Hurricane Irma Archives - Page 6 of 36 - Florida Politics

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.

Nursing home generator mandate, sanctions remain in effect

As the administration of Gov. Rick Scott appeals a court decision against its emergency generator rule, a court ordered Tuesday that the rule — and its deadlines — remain in effect as that process continues.

The one-page court order clarified that nursing homes and assisted-living facilities need to meet the rule’s Nov. 15 deadline that requires them to install generators capable of maintaining comfortable temperatures in case a power outage occurs. If they don’t they will face mandatory fines of $1,000 for each day they are not in compliance, starting on Nov. 16.

FL Argentum, one of the parties that challenged the rule in administrative court,

The rule was implemented in the wake of eight nursing home residents dying at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills when Hurricane Irma hit. There are now 14 deaths linked to the facility’s power loss that prompted the cooling system to crash down in the midst of the storm.

While nursing home groups say they want to meet Scott’s goal, they view the 60-day timeline as unrealistic and for that reason, three associations decided to challenge it in administrative court — and they were successful. The Scott administration, however, has appealed the decision and that process is ongoing.

The court process had added to a growing tension between nursing home groups and the Scott administration, and the Tuesday ruling is evidence of such.

FL Argentum, one of the parties that challenged the rule in court, said they interpret this week’s ruling as the First District Court of Appeal ordered Scott’s rule as invalid and not in effect as of Oct. 27, when the groups successfully challenged the mandate.

“If the (state agencies want) a stay so the rule can continue in effect, they have the option to file a motion for a stay and have that motion granted, which hasn’t happened,” Sandi Poreda, a spokesperson for the group, said.

The two state agencies carrying the rule out — the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Department of Elder Affairs have been publicly outing the facilities that have not complied with the rule since Oct. 31. In some instances, they have done so erroneously and added confusion to the compliance process.

Steve Bahmer, the president of LeadingAge Florida, an association that represents more than 100 nursing homes and assisted-living facilities and is also among those that challenged the rule, said it is “impossible” for the majority of its members to comply with the rule’s requirements within 60 days.

“It is just impossible,” Bahmer said.

AHCA and DOEA will be the agencies fining facilities that do not comply, and they have no discretion over those penalties. But those who are sanctioned do have the option to dispute the fines if imposed.

Legislation preventing housing sweeps undermined by Rick Scott’s budget

There is a bipartisan effort in the Legislature to prevent the sweeping of the state’s affordable housing trust fund, but Gov. Rick Scott‘s newly unveiled proposed budget suggests doing the opposite.

Scott released his recommended budget on Tuesday in Jacksonville, suggesting a $91.8 million sweep to Florida’s affordable housing trust. Meanwhile, in Tallahassee, Naples Republican Sen. Kathleen Passidomo held a news conference to introduce SB 874, which seeks to prevent sweeping Florida affordable housing trust dollars to fund unrelated budget items or deficits. Joining Passidomo was Rep. Sean Shaw, a Tampa Democrat who earlier filed the House version of the bill, HB 191.

Florida’s affordable housing trust is funded by the Sadowski Affordable Housing Act of 1992. The Act established documentary stamp tax revenues as a funding source for Florida’s affordable housing programs, including the State Apartment Incentive Loan Program (SAIL) and the State Housing Initiatives Partnership Program (SHIP).

But the Act does not safeguard the dollars from being repurposed, making the fund a target for legislators looking to fund other items. Shaw said almost $1 billion was diverted from the trust fund in the past decade. For this reason, he said, any housing crisis in Florida is “self-inflicted.”

Florida Housing Coalition President and CEO Jaimie Ross said the coalition of groups supporting the Sadowski fund span the entire state and represented many interests.

“There’s virtually no one that’s not included,” Ross said. She said the sheer number and diversity of supporters conflicts with the “norm” of using the Sadowski dollars for other purposes.

Passidomo, a real estate lawyer, said she maintains a trust fund for her clients’ purposes, and, on a much larger scale, the Legislature should do the same — but there might be exceptions.

“If we were using the trust funds for a related purpose that was affordable housing, that’s fine,” Passidomo said.

