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Val Demings, Darren Soto, Stephanie Murphy push antiterrorism funding for Orlando

Central Florida’s three Democratic members of the U.S. Congress have introduced an amendment to the federal spending bill that would set aside additional antiterrorism money for cities like Orlando that miss the cut from Homeland Security.

Central Florida’s delegation – dating back to the three previous incumbents – has argued that Homeland Security’s rules for distributing local antiterrorism money are unfair because they do not adequately take into account tourism visitors and other factors that would rank Orlando as a higher potential terrorism target.

That argument began before the June 12, 2016, attack on Orlando’s Pulse nightclub that killed 49 and wounded 53.

U.S. Reps. Val Demings and Darren Soto of Orlando and Stephanie Murphy of Winter Park introduced an amendment to the federal budget bill that would provide an additional $20 million for cities on the bubble like Orlando and San Antonio, which also has been pushing for a change in federal rules.

The money would go toward federal Urban Area Security Initiative grants to sustain training and equipment that was obtained with previous federal funds.

“This funding would help Orlando and other cities avoid losing ground on preparedness,” Demings, who’s been particularly outspoken about the issue, stated in a news release. “The federal government has a continuing responsibility to assist this nation’s cities in preventing and preparing to respond to acts of terrorism. I believe we have no greater obligation than to keep the people that we represent safe from harm.”

Demings is a member of the House Committee On Homeland Security.

“We have seen too many recent international and national tragedies, including in our beloved Orlando. In this era of growing terror threats, it is vital we are proactive with our preparedness and prevention plans. Additional funding for UASI counter-terror programs will equip our Central Florida police departments and first responders with the necessary training and resources to better protect our community in case of the unexpected. Orlando is a thriving, global city, and we must continue to do all we can to keep Floridians and our visitors safe and secure,” stated Soto.

“The safety of our communities must be a top priority. Additional funding for the UASI program will help ensure that cities like Orlando are prepared to handle potential terrorist attacks. As a global tourist destination, Orlando faces unique security challenges. An increase in UASI funding will give law enforcement and first responders the training and tools they need to keep our families safe,” Murphy stated.

Last year their predecessors, U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown, Alan Grayson and John Mica also implored the Department of Homeland Security to reevaluate its ranking system. Orlando had gotten antiterrorism money in previous years, but failed to qualify in 2015 and 2016. Demings’ husband, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings, and Orlando Police Chief John Mina testified before Congress on the need for such grants to Orlando.

Earlier this year, Demings, Soto, and Murphy voted for legislation that passed the House, House Resolution 2825, with a provision authored by Demings to create a new, permanent grant program to assist former UASI jurisdictions.


Hard Rock International to move Orlando headquarters

Hard Rock International is moving its corporate headquarters from Orlando to Hollywood in 2018.

The casino, hotel and restaurant conglomerate made the announcement on its website. It will bring staffers together by joining with its ownership, The Seminole Tribe of Florida and the Seminole Gaming organization.

Hard Rock has been based in Orlando since the Seminole Tribe bought it in 2007.

“The opportunity to combine the world-class talent of all three companies will create an even more powerful organization,” a statement from the company said. “At this time, details of the move and timing are still to be determined.”

The move may have been triggered by the resignation last year of CEO Hamish Dodds, who was based in Orlando. The current CEO Jim Allen leads the company from its South Florida casino.

Hard Rock International has venues in 75 countries, including 176 cafes, 24 hotels and 11 casinos. One of the company’s two most successful hotel and casino properties is in Hollywood and operated by the Seminole Tribe. The other is in Tampa.

Todd Wilcox expands private defense and intelligence business

Former Republican U.S. Senate candidate Todd Wilcox is expanding his private defense and intelligence specialist company with the acquisition of a rival company.

Wilcox’s primary company Patriot Defense Group announced the acquisition of Virginia based Silverback 7 marking the beginning of a 10-year strategy to grow its Maitland headquarters. The company will add 13 high-wage jobs in the Orlando region and employ hundreds of independent contractors, he reported.

Wilcox, of Orlando, also said he is remaining active in politics, keeping his super political action committee Restore American Leadership to influence federal elections

Wilcox ran in the 2016 primary field until incumbent U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio decided, in July 2016, to seek re-election.

Patriot Defense Group provides highly-specialized training and operational support to the U.S. government, U.S. military, and U.S. law enforcement communities is possible by working with officers from the Central Intelligence Agency, U.S. Special Operations Command, the Department of Justice, and the Department of State.

Silverback 7 also provides specialized defense and intelligence training, boasting on its website that it offers a hybrid team of special operations and intelligence personnel with national-level experience.

