Orlando Archives - Page 4 of 35 - Florida Politics

Orange County moving forward on I-Drive pedicab regulation

With a rapid increase of pedicabs that apparently now include many that are currently unregulated, Orange County officials laid out a proposed ordinance Tuesday to require permits, insurance, inspections, and enforcement along International Drive.

The ordinance is largely supported by a handful of pedicab companies that already are operating under a separate set of rules and permits that give them authorization to serve the Orange County Convention Center. It’s also being pushed by International Drive businesses and the convention center.

Any pedicab operating outside of the convention center property is not regulated, and both county officials and a couple of pedicab company owners, notably John Forgione of 5 Star Pedicab, contended that slipshod competitors show up with unsafe cabs and unsafe driving and charge unfair fares, especially whenever there’s a big convention in town.

However, disagreements are arising as county officials try to deal with both economics and technologies affecting the scores of bicycle taxis operating in the county’s convention and tourism district.

Among them are questions of whether the county should cap the number of permits, much as taxi companies are limited by the number of cab medallions available, whether small electric motors – dubbed “driver assist devices” – would be banned, how fares might be defined if drivers work largely on tips, and how much leeway county and law enforcement officials might have to close streets to pedicabs either temporarily or permanently.

“International Drive is the street we’re on. So if we’re not allowed on International Drive for any period of time, it would put us out of business,” said Catherine Ojeda, owner of Redi Pedi Cab Company, which runs up to 20 pedicabs in the area.

The proposal, as outlined Tuesday before the Orange County Board of Commissioners by County Transportation Supervisor Krista Barber, would pedicab companies and drivers to get county permits to operate anywhere in the International Drive Improvement District, which stretches from just north of Sand Lake Road to SeaWorld, and includes the convention center and numerous hotels and attractions. They would need liability insurance and meet equipment and safety requirements.

The county is proposing reducing the minimum age of drivers from 21 to 18, to allow for more college student-aged drivers. They must undergo background checks and adhere to codes of conduct and dress. The sheriff’s office and the county program administrator would enforce rules and could levy fines, impound vehicles, revoke permits, and make arrests.

Is Orlando a ‘sanctuary city?’ What’s a ‘sanctuary city?’

No one has identified Orlando as one of the “sanctuary cities” providing safe havens for undocumented immigrants while sustaining conservatives’ wrath and potential funding cuts from President Donald Trump‘s orders, but when the question comes up, Orlando responds with a puzzle.

“While it’s not clear exactly what the definition of a “sanctuary city” is, it is clear what Orlando is,” the office of Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer responded Friday, in a statement, to a question about a sanctuary city status. “In Orlando, diversity and inclusion are a vital part of our way of life.”

Sanctuary cities can be difficult to identify because they do not have to be overt. Those that use city ordinances or written executive decisions to discourage or ban police from detaining undocumented immigrants, or from turning them over to the U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement officials, and to make sure all city services are extended to all residents regardless of immigration status, are obvious. Others, which discourage or decline to detain or turn over undocumented immigrants, while seeking to extend all services, based on policies or in-house legal interpretations, can have the same impact without codifying the practice.

And cities can pursue such policies to various lengths.

Last month Trump signed an executive order blocking sanctuary cities from qualifying for certain federal assistance.

Dyer, a Democrat, has not made any statements suggesting the city was informally pursuing sanctuary policies, but he also has not refuted the idea.

Orange County Republican Chairman Lew Oliver said he had not heard nor seen anything suggesting it was happening, adding, “My sense is it’s not the kind of thing our mayor or our city would be interested in doing.”

Still, the city’s statement, while making no explicit claims to any sanctuary policies, at least embraces some of the values of sanctuary.

“We have a long history of advancing policies that embrace diversity and celebrate our various cultures, including establishing a non-discrimination ordinance over 40 years ago,” the statement continues, citing various non-discrimination programs.

