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State Capitol’s Confederate Monument Under Fire Once Again

July 23rd, 2019 by Jake Stofan

There are renewed calls for the removal of a confederate monument on the grounds of the State Capitol.

An African American state representative has said she will push for the relocation of the monument dedicated to Confederate soldiers.

The obelisk-style monument was dedicated in 1882 and moved onto the grounds of what is now the Old State Capitol in 1923.

The words etched into the stone dedicate the monument to preserving the memory of men of who fought for Florida in the Civil War.

“Floridians served all across the theaters of war,” said David McCallister with the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

McCallister has ties to soldiers on both sides of the war.

“These monuments represent the men who served their state and defended their families,” said McCallister.

But for social justice advocate Lakey Love, who often holds protests on the steps of the Old Capitol steps, the monument has a different meaning.

“Inequality, inequity and violence against black and brown people in this country,” said Love.

State Representative Geraldine Thompson said she plans to work with the Governor’s Office and possibly file legislation to relocate the statue.

She said she’d support moving it inside of the Old Capitol, which is now a museum, or to a Confederate cemetery.

Thompson said a plaque explaining the context of Florida’s involvement int he Civil War would take the monument’s place.

Florida has shied away from Confederate symbols at the Capitol in recent years.

The Confederate flag was removed from the Senate seal and the Confederate flag that once flew in front of the Capitol was taken down nearly two decades ago.

But McCallister condemned the call for relocating the monument.

“It’s hateful. It’s representative of a far radical left-wing agenda,” said McCallister.

Before the monument could be moved it still needs to be concluded who actually owns it.

When called to move the statue after Charlottesville, then-Governor Rick Scott said it was the Legislature that would need to act, but that was disputed by then-Senate President Joe Negron.

A bill filed to protect Confederate monuments didn’t get a hearing this past legislative session, but in 2018 lawmakers did approve construction of a memorial to enslaved Floridians on the Capitol grounds.

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Concealed Carry Application Time Drastically Reduced

July 22nd, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The Department of Agriculture says wait times for concealed carry permit applications have been drastically reduced since Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried took office in January. 
 
The Division of Licensing says there’s been a culture change under the new administration that’s resulted in the increased speed, but some gun rights activists are skeptical.
The printer that’s used to create concealed carry licenses is a behemoth of a machine, taking up a quarter of a room.
 
It prints off about 2,000 each day, but Division of Licensing Director Stephen Hurm said it’s people, not the machine, that have made drastic reductions to application wait times.
“They just do a great job,” said Hurm.
Hurm said streamlining the process and changing the culture in the Division helped make it possible.
Part of that included abolishing a rule that used to require employees who made more than two mistakes to be automatically terminated.
“We celebrate them doing it well and we want them to work together and enjoy what they’re doing,” said Hurm.
There are more than two million people approved to cary concealed by the State of Florida. 
 
Applications increased 76% in 2019, with nearly 20,000 per month.
Even with the greater workload, wait times for applicants with no issues on their records have been reduced from 50 days to just one day since the start of the year.
For applicants with issues, its been reduced from three months to 25 days.
Despite the decrease in wait times and increase in application Commissioner Nikki Fried said the Division of Licensing has reduced overtime costs by 87%.
However, some like JD Johnson, who has helped train more than 10,000 people to carry concealed are skeptical of the new numbers touted by the Division.
“Time will tell. I mean that’s my take on it,” said Johnson, who owns Talon Range in Midway Florida.
Despite the hesitation, Johnson said he has seen some positive signs.
“A couple weeks ago I went and renewed mine and I was in and out in about 15 minutes, but that was a renewal,” said Johnson. “I’ve had the permit for seven years and I went in and it was just really a smooth easy process.”
The Division said by the end of the year it will have filled 25 new positions approved by the Legislature during the 2019 session. 
 
It hopes the new employees will ensure the turnaround time for applications stays low.

