Sunburn – The morning read of what’s hot in Florida politics.
By Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, Mitch Perry and Jim Rosica.
Across Florida, people spent Sunday trying to get back to normal after one of the worst storms to hit the state since Hurricane Andrew.
Keys residents were allowed to visit Monroe County for the first time since Hurricane Irma struck a week ago. Elsewhere, residents are waiting for electricity, cleaning up from floods or just trying to take a breath and remember what normal is like.
Officials are still tallying the damage, which includes everything from homes to grapefruit groves to mom-and-pop attractions like Pirate’s Town in Orlando, which was a replica of an 18th-century sailing vessel that offered dinner theater to tourists. In Miami, schools are expected to open Monday, even though some don’t have air conditioning. Also Monday, U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Purdue is expected to take a helicopter tour of Florida’s hard hit crops in the central core of the state.
Federal Emergency Management Agency Administrator Brock Long says the government response to Hurricane Irma has shifted from saving lives to recovery. There were more than 40 storm-related deaths.
Long said at a briefing Friday that good progress is being made in getting people back into their homes or into temporary housing such as apartments or hotels. About 4,000 people remain in emergency shelters, and 675,000 accounts – both residential and commercial – are still without power.
In Jacksonville, officials worried about pollution in runoff mingling with floodwaters. In Naples, in the southwest corner of the state, residents of one mobile home park are living in condemned homes because they have nowhere else to go. And in Pasco County, north of Tampa, thousands were urged to evacuate a week after Irma’s rains overflowed the Withlacoochee River.
In the Florida Keys, probably the state’s hardest-hit area, Monroe County Mayor George Neugent said they’d already done some difficult work but had more to do to help residents “get back to work, so we can get our businesses running, so we can get our economy going.”
Officials warned residents who weren’t prepared to take care of themselves for at least several weeks stay away so they don’t deplete already limited resources. That means providing their own food, water and shelter.
Twenty-one checkpoints were set up in the hardest hit neighborhoods to ensure only residents, contractors and relief workers were allowed in. There is a heavy police and military presence, along with strict curfews, because of looting.
State Rep. Holly Raschein said the Keys are a resilient community.
“You’re not going to come home to the same neighborhood…, but we will rebuild,” she said.
— Tamara Lush, Associated Press
— SITUATIONAL AWARENESS —
— @Tallbrighty: Wow. Preliminary FEMA assessments show some pretty extensive structural damage in Jacksonville.
— @AGlorios: Temporary housing opens up in Immokalee for those displaced by Hurricane Irma
— @MarioDB: Called @#to tell them Immokalee+Redlands Christian Migrant Assoc badly needed ice+water. Just hrs later-they delivered. Thanks!
— @OscarJB2: Great turn out for our # dinner party at all 4 locations.
— @insideFPL: We know it is hard to lose food after an outage. However, we’re not responsible for spoiled food from an act of nature such as hurricanes.
— @CJHerald: Traffic comes to a halt at a Keys checkpoint as residents return home Sunday on U.S.1.
— @EmilySlosberg: VERY BIG thank u for going over n beyond to deliver ice & food to our most vulnerable @@
— @MiamiSup: 48 Miami-Dade schools remain without power, Monday return date still targeted.
— @MarcoRubio: We will be helping with @applications Monday 9/18 from 8-6 at St.Johns Admin Bldg 500 Sebastian View St.Augustine
— @MiamiHerald: Tropical Storm Maria expected to be a hurricane Sunday
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— THE DAMAGE —
“Irma’s damage a reminder of Florida economy’s vulnerability” via Josh Boak of The Associated Press – Florida faces an urgent need to adapt to the environmental changes, said Jesse Keenan, a lecturer at Harvard University who researches the effects of rising sea levels on cities. “A lot is going to change in the next 30 years — this is just the beginning,” Keenan said. People might need to live further inland, Keenan said, and employers might have to relocate to higher ground, with the resulting competition between offices and housing driving up land prices. It would become harder to adequately insure houses built along canals. Traffic delays could worsen across parts of Florida as more roads flood. Developers might shift away from sprawling suburban tracts toward denser urban pockets that are better equipped to manage floods. At the same time, the belief remains firm among some developers and economists that for all the threats from rising water levels, the state’s population influx will continue with scarcely any interruption. The allure of lower taxes and easier living, the thinking goes, should keep drawing a flow of residents and vacationers. “Irma doesn’t change the fact that there is no state income tax,” said Sean Snaith, director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness. “In a few months, when the first Alberta Clipper starts blowing down cold weather across the United States and it’s 80 degrees and sunny down here, the memories of Irma will be blown away.”
