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Jeff Vasilinda becomes the Vasilinda Family’s first published author!

Florida’s Hospitality Industry Lost 4,300 Jobs in August

September 17th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda
Florida’s unemployment rate dropped by a tenth of a percent in August down to 5 percent.
The state added to its total number of jobs, but one of the state’s most important industries lost jobs for the first time since the state began its economic recovery from pandemic lockdowns.

Florida added 15,500 jobs overall and 65,000 Floridians rejoined the labor force in August.
“We continue to see people encouraged to come back into the labor market,” said Adrienne Johnston Chief Economist for the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.
Job growth in August fell short of the more than 68,000 jobs added the previous month, but state economists are still optimistic about the economic recovery.
“We’ve had several months of continued growth in both payroll employment and in labor force growth,” said Johnston.
The jobs Florida added in August account for about 6.6 percent of the jobs added nationwide, about on par with the state’s share of the US population.
It wasn’t all good news in the August report.
The leisure & hospitality sector, one of the state’s most important economic drivers, took a step in the wrong direction and lost 4,300 jobs.
The industry had been on a steady path to recovery since the state reopened last summer.
“That number certainly was disappointing. We are just starting to dig into what the underlying causes may be,” said Geoff Luebkemann, Vice President of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
Luebkemann said there is anecdotal evidence the Delta wave played a role.
“We’ve heard some people express a reluctance to come into a crowded setting,” said Luebkemann.
According to Luebkemann, the Delta variant didn’t slow demand, but it did make it more difficult to hire and retain employees.
“Throughout the summer we did see that improve somewhat, but now it’s definitely retracted a little bit as reflected in this latest jobs number,” said  Luebkemann. “Most of our operations are understaffed. Nothing is more discouraging to a hospitality person than to have a line at the front door and a half empty dinning room, and tell people you have to wait.”
The Restaurant and Lodging Association is hopeful the job losses in August will be short lived, so long as cases continue their downward trend.

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Watch Dogs Warn ‘Hurricane Tax’ Could Drive Up Insurance Rates

September 16th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Tax watch dogs are sounding the alarm about a provision in President Joe Biden’s proposed tax plan that they’re calling a ‘hurricane tax’.

They warn without changes, property insurance rates could increase by more than a billion dollars statewide.

A new report suggests the average Florida family could see property insurance costs increase by as much as $319 a year under President Biden’s recently announced tax plan.

“Everyone’s going to pay this,” said Dr. Lars Powell, Director of the Alabama Center for Insurance Information and Research at the University of Alabama.

Dr. Powell authored the report.

He said the 15 to 28 percent minimum global tax rate proposed in Biden’s plan could drive up costs for insurance companies, which would then be passed along to consumers.

“These things don’t happen in a vacuum. You can’t just say, well we’re going to increase your costs by 10-12 percent, but we don’t want you to increase your prices,” said Powell.

They’re calling it the ‘hurricane tax’ because the impact would be felt most heavily in disaster-prone states like Florida.

“The President wanted to keep it, tax no one above $400,000,” said Florida TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro.

Calabro argued the cost would be felt by every Floridan, no matter their income level.

“This would severely impact people with incomes substantially below 400,000 and be very much against the very foundation that President Biden said he wanted to enact,” said Calabro.

It’s projected the hurricane tax would drive up annual property insurance costs by $10 billion nationwide and as much as $1.6 billion in Florida alone.

“Everybody’s prices go up when insurance premiums go up because everybody’s got to buy insurance for something,” said Powell.

Fiscal watch dogs argued by either eliminating the global minimum tax rate altogether, or by creating an exemption for insurers, the increased costs could be avoided.

The tax plan is still in its early stages, and the groups we spoke with told us they’re hopeful changes can still be made prior to a final tax package being approved by Congress.

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State Publishes Vaccine Passport Ban Rule

September 16th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

A Florida Department of Health rule that took effect Thursday imposes $5,000 fines on businesses, governments and educational institutions that require proof of a vaccine to enter their premises.

There is also concern about a looming federal rule that could do just the opposite.

Any business or government in Florida that requires proof of a vaccination to enter now faces a a $5,000 fine for each person they ask.

Florida restaurants told us that’s the last thing they want to do.

“Asking a hostess at the hostess desk to start asking the customer when they are coming in to have dinner to see their private medical information, and that’s where we don’t feel its appropriate,” said Carol Dover, President of the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.

Representative Anna Eskamani was one of 36 no votes in the House.

She worries tourism won’t fully rebound unless people fee safe.