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Mariana Residents Ready for Dozier Saga to Come to a Close

July 19th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Researchers with the University of South Florida are nearly a week into their investigation of 27 possible graves identified in April at the former Dozier School for Boys in Mariana. 
The team is headed by Dr. Erin Kimmerle, a forensic anthropologist at the university.
“The only way to really know is to excavate so that’s what we’re doing and we’ll see what it is,” said Kimmerle.
The excavation is the latest chapter in the 111-year Dozier saga.
Reports of child abuse and the discovery of 55 human remains on the school grounds cast a shadow of controversy over the town of Mariana during the first dig in 2013.
“You’re being branded as if this is a concentration camp city and the entire community felt under attack,” said Art Kimbrough, the Former CEO of the Jackson County Chamber of Commerce who has been intently involved in the Dozier saga.
Kimbrough said the community reaction to the new excavation is nothing like what was seen in six years ago.
“It’s much more of an intellectual exercise this time than it is an emotional exercise,” said Kimbrough. “Let’s just do the things needed to bring proper and permanent closure to this matter.”
Survivors of abuse at the reform school believe more bodies will be found. 
Even if the 27 anomalies don’t end up being human remains, ground penetrating radar will map the entire campus, to end the speculation once and for all.
“And that’s why the community leaders have been so for getting the answers and doing it right this time, because it does bring closure when you have truth and the answers,” said Kimbrough.
When the school closed its doors in 2011, it also put more than 200 employees out of work. 
 
Community leaders hope the Dozier property can eventually be repurposed for new industries to move to the area.

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Mental Health Education Will Now Be Required in Florida Schools

July 18th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The State Board of Education voted to make the Mental health education mandatory in Florida schools Wednesday.
The move comes almost a year and a half after the Parkland shooting sparked a push for greater access to mental health services for students.
Melanie Brown-Woofter with the Florida Council on Community Mental Health said it’s common for adolescents to struggle with mental health problems.
“Adolescents with all the hormones is a time when emotions are awry,” aid Brown-Woofter.
The new plan aims to teach students how to identify and report mental health issues they or their peers may be experiencing.
“And then also give them an idea of where resources are and how they can get help,” said Brown-Woofter.
Starting in 6th grade Florida schools will be required to provide five hours of mental health education to students each year.
Florida’s First Lady is credited with proposing the idea.
She and other state officials have spent the last three months holding listening session on mental health across the state.
Fedrick Ingram with the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teacher’s union, said the new plan is a step in the right direction.
“Mental health services are important. Important for students, important to our schools, our teachers and important to stop some of the things and some of the atrocities that we’ve seen,” said Ingram.
While Ingram applauds the new focus on mental health, he pointed out there are still many open ended questions surrounding how the new program will be implemented.
“What the courses are going to look like, who are going to be the actual teachers,” said Ingram.
Brown-Woofter said she hopes schools will make use of mental health resources and professionals already available.
“We have individuals who are trained who can easily go out and be able to be in the classroom with these kids and also can be the referral to help the children seek the services they need,” said Brown-Woofter.
The program is supposed to be in place for the upcoming school year, which is only about a month away.

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USF Researchers Give Glimpse into Investigation of 27 Possible Graves at Dozier

July 18th, 2019 by Jake Stofan
USF researchers investigating 27 possible graves at the former Dozier School for Boys in Mariana are giving the public the first look at the dig since beginning their work earlier this week.
The investigation was ordered by the Department of State following a routine environmental cleanup on the former school grounds that accidentally identified the anomalies while using ground penetrating radar.
USF forensic anthropologist, Dr. Erin Kimmerle is heading the investigation.
She said the length of the dig will depend on what they find.
“We take the soil off in very small layers in order to expose it, you know very controlled methodology, and document what’s there. So if something turns out to be a human burial then obviously that stops and the process becomes very slow,” said Kimmerle. “If it’s not a human burial, if it’s something like tree roots or buried trash or other things the process can go a little bit quicker because ewe still document it, but move on.”
More than 40 remains of former students were uncovered in 2013, but a group of surviving Dozier students known as the White House Boys have insisted more boys still remain on the grounds.

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FDLE Reviewing Whether CFO Violated the Law

July 17th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement has confirmed it is reviewing a complaint that alleges Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis violated the law by releasing a harassment complaint to the public while the case was still open.

The complaint was filed against Florida’s now suspended top financial regulator Ronald Rubin.

Patronis released a redacted version of the complaint, despite the form guaranteeing confidentiality.

Attorney Tiffany Cruz said her client was able to be identified despite the redactions.

“It’s no service to the employees filing these complaints. It gives very little confidence to future victims of sexual harassment, male or female, that when they report and expect their reports to be confidential that is what will happen,” said Cruz.

