Hurricane Irma Archives - Page 7 of 36 - Florida Politics

More hits to citrus: Forecast portends further decrease

As Florida’s citrus industry “seeks consideration for federal emergency funding,” a U.S. Department of Agriculture forecast Thursday “confirmed a continuing decline in production due to Hurricane Irma’s impact on this season’s crop,” the Florida Department of Citrus said in a press release.

“The report predicts Florida orange production for 2017-18 at 50 million boxes of oranges, a 27 percent decrease over last season,” it said. “Florida grapefruit is expected to produce 4.65 million boxes, a decrease of 40 percent.”

“Unfortunately, I don’t think this will be the last decrease we see,” said Shannon Shepp, the department’s executive director.

The monthly forecasts are best guesses; the real numbers come after the growing season ends. It’s those figures that tell the story of citrus in Florida.

The state’s citrus industry also has been hit by the citrus greening epidemic. The so-far incurable disease attacks the fruit, causing it to turn green and bitter, and eventually killing the tree.

“Hurricane Irma had widespread impact on our industry and growers are still trying to pick up the pieces,” Shepp added. “High winds and flooding rains damaged already weakened trees making it even more difficult to hold on to the fruit that’s left.

“Luckily, Florida citrus growers are a resilient group of hardworking individuals and I know they’ll find a way to carry on like they always do.”

In a separate statement, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam later said the “lowered forecast shows that the damage to Florida citrus from Hurricane Irma is still unfolding.”

“And it will continue to for some time,” Putnam said. “Florida’s growers need support and they need it fast. I will continue to work with Gov. (Rick) Scott and leaders in Washington to get Florida’s growers the support and relief they need to rebuild as quickly as possible.”

Here’s more from the Department of Citrus release:

Florida growers reported 30 to 70 percent crop loss after Hurricane Irma’s landfall on Sept. 10, with the southwest region of the state receiving the most damage.

The hurricane uprooted trees and left many groves sitting in standing water for up to three weeks, potentially damaging the root systems.

In October, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services announced that Florida citrus sustained more than $760 million in damages due to Hurricane Irma. Those numbers are expected to grow as the season continues.

Nursing homes push back on public accusations of noncompliance in generator order

Florida’s leading nursing home association is pushing back on that state’s public accusations that nearly two dozen nursing homes missed a key deadline in Gov. Rick Scott‘s emergency generator rule.

A statement Wednesday from the Agency for Health Care Administration claims 23 nursing homes have not followed Scott’s rule that nursing homes and assisted living facilities must file emergency plans by Oct. 31, and purchase generators and fuel by Nov. 15 to sufficiently keep a temperature of 82 degrees in case of emergency.

Those charges are both unfair and false, said Emmett Reed, executive director of the Florida Health Care Association.

“The 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,” Reed said in a statement. “Several facilities on the list not only submitted their documentation, but those variance requests have also been published on the AHCA website since Oct. 16.”

FHCA, which stands for most of the state’s 683 nursing homes, is “disappointed” by the AHCA statement, Reed said, noting that at least three of the nursing homes accused of noncompliance had submitted emergency plans by Oct. 31.

“It appears AHCA is more interested in generating news stories than in gathering facts and arriving at a place of consensus to will ensure that nursing homes meet the Governor’s mandate, despite its unrealistic timeline,” Reed added.

FHCA has “consistently stated its willingness to work with the agency,” Reed said, to prepare nursing centers and assisted living facilities so they can stay safe during severe weather events and other disasters.

Scott issued the Emergency Power Plan Rule Sept. 16 in response to the deaths of 14 elderly residents at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills which lost power during Hurricane Irma. The AHCA and the state’s Department of Elder Affairs were tasked with administering the order.

FHCA, along with other organizations representing nursing homes and assisted-living facilities, argues that Scott’s order was hastily prepared, and fails to give them enough time to implement.

The rule was challenged in administrative court, with Scott appealing the challenge. The issue is now in the 1st District Court of Appeal.

FHCA — which did not challenge the rule — has repeated asked Scott’s administration to negotiate directly with the trade groups, using the rule-making process instead of going through the courts.

Despite his disappointment with the AHCA accusations, Reed said his group remains “committed to working with the Governor and his administration to adopt workable procedures to protect the well-being of those entrusted to our care.”

 

Nursing home group denounces proposed residents’ ‘bill of rights’

In an acutely personal attack, the head of a nursing-home advocacy group slammed a proposed constitutional amendment that would create a “nursing home and assisted living facility residents’ bill of rights.”

The Florida Health Care Association’s Emmett Reed, this week called the amendment, filed by Constitution Revision Commissioner Brecht Heuchan, “glaringly bad.”

Reed’s organization advocates for nursing homes, assisted living facilities and others who care for the elderly and people with disabilities, especially regarding getting paid by Medicaid, the joint federal-state program. It pays for nursing home care that Medicare does not.

Heuchan’s proposal comes after a South Florida nursing home lost air conditioning during Hurricane Irma. Up to 14 residents later died, though not all those deaths have been conclusively linked to the lack of the building’s climate control.

The proposed bill of rights would “wipe out more than 30 years of meaningful and thoughtful progress designed to ensure that nursing home residents have the right to quality care and the services they need,” said Reed, the association’s executive director, in a statement.

He then focused on Heuchan, saying he had “lost sight of the fact that the select members of this august body have a profound duty not just to those in their workday lives, but indeed to all Floridians.”

The proposal would create a “right to access courts and a jury system that allows for a speedy trial and relief and remedies, without limitations, for loss, injury, and damages caused to residents and their families by the abuse, negligence, neglect, exploitation, or violation of residents’ rights by the facilities’ owners, operators, employees, professionals, and others who care for residents at such facilities.”

“A professional lobbyist representing trial attorneys has ignored his broader obligations in order to serve the narrow interest of his clients,” Reed said. “The proposed amendment is an egregious governmental overstep, one that overreaches to a monumental extent.”

Heuchan, an appointee and ally of Gov. Rick Scott, is a political consultant and lobbyist, and founder of Contribution Link, a political data analytics firm.

“I am focused on the welfare of residents in long-term care facilities,” he said in an email. “Given recent events, it’s obvious Florida can do more to safeguard them.

“I look forward to working with my colleagues, resident advocates and the industry to find ways to accomplish that objective.”

The amendment has not yet been assigned to any committees for consideration.

The Constitution Revision 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.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Seeking justice for puppies

After a puppy was beaten to death in Volusia County earlier this year, the fight to give animal abusers harsher penalties is gaining momentum at the state Capitol.

And if passed, those who are convicted could be banned from owning or contacting animals.

