Rick Scott Archives - Florida Politics

Toll suspension cost $3 million a day

More than $45 million in revenue is believed to have been lost when the state suspended highway toll collections to help speed evacuations and relief efforts for Hurricane Irma, Florida’s Turnpike system estimates.

However, the estimated $3 million-a-day impact is not expected to hinder operations of the system or ongoing work programs, “as impacts such as toll suspensions due to a hurricane are taken into consideration during the annual budgeting process,” turnpike spokesman Chad Huff said in an email Friday.

Funding 404 full-time positions, the turnpike system is budgeted at $1.57 billion for the current fiscal year, which began July 1.

Tolls were lifted by Gov. Rick Scott on Sept. 5 in advance of Hurricane Irma’s trek across Florida. Toll collections resumed at 12:01 a.m. Thursday across the state, though they remained suspended on the Homestead Extension of Florida’s Turnpike south of State Road 874 in southern Miami-Dade County, as Monroe County recovery efforts continue.

Irma made initial landfall Sept. 10 in Monroe County and a second landfall in Collier County before traveling north and exiting the state Sept. 11.

As Irma approached Florida, an estimated 6.3 million people were directed through mandatory or voluntary evacuations to find shelter inland or further away.

The state has not estimated how many people took to the road in advance of the storm.

The Florida Department of Transportation also suspended construction, clearing work zones to reduce traffic impacts for evacuees.

The turnpike system backed the governor’s toll suspension.

“Governor Scott’s top priority was to keep people safe as our state faced the threat of Hurricane Irma and to ensure Floridians had no reason to not evacuate if they were in evacuation zones,” Huff wrote. “Suspending tolls was critical to helping Floridians travel safely and quickly during the largest ever evacuation in U.S. history.”

Also Friday:

– Scott continued to focus on debris removal, which he earlier blamed for slowing efforts to restore power lost from storm and causing public health issues.

Scott on Thursday invited debris removal companies to contact the Florida Department of Transportation – if willing to work “at a fair price” – as he’s received complaints from local governments about debris-removal contractors not abiding by pre-storm contracts.

– Scott expanded license-free freshwater and saltwater fishing through June 30, 2018, for utility workers. The same offer was provided for Florida law-enforcement officers and first responders on Thursday. The offer includes free day passes to Florida state parks through October 2018.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Elderly deaths: Call for generators in Florida nursing homes

After 11 nursing home residents died in the sweltering heat of hurricane-induced power outages, Florida’s nursing home industry is now on a collision course with Gov. Rick Scott.

Days after Hurricane Irma ravaged the state, Scott used his emergency powers to put in place new rules that require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators capable of providing backup power for four days. The Republican governor, who normally brags about eliminating regulations on businesses, gave nursing homes 60 days to comply.

Nursing home officials say they can’t.

They say it’s not just the multimillion-dollar price-tag that will come with acquiring large generators for hundreds, maybe thousands, of homes. During a daylong summit by the industry Friday, engineers and contractors and others who operate nursing homes said it will be practically impossible to purchase, install and get permits to put generators and supplies of fuel in place by the November deadline.

“Compliance with the rule is impossible and time is running out,” said Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of LeadingAge Florida, an association that represents both nursing homes and assisted living facilities.

So far, the Scott administration isn’t backing down.

Justin Senior, the state’s top health care regulator, said the state will “aggressively” enforce the mandate, which calls for fines for those homes that fail to comply.

Senior showed up at the nursing home industry summit to explain the logic behind the rule. He said that Irma’s unpredictable path showed that is no longer acceptable for nursing homes to merely say they plan to evacuate patients when a storm is looming.

“Evacuation plans generally fell through,” said Senior, the secretary for the Agency for Health Care Administration. “There was no place to run; there was no place to hide.”

Police in Hollywood are currently investigating why the 11 patients died after Irma knocked out air-conditioning at a nursing home there, even though just across the street was a fully functioning and cooled hospital. The latest death reported is that of 94-year-old Alice Thomas, who died Thursday, and police said they are treating that as part of their criminal investigation of the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills and its employees.

Eight patients died on Sept. 13, three days after Irma knocked out the home’s air conditioning. Three have died this week. Overall, 145 patients were taken from the home. The dead have ranged from 78 to 99 years old. No one has been charged.

The state has suspended the home’s license. The home has filed a lawsuit trying to overturn the state’s actions.

Senior, who called the deaths “painful” and “haunting,” said he was aware of some of the industry’s complaints, but he had a strong warning:

“We think very strongly of the cost of not complying with this rule is greater than the cost of compliance,” Senior said.

Senior did tell the nursing homes that the generators do not have to be large enough to cool their entire building. Instead, he said, they need to be large enough to keep patients safe in a cooled environment.

The tough stance that the Scott administration is taking with the nursing home industry runs counter to the governor’s usual attitude toward regulation, especially in the health care field. Scott, a multimillionaire who never ran for office before getting elected in 2010, once ran the nation’s largest chain of hospitals before he was forced out of his job as the head of Columbia/HCA.

The industry could challenge Scott’s decision to put the emergency rule in place since it is not currently a requirement under state law. Kristen Knapp, a spokeswoman for one nursing home trade group, the Florida Health Care Association, said the group was “exploring all of its options.”