Cruz called on the state’s Attorney General Ashley Moody to investigate the possible violation.

Instead Moody referred the complaint to the Inspector General overseeing the case against Rubin.

After making no determination on whether or not Patronis violated the law, the Inspector General for the Department of Financial Services referred the case to FDLE.

Feeling the heat, the CFO’s Office finally issued a statement Wednesday.

In the three-part legalize explanation the Department of Financial Services’ General Council Peter Penrod asserted the release of the sexual harassment complaint was proper because the identity of the victim was redacted.

But this isn’t the first time Patronis has come under fire for potentially violating the privacy of a sexual harassment complainant.

In 2018, Patronis released a report on another complaint, in which the victim’s name was initially unredacted.

Cruz also represented the victim in that case.

She said the report was used to pressure Rubin’s predecessor, Drew Breakspear to resign.

“That is very similar to what is now happening. We have two valid complaints of sexual harassment being utilized by an Executive member to further whatever agenda that he may have,” said Cruz.

Patronis has called for the firing of Rubin to be discussed at the next meeting of the Governor and cabinet, which is scheduled for July 25th.

Both Rubin and his predecessor Breakspear have made their own allegations against Patronis.

Rubin alleges he was ousted for not hiring someone Patronis had recommended.

FDLE confirmed last week that it had received information regarding Rubin’s complaint.

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Immigration Groups File Suit to Block Sanctuary City Ban

July 16th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

A coalition of immigrant advocacy groups have asked a federal court to block the state’s new sanctuary city ban in a lawsuit filed this Tuesday
The suit comes less than three weeks after the state’s ban on sanctuary cities became law.
Attorneys with the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC) are leading the challenge.
 
Scott McCoy with the SPLC said the law is fundamentally unconstitutional.
“It’s unconstitutional because it is preempted and foreclosed and conflicts with federal immigration law, which is where immigration law rests,” said McCoy.
The suit asks for the law to be temporarily blocked while the case makes its way through the court system, arguing immigrant communities face an immediate harm.
“People who are not documented are going to be in the shadows even more,” said McCoy. “They’re going to be distrustful of law enforcement and that’s not going to serve public safety.”
Supporters of the legislation have challenged critics’ concerns, asserting undocumented immigrants only need to worry if they’ve committed a crime.
Senate sponsor Joe Gruters told us in May the goal of the law is to ensure compliance with federal immigration detainers.
“To make sure that these bad criminals are held up and are detained when required,” said Gruters.
But the lawsuit alleges the law goes further.
 
It specifically points to a line that directs law enforcement to, ‘Use best efforts to support the enforcement of federal immigration law’.
McCoy said the vague language could lead to racial profiling because police won’t know exactly what is expected of them.
A similar law passed in Texas was challenged and upheld by a Federal Appellate court.
However, McCoy said Florida’s sanctuary city ban lacks certain protections to mitigate racial profiling that were present in the Texas law.
“If a local law enforcement officer sees a brown person… there’s an increased likelihood that under this kind of a law, they’re going to approach that person not necessarily because they were doing something wrong, but because they’re being racially profiled,” said McCoy.
The law partially went into effect on July first, but the enforcement side of the ban doesn’t take effect until October.

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70-Year-Old Ballot Order Law Challenged by Democrats

July 15th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Democrats are taking the state’s election system to Federal Court. 
 
They’re challenging a law that requires candidates belonging to the party of the current Governor to be listed first on the ballot.
20-year Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho, who is testifying in the case, said the ballot order has an effect on results.
“The individual who’s listed first gains an advantage,” said Sancho.
 
The Primacy Effect as it’s know, is at the center of the lawsuit filed by Democrats.
 
They allege 20 years of Republican-led tickets have cost them multiple tight races.
“They’re saying that we can wipe out this permanent benefit, which one party seems to be getting in the modern era,” said Sancho.
Democrats’ conducted a study in 2017.
 
It showed candidates listed first in a race get on average a 5 percent boost.
“And I think they were shocked when they found the results and that spurred them to action,” said Sancho.
While Democrats are the ones challenging the law, it was a Democratic controlled Legislature that passed the law back in the 1950’s.
“Because in the 1950’s the Democrats won all the elections. So they changed the election to gain an advantage,” said Sancho.
During the hearing Democrats who testified were asked why the party has not filed suit in Pennsylvania, which has the same ballot order law. 
 
