Rick Scott – Page 6 – Florida Politics

House, Senate sign off on nursing home generators

Nursing homes will be required to have generators and 72-hour fuel supplies onsite by July 1, under a rule issued by Gov. Rick Scott’s administration and approved Monday by the Legislature.

The House unanimously approved a measure (HB 7099) that ratified the rule, and the Senate followed suit later in the day.

The chambers still differ, though, on whether to impose similar backup power mandates on assisted living facilities, which were included in a different rule. Ratifying the pair of rules has been a top priority for Scott’s administration during the 2018 Legislative Session.

“Our position has not changed — assisted living facilities need to be included,” said Lauren Schenone, a spokeswoman for the Governor, adding that “we are continuing to work with the Florida Legislature to make sure this gets done.”

The rule requires nursing homes to have backup power capability and adequate fuel supplies to maintain safety systems and equipment needed to maintain indoor air temperatures for 96 hours after a loss of electricity. According to the state, the rule will increase costs by more than $121 million in the next five years.

The Agency for Health Care Administration issued the rule after earlier imposing emergency rules that drew concerns from health-care facilities. The rules followed the deaths of residents of The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills in Broward County after Hurricane Irma. The storm knocked out the nursing home’s air-conditioning system, which led to sweltering conditions.

The emergency rules were challenged by a trio of long-term care associations and were subsequently invalidated by a state administrative law judge.

The state appealed the decision and continued to enforce the emergency rules, and Schenone said, “hundreds” of nursing homes and ALFs are complying.

The permanent rule ratified Monday came after negotiations between the Scott administration and long-term care facilities. The permanent rule does not require generators to be installed, which opens the possibility of portable units.

Steve Bahmer, president and CEO of the industry group LeadingAge Florida, said the nursing-home rule puts in place what his association and others had worked on with the Scott administration and Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Justin Senior since Hurricane Irma. Bahmer, whose association successfully challenged the emergency rules, said he was pleased with the legislative ratification.

“It achieves the goal we have pursued since last fall — helping to ensure that seniors are safe during and after an emergency, while providing the flexibility that is necessary for it to be effective in a state as large as Florida,” Bahmer said in an email.

Bahmer, whose association also represents assisted living facilities, said he hopes the House has a change of heart about ratifying the ALF rule.

House Health & Human Services Chairman Travis Cummings, a Fleming Island Republican, has repeatedly said he has concerns with ratifying the ALF rule because of the costs and said his concerns were “shared by others.” The backup generator mandate is expected to increase regulatory costs for roughly 3,000 assisted living facilities by about $243 million over the next five years.

To abate the House’s concerns with the regulatory increases for ALFs, the Senate during budget negotiations suggested creating a program that would allow facilities to get upward of $1,000 from the state to help offset the costs.

With the annual Legislative Session scheduled to end Friday, long-term care providers remained hopeful Monday that the House will agree to ratify the ALF rule.

LeadingAge Florida’s Bahmer said the ALF rule “offers clarity for providers, which is important in terms of helping ensure that the rule can be consistently implemented across the state.”

Senate, House remain split on generator rules

With less than a week left in the Legislative Session, the Senate and House continued to have differences Monday about ratifying a pair of high-profile rules that are a priority of Gov. Rick Scott.

The Senate on Monday voted 37-0 to pass a bill (SB 7028) that would ratify a rule requiring assisted living facilities to have backup electrical generators that can help keep buildings cool. The rule is projected to cost roughly $243 million for the 3,000 assisted living facilities in the state to comply. The Senate, however, deferred action on a bill (SB 7030) that would ratify a similar generator rule for nursing homes.

The House, meanwhile, voted 113-0 to pass a bill (HB 7099) that would ratify the proposed nursing home rule. The House has not introduced legislation to ratify the rule for assisted living facilities because of concerns about the steep price tag.

The 60-day Legislative Session is scheduled to end Friday.

Scott’s administration initially issued backup-power requirements through an emergency rule following the deaths of residents at The Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, a Broward County nursing home whose air-conditioning system was knocked out by Hurricane Irma.

Lawmakers reject money for clemency backlog

Despite a federal court ruling that Florida’s clemency process is unconstitutional, state lawmakers refused Sunday to provide funding to address a backlog of former felons seeking to have voting rights restored.

After House Appropriations Chairman Carlos Trujillo and Senate Appropriations Chairman Rob Bradley reached the agreement, members of the Legislature’s black caucus objected and said they would continue to press the issue with legislative leaders.

“I’m very concerned,” said Sen. Darryl Rouson citing the federal court ruling last month that found Florida’s process for restoring voting and other civil rights to ex-felons was arbitrary and unconstitutional.

The clemency review process, which is administered by the Florida Commission on Offender Review, had a backlog of 10,377 cases as of Oct. 1. Applications, under state policy, cannot be filed until five to seven years after a felon has served his or her sentence, including completing terms of probation and restitution.

Once an application is filed, it can take years for it to be processed, with one application, as of last October, pending for more than nine years.

Rouson has been a major proponent of finding more money for the Commission on Offender Review to hire temporary workers who could help speed up background investigations and allow more applications for clemency to be processed.

“This money would help get hearings and decisions for people and unlock and unjam the backlog,” Rouson said.

Sen. Audrey Gibson also urged legislative leaders to support some additional funding for the clemency reviews, saying it would “help people get their lives back to normal and being productive citizens in their communities.”

The Senate began negotiations with the House by offering $750,000 in additional funding for the clemency reviews. It reduced the offer to $250,000 on Friday. But the House never budged from its position of no additional funding.

After agreeing with the House position, Bradley said the concerns raised by Rouson and Gibson will be taken “under advisement,” meaning it may ultimately be up to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron to settle the issue.

U.S. District Judge Mark Walker issued the ruling about the clemency process on Feb. 1, focusing on the arbitrariness of the system and saying it violated First Amendment rights and equal-protection rights under the U.S. Constitution’s 14th Amendment. Gov. Rick Scott’s administration, however, has defended the system, and it remains unclear how Walker might order the process to change.

House and Senate leaders are negotiating numerous budget issues as they try to finalize a spending plan in time to end the Legislative Session Friday. The budget will take effect July 1.

In another Sunday agreement, lawmakers agreed to spend $14.4 million in 2018-2019 on treating prisoners with hepatitis C, an infectious disease that may be impacting as many as one out of every five state prisoners.

Previously, lawmakers agreed to spend another $21 million this year fighting the disease in the prison system. Treatment can cost as much as $37,000 for a 12-week regimen.

The infectious-disease funding is one of several costly prison initiatives, which are expected to total roughly $100 million in the new budget, where state officials are responding to court settlements over the treatment of prisoners for mental health, diseases and disabilities.

On Sunday, the House backed off its opposition to spending $7.5 million on Vivitrol, a treatment that helps people in community-based programs deal with opioid and alcohol addictions. The money is part of the state court-system budget.

