Pam Bondi declares designer drug U-47700 illegal

Attorney General Pam Bondi on Tuesday outlawed a designer drug she said has been blamed for multiple deaths in Florida.

Bondi signed an emergency rule targeting the drug — a synthetic opiate called U-47700 — during a news conference at the Marion County Sheriff’s Office in Ocala. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement said the substance lacks any acceptable medical use but has a high potential for abuse.

“Synthetic drugs are ruining lives and destroying families, and we must do everything in our power to protect Floridians from these dangerous substances — that is why today I have emergency scheduled U-47700 and will continue to work with law enforcement to identify and outlaw harmful synthetic drugs as they appear,” Bondi said.

Sheriff Emery Gainey said he has not yet seen the drug in Marion County. Even so, “we are seeing more and more dangerous synthetic drugs affecting our communities here in North Central Florida,” he said. “It is my duty to ensure the safety of our citizens.”

Also attending were Gilchrist County Sheriff Robert Schultz and Levy County Sheriff Bobby McCallum.

Bondi’s emergency rule designates U-47700 as a Schedule I controlled substance. The Associated Press reported in June the drug is 50 times more potent than morphine and has been connected to at least 50 deaths nationally.

Symptoms can include decreased blood pressure, intestinal bleeding, loss of consciousness, vomiting, and more, Bondi said.

Her office said it usually is found in powder or granular form, pressed into pills, or in liquid form ingested through inhalers.

Bondi has worked with the Legislature to outlaw 136 individual chemical compounds and has supported legislation outlawing several categories of synthetic drugs, her office said. U-47700 is structurally different from any scheduled opioid, however, and isn’t covered under existing law.

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bar exam failure

Florida bar exam passage rate drops to lowest point in 5 years

Florida law school students’ downward spiral continues, with only 68.2 percent passing the latest state bar exam.

The state’s Board of Bar Examiners on Monday released the figures for the July 26-27 examination. The results are for first-time test takers only.

This July’s overall pass rate was 0.7 percent lower than last year’s, of 68.9 percent. In 2014, it was 71.8 percent for the summer exam; in 2013, it was 77.2 percent.

In 2012 and 2011, 80.2 percent and 80.1 percent of first-time test takers passed, respectively.

This means the overall passage rate has slid 12 percentage points over the last five summer administrations of the exam.

Like many state bar exams, it’s given twice a year, in late February and late July. But more law students traditionally take the exam in the summer, immediately after graduation and bar review. A smaller number, including those who fail the summer exam, take the bar in the winter.

Florida isn’t alone.

“Bar exam passage rates have been dropping in big states including California, New York … and New Jersey,” the New York Times reported earlier this year. “Georgia, Pennsylvania and the District of Columbia also were stung by lower passage rates after the July 2015 exam.

“The bar passage rate in California, for example, sank last year to its lowest point since 1986,” the newspaper reported. “In New York, the overall passage rate for test takers last July was at its lowest point since 2004.”

The reason for the countrywide drop: “Law schools have been admitting students with lower qualifications” to fill seats as the number of overall applicants declines, Bloomberg Business reported this time last year.

As Erica Moeser, president of the National Conference of Bar Examiners, told the ABA Journal earlier this month, the cause of that slump is “deceptively simple.”

It started, she said, with “the sharp drop in law school applications that began in 2011, when the job market for newly minted lawyers dried up, and would-be students — hearing horror stories about new graduates with six-figure debts who couldn’t find jobs — turned to other post-grad-degree fields such as business or medicine.”

Here are the July 2016 passage rates broken down by individual Florida law schools:

Florida International University College of Law — 87.5 percent

University of Miami School of Law — 80.6 percent

Stetson University College of Law — 80.5 percent

Florida State University College of Law — 78.8 percent

University of Florida College of Law — 78.6 percent

Ave Maria School of Law — 66.7 percent

Nova Southeastern University College of Law — 63 percent

Florida A&M University College of Law — 52.9 percent

Florida Coastal School of Law — 51.9 percent

Barry University School of Law — 49 percent

St. Thomas University College of Law — 45.5 percent

Of test takers who went to law school outside Florida, 65.1 percent passed and lawyers from other states who also want to be licensed in Florida passed by 68.9 percent.

Statistics for previous exams are here.

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FPL halfway to sunny goal of 1 million solar panels installed by year’s end

Florida’s top utility is kicking its solar capacity into high gear, celebrating the halfway mark of an audacious goal of one million solar panels in operation by the end of 2016.

Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest solar power generator, announced Thursday the installation of its 500,000th solar panel, part of a plan to bring three new solar energy centers online this year.

Each of the proposed centers expects to generate 74.5 megawatts of generating capacity apiece, making them among the most powerful solar facilities in the eastern U.S.

