hurricane Irma, explaining what he did ahead of time and what farmers are doing in its wake.

“We did everything that we could ahead of the storm,” Story said. He said because the company spans the state, he knew he’d be affected regardless of where the eye landed.

Story said his operations also placed front-end loaders around different parts of surrounding communities to help clear debris following the storm, but there wasn’t much else he could do in preparation apart from securing equipment and farms, and ensuring that drainage ditches and retention pond levels were low to absorb the anticipated rainfall. 

Story said his crops in LaBelle and Immokalee, which both are near the Southwestern part of the state, took the most noticeable damage.

“We estimate a loss in that area of over 80 percent of the fruit crop,” Story said. He said that the growers who had all of their crops in that area had likely “all but lost an entire crop of fruit.”

Because blueberries and peaches had not bloomed by the time Irma made landfall, Story said the bulk of his loss came to his citrus crop, which he began harvesting early October.

He said that some Florida growers, however, likely aren’t harvesting at all. He explained that when a vast majority of a crop isn’t harvestable, it becomes economically unviable to collect what’s left.

“You have to outweigh cost of harvest to the benefit of that return,” Story explained. He said that when there’s only between 10 and 20 percent of a crop available for harvest, it becomes hard to justify investing in labor for such a small yield.

“You may just let it all rot on the ground because it’s more cost-effective.” Story said. “As a farmer, that has to be one of the toughest decisions you make.”

Story added that, depending on how many hours went into cultivating the crop, deciding not to harvest is not only financially devastating, but “emotionally trying.”

There’s another particularly tragic element to Irma’s damage: The storm wiped out an orange crop that, for Story and others, had been the healthiest in years. Citrus greening had plagued Florida citrus for several years leading up to the 2017 harvest, Story said.

“To grow one of largest crops statewide in the past five years and have a storm of this magnitude wash it away — it’s hard,” Story said. “Farming is an emotional job, whether you want it to be or not.”

Story said he has crop and tree insurance in place to help with financial recovery following storms like Irma. But that it’s very costly and he hasn’t made a claim on the insurance since 2004, when several hurricanes ravaged the state.

He said there are varying levels of coverage. His policy requires him to lose 50 percent of a crop before he can make a claim.

“It is a very costly and inadequate insurance policy,” Story said. But he said that Ted Yoho, Darren Soto, Al Lawson, Jr. and Neal Dunn — all of whom are Floridians on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee — are working to better citrus insurance.

Story also nodded to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam and Gov. Rick Scott, along with U.S. Sens. Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson. He said they’re all doing what they can to help Florida’s farmers.

But Florida citrus relief was not addressed in both the U.S. House’s disaster package and the White House’s request last week. Still, Story is confident that the upcoming Senate request will include citrus relief, or rebuilding, dollars.

“It has been disappointing to not be included in any type of relief,” Story said. “But, we feel confident that — with the leadership of our elected officials from Florida and other states — that we will be ultimately successful in securing the needed rebuilding efforts.”

For Story and other farmers, however, it’s an inherent sense of resilience that will ultimately restore Florida citrus.

“Everybody is safe, everybody is healthy,” Story said. “We feel confident that we’ll be able to grow another crop — and we will.”

Despite holiday, lineworkers headed to Virgin Islands

Public power personnel from four Florida municipal electric utilities will be headed to the U.S. Virgin Islands Tuesday and Wednesday to assist with ongoing power restoration efforts after Hurricanes Irma and Maria, the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) announced.

“After Hurricane Irma tore through nearly the whole state, Florida utilities were the grateful beneficiaries of mutual aid from utilities all across the country,” said Amy Zubaly, FMEA Executive Director.

“We are honored to have this chance to return the favor and help our neighbors in the U.S. Virgin Islands get their lights and their lives back to normal,” she added. “And, we deeply appreciate the service and dedication of these lineworkers who are leaving their families behind during Thanksgiving to assist.”

Thirty-one workers from the City of Tallahassee electric utility, Ocala Electric Utility, City of Homestead electric utility and Fort Pierce Utilities Authority are headed first to St. Croix, which was devastated by Hurricane Maria.

Coming with them more than 30 bucket trucks, pickup trucks, trailers and other pieces of equipment, which will float to St. Croix via barge from Palm Beach. The crews will fly to St. Croix to meet the trucks.

With only 25 percent of the island’s power restored, St. Croix is the first priority. If able, Florida personnel may also assist with restoration efforts on St. Johns and St. Thomas, which were significantly damaged by Irma.

The mutual aid to the U.S. Virgin Islands has been coordinated by FMEA, in conjunction with the American Public Power Association (APPA) and U.S. Virgin Islands Water and Power Authority (USVI-WAPA).