“This has made our City stronger and a more prosperous place for everyone.”

The statement also discusses how the city responded as united following the June 12 massacre at the popular gay nightclub Pulse, declaring, “we embraced and supported each other, no matter religion, race, ethnicity or sexual orientation. We responded together as one Orlando, a united Orlando.”

“As a City, we remain focused on continuing to find ways to work together to overcome hate, intolerance and injustice and embrace diversity, equality and fairness in Orlando and throughout the nation,” the statement continued. “Part of this effort means ensuring we remain a City and a government that values diversity in all that we do, continuing not to focus on immigration enforcement, but on being the best place in America to live, work, play and raise a family.”

Orange County, Orlando’s alter-ego covering the entire county population with its own ordinances, is clearer. It does not have sanctuary city policies, Mayor Teresa Jacobs said earlier this week in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel. Jacobs responded to questions after a dozen or so immigration proponents and others urged the Board of County Commissioners Tuesday to consider adopting sanctuary policies. She said immigration policy was above the county’s authority, and that she believes “cities may find a way to try to intervene in the immigration debate,” Congress and the federal government need to address it.

 

Report cites Orlando, Miami, for having large undocumented immigrant populations

Miami and Orlando are among the biggest homes in the United States to unauthorized immigrants, according to a new report from the Pew Research Center.

The report, base on 2014 data analyzed by Pew, estimates that there are 450,000 undocumented immigrants in the Miami-megaplex that includes Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach, ranking the metro area as the fifth largest, behind New York, Los Angeles, Houston and Dallas, but ahead of Chicago and Washington D.C.

In the Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford metropolitan area, the report estimates 110,000 unauthorized immigrants, ranking 19th nationally. The Orlando is the nation’s 25th largest metro area.

Pew reports that its analysis shows that the nation’s unauthorized immigrant population is highly concentrated, more so than the U.S. population overall. In 2014, the 20 metro areas with most unauthorized immigrants were home to 6.8 million of them, or 61 percent of the estimated nationwide total. By contrast, only 36 percent of the total U.S. population lived in those metro areas.

The analysis also shows that unauthorized immigrants tend to live where other immigrants live. Among lawful immigrants – including naturalized citizens and noncitizens – 65 percentage lived in those top metros. But not all major metropolitan areas house major populations of unauthorized immigrants.

The Tampa-St Petersburg-Clearwater metro area has about 75,000; Cape Coral-Fort Myers, 35,000; Naples, 30,000; and Jacksonville, Sarasota-Bradenton, and Lakeland-Winter Haven about 20,000 each, according to the Pew report.

Stephanie Murphy lands counter-terrorism, military-readiness committee posts

Freshman U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy‘s professional background in the U.S. Department of Defense has led her to pick up two subcommittee posts overseeing military counter-terrorism and readiness efforts, her office announced Thursday.

Murphy, the Winter Park Democrat who was appointed earlier this year to the House Armed Services Committee, has been assigned to seats on that committee’s subcommittees for Emerging Threats and Capabilities, and Readiness. Murphy once worked as a defense analyst within the U.S. Department of Defense.

The Emerging Threats and Capabilities Subcommittee is responsible for overseeing counter-terrorism programs and initiatives and counter proliferation of weapons of mass destruction. Additionally, this subcommittee oversees U.S. Special Operations Forces, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency), information technology and programs, force protection policy and oversight, and related intelligence support.

The Readiness Subcommittee oversees military readiness and training, logistics and maintenance issues and programs, military construction, installations and family housing issues, and the military base closure process. It also oversees civilian personnel, energy security, and environmental issues that affect Department of Defense.

Murphy representas Florida’s 7th Congressional District, covering all of Seminole County and north-central and northeast Orange County, including Maitland, Winter Park and much of Orlando.

