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Jacksonville Bold for 10.13.17 — Power, money and timing

Jacksonville Bold is intended to appeal to a discerning audience, particularly to those who see politics for what it truly is — a confluence of money, power and timing.

We see evidence of that in every Bold — and this week is no different, as Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry’s Kids Hope Alliance reform bill advanced through the City Council by an 18-1 vote.

Its success comes as no small feat, given Council President Anna Brosche attempted to forestall both discussion of the bill and the vote itself, even going so far as to accuse an administration member and a city lawyer of working to keep the bill from the public.

And Brosche was the sole vote against discharging the bill to the Council floor — a nearly unheard of repudiation of a legislative body’s presiding officer.

In the end, though, Brosche overcame those qualms and voted for the bill — but not before Curry issued a statement condemning her accusations. Of course, there have been schisms between Council presidents and mayors in the past; but this one is different.

That’s because politics in this region are different.

Stakes are higher. Money is bigger. Operatives work 27/6. Nowadays, the way to win a political argument is not through churches and town halls. It’s all targeting and microtargeting, persuasion of the “velvet glove, iron fist” variety, and an understanding that when a bluff is called, most people will cave.

As we move toward the 2018 election cycle — and the 2019 local derby — file those insights; they may end up being predictive.

Fundraising roundup

September was not a record-breaking month for campaign finance reports in Northeast Florida. Blame Hurricane Irma.

State Senate incumbents, however, did well in amassing money for re-election bids — Aaron Bean brought in $33K, and Audrey Gibson brought in $12K.

In state House races, HD 15 Republican hopeful Wyman Duggan topped $10K for the month. And his Democratic opponent, Tracye Polson, brought in $51K in September. Otherwise, no one topped $7,500.

There was, however, marginally more exciting committee action: Palm Coast Speaker-of-the-future Paul Renner saw his committee give $20K to Speaker-of-the-present Richard Corcoran — who just may be running for Governor as soon as next year’s Legislative Session ends.

Lenny Curry’s political committee cleared $38K in September — and $25K of that came from Shad Khan. And Sheriff Mike Williams finally paid for a controversial August poll through his committee; price tag was almost $9,000 … more than he brought in.

Lenny Curry reaches up for high-fives with Jags’ owner Shad Khan.

The big play of the month came from Attorney General candidate Jay Fant, who loaned his campaign $750,000 — just the kind of thing a candidate that’s not part of the “establishment” does because all the cool kids have three-quarters of a million bucks sitting around. Fant had faced questions about his fundraising, but with one stroke of the pen, he established resource parity with Ashley Moody.

Will that bring Downtown Jacksonville around?

One candidate who won’t be loaning herself $750,000 — Jacksonville City Council hopeful Randy DeFoor. DeFoor, in his first month in the District 14 race, brought in $51,000 — more money, by far, than every other active local 2019 candidate combined brought in during September.

Her political committee brought in an extra $25,000.

Rob Bradley: Senate sentencing bill a ‘win-win’

Florida’s prison industry has endured scrutiny in recent years, and a new bill from Sen. Bradley may offer some relief for the sector.

SB 484 will authorize a court to sentence prisoners to county jail for up to 24 months if that county has a DOC contract.

The bill would also require prisoners to serve at least 85 percent of their sentence. Those prisoners will have sentences that don’t run longer than 24 months, and most felony convictions are exempt from this proposal.

State prison overcrowding could mean stable revenue for counties with room in jails.

On Wednesday, Bradley told Florida Politics that this is not a new idea.

“This is an idea that I’ve discussed with Senate and House colleagues for a couple of years now,” Bradley asserted.

Part of the problem is that the state has more prisoners than its facilities can handle, Bradley said.

“Right now,” Bradley said, “the state incarcerates 100,000 inmates. After dealing with this issue for years, I’ve come to the conclusion that our infrastructure and personnel is simply not equipped to handle that number. We need to reduce the state population. This is a strategy to accomplish this goal.”

Good news/bad news as Bradley bill clears committee

WGCU reports a good news/bad news scenario for a Bradley bill to put more money into the St. Johns River and North Florida springs.

St. Johns River money, a priority of Rob Bradley, may not be the Senate’s priority in the end.