“Mutual aid agreements enable municipal utilities to call on each other for emergency workers and supplies,” according to the release. “Florida’s public power utilities benefit from this strong network of partners within Florida and across the country through the APPA. Florida’s municipal electric utilities also have forged mutual aid arrangements with Florida’s investor-owned utilities. These dependable connections have created a reliable system where member utilities both request and offer assistance.”

Tax break proposed for standby generators

A Senate Republican on Monday proposed providing a property-tax exemption for permanently installed generators used to provide power when electricity goes out.

Sen. Jeff Brandes, of St. Petersburg, filed a proposed constitutional amendment (SJR 974) that would ask voters next year to approve the tax exemption.

He also proposed a bill (SB 976) that would carry out the constitutional amendment. Both measures are filed for the 2018 Legislative Session, which starts in January.

Under the proposals, the value of permanent generators would not be considered in determining the taxable values of properties.

The proposals come amid heavy attention on efforts by Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration to require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators that could keep buildings cool.

The issue stems from the deaths of residents of a Broward County nursing home whose air conditioning was knocked out by Hurricane Irma.

In spite of Hurricane Irma, robust holiday spending is expected

Even as some Floridians cut back on spending this holiday season because of unforeseen costs brought by Hurricane Irma, overall holiday spending across the state is expected to increase, according to an annual study conducted by the Florida Retail Federation.

Shoppers are expected to spend an average of $967 on gifts, breaking down to people spending an average of $608 on gifts for family, friends and coworkers, $218 on decorations for the holiday season and $141 on gifts for themselves.

“Hurricane Irma hit our state extremely hard … and we factored in this impact in our forecast, but we feel the overall strength in the economy and the incredible recovery efforts that have taken place will help lessen the impact on retail sales this holiday season,” Scott Shalley, the president of FRF, said.

Buoyed by a boost in the economy and millennials splurging on gifts, total spending in the state is expected to reach $678 billion, up from $655 billion last year.

The spike in spending could also be due to the fact that 40 percent of Floridians started their holiday shopping early — as soon as Halloween. Nearly 30 percent of shoppers are expected to be done holiday shopping by the time Black Friday rolls in.

Did hotel CEO really have to humblebrag about post-Irma profits?

Marriott International, among other major hotel and hospitality chains, did a very respectable job during Hurricane Irma.

As the September storm forced many in South Florida to seek shelter points North, hotels and other services – like home-sharing Airbnb — stepped up in a big way to offer accommodations for victims and relief workers.

For that, we give hearty thanks to both Marriott and its President and CEO, Arne M. Sorenson.

Nevertheless, did Sorenson really have to humblebrag about how Irma (and Harvey before that) were great for Marriott’s bottom line?

In an earnings call Nov. 5, Sorenson noted that though the company’s budget process was not yet completed for the upcoming year, early indications show “growth will be similar to growth expected for 2017.”

He followed that up with this: “It’s a little bit counterintuitive, maybe … the impact of the hurricanes in Texas and Florida, not counting the Caribbean, were a net positive in September, not a net negative.”

Net positive? Good to hear, Arne.

 

 

In all fairness, Sorenson did preface that statement with some sobering words about Marriott’s “eventful” third quarter – from Hurricane Harvey and its “historic flooding” in Texas, to hurricanes Irma and Maria and the destruction in the Caribbean, Florida and parts of the southeast, as well as two earthquakes in Mexico and devastating fires in Northern California, all within a seven-week period.

“We have a presence in these communities, and our crisis management and property teams have worked tirelessly to ensure associate, guest and property safety,” Sorenson said. “Not only have these events damaged property and upended lives, they have also impacted local economies, many of which are very dependent on tourism.”

“As these areas repair, rebuild and recover, we encourage you to support their efforts.”

In the leadup to Irma’s slog across Florida, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Gov. Rick Scott launched a campaign to warn companies against price gouging – and implied that everyone (particularly the hospitality industry) to do the right thing.

And while many would agree Marriott did the right thing, somehow, by increasing profits in the storm’s aftermath, Sorenson’s words feel (just a little bit) wrong.

“Probably, most dramatically so in Texas where that was one of the weakest markets we had in the United States for the last year or two years, and fairly quickly, within days, recovery efforts are beginning and people who are looking for housing are filling up hotels,” Sorenson concluded. “And so, the Houston market and Florida market drove a bit of the outperformance in Q3.”

What else are we supposed to think when a CEO humblebrags Harvey and Irma-related profits?

Of course, Marriott did earn its accolades for being there to support communities affected by the hurricanes.

But did it have to be such a “win-win” for Sorenson and Marriott, when Floridians and Texans lost so much?

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Carlos Beruff’s ‘constitutional’ angst

The head of the panel now eyeing the state’s constitution for changes says “more than 50 percent of the 103 proposed constitutional revisions filed by (its) commissioners represent public ideas.”

Carlos Beruff, chair of the Constitution Revision Commission (CRC), this week recounted how his board “traveled the state listening to Floridians and reviewed thousands of public proposals and comments.”

