Jenna BuzzaccoFoerster - 5/92 - SaintPetersBlog

Jenna Buzzacco-Foerster

Genetically modified mosquito trial in Keys could begin this year, company scientist says

A British company could begin releasing genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys sometime this year, a scientist with the company said this week.

Simon Warner, the chief scientist at Oxitec, said the company is hopeful it can begin its genetically modified mosquito trial in Monroe County this year. The trial, which has been in the works for years, will mark the company’s first trial in the United States.

But Warner said the company has also been in discussions with leaders across the state interested in learning about what it would take to begin trials in the own communities. Those discussions, he said, were fueled in part by the Zika outbreak that took place last year, when hundreds cases of homegrown Zika were discovered throughout South Florida.

That some lawmakers are interested in learning more about the technology isn’t that surprising. Over the summer, House Speaker Richard Corcoran and Minority Leader Janet Cruz sent a letter to then Health and Human Service Secretary Sylvia Burwell and FDA Commissioner Robert Califf asking the federal government to grant Florida’s “state and local governments access to a self-limiting mosquito capable of controlling the Aedes aegypti population.”

“Clearly, our existing mosquito control measures are not adequate,” they wrote in the letter. “We must find and utilize new strategies to both curb the spread of the virus and prevent additional outbreaks.”

The company, Warner said, has had very preliminary discussions with some state lawmakers, who inquired what a trial would include and what kind of community outreach would be needed.

Warner said the company is currently approved to do research in Monroe County. While the trial was initially planned to take place in Key Haven, voters in the small community shot down a non-binding referendum placed on the 2016 ballot meant to gauge support for the trial.

A second referendum covering the entirety of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control District passed. Days later, local officials gave Oxitec the OK to move forward with the trial.

For more than a decade, Oxitec has found its genetically modified insects have served as effective mosquito control tool, effectively reducing the population and slowing the spread of mosquito-borne diseases. The company has seen success in the Cayman Islands, Panama and Brazil.

The reason for the success? The company has figured out how to modify Aedes aegypti mosquitoes to include a self-limiting gene. Bred in a lab, offspring can survive in controlled settings because the water is laced with an antidote that blocks the gene. But when non-biting males are released into they wild, they mate with the local female population. Outside of a lab setting, the offspring can’t survive.

In an urban environment, the Oxitec mosquito can reduce a population within six months. By comparison, insecticides can reduce a population by 30- to 50 percent.

With results like that, Warner — who is in Miami this week to participate in the International Conference on Global Health at Florida International University — said Oxitec is beginning to look at how their mosquitoes have impacted public health.

The company has long believed that reducing the mosquito population will lead to reducing mosquito-borne diseases, Warner said its now planning to do research on the topic.

Matt Caldwell raises more than $700K in anticipation of Agriculture Commissioner run

Matt Caldwell raised more than $700,000 ahead of the the 2017 Legislative Session, building up his coffers ahead of an anticipated 2018 run for Agriculture Commissioner.

State records show Friends of Matt Caldwell, the North Fort Myers Republican’s political committee, raised $412,075 in February. That one-month fundraising haul marked the largest fundraising raising period since August 2016, according to state campaign finance records.

The committee raised $66,000 in January. And according to contributions posted to the committee’s website, Caldwell raised another $224,980 between March 2 and March 6. All told, the committee raised about $703,000 between Jan. 1 and March 6.

“I am deeply honored by the broad support we have received,” he said in a statement. “We far exceeded our pre-session goals.”

Caldwell, the chairman of the Government Accountability Committee, told FloridaPolitics.com in February that he intended to file to run for Agriculture Commissioner in August. That decision is meant to honor a request from House Speaker Richard Corcoran that members of his leadership team hold off filing to run for higher office until after the legislative session.

Caldwell isn’t the only 2018 Agriculture Commissioner hopeful posting big numbers. Sen. Denise Grimsley, who filed to run in February for the seat being vacated by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, raised $735,000 between her Feb. 1 announcement and March 7, the first day of the 2017 Legislative Session.

