Apolitical Archives - Page 2 of 216 - SaintPetersBlog

Citing water losses, Florida insurer approves rate hikes

Florida’s state-created property insurer, contending that it is dealing with a flood of suspicious water-related claims and lawsuits, is asking state regulators to raise rates for thousands of homeowners next year, including those in the most heavily-populated areas.

The board that oversees Citizens Property Insurance voted unanimously Tuesday to raise homeowner rates an average 5.3 percent and commercial accounts by an 8.4 percent average.

Citizens has more than 451,000 customers, many of them living near the coast or in South Florida. The corporation was created by state legislators to act as the state’s insurer of last resort when Floridians cannot get coverage from private companies.

The proposed rate hikes vary by the type of policy purchased and location, but the rate hikes will fall hardest of homeowners in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties who will pay as much as 10 percent more a year. Residents in other coastal counties such as Collier, Santa Rosa and Pinellas, however, will see their rates go down.

Citizens officials assert they have to raise the rates to cover rising costs associated with water damage claims that are not connected to weather events such as hurricanes or tropical storms. Florida has avoided major damage from hurricanes for more than a decade.

Citizens is also putting in place other programs, including putting a limit on how many water damage claims homeowners can file over a three year period and a $10,000 cap on how much the company it will reimburse homeowners for water-damage repairs. A homeowner, however, can avoid the cap if they agree to participate in a new Citizens-run program that links them to specific contractors.

“These proposed rate increases and product changes are critical for Citizens’ efforts to bring some relief to a market that is being made increasingly expensive by unnecessary litigation and out-of-control water loss claims,” said Chris Gardner, chairman of the Citizens board. “Unfortunately, we are making it more expensive for many of our customers to own a home.”

Citizens and others in the insurance industry have pushed for legislators to change state law regarding the ability of homeowners to sign over insurance benefits to contractors who do home repairs. They say this practice results in lawsuits and that the work is sometimes done before adjusters can inspect the damage.

While some in Florida’s business community have suggested these rising claims are fraudulent, Citizens officials and top regulators have stopped short of backing up those accusations.

The Florida Legislature wrapped up its session this year without passing the bill to deal with these “assignment of benefits” that was being pushed by the insurance industry. Some senators including Sen. Gary Farmer, an attorney from Fort Lauderdale, have said the water-damage related lawsuits have been driven by Citizens practice of refusing to pay legitimate claims quickly.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

The Florida Bar

Florida Bar holds annual convention this week

The Florida Bar‘s Annual Convention begins Wednesday at the Boca Raton Resort & Club, with “a focus on the future of the legal profession and the challenges lawyers face,” the organization said in a news release.

On Friday, Miami attorney Michael J. Higer will be sworn in as the Bar’s 69th president, and West Palm Beach attorney Michelle Suskauer will become the Bar’s president-elect. She’ll assume the presidency next June.

The Bar is charged with regulating the state’s 104,000 licensed attorneys.

The theme of this year’s convention is “Inspire the Future,” focusing on “the future of the legal profession and the importance of working with colleagues to bring about positive change. Seminars and programs will address the rapid technological changes in legal services,” the release said.

The schedule also includes a judicial luncheon on Thursday, with Supreme Court Chief Justice Jorge Labarga as keynote speaker and a tribute to retiring Executive Director John F. “Jack” Harkness Jr., who’s been the Bar’s head for 37 years.

A President’s Showcase on Thursday will be “Constitution Revision Commission & Florida’s Judiciary” to “ensure that Florida Bar members are informed as to how CRC proposals may affect the judiciary and, in turn, the practice of law in Florida.”

And 254 attorneys who have been practicing for 50 years will be honored during a luncheon sponsored by the Bar’s Young Lawyers Division.

The convention ends Saturday. A full schedule is here.

For more details, click here. Also, “a mobile app provides meeting schedules, exhibitor and sponsor listings with links, a personal schedule tracker and updates throughout the convention,” according to the release.

Blake Dowling: WikiLeaks, cherry blossoms and pandemics

WikiLeaks is at it again.

They are dropping new information (unverified) on the web about the Engineering Development Group.

Who are they? They are the CIA, specifically its elite hacking unit.

Not too cool for national security potentially but good to know if you care about your digital privacy, or if you are an enemy of the state with something to hide.

If you have never checked out the site, it is very interesting.

The part that grabbed me was the tools called Cherry Blossom. This tool allows the agency to monitor internet traffic by hijacking wireless routers; this has been going on for years.

To put it simply, the described the tool takes over the firmware of the router and turn it into a monitoring device. So, not only can you be tracked where you go online, but also (even worse) what you are doing, banking info, passwords, or reroute you to a malicious website and infect or steal from you.

