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“Sunburn — The morning read of what's hot in Florida politics — 1.7.20 - Florida Politics” plus 2 more

“Sunburn — The morning read of what's hot in Florida politics — 1.7.20 - Florida Politics” plus 2 more

Sunburn — The morning read of what's hot in Florida politics — 1.7.20 - Florida Politics

Posted: 07 Jan 2020 01:07 AM PST

Breaking overnight — "6.4 magnitude quake strikes Puerto Rico amid heavy seismic activity" via the Associated Press — The earthquake struck Puerto Rico before dawn on Tuesday, and was followed three hours later by an aftershock measuring 6.0. They are the largest in a series of quakes that have struck the U.S. territory in recent days and caused heavy damage in some areas. Eight people were injured in the city of Ponce, near the epicenter of the quake, Mayor Mayita Meléndez told WAPA television. Puerto Rico's power authority said on Twitter that one of the country's main power plants, which sits near the epicenter, had been damaged, but officials expect to restore power to the island later Tuesday.


Americans for Prosperity-Florida is launching a campaign to salute state lawmakers who sponsored legislation to cut red tape in occupational licensing, thereby reducing roadblocks to creating jobs.

As part of the campaign, AFP-FL will release a series of direct mail and digital ads in the respective districts of House and Senate members who are sponsoring a variety of measures to reform occupational licenses.

AFP-FL's campaign will include State Sen. Manny Diaz (for SB 1238) and state Rep. Ana Maria Rodriguez (for HB 729) for filing legislation to cut regulatory red tape; as well as Sens. Keith Perry and Diaz (for SB 1124), and Ben Albritton (for SB 474), and Reps. Paul Renner (for HB 707) and Michael Grant (for HB 3).

All those proposals seek to modernize, eliminate or streamline the current process of occupational licensing.

"Florida lawmakers have an opportunity to reduce barriers to opportunity to make it possible for Floridians to reach their full potential," said AFP-FL State Director Skylar Zander in a statement. "We're encouraged that these principled leaders in the Florida House and Senate are following the lead of Gov. Ron DeSantis to eliminate needless red tape and barriers to work. Our activists look forward to working throughout the upcoming legislative session to activate their communities to encourage their lawmakers to pass these policies."

AFP-FL argues that undue licensing — many of which don't have a direct impact on public health or safety — can limit job opportunities and entrepreneurship by keeping people out of occupations that require licenses. The group is urging policymakers to help reduce the scope of these licenses and remove them in areas where there is no discernible impact on public health or safety.


State Rep. Anna Eskamani, the only Iranian American serving in the Legislature, gives her take on the fallout from President Donald Trump's decision to take out Iran's top general with a drone strike

Also, on today's Sunrise:

— Medical marijuana may be legal in Florida, but you can still lose your job if you test positive for it. Two South Florida lawmakers are proposing a fix.

— Integrity Florida issues a new report that raises red flags about how the lawmakers tend to pass preemption bills, forcing local governments to do things their way … or not at all.

— On an all-female (and a bird) Florida Man segment, a Hollywood woman was clocked driving 107 MPH on I-275 in Pinellas County, with an open bottle of vodka in the car, as well as Jello shots and beer in the trunk. And Palm Beach County deputies responded to a 911 call in Lake Worth, only to find it was a parrot named Rambo saying, "let me out."

To listen, click on the image below:


@KatieS: When I worked at Twitter, we thought it was a good idea for world leaders to have a platform to speak directly to constituents. The use case of announcing and/or threatening war is an outrageous abuse of the platform and most importantly, the Constitution.

@JulianCastro: Today I'm proud to endorse @EWarren for president. Elizabeth and I share a vision of America where everyone counts. An America where people⁠ — not the wealthy or well-connected⁠ — are put first. I'm proud to join her in the fight for big, structural change.

@PeteButtigieg: The illegitimate takeover of the Venezuelan National Assembly is further evidence that dictator [Nicolás] Maduro will stop at nothing to consolidate his grip on power. I stand behind Juan Guaidó and the Venezuelan people as they strive to reclaim their democracy and defend their rights.

@NewsbySmiley: Nothing says "don't worry, we got this" like accidentally sending a draft letter to another country that suggests you're withdrawing your troops the day after that country's parliament took a nonbinding vote for you to withdraw your troops.

@GovRonDeSantis: The U.S. Constitution mandates a national census count be conducted every 10 years and Florida will do its part to support the federal government's efforts. Therefore, today I announced the designation of Florida's 2020 Census Statewide Complete Count Committee.

@JeffreyBrandes: The most underreported issue going into Session is the rapidly declining condition of Florida's insurance market.

@AGGancarski: So George Lopez is pushing the envelope and Rick Scott and the right are all big Ricky Gervais fans. Wow, 2020. Is this year over yet.


College Football National Championship — 6; 2020 Session begins — 7; Florida Chamber Legislative Fly-in — 7; Seventh Democratic presidential debate in Des Moines — 7; Florida TaxWatch State of the TaxPayer Dinner in Tallahassee — 8; Sundance Film Festival begins — 16; "Star Trek: Picard" premiers — 16; Annual Red Dog Blue Dog Celebrity Bartender Benefit — 21; New Brexit deadline — 24; Super Bowl LIV in Miami — 26; Great American Realtors Day — 27; Iowa Caucuses — 27; Eighth Democratic presidential debate in Manchester — 31; Capitol Press Corps press skits — 34; New Hampshire Primaries — 35; Pitchers and catchers begin reporting for MLB Spring Training — 35; Ninth Democratic presidential debate in Las Vegas — 43; Nevada caucuses — 46; "Better Call Saul" Season 5 premiers — 47; 10th Democratic presidential debate in Charleston — 49; South Carolina Primaries — 53; Last day of 2020 Session (maybe) — 66; Florida's presidential primary — 70; "No Time to Die" premiers — 94; Florida Chamber Summit on Prosperity and Economic Opportunity — 133; "Top Gun: Maverick" premiers — 171; Christopher Nolan's "Tenet" premiers — 192; 2020 Summer Olympics in Tokyo begin — 199; Florida primaries for 2020 state legislative/congressional races — 224; First Vice Presidential debate at the University of Utah — 274; First Presidential Debate scheduled at the University of Michigan — 282; Second presidential debate at Belmont — 289; 2020 General Election — 301.


"State economist: Expect 'intense slowdown' of property tax collections" via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — Florida's Revenue Estimating Conference looked at trends in ad valorem collections, working through competing estimates and refining the five-year taxation outlook. The forecast regarding new construction is "significantly lower" going forward for nonresidential construction overall, with the worst coming in the second half of 2020 and next year. 2021 will essentially see flat growth rates in construction across the board, with more optimism in the outlook for out-years. These expectations jibe with the theory that a recession looms in the coming year.


"Ron DeSantis assembles team to prep for census count" via Gary Fineout of POLITICO Florida — DeSantis appointed Lt. Gov. Jeanette Núñez to lead Florida's 2020 Census Statewide Complete Count Committee, a 25-person panel which includes a cross-section of members representing local governments, small employers, homeless advocates, and other interests. Some projections suggest Florida could gain as many as three congressional seats. Florida Democrats months ago called on DeSantis to take steps to ensure the state's residents were accurately counted in to guarantee that the state received its full share of federal funding. The Governor's spokesperson, Helen Aguirre Ferré, said today hat DeSantis was responding to a query on whether the census should include a question on citizenship, not a question about whether Florida should play a role in ensuring an accurate count.

Ron DeSantis responded to a query about Florida's accuracy in the 2020 census.

"Jeanette Nunez says GOP will work out differences on immigration, Visit Florida during session" via Steven Lemongello of the Orlando Sentinel. — Nunez said she's confident Gov. Ron DeSantis and Republican state House and Senate leaders will work out their differences when the 2020 legislative session begins next week. 'I wouldn't necessarily call them divisions,' Nunez said in an interview with the Orlando Sentinel on Monday of issues including E-Verify immigration checks for workers and funding for the tourism agency Visit Florida.

"State moves forward with CBD regulations" via News Service of Florida — As sales boom in retail establishments throughout Florida, state regulators are now keeping tabs on CBD products that marketers claim can ease arthritis, anxiety and sleeplessness. Florida lawmakers during the 2019 Legislative Session put Fried's office in charge of establishing the regulatory structure for hemp, along with products containing CBD being sold at gas stations, grocery stores and flea markets. "Prior to these rules being adopted and taking effect, we didn't have regulatory authority. Now we do, and we have that up and going so that we can make sure consumers are protected," said Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried's cannabis director, Holly Bell.

"Report: Preemption legislation driven by ideology, campaign contributions and lobbyists" via Sarah Mueller of Florida Politics — A Integrity Florida report examined lawmakers' increasing use of preemption legislation to reduce the authority of local governments. As of Dec. 10, 16 preemption bills — nine in the House and seven in the Senate — have been filed for the 2020 Legislative Session. Both Republicans and Democrats filed bills, dealing with issues such as local occupational licensing (HB 3), permitting standards for mobile home parks (HB 647), vacation rental properties (HB 1011) and home-based businesses (SB 778). Already drawing heavy attention are HB 113 and SB 172 to prevent local governments from banning certain types of sunscreens and cosmetics. The report offers some policy solutions like requiring a supermajority vote for preemption legislation and having a single-subject requirement for those bills.

Happening today — The Social Services Estimating Conference meets to discuss Florida's Medicaid spending, 9 a.m., Knott Building.


"Darryl Rouson targets boating safety and environmental protection in proposed legislation" via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — His bill (SB 1378) requires boaters to operate at slow speed, minimum wake near emergency vessels or construction operations in the water. Slow speed, minimum wake defined as a vessel operating fully off plane and completely settled into the water. If passed, a person could not operate a vessel faster than slow speed, minimum wake if it is within 300 feet of an emergency vessel including law enforcement, fire rescue, U.S. Coast Guard or towboats that have their emergency lights activated. The speed restriction also applies to approaching within 300 feet of construction vessels or barges that have an orange flag displayed.

Happening today — Rouson and state Rep. Ben Diamond will unveil legislation to foster arts education, 9:15 a.m. at The Dali Museum, 1 Dali Blvd., St. Petersburg.

