President Obama signs Florida disaster declaration

It’s been a long time coming, but President Obama signed off Wednesday on declaring a major disaster exists in Florida, ordering federal aid to areas affected by Hurricane Hermine earlier this month.

Obama’s actions now make federal funding available to affected individuals in the counties of Hillsborough, Pinellas, Citrus, Dixie, Hernando, Leon, Levy, and Pasco.

Assistance can include grants for temporary housing and home repairs, low-cost loans to cover uninsured property losses, and other programs to help individuals and business owners recover from the effects of the disaster.

Federal funding will also now be made available to state, tribal, and eligible local governments and certain private nonprofit organizations on a cost-sharing basis for emergency work and the repair or replacement of facilities damaged by Hurricane Hermine in the counties of Citrus, Dixie, Franklin, Jefferson, Lafayette, Leon, Levy, Liberty, Madison, Pasco, Pinellas, Suwannee, Taylor, and Wakulla.

“Hurricane Hermine was the first hurricane to hit our state in over a decade and following the storm, I met with many businesses and families who were severely impacted,” said Governor Rick Scott. “While the state immediately stepped in to provide resources and assistance to families, this funding will help our local communities rebuild.”

The federal response comes eight days after Scott wrote a toughly worded letter to the president, where he said that there had been more than $36 million in damages due to the effects of Hermine. And he noted how the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) neglected to aid Florida for numerous incidents over the past year after the state requested assistance.

The governor referenced a handful of events, beginning with severe flooding the state suffered in August of 2015, to the fallout of extreme El Nino-led rainstorms in January and February of 2016, to tornadoes that affected several Florida counties, as well as damages incurred from June’s Tropical Storm Colin.

Scott also cited the lack of any federal help after the Pulse nightclub shooting in June in Orlando, which led to the deaths of 49 people, the deadliest single-gunman massacre in U.S. history; nor from the toxic algae bloom that emanated near Lake Okeechobee earlier this summer.

“During the preceding 12 months, the state of Florida experienced repeated emergencies that required the deployment of significant state resources,” Scott wrote. “Individually these incidents may not have overwhelmed the ability of the State of Florida to respond. Cumulatively, however, these emergencies significantly impacted the state’s capability to provide financial support following Hurricane Hermine.”

Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio also wrote to the president requesting federal aid.

FEMA head Craig Fugate has named Terry L. Quarles as the federal coordinating officer for federal recovery operations in the affected areas.

FEMA said residents and business owners who sustained losses in the designated counties can begin applying for assistance tomorrow by registering online at http://www.DisasterAssistance.gov or by calling 1-800-621-FEMA (3362) or 1-800-462-7585 (TTY) for the hearing and speech impaired. The toll-free telephone numbers will operate from 7 a.m. to 9 p.m. (local time) seven days a week until further notice.

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House passes Vern Buchanan’s bill to aid Florida orange farms in their battle against citrus greening

The U.S. House on Wednesday passed Sarasota Republican Vern Buchanan’s bipartisan legislation to aid Florida orange growers in their battle against the predatory citrus greening disease. The bill now goes to the U.S. Senate for consideration.

Buchanan’s Emergency Citrus Disease Response Act will make it less costly for growers to replace trees damaged by citrus greening, an incurable bacterial disease that has infected 99 percent of Florida’s commercial citrus groves.

“Help for Florida orange farmers is a major step closer to arriving,” Buchanan said. “This bill will go a long way toward protecting the livelihoods of the 62,000 hardworking Floridians in our signature citrus industry. The story of American agriculture is one of resilience and hard work against tremendous odds. Citrus farmers are being hit hard and Congress needs to help them recover.”

The legislation provides tax incentives for farmers who cannot afford to replace trees affected by citrus greening. Under current law, growers are allowed an immediate deduction for the cost of replanting diseased trees, but the farmer must bear the full cost. Buchanan’s proposal would allow struggling farmers to use this deduction even if they bring in investors to raise capital for replanting costs, as long as the grower continues to own a major stake in the grove. It also extends this incentive to purchasers of land with diseased trees.

“I am a fourth generation grower and there is not a day that passes where I do not wonder about the future of the Florida citrus industry,” says Kyle Story, a citrus grower in Lake Wales, Florida. In order to pass the business on to my one year old son Merritt – the fifth generation – we are going to have to get more trees in the ground and that’s exactly what growers across Florida will do if the tax legislation is passed. I know a lot of people whose children are going to law school, business school or medical school to get away from citrus. I do not want my son to become a lawyer, I want him to become a citrus grower and I’m worried he won’t get that chance.”