“Much like the previous CRC in 1997-98 advanced ‘general concepts’ based on public input, we identified general themes and ideas that were submitted by Floridians and then crafted proposals in the appropriate legal language,” he said in a statement.

“More than 50 percent of the 103 proposed constitutional revisions filed by (its) commissioners represent public ideas,” says CRC chair Carlos Beruff.

Sounds like Beruff still is smarting from a Miami Herald story last month that dinged the commission for accepting only “a few” ideas from the public to improve Florida’s governing document.

“In a swift, 20-minute meeting, the panel … rejected all but a few of the 2,012 public proposals submitted …, advancing only six of them, after months of encouraging the public to submit ideas,” that story began.

Beruff isn’t having it.

“Altogether, more than 740 public proposal submissions are represented by commissioner proposals,” he said. “If you also consider the Commissioner proposals inspired by ideas presented by Floridians at CRC public hearings, this representation is even higher.

“Proposals are now being referred to CRC committees for further review and consideration. We encourage Floridians to stay engaged in the CRC process as we move forward.”

The commission is formed every 20 years to review and suggest changes to the state’s governing document. Any amendments it places directly on the 2018 statewide ballot still must be OK’d by 60 percent of voters to be added to the constitution.

A spreadsheet organizing the topics can be viewed at flcrc.gov/Reference.

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

But first, a program note: Takeaways will not appear next week because of the Thanksgiving holiday.

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

Bittel out at FDP — Less than a year after taking office, Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel resigned following mounting pressure for him to step down. This was after reports he would belittle and make suggestive remarks to women in the workplace. Allison Tant, the state party’s immediate past chair, told Florida Politics that at least seven women complained to her about the inappropriate and demeaning behavior they endured while he was at the helm. Tant said several women left their jobs because of his behavior. Bittel said in a statement, “When my personal situation becomes distracting to our core mission of electing Democrats and making Florida better, it is time for me to step aside.” The millionaire South Florida developer apologized for his behavior and did not deny the accounts of six unnamed women who called him “creepy” and “demeaning” in a POLITICO Florida report.

Job numbers looking good — After an uncharacteristically subdued release of September job numbers after Hurricane Irma, Gov. Rick Scott was able to thump his chest with October numbers. The top-line takeaway: Unemployment down to 3.6 percent, the lowest number in a decade. Florida added more than 127,000 private sector jobs in October; all told, 1.4 million jobs have been added under Scott’s administration. “I am proud to announce today that Florida’s unemployment rate has reached a more than 10-year low of 3.6 percent and that more than 127,000 private-sector jobs were created in October. While Hurricane Irma was a devastating storm,” Scott said in a statement, “we have worked day after day to help communities recover and send a message across the world that Florida is open for business.”

Senate hires outside lawyers — As Sen. Jack Latvala faces sexual harassment allegations under a Senate investigation, Senate President Joe Negron hired a legal team to represent the chamber through the proceedings. Weeks after Senate general counsel Dawn Roberts recused herself, Negron hired three attorneys from the politically connected GrayRobinson law firm. Among those is George Meros, who has worked on several high-profile state government cases in recent years. He also represented then-Texas Gov. George W. Bush in the 2000 presidential recount. The Senate agreed to pay the attorneys — at taxpayers’ expense — on an hourly rate. Attorney Brian Bieber will earn $600 an hour; Meros will make $550 an hour; and Allison Mawhinney will charge $345 an hour, according to the contract.

Hurricane committee hunkers down — It’s turkey time for some lawmakers, but crunchtime for those charged with addressing hurricane readiness. The House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness met for the fifth time this week. Now equipped with info on the statewide woes of the 2017 hurricane season, the committee transitions to its final job: Policy recommendations. “This is it for our fact-finding mission and our education phase of our work,” Chair Jeanette Nuñez said. She expects there will be two committee meetings in December, where “the rubber hopefully will meet the road.”

Confederate statue’s time dwindling? — A likeness of educator and civil-rights activist Mary McLeod Bethune is one step closer to replacing a statue of a Confederate general as one of Florida’s two representatives in the U.S. Capitol. The Senate Appropriations Committee cleared a bill to replace the statue of Gen. Edmund Kirby Smith with Bethune, who lived 1875-1955. Each state has two statues on display in the Capitol’s National Statuary Hall. Florida’s other statue, a marble rendering of scientist-inventor Dr. John Gorrie of Apalachicola, a pivotal figure in the invention of air conditioning, will remain. The move to replace Smith’s statue came after a renewed debate in recent years about Confederate symbols, including the battle flag ubiquitous in the South.

Volunteer firefighters weekend back on

The 12th annual Northwest Florida Volunteer Firefighter Weekend, postponed from September because of Hurricane Irma, will take place this weekend, Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis announced.

More than 200 volunteer firefighters registered for the rescheduled event, which offers free classroom and field training courses to volunteer firefighters.