“Having vaccine requirements around some of these more luxury experiences, if you will, will help insure the events actually happen,” said Eskamani.

As written, the legislation allows a fine of up to $5,000, but in its new rule, the Department of Health rule sets it at the maximum.

Restaurants are also concerned by a coming federal rule requiring employers of 100 or more to require vaccines or negative tests.

The problem for restaurants is they are already short staffed.

“Members of ours are really panicking over this because they might have a 110 employees, but they have more than ten employees telling them if you do that, we’re not coming to work,” said Dover.

The legislation also prohibits a vaccine from being required to enter a public building.

Leon County and several local governments are requiring their employees to be vaccinated by October first, and the Governor is threatening fines.

Any business that is fined will have the right to an administrative appeal.

So far unclear, is whether the Department of Health will set up a tip line for complaints.

A request for information went unanswered.

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Goodbye Justice Grimes, 93

September 15th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida said goodbye to the 46th Chief Justice of the Florida Supreme Court Wednesday.

Stephen Grimes was appointed to the high court in 1987 and served as Chief Justice between 1994 and 1996.

Stephen Grimes died at the age of 93.

He was known for being a straight shooter.

“We remember and honor the model of public service that he exemplified through his habits of true humility, steady leadership, and quite dedication,” said Florida Chief Justice Charles Canady.

On his first day on the job, when the new Justice parked in the lot behind the court, his unfamiliar car was towed.

“The humility came in Justice Grimes reaction. He made no fuss. He waited patiently. He did not display anger,” said Canady.

In 1994, information officer Craig Waters went to the then-Chief Justice, educating him on the internet and what it could do.

“What we told him the internet was a who new medium, just like television and radio are media. And he accepted that, which was a unusual at the time,” said Waters.

“And that’s how the Florida Supreme Court became one of the first courts in the world to have a presence on the internet,” said Canady.

Fast forward six years and the court was the epicenter of the disputed 2000 election.

“We had reporters standing in line for two hours or more, trying to get paper copies, when their home offices had already gotten the pdf’s and already reported them,” said Waters.

After leaving the court, Grimes resumed his high profile legal career.

He retired five years ago at the age of 88.

Asked how he liked retirement, he reportedly responded that he loved the practice of law.

Those who knew Justice Grimes told us they never never knew his political leaning.

It was something as a judge he never talked about.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Newly Available COVID Data Not Enough to Quell Public Records Lawsuit

September 15th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

This week, county-level COVID deaths stats have been made available for the first time since Florida shutdown its daily COVID dashboard in June.

A state lawmaker suing the state for access to more data believes his lawsuit may have something to do with it, but data scientists aren’t so quick to call foul play.

The new White House COVID-19 Community Profile Report includes a break down of deaths in Florida by County.

It’s the first time the detailed information has been included for roughly three months.

“It is not a coincidence,” said Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith.

Representative Smith, who is suing the state for access to more detailed COVID data, said the timing of the release is suspect.

“They have a history of only sharing information and public records after they’ve been sued,” said Smith.

The Governor’s Office responded accusing the Representative of politicizing COVID data.

“It is disappointing that anyone – including activist groups and lawmakers – would question the integrity of Florida’s public health professionals by inappropriately politicizing their important work,” said DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw.

The Department of Health also pushed back, blaming the lack of Florida data appearing in the White House reports on the CDC.

“The Department continues to provide, and has provided, CDC county COVID-19 data since March 2020.We do not have control over the display of these data by CDC,” said DOH Communications Director Weesam Khoury in an emailed statement.

USF Epidemiologist Dr. Jason Salemi said he finds the department’s defense credible.

“Undoubtedly the Department of Health has been reporting this information,” said Dr. Salemi. “My suspicion is, maybe the Department of Health didn’t even know it wasn’t being updated until they were finally informed.”

Representative Smith told us even with the county by county death data now available, his lawsuit will still go forward.

That’s because he’s seeking detailed demographic breakdowns on the county level for hospitalizations, cases and deaths.

“Some of these specific breakdowns, particularly by age, are very important as our kids are returning to school,” said Smith.

Salemi and Smith both agree, more data is never a bad thing.

“There’s always going to be somebody who wants more and more data, and I’m one of those people,” said Salemi.

Smith’s lawsuit is scheduled for a hearing Monday afternoon.

The Department of Health had no comment regarding the case.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

COVID Numbers Improving, But May Be Short-Lived

September 14th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Daily COVID cases and hospitalization numbers have steadily dropped over the past three weeks in Florida, but infections disease experts say the reprieve could very well be short lived.