Experts project a 26 percent decline in Florida’s signature orange crop for this upcoming season – the worst in over 50 years. The disease, also known as “yellow dragon disease,” arrived in Florida in 2005 and has since infected 99 percent of commercial citrus groves in the state – as well as 50 percent of the groves in Texas.

“The Senate now needs to act swiftly to get this bill to the president’s desk,” Buchanan said. He’s spoken with both of Florida’s U..S. Senators – Democrat Bill Nelson and Republican Marco Rubio – to try to get the Senate to act as soon as next week on the bill.

Greening has begun to march across the country, and has been found in California, Louisiana, South Carolina and Georgia. Once infected, trees must be uprooted and destroyed. Replacing citrus trees is costly, but farmers have no choice. They must replant in order to earn a living. Growers face an average replacement cost of almost $2,000 per acre.

Citrus greening has caused more than $4 billion in economic damage while eliminating 8,000 jobs, according to a study done four years ago by the University of Florida. Florida Citrus Mutual, a citrus trade association, estimates that those numbers have doubled in the past four years.

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Bill Nelson: NASA reauthorization bill requires feet on Mars

NASA will be required to commit to putting people on Mars in the latest U.S. Senate NASA reauthorization bill, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson said Wednesday.

The Bill, S. 3346, was unanimously approved by the Senate Commerce Committee Wednesday authorizing NASA to spend $19.6 billion budgeted for the agency and setting a few new requirements, including that NASA commit to a human settlement on Mars.

That’s NASA’s plan already, though it’ll take 20 years.

Nelson, the Orlando Democrat who sponsored the bill, declared Wednesday that provision and others aim to set consistent policy at the agency through future presidential administrations.

“Fifty-five years after President Kennedy challenged the nation to put a man on the moon, the Senate is challenging NASA to put humans on Mars,” Nelson stated in a news release issued by his office. “The priorities that we’ve laid out for NASA in this bill marks the beginning of a new era of American spaceflight.”

Not mentioned in the bill nor Nelson’s comments is neither Democratic nominee Hillary Clinton nor Republican candidate Donald Trump has said much about space policy, nor made any definite commitments for the agency’s “Journey To Mars” program, which now is driving much of NASA’s agenda.

The bill requires NASA to develop and submit a plan to Congress on a strategic framework and critical decision plan, based on current technologies, to achieve the exploration goals and objectives of a human mission to Mars.

The committee’s passage of the bill Wednesday may be significant but getting the bill into law remains a challenge. No NASA authorization bill has passed both chambers and gotten signed into law since 2010.

That earlier bill, written by Nelson and Texas Republican U.S. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison, remains the agency’s blueprint for operations and planning, including authorization to build America’s biggest, most powerful rocket ever, the Space Launch System, and a space capsule called Orion, which would be used to take astronauts to Mars.

S. 3346 also requires continuation of the SLS and Orion programs, as well as the agency’s commitments to encourage the development of private space companies and programs, and to turn over much of the lower-Earth orbit business to them. That includes ferrying astronauts to the International Space Station, starting as early as next year.

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U.S. Senate approves Everglades restoration plan

The U.S. Senate passed a wide-sweeping water bill Thursday that includes $1.9 billion for Everglades restoration projects.

The Senate approved the $10 billion water projects bill 95-3, with both Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio supporting the proposal. The measure authorizes 29 projects in 18 states for dredging, flood control, and other projects overseen by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The Central Everglades Planning Project was among the projects included in the bill. It includes a series of engineering projects designed to reduce discharges from Lake Okeechobee.

“This is a big win for Florida,” said Nelson in a statement Thursday. “We’ve seen firsthand the effect these toxic discharges can have on Florida’s waterways and the local communities that depend on them. Getting this project approved is a significant step forward in our ongoing efforts to restore the Everglades and provide folks some much-needed relief.”

Algae blooms clogged South Florida waterways earlier this year, prompting Gov. Rick Scott to declare a state of emergency in Martin, St. Lucie, Lee, and Palm Beach counties in June. The executive order allowed state and local governments to take action to slow the spread of algae blooms in the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee estuaries.

The blooms have largely been blamed on increased discharges from Lake Okeechobee into the St. Lucie and Caloosahatchee rivers. The Army Corps of Engineers began releasing water earlier this year, after a wetter-than-normal January.

