U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson is sticking to his comment that “Russians are in Florida’s election records,” as Gov. RickScott pushes for more information and questions the veracity of the claim.
With the two set to square off in the November general election for the Senate seat, Nelson’s office said Tuesday the focus needs to be on election security not personal political gain and that “it would just be wrong, shortsighted and foolish to think that Russia is not doing in Florida what it did in 2016.”
Nelson made similar comments to reporters Monday night while at a campaign stop in the Gadsden County community of Quincy, according to the Tampa Bay Times.
The statement from Nelson’s office came as Scott continued to lash out at the Democratic senator’s assertions last week about ongoing Russian meddling.
“The only conclusion I have is, one, if he does have classified information, how did he get it? Because I don’t think he’s entitled to it. And why would he release it to a reporter?” Scott said after a state Cabinet meeting on Tuesday. “Two, if it’s not true, why didn’t he just come and say it’s not true?”
Scott added there is a concern that Nelson’s statement could impact the Aug. 28 primary elections.
“We’re in the middle of a primary election, people are voting, absentee ballots are out, early voting has started in some places, and people need to know the facts, and I don’t think he’s being transparent,” Scott said.
Nelson, who is the ranking member of the U.S. Armed Services Committee’s Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, told reporters Aug. 7 in Tallahassee that local election officials could get help to secure their databases and records from Russian cyber-hacking, noting, “The Russians are in Florida’s election records” and that they had “penetrated” some voter-registration systems.
When pressed at the time on the issue of election-system breaches, Nelson, said details of the information remained “classified.”
Nelson had been asked in June to work with U.S. Sen. MarcoRubio to get elections supervisors in Florida to push for federal cyber-security assistance as a follow up to attacks on the state system in 2016. The request by leaders of the Intelligence Committee was intended to provide a more bipartisan front to the push.
In response to Nelson’s statement in Tallahassee, Secretary of State KenDetzner first asked Senate Intelligence Chairman RichardBurr, a North Carolina Republican, to provide some clarification to Nelson’s comments.
Burr’s response on Friday didn’t shed light.
“While I understand your questions regarding Senator Nelson’s recent public comments, I respectfully advise you to continue engaging directly with those federal agencies responsible for notifying you of and mitigating any potential intrusions — specifically, the Department of Homeland Security and the Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Burr wrote. “Any briefings or notifications about ongoing threats would, rightfully, come from those agencies.”
Detzner, a Scott appointee, then sent a letter to Homeland Security Secretary KirstjenNielsen and FBI Director ChristopherWray asking for “an official response that confirms your previous statement that you ‘have not seen any new compromises by Russian actors of election infrastructure’ and reaffirms your commitment to sharing any future knowledge of potential threats to Florida’s voting systems.”
Detzner in the letter to the Department of Homeland Security and the FBI noted that voting has already started in Florida for the primary elections.
“To the best of our knowledge and the knowledge of our federal partners, Florida’s voting systems and elections databases remain secure and there has been no intrusion of the Florida voter registration system and no reported breaches from locally elected supervisors of election,” Detzner wrote.
State legislators have accepted $19.2 million from the federal government to further secure voting systems that were targeted by Russian hackers in 2016.
Detzner has described hackers’ failure to breach election systems in 2016 as a “success story” for Florida.
Scott on Tuesday backed Detzner’s outlook on the 2016 election.
“We don’t believe that anybody was able to get into the system. We had a free and fair election. They have been clear about that, all along,” Scott said. “My understanding is that the secretary of state’s office has reached out to Homeland Security and the FBI, and they’ve said they don’t know of anything.”
With one television commercial, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is managing to highlight his own efforts to help people with disabilities, bash President Donald Trump for mocking them, and accuse Gov. Rick Scott of being heartless.
The ad focuses on a woman named Sabrina Cohen, a Miami-area advocate for people with disabilities and founder of the Sabrina Cohen Foundation. She explains a car accident took away her ability to walk when she was 14, and she praises Levine for his efforts when he was Miami Beach Mayor and calls him someone with “heart.”
Along the way, the commercial shows a beach identified as “the nation’s first adaptive beach,” and video of Trump mocking New York Times journalist Serge Kovaleski, who suffers from a joint condition that affects his movement. It also declares Florida has “a Governor with no heart.”