The Sebring Republican brought $295,000 for her official campaign and $440,00 for her political committee, Saving Florida’s Heartland.

“Denise is so very honored by the support she received in these first 35 days, and while she is working during the Session to represent her constituents and work for a greater Florida, her campaign team will focus on the road ahead to the primary,” said David Johnson, who is serving as the general consultant to Grimsley’s campaign.

Putnam can’t run again because of term limits; however, the Bartow Republican is widely believed to be gearing up for a 2018 gubernatorial bid.

Darryl Rouson urges Florida to become a ‘Tobacco 21’ state

Two Florida lawmakers want to raise the legal age to purchase tobacco in the Sunshine State.

Sen. Darrly Rouson and Rep. Lori Berman held a press conference Thursday to tout legislation they filed to raise the age to purchase tobacco to 21. The proposals (SB 1138 and HB 1093), lawmakers said, would help lower the number of young adults who become addicted to tobacco and cut down on the state’s leading cause of preventable death.

“I’ve seen many struggles with addiction and its consequences,” said Rouson. “I believe we should firmly protect the youth and teens of this state from the dangerous addictive properties … in tobacco. Protecting them, their welfare, and their health is essential.”

The American Cancer Society estimates there will be an estimated 19,000 new lung and bronchus cancer cases in Florida in 2017. The organization estimates 11,790 people will die from lung and bronchus cancer in Florida in 2017.

“The benefits of this bill are not only for the individual who can have a longer lifespan, but also for our state, because we can decrease our health costs,” said Berman. “This is a nationwide movement that we are proud to be a part of, with two states already on board. It’s time for Florida to lead and this Legislature to make Florida a tobacco 21 state.”

Berman said California and Hawaii have already passed laws increasing the age to buy tobacco products.

Neither bill have received its first committee hearing yet.

State lawmakers applaud Florida TaxWatch during annual State of Taxpayer dinner

State lawmakers applauded Florida TaxWatch this week, hailing the organization for its role in the legislative process.

“The folks that formed Florida TaxWatch had a good focus in mind,” said Sen. Jack Latvala. “And as a result of Florida TaxWatch’s efforts, we’ve turned things around.”

The taxpayer advocacy group hosted its State of the Taxpayer dinner Wednesday. The annual event is meant to highlight issues affecting the average taxpayer, and features speeches from Latvala, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera, Attorney General Pam Bondi, Rep. Jim Boyd and Rep. Manny Diaz. House Speaker Richard Corcoran was scheduled to attend, but was unable to make it, according to a spokesman for the organization.

While speakers used the event as a chance to promote the work they’re doing, some took a few moments to show their support for Enterprise Florida, one of Gov. Rick Scott’s top priorities.

Latvala, who serves as chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, said at some point the state needs to start thinking about how it can balance its desire to keep taxes low, while still meeting the needs of the state.

“I believe the way we do that, just like the governor believes, is by growing the economy organically,” said Latvala. “We need to bring in high paid employees and get them in to the Florida economy, get them buying homes. And that’s been a function that’s been performed admirably by Enterprise Florida.”

While the program has come under fire in recent years, Latvala told attendees the program was the “creation of Republican leaders.” And before Enterprise Florida, there was a “zero match” when it came to companies putting in dollars to recruit businesses.

“We’ve come a long way,” he said. “If we get rid of our (economic incentive) programs, we’re going into the world in a competition situation naked as a jaybird. And I don’t want to do that.”

Florida TaxWatch has opposed legislation by the Florida House that would eliminate Enterprise Florida and a slew of other economic incentive programs. The bill cleared the House Appropriations Committee last week, and is scheduled to get its first hearing in the full House on Thursday.

“The session has gotten off to a slow start, with not much happening in the next couple of days,” joked Lopez-Cantera.