The response was that Democrats didn’t have a vested interest in challenging the law in Pennsylvania because the current Governor is a Democrat.
However, Democrats want the judge to order a county by county rotation in Florida, where Democrats would be listed first in half of the state’s 67 counties and Republicans would be first in the other half. 
The order would rotate each year.
“So that one party is not permanently given a numerical advantage at the polls every year,” said Sancho.
The hearing is scheduled to continue through Thursday. 
The judge could rule to keep the law, order the county by county rotation or direct the Legislature to come up with its own solution.

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Opioid Deaths Down as State Celebrates Victory in Opioid Settlement

July 12th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The US scored a major victory in a lawsuit against a British opioid manufacturer, Thursday.

The news comes as new statistics Florida’s opioid crisis may be on the decline.

The latest interim report from the state’s Medical Examiners Commission shows there were nearly 300 fewer opioid deaths in the first half of 2018, compared to the first half of 2017.

“We are actually guardedly optimistic,” said Melanie Brown-Woofter, President of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health.

Brown-Woofter said the drop suggests Florida’s multi-faceted approach to tackling the crisis may be paying off.

“There’s increased training with emergency responders, with ED Departments (Emergency Departments) and with medical prescribers, so that prescribing patterns have changed,” said Brown-Woofter.

The report was released just days before the US Government solidified a $1.4 billion settlement with the British opioid manufacturer Reckitt Benckiser.

Florida was part of the lawsuit and could be entitled to a portion of the winnings.

$200 million will be dispersed among states involved in the case for Medicaid reimbursement.

Florida’s Attorney General Ashley Moody Tweeted the recovery,”Should send a strong message to anyone engaging in illicit conduct to increase drug dependency.”

The Attorney General will also have access to additional tools to aid in the state’s current and possible future lawsuits against opioid manufacturers and distributors, thanks to a law passed during the 2019 legislative session.

The law allows Moody to access to the state’s prescription drug monitoring database.

Despite the victories, Florida’s opioid crisis is far from over.

“We’re still in the middle of an incredible epidemic and we need to continue the fight using all available resources so that we can eliminate it,” said Brown-Woofter.

The latest numbers suggest 17 Floridians continue to die each day from opioids.

The Commission’s report also showed deaths attributed to the potent opioid Fentanyl skyrocketed 65% between the first half of 2017 and 2018.

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Former Jackson County Sheriff’s Deputy Accused of Planting Drugs Has Bail Set at $169,500

July 11th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

A fired Jackson County Sheriff’s Deputy charged with planting drugs on unsuspecting motorists was himself making a first appearance after his arrest on 33 felonies ranging from official misconduct to fabricating evidence to false imprisonment.

On Thursday, the fired deputy Zach Wester found himself in the same position he put at least nine other people in, sitting in jail, facing a judge setting his bond.

In addition to the nearly three-dozen felonies, Wester is also facing 19 misdemeanors.

His lawyers asked for a $51,000 bond.

“I don’t think there’s any thing to show he will not appear,” said Wester’s attorney Ryan Davis.

The judge more than tripled the defenses request, setting Wester’s bond at $169,500.

As part of any bail, the Wester may not have any contact with any of the victims.

Wester’s parents and wife watched the hearing near tears.

His father is a law enforcement veteran with the same agency.

“He obviously denies the allegations,” said attorney Tim Jansen, who is also representing Wester.

When asked how Wester could deny video evidence taken from his own body camera during a 2018 traffic stop, which appears to show Wester planting drugs in a woman’s purse, Jansen said the legal team had not seen any of the evidence yet.
“We requested a high monetary bond in this case because of the nature of the offenses. It was a pattern of ongoing conduct, and it went to the heart of the nature of the criminal justice system,” said prosecuting attorney Thomas Williams.

In Jackson County 119 cases have already been dismissed.

At least 14 cases in Liberty county, where Wester first worked, are also being thrown out.

But like all of the victims in this case, their records are stained with an arrest.

“I can’t say that even though they were arrested prosecuted, and maybe entered a plea,” said 2nd Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jack Campbell. “I can’t say they whether they were guilty or not because I no longer have confidence in the officer that was involved in that case.”