“Deluge of flooding has residents trapped in large Bonita Springs community” via Joseph Cranney of the Naples Daily News – Knee-deep flooding from Hurricane Irma has inundated the Morton Grove community in Bonita Springs, leaving most streets impassable and trapping some residents in the neighborhood without access to food or water. Six days after Irma, the flooding is still deep enough to stall a sedan in large parts of the area of more than 60 single-family homes north of East Terry Street, next to the Interstate. With lots that sit high above the streets, the homes seemed to be spared from interior flooding. And during a visit Saturday, power was back on to virtually the whole area. But three families interviewed by the Naples Daily News said the flooding has trapped them inside the neighborhood. They’ve been unable to venture out for food and fuel, or to go
“Blocked from home after Irma, Keys residents vow not to evacuate next time” via Lesley Clark and Kate Irby of McClatchy DC – Several repeatedly begged law enforcement officers manning a tent in the middle of the Overseas Highway to let them go back home. “The last time the officer said ‘I don’t even have the time to argue with you guys,’ and just turned his back and walked away,” said Teiger Corazon, 30, whose family sat dejected, 20 yards from the blockade and 20 miles from home. She and her family have been trying to get back to Marathon for three days … Spurned by authorities who say the conditions are too perilous to let residents return, they sat and stewed and said they’d never again choose to evacuate. “I’d rather have them carry me in an ambulance up to Miami” than evacuate, said Corazon’s boyfriend, Denny Valladares … Bryan Cook, deputy public information officer for Monroe County, said emergency management services staff members are working as fast and as hard as they can to make the Florida Keys safe for residents to return … Bryan Cook, deputy public information officer for Monroe County, said emergency management services staff members are working as fast and as hard as they can to make the Florida Keys safe for residents to return. Only emergency services, disaster management services and supplies were being allowed past the checkpoint at this time, he said.
— “Jimmy Johnson in pain, in tears – and in resolve to rebuild in the Keys” via Dave Hyde of the Sun Sentinel
“Officials: Returning Keys residents must be self-sustaining” via The Associated Press – “The Keys are not what you left several days ago when you evacuated. Electricity, sewer and water are intermittent at best,” said Monroe County Mayor George Neugent … Officials opened up U.S. 1 Saturday all the way south to Marathon for residents, business owners, disaster workers and supply trucks. They also announced plans to let the same groups have access all the way to Key West starting at 7 a.m.Sunday. Roads were being cleared and recovery centers are being set up in the area to help residents fill out FEMA, insurance and small business relief paperwork. Even Publix was open until 5 p.m. Friday. Officials had agonized over the decision to reopen the islands, knowing residents were desperate to assess the damage with their own eyes, yet worried about harsh living conditions for those who choose return. Curfews remained in effect and returning residents received a clear message from Keys officials – you must be self-sufficient. They encouraged residents to bring tents, small air conditioning units, food, water and medications.
Actual press releases: “DOH cautions residents in Monroe County to avoid exposure to poisonous plants” and “DOH reminds residents to avoid contact with stray pets and wildlife.”
“Homes built to stricter standards fared better in storm” via Laura Kusisto and Arian Campo-Flores of the Wall Street Journal – As homeowners in Florida begin to take stock of the damage from Irma, one pattern is beginning to emerge: homes that were built to the stricter building codes seem to have fared better. “The feedback we’re hearing is positive,” said Rusty Payton, chief executive of the Florida Home Builders Association. “We’re all interested and there will be a deep dive. It appears that it did its job.” The evidence so far is preliminary. Insurance companies, home builders, city and county officials and local resiliency experts say they are still conducting assessments of how homes and commercial buildings built to different standards held up during Irma. Homes in the Florida Keys, for example, tend to be older and were the most badly damaged areas from the storm, but until a few days ago the Keys were inaccessible to researchers.