It all began in April when neighbors heard a racket coming from inside a Ponce Inlet home, where Travis Archer, the owner of Ponce, a black 9-month-old Labrador retriever, lived.

Upon entering the home, police found the dog dead in the backyard. According to a Daytona Beach News-Journal report, Archer said the dog “tore up his house” and that he had hit it several times to discipline it.

Tom Leek is looking for harsher punishment for animal abusers.

Travis was charged with animal cruelty, which means he technically could face up to five years in prison if convicted. But because he has no prior convictions, there is no mandated prison time under the current law.

The case sparked outrage locally, prompting animal rights advocates to push for more severe sanctions that would make it more likely for animal abusers to serve time behind bars. This week the push for that began at the state level with a bill (HB 473) filed by Rep. Tom Leek, an Ormond Beach Republican.

While the proposal, called “Ponce’s Law,” would make it more likely for those convicted of animal abuse to serve time, it still does not guarantee it. It will all depend on the person’s criminal background and a judge’s discretion. Under the bill, judges would be allowed to use their discretion to determine whether someone found guilty of these crimes should be banned from owning or even coming into contact with an animal.

It’s hard to imagine banning a convicted animal abuser from a dog park, but that could be the result.

“The horrific event that took place in Ponce Inlet will remain a somber reminder of the evil inflicted upon animals across our state,” Leek said in a statement.

The effort is being spearheaded by Ponce Inlet’s Chief of Police Frank Fabrizio, the ASPCA, the Halifax Humane Society in Volusia County and Debbie Darino, who launched a “Justice for Ponce” petition proposing an amendment to current state animal cruelty laws. The petition garnered nearly 75,000 signatures.

Darino is also the founder of a closed Facebook page, Justice for Ponce. If the posts on Facebook are any indication, people should expect colorful banners with Ponce’s face and the hashtag #DogsLivesMatter to pop up as the measure moves ahead.

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

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

Scott teases budget details — Gov. Rick Scott didn’t debut a state budget this week as he usually does at the annual Associated Press Legislative Session planning session. But he did release some details, such as $1.7 billion in requested environmental funding, including $355 million for the Everglades, $100 million for beach restoration, and $50 million for state parks. He also wants $50 million for repairs to the dike at Lake Okeechobee. And he’ll build in $10 million for additional Department of Children and Families abuse investigators and $198 million for statewide adoption subsidies.

Latvala warns of austerity — Contra Scott, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala told the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists this week said it was going to be a very tough budget year for a whole host of spending categories. The Clearwater Republican went as far as saying his fellow Senators should think twice before filing spending requests if they’ve been vetoed before in the last three years. Lawmakers also shouldn’t try tucking projects in university funding, as that is where “suspicious stuff” has been found, he added. Funding toward Hurricane Irma repairs or storm-hardening projects will fare much better, he advised.

Negron plays defense — In the wake of a sex scandal that rattled the state Capitol involving Senator Jeff Clemens and his extramarital affair with a lobbyist, Senate President Joe Negron defended the process in which sexual harassment complaints are reported in the Senate. He spoke at this week’s AP Day. While Negron reiterated there is “zero tolerance” for misconduct or sexual harassment in the Senate and that he has seen very “respectful treatment” among staff members, a recent policy change in the Senate came under fire. The policy adjustment sought to change how sexual harassment is reported in the chamber and some scrutinized it because it would have made it harder to file complaints.

John Morgan’s pot “poll” — Trial lawyer, outspoken medical marijuana advocate and potential gubernatorial candidate John Morgan played agent provocateur on Twitter this week. In a rapid series of tweets fired at each of the major gubernatorial candidates, Morgan sought their public comment on their individual stance on the legalization of marijuana. They garnered a bit of engagement, allowing Morgan to draw attention to himself as he probed a gubernatorial field that now boasts four leading Democratic candidates and two major Republicans.

Voting amendment gains speed — The main backer of a proposed constitutional amendment that would automatically restore some felons’ voting rights after they complete their sentences says his group now has collected over 750,000 signatures. Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, also said Wednesday that he’s confident the amendment will have a million signatures by year’s end. The Division of Elections website showed over 300,000 signatures for citizen ballot initiative known as “The Voting Restoration Amendment.” Initiatives need 766,200 valid signatures for ballot placement.

Gov. Rick Scott and First Lady Ann Scott announced the 2017 Hispanic Heritage Month student and teacher contest winners. This year’s theme was “A Recognition of the Role of Hispanic-Americans in Shaping Florida Today,” and the winners were honored during the annual Hispanic Heritage Month reception at the Florida Governor’s Mansion.

Jimmy Patronis, Kionne McGhee co-host Miami Insurance Forum

Chief Financial Officer Patronis, a Republican, and state Rep. McGhee, a Democrat, will host a community insurance forum in Miami today.

DFS insurance specialists will join teams from the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation and Citizens Property Insurance Corp. to assist Miami area residents with insurance concerns and complaints.

Residents can speak one-on-one with insurance specialists to gain assistance with the filing of Hurricane Irma insurance claims, help with pending claims, or general insurance advice. They can also file a complaint regarding an existing claim and report suspected insurance fraud.

The forum will be 10 a.m.-1 p.m. at Bethel Church — Richmond Heights, 14440 Lincoln Boulevard, Miami. Participants are encouraged to bring copies of their insurance policies.

Adam Putnam announces leadership awards

Agriculture Commissioner Putnam this week recognized farmers and ranchers this week who use innovative technology and methods used in the state’s $130 billion agriculture industry.

This year’s recipients of the Commissioner’s Agricultural-Environmental Leadership Award were Brad and Meghan Austin and Dale and Cindy Eade of Cindale Farms in Marianna; Greg Davis of Speedling Incorporated in Ruskin; and Brittany Lee of Florida Blue Farm, Inc. in Waldo.

Adam Putnam this week recognized farmers and ranchers this week who use innovative technology and methods.

The annual award is meant to honor the state’s growers and ranched committed to preserving Florida’s resources which help provide agricultural products.

Denise Grimsley named Legislator of the Year

State Sen. Grimsley, a Lake Placid Republican, this week received the 2017 Florida Farm Bureau ‘Legislator of the Year’ award at the association’s annual meeting.

“As chair of the Senate Agriculture Community, I look forward to working this coming session with the Florida Farm Bureau to help our farming community recover the terrible damage wrought by Hurricane Irma,” Grimsley said in a statement.

Denise Grimsley, the 2017 Florida Farm Bureau ‘Legislator of the Year.’

“Agriculture is the backbone of our economy, and it is my hope the Legislature will come together to support Florida farmers.”

She was given the award “for championing a variety of agriculture-related bills and appropriations during the 2017 Legislative Session, including funding for the University of Florida’s Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences, support for the pollution notification law, support for overturning vetoes of funding for IFAS and 4-H, and her sponsorship of Senate Bill 600, which promotes economic opportunity in rural communities,” according to a release.