Bahmer called a possible legal challenge “absolutely the last consideration.”

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Jacksonville Bold for 9.23.17 — Recovery mode

After a two-week sabbatical, Jacksonville Bold returns this week — with much of the content dealing with a city battling back from well-documented storm impacts (massive flooding in areas, power outages, et al.)

And, like Bold, the city is coming back.

Before the Jaguars kicked off Sunday, power was substantially restored (though it seemed to have come at the expense of efficiency on offense). Debris is piled by curbs, waiting for pickup. Life is moving on — though some of those who suffered most grievously during the storm are still waiting for a helping hand from government.

Charlotte Glaze gives Donna Lamb a teary hug Monday as she floats out some of her belongings in floodwaters from the Ortega River in Jacksonville. Photo via AP.

The question going forward, into next Tuesday’s budget vote and beyond: How will the city shoulder a second straight year of significant storm-related costs?

The capital improvement program was already big-spending and ambitious ($131M). Other adds were equally bold: a proposal for 100 new cops, and a proposal to spend $8M for capital improvements at the private HBCU, Edward Waters College.

As John Lennon said: “Life is what happens to you when you’re busy making other plans.”

But that quote was never intended to apply to municipal budgets; however, Jacksonville City Council members will be compelled to balance what happened this month with long-range planning made before Irma was even conceived.

Paul RyanFlorida delegation talk Irma

House Speaker Paul Ryan and Appropriations Chair Rodney Freylinghausen aren’t usually in Bold, but they are this week — as they visited Jacksonville as part of a three-stop tour with the Florida Delegation to discuss Irma relief.

The national figures didn’t talk to the local press (small market blues?), but Florida U.S. Reps, such as Ron DeSantis, had a consistent message: Northeast Florida cities will get what’s coming to them from FEMA.

Florida Delegation: Help is on the way from D.C.

“One of the things we’ve been impressing on the federal government is these communities are having to spend a lot of resources on things like debris removal. They need to have that money reimbursed in a timely fashion,” DeSantis said.

“You still have a lot of localities that are waiting to be reimbursed for Matthew,” DeSantis added. “That’s a bureaucratic process that’s got to be improved. We’ve been talking to and engaging FEMA about that.”

Rep. John Rutherford also noted that funds are in fact available … good news for budget hawks in City Hall.

Al Lawson fights for Jax FEMA funds

Last week saw politicians coming through Jacksonville for photo ops and to survey the damage. Perhaps the most unheralded visit was that of Rep. Lawson, who dropped into City Hall last week and talked to the Mayor about getting Jacksonville money … from Hurricane Matthew.

Al Lawson visits storm-damaged Ribault area in Jacksonville last week.

“I talked to the Mayor,” Lawson said, “and what I told him is that I know there’s some $26 million that the city hasn’t gotten from FEMA for the last hurricane, Matthew. That’s one of the things that we’re working on to try to make sure they get those funds, because of the devastation in this area.”

“Our goal is to get the resources down here quickly as possible,” Lawson said.

Regarding backlogs with FEMA payouts, which can take years, Lawson noted that “this hurricane affected the whole state, and one of the things we need to do on the federal level is get that money released earlier.”

Lawson has worked, since beating Corrine Brown in the 2016 Democratic Primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, to build up local bona fides and ward off a potential local challenge. As of the end of June, the first-term Democrat had nearly $150,000 cash on hand for his next campaign.

Lawson promised us that Speaker Ryan would come to visit … and he was as good as his word, as you read above.

Rutledge Pearson Post Office?

Pushing for federal funds is one way Lawson is localizing his approach; pushing to name a local post office after one of the most influential civil rights leaders in regional history is another.

Sunshine State News reports that Lawson seeks to rename the Kings Road post office after Rutledge Pearson; this play is backed by most of the Florida Congressional Delegation, with Rep. Ted Yoho the sole Northeast Florida exception.

Fifty years after his suspicious death, Rutledge Pearson is still remembered.

“Rutledge Pearson, a Jacksonville native, was an American history teacher, civil rights leader and distinguished baseball player,” Lawson said last week. “His legacy in Jacksonville, especially in the fight for civil rights, is long-lasting and this is a fitting way to honor his contributions to our community.”

Pearson was a former head of the state NAACP and instrumental in Jacksonville’s struggle toward integration. He died 50 years ago in a car accident in Tennessee.

Hold my mule

The reviews are coming in for Shirley Caesar’s fundraising gig for Corrine Brown — and the Florida Star, closely aligned with Brown throughout her career, gave Caesar high marks this month.

“Selling out 2,000 seats at Abyssinia Missionary Baptist Church. Before Shirley Caesar anointed the attendees with her presence. Guest had the pleasure of enjoying the small business Pop-up shop and praising with live entertainment from Phillip Mercer, Abyssinia Choir, Robert Hayes (Classical Mime), and Najee Ward,” the Star reports.

Corrine Brown’s post-prison future may be in concert promotion.

Nothing like the classical mime to warm up the crowd.

Brown faces sentencing in mid-November. One hopes the anointing doesn’t have a shelf life.

Rick Scott: FEMA could offer ‘advance payments’

More good news and clarity on the reimbursement front.

Florida Gov. Scott is also on board — and may be able to help expedite requests.