“The security of the American people must be our top priority, and I will use my experience at the Pentagon and my roles on the Armed Services Committee to ensure our men and women in uniform have the training, resources, and support they need to keep us safe,” Murphy stated in a news release issued by her office. “Florida is home to numerous active-duty, reserve and National Guard installations and plays a strategic role in our nation’s defenses, so it is important that Florida has a strong voice in Congress as we set defense and military policy. We must also ensure that we are taking care of our veterans and military families who deserve our full support.”

Puerto Rico crisis panel brings it home to Florida

The social fallout from Puerto Rico’s multi-fasceted financial crisis must be dealt with in more immediate ways in Central Florida where so much of the diaspora is fleeing, a panel of scholars urged key Puerto Rican political leaders in Orlando Friday.

Their call for concern for recognizing, assisting, and empowering Puerto Ricans settling by the thousand in the Orlando-Kissimmee area was not lost on the area’s lawmakers, who, led by state Rep. Rene Plasencia, agreed that while they can do little to change the situation on the island, they can and should do more for people settling in Florida.

“I think our conversations have been on what has been happening on the island, and that’s not where our focus should be,” Plasencia said. “It should be on what we can do for Puerto Ricans here in Central Florida.”

He was joined on a bipartisan group of politicians Friday including state Sen. Victor Torres, state Reps. Bob Cortes and Carlos Guillermo Smith and Kissimmee Mayor Jose Alvarez, as all as representatives of state Rep. David Santiago, U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, and Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs. The group was evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats.

They gathered in the Orange County Commission chambers to hear demographic numbers, stories, concerns, and recommendations from three University of Central Florida professors and one Barry University School of Law professor, with specialties in Puerto Rico history, sociology, politics, and law, and in the diaspora in the United States that now outnumbers Puerto Ricans living on the island. They are Luis Martinez-Fernandez, Enrique Guerra, Fernando Rivera, and Anthony Suarez.

One primary message: help the people here. An estimated 230 people per day are moving from the island to Florida, seeking more stability and better lives, but they’re not necessarily finding it, the panelists said. Many with college degrees and professional or middle class backgrounds in Puerto Rico wind up in blue-collar jobs because they cannot find work to match their backgrounds. Others struggle in Central Florida’s low-wage tourism economy, he said.

In 2000, the U.S. Census found approximately 482,000 Puerto Ricans in Florida. Today that number is over 1 million, and soon the Sunshine State will surpass New York as having the most Puerto Ricans outside the island. And the migration is circular, with people freely moving back and forth between the island, the northeast U.S., and Florida.

“In my humble observation, with so many hundreds of families moving from the island to Puerto Rico every single month, there’s kind of a frustration from so many of the families when they arrive, because they believe they are moving so that they can create a better life for their family and have access to a better-paying job, better benefits,” Smith said. “And the reality is, when they get to Orlando in particular… they are living on starvation wages, they don’t have access to public health benefits, they don’t have access to public transportation, [and] affordable housing is horrific in Orange County.”

The vast majority of Puerto Ricans live in just 10 Florida counties: six in the I-4 corridor from Hillsborough County through Central Florida to Volusia County; the three big counties of South Florida; and Lee County, according to a presentation from Suarez.

The current migration, of about 80,000 people per year, is a “cluster migration” where families are attracting relatives and friends to join them, making areas such as the Orlando-Kissimmee market into huge magnets, Martinez-Fernandez said.

And they’re not voting, said Suarez, president of the Puerto Rican Bar Association of Florida. Thirty-four percent of Hispanics are not registered to vote. And 59 percent said they never vote, “which is a shocking number,” Suarez said. “We’ve got to register these people, and there’s a lot of work to be done in that area.”

Nor are they necessarily flexing the kind of power they might have, Martinez-Fernandez said, notwithstanding the fact that Plasencia, Torres, Cortes, Smith, Alvarez, Soto and Santiago all are at least part Puerto Rican. The UCF social scientist said they are underrepresented in Florida’s public boards, civic boards, corporate boardrooms and other leadership posts throughout Florida. He said there is a lack of recognition of the now robust and still growing community.