“Getting this Central Everglades Planning Project passed has been many years in the making, but it has taken on added urgency this year because of the toxic algae that is hurting our state,” said Rubio in a statement. “This Everglades project is one piece of the puzzle to dealing with the toxic algae, and we have more work to continue doing on that front.”

The water bill also included $322.7 million for Port Everglades dredging; $30.78 million for the Flagler County hurricane and storm damage reduction project; $113 million for the Picayune Strand restoration project; and authorizes the Army Corp of Engineers to conduct a feasibility study for the Daytona Beach flood protection project.

The bill now heads to the House for consideration.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Who’s to blame for lack of Zika funding? 50% of Floridians say Congress

Ask Floridians who’s to blame for the lack of federal funding for Zika, and the answer is clear: Congress.

A new survey from Public Policy Polling found 50 percent of Floridians said Congress was to blame for the lack of funding to combat Zika. The findings were released just one day after the Senate rejected a $1.1 billion funding proposal.

Senate Democrats once again blocked the measure, which included provisions that would have restricted funding for Planned Parenthood. It marked the third time the Senate voted on — and rejected — the measure.

“Let’s stop this monkey business,” said Sen. Bill Nelson in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday. “Let’s stop these political games. Let’s stop these political riders. Let’s do what the Senate did three months ago when it passed — bipartisan by 69 votes — $ 1.1 billion in emergency funding, and send it down to the House and tell the House to stop playing these games.”

Floridians appear to agree lawmakers should pass a clean Zika funding bill. The vast majority of respondents, 80 percent, said they supported passing a clean bill to fund efforts to combat the spread of Zika.

There were 713 cases of Zika in Florida as of Tuesday. According to the Florida Department of Health, 80 of those cases involved pregnant women and 56 cases were locally transmitted. The remainder of the cases were travel-related.

“My message to both parties and both chambers for this month is simple and straightforward: Zika is not a game. And if you think it is, then you should take your game somewhere else. This issue is about human beings, not political chess pieces, and we have a duty to solve it,” said Sen. Marco Rubio in a statement on the Senate floor Tuesday. “It won’t stop until Congress does what is necessary to respond to this public health crisis. Enough waiting. Enough games. Congress needs to act and it needs to act now.”

Public Policy Polling surveyed 744 likely voters between Sept. 4 and Sept. 6. The survey had a margin of error of 3.6 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Ask Floridians who’s to blame for the lack of federal funding for Zika, and the answer is clear: Congress.

A new survey from Public Policy Polling found 50 percent of Floridians said Congress was to blame for the lack of funding to combat Zika. The findings were released just one day after the Senate rejected a $1.1 billion funding proposal.

Senate Democrats once again blocked the measure, which included provisions that would restricted Planned Parenthood. It marked the third time the Senate voted on — and rejected — the measure.

“Let’s stop this monkey business,” said Sen. Bill Nelson in a speech on the Senate floor Tuesday. ““Let’s stop these political games. Let’s stop these political riders. Let’s do what the Senate did three months ago when it passed – bipartisan by 69 votes – $ 1.1 billion in emergency funding, and send it down to the House and tell the House to stop playing these games.”

Floridians appear to agree lawmakers should pass a clean Zika funding bill. The vast majority of respondents, 80 percent, said they supported passing a clean bill to fund efforts to combat the spread of Zika.

There were 713 cases of Zika in Florida as of Tuesday. According to the Florida Department of Health, 80 of those cases involved pregnant women and 56 cases were locally transmitted. The remainder of the cases were travel-related.

“My message to both parties and both chambers for this month is simple and straightforward: Zika is not a game. And if you think it is, then you should take your game somewhere else. This issue is about human beings, not political chess pieces, and we have a duty to solve it,” said Sen. Marco Rubio in a statement on the Senate floor Tuesday. “It won’t stop until Congress does what is necessary to respond to this public health crisis. Enough waiting. Enough games. Congress needs to act and it needs to act now.”

Public Policy Polling surveyed 744 likely voters between Sept. 4 and Sept. 6. The survey had a margin of error of 3.6 percent.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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Miguel Diaz de la Portilla widens fundraising lead in SD 37

Miami Republican Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla built on his fundraising lead in the Senate District 37 race against Democratic Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, with another $15,000 in contributions between Aug. 13 and Aug. 25.

The second-term senator took in 16 contributions over the two-week period, including three $1,000 checks from private prison company The GEO Group and its subsidiaries. To date, the campaign has raised $613,810.