Daily case averages are at their lowest point since late July and hospitalizations are lower than they’ve been since early August.

That comes as great news to Governor Ron DeSantis.

“The fortunate news is we’re seeing the declines all across the state,” said Governor Ron DeSantis at a Tuesday press conference.

The Delta wave brought the highest daily case numbers and hospitalizations since the start of the pandemic.

Infectious disease experts we spoke with told us while they knew Delta would be bad, they didn’t predict it would be as devastating as it has proven to be.

“Three out of our ten deaths that have been recorded in Florida have been since Delta,” said Dr. Christopher Uejio, a public health expert at Florida State University.

And while recent numbers may be painting an optimistic picture, UF epidemiologist Dr. Cindy Prins pointed to last year’s winter spike as reason Floridians shouldn’t let their guard down.

“I think we’re still going to see another peak associated with that Thanksgiving and also winter holiday travel. So it’s a worry. We’re much closer to that than we were last year and we may not get a really good break from this,” said Dr. Prins.

Last year’s winter spike was worse than that seen over the summer.

Experts we spoke with said individual decisions will determine whether this year follows the same path.

“If everyone is trying to see their family members in the state over the holiday break, we should expect another increase again,” said Dr. Uejio.

CDC models project Florida’s current Delta wave will bottom out in October, roughly the same time period the state began experiencing its winter wave last year.

Both scientists we spoke with agreed COVID isn’t likely going away any time soon.

They said ultimately vaccinations and natural immunity will hopefully reduce case loads and improve health outcomes to a tolerable level.

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Vaccine Mandate Showdown Coming

September 14th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Vaccine mandates remain in place for employees of Leon, Florida’s Capital County, following the Governor’s threat of a $5,000 fine per-employee.

County administrators are not backing down.

Leon County Administrator Vince Long said the county is sticking with a requirement that all employees be vaccinated or face being fired on October first.

“We have a responsibility to ensure a ready work force in Leon County to ensure that our work force is ready and prepared to respond to the needs of our community,” said Long.

But the Governor continues to see the mandate differently.

“We shouldn’t deprive someone of their livelihoods and their jobs based on this issue,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.

Language in an emergency management bill this year appears to allow the governor to invalidate city and county measures.

Long said federal decisions are on the county’s side.

“Well, the courts have held that vaccinations do not infringe on peoples rights or liberties. So, that’s what we hang our hat on,” said Long.

So far there have been 36 exemptions granted to employees, mostly for medical reasons.

Having had the virus won’t get an exemption.

We met Daniel at the county work facility, but he wouldn’t give us his last name.

”I’ve been vaccinated and I know a few that don’t and won’t, but not very many,” said Daniel.

We also talked to a man who asked to remain anonymous.

He is not a county employee, but faces a similar mandate.

“I think that’s one step away from telling somebody, hey, you’ve got to lose x or y number of pounds if you want to work at this establishment,” the man told us.

Like many of the COVID-era requirements, unless one side backs down, the only resolution here appears to be in the courts.

Leon County said the vaccination rate among its 750 employees has gone from 50 to 80 percent since the mandate was announced six weeks ago.

In addition to the county, several cities have also mandated a shot.

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Florida Commemorates 23rd Annual Missing Children’s Day

September 13th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

For the 23rd time, Florida commemorated Missing Children’s Day at the State Capitol Monday.

Florida is ahead of most other states in its efforts to recover children when they go missing.

It was a bittersweet day for the families that came.

It forces them to relive their tragedy, but also allows them to seek solace from the only other people who know what they truly have gone through.

“And we will never abandon the search for missing children,” said Commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Rick Swearingen.

Florida had the first missing Children’s clearing house in the nation, and of the 25 search teams certified nationally, Florida is a leader.

“Florida is privileged to have seven of those, making our state a model,” said Swearingen.

The board behind the ceremony was created following the 1995 abduction, rape and murder of Jimmy Ryce.

Both of Jimmy’ parents have passed, but they always believed Jimmy would have been found if a bloodhound had been close by, and they made it their life’s work to make dogs available.

“We’ve given out over 700 dogs nationally, in fact we even have one in South Africa,” said Mark Young, Director of the Ryce Foundation.

While hurt and emotion were on display at the ceremony, it is the same families that come back year after year.

“It get’s his picture out there, it’s not an easy thing to do,” said Billie-Jo Jimenez, aunt of Zachary Bernhardt who disappeared in 2000.