Northwest Florida Volunteer Firefighter Weekend offers free classroom and field training courses to volunteer firefighters.

Hosted at the Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, the event is open to all volunteer firefighters, EMS, law enforcement, and military in Florida and all southeast states.

“Volunteer fire departments offer lifesaving services to our communities, oftentimes operating on very low budgets,” Patronis said in a statement. “We must do everything we can to ensure that our firefighters have every bit of the training and expertise they need to safely perform their jobs.”

Active shooter response and animal first aid courses, as well as live burn classes, will be available.

Pam Bondi urges action on ‘opioid oversupply’

Attorney General Bondi joined 43 other attorneys general last week to send a National Association of Attorneys General policy letter to congressional leaders, according to a news release.

They urged the repeal of a 2016 federal law to restore the Drug Enforcement Administration’s ability to hold drug manufacturers and distributors of opioids accountable.

“The opioid crisis is affecting families across our country, and we need every tool available to combat this epidemic and save lives. To ensure the Drug Enforcement Administration is able to stop the oversupply of dangerous prescription opioids, Congress must repeal the Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016,” Bondi said.

Pam Bondi signed on to a letter urging the DEA to take more action on ‘opioid oversupply.’

The Ensuring Patient Access and Effective Drug Enforcement Act of 2016 severely limit the DEA’s response to the opioid crisis. In 2016, more than 2 million Americans had an addiction to prescription or illicit opioids. Since 2000, more than 300,000 Americans have died from overdoses involving opioids.

According to the NAAG letter, the Act effectively strips the DEA’s ability to issue an immediate suspension order against a drug manufacturer or distributor whose unlawful conduct poses an immediate danger to public health or safety.

Florida is one of the states leading an extensive multistate investigation into major manufacturers and distributors of opioids. As part of this effort, the bipartisan coalition of 41 state attorneys general recently sent subpoenas and demanded additional information about potentially unlawful practices in the distribution, marketing and sale of opioids.

Leaders talk about improving workforce educational attainment

A nationwide campaign to bolster the state’s workforce with adults that have a degree, industry certification or an education certificate by 2025 is in motion.

The campaign, called RISE to 55 and led by Florida’s Higher Education Coordinating Council, is partly in response to a study saying that by 2025, the state will have more jobs requiring postsecondary education but that workers will be ill-equipped to fill those positions.

By 2025, Florida will have more jobs requiring postsecondary education but that workers will be ill-equipped to fill those positions.

To address this issue, leaders in business, government and economic development representing 15 counties from across the Gulf Coast gathered this week to debate the importance of increasing the current 47 percent threshold of working-age adults with postsecondary education to 55 in the next seven years.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Patronis, Florida College System Chancellor Madeline Pumariega, who is spearheading the campaign, and local leaders in higher education led the discussion at Florida State University, Panama City.

“For Florida to reach 55 percent attainment, we need buy-in from every community to make postsecondary education part of our culture,” said Pumariega. “Championing higher education is championing a sustainable Florida economy.”

Instagram of the week

Governor. Senator. Dad.

A post shared by Gwen Graham (@gwengrahamfl) on

The week in appointments

Metz returning to vets’ panel — Gov. Scott reappointed state Rep. Larry Metz to the Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame Council.

Metz, a Yalaha Republican, has served in the Florida House of Representatives since 2010 and has practiced with the Metz Law Firm P.A. since 2007.

He also was in the U.S. Marine Corps 1976-82, including active duty until 1980.

Metz received a bachelor’s degree from the University of Florida and a law degree from Florida State University.

He is appointed for a term beginning Nov. 15 and ending June 30, 2020.

Top cop named to trafficking board — Scott appointed of Bradenton Police Chief Melanie Bevan to the Statewide Council on Human Trafficking.

Bevan, 52, of Bradenton, is a 31-year veteran law enforcement officer who most previously served as Assistant Chief at the St. Petersburg Police Department.

She received her bachelor’s degree from Saint Leo University, her master’s degree from Troy State University, and her doctor of education degree from Argosy University.

Bevan fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term beginning Nov. 15, and ending June 30, 2018.

Rick Scott appoints two to Medical Examiners Commission — Scott announced the appointment of Sheriff James Reid and State Attorney Jeffrey Siegmeister to the Medical Examiners Commission.

Reid, 70, will fill a vacant seat due to the resignation of Sheriff Paul Beseler. His term began Nov. 14 and will end Aug. 21, 2021.

Siegmeister, a 45-year-old State Attorney from Live Oak, will replace Angela Corey following her resignation. His term also began Nov. 14 and will last until July 1, 2019.

Republicans lead bills placed on House committees

From the total 60 measures that have been put on committee agendas in the Florida House, as of Nov. 6, the vast majority has been sponsored by Republicans.