Latvala chairs the Appropriations Committee.

“At some point in time — probably [on] the Appropriations Committee — we’ll have to put all those bills that we have this year, and the bills that we’ve passed over the last couple cycles on one sheet and figure out how we divide it up,” Latvala said.

With budget pressures mounting for Florida on several fronts, Bradley’s attempt to bring more Amendment 1 money to North Florida will be worth watching. It might be a heavier lift than locals hope.

Aaron Bean backs Jay Fant

One favorable augury for Fant: An endorsement this week from Republican state Sen. Bean.

Jay-mentum continues as Aaron Bean support sprouts for the AG hopeful.

“Senator Bean has been a longtime voice for conservative politics in Northeast Florida,” Fant said. “His endorsement is one to be very proud of. We look forward to working with Senator Bean on our conservative platform for years to come.”

Fant still has his last year to serve in the Florida House; since he is not running for re-election, candidates have filed already on the Democratic and Republican lines both in his House District 15.

Fant has gotten roughly a dozen House colleagues to endorse him; his strategy seems to be as the regional candidate who can roll up his sleeves and talk to the grassroots.

Rory Diamond launches Jax Council run

It was no surprise that Neptune Beach City Councilor Rory Diamond started a campaign to succeed Bill Gulliford on the Jacksonville City Council.

Rory Diamond is a candidate to watch for 2019, and likely beyond.

What will be a surprise: If anyone can mount a serious challenge to the Republican alum of the George W. Bush White House and Arnold Schwarzenegger Governor’s Mansion.

A broad cross-section of the city’s power elite supports Diamond and is very comfortable with policy discussions — including those affecting the broader expanse of Duval County, as well as the more granular issues relative to Jacksonville Beach.

Expect him to message heavily on public safety — and, bearing the gravitas of a former federal prosecutor — meaningfully. One of his recurrent theorems: that a lot of the Beaches’ crime problem is coming over from the other side of the ditch.

Censure for Councilors?

Jacksonville City Council President Anna Brosche raised the possibility of censure for two legislators who supported her run for the Council presidency.

The subject: A confrontation between Councilors Reggie Gaffney and Katrina Brown and police officers after a Council meeting last month.

Gaffney has issued the expected mea culpa statements for attempting to leverage his power as a Councilman to check the officers who pulled him over. However, Brown — who accused officers of racial profiling — has yet to apologize.

That point was not lost on the Fraternal Order of Police, which saw its national and state presidents in Jacksonville Tuesday night to condemn Councilwoman Brown’s accusations and unwillingness to walk them back.

“The ultimate repercussion is going to be leveled by their districts … if there is any,” Brosche said.

Brosche has requested “options” from the General Counsel, including what authority Council has, and expects them at the next Council meeting.

“The question is around censure — is it an option for Council,” Brosche said.

Did Irma kill crops?

It’s a race against time for Northeast Florida farmers, per the Florida Times-Union. Hurricane Irma devastated crops last month, and yields — and farms themselves — hang in the balance.

Irma created a big problem for large — and small — farms throughout the state.

Per a Florida Farm Bureau representative: “Many of the losses will be calculated in coming weeks. It’s very difficult for folks to make a total estimate if they’re still struggling to get to their fields, their pastures, round up animals, to repair buildings.”

Among the potential culinary casualties: Christmas coleslaw from St. Johns County.

Clay County, hit hard by Irma, may have suffered more grievously had it not been for delayed planting … as heavy rains had already pushed back planting schedules.

Turn around, don’t drown

The Tampa Bay Times published a long-form, damning article laying out Jacksonville’s vulnerability to flooding during a hurricane.

“The city is dangerously flood-prone,” the TBT attested, as Irma was merely a tropical storm by the time it affected Jacksonville … and the storm could have been worse.

Floods from Irma were unprecedented … yet could be the future in Jacksonville, per TBT.

Of course, some caveats led to the epic flooding: a full moon drove the storm surge, the rain was another factor. But where the TBT article makes its point is a twofold contention.

— Jacksonville has not put money into drainage in older neighborhoods, especially those close to the water.

— Jacksonville officials have no real plan to deal with the matter.