“The acquisition of Silverback 7 will expand our ability to support vital national security programs,” Wilcox stated in a news release issued by his company. “And there is no better business friendly environment to do that in than right here in Central Florida.”

Buddy Dyer casts backing to Anna Eskamani in HD 47

Insisting he endorses based on the person, not the party, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer Tuesday threw his support behind Democrat Anna Eskamani in the House District 47 race.

Dyer’s endorsement was no surprise, as Eskamani signaled last week that the Democrat mayor of 14 years, and a former state lawmaker himself, was coming to her corner. But it was no certainty, as Dyer chose to endorse the Republican, state Rep. Mike Miller, for the seat last year.

“I think it shows that I always endorse the best person for the position, rather than simply going by party. So it is somewhat relevant that I endorsed the Republican in this race last time around, because I thought he was the best candidate. And this time I endorse Anna because I think she is the best candidate,” Dyer said.

This year Miller is running for Congress, opening the seat representing north and central Orange County, including Winter Park, downtown Orlando, Dyer’s neighborhood of College Park, and a quilt of distinctive neighborhoods and small suburbs stretching to Belle Isle. Eskamani faces Winter Park businessman and longtime Republican operative Stockton Reeves for the seat.

“She’s tough, but caring. She can identify with the identify with the struggles of hard-working families and the challenges that small-business owner face. She knows that the only way to get things done is by building consensus across party lines, bridging cultural divides and making room for everyone at the table,” Dyer said at a press conference on the steps of Orlando City Hall. “She fights for meaningful change and not just to grab the spotlight. And she never shies away from a challenge.”

It may be one of the biggest endorsements in the race, as Dyer long has done well among Republican and independent voters, and his leadership of Orlando after last year’s Pulse massacre led to widespread talk of unity.

“As an Orlando native, I can’t think of a more meaningful endorsement,” she said afterwards. “Buddy Dyer has led this city through both triumph and tragedy. He is trusted voice across Central Florida. The fact that he trusts me to be a partner in Tallahassee is incredibly powerful.”


House bill takes aim at stadium projects

A Miami-Dade County Republican will again try to pass legislation that would prohibit sports franchises from being able to build or renovate stadiums on publicly owned land.

The measure (HB 13), introduced Wednesday by Hialeah Republican state Rep. Bryan Avila, is part of an effort by House leaders to limit public assistance to private companies. The bill is filed for the 2018 legislative session, which starts in January.

During the 2017 session, the House approved a similar proposal, while a Senate version did not get heard in committees. Last week, Avila filed a separate measure (HB 6005) that would repeal a controversial 2014 law that created a stadium-funding program. The program makes available a potential $13 million a year for stadium work.

But the House has prevented funding projects the past few years, even as the state Department of Economic Opportunity has approved applications submitted for EverBank Field in Jacksonville, Sun Life Stadium in Miami-Dade County, Daytona International Speedway, Raymond James Stadium in Tampa and a soccer stadium in Orlando.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Andrew Gillum: ‘Nothing admirable or respectable’ about Donald Trump

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum bills himself as the Democrat who is not afraid to be a Democrat and Thursday night he showed a gathering of University of Central Florida students he’s not afraid to call out President Donald Trump.

Challenged by a student who identified himself as not a Democrat who wanted to hear Gillum say something nice about Republicans, particularly Trump, the Tallahassee mayor praised the dignity of both Presidents George H.W. and George W. Bush and even grudgingly complimented former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush.

But Gillum refused to compliment Trump, essentially saying there was nothing admirable about him, not even for a Republican, except to “unite us in opposition.”

“He has united reasonable-thinking people on the left and on the right to oppose his hatred, his vitriol, his division, his derision, and his inability to be adult,” Gillum said. “He’s already proven he’s uniquely unqualified for the position.”

Gillum insisted he himself is a political optimist, but added, “You can’t get there without also calling out where we are. It’s important to acknowledge where this state has slid to, and where it has slid away from.”

This was Gillum’s fourth stop in his “Back to School” tour of college campuses this week, the second on Thursday, after Stetson University in DeLand. He openly sought try to mobilize college students to join he called “The G Unit,” to try to engage early dialogue and outreach among a segment of voters notorious for not voting. His appearance before about 100 people at UCF, not all of whom were students, was organized by the UCF College Democrats.

Gillum ran through his biography and Democratic platform, strong support for public education and the  environment, confronting issues associated with climate change, restoration of voting rights for felons, promotion of solar energy industry, appreciation of immigrants and refugees, and a retooling of the economy to get away from reliance on low-wage jobs..