According to a weekly roundup by the House Democratic Caucus, 66 percent of the bills were sponsored by Republicans; nine of those were introduced by Democrats and 11 proposals have bipartisan cosponsorship.

The report is released every week in “commitment to openness and transparency,” the report says.

Heavy duty

Did Jay Trumbull miss the meeting when the House leadership doled out responsibility for carrying this year’s assignment of benefits package?

That’s often how one “volunteers” for a thankless job. (Or as Tampa Republican Jamie Grant put it this week in another committee, getting “voluntold.”)

Jay Trumbull pulls some heavy duty.

“I got a call from the chair a couple of Fridays ago that said we’re going to run assignment of benefits out of Judiciary and he’d like me to run it,” said Trumbull, a Panama City Republican.

He spoke right after the bill (PCB JDC 18-01) cleared the full committee.

Trumbull is well acquainted with the issue, having sat through lengthy hearings before the Commerce Committee during the spring Legislative Session.

He must know all about it, right?

“I wouldn’t say all about it,” he demurred. “I’m still learning a pretty good bit.”

Sean Shaw to host minority transportation forum

State Rep. Shaw, a Tampa Democrat, will host a transportation forum to help citizens connect with transportation leaders Wednesday.

The speakers will include various leaders representing various transportation and transit entities that keep Tampa moving, and they will help clear up questions about transportation issues impacting the area.

Sean Shaw is looking to help citizens connect with transportation leaders.

It will also be an effort to open the door to those who want to get involved with the effort to better transportation in the region.

“Transportation improvement and transit innovations are coming to Tampa, and it is important that all residents are able to express their concerns, questions and ideas,” Shaw said.

The forum will be held from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at the Children’s Board-Hillsborough, located at 1002 E. Palm Avenue.

Robert Asencio files apprenticeship bill

Rep. Asencio, a Miami Democrat, wants school districts, colleges and universities to encourage the expansion of apprenticeship programs.

Asencio filed legislation (HB 711) this week that would create a ‘Earn to Learn Grant Program” within the Department of Education, which would be tasked with developing an application process for students eligible for grants.

Robert Asencio filed legislation to create a ‘Earn to Learn Grant Program,” for an application process for students eligible for grants.

“By allocating our resources to develop the next generation of Florida workers, we’re giving them a chance to get a high wage, permanent job here at home,” Asencio said.

The bill would also create a Task Force on Apprenticeship Expansion to study ways to grow these opportunities.

Janet Cruz touts help for small business

Last session, House Democratic Leader Cruz of Tampa offered an amendment to legislation aimed at reforming and increasing transparency at VISIT FLORIDA that would create a Targeted Marketing Assistance Program (TMAP) for minority, rural and agritourism businesses.

That amendment was adopted during the regular session and became a part of the final legislation that was passed during the special session and was signed into law by Gov. Scott.

Janet Cruz is looking to help small businesses in Florida.

Under the new program, small, minority, rural, and agritourism businesses with gross income not exceeding $500,000, or a 501(c)(3) under IRS guidelines, can apply for increased aid from VISIT FLORIDA in helping to get the word out about their organization.

If accepted into the program, all of the assistance is offered free of charge, with a discounted rate to join the Small Business Partnership to receive additional benefits.

“The goal of my amendment last year was to ensure that we’re not just focusing on the needs of our largest corporations, but that we are giving our mom and pop shops the resources they need to succeed,” Cruz said in a statement.

Loranne Ausley named finalist in ‘Ideas Challenge’

State Rep. Ausley is a finalist in the 2017 New Ideas Challenge, a competition among “rising and innovative state and local policymakers to identify effective ways to address the anxieties facing many Americans in the new economy,” according to a news release.

Ausley’s “Whole Child Leon” initiative was a finalist in the “Future of Families” category. “Whole Child Leon has brought together public, private and nonprofit partners, business leaders, elected officials, educators, health care providers, parents and caregivers to work together toward systemic change.

Loranne Ausley is being lauded for a ‘New Idea’ in Tallahassee.

“Key initiatives include the monthly Professional Network Community Conversation, Early Childhood Developmental Screenings, and the Pediatric Behavioral Health Navigator, which provides integration of quality behavioral health services for all children and families through referrals from area pediatricians, the Early Learning Coalition, and community partners,” the release said.

“I am thrilled to be included in this group of talented and innovative leaders from across the country,” Ausley said in a statement. “This is an exciting opportunity to share the work we have done with Whole Child Leon in our community and to learn from other outstanding work being done to help more Americans get ahead. I look forward to bringing these ideas back to Tallahassee to help everyday Floridians and their families.”

Florida Workers’ Advocates responds to workers’ comp vote

As lawmakers try to pass workers’ compensation legislation, some industry groups are not too pleased with what is being pushed so far.

Mark Touby, the president of Florida Workers’ Advocates, said the bill passed by the House Commerce Committee this week would “turn workers’ compensation grand bargain to protect injured workers into a grand illusion.”

