March 13, 2014

Miami-Dade commissioner calls off vote on manatee protection revisions


A Miami-Dade commissioner withdrew from a vote Thursday proposed revisions to the county’s manatee protection plan that could have allowed more boat docks to be built along key local waterways.

But that doesn’t mean Commissioner Bruno Barreiro’s plan is going away.

Instead, he asked county staffers to informally send the proposals to state regulators so they may weigh in.

“Go up to the state, get feedback and come back,” Barreiro said, adding that would like to have a resolution in the next three months.

The commissioner had hoped the county would formally transmit his proposal to Tallahassee for approval or denial. But he acknowledged he didn’t have the support of his colleagues on the land use and development committee.

More here.

March 11, 2014

Miami-Dade may revise manatee protections


So protected are the gentle sea cows that roam the waters off Biscayne Bay that regulations have thwarted the marine industry’s growth and frustrated developers’ plans to build widespread docks for recreational boaters.

At least that’s the argument from boaters and industry groups seeking to loosen restrictions in place for nearly two decades to guard the endangered Florida manatee.

They have a powerful supporter: Miami-Dade Commissioner Bruno Barreiro, who has proposed revising the county’s manatee-protection plan to allow for more commercial and residential docks along key waterways.

“Where our plan was very rigid before, this one’s more flexible,” Barreiro said from the dais in January. “I want to give more encouragement to more boat ownership and more marine use.”

The revisions, scheduled for a public hearing Thursday, are not only opposed by environmental activists, who contend the new rules would put more boats on the water that could collide with the slow-moving mammals. Miami-Dade’s own regulators object to some of the proposed changes, which Barreiro concedes were based on recommendations from the marine and development industries.

“You’re trying to tell the state to make the boundaries less strict. That’s not what the data says,” said Lee Hefty, director of the county’s division of environmental resources management, DERM. “It would probably be a hard sell.”

More here.

February 26, 2014

DEP to Soto: You're wrong about oil drilling in the Everglades -- but maybe not region

Oil drilling in evergladesWe're a day late in getting to this post but the Department of Environmental Protection on Tuesday sent a biting response to the letter from Rep. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, asking them to halt permits for oil and gas exploration in the Everglades. 

In fact, Soto may have been trapped in a bit of semantics -- the permits appear to be issued on the edge of the Everglades not within the actual Everglades National Park as we know it. Nonetheless, DEP explained that the agency "has never even received an application for oil and gas exploration in the Everglades. In fact, there has never been a single permit issued for any oil and gas exploration in the Everglades."  Download DEP repsonse to Darren Soto re Everglades

"While there are challenges to restoration efforts in The Everglades, oil and gas exploration is not one of them," Vinyard wrote.

Vinyard may be technically right but his letter did not explain why there are investors hoping to search for oil on the western edge of the Everglades in Naples and in the Big Cypress National Preserve, as reported in the Saturday's Orlando Sentinel. 

In fact, the Miami Herald reported last year on the move by oil companies to purchase mineral rights for speculative oil drilling  covering massive swaths of Collier, Lee and Hendry counties -- which border the massive Everglades park. Environmentalists are concerned about the impact wells will have on groundwater in the ecologically-sensitive region, and on the wilderness prowled by endangered Florida panthers, black bears, wild turkeys and other wildlife.

Continue reading "DEP to Soto: You're wrong about oil drilling in the Everglades -- but maybe not region" »

February 24, 2014

Senator asks DEP to stop issuing oil drilling permits in the Everglades

State Sen. Darren Soto, D-Orlando, wants the state to stop allowing oil exploration permits in the Everglades until legislators have a chance to review the risks of the activity.

In a letter sent today to DEP Secretary Herschel Vinyard, Soto criticized the agency for allowing the permits "without meaningful dialogue" with legislators and characterized them as "a major change in policy." He also asked DEP to "clarify whether any of these permits relate to fracking or other similar methods. 

Here's the letter:

Continue reading "Senator asks DEP to stop issuing oil drilling permits in the Everglades" »

February 20, 2014

College sales tax proposal gains support

A bill that would allow Miami-Dade County to levy a half-penny sales tax to support two of South Florida’s biggest schools — Miami Dade College and Florida International University — is getting strong traction in the Florida Legislature, thanks to the lobbying of local lawmakers.