The Governor’s suggested sweep, however, moves the Sadowski dollars to the General Revenue Fund. 

The Governor proposed a total of $130 million for affordable housing this year and an additional $100 million for affordable housing and workforce needs of Floridian’s impacted by Hurricane Irma. The $91.8 million proposed sweep is $132 million less than that proposed for FY 2017-2018.

While Scott acknowledges the need for post-hurricane affordable housing, the budget does take into account — because the issue is still unfolding and migration numbers likely will change — potential affordable housing needs for the more than 143,000 Puerto Ricans displaced by Hurricane Maria who already opted to migrate to Florida.

Rep. Amy Mercado, an Orlando Democrat, was at the news conference in support of the bill. She said she expects the influx of Puerto Ricans to continue and affordable housing should be a priority.

“(Puerto Ricans) will be here, they’re trying to establish here, they’re trying to work, they’re trying to get their kids enrolled in school, they’re trying to find a safe environment and a place to live,” Mercado said. “We are failing them if we’re not doing the job here trying to navigate those (affordable housing) funds for their intended purpose.” 

The Governor’s proposed sweep of all trust fund amounts to around $161 million.

Rick Scott proposes $100 million for Hurricane Irma aid programs

Gov. Rick Scott wants to give $100 million to housing and workforce programs that will aid those impacted by Hurricane Irma — the largest storm to hit the state in decades –, under his proposed state budget for 2018-19.

“Hurricane Irma made landfall in Florida and affected communities statewide,” Scott said. “Due to the impact of Irma, many Floridians lost their homes and belongings and face an uncertain future.”

The storm left a trail of destruction and the damage to Floridians’ properties and belongings is estimated to be in the billions of dollars.

To help with those costs, Scott’s proposed $100 million for housing and workforce programs. That includes $65 million in funding for the Hurricane Housing Recovery Program, $25 million for the Rental Recovery Loan Program and $10 million for the Farmworker Housing Recovery Program.

That is not the story for those affected by Hurricane Maria, which devastated Puerto Rico and left  millions without power or drinking water. At least not yet.

Scott issued an executive order after Maria hit, which allowed the state to provide resources and assistance to families displaced by the storm. Money for that purpose has not yet been built into Scott’s budget because his office continues to assess those costs.

Scott, however, has recommended $12 million to establish an English Language Learners Summer Academics program in Florida for students in grades 4-8. He said the emphasis of that program will be on improving the reading skills of students displaced by Maria.

Tab mounts to clean up Irma water debris

Florida continues to spend about $2.4 million a week to clean up debris strewn across state waters during Hurricane Irma two months ago.

The state money could soon run dry, even as the weekly costs grow with the cleanup moving deeper into counties more heavily damaged by the storm.

Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Secretary David Clark told members of the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness on Monday that by early next year the state may use up the $36 million allocated to the agency for storm-debris cleanup.

“At the current pace, we’re spending about $2.4 million a week to do the waterway cleanup,” Clark said. “At that pace, we’re going to run out of money by the time we get into session at the beginning of January or sooner.”

Committee members, while praising the state agency for waterway cleanup efforts, didn’t offer direction on future or emergency funding.

Chairwoman Jeanette Nunez, a Miami Republican, has said she expects legislation to come out of the committee in mid-December.

The state expects to receive at least 75 percent reimbursement for its expenses from the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

But based on past storms, Clark said the federal money, which isn’t guaranteed, might be at least two years away.

Clark said the state has already spent about $12 million to clean up about 76,000 cubic yards of household goods, building materials and vegetation that ended up in state waters following the powerful and deadly storm.

By comparison, the state spent close to $15 million to clean up 79,000 cubic yards of debris after Hurricane Matthew caused damage along the East Coast in October 2016.

Clark said Irma’s numbers will increase as the state has ramped up efforts in Collier County, which sustained the second of two landfalls by Hurricane Irma on Sept. 10. Also, the state is still working on an agreement with Monroe County to assist in waterway cleanup at the southern end of the state, which received the first landfall and saw some of the most severe impacts from the storm.

The “hope” is to have boats in the waters of Monroe County in a few weeks, he said.