“We’re tripling the amount of solar energy we generate for our customers this year, and we plan to continue adding more cost-effective solar in the future,” said FPL President Eric Silagy. “Laid end to end, the 1 million solar panels would just about wrap around the entire coastline of Florida, or put another way, would extend from Florida to Chicago.

“Today, we’re halfway there. Undeniably, Florida’s clean energy landscape is bright, and we’re proud to continue leading the advancement of affordable, clean solar energy for our customers.”

With newer technologies, construction of FPL solar centers has become more cost-efficient, which FPL says will result in no net cost to customers after savings from fuel and other expenses.

Currently, three large-scale universal solar sites, as well as several smaller installations statewide, produces 110 megawatts of solar power. The three new solar energy centers — in Manatee, DeSoto, and Charlotte counties, in addition to other commercial-scale installations — will produce more than 225 new solar megawatts in 2016.

FPL solar energy production now under construction are the Babcock Ranch Solar Energy Center in Charlotte County; Citrus Solar Energy Center in DeSoto County; and Manatee Solar Energy Center in Manatee County.

Other active commercial solar facilities include ones at Daytona International Speedway; Florida International University; the Broward Young Art Museum & Library; and the Palm Beach Zoo & Conservation Society.

“Our customers and our state benefit from clean energy done responsibly,” Silagy said. “That’s why we continue to make smart investments that improve the efficiency of our system, reduce fuel consumption, prevent emissions and cut costs for our customers for the long term.”

With the increased reliance on solar energy, FPL power has fewer carbon emissions than the 2030 goal set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Clean Power Plan for Florida.

As a bonus, FPL says its typical residential customer bills are about 30 percent lower than the national average. FPL serves more than 4.8 million consumer accounts, providing power to more than 10 million people in an area covering nearly half of the state of Florida.

In a recent report filed with the Florida Public Services Commission, FPL projects it will have nearly 5.5 million accounts by 2025.

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newspaper press

Sarasota Herald-Tribune newsroom votes to unionize

The newsroom staff of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune on Thursday narrowly voted to unionize, according to the NewsGuild-CWA, which now will represent those employees.

The final tally was 22-16, the union said.

“We are ready to have a voice and a place at the table where decisions affecting our staff and our service to the community are made,” said Elizabeth Johnson, an investigative reporter who joined the paper in April 2012. “We’re looking forward to exerting that voice through a fair contract.”

This makes the second Florida newspaper to unionize since last month, when the news staff of The Ledger of Lakeland also voted to join the News Guild-CWA. That vote was much more lopsided, however, at 22-3 in favor of unionizing.

Both papers are owned by GateHouse Media.

The Ledger and the Herald-Tribune were owned for decades by the New York Times Co., then were sold to Halifax Media in 2011, and again sold to GateHouse in 2015.

“Both papers have begun preparations to begin separate negotiations with GateHouse to hammer out contracts in the coming months,” the union’s news release said.

The Herald-Tribune received the Pulitzer for investigative reporting this year for a collaborative series with the Tampa Bay Times on Florida’s mental hospitals.

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Blake Dowling: With rising cybercrime, it’s good hearing bad guys get caught

Over the years, I have composed dozens of columns on cyberthreats, skimming credit cards at the pump, boss-phishing, crypto locker, identity theft, and in a lot of the stories, you don’t hear about the bad guys getting the hammer.

The Department of Homeland Security has an enormous task of defending government agencies from nation-state cyberattacks, as well as criminals on our own turf.

They usually don’t have time for Joe-Bob average citizen.

Same for identity theft. If you have your identity stolen, and the criminal makes bogus purchases in your name in another state, local authorities might tell you to report in that other state, which is about as helpful as a microwave lasagna in a power outage (#Hermine).

However, the FBI is the head agency for investigating and defending us from cyberattacks. But again, they are generally after looking for the big threats, and not so much worried about the little guy or gal.

A story over the weekend shows the citizens of Florida getting some help at the state level. Attorney General Pam Bondi took down a tech company called Client Care Experts based out of Boynton Beach that was defrauding “clients” out of millions of dollars.

The alleged fraud consisted of the following scenario. They would infect a user’s PC with malware, and a pop-up message would alert the “victim” to call tech support immediately. That call would be routed to the Client Care Experts’ call center where the sales people would charge them $250.00 to clean the computer.

Unfortunately, as with a lot of scams, these individuals are more than likely targeting our large elderly population, and that makes the situation even more dastardly.

With the court order to shut down the company in place that should keep any future victim safe while the matter is thoroughly investigated and the hammer of justice pummels these fellows (if guilty, of course).