Sharon Pritchett holds hurricane workshop

State Rep. Pritchett, a Miami Gardens Democrat, and Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara J. Jordan are hosting a “Hurricane Preparedness and Recovery” workshop for constituents today.

“It’s critical for Floridians to be informed on the best practices to plan for and recover from storms” such as Hurricane Irma, Pritchett said in a release.

“It’s critical for Floridians to be informed on the best practices to plan for and recover from storms,” says Sharon Pritchett.

“I look forward to working with the Miami-Dade County Office of Emergency Management and County Commissioner Jordan to ensure our constituents have the knowledge they need to be prepared for and take the necessary actions to recover from Irma.”

Miami-Dade County Office of Emergency Management will be on-site to help provide important hurricane information. A continental breakfast will also be provided.

The event is 9 a.m.— noon, Greater New Bethel Baptist Church Fellowship Hall, 17025 NW 22nd Ave., Miami Gardens.

Daphne Campbell: Ease licensing for foreign docs

A bill filed by Miami Democratic Sen. Campbell this week looks to attack Florida’s physician shortage by making it easier for physicians trained abroad to set up shop in the Sunshine State.

“By 2025, the shortage of physicians in Florida is expected to grow to 7,000, according to the Teaching Hospital Council of Florida and the Safety Net Hospital Alliance of Florida,” said Campbell. “We can either bury our heads in the sand, or tap into the rich availability of internationally trained physicians to shore up medical care for Florida’s growing number of senior residents.”

Daphne Campbell is attacking that state’s doctor shortage by making it easier for physicians trained abroad to set up shop in Florida.

SB 636 would allow MDs trained abroad to get a limited license to practice medicine in Florida so long as the med school they attended is listed in the World Directory of Medical Schools, they have three years experience and don’t have a legal or professional rap sheet.

“This legislation would broaden the pool of trained physicians available to dispense medical aid for the growing number of people who need their help,” Campbell said. “By tapping internationally-trained doctors, we not only stop the shortage of medical doctors from occurring, but we provide a pathway for these individuals to join our communities and contribute to Florida’s prosperity.”

The House companion bill was originally set to be sponsored by Daisy Baez, who resigned from office this week. Hialeah Republican Rep. Manny Diaz will sponsor the bill in her place.

Instagram of the Week

Ben Diamond wants discretion in sentencing

St. Pete Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond filed a bill this week that would give Florida judges a “safety valve” to bypass harsh mandatory minimum sentences in drug crime cases if they deem it appropriate.

“We need to bring smart reforms to our criminal justice system in Florida, and this bill is an important part of that effort,” Diamond said. “We are incarcerating an extraordinary number of people in this state for nonviolent drug offenses. Our prison population has exploded. We are spending millions of dollars to incarcerate people under our mandatory minimum sentencing laws. But these laws are not actually deterring the use or sale of drugs, or making our communities safer. It’s time we take a different approach to these problems.”

Ben Diamond wants to give Florida judges a “safety valve” to bypass harsh mandatory minimum sentences in drug crime cases.

Judges wouldn’t be able to completely ditch the “mandatory” part of minimum sentencing laws unless they determine it’s a first-time drug crime, has nothing to do with a “criminal enterprise” and that they’re a nonviolent offender.

The proposal picked up some support across the aisle via fellow St. Petersburg lawmaker Jeff Brandes, a Republican, who has filed a similar measure in the Senate.

“If we are going to spend resources, let’s spend them in the right place,” Brandes told Florida Politics. “Many states are going in this direction because they can’t incarcerate their way to sobriety, what it proven is medically-assisted treatment with counseling.”

Diamond thanked Brandes for his “leadership and support” and said he was “proud to take a lead on this bipartisan effort to bring meaningful criminal justice reform to Florida.”

“By allowing our judges to have the discretion to impose an appropriate sentence for each case, we can save money and make our communities safer,” he said.

Bob Grammig elected Florida Chamber Board chair

Grammig, partner and leader of the firm-wide corporate, M&A and securities practice at the Holland & Knight law firm, this week was elected the 2017-18 chair of the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors.

His “leadership in Florida’s business community has been instrumental to ensuring a strong business climate for job creators,” said Mark Wilson, president and CEO of the Florida Chamber.

“Bob is an advocate for free-enterprise and believes a competitive workforce, and strong global ties will help ensure Florida’s diverse communities can unite under an integrated business agenda.”

Bob Grammig, 2017-18 chair of the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors.

Grammig has been with the Tampa office of Holland & Knight for over 35 years. He attended high school in Melbourne and received undergraduate and graduate degrees from the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree from Harvard Law School.

He serves as a director of the Crisis Center of Tampa Bay and a member of the leadership committee of the Florida Chapter of the German American Chamber of Commerce. Grammig also was general counsel to the 2012 Host Committee for the Republican National Convention.

He replaces outgoing board chair Syd Kitson, chairman and CEO of Kitson & Partners. Kitson’s term ended Oct. 31.

DCF requests additional resources in fed food program

The Department of Children and Families said this week that it has requested additional flexibility and resources from the U.S. Department of Agriculture when it comes to administering the federal food program (DSNAP) in the state.

In response to Hurricane Irma, DCF has distributed more than $1.2 billion in federal disaster food assistance through the federal food program. As of Oct. 26, the department has processed more than 937,000 DSNAP applications, which is expected to help more than 7.2 million Floridians as they continue to recover from the storm.

“I’m proud of the effort our staff has made, with half of the agency contributing to this operation. These efforts will continue when we return to Miami-Dade and Broward counties next week to again serve families in these communities,” DCF Secretary Mike Carroll said.

DSNAP operations in Miami-Dade and Broward counties have been scheduled for Nov. 7-9.

The 13th annual conference of the Florida Association of Professional Lobbyists was held this week in Orlando.

The week in appointments

Four tapped for JNCs — Gov. Scott this week announced four appointments to four Judicial Nominating Commissions. When a judicial vacancy occurs that must be filled by appointment, a JNC “submit(s) three to six names of the most highly qualified applicants to the Governor, who must make a final selection from the list.”

Second District Court of Appeal Judicial Nomination Commission: Richard E. Fee, of Tampa, is the managing partner at Fee & Jeffries, P.A. He succeeds Thomas A. Dart and is appointed for a term ending July 1, 2020.

Fifth District Court of Appeal Judicial Nomination Commission: Paetra Brownlee, of Winter Park, is an attorney with Charles M. Greene, P.A. She succeeds Lee Schmudde and is appointed for a term ending July 1, 2019.