“As the rising waters and the king tide events are subsiding we’re starting to find more debris that is either coming up to the surface or as the waters drop we’re finding more debris,” Clark said.

The DEP cleanup work doesn’t include vessel removal.

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission estimates about $25 million will be needed to complete removal of the remaining 514 damaged vessels still in the water or thrown ashore.

Maj. Robert Rowe, the commission’s boating and waterway section leader, said the state is expected to pay 25 percent of the vessel-recovery costs.

More than 1,800 boats have already been moved from state waters, many into storage areas by the owners or the state, working with the U.S. Department of Environmental Protection and the U.S. Coast Guard.

The state estimates that each vessel costs $25,000 to $40,000 to remove, Rowe said.

Unlike water-debris removal, the pace and cost of storm debris hauled from land has been among several points of contention in the government’s response to Hurricane Irma. The House committee didn’t address land-debris removal on Monday.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Irma batters affordable housing

After Hurricane Irma walloped the state — and wrecked people’s houses, apartments and mobile homes — there has been a renewed push from state housing groups to protect the state’s affordable housing programs.

That includes efforts to stop lawmakers from taking money from the state’s housing trust fund, which sets aside money for state housing needs. After the hurricane, that trust fund is needed for areas battered by the storm.

In the effort, Florida Realtors, a large professional trade association in the state, published a video portraying the “True Stories of Florida’s Affordable Housing Trust Funds.”

The video features the obstacles some Floridians have dealt with when trying to find an affordable home, including stories of a once homeless woman in West Palm Beach to a law enforcement officer in Tallahassee.

“Each of these stories is heartbreaking — but also triumphant when you consider how far these people have come and how they were able to use these program to rebuild their lives,” said Cheryl Lambert, the 2017 Florida Realtors Secretary.

In the past, lawmakers have grabbed money from the trust fund to pay for other portions of the current budget year.

“This is all about educating our legislators on the true value of these trust funds,” Lambert said. “We know they have hard decisions to make, and that’s why it’s important they see firsthand the effect of those decisions.”

According to a study conducted by the Florida State University Center for Economic Forecasting and Analyses — and commissioned by Florida Realtors — for every dollar the Legislature appropriated between 2006 and 2016, affordable housing programs generated $9.50 in economic activity for the state.

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

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

Jack Latvala makes stand — The Clearwater Republican, who’s been dogged by accusations that he sexually assaulted or harassed female lobbyists and staff, admits he’s made remarks about women’s appearances that could be construed as inappropriate. But he steadfastly maintains he’s never groped the unidentified women — or others — as described in a news report that’s sparked an investigation into the alleged wrongdoing. Latvala this week also released results of a polygraph test he and his lawyer say proves his innocence.

Nursing homes fight back — A Florida nursing home advocate is pushing back on accusations that nearly two dozen nursing homes missed a key deadline in Gov. Rick Scott’s emergency generator rule. A statement from the Agency for Health Care Administration claimed 23 nursing homes had not followed Scott’s rule that nursing homes and assisted living facilities must file emergency plans and purchase generators. A day later, AHCA corrected the list, saying only 18 had not complied. “AHCA appears to have made no attempt to contact facilities in advance to verify the accuracy of this ill-conceived list before releasing it to the public,” the Florida Health Care Association said in a statement.

Gambling bill filed again — The Senate is about to tackle gaming again. Sen. Travis Hutson‘s latest bill (SB 840) is less ambitious in scope than previous efforts, focusing on four topics: Fantasy contests, greyhound and horse race decoupling, slot machine taxes and ‘designated player’ games at pari-mutuel card rooms. “I am excited to take the lead on gaming for the 2018 Session,” Hutson said.

Workers’ comp prices decreasing — The cost to buy workers’ compensation insurance is going down in the Sunshine State. Florida Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier issued a final order Thursday granting approval to the National Council on Compensation Insurance (NCCI) for a statewide overall rate level decrease of 9.5 percent and premium level decrease of 9.8 percent, according to a news release.