Boyd, the chairman of the House Ways & Means Committee, discussed what his committee was doing, and said the House wants what is best for Florida.

“I do believe with all of my heart, and I know leadership of the House does as well, that we’re all out for the same thing. At the end of the day we want a vibrant economy, we want jobs, we want good education,” he said. “I know that as we move through this process … we share the same goal. This is a marathon, not a sprint. We’re getting closer every day.”

Mandatory recess bill sails through second Senate committee

Call it another small victory for recess.

The Senate PreK-12 Education Appropriations Subcommittee unanimously approved a bill (SB 78) requiring school districts to provide at least 100 minutes of supervised, unstructured free play each week — or 20 minutes of free play each week — to students in kindergarten through fifth grade.

While the bill received strong support from the committee, some members expressed concern they were issuing a mandate to local school districts.

“Who can be against recess? I loved it. It was one of my favorite portions of the day, and I was pretty good (at it),” said Sen. Doug Broxson. “However, this is a mandate and we are telling our 67 school districts that they must do this. I would’ve preferred to make a strong suggestion and see if they could work it out themselves, but it appears we’re not going to do that.”

Sen. Anitere Flores, the bill’s sponsor, said she would have preferred not to have had legislative mandate recess ether, but said “maybe the school districts need a little more guidance with this.”

According to a recent report by the Office of Program Policy Analysis & Government Accountability, 11 school districts across the state had a school board approved recess policy in 2015-16.

Eight districts, including Miami-Dade and Lee counties, required recess for students in kindergarten through fifth grade; while while three district encouraged recess but did not require it. But the report found found district policies regarding time and number of days varied from district to district.

“We know recess is essential for the health and well-being (of students),” said Marie-Claire Leman, a Leon County mother who supports the bill. “We know without your leadership, many kids across the state will continue to go without daily recess.”

The 2017 measure has bi-partisan support in the House and Senate, and is similar to one that moved through the Legislature during the 2016 session. That bill received overwhelming support in the Florida House, but failed to gain traction in the Senate, despite calls from parents and lawmakers to support the proposal.

While the 2016 bill sailed through the House, the 2017 proposal doesn’t seem to be getting much traction. The proposal (HB 67) has not yet received its first committee hearing.

Senate committee unanimously approves bill to ban fracking

The Senate Environmental Preservation & Conservation Committee unanimously approved a bill to ban fracking Tuesday, marking a reversal from previous legislative actions on the issue.

“Florida has such a unique geological make up and one-of-a-kind environment that we should not be putting it at risk by allowing fracking in the State of Florida,” said Sen. Dana Young, the bill’s sponsor. “This is the same sentiment that I’ve heard echoed from concerned Floridians from the panhandle all the way to the Florida Keys – we should not be jeopardizing our drinking water supply or our beautiful natural environment.”

The bill (SB 442) passed with little public comment, with most of the public speakers waiving in support or opposition of the bill. Four of the seven members of the committee are co-sponsoring the legislation, including Sen. Lauren Book, the committee’s chairwoman, and Sen. Jack Latvala, the chairman of the Appropriations Committee.

“As the old and wise voice of the Senate here, as was announced earlier all four people sitting here are co-sponsors of this bill,” said Latvala at the beginning of the public comment period, before encouraging speakers to waive their time. “I feel pretty confident of the success of this bill. You’ve got the votes here.”

Industry officials did not waive their time, using their time to speak out against the measure. And on Tuesday, an attorney for one landowner said the proposal indicated the proposal could lead to litigation.

Jake Cremer, an attorney with Stearns Weaver Miller, said his firm represents Collier Resources, which manages and develops more than 800,000 mineral acres in Collier, Lee and Hendry counties.

“No matter whether good policy or bad policy, this bill will be a lightning rod for litigation in the state,” he said.

But Sen. Gary Farmer, a trial attorney who spent years representing consumers, pointed out more than 30 cities and counties have already passed bans. Farmer asked Cremer how many of those bans have resulted in successful litigation; Cremer said he didn’t know of any.