"David Simmons bill would create DUI diversionary program" via Scott Powers of Florida Politics — Senate Bill 1396 would authorize a pilot program in each judicial circuit. They would allow qualifying drivers who have been charged with a first offense of driving under the influence to agree to have alcohol-detection ignition interlock devices installed on their cars. They also would have to work at least 50 hours of community service, to attend a substance abuse treatment class, and other requirements. Also, the drivers would not be permitted to possess or consume alcohol or illegal drugs during the program. The driver would be in the program for a year. During that time, the driver's license would not be suspended.

David Simmons is pushing diversion programs for some DUIs, instead of license suspensions. Image via Colin Hackley.

No 'intellectual diversity' survey in Senate higher ed bill — A measure that would require state universities to survey faculty and students' "intellectual diversity" annually was not included in a higher education bill put forward by Senate Education Committee Chair Diaz, reports Andrew Atterbury of POLITICO Florida. While the idea has some traction among House Republicans, it hasn't gained much steam in the Senate. Last year, Senate President Bill Galvano said some Senators have "strong opinions in opposition" of the plan and that it would have a hard time getting an OK from the chamber. The absence of the survey requirement could make for a repeat of last year's tough higher education budget negotiation.

"Jeff Brandes files Senate companion for ride-sharing digital advertising bill" via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Brandes' bill (SB 1 352) is the Senate companion to the House version (HB 1039) filed by Rep. Bob Rommel. The bill also includes protections to ensure advertisements are not offensive or overly obtrusive and provides benefits to local governments and nonprofits by making advertising available to them free of charge. The bills place limits on the sign's size, restricting them to no taller than 20 inches and no longer than 54 inches. Regardless of the size, the sign could not extend beyond the rear of the front windshield or otherwise impair the driver's vision. The signs could only operate while the vehicle is running.

"Senate bill seeks to protect Electoral College" via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — SR 1458, filed by Ocala Sen. Dennis Baxley, posits that to "consider the abolishment of the Electoral College, in which Florida has 29 electors, would further enable the destruction of the remaining balance of power between the 50 states and the Federal Government and effectively dissolve the United States constitutional republic." The National Popular Vote Interstate Compact would accelerate such an erosion. This existential threat to elections as currently conducted has been enacted by 16 states with 196 electoral votes, putting it just 74 votes away from taking effect. The filing also contends that the national popular vote movement would lead inexorably to a nonrepresentative, even un-American pool of voters.

"Spencer Roach wants transition for children of addicted parents to reenter their lives" via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Roach said he's working to make sure there's a better transition for kids when an absent parent shows up suddenly in the picture. Roach has a bill in the House (HB 185), which aims to address such situations. As written, the law would give some legal authority allowing an extended family member temporary or permanent custody of a minor in such a case. The process would involve petitioning the court to ensure the parent of a child is fit to take the child back. If necessary, a judge could put requirements in place for the parent to provide proof.

"Resiliency, sea level proposal emerges in House" via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — HB 1073, filed by St. Johns County Republican Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, would create a Statewide Office of Resiliency in the Governor's office and create a Statewide Sea-Level Rise Task Force. The language in the bill matches a Senate committee bill already moving through the process, legislation that codifies the Resiliency Office. In July, Gov. Ron DeSantis appointed Dr. Julia Nesheiwat as Florida's first Chief Resilience Officer. The committee bill also establishes a sea-level rise task force that will include Nesheiwat, the Chief Science Officer from the Department of Environmental Protection, and others.

"Jason Fischer files bill for elected Duval County school sup't" via AG Gancarski of Florida Politics — If HB 1079 passes, Duval voters in November 2020 would be able to vote on whether they want an elected Superintendent, setting up a potential 2022 election to select a replacement for a position that had been appointed for decades. The Duval legislative delegation supported Fischer's bill in a 6-2 vote last year. Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry also supports the measure, but the bill does have some opposition. The Duval County School Board voted in unanimous opposition to the proposal. The Jacksonville City Council declined to pass a resolution opposing Fischer's bill, deadlocking on the vote.

Jason Fischer is one step closer to getting an elected Ducal School Superintendent.

"Dotie Joseph joins effort to create a tax credit for carbon farming" via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — The carbon farming process aims to not only to cut emissions but also to keep carbon stored inside a farm's soil. HB 1069 will serve as the companion to legislation filed by Democratic Sen. José Javier Rodríguez in the Senate. Carbon farming is still somewhat new, and the benefits are not yet proven. But advocates argue that farmers can engage in practices that will release less carbon into the atmosphere, instead of keeping it stored in the soil, which could help slow the process of climate change. The measures from Joseph and Rodríguez would endorse those goals.

"Jennifer Webb files legislation to curb 'unnecessary' Baker Acts in Florida schools" via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Webb's bill (HB 1083) would require better mental health crisis training for school safety officers, launch new reporting and tracking requirements for students removed from school or school events and increase parental or guardian notification requirements. A Tampa Bay Times investigative report last month found that over the past seven years, more than 7,500 students were taken from public schools and put into mental health facilities. Of those, many were removed using handcuffs and transported in the back of police cars. The report found that some of the children were as young as six years old. And the incidents are on the rise.


"Florida recognized marriage equality 5 years ago" via Gabrielle Calise of the Tampa Bay Times — It's now been five years since history was made and same-sex marriage became legal in Florida. In August 2014, a federal judge in Tallahassee ruled Florida's 2008 voter-approved ban on marriage equality was unconstitutional. But the decision wouldn't go into effect until Jan. 6, leaving time for appeals. Then-Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi fought to stop the change, trying to get the court to uphold the 2008 ban and block the marriages. She even tried to get the U.S. Supreme Court to intervene. Ultimately, she was unsuccessful. The monumental milestone for LGBTQ rights in Florida was solidified Jan. 6, 2015. Couples would finally be allowed to wed. Reports estimated over 1,200 couples exercised their new right on that first day.

Marriage equality in Florida turns 5.

"Florida firefighters 'stand ready' to help Australia" via WFLA — The Florida Forest Service says they are on standby to send firefighters to assist the devastating fires ongoing in Australia. This comes following a crew of 20 veteran firefighters based in California that left Monday to help battle the country's wildfires that have killed at least 23 people and scorched millions of acres. More than 135 fires were still burning across New South Wales, including almost 70 that were not contained Monday. Officials have warned that the rain won't put out the largest and most dangerous blazes before conditions deteriorate again. The last time U.S. firefighters worked in Australia was 2010.

"Florida saw record federal health insurance enrollments in December" via Kelsey Sunderland of WFLA — With open enrollment complete as of Dec. 17, a weekly report showed that Florida had the highest number of people enrolling in the federal health insurance marketplace in the country. A record 1.9 million Floridians found insurance through the federal health insurance marketplace between Dec. 8 and Dec. 17. That's an additional 125,000 from 2018. The number dwarfs the state with the second-highest number of new enrollments — Texas with 1.1 million — as well as North Carolina, with less than half of its residents enrolling. Among the 39 states in the federal marketplace, enrollment was down nationally from 8.5 million in 2018 to 8.3 million this year.

"Florida gas prices rise as tensions with Middle East heighten" via Malena Carollo of the Tampa Bay Times — Tensions in the Middle East are starting to hit the wallets of motorists in the United States. According to AAA, the Auto Club Group, Florida gas prices averaged $2.53 a gallon Monday, up 7 cents over the week. The current hike was expected because of higher oil prices last week, AAA said. But the late-week announcement that the U.S. killed Iranian Gen. Qassem Soleimani sent crude oil prices spiking. "Even though the U.S. is producing oil at a record pace, that oil is bought and sold on the stock market, which is heavily influenced by global supply and demand," Mark Jenkins, AAA spokesman, said. "Crude prices rise when there's a threat of war, because of concerns over how the conflict could hamper supply and demand."

"No O.J. for you! Florida's welcome centers aren't so welcoming without free juice" via Graham Brink of the Tampa Bay Times — For decades, Florida provided orange juice to anyone who stopped at a handful of welcome centers. The freebie was a liquid hello designed to get visitors' vacations off to a memorable start. Countless families made the welcome center a mandatory stop, toasting their arrival in the Sunshine State with 4-ounce paper cups filled with orange juice. Kids knew pulling over for juice meant the long drive was nearly done. No wonder so many people miss it. The free orange juice stopped flowing in July, though a lot of visitors didn't notice until the recent holiday travel season.How often do visitors ask, Where's the juice? "All day, every day," said T.J. Gilliam, assistant manager at the welcome center on Interstate 95.


"Hurricane Dorian: Florida residents help clean up mess left in storm's wake" via Max Chesnes of Treasure Coast Newspapers — For four months, some Treasure Coast residents have joined with volunteers from around the world to help clean up the mess left in the wake of the historically powerful storm. Youth on a Mission, a Vero Beach service-based ministry, has raised $100,000 and spent 33 days in Marsh Harbour since the hurricane made landfall Sept. 1, said the group's director Richard Schlitt. Forty volunteers from around the Treasure Coast, ranging from 18 to 68 years old, have worked on the ground with Bahamians and international organizations to rebuild homes, churches and schools, Schlitt said. The ministry group has worked alongside All Hands and Hearts Smart Response, an international nonprofit organization with volunteers from 144 countries.

Treasure Coast volunteers pitch in to help the Bahamas clean up after Hurricane Dorian. Image via TCPalm.

"New Audubon site shows bird declines due to climate change" via Jim Waymer of Florida Today — In a world that is 3 degrees Celsius warmer, the wood thrush likely would never fly this far south to sing its flutelike songs in Florida. And fat chance of ever hearing the staccato pecks of a redheaded woodpecker. Those are among the scenarios the National Audubon Society warns of, and seen, on the nonprofit's new Survival By Degrees website. Users can search the site by county or ZIP code to find which bird species in their neck of the woods are most vulnerable to climate change. Two-thirds of North American bird species are at risk of extinction from the ill effects of climate change, Audubon warns.