‘Sanctuary city’ ban moves — House Speaker Richard Corcoran praised a House panel advancing a bill that would punish local officials who don’t fully comply with federal immigration law. While more than 60 people came to speak in opposition of the bill, arguing it faces constitutional challenges and would plant fear in the community, Corcoran said any elected official who supports “sanctuary city” policies should be removed from office.

Rob Bradley acknowledges ‘awkward situation’

The Senate’s new budget chief has not yet discussed detailed spending priorities with Senate President Joe Negron, who appointed him to fill the post pending a sexual harassment investigation into erstwhile chair Jack Latvala.

“He and I have not had a discussion about the details of allocations. It’s way early in the process for that,” Sen. Bradley told a reporter who ran into him in the Capitol plaza level.

Although he’ll no longer run the show, Latvala will continue as a committee member.

Things get ‘awkward’ for Rob Bradley.

“Certainly, it’s an unusual situation, an awkward situation for all involved,” the Fleming Island Republican said. “These things happen in life. The people send us here to do our jobs and do it professionally. I’m focused on building a budget in a low-key, drama-free, professional manner.”

Will his priorities differ from Latvala’s?

“There are Senate priorities that are shared by the entire leadership team and the president — higher education and the environment. Those are things that are certainly important to me,” he said.

“I’m honored to serve in this capacity, and we’re just focused on building a budget that the people of Florida can be proud of.”

Bill Montford to address ‘rural crisis’

Sen. Montford, the Tallahassee Democrat who chairs the Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee, will convene the panel Monday to “discuss the economic outlook of rural Florida and the impact it has on the rest of the state.”

“For years, I have traveled and talked with families that are facing a crisis,” he said in a statement. “From health care and education to jobs and infrastructure, many communities have not seen the growth and recovery since the recession enjoyed by much of the state.”

He represents 11 counties in North Florida, 10 of which are considered rural.

Bill Montford takes on the ‘economic outlook of rural Florida and the impact it has on the rest of the state.’

“In many of my counties, they are worse off,” he added. “Rural Florida is facing a crisis due to the need for economic development and a sound financial basis from which to address these needs.

“As a state, we must recognize that economic development looks different in rural Florida. In Monday’s meeting, we will hear from a panel of stakeholders about the financial realities and obstacles that rural Florida is facing on the road to economic recovery.”

The committee meets in 110 Senate Office Building at 4 p.m. Monday.

A panel will include Amy Baker of the Office of Economic and Demographic Research; Dr. Jerry Parrish, Chief Economist at the Florida Chamber Foundation; Laura Youmans, Associate Director with the Florida Association of Counties; and Antonio Jefferson, the City Manager of Gretna, Gadsden County.

Let’s not be hasty on PIP, Lori Berman says

Perhaps the most sweeping change to Florida’s auto insurance system in decades deserves more than a single committee hearing before it hits the House floor.

At least that’s what House Democrat Lori Berman thinks.

“This bill has been only referred to one committee, that’s the Commerce Committee, and there are no Appropriations committees that the bill has been referred to,” Berman said during the hearing in question.

Lori Berman thinks auto insurance reform should go through more than one committee.

“If you read the fiscal analysis, almost everything is ‘indeterminate.’ I really think this bill should go through an Appropriations committee, so that we can understand what the actual economic impact would be to our state, to our local governments, and to our private sector,” she said.

HB 19 would repeal Florida’s no-fault insurance law and return disputes to the courts. Similar legislation is pending in the Senate.

A committee analysis notes a shift away from no-fault insurance in recent years — only 17 states still require PIP coverage.

“Obviously, the Senate and House versions are very different right now,” House sponsor Erin Grall said. “I look forward to a conversation with the Senate, and I’m hoping that if we can get them a bill earlier in the session we’ll be able to have that robust conversation.”

Kionne McGhee named Miami-Dade Delegation chair

Incoming House Democratic Leader Kionne McGhee has been elected to serve a new term as Chair of the Miami-Dade Legislative Delegation, where he hopes to tackle, among other things, reforms to the justice system.

McGhee was unanimously elected by Miami-Dade senators and representatives and will lead the 24-member delegations through this year’s Session and midterm elections.

Kionne McGhee, newly named chair of the Miami-Dade delegation.