Stay off public Wi-Fi setups for this and many other reasons. Only use secure and password protected networks. Your data is up for grabs as it is, you might as well not make it easy for folks to get at it.

Also, this month WikiStinks published info on another CIA project called Pandemic. Basically, this project deals with infecting a computer with malicious code and then spreading it to take over more and more machines. In high-tech lingo, Pandemic is a tool that runs as kernel shellcode that installs a file system filter driver. The driver is used to replace a file with a payload when a user on the local network accesses the file over SMB.

So, the cyber wars rage on with Russia, China, the US and even those wankers in North Korea on the battlefield. As a nation, we try and stay on the forefront to defend our weapons systems, power grids and everything else, but it’s tough.

As you can see, there are those that wish to expose this clandestine work to the world. It’s also a very gray space with a lot of room for interpretation.

The current administration in D.C. — as well as the last one — were all about the CIA, NSA and keeping the U.S. ahead of the cyber arms race. If we fall behind in this race, we may not know until it’s too late.

In the meantime, tune into Oliver Stone’s interview with Vladimir Putin, that is the face of the enemy, and we must remember it.

Keep your passwords complex, stay off the dark web, have a dedicated credit card for online purchases, use a firewall wall with geo-blocking capabilities (block all IP addresses from punk nations), keep your security software current (and your beer cold) and we will see what happens.

Enjoy your weekend.

___

Blake Dowling is CEO of Aegis Business Technologies, and he can be reached at dowlingb@aegisbiztech.com.

P.S.: If the CIA reads this, I am on your side. Don’t tase me, bro. I did say “unverified.” 🙂

State, feds agree to extension for red snapper fishing

Most anglers thought the red snapper season for fishing in federal waters came and went almost two weeks ago. Thanks to an agreement between the U.S Department of Commerce and the State of Florida, recreational anglers now have 39 additional days to go after the prized catch.

The previous season lasted only three days, from June 1 until June 4, leaving fishing enthusiasts and members of Congress highly frustrated. The new arrangement calls for rolling back available red snapper days in state waters while extending the opportunities in federal waters.

“We are thankful for the leadership of Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, and Florida’s Congressional delegation as well as the partnership across all five Gulf states in providing more sustainable fishing opportunities and sound fisheries management,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) Executive Director Nick Wiley. “Though we had to reduce state waters fishing days in the summer and fall, we are pleased to be able to offer more fishing access this summer to anglers across Florida.”

The 39-day additional season begins Friday and will continue every Friday, Saturday and Sunday through Labor Day, September 4. Also included is Monday, July 3 and Tuesday, July 4.

“Local folks wanted me to fight for their right to fish, and I was happy to help,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, a Ft. Walton Beach Republican from the First Congressional District. “I’m glad the Trump administration has agreed to extend the federal red snapper season.

The federal government establishes quotas for red snapper fishing. Based on whether that quota was exceeded or under-fished in federal waters, the season is adjusted accordingly.

“We pressed Washington for an expanded season and Washington listened,” said Rep. Neal Dunn, a Panama City Republican from the Second Congressional District. “This decision provides relief this season while we work to fix what’s broken in recreational management of the red snapper fishery. I’m glad the Commerce Department is letting common sense prevail for Florida anglers.”

Twitter unveils new look, which users quickly mock

Twitter has unveiled a new look, and much like some previous changes the company has made to its short-messaging service, it’s not going over so well with the Twitterati.

The San Francisco company says the new design emphasizes simplicity, making it faster and easier to use, with bolder headlines and more intuitive icons. It also changed users’ profile images from square-shaped to round.

The company said the new user interface will roll out on twitter.com, Twitter for iOS, Twitter for Android, TweetDeck, and Twitter Lite in the coming days and weeks.

Twitter users immediately responded Thursday by tweeting jokes and memes critical of the changes. There were almost 30,000 tweets about the new user interface, or UI, within hours of the change, the vast majority of them either complaining about the new look or mocking it. A popular image was a suddenly round SpongeBob SquarePants.

Twitter also took heat from users last year when it changed its algorithm that orders the tweets users see. Users also tweeted their dismay when the company rolled out its “Moments” feature, and when it got rid of its star icon signifying a “favorite” tweet, in favor of a heart icon, similar to Facebook’s “like” button.

The redesign is Twitter’s latest attempt to freshen the messaging service, which has struggled to attract new users at the same pace as Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat. Twitter revenue growth has stalled for years, and the company has cut costs and shuffled executives while still never posting a quarter of profit.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

Florida retailers expect record Father’s Day spending

Florida retailers expect dads to be showered with gifts, with a record-setting Father’s Day in 2017.

