U.S. Rep. Al Lawson is carrying the House version of a bill that would, if enacted, help to save some really small businesses.
The Saving Our Street Act could give small businesses and nonprofits with direct grants up to $250,000 during the COVID-19 crisis.
Nearly $125 billion would be placed in a Microbusiness Assistance Fund for those purposes.
“Our small businesses contribute trillions to the U.S. economy each year, but unfortunately, they are not finding the federal relief they need to keep functioning,” Rep. Lawson said. “From hair salons to barbershops, many small-business owners are in need of immediate financial assistance. The Saving Our Street Act is designed to ensure that ‘mom and pop’ small-businesses have access to the funds they need to stay afloat during this pandemic.”
At least 75% of the money would go to minority-owned businesses.
If the bill passes the House, it is up to California’s Kamala Harris to carry the Senate version in a Republican-controlled chamber.
Waltz chides Apple
Earlier this week, the FBI revealed they had accessed the iPhone of the terrorist who attacked sailors at the Pensacola Naval Air Station in December. The results showed the attacker coordinated with the al-Qaida terror organization.
“We now have a clearer understanding of (the shooter’s) associations and activities in the years, months and days leading up to his attack,” Attorney General William Barr said at a news conference in which he chastised Apple for not helping open the phones.
During an appearance on the Fox and Friends program this week, Rep. Michael Waltz joined in the criticism of Apple, noting it took the FBI more than four months to crack the encryption. If multiple plots were underway, Waltz reasoned, authorities would not have been able to thwart them.
“Apple just completely refuses to work with law enforcement to create a backdoor into its encryption, and if we have ongoing terrorist plots, we can’t have the FBI taking five months to get into their phone,” the St. Augustine Republican said. “Not only did they have their accomplices on there, they had child pornography on there; they had other radicalized sites.”
Waltz noted the Secure Bases Act, which he has sponsored along with Pensacola-area Republican Matt Gaetz, was introduced to strengthen the vetting process of foreign military students coming into the U.S. Waltz said more legislation might be needed.
“From a technical standpoint, (Apple) could absolutely do this if they wanted to,” he said. “They need to find a way, or we’re going to put it into legislation and make them do it.”
A group of Northeast Florida boaters hit the waters in support of Trump last weekend, and it’s been grist for discussion since.
Esther Byrd, the wife of state Rep. Cord Byrd, organized the event.
“Pretty darn proud of my wife @EstherByrd19 today! When she decides we should have a Trump Boat Rally, THIS is what happens,” the Representative tweeted, including pictures of dozens of boats speeding through the water.
The event was, by any measure, a success, in that President Donald Trump tweeted out a thank you.
“Thank you very much to our beautiful “boaters.” I will never let you down! #MAGA,” he vowed.
Despite Presidential plaudits, the narrative soured with old adversaries from the media and the opposition party raining on the boat parade.
The Republican Party of Duval County decried one article about the event as “fake news.”
And local Dems had their takes about whether the event should have been held at all.
Just as he did in 2016, District 7 Sen. Travis Hutson will face a challenge on the 2020 ballot, courtesy of Democrat Heather Hunter.
Hunter, a former President of the Florida College Democrats from St. Augustine, is yet another young Democrat looking to pose a challenge to a moneyed Republican. She is likely to focus on environmental issues and other appeals on which Hutson could be vulnerable in November.
As of the end of April, Hutson had over $140,000 in his campaign account. Another $120,000 was in his Sunshine State Conservatives political committee. And almost $105,000 rests in his First Coast Business Foundation political committee.
Hutson aggressively fundraised, in part, because of his run for Senate President against Kathleen Passidomo. While vote pledge numbers didn’t break his way, he has nearly $400,000 at his disposal to defend the seat.
This could be a tougher race than in 2016, though. Hunter, with activist bona fides, will be a more formidable candidate. And unlike in 2016, the Republican Party will have to answer for an economic collapse, a failed unemployment system, and God knows what else.
Democrats are running candidates throughout Northeast Florida, challenging seemingly entrenched incumbents. Reps. Cord Byrd, Clay Yarborough, Jason Fischer, Wyman Duggan, and Cyndi Stevenson all have November opponents.
In SD 7, which extends into St. Johns, Flagler, and Volusia counties, Republicans have the registration advantage, with over 188,000 voters registered, compared to just under 125,000 Democrats.
Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry was once fond of tweeting “plan until the end,” but his plans couldn’t have included the continued blowback from the JEA sale push.
On Monday, at what was intended to be a soft-focus showcase press event at an Italian restaurant, Curry was served with tough questions about his inner circle and their proximity to the sale effort.
