Orlando Archives - Page 7 of 39 - Florida Politics

Federal grant to provide $8.5 million to help Pulse victims

The U.S. Department of Justice is awarding an $8.5 million grant to help the victims of last June’s massacre at Orlando’s Pulse nightclub.

The grant, to be awarded Tuesday by the Department of Justice to the Florida Office of Attorney General Pam Bondi, was announced Monday by the office of U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson of Florida.

Florida will get $8,466,970 to assist survivors and victims’ families of the mass shooting, which left 49 dead and 53 wounded, as well as to help witnesses, and first responders. The Antiterrorism Emergency Assistance Program grant, administered through the DoJ’s Office for Victims of Crime, will aim to ensure that victims, witnesses and first responders receive necessary services to help them adjust in the aftermath, begin the healing process and cope with re-traumatization, according to an advisory from the department.

The money also will be used to reimburse authorities for the family assistance center that Orlando, Orange County, Heart of Florida United Way, Florida and the non-profit foundation Orlando United established in the days after the massacre.

The Orlando United Assistance Center was initially opened at the Camping World Stadium in the days immediately following the tragedy, but was moved to a building at 507 Michigan Street later on, where it has remained, with funding set for 2017. There, patients have access to mental health care and other needs, such as referrals for housing and rental assistance, emergency financial assistance, employment, training and educational opportunities.

Protests at Marco Rubio’s office say focus is on access, not booting him

U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio lost leases on his offices in Tampa and Jacksonville in part because of landlord’s impatience with the incessant barrage of protests out front.

Is Orlando next?

The plaza in front of the downtown Orlando office building housing Rubio’s Central Florida office was the site of another protest Tuesday, as it has been almost every Tuesday this year.

This time, it was For Our Future and other groups pressing a combination of state, local and federal liberal causes as part of the statewide Awake The State rallies.

The building itself was occupied by protesters for most of a day and night last July when more than a hundred people staged a sit-in, demanding that Rubio consider gun restrictions in response to the horrific massacre at the Pulse nightclub just a couple miles away. Ten protesters were arrested for refusing to leave that night.

On Monday to the Florida Times-Union (and again Tuesday morning for FloridaPolitics.com), a Rubio spokeswoman in Jacksonville charged that the leases were yanked not because protesters were explicitly targeting the Republican senator but because they were targeting President Donald Trump,  using Rubio’s offices as a platform.

“For the second time in another major region of the state, the unruly behavior of some anti-Trump protesters is making it more inconvenient for Floridians to come to our local office to seek assistance with federal issues,” Christine Mandreucci asserted in a statement she had earlier provided to the Times-Union.

Orlando’s protesters aren’t entirely disputing that Rubio is not the primary target of their ire, but said as long as the senator refuses to respond to them they would assume he is doing nothing to address their concerns. Tuesday’s protest, for example, largely focused on state lawmakers and Trump, though most speakers called on Rubio to get involved in issues ranging from health care to Muslim bans, and from abortion to Israel.

“We would like to remind people like Marco Rubio who said that he would be a check on Donald Trump. He refuses to met with people, he refuses to have a town hall, he refuses to talk to us, so we’re holding it here,” said Mitch Emerson of For Our Future.

And they said they have no interest in causing the senator any problems with his landlord — Seaside Office Plaza is managed by Highwoods Properties.

“Truthfully, the one goal that I have, and the one goal that we have in general, is we would like our voices to be heard,” said Melanie Gold, a primary organizer of the Tuesday rallies.

 

Rick Scott criticized for not mentioning LGBT community in State of State

Advocates blasted Gov. Rick Scott for failing to mention the LGBT community in his State of the State address, despite dedicating a significant portion of his comments on the June shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

“We heard about the horror that our state has experienced; we heard about the heroism from first responders and ordinary Floridians, and we heard about the pain of the families who lost loved ones,” said Hannah Willard, the public policy director for Equality Florida, during a news conference after Scott’s State of the State address.

“What we didn’t hear was any mention of the LGBT community. We didn’t hear … that the attack was a direct attack on LGBTQ Floridians in a nightclub in Orlando,” she continued. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough; we demand action. The LGBT community deserves action from our elected officials.”