The Florida Retail Federation, the state’s leading trade association for the retail industry, predicts consumers will spend an average $134.75 for the holiday, up almost $10 from last year’s $125.92.

Spending nationwide is also expected to reach $15.5 billion, the highest in the survey’s 15-year history – nearly a billion more than 2016.

“I am very encouraged to see that Floridians and families across the country are planning to spend more than ever before to celebrate their dads,” said FRF President/CEO R. Scott Shalley. “These results show that Americans are feeling more and more confident and optimistic in this improving economy, and fathers and retailers can expect to benefit this Father’s Day.”

In the annual survey from the National Retail Federation, conducted by Prosper Insight and Analytics, consumers will spend $3.3 billion in 2017; 48 percent say they will take dads to outings such as dinner, brunch or other “fun activity/experiences,” clothing (46 percent) and gift cards (43 percent), making up $2.2 billion. Next most popular is consumer electronics (21 percent) at $1.8 billion.

As with Mother’s Day, greeting cards are the most common gift (64 percent), accounting for $861 million of projected spending. Other popular gifts include personal care, automotive accessories, books, music, home improvement/gardening supplies and sporting goods.

The survey found 27 percent of shoppers will give dad a “gift of experience” — concert tickets, sporting events and the like.

The category with the largest growth trend is “personal care” — cologne, razors, aftershave, etc. – showing a 20 percent increase over last year.

For the perfect gift, 40 percent of consumers will head to department stores; 34 percent will shop online; 26 percent will shop at a discount store; 24 percent at a specialty store and 19 percent at a local business.

One-third of smartphone owners will use their device to research gift ideas, but only 18 percent will use them to make a purchase. Tablets are more popular for research (32 percent) and purchases (19 percent).

More than half of those surveyed plan to buy for a father or stepfather (54 percent), others will shop for a husband (29 percent) or son (10 percent).

Sundial launches Friday Night Summer Music Series

Sundial, downtown St. Petersburg’s high-profile retail, dining and entertainment center, will offer guests a special treat all summer, with its Friday Night Summer Music Series which begins this Friday.

Each Friday from 6 p.m. – 10 p.m. artists will entertain shoppers, happy-hour enthusiasts, and diners. The series showcases some of the best local talents in the Tampa Bay region, with a different musical experience each week.

Acts include DJs, singer-songwriters, folk artists and jazz ensembles.

For updates and a schedule, visit Sundial’s Facebook page or sundialstpete.com.

Starting the series is a local pop-folk duo, Shane & Emily. The duo presents a positive, energetic vibe while incorporating elements of multiple genres into their original music. They travel the country playing venues of all sizes and opening for some of their favorite acts, including Caroline Kole, but they always return home to Tampa Bay.

Other acts include Austen van der Bleek, a local DJ known for creating feel-good atmospheres with an eclectic mix of styles; Shoeless Soul, a genre-bending four-piece band and newcomer to the St. Pete music scene and Jen Lowe, a singer-songwriter and multi-percussionist who has played with artists such as Jason Mraz and Ed Rowland of Collective Soul.

Sundial’s Summer Music Series is sure to add something new and fresh to an already vibrant downtown, and offer an extra incentive for St. Pete residents to visit the popular lifestyle center Friday evenings.

Florida Power & Light’s sunny future, major solar expansion on track

It’s a sunny future for Florida Power & Light Co., as construction is now well underway on all eight of the utility’s planned solar power plants.

New 74.5-megawatt solar power plants, with 2.5 million panels offering a joint capacity of 600 MW, are on track for completion by early 2018, making it one of the largest solar expansions ever in the eastern U.S.

Once completed, the plants will contribute enough low-emissions energy to the FPL grid to power nearly 120,000 homes.

Officials with FPL, now the largest generator of solar energy in Florida, say construction of the plants will be cost effective — resulting in net savings for FPL customers over and above construction costs. The eight new plants are expected to generate millions of dollars in net lifetime savings to customers.

“FPL is living proof that it’s possible to generate cleaner energy and deliver outstanding service while keeping customers’ electric bills among the lowest in the nation,” said FPL President and CEO Eric Silagy. “We are proud to be advancing affordable, clean energy infrastructure in Florida in close partnership with respected environmental advocates, community leaders and our customers. Together, we are bringing the benefits of solar energy to more Floridians faster and more affordably than ever before.”

Today, about 500 people are working on construction across the eight solar sites, a number expected to grow to 1,500 during peak activity this summer.

While some plants are in various stages of early development, from ground-clearing work to infrastructure, others are further along. For example, at the Horizon Solar Energy Center, which spans both Alachua and Putnam counties, FPL workers are now installing solar panels.