“As Chair, I will lead the charge for badly needed mass transit improvements in Miami-Dade, organize our membership to implement reforms to our justice system, and fight for our county’s priorities in the budget process,” McGhee said.

This fall, McGhee served a term as interim chair.

McGhee is also forming an investigative committee on the state’s opioid epidemic, which will be led by Rep. Nick Duran. McGhee has also appointed Rep. Robert Asencio to head a panel on hurricane preparedness following Hurricanes Irma and Maria.

Bob Cortes files early literacy bill

Rep. Cortes, a Central Florida Republican, is getting on the “books to babies” bandwagon.

He announced this week legislation (HB 543) that would establish a pilot project in Seminole and Orange counties to help new parents promote literacy skills in their kids.

Bob Cortes jumps on the “books to babies” bandwagon.

“The research is very clear that the first three years of a child’s life are critical for brain development,” Cortes said in a statement.

“The Books to Babies Pilot Project will help hundreds of families in our area, especially those with lower incomes, be able to give their children the tools they need to succeed in school and in life.”

The program would be administered by the Office of Early Learning.

Richard Stark, Vic Torres file measures on Venezuela

Rep. Stark, a Weston Democrat, this week has filed a House memorial “calling on the federal government to continue and intensify financial sanctions” on Venezuela. Sen. Vic Torres, an Orlando Democrat, filed companion legislation in the Senate.

“With civil unrest continuing (after) a sham election last month that strengthened the murderous regime of Nicolás Maduro, the memorial requests that Congress pressure the regime to allow the delivery of humanitarian aid and calls for all appropriate federal agencies to hold Maduro and officials within his government accountable for their violations of law and their abuse of internationally recognized human rights,” Stark said in a statement.

Vic Torres files legislation to ‘intensify financial sanctions’ on Venezuela.

“The fact is that the Maduro regime is systematically starving its own people, jailing its political opponents, and refusing to hold legitimate elections,” he added.

Among other things, Maduro’s government had placed opposition leader Leopoldo López under house arrest after López was released from prison following a 3-year sentence for leading anti-government protests.

“I stand with the over 8 million Venezuelans who voted to strengthen their current constitution and against their nation’s currently unaccountable leadership,” Stark said. “It is my hope the federal government will act on the requests in this memorial and hold Maduro and his cronies responsible for their unconscionable actions.”

Randy Fine files tourism tax tweak

Rep. Fine, a House Republican from south Brevard County, introduced legislation this week to amend the Tourist Development Tax statute to allow bed taxes to be spent on capital projects needed for tourism: Transportation, wastewater, solid waste, groundwater drainage, drinking water and pedestrian facilities.

“The bill also makes clear that estuaries and lagoons are considered rivers and inland lakes for the purposes of existing authority,” a news release said. St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes filed a similar bill in the Senate.

Jeff Brandes and Randy Fine file bills to allow tourism taxes to be spent on infrastructure and other capital projects needed for tourism.

“So much of our infrastructure is failing and inadequately maintained, and many local politicians hide behind real — or made up — restrictions of the tourist development tax to fund special interest projects at the expense of Florida’s visitors and tourists,” Fine said in a statement.

“With billions of dollars being collected from tourists to Florida, we should grant local governments the ‘home rule’ power to spend those dollars in the best manner to attract and facilitate tourists.”

Fine filed his bill “in the aftermath of a scandal on the Brevard County Commission where at the same time it was releasing 19 million gallons of raw sewage into the Indian River, four county commissioners voted to spend $14.4 million on projects including a $7 million-dollar developer payment, $5 million in county soccer field improvements, $1.7 million to subsidize RV parks for snowbirds, and $500,000 for a museum open only once a week that charges $27 admission,” the release said.

FSU Law launching veterans’ legal clinic

Florida State University College of Law is preparing to launch a new program for veterans in January.

The Veterans Legal Clinic will provide free legal services to veterans. The clinic will handle a wide variety of cases, including driver’s license reinstatements, family law cases, expunge criminal records, clemency applications, and landlord/tenant cases.

Under the supervision of licensed attorneys, second- and third-year law students enrolled in the clinic will help veterans.