“Lawmakers have an opportunity to provide a constitutional approach to workers’ compensation reform that would bring rate stability to the market, increase transparency in ratemaking, spur free-market competition among insurers and enhance benefits for injured workers,” Touby said.

The bill would revise workers’ compensation law to include direct payment of attorneys by or for claimants and increasing the total combined temporary wage replacement benefits from 104 weeks to 260 weeks.

DEP launches recycling initiative

The Florida Department of Environmental Protection wants Floridians to know more about recycling.

The department launched a public education campaign, titled “Rethink. Reset. Recycle,” this week with Waste Management, MARPAN, Waste Connections and Single Stream Recyclers, LLC. The website is FloridaRecycles.org.

Floridians will soon be learning more about recycling.

The campaign seeks to teach Floridians the basics when it comes to recycling. Right now, about 30 percent of household materials recycled in Florida are actually not recyclable, which shuts down processing centers for hours at a time.

“With the increased popularity of curbside recycling across Florida’s 67 counties, we’ve seen a big increase in participation — but many items ending up in the bins aren’t actually recyclable at curbside,” Joe Ullo, DEP division director, said in a statement.

According to DEP, eliminating contamination of recycling could lead to about $100 million in savings each year.

FSU professor recognized

Florida State University College of Criminology and Criminal Justice professor Eric Stewart has been named a fellow of the prestigious American Society of Criminology.

Stewart joined just three other highly distinguished criminologists honored during the society’s annual conference Nov. 15 in Philadelphia.

Criminologist Eric Stewart.

The honor distinguishes those who have made significant contributions to the discipline, contributed to the career development of other criminologists or participated in organizational activities within the society.

“I’m definitely humbled and honored,” Stewart said. “The American Society of Criminology is the premier flagship professional organization for criminologists.”

Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge tours Japan

After being selected as the representative for the National Association of Counties (NACo), Leon County Commissioner Desloge headed to the Land of the Rising Sun.

He began participating in the Local Government Exchange and Cooperation Seminar 2017 organized by the Council of Local Authorities for International Relations (CLAIR), which includes a seminar in Tokyo and a study tour of Rikuzentakata City, the local authority in regional Japan, according to a news release.

Leon County Commissioner Bryan Desloge.

The program will last until Nov. 15. Desloge is Immediate Past President of NACo.

“During my time as the president of the National Association of Counties, I had the opportunity to share best practices and learn from the best-of-the-best in county government across the nation,” Desloge said in a statement.

“I am eager to share what I have learned with government representatives here in Japan, and I look forward to the opportunity to exchange ideas, best practices, and so much more with the local government employees of Rikuzentakata City and beyond.”

Rikuzentakata City was one of the areas most affected by the Great East Japan Earthquake of 2011. The disaster claimed 1,700 lives and destroyed more than 3,000 buildings. Desloge will see how local governments can promote town planning, even after a disaster, “to live a comfortable and secure life,” the release said.

Leon County Commission reorganization set

A reorganization ceremony for the Leon County Board of County Commissioners will be held Tuesday, Nov. 28, in the Commission Chambers, fifth floor of the Leon County Courthouse, 301 S. Monroe St.

The ceremony will begin at 3 p.m. and will be presided over by Clerk of Courts Gwen Marshall.

During the ceremony, the commission will elect a chairman and vice chairman for the 2017-18 year and the newly elected chairman will take the oath of office. After the formality, the Board will reconvene for the regularly scheduled board meeting.

Lecture series looks inside CRC

The Leon County Library Lecture Series returns with “The Room Where it Happens: An Insider’s View of the Constitution Revision Commission,” presented by G.C. Murray Jr.

Murray is the Florida Justice Association’s deputy general counsel and works with the legal, political and legislative teams.

The lecture will be held at the LeRoy Collins Leon County Main Library, 200 W. Park Ave. in downtown Tallahassee, 7 p.m. Nov. 27.

Once every 20 years, the Constitution Revision Commission convenes to conduct a thorough review and propose amendments to the Florida Constitution. This lecture will discuss the history and importance of the Constitution Revision Commission, the major players, the background noise, and predictions of what will change in Florida’s Constitution.

All Leon County Library Lecture Series events are free and open to the public.

Tallahassee airport upgrades completed

Thank goodness for small favors: The Tallahassee International Airport (TLH) announced the “completion of upgrades to the airport security checkpoint … in time for the busy holiday travel season.”

“Completion of this work restores two passenger processing lanes and paves the way for future growth and development,” a news release said.

Tallahassee International Airport completed upgrades to the security checkpoint … just in time for the holiday travel season.

“Passengers will notice several upgrades designed to enhance the overall travel experience and increase operational efficiencies.”

The airport is owned and operated by the City of Tallahassee, with daily flights to Atlanta, Charlotte, Dallas-Fort Worth, Miami, Orlando, Tampa, Ft. Lauderdale and Washington, D.C. (effective Feb. 15).

