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October 24, 2017

Republican senators officially designate Bill Galvano as Senate prez, he promises two years focused on innovation

Galvano family
Florida Senate Republicans formally announced their support of Bradenton state Sen. Bill Galvano as their next leader Tuesday, selecting him to be Senate president in November 2018 if they hold the majority in the next elections.

Galvano, 51, a lawyer who grew up in Bradenton as the son of a golf pro, has been on a leadership trajectory since 2002, when he was first elected to the Florida House. He told the Senate chamber, filled with fellow lawmakers, supporters and family members, that his goal for his tenure was to focus on innovation to move the state forward.

He said his father, Phil Galvano, an innovator in the golf world, used to tell him, “Remember to play the hole we’re on,” he said. Today, that means focusing on repairs to infrastructure, roads, waterways and utilities in the wake of Hurricane Irma, he said.

But in the long term, Galvano said his focus will be on “better ways to do things — innovation. Innovation to prepare us to move boldly and strongly into the next century, to stand out as a leader in how we incorporate and how we serve the millions that come to visit us and come to stay with us, including our friends from Puerto Rico.”

He named his political committee “Innovate Florida” and since 2013 has raised $7 million to amass support, pay for his presidency race and reward supporters.

The two-year president’s position is one of the three most powerful positions in state government, in charge of a Republican-controlled chamber that has 24 Republicans to 16 Democrats but has become increasingly divided along ideological issues. He will lead the political campaign to maintain the majority in one of the most active mid-term elections in recent Florida history, with open seats for governor and entire Cabinet being heavily contested.

Galvano thanked his mother, Betty, 82, for leading him to public service. He spoke of his father, the son of Sicilian immigrants, who became one of the nation’s top golf instructors with a list of clients that included celebrities like Johnny Carson and Perry Como. Galvano hosts an annual golf tournament each spring and has raised more than $3 million for Manatee County schools.

When Galvano told his dad he was running for office, Phil Galvano replied: the good thing about that is “you’ll get to find out for sure how many people don’t like you.” Story here. 

Photo: Michael Galvano, Jacqueline Galvano, Julie Galvano, Betty Galvano, Bill Galvano and Michael Galvano pose for a family portrait after Bill Galvano was designated by Republicans to be the next Senate president. 

Replacing Miami’s beach sands costs millions. Here’s how Congress could make it cheaper

Before and after 7

@alextdaugherty @joeflech

Miami is out of sand.

Last year, Miami-Dade County depleted its offshore sand reserves, meaning miles of beaches that shrink from erosion must be replenished with sand from outside South Florida.

Rebuilding Miami’s beaches after Hurricane Irma will cost millions of dollars, and sand will have to be brought in by hundreds of trucks from a sand mine near Lake Okeechobee due to a longstanding federal law that prohibits local governments from importing foreign sand.

County officials say that sand from the Bahamas can be easily transported to Miami by barge, and importing foreign sand could save taxpayers millions. A bill dubbed the Sand Act that would overturn the restrictions on sand is being sponsored by Republican Sen. Marco Rubio and Democratic Rep. Lois Frankel of West Palm Beach and is cosponsored by every member of Congress from South Florida.

“It’s such an archaic provision in the law, it’s many, many years old,” Frankel said.

But Frankel’s bill, which allows foreign sand and dredging companies to compete with American firms for sand replenishment contracts, faces opposition from the domestic dredging and sand-mining industries.

“There’s resistance from the trucking and drudging industries because they make money; obviously they are saying they will lose money if there’s legislation,” Frankel said.

Frankel said that no other member of Congress has personally voiced opposition to the proposal, but “a lot of things go on behind the scenes.” One of the largest domestic dredging companies that frequently wins contracts in Florida, Illinois-based Great Lakes Dredge and Lock, is opposed to the proposal and has spent $165,000 in 2017 lobbying Congress on dredging-related issues, according to Senate lobbying records.

A representative for Great Lakes did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Sand Act was introduced at the beginning of this year’s hurricane season, before Irma washed away about 170,000 cubic yards of sand from Miami-Dade’s beaches. The amount of sand washed away, about the equivalent of 12,000 truckloads, was less than expected but will still cost millions to replace.

“We’re very lucky with regards to response for Hurricane Irma, it wasn’t catastrophic for us,” said Paul Voight, co-beach program manager for Miami-Dade County.