“We are thrilled to be able to provide much needed legal services to veterans in our area,” said FSU College of Law Dean Erin O’Connor. “For our students, this will be an opportunity to make a real difference in the lives of veterans and their families.”

In advance of launching the Veterans Legal Clinic, law students and volunteer lawyers have conducted weekly advice and referral sessions for veterans at the American Legion Post 13 in Tallahassee.

They have assisted 40-50 veterans per month since February through the weekly sessions and anticipate providing similar assistance when the clinic launches in January.

The Tallahassee Veterans Legal Collaborative (TVLC), a group founded by Tallahassee attorney Dan Hendrickson that saw a need for and conceived of the Veterans Legal Clinic, organizes the weekly sessions. Once the clinic launches, the TVLC sessions will be a source of referrals to the clinic.

Any veteran who is interested in participating may call the Veterans Legal Clinic at (850) 644-9928.

Instagram of the week

The week in appointments

Two tapped for Board of Pharmacy — Gov. Scott appointed Dr. Jeffrey Mesaros and David Wright to the state’s Board of Pharmacy.

Mesaros, 40, of Orlando, is the senior legal counsel of pharmacy practice for CVS Health. He received his doctor of pharmacy from the Nesbitt School of Pharmacy at Wilkes University.

He succeeds Dr. Goar Alvarez and is appointed for a term beginning Nov. 9, and ending Oct. 31, 2020.

Wright, 53, of Fort Pierce, is the owner of Butterfield Pharmacy. He received his bachelor of pharmacy from the University of Kentucky.

He succeeds Debra Glass and is appointed for a term ending Oct. 31, 2019.

These appointments are subject to Senate confirmation.

Wendt back to Florida Poly board — Scott reappointed Gary Wendt to the Florida Polytechnic University board of trustees.

Wendt, 75, of Ft. Lauderdale, currently serves as the Chairman of Deerpath Capital Management. He received his bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison and his master’s degree from Harvard University.

Wendt is reappointed for a term ending June 30, 2022.

This appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Tampa woman for nursing board — The governor appointed Patrice Vance to the Florida Center for Nursing board of directors.

Vance, 53, of Tampa, is the division vice president of clinical operations and quality for HCA West Florida Division.

Vance received her master’s degree in nursing from the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center.

She succeeds Dora Krauss and is appointed for a term ending June 30, 2018.

South Florida State College pickJoe Wright was reappointed to the South Florida State College District board of trustees.

Wright, 61, of Avon Park, is the president of V.W. Farms, Inc. He received his bachelor’s, master’s and juris doctorate degrees from the University of Florida.

Wright is reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2019. The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Ryals to Chipola College BoardDaniel “Danny” Ryals was reappointed to the Chipola College District board of trustees.

Ryals, 66, of Altha, is a broker with Danny Ryals Real Estate and the owner of R & R Warehouses.

He is reappointed for a term ending May 31, 2021.

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Daniels named again in Palm Beach — Scott reappointed Les Daniels to the Health Care District of Palm Beach County.

Daniels, of Palm Beach, is the operating partner of AE Industrial Partners. He received his bachelor’s degree in economics from Fordham University.

He is reappointed for a term ending Sept. 30, 2020.

Julio Torres named Florida’s Trooper of the Year

Gov. Scott recognized Corporal Julio F. Torres as the Florida Highway Patrol’s 2017 Trooper of the Year for the way he responded to an accident that saved a person’s life.

Upon presenting Torres the award, Scott said his action during a  vehicle rescue Feb. 2, 2016, was “heroic” and thanked him for serving the community every day for more than four years as an FHP trooper.

The event that has bestowed Torres with this recognition occurred when he was traveling on Interstate 75 in Charlotte County. After seeing a multi-vehicle crash, Torres saw that one of the cars had broken through the guardrail and landed upside down in a retention pond.

Cabinet members with Corporal Torres. Photo: Governor’s Office.

Torres jumped into the water and rescued the trapped person by using a knife and crowbar to cut through the seat belt. He removed the passenger and performed CPR before paramedics arrived on scene.

“His quick actions responding to the accident were heroic, and illustrate the dedication of our state law enforcement officers,” Scott said in a statement.