“During his tenure as Mayor of Miami Beach, Philip Levine worked with a local community advocate, Sabrina Cohen, to pass the nation’s first adaptive beach, granting access to the beach for the first time for people with disabilities,” Senior Adviser Christian Ulvert stated in a news release issued by the Levine campaign. “As Florida Democrats come together to put up their best against Donald Trump’s chosen candidate, Philip Levine offers a stark contrast to their divisive and cruel brand of politics. One thing that has been sorely lacking from Tallahassee and Washington these days is compassionate leadership — as Florida’s next Governor, Philip is ready to stand up, do what’s right, and lead our state with heart.”
First Levine needs to get past Graham, businessman Jeff Greene, businessman Chris King, and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum in the Aug. 28 Democratic primary, while the man Ulvert obviously was referring to as “Trump’s chosen candidate,” U.S. Rep. Ron DeSantis, faces Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam in the Republican primary.
In the ad, Cohen and Levine praise each other and then go after the Republicans.
“Together, we created the first adaptive beach in the nation, that will serve veterans, moms, and children,” Cohen says.
“All despite a President who ridicules people and a Governor with no heart,” Levine adds.
“With Philip, it’s all about heart and getting things done. And we haven’t had that for a very long time,” Cohen concludes.
Venice state Rep. Julio Gonzalez has been pushing an online ad backing up his campaign for Florida’s 17th Congressional District that features Gov. Rick Scott praising the Republican lawmaker and insinuating Gonzalez is his pick in the primary race to fill the seat being vacated by retiring U.S. Rep. Tom Rooney.
According to an article by Brenden Farrington the Associated Press, the 30-second spot features the term-limited Governor making some effusive remarks about Gonzalez, and ends with an announcer saying Scott “stands with” Gonzalez, and asks voters to “Join Governor Scott in support of pro-Trump, tax-cutting conservative Dr. Julio Gonzalez.”
Short of a nod from President Donald Trump, the official backing of Scott would be the biggest coup a Republican congressional candidate could hope for. The problem: It’s not true.
Those clips were from a fundraiser benefitting Scott’s U.S. Senate campaign, and while Scott is likely appreciative of Gonzalez’ support in his quest to oust Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, he hasn’t weighed in on the Republican primary for CD 17.
If it weren’t clear enough by the lack of endorsement-style language, the bottom of that AP article puts to rest any lingering doubts: “Scott’s campaign manager, Jackie Schultz, said Scott hasn’t endorsed in the race.”
Gonzalez’ chief rival in the Republican primary for CD 17, Sarasota state Sen. Greg Steube, seized on the misrepresentation in a Tuesday campaign email hammering Gonzalez
“Julio Gonzalez, candidate for Congress, has been falsely touting the support of Governor Rick Scott in an effort to boost his failing campaign,” the email read, citing the AP report.
“Last week, Gonzalez sent an email to supporters calling on them to ‘Join Governor Rick Scott in supporting Dr. Julio Gonzalez.’ His campaign then released a short video with footage from a recent rally for Scott’s U.S. Senate campaign. As of August 13, the video is being promoted online by the Gonzalez campaign.”
Similar to the recent drama in the race for House District 62, Gonzalez may be violating state elections laws depending on the language and images he used. In the HD 62 case, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor chastised School Board member Susan Valdes for using her picture in a campaign mailer that insinuated the congresswoman had endorsed Valdes, and went even further by alleging the act was a violation of Chapter 106.143(4) of the Florida Statutes.
Team Steube is doing the same in regards to Gonzalez’ ad.
The statute reads as follows: “It is unlawful for any candidate or person on behalf of a candidate to represent that any person or organization supports such candidate, unless the person or organization so represented has given specific approval in writing to the candidate to make such representation.”
“This is the latest attempt to mislead the voters from a campaign that is desperately trying to revive itself,” said Alex Blair, Steube’s campaign manager. “First, they tried to dismiss Gonzalez’s Never Trump past, and now they are trying to mislead voters about Governor Scott’s support. I think the voters will see past the deceit and will support Greg Steube’s positive, pro-Trump, conservative vision for Congress.”
Gonzalez and Steube will be on the Aug. 28 primary ballot alongside little-known Republican Greg Akins. The winner of the GOP nomination will go up against the Democratic nominee — either April Freeman or Bill Pollard — in the Nov. 6 general election, though the Republican candidate will be the odds on favorite come Election Day.
CD 17 is a safe Republican seat that sprawls across parts of Sarasota, Lee and Polk counties as well as the whole of Charlotte, DeSoto, Glades, Hardee, Highlands and Okeechobee counties. Rooney has held the seat since it was redrawn ahead of the 2012 elections.
Florida has reduced debt that helps finance initiatives like roads, schools and environmental projects by more than $7 billion over the past eight years, according to a new report from the state Division of Bond Finance.