“I talked to the Administrator of FEMA about this last week,” Scott said. “They can do advance payments.”

Scott noted caveats, such as “still having to go through the process,” and that — if the reimbursement is not approved — cities have to pay the feds back.

“What I’ve told everybody is get it to our office. I’ll get it to FEMA,” Scott added, “and what they’ve told me was they’d work with cities or counties to [make] advance payments.”

Gov. Rick Scott, CFO Jimmy Patronis and Rep. Ted Yoho were in Orange Park Tuesday.

Jacksonville, at last count, has somewhere around $150M between operating and emergency reserve accounts — a good chunk of change in a $1.27B general fund budget, but one with caveats — including statutory minimum levels that must be maintained.

Jacksonville is still awaiting reimbursements from the federal government — 75 percent of an approximate $50 million in storm-related damage. Application technicalities, such as Jacksonville’s local commitments to small and emerging businesses and locational criteria for vendors, apparently are not something the federal government honors.

Duval delegation talks Irma aftermath

“Unprecedented devastation” brought by Hurricane Irma occasioned a special press availability of the Duval Delegation late last week.

Most everyone on hand will go to bat for the district; however, details — beyond a Rep. Jay Fant bill to enhance criminal penalties for looting during states of emergency — were scant.

Jacksonville media members were delighted by a late Thursday afternoon press avail.

Rep. Cord Byrd, who represents Duval and Nassau, has spoken with Sen. Marco Rubio, Rep. John Rutherford and Speaker Richard Corcoran about pushing the ball forward.

And Rep. Jason Fischer noted that “we as a state should do everything we can to fill the gaps left by” federal and local governments.

We asked Rep. Fant about the Speaker’s dispensation toward Jacksonville pushing for resources, given the tensions regarding Fant’s positions on Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida, incentive programs the Speaker and allied vigorously worked to scuttle.

“Legislators may disagree on legislation,” Fant said, but all are “still teammates,” especially in light of the “catastrophic” Irma.

Notable: the Florida Times-Union had two reporters on hand, but ultimately saw little of reportable value in the event.

Did prophets see Irma coming?

We’re not sure if the Duval Delegation agrees with Rep. Kim Daniels about whether prophets saw Irma coming as a manifestation of God’s will. We didn’t have the heart to ask them.

“Nothing happens except God reveal it to prophets first,” Daniels observed as the death-dealing superstorm enveloped the peninsula.

The “carnally-minded” won’t understand where Rep. Kim Daniels is coming from.

We asked Daniels about these comments. To sum, she stands by the claim.

“I wouldn’t post it on Facebook if I didn’t believe it,” Daniels said, feet away from where a massive relief fund was being rolled out for the storm she said prophets knew would happen.

Her musings are “for spiritually-minded people,” Daniels said, “and you can’t explain spiritual things to carnally-minded people … And I’m sure you won’t understand it.”

We asked Daniels why God would want Irma to hit Florida.

Her response: “You pray and ask God that.”

Fundraising roundup

It was easy to lose track of Northeast Florida political fundraising during Irma’s Hell Week; however, we have you covered.

In fundraising for local 2019 races, Jacksonville City Council candidate Matt Carlucci again outclassed the field; of course, he will be taking a break the next couple of months, dealing with Irma claims in his capacity as a State Farm agent.

Matt Carlucci will have plenty of insurance claims to deal with this fall.

Though not a declared candidate yet for re-election, Sheriff Mike Williams’ committee is now over $100K cash-on-hand … with the bail bonds industry offering an assist.

In other committee news, Currys committee hauled in nearly a quarter-million dollars in August … and in the process, he paid back Jags’ owner Shad Khan for travel to three cities’ sports districts for eco dev ideas for the Shipyards.

And on the state level, committees for Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Paul Renner likewise had strong hauls. Attorney General candidate Fant struggled, while the man who hopes to replace him in HD 15 — lawyer Wyman Duggan — had a respectable first month of fundraising.

Irma may cost Jax more than Matthew did

Jacksonville’s Chief Administrative Officer, Sam Mousa, was the first local official to give even a rough estimate of local budget impacts from Irma.

They won’t be pretty.

“We’re just beginning the recovery,” Mousa said, noting that damage could be “equal or a bit more than Hurricane Matthew.”

Sam Mousa spent part of his birthday talking Irma expenses this week.

Matthew cost the city $50M in general fund costs, and the city is still out $27M of unreimbursed FEMA costs; Mayor Curry said earlier this summer that the city could handle a Matthew-sized hit to the general fund, though it is uncertain what choices a “bit more” costs would require.

Worth noting: the city estimated, in the wake of Matthew, costs could be up to $100M; that estimate turned out — luckily for the city, given FEMA’s slow reimbursement — to be high.

“We’re still trying to get our arms around infrastructure damage,” Mousa said.

Curry still committed to kids’ program reforms

Of late, Jacksonville’s City Council committees have deferred Curry’s “Kids Hope Alliance” proposal.

But the bill isn’t dead, the mayor says. Rather, it’s being tweaked.

Council awaits the revised version of Lenny Curry’s latest reform proposal.

Curry called the Kids Hope Alliance bill “real reform,” saying “I will see it through to the end.”

“I’m not going weak on this,” he added.