In addition, lawmakers agreed to spend $250,000 in the state courts’ budget on developing a texting system that would provide court-appearance alerts and other court-related information to people with court cases.

House and Senate members also continued the process of eliminating budget projects, which they predicted would happen as lawmakers scramble to find $400 million for a school-safety package, following the Feb. 14 mass shooting at a Parkland high school.

As a sign of the scope of the cuts, Trujillo and Bradley agreed to eliminate $400,000 for the renovation of the Gilchrist County jail, which is in Bradley’s sprawling North Florida district.

However, lawmakers agreed on spending $4.3 million on the Thomas Varnadoe Forensic Center for Research and Education, a forensic research and training facility in Pasco County. The project, which received more than $4 million last year as part of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement budget, is important to Corcoran, the House speaker, and Senate Majority Leader Wilton Simpson, a Trilby Republican who is in line to become Senate president after the 2020 elections.

Hurricane housing programs axed from budget

State funding is absent for affordable housing programs tailored to those affected by last year’s hurricanes.

The reason? Unforeseen constraints created by a high-profile $400 million school safety and mental health proposal designed to prevent another school shooting.

Budget chiefs Sen. Rob Bradley and Rep. Carlos Trujillo told Florida Politics on Saturday evening that the Legislature’s budget will not fund the Hurricane Housing Recovery Program (HHRP) and the Rental Recovery Loan Program (RRLP). Instead, dollars dedicated to affordable housing will go to the State Housing Initiatives Partnership (SHIP) and the State Apartment Incentive Loan Program (SAIL).

“We have limited funds,” Bradley said. “Post-Parkland, everybody is taking a haircut. We agreed that SHIP and SAIL are going to be our focus when it comes to affordable housing.”

The cut to HHRP and LLRP walks back on the intentions of the House and Senate when they first passed their budgets — which happened weeks before the tragedy at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

In its chamber-backed spending plan, the House appropriated $45 million and $64 million for HHRP and LLRP, respectively. The House initially did not fund SHIP and SAIL, instead sweeping $182 million from the affordable housing funding source, known as the Sadowski Trust.

The Senate had prioritized funding this year for all four affordable housing programs. Its first budget appropriated $30 million to HHRP and $60 million to LLRP, along with a little more than $104 million each to SHIP and SAIL. The Senate’s first spending plan did not propose any Sadowski sweeps.

The Legislature now intends to dole out just $109 million on affordable housing through SHIP and SAIL. The Sadowski Trust is expected to have an estimated $308 million to $322 million for the upcoming fiscal year. Close to $200 million from the trust will be spent on other projects.

HHRP and LLRP were spawned in the Legislature following the 2004 Hurricane season, when Gov. Jeb Bush and Lt. Gov. Toni Jennings requested $98 million for HHRP and $177 million for RRLP.

The two programs mimicked SHIP and SAIL, but specified that the money be spent on projects to house those who lost their homes in hurricanes. Both were never codified by statutes and eventually were removed from the budget.

Rep. Bob Cortes, an Altamonte Springs Republican, filed HB 987 this Session to breathe life back into the hurricane housing programs. The popular measure passed the House last week. A similar bill (SB 1328) is up for consideration in the Senate and had widespread support in committees.

The bills include a reactivating clause, meaning the programs could be funded when future hurricanes hit the state. According to Trujillo, that provision can still be signed into law — even if the hurricane housing programs aren’t funded this year. 

Gov. Rick Scott asked the Legislature in November to appropriate $65 million to HHRP and $25 to RRLP as part of a $100 million Hurricane Irma affordable housing relief package

But again, that was before Parkland.

The Legislature’s budget will be finalized Tuesday for a vote on Friday.

Post-Parkland Senate bill primed for floor vote

The Florida Senate took the better part of eight hours during a rare Saturday session to work through 128 amendments — only one of which passed the floor — on a single bill.

And even with the amendment’s approval, partisan spirits haven’t changed on the proposal designed to address issues unearthed in the wake of the recent school shooting in Broward County.

Dubbed the “Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act,” or SB 7026, the sweeping proposal provides for stricter gun control laws, including a three-day waiting period to buy any firearm, and a new age limit — 21 (up from 18) —  for firearms purchases, along with an all-out ban on bump stocks.

It also creates a commission to make recommendations on school safety and invests millions in mental-health and school safety initiatives, which include a program that would train and arm teachers on a voluntary basis.

Of course, not everyone is happy.

Democrats, along with Parkland survivors and victims’ families have criticized the proposal for its lack of an assault-weapons ban. The charged Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooter, Nikolas Cruz, was equipped with an assault rifle when he killed 17 people at the school on Feb. 14. Gov. Rick Scott also has come out strongly against the idea of arming teachers.

These points of criticism set the stage for the Senate’s eight-hour floor session on Saturday. Members of both parties filed hundreds of amendments, withdrawing some and heavily debating others. Arguments over an outright ban on assault weapons took an entire hour in the chamber. Other Democratic-backed amendments lent to lengthy discussions, but the Senate refrained from adopting anything that would fundamentally change the legislation. 

At one point, Democrats experienced something particularly Sisyphean. Senate President Joe Negron had approved through a voice vote the adoption of an amendment providing a two-year moratorium on assault weapons sales. After a few minutes, a motion to reconsider brought the language to a failing board vote.

Pro-gun Republicans filed their fair share of amendments, too.

Sen. David Simmons of Altamonte Springs argued for an amendment that would’ve changed the firearms age requirement to only apply to assault weapons sales. In other words, the age limit for purchasing rifles would remain at its current level, 18. 

“It’s a rational solution to a significant problem,” Simmons said. He said he feared that raising the age limit on gun purchases could bring constitutional challenges in court.

Galvano, who sponsored the strike-all amendment approved by the chamber on Saturday, often had to explain to members that law enforcement would iron out the details of the plan to arm teachers. At one point it was asked whether teachers would be able to carry assault rifles and display them in classrooms, to which Galvano said would be up to the sheriff’s design of the plan.

“The sheriffs will describe the protocols,” Galvano said. Referencing the possibility of teachers having assault rifles, he added: “That’s, in my opinion, a far-fetched hypothetical.” He said someone from the Office of School Safety likely would not approve such a policy, as they can exert judgment on program designs.

The Senate will vote on SB 7026 on Monday. 

Takeaways from Tallahassee — Ethics reform in peril

There is “zero tolerance” for sexual harassment in the Legislature, leaders say, but an ethics reform package that would create new rules and penalties for sexual harassment may not become law this year.

The Florida House unanimously passed the proposal this week, but Republican Sen. Dennis Baxley is blocking the bill in the Senate because he wants to discuss the issue in more detail.

Dennis Baxley is blocking new sexual harassment policies, calling for more discussion ‘in detail.’