Thanksgiving #1 day for home cooking fires

CFO and State Fire Marshal Patronis is advising Floridians to be safe in the kitchen this Thanksgiving.

“Every year, hundreds of avoidable cooking accidents happen,” he said in a statement. “In fact, the National Fire Protection Association reports that Thanksgiving is the No. 1 day of the year for home cooking fires. Anything from turkey frying gone wrong to a pot left on the stove too long can cause a fire, and there’s nothing that will ruin a holiday faster.”

So what is there to do?

“Simple steps like turning in the handles of your pots and pans and keeping your kitchen floors free from toys and pets can help make sure your holiday goes off without a hitch,” Patronis said.

Moreover, “fried turkeys have become a hit, but they can become incredibly dangerous if proper attention is not paid.

“Make sure your bird is completely thawed and take your turkey fryer to the furthest place from your home possible. Never fry at the edge of your garage because any stray spark might light the house in flames.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

Report: Hurricanes already a boon to Florida’s economy

The impact of Hurricane Irma on Florida’s economy already is showing up in strong hiring in jobs ranging from nurses to construction, a new report from a California-based human resources consultant is finding.

“After analyzing 52,866 job postings from Miami, Tampa, Orlando, etc., we found that not only has hiring rebounded it is actually surging dramatically beyond normal 2017 demand for at least 13 kinds of jobs,” said Kushal Chakrabarti, co-founder and CEO at TalentWorks of Berkley California.

The jobs surge was led by a demand to fill openings for architects, which were being hired in October at more than three times the normal rate. That’s an indication of the need to rebuild so much destroyed by Hurricane Irma in its Sept. 10-11 blow through Florida, particularly in the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida, he said.

But it doesn’t stop there, Chakrabarti’s company found. There also were dramatic spikes in October in the hiring of claims examiners, mechanical engineers, food service managers, surveyors and medical assistants, among others, according to a report TalentWorks posted Friday, called, “Hiring Is Surging Up To 3.2x After Hurricane Irma: The Economic Chaos of Natural Disasters, Part II.”

Part I was an examination of southeast Texas, which bore many of the same results, he said.

The jobs performance shows things are really coming back to normal, especially in Florida,” he said. “It’s more than surging.”

Hurricane Maria also likely was a factor, though it wasn’t addressed in the TalentWorks Report. Schools hirings also were up, a phenomenon that Chakrabarti’s team didn’t initially explain, but surmised it likely was due to schools’ staff expansions as they welcomed in the thousands of Puerto Rican students who’ve migrated to Florida since Hurricane Maria devastated their home island.

“As a whole, I think the hurricane response is starting to work. You see money coming in,” Charkrabarti said. “You can’t pay an architect without someone actually working. The first surge in hiring is the claims examiners. Right after that you see architects, project construction, construction managers. These are exactly what you expect as things get built out. It means things are working.”

 

Transportation chief points to ‘effective’ job on debris removal

Florida’s transportation secretary is giving his agency a passing mark for debris removal after Hurricane Irma.

But with debris still along some roads, particularly in pockets of the Florida Keys, Department of Transportation Secretary Michael Dew said officials will look at how they can improve before the next storm.

“I think we did an effective job, but I think we can always do better,” Dew said Thursday during a meeting of the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness.

The pace and cost of debris collection has been a point of contention in the government’s response to Hurricane Irma, which made landfall Sept. 10 in Monroe and Collier counties and then barreled up the state.

The Department of Transportation has spent $15 million on debris removal from state highways, with Dew expecting reimbursement by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

Some of that money related to getting called in to help after local governments complained that debris haulers failed to honor pre-storm contracts as subcontractors went in pursuit of better deals in areas harder hit by the storm.

Dew, whose department will conduct a storm-response review next month, said he wants to see if language about penalties and liabilities can be strengthened in contracts with disaster relief companies.

“We had a couple of incidents in areas around the state where we were promised 25 cut-and-toss crews but maybe only 15 showed up,” Dew said. “I’d like to see some more teeth in the contracts so that we can rely on the numbers that are in there, because a lot of our critical planning relies on having those crews available to us.”

Committee Chairwoman Jeanette Nunez, a Miami Republican whose panel is expected next month to make a series of recommendations that could lead to legislation, said debris removal might be one of those topics.

“I don’t necessarily believe that that is a state’s role to manage county-by-county contracts, but I think the state needs to take a long hard look at it and see what we can do at the state level to develop perhaps reciprocal agreements with other states,” Nunez said. “I believe there is a role to play. How much, that’s yet to be determined.”

Other topics the committee has looked at include health-care facilities, evacuations, petroleum supplies, electric utilities, housing, agriculture, shelter management, education and beaches.