Regarding discussion among some legislators that significant changes are needed to the bill to make it palatable, Curry stood his ground, saying the aftermath of Hurricane Irma led to a temporary pause in the reform push.

“I met with experts,” Curry said, “tweaking it. But the delay right now is storm-related.”

“Once we get through this hurricane stuff,” he added, “you’ll see the final bill and a discussion in city council in the near term.”

We asked if the entire seven-person board would be comprised of Mayoral appointees, as was the case in the originally filed legislation.

“I don’t want to speak to the final product until we get there,” Curry said, “but I think you’ll see that it accomplishes the intent that I said needs to be accomplished.”

Message discipline

Jacksonville got national coverage last week for massive flooding in downtown and beyond; while that had the benefit of getting Curry and various local journos into the national spotlight, that came at the potential expense of Jacksonville’s reputation for resilience.

In the Jax Daily Record, veteran journalist Karen Mathis asserts that “efficient recovery” involves getting the business community back on its feet — and that it needs to happen soon … and be messaged.

“Companies that want to expand and create jobs want to know that when disaster strikes, they will be able to quickly resume business and continue their payrolls, which is what their employees want, too,” Mathis writes.

“While Florida, Jacksonville and other cities are moving to reconnect people with access to their daily routines, media headlines might not relay that message nationally,” Mathis adds.

Curfew kerfuffle

The words “safe at home” had a new meaning in the wake of Hurricane Irma, as one Northwest Jacksonville apartment complex instituted a curfew.

Rep. Kim Daniels stopped by Washington Heights to see the curfew in practice.

Moncrief Road’s Washington Heights dropped a curfew over the weekend; the goal, “safety” in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Per Action News Jax, the curfew is somehow controversial with residents who had aversions to being locked in their houses past 8 p.m. every evening.

Washington Heights is one of a few Jacksonville complexes owned by Millennia Housing Management: the company took over the reins from troubled Global Ministries Foundation, which didn’t commit capital to physical improvements at complexes it owned around town (indeed, throughout the South).

Sewage slosh

In the wake of Hurricane Matthew, JEA faced opprobrium over sewage spills. Despite reinforcing its generator fleet, power failed at some locations in Hurricane Irma — and sludge seeped out onto Jacksonville streets.

Stews of sewage sludge coursed on Jacksonville streets after Irma.

First Coast News reports that “there were 57 known pollution incidents in Jacksonville during Hurricane Irma. More than 1.5 million gallons of sewage and wastewater was released out into the environment.”

FCN visited spills at a couple of locations, describing “a green, glistening stew of waste floating in the water of the creek and nearby roadside ditches” at one place near Fisher Creek on the Westside.

Jacksonville Councilman Bill Gulliford told us that sewage spills were one point of contention he had with the utility during this storm, in a wide-ranging interview that seemed to suggest JEA could use a different CEO.

When given a chance Monday to make critiques to JEA’s CEO at Council, Gulliford avoided this rhetoric; instead, he cast aspersions at an unnamed colleague, who allegedly gave a code for a Council-only conference call that wasn’t intended to be heard by media to a member of the press.

Meanwhile, Curry — when asked — sidestepped the question of whether JEA Managing Director and Chief Executive Officer Paul McElroy deserves a bonus this year.

“Now is not the time” for such a discussion, he said.

Curry urges JEA to improve customer communications and to develop a plan to that end.

What Aaron Bean is up to next week

On Tuesday, Sept. 26, state Sen. Bean of Fernandina Beach will participate in the Leadership Nassau Youth Opening Day Lunch and speak with participants about the importance of leadership and public service.  The event begins 11:30 a.m. at the FSCJ Nassau Center, 76346 William Burgess Boulevard in Yulee.

One Spark flickers out for this year

Hurricane Irma is to blame for One Spark being pushed back until next year, WJCT reports.

The festival will be held at EverBank Field in April.

“We have received dozens of requests from applicants who have been impacted for extensions and help,” said One Spark Ventures President Chris Carter.

“Right now, we want to be respectful and mindful of our community and the hardships they face by allowing people the time they need to focus on their homes and families first,” Carter added.

One Spark has been in a gradual process of being scaled back in recent years; the hope is that in 2018 and beyond, the event will break-even.

No charges for Vernell Bing Jr. killer

Jacksonville activists sought charges in the police-involved shooting of Vernell Bing, Jr. — However, a year and a half after Bing’s death, those charges won’t come to pass, First Coast News reports.

The lawyer representing Bing’s family notes that civil charges are likely, however.

“While I’m sure folks are going to be very disappointed, very frustrated, that there is another criminal case of a police shooting of a young black man on the streets of Jacksonville, I can tell you we intend — if they didn’t criminally — we intend to hold him accountable civilly,” the lawyer said.

Likely, State Attorney Melissa Nelson will get pushback from local activists, but not the kind that will hurt her appreciably in a re-election bid.

For her part, Nelson noted that “we have conducted a thorough review of this shooting incident and determined the shooting was justified under applicable Florida law. We have established new protocols for both how we review officer-involved shootings and how we report our findings to the public. These new rules include the creation of an officer-involved shooting review team comprising investigators and prosecutors, who collectively, have more than 350 years of experience; the release of a comprehensive report detailing our analyses; and the simultaneous release of all relevant public records. These steps are taken to ensure accuracy in our findings and transparency in our work. This is the type of commitment the public expects and the type this office will maintain for years to come.”