“How can you get away with spending so many resources, say on the arts venue, and in ten years not have anything devoted to Puerto Ricans or Hispanics?” he inquired. “It’s outrageous. Now if we have those voices, we can make those things happen. One voice is not enough. We need a critical mass. We have a critical mass in population, but we do not have a critical mass in places of power.”

New Orlando chamber chief Tim Giuliani sees synergy ahead

A new era is starting for the Orlando’s chamber of commerce and Economic Development Commission – fully merged now and awaiting Tim Giuliani as the new leader who says the synergy of the merger should make it more holistic and nimble in promoting business.

The new commerce organization was created from the merger of the Orlando Economic Development Commission and the Central Florida Partnership, which includes the Orlando Regional Chamber of Commerce. It’ll get its new name about the same time Giuliani starts.

Giuliani, 35, will start in mid-March.

Giuliani said the merger creates the advantage of bringing the two missions – the interests of the existing business community, and the need to reach out to attract new business, together in one plan. He said it also brings more resources and capabilities to efforts to address emerging opportunities or issues.

It’s a similar model to what Giuliani has run in Raleigh, N.C., and Gainesville. The Saint Augustine native who received his bachelor’s degree from Florida State and MBA from the University of Florida became president and chief executive of the Gainesville Area Chamber of Commerce and Council for Economic Outreach, and then took on a similar role at the Greater Raleigh’s Chamber of Commerce, which includes Raleigh’s economic development program.

“You get alignment from the business leadership in the community. So everyone is focused on the same sheet of music. everyone is in the room together. That’s a huge advantage instead of having two different areas not looking at the full picture. This way the full economic picture is on the table,” Giuliani said. “And from a staff perspective and organizational perspective, you have your sales team talking to your product-development team.”

In Raleigh, Giuliani was the voice for business in one of the country’s most robust and dynamic high-tech corridors, the Research Triangle created through the shared efforts of North Carolina State in Raleigh, University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill, and Duke University in Durham. Raleigh also is the state capital.

So he knows what it’s like to oversee high-tech commerce.

“One of the most important drivers if not the most important drivers of the decision-making process is talent. Can the company hire the talent they need to stay on the cutting edge, and stay ahead of the game, stay ahead of disruptive technologies. Do they [such employees] want to live in your community?” Giuliani said.

With Duke, NC State and North Carolina, the universities have been gearing their programs, research and commercialization toward the Research Triangle “for decades,” Giuliani said.

The anchor in Central Florida would be the University of Central Florida, which bills itself as America’s partnership university and has been digging deep to establish centers of excellence particularly in lasers and optics and simulation and modeling software, while partnering to try to develop emerging centers in medical research and sensors technologies. Giuliani said he likes what he knows about UCF, and notes UF and other schools also have investments in the region’s tech efforts.

On the other hand, UCF remains a relative modest player in research money, far below what the Research Triangle Universities do. In 2015 UCF conducted about $215 million worth of research, while Duke and North Carolina each did about $1 billion, and NC State did about a half-billion, according to the National Science Foundation. UF and the University of South Florida, which are part of the I-4 research consortium with UCF, did about $740 million and $485 million respectively.

“The thing that enthuses me the most is how much of a priority  this is for UCF, how much pride they take in the patents and commercialization of products,” Giuliani said. “It’s that drive that will continue to get them further and further up the list in research funding.”

“I think the business community can certainly be a champion and advocate for the research institutions so they don’t have to carry all of that water themselves,” he said.

Those high-tech businesses also put high value in quality of life issue, and the economic fundamentals, he said. Is housing affordable? Is there enough to do on the weekends? Are there other things for the employees to do if they chose to leave the company? Is there an eco-system to support growth?