FDLE logged more than 1,400 man hours to make their case.

Prosecutors say they are ready if the defense requests a speedy trial.

However the case remains open.

FDLE has asked any other potential victims to come forward.

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Governor Requests Civil War Statue Be Swapped With Civil Rights Activist

July 11th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Rtz1fPMljCw&feature=youtu.be

On what would have been Mary McLeod Bethune’s 144th birthday, Governor Ron DeSantis formally requested a statue of the civil rights leader replace Confederate general Edmund Kirby Smith, who currently represents Florida in Statuary Hall.

“In 154 years of Statuary Hall, there has never been an African American to represent a state,” said Former State Representative Patrick Henry in 2018.

Henry sponsored Legislation that same year that formally approved Bethune to replace Smith, who had represented Florida in D.C. for nearly 100 years.

There was still the question of what would become of the general.

Towson Fraser was part of the committee tasked with picking a new home.

“We had three proposals, is my recollection,” said Fraser who sits on the Florida Council on Arts and Culture. “One of which was going to be in St. Augustine. One was actually a Jacksonville doctor who just wanted to put it in his home.”

The winning bidder was ultimately a Central Florida museum in Lake County.
“They made a real commitment to display the statue with the entire historical context,” said Fraser.

Despite the historical context included in the planned exhibit, there are some groups of Lake County residents who have protested the general’s move to their community.

But Fraser said the museum was ultimately the best choice.

“Where it could be displayed and the entire story could be told. Not just stuck in a warehouse somewhere, or as some of the other proposals, put in someone’s personal home,” said Fraser.

Bethune’s statue is currently being constructed in Italy by South Florida sculptor Nelda Comas.

It’s expected to be completed in 2020.

The cost of constructing the new statue was paid for by Bethune-Cookman University, which raised $400,000 to foot the bill.

Moving expenses for the general will be covered by Lake County.

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Court Ruling Threatens to Shake Up Florida’s Medical Marijuana Industry

July 10th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

A bomb shell ruling issued Tuesday is threatening to shake up the state’s medical marijuana business industry. 
The appellate court ruling has sent shockwaves through the state and it could lead to more competition in the marketplace.
The ruling found the state’s seed to sale model established in 2017 violated the amendment passed by voters the previous year.
“It’s significantly important,” said Jeff Sharkey with the Florida Medical Marijuana Business Association.
Sharkey said it could open the door for more specialized businesses to get into the marketplace.
“So if you want to be a grower, if you want to be a processor, if you want to be a distributor,” said Sharkey.
John Morgan, the crafter of the medical marijuana amendment, declared on Twitter soon after the ruling was issued the,  “War on weed is a thing of the past.”
After taking office, Governor Ron DeSantis was quick to criticize the state’s current system.
“They created a cartel essentially,” said DeSantis at a January press conference. “I don’t know that the amendment necessarily prohibits that, but that is not good policy.”
Even the architect of the seed to sale model, now Congressman Matt Gaetz took shots at his own work.
“We wrote the legislation that way not because it was necessarily best for patients, but it’s because that how we had to do it to get the votes,” said Gaetz at the same press conference.
The ruling also strikes down caps on dispensaries.
 
At last count, 22 growers licenses have been granted.
Ten license holders haven’t dispensed any medical marijuana.
However, the ruling  doesn’t open the door for unlimited licenses to be granted, which a lower court had ordered.
The court directed the Florida Department of Health to draft a new system more inline with the amendment.
“To have the department really think through what’s a reasonable number of licenses  to meet the 21 million people in Florida, the patients’ needs,” said Sharkey.
Ultimately the Legislature would likely have to pass a new law if the state chooses not to appeal the ruling.

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Deputy Arrested for Planting Drugs

July 10th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

A former North Florida Sheriff’s Deputy was arrested and charged with planting illegal drugs on unsuspecting motorists on Wednesday. 
 
The strongest evidence in the case is the Deputy’s own body camera footage.
In February 2018 Deputy Zachery Wester pulled over Teresa Odom.
 
He said her brake lights didn’t work.
He then asked if Odom would consent to a search of her vehicle.
The Deputy’s body cam video showed a white substance in his hand as he prepared to search. 
 
The drugs ended up in Odom’s purse, before he arrested her despite her cries that the drugs didn’t belong to her.
Months later prosecutors discovered the video.
 