Nelson has developed a pattern of messaging around controversial cases with an exhaustive amount of detail; this is no exception.

Shad Khan makes Forbes list of ‘best business minds’

Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan was named one of The World’s 100 Greatest Living Business Minds by Forbes magazine. The magazine compiled the list for a special Centennial issue, which includes Warren Buffett, Bill Gates, Jeff Bezos, Mark Zuckerberg and Elon Musk.

“My business goals have been consistent with my personal goals, and that’s to be distinctive and not only be unafraid of doing difficult things but commit to doing those things well so they can inspire others and make a difference in the lives of everyone,” Khan is quoted in the piece.

Shad Khan, one of the 100 Best Living Business Minds.

In addition to owning the Jaguars, Khan is CEO of auto-parts supplier Flex-N-Gate Corp., owns London’s Fulham Football Club and the Four Seasons Hotel Toronto.

Khan bought the Jaguars in 2012 for $770 million, and according to Forbes, the club is now worth over $2 billion.

Jax Zoo Manatee Critical-Care Center welcomes first patients

Two manatees became the first patients at the new Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens $2 million Critical Care Center.

Dahlia Ghabor of the Jacksonville Business Journal reports: “Cassie and Buckeye weighed only 66 and 63 pounds when they were rescued. Now, Cassie is at 775 pounds and Buckeye at 625. The manatees will remain at the Jacksonville care center to continue their critical weight gain and monitoring until they are ready to be released in the winter.”

While the Center — one of four in the state — is not an actual zoo exhibit, visitors can view the recovery pool, which is adjacent to the Wild Florida exhibit.

The Jacksonville Zoo and Gardens $2 million Manatee Critical Care Center accepted its first two patients.

Craig Miller, the Zoo’s curator of mammals and chair of the Manatee Rescue Rehabilitation Partnership and leader of the zoo’s Marine Mammal Response Team, tells the TBJ that the facility will help reduce transport time for injured manatees back to warm water release sites.

“I get the sense from talking to guests that the community is pretty excited about this, because it’s something in their backyard,” Miller said. “We’re pretty excited about being able to help these wild animals. That’s what it’s all about for so many of us in this field.”

Armada suffer historic collapse in 3-3 draw vs New York 

For most of the match in Brooklyn Sunday night, the Jacksonville Armada FC seemed sure of taking home three points Sunday. But the New York Cosmos made a surprising comeback to force a 3-3 draw at MCU Park. It matched the Cosmos biggest comeback in the modern NASL history — New York came back from 3 goals down Aug. 8, 2015, to draw Fort Lauderdale 3-3 in South Florida.

A trio of moves led to the first goal in the 13th minute. Jack Blake launched a corner kick toward the front of the goal and Kalen Ryden headed it straight to Ciarán Kilduff, who gave the Armada FC a 1-0 lead.

Kilduff earned a brace in the 41st minute with his second goal of the night. Kilduff stole the ball from New York’s Danny Szetela and made a mazy run toward the goal, poking the ball past goalkeeper Kyle Zobeck for the second goal of the night.

New York was unable to capitalize on their limited opportunities and left the field trailing by two at halftime.

The second half began with back and forth action, but neither side found a goal until 20 minutes in. Zach Steinberger earned a penalty kick after going down inside the box, and Blake stepped up to the spot. He struck the ball past Zobeck for his eighth goal of the year ­— another new franchise record for the Armada FC.

The 3-0 lead for the Armada was short-lived, however.

The Cosmos’ Javi Márquez was first to chip away at Jacksonville’s lead. He cut the deficit by one for New York in the 79th minute after beating the Armada defense and slotting a shot home for a goal.

Ten minutes later, Ayoze tracked down a ball in the corner to keep it in play. Then he crossed it over to Eugene Starikov who headed it in just barely over goalkeeper Caleb Patterson-Sewell’s fingers. Entering second-half stoppage time, the Armada were handing on for dear life and eventually conceded.

In the final minute of the match, Juan Guerra took a shot just inside the 18-yard box to curl it into the back post and equalize the score.

Although leaving New York with a disappointing draw, the Jacksonville Armada remains one point above the Cosmos in the Fall Season and in fourth place in the combined standings, a position for a postseason slot in the Championship.

The Armada will now return home for two matches at Hodges Stadium. First, the team will face the Spring Champions, the Miami FC, Sunday, Sept. 24. Kickoff is scheduled for 4 p.m. and the club will also honor First Responders at the match. Then, the rescheduled match with Indy Eleven will take place Wednesday, Sept. 27, at 8 p.m. The Armada have not played a home match this month due to Hurricane Irma’s impact on First Coast.

Politicians offer support after Hurricane Maria

Politicians released statements Thursday urging support for Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Caribbean countries following the devastation left by Hurricane Maria.

Gov. Rick Scott said he called the governors of Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands offering support and anything they need.

“Our hearts go out to them and they are in our prayers,” said the governor at a stop Thursday to thank Seminole County first responders for their service during Hurricane Irma.

U.S. Rep. Darren Soto also contacted Puerto Rican Governor Ricardo Rosselló’s office and offered to lend federal recovery resources.