"Dan Peterson: Aging and neglected sewer pipes are polluting environment" via the Ocala Star-Banner — Here's a shocking truth. Over the past decade, 23,000 sewage spills have occurred in Florida. As a result, 1.6 billion gallons of wastewater were released to the environment (either into waterways or onto land) due to the failure of aging sewer pipes, lift stations and wastewater treatment plants. More than 370 million gallons of that number were completely untreated. It's just one of Florida's obvious environmental problems demanding attention. Even when aging sewer systems do not catastrophically fail, they still leak or exfiltrate. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency estimates 10-17% of raw sewage leaks directly into the environment and groundwater from aging sewer pipes. In Florida, 1.5 billion gallons of wastewater are treated every day.


"John Bolton says he is prepared to testify in Senate trial if subpoenaed" via Felicia Sonmez, John Wagner and Tom Hamburger of The Washington Post — Former national security adviser Bolton, highly sought by Democrats as an impeachment witness, is prepared to testify in a Senate trial if a subpoena is issued — a move that could be damaging to Trump. The development came as Trump called for a quick end to the impeachment process and congressional Republicans stepped up pressure on House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to transmit articles to the Senate, allowing a trial to begin in the chamber. Pelosi has been holding on to the documents as Democrats seek guarantees about the scope of a Senate trial, including witnesses.

John Bolton is signaling he would testify in the Senate impeachment trial.

"Lisa Murkowski: Decision on impeachment witnesses should wait until after start of trial" via Jordain Carney of The Hill — Sen. Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, supports delaying a decision on which, if any, witnesses should testify until after the start of Trump's impeachment trial. With that decision, Murkowski aligns herself with the process advocated by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and bolsters the chances that Republicans — absent an eleventh-hour deal with Minority Leader Charles Schumer of New York — will be able to force through their own impeachment rules. "I think we need to do what they did the last time they did this … and that was to go through a first phase, and then they reassessed after that," Murkowski told reporters after leaving McConnell's office.

"Maybe Nancy Pelosi's impeachment delay is working" via Jonathan Bernstein of Bloomberg — One striking thing about House Speaker Pelosi's decision to delay sending articles of impeachment against Trump to the Senate is that she doesn't actually have any real leverage. Senate Republicans are free to ignore the articles passed by Democrats in the House of Representatives Dec. 18. Pelosi's move calls to mind the threat by Sheriff Bart in "Blazing Saddles" to kill himself when he's about to be lynched. And yet … that's not quite the end of the story. What Pelosi and House Democrats want is to use the Senate trial to force new information about Trump's actions to be revealed. Delaying the trial, which might have started this week had Pelosi acted promptly, might achieve that in two ways.


"Congress' health agenda barrels toward 2020 buzz saw" via Adam Cancryn and Alice Miranda Ollstein of POLITICO — Republicans and Democrats are positioned to cut big deals on drug pricing and surprise medical bills — just in time for 2020 electoral politics to drive them apart. Congressional leaders are feeling renewed urgency, but they fear impeachment, and escalating tensions with Iran could swamp the agenda. "If we couldn't come to a consensus in 2019, it's hard to imagine for 2020," said Pennsylvania Democratic Rep. Susan Wild, who flipped her district for the first time in nearly two decades. The first test is likely to come within weeks, when a bipartisan group of House members will meet to try to break a lengthy impasse and finalize plans for protecting patients from being charged thousands of dollars if they get out-of-network care.

— 2020 —

"A test for Latinos for Trump as Pence heads to heart of Florida Puerto Rican community" via David Smiley of the Miami Herald — Vice President Mike Pence is heading to Central Florida to hold a Latinos for Trump campaign event in Osceola County, home to Florida's largest concentration of Puerto Ricans. The campaign stop at a non-denominational, Spanish-language church could give Pence an opportunity to woo voters who comprise one of Florida's most-coveted voting blocs — and also may be one of Trump's biggest stumbling blocks. While Puerto Ricans have emerged as a crucial swing demographic in a state known for narrow election margins, Trump enters his reelection campaign with the support of barely one in five island transplants. And Central Florida's politics are different from Miami, where conservative Cubans greeted Pence warmly last June.

"Joe Biden secures backing from several swing-state Democrats" via Sarah Ferris of POLITICO — Biden's presidential campaign won the backing from Reps. Conor Lamb and Chrissy Houlahan of Pennsylvania and Elaine Luria of Virginia — three centrists with military backgrounds — as he seeks a breakout moment in the purple state of Iowa next month. All three of the House Democrats referred to Biden's foreign policy experience, which the former vice president himself has repeatedly touted in the wake of the Trump administration's killing of Iran's top military commander last week. "Our country needs a steady hand, someone who can help heal the country, an experienced and proven leader who can build teams with deep expertise and work across the aisle," Houlahan, who served in the Air Force, said in a statement.

Several swing-state Democrats are lining up behind Joe Biden.

"Mike Bloomberg bets early — and big — on Florida" via Matt Dixon of Politico — First came the ads. Then came the staff. Former New York Mayor Bloomberg has spent weeks flooding Florida media markets with ads touting his business acumen and jabbing President Trump, but his operation now is expanding in a state that could make or break the billionaire media mogul's presidential aspirations. Bloomberg has made a round of key state staff hires. Over the next two weeks, 50 organizers will begin work at more than 20 regional campaign offices across the state. The blitz is part of Bloomberg's unconventional, skip-the-early-states strategy, which puts its focus on delegate-rich March primary states, including Florida and its 219 delegates. "Florida is a critical March state and key battleground state for beating Donald Trump this fall," said Bloomberg states director Dan Kanninen.

"TikTok wants to stay politics-free. That could be tough in 2020." via Georgia Wells and Emily Glazer of The Wall Street Journal — TikTok has been flooded with political content in recent weeks, much of it related to Trump's reelection campaign. Advisers from both major parties now say they are looking at ways to use the app as a platform for reaching young voters. That puts TikTok in a tough position. The company last year banned political ads, and it says it remains committed to its mission to "bring joy" to users. TikTok's political content is mostly homemade and posted by users, rather than being formal messages from campaigns. "I'm not optimistic that the cat ever goes back in the bag," said Joseph Seering, a doctoral candidate at Carnegie Mellon University who studies content moderation.


Ford O'Connell's CD 19 campaign adds Sean KemptonO'Connell, a Republican running for Florida's 19th Congressional District, announced he's lured Kempton away from DeSantis' administration to serve as his deputy campaign manager. Kempton is an alum of DeSantis' gubernatorial campaign, where he served as a regional field director for a territory covering six counties in Southwest Florida, including the whole of CD 19. "I'm coming home to join O'Connell's campaign because I care deeply about Southwest Florida and I don't want to see this seat fall into the hands of another career politician. Ford is positioned to win, and he will deliver for us in Washington." O'Connell is one of several Republicans running for the open seat currently held by exiting U.S. Rep. Francis Rooney.

"William Figlesthaler ad declares Washington sick, pundits spineless" via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — "Isn't Washington sick?" Those are the first words uttered by the Naples urologist in the ad, which depicts him watching a clip of MSNBC before making a candidate pitch. The cable footage shows GOP strategist-turned-MSNBC anchor Nicole Wallace lamenting why more Republicans won't criticize Trump. Figlesthaler promises both to defend Trump and fight establishment figures in both parties. The physician calls Washington "a disgusting swamp filled with store-bought politicians, spineless media hacks and out-of-touch political pundits. It is imperative that we send a member to Washington who is going to get stuff done and be a leader." Figlesthaler was among the first candidates to file in Florida's 19th Congressional District after Rooney announced he wouldn't seek reelection.

To watch the ad, click on the image below:

"Oscar Braynon II backs Shevrin Jones as SD 35 successor" via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — State Sen. Braynon is endorsing state Rep. Jones as his successor in Senate District 35. Jones is one of six candidates vying to replace Braynon, who is term-limited in 2020. Jones has been the most robust fundraiser among the SD 35 candidates. Braynon's decision to back Jones could further elevate the West Park lawmaker in the crowded Democratic primary field. "I'm thrilled to endorse my good friend Shevrin Jones in his campaign to represent Senate District 35," Braynon said in a statement, scheduled to be released Monday. "I have the distinct honor to serve the people of this district and know that Shevrin will fight for all of our interests as our next Senator."

"Wengay Newton to forego another term in Florida House, will run for Pinellas Co. Commission" via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — Newton will seek the District 7 seat currently held by Ken Welch representing south St. Petersburg. Newton will face Pinellas County School Board member Rene Flowers and former Rep. Frank Peterman Jr. During an announcement at his 13th annual Appreciation Barbecue at Dell Holmes Park, Newton said he's running for local office to bring his activism back into the community where he grew up. Newton also announced his legislative aide, Michelle Grimsley, will run for his District 70 seat. Grimsley has served with Newton since July of 2018 after the two met when she reached out to him through her church for community outreach.

Happening tonight:


"City attorneys request more time to investigate suspended JEA CEO Aaron Zahn" via Christopher Hong of The Florida Times-Union — JEA's board of directors will postpone a special meeting scheduled Tuesday to discuss the terms of ousted CEO Zahn's termination after the city's Office of General Counsel requested two more weeks to investigate whether the board has grounds to fire him for cause. Although the board has said they intend to terminate Zahn based on his role in several controversies, they've yet to decide whether to terminate him with or without cause. The board suspended Zahn with pay Dec. 17, and city attorneys have since begun investigating whether Zahn did anything that would allow the board to fire him for cause.

"Feds accuse Miami financier and college-bribery defendant of running DMV scam website" via Jerry Iannelli of the Miami New Times — Robert Zangrillo is wrapped up in his second legal scandal with federal authorities in just eight months. Zangrillo was one of 53 people accused of bribing college admissions administrators to let their kids attend top-flight colleges. Now, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says Zangrillo also has helped run a series of high-profile scam websites. The sites — including the high-traffic DMV.com — purported to be affiliated with state or local governments, but, per an FTC complaint filed in December, actually just took customers' money and data and directed them to other information that was publicly available online. Zangrillo's lawyers dispute the charges and claim the FTC has some basic facts wrong, including its claim Zangrillo owns the company.

High-profile Miami real estate developer Robert Zangrillo faces yet another federal investigation. Image via CBS Miami.