The city’s finances are stretched: millage rates are low, there is no political appetite to raise them. Pension reform offered some fiscal relief, but the recurrent investment of that aid is in human resources — public-sector unions, legacy costs.

John Thrasher enters Confederate monument debate

Florida State University President Thrasher set up a 15-person committee to review Confederate markers and monuments, reports the Tallahassee Democrat.

“I expect them to be deliberate, to be thoughtful and to seek input from the entire Florida State community as they do their work,” Thrasher said about the new  President’s Advisory Panel on University Namings and Recognitions.

John Thrasher is involved in a monument controversy, but not the local Jacksonville one.

The Democrat reports that “the campus chapter of Students for a Democratic Society has sought the removal of the statue of Francis Eppes near the Westcott Building. Eppes, the grandson of U.S. President Thomas Jefferson, is a former Tallahassee mayor who helped found West Florida Seminary, the forerunner of today’s FSU.”

JTA CEO elected chair of national org

JTA CEO Nat Ford this weekend was elected as Chair of the American Public Transportation Association and calls the election “one of the greatest honors” he’s received in his career.

JTA CEO Nat Ford has been named Chair of the American Public Transportation Association.

Ford expects his chairmanship to bring “national attention” to Jacksonville, a city that is currently involved in attempts to modernize its approach to mass transit through various infrastructural investments — including a regional transportation center under construction.

Among his focuses in the APTA chair: “leveraging big data,” “enterprise risk management,” and the “new mobility paradigm” — which, we hear, will also double as the name for Ford’s indie rock group.

Jax loves Shad; Republicans cool to Jags

University of North Florida polls shows high approval ratings for both the owner and coach of the Jacksonville Jaguars.

While Shad Khan and Doug Marrone sit at 65 and 58 percent approval, there nonetheless is still some grievance from Republicans toward the home team’s anthem protest in London.

Republicans are less likely to watch games on television or attend, per the survey; almost 63 percent indicated they were less likely to watch NFL games and 57 percent said they were less likely to attend games.

Democrats are unmoved; while 14 and 11 percent respectively said they were less likely to watch or go to games, a full 18 percent of Dems are more likely to watch and attend.

Pollsters conducted the live-dial survey with 512 registered Duval County voters between Oct. 2 and Oct. 4.

The first-place Jacksonville Jaguars take on the Los Angeles Rams at home, Sunday at 1 p.m.

Bean calls for elected Secretary of State

This week, the Fernandina Beach Republican filed a proposal to ask Florida voters to make the secretary of state an elected Cabinet position, removing the governor’s power to appoint Florida’s highest elections official. The News Service of Florida reports that SJR 506 seeks to undo a change approved by voters in 1998 that reduced the size of the Cabinet to three members.

Under that ballot measure, the positions of secretary of state and education commissioner became appointed in 2002 and dropped the Cabinet posts of comptroller and treasurer. It also created a new Cabinet position, chief financial officer, while keeping the attorney general and agriculture commissioner.

For inclusion on the 2018 ballot, Bean’s proposal must be approved by three-fifths of both legislative chambers and would ultimately need approval from 60 percent of voters. Bean sponsored similar legislation in the 2017 session, with the Senate approving it in a 33-2 vote, but failed to advance in the House.

Able Trust lauds Bean

“Senator of the Year” — that’s the designation the Able Trust put on Sen. Bean Monday.

“I look forward to continuing to work with The Able Trust to ensure that Floridians with disabilities are never left behind and are given the opportunities they so rightly deserve,” Bean added.

Sen. Aaron Bean gets plaudits from the Able Trust.

This has been Bean’s third award from the Able Trust. He has historically fought to ensure the nonprofit received funding that was on the chopping block.

Meredith Charbula to Duval County Court

Eric Roberson’s vacancy, left when the former Duval judge moved to the 4th Circuit Court, has now been filled.

Meredith Charbula counted Lenny Curry as an ally.

Meredith Charbula, 59, of Jacksonville, will leave her role as Director of the Legal Division for the Office of the State Attorney for the Fourth Judicial Circuit to fill the slot.

Charbula, an alumna of FSU’s law school, was recommended four times by commissions … and passed over four times in the past, reported the Florida Times-Union.