“After Irma, dead seagrass ‘as far as the eye can see’ in Florida Bay” via Jenny Staletovich of the Miami Herald – From Florida Bay to Shark River, signs of the Category 4 hurricane could be seen in vast mats of floating dead seagrass, mangroves stripped of their leaves, and rafts of seaweed pushed far ashore. Along the Northwest side of Cape Sable, where the powerful hurricane’s storm surge hit hardest, a newly widened beach stretches toward the wetlands. In the Dry Tortugas, the storm knocked down a 60-foot stretch of the moat wall at Fort Jefferson. It will be a while before Irma’s full toll on the Everglades becomes clear, but a flyover this week by Everglades Foundation wetland ecologist Stephen Davis and early surveys by park staff provided a glimpse of the storm’s vast reach. “As far as the eye could see to the south were floating mats of uprooted seagrass,” Davis said of the bay. “For me that was the most dramatic, and I don’t want to say most concerning because of the human impacts around this storm. But we’ve been keeping an eye on Florida Bay for a couple of years since that [seagrass] die-off.”
— THE TRAGEDY —
“’Red flag’ calls signaled post-Irma deaths at nursing home” via The Associated Press – The first 911 call from the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills didn’t sound ominous: A nursing home patient had an abnormal heartbeat. An hour later, came a second call: a patient had trouble breathing. Then came the third call. A patient had gone into cardiac arrest – and died. Over the next few hours of Wednesday morning, the dire situation at the Rehabilitation Center for fragile, elderly people would come into clearer view. Three days after Hurricane Irma hit Florida, the center still didn’t have air conditioning, and it ultimately became the grimmest tragedy in a state already full of them. Eight people died and 145 patients had to be moved out of the stifling-hot facility, many of them on stretchers or in wheelchairs. In Hollywood Wednesday morning, Judy Frum, the chief nursing officer at the air-conditioned hospital just across the street from the rehabilitation center, was working in the Irma command center when the emergency room notified her that three patients had been brought in from the nursing home. “It set off a red flag that something might be going on,” said Frum, who grabbed a colleague and hurried across the street. When they arrived, paramedics were treating a critically ill patient near the entrance. She saw harried staff members trying to get patients into a room where fans were blowing. The center had some electricity, but not enough to power the air conditioning.
“Rick Scott issues emergency rules requiring working generators at all Florida nursing homes” via Allison Nielsen of the Sunshine State News – Per the emergency action, all assisted living facilities and nursing homes must obtain generators and the appropriate amount of fuel to keep them in operation as well as maintaining “comfortable temperatures” for at least 96 hours following a power outage. The governor’s emergency action will also require State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis to conduct inspections of the generators at the nursing homes within 15 days of their installation. Local emergency management officials will be required to approve or deny the emergency management plans from residential health care facilities. Each emergency management agency must post all plans to their website within 10 days of the plan’s approval. Failure to comply with Scott’s emergency rules will result in penalties, including fines up to $1,000 per day and the possible revocation of a facility’s license.
“Democrats batter Scott over nursing home tragedy” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – Democratic candidates for governor are hitting Gov. Scott and others hard in the wake of eight deaths in a South Florida nursing home that lost its air conditioning as Hurricane Irma hit the state. But Scott’s office defended the governor’s actions, saying the facility never reported “that conditions had become dangerous.” A criminal investigation by Broward County law enforcement in underway into the deaths at Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills, including whether they were heat-related or from carbon monoxide poisoning from generators. For example, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum called for an independent investigation, slamming Scott for giving out “a special priority phone line – then fail(ing) to act when they received distress calls.” But Scott spokesman John Tupps said “every call made to the Governor from facility management was referred to the Agency for Health Care Administration and the Florida Department of Health and quickly returned.”
“Lawmakers talk changes coming in wake of nursing home deaths” via Christine Sexton of POLITICO Florida – State Sen. Anitere Flores said the Legislature will be taking a close look at requirements for nursing homes and assisted living facilities following the deaths of eight people at a nursing home after Hurricane Irma. Flores, the chairman of the powerful health care spending committee in the Senate who also serves as Senate president pro tempore, told reporters that two senators have already advised her that they have filed proposed bills for the upcoming session that would require nursing homes and assisted living facilities to have generators on-site. It’s currently not a requirement. Nursing homes and assisted living facilities are required to submit their emergency management plans annually to local officials. The Miami lawmaker said the Legislature needs to ensure that it takes a comprehensive approach to ensuring the safety of Florida’s seniors and not pass an “easy fix that sounds good.”