"What is this urban scrawl? It's from Miami's building boom — and it's not graffiti" via Linda Robertson of the Miami Herald — If it's not graffiti, or secret code or treasure hunt clues, what exactly is the tangle of spray-painted, multicolored hieroglyphics defacing sidewalks in downtown Miami? Call it urban scrawl. The squiggles, lines, numerals, circles, diamonds, arrows, dots, blobs and Xs — proliferating by the day — are utility markings, used to show electrical contractors, telecommunication companies, water and sewer engineers and construction workers where underground lines, cables and pipes are located. Miami's building boom, combined with the rapid installation of 5G technology on newly erected poles in hastily patched concrete, has intensified paint mark pollution, especially in denser neighborhoods. It looks like an army of kindergartners has used Miami pavement as its canvas.

"Virgin Trains ends 2019 "ramp up" year nearing 1 million South Florida riders" via Rob Wile of the Miami Herald — Virgin Trains finished November with almost 900,000 passengers — less than half its initial projected estimate. But the company says it is still on track to its goal of 2.9 million riders by 2021. Total ridership through November climbed above 885,000, with 100,627 riders for the month. It was the first-time ridership topped six figures in a single 30-day period since Brightline began South Florida operations in May 2018. But Virgin says it continues to project reaching 2.9 million riders over the next three years in what it is calling its "ramp-up" period. It said it intended to reach 80% of its target ridership in 2020 and 100% by the conclusion of 2021.

"4 cars hit by gunfire on I-4, days after 15 cars damaged by air gun" via Tess Sheets of the Orlando Sentinel — Four vehicles were damaged by gunfire along Interstate 4 in Orange and Osceola counties, after more than a dozen vehicles were struck last week in Central Florida. Monday's shootings happened about 5 a.m. on a stretch of I-4 westbound near the Osceola County line, the Orange County Sheriff's Office said. The Osceola County Sheriff's Office said it is working with Orange County after learning two of the shootings took place in its jurisdiction. In 911 calls, victims described their shock after being shot at. One woman said the sound of her rear window shattering was like an "explosion." Another caller told dispatchers glass had fallen on his son in the back seat, though the boy was not injured.

Happening today — State Sen. Linda Stewart and Commissioner Rachel Saunders Plakon will hold a news conference regarding the State Women's Suffrage Centennial Commission, 11:30 a.m., Orange County History Center, 65 E. Central Blvd., Orlando.


"Jim VandeHei, Mike Allen warn of 'information dystopia' at Palm Beach event" via Ryan Nicol of Florida Politics — "Rich or poor, you have access to more information about any topic facing humanity — in any nation, about any nation — in text, audio or video for free because of the internet," VandeHei told the audience at a Forum Club of the Palm Beaches event. "Everybody in this room has the ability to recall facts and figures that would make a Jeopardy champion blush thanks to Google, for free." But he argues that the breadth of information actually has the potential to cause more harm than good. "We all should be getting smarter faster. So why is everyone getting dumber quicker?" VandeHei asked. He said that with the abundant amount of information available online and in the media at large, it's too easy to find information that simply offers confirmation bias.

Mike Allen and Jim VandeHei warn against an online 'information dystopia' that leans heavily toward confirmation bias.

"Rick Kriseman announces eight-week parental leave for employees starting this month" via Janelle Irwin Taylor of Florida Politics — St. Petersburg city employees will soon have access to eight weeks of paid parental leave. Mayor Kriseman sent a memo to employees Monday announcing the city was expanding its paid parental leave policies up from the previous six-week allotment Kriseman launched in 2015. "Family comes first. This is a belief I've always held and an area of leadership where we've worked hard to align the city of St. Petersburg's practices with our values and philosophies," Kriseman wrote. The policy change takes effect Jan. 15. It applies to any employee experiencing the birth, adoption, or foster care placement of a child. The city is working with its labor relations department to update rules and regulations and any applicable labor agreements.

"Tampa General sets record for safe kidney, liver transplants" via Florida Politics — The record 358 transplants is a 42% increase from 2018 and makes Tampa General the No. 6 busiest center for kidney transplants in the country. It also adds to TGH's reputation as one of the premier transplant hospitals in the nation — by the middle of the year, the facility had surpassed 10,000 transplants over its history, one of about two dozen U.S. transplant centers to hit that mark. The high volume doesn't only look good on the hospital's brag board; it's also vital to patient outcomes. Numerous nationwide studies have shown that high-volume transplant centers offer improved safety records and care for patients, along with lower costs. That has proved true for Tampa General.


"Stop suspending Florida driver's licenses because of unpaid tickets and fees" via the Orlando Sentinel editorial board — Here in Florida, we've built a de facto financial prison by routinely suspending the driver's licenses of people who don't pay traffic tickets, toll violations and criminal fines and fees. As with debtors' prisons, a person who can't drive because of a suspended license may not be able to keep their job. No job means no money to repay what they owe. Suspending licenses satisfies our table-thumping rhetorical instincts: If those deadbeats would pay what they owe, they wouldn't lose their license! Like a lot of table-thumping rhetoric, that observation fails to consider that not everyone has the luxury of paying a fine right away. If you're wealthy and get a speeding ticket, you pay up. Problem solved.


"Greg Black and Brian Jogerst launch new lobbying firm" via Drew Wilson of Florida Politics — Black and Jogerst won't be working solo anymore. The two lobbyists announced that they have joined forces under the name Waypoint Strategies. "This collaboration allows us to combine our relationships and substantive knowledge to ensure we exceed our clients' core needs and goals through a smart political and legislative strategy," Jogerst said. Black added, "Brian and I have worked together, and against each other, on issues for a number of years. After many legislative battles, we both realized we enjoyed that collaboration, and our skillset and work styles complemented each other. It was the perfect synergy and natural next step for our firms."

No longer working solo, Greg Black and Brian Jogerst are teaming up to launch Waypoint Strategies.

"Ken Wilkinson, author of 'Save Our Homes,' to retire as Lee Property Appraiser" via Jacob Ogles of Florida Politics — Wilkinson won't run for reelection this year. The decision opens a major political office in Southwest Florida's most populous county; Wilkinson already suggested he would like to see former state Rep. Matt Caldwell succeed him in office. But Wilkinson's retirement also means the exit of one of Florida's most influential voices on tax policy and homeowner protections. "I'm not a revenue agent for government, I'm an advocate for the taxpayer," Wilkinson told Florida Politics. "I've shown that over the years, more than any living Florida citizen." As part of the Taxation and Budget Reform Commission, he wrote three constitutional amendments ultimately approves by voters, most notably Save Our Homes.

— ALOE —

"Disney World, Disneyland now offering 'Baby Yoda'-inspired cocktails — but only if you know where to look" via Michael Bartiromo of Fox News — Following the debut of multiple "Baby Yoda"-inspired cocktails, eateries at both Disney World in Orlando and Disneyland in Anaheim, Calif., are apparently jumping on the bandwagon with their own little green libations. The drinks, which are crafted to resemble the breakout character from "The Mandalorian," have since been spotted at Trader Sam's Grog Grotto in Disney's Polynesian Village in Walt Disney World and Trader Sam's Enchanted Tiki Bar at the Disneyland Hotel in Disneyland, as first noted by The Orange County Register." This is a great example of just how creative and passionate our cast members [employees] are," a Disneyland representative said in a statement to the outlet.

Baby Yoda cocktails are all the rage.

"Universal: Annual passholders get own entrance to theme parks" via Dewayne Bevil of the Orlando Sentinel — Universal Orlando's annual passholders have a new perk. For January, they will be able to enter Universal Studios and Islands of Adventure through turnstiles dedicated to them at the theme parks' entrances. The change was included in an email to passholders. It says the entry will be available Jan. 4-31. This weekend the passholder lanes were located on the far left of the entrances of both parks, divided from the other checkpoints by a blue barrier with the UOAP logo. Annual passholders can still use the other lines. Walt Disney World introduced dedicated lanes for its annual passholders in late 2016 as an experiment. They are currently still in use at its four theme parks.

"Broke after the holidays? Legoland has quite the deal for Florida's littlest kids" via Madeleine Marr of the Miami Herald — If you've got little kids who have a hankering to head to Legoland, start doing your happy dance. Tykes (and adults who actually have access to money) are in for quite a deal this year: The Orlando theme park is offering free admission with something called The Preschooler Pass, available through Feb. 3. The pass is just for Florida kids, ages 3 and 4 only. These lucky ducks get unlimited admission with zero block-out dates for a full year. Act quickly, though: The Preschooler Pass can only be obtained through Feb. 3 at the admission ticket window. Bring a copy of your mini-me's birth certificate or travel passport. Bring the kid, too, say park officials.

"SpaceX launches third batch of Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral" via Florida Today — A SpaceX Falcon 9 rocket launched the company's third batch of 60 Starlink satellites from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station on Monday.


"Samsung's new Sero TV can rotate vertically for your TikTok and Instagram videos" via Chris Welch of The Verge — The company has announced that the Sero, a 43-inch 4K TV that can switch from landscape mode (the default) to portrait orientation, is coming to the US and other global markets. So, you'll be able to watch Instagram stories, TikTok videos, Snapchat content, and the portrait video recordings from your camera roll blown up on a relatively big screen — without heinous pillarboxing black bars on the left and right sides. The Sero originally made its debut in Korea but is coming stateside and elsewhere in the West this year.

Tweet, tweet:

"HP's updated Elite dragonfly G2 is the first laptop with a built-in Tile tracker" via Chaim Gartenberg of The Verge — From the outside, the Dragonfly G2 looks virtually identical to its predecessor, which is a good thing, given that the original model looks great. Most of the updates here are mostly to put the spec sheet on par with other modern Windows laptops by adding Intel's 10th Gen Core processors, including a six-core option. There are also new 1TB and 2TB storage options for those who need more space. It's the two other configuration options that are most interesting, though. First, a Qualcomm X55 LTE + 5G modem will add support for the next-gen wireless standard (compared to the optional LTE support on last year's model). The other significant addition is an optional integrated Tile tracker.

"Lenovo Yoga 5G promises 24-hour battery life, high performance and internet everywhere" via Joshua Goldman of CNET — The Lenovo Yoga 5G isn't expected to be available until this spring starting at $1,499. Also, it'll be called the Flex 5G in the U.S. The Yoga 5G supports both millimeter-wave full-band and sub-6GHz 5G networks, which is good because not all networks are created equally. The laptop itself sounds great, too, assuming the new Snapdragon is better than its past Computer Platform efforts, which were great on battery life, but not so much on performance. Lenovo says the Yoga 5G will get up to 24 hours of battery life, which, combined with its 2.9-pound weight (1.3kg) and bright, 400-nit display, should make this 14-inch two-in-one a great all-day work solution.