Florida Health’s salute to vets

The Florida Department of Health honors veterans and active duty service members this Veterans Day by recognizing the 2017 Florida Veteran Health Heroes and highlighting the department’s veterans support services.

“I am proud to recognize the honorable service of our veterans, active duty military and their families this Veterans Day,” said State Surgeon General and Secretary of Health Dr. Celeste Philip. “The department is grateful for your service and committed to supporting Florida’s veterans.”

The 2017 Florida Veteran Health Heroes publication highlights health care practitioners who have served in the United States Armed Forces and the Commissioned Corps of the U.S. Public Health Service.

This year, the department recognizes Donald “Don” Erbes, D.M.D.; Diane Fletcher, R.N.; Jaime Luis Torres II, M.D.; Charles D. Llano, D.D.S.; and Francisco M. Granda, D.M.D., M.S., M.D.

To learn more the 2017 Florida Veteran Health Heroes and for more information about the department’s military licensing support services, visit the Armed Services Licensing page at www.flhealthsource.gov/valor.

Groups react to House leadership pushing ‘sanctuary city’ ban

After a bill seeking to ban sanctuary city policies across the state passed its only House committee — along a party-line vote — some groups continue to be vocal against the policy.

“For lawmakers to pass this highly controversial bill in the face of overwhelming opposition from 60 citizens is a disgrace,” Michael Alfano, the campaign manager for Campaign to Defend Local Solutions, said.

“Bills like HB9 do nothing to keep our communities safe. Instead, they invite costly litigation, will subject local cities to ridiculous fines and punishment, and will hurt taxpayers by denying cities state funding,” he added.

Alfano’s group, founded by Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum, said the bill is “likely unconstitutional” and would tear families apart.

Andrew Gillum calls a bill to ban sanctuary cities ‘likely unconstitutional’ and could tear families apart.

“We are actively mobilizing and educating immigrants to become conscious and active citizens and voters,” Broward County Commissioner Dale Holeness said. “We must pay close attention to policies that undermine the power of local government and weaken our democracy.”

Lourdes Villanueva, the board chair of the Florida Immigrant Coalition, said the move by legislators to pass this bill was “immoral.”

“HB 9 would have serious human cost but also an economic impact on local industry and municipalities as law enforcement, city or county officers, and even school and college employees are required to report undocumented immigrants,” Villanueva said.

Happy anniversary, Midtown Reader

Midtown Reader, Tallahassee’s newest independent bookstore, will celebrate its anniversary today, 10 a.m.-9 p.m., proprietor Sally Bradshaw announced.

Happy 1st anniversary, Midtown Reader!

Details and times are:

10 a.m.-2 p.m. — Lucy & Leo’s cupcake truck will be in front of the store serving literary-themed cupcakes.

11 a.m.-noon — Kidtown Story Hour for children. Join Leon County Deputy Sheriff and K-9 Officer Adam Bragg and dog Loki to read a story about K-9 dogs and their police friends.

Noon-1 p.m. — Faith Harkey, children’s author of “Genuine Sweet,” will be signing books for middle-grade readers.

3 p.m.-4 p.m. — Selena Chambers, author of the short story collection “Calls for Submission,” will be in the store.

4 p.m.-5 p.m. — James Kimbrell, awarding winning FSU poet and author, will visit, joined by award-winning FSU fiction author Ravi Howard.

7 p.m. — 9 p.m. — Birthday reception with cake, champagne, and beer selections from our local neighborhood craft brewery, Ology Brewing Co. FSU music students will perform classical guitar selections.

Midtown Reader is at 1123 Thomasville Road in Tallahassee, next to Izzy Pub and Sushi.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions.

After generator rule deadline passes, AHCA’s tactic draws confusion

A day after the Agency for Health Care Administration was criticized for erroneously claiming in a press release that five nursing home facilities had not met a key deadline in Gov. Rick Scott’s emergency generator rule, the agency said it prompted an “excellent result” with facilities submitting their information.

The Florida Health Care Association, though, said it just added confusion to the process.