“FPL continues to transform the energy landscape of the state and nation, and we are honored that North Florida is playing an important role,” said Brian Bergen, vice president of economic development for the Putman County Chamber of Commerce. “These new solar power plants are about more than just affordable, clean energy. They’re also delivering economic benefits right here, right now.”

Four of the eight FPL plants are scheduled to be online by the end of 2017: Horizon Solar Energy Center in Alachua and Putnam counties; Coral Farms Solar Energy Center in Putnam County; Indian River Solar Energy Center in Indian River County and the Wildflower Solar Energy Center in DeSoto County.

Facilities scheduled for completion by March 1, 2018, include Barefoot Bay Solar Energy Center in Brevard County; Blue Cypress Solar Energy Center in Indian River County; Hammock Solar Energy Center in Hendry County and the Loggerhead Solar Energy Center in St. Lucie County.

As the “Sunshine State,” Florida ranks ninth in the nation for solar resources — the strength of the sun’s rays — making it a beautiful place for solar. As one of the nation’s cleanest electric utilities, FPL projects solar will outpace fossil fuels such as coal and oil combined as a percentage of the company’s energy mix by 2020.

From 2017 through 2023, FPL plans to add nearly 2,100 new megawatts of solar, including the approximately 600 megawatts now under construction.

FPL — a subsidiary of the Juno Beach-based NextEra Energy — is the state’s largest rate-regulated electric utility, serving more than 4.8 million customers across Florida, the third-largest customer base in the United States.

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United in purpose, Miami’s Overtown says ‘move on’ with I-395 project

Earlier this month, FloridaPolitics.com reported on the outpouring of community support for the “signature bridge” design chosen for the new I-395 overpass through Miami’s Overtown neighborhood.

Despite protests by some with a political agenda, the drumbeat of support for Archer Western-de Moya’s winning design continues to grow in intensity.

After more than a quarter-century of discussion and debate, this final design — one selected by Florida’s Department of Transportation that melds both form and function — comes as a welcome relief for several organizations and residents of the Overtown area.

One such influential voice is that of Irby McKnight, described by the Miami Herald in 2015 as “Overtown’s unofficial mayor and activist.”

In a letter to the editor of The Miami Times, McKnight says he is “ecstatic” about the winning design for the new bridge coming through Overtown.

“Archer Western-DeMoya,” he writes, “have come up with a design that will bring a new look to Overtown – a design that finally frees Overtown from the terrible injustice that was caused when the existing roadway was constructed in the late 1960s.”

For McKnight, I-395 left the Overtown community inaccessible to downtown Miami by way of its dated “low-rise 15-foot bridge.”

Archer Western, McKnight says, offers a “brilliant design” that removes the existing beams and raises the bridge to 60 feet, opening the space and making it better lit for more safety At night.

In addition to a more open space, McKnight praises the new design for celebrating Overtown’s diverse history, a place where the residents can gather at a marker for an “active” Heritage Trail, which honors Miami’s Tequesta indigenous people as well its African-American, Latino and Caribbean communities.

McKnight also commends Archer Western for taking time “to get input from our community before coming up with their design.”

But McKnight is not the only voice calling to move forward with the long-delayed project.

There is a growing list of other local leaders who support the I-395 bridge, a project that not only ranked highest but also has solid backing in the community, supported by The Urban Construction Craft Academy; The Black Archives; the Southeast Overtown CRA; the Mourning Family Foundation advocacy group and the Omni CRA.

When a neighborhood comes together like this, united in purpose, one thing is clear — it’s time for losing bidders to listen to the community and move on.

Disney to remember boy killed by alligator with sculpture

Walt Disney World plans to honor a 2-year-old Nebraska boy who was killed by an alligator last year at one of its resorts near Orlando with a sculpture of a lighthouse.

A year ago Wednesday, an alligator grabbed little Lane Graves, who was playing along the Seven Seas Lagoon beach outside Disney’s Grand Floridian Resort and Spa. The child’s father, Matt Graves of Omaha, jumped into the water to try to free his son, whose body was found 16 hours later. His death was ruled an accident.

The sculpture is of a lighthouse, which is a symbol of the Lane Thomas Foundation, was created in memory of the child.

“The foundation is dedicated to supporting families of children needing life-saving organ transplants,” Walt Disney World Resort President George A. Kalogridis said in a statement on Tuesday. “To provide continued awareness of the foundation and its mission, we’ve commissioned an original sculpture of the lighthouse the foundation uses as a symbol of love and hope, to be installed on our property this summer.”

The location of the sculpture hasn’t been disclosed.

The child’s death occurred two days after the Pulse nightclub massacre in Orlando.

Republished with permission of The Associated Press.

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