“I think we need more time and contemplation of what to do with this issue because it is so sensitive,” Baxley said. “I don’t want to rush on something that serious.”

The proposals were filed with the Legislature right before the start of the 2018 legislative session after back-to-back sex scandals rocked the state Capitol — the most prominent ones in the Senate.

The bills filed in the Legislature had the early backing of Senate President Joe Negron and House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who said the legislation passed in the House is “the strongest in the nation.”

If approved, HB 7007 would require Florida government agencies to set new policies preventing, prohibiting and punishing sexual harassment, which includes language that would keep the identities of accusers confidential to protect them from retaliation.

Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat leading the effort in the Senate, added language to her bill that incorporates any type of sexual contact — whether engaging in it or directing others to do it — into the state’s gift ban.

Baxley said he is concerned the bill would affect too many people in the state and that there is too little time to discuss the consequences.

“When you address all employees in the state, that is a lot of people you are affecting, and I wanted to be more cautious when dealing with that,” Baxley said.

Coming up, the usual assortment of tidbits, leftovers and not-ready-for-prime-time moments by Ana Ceballos, Jim Rosica, Danny McAuliffe, Andrew Wilson and Peter Schorsch.

But first, the “Takeaway 5” — the Top 5 stories from the week that was:

Senate calls rare Saturday Session — In a rare move, the Senate will meet Saturday to consider school safety legislation. With the Session clock ticking down, Senate President Negron announced the weekend sitting Friday morning in a memo to fellow senators. The 2018 Legislative Session is scheduled to end Friday. A floor session is planned for 10 a.m.-1 p.m. to hear the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Act.

Budget conference kicks off The House and Senate formally kicked off final budget negotiations this week and on Friday all unresolved issues were bumped to Budget Chairs Rob Bradley and Carlos Trujillo. If they don’t resolve the issues in question before 10:30 a.m. Sunday, those items will go to House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Senate President Joe Negron to decide. Still in question is how to fully fund the school safety initiatives. Other lingering issues include a $172 million difference over Florida Forever funding and $4 million over private prison operations.

Gaming bills brought back to life — With a week left in session, the House and the Senate heard their gambling proposals on Friday. A strike-all amendment has been OK’d on the Senate’s legislation (SB 840) which is ready for the floor. Later Friday and the House bill (HB 7067) was discussed and rolled to third reading. Senate President-designate Bill Galvano has said he hopes to get the bills into conference next week. The two chambers—as is usually the case in gambling—are still far apart on policy. That includes differences on one provision that authorizes slot machines at pari-mutuels in counties where voters previously OK’d them in local referendums. That was added to the Senate bill Friday; it’s not in the House’s bill.

Scott makes rare plea to Legislature — In a rare political move, Gov. Scott and the father of a 14-year-old Parkland shooting victim jointly addressed the House and Senate floors Thursday and asked legislators to set aside differences and ensure schools are safe sans armed teachers. “I want to make sure there is law enforcement in our schools,” Scott told reporters upon exiting the chambers. “I don’t believe in arming teachers.” While talking to each chamber, Ryan Petty, the father of Alaina Petty, who was gunned down on Valentine’s Day at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, told legislators he is in support of the governor’s proposal, which does not include arming teachers. Petty said he supports Scott’s proposal without the assault weapon ban because he wants action now.

Omnibus education bill gets bigger — The Florida Senate sent House Speaker Richard Corcoran back his priority education bill with a bunch more language added into it on Friday. The Senate included a provision that would make financial literacy courses a high school graduation requirement and increase the amount someone can give to the Hope Scholarship program meant to give vouchers to bullied students. Negotiations happened behind closed doors, according to the Times/Herald. HB 7055 will now go back to the Florida House for final approval before it can go to Gov. Scott.

Scott urged to veto crisis pregnancy center bill

More than a dozen organizations including Planned Parenthood signed on to a letter this week urging Gov. Scott to veto HB 41, which was passed by the Legislature in early February.

The bill, sponsored by Tampa Republican Rep. Jackie Toledo, would require the Department of Health to work with the Florida Pregnancy Care Network to up the availability of pregnancy and wellness care by subcontracting out to centers that “solely promote and support childbirth.”

Jackie Toledo (l) is behind a crisis pregnancy bill that Planned Parenthood wants to be vetoed.

“This bill attempts to establish Pregnancy Support Services (also referred to as Crisis Pregnancy Centers or CPC’s) as legitimate wellness centers and codify permanent taxpayer funding for what are in reality, fake women’s health centers,” the letter says.

“These anti-abortion, often faith-based centers are not required to be staffed by licensed, qualified medical personnel. Furthermore, CPCs have a documented history of imitating legitimate women’s health clinics, falsely posing as medical providers, and purposely leading women away from accessing the full range of reproductive health care services.”

The following organizations signed onto the letter: Broward County National Organization for Women, Broward Women’s Emergency Fund, Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates, Florida Interfaith Coalition for Reproductive Health, Florida NOW, League of Women Voters of Florida, National Abortion Federation, National Council of Jewish Women, Organize Florida, Pro-Choice Coalition of Broward County, Progress Florida and the Space Coast Progressive Alliance.

Cabinet considering $660K conservation plan for Spanish mission site

Gov. Scott and the Cabinet will decide next week whether to shell out $660,060 to conserve a Madison County site that is home to a 15th-century Spanish mission.

The plan would have the state purchase a conservation easement on the property, owned by R.N. and Charlene Koblegard, which allows the land to continue being used for certain activities, such as agriculture, but blocks new development.

The Koblegard project is part of the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services’ Rural & Family Lands Protection Program. According to the meeting agenda, the project’s approval would mark 42,276 acres preserved under the RFLPP.

The 772-acre site is situated on the south of Interstate 10 on the southern edge of Sampala Lake. The Spanish mission, San Pedro y San Pablo de Protohiriba, is one five missions established by the Spanish in the 1600s.

The week in appointments

Florida Real Estate Appraisal BoardDawn Warren is a property manager for Altamonte Heights Condos and Lake Tyler Condos and will succeed Tamara McKee.

He will serve a term ending Oct. 31, 2020, and is subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Florida Keys Aqueduct Authority Toni Appell of Marathon, is a retired paraprofessional for the Monroe County School District, is reappointed for a term ending Dec. 30, 2020.

David Ritz, of Key Largo, is the president of Ocean Reef Community Association and is reappointed for a term ending Dec. 30, 2020.

Robert Dean, of Key West, is the owner of Dean Lopez Funeral Home and is reappointed for a term ending Dec. 30, 2020.

All three appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

DOH doles out $16 million to research smoking-related diseases

The Florida Department of Health announced this week that it is handing out $16.2 million to fund 20 research projects focused on developing treatments and cures for cancer and other smoking-related diseases.