Emmett Reed, the executive director of the FHCA, an organization that represent most of the 683 nursing homes in the state, also said AHCA chose to use the media as “a vehicle to release unfavorable information about nursing homes that are in fact working to comply” with Scott’s rule.

AHCA initially said in the press release that 23 nursing homes had failed to submit their emergency plan by Oct. 31, a violation of Scott’s rule. While the rule has been successfully challenged in administrative court, AHCA is appealing it, meaning the rule is still in place and nursing homes that don’t comply with deadlines could be fined.

Despite the tactic being criticized by nursing home groups, Molly McKinstry, the deputy secretary of AHCA, said the information that was published “had an excellent result.”

“We’ve had many facilities submitting information — I think in many cases they were in compliance and had not done the proper notification,” McKinstry said during a House Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness on Thursday.

After the statement was released, the state agency corrected the list on its website, but did not send out the corrected version of the list to media. The list now has 18 facilities that have not complied with the rule.

The state’s Department of Elder Affairs, which is carrying out Scott’s rule as well, was also slammed for following a similar strategy. The DOEA released a list naming assisted-living facilities that were reportedly non responsive to the rule’s deadline. Steve Bahmer, the president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, said the list would likely be “fraught with errors.”

“As our members continue to work in good faith toward achieving the Governor’s goal, the release of these lists, both of which contained inaccurate information, demonstrates that there continues to be significant confusion surrounding this issue,” Bahmer said.

LeadingAge Florida is one of the associations that challenged Scott’s rule in administrative court.

Ashley Chambers, a spokesperson with the DOEA, said there was good coming out of the list because “it encouraged people to call in.”

Chambers added the department has taken calls from people who claimed they shouldn’t have been on the list, and that the department is working to put the most accurate information out as they verify those claims.

The emergency generator rule was implemented days after eight nursing home residents initially died in the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills when Hurricane Irma hit. There are now 14 deaths at this facility, which lost power and its cooling system crashing during the storm.

Scott’s rule requires nursing homes and assisted-living facilities in the state to have generators capable of maintaining comfortable temperatures for at least four days in case of a power outage.

Facilities that are not in compliance with Scott’s rule face a $1,000 fine for each day they don’t meet the requirement, a detail that concerned Rep. MaryLynn Magar, a Tequesta Republican, who is aware that the rule is being challenged in administrative court.

When asked if fines would be reimbursed if AHCA’s appeal is thrown out, McKinstry said facilities would have the option to challenge the fines, if imposed.

“It is not our intent to impose the sanctions, but unfortunately that sometimes creates a motivation,” McKinstry said.

No `Trump slump’ here, says Florida tourism czar

Forget talk of a “Trump slump” on tourism, Florida’s tourism czar told Brits this week.

VISIT FLORIDA President Ken Lawson said Florida, even with the lingering impacts from Hurricane Irma on the Keys, is getting a “Trump bump” when it comes to travelers.

Lawson’s comments were reported by London-based TTG Media, which covers travel professionals in the United Kingdom and Ireland.

Lawson’s talk of a “bump” came during the World Travel Market “WTM” event in London, days after he traveled with Gov. Rick Scott to Toronto to try to entice people from Canada to spend money in the Sunshine State.

“He said Brexit was `not a concern’ and that UK visitors were still coming, though a weak pound meant they were more likely to stay in a lower priced hotel than before,” TTG Media reported about Lawson’s comments.

Back in June, some VISIT FLORIDA officials, including Chairwoman Maryann Ferenc, expressed concern that President Donald Trump‘s America First and immigration policies could have a negative impact on international travel.

“We’ve seen that at the international shows that we’ve gone to,” Ferenc told board members during a June meeting. “It’s a variable that we really have not a lot of control over and we’re going to suffer from.”

Lawson has maintained since Hurricane Irma blistered the state two months ago that Florida continues to seek a record 120 million tourists this year, which would be about a 6 percent jump from 2016.

As part of Lawson’s appearance in London, he announced that the state’s international budget will be $11 million, with a $2 million winter campaign starting in January in the United Kingdom that will feature radio promotions targeted at Manchester and Liverpool.

The United Kingdom accounted for 1.7 million visitors in 2016, the second highest for Florida’s international travelers behind Canada.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

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