On Wednesday, the bill (HB 113) got the nod of another House committee. Three different committees have now approved the measure.

The bill’s next stop: the House floor for a vote.

“The state does not have the ability to keep up with the needs of students coming into Miami Dade College and Florida International University,” said state Rep. Erik Fresen, the Miami Republican who is sponsoring the bill. “This is a way to help them with construction, retrofitting and deferred maintenance.”

The sales tax would have to be approved by voters, and would last for only five years. It has the potential to raise as much as $224 million in annual revenue, according to a state policy analysis.

Read more here.

February 04, 2014

January 29, 2014

House, Senate leaders outline education priorities

Expect debates on vouchers, school grades and charter schools this year. 

Speaking to reporters Wednesday, House Speaker Will Weatherford, R-Wesley Chapel, said his priorities for the upcoming legislative session would include "restoring trust and integrity into the school grading system."

Parent groups (as well as some policy experts and superintendents) have called for an overhaul of Florida's A-F school grading system, saying the formula has become overly complicated and essentially meaningless.

Weatherford said he would also push for a "massive expansion of choice for families."

Step one, he said: expanding the Tax Credit Scholarship program, potentially to thousands of students, while considering new accountability measures.

What's more, Weatherford and Senate President Don Gaetz said they would prioritize expanding access to industry certification programs.

Gaetz, a Niceville Republican, noted that enrollment in industry certification programs had jumped from 954 students in 2008 to 61,730 students in 2013. He said he wants to remove the funding limit on Career and Professional Education classes, so that CAPE funding would be on par with Advanced Placement funding. 

Charter schools may also be on the agenda, especially if Sen. Bill Montford has anything to do with it.

Montford, a Tallahassee Democrat and CEO of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, raised concerns about charter schools involuntarily withdrawing students for poor academic performance and behavioral problems.

"Charter schools are public schools and I believe they should be held to the same standards," he said. 



November 18, 2013

Movers & Shakers

New member appointed to board overseeing oil spill disaster funds

Attorney General Pam Bondi has appointed Dr. Pamela J. Dana to the board of directors for Triumph Gulf Coast, Inc., which is now charged with creating and administering the recovery fund for disproportionately affected counties impacted by the Deepwater Horizon Disaster.

Eight counties that were most affected by the disaster are slated to receive the biggest amount from civil fines resulting from the oil spill, though 23 counties will receive a portion of the money.

Dana is senior strategic advisor for the Institute for Human & Machine Cognition, a Florida-based robotics research institute and she owns a charter sport fishing business in Destin. She served as the executive director of the Governor’s Office of Tourism, Trade, and Economic Development during Gov. Jeb Bush’s administration.

Judicial appointments

Gov. Rick Scott has appointed Giuseppina Miranda, of Fort Lauderdale, to the Broward County Court.

Miranda, 51, has been a general magistrate with the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit Court since 2007. Previously, she was a lawyer in private practice, and from 1999-2004, she served as an assistant state attorney in the Seventeenth Judicial Circuit.

Continue reading "Movers & Shakers" »

October 03, 2013

Contingent of Floridians plead to Congress to help troubled Lake O region


Florida’s top environmental regulator joined a contingent of state legislators and local officials on Thursday to demand that the  federal government turn over the money for Everglades clean-up, and release the reins on Lake Okeechobee to let Florida fix the polluted system that is destroying ecosystems.

At a four-hour hearing on the issue -- completed before the shots were fired in DC -- Florida’s Department of Environmental Protection Secretary Herschel Vinyard urged Congress to send Florida a check for the clean-up efforts in the form of a block grant and turn over management to the local water management districts.

“Fortunately, the water management district doesn’t have 200 years of regulations piled up on top of one another so they’re able to move a little faster,’’ Vinyard said at a hearing hosted by by freshmen Reps. Trey Radel, R-Fort Myers and Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter.

Continue reading "Contingent of Floridians plead to Congress to help troubled Lake O region" »

September 25, 2013

Scott urges Obama to visit Lake Okeechobee to 'see federal shortcomings'

In what is becoming a weekly habit, Gov. Rick Scott sent another letter to President Obama today; this time, urging him to come visit Lake Okeechobee to accelerate the federal financial and policy response to the threatened region. 

Here's his letter: 

Continue reading "Scott urges Obama to visit Lake Okeechobee to 'see federal shortcomings'" »