NextEra, the parent of Florida Power & Light, confirmed that it had employed former Curry administrator Sam Mousa and Curry campaign consultant Tim Baker.
(Baker had also offered counsel to JEA, the T-U reported. However, Baker noted that he did not work on the sales process or the strategic future of JEA or any issue for FPL and that he terminated his deal with FPL “more than a month” before the formal invitation to negotiate.)
On Monday, Curry addressed the news, saying “the important thing” is that neither Mousa nor Baker nor anyone else lobbied him or his administration.
“Consultants were representing some of the bidders,” Curry said, including “consultants that, maybe, worked on my campaign, other people’s campaigns.”
“None of these people lobbied me,” Curry added, saying, “they were engaged by private companies.”
FPL was perceived by many as a natural front-runner in the process and had it gone forward, Baker and Mousa would have been useful advocates.
Burn baby burn
Thus far, the political committee set up to support a sales tax increase to fund capital improvement for schools has been missing some key donors.
That’s according to Nate Monroe of the Florida Times-Union.
“The Mayor says he wants to get the half-cent sales tax referendum passed in November, but I see zero contributions from his usual-suspects crowd of donors to the political committee supporting the effort,” Monroe contends.
Indeed, he’s right. The effort, which has raised $222,000 so far, is primarily money marked by three people who aren’t Petways or Chartrands. Michael Ward, who seeded the account in April with $100,000, backed one of the Mayor’s opponents in last year’s election.
Should the Mayor’s financial backers donate to the political committee? Should they wait and see?
That’s the question as of right now.
It’s the middle of May, and there’s no campaign effort or discernible work product. But $23,000 has already gone out the door, for “consultant fees” and “administrative support.”
The narrative on this political campaign is that it is intrinsically special, something that should pass via acclamation. However, it may be worthwhile to follow the money, looking at not just who isn’t kissing the School Board’s ring, but where the money already invested is going.
As the sun came up Tuesday morning, it revealed defacement of the most expensive public building ever commissioned in Jacksonville.
Action News Jax reporter Beth Rousseau broke the story of the early-morning spray paint job on the Duval County Courthouse.
“Someone appears to have spray-painted ‘Satan 666’ across the columns of the Duval County Courthouse,” Rousseau tweeted.
— Beth Rousseau (@BethANJax) May 19, 2020
The choice of the courthouse as a target was interesting, as it still stands as the most expensive and one of the most controversial capital investments in city history, with a story more interesting than the late-night tag job.
Jacksonville residents know PRI as the city’s preeminent event company, used by everyone from Curry on down.
However, since March began lockdown season, events have been in short supply.
COVID-19 cautions continue to slow business, but PRI head honcho Randy Goodwin tells the Jax Daily Record that the company is still going despite the changes in the world, with event restrictions something he could never have imagined.
Federal PPP lending, Goodwin said, allowed the company to bring back its full-time workers after a one-week furlough, though contractors and part-timers are still out in the cold.
He is using the time for education and development, Goodwin told a reporter. Katie Garwood.
The hope is that events ramp up in the summer and fall.
Florida State College at Jacksonville obtained a grant this month to support research on advanced driver assistance systems for the automotive industry.
The National Science Foundation provided $574,639 to FSCJ to fund transportation technology development on autonomous vehicles and smart cars. The funding is to help the college get more technicians specializing in that research into the automotive industry as part of a three-year project.
FSCJ President John Avendano said the grant would have an immediate impact.
“We are grateful to the National Science Foundation for their continued partnership that brings innovative learning and high-level training opportunities that help us prepare the workforce for tomorrow,” Avendano said.
“Our community is leading the way to the future of autonomous vehicles, and, thanks to this grant, FSCJ looks forward to supporting the local and national need for skilled advanced technological workers and contributing to the next generation of automotive technology.”
The funding is earmarked for FSCJ’s Advanced Technological Education program. That program allows the college to add diagnosis instruction, and the college will offer a new technical certificate for students who participate.
The grant will also allow FSCJ to develop new intelligent vehicle course content, acquire autonomous vehicle simulation, training equipment, add vehicle diagnostic trainers, and add autonomous vehicle labs.
Flagler Health+ and the digital health platform Healthfully have joined forces to develop a comprehensive COVID-19 back-to-work program for employers.
The program provides complete exposure prevention, testing, and management with robust security and HIPAA compliance.
The back-to-work system contains vital technology features, as well as health services to maximize employee safety and care, including:
— Employee daily self-screening and attestation.
— Alerts and notifications for employer, employees and providers.