“First legislation filed after nursing home deaths” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – A South Florida senator has filed the first bill in response to the deaths of eight nursing home residents this week after Hurricane Irma knocked out their air conditioning. Sen. Lauren Book, a Plantation Democrat, filed the measure (SB 284) on Friday afternoon. Among other things, it would require the Agency for Health Care Administration (AHCA) “to determine compliance with standards for electricity and emergency power sources during the routine inspection of a licensed nursing home facility.” Book’s bill also would require “a licensed nursing home facility to have adequate electrical equipment, an emergency power source, and a supply of fuel.” The “loss of eight lives at Hollywood Hills was completely preventable, and that is what is so heartbreaking about this situation,” Book said Friday night in a statement.
“Emmett Reed: Tragic deaths, inaccurate reporting shouldn’t tarnish nursing home professionals” via Florida Politics – Florida’s nursing home industry is populated by hundreds of excellent centers staffed by thousands of dedicated, caring professionals. It’s unfortunate, but inevitable, that they will get painted with the same negative brush when one facility fails to meet the high standards we set for ourselves. It is grossly unfair, however, for that challenge to be exacerbated by misleading news reporting that inaccurately suggests that the long-term care profession actively blocked reforms that could have saved lives. Every compassionate person was shocked and saddened by the death of eight residents of a single South Florida nursing home in the wake of Hurricane Irma. Even though that center is not a member of Florida Health Care Association, all of us in the long-term care profession were deeply troubled by the circumstances that led to these losses and look forward to the culmination of a thorough investigation, which will hopefully shed light on that situation. FHCA’s member centers are dedicated to doing everything possible to help provide a high quality of life for our residents, particularly during the most challenging times. Faced with Hurricane Irma, for example, we have worked tirelessly with utility companies to help them understand the importance of making nursing homes a priority so these facilities can get their power restored as quickly as possible.
— THE TAB —
Florida has preliminarily outlined more than $273 million in Hurricane Irma costs for federal reimbursement, with the money primarily used for storm preparation and debris removal, reports Jim Turner of the News Service of Florida.
- The projection is from 25 state agencies
- The initial state projection, including $157.8 million for pre-storm protective measures and $90.8 million for debris removal, had not been completed by some agencies, including the Department of Citrus and the Department of Education.
- More than 40 percent of the state’s initial projected costs, $112.77 million, were tied to storm preparation by the Division of Emergency Management.
- The Department of Corrections, which evacuated more than 12,000 inmates and on Thursday said some inmates will remain at alternative locations until road conditions improve and facilities can undergo necessary repairs, put its costs at $21.55 million.
- With every member of the Florida National Guard activated, the Department of Military Affairs put its initial costs at $7.8 million.
- With the roughly 1,700 members of the Florida Highway Patrol working 12-hour shifts, the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has placed its expenses at $4 million.
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— THE RECOVERY —
Assignment editors – Gov. Scott will meet state and local officials and with HHS Secretary Tom Price in Monroe County to discuss recovery efforts after Hurricane Irma. Then, the Governor and Price will be available to the media following the 10:30 a.m. meeting.
Assignment editors – Ag. Commissioner Adam Putnam will join U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue in Clewiston and Orlando to meet with members of Florida’s agriculture industry and conduct an aerial tour of damage caused by Hurricane Irma. The first press briefing is 10:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. at Southern Gardens Citrus, 1820 County Road 833 in Clewiston. The second briefing is from 1 to 1:30 p.m. at Atlantic aviation, 9245 Tradeport Dr. in Orlando.
“FEMA continues adding workers to storm cleanup” via Stacey Henson of News-Press.com – The U.S. Government updated how it is working with hurricane recovery. The U.S. Department of Homeland Security’s Federal Emergency Management Agency continues coordinating the efforts of the federal family, working alongside state, Commonwealth, tribal, territorial, and local emergency responders to help address the immediate needs of survivors following Hurricane Irma. Tens of thousands of federal workers are supporting preparedness, response and recovery to Hurricane Irma, including more than 3,200 FEMA staff, and more than 13,000 National Guard soldiers and airmen from 22 states, in rescue, evacuation, security and support operations.
“Will recovery from Irma mean boom or bust for Florida’s economy, budget?” via Steve Bousquet of the Tampa Bay Times – The Legislature’s chief economist says the hurricane’s impact on the economy will make the state budget “much worse” next year, and possibly in 2019 and 2020. Amy Baker delivered that sobering news to lawmakers as part of a revised long-range outlook used as the foundation for critical spending decisions on schools, social services, public safety and other areas that affect nearly 21 million Floridians in a state where a balanced budget is required by the Constitution. As the state’s fiscal picture darkens, it means less money for schools and the social service safety net, less chance of raises for state workers and a possible downgrading of the state’s bond rating, which would make it more expensive for Florida to borrow money.