"This foldable phone will have 5G, a 7.2-inch screen and cost less than the Motorola Razr" via Jessica Dolcourt of CNET — Phone brand TCL is working on a foldable phone that will cost less than the $1,500 foldable Motorola Razr flip phone. The phone is relatively square and opens in the center to reveal a 7.2-inch plastic display bordered by thick black plastic bezels. There's no selfie camera on the inside, but it does have a strip of four cameras along the back. Unlike other foldable phones, this one has enough tension to stand up on its own and any stage of the fold. Because of the relatively square shape, it felt natural to hold it in both orientations. I could even see sitting it up and using one half of the screen to type on.

An affordable foldable phone is on the horizon.

"Amazon wants Fire TV in more cars and devices" via Ina Fried of Axios — Amazon's Fire TV Edition for Automotive will offer a road map for carmakers that want to put Amazon's TV software into back-seat entertainment systems. BMW and Fiat Chrysler Automotive will be among the first to offer such systems, Amazon said. A similar program for internet service providers aims to make it easier for them to offer Fire TV Edition devices to their customers. Amazon is already working with Verizon in the U.S. and Tata in India. Amazon said it expects more than 150 Fire TV Edition devices in more than 10 countries to be available by the end of the year. Lamborghini is adding Alexa to its Huracán EVO this year.

"Qualcomm eyes self-driving cars with Snapdragon Ride Platform at CES 2020" via Shara Tibken of CNET — The San Diego wireless chip giant unveiled its first Snapdragon Ride Platform to make it easier and more power-efficient for automakers to turn their vehicles into self-driving cars. It packs in everything from the hardware to the software needed to run autonomous vehicles, including artificial intelligence technology, power-efficient hardware, and a compact design. The Snapdragon Ride Platform will help with automatic emergency braking, traffic sign recognition, lane-keeping assist functions, automated highway driving, self-parking, urban driving in stop-and-go traffic, and fully autonomous driving for autonomous urban driving, robo-taxis and robo-logistics.


Celebrating today are Diane Roberts and Jonny Torres. 


Sunburn is authored and assembled by Peter Schorsch, Phil Ammann, A.G. Gancarski, Renzo Downey and Drew Wilson.

Puppy sleepovers, paisley-patterned botanic garden: News from around our 50 states - USA TODAY

Posted: 18 Dec 2019 12:00 AM PST


Mobile: Researchers from the University of South Alabama are working on a study to learn more about deadly West Nile virus. Genetic material from infected mosquitoes will be sent to Yale University, according to a statement from South Alabama. Workers at Yale's public health school will sequence DNA to help understand how the virus and spread over the past two decades in the United States. "They are looking at how the virus has evolved over time by sequencing genomes," says Jonathan Rayner, who works in infectious diseases at the South Alabama medical school, which says it is the first school in the state to join in the project. West Nile virus killed nearly 170 people nationwide last year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 2,647 cases of West Nile virus were reported last year, 550 more cases than in 2017.


Soldotna: Project Homeless Connect 2020 has just about everything it needs to be a success, but it's missing volunteers. The annual event provides a one-stop shop for those experiencing or at risk of homelessness. During the event, community members can come in for a free meal, blankets, clothes, diapers, shower and laundry vouchers, haircuts and a number of other services all provided at no cost. Similar events occur in other parts of Alaska, including Anchorage and Juneau, and this year events will be taking place in Homer and Seward to cover the entire peninsula. Project Homeless Connect will take place Jan. 29 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the Soldotna Regional Sports Complex. Those who wish to volunteer can contact Stuart at 907-283-3125.


Phoenix: A lawmaker has proposed ending the state's practice of hiring private companies to provide health care for its 34,000 prison inmates and instead turning that duty back to the state. Democratic Rep. Diego Rodriguez of Phoenix says his bill to end privatized health services at Arizona's 10 state-run prisons was inspired by numerous accounts about inmates with minor ailments later facing serious health problems because the privatized system responded slowly or inadequately. "It's broken, and people are dying because of this," says Rodriguez, who disputes the claim that privatization has saved the state money. But Rep. John Kavanagh, a Republican from Fountain Hills who opposes the bill, says ending privatization would lead to high costs for the state, including higher pension costs. "It's a lot cheaper having a private company do that," Kavanagh says.


Little Rock: Holiday Island, a lakeside community, has received enough signatures from voters to try once again to become an incorporated city after a failed effort in 2017. State laws regarding incorporation were changed this year, making it easier for Holiday Island to incorporate this time around, the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette reports. The changes include exemptions in population limits, allowing Holiday Island to incorporate should voters approve a ballot initiative. As an incorporated city, Holiday Island will be able to enforce its own codes and receive state money from taxes to maintain streets and roads. A spokesman for Holiday Island Citizens for Incorporation, Dan Kees, says the petition drive to get the incorporation on the 2020 general election ballot received 557 signatures from voters; only 498 were needed.


San Francisco: The commercial Dungeness crab fishing season in the San Francisco Bay Area has begun after a monthlong delay, allowing fishermen to start hauling in the wiggly crustaceans in time for the holiday season. Fishing boats began returning through the Golden Gate Bridge on Sunday with bins packed with crabs and headed to wholesalers at Pier 45, the San Francisco Chronicle reports. The California Department of Fish and Wildlife pushed back the season to lower the risk of whales getting entangled in fishing lines. The recreational crab season began Nov. 2 as scheduled. Boat captains said they saw no whales and faced rough waters on the first day of crab fishing. The commercial Dungeness crab industry in California takes in $40 million to $95 million a year. In recent years, the season has also been cut by elevated levels of the neurotoxin domoic acid found in some crabs.


Denver: The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has downgraded the air quality rating of the state's biggest population center. The EPA finalized the move Monday, lowering the ozone status of Denver and eight other northern Colorado counties from "moderate" to "serious." That will force the state to work harder to reduce harmful pollution but also bring tougher and costly regulations for businesses. Gov. Jared Polis took the unusual step of inviting the EPA to downgrade the rating, saying in March that Colorado would no longer ask for an exemption from standards by claiming some of the pollution was drifting into the state from elsewhere. He said in August that it was time to stop "sugar-coating" Colorado's air problems. The reclassification requires the state to revise its plan to reduce ozone-forming emissions, which can aggravate asthma and contribute to early deaths from respiratory disease.


Hartford: A new base is being raised in a key battleground of the state's opioid epidemic: the bustling Park Street corridor where drug deaths in Hartford are most concentrated. The harm reduction center opens in January in a former law office on Grand Street, its ammunition a combination of director Mark Jenkins' straight talk and belly laugh and his large stocks of clean syringes and heroin cookers, fentanyl test strips, condoms and candy, the Hartford Courant reports. Jenkins supplies them to drug-dependent people and sex workers to alleviate the dangers they face and ultimately draw them in to recovery. His organization, the 5-year-old Greater Hartford Harm Reduction Coalition, has operated a drop-in resource center on Albany Avenue since last summer, but it's essentially an outpost in the epidemic, serving a population with far lower rates of fatal overdoses than the neighborhoods around Park Street.


Wilmington: A bright-eyed puppy just might be what you need to get in the holiday spirit. Families can host a shelter pet from the Brandywine Valley SPCA for a short stay over the holiday season, as part of the organization's holiday sleepovers program. BVSPCA says the program gives pets a "much needed" break from life in the shelter while giving families a fun guest during the holidays. "Sleepovers have been shown to reduce stress for shelter animals, and we also learn more about the pet's personality in a more natural environment," Walt Fenstermacher of BVSPCA said in a statement. There are two sleepover options: the "Santa Sleepover," for pickup Dec. 20-23 and return Dec. 26-30, and "Winter Break," with pickup Dec. 20-23 and return Jan. 2-5. This is BVSPCA's second year offering holiday sleepovers. Last year, more than 30 pets spent the holidays with a family.

District of Columbia

Washington: Public safety advocates say the Metro put riders of a crippled Red Line train in danger, possibly breaking a federal guideline and its own policy, by sending a train full of people toward tracks that were seen sparking moments earlier, WUSA-TV reports. "There was a moment of panic," says Joe Twinem, who took video of the incident in a tunnel near Tenleytown Metro. It was the first of three such arcing track insulator incidents that snarled morning and evening rushes last week. Twinem says a smoky haze filled his train car. Firefighter Dave Statter, a former WUSA9 reporter, calls the incident similar to the 2015 tunnel fire that killed a woman. The National Transportation Safety Board subsequently told Metro to stop using trains carrying passengers to investigate track problems. Metro is investigating the incident.


Orlando: Universal Parks and Resorts on Monday pledged 20 acres of land for affordable housing in the state, a day before the company asked county officials for millions of dollars for road construction that will allow it to build a third theme park, Epic Universe. The theme park company said the land for affordable housing will accommodate 1,000 mixed-use housing units in Orlando. The metro area is in the middle of an affordable housing crisis for its hospitality-driven workforce. Orange County Mayor Jerry Demings has made affordable housing a top priority and had recommended working with corporate partners to come up with solutions to the metro area's housing needs. Universal also said it would make another 3 acres available for mass transit.


Atlanta: The mayor ordered city courts Monday to soon begin restricting public access to records involving people cited for minor marijuana offenses. Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms issued an administrative order that Atlanta's Municipal Court by Feb. 1 must make court records for possession of less than an ounce of marijuana accessible only to law enforcement. Bottoms said in a statement that racial disparities in criminal cases involving small amounts of pot justified the change. "The fact remains that communities of color are disproportionately affected by the lingering stigma of victimless, minor offenses – even long after the accused have paid their debts," Bottoms said. "This outmoded practice deprives our communities and workforce of brilliant and promising minds, all because of an unfair justice system that can and will be course-corrected." The American Civil Liberties Union applauded the move.