Second Circuit Judicial Nomination Commission: Peter Penrod, of Tallahassee, is the general counsel at the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity. He succeeds J. Andrew Atkinson and is appointed for a term ending July 1, 2020.

Sixth Circuit Judicial Nomination Commission: Lee L. Haas, of Clearwater, is a shareholder at Haas & Castillo, P.A. He succeeds Kim L. Kaszuba and is appointed for a term ending July 1, 2020.

Randall Reid reappointed to HCC board — Reid, 59, of Tampa, was reappointed to the Hillsborough Community College District Board of trustees.

He is vice president of business development for J.E. Dunn Construction. He received his bachelor’s degree in accounting from the University of Florida. Reid is reappointed for a term beginning Nov. 2 and ending May 31, 2021.

This appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Sarah Dougherty named to Daytona State board — Scott tapped Dougherty, 40, of Edgewater, to the Daytona State College District board of trustees. Dougherty is the co-owner of Dougherty Manufacturing.

She received her bachelor’s degree in business administration from Elon University. Dougherty is appointed to fill a vacant seat for a term beginning Nov. 2 and ending May 31, 2021.

The appointment is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

David Rich named Gulf County commissioner — Scott announced Rich’s appointment to the Gulf County Board of County Commissioners.

The 45-year-old, of Wewahitchka, is the store manager of Rich’s IGA Supermarket, a family-owned business.

Rich is a former member of the board of directors of the Gulf County Chamber of Commerce and has a bachelor’s degree in Business Management from Florida State University.

He is appointed to fill the vacant seat previously held by the late Commissioner Freddie Whitfield for a term beginning Nov. 2 and ending Jan. 2, 2019.

Iris Gonzalez stays on FLVS board — The governor reappointed Gonzalez to the Florida Virtual School board of trustees.

Gonzalez, 41, of Tierra Verde, is the senior manager of state government affairs at Charter Communications. She previously served as the director of multicultural relations for the Bright House Network.

Gonzalez is reappointed for a term beginning Nov. 2 and ending Sept. 10, 2020.

Patrick Farrell, Steve Newman named to Port St. Joe Port Authority — Farrell, 51, of Port Saint Joe, is the owner of Gulf Coast Property Services. He received his bachelor’s degree from Appalachian State University. Farrell fills a vacant seat and is appointed for a term beginning Nov. 2 and ending July 27, 2021.

Newman, 52, of Port Saint Joe, is the owner of Big Fish Construction, LLC. He received his bachelor’s degree at the University of Georgia. Newman succeeds Carl Raffield and is appointed for a term beginning Nov. 2 and ending July 20, 2021.

Florida manatees on the move

People who remember in November to watch out for manatees as they begin migrating to warmer waters are making a difference in the species’ survival, according to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

Seasonal manatee protection zones go into effect Nov. 15. Though some signs identifying manatee zones may have been damaged by Hurricane Irma, information on manatee zone locations is also available online.

Earlier this year, the Florida manatee was reclassified from endangered to a threatened status, under the federal Endangered Species Act, in a decision announced by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

A Santa Fe River manatee (Photo: FWC)

“People’s efforts to help Florida manatees are working,” said Carol Knox, who leads the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Imperiled Species Management Section.

“Let’s celebrate the fact that conservation actions are making a difference and manatees are no longer endangered (but it’s) important to remain vigilant,” Knox added. “Let’s keep up the efforts that are helping with manatee recovery.”

The commission asks boaters to watch for these large aquatic mammals, and keep a lookout for the circular “footprints” they leave on the surface of the water. Slow down when boating, follow posted manatee zones, and always observe manatees from a distance to limit disturbance.

To report injured, entangled, orphaned or dead manatees, call 888-404-FWCC (3922), dial *FWC on your cellphone, or text Tip@MyFWC.com.

Leon County, American Legion to honor veterans

Leon County announced a partnership with the American Legion Sauls-Bridges Post 13 to host the “Operation Thank You” Veterans Day Breakfast today, 6:30-9 a.m.

At 8 a.m., a ceremony will be held to honor all veterans and “remember those who made the ultimate sacrifice,” a release said.

The breakfast will take place at the American Legion located at 229 Lake Ella Drive. County commissioners, staff, American Legion members and volunteers will be on hand to serve breakfast to veterans.

Each veteran who attends will receive an Operation Thank You Commemorative Challenge Coin and Leon County proclamation. The event is free and open to the public.

Tallahassee offers “Adopt A Tree” Program

To help ensure this Tree City USA’s urban forest remains intact, the City of Tallahassee is once again offering free trees to eligible homeowners within the city limits. Residents can apply to receive one or two trees through the City’s popular Adopt A Tree program. Applications and tree adoption information are available online at Talgov.com.

“Creating an environmentally friendly community requires a holistic effort, from protecting our natural resources to replanting activities, like Adopt A Tree,” City Commissioner Nancy Miller said. “This program provides a simple way for homeowners to help add to our beautiful tree canopy.”

Tallahassee is the latest city to enact ‘Adopt A Tree.’

City staff will assist the homeowner with tree placement and take care of the installation. In return, the City requests the homeowner takes on the responsibility of appropriate watering during a one-year establishment period.

In previous years, the City was limited to installing the trees within the right of way, which was usually 10 to 20 feet from the curb. The program has expanded this year to increase the planting area available for installation. Trees can now be planted anywhere in the yard, up to 100 feet from the centerline of the roadway.

Details on each kind of tree are included on the website, and tree planting will begin mid-January. Trees are available on a first-come, first-serve basis. To adopt a tree from the City, simply visit Talgov.com and complete the online application. You may also call 891-5300.

Tallahassee’s ‘Longest Table’ this Sunday

More than 1,000 people are expected Sunday to sit down at “The Longest Table” for a meal and meaningful conversation along Tallahassee’s Duval Street.

In 2015, a total of 63 folding tables were lined up on Park Avenue to accommodate the nearly-400 Longest Table diners.
Photo: Tom Flanigan

This initiative, which began three years ago, seeks to bring together residents from diverse backgrounds with the goal of building and strengthening relationships to improve the quality of life in the capital.

The Longest Table will span 1,000 feet down Duval, between Jefferson and West Madison streets.

Dinner will be provided by locally owned caterers and will be free of charge. Also, free parking will be available in Kleman Plaza, located at 306 S. Duval St.

The event begins at 5:30 p.m.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

 

Spending proposals pitched as Irma remains priority

With the start of the 2018 Legislative Session more than two months away, House members, mostly Republicans, have pitched 114 projects and programs for state money.

The proposals range from $30,000 for the Okaloosa County Historical Museum to $2 million for coastal work in Jacksonville Beach to $300,000 for drainage improvements in Miami Gardens.