The campaign also took in $19,500 in “in kind” support from the Florida Republican Senatorial Campaign Committee, mainly for staffing, and didn’t spend any money during the reporting period, leaving Diaz de la Portilla with about $479,000 on hand.

Rodriguez raised $11,618 during the pre-primary reporting period, including $1,000 from service industry group SEIU Florida.

The income was offset by more than $60,000 in expenditures, $54,000 of which when to Chicago-based Snyder Pickerill Media Group for an ad buy. On Aug. 25, Rodriguez had about $187,000 in his campaign account.

According to district statistics, there are more registered Republicans than Democrats in SD 37, though President Barack Obama won re-election in the district by 7 points. During the same cycle, U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson won re-election by 13 points.

Neither Rodriguez nor Diaz de la Portillia faced a primary challenger for the seat, which covers the northernmost stretch of the Miami-Dade coastline.

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Retailers, health care gives Rick Scott committee big boost in August

The political committee backing Gov. Rick Scott has raised $135,000 in the second week of August, according to newly filed reports.

Since Aug. 6, “Let’s Get to Work” brought in $50,000 apiece from Sovereign Healthcare Disbursements and Wal-Mart, with an additional $25,000 coming from the Florida Retail Federation and $10,000 coming from Bradenton-based BI Services.

The income was offset by just $3,500 in expenditures between Aug. 6 and Aug. 12, including $1,882 in printing expenses to Gandy Printers and $1,565 for accounting services from Carroll and Company CPAs.

The haul shows a slight uptick from the last reporting period, covering July 30 through Aug. 5, when the committee brought in $112,500 and spent about $60,500.

The new numbers show “Let’s Get to Work” with about $1.67 million on hand Aug. 12.

Florida candidates and committees face a Friday deadline for filing reports for the period.

Scott cannot run for re-election due to term limits, though the two-term Republican may be eyeing a 2018 run for the U.S. Senate seat currently held by Bill Nelson.

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37% of likely Florida GOP primary voters back Mike Huckabee for governor in 2018

It’s never too early to think about the next election, and a new poll from St. Pete Polls has Floridians doing just that.

According to the survey, 54 percent of likely Republican primary voters said Gov. Rick Scott would make a good U.S. Senator. The survey found 16 percent of respondents said they were unsure, while 30 percent said he wouldn’t be a good senator.

Scott can’t run for re-election again in 2018 because of term limits. While he’s been mum on his future political plans, many Florida insiders believe he is gearing up to challenge Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018.

Scott’s political committee — Let’s Get to Work — continues to raise money, raising nearly $1.9 million in the first seven months of 2016. He’s also become the chair of a pro-Donald Trump super PAC, giving a larger presence on the national stage.

With Scott vacating the Governor’s Mansion in a few years, speculation has already begun about who will replace the Naples Republican come 2018.

While Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam is widely believed to be gearing up for a 2018 gubernatorial run, other possible contenders include CFO Jeff Atwater, Attorney General Pam Bondi, House Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran, and Mike Huckabee, the former Arkansas governor and a Florida resident.

When it comes to the governor’s race, 37 percent of likely Republican primary voters said they would vote for Huckabee; while 26 percent stated that they would pick Bondi. Nearly 8 percent of voters said they would pick Putnam, while nearly 7 percent said they would vote for Atwater.

About 1 percent of voters said they would vote for Corcoran, 3 percent stated that they would pick former St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Baker, and less 1 percent said they would vote for former House Speaker Will Weatherford.

Seven percent of voters polled said they would vote for someone else. And with more than two years until the election, 12 percent of respondents said they were unsure who they would vote for.

The survey was conducted Aug. 2 and polled 1,835 likely Republican primary voters through an automated calling system. Voters were chosen at random from the state’s registered voting lists. The margin of error is 2.3 percent.

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The company you keep: Sam Rashid turns up at Marco Rubio Tampa fundraiser

An old proverb goes: “You are the company you keep.” Another saying, not quite as old, is “stop saying dumb things on social media.”

That last one is a bit of wisdom Marco Rubio might have imparted on Republican activist Sam Rashid during Thursday’s $500-a-plate “Day One Marco” fundraiser in Tampa.

Florida’s junior Senator has been very busy this summer, crisscrossing the state in his re-election effort. That means pressing a lot of flesh. So it should come as no surprise to see Rubio meeting with a wide range of supporters coming out for the GOP front-runner.

Nevertheless, when Rubio made his way to Tampa this week, one name stood out above the rest in the high-profile host committee: Sam Rashid.