Sure, Orlando has theme parks and beaches nearby, and a top, international airport with direct flights to almost everywhere. But he views the emerging performing arts through the Dr. Phillips Center, transit and other infrastructure, and other developments such as the rising Lake Nona and the planned Creative Village, as completing the picture for attracting 21st century business.

“I know everyone talks about quality of life. I think it’s coming into sharper forces as the economy is driven more and more by the workforce, he said.

Women’s March in Orlando brings out hundreds standing up for civil rights and issues

Worldwide on Saturday afternoon, women and the men who stand with them marched and rallied against new President Donald Trump. Orlando’s march happened at Lake Eola’s Walt Disney Amphitheater, which filled with hundreds of people, covering every square inch of the park.

Over the loudspeakers, speakers spoke empowering messages of women’s rights and the need to stand up and protest.

The event, like others happening around the country and worldwide, was a reaction to the election of Trump, whose messages and statements on the campaign trail since 2015 have many people fearful about what he’ll do on the many issues they care about.

The crowd in Orlando was full of people milling around with shirts bearing slogans like ‘Feminist’ or ‘Nasty Woman’ as well as signs of protest, touting ‘Not My President,’ expressing messages of support for women’s reproductive rights, the Affordable Care Act, LGBT issues, climate change and more. Some signs called for Trump’s impeachment.

“We wanted to come out and make sure our voices were heard,” said protester Robin Katz. “Protecting climate change, reproductive health, the rights of people of color… these should be the top issues.”

An older man calling himself Pippi Dreadstocking, with a long gray beard and a huge cardboard box with a sign proclaiming Trump to be “never his president,” stood by Rosalind Avenue, strikingly visible to passing motorists.

“I’m here in solidarity with the women of this planet,” he said. “I see this new leader as a threat to all life on this Earth as we know it. As a white man, it’s my job to support every other group attacked. It’s my duty as a citizen. If you do nothing, you’re complacent.”

Over the loudspeaker, the messages kept coming, a never-ending stream of them: “If women succeed, we all succeed,” one speaker triumphantly proclaimed.

But through all their messages they were unified in purpose.

“It’s about peace,” said protester Andrea Delph. “About being around others who share your values. With this new presidential year… I wanted to be here with all my women.”

Orlando is building the train station, not sure when or if trains will arrive

By the end of this year Orlando’s gleaming new $211 million train station should be virtually finished at Orlando International Airport, but it may be many years before trains start rolling in – if at all.

The Greater Orlando Aviation Authority is building a train station based on a vision of the future in which planes, trains, cars and buses all come together at what would be Florida’s tourism hub, with a people-mover tram connecting the station to the main air terminals, and a walkway to the next big air terminal GOAA plans to build next door. There also will be a new parking garage there.

In the vision, the planes would arrive from Sao Paulo, London, Frankfurt, New York, Atlanta, Los Angeles and elsewhere. The visitors move to the station from the main terminal on the people-mover trams, and then board 100-mph trains for South Florida, commuter trains to downtown Orlando and the rest of the SunRail corridor, or light-rail trains to the Orange County Convention Center and the glittery hotels and attractions of International Drive. Or they get off those planes and trains and board buses or taxis, or rental cars, to explore the world’s tourism Mecca of Central Florida.

Construction of the station, known in transportation-jargon as the Orlando Intermodal Transportation Facility, began with contracts and promises for multiple trains and the kind of widespread civic support for which Orlando’s big projects are known.

“We’re moving along. We expect the project to be substantially complete,” GOAA Executive Director Phil Brown said of the train station, the parking garage and the people mover. “We’ll probably be operational in the fall of 2017.”

But trains never come easily for Orlando.

Brightline, formerly known as All Aboard Florida, just unveiled its first train set in West Palm Beach, with assurances that it and 15 others should start rolling, full of passengers, between there and Fort Lauderdale and Miami, by year’s end. Brightline has even begun test runs with the train, on 9 miles of test tracks. The stations there are nearly done. The tracks are nearly all ready. The marketing program is gearing up. Brightline secured $600 million in financing for it all.