House Republican Leader Ray Rodrigues, who is vice chairman of the Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness, said priority will be given to projects that can be linked to Hurricane Irma relief or to brace for future disasters.

“My suspicion is, as we move forward in the process, the appropriation bills that are going to get a hearing deal with these topics more so than the bills that do not,” Rodrigues, of Estero, said Thursday an Associated Press event at the Capitol.

The House budget proposals for the 2018 Session, which starts Jan. 9, totaled $117 million as of Friday morning.

The House, unlike the Senate, requires members to file separate bills for proposed spending projects.

Lawmakers face a tight budget going into the session, in part because of costs related to Hurricane Irma. But Gov. Rick Scott said the state has enough money to pay for priorities without dipping into reserves.

“I’m going to focus very aggressively on how we take care of families. I’m not, as you would expect, I’m not going to focus on member projects,” Scott said Thursday. “If we spend that money well, we will have the ability to, one, have significant reserves and to continue to reduce the debt of the state, which long-term is going to make it easier when we do, hope we never do, have a downturn in this state.”

Rodrigues said he had not reviewed the proposed member projects but said House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’Lakes Republican, has made clear priority will go to efforts to respond to the hurricane, which caused billions of dollars in damage to the state Sept. 10 and Sept. 11.

“If they cannot be fit within those parameters, then clearly those aren’t projects that will be viewed as a priority by the House as we move forward,” Rodrigues said.

Among the House proposals, the two largest as of Friday are promoted as hurricane-related.

A measure (HB 2191) by Republican Rep. Colleen Burton, of Lakeland, seeks $9 million for hurricane preparedness at Lakeland Regional Medical Center.

An $8.4 million proposal (HB 2229) by Rep. Cary Pigman, an Avon Park Republican, would fund an emergency special-needs multi-use facility in Okeechobee County.

The next two highest proposals don’t appear to storm-linked.

House PreK-12 Appropriations Chairman Manny Diaz, a Hialeah Republican, wants $5.2 million for tuition assistance for health professionals at Nova Southeastern University (HB 2091).

Also, Burton has proposed $5 million for a behavioral-health hospital and outpatient center at Lakeland Regional Medical Center (HB 2189).

Overall, Republicans had submitted 94 projects worth a combined $105.5 million.

Democrats had 19 proposals on file worth a combined $11 million.

One proposal (HB 2135), $580,320 for the Marion County Southeastern Livestock Pavilion, is sponsored by Republican Rep. Stan McClain of Belleview and Democrat Clovis Watson of Alachua.

An additional five projects, worth a combined $2.93 million, were withdrawn on Thursday.

Each had been sponsored by Daisy Baez, a Coral Gables Democrat who resigned Wednesday from her House seat as part of plea agreement involving perjury in an investigation about her legal residency.

The largest of Baez’ proposals, $1.5 million, was for to assist a Pinecrest waterline extension project.

Florida looks at fuel reserves for future storms

Florida could be moving closer to stockpiling fuel for future hurricanes or other disasters.

Sen. Gary Farmer, a Fort Lauderdale Democrat, filed a proposal (SB 700) Tuesday that would establish a task force within the state Division of Emergency Management to come up with recommendations for a strategic fuel reserve.

The proposal, filed for the 2018 Legislative Session, doesn’t outline costs or how much fuel could be stored for a rainy day, but it would require the recommendations to be completed by April 30, 2019.

“It is our obligation to ensure the safe and timely evacuation of our citizens and guests who are in harm’s way leading up to a natural disaster,” Farmer said in a statement. “In the days prior to Hurricane Irma, it became readily apparent that our fuel supplies could simply not keep up with the demand for gasoline. This created a situation where many Floridians were unable to travel to safety, or to properly prepare for the storm.”

The measure was filed as the House Select Committee on Hurricane Response and Preparedness has included among its charges the exploration of a centralized state gasoline reserve.

“Gas wasn’t readily accessible,” House Speaker Richard Corcoran, a Land O’ Lakes Republican, said Sept. 19, when creating the committee. “Having a committee that looks at why does a state, in the richest country in the world, the third largest (state), why don’t we have a significant gas reserve in the central part of the state so that’s not an issue moving forward for our citizens?”

Select Committee Chairwoman Jeanette Núñez, a Miami Republican, said last week she expects bills to come out in mid-December that could include fuel depots or distribution points.

“I think the onus is on the state to prepare for the worst-case scenarios,” Nunez said Thursday.

Florida strained to keep up with fuel demand as Hurricane Irma neared the state in early September.

As 6.5 million people were ordered to evacuate their homes, others scrambled for last-minute hurricane supplies. Motorists reported spending up to 12 hours on routes that typically are covered in six or seven hours.

The situation grew worse as ports, where fuel is delivered to the state, were closed due to storm winds.

Rushing fuel to South Florida before the storm, the Florida Highway Patrol served as escorts for tanker trucks.

A month later, when Hurricane Nate threatened the Gulf Coast, Gov. Rick Scott acknowledged that Florida was better prepared for Nate than Irma because there weren’t concerns about fuel shortages.

“With regard to Irma it was right after (Hurricane) Harvey, the refineries were shut down, so going into Irma we were low on fuel,” Scott said on Oct. 6. “We were worried that we wouldn’t have enough fuel to make sure everybody could evacuate.”

On Thursday, Scott directed the Florida Department of Transportation to work with other state agencies, Florida ports, law enforcement and fuel retailers to determine how to increase fuel capacity during emergencies.

Scott gave the transportation agency until January to complete its findings.

“Increasing the availability of fuel for evacuations at Florida gas stations is a top priority,” Scott said in a prepared statement.

Al Lawson, Darren Soto urge Rick Scott to seek suspension of food stamps time limit

Democratic U.S. Reps. Al Lawson and Darren Soto are urging Florida Gov. Rick Scott to extend a time-limit extension he imposed following Hurricane Irma so that food stamp recipients can continue to receive benefits without risking their 90-day deadline.

Lawson, of Jacksonville, and Soto, of Orlando, said in a letter to Scott that Hurricane Irma has created economic conditions that leave too many people needing benefits of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [formerly known as food stamps] to get by, and that at least 36 counties and eight cities are eligible for a time-table waiver that Scott should extend.

Without the governor’s consent before the beginning of November, SNAP recipients in Florida between the ages of 18 and 50 who are not disabled and do not have dependents will be limited to SNAP benefits for 3 months in any 3-year period when not employed or in a work or training program, they argued in the letter.

“In response to the devastation of Hurricane Irma, your administration ceased enforcement of this time limit for the months of September and October in the 48 FEMA declared disaster counties throughout the state,” Lawson said in a news release issued by both his and Soto’s offices Tuesday. “This move allowed the most vulnerable of Floridians to rebuild their lives without the worry of losing their SNAP benefit, and this policy must be continued.”