“Fred Karlinsky predicts insurers will turn to international sources for Irma payouts” via Florida Politics – Karlinsky, co-chairman of the insurance regulatory and transactions practice at Greenberg Traurig, said Florida insurers can draw on robust reserves and an international reinsurance market to pay claims. “The losses are not borne just in Florida. They’re borne in Bermuda; they’re borne in London,” Karlinsky said … “Those insurers retrocede reinsurance out to other people. It really is worldwide support for the state of Florida.” On the other hand, there’s an adjuster deficit — despite the Department of Financial Services’ efforts to streamline the licensure process. “That’s just the graying workforce,” Karlinsky said. “What we have here — no pun intended — is the perfect storm,” he said. “You have a storm that hit Texas, in Harvey. And you have an already-stressed system in the lack of adjusters. Then you have a storm in Florida, and you see a bidding war for these adjusters. So the expenses for adjusters have gone up significantly. That, in and of itself, creates a problem for the insurance marketplace.”
“Why some have power after Irma while some still do not” via David Bauerlein of the Florida Times-Union – “There’s a process to it, and I think that’s important for people to know,” said Bert Sparks, an aptly named JEA foreman who has seen his share of storm response in his 17 years at the utility. Think of the electric grid as a three-layer cake. The top layer is the huge transmission lines that carry electricity across long distances. Those are the lines that carry electricity from power generating stations. Without transmission lines, the grid has no juice, so the first order of business for restoration is getting all the transmission lines fully operational. The second layer is the electric substations that the transmission lines feed into across the territory. If the substations aren’t working, the electricity hits a wall at the substations and cannot continue to smaller distribution lines that fan out to neighborhoods and business centers. The third layer is the network of distribution lines that people see while driving through their neighborhoods. After the transmission lines and substations are in shape, restoration shifts to those distribution lines, which got hammered during Irma by winds that shoved and snapped utility poles while toppling branches and entire trees onto the power lines. When restoration turns to localized outages that can be scattered far and wide, utilities zero in first on critical buildings such as hospitals and stations for police and firefighters. Schools and shelters also are priorities.
“No power means no food stamps for Miami’s neediest in Hurricane Irma’s wake” via Alex Harris of the Miami Herald – Nonprofits, churches and government officials are hosting pop-up cookouts and meal giveaways across the county — some quite elaborate — to help residents without the power to run a stove or a fridge, but there are still gaps. People who use food stamps, the government program known as the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program or SNAP, were told to stock up before the storm … government even OK’d a temporary change to the program for the month of September allowing SNAP users to purchase hot and ready-to-eat foods with their cards, called Electronic Benefits Assistance cards, or EBT. But after almost a full week without power, all of that food bought before the storm is rotten. And the first grocery stores to open up were long bus rides away. However, electricity is slowly returning to food sellers in the impoverished community, and by Thursday, business was brisk at the only supermarket in the area. Shoppers restocked on fresh meat, vegetables and frozen foods at the Top Value, which was back at full power after days of running on generators.
— REMNANTS —
“Bill Clinton visits Miami-Dade shelter still housing Irma victims” via Patricia Mazzei of the Miami Herald – Clinton dropped in on the shelter at the Miami-Dade County Fair and Exhibition fairgrounds at Tamiami Park … Some 700 evacuees from the Miami area and the Florida Keys were living in the shelter as of Sunday morning, down from about 900 Saturday night. Clinton’s visit, which was closed to news reporters, was organized after the former president inquired about how he might say hello to Irma victims. Guiding Clinton through the shelter was Miami-Dade Mayor Carlos Gimenez.