“Floridians rely on computers to communicate with family and friends, make purchases and conduct business, and when scammers target these devices they can scare and frustrate consumers, especially our seniors. That is why we are working diligently to identify and stop tech scams targeting Floridians,” Bondi said.

Online threats are becoming more and more persistent so it is nice to hear about someone fighting the good fight and some of these criminals getting caught.

As a reminder — if someone calls you about remoting into your computer, hang up and consult your IT professional. Do not click on links or files in emails that look suspicious; keep your security products (firewall, anti-virus, and anti-spam software) up to date, utilize two-factor authentication with financial institutions.

And — last but not least — keep passwords complicated. Stay safe out there.

___

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies. His columns are publishing by several organizations. You can reach him at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

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Love Disney’s ‘Dory’ fish? Soon, you could get your own

Someday soon, you might be able to find Disney’s beloved “Dory” in your own aquarium – and the beautiful blue tang fish will be bred in Florida, not the Pacific Ocean.

After six years of study, a team of researchers at the University of Florida, along with the Rising Tide Conservation, have figured out how to breed the saltwater fish in tanks for the first time. This could be a potential boon to Florida’s $27 million aquaculture industry, which breeds and raises fish for home aquariums.

The star of the popular animated Disney movie “Finding Dory” has become a popular wish for aquarium hobbyists. The movie features a friendly-but-forgetful blue tang fish voiced by TV personality Ellen DeGeneres.

The movie has grossed $900 million at the box office, and because of the cartoon fish’s captivating adorableness, scientists and animal rights activists fear the blue tang may suffer the same fate as Nemo, the studio’s popular animated clownfish – namely that there will be an increased demand for the electric blue fish for personal aquariums, putting a strain on the species in the wild.

In a small, stuffy greenhouse about a half-hour south of downtown Tampa, researchers are developing breeding blueprints for the notoriously delicate fish.

“The University of Florida took on this project to try to see if we could develop commercial production protocols, essentially a recipe of how do we produce the blue tangs so that we could then take and transfer to industry, transfer that to fish farmers,” said Matt DiMaggio, an assistant professor at the University of Florida’s Tropical Aquaculture Laboratory in Ruskin.

People who want blue tangs currently must rely on wild, captured fish from the Pacific ocean. That often-unregulated harvesting not only depletes the species but is damaging to coral reefs.

The fish are expensive too: They cost anywhere from $30 for a tiny one to $150 for an adult. They’re not ideal for small tanks; the fish grow a foot in length.

But DiMaggio and his team have been working on the difficult process of raising the young.

“There’s nutritional requirements, what do we feed these tiny fish, there’s environmental requirements to think of, things like lighting, water flow in those tanks. So there’s really a lot of hurdles and a lot of obstacles to overcome in those early life stages.”

DiMaggio explained that blue tangs will only eat copepods, which float in the ocean. But the copepods will only eat live algae, so the researchers had to grow the algae first.

During their last trial, DiMaggio’s team was able to raise 27 fish out of 50,000 eggs.

People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, which criticized the surge to acquire Nemo-namesake clownfish, dislike the idea of capturing the fish in the wild or breeding in captivity.

“Fish captured or bred for the home aquarium industry spend short lives in a usually minuscule space, swimming in their own diluted waste without currents or stimulation, eating unvaried food, and being exposed to pathogens that their immune systems are not equipped to fight,” wrote PETA’s spokeswoman, Catie Cryar. “The University of Florida is supposed to be an educational institution, not an anti-educational one bent on helping greedy businesses cater to a market that disrespects animals’ very natural coral reef homes for the sake of all of us.”

Republished with permission fo the Associated Press.

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Gun-wielding homeowner confronts driver playing ‘Pokemon Go’

Authorities say a South Florida man who is a former police officer drew a gun on a driver when he pulled into the man’s driveway to play “Pokemon Go.”

Citing a police report, The SunSentinel reports that 26-year-old Jawad Awan was playing the popular smartphone game Aug. 12 in Geoffrey Goldstein’s Southwest Ranches driveway when Goldstein pulled a handgun from his waistband.

Goldstein says there had been a series of break-ins next door and Awan hadn’t explained why he was trespassing. Goldstein, who used to be a police officer in California, searched Awan’s pockets for weapons before calling police.

When officers arrived, they found Awan on the ground. Davie Police Sgt. Mark Leone says the misunderstanding could have gone much worse.

Awan says he didn’t realize he was on private property. No charges have been filed.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Homeless man dies in Florida as Hermine hit

Gov. Rick Scott says a homeless man died in north Florida when a tree fell on him as winds from Hermine whipped across the state.

Speaking at a news conference, the governor said he was informed of the fatality Friday morning by Marion County Sheriff Emery Gainey.