He also pitched an idea for a four-year college plan: students who commit to work four years after graduation in a field the state needs help in, such as teachers, forestry firefighters, etc., the state would pay for their public university tuition.

Gillum also tossed unnamed comparisons to his Democratic rivals former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham [“I may not have the right last name,” an apparent reference to Graham’s father former Gov. Bob Graham] and Winter Park developer Chris King [“I surely can’t write my own check to become governor,” an apparent reference to King’s wealth.]

But the distinction that might stick with the young, disenchanted, disheartened voters that experts say populate college may be his “Democrat not afraid to be a Democrat” theme.

He praised Republicans who “have the fidelity in what they believe,” and who, even though he disagrees with their policies, “are in it for the right reasons, so far as their ideologies and belief systems go.” He used Jeb Bush as an example. Gillum said he disagreed “whole-heatedly” with the former governor’s education agenda, and had even led marches against it, but allowed, “I don’t doubt for a minute that Jeb Bush believes whole-heatedly in the mission that he’s trying to pursue.

“But that’s different from what we’re experiencing in the body politic today,” Gillum continued, “when we have a president who is willing to make immigrants feel unwanted, who is willing to give cover to racists, who is willing to malign some of the most helpless in our society.

“There is nothing admirable or respectable. And everything is disagreeable about that posture,” he concluded. “And I don’t make apologies about it.”


Cities face ‘all or nothing’ choices on medical marijuana

Florida cities and counties are in a dilemma about pot.

State lawmakers approved regulations in June that left city and county officials with a Hobson’s choice about the sale of medical marijuana in their communities.

Local governments can either impose outright bans on medical-marijuana dispensaries or allow unlimited numbers of marijuana retail outlets, under an “all or nothing” approach approved during a special legislative session.

Dozens of cities have approved or are considering temporary moratoriums on medical-marijuana dispensaries, but it’s unknown exactly how many local governments have acted on the issue, because nobody – including state health officials – is officially keeping track.

Marijuana operators’ search for retail space has bloomed after voters overwhelmingly approved a constitutional amendment in November that legalized marijuana for a broad swath of patients with debilitating medical conditions.

The scramble for retail outlets is expected to intensify as the number of marijuana operators continues to increase, and as local governments seek ways to restrain the sales of cannabis in their communities, at least for now.

As another result of the legislation approved during the June special session, state health officials recently authorized five new medical marijuana operations, on top of the seven businesses already active in the state. Five more are supposed to come online in October.

Nearly 72 percent of voters approved the constitutional amendment last fall, making it difficult for local officials to close the door completely on the sale of medical cannabis.

But while saying they respect the will of voters, many local officials also want the power to regulate the number of dispensaries, and where the businesses can be sited, something that’s essentially off the table in the new state law, which requires local governments to treat medical marijuana distribution centers in the same way pharmacies are handled.

Most cities and counties don’t have special regulations regarding pharmacies, but instead treat them like other retail, or “light commercial,” businesses.

While some communities contemplate new zoning rules for pharmacies, a move that also could curb the development of marijuana dispensaries, others are focused on the cannabis retail outlets.

For example, St. Augustine Beach commissioners last week approved a moratorium barring medical-marijuana dispensaries from opening in the waterfront community.

“I think the main reason was just wanting to see how the situation is going to shake out and what sort of problems might occur with the sales of this stuff. There was no particular anxiety over it, but I think it’s a fear of the unknown,” said Jim Wilson, a lawyer who represents the city. “We’re a small community, and we’d rather see how this works elsewhere before we connect into it. It may work out fine later on.”

But Sen. Rob Bradley, who has been a key player in the creation and passage of the state’s medical-marijuana laws the past three years, said the new regulations were meant to encourage competition in the state’s burgeoning marijuana industry.

“I would encourage our local partners to see the bigger picture here. We are bringing online several new licenses over the next year-and-a-half. It’s important for the long-term future of the medical marijuana industry that we have real competition among not only the incumbents but the new license holders,” Bradley, a Fleming Island Republican and former prosecutor, said in a recent interview. “If local governments were allowed at this point in time to restrict in their communities the number of dispensaries to only one or two or three, that would provide an unacceptable advantage to the incumbents.”

Regarding local officials’ fears about what are disparagingly known as “pot shops,” Bradley said he thinks they may be uninformed.

“When I see some of the comments from local officials, I’m not sure that they’ve read the details of the law. We have strict limitations on advertising and signage, and all of these dispensaries are required to have a doctor’s office feel,” he said.