Rashid, for those not familiar, has had a long — and infamous — reputation on social media, and is also a well-known figure in Rubioworld.

To put it another way, Rashid and Rubio are more than just Facebook friends; and that might not be a good thing.

Listed among the hosts were such big names as lobbyist Michael Corcoran and his brother, incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, as well as former Speaker Will Weatherford and Ambassador Mel Sembler and his wife Betty.

However, no one on that list has a more colorful online profile as Rashid.

For example, Rubio appointed Rashid last year to a committee advising both Rubio and U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson on judicial appointees. It didn’t last long.

Rashid resigned in May 2015, after he was criticized for a Facebook post calling some local judges “dumbasses.”

Later, Rashid infamously resigned again in October, this time from the Hillsborough County Aviation Authority, after he called Tampa-based public relations consultant Beth Leytham a “taxpayer-subsidized slut.”

Apparently, Rashid doesn’t think people actually read the things he posts on Facebook.

Gov. Rick Scott had appointed Rashid to the Aviation Authority in June 2014 and was reportedly under immense pressure to fire him for the comment about Leytham.

Instead of showing remorse for his blatantly misogynistic remark, Rashid doubled down, stubbornly refusing to apologize for the slur that led to his resignation.

So when a notorious Facebooker like Rashid appears at the top of a Rubio host committee — $5,400 to be a “Day One Marco Supporter” — it makes one wonder.

Is this really the company Rubio wants to keep?

7.28.16 TPA Invite_Page_17.28.16 TPA Invite_Page_2

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Lauren Book challenges Florida Democratic delegation to remember why they came to Philadelphia

One of Florida’s newest state Senators, Lauren Book, addressed the Florida Delegation Breakfast Thursday at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia.

“Why are each and every one of you here today?” she challenged delegates shortly after her introduction. The Broward County Democrat was following such notables as Howard Dean and Terry McAuliffe.

“Why have you traveled a thousand or more miles to participate over the last few days? What is your motivation to be among this group of super Democrats? It’s taken a lot to get here.”

She answered her own question by saying that it might be because of a passion for protecting a woman’s right to choose, to help Democrats to win back the Congress, or perhaps stop the epidemic of gun violence.

Or it was simply to help Hillary Clinton become the first woman to hold the highest office in the land.

Book won her first bid for public office last month in state Senate District 32 when no other candidate filed by the qualifying deadline.

Although she’ll be a freshman when the Legislature convenes in 2017, she’s already a well-known quantity both in Tallahassee and throughout the state, after making a name for herself as a vocal advocate on behalf of victims of childhood sexual abuse.

In 2007, Book founded Lauren’s Kids, a nonprofit which aims to teach children and adults about sexual abuse prevention through education, awareness campaigns and speaking engagements around the world.

She’s also the daughter of the extremely wired-in Ron Book, considered one of Florida’s most influential lobbyists.

While some delegates chatted among themselves quietly as Book began to speak, halfway through her address, the entire room hushed as she told her own tale of sexual and emotional abuse, which began at the age of 11 at the hands of a nanny.

“I was scared. Embarrassed. And ashamed. I felt trapped. And very, very alone.”

Book noted that it took six years for her to tell others about the abuse. “I grew stronger!” she exclaimed to loud cheers from delegation members.

Ninety-five percent of sexual abuse is preventable, Book said, through education and awareness. Her annual treks across Florida — now totaling more than 9,000 miles walked — helped bring awareness to the issue of sexual abuse. Book then mentioned those who had walked with her: Oscar Braynon, Arthenia Joyner, Bill Nelson, Bob Buckhorn and others.

As was the overall theme of the convention, Book gave some love to Hillary Clinton. She cited specifically the newly-nominated presidential candidate’s work with the Children’s Defense Fund, which lobbied Congress to pass the Education for All Handicapped Children Act in 1975. The Act requires all public schools accepting federal funds to provide equal access to education, as well as one meal a day free for children with physical and mental disabilities.

Book added that while in office, she intends to continue advocating for policies protecting women’s health, expanded access to mental health services and strengthening Florida’s criminal justice system.

“As we stand at the convention tonight,” she concluded, “and watch Hillary Rodham Clinton become our nominee … I am going to ask each and every one of you to ‘remember your why.'”

“Remembering your why” — or finding the meaning of your life through impactful events — was the topic of a Ted Talk Book gave earlier this year in Oxford, England.

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