“Some people call me stubborn. I call it tenacious,” she said when asked why she kept trying.

Leadership moves for KIPP Jacksonville

After more than eight years with KIPP Jacksonville Public Charter Schools, Executive Director Tom Majdanics has passed the leadership torch to Dr. Jennifer Brown, who will move from her role as Chief Academic Officer.

Zach Rossley, formerly Chief Operating Officer, will now serve as president and COO, taking on new and added responsibilities.

New Executive Director, Dr. Jennifer Brown, with students at KIPP Jacksonville Elementary.

Brown joined the KIPP Jacksonville team in 2015, with more than 15 years of experience as an educator and leader in large urban, rural, and nonprofit settings. She earned both a B.A. and M.A. in English from Winthrop University and an Ed.D. in Education Leadership and Policy from Vanderbilt University.

Brown is also a proud U.S. Army Veteran who served during Operation Iraqi Freedom.

KIPP Jacksonville Schools are part of the KIPP non-profit network of college-preparatory, public charter schools.

Mike Pence to keynote Republicans’ conference in Orlando

Vice President Mike Pence is slated to be the keynote speaker at the Republican Party of Florida’s annual Statesman Diner during their November state conference in Orlando.

Pence – with “special guest” U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio –  is to highlight the dinner set for Thursday, Nov. 2 at Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort & Spa, kicking off the two-day conference.

Also billed for the kickoff dinner to the quarterly party meeting are three of the four members of the Florida Cabinet, though not Gov. Rick Scott. The other advertised guests include Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, Attorney General Pam Bondi,  Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis, Florida Senate President Joe Negron, and Florida House Speaker Richard Corcoran.

General tickets are $200 for the dinner, with executive committee members and College Republicans getting discounts.

Adam Putnam says Hurricane Irma was ‘lethal’ for Florida agriculture

Telling them that their committee will be more important than they ever could have imagined but for all the wrong reasons, Adam Putnam offered a sobering assessment to the Senate Committee on Agriculture about the impact that Hurricane Irma left on the state’s agriculture industry Thursday.

Florida suffered at least $2.5 billion in osses from the storm, the path of which “could not have been more lethal for Florida agriculture,” Putnam said.

“When you think about the pride that we have in Florida about the fresh winter vegetables that are on people’s Thanksgiving table, (they) won’t be there because of Hurricane Irma,” he added.

Florida’s citrus industry got the worst of the storm, with preliminary estimates finding that Irma devastated the state’s largest agricultural industry with nearly $761 million worth of damage. An estimated 70 percent loss of the state’s orange trees.

On Wednesday, Putnam joined Governor Rick Scott in Washington D.C , where they met with most of the state’s congressional delegation to request additional disaster relief. As part of the emergency supplemental funding, they want to have congress move that $2.5 billion need to the U.S. Dept. of Agriculture to design a program that would take into consideration people who had crop insurance and the level of losses, based on the seven hurricanes that swept through Florida in 2004-2005.

“There’s a proven model out there that has worked in the past that we’re asking Congress to fund,” he said.

Boca Raton Democrat Kevin Radar said that a lot of Florida farmers were in Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP), which means that they may not be compensated for as many as nine months from now. He asked Putnam, a former congressman, if there was anything that could be done to speed up that process?

“That’s why we have to go get sort of a special category of disaster relief from USDA,” Putnam responded, adding that the department previously had the flexibility to administer those programs internally, but after the last Farm Bill was passed that power now is up to Congress.

Putnam said he and Scott asked that Florida’s needs be inserted in the current disaster relief bill from FEMA that the House will vote on Thursday and the Senate next week. He said the odds of that happening weren’t great, however, meaning that it may not be until the next replenishment for FEMA may not come before Congress until Christmas.

“Specialty crop states like Florida are not adequately protected from risk management tools that the crop insurance was designed to provide,” Putnam said, adding that it’s been long time problem which has yet to be addressed.

Aramis Ayala moving on after losing death penalty battle

Eight months after she lit statewide firestorm debates over the death penalty and Florida government separation of powers, and five weeks after she lost those debates in the Florida Supreme Court, Orlando’s State Attorney Aramis Ayala appears at peace.