The money was awarded through the Bankhead-Coley Cancer Research Program and the James and Esther King Biomedical Research Program. DOH said the selections were made based on “rigorous peer review” and the application process included 224 researchers seeking funding.

Florida Department of Health is coughing up $16.2 million for smoking-related disease research.

“Florida is at the forefront of cancer research and innovation, and I am proud to announce the recipients of more than $16.2 million for cancer research grants,” Gov. Scott said. “These 20 new projects will assist Florida’s world-class researchers in discovering more about how to prevent and treat these terrible diseases. Cancer impacts so many lives, and I am proud of the work of our incredible research institutes as we fight to find a cure.”

The University of Miami topped the list with $5.5 million in grants for seven projects plus another $57,000 for a joint project with the Miami Veterans Affairs. The H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center & Research Institute followed with $4.5 million for five projects. UF will receive $3 million for three projects; UCF, USF and the Mayo Clinic will each get a single project funded at $815,000; and FAU will receive $708,000 for one project.

FWC law enforcement division reaccredited

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said this week that its Division of Law Enforcement was reaccredited.

“The FWC Division of Law Enforcement continues to maintain the highest standards of credibility, effectiveness and professionalism,” FWC director Eric Sutton said. “Our staff worked diligently to uphold these important standards each and every day. Reaccreditation by the Commission validates the hard work they do, and provides a strong vote of confidence in their ability to protect the public and conserve Florida’s natural resources.”

The division has held accreditation through the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation since 2009 and has now gone through the reaccreditation process four times.

Florida Wildlife Commission director Eric Sutton.

Accredited law enforcement agencies must consistently meet or exceed 240 prescribed standards over a three-year period to maintain their status.

“Accreditation is a voluntary but important process intended to hold an agency to a higher level of accountability by an external source,” said Col. Curtis Brown, who heads up the division. “We are very pleased with the CFA’s determination that reaccreditation of the Division was earned.”

Florida Lottery celebrates 30 years

It’s been 30 years since the Florida Lottery began and it’s celebrating the milestone with a heap of new scratch-off games.

At the $30 level is “FLORIDA 100X THE CASH,” which features eight top prizes of $15 million. The Florida Lottery said 100X was only the second $30 game it’s put out.

Florida Lottery marks three decades of cash prizes.

The $5 game, “MONEY MACHINE,” features 16 top prizes of $250,000 and over $58 million in total cash prizes; the $2 game, “$30,000 LUCKY WIN,” has a total prize pool of $32 million; and for a buck, players can pick up “TRIPLE PAYOUT” which features 84 $3,000 prizes and a total prize pool of $12 million.

The lotto said the new games would start hitting retailers by the end of the week.

Voters approved the constitutional amendment creating the lottery in November 1986 by a 2-to-1 margin. The Florida Lottery started operating a little over a year later in January 1988.

Reinsurance surcharge repeal advances in Senate

Legislation to repeal a reinsurance surcharge on consumers is advancing in the Florida Senate. St. Petersburg Republican Jeff Brandes’ SB 1454 has cleared the Banking and Insurance Committee and is headed for the Appropriations Subcommittee on General Government.

“This is a welcomed development for Florida’s insurance consumers,” said Jay Neal, President and CEO of FAIR, The Florida Association for Insurance Reform. “This bill would offer a significant 8 percent to 10 percent rate reduction for homeowner’s insurance consumers.”

The surtax was designed to replenish the Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund following bad storm seasons in 2004 and 2005, but the account now has enough money to cover similar losses twice over.

Senate celebrates Military Appreciation and National Guard Day

The Florida Senate considered a string of bills helping active duty military, veterans and their families this week in honor of Military Appreciation and National Guard Day at the Capitol.

“My Senate colleagues and I are committed to enacting policies that keep Florida the No. 1 state for active duty members of our armed forces, veterans and their families,” said Senate President Negron. “The legislation we discussed today sends a clear message that Florida is truly the Welcome Home State.”

Audrey Gibson is honoring the Florida National Guard for their service during last year’s hurricane season.

Among the bills heard by the chamber were SB 100, which waves driver’s license fees for veterans; SB 460, which allows Florida colleges to waive fees for students who are active duty military and using military tuition assistance; SB 440, which would establish the Florida Veterans Care Program, an alternative to Veterans Affairs; and SB 330, which would rename a portion of State Road 10 in Walton County as the “Lieutenant Ewart T. Sconiers Highway.”

Also on the docket was a resolution by Jacksonville Democratic Sen. Audrey Gibson to honor the Florida National Guard for their service during the 2017 hurricane season.

“When Floridians are facing some of the most challenging times, the Florida National Guard is at its best springing into action at a moment’s notice to help Floridians in need,” she said. “We are so grateful for their courageous service to our state during the recent hurricane season.”

Coastal management bill clears Senate

A bill aimed at helping preserve and maintain Florida coasts cleared the Senate this week with a unanimous vote.

SB 174, by Port Orange Republican Sen. Dorothy Hukill, revises the criteria used to help the Florida Department of Environmental Protection prioritize coastal restoration projects based on need and importance.

Dorothy Hukill is pushing coastal preservation. 

“This is a bill for all Floridians, and the millions of visitors to our state annually, to preserve and maintain our state’s most unique, natural assets — our beaches,” Hukill said. “Coastal management is beneficial for conservation, recreation and tourism.

“I would like to thank my Senate colleagues and all of the support we’ve received from around the state. This legislation will ensure that our beautiful state and its unique natural resources are properly maintained and protected.”

SB 174 now moves to the House where a similar bill, HB 7063, is also prepped for a floor vote.

Loomis named FTC member of the year

The Florida Technology Council this week presented ISF CEO Cyndy Loomis with its “2018 FTC Member of the Year” award.

“I’m honored to receive the FTC Member of the Year Award, and I’m proud to advance FTC’s mission to champion the priorities of the technology industry in the State of Florida to our state government leaders,” Loomis said.

Florida Technology Council Member of the Year Cyndy Loomis.

In addition to running the Jacksonville-based software company, Loomis has served as the FTC board chair since 2016.

The award was presented by James Taylor, the executive director of the tech company trade association, at the FTC Legislative Reception in Tallahassee.

FTC said Loomis was “recognized specifically for her outstanding service in driving the effectiveness, reach, and membership growth of the Council.” A half-dozen others were presented with awards at the event.

Applications open for AmeriCorps funding

Volunteer Florida this week announced the 2018-19 criteria for getting proposals funded through AmeriCorps.

AmeriCorps funding is granted to address critical community needs including education, disaster services, economic opportunity, environmental stewardship, healthy futures, and veterans and military families.

Sample activities include tutoring and mentoring youth, response to local disasters, restoring natural habitats and job training/placement. AmeriCorps members also mobilize community volunteers and strengthen the capacity of the organizations where they serve.