Both Soto and Lawson sit on the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee and the Nutrition Subcommittee.

They asked Scott to continue this policy for all 48 FEMA declared disaster counties, in addition to areas that qualify based on excessive unemployment.

“Many Floridians are still incurring disaster-related expenses, from repairing property or loss of income,” Soto said. “While recovering and making ends meet, families should first and foremost be food secured. SNAP provides a gap in income for Floridians to feed their families and we must continue to provide this essential benefit for all affected.”

Hurricane Irma claims top $5.5 billion

Potential insured losses in Florida from Hurricane Irma have surpassed $5.5 billion, according to the state Office of Insurance Regulation.

As of Friday, 795,970 claims had been filed, worth an estimated $5.567 billion.

The numbers are up from 772,934 claims and $5.3 billion in potential losses a week earlier. Hurricane Irma made landfall Sept. 10 in Monroe County and Collier County before pounding through much of the state. Two-thirds of the claims are from homeowners. The top counties for claims are, in order: Miami-Dade, Broward, Orange, Lee and Collier.

One of every eight claims has come from Miami-Dade County.

The Office of Insurance Regulation, which doesn’t provide a breakdown of the claims by insurer, is updating the numbers once a week.

Just over 28.5 percent of the claims had been settled with payments. Nearly 20 percent of the claims had been closed without payment.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Irma good news/bad news

The good news, according to the latest Mason-Dixon Florida poll: “Florida voters give Gov. Rick Scott positive ratings for his handling of the state during Hurricane Irma.”

The bad news? “Floridians may hesitate to evacuate next time.”

Statewide, 35 percent rated the governor’s performance as “excellent,” while 31 percent rated it “good,” 25 percent said it was “fair,” only 4 percent felt it was “poor.” Another 5 percent said they weren’t sure.

“Scott’s rating split along partisan lines, with 89 percent of Republicans rating it as ‘excellent’ or ‘good,’ compared to 49 percent of Democrats and 62 percent of independents,” the poll said.

Rick Scott gets high marks for Irma response, but it’s a two-edged sword.

And yet, “the widespread evacuation orders, coupled with the shifting storm track, resulted in many people evacuating into the path of Irma,” it said. “The heavy traffic and the distance many were required to travel could present problems for emergency managers in future hurricanes.

“Statewide, almost one-in-three Floridians (32 percent) left their home during Irma — and not all of them did because they were ordered to. In fact, 43 percent of those under a mandatory evacuation order did not leave their homes. However, 13 percent of state residents evacuated even though they did not have to do so.

“Next time ‘round could be a different story, as many Floridians indicate they will rethink their actions,” the poll went on. “Statewide, only 57 percent say that they will follow an evacuation order in the face of a hurricane similar in strength to Irma.

“Within the four categories of evacuation status related to Hurricane Irma, the results show that 19 percent of Floridians were ordered to evacuate and did so. Among this group, only 71 percent said they would definitely do so again.”

And “54 percent of Floridians were not ordered to evacuate and stayed in their homes. If ordered to leave in a future hurricane, only 62 percent said that they definitely would.”

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

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

Levine ready to run? — Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine appears ready to announce a bid for Florida Governor Wednesday, with what his consultants call an “important announcement” in Miami about the future of Florida. Levine, a Democrat who has openly discussed the prospect of running for governor either as a Democrat or an independent, has set a 10:30 a.m. event Wednesday in the Wynwood District of Miami. While not yet running, Levine has been leading all Democrats in raising money toward the governor’s race, with more than $4.7 million in his All About Florida Political Committee. Most of that, around $2.5 million, came from his own wallet. The Miami Beach mayor has made a fortune from companies he founded, mainly providing support to the cruise line industry.

Democrats head to Orlando — Florida Democratic Party Chair Stephen Bittel leads the march this weekend as his party gathers for its annual state conference at the Disney Coronado Springs Resort. It will be the first mass gathering of state Democrats since June’s Leadership Blue debacle in Hollywood, where complaints from black state lawmakers about being snubbed onstage led Bittel to call them “childish” and accuse them of “playing the race card.” Bittel apologized in the aftermath and promised to be more sensitive to racial issues. The mood in Orlando will no doubt be buoyant, considering Annette Taddeo’s victory in the Senate District 40 special election — bringing the number of Democrats in the 40-member Senate to 16. Her win is raising hopes that 2018 could be a big year for the Party, with the top prize of the governor’s mansion, which has eluded Democrats for nearly two decades. The party also invested heavily in St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman’s re-election contest next month.

Website portends Corcoran bid — With the recent addition of Go Big Media, a national and well-respected digital marketing firm, House Speaker Richard Corcoran launched a new website Tuesday. Accompanying RichardCorcoran.com is a website for his political committee Watchdog PAC. The new website features an extensive first-person bio and issue pages on immigration, taxes and spending, education, government accountability, among others. All issues that Corcoran has been focused on during his tenure in the House. This also comes after the recent high-profile hires of Tony Fabrizio for polling, Jamestown Associates for media, and Taylor Budowich, a former national Tea Party leader who is heading up Watchdog PAC’s communications. And while Corcoran’s political intentions remain unknown, it’s clear he is putting together a serious operation which now includes a robust online presence.

Shaw mulling AG run — The freshman House Democrat from Tampa went on the record this week about his considerations of a run in 2018 for state Attorney General. “As a result of my work as a consumer advocate, community leader and lawyer, it’s clear to me now more than ever that everyday Floridians need a champion,” he said. “I haven’t made a decision about 2018 but I’m honored to have been approached by several local and national leaders about serving Floridians as their attorney general. Right now, my priority is to fight for the issues that are most important to my constituents in HD 61.” Shaw, son of the late Supreme Court Justice Leander J. Shaw Jr., was Florida’s Insurance Consumer Advocate under then-CFO Alex Sink.

Paulson leaves Ag. race — Republican Paul Paulson has quit the Agriculture Commissioner race and throwing his support behind state Rep. Matt Caldwell in the GOP primary to replace termed-out Adam Putnam. Paulson, an Orlando businessman, decided to bow out this week and said he was asking supporters to “get behind Matt Caldwell, and do whatever you can to help him become our next Commissioner.” Paulson had been the fourth-place candidate in fundraising, even accounting for the $642,000 he put into the campaign through loans, which he will mostly get back.

Jack Latvala signs on to fracking ban

Clearwater Republican Sen. Latvala this week signed on to co-sponsor a bill (SB 462) that would ban hydraulic fracturing, also known as “fracking,” in the Sunshine State.