“Built for bottleneck: Is Florida growing too fast to evacuate before monster storms?” via Nicholas Nehamas of the Miami Herald – “We have to stop and take a deep breath and ask, ‘What are we doing?’ ” said David Paulison, a former Miami-Dade County fire chief brought in to run the Federal Emergency Management Agency by President George W. Bush after the agency’s response to Hurricane Katrina was harshly criticized. “The more people we put here, the worse it’s going to be for evacuation.” Irma could have been Florida’s worst nightmare: A massive Category 5 hurricane wide enough to hit both of the state’s densely populated coasts, where growth has boomed despite the obvious risks of living on the water in an area regularly walloped by storms. The push for more development — one of Gov. Scott’s central policies in his successful effort to revive Florida’s economy — is elevating the risks to both people and property, said Craig Fugate, FEMA chief under President Barack Obama and the state’s emergency management director under Gov. Jeb Bush. “We’re trying to evacuate more people over the same infrastructure,” Fugate said. “It’s something Florida has to revisit.”
“Tampa Bay’s escape from Irma was more than luck, some say.” via Darryl Fears of The Washington Post – Tampa Bay is one of the most vulnerable metropolitan areas in the world to a major hurricane. How did it manage to avoid another monster storm that seemed destined to strike it? Many residents here have turned to myth and junk science to explain a near-century of good fortune … residents expressed sympathy for Irma’s victims while speaking confidently about their “perfect place,” their “sanctuary” and their “sweet spot” that hasn’t been struck by a hurricane as powerful as a Category 3 since 1921. In the West Shore area of Tampa, Raquel Hernandezonly vaguely recalled what her friend said about the Native burial grounds years, completely unaware that at least some of the story is real. Tocobaga Indian mounds have been found between Safety Harbor, their ancestral home and the Gandy area, a 15-mile stretch along the bay in Pinellas County. The Tocobagans died out from disease and violence from Spanish conquerors in the 1500s, and it’s not clear why the mounds were built, though some were for burials. It’s also not clear that they blessed them for protection against hurricanes, but the story has become legend. Two days after the hurricane, the Tampa Bay Times recognized it in a story: “Did local Indian mounds save Tampa Bay from Irma’s worst? Some say yes.”
“Hurricane cakes, memes and bottled water: How Publix won the internet during Irma” via Ashley Gurbal Kritzer of the Tampa Bay Business Journal – In the days leading up to and after Hurricane Irma’s rampage through Florida, Publix Super Markets Inc.’s Facebook page was nearly as active as its stores. Many comments were thankful: “Seriously, I fought back tears today when I pulled into the parking lot and saw the Windsor Commons store open.” No matter what the issue was — in a non-Irma matter, one woman complained of a frosting mix-up on a bakery order at an Alabama store — Publix responded, usually within minutes, to thousands of comments, each time with the same helpful, friendly tone. On Wednesday, the Lakeland-based grocer posted a letter from Todd Jones, president and CEO, expressing sympathy for those dealing with Irma’s aftermath and thanking customers for their business. By Friday evening, it had been shared more than 1,400 times. Publix’s pre-hurricane cult following helped cement its hero status during Irma. Two of its biggest competitors, Wal-Mart Stores Inc. and Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., set up hurricane landing pages on their websites and responded to customers on social media during the storm. But neither has seen the outpouring of gratitude that Publix has.
— NOTES FROM THE CAMPAIGN TRAIL —
“Dick Cheney Sarasota visit postponed because of Irma” via Zac Anderson of the Sarasota Herald-Tribune – The Republican Party of Sarasota County is postponing a dinner event headlined by former Vice President Cheney and his daughter, Congresswoman Liz Cheney. The dinner was planned for Oct. 7 but is being rescheduled because of Hurricane Irma. “Hurricane Irma has been a difficult event for our region for residents and businesses, and devastating for our friends to the south,” said Sarasota GOP chair Joe Gruters. “We want everyone to be able to focus on recovery efforts for themselves and others.”
“Matt Gaetz: No regrets about opposing disaster aid bill tied to debt ceiling raise” via Ledyard King of USA TODAY – Even after seeing the destruction Irma wrought on his state, Gaetz is not apologizing for voting against a bill that kept the emergency aid flowing to the Sunshine State. The Fort Walton Republican was one of only two Florida members of Congress (along with Republican Ted Yoho) who voted against a $15 billion relief bill last week. They opposed the bill because it was tied to a larger legislative package that raised the nation’s debt ceiling by $1 trillion and kept the government open through Dec. 8. “The federal government obviously has a role in disaster relief,” he said. “Superstorm Sandy (in 2012) sucked up $60 billion in aid and last week in the name of hurricanes, Congress relaxed its belt for over $1 trillion in spending authority. The debt ceiling is the only tool left for debt hawks to force entitlement reform. There’s no other tool.”