Speaking with a gathering of journalists Thursday morning, the controversial, still-new state attorney for Florida’s 9th Judicial Circuit, covering Orange and Osceola counties, said she was settling in to pursue her judicial reform agenda, she was pursuing justice, and she was happy.

“I enjoy my office. I enjoy life. Generally, I’m just a happy person. I don’t say that lightly. I enjoy doing what is right,” Ayala said.

Ayala talked Thursday morning at a meeting of the Central Florida chapter of the National Association of Hispanic Journalists. She took questions challenging her now-abandoned opposition in her circuit to death penalty prosecutions, yet largely dismissed any political or personal concerns about where that came from or how much it cost.

If she had any regrets about the consternation her previous position or her six-month battle with Gov. Rick Scott and others had caused for anyone, including the families of murder victims, she wasn’t sharing them. Over café con leche at the Melao Bakery in Orlando.

Ayala, who was elected last year, presented herself as a public official who took a stand based on her interpretation of the law, lost, and has since moved on. She characterized the debate as something that had to happen, it did, and now it’s over.

“I had an interesting start,” she said. “The day I took office we were dealing with the death penalty. And unfortunately, a lot of people only know me for that. But there certainly is more to me as a person, as a lawyer, as prosecutor that deals with that,” Ayala said. “But when I took office, the first conversations I had with prosecutors across the state was dealing with the death penalty. We had a statute that had been ruled unconstitutional two times in less than two years, so we knew there was a problem. That was the first week of me taking office. Then we had the deaths locally of two police officers that we had to deal with. We had internal issues with employees, and ultimately we had retaliatory budget cuts.”

Ayala said she supposed her contentedness came from being a cancer survivor, someone who nearly died from lymphoma as a young woman in law school, and then struggled with avascular necrosis. She said that life experience also taught her “the level of accountability. It teaches you that one day we all have to answer and respond to the right that we lived. And I’ve committed to that.”

On Thursday she sought to turn the focus to initiatives she campaigned on – as opposed to the death penalty, which she did not. Those include creation of aggressive teams of prosecutors to deal with domestic violence and human trafficking. Ayala said that she has gotten those promised units up, operating and prosecuting, and getting convictions, despite state budget cuts of $1.3 million for her office, which for all practical purposes eliminated previous domestic violence money, forcing her to redirect funds from elsewhere.

“I’m… looking at the numbers of homicides in our community that are based upon domestic violence,” she said. “I look at the younger the girls are getting, the more they’re being impacted by domestic violence. I’m looking at how domestic violence can tear up an entire community. And we get a lot of it.”

She said her office also moved forward with other reforms, notably a program in which prosecutors get involved with communities, and her juvenile justice “Project No No,” creating new opportunities for young offenders to go through diversion programs without getting criminal records. She said she has recently hired 20 new assistant prosecutors fresh out of law school.

Voting restoration amendment clears 200,000 signatures

A proposed ballot initiative that would automatically restore some felons’ voting rights after they complete their sentences now has more than 210,000 confirmed petition signatures, according to the Florida Division of Elections.

And while that’s just the number of confirmed petition, Desmond Meade, president of the Florida Rights Restoration Coalition, says 600,000 signed petitions have been gathered and that he expects the organization to have all the petitions it needs by December.

The Voting Restoration Amendment wouldn’t apply in the case of murder convictions or sex crimes, but all other Florida felons would be eligible once they exit state custody and finish out parole or probation and pay any restitution owed.

To make the ballot, initiatives need to have 766,200 confirmed signatures. Rules require those signatures be spread across Florida’s 27 congressional districts, with the total number due pegged to voter turnout in the most recent presidential election. Former state Senate Democratic leaders Arthenia Joyner and Chris Smith have also filed the proposal with the Constitution Revision Commission, which has the power to put it on the ballot.

During his term as Florida governor, then-Republican Charlie Crist worked with Cabinet members Alex Sink and Charles Bronson to push through restoration of rights for more than 150,000 non-violent felons. That process was quickly halted by Gov. Rick Scott when he took office in 2011.

Crist was elected to Florida’s 13th Congressional District last year as a Democrat, and as of Wednesday evening his Pinellas County district was the only one in the state that had hit its signature quota.