Hilo: Hawaii County has proceeded with efforts to restore access to public roads inundated by lava following the opening of a Big Island highway last month. About 13 miles of public roads were covered by lava from the 2018 Kilauea volcanic eruption affecting portions of Highway 137, Highway 132, Pohoiki Road and others, the Hawaii Tribune-Herald reports. Temporary access was established to Highway 137 a year ago, and Highway 132 was restored last month, officials said. However, multiple other affected roads have remained closed throughout southeast Hawaii Island. Highway 132 was fully covered by the Federal Highways Administration, but reimbursement for other affected roads would need to come through the Federal Emergency Management Agency, officials said.


Boise: A portion of a lawsuit brought by an Idaho family against the U.S. government after a boy and his dog tripped a cyanide-spraying, predator-killing trap near their home has been dismissed. U.S. District Judge B. Lynn Winmill dismissed all personal injury claims Friday related to cyanide exposure to Mark and Theresa Mansfield and their son. Canyon Mansfield was playing with his dog in March 2017 near his home when the then-14-year-old triggered the trap that the U.S. Department of Agriculture placed to kill coyotes. The dog named Casey died. Winmill agreed with U.S. Department of Justice attorney Michele Greif that the Mansfields didn't prove they experienced ill effects from cyanide exposure or will experience them in the future. The devices, called M-44s, are embedded in the ground and look like lawn sprinklers.


Chicago: City agencies are telling people to stop feeding the raccoons that populate the city's northern lakefront. People are hand-feeding kitchen scraps to the dozens of raccoons living in the area, which the agencies say is dangerous, WBBM-TV reports. "We ask that visitors not feed wildlife in parks or along the lakefront for their own safety and the health and wellness of the animals," Chicago Park District spokeswoman Irene Tostado said in a statement. Chicago Animal Care and Control said it has not received any raccoon-related service requests from the area. Raccoons are rabies carriers and can transfer other diseases and pests such as roundworm, the Humane Society advises.


Vincennes: A preservation group that saved an ornate church from demolition has found a buyer who plans to turn it into a rural retreat. Indiana Landmarks spent seven years trying to find a buyer for the former Palmyra Cumberland Presbyterian Church, located just outside Vincennes in southwestern Indiana. That perseverance recently paid off when the nonprofit found a private, out-of-state buyer for the Gothic-Revival church, which dates back to 1892. The new owner plans to restore the building and use it as a rural retreat. The church, designed by local architect J.W. Gaddis, retains many of its original, ornate features, including limestone accents and decorative metal finials. The steeple even houses the church's original bell. Tommy Kleckner, director of Indiana Landmarks' Western Regional Landmarks Office, says the group took a loss on the sale – at less than $30,000 – because staff felt the building was well worth saving.


Centerville: A Nativity scene removed from a county courthouse lawn in southern Iowa won't be returning. The scene was erected Nov. 18 outside the Appanoose County Courthouse in Centerville, but some residents complained that a religious display should not be placed on government property. City Administrator Jason Fraser had approved the display's location but told organizers it needed to be moved before Thanksgiving. It took until Dec. 9 before enough volunteers could be gathered to move the display off the lawn and to a new spot about two blocks south. The county owns the building and the land underneath; the city owns the lawn. The Daily Iowegian reports that at Monday's City Council meeting, several speakers sharply criticized the scene's removal and asked that it be moved back.


Overland Park: A 13-year-old girl who was arrested for making her fingers into the shape of a gun and pointing at classmates has been placed on a juvenile diversion program. The Overland Park girl, who was originally charged with felony threatening, was set to go before a judge Tuesday, but the Johnson County Juvenile Court hearing was canceled. A spokeswoman for the Johnson County district attorney confirmed she is on diversion but provided no details, The Kansas City Star reports. Under diversion, a charge can be dismissed if a juvenile successfully meets certain conditions set by authorities. The girl's mother told The Star previously that a boy asked her daughter who she would kill if she could kill five classmates. The girl reportedly made the shape of a gun with her fingers and pointed at four students, then herself.


Hodgenville: The Abraham Lincoln Birthplace National Historical Park is offering a new book club, and the first book selection will be about the former president's wife. The first Parks and Pages Book Club discussion will be held Jan. 24 on the book "Mrs. Lincoln and Mrs. Keckly: The Remarkable Story of the Friendship Between a First Lady and a Former Slave," according to a statement from the National Park Service. People can attend at the Kentucky park or join a virtual discussion on the park's Facebook page using the "Facebook Live" feature. The park service says all books during the club's first year will be on the same theme: presidential first ladies. The book for January can be purchased in the park's bookstore, and a couple of copies are available in the park's library. More book titles will be announced throughout 2020.


Denham Springs: The city has created a housing board that will address the issue of properties that are still dilapidated three years after a flood destroyed most of the area. The 2016 flood devastated much of the Livingston Parish area. Officials in Denham Springs said they've been lenient and patient with residents whose homes were damaged by the flood. However, Mayor Gerard Landry told The Advocate that now is the time to focus on the community and neighbors who are living near potentially hazardous homes. "We've kind of had a hands-off approach for the last few years out of compassion, but at some point in time I have to have more compassion for the people next door," Landry said. The Housing Appeals Board, made up of city officials, will meet monthly to discuss the 70 homes in the city that are vacant and deteriorating.


Portland: Someone spray-painted graffiti about the treatment of the homeless on the sidewalk outside City Hall, police said Monday. The graffiti states, "No one deserves to be out in the cold," and "No cap on the new shelter." Advocates for the homeless have been lobbying city officials to make sure everyone who needs shelter is afforded it at a new facility 5 miles from the old one. The city said in a statement that it "respects all opinions regarding policy matters, but we do not tolerate criminal acts, and defacing city property is not the right way to share your message." Officials said the city plans to press charges if the person or people who made the graffiti are located. Meanwhile, the graffiti is being removed from the plaza outside City Hall.


Baltimore: The city is renaming a courthouse after the late Congressman Elijah Cummings. The Baltimore Sun reports the City Council voted to make the change Monday. Mayor Bernard C. "Jack" Young had asked the council to push the legislation forward. He intends to sign the bill and formally unveil the new name for Courthouse East in the near future. Cummings was chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform. He was also a powerful advocate for Baltimore and civil rights. He died in October. Young said in a statement that the courthouse will "stand in perpetuity as a monument to Cummings' service to the common man, the rule of law in our society, and his commitment to economic justice for all."


Boston: The city's Museum of Fine Arts is hosting a holiday celebration with music and free tours of its collection of Jewish art. Wednesday afternoon's event will mark the sixth year the museum has hosted a Hanukkah observance. It's being presented in partnership with the Jewish Arts Collaborative and the Combined Jewish Philanthropies organization. Participants will hear traditional songs performed in Yiddish and Hebrew, and events for children include dancing, storytelling and arts and crafts. Organizers say it's the largest community Hanukkah gathering in Boston. A centerpiece of the celebration is "Brighter Beyond," a collaborative, interactive blacklight experience that invites visitors to add their light to a glowing installation led by artist Tova Speter. The museum will offer tours of its Judaica collection and four 15-minute talks. It will also offer Hannukah treats such as latkes.


Marquette: A snowstorm that swept across parts of the Midwest and dumped as much as 2 feet of snow in the state last month formed ideal conditions for skiing and snowmobile riding in the Upper Peninsula, but crews are still busy clearing fallen trees blocking trails. Though many trails remain open, the Michigan Department of Natural Resources cautioned that some may be impassable and said riders must be extra alert for logs, rocks or stumps that could be obscured by the snow. "The number of downed trees and limbs is astonishing," said Rob Katona, central Upper Peninsula trails specialist with the DNR's Parks and Recreation Division. "We haven't seen conditions like this in recent history." The heavy snow weighed down young birches, oaks and other small trees, leaving them arched to the ground across trails, sometimes entirely buried under the snow, the Iron Mountain Daily News reports.


St. Paul: The state's Board of Pardons has approved a request that could lead to a posthumous pardon for a man convicted of sexually assaulting a Duluth woman in 1920. Max Mason was among a group of black circus workers accused in the assault. Three were lynched from a light pole by an angry mob of local residents. Two others went to trial, and Mason was the only one convicted. His supporters believe he was falsely accused and say a pardon would restore justice in a "horrific and shameful episode in Minnesota history." The board's vote could open the door for another review of Mason's original pardon request, which was denied in 1924. Mason was convicted on what some thought was weak evidence. Supporters noted a lack of evidence corroborating the woman's allegation and a physician's exam that appeared to contradict her claim, according to the Minnesota Historical Society.


Jackson: The state's Small Business Administration is now offering low-interest loans to homeowners, businesses and nonprofit organizations who suffered losses when torrential rain caused widespread flooding last spring. The National Weather Service estimates some south Mississippi areas received up to 15 inches of rain in a span of days in May 2019, washing out train tracks, flooding rivers and prompting water rescues, news outlets report. To help in the recovery, Gov. Phil Bryant wrote to the administration last month requesting assistance for eight heavily affected counties, The Biloxi Sun-Herald reports. The Small Business Administration approved business disaster loans, economic injury loans for nonprofits and home disaster loans for citizens last week.


Kansas City: Elected officials in Jackson County are adding plaques to statues of the Kansas City area county's namesake noting that the nation's seventh president was a slave owner and forced thousands of Native Americans off their lands. The plaques that will be added to statues of Andrew Jackson outside courthouses in downtown Kansas City and in nearby Independence will note: "Almost two centuries later, we hold a broader, more inclusive view of our nation," KMBC-TV reports. Jackson began his term as president in 1829, almost three years after the Missouri State Legislature named the county after him because he was a hero of the War of 1812. "This statue of Jackson reminds us we are on a path that, in the immortal words of Martin Luther King Jr., bends toward justice. In turn, we must acknowledge the past injustices to help us create a greater nation built upon humane policies to light our way and the way of humanity everywhere," the plaques will read.


Kalispell: One of Glacier National Park's most infamous thoroughfares is scheduled for a much-needed face lift next year. Many Glacier Road, which provides access to the popular Many Glacier Hotel and some of the park's most well trafficked hikes, will be closed to vehicles from April 1 to May 17 and again from Sept. 21 to Dec. 16. During the intervening months, construction projects on the road are anticipated to cause delays of at least 40 minutes and as long as three hours each way from the nearby town of Babb to the Many Glacier Hotel. The construction project is expected to continue in 2021, the Flathead Beacon reports. For years, travel on Many Glacier Road has been an unpleasant adventure for park visitors. The road runs along the Sherburne Reservoir, and the waters of the artificial reservoir have contributed to instability underneath the roadway, causing massive potholes and dramatic undulations.