The debt amount dropped from $28.2 billion in July 2010 to $21 billion through June 30, BenWatkins, director of the bond finance agency, told Gov. RickScott and Cabinet members Tuesday. That represented a 25 percent reduction.
The debt reduction, which came as Scott pursued a policy of limiting state borrowing, was “unprecedented,” Watkins said, because it reversed a long-term trend of annual borrowing by the state.
“We had 30 years of annual, perpetual increases in debt that was reversed, which was a sea change in terms of the direction in which we were headed,” Watkins said.
A key element in reducing the debt has been the Division of Bond Finance’s effort to refinance older debt with new bonds carrying lower interest rates. Since the 2010-2011 fiscal year, the state has carried out 104 bond refinancings, totaling $14.7 billion, resulting in a gross savings of nearly $3 billion.
Watkins said the state used the process to refinance some 70 percent of the state debt since 2010. However, the report also noted the state’s ability to refinance debt will be more limited in the future, with the federal government’s decision to eliminate the use of a financial tool known as “advance refunding.”
“This was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to take advantage of historically low interest rates,” Watkins said. “These are big numbers. And this is real money that saves citizens and the taxpayers of the state.”
Watkins’ report also highlighted other financial improvements, including paying back $3.4 billion borrowed from the federal government to cover unemployment benefits after the last recession. The fund now has a $3.7 billion surplus, which Scott said has resulted in a reduction in the amount of payroll taxes that employers have to pay to support the fund.
“In Florida, we’ve shown that you can have a balanced budget, reduce debt and create jobs all while cutting taxes,” Scott said in a statement.
The report also noted improvements in the state’s financial ability to respond to major hurricanes.
The state-backed Citizens Property Insurance Corp. has reduced its exposure to what is known as a “1-in-100-years storm” from $21.4 billion to $5.8 billion, largely the result of reducing its customer base from 1.3 million to 440,000 since 2010, the report said. The reduction in exposure is important, since a large hurricane could result in the state having to borrow money that would be paid off by assessments on insurance policyholders across the state.
The financial improvements, including a relatively healthy $160 billion state pension fund, has resulted in Florida earning “triple A” credit ratings from major financial rating agencies.
“This is the first time we’ve had three triple A’s. So I call it a royal flush,” Watkins said. “The good news is it recognizes the strength of the state, the management of the state, the financial position and policies of the state, which translates into lower borrowing costs for the state. It is, in effect, a validation from the rating agencies that we are doing the right thing.”
The Florida Cabinet is moving forward with the purchase of a large parcel of land in Highlands County to ensure its preservation.
On Tuesday, Gov. RickScott and Cabinet members Attorney General PamBondi, Chief Financial Officer JimmyPatronis and Agriculture Commissioner AdamPutnam authorized the $5,528,250 buy of the specified 2,457 acres of ranchland, known as the Sandy Gully property.
Funding from the state Rural and Family Lands Protection program will be used to cover the cost of the purchase. Known as a conservation easement, the buy allows agricultural operations to continue on the Sandy Gully property but restricts future development. A potential federal grant totaling $3,312,500 could help offset that cost.
Sandy Gully is a cow/calf operation. Hay and timber production are secondary operations. A former dairy farm, it shifted focus to cattle in 2002, and now run anywhere from 650 to 700 heads of cattle, according to documents from the Department of Environmental Protection.
Species of black bear and gopher tortoise — both considered rare — have been present on the property. In the past, the owners of the land also have identified sightings of sandhill cranes, bald eagles, Sherman’s fox squirrels, eastern indigo snakes, gopher tortoises and Florida panthers.
Justifying the purchase, the state believes the property could serve as a pathway for animals in between two nearby parks.
“What’s really key about [Sandy Gully] is it’s sandwiched between the Highlands County Sun N Lake Preserve and the Highlands Hammock State Park,” DEP Secretary NoahValenstein noted to the Cabinet. “[The land] will be a pretty good corridor for the wildlife that moves along the ranch.”
As well, the Sandy Gully property is integral to some of the area’s wetland systems, according to DEP documents.
Valenstein noted to the Cabinet that the state has purchased 46 conservation easements with the addition of Sandy Gully. In total, 53,121 acres have now been preserved under the Rural and Family Lands Protection Program since its creation in 2001.
State debt has been paid down by more than $10 billion since December 2010, Gov. RickScottannounced Monday.
His office said that’s the largest reduction of state debt during one administration in Florida’s history.
“In Florida, we’ve shown that you can have a balanced budget, reduce debt and create jobs all while cutting taxes,” Scott said in a statement.