Roy Brown has been placing a yellow rose next to his daughter Amanda’s picture for 20 years.

We asked what makes him keep coming back.

“For my daughter. You know, I am friends with all these families,” said Brown.

The hope here is that no new pictures will be added to the list of missing before next year’s remembrance.

FDLE’s Missing Children’s Clearing House sent out 19 Amber Alerts last year.

Those alerts were directly responsible for the recovery of seven endangered children.

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Districts Keep Mask Mandates, Despite Ban Back in Force

September 13th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The state’s school mask mandate ban is back in effect and it’s unlikely to change before the end of the school semester, but parents are pushing for a quick resolution in the courts and school districts requiring masks say they aren’t backing down.

With the original ruling blocking the mask mandate ban back on hold the Florida Department of Education is free to continue withholding school board salaries in districts bucking the state.

“Universally they were all very disappointed with the ruling,” said Charles Gallagher, an attorney representing parents who are suing the state.

But Gallagher said the parents haven’t given up hope.

They’ve requested the case be heard by the Florida Supreme Court.

“We’ll probably hear back I’m sure from that in a number of days,” said Gallagher.

The Governor’s Office however, remains confident the state will ultimately prevail in the courts.

“We remain confident that we are right on the law, and the Department of Education will continue to enforce against violations of the rule now that the injunction has been stayed by the appellate court,” said DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw in an emailed statement.

Even with the mandate ban back in place, school districts with mandates have said they’re not changing their policies.

“We’re going to continue to manage our school system the way we have since the beginning of the school year,” said Dr. Carlee Simon, Superintendent of Alachua County Schools.

Dr. Simon said thanks to a new grant from the federal government, districts will be able to supplement any funding withheld by the state.

“Those of us who have been penalized financially have a direct route to have that money replenished,” said Dr. Simon.

The state is fighting a multi-front battle between administrative challenges, multiple lawsuits and now a civil rights inquiry by the US Department of Education investigating whether the mandate ban violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

“This is probably a misuse of taxpayer funding to have this many battles going on, considering we have many people who are in support of the mask mandate.”

But the Governor’s Office told us it’s committed to continuing the fight.

“Governor DeSantis will continue to stand up for parents’ rights to make health and educational decisions for their own children, including the choice to wear a mask to school or not,” said Pushaw.

And while the school mask mandate debate continues to play out in the courts, COVID cases have steadily declined over the past three weeks.

Although positivity rates among Floridians between the ages of 12 and 19 remain the highest of any age group.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

State Banking on Appellate Courts in Multiple High Profile Cases

September 10th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Governor Ron DeSantis scored a key victory in the school mask mandate case Friday.

The First District Court of Appeal put the ban back in effect while the case moves forward.

DeSantis has been fairly consistent in his predictions on a wide array of lawsuits filed against the state, essentially calling the trial court is a crapshoot, but a guaranteed victory on appeal.

“That’s just kind of the way the cookie crumbles,” said DeSantis is a press conference earlier this week.

And that’s exactly how it has so far played out on the school mask mandate case.

The appellate court reinstating a stay on the lower court’s ruling all but guarantees the mandate ban will remain in effect for the rest of the school semester.

“Just like last year in the school re-opening litigation, the First District Court of Appeal has reinstated Florida’s ability to protect the freedom for parents to make the best decisions for their children while they make their own ruling on the appeal. We look forward to winning the appeal and will continue to fight for parents’ rights,” said the Governor’s Communications Director Taryn Fenske in an emailed statement.

This year the state also suffered defeats in trial courts on vaccine passports related to cruise ships, it’s social media censorship law and a law capping contributions to citizen initiatives.

Most recently the state’s anti-riot law was blocked by a federal judge.

“Knowing the court that was hearing it, it was no surprise at all,” said Representative Cord Byrd, who sponsored the anti-rioting legislation.

Byrd believes, like in the mask mandate suit, the state will win on appeal in most of the pending cases.

“I would expect that several of them will be reversed and we will get favorable rulings in the 11th, and if not then we’ll take them up to the Supreme Court,” said Byrd.

On the other hand, Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith is hoping to deliver another defeat with his lawsuit requesting detailed COVID data.

“The time for breaking the law and not releasing public records is over,” said Smith.

He also argued the state keeps losing in the trail courts for a reason.

“Because they keep doubling down on unconstitutional ideas,” said Smith.

The appeals process in both state and federal courts often takes many months, so at least for now, many of the trail court defeats will stick, but if history is an accurate guide they won’t stick forever.