— Telehealth physician visits and lab orders.
— Testing and lab results.
— Secure messaging.
— Bluetooth-enabled contact tracing and proximity reporting.
— Exposure management and compliance reporting.
— Isolation and quarantine support communities.
— Employee education.
The program works on any platform: Web, iOS, Android.
According to Flagler Health+, the program works as follows:
Through a HIPAA compliant mobile app, employees learn about the importance of self-monitoring and safe behaviors.
They then answer a few quick questions daily to attest that they are not exhibiting symptoms and/or have not exposed to someone with COVID-19. If the survey algorithm determines that an employee needs a COVID-19 test, a provider will first conduct an online visit.
If the provider confirms that a test is necessary, the employee will receive a same-day test at a convenient location. Employees testing positive obtain information about self-isolation, access to online care and check-ins, as well as virtual support groups, all within the safe and secure application.
Employers will be notified of the positive test and receive a contact tracing report. On employer dashboard also tracks team members’ compliance with self-monitoring, status alerts and return to work notices of staff who are in the 14- day self-isolation period.
“As our area’s largest private employer and also as a health care provider, we understand the important role that employee self-monitoring, reporting, contact tracing and effective testing strategies have on keeping our workforce safe,” stated Jason Barrett, Flagler Health+ president and CEO.
Orange Park hospital
Orange Park Medical Center saw the first phases of a major expansion at the facility this month.
The hospital opened a new 5,800-square-foot space for outpatient testing and imaging services. The new access is only a small part of a total 101,435-square-foot expansion that will cost $62 million to complete.
The new space opened after Gov. Ron DeSantis lifted his executive order that limited elective procedures at hospitals in the state due to the coronavirus outbreak.
Even with the easing of restrictions, Orange Park Medical Center officials say they’ll continue tight safety measures.
“Few settings outside of someone’s home have as many protections in place to prevent the exposure of COVID-19 as our hospital,” said Kasia Walosik, anesthesiologist and chief of staff at the hospital.
Meanwhile, Orange Park Medical Center began a new program assisting first responders in the field. The hospital has started distribution of hundreds of Health Information Freezer Kits in the community.
The kits allow residents to keep their critical medical information and samples in their home freezer, which can be accessed if first responders need to make a call to a home, and the resident is unable to tell them where their information is safely organized verbally.
“Often patients are unresponsive or unable to hold a conversation with their first responders when they arrive,” said Steven Goodfriend, emergency services medical director at the hospital. “Having a common place — the freezer — for residents to put their medical info helps EMS quickly understand what could be going on.”
Virtual ribbon cutting
A 2.4-mile road improvement project along Kernan Boulevard is complete and open to the community.
The Jacksonville Transportation Authority (JTA) hosted a “Virtual Ribbon Cutting” ceremony on May 14 to celebrate the completion of the JTAMobilityWorks project, which first broke ground in June 2018. The JTA System Development Division finished the $24 million project six months ahead of schedule.
“This section of Kernan Boulevard is a major corridor for thousands of families,” said JTA Board of Directors Chair Kevin Holzendorf. “I can personally attest to how important this project is for my family and my neighbors who live in this community. Thank you to the JTA staff for a wonderful addition to our community.”
Joining Holzendorf on the Virtual Ribbon Cutting by JTA CEO Nathaniel Ford and Rep. Yarborough. Among those watching the live broadcast — which totaled 144 viewers — were members of the JTA Board of Directors, JTA staff and the Jacksonville City Council.
The Kernan Boulevard project includes the reconfiguration of the corridor between Atlantic Boulevard and McCormick Road, including:
— Addition of a six-lane section between Atlantic Boulevard and Matthew Unger Drive.
— Enhancement of a four-lane section between Matthew Unger Drive and McCormick Road.
— Installed new utility, curb, and gutters.
— Creating approximately 9,056 linear feet of new 5-foot-wide sidewalks and 10,924 linear feet of new 12-foot-wide multiuse paths were created.
— New traffic signals installed at Kernan Forest Boulevard, Running River Road, Waterleaf Boulevard and Mastin Cove Road with additional crosswalks and pedestrian poles.
— installation of new overhead lighted street signs at the four new signalized intersections and three existing signalized intersections.
— Installation of 137 new streetlights.
— School zones improvements with new flashing beacons on the side of the road and within the median.
The Jacksonville Port Authority’s (JAXPORT) Foreign Trade Zone No. 64 — the state’s largest FTZ by area — is expanding further allowing businesses two adjust to supply chain changes brought on by COVID-19.