“We want to applaud Senator Latvala for continuing to show leadership in protecting Florida’s water from the dangers associated with fracking,” said Jorge Aguilar, the Florida director for advocacy group Food & Water Watch.

Jack Latvala is latest Republican to put his name on a proposed fracking ban in Florida.

“Now more than ever, Florida’s elected officials must act swiftly to hold off the expansion of the oil and gas industry in Florida. Just this week, the industry got the green light from a state judge to search for oil in Broward County, near one of the densest population areas in the country and a few miles from the source of drinking water for millions of residents.”

The Senate bill is Latvala has agreed to co-sponsor was put forward by Tampa Republican Sen. Dana Young, while its House companion was introduced by Treasure Island Republican Rep. Kathleen Peters, one of Latvala’s longtime allies in the Legislature.

“Over the past few weeks, Senator Latvala has spoken out about the undue influence of energy utilities in our state,” Aguilar said.

“It is these same companies that lobbied to stop the ban bill from being enacted in 2017. We hope that other leaders in the Senate and the House show the same leadership that Senator Latvala is showing by supporting this ban bill and rebuffing the energy special interests in our state.”

Randy Fine tells Brevard County Commission to cut ‘pork’ spending

Freshman Republican Rep. Fine has a sent a message to the Brevard County Commission: Cut the pork barrel spending.

Fine, who chairs the Brevard County Legislative Delegation, took umbrage with the commission’s recent decision to spend $14.5 million on projects he says are of the “pork barrel” variety instead of taking on the recent dumping of 20 million gallons of raw sewage into the Indian River Lagoon.

Randy Fine wants to cut ‘pork’ from Brevard County spending.

“Instead of repairing and modernizing its sewage system, they decided to spend taxpayer money to make it easier for kayakers to paddle through the sewage,” Fine said. “It defies logic; it defies explanation. This dereliction of duty raises questions about whether our County Commission is fit to oversee the County, or whether more aggressive steps need to be taken to ensure our citizens are served.”

Those projects include:

— $7 million for an “indoor multiuse sports arena and hotel project” in Titusville

— $5 million for upgrades to the Viera Regional Park’s soccer and lacrosse fields

— $1.7 million to expand a campground at Palm Bay Regional Park

— $500,000 for a “Keepers Cottage Museum” at the Cape Canaveral Lighthouse, and

— $200,000 to upgrade a pier area in Indian Harbour Beach near where the sewage was dumped.

“When I got into politics, I knew that the politicians thought differently than those of us that live in the real world,” Fine said. “But you have to question the sanity of people who thought spending money on a pier next to a raw sewage dump was a better idea than actually fixing the raw sewage dump.”

Instagram of the week 

Great day at the Bartow Halloween Parade! Thanks to all the volunteers who turned out to walk with us.

A post shared by Adam Putnam (@adam.putnam) on

Barbara Watson named “County Champion”

State Rep. Watson, a Miami Gardens Democrat, was recognized this week for her “commitment to preserving local government’s ability to decide what is best for the people it serves,” a news release said.

The Florida Association of Counties presented the 2017 County Champion Award to Watson at her Tallahassee office.

Miami Gardens Democrat Barbara Watson was named 2017 County Champion by the Florida Associated of Counties.

“Tallahassee often thinks it knows best, but what I know is best is to trust our local officials to do what is right for their communities,” Watson said in a statement.

“They are on the ground, living and breathing the issues that affect the daily lives of their neighbors. I would like to thank the Florida Association of Counties for this award and for highlighting the service of our local leaders. I will always be committed to protecting local control.”

DEO gives out $91K for economic development projects

The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity announced this week that it’s giving a boost to a handful of small-town projects through Competitive Florida Economic Development grant funds.

“DEO is committed to using our resources to help all Florida communities flourish. The Competitive Florida Economic Development Project grants offer valuable tools to help support communities in reaching their local economic development goals,” said DEO Executive Director Cissy Proctor.

Making the list for grant funds were projects headed up by Broward, Citrus, Holmes and Wakulla counties, as well as the towns of Clewiston, Green Cove Springs, Hastings and Newberry.

DEO said the grant funds are available to all counties and municipalities to help communities learn more about local assets and economic conditions, and develop specific local projects.

Awards through the program measure between $5,000 to $15,000.

Florida insurance companies give big

The nonprofit that helps administer the needs-based Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship Program has gotten a big boost from the insurance industry this year, and it hasn’t gone unnoticed.

Step Up For Students thanked insurers for the help and gave an even bigger shoutout to Tower Hill Insurance, which has chipped in more than $3 million since 2011 — enough to provide scholarships to more than 600 of Florida’s most underprivileged students so they can attend a private school secure transportation to attend an out-of-district public school.

Florida insurance companies are among the biggest donors to the needs-based Florida Tax Credit (FTC) Scholarship Program.

“We are so grateful for Tower Hill’s investment in our program and the children who depend on it,” said Step Up CFO Joe Pfountz. “The company’s generosity is crucial to the work our team does and shows just how much they really care about Florida’s kids and its future.”

The group said the typical pupil served through the program comes from a single-parent household where the average income is $25,353. A recent study found that students who receive these scholarships for at least four years are 40 percent more likely to attend college than their public-school counterparts, and 29 percent more likely to earn an associate degree.

“By investing in the future of our students, we are investing in the future of Florida,” said Tower Hill Prez Don Matz. “One of our top priorities at Tower Hill is to give back to our community as much as we can, and we choose to start with these deserving students.”

Brecht Heuchan honored

Heuchan, president and owner of Contribution Link in Tallahassee, will receive the Innovative Community Engagement (ICE) Foundation’s 2017 Earned Legacy Award.

The nonprofit group is hosting its annual Service Ball presented by Comcast at 7 p.m. Saturday at the University Center Club at FSU. The Ball serves as an event to honor community leaders and organizations for their commitment to service.

Brecht Heuchan is being recognized with the ICE Foundation 2017 Earned Legacy Award.

“Service in its simplest form is meeting the needs of another,” Heuchan said in a statement. “I don’t know of a higher calling than this.”

The ball serves as the ICE Foundation’s major community fundraiser.

“The Service Ball allows us to not only honor great individuals and organizations in the community but also come together and have a great time,” said G.C. Murray Jr., Esq., President & Founder of the ICE Foundation.

Proceeds from the Ball go toward the ICE Foundation’s mission of stimulating different segments of society through mentorship, service and professional development.

Ride the ‘title wave’ at downtown library

The Friends of the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library will hold the Fall “Title Wave” used book sale this weekend.

The event, at the Leon County Main Library downtown (200 W. Park Ave.) in the garage facing Bronough Street, will be Saturday from 9 a.m.-3 p.m. and Sunday from 11 a.m.-3 p.m.