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Sheriffs Praise Hiring Bonus Proposal

September 9th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

There is no database on how many law enforcement openings there are at the state level.

Neither the Florida Department of Law Enforcement or the Florida Sheriffs Association tracks the data, but the number is likely in the thousands, which is why new recruitment efforts are underway.

From one end of the state to the other there are job openings in law enforcement.

There are at least 350 law enforcement agencies in Florida.

If each one had just five vacancies, it would mean more than 1,700 unfilled positions.

There are twelve alone in rural Levy County alone, where Bobby McCallum is Sheriff.

“It doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is to a county my size and an agency my size,” said McCallum, who is also the President of the Florida Sheriffs Association.

Three years ago, two deputies were gunned down as they ate lunch at a diner in next door Gilchrist County, evidence the job is more dangerous than ever.

“It also is about the violence, and level of violence. Families being worried about their spouses being in this profession,” said McCallum.

Now the Governor is proposing $5,000 hiring bonuses and tuition at an academy to boost recruiting.

While Florida is considered police friendly because of bonuses and the anti-riot bill pushed through earlier this year, Sheriff McCallum did tell us the anti-police attitude nationwide is having an impact here.

“Sometimes they are waiting too long and they put themselves in jeopardy, and they bypassed on that because they’ll think in the back of their mind, hey, I’m gonna get sued,” said McCallum.

Speaking in Walton County Thursday, Governor Ron DeSantis told reporters the cash itself is important, but there’s more to his proposal than just the money.

“The fact that we are doing that shows that we stand by and we appreciate them,” said DeSantis.

Lawmakers must still approve any bonuses.

The bonuses can also be a double-edged sword, if they end up attracting officers who have been forced out elsewhere for questionable behavior.

Sheriff McCallum said out-of-state agencies aren’t always as forthcoming as those in Florida.

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Mask Mandate Lawsuit Faces Pivotal Ruling

September 9th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Attorneys representing parents suing the state over its school mask mandate ban have until 8PM Thursday to submit their arguments to convince an appellate court not to allow the mandate ban to remain in effect as the case moves forward.

The court’s decision will have lasting impacts, but there are plenty of other challenges to the mandate ban also in play.

In last year’s school reopening lawsuit, the First District Court of Appeal reinstating a stay was the moment things turned in the state’s favor.

“To this point the cases have kind of mirrored the same process,” said Andrew Spar, President of the Florida Education Association, which led the school reopening lawsuit.

Spar said it’s difficult to predict if the appellate court will also stay the ruling in the mask mandate case.

“But again, you know you’re talking about an appellate court that is appointed by the Governor,” said Spar.

If the appeals court reinstates a stay on the ruling that blocked the mask mandate ban, it’s likely the ban will remain in place for the rest of the school semester.

“It’s not a matter of days or weeks, most likely it’s a matter of months,” said Charles Gallagher, an attorney representing parents who sued to overturn the mask mandate ban.

Gallagher is cautiously optimistic there won’t be a repeat of last year.

“This is going to be a length of time that is a window unguarded for kids to get COVID if there is a stay in place,” said Gallagher.

A ruling from the Appellate Court could come as early as Thursday evening.

Last year, it took less than 24 hours for the stay to be reinstated.

Even if things don’t go in parents’ favor, school boards have filed their own challenge in administrative court, looking to strike down the Department of Health Rule requiring parental opt-outs.

“We’re really looking at it as one of the steps in our process,” said Alachua School Superintendent Dr. Carlee Simon.

Alachua is one of four school districts that have filed the administrative challenge.

Simon said the battle over mask mandates is just beginning.

“This seems to be a new area for education law and my anticipation is that there’s much more to come,” said Simon.

There’s also a federal lawsuit arguing the mask mandate ban violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A Hearing was held Wednesday and an initial ruling is expected soon.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

School Mask Mandate Ban Blocked Once Again

September 8th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The fight over school masking is heating up in the courts with a Judge lifting the automatic stay on his ruling that blocked the state from enforcing its mandate ban.

The order is now back in effect, but the mandate ban could soon be back in force.

Judge John Cooper said allowing his ruling to take effect wouldn’t cause any substantial harm to the state, but he said continuing to allow the state to ban mask mandates in schools could harm students and districts.

“We have a variant that’s more infectious and more dangerous to children than the one we had last year,” said Cooper.

Cooper said his ruling came down to ensuring the state followed the parents bill of rights, the same statute used to justify the mandate ban in the first place.