The term-limited Republican from Naples now is running to replace Democrat BillNelson as Florida’s other U.S. senator besides Republican MarcoRubio.
“Since 2011, our unemployment has dropped by more than 7 percent, and we’ve created more than 1.5 million jobs,” Scott said. “This incredible turnaround is proof that when you cut taxes and invest in what’s important to families and businesses, everyone succeeds.
“I’m proud of the accomplishments we’ve made over the past seven and a half years and all the work we’ve done to make sure that every Florida family has the opportunity to live the ‘American Dream’ in the Sunshine State.”
In June, Scott announced that Moody’s Investors Service upgraded Florida’s General Obligation (GO) bond rating to Aaa, and for the first time in the history of Florida, all three rating agencies now have Florida’s GO bond rating at AAA.
From “rapid response director” on Gov. Rick Scott’s 2014 campaign, to Enterprise Florida, to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation, to VISIT FLORIDA, Stephen Lawson has worked in several positions over the last four years.
On Monday, he made another jump: Communications Director for the Ron DeSantis for Governor campaign.
DeSantis campaign manager Brad Herold made the announcement Monday afternoon, saying that the campaign would be making a load of hires ahead of the Aug. 28 Republican primary contest, where DeSantis holds a major polling advantage and is eating away at the cash advantage of his lone opponent, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.
“I’m proud to have a seasoned communications professional like Stephen join our team as our campaign continues to build momentum,” Herold said. “Stephen’s experience helping reelect Governor Scott shows he knows how to communicate a strong, conservative, winning message to voters across Florida. We look forward to continuing to share Ron’s vision for making Florida the best state in the country as its next Governor.”
Prior to getting his foot in the door of the Scott administration, Lawson attended the University of Florida, where he earned a bachelor’s degree in political science and later attended Florida State University, where he earned a master’s degree in applied politics and policy.
The DeSantis campaign said Lawson will lead the communications efforts for the campaign and will work to build out a robust communications team ahead of the primary. The campaign said details on the new comms hires would be released in the coming weeks.
Florida is now in a state of emergency over the impacts of red tide, a colloquialism used to describe the harmful algal blooms plaguing Florida’s Gulf Coast.
Gov. RickScott issued the executive order declaring the state of emergency on Monday.
“As Southwest Florida and the Tampa Bay area continues to feel the devastating impacts of red tide, we will continue taking an aggressive approach by using all available resources to help our local communities,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “Today, I am issuing an emergency declaration to provide significant funding and resources to the communities experiencing red tide so we can combat its terrible impacts.”
The order extends to Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota, Manatee, Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.
Accompanying the emergency declaration is a “significant amount of funding” and “resources,” according to Scott’s office. Part of the order provides for additional biologists with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to “assist in clean-up and animal rescue efforts.”
As well, Scott is directing more than $100,000 to Mote Marine Laboratory, which on Monday conducted a dolphin-rescue mission.
The state’s tourism-marketing agency, VISIT Florida, also is getting $500,000 to administer an emergency grant program to help small businesses in local communities that depend at least in some part on business from visitors.
This year’s red tide crisis has attracted national attention.
Lee County, home to Fort Myers and Cape Coral, also will receive $900,000 in grant funding for cleanup projects related to red tide, Scott announced.
“While we fight to learn more about this naturally-occurring phenomenon, we will continue to deploy all state resources and do everything possible to make sure that Gulf Coast residents are safe and area businesses can recover,” added Scott.
A series of other changes in agencies are in effect.
FWC, now operating under the emergency declaration, has waived rules — like bag sizes and limits — “to expedite the removal of dead fish,” according to Scott’s office.
The Department of Environmental Protection will continue “to perform enhanced water testing, beach cleanup and public outreach, as well as the deployment of additional biologists to assist communities dealing with naturally occurring red tide.”
County health departments, according to Scott’s office, are actively posting signage warning beachgoers and boaters of red tide-affected areas.
The Manufacturers Association of Florida, a group 20,000 strong, on Monday threw the weight of its endorsement behind Gov. Rick Scott in his Senate bid.
Scott’s move to eliminate the sales tax on manufacturing machinery, cutting $73 million in taxes for the sector, factored heavily into the endorsement.
“Governor Scott’s work to successfully eliminate the sales tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment was a game changer for our industry and a great win for all of Florida. Because of Governor Scott’s efforts, the manufacturing industry is responsible for more than 378,100 jobs across the state, and we are growing more year after year,” asserted MAF President Al Stimac.
“We also appreciate the Governor’s focus on workforce development, and we are excited to build on this focus through our Advanced Manufacturing Apprenticeship Program,” Stimac added.