The new restrictions imposed by the Legislature, paired with a push by marijuana operators to open retail facilities, create “an awkward situation for a lot of cities,” said John Wayne Smith, a lobbyist who represents numerous cities and counties as well as the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of Counties.

While local governments are largely focused on budget issues during the summer, they may turn their attention to medical marijuana later in the year, Smith predicted.

Others may wait for the Legislature to revamp the state law.

“I would say that it’s probably half-baked and this is probably an issue that is going to evolve and get tweaked over the next five to 10 years,” Smith said.

But the passage of the state-imposed prohibition on local governments’ ability to limit the number of retail outlets poses a problem for cities like Lake Worth, which authorized two medical marijuana dispensaries before approving a moratorium aimed at preventing others from opening.

It’s unclear, however, whether the new state law will require the city to open its doors to more dispensaries, an issue on which municipal lawyers are divided.

“By doing a nothing or all, and because we already have two, this is what you’ve done to my city. Everyone around me has a moratorium, but you’ve now told my city it’s a free-for-all,” Lake Worth City Commissioner Andy Amoroso told The News Service of Florida.

Amoroso stressed that he supports legalization of recreational marijuana and endorses the use of medical marijuana for sick patients. But he also emphasized that the state law “jeopardizes what our cities look like.”

Lake Worth is surrounded by other communities that have banned the sales of medical marijuana, meaning that retailers will likely target his city, Amoroso maintained.

Lake Worth officials need “to be able to control” what their 7-square-mile city “looks like,” Amoroso said.

“If I have medical marijuana on every corner, I can’t do that,” he said.

But Orlando city attorney Kyle Shephard said he believes a moratorium recently passed by his commission will allow the city to stop any more medical-marijuana retail shops from opening.

“Every city attorney may answer this differently, depending on their own local situation,” Shepard told the News Service.

Orlando adopted its ordinance allowing up to seven medical marijuana dispensaries before the state law (SB 8-A) was passed, Shepard said. The city believes that means its ordinance won’t be affected by the new law.

“If you didn’t get your rules on the books before SB 8 went into effect at the end of June, then you are sort of hamstrung,” Shepard said.

Orange Park council members recently advanced an ordinance that would prohibit pharmacies from opening in “light” commercial areas – something that wouldn’t affect any of the drug stores currently in operation, according to Mayor Scott Land.

The town council approved the new regulation in response to the state law, which the mayor called “an all or nothing, almost.”

“So instead of doing the all, a lot of people are going to probably choose the nothing,” he said. “I think it’s going to make it difficult for the dispensaries.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Adam Putnam: Nobody knows Florida better than I

Adam Putnam assured the 200 or so delegates to his breakfast at the Republican Party of Florida quarterly meeting in Orlando Saturday that he knows their towns, he knows their roads, he knows their barbecue places, and he knows their hopes, dreams, and struggles of living somewhere that’s not on an Interstate exit.

The Florida agriculture commissioner and former state lawmaker and former U.S. Congressman running for governor spun his theme of Florida being the greatest state, where everyone wants to visit or live, while pressing conservatism, urging that Florida must be “the launching pad of the American dream,” and warning of liberal uprisings, with “The left is coming for us!”

And, most of all, the candidate turned on his folksy side, reminded everyone he’s a fifth-generation Floridian with a ranch outside of Bartow, and strove to connect with Republicans in too-often-ignored rural areas and small towns from the Keys to the western panhandle.

Putnam, alone in the Republican race for governor until Friday, now has serious competition for the Republican primary nomination. State Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater filed to run Friday and addressed the Republican convention Friday night. Potential candidate U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach was to address the crowd Saturday afternoon. House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’ Lakes also is a real prospect.

On Saturday morning, Putnam was positioning himself as the grassroots candidate.

He spoke of how two-thirds of Floridians don’t have college degrees so the state must put more emphasis on technical training and less on trying to get everyone to go to college. He spoke of making sure everyone has the chance to start their own businesses, and don’t dismiss someone starting out with a lawn-care business.

“I know our state,” Putnam said. “I know every corner of our state. I’ve been down every four-lane, every dirt road. I know all the barbecue restaurants. If you need a tip I can tell you where the best pulled-pork meal is, where the best brisket is, who’s got the best chicken. I know our state like the back of my hand. I am dedicated to the future of our state.”

From there, he appeared to respond to Latvala’s comments Friday night, when the House Appropriations Committee chairman lashed out at other candidates, whom he didn’t name, whom he accused of forgetting the needs of the Republican Party of Florida while they pursued their own careers, and of raising money for their own causes, without contributing to the party.