Current law requires Florida convicts to wait years after they complete their sentences to apply for restoration through the Board of Executive Clemency, made up of Scott and the Cabinet.

Once they complete an application, they have to play the waiting game. The line to go before the board is thousands of cases long, and it rarely hands down a decision in more than 100 cases during one of its four annual meetings.

The committee backing the measure, Floridians for a Fair Democracy, has been paying out substantial sums to petition gatherers pounding the pavement to get those signatures.

Last month alone saw Calabassas, Calif.-based petition gathering company PCI Consultants pick up more than $400,000 from the committee, while a significant amount of money also went to county supervisors of elections for signature verification fees.

At the end of the month, Floridians for a Fair Democracy had about $180,000 on hand, thanks in large part to the American Civil Liberties Union chipping in more than $1.4 million in the past four months.

‘LIP’ money falls short of initial estimates

At the height of a budget showdown earlier this year, Gov. Rick Scott boasted that his friendship with President Donald Trump‘s administration would result in Florida getting $1.5 billion to help the state’s hospitals.

But months later, the final amount will be considerably smaller, a top state Medicaid official said Wednesday. Instead the state will have about $790.4 million in supplemental Medicaid funds to spend this year.

Beth Kidder, a deputy secretary at the state Agency for Health Care Administration, told the Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Subcommittee that the agency has $303 million in funding commitments from counties to help fund the Low-Income Pool. The money will be used to draw down $487 million in federal Medicaid dollars bringing the total available to just more than $790 million for the supplemental program widely known as LIP.

“The $1.5 billion is not $1.5 billion,” Senate Health and Human Services Appropriations Chairwoman Anitere Flores, a Miami Republican, said.

Kidder told the panel that the size of the Low-Income Pool has always been contingent on the receipt of matching local dollars to fund it. While the state in the past has been able to fully fund the program, the federal government has changed its expectations on how money can be spent. For instance, money can no longer be used to help offset losses hospitals incur while treating Medicaid patients. Under the new rules, only charity care can be considered for reimbursement.

The restrictions, Kidder said have made it “onerous and difficult for funders” to agree to provide the required local matching dollars. She also noted that the state didn’t get final approval of what is known as a Medicaid 1115 waiver and accompanying special terms and conditions until August, after local governments had already prepared budgets. The Medicaid 1115 waiver gives the state the authority to operate its mandatory Medicaid managed-care program as well as the LIP program.

Kidder tried to remain optimistic, though. She told the committee that the $790.4 million in LIP funds for fiscal year 2017-2018 is more than the $590 million Florida had for the program last year. Additionally, she reminded lawmakers that the Trump administration agreed to keep available a $1.5 billion LIP program for the next five years.

“It’s out there, it’s a target,” she said of the $1.5 billion annual commitment.

Under the approved waiver, three groups of providers can tap into LIP funds: hospitals, medical school faculty and federally qualified health centers. All of them must agree to certain requirements to get the money. For instance, hospitals must agree to sign contracts with at least half of the standard Medicaid health plans that operate in their regions.

Meanwhile, the Agency for Health Care Administration posted details on how it plans to distribute the $790 million in LIP funding. More than $654 million is being directed to 204 hospitals, $85 million is being directed to eight medical faculty teaching practices and another $50 million is allocated to federally qualified health centers.

The federally qualified health centers, though, say they have problems with a provision in the Medicaid 1115 waiver’s special terms and conditions that requires all reimbursements to the clinics to be made by managed-care organizations, rather than the state paying bills directly.

Kidder told lawmakers that the agency has met with the federally qualified health centers to discuss the concerns, including a meeting Wednesday.

Florida Association of Community Health Centers President Andy Behrman told senators that the Wednesday meeting with state officials was a “good move forward” and that there may be a way to solve some of his members’ concerns.

He said the clinics don’t want to walk away from $50 million but that they need to be protected.

The state has asked counties contributing matching dollars to the LIP program to send signed letters of agreement to the state by Nov. 15 and to send the funds to the state the following month.

After the state receives the funding, Kidder said, it will submit a proposed budget amendment to legislative leaders for approval. The budget amendment will include a 2017-2018 LIP distribution model that shows the government entities that contributed the funds as well as the funding distribution by provider.