Scott framed the endorsement as vindication of his larger legacy.
“Over the past seven and a half years, we’ve worked hard to permanently repeal the manufacturing sales tax, cut burdensome regulations and make important investments in workforce development so businesses can grow and Floridians can be prepared for new job opportunities,” Scott said.
“It is time to bring that way of thinking to Washington and as U.S. Senator, I will fight to require a supermajority vote of Congress to approve any tax or fee increase before it can become law, so job creators like our manufacturers can continue to grow,” Scott added.
The Leon County School District suffered a bruising defeat this week when an appeal panel unanimously recommended the state overturn the county’s decision to block a new charter school from setting up shop in the county.
The Charter School Appeal Commission, composed evenly of traditional public and charter school representatives, recommended the State Board of Education reject the county board’s previous denial of Tallahassee Classical School. The proposed charter now has the green light to operate.
The School Board blocked the proposed charter earlier this year, fearing the school would further exacerbate the issue of segregated student populations in the county.
But the appellate panel found that the district did not provide enough substantial evidence to turn down Tallahassee Classical.
The county initially argued the proposed charter’s plans for student recruitment — particularly for enrolling students with disabilities and getting a student body representative of the district’s demographics — along with its tentative transportation plan were not suitable.
But the panel unanimously agreed that each concern raised by the county was not well-founded, essentially determining the school board’s concerns were baseless. Tallahassee Classical has contended that the board blocked the school for political reasons.
In a brief interview after the hearing, Leon Superintendent RockyHanna told Florida Politics the district’s initial rejection of Tallahassee Classical likely raised awareness of the issue of segregation, if nothing else.
“I wouldn’t be doing my job if I wasn’t fighting for traditional public schools, and I always will,” Hanna said. Adding that if — or when — the school begins operating in the county, he said the district will “welcome (it) into our community.”
Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Danny McAuliffe, Jim Rosica, MichaelMoline and Peter Schorsch.
But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:
State seeks to substantiate ‘hacking’ claim — After Democratic U.S. Sen. BillNelson told reporters this week that Russian operatives have “penetrated” election systems in Florida, Secretary of State KenDetzner penned a letter to Sen. RichardBurr, chair of the Select Committee on Intelligence, requesting knowledge of the alleged hackings. Nelson, when speaking with a Tampa Bay Times reporter, said his knowledge of the hacks stemmed from the committee. In the letter, Detzner wrote that the state has no current information supporting Nelson’s claim. Counties this week finalized submissions requesting federal election security grants to beef up election systems. The awards were approved by the state Joint Legislative Budget Commission and Gov. RickScott in July.
Judge strikes parts of pot law — A Tallahassee judge ruled this week that major provisions in a 2017 law implementing medical marijuana are unconstitutional. Leon County Circuit Judge CharlesDodson struck the law’s following requirements: Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers grow, process and sell own marijuana; limits on the number of marijuana providers that can be licensed by the state; and special categories of licenses. The challenge, raised by Florigrown, a company that was denied the chance to become a treatment center, sought a request for a temporary injunction, although that was denied. “The denial of the request for a temporary injunction will allow the department to continue to work to implement the law so Floridians can have safe access to this medicine,” said Department of Health spokesman BradDalton. State Sen. RobBradley, the budget chief and chief architect of the law, said, “I’m confident that our appellate courts will uphold (its) constitutionality.”
Supreme Court to weigh dog racing ban — The Supreme Court unanimously agreed to consider whether a proposed amendment to end greyhound racing can appear on the ballot in November. The lawsuit, filed by attorneys opposing the ban, argues the proposal, known as Amendment 13, should be kept off the ballot because it would be misleading to voters. In July, a Tallahassee judge sided with the attorneys. The state appealed the lower court ruling last week, and both parties requested an appellate court allow the case to ‘pass through’ to Supreme Court consideration, noting that time was of the essence: Mail-in ballots must, by law, be sent to voters by Sept. 22. An appellate court agreed this week to allow the Supreme Court to take up the case, and the high court accepted it a day later. Justices have scheduled arguments for Aug. 29.
Early voting ballots mount — Just more than half a million Floridians already have voted ahead of the Aug. 28 primary election, and Republicans appear to be leading the pack. Of the 510,155 ballots returned by Friday morning, 238,051 came from registered Republicans, with Democrats returning 198,631, according to data published by the state Division of Elections. Independent voters returned 71,507 as of the same date and voters belonging to other parties sent back 1,966 ballots. In total, 925,192 have been mailed out to Democrats, 836,223 to Republicans, 446,124 to independents and 9,965 to third-party voters.