Wester was suspended then fired. 
 
119 cases in Jackson County were dismissed soon after. 
 
When Wester was arrested in a Walmart Wednesday morning, the fired deputy was found with drug paraphernalia.
If convicted on all counts, the fired Deputy faces more than 100 years in prison.
“It’s an important case, not only for the victims, who spent time innocently, innocent victims who spent time in jail because of the actions of Mister Wester, but also for the law enforcement community,” said FDLE Spokesperson Gretl Plessinger.
Just outside Marianna in rural Jackson County, a billboard by Attorney Marie Mattox urged people to come forward. 
More than 30 have so far.
“Some of my clients have lost their children, lost their homes, they’ve been falsely imprisoned, and they have had tragedies in their lives because of what he’s done,” said Mattox.
Mattox said none of her clients ever asked about recovering money.
 
Instead, they just wanted to know when Wester be arrested.
“Very grateful for his arrest on behalf of my clients,” said Mattox.
In addition to the cases in Jackson County, 12 more in Liberty County were dismissed where Wester worked previously.
Wester remains in jail with out bail. 
 
He’ll have a first appearance Thursday morning.
 
The Department of Law Enforcement says the case is still open and is asking any additional victims to come forward. Deputy Arrested for Planting Drugs Faces 100 Years in Prison

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TaxWatch Says Florida Could Lose Billions if Undercounted in 2020 Census

July 10th, 2019 by Jake Stofan
Florida could loose out on billions of dollars from the federal government if the state’s population is undercounted in the 2020 Census.
That’s the message Florida’s lead fiscal watchdog, Florida TaxWatch, is emphasizing ahead of the constitutionally mandated headcount.
TawWatch highlighted a collaboration between the city of Tallahassee and Leon County Commission as an example other municipalities in the state should follow in order to ensure an accurate count.
TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro emphasized the important role counties and cities will play, since the state has thus far decided not to establish a census committee.
“This is a really critical fiscal issue. It’s a critical fiduciary issue and I really do believe, I’m not trying to defend anybody, but I think it’s ultimately a community based issue. Because when you get right down to it, who knows the neighborhoods? Not the state agencies. It’s the local communities,” said Calabro.
Tallahassee’s Mayor and the Chair of the Leon County Commission hold leadership positions at the Florida League of Cities and the Florida Association of counties.
Both said they plan to work to help other local governments prepare for the Census.

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Utility Companies Solidify Three-Year Hardening Plans, 10-Year Plans on the Horizon

July 9th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Storm hardening plans for 2019-2021 for Florida’s five major utility companies were approved by the Florida Public Service Commission (PSC) Tuesday morning.
 
“I love the detail that some of the initiatives and some of the utilities covered,” said PSC Commissioner Julie Brown. 
The plans set the short-term goals for under-grounding power lines and reducing outages during storms, but the power companies will soon be required to take a long-term view of storm hardening.
The PSC began requiring the three-year plans in 2006, after Florida took the brunt of eight hurricanes over a two year period.
Following Hurricane’s Mathew, Irma and Michael lawmakers demanded utility companies look further out.
 
State Senator Joe Gruters sponsored a bill with that goal, that was signed by the Governor in June.
“Every day that we have a third of our state down costs the state a billion dollars a year in lost economic activity,” said Gruters in May.
The new law is set to take effect later this year.
 
It will require companies to develop a 10-year hardening plan.
The focus will be on under-grounding power lines and vegetation management.
“It will hopefully make sure that Florida is ready for these storms in the foreseeable future and that we get people back up and running, power back on earlier,” said Gruters.
Under the new law, utility companies will be able to request rate hikes upfront on an annual basis to cover the cost of grid hardening, instead of having to recover the money after the work has already been done.
How large of an increase customers may see isn’t clear.
“The cost of things like under-grounding and hardening are included in the base rates that customers pay,” said Mark Bubriski with Florida Power and Light Company. “How that changes going forward still remains to be seen, but I think that this will enable additional investment for customers, which will have a long term benefit.”
Before the plans can be submitted, the PSC must go through a rule making process, which has to be complete by Halloween.
 
The Public Service Commission will also be required to report to lawmakers each year on the progress of the utility companies’ hardening efforts. 

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