Currently, contracts for beach renewal projects in South Florida are awarded by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. Dredging and sand companies bid, and the Corps awards the contract. The most recent contract awarded in Miami-Dade County was $8.6 million to truck in 140,000 cubic yards of sand to replenish a stretch of Sunny Isles Beach. The federal government is covering 63 percent of the cost, with the remainder split between Miami Dade-County and the state of Florida.

But Miami-Dade officials argue that the only option left under current law is trucking in sand, because the county’s offshore sand reserve is gone. Other coastal counties in Florida have ample offshore sand reserves that could be dredged, but their governments don’t want to share with Miami.

“We’ve depleted all of our offshore sources of cheap sand,” Voight said. “The problem is the domestic dredging industry is lobbying strongly against it.”

Read more here. 

Bill Nelson blasts FEMA response in Florida and Puerto Rico



Sen. Bill Nelson sharply criticized the Federal Emergency Management Agency on Tuesday, arguing that the federal government isn't doing enough to get inspectors out to damaged properties and help people who are still displaced. 

in a 15-minute speech on the Senate floor, Nelson said it takes too long for people to reach FEMA by phone, and that the agency is caught up in bureaucracy. 

"People are suffering and people are hurting," Nelson said. "Red tape just should not stop anyone in this country from having a safe place to live."

Nelson also referenced a Miami Herald report detailing that 50,000 people waited in Tropical Park last week for special food stamps handed out to Hurricane Irma victims. 

"People are getting desperate," Nelson said."There were 50,000 people waiting at a center in South Florida and many were turned away after waiting in the heat for hours and hours. And then the next day, it was the same story in another city." 

Nelson's remarks come as the Senate is expected to pass a $36.5 billion hurricane relief package this week. The package was passed by the House two weeks ago and will likely not include $2.5 billion in specific funding for Florida's citrus industry and direct funds to help Puerto Rico, elements that Nelson and Sen. Marco Rubio argued must be included into a relief package now. 

The White House has said a third relief bill will likely come sometime in November. This week's relief package must be passed to keep the federal flood insurance program afloat and fund FEMA.

"I hope very much that in November...we’re going to pass a new thing, and it’s going to have this money in there to help them," Rubio said in a speech on Monday. "That would be fantastic. But we all know how this place works, and I just don’t know why we couldn’t do it now." 

Nelson also said it's taking too long for FEMA to get inspectors out to damaged properties in the Florida Keys and Southwest Florida. 

"You call FEMA, you're supposed to get a FEMA representative and you have to wait and wait and wait," Nelson said. "The last time we checked, the expected wait time to get a housing inspector is 45 days. That's too long for families to wait for an inspector." 

As Maria's evacuees seek Florida driver's licenses, there's a catch

TALLAHASSEE -- As tens of thousands of newly-arriving Puerto Ricans slowly rebuild their lives in Florida, one of their first steps is to apply for a Florida driver’s license.

The state is working with county tax collectors to help evacuees work through red tape and apply for licenses, a critical first step to getting a job in the state.

But an Orlando-area lawmaker says the state should be doing even more to help Hurricane Maria’s victims.

Rep. Bob Cortes, R-Altamonte Springs, wants Gov. Rick Scott to waive the $48 fee for a Florida license.

“They‘re coming from Puerto Rico with no money in their pockets,” Cortes told the Times/Herald. “And we’ve already set a precedent in Florida.”

What Cortes is referring to is the governor’s decision to waive various other fees, such as the Department of Business and Profession Regulation’s charges for more than 50 types of professional licenses -- fees that DBPR Secretary Jonathan Zachem has described as “burdensome.”

The Department of Education is waiving teacher certification fees and higher out-of-state tuition.

Cortes, whose parents relocated from Puerto Rico to New York City when he was a child, says the license fee should be set aside for another reason: If evacuees apply for a state ID card, that’s free under state law because new arrivals are considered homeless. A first-time license costs $48.

“Governor Scott is continuously working to find ways to help Puerto Rican families displaced by Hurricane Maria and coming to Florida,” Scott‘s office said in a statement. “Our office will continue to release updates on action the state is taking at the direction of Governor Scott to assist these families.”

The Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has dispatched four mobile units to the Orlando and Miami airports. The FLOW (Florida Licensing on Wheels) vehicles are all staffed with bilingual examiners and are open seven days a week until 7 p.m. Evacuees applying for licenses can also register as voters.