‘Stand Your Ground’ session fails — A Democratic push to reconvene the Legislature to workshop Florida’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law fell short this week after not gaining enough support between members of the state House and Senate. The call for a special session was sparked by the shooting death of MarkeisMcGlockton in the parking lot of a Clearwater convenience store. Pinellas County law enforcement did not pursue charges against the shooter, saying he acted within the state’s ‘Stand Your Ground’ law. Democratic members called for lawmakers to be polled on whether they should return to Tallahassee to revisit the controversial law. Although lawmakers had until noon Friday to vote on the special session, it became clear that the three-fifths support threshold could not be met Thursday. Republicans overwhelmingly opted not to return to the capital city. Between the state House and Senate, 77 members voted against the idea, with 48 voting in support. Thirty-one members did not respond to the poll, nor confirm receipt, according to data recorded by the Florida Department of State.
Scott tours algae-plagued area; offers more aid
Gov. Scott toured the St. Lucie River Friday, following-up immediately afterward by announcing an additional $700,000 is coming to help Martin County handle an ongoing toxic algae outbreak.
According to the Governor’s office, that money is coming from a $3 million grant approved after he declared a state emergency over the algae crisis in July.
Scott was joined on his tour by retiring state Senate President JoeNegron, of Stuart. Last month, the Governor toured the algae-affected Caloosahatchee River on the west coast of the state.
Earlier this week, Scott announced an additional $400,000 would be heading to Lee County to clean up impacts related to red tide, for $1.1 million in grant funding.
“I am using my executive authority to provide additional funding to allow communities in Lee County to better clean our waterways,” Scott said in announcing the money for Lee. “We will continue to implement real solutions to help our local communities deal with both the algal issues caused by federal water discharges from Lake Okeechobee and this year’s red tide bloom. I encourage more local governments to apply for this important funding.”
New state land honors veterans
Agriculture Commissioner AdamPutnam is expressing the state’s gratitude toward wounded vets with a large chunk of state land that will bear the name “Purple Heart Tract.”
Putnam made the announcement Tuesday, which was National Purple Heart Day. The tract is a 4,500-acre portion of the Lake Wales Ridge State Forest.
“As Americans, the brave men and women in the U.S. Armed Forces have secured our freedom and liberty,” Putnam said.
“More than 1.9 million service members have been wounded or died defending our country, and this Purple Heart Tract is one way we can appreciate our nation’s heroes and honor them in perpetuity.”
The tract is designated as part of the Military Order of the Purple Heart’s trail program. Established in 1992, the program seeks to honor award recipients with transportation routes and monuments.
The news accompanied Putnam’s hosting of the second-annual Operation Outdoor Freedom Purple Heart Day event at Camp Prairie. The camp provides “guided hunts, fishing trips, canoe tours and other outdoor recreational activities free of charge.”
Scam targets Florida Blue customers
Chief Financial Officer JimmyPatronis is warning Floridians of a current telemarketing scam that appears to be disproportionately targeting seniors covered under Florida Blue.
According to a news release, Blue Cross and Blue Shield customers nationally have filed several complaints about scammers peddling “experimental pain relief cream” instead of pain medication.
The callers are allegedly prompting consumers to hand over information about their identity. In some cases, the scammers also are attempting to fraudulently charge Blue Cross and Blue Shield for their “bogus” creams, according to Patronis’ office.
“Florida residents are most likely to report being the target of fraud and identity theft,” Patronis said in a statement. “Anyone that provides prescription medication to you without a medical doctor directly involved in your personal care is committing fraud.
“Preying on seniors and some of our most vulnerable population is shameful, and we must do everything possible to warn Floridians about this scam.”
The state Constitution Revision Commission this spring decided to put a proposal on the November ballot that would impose eight-year term limits on school-board members and would require the Legislature to take steps to better promote civic literacy in schools.
Sounds simple enough.
But next week, Tallahassee Circuit Judge JohnCooper will hear arguments about whether he should block the proposal, known as Amendment 8, from going on the ballot because of a dispute about another part of the measure.
The League of Women Voters of Florida filed a lawsuit seeking to block Amendment 8. The group contends ballot language doesn’t adequately inform voters that one part of the proposed constitutional amendment is designed to open the door to more charter schools in the state.
The growth of charter schools, which are public schools typically operated by private groups or companies, has spawned numerous political and legal battles in recent years.
But Constitution Revision Commission member ErikaDonalds, a Collier County school board member, defended the proposal during a debate in April. She said the revision would allow the Legislature to offer more educational choices, such as charter schools, to students and their families.