Young seemed unfazed by the threat of litigation, saying the bill doesn’t prohibit traditional oil and gas drilling.

Advocates call on Legislature to focus on working Floridians during annual ‘Awake the State’ event

State lawmakers aren’t looking out for everyday Floridians, an advocate for one of the state’s largest labor unions said Tuesday.

“In 2010, Rick Scott said ‘let’s get to work.’ In 2014, he said ‘let’s keep working,’” said Rich Templin, the legislative and political director for the Florida AFL-CIO. “The problem is, Florida is not working for most of our families and nobody in the building is fighting for them.”

Templin was one of several advocates who spoke out during the “Awake the State” event at the Florida Capitol. The annual event generally serves as a response to the governor’s State of the State speech, and this year speakers touched on a variety of issues, including poverty, the environment and immigrant rights.

Citing the United Way of Florida’s 2017 ALICE (Asset Limited, Income Constrained, Employed) report, Templin said millions of Floridians are struggling.

“They’re doing everything they’re supposed to do, working a job, working two jobs, working three jobs, but they still have to make decisions between food and rent, medicine and child care, decisions no worker should have to make in this state,” he said. “Millions of Floridians are suffering, and the state is doing very little to support (them).”

Templin said the state is at the bottom when it comes to K-12 and higher education spending, and said schools have been “saddled with policies driven by ideology and a desire to privatize education, not by sound educational principles.”

Instead of focusing on programs like health care and education, Templin said state leaders have been focused on “slashing vital programs for big tax cuts for the wealthy and well connected in the process.”

“None of this is working for most Floridians,” said Templin.

Advocates called on Scott and lawmakers to invest in public education, increase access to health care coverage, protect the state’s natural resources, and upgrade infrastructure.

“This is Day 1. We have a lot of work to do,” said Francesca Menes, director of policy and advocacy for the Florida Immigrant Coalition. “This is just the beginning.

Rick Scott criticized for not mentioning LGBT community in State of State

Advocates blasted Gov. Rick Scott for failing to mention the LGBT community in his State of the State address, despite dedicating a significant portion of his comments on the June shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando.

“We heard about the horror that our state has experienced; we heard about the heroism from first responders and ordinary Floridians, and we heard about the pain of the families who lost loved ones,” said Hannah Willard, the public policy director for Equality Florida, during a news conference after Scott’s State of the State address.

“What we didn’t hear was any mention of the LGBT community. We didn’t hear … that the attack was a direct attack on LGBTQ Floridians in a nightclub in Orlando,” she continued. “Thoughts and prayers are not enough; we demand action. The LGBT community deserves action from our elected officials.”

Forty-nine people were killed, and dozens of others wounded, in a June shooting at an Orlando nightclub. The attack was the deadlines mass shooting the U.S. since Virginia Tech in 2007.

Scott spent days on end in the Orlando area, meeting with families and first responders. And the incident was featured heavily in his State of the State address.

“The days I spent in Orlando following the shooting will always be with me. I talked to many parents who lost their children,” he said in prepared remarks. “The hardest thing I have ever had to do as Governor is try to find the words to console a parent who lost their child, and I truly cannot imagine the grief of losing a child.”

Prepared remarks show the governor made no direct mention of the LGBT community in his speech.

“He called it a terrorist attack,” said Sen. Gary Farmer. “He had the audacity to not once mention the LGBT community that was so torn apart and was the target of a madman.”

Willard called on the Legislature to take action this year to pass the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, saying the law was needed “more than ever before.”

“This piece of legislation has been introduced for almost a decade … and it does something very simple. It would add LGBT people to existing protections into our state, to make sure that no one faces discrimination in employment, in housing or in public spaces,” she said. “Every single Floridians deserved to be treated fairly under the law, no matter who they are and who they love.”

The Associated Press contributed to this report, reprinted with permission.