“Gwen Graham: Florida wasn’t prepared for Irma” via William March of the Tampa Bay Times – “We need our elected officials in Tallahassee to address climate change and comprehensive hurricane preparedness,” she said. “When the power went out across Florida, our state was not as ready as we could have been. We cannot overlook that major deficiencies have been exposed.” Graham faulted Gov. Scott and GOP-dominated Legislatures past and present for defeating regulations that could have prevented the deaths of eight patients in a Hollywood nursing home following the storm; for failing to act on climate change; for weakening building codes, and for failing to keep up with infrastructure and transportation needs. “I could not believe this – an hour after the nursing home deaths were reported by the media, House Speaker Richard Corcoran was tweeting about tax rates,” she said. “Floridians were dying and the Speaker was tweeting about tax rates. It’s a sickening example of how the politicians in Tallahassee have the wrong priorities for the wrong people.”
“Chris King: Nursing home tragedy must spur senior housing talks” via Scott Powers of Florida Politics – King is waiting like everyone else for investigative findings about why eight seniors were tragically left to die in a powerless Broward County nursing home in Hurricane Irma’s wake, but as an operator of senior housing facilities, he said it’s past time to talk about what to do long-term. … King lashed out over what he described as longtime state neglect of senior housing concerns that he said could have contributed the tragedy at the Rehabilitation Center at Hollywood Hills … “The Broward tragedy I think is another example exposing what I hope I’m getting across throughout the state, which is for a very long time there’s been very little leadership on housing and on aging issues,” King said. “My concern is less on what happened in Broward and more the decision making that created that environment, and why we’re still not out of the woods in the larger issues of housing and aging, and why the state is in an absolute crisis.”
“Lee County elections postponed because of Irma” via NBC2 – Gov. Scott declared that municipal elections in Fort Myers and Cape Coral will be pushed back from Sept. 26 to Oct. 3. In the declaration, Scott cited recovery from Hurricane Irma as the reason for the delay. The order comes after requests by both the Fort Myers interim city clerk and the Cape Coral city clerk.
— CAPITOL INSIGHT —
“State surplus money ‘gone’ because of Irma” via Jim Rosica of Florida Politics – The Legislature’s chief economist has told lawmakers that next year’s relatively tiny budget surplus will be erased because of costs from Hurricane Irma. Amy Baker, director of the Office of Economic and Demographic Research, presented a working version of the state’s long-range financial outlook to the Joint Legislative Budget Commission on Friday. She explained that extra costs to the state from last year’s hurricanes, Hermine and Matthew, cost $76.2 million, meaning a projected $52 million surplus for fiscal year 2018-19 is “gone.” Not that that was much to begin with for a state budget that’s roughly $83 billion. When state Rep. Bill Hager, a Delray Beach Republican, asked Baker for a 1-sentence summary on Irma’s effect on Florida’s finances, she answered: “It’s going to make fiscal year 2018-19, which was bearable, much worse.”
“FEA files lawsuit challenging Florida’s Best and Brightest teacher bonus” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – Florida’s Best and Brightest teacher bonus, based in part on educators’ long-ago SAT scores, has had critics from its inception in 2015. Not the least among them was the Florida Education Association, which filed a federal complaint against the program shortly after its implementation. This week, the FEA brought its complaint to federal court, alleging the recently expanded system discriminates against teachers of a certain age and race. “This bonus program is a ridiculous example of bad lawmaking,” FEA President Joanne McCall said. “Instead of properly compensating the best teachers in the state, this program awards bonuses based in large part on the scores they received on their college entrance exams. Many teachers in Florida today did not even take a college entrance exam if they started their college career in the state’s community college system.” The named plaintiffs in the case filed this week against all 67 school districts and the state Department of Education claim they were denied the bonus despite being rated “highly effective” in their evaluations. They say they were denied the bonus based strictly on test scores.
“Jeff Brandes proposes higher threshold for off-cycle tax referenda” via Jeffrey Solochek of the Tampa Bay Times – With revenue stagnant, and a new requirement to share local capital resources with charter schools, Florida school districts are increasingly talking about asking voters to impose higher sales taxes on themselves to help pay for school construction and maintenance needs. As they move forward, though, Sen. Jeff Brandes wants to ensure the moves have as much public participation as possible. He has floated legislation that would require more than a simple majority for any tax referendum that takes place outside a general election. With SB 272, any referendum not occurring on a general election ballot would require 60 percent of the votes. “When you have a general election, you have a more engaged electorate,” Brandes explained.