“Obviously, there will be short-term things that need to be taken care of in the immediate, upcoming session,” Nunez said. “And then, as we saw back in (Hurricane) Andrew, or during the ’04-’05 season, legislatures will deal with this issue for years to come.”

A Florida Atlantic University poll released last week found that 70 percent of Floridians rated the handling of the storm as good or better. Meanwhile, delays in debris cleanup resulted in 44 percent of the same people rating debris removal as fair or poor.

Last month, questions were raised about emergency debris-removal contracts issued by the Department of Transportation to two firms and whether the state was paying high rates — three to 10 times in some cases — for the work. Meanwhile, Attorney General Pam Bondi‘s office has looked into claims that three other debris-removal companies hadn’t fulfilled post-Hurricane Irma contracts.

After Democrats from Florida’s congressional delegation last month asked questions about the emergency-debris contracting, Gov. Rick Scott‘s office said local communities had reported that haulers were not providing agreed-to services.

“After the storm, the governor heard from many local communities, including Monroe County, that many of these companies were not providing the agreed-upon service and were demanding higher prices. This is unacceptable,” Scott’s office said at the time. “Monroe County asked for additional help to pick up debris following the storm. FDOT went above and beyond the requirements of Florida law

Granny cams, tighter regulations part of Democratic nursing home legislation

South Florida Democrats are aiming to better nursing homes through legislation including tighter regulations and the unrestricted use of electronic monitoring devices, also known as granny cams, by patient family members.

Rep. Katie Edwards and Sen. Gary Farmer filed the similar bills (HB 655 and SB 896) on Tuesday and held a conference Wednesday morning.

Both lawmakers had nursing home incidents post-Hurricane Irma. Farmer represents Broward County, where 14 tragic deaths occurred at the Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center after Irma’s damage left the facility without power.

“I think everyone knows about the tragic events that occurred, particularly at the Hollywood Hills Rehabilitation Center — which is in my district,” Farmer said.

Edwards, of Plantation, said she had to follow up repeatedly with multiple officials in her county to ensure a nursing home in Sunrise did bed checks following the storm. She said it catalyzed her to move forward with the proposed laws.

“You want to say who is in charge,” Edwards said. She added that it would require legislation to ensure common sense does not fall short in nursing home management.

Farmer said much of what’s been done so far — like Gov. Rick Scott‘s executive order mandating generators be purchased by nursing homes (which must be done by Wednesday) — focuses solely on power restoration, not regulations.

“Unfortunately most of that conversation has centered around the issue of generators and the need for power for nursing homes and ALFs (Assisted living facilities) in the wake of an emergency,” Farmer said. 

While generators are a definite need, Farmer said, the tragic events at the Hollywood Hills Nursing Home “underscore and highlight deeper systemic problems” in Florida’s regulatory framework. 

Farmer first highlighted the provision of allowing family members to purchase and use granny cams to “check-in” on nursing home residents.

“If we can do them in the field of daycare, why can’t we do them in nursing homes,” Farmer said.

The proposed legislation also includes mandatory compliance with federal regulations. Violation of federal law currently does not necessitate an immediate declaration of negligence upon a nursing home, Farmer said.

“That’s contrary to the law in almost every other area,” Farmer said.

Patient safety reports — which will include programs coordinating care and resident safety, and documentation of frequency and cause of incidents in a facility — also are  included, along with safety and risk prevention training for non-physicians and nursing home ‘report cards.’

The legislation also provides for undercover evaluations through the State Long-Term Care Ombudsman, with other provisions that Farmer said will “restore the authority and autonomy” of the Ombudsman’s Office. Farmer said the Ombudsman should serve as the “town crier or watchdog” over the industry, but that the office has been “gutted” over the last decade. Nursing homes also will have to inform patients of negative ratings, should the legislation pass. 

Farmer’s and Edwards’ bills specify complaints to the Ombudsman must be filed publicly online.

If passed, deaths in nursing homes identified as having systemic problems will require a medical examiner’s investigation. Should the examiner conclude the death is the result of neglect or abuse, the case will immediately be referred to the State Attorney’s Office.

Farmer said the legislation provides measures for increased accountability. Citing the practice of Capitalism, Farmer said when accountability lacks, so does responsibility. To increase accountability, the bills would require nursing homes to have liability insurance — a provision not currently in place. Farmer said this would do away with limitations on punitive damages in cases of terrible misconduct.

Both lawmakers said they expect the legislation to get widespread support, but it already has garnered criticism.

Florida Health Care Association (FHCA) Director Emmett Reed called the legislation “ill-advised” in a statement Wednesday. Reed said, “only trial attorneys would be so over reactive and overreaching with their proposals.”

Reed added: “For trial lawyers to aggressively seek to capitalize on genuine human tragedy is unwelcome, unseemly, and unhelpful.”

Reed said FHCA’s focus is on finding workable solutions that include procedures for backdrop generators and prioritize restoration of power. He also said FHCA will continue to oppose the legislation.

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