Forty-nine people were killed, and dozens of others wounded, in a June shooting at an Orlando nightclub. The attack was the deadlines mass shooting the U.S. since Virginia Tech in 2007.

Scott spent days on end in the Orlando area, meeting with families and first responders. And the incident was featured heavily in his State of the State address.

“The days I spent in Orlando following the shooting will always be with me. I talked to many parents who lost their children,” he said in prepared remarks. “The hardest thing I have ever had to do as Governor is try to find the words to console a parent who lost their child, and I truly cannot imagine the grief of losing a child.”

Prepared remarks show the governor made no direct mention of the LGBT community in his speech.

“He called it a terrorist attack,” said Sen. Gary Farmer. “He had the audacity to not once mention the LGBT community that was so torn apart and was the target of a madman.”

Willard called on the Legislature to take action this year to pass the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, saying the law was needed “more than ever before.”

“This piece of legislation has been introduced for almost a decade … and it does something very simple. It would add LGBT people to existing protections into our state, to make sure that no one faces discrimination in employment, in housing or in public spaces,” she said. “Every single Floridians deserved to be treated fairly under the law, no matter who they are and who they love.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

Linda Stewart, Amy Mercado introduce bills to protect bears, their food and habitat

As state Rep. Amy Mercado declares, Florida’s now-annual black bear hunt has become a “slaughter.”

Mercado and fellow Orlando Democratic state Sen. Linda Stewart laid out bills Wednesday to ban the hunts for 10 years, as well as steps to keep bears happy enough in the forests and stop raiding neighborhoods.

“The bears, we’ve encroached on their homes,” Mercado said. “They were here first. And a slaughter of the bears is unacceptable.”

Mercado’s House Bill 491 and Stewart’s Senate Bill 1304 would call for the state to stop the harvest of the bears’ primary food before they go into winter denning season, saw palmetto berries, on state lands. They also seek to redirect controlled burns so that they do not affect bears’ habitats at the wrong times of the year and channel some money from the state’s Non-Game Wildlife Fund into grants to purchase bear-resistant trash cans for neighborhoods near bear habitats, such as the Wekiva Springs neighborhoods of Orlando plagued by numerous wandering bears in recent years.

It also would have state officials run more bear census studies.

The bills, entitled “The Florida Black Bear Habitat Restoration Act,” would also place a 10-year ban on bear hunting, which was resumed three years ago due to the assumption that Florida’s bear population had grown so much that it was forcing bears into the suburbs.

“What has been happening is that people have been going out into the forests, our public lands, and they have been harvesting the palmetto berries. And that is one of the primary foods of the black bear. So when you see the bears coming into your neighborhood and swimming in your swimming pool, they are looking for a food source,” Stewart said. “If we can just keep them where they are supposed to have their habitat by not infringing on their habitat, then that is what we should attempt to do.”

Similar bills including one by then-state Sen. Darren Soto of Orlando were introduced last year but died.

Stewart and Chuck O’Neal, co-chair of The League of Women Voters Florida environmental committee, said he and Stewart’s staff have worked with state officials to try to alleviate some of their concerns, and have made five significant changes from Soto’s bill.

O’Neal said the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has agreed to some parts of the bill, including the funding. Of other disagreements from last year, he said “the sharp edges have been shaved off,” though that does not necessarily mean the Commission now supports them.

“There was no buy-in by the FWC last year. This year Sen. Stewart’s staff has worked with the FWC,” O’Neal said. “So with their buy-in this year we hope it passes.”

O’Neal claimed that 90 percent of Floridians want to protect black bears, and the issue is garnering worldwide attention.

“So the eyes of the world are on Florida,” he said. “Are we going to do the right thing?”

“We want to see this bill scheduled. We want to see it heard. And we want the people of this state to have the opportunity to come to the stand and testify before the Legislature that they want this bill passed.”

Brightline, Indian River County duke it out before House panel

Brightline railroad supporters and Treasure Coast counties opposing the higher-speed train planned from Orlando to Miami debated their cases Wednesday before a Florida House committee, showing the high stakes of their fight.

Officials from the train company, and two other train companies, were joined by officials of one of the counties, Indian River for a panel discussion before the House Transportation and Infrastructure Subcommittee, pitting the local’s concerns for safety versus the companies assurances that safety already is addressed.