The real draw of Brightline, though, may be its future connection from there to the Orlando Intermodal Transportation Facility at Orlando International Airport. With that, the state’s two biggest tourism centers could become an easy, two-day, two-attraction ticket. In addition to Orlando visitors heading south, South Florida visitors could head north.

There’s a place for Brightline at the Orlando Intermodal Transportation Facility.

Brightline has all the track corridor it needs from Palm Beach to Cocoa, has signed contracts with GOAA and the Central Florida Expressway Authority to obtain the corridors needed from there to the Orlando Intermodel Transportation Facility, and has spent at least $90 million on right of way. The company’s environmental impact statement is essentially done, and most of its permits are acquired. Planning, design and engineering work for the final track segments have begun.

Yet Brightline’s track from Palm Beach to Orlando is snarled in opposition and litigation. County and local leaders of Florida’s Treasure Coast want no part of being ride-over territory for trains traveling more than 100 mph through their scores of at-grade intersections and bridging their environmentally-sensitive rivers, canals and wetlands.

Last year Martin and Indian River counties sued in U.S. District Court and won some key preliminary decisions. Brightline’s financing was locked up. So, this past fall the company filed to split its funding plan, severing the $1 billion or so worth of tax-exempt bonds it needs for the controversial Orlando-Palm Beach portion from the rest, in case that portion never comes together. For the moment, that money is gone.

The lawsuit continues, as do other challenges, including to the environmental statement, and the permits Brightline has received from the South Florida Water Management District.

Brightline remains undaunted, though.

“We are committed to extending Brightline to Orlando, and we are exploring financing options for Phase 2,” spokeswoman Ali Soule said.

Initially, back when GOAA and All Aboard Florida reached their first agreements and the Orlando Intermodal Transportation Facility was green-lighted, the plan was for the first Brightline train to arrive at the airport this year. This year became the completion target for Orlando’s station.

Now, no specific timetables are being offered for the Brightline trains, not even ballparks, not even to GOAA officials.

The first rail of track has not been installed yet nor have any of the needed five bridges been built in the 38 miles between Cocoa and Orlando. The company also has to double-track the rest of the route, and the first rail of new track has not yet been laid, nor any of the 18 bridges upgraded, in the 129 miles between Cocoa and Palm Beach. All of that must be built after the lawsuits wrap up, and after new financing is secured.

“I think we anticipate there may be a delay from when we had originally anticipated they would be completed the same time we would be completed,” Brown said. “I don’t think that’s realistic now. But not having ever built a railroad, I wouldn’t want to suggest how they do that.”

Yet Brightline might wind up being the airport’s best train option for the foreseeable future.

The aviation authority, Orlando, Orange County, the Florida Department of Transportation, and the expressway authority also have been talking for years to a group including, at various times, the Spanish train company Globalvia, Florida EMMI LLC of Orlando, and American MagLev Technologies of Marietta, Georgia, for a magnetic-letivation train or, in more recent proposals, a light-rail train, to connect the airport with the Orange County Convention Center and International Drive.

There once was talk of the train starting service to the Orlando Intermodal Transportation Facility next year. But now GOAA officials are not looking for the proposed $560 million, private-planned, -financed, -developed and -operated train anytime soon.

“I don’t think the light rail project, if it goes forward, will be in there any sooner than 2021,” Brown said.

For now, there is disagreement about how welcome it is at the airport. GOAA officials don’t see the train as adding anything for the airport, only supplanting existing transportation: taxis, buses and rental cars. That trio provides significant fee revenue to the airport, so GOAA officials want the train companies to agree to replace those fees.

“They have issues with it, and they are contemplating how that works in with their feasibility,” Brown said.