“It is heartbreaking seeing the damage Hurricane Maria caused our neighbors, including widespread flooding, destruction of infrastructure and wiping out electricity in all of Puerto Rico,” said Soto, whose father was born in Puerto Rico.

During a FEMA visit in Jacksonville Wednesday, Soto spoke with Appropriations Committee Chairman Rodney Frelinghuysen about gathering support for Puerto Rico in the FEMA supplemental package. Soto said he will write a letter to the United States Department of Homeland Security requesting additional support to ensure the island has sufficient funding to handle the crisis.

“In the short-term, we need to make sure that FEMA is prepared to address the Island’s immediate needs, such as supplying food, water, and medical supplies to all citizens,” he said in a statement released Thursday. “As we reflect on how to better prepare for future natural disasters, we need to improve both Florida’s and Puerto Rico’s energy infrastructure by moving more power lines underground and replacing wooden poles with cement pylons where appropriate. Let’s make strategic, sustainable investments so we can be ready for the next storm.”

The congressman plans to visit Puerto Rico in the next few weeks to assess the damage and recovery efforts on the island.

“The devastation in Puerto Rico and its Caribbean neighbors is heart wrenching and catastrophic,” said State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, who is working with community organizations to mobilize funds and supplies to those most in need in Puerto Rico. “What is important for Floridians to know is that now is the time to step up and help our fellow Americans on the island.”

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham wrote to Florida’s two senators and twenty-seven congressional representatives asking them to support relief and recovery funding for fellow Americans in Puerto Rico and the U.S. Virgin Islands to help the islands rebuild after hurricanes Irma and Maria.

“Just as we helped our neighbors in Florida, we must now stand with our neighbors in Puerto Rico and the United States Virgin Islands, who just days after enduring Hurricane Irma, have been hit by Hurricane Maria, another devastating storm,” Graham wrote in her statement.

Kathy Castor: Graham-Cassidy health care bill would ‘devastate’ Florida families

If the latest Republican proposal to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act passed in the U.S. Senate next week, Kathy Castor believes it would be “devastating” to Florida families.

“We’re dealing with devastation from the hurricane, but here is a bill that’s going to be devastating to families all across America,” the Tampa Democratic congresswoman said at a news conference Thursday in front of a Tampa Family Health Center in North Tampa.

The bill, sponsored by South Carolina Republican Lindsey Graham and Louisiana Republican Bill Cassidy, would shift federal funds away from states that have managed to expand coverage to the states where Republican leaders refused to expand Medicaid or encourage enrollment.

Castor depicted the bill in draconian terms, saying that those currently on the ACA, as well as those relying on Medicaid, would be deleteriously affected. Even those getting employer-based health care would suffer, she said.

“What this bill does is raise costs, it rips coverage away for millions of Americans, it imposes an age tax, and it tanks all of the efforts that were underway to create a bipartisan solution to lower costs and increased coverage across the country.”

That bipartisan legislation Castor mentioned was a proposal by Tennessee Republican Lamar Alexander and Washington Democrat Patty Murray intending to stabilize 2018 premiums in the individual health insurance market.

On Tuesday, Alexander declared those negotiations were dead as the GOP establishment rallied around the Graham-Cassidy bill.

Damian Caraballo, an emergency medicine physician, said the American College of Emergency Physicians is dead-set against the GOP bill, adding that it had several “concerning provisions.”

“What we really want is to make sure that our patients have access to care and access to specialists,” he said.

The March of Dimes is one of more than a dozen organizations opposing the Graham-Cassidy bill. “We are more interested in the bipartisan approach,” said the organization’s Heddy Sumpter.

Advocates for the bill say that devolving the issue to the states will be a boon for the public since state lawmakers are more in touch with their constituents than is the case in Washington.

But in a state in which GOP lawmakers rejected expanding Medicaid that would have provided health care to at least 700,000 more Floridians, Castor said it was too big a risk to let Tallahassee have more control over people’s health care.

“I’m afraid based on our history with Gov. Rick Scott and the Republican-controlled legislature the guarantee against discrimination for pre-existing conditions would be at risk,” she said. “I believe they would have a very skimpy package for essential health benefits that’s currently provided by the ACA. I think they would cut Medicaid substantially over time.

“It would all be in their hands, and there would be very little federal oversight to make sure that families get the care that they need,” the Tampa Representative added.

Senate Republicans likely will vote on the bill by the end of next week. However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has said he will only bring up the bill if it will be successful. Republicans need 50 votes for it to pass.

Rick Scott gets personal by showing gratitude to first responders

Gov. Rick Scott stopped in Sanford Thursday to thank first responders for their sacrifices and service during Hurricane Irma.

The blue-jeaned governor wore his Navy baseball cap and made the visit personal with handshakes and selfies, while sharing stories of how his 4- and 5-year-old grandsons want to be a firefighter and a police officer or a paratrooper.

“You really make a difference every day by keeping people alive and safe,” Scott told some of the 1,400 first responders who represented eight police departments and six fire departments in Seminole County. “You make the state better by giving people the opportunity to live their dreams.”

As a token of appreciation, he told the first responders they could fish in Florida’s fresh and salt waters for free through June 30th and each would receive a pass to get into any of the 167 state parks.