Leon County Public Library prepares for the fall ‘Title Wave.’

“Browse through a wonderful selection of used books and other materials at this popular book sale,” a news release said. “The community can purchase used books, videos, DVDs and more.”

The sale benefits the Friends of the Library, an organization dedicated to building community interest, pride and financial support for the LeRoy Collins Leon County Public Library.

For more information, call Cay Hohmeister, Library Director, at (850) 606-2616, or email at HohmeisterC@LeonCountyFL.gov.

Leon County receives national community, media relations awards

Leon County Government won five national awards for excellence in government public information and communications from the City-County Communications and Marketing Association (3CMA) and Granicus Solutions, the most significant provider of cloud-based software solutions to government organizations, according to a news release.

Leon County Commission Chairman John Dailey.

“The 3CMA Savvy Awards are awarded to government organizations for creative and successful programs in three communication and marketing divisions: tools, graphic design and photography, and processes,” it said. “Granicus Digital Strategy Awards are presented for effective and innovative approaches to digital strategy and excellence in key areas including transforming access to services, creative and innovative use of digital tools, and improving citizen engagement.”

“Our Leon County citizens have come to expect timely, relevant, and engaging communication about our programs and services,” Leon County Commission Chairman John Dailey said. “And our County communications efforts continue to exceed expectations and reach citizens in the many different ways they follow us.”

The following programs and services received awards:

— Created Equal, for Community Visioning or Branding.

— Build Your Bucket, for Resident Participation.

— Leon Works Expo, for Special Events.

— 2017 Sustainable Communities Summit, best in the category of Promotional Video.

“Every County program, event, client and customer has a story to share,” said Mathieu Cavell, director of Leon County Community and Media Relations. “Our team works hard every day to turn stories into action and to connect our citizens with the County services that can change their lives and shape our community. These national awards acknowledge our work and set an even higher bar for us to exceed next year.”

Tallahassee solar farm at maximum capacity

The City of Tallahassee announced this week that “subscriptions for the Capital City’s first solar farm have reached maximum capacity,” even before construction has been finished.

“City leaders have seen a tremendous outpouring of support for the 20-megawatt (MW), 120-acre solar farm currently under construction on the property of the Tallahassee International Airport (TLH),” a city news release said.

Tallahassee’s solar farm has reached capacity.

“More than 2,000 residential customers and many businesses have signed up to participate since open enrollment for Tallahassee Solar, the City’s community solar program, began July 1,” it added.

“As a community, we are setting an example for the whole state to follow,” said Miaisha Mitchell, the City Utility’s Citizen Advisory Committee Chair. “Our city government and electric utility provider has embraced what it means to be the capital of the Sunshine State by investing in solar.

“The addition of Tallahassee Solar further demonstrates the City’s commitment to providing clean renewable energy to customers,” she added. “Tallahassee’s first solar farm is still under construction and already has sold out its expected energy output. The good news is that this is only the beginning.”

Customers who wish to sign up for the Tallahassee Solar waiting list can visit Talgov.com/Solar. To learn more, call (850) 891-4968.

City’s building ratings stay strong

The City of Tallahassee has maintained its “class 3” rating for commercial construction and “class 4” rating for residential construction, which are well above the national average, the city said in a news release this week.

Typically, a class 3 rating is the highest level achieved by communities.

The City’s Building Code Enforcement program recently underwent review and rating by the Insurance Services Office (ISO).

The effectiveness of building codes can affect how structures will fare in natural disasters, and building code enforcement can have a significant influence on the economic well-being of a municipality and the safety of its citizens.

ISO collects information on a community’s building code adoption and enforcement services, analyses the data and assigns a classification from 1 to 10, with 1 representing the highest class level.

ISO is an insurer-supported organization that provides advisory insurance underwriting and rating information. Learn more about local building codes at Talgov.com/Growth.

Now for this week’s edition of Capitol Directions:

The Associated Press and the News Service of Florida contributed to this week’s edition, republished with permission.

Karl Dix: Ceres Environmental diligently working to clear debris

For nearly 40 years, Ceres Environmental Services, Inc. (Ceres) has been dedicated to helping communities recover after major storms and natural disasters by removing, reducing and disposing of debris. We understand the importance of this step, as it allows communities to be restored and residents to return to normalcy.

Under pre-storm contracts, Ceres partners closely with valued members of local government staff to prepare for major storm events, like Hurricane Irma. Following the landfall of Hurricane Irma, communities across the state called upon Ceres to clear streets of immediate threats to life, infrastructure and the environment while allowing access to impacted areas by first responders and damage assessors.

Together, Ceres and local government staff enacted debris removal plans to begin immediate debris removal from streets, parks and schools. To date, Ceres has removed in excess of 2 million cubic yards of debris with more than 1,300 hauling units where we have contracts with the local governments. In fact, 80 percent of our clients have already had our crews come in and complete a first pass, and the remaining 20 percent of our clients will see first pass complete by the end of October. This is a commitment Ceres made at the onset to staff, elected officials and communities when we signed pre-storm contracts. This is a commitment Ceres intends to keep.

Despite these efforts, however, there have been a number of erroneous news reports that claim Ceres is deliberately delaying the removal of debris or asking for higher rates in the region before work is performed. These claims are categorically false. Ceres has worked around the clock to ensure debris is removed in the wake of this devastating storm and have never demanded higher rates before performing our duties. While it’s true that there have been market forces at play beyond our control that have created challenges with retaining workforce throughout Florida, Ceres has worked tirelessly to resolve these issues quickly and have never wavered in our commitment to removing debris in the communities we serve.

And, for those communities that are currently underserved, Ceres stands ready to assist the local governments and its residents. For example, Ceres is prepared to make a number of crews available in Collier and Lee Counties, one of the hardest hit areas of the state, to augment the ongoing cleanup effort in the region. This will allow for those communities to recover more quickly and residents to return to a sense of normalcy.

The reality is, Hurricane Irma was an unprecedented storm that touched almost every county in the Sunshine State. The storm left massive amounts of debris in its wake and created an arduous and time-consuming cleanup process. As a Sarasota-based company with employees living in the same communities in which we currently serve, we understand that it is frustrating for residents, elected officials and staff to still see debris in their neighborhoods and are anxious to put the recovery process behind them. As your partner, Ceres hears your frustrations and is committed to removing debris as quickly and efficiently as possible.

We take seriously the vital role Ceres plays in the recovery after a major storm like Irma. As we move forward, Ceres is mindful of the challenges that remain, but we have demonstrated our unwavering commitment to removing debris as quickly as possible in communities across the state. And, Ceres will continue to uphold that commitment.

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Karl Dix is Director of Client Services, Ceres Environmental Services, Inc.

 

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