Funding requests can be sent in through April 5. Those who have a proposal but don’t know the ins and outs of the application process can log in to the “AmeriCorps Budget 101 Webinar” March 15. Technical assistance conference calls are also available for new and continuing applicants.

To register for a call or the webinar, fill out the RSVP form online. More information on the formula funding rules is available through the Volunteer Florida website.

Detzner announces March of Museums round two

Secretary of State Ken Detzner kicked off the new month by announcing the second annual “March of Museums,” a celebration of the variety and versatility of Florida’s museums.

“As Florida’s Chief Cultural Officer, I am proud of the success of last year’s ‘March of Museums’ and I am excited to expand this initiative statewide Detzner said. “From art to animals, from sports to science, and from history to horticulture, Florida has an incredible array of museums that encourage exploration and learning.”

Secretary of State Ken Detzner kicks off the ‘March of Museums.’

The Department of State encouraged Floridians — and visitors — to use “March of Museums” as an opportunity to spend some time at a Florida museum, whether nearby or off the beaten path.

To help facilitate, the department is hosting a website that lists museums by region and highlights the mission and collections of the institutions, as well the events each is holding this month.

Instagram of the Week

Volunteer Florida, Uber collect 3,540 items for #SuitsForSession

Volunteer Florida and Uber said the third annual #SuitsForSession at the Capitol collected 3,540 donations of professional attire for job-seekers statewide. Also, Uber drivers picked up items across Leon County for free this past Tuesday.

Here are the highlights:

— Number of suits collected: 373 (237 women’s, 136 men’s).

— Number of women’s items collected: 2,270.

— Number of men’s items collected: 743.

— Other items (shoes, belts, etc.) collected: 527.

— Number of bags of clothing donated through the Uber app: 27.

— Number of participating organizations that collected clothing: 26.

Volunteer Florida CEO Vivian Myrtetus said in a statement, “The people of Tallahassee matched these donations by bringing and sending in their own business apparel. Uber has been a tremendous partner to Volunteer Florida and we are so thankful for their participation in another successful year of #SuitsForSession.”

Added Senate Republican Leader Wilton Simpson, “It was great participating in another #SuitsForSession clothing drive. My staff and I are always proud to support this service project that helps job seekers throughout our state.”

Donated items will be delivered to Chapman Partnership in Miami, Dress for Success Tampa Bay, ECHO Outreach Ministries in Tallahassee, Bridges of America (statewide locations), and the Florida State University Unconquered Scholars program in Tallahassee throughout the coming days.

Capitol halls lined with Florida student art

The lower level of the Florida Capitol got a bit of a makeover this week as it began hosting the second annual Art in the Capitol Competition.

The competition, hosted jointly by the Department of Management Services and Department of Education, is aimed at encouraging middle school students to try their hand at art. The only rules are the art has to be 2D and original.

Then-Florida DMS Secretary Chad Poppell views the 2017 Art in the Capitol Competition artwork with Education Commissioner Pam Stewart.

“As the custodian of the Capitol complex, DMS is proud to host this event and share these inspiring works with Capitol visitors,” said DMS Secretary Erin Rock. “These are our future leaders, and that is what makes it such a joy to be able to get a glimpse at the soul and spirit of these kids through their art.”

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart added that the competition wonderful way to recognize Florida students’ creativity.

Making it to the walls this year were 35 middle schoolers, each of whom was paired up with a lawmaker to sponsor the artwork. The artwork is viewable online via the Art in the Capital webpage.

Tallahassee airport aces FAA inspection

Tallahassee International Airport said it landed a perfect score during its annual Federal Aviation Administration airport certification and safety inspection.

“The Airport is extremely proud of this accomplishment and remains committed to ensuring the highest levels of safety and security for our patrons, visitors and tenants,” said David Pollard, interim director of aviation at TLH.

Tallahassee International is aces with the FAA.

All airports that offer commercial service go through the test yearly. The multiday inspection covers everything from airport safety to firefighting to the markings on the tarmac.

TLH said acing the FAA inspection is icing on the cake after a string of victories over the past month, including the maiden flight of between TLH and Reagan Washington Airport in D.C. and the successful opening of a Transportation Security Administration pre-check enrollment center.

Now for Capitol Directions:

Democrats’ Orlando billboard proclaims ‘Rick Scott did nothing’ after Pulse

Democrats have launched billboards in Orlando and Tallahassee that declare that Gov. Rick Scott did nothing to address gun safety following the June 12, 2016, Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando.

The Florida Democratic Party has leased two billboards, and the one in Orlando went live Friday. The message charges that the Republican governor’s commitment to addressing gun violence since the Feb. 14 massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School lacked in the days following the Pulse mass shooting.

Specifically, the 612 days that transpired between the two tragedies.

The Democrats’ message is one of several in rotation on that particular digital billboard in Orlando. It cites an editorial published in the Sun-Sentinel of South Florida and presents this message to drivers heading westbound on Colonial Drive toward downtown Orlando:



–The Sun Sentinel”

The billboard faces the route downtown from one of Orlando’s largest Hispanic communities, Azalea Park. Many of the 49 people murdered at Pulse were Hispanic as the mass murder occurred during the popular nightclub’s Latino night. That east-side community was particularly hard hit.

The Tallahassee billboard will go up at Magnolia Road and Mahan Drive, facing inbound traffic, and go live on Sunday.

“Rick Scott’s long record of opposing common-sense gun safety measures shows exactly who he is: a self-serving politician who says one thing and does the opposite — while Floridians pay the price,” Florida Democratic Party Executive Director Juan Penalosa said in a news release announcing the billboards.

“He broke his promise and did nothing to make Floridians safer from gun violence after the Pulse tragedy because he was more concerned about looking out for his political interests and the agenda of his gun lobby backers. Now he’s ignoring the clear calls from Parkland students and gun safety advocates by refusing to back an assault weapons ban.“

The Sun-Sentinel editorial that the billboard cited criticized Scott and President Donald Trump‘s responses to the Parkland shooting, as well as Scott for refusing to consider a ban on assault weapons in the wake of the Pulse shooting.

It didn’t explicitly refer to the period between Pulse and Parkland or enumerate the days.

The editorial stated: “After Sandy Hook, Pulse, the Fort Lauderdale airport shooting or any other mass shooting, Scott did nothing on guns or school safety.”

Scott’s office responded Friday with the following statement: “Following the terrorist attack at the Pulse Nightclub, Governor Scott proposed and took action on ways to make our state safer against threats of terrorism. The Governor proposed and then signed $5.8 million for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to add 46 counterterrorism agents to the Terrorism Task Forces. This year, the Governor also proposed $1.3 million to the FDLE for incident command vehicles and emergency ordinance disposal vehicles to strengthen counterterrorism and intelligence efforts.”

Lawmakers approve post-hurricane KidCare aid

Despite an earlier assertion from a top Medicaid official that the state could be giving a “freebie,” lawmakers have agreed to fund Florida KidCare health-insurance premiums for more than 6,000 children living in 48 counties that were impacted by Hurricane Irma.