The law allows government bodies to override the rights of parents if a policy is narrowly tailored, serves a compelling state interest and isn’t served by less restrictive means.

“The bottom line is, this case is about enforcing the laws the Legislature passed,” said Cooper.

Cooper also pointed out his ruling allows the state to challenge local mask policies, so long as districts are provided due process.

“To permit the local school boards to meet their burden under the statute,” said Cooper.

However, Cooper’s ruling might have a short shelf life.

“It’s in the hands of the First District Court of Appeal,” said Cooper.

Last year in the school reopening case, the Appellate Court overruled a different judge’s decision to lift an automatic stay within 24 hours.

There was more than one challenge to the state’s mask mandate ban heard Wednesday though.

Just a few hours after Cooper adjourned his hearing, a Federal Judge in Miami heard arguments in a case alleging the mandate ban violates the Americans with Disabilities Act.

A ruling in that case is expected soon.

We reached out to the Governor’s Office for comment on the two cases, but didn’t hear back in time for this story.

Alachua, Broward and Orange County School Districts have started a new battle in administrative court, filing a challenge to the Department of Health rule requiring parental opt-outs from mask mandates.

Miami-Dade Schools also filed a similar challenge.

Neither case has been scheduled for a hearing yet.

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Realtors Punt on Constitutional Amendment

September 8th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

After spending more than $2.7 million on a petition drive to create more affordable housing, Florida Realtors are dropping the effort.

The move faced significant opposition from top legislative leaders.

Florida realtors launched the amendment drive in June, seeking to restore affordable housing’s share of documentary stamp revenues.

“Every single year a portion of the housing trust funds are swept into the states general revenues,” said Christina Pappas with the Florida Realtors Association.

State and national realtors put $13 million into the kitty, but they angered legislative leadership.

In July, incoming Senate President Kathleen Passidomo didn’t mince words.

”I said to them, I’ll be honest with you, you’ve declared war on the Florida Legislature,” said Passidomo.

Next came high level conversations with the legislative leadership who oppose most amendments that tie legislative hands.

“We had no agreements to do anything,” said Passidomo. “You should never budget in the constitution. That’s what they do in California, and it creates issues.”

Realtors got the message.

Late Tuesday they folded on the petition drive, and said they will instead push for a legislative solution to the affordable housing crisis.

Now, the plan is to prioritize affordable housing for first responders and other front line workers.

“We did an analysis and there are very few of the first responders…the front line workers , nurses, teachers, etc. that are participants in the Ship and Sail programs, so we need to ask why,” said Passidomo.

Passidomo did tell us that the realtors didn’t waste the $2.7 million they’ve already spent because it is what brought everybody to the negotiating table.

Earlier this year, legislation changed how revenues from real estate transactions are divided up.

Now, more than $200 million will go to affordable housing every year.

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Reliving 9/11 in Florida

September 7th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Saturday marks the 20th anniversary of the 9-11 terrorists attacks.

It was a day that saw the State Capitol shut down and tourism crash.

Florida played a central role in the ensuing investigation.

Then-Governor Jeb Bush and the six Cabinet members were meeting off site across town for a regular monthly meeting on September 11th, 2021.

After the planes hit, notes were exchanged and the Governor was given a cell phone.

“Let me find an office where I can talk we can make a quick decision on this. What’s your feeling about it,” said Governor Bush at the time.

The decision was made to close the 22-story Capitol and the 17-story education center.

“And the fact that it is a high profile building, it is probably appropriate to evacuate the building,” said Governor Bush.

Even after commercial planes were flying again, few people did, prompting Jeb Bush and his wife to take a trip to show it was safe.

“Without commercial aviation, this state won’t survive,” said Bush.

Florida US Senator Bob Graham and Southwest Florida Congressman Porter Goss led the investigation into the intelligence failure.

Twenty-eight pages of their final report remain classified today.

The 28 pages implicate the Saudi government.

“That chapter relates to who financed 9/11. I think that’s a critical issue,” said Graham in April of 2016.

Graham, who authored the pages, has been seeking their publication ever since.

“The American people need to know, so that they can make an assessment of who are our real friends and allies, and who are people who are really willing to stab us in the back,” said Graham.

After 19 years of secrecy, those 28 pages could soon be made public, likely within the next six to eight months.

Six days after the attack, trading on Wall Street resumed.

The market dropped more than seven percent and the state pension fund dropped by $5 billion.

Today it remains one of the strongest pension funds in the country, totaling nearly $200 billion.

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