Much of the FTZ expansion is due to fast application turnaround times by U.S. Customs and Border Protection — Port of Jacksonville and the FTZ Board in Washington, D.C.
FTZs our secured sites within the United States, but technically considered outside of U.S. Customs’ jurisdiction. The zones allow shippers to delay paying Customs duties until cargo leaves the FTZ. Users also can reduce import fees outright through more efficient filings.
JAXPORT’s newest FTZ user, Jacksonville-based transportation services provider Shoreside Logistics, received full regulatory approval to join FTZ No. 64 — less than two weeks from their application date.
“We are grateful for the hard work and diligence of our federal partners, including our local Customs office and the FTZ Board,” said JAXPORT FTZ Manager Deborah Lofberg. “With their support, FTZ applications continue to be processed seamlessly, allowing new and existing users to take advantage of FTZ benefits very quickly.”
Happy Maritime Day
National Maritime Day is Friday, May 22, and the Florida Maritime Partnership (FMP) — a trade group representing the domestic maritime industry — is inviting all Floridians to join for a special livestreamed observance beginning 10:30 a.m. EST.
Viewers can watch the U.S. Maritime Administration (MARAD)’s Maritime Day observance on MARAD’s YouTube channel; the event will feature U.S. Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, U.S. Maritime Administrator Mark Buzby, and U.S. Transportation Command Commander General Stephen Lyons.
Congress declared National Maritime Day in 1933 to commemorate the American steamship Savannah’s voyage from the United States to England in 1819, marking the first successful crossing of the Atlantic Ocean by steam. National Maritime Day recognizes the role the United States Merchant Marine plays in bolstering national security and facilitating economic growth.
The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) identifies the domestic maritime industry as a critical infrastructure sector, and merchant mariners are committed to meeting the needs of Floridians in times of crisis. The industry serves as a link in the state’s supply chain by providing reliable shipments of food products, consumer goods, pharmaceuticals, medical supplies, fuel, and industrial equipment.
While fans can’t get into 121 Financial Ballpark for Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp baseball games due to COVID-19, the franchise is offering to bring a taste of the stadium to First Coast homes.
The Jumbo Shrimp are hoping to return to Minor League Double-A action on June 15. Meanwhile, the franchise is trying to satisfy the tastes of “Crustacean Nation” by providing contact-free and cashless deliveries from the team’s “Scampi Kitchen” over the Memorial Day holiday weekend.
The team’s kitchen food deliveries begin Friday and run through Monday on Memorial Day and opens the entire menu virtually from the baseball stadium to fans who miss being at the ballpark. But the franchise is asking fans to order at least two days in advance by going to their website.
There will only be a limited number of deliveries provided, and the priority of deliveries will be on a first-come-first-served basis.
The menu items up for delivery include everything from hot dogs, popcorn, hamburgers, barbecue, seafood, sausages, and bratwurst along with multiple selections of sides. The service will even deliver soft drinks and some alcoholic drinks such as locally brewed beer and some wines.
The Jumbo Shrimp, as with other sports franchises, had its schedule of games that was supposed to begin in April postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak. The franchise has targeted June 15 for the return to action. They’ve also acknowledged it could be delayed further.
Jags slowly return
As states and communities begin the slow process of reopening businesses, NFL teams are almost to that point. This week, the Jaguars announced they would reopen their offices and facilities on a limited basis beginning May 26.
Businesses such as restaurants may operate at 50 percent capacity under Florida guidelines, something the Jaguars will imitate. Following NFL guidelines, no more than 75 employees and half the football staff, including coaches and trainers, may work at TIAA Bank Field facilities in the near term.
“The reopening of the Jaguars office under established NFL guidelines represents a positive next step toward the return of Jaguars football,” Jaguars President Mark Lamping said in a statement. He also praised the administrative team for maintaining a “high standard of customer service” while working remotely.
Just because facilities are open does not mean staff will eagerly come back. Some will be more comfortable venturing back into the workplace than others.
“All employees that return to the facility will do so on a voluntary basis, as long as they are comfortable returning to the stadium,” the Jaguars said.
For coach Doug Marrone and his NFL head coaching counterparts, working with players remotely has been a challenge. Their world changed when the state and most of the country went into lockdown in March.
Marrone described the past two months as “a challenging time for all of us.” The offseason program may have more closely resembled a classroom with the professor offering instruction on closed-circuit television.
“Any of us who have ever taught … when you’re in front of a classroom, you get a feel for that,” Marrone said.
Next week’s reopening will allow those anxious for training camp and the regular season to grasp onto something tangible. The announcement that single-game tickets are on sale makes the season seem to appear even closer.
But, it’s one step at a time.