Scottsbluff: The City Council has reduced its funding commitment to the local zoo, a commitment that includes a contingency clause for further cuts if city sales tax revenue were to drop. The agreement approved Monday night runs for five years at $300,000 a year, a drop of $50,000 yearly from the 10-year commitment that ends in September next year. The $350,000 a year was becoming unsustainable because of lower sales tax revenue and city spending increases, city officials have said. Riverside director Anthony Mason said fundraisers and private donations could make up the funding difference. Any further reduction of funding would have to be approved by a three-fourths vote of the City Council. Scottsbluff City Manager Nathan Johnson says the hope is that by investing in the zoo, the returning tourism dollars will stimulate city's sales tax revenue.


Carson City: With costs falling for hepatitis C treatment, state prisons are launching a program to test all inmates for the blood-borne virus. The Department of Corrections has budgeted about $6.8 million and plans to hire contract staff to screen all inmates in coming months, including those just entering the system, Las Vegas Review-Journal reports. Nevada has about 13,000 men and women at seven correctional centers, nine conservation camps and two transitional housing facilities, corrections department spokesman Scott Kelley said. In a report Friday to the Legislature's Interim Finance Committee, deputy prisons chief John Borrowman called curing chronic hepatitis C before releasing inmates "an invaluable step toward (virus) elimination and successful community reintegration."

New Hampshire

Franconia: A shelter located inside a 19th-century barn is planned to undergo an ambitious reconstruction. The Bancroft House has planned demolition and reconstruction of its Franconia property after decades of struggling financially, the Caledonian Record reports. The barn currently offers free room and board to residents, allowing them to save up the rent and deposits required for securing housing when they leave. "Currently the barn's floor has collapsed, and critters have easy access to the interior, preventing us from accepting linens, towels, and anything with fabric or stuffing, which rodents will quickly use as nesting material," says Kevin Johnson, a member of the shelter's board of directors. The organization has spent the past few years trying to improve the nonprofit's financial health, and demolition has proven to be the most cost-effective way to address the deteriorating structure.

New Jersey

Trenton: Wildlife officials are extending the second phase of the state's black bear hunt because the harvest objectives for the year have not been met. The six-day hunt had concluded Saturday. But it will now resume Wednesday and continue through Saturday. Officials say 265 bears were harvested during the first phase of the hunt in October. Another 37 were culled last week, meaning 302 bruins were killed overall. New Jersey's bear management policy mandates that the hunting season be extended by four days if less than 20% of tagged bears are killed. The harvest rate for this season stands at 14.7%. That harvest rate is deemed necessary to provide better ecological balance to the bear population and reduce the potential for bear-human encounters.

New Mexico

Las Cruces: New Mexico State University has been awarded a grant that will go toward building the only botanic garden within 100 miles of the southern New Mexico campus. The garden will be used to grow and study plants native to New Mexico and the Chihuahuan Desert that might attract bees and other pollinators. In addition to the research side, officials are aiming to create a garden that will be welcoming for visitors. The plan incorporates paths throughout the garden and a large gazebo for shade and outdoor events. Rather than straight rows of plants, it will be designed using a paisley pattern made up of four repetitions with the same plants in each plot. Officials say it will likely take several years for the garden to be completed.

New York

New York: Gov. Andrew Cuomo proposed new legislation Tuesday that would close a loophole in state law that often prevents prosecutors from bringing rape charges when victims become drunk of their own volition. The governor wants to amend the state's definition of who cannot legally consent to sexual activity. That currently does not include someone who remains conscious – but is too drunk to consent – after becoming voluntarily intoxicated. "While New York has some of the most aggressive laws in the nation when it comes to combating this insidious disease, a loophole in current law allows rapists to walk free and vacate their heinous crimes based on a legal technicality," Cuomo said in a statement. "Our laws must protect the people of this state – not condone rape as a punishment for consuming alcohol."

North Carolina

Monroe: An item found in the state in 1973 may be thousands of years old, according to the state's office of archaeology. The 7-inch carved artifact found by a Monroe landowner is suspected to be a grooved adz, a tool used for smoothing or trimming wood, The Charlotte Observer reports. It could have been used to carve bowls, dugout canoes or other objects, according to a North Carolina Office of State Archaeology statement. The item's age is unclear, but it may have been made about the time when many grooved axes were being made and used, according to the office's 3D model and description of the item. That means it likely dates to the Late Archaic period between 3,000 and 1,000 B.C. Indigenous groups in the area over the years include the Catawba Nation and the Lumbee Tribe, according to the Observer.

North Dakota

Bismarck: A group seeking to legalize recreational marijuana in the state can begin circulating petitions to try to bring the issue to voters. Secretary of State Al Jaeger approved the format of the petition Monday. LegalizeND would need to gather and submit nearly 13,500 signatures by July 6 to get a proposed measure on November ballot. The proposed measure would allow any person over the age of 21 to use, possess and transport up to 2 ounces of prepared marijuana, but it would ban home growing of the plant. The group gathered enough signatures to put a legalization measure on the ballot in 2018, but that effort failed 41% to 59%.


Columbus: The state unveiled its new Ohio School Safety Center on Tuesday as a panel that will advise that office begins its work. The new office under Ohio Homeland Security is intended to help educators and police prevent and address violence involving schools and students. It began its work months ago with a staff that included intelligence analysts scanning social media and websites for threats. Republican Gov. Mike DeWine has said the center also will review school safety plans, help train school threat-assessment teams and share best practices. It will get input from a new working group whose 40-plus members were announced Monday. Among them are representatives of schools and school employees who work with students in crisis, as well as emergency responders, other state offices and organizations that promote children's wellness.


Oklahoma City: Gov. Kevin Stitt said Tuesday that he's taking over gambling negotiations with Native American tribes from the attorney general and plans to hire his own out-of-state legal team. Stitt also announced at a news conference that he intends to offer tribes an extension that would allow casino gambling to continue after Jan. 1, when Stitt maintains the current compacts expire. "The language in this extension will allow each side who signs on to the extension to retain their legal positions," Stitt said. "I want business to continue as usual while we resolve this dispute." Attorney General Mike Hunter took over several months ago as the state's lead negotiator with the tribes, but Stitt said Tuesday that he felt it was best to have "one unified voice." He said his office is working on finalizing a contract with an out-of-state law firm to assist his office in negotiating with the tribes.


Salem: Members of a homeless encampment are planning to stage a protest at the Capitol, possibly this week, after a citywide camping ban went into effect Monday. The plan was announced as city officials prepared to give the homeless 24 hours' notice Tuesday to depart the camp at The ARCHES Project, a downtown social services provider. Those who refuse to leave could face civil citations. "We have nowhere to go now," said Anthony Stevens, the camp's unofficial spokesman. "We can't go back to the parks, we can't go to where we can hide, because they're just going to come in, mow everything over and send us on our way." The ban, passed at the start of December with a two-week delay, was aimed at clearing city sidewalks and other public property of homeless camps. City councilors OK'd the ban but aborted a proposal to prohibit sitting and lying on sidewalks.


Harrisburg: Policymakers announced a task force Monday that will take a broad look at the state's juvenile justice system in hopes of improving the results it produces. Legislative leaders and Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf announced formation of the group at a Capitol news conference, giving it nearly a year to issue recommendations about how to make people safer, improve accountability and save tax dollars. Its members will be appointed by Wolf, the court system and the Legislature. House Majority Leader Bryan Cutler, R-Lancaster, said the concept is to use data and research to reconfigure the juvenile justice system to improve results. "I'd like to say there is no such thing as a bad kid," said Sen. Mike Regan, R-York. "However, we all know kids do bad things." Wolf said the project will build on clean slate legislation, reductions in the state prison inmate population, an end to automatic driver's license suspensions and other adult justice reform changes in recent years.

Rhode Island

Providence: Critics of a state campaign finance law say it violates the First Amendment. The law requires the disclosure of the top five donors behind any campaign communication during state election cycles. In addition, it requires groups producing the communications to file public reports of any donor who gave more than $1,000. The law is the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by conservative advocacy groups, though it also has critics on the left, The Boston Globe reports. Critics of the bill have argued that identifying donors encourages them not to participate in the democratic process. Supporters of the bill have argued that it will enlighten voters as to who is trying to influence their decision at the ballot.

South Carolina

Greenville: A prosecutor said he will decide by January how to handle      convicted and sentenced to a year in prison for using his power and office to push a personal assistant to have sex with him. The other charges against ex-Greenville County Sheriff Will Lewis cover a range of additional misconduct including lying about conducting a background check on a deputy, giving someone a badge who was not qualified and intimidating his employees to try to keep them from cooperating with investigators. The evidence, including recorded phone calls, made the affair case the strongest to get a conviction, so prosecutors decided to try Lewis on two counts of misconduct in office first, Solicitor Kevin Brackett says.

South Dakota

Rapid City: A little boy who always dreamed of getting a train for Christmas finds himself on a magical adventure – with a distinctly Black Hills twist – in a new book starring the 1880 Train. "Marlon McDoogle's Magical Night" introduces readers to 12-year-old Marlon, who's waiting for a Christmas surprise his grandfather promised him. However, Marlon could never predict what would happen when his grandfather arrives on Christmas Eve and tells the boy, "We have lots of work to do!" The pair drives off in Grandpa McDoogle's old truck for an unforgettable encounter with visitors from the North Pole and a wild ride aboard the 1880 Train. The book is the latest project from Sean Covel of Deadwood, the producer of films including "Napoleon Dynamite" and the author of "Porter the Hoarder" books that were recently distributed in elementary schools throughout South Dakota, the Rapid City Journal reports.