Legislators this week agreed to spend $20,339 in state general revenue for Florida KidCare premiums to cover monthly co-payment requirements. Justin Senior, secretary of the Agency for Health Care Administration, said the money will draw down $522,034 in federal matching funds and will cover the costs of about 6,000 children in the 48 counties who were disenrolled from the program for not paying premiums.

Following the hurricane, Gov. Rick Scott agreed to extend for 30 days the time frame to pay premiums for October coverage. The monthly premiums range from $15 to $20 based on family size and income.

The governor, though, never waived the requirement to pay premiums altogether, as some people had sought. Former Gov. Jeb Bush waived KidCare premiums for Florida families during the tumultuous 2005 hurricane season, and Texas received federal approval to waive premiums for families impacted last year by Hurricane Harvey.

House and Senate Democrats, as well as child health advocates, called on the Scott administration to cover the required premiums with tax dollars. But Beth Kidder, a deputy secretary at the Agency for Health Care Administration, told reporters in October that “tens of thousands” of families in the Florida Healthy Kids program paid their premiums on time and that waiving the requirements could reward people who dragged their heels.

 “Why would you give a freebie to those who did not act responsibly in the beginning?” she said at the time.

Senior said Friday that the Florida Healthy Kids Corp. board of directors told the agency in January to pursue a waiver from the federal government that would allow Florida to pay the premiums and draw down the federal funds.

State Rep. Bobby DuBose, of Fort Lauderdale, was one of five Democratic state representatives who sent a letter to the governor and Senior asking them to assist with the premiums. U.S. Sen Bill Nelson, health-care advocates and the Florida Senate Democratic caucus also called for the governor to act.

DuBose smiled Thursday night knowing the children didn’t lose their coverage for not timely paying the October premiums.

“The things you think are easy and make common sense are the things you work the hardest for,” DuBose said.

Matt Caldwell takes issue with retailers ‘caving’ on guns

Lehigh Acres Republican Rep. Matt Caldwell said Thursday that retailers are within their rights to pull guns from their shelves, but consumers who don’t favor such policies can vote with their dollars.

“The Citizens United case confirmed that the 1st Amendment protects everyone’s free speech, both individuals and corporations like Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart. If you don’t want to sell a product to someone based on your beliefs, you don’t have to, whether it’s firearms or cakes for same-sex weddings,” said Caldwell, one of three Republicans running for Agriculture Commissioner in 2018.

“I’m a proud lifetime member of the NRA and I’ll be sure to spend my dollars where they are welcome.”

Dick’s Sporting Goods and Walmart both announced Wednesday that they would limit the sale of firearms to customers aged 21 and up.

The move came two weeks after a 19-year-old gunman killed 17 people, including 14 students, at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland.

Grocery conglomerate Kroger, which sells guns through its subsidiary Fred Meyer, said Thursday it would also require gun buyers to be over 21. There are no Fred Meyer locations in Florida.

Dick’s said it would also stop selling assault rifles and high-capacity magazines. Walmart stopped selling assault rifles and related accessories in 2015, but said they would also pull guns, air rifles and toys that resemble them from store shelves.

The 21-and-up rule for rifles is favored by Gov. Rick Scott, who included the provision in his post-Parkland legislative plan released last week. Handguns are already subject to the 21-and-up rule.

The National Rifle Association is against the age restriction.

Caldwell faces Sebring Sen. Denise Grimsley and former Winter Haven Rep. Baxter Troutman in the GOP primary for Agriculture Commissioner. Caldwell’s campaign has touted that he is “the only candidate that has consistently received an A rating from the NRA.”

Jacksonville Bold for 3.2.18 — March Madness

With competitive Democratic primaries, the tail end of the Legislative Session, and local City Hall intrigue, there is a lot to unpack.

However, we have not arrived at the point in the narrative with a great deal of resolution.

At least not yet.

In a literary sense, this is known as foreshadowing.

Money has not been raised or even reported. Endorsements have not been rolled out.

It is sort of like Hitchcock’s “The Birds.” Power lines fill with feathered animals … a classic trope to build tension for actions ahead.

Tension mounts.

And what is to come could make some political careers … and break others.

Brown fundraises off Martin

Former Jacksonville Mayor Alvin Brown, a Democratic primary candidate in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, used the anniversary of Trayvon Martin‘s murder six years ago as part of a fundraising pitch Thursday.

Alvin Brown mentioned Trayvon Martin in a fundraising pitch, notable because of his silence six years prior.

In public remarks as Jacksonville Mayor, Brown did not mention Martin, who was gunned down in 2012 by George Zimmerman in Central Florida.

However, Brown’s fundraising in 2018 is a different matter.

“It is hard to believe, six years ago this week Trayvon was fatally shot for what can only be described as ‘looking suspicious.’ We must always take a moment to reflect and remember the loss of lives like Trayvon,” Brown asserted.

“As we have conversations and push for gun reform, it is important to remember the Trayvons. His death and all those highlighted in the #BlackLivesMatter Movement and those before them must serve a reminder that reform is needed. No one should be killed or discriminated against because of the color of their skin,” Brown added.

Brown’s mentioning of #BlackLivesMatter was also interesting, given that in two years in which his tenure as Mayor overlapped with the movement, he didn’t mention it explicitly either.

Read more here.

Money changes everything

U.S. Rep. John Rutherford thinks that stopping school shootings is “about how much we want to pay,” he told WJXT late last month.

The former Jacksonville Sheriff thinks more money should be spent to prevent the next Parkland.

Rutherford said:

“I think more is going to take place at the state level. And I also think you’re going to see some change at the national level. But … You know, security for schools is really a district driven issue.

“You know, we had discussed last week about dropping (filing) the bill ‘Stop Violence in Schools Act of 2018,’ which focuses on hardening the target of the schools.

“Teaching individuals what are the warning signs to look for in these individuals would later become mass killers. And then also setting up an anonymous tip line for folks to be able to call in … and to report those signs that they see.

“So the question becomes: How many, how much do you want to spend to make sure that this does not happen again?

“And then you hear people say, ‘Well, let’s not do police. Let’s do school resource officers who actually work for the school board.

“They may not be as well trained as the police … but they carry guns, and they’re qualified and all that.’

“And then they say, ‘That’s too expensive. So, let’s, you know, if we just put guns in the hands of a few teachers that could be trained, you know, let’s do that. That’s not as expensive.’

“So that’s why I say: How much do you want to pay for what kind of security?”

Rutherford draws Democratic challenger

Ges Selmont, a lawyer making his home in Ponte Vedra Beach, rolled out his campaign for the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 4th Congressional District last weekend via news release.

Remarkably, there are no pictures of Ges Selmont on the internet.