— STATEWIDE —
“Ahead of storm Florida jobless rate dipped slightly again” via The Associated Press – Florida’s unemployment rate is dropping again but the latest number does not reflect the potential impact of Hurricane Irma. State officials announced that the state’s jobless rate in August was 4 percent and that 408,000 Floridians are unemployed. That’s a slight drop of 0.1 percent from the previous month. Florida’s unemployment rate is below the national rate of 4.4 percent. The surveys, however, that are used to calculate the rate were done before Hurricane Irma slammed into the state. Monroe County, which includes the Florida Keys, had the lowest unemployment rate in the state at 2.7 percent.
“Scott Maddox, associates caught up in FBI’s ‘big net’” via Jeff Burlew and Jennifer Portman of the Tallahassee Democrat – One of the biggest bombshells yet in the FBI’s long-running investigation into alleged public corruption in Tallahassee dropped when a new subpoena of City Hall surfaced — this time naming City Commissioner Maddox and his closest associates. The subpoena, dated Sept. 6, demands “any and all communications” since 2012 to or from Maddox, his former business partner Gary Yordon and any aide to Maddox “formally or informally,” including Paige Carter-Smith, his former chief of staff and executive director of the Downtown Improvement Authority, and Allie Merzer Fleming, his current aide. It marked the first time an elected or former elected official’s name appeared in a subpoena issued by the federal grand jury that’s working with the FBI and the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Tallahassee.
“Court upholds $12M in punitive damages in tobacco case” via the News Service of Florida – Rejecting arguments by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company that the amount was “excessive,” a state appeals court upheld a jury’s award of $12.36 million in punitive damages in a smoking-related death. A three-judge panel of the 2nd District Court of Appeal sided with Cindy Evers, whose late mother, Jacqueline Loyd, suffered from lung cancer … The wrongful-death case, filed in Hillsborough County, is one of thousands that have targeted cigarette makers in Florida during past decade … A jury awarded $2.95 million to Evers in what are known as “noneconomic” compensatory damages and $12.36 million in punitive damages. R.J. Reynolds argued, in part, that the punitive damages should be limited to three times the amount awarded in compensatory damages. But the appeals court … wrote that “the trial court properly determined that clear and convincing evidence supported the punitive damages award that exceeded the cap and that the award was not excessive.”
“Orlando to bid on new Amazon headquarters, officials confirm” via Marco Santana of the Orlando Sentinel – Amazon has invited Orlando-area leaders to bid for its second major U.S. headquarters, a project it has been shopping around that could create 50,000 jobs for its eventual home. Economic leaders say they plan to “aggressively pursue this project” and have started to review potential sites for the headquarters. “We have a great opportunity to showcase Orlando’s strong talent pipeline, top-ranked infrastructure, variety of real estate options and commitment to exceptional education, sustainability and inclusiveness,” said Tim Giuliani, Orlando Economic Partnership president and CEO, in a statement provided to the Orlando Sentinel. The city’s competition for what has been dubbed “Amazon HQ2” will be steep. So far, major U.S. cities, including Chicago, Boston and Dallas, have been scrambling to pitch their sites. Some in St. Petersburg, Tampa and Miami also have voiced interest.
— MOVEMENTS —
“Ritch Workman named to Public Service Commission” via Florida Politics – Workman is headed back to Tallahassee. The former state representative, a Melbourne Republican, was appointed Friday night by Gov. Rick Scott to serve on the Florida Public Service Commission. Workman replaces Ronald Brisé, who had sought a third term on the board. Scott also re-appointed Art Graham to the commission and filled the seat left open by the departure of Jimmy Patronis with Gary Clark, the Department of Environmental Protection’s deputy secretary of land and recreation. Patronis left the panel when Scott appointed him in June to take over as the state’s Chief Financial Officer, replacing Jeff Atwater, who took a similar job at Florida Atlantic University. Workman, a well-liked former chair of the House Rules Committee, lost a bruising primary battle last year to Republican Debbie Mayfield for Senate District 17.
New and renewed lobbying registrations: Jennifer Ungru, Jones Walker: World Wide Technology
Happy birthday to Reggie Garcia and Corinne Mixon (look for in the upcoming edition of INFLUENCE Magazine).