American MagLev and EMMI already had negotiated a right of way lease along State Road 528 with the Florida Department of Transportation for just over 60 percent of the proposed corridor it needs. But the option has not been exercised and may be in trouble.

Tony Morris, president of American MagLev and manager of Florida EMMI, insisted in an email to FloridaPolitics.com that talks with the government agencies are ongoing and well, and he expects to wrap them up early this year.

“We spent all of 2015 and 2016 negotiating with the local stakeholders, for a project that we are paying 100 percent of the costs. That phase took two years longer than expected, but we think we are finishing that up now, hopefully in the next 60 days. When these agreements are done, we can then do the easy part, which is to build it,” Morris wrote. “The land is 100 percent in the public domain… This is a big advantage.”

The right of way lease option was to have expired at the beginning of this year because the companies had not met required conditions demanded by FDOT, and the department reluctantly extended it six months. But only six months. “No further extension will be granted,” FDOT Secretary Jim Boxold wrote earlier this month to Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer, and GOAA Chairman Frank Kruppenbacher, who all are on the GOAA board.

Those Orlando-area leaders had advised Boxold, in December, that their talks with the company were leading to other potential alignments. Boxold responded sternly in his Jan. 3 letter, stating that fundamental changes in alignment would not be consistent with “the terms of the EMMI proposal or the negotiated escrowed lease.”

“If the proposal by EMMI to establish a maglev system along State Road 528 does not reach fruition, we will be happy to discuss other concepts you may have for establishing that connection,” Boxold advised the Orlando leaders.

Then there is SunRail, Orlando’s commuter train, run by the Florida Department of Transportation, which operates on a north-south line that runs from DeBary in Volusia County, through downtown Orlando, to Sand Lake Road in south Orange County.

The next phase is an extension of that line southward into Osceola County, through Kissimmee, to Poinciana. That leg is to be finished late this year. The next phase after that was to be an extension of the line northward to Deland, though that died with opposition from U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, whose district includes Deland.

The phase after that was to be a new line running eastward, to Orlando International Airport.

There’s a place for SunRail at the Orlando Intermodal Transportation Facility.

No firm plans, timetables or alignments ever have been announced, though.

The Florida Department of Transportation is still studying the prospect, and it has no federal funding, which was envisioned to pay for most of it. The region’s transportation planning agency, MetroPlan Orlando, now programs federal construction money for the airport SunRail line to become available no sooner than 2020. Another MetroPlan projection has the project completed in 2016, noting that $153 million of the estimated $195 million cost is unidentified.

“Currently, study continues to examine which modes of transport, from SunRail Phase 2 to the airport, would be most efficient, cost feasible, and would qualify to be federally funded in part, as well as meet the needs of the community,” FDOT District 5 public information specialist Jen Horton stated in an email. “Once that additional study/work is complete, the plan would be presented to the public in the form of a public hearing.”

The trains lost crucial support in Congress when two highly committed and active backers, U.S. Reps. Corrine Brown of Jacksonville and John Mica of Winter Park, both lost re-election bids last year. Brown had served on the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee, while Mica was a former chairman of that committee with considerable influence at the U.S. Department of Transportation. Both had close ties to both SunRail and Brightline.

In their place, newly-elected U.S. Rep. Brian Mast was given a seat on the transportation committee last week. Mast, a Republican whose Florida’s 18th Congressional District includes the Treasure Coast counties of Indian River and Martin, is “100 percent against” Brightline running through his district from Palm Beach to Orlando, said Mast’s communication director Brad Stewart.

Nonetheless, Orlando airport officials are pushing forward. They do have some financial security. Most of the station was paid for with state transportation grants, and they have a $10 million line of credit from Brightline, provided to help amortize the $52 million in bonds.

Though it is already clear the train station will open without trains, and may stay that way for years, it still will have some use, Phil Brown said.

“We will be using the people mover system … We’ll have a parking garage down there. That clearly will be operational as well, because we, on a regular basis in the last several months, we’ve had to shut down the structured parking at the airport because it’s full. We have a need for more parking,” he said.