Memphis: A nonprofit group has handed over statues of Confederate leaders Nathan Bedford Forrest and Jefferson Davis to the Sons of Confederate Veterans, two years after they were removed from public parks in the city, officials said Tuesday. City of Memphis legal officer Bruce McMullen said the statues of Forrest and Davis have been given to Forrest's descendants and the Sons of Confederate Veterans "to display them as they wish." The statues' location was not disclosed, but they could be re-erected at some point. Memphis and the Confederate veterans' group have battled in court over the statues' removal from two city parks. Forrest's equestrian statue, which stood over the grave of the Confederate general and his wife, and the monument of Davis, the Confederate president, were removed from the parks under the cover of night Dec. 20, 2017.


Houston: A 19-year-old man has been arrested after mercury was found spilled in the city, leading dozens of people to be decontaminated as a precaution, FBI said Monday. The agency's Houston office said on Twitter that Christopher Lee Melder has been charged with burglary and unlawful disposal of hazardous material. He is also charged on an outstanding felony drug possession warrant. It wasn't immediately known whether he had a lawyer, and authorities didn't immediately say if the spills were intentional. City officials said, according to the FBI, that he broke into a lab at an undisclosed location and took the mercury. Someone called 911 about 11:15 a.m. Sunday to report a white liquid on the ground, Houston Fire Chief Sam Pena has said. Officials later determined less than a pint of mercury was spilled outside a Walmart, a Sonic Drive-In and gas station.


Salt Lake City: The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints defended Tuesday how it uses and invests member donations after a former church employee charged in a complaint to the Internal Revenue Service that the faith had improperly built a $100 billion investment portfolio using member donations that are supposed to go to charitable causes. The vast majority of member donations are used to fund church operations, temples, missions, education and humanitarian needs, while another portion is "methodically safeguarded through wise financial management and the building of a prudent reserve for the future," church spokesman Eric Hawkins said in a statement. The IRS complaint from a former church investment manager alleges the Utah-based faith sets aside about $1 billion a year from the $7 billion it receives annually in member donations, the Washington Post reports.


Burlington: Voters in the city will have a say in March 2020 on whether legal noncitizens can vote in city elections. The City Council passed a resolution Monday to go to voters. The charter change would have to approved by the Legislature, WCAX-TV reports. Independent Burlington City Councilor Adam Roof had pushed the proposal, saying that all Burlington residents are affected by decisions made by the local government, regardless of their citizenship status, so they should be allowed to vote. A similar charter change in Montpelier stalled in the Senate during the last legislative session, after it was approved in the House.


Arlington: A redevelopment plan for Amazon's second headquarters has been unanimously approved by a county board, clearing the way for the company to transform 6.2 acres into twin 22-story buildings. The Arlington County Board voted 5-0 on Saturday to give Amazon final approval to began building the headquarters known as HQ2, news outlets report. HQ2 will be an approximately 2 million-square-foot mixed-use set of buildings that will house a day care facility for employees and other residents, ground-level retail shops, an underground parking garage and an indoor event space for county-sanctioned events. Amazon promised the county a $20 million commitment for affordable housing because the site was once zoned for residential use and because the company is adding 590,000 square feet of density to the area.


Spokane: The Spokane Tribe of Indians will finally be compensated after some of their ancestral homelands were flooded by the giant Grand Coulee Dam seven decades ago. The U.S. House on Monday approved and sent to President Donald Trump a bill that sets up yearly payments to the tribe based on a similar system for the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, who also lost land when the dam and its reservoir were created. The Spokesman-Review reports the Spokane Tribe will receive $6 million a year for 10 years and $8 million a year after that. The money will come from revenues of the Bonneville Power Administration, which sells electricity generated by Grand Coulee and other federal dams in the Northwest. Trump is expected to sign the bill, the newspaper reports.

West Virginia

Point Pleasant: The site of a bridge that collapsed 52 years ago and killed dozens of people has been recognized as a National Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. The American Society of Civil Engineers' recognition for Silver Bridge was announced Sunday during a ceremony where the suspension bridge once stood, news outlets report. The bridge named for the color of its aluminum paint crossed the Ohio River, connecting Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and Gallipolis, Ohio, and first opened to traffic in 1928. It collapsed Dec. 15, 1967. Eyewitnesses reported it took seconds for the bridge to fold like a deck of cards, sending dozens of cars and people into the water below. The National Transportation Safety Board later determined the collapse was caused by an eyebar that fractured due to stress corrosion and corrosion fatigue.


Madison: The new leader of the state's jobs agency is pledging to refuse to award state tax credits to technology manufacturing giant Foxconn for employees who don't work in Wisconsin – but a new state audit shows the agency's procedures leave the door open. For the second time in as many years, the nonpartisan Legislature Audit Bureau is warning the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp. to change its procedures to ensure taxpayers don't end up paying for work that doesn't benefit the state economy. Foxconn struck a deal in 2017 with state lawmakers to build a $10 billion LCD panel manufacturing facility in southeastern Wisconsin in exchange for $3 billion in state incentives. The project – once hailed by President Donald Trump as the "eighth wonder of world" – has since been scaled back, but the state's contract with the company hasn't changed.


Casper: The state Republican Party has passed a resolution opposing the addition of another vaccine to the requirements for children in school. The Department of Health is considering changes to vaccine rules that will be sent to Republican Gov. Mark Gordon for approval, The Casper Star-Tribune reports. The department added meningococcal vaccine to the required list of school inoculations. The disease can cause meningitis, a life-threatening illness that attacks the central nervous system. The GOP resolution said the party opposes adding the meningococcal vaccine to the required list due to statements from U.S. Supreme Court justices about a vaccine "regulatory void." The resolution also referred to money paid by a national program to compensate those injured by vaccines and a Johns Hopkins University study saying medical or hospital error is a leading cause of U.S. deaths.

From USA TODAY Network and wire reports

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Floridas largest water agency has no governing board, and soon, no director - Palm Beach Post

Posted: 14 Feb 2019 12:00 AM PST

Leadership at the state's largest water management agency further unraveled Thursday with the unexpected resignation of executive director Ernie Marks who worked for more than a decade on Everglades restoration projects in multiple state posts.

Marks' last day at the South Florida Water Management District will be March 5. He became executive director in August 2017 following a unanimous governing board vote.

The abrupt announcement came near the end of an unusual governing board meeting where there was no quorum, men teared up, accusations flew from the dais against elected officials and beleaguered decision-makers more accustomed to criticism received standing ovations.

It was the final meeting for the remaining four of nine governing board members appointed by former Gov. Rick Scott who were asked to resign last month by Gov. Ron DeSantis. Board Chairman Federico Fernandez and member Brandon Tucker agreed Jan. 30 to resign after Thursday's meeting. Board member Jim Moran and Sam Accursio have terms that expire in March.

"It's been the complete privilege of my life at this point to serve the 20 months that I have had the opportunity to serve on this board," said Tucker in an emotional goodbye from the dais. "God bless each and every one of you. Mr. Marks, I look forward to seeing you somewhere down the road buddy, and, I'm out."

The board is in charge of flood control, water quality and Everglades restoration in 16 counties from Orlando to the Keys — a daunting challenge that in recent years has included devastating bouts of toxic blue-green algae in the northern estuaries, red tide in the Gulf of Mexico and along the Atlantic coastline and sea grass die-offs in Florida Bay.

Members have been censured for favoring agricultural interests over coastal concerns but bristled Thursday at those accusations.

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"There have clearly been a lot of frustrations shared by a wide number of parties," Fernandez said.

Five board members resigned previous to Thursday's meeting after running afoul of DeSantis and U.S. Rep. Brian Mast, R-Palm City, for a November decision to allow farming to continue for at least two more years on 16,000 acres of land slated for a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

Mast, who served as chairman of DeSantis' environmental transition team, had asked the board to delay the vote after the lease wasn't made public until 9 p.m. the night before the meeting. The board refused.

Tucker said during Thursday's meeting the "coups d'etat" of the board was planned well before the November meeting by Mast. Tucker, who said he voted for Mast twice, went on Thursday to relate an August meeting with Mast where it was made clear the board would be asked to step down.

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"It would be naïve to say that me and some of the members of the water management district board didn't see eye to eye and that last meeting in November was the straw that broke the camel's back," Mast said Thursday. "It's not a secret that Ernie Marks and I didn't see eye to eye either."

Mast has proposed keeping Lake Okeechobee at lower levels so that harmful discharges to the Caloosahatchee and St. Lucie estuaries can be reduced, but Marks has said a lower lake can lead to unintended consequences. Those include extreme water restrictions, saltwater intrusion and a lack of water for the Seminole Tribe of Florida during drought.

Kimberly Mitchell, executive director of the Everglades Trust, said Thursday the issues are not a matter of farmers versus environmentalists.

"Nobody wants to do away with agriculture," she said. "The last thing I would want to see is an extreme to the other side. It's about balance."

Marks, 43, replaced Pete Antonacci as executive director of the nearly 1,500-employee, $800 million agency when Antonacci left to lead Enterprise Florida.

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Marks served as the district's director of Everglades policy and coordination before that, with earlier jobs as the South Florida Regional Director for the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and as a regulator manager for the Florida Department of Environmental Protection.

"My time has passed," Marks said in his brief announcement before stepping out of the room temporarily.

It will now be up to DeSantis and his new board of appointees to hire an executive director in charge of billions of dollars in restoration projects, including the $1.4 billion reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. DeSantis has so far named two members — Chauncey Goss, a city councilman for Sanibel Island, and former Florida Fish and Wildlife Commissioner "Alligator Ron" Bergeron.

Neither Bergeron, who is still undergoing an ethics review for business ties, nor Goss was at Thursday's meeting. Goss, whose framed portrait is already on the wall at district headquarters and his biography posted on its website, said he was briefed on the agenda but didn't have his paperwork cleared by the governor's office in time to be sworn in as a board member.

BOOKMARK The Palm Beach Post's new and improved weather page with environmental and climate news

Goss' absence meant there was no quorum to vote on the final piece of a 170,000 acre-feet reservoir in Hendry County to reduce discharges into the Caloosahatchee River. Fernandez said in his resignation letter he wanted to stay on the board through Thursday so he could vote on the $523.8 million project.

"My hopes are going forward that the distraction can be put aside and we can prove to be the solution," Federico said about the board and people who live in the 16 counties it represents. "I see a very bright future for South Florida."

The next governing board meeting is March 14.




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