“The Legislature should not be encumbered by unfair and antiquated constitutional language that has been used to block parental choice and protect the education monopoly,” she said.
Cooper is scheduled to hear arguments on Friday.
School lunch guidelines announced
Income eligibility standards for free and discounted school lunches for the upcoming school year have been released.
Announced by the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services this week, the federal income guidelines apply to the entire country and are valid until June 30, 2019.
The matrix is ordered by income and household size. For example, to be eligible for reduced-price school meals, a household of four could not have a yearly income of more than $46,435. For free meals, the same size household’s income cannot exceed $32,630.
According to FDACS, each school should have a copy available to go over with interested parties. The guidelines also can be found here.
State encourages Floridians to review coverage — before it’s too late
Florida Insurance Commissioner DavidAltmaier and CFO Patronis are reminding citizens to double-check their insurance policies as the peak of the 2018 Atlantic hurricane season approaches.
“We are almost 30 days from the one-year mark since Irma, and this should serve as a reminder that flood policies typically take 30 days to take effect,” Patronis said. “Now is the time to review your current insurance policy and get flood insurance if you don’t have it.
“Remember, flooding isn’t just a coastal concern but a statewide issue.”
Patronis has been working with OIR to expand private flood insurance. Between June 2017 and March, eligible private flood insurance providers in Florida increased from 20 to 26, a 30 percent jump from the previous reporting period, according to OIR.
Saying “complacency is not an option,” Altmaier advised: “Floridians must review their insurance policies, understand their coverages, and make the necessary adjustments to ensure they are adequately covered.”
State recognizes Main Street Bartow
Secretary of State KenDetzner announced this week that Main Street Bartow in Polk County is the August 2018 Florida Main Street Community of the Month.
The Florida Main Street Program, administered by the Division of Historical Resources under the Florida Department of State, encourages economic development via historic preservation initiatives that facilitate the revitalization of Florida’s downtowns.
Communities that participate in the program are eligible to receive the designation, which recognizes development achievements.
“Main Street Bartow is an exemplary program,” said Secretary Detzner. “With one of the longest standing Main Street programs in Florida, downtown Bartow continues to thrive with constant growth, investment and additional businesses moving to the area.”
“There is a lot happening in our downtown,” said Bartow Main Street Executive Director LindaHolcomb. “More new businesses have moved in recently, and several are in the process. We have also seen an increase in attendance at our downtown events.”
Teacher rally set for next Sunday
As K-12 educators across the state gear up for incoming students, two South Florida lawmakers will host them and interested parties at the Red for Education Teacher Rally Aug. 19, the Sunday before the first day of the 2018-2019 school year in Miami-Dade County.
Announced in June by Rep. ShevrinJones, a West Park Democrat, and Miami Democratic Rep. NicholasDuran, the rally is set to take place at the Betty T. Ferguson Community Center in Miami Gardens.
A number of politicians are expected to attend, including all five Democratic candidates for governor: GwenGraham, JeffGreene, AndrewGillum, ChrisKing and PhilipLevine.
In announcing the event in June, Rep. Duran said: “In our fight to improve Florida’s education system, it is essential that we provide a venue where teachers, students, parents, and the rest of the community can gather together to request better efforts to ensure our public schools are equipped with the adequate resources to provide high-quality education for all our children.” \
“Our schools are being starved out by these poorly thought out mandates and dangerous funding levels,” said Rep. Jones. “We will not continue to tolerate this blatant disregard for the growing needs of Florida’s schools.”
Howard to lead FMA
The Florida Medical Association has installed Dr. CoreyL. Howard as its 142nd president.
Howard, the founder of Howard Health & Wellness in Naples, has been active in leadership at FMA since 2007. He is a graduate of the University of South Florida Morsani College of Medicine and is board-certified in internal medicine and gastroenterology.
“We congratulate Dr. Howard as he takes the helm as President of the Florida Medical Association,” said FMA CEO TimothyJ. Stapleton. “His strong leadership and demonstrated advocacy for our physicians, patients and issues will further strengthen the FMA as Florida’s premier voice of medicine.”
FMA, which acts as the advocacy arm for physicians and medical professionals in the Sunshine State, boasts “more than 22,000 members on issues of legislation and regulatory affairs, medical economics and education, public health, and ethical and legal issues,” according to its website.
Howard officially assumed the presidential post last week during FMA’s annual meeting at Loews Sapphire Falls Resort at Universal Orlando. Dr. Ronald F. Giffler is president-elect and will assume Howard’s position next year.