Controversial public records bill clears second Senate panel

A bill giving judges some discretion over whether to award attorney’s fees in public records cases cleared its second committee hearing Monday, but not before being amended in an attempt to alleviate opponents concerns.

The bill (SB 80), sponsored by Sen. Greg Steube, aims to give judges discretion in whether they should award fees to the plaintiff and requires request be made in writing in order to be eligible to collect attorney fees.

The committee amended the bill Tuesday to add provisions that allow the court to consider “if the request to inspect or copy the public record was made in bad faith or was made to harass the agency or to cause a violation … and if the responsible agency responded in good faith to request to inspect or copy the records.”

“What I’m trying to do is come to the middle as it relates to the opponents,” said Steube.

Opponents of the proposal have argued it puts up a financial barrier that could deter legitimate record requesters from filing suit and would essentially require records requests be made in writing.

But the amendment did not appear to alleviate concerns. Barbara Petersen, the president of the First Amendment Foundation, spoke out in opposition of the bill.

Still, public records advocates acknowledged something needs to be done. But some, Rich Templin with the AFL-CIO, and said they worried the “legislation goes far too far.”

“We have a real problem, and I know you are trying to address it,” said Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat. “We have to get it right. I know you’re trying, but I don’t think you’re there yet. I can’t support the bill at this time.”

Sen. Jeff Clemens voted in favor of the bill, saying he record of voting against public records exemptions, but represents a community where bogus public records requests are a problem.

“I’m fine voting on this bill without the amendments,” said Clemens. “If it doesn’t make the bill acceptable for the people who oppose it, it doesn’t really get us anywhere.”

According to a staff analysis, the community filed a federal lawsuit against “a resident, the Citizen’s Awareness Foundation, Inc., Our Public Records LLC, and other defendants based on their use of public records laws.”

The town alleged the defendants sent them bogus records requests intended to overlooked, then asked for settlements higher than attorney fees and costs, or filed frivolous lawsuits. The case was dismissed by a federal court judge, according to the staff report.

The bill now heads to the Senate Judiciary Committee, where Steube said he is prepared to “work with anybody to try to bring it in for a landing.”

Associated Industries of Florida shindig marks start of 2017 Legislative Session

The 2017 Legislative Session kicks off Tuesday, which can only mean one thing: It’s time for a party.

Associated Industries of Florida will host its annual pre-session welcome back reception for legislators, lobbyists and a host of other politicos this evening. The shindig has helped kick off the annual 60-day legislative session for more than 30 years, and is considered the place to see — and be seen — the night before the big day.

“AIF is proud to host this event every year as it signals the start of the legislative session,” said Tom Feeney, president and CEO of AIF, in a statement. “Each year, the event draws a couple thousand attendees from the governor to cabinet members, lawmakers and AIF members and of course Capitol watchers.”

Event organizers expect about 2,000 people will attend this year’s festivities. And while the party is meant to be a last escape before the work begins, you can bet a little shop talk will be on the menu (as well as 200 pounds of steamed shrimp, 30 gallons of pasta and 15 gallons of ice cream.)

If you’re heading over to the party tonight, might as well take a few minutes to bone up on the organization’s priorities, just in case you need something to chat about while waiting for a cocktail.

The organization on Thursday released its 2017 Legislative Priorities, which includes:

— Opposing proposes that would eliminate and defund agencies like Visit Florida and Enterprise Florida;

— Supporting equitable funding for capital outlay for public charter schools; removing artificial enrollment caps that prevent public charter schools from meeting the demands of students on waiting lists; restricting the authority of school districts from imposing additional regulatory burdens on charter schools; and charging formulas tor require that funding follows the individual student; and

— Supporting any legislation or rule that encompasses timely notification by emitters of pollution with the Florida Department of Environmental Protection and the subsequent evaluation and dissemination of the threat level by the FDEP through appropriate communication channels to affected Floridians.

The ticketed event kicks off at 5:30 p.m. at Associated Industries of Florida, 516 North Adams Street.

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