The Ocala Star-Banner reports the man was apparently sleeping in a tent behind Diamond Oil near Ocala when the tree fell on him.

Capt. Chip Wildly, director of Marion County’s emergency management agency, says the man’s body was discovered around 7:35 a.m. Friday by people who were reporting to work. No further details were immediately available.

The governor says no other deaths or major injuries have been reported.

Hermine was the first hurricane to hit Florida in more than a decade when it came ashore early Friday as a Category 1 storm.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

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Hermine insurance tips from the ‘Master of Disaster’

What’s the first thing you should do with Hurricane Hermine approaching?

“Secure family, important documents, and possessions, then contact family members outside of the disaster area to let them know your current situation.”

That was the word Thursday from Chip Merlin, founder of the Merlin Law Group in Tampa. Dubbed the “Master of Disaster” by the Tampa Bay Times for post-catastrophe tangling with insurers, he released a pre-hurricane tip sheet for Floridians.

“Homeowners should do a few very important things after they experience home damage to make it nearly impossible for their insurance company to deny legitimate losses from this or any other storm,” he said.

Here’s the rest of his Top 10 list:

— “Document personal and surrounding losses by taking photos and video.”

— “Protect against further damage. Insurance companies, unfortunately, are able to deny loss claims if future damages are deemed preventable.”

— “Seek alternative housing for occupants if your home is unsafe.”

— “Continue monitoring media, fire and emergency officials.”

— “Report losses to your insurance company, documenting every conversation in writing, including the time, date, and topics discussed.”

— “Carefully vet all third-party vendors offering to assist in clean-up and/or repairs. Ask for references, copies of state licensing, and any professional insurance policies that could guarantee the work.”

— “Contact your mortgage company. Unless you are told otherwise, you will still be required to make mortgage payments, even if your home is damaged.”

— “It could be unsafe to live in a flooded and/or wet home without power. Be sure to utilize emergency, civic, or community support.”

— “Ask questions, don’t allow strangers to pressure you into hasty decisions. Make decisions once you feel completely informed. Stay calm!”

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Duke Energy prepares for Hermine, reminds customers to stay safe

Duke Energy is getting ready for Hermine.

As Florida’s Gulf Coast faces Tropical Storm Hermine – upgraded to a Category 1 hurricane as of 3 p.m. Thursday – Duke meteorologists are carefully monitoring the storm’s path and say they ready to respond as necessary.

Duke’s detailed storm response includes more than 1200 line technicians, tree resources, and service crews dispatched to areas expected to bear the brunt of Hermine, which is projected to make landfall early Friday.

While monitoring the storm and available resources, Duke sent the first group of approximately 735 workers to the North Florida Live Oak staging area Wednesday morning. Through the rest of the week and into the weekend, the utility will continue to examine its inventory levels and supplies to ensure there are adequate materials for repairs and to restore power outages quickly.

Also, Duke suggests customers make all necessary storm preparations and remain ready for “whatever mother nature delivers.”

Duke’s safety reminders include:

— Checking supply of flashlights, batteries, bottled water, non-perishable foods, medicines, etc. Ensure a portable, battery-operated radio, TV or NOAA radio is on hand.

– Be prepared in the event you lose power for an extended period of time. Families who have special medical needs or elderly members should carefully monitor weather forecasts and make plans for potential alternate arrangements should an extended outage occur.

– With downed trees, come downed power lines. Stay away from power lines that have fallen or are sagging. Consider all lines energized as well as trees or limbs in contact with lines. Please report downed power lines to Duke Energy and your local police department.

– If a power line falls across a car that you’re in, stay in the car. If you MUST get out of the car due to a fire or other immediate life-threatening situation, do your best to jump clear of the car and land on both feet. Be sure that no part of your body is touching the car when your feet touch the ground.

– Downed lines will be hard to see in the rain and can potentially be hidden in standing water.  If you encounter large pools of standing water, stop, back up and choose another path.

– Torrential rains in Duke’s service area will make roads treacherous and visibility poor. If at all possible, avoid unnecessary travel on rain-soaked roads, as cars hitting utility poles can be a significant cause of power outages during severe weather.

– Utility crews will also be hard to see in rainy conditions. If you see utility crews working along the road, move over or slow down. Help keep them safe so they can help restore service to our customers.

– If you are driving and encounter emergency responders or other roadside work crews, remember to MOVE OVER, it’s the law in Florida and good practice for all drivers.

Reporting outages:

Customers who experience an outage during the storm should access the automated outage-reporting system as follows:

– Call 800.228.8485

– Text OUT to 57801 (standard text and data charges may apply).

– Visit www.duke-energy.com/outages.

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