The governor praised all those who participated in rescues, storm cleanup, and shelter operations. He said he was astounded by the 37,000 volunteers who signed up in two days to help the Red Cross, after he issued a plea for 17,000 volunteers.

The governor said he wants to concentrate on cleaning debris throughout the state before another storm hits. Also, he pointed to the urgency of his emergency order to require nursing homes be equipped with generators and fuel to power air conditioners when the electricity fails.

Under the emergency rules, nursing homes and assisted-living facilities would have 45 days to submit plans that would include acquiring generators to ensure temperatures could be maintained at 80 degrees or cooler for 96 hours after losing electricity. Nursing homes and assisted-living facilities would have to carry out the plans within 60 days.

The order follows the deaths of eight seniors at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, following the power outage caused by the storm.

“We don’t want another disaster,” he said.

Seminole County Sheriff Dennis Lemma praised the men and women who left their families to make sure other families were safe.

“When the bell rang, you showed up before, during, and after the storm,” said Lemma, who slept on the floor of his office for five days with his wife and 8- and 13-year old children. “I’ve never felt any better than in times like this when we perform at our best.”

Rick Scott, Adam Putnam, Richard Corcoran tour storm-ravaged St. Johns County

Team of rivals?

Florida Gov. Rick Scott toured storm damage, including wrecked houses and eroded beaches, along the St. Johns County coastline Thursday, and with him were two likely candidates to replace him as the 2018 GOP nominee.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Agriculture Secretary Adam Putnam were both along for the ride.

As three of the most powerful Republicans in the state, they presented a united front in letting St. Johns County know that the state recognized that the county needed help to rebuild after its second devastating storm in less than a year.

“We are all going to work together,” Scott said, “to bring our beaches back.”

Corcoran likewise spoke the language of unity: “Our message to the First Coast is we’re going to go around, see what needs to be done in the state, and we’re with you. We’re going to recover and rebuild, and we’ll be better off and safer the next time.”

Putnam, likewise, asserted that “events like this often bring out the best in Floridians … Florida’s strong, Florida’s resilient … the First Coast has been here for 500 years; it will be here for 500 more.”

However, with Corcoran and Putnam both vying to replace Scott in Tallahassee, it was perhaps inevitable that questions about 2018 — both the Legislative Session and the campaign — would be asked.

One such question went to Scott and Putnam both, about Speaker Corcoran’s assertion that over $600M in local “pork” projects should be reduced in favor of staunching the state’s hurricane readiness.

Scott said that he thinks it’s “very important” to make sure that taxpayer money is “spent the most important way.”

“I always welcome a review afterward,” Scott said. “I welcome what the Speaker is proposing and what the Legislature will be doing.”

Putnam likewise offered what could be framed as conceptual support.

“This storm resets the state’s priorities,” Putnam said. “From local government to state government and throughout, there’s no question that everybody is reorienting themselves in the aftermath of this storm.”

We then asked the two gubernatorial candidates if hurricanes would be a talking point in what will certainly be an expensive, heavily messaged campaign.

“I think what we’re doing today,” Corcoran said, “is beginning that process of what can we do to make our state safer … that’s the focus; all that other stuff will take care of itself.”

Corcoran added that every county in the state was impacted, and that “hurricane preparedness” will be “first and foremost” in the next Legislative Session, the “driving force over the next four months.”

Putnam noted that “the people who lost their roof, the people who are cleaning up this mess — they aren’t focused on 2018, they’re focused on today. And we are too.”

We gave the Governor an opportunity to endorse Putnam or Corcoran in front of both men and TV cameras from the Jacksonville market.

He chuckled, then pivoted to message about Florida being a tourism state.

Clearly, storm recovery will happen — it always does. But what was clear: both Putnam and Corcoran are keenly aware that the policy discussions of 2017 will have a great bearing on the politics that will follow next year.

Rick Scott to tour storm damage in St. Johns County Thursday

Florida Gov. Rick Scott will return to Northeast Florida for the second time in less than 48 hours Thursday, with a morning tour of storm damage at St. Johns County beaches.

St. Johns’ beaches were pummeled by Matthew in 2016, and Irma last week.

On Tuesday, Scott was in Orange Park, where he held a roundtable with Clay County officials about hurricane response, ascertaining needs.

That roundtable was a follow up on a tour of flood-ravaged Black Creek in the days after Irma.

Expect a similar action after this particular visit.

Earlier this week, State Rep. Cyndi Stevenson noted in an interview with us that St. Johns County was still awaiting Matthew reimbursements from FEMA.

With federal hurricane relief apparently set to course toward Florida, perhaps those reimbursements for the last two storms will emerge soon enough to provide clarity for the fast-growing county’s next budget.

Nursing home challenges moratorium, Medicaid cutoff

A Broward County nursing home has filed a lawsuit seeking to block Gov. Rick Scott‘s administration from cutting off Medicaid payments and carrying out a moratorium on patient admissions after the deaths of nine of the facility’s residents following Hurricane Irma.

The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills filed the lawsuit late Tuesday in Leon County circuit court, seeking injunctions against orders issued last week by the state Agency for Health Care Administration. Those orders suspended the facility from the Medicaid program and placed a moratorium on admissions.