Selmont will be the second Democrat vying for the nomination in a district that elected Rutherford in 2016 by over 40 points; author Monica DePaul is already in the race, though evidence of a formal campaign structure or fundraising is elusive thus far for her, and her most high-profile interview (a half-hour on WJCT) saw her struggle with even friendly questions.

“People from New York, Boston, Connecticut, and LA have expressed support. This race will be on the national radar,” Selmont said. “We will have to run a new, fresh, energetic and innovative campaign.”

Time will tell if that will unseat the former Jacksonville Sheriff.

Soderberg snags EMILY’s List endorsement

In another sign that Ambassador Nancy Soderberg has all but locked the Democratic nomination in Florida’s 6th Congressional District, EMILY’s List endorsed her Wednesday.

Nancy Soderberg continues to pile up endorsements from left-leaning groups and unions.

Stephanie Schriock, president of EMILY’s List, released the following statement:

“A former deputy national security adviser to President [Bill] Clinton and ambassador to the United Nations, Nancy Soderberg knows what it means to take on tough jobs. She has used her positions to advocate change, move our country forward, and defend the rights of our citizens.”

“In her current role as a professor at the University of North Florida and a small-business owner, she is deeply invested in her community and will do what it takes to ensure that the working families of the 6th District have a voice in Washington.”

“Nancy will fight for access to quality health care, affordable higher education, and common-sense policies that will protect our environment,” Schriock asserted.

“It’s time for a representative who will actually fight for working families, which is why EMILY’s List is strongly supporting Nancy Soderberg for Congress,” Schriock added.

Fant blasts Broward Sheriff for Parkland stand down

Rep. Jay Fant, a Republican candidate for State Attorney, renewed his calls for Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel to step down in the wake of reportage that deputies stood down, as did the school resource officer, in a mass shooting that killed 17 in Parkland earlier this month.

Jay Fant has zero tolerance for the Parkland stand down.

Fant, a signatory to a letter from House Speaker Richard Corcoran on this matter, made his case on CNN Monday morning.

“We’ve seen enough from Sheriff Israel,” Fant said, noting that Israel said he demonstrated “amazing leadership” but has not demonstrated accountability in the wake of the stand down of one to four officers.

Gov. Rick Scott has avoided calls to remove Israel, instead tasking the Florida Department of Law Enforcement to investigate.

Fant did not pan this move.

“The governor is keenly sensitive to what is happening in Broward, that’s why he launched the FDLE investigation, but it’s not going to get better for Sheriff Israel, it’s going to get worse,” Fant said, referring to expected damning findings from the Coral Springs Police Department’s investigation of the incident.

Fant wants an independent prosecutor to look into what happened, he said.

In the wake of the Parkland homicides, Fant has been on national television with some frequency. He had a segment on “Meet the Press Daily” on MSNBC last week.

Former Daniels aide to primary Davis

The intrigue continues in Jacksonville area Democratic primaries, with yet another incumbent facing a primary challenge on the 2018 ballot.

The latest competitive race is in House District 13, where incumbent Rep. Tracie Davis will face a challenge from Rep. Kim Daniels‘ former district secretary, Roshanda Jackson.

Tracie Davis, a former deputy Duval County Supervisor of Elections, is a first-term State Rep.

Jackson said that she is not “running against” Davis, whom she doesn’t know. And she says that “no elected official has encouraged [her] to run.” And she takes pains to note that she doesn’t want her bid for office to be conflated with that of Rep. Daniels.

“I hope the race is peaceful,” Jackson said.

Davis, when asked about the primary challenge, noted that she is focused on the Legislative Session, with gun safety and school hardening bills among her priorities, and will turn her election to the campaign after Session.

This filing comes just weeks after Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown launched his primary challenge to Senate Minority Leader Designate Audrey Gibson.

A persistent narrative has surfaced that Brown was put up to running by Mayor Lenny Curry, which both Brown and Curry deny.

Democratic Party insiders don’t discount that narrative, but also note that another source of these primary challenges may be the post-Corrine Brown struggle for primacy in the Jacksonville Democratic machine.

‘Coward’ attacks female Fischer aide

One legislative staffer, Sadie Haire, district aide for Jacksonville Republican Jason Fischer, a supporter of the Second Amendment, got more than words from a gun control proponent.

Sadie Haire had a scare in Jason Fischer’s district office last week.

“On Wednesday, a man — a coward really — forced himself into my district office in Jacksonville demanding that the Legislature ban ‘assault weapons’ and other firearms,” Fischer asserted on Facebook. “He then attacked my district aide and said he was trying to prove a point about ‘gun control.’”

Fischer related that the man came in upset about the failed attempt to get a ban on assault weapons considered in the House. He said the man demonstrated his outrage by “slamming [Haire] into the door violently.”

“This coward was inspired to violence by the political stunt that one of my colleagues pulled on Tuesday,” Fischer said. “There is no justification, political or otherwise, for violently attacking an innocent person.”

Fischer’s office did not have the best security. There was no camera system so that the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office could be given a picture, Fischer said.

Fischer added he is closing the office while figuring out what can be done.

Meet El Presidente

Jacksonville City Councilman Aaron Bowman has the ten pledges needed to secure the Council presidency starting in July.

In addition to himself, the former Mayport base commander has Scott Wilson, Sam Newby, and Reggie Gaffney committed last week. Jim Love committed Tuesday.

Aaron Bowman aligns with Lenny Curry more closely than does the current Council President.

Before that, Bowman secured the commitments of former Council Presidents Lori Boyer and Greg Anderson, along with Doyle Carter, Matt Schellenberg, and former Jacksonville Mayor Tommy Hazouri.

The coalition of support Bowman has amassed is worth noting, specifically regarding the two most recent past presidents.

Boyer and Anderson worked well with Curry during their presidencies; conversely, the Anna Brosche presidency has been a divisive one, with competing narratives between her and fellow Republican Curry on a variety of issues, including pension reform, children’s program reforms and exploring the prospect of selling local utility JEA.

By late last week, Brosche was among a cadre of Council members roiled by recent revelations that Curry’s team had been exploring valuations on privatizing assets, including but not limited to JEA.

Bowman, who plays a prominent role in recruiting businesses to come to Jacksonville via the JAXUSA arm of the Jacksonville Chamber of Commerce, takes a different view of the administration’s moves.

He backs exploration of the value of assets.

Read more here.

Privatization push not new

Though many seem to think the concept of asset privatization is something Curry just discovered, in reality, it is something that was in the works for a while longer.

Lenny Curry’s team is a united front on all issues — including exploring asset privatization.

Since Curry’s election, to be exact, when the mayor-elect’s transition committees explored the concept.

Once in office, Curry’s team began to work with former NYC deputy Mayor Steve Goldsmith, a privatization guru.

By December 2015, Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa met with members of Jacksonville’s City Council, and privatization was discussed, via “scrutinizing” department budgets, looking at what services are required, and a comparison to the private sector providing some services.