“We’re going to bring this state together. And this party is a part of that. It’s an integral part of that,” Putnam said to the party loyalists at the Rosen Shingle Creek Resort. “It’s not us against them. It’s not Bradford versus Highlands. It’s not the party versus the electeds. You have seen me at your meetings and in your Lincoln Days…. I can’t succeed as a governor if we don’t succeed as a party.”


Adam Putnam pushes Florida Forever funding as helping Florida on multiple levels

Speaking to a Florida Chamber of Commerce Foundation meeting on military issues, Florida Agriculture Commissioner and Republican gubernatorial candidate Adam Putnam pushed for funding for Florida Forever.

Putnam said in Orlando Tuesday that lands acquired through Florida Forever purchases not only help all the conservation causes but bolster the state’s economic strength, in particular when its used to develop buffers around military bases.

He expressed strong disappointment that the Florida Legislature allotted no money for Florida Forever this year, and said later, speaking to the press, that even $50 million a year might not be enough.

“I’m pretty disappointed on a lot of levels that that funding was zeroed out this year,” Putnam said.

“I’m not ready to roll out a policy paper, but historically, for the last seven years Florida Forever, I don’t know if it’s ever been above $50” million, he said later to reporters. “You know, I think that’s a minimum, if you’re going to make an impact at today’s real estate values. So I would suggest a significantly higher number than that is necessary to accomplish what we want to accomplish, to have connected corridors in Florida, and protect the things and serve the things that make Florida Florida.”

Putnam is the only Republican in the race so far, though state Sen. Jack Latvala of Clearwater will be announcing his plans next week, and U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis of Ponte Vedra Beach and House Speaker Richard Corcoran of Land O’ Lakes reportedly are weighing the prospect.  The Democrats so far are fielding former U.S. Rep. Gwen Graham of Tallahassee, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, and Winter Park developer Chris King.

Most of Putnam’s 17-minute address to the chamber group Monday focused on his vow to make Florida “the most military and veteran friendly state in the nation,” a nod to the theme of the conference dubbed the “Military, Defense and Veterans Opportunities Summit.”

Yet while Putnam went through his agenda of efforts to support the military and veterans, including waiving application fees for veterans and military personnel to receive concealed weapons permits, the talk turned broader as he talked about using Florida Forever money to acquire buffers around military and other federal installations as a way to protect them from base closures and offer opportunities for expansion.

That calls in both Florida Forever and the state’s Rural Family Lands program, which he said have included considerations of creating more buffer around military bases.

“My point this morning was, look at the layers of benefits that come from that program, not only do you have the obvious water recharge, wildlife habitat, connecting corridors, public recreation areas, but in circumstances where those conservation lands are near military training ranges or bases, you’re getting the additional benefit of BRAC-proofing Florida,” he said, referring to the federal base Realignment and Closure program.

In his speech, called for all state agencies to prioritize veterans and their families in offering assistance for them to move on to civilian life, for permit fees to be waived, and for Florida to offer reciprocity to recognize military licensers for professional specialities.

Putnam also predicted that the emerging aerospace assembly industry along the Space Coast and northward to Jacksonville will lead to a new glory day for the space program in Florida, better than the days of the Apollo and space shuttle missions under NASA, which lead to boom and bust impacts.

That is the hope for the region, though the NASA jobs were lost by the thousands and so far the jobs being brought in by the private space companies such as Blue Origin and SpaceX have been numbered in the scores or low hundreds.

“As we look to the future, we’ll see that the glory days of Florida’s space age will not have been the Apollo program, and will not have been the space shuttle program, but will be the joint process of civilian and military investment that is going on in Florida right now, where the factories that will build the satellites will be in Florida,” Putnam said. “The rockets will be assembled in Florida. They will be launched from Florida. They will be landed in Florida. They will be repurposed and refurbished in Florida…. And they will make 60 launches a year.”

Rev. Jesse Jackson visits Florida, discusses voter suppression

The Rev. Jesse Jackson says there was no evidence of voter fraud in the 2016 presidential election but says President Trump’s Commission on Election Integrity should look at the suppression of minority voters in certain states, including Florida.

The civil rights activist visited St. John Baptist Church in Orlando Sunday to encourage voter participation and to talk about voter suppression.

In a call with The Associated Press, Jackson said between 1.3 and 1.7 million voters don’t have the right to vote in Florida because they have a felony conviction although they are no longer incarcerated.

Jackson says his Rainbow PUSH Coalition has set up its own commission of scholars and activists to look into such voter suppression. The group is also focusing on voter registration in closely watched elections in Virginia and New Jersey. And in Florida, the group is focused on restoration of voting rights for felons.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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