The lawsuit came as authorities announced Tuesday night that a ninth nursing-home resident had died – and as debate continued raging about whether the facility had acted properly after Hurricane Irma knocked out its air conditioning system. Eight of the residents died Sept. 13, three days after the system went down. Other residents were evacuated.

In the lawsuit, attorneys for The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills argue, in part, that the facility followed emergency-preparedness plans in the way it handled the air conditioning outage. Also, the lawsuit alleges that the Scott administration violated the facility’s due-process rights by issuing the immediate admissions moratorium and Medicaid suspension.

“With the stroke of a pen, AHCA (the Agency for Health Care Administration) has effectively shut down Hollywood Hills as a nursing home provider in Broward County,” the lawsuit said. “These illegal and improper administrative orders took effect immediately and without any opportunity for the facility to defend itself against unfounded allegations.”

In issuing the orders last week, AHCA alleged that the facility presented a threat to public health, safety or welfare, with one of the orders saying that “deficient practices exist presently and will more likely than not continue to exist if the agency does not act promptly.”

Scott also has repeatedly criticized the facility, contending that it did not adequately protect residents after the air conditioning system went out. The nursing home used fans and devices known as “spot coolers” while the air conditioning system was out.

“The more we learn about this, the more concerning this tragedy is,” Scott said in a statement Tuesday night. “Through the investigation, we need to understand why the facility made the decision to put patients in danger, whether they were adequately staffed, where they placed cooling devices and how often they checked in on their patients. The families of those who trusted The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills deserve answers and those responsible for this horrific behavior should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law.”

The deaths of the nursing-home residents have drawn national attention and a criminal investigation. The Hollywood Police Department Tuesday night listed the ninth resident who died as Carlos Canal, 93.

Throughout the past week, the Scott administration and the nursing home have sparred about whether facility officials took adequate steps after Hurricane Irma knocked out a transformer for the air conditioning system. That back-and-forth has included questions about communications between facility and state officials about the lack of air conditioning, communications between the facility and Florida Power & Light and whether nursing officials should have called 911 earlier.

Scott’s office Tuesday night released a timeline of events, while the lawsuit includes another timeline provided by the nursing home.

While the Scott administration and the nursing home reach different conclusions about whether the facility handled the situation properly, both timelines reflect a series of phone calls and messages between representatives of the nursing home and the state on Sept. 11 and Sept. 12. Scott moved quickly last week to place a moratorium on admissions to the nursing home and to suspend the facility from Medicaid — a crucial source of funding for many nursing facilities. Also, Scott directed state officials to issue emergency rules aimed at requiring nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to have generators that would power air conditioning systems.

Scott moved quickly last week to place a moratorium on admissions to the nursing home and to suspend the facility from Medicaid — a crucial source of funding for many nursing facilities. Also, Scott directed state officials to issue emergency rules aimed at requiring nursing homes and assisted-living facilities to have generators that would power air conditioning systems.

In the lawsuit, The Rehabilitation at Hollywood Hills pointed to the lack of such a requirement in arguing against the admissions moratorium and the Medicaid suspension.

“Hollywood Hills is currently in no different position than any other nursing home in the state with respect to the requirement of emergency generator power for central AC units,” the lawsuit said. “Put simply, the lack of an emergency generator backup is the current norm in nursing homes throughout the state and does not constitute an emergency crisis for Hollywood Hills that differs from any other nursing home in Florida that is compliant with current statutes and rules.”

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Visit Florida unveils campaign to bring tourists back

Visit Florida has launched an aggressive month-long marketing campaign to entice tourists back to the Sunshine State.

Gov. Rick Scott announced that the multi-phased campaign will be paid for with existing Visit Florida funding and include digital, social, broadcast and traditional marketing methods in both domestic and international markets.

The marketing push starts this week and leads up to the beginning of Visit Florida’s traditional winter campaign.

The Keys, which took the brunt of damages from Hurricane Irma, will be a major focus of the marketing drive once tourism officials there indicate they are ready to welcome visitors back, according to a Visit Florida press

The campaign showcases sunshine, blue skies and good times at more than 12,000 tourism-related businesses across the state, said Ken Lawson, president and CEO of Visit Florida.

“Following Hurricane Irma, it’s more important than ever for us to spread the word that the coast is clear and the Sunshine State is open for business,” Lawson said. “I want to thank Governor Scott for his leadership as we work to let the world know that Florida is still the number one place to visit.”

The first phase of the campaign will include sharing content on social media as local tourism councils post messages after Irma.

Video broadcasts started Monday on Facebook with live shots showing Daytona, Clearwater and Fort Walton beaches ready for tourists. Visit Florida will also sponsor social media efforts to encourage state-wide usage of #LoveFL by Florida residents.

Florida tourism officials will work with international tour operators in core markets to manage any misperceptions of damage and encourage continuation of bookings, especially in the high-booking month of October.

Phase two of the plan will focus on heavier, more traditional advertising tactics to keep Florida top of mind as the top global destination. It will include launching a multi-channel, paid-media campaign with billboards, digital transportation banners, social, online travel agencies, promotions, broadcast, YouTube and a co-branded media partnership.

The state’s marketing agency will also increase its “Share a Little Sunshine” advocacy program to connect with local Instagram communities to create InstaMeets across the state, in which Instagrammers meet up to take photos and videos that they share in a branded effort.

 

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