As evacuees arrive at one of three state-run disaster recovery centers in Orlando and Miami, the first thing they see is a large colorful sign that reads: “Governor Rick Scott welcomes you to Florida.”

On Sunday alone, the agency issued 83 licenses and 41 state IDs at the DRC located at Orlando International Airport, and 189 other evacuees had license-related questions.

Under Florida, Puerto Ricans can legally drive in Florida with their original licenses. They can also apply for a temporary 180-day license. But Cortes said a lot of Florida employers want to see a Florida driver’s license from job applicants.

UNF poll: Rick Scott and Bill Nelson are in virtual tie, but 20 percent of voters haven't decided

Scott and nelson
Nearly a year out from an expected match-up between Democrat U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson and Republican Gov. Rick Scott for the U.S. Senate, a new poll shows the race appears to be a virtual tie, with non-partisans leaning toward Nelson.

The survey of registered voters expected to vote in November 2018 found that 37 percent say they plan to vote for Nelson in what may be one of the most high profile races in the nation, while 36 percent plan to vote for Scott, the termed-out governor who is expected to challenge the three-term incumbent.

Not everyone is watching, however. Pollsters found that 20 percent of voters surveyed Oct. 11 through 17 don’t know who their choice will be.

“Like most statewide races in Florida, the senate race between Nelson and Scott is going to be too close to call all the way until Election Day,” said Michael Binder, faculty director of the Public Opinion Research Lab at UNF. Story here. 


As he ascends to Senate presidency, Galvano says he's looking for 'innovative new ideas'

Bill Galvano 1019
By Hannah Morse and Richard Dymond

There were signs in 2009 that then-Florida House Speaker Ray Sansom had used his power several years earlier to funnel tens of millions of taxpayer dollars to Northwest Florida State College in Niceville, including $6 million for an airport building that a private developer wanted to use for his corporate jet business.

Although Sansom insisted he had acted properly, the man who was then chairman of the House’s Select Committee on Standards of Official Conduct did not agree and was relentless in moving the rule and ethics violation allegations forward.

That chairman was a lawyer from Bradenton named Bill Galvano.

Galvano will replace Joe Negron as Florida Senate president in 2018 and become the person who sets the agenda and priorities for the Senate, appoints committee chairs, references all the bills and negotiates with the federal government. 
His colleagues and community leaders believe he fits the bill. Story here. 

DJJ chief defends agency against Herald investigation, calling abuses 'isolated' in face of reforms

Christy DalyDepartment of Juvenile Justice Secretary Christina K. Daly came out swinging against the Miami Herald Monday, saying the Fight Club investigation that uncovered the use of excessive force and other misconduct by agency staff involved “isolated events” that “will not overshadow” the accomplishments she and others have made.

“I’m not here to deny, defend or diminish any of the tragic incidents that have been highlighted, but I am here to give you the whole story,” Daly told the Senate Criminal Justice Committee before she presented a 25-minute slide show outlining reforms she said the agency has worked on for the past decade when Daly was chief of staff and then deputy secretary, before being named secretary by Gov. Rick Scott.

“I will not let a newspaper series overshadow the accomplishments we’ve made,” she said. “I cannot, and will not, let an article overshadow the thousands of dedicated staff who come to work every single day with a positive attitude, knowing they will change the lives of the children we serve.”

Daly said the reforms have contributed to Florida having the lowest juvenile arrest record in 40 years and the lowest frequency of youth offenders returning to prison in recent history. The agency’s screening, assessment, and diversion programs are considered a model for the nation, she said.


DJJ is “the most transparent it has ever been,” she said, and it’s focused on reforms that put the most resources into the most difficult cases. She showed slides of children’s rooms with colorful bedspreads that replaced drab institutional rooms, and offender uniforms of khakis and polo shirts that replaced orange jumpsuits. Story here. 

October 23, 2017

Gov. Rick Scott seeks environmentally-friendly budget for 2018

Gov. Rick Scott’s spending priorities for 2018 continue to take shape as he enters his final year in office with a major statewide election on the horizon.

The Republican governor wants the Legislature to increase spending on environmental programs by more than $220 million next year. Scott planned a visit to the Audubon Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary in Naples for the announcement.

Scott wants to spend $50 million on Florida Forever, a popular land preservation program that conservationists have said has received too little money in recent years. He wants nearly $40 million more for state parks, a $36 million uptick in beach restoration programs to $100 million, and $55 million for springs restoration.