Florida unemployment rate holds steady at 4.9% in December

Florida’s unemployment rate remained unchanged in December, holding steady at 4.9 percent for the second month in a row.

State officials, however, touted gains made in 2016, boasting Florida businesses created 237,300 private sector jobs in 2016.

“Over the last six years, we’ve worked each day to make it easier for job creators to invest and create new opportunities in our state, and we will continue to do everything we can to help Florida out compete other locations as the best place for jobs,” said Gov. Rick Scott in a statement.

Scott typically makes the monthly jobs announcement during a press conference, but the Naples Republican was in Washington, D.C. on Friday for the inauguration of Donald Trump.

“Today, as we proudly welcome a new president who will make job creation a top priority across our nation, we stand ready to fight for another great year of economic growth in Florida,” he said.

According to the Department of Economic Opportunity, Florida’s job growth has exceeded the nation’s rate since 2012. The agency reported December was the 77th consecutive month with “positive over-the-year growth.”

The leisure and hospitality industry continues to make the most gains, growing by 4.6 percent year-over-year.

“With more than 250,000 job openings across the state and more than 1.25 million new private-sector jobs created in the last six years, it’s clear Florida is a great place to find a good job,” said Cissy Proctor, the executive director of Florida Department of Economic Opportunity, in a statement. “Our low unemployment rate and strong record of job creation prove Florida is a great state to do business.”

The majority of the state’s 24 metro areas saw gains in December compared to the same time in 2015. The Orlando metropolitan area once again led the state in private sector job growth, adding 48,300 new private sector jobs in 2016.

The Orlando area’s leisure and hospitality industry saw the largest job growth over the year, adding 16,000 new jobs over the year; followed by education and health services with 10,200 new jobs; and construction with 9,7000 new jobs.

The Orlando area, according to the Governor’s Office, had the second-highest job demand of all the metro areas in December. It also had the second highest demand for high-skill, high-wage jobs.

“As job creators continue to grow in Central Florida and all across our state, we are seeing more and more families find the opportunities they need to succeed,” said Scott in a statement. “We will keep working to build on this success and make Florida first for jobs.”

The Tampa area added 29,100 new private sector jobs in 2016, and had an unemployment rate of 4.5 percent in December. The construction industry saw the most growth over the year, adding 8,400 new jobs; followed by professional and business services with 6,700 new jobs; and trade, transportation and utilities with 4,900 new jobs. The Tampa area led the state in demand for high-skill, high-wage STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) occupations in December.

Meanwhile, Jacksonville added 22,800 private sector jobs in 2016 and had a unemployment rate of 4.4 percent in December.

At first court appearance, Markeith Loyd goes on expletive-filled rant about death of girlfriend

Murder suspect Markeith Loyd appeared in court early Thursday morning for an arraignment hearing, at which he went on a profanity-laced rant aimed at the accusations against him.

The judge has also ordered Loyd held without bond.

According to the Ninth Judicial Circuit State’s Attorney’s office, Loyd does not yet have an attorney representing him. He said in court Thursday that he’d be representing himself in the trial.

The hearing was only for his alleged killing of his girlfriend, Sade Dixon, and her unborn child, in December of 2016 – he hasn’t yet been charged in the killing of Master Sergeant Debra Clayton that spurned the nine-day, widely-covered manhunt that ended earlier this week.

At the hearing, Loyd was initially quiet, WFTV reports – answering questions with a “yes” or “no.”

But then he started to open up.

He said he was “defending himself” when Dixon was shot and killed, WFTV reports.

“Ya’ll just making (expletive) up,” he said. “You’re acting like I just went down there and shot that girl.”

“Her little brother got dropped off while we were just there talking.”

The judge warned him that everything he was saying was on the record, but he did not stop. As he left the courtroom, he spat a curse at her.

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