Now, in 2018, privatization is earnestly discussed — of JEA.

Read here why this might be a boon for Jacksonville’s bottom line.

The fix is in

Per the Florida Times-Union, JEA is about to commit capital to some fixes for problems exposed in back-to-back hurricane years.

The big spends: $45 million for 251,000 “smart meters” that will allow outages to be pinpointed house by house, potentially removing the dubious outage reporting that vexed customers during Irma.

Millions of dollars are proposed for meters to fix service issues that surfaced in tropical storms.

The money is there, but it will take time to go house to house and install these meters. How much time is as yet unknown.

And $100 million over five years for water-sewer system hardening, which will include more backup power generators to lower the risk of sewage spills at lift stations during power outages.

The upshot: “JEA expects to have backup power at 47 percent of stations this year, and it will be at 71 percent by 2022.”

Is slow septic phaseout killing NW Jax biz dev?

Budget hearings in August saw multiple members, including Council members Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown, lament the slow pace of septic phaseout. $6 million a year is being allocated, split between JEA and the city, for a project that could cost anywhere from $300 million to $1 billion.

Council members Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown seek to speed up septic phaseout.

With JEA privatization or sale now a hot topic, Council members Brown and Brown, along with Sam Newby, Garrett Dennis and Gaffney, want to codify commitment to the project, via a bill (2018-76) that would obligate JEA to run sewer and water lines throughout the city.

That bill, which would secure in principle a long-awaited retrofitting of these areas, is due to be heard in committees next week.

Reggie Brown noted that businesses are avoiding the Northwest Quadrant in part because of the incomplete septic phaseout, and businesses that are in the area are getting letters from the State Attorney threatening them with shutdown if issues aren’t rectified.

He noted the paradox: the Health Department and State Attorney enforcing standards that wouldn’t be an issue if the city had fulfilled its infrastructural obligations.

Read more here.

Mason jumps into Council race

Darren Mason, a former assistant to Jacksonville City Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, is the first Democrat to jump into the 2019 at-large Group 2 race for City Council.

Florida Politics interviewed him in advance, he said he would file March 1.

Darren Mason, a former assistant to Jacksonville City Councilwoman Joyce Morgan, is the first Democrat to jump into the 2019 At-Large Group 2 race for City Council.

Unlike what is the case with some fields in Council races, Mason comes into a race facing serious competition.

Thus far, the race has been between two Republicans, and at least in terms of money, Bill Bishop continues to flail against Ron Salem.

Bishop has under $13,000 on hand; Salem has over $136,000 on hand.

Bishop is just three years removed from a spirited campaign for Mayor; Salem’s campaign is being run by Curry’s political guru, Tim Baker of Data Targeting.

Despite this competition, Mason feels confident in his way forward.

Read more here.

Word is bond

Some good news for Jacksonville came Monday via another bond upgrade.

Standard & Poor’s Ratings Services announced an uptick in the special revenue bond rating to ‘AA’ from ‘AA-.’

Another credit market win for the Lenny Curry administration.

“This latest upgrade further demonstrates our continued and strong focus on fiscal responsibility is making a difference for our citizens,” Curry said. “We continue to work hard to enhance the City’s standing with investors by doing all we can to ensure the City’s financial stability for years to come. Improved credit ratings can save our city millions of dollars on future debt issues by lowering borrowing costs, which is good for taxpayers.”

Per the media release: “Citing a change to their ratings methodology, S&P said they now consider both non-ad valorem and general fund pledges as equal since both are dependent on the successful operation of the City. The City of Jacksonville’s special revenue pledge is a non-ad valorem pledge, and backs $1.027 billion of the City’s debt outstanding as of Sept. 30, 2017.”

Jacksonville, 1941

Legendary local essayist Marvin Edwards died last month, after an epic career that included everything from WW2 spy work to more contemporaneous exposes of Jacksonville City Hall shenanigans.

The Jacksonville Daily Record ran a piece of Edwards’ from 1941, in which he took a look at a “boomtown” that exists still, but not in the same way.

Jacksonville’s thriving downtown was noteworthy … 77 years ago.

“Saturday nights, the downtown area reminds one very much of Times Square. All the theaters are jammed, and it’s almost impossible to find a place to park.”

Edwards was taking a hard look at what happened to Jacksonville: the military-industrial complex.

From shipbuilding downtown to Camp Blanding to the south, the city and surrounding areas were growing because of that buildup.

Banking was big, as well.

The build-out, of course, has been suburban and exurban in recent years. But for those who live in the city’s urban core, hope remains that downtown, somehow, can regain its bygone luster.

Szymanski ‘thrilled’ to become UNF president

In an interview with the University of Florida’s Colin McCann, newly named University President David Szymanski talks about his plans, goals and his “strongest assets” – creating personal relationships and teamwork.

“He mentioned his experience playing basketball,” McCann writes, “saying, ‘One of the things that basketball does for you is thinking of that notion of team. It’s everybody together, and it’s people helping each other out and working collaboratively.’”

David Szymanski is ‘thrilled’ to be selected as UNF president.

Szymanski believes his biggest challenge will be overcoming the time constraints while bringing together people from all parts of the campus and the UNF community. “He wants to look into additional learning opportunities for students, like applied research and internships, building on top of opportunities that are already in place at UNF.”

“My job is to do things well and create opportunities for other people,” Szymanski said. “And I think it’s an exciting time to be a student and an exciting time to be at UNF … I’m just thrilled and honored and humbled to be the next president of the University of North Florida.”

Teen employees get ‘hands-on experience’ at Jacksonville Zoo

Fourteen local teens serve as employees of the Jacksonville Zoo & Gardens, part of a city-sponsored Wildlife Immersion and Leadership Development (WILD) program. Since 2016, the teen employment program has incorporated leadership development, public-speaking instruction and lessons in zoology and horticulture.

While animal-related interests are not required, some of the youths in the program see working with animals as a long-term career path.

Jacksonville Zoo’s WILD program offers a diverse group of teens firsthand experience with animals, leadership, and community.

According to the Florida Times-Union, WILD is for culturally-diverse teens aged 14 to 18 who live or attend school or church in 10 Jacksonville ZIP codes targeted by the Jacksonville Journey anti-crime initiative, primarily from the Northside and Northwest areas of the city. Applicants go through a rigorous application process and work Saturdays during the school year, and full time in the summer months.

First-year students in the program are called stewards. In the second year, they graduate to become ambassadors and take more leadership responsibility. In the final year of the program, they help develop educational outreach programs in their communities, including bringing small animals on tour. The zoo outreaches are free and go to the organization or facility that has shown an influence in the teens’ lives.

“It’s been a great experience,” said Marquese Fluellen, 18, who is in his second year of the program and attends Wolfson High School. “I always wanted a career in animal handling but didn’t know where to start.”

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