The amendment will be approved within 14 days of submission unless the chair and vice chair of the Joint Legislative Budget Commission or the Senate president and speaker of the House of Representatives oppose the amendment in writing.

Republished with permission of the News Service of Florida.

Bleak outlook for Florida agriculture after Irma

Hurricane Irma didn’t just rain on Florida’s agriculture industry – it poured.

The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services (FDACS) painted a bleak picture for Florida crops in a Tuesday presentation to the House Agriculture and Property Rights Subcommittee.

Irma caused an estimated $2.5 billion in damage. Grace Lovett, FDACS’ legislative affairs director, said the damage was in addition to losses from citrus greening, already responsible for a 70 percent reduction in Florida citrus over the last decade.

Florida’s citrus wasn’t the only crop devastated.

The negative effects of the storm are starting to show in Florida’s overall produce shipping numbers. Florida fruit and vegetable shipments for September stalled at just 192,200 25-pound cartons, a staggering 76 percent decrease from the past four-year average. 

Okra shipments in September were limited to just 6,400 25-pound cartons. The previous four-year average for that crop was 40,000 cartons.

“The path of Irma could not have been more lethal to Florida’s agriculture,” Lovett told lawmakers. She says the department is working with Florida’s congressional delegation for a relief package.

For reference of what the state could expect, she cited 2004—the year notable hurricanes like Charley, Frances and Ivan passed through Florida—when a $500 million federal hurricane recovery program was created for Florida farmers.

Lovett also said Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam were in Washington, D.C. today. Florida’s congressional delegation on Friday called for $27 billion worth of federal relief.

Currently, total crop losses are estimated at a little over $2 billion; total losses to production agriculture are estimated at  more than $2.5 billion. Here’s the breakdown:

— Citrus: $760,816,600

— Beef Cattle: $237,476,562

— Dairy: $11,811,695

— Aquaculture: $36,850,000

— Fruits and Vegetables (excluding citrus): $180,193,096

— Greenhouse, Nursery, and Floriculture: $624,819,895  

— Sugar: $382,603,397

— Field Crops: $62,747,058

— Forestry: $261,280,000

Activists in Tampa denounce Trump’s tax plan as ‘giveaway to wealthy’

For a scheduled speech in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, Wednesday evening, President Donald Trump is expected to say that truckers and other middle-income workers stand to benefit significantly from his proposed tax plan.

Hundreds of miles away, however, a group of progressive activists gathered in Tampa earlier the same day to denounce the proposal as currently laid out, calling it a gross giveaway to the wealthy.

“Please note that in 2027 when all aspects of this Republican plan are phased in, four out of every five dollars in proposed tax cuts will flow to the top 1 percent,” said Ione Townsend, chair of the Hillsborough County Democratic Executive Committee.

She called it an “egregious wealth transfer for those who least need it.”

Though Townsend is clearly partisan, the Washington, D.C.-based Tax Policy Center is generally considered to be centrist and/or nonpartisan. That organization estimates the plan would cut taxes for the bottom 95 percent of earners by 1.2 percent, while the top 1 percent would get an 8.6 percent tax cut.

Townsend joined a group of progressive activists gathered at the Hillsborough Classroom Teachers’ Association building in West Tampa to pick apart the proposed tax cut plan, an important agenda item for Trump and congressional Republicans who have yet to score any major achievements this year, despite being in complete control of the federal government since late January.

“Corporate profits are at near record highs. Corporate taxes are at record lows. Major corporations pay little to nothing in taxes due to loopholes,” said Michelle Prieto, a member of the group Mi Familia Vota.

Prieto said if the tax plan under the president goes through, corporations will use their tax savings to “further pad the pockets of CEO’s and rich stockholders.”

“We need a compassionate budget that prioritizes real people and real public service programs that put American people first,” said Chelsea Bunch, a steering committee member of Indivisible Action Tampa Bay. “And give not one penny more to corporations and billionaires who don’t need it.  

Despite activist’s concerns, exactly how much each taxpayer will be affected by the proposed tax is unknown, because the framework Trump and congressional Republicans in Congress released late month out left out vital details, such as exactly which tax deductions and credits would be eliminated.

Committees in both houses of Congress still need to agree on a budget resolution that specifies how much tax reform could cost.