Scott’s record on the environment has been controversial on issues ranging from climate change to offshore oil drilling. Early in his tenure, he called for major budget cuts to the state’s five regional water management districts, and in non-election years he called for budget reductions in the Department of Environmental Protection.

However, Scott’s appointment in May of Noah Valenstein as DEP secretary won praise from environmentalists, including Audubon’s Eric Draper, who was with Scott for Monday’s announcement in Naples.

“I do think this is the year for environmental spending,” said Draper, who has walked the halls of Florida‘s Capitol for decades. “It’s a great budget for the Everglades. He (Scott) is following through on his commitment to springs and he’s stepping up for land conservation and for parks.”

Draper added: “My job as an advocate is to take advantage of these election-year moments and to try to get everything we can.”

Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, has filed a bill for the 2018 session to increase Florida Forever spending by $100 million.

The Legislature zeroed out new money for the program in last spring’s regular session.

Nearly two months ago, Senate Appropriations Chairman Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, renewed his call for $50 million more for beaches. Latvala, a candidate for governor, proposed a similar program in the 2017 session, but it faltered in the House.

Scott will leave office in January 2019. He’s widely expected to challenge Democratic U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in 2018.

The governor’s call for more environmental money is his fifth spending initiative in recent weeks.

He has also called for pay raises for juvenile detention and juvenile probation officers; a separate $4,000 starting pay raise for state troopers at the Florida Highway Patrol, an agency long hampered by rampant turnover due to low salaries; $50 million more, shared between the state and the federal government, to battle the opioid epidemic, and $1 million for enhanced security at Jewish day schools in Florida.

Report: Miami and Pinellas lead state in diverting youth offenders; rest of the state fails

Juvenile crime cjusteThe number of youth arrested for low-level crimes like shoplifting, vandalism or possessing marijuana dropped significantly in the last year as counties across the state turned to diversion programs to keep first-time offenders from cycling back into trouble.

But the innovative use of so-called “civil citations,” which replace jail time with programs often involving community service and counseling, is so uneven in Florida that a new report released Monday by the nonpartisan “Stepping Up 2017” gives most of the state an “F” grade.

“The data shows the state is moving in the right direction, but at a slow pace,” said Dewey Caruthers, president of The Caruthers Institute, a St. Petersburg-based think tank that conducts the annual study. “Many counties also are moving in the right direction, albeit sluggishly.”

To see interactive map and download report, click here.

For the second year in a row, Miami-Dade and Pinellas counties outperformed the rest of the state by issuing civil citations to 94 percent of all kids caught in low-level crimes, including underage drinking, disorderly conduct, vandalism, loitering, school fights and possession of alcohol or marijuana.

And, for the second year in a row, the counties with the worst record were Duval, Hillsborough and Orange, as they together compromised 24 percent of the more than 8,700 youth arrests in 2016.

The report — the third annual study of its kind by a broad ideological coalition that includes the Southern Poverty Law Center, the James Madison Insitute, the ACLU and several other state and national advocacy groups — builds upon research that shows that when first-time offenders are given alternatives to arrest, they can avoid a criminal record that diminishes their opportunities in school, jobs, housing and when obtaining loans and credit. More of the story here. 

October 20, 2017

State Department identifies two more victims of mysterious sonic attacks in Havana

@PatriciaMazzei @ngameztorres

The U.S. State Department added two more victims to the list of diplomats who have suffered mysterious attacks in Havana.

The number of Americans affected is now 24.

“Based on continued assessments of U.S. government personnel, we can confirm 24 persons have experienced health effects from the attacks,” State Department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said. “As we have said previously, an investigation into the attacks in Cuba is ongoing, and we revise our assessments as we receive new information.”

According to Nauert, the assessments are based on medical evaluations of personnel who were affected by incidents earlier this year, not by new attacks.

The most recent medically confirmed attack occurred in late August, she said. The spokeswoman said the government cannot rule out that new cases may emerge “as medical professionals continue to evaluate members of the embassy community.” 

The State Department has warned Americans not to travel to Cuba because of the alleged attacks on its personnel in Havana. The victims have reported a variety of symptoms ranging from hearing loss and headaches to brain damage. In particular, the agency warned Americans of staying away from Hotel Capri and Hotel Nacional de Cuba in Havana, where some of the attacks took place.

More here.

Photo credit: Olivier Douliery, TNS File