Reminder: Crab trap closures underway
The first of two scheduled 10-day blue crab trap closures in August began Friday.
That means recreational and commercial blue crab traps should be removed from specified state waters along Florida’s Atlantic coast.
According to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, those waters include “Brevard through Palm Beach counties from Aug. 10-19, and from all state waters from the Georgia-Florida line through Volusia County Aug. 20-29.”
The St. Johns River system waters are excluded in both of these closures.
FWC conducts these closures to “identify and retrieve lost and abandoned blue crab traps from the water,” according to the agency. Closure lengths are subject to change.
Lost or abandoned crab traps are dangerous to underwater ecosystems because they can continue to trap — and kill — fish and crabs when gone unchecked. They can also damage habitats and interfere with boating traffic. While the closures are ongoing, fisherman can still collect crabs “with other gear, such as dip nets and fold-up traps,” according to FWC.
FSU Student Bar wins top award
For the seventh time since 2008 and the second consecutive year, the Florida State University College of Law Student Bar Association (SBA) received the National Achievement Award from the American Bar Association’s (ABA) Law Student Division.
The award, honoring the best SBA in the nation, is also known as the SBA of the Year Award and was presented at the ABA annual meeting in Chicago.
“It recognizes the efforts of an SBA organization to create a better environment for law students and a more positive image of the legal profession,” a news release said. “Top law schools from around the nation competed for the award.”
During the 2017-2018 academic year, SBA’s programming included a Mental Health Week, a Diversity Week and a panel discussion on alcohol awareness to provide information on resources available to law students and lawyers.
Students were also able to network with attorneys and judges and to give back to the community through SBA events, such as the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk, raising more than $1,600 to benefit the American Cancer Society.
“We are thrilled that the work of our Student Bar Association has again been recognized at the national level,” said Dean Erin O’Connor.
Social media campaign honors lineworkers
To celebrate Florida Lineworker Appreciation Day (Aug. 26), the Florida Municipal Electric Association (FMEA) and Florida Municipal Power Agency (FMPA) will recognize lineworkers from around the state this month in a new social media campaign called “Celebrating our Hometown Heroes.”
Photos and biographical information about lineworkers from Florida’s 34 public power communities will be featured on both organizations’ Facebook pages and Twitter accounts.
Members of the public are encouraged to participate in the campaign by sharing the “Celebrating our Hometown Heroes” graphics, creating their own social media posts about their experiences with lineworkers and using the hashtags #ThankALineman, #LineLife and #LineworkerAppreciationDay.
“Lineworkers are the front lines of reliability,” said JacobWilliams, FMPA General Manager and CEO. “The work they do requires incredible skill, focus and commitment to safety. We created this campaign to show how much we appreciate the work they do.”
Public power lineworkers not only serve their own communities but have volunteered to serve others across the state and country.
“Hurricane Maria was incredibly destructive, leaving Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands almost completely without power for months,” said AmyZubaly, FMEA Executive Director.
“Our lineworkers immediately answered the call for help, traveling to the Caribbean to assist, many of whom stayed for months at a time and were away from their families during Thanksgiving and Christmas. It’s this kind of selflessness and sense of duty that our lineworkers exhibit every day on the job.”
Call before you dig
Happy National 811 Day! On Aug. 11, regulators at the Florida Public Service Commission are reminding everyone to call 8-1-1 before digging any holes in the ground, to avoid damaging buried power or gas lines.
More than 20 million miles of utility lines are buried underground nationally, and digs can cause damage practically everywhere, ranging from backyards to major construction sites, PSC Chairman Art Graham warned.
In fact, it happens every six minutes.
“Calling 811 has the potential to reduce frustrating service outages while saving time, money, and, most importantly, lives,” Graham said. “No matter how large or small the project, we urge you to call 8-1-1 first.”
Solar company wins PSC’s OK
A second solar energy company has won Public Service Commission approval to offer equipment leases to customers in Florida.
The commission concluded that Vivint Solar Developer LLC’s 20-year, fixed-payment, residential solar equipment lease does not constitute not a retail sale of electricity.
In other words, the company doesn’t qualify as a public utility, subject to PSC oversight.
“As solar becomes more affordable and therefore more attractive to residential customers, the PSC supports ways to continue to ‘prime the pump’ for renewable energy adoption,” PSC Chairman Art Graham said. “This (decision) helps provide more residential solar options for Florida’s ratepayers.”
Sunrun Inc. secured a similar PSC clearance in April.
Some content this week provided by The News Service of Florida, republished with permission.