Karen Clay is a disability activist serving on the board of the Florida Alliance for Assistive Services and Technology (FAAST). She says a review of the Trump tax cut plan makes it “obvious” where the budget cuts will come from — Medicare, Medicaid, education, food stamps, SSI and SSDI.

Clay fears what health care will soon look like, even with the Affordable Care Act still the law of the land. Going back to last spring, Florida Gov. Rick Scott has been advocating that he wants a block grant from Washington for the state’s $26 billion Medicaid program.

“We are currently ranked 48th in our per capita spending. So if the amount from the federal government is capped, and there is no mechanism in place to help individuals after a natural disaster, an economic downturn or any type of job loss, how will individuals and families ever get back on their feet?” Clay asked.

All the advocates urged members of the public to contact their elected representatives in Washington, and tell them to oppose the tax proposal.


Rick Scott, Adam Putnam to seek post-Irma federal aid

Gov. Rick Scott and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam will be in Washington, D.C. Wednesday to meet with members of Florida’s congressional delegation to discuss federal assistance after Hurricane Irma.

A focus of the meeting will be the state’s citrus industry, which accounted for more than $760 million of the storm’s estimated $2.5 billion impact on Florida’s agricultural industry.

U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, a Republican who is co-chairman of the delegation, said a meeting will take place at 10 a.m. in the Rayburn House Office Building.

Florence Snyder: Rick Scott’s juvenile justice budget, a wet bandage for Stage 4 cancer

Eleven days ago, Gov. Rick Scott dropped a news release proposing a 10 percent pay raise for juvenile detention and juvenile probation officers.

Today, the Miami Herald dropped its comprehensive carpet bomb on Scott’s Department of Juvenile Justice (DJJ).

Maybe it’s a coincidence.

The Herald’s book-length investigative series is a stomach-churning compilation of examples of Florida’s children being abused and exploited in a state system that might not have time to make proper hiring decisions, but can always find time for a cover-up.

The Herald’s project has been in the making for two years with the support of a reporting grant from the Center for Health Journalism at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School. The project-in-progress was no secret to Scott and his minions.

Even Herald readers got a preview of coming attractions with last February’s story about the plight of Keishan Ross, a Broward County teenager with an IQ that tops out at 61, on a good day.

Keishan was having a bad day when Scott’s DJJ Secretary, Christy Daly, had the bad fortune to be escorting the Herald’s investigations team on a tour of the Broward Detention Center. Keishan’s “deep, primal, piercing, unrelenting screams” revealed the facility as a torture chamber to a kid who lacked the capacity to understand why he was there.

Herald photographer Emily Michot‘s picture of Daly’s stricken face is worth a thousand words. To her credit, Daly didn’t try to spin what the Herald saw, heard and reported.

That was then.

Today, Daly’s singin’ a tune familiar to anyone who’s ever danced The Government Shuffle. “We have policies in place of what your relationship should be like with these children. Not everyone follows these policies and procedures. But the best we can do is have them in place,” said Daly.

States which favor professional competence over political connections do not put children into the custody of sadists, sex offenders and jailers who are able to tune out, but not able to help kids like Keishan. Effective programs do exist, but after six-and-a-half years of “aggressive steps to reform Florida’s juvenile justice system,” Scott’s #BigIdea is a 10 percent raise for people whose base salaries range from $8.50 per hour to $25,000 per year.

Scott’s news release notes that more than 2,000 juvenile detention and juvenile probation officers “have the important responsibility of working with youth in DJJ care, but they also have the unique opportunity to help change lives and redirect our youth to a successful path.”

“I look forward to working with the Legislature during the upcoming session to pass this 10 percent pay raise, which will ensure DJJ can hire highly qualified and dedicated detention and probation officers to help our youth and keep our communities safe for years to come.”

To be fair, Scott did not invent Florida’s practice of throwing stale crusts of bread at starving populations and calling it reform, and the Legislature has, for decades, been a willing partner in Florida’s penny-wise, pound-foolish approach to juvenile justice.

The Herald’s reporting is harrowing, unassailable proof that Scott’s prescription for DJJ is little more than a waterlogged bandage on a Stage 4 tumor.

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