“This is going to be a tremendous benefit to the entire state of Florida,” Brightline General Counsel Myles Tobin declared.

“It is a railroad, and the cost of doing business is to make it safe,” declared Kate Cotner, assistant county attorney for Indian River County.

At stake is Brightline’s ability to upgrade a rail line and operate privately-run passenger trains from West Palm Beach to Orlando, which will traverse four counties at speeds up to 110 mph without actually stopping in any of them. Two of those counties, Indian River and Martin, are suing, and pushing the Florida Legislature for safety measures beyond what Brightline has deemed necessary.

That fight is a large reason why Brightline has thrown out its timetable for completing the construction and beginning the service. At one time the company anticipated being able to do so late this year. None of the construction has started, and now the service indefinitely delayed.

Also complicating matters are bills pushed by Treasure Coast lawmakers that would require some additional safety measures – universal four-arm crossing gates at all road crossings, strategic fencing, and other items.

The committee was not explicitly hearing House Bill 269, introduced by Republican state Reps. Erin Grall of Vero Beach and MaryLynn Magar of Tequesta. But that bill and its Senate counterpart, Senate Bill 386 from Republican state Sen. Debbie Mayfield of Melbourne were often cited by railroad officials as a concern, and by the opponents as important, and both Grall and Magar took part in the discussions.

Cotner said the bill would require four-gate crossings, and fencing where the Florida Department of Transportation deemed it necessary, and that the department was on board with the bill.

Tobin pointed out that all crossing guard devices would adhere to federal railroad standards, and that Brightline was going way beyond by including such technologies as positive train control, a high-tech, computerized-sensor system not yet in use on any other American railroad. As for the fencing, he said studies show it’s a waste of money, that it does not stop trespassers from entering rails or getting hit by trains.

He also predicted the bills, if approved, would be preempted by federal law.

Brightline intends to open up the southern phase of its service, linking West Palm Beach, Fort Lauderdale and Miami on 27 miles or track later this year. But those trains would run no faster than 79 mph. The 129-mile phase between West Palm and Cocoa would allow for 110 mph trains, and the 38 miles Cocoa to Orlando International Airport the trains would allow trains to run as fast as 125 mph.

“We are going to provide a unique service in the United States, in the sense that it is a privately-funded, privately-operated passenger service,” Tobin said.

There are no stops planned for the counties of Martin, St. Lucie, Indian River and Brevard. The Indian River contingent participating in the discussion noted that their counties will be facing unique, new risks affecting traffic and emergency first responders, without getting any service.

“Because you’re going to be running trains at 110 mph, this is a risk that doesn’t exist now, and this is something everyone needs to be concerned about,” said George Gavalla, a railroad safety consultant hired by Indian River.

 

‘Arnold Palmer Expressway’ designation gets committee nod

Driving like Arnold Palmer may soon take on a new meaning in Orlando.

The Senate Transportation Committee approved a bill Tuesday to rename about four miles of State Road 408 as the “Arnold Palmer Expressway,” honoring the legendary golfer and longtime Orlando snowbird resident who died last September.

“As you know Arnold Palmer was not only a larger-than-life figure in golf, he was an incredibly beloved and incredibly charitable member of the Central Florida community,” said state Sen. David Simmons, the Longwood Republican who sponsored Senate Bill 480.

“And as you know, the Arnold Palmer Invitational is March 13-19, 2017, and in preparation for that, this bill is one we’re hoping, since it only has one committee of reference, will recognize the awesome, awesome work and the individual that Arnold Palmer was,” Simmons added. “I’m hoping you can support 480 so that it can be passed the first week of session and be part of Central Florida before the invitational.”

There was no hesitation. With two potential speakers waiving, the entire matter took less than three minutes before the committee voted unanimously to report the bill favorably to the full senate.

The bill, however, technically would not take effect until July 1, as currently written. It would name the stretch of SR 408 from Kirkman Road to Clarke Road after the golfing great, who lived just south of that stretch in the Dr. Phillips area of Orlando. That highway already is designated by the Central Florida Expressway Authority as the East-West Expressway.

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.”

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