Janet Cruz heads to Puerto Rico for relief effort

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Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, with Evelio Otero, on Oct. 4. Otero collected more than 2 million pounds of goods for Puerto Ricans.

House Minority Leader Janet Cruz is headed to Puerto Rico today in conjunction with a relief effort organized by Major League Baseball, the Tampa Bay Rays and Moffitt Cancer Center.

Today’s flight will be the second to Ponce by Cruz, a Tampa Democrat whose ex-husband has family members on the island. She returned from her previous tour in tears, saying she was horrified by the dire conditions Puerto Ricans were living after Hurricane Maria devastated the U.S. territory.

Weeks after the storm ravaged the island, more than 80 percent of Puerto Rico remains without power and about a third don’t have water.

According to a press release issued by Cruz’s office this morning, the group will deliver 30,000 pounds of supplies, including food, water and medical necessities.

Cruz and the others also plan to bring back tissue samples “currently on the verge of spoiling that represent years of critical medical research” along with cancer patients and a group of nuns displaced by the storm.

“After disasters, it’s our duty as citizens to look out for each other,” Cruz said in the release. “We all must ensure we are doing everything we possibly can to help our Puerto Rican neighbors recover from the destruction caused by Hurricane Maria. I’m proud to have found such incredible partners in Major League Baseball, the Rays, and Moffitt to help aide in this effort.”

Last week, Cruz visited a Tampa warehouse where volunteers, led by Evelio Otero, were collecting items for Puerto Ricans impacted by the storm.

Rubio: Boycott white nationalist at UF

He didn’t use the word “boycott,” but U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio took to Twitter to urge folks to skip white nationalist leader Richard Spencer’s speech at the University of Florida next week.

In a pair of tweets this morning, UF alum Rubio (@marcorubio) advised people not to give Spencer the attention he “craves:”

“Richard Spencer craves publicity.Desperate to incite outrage b/c terrified of @UF speech no one shows up for. #Sayfie #GatorNation 1/2

#GatorNation not asking u to ignore his racist message.I am suggesting you embarrass him by denying him the attention he craves #Sayfie 2/2

Spencer is scheduled to appear on campus on Oct. 19.

UF President Kent Fuchs initially balked at allowing the controversial leader of the National Policy Center to come to the university, but relented after the threat of a lawsuit.

Yesterday, Fuchs also advised students and faculty to stay away.

“(Do) not provide Mr. Spencer and his followers the spotlight they are seeking. They are intending to attract crowds and provoke a reaction in order to draw the media,” Fuchs wrote in an email. “By shunning him and his followers we will block his attempt for further visibility.”

Rick Scott to docs: Get involved. Somebody’s going to win the next election.

Addressing the Florida Medical Association last week, Gov. Rick Scott encouraged doctors to “get involved in the political process” because “somebody is actually going to win” the next election.

Scott, who’s leaving office next year due to term limits, noted that the legislative session that kicks off in January will be his last.

“I’ve got about 458, 459 days to go,” he told a group of doctors attending a day-long opioid summit in Tampa on Friday.

“I don’t say that because I don’t like the job. This is a great job. And there’s a lot of people trying to get it,” he joked, before giving the docs some advice.

“I would recommend that everybody get involved in the political process, because somebody is actually going to win. And it’s better that you’re involved in the process and you understand what they think and how they’re going to govern and you participate in it,” Scott told the physicians at the event hosted by the FMA.

The influential doctors’ group has a lot of clout in the Capitol, with a cadre of top-shelf lobbyists and a reputation for being able to kill legislation it views as unfriendly. The FMA’s PAC has contributed over $4 million to candidates and committees over the past six years, and that doesn’t include separate contributions made individually by doctors or their practices.

Scott, who’s mulling a run for the U.S. Senate next year, then went on to make a pitch for the job he’s done since he took office in 2011.

“If you like to try to have a positive impact on people’s lives, I don’t think there’s a better job than being governor of a state like Florida,” he said. We’ve been able to, because of people like you, we’ve added over 1.4 million jobs. We’ve paid off 25 percent of the state debt. I’ve cut 5,000 regulations. We have about 20,000 new jobs a month. We have about 350,000 people moving here a year. One hundred thousand of those people are moving from another country. We’re the best melting pot around. We’re at a 46-year low in our crime rate. So this state is absolutely on a roll. There is no place like Florida right now.”

Then he veered back to encouraging the docs to get involved.

“It’s really important that you guys are politically active because somebody will win the next election. If you’re not active, it might be somebody that you disagree (with), so I’d do everything you can to get the person that you believe in is going to do the right things for this state elected,” he said.

Radios headed to info-starved Puerto Rico, thanks to broadcasters

The National Association of Broadcasters is donating 10,000 battery-operated radios to Puerto Ricans impacted by Hurricane Maria.

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Tampa volunteers gathered 2 million pounds of supplies for Puerto Rico last week

The effort is being funded by NAB, the National Alliance of State Broadcasters Associations, and multiple U.S. broadcasters, according to press release issued by NAB.

The broadcasters are working with FEMA and local Puerto Rican authorities “to ensure that the radios are properly distributed to those most in need,” the release said.

Florida U.S. Sens. Bill Nelson and Marco Rubio, and Congressman Darren Soto “were instrumental in coordinating this effort,” according to the release.

Here’s more from thepress release:

“Time and again, broadcast radio has served as a lifeline to communities desperate for information and support,” said NAB President and CEO Gordon Smith. “Our fellow Americans in the Caribbean now face a once-in-a-generation humanitarian crisis, and radio is one of the only communications resources available. We admire the resolve of our friends in Puerto Rico and are proud to undertake this effort with help from FEMA to keep citizens safe and informed.”

“We can’t thank NAB, NASBA and our radio brothers and sisters on the U.S. mainland enough for this initiative,” said Puerto Rico Broadcasters Association Executive Director Jose Ribas Dominicci. Raul Santiago Santos, Puerto Rico Broadcasters Association Board President, said, “This is going to be a very long recovery, and Puerto Ricans are information-starved for where to get help. Having local radio in the hands of our citizens will make a real and positive difference for our people.”

Florida Association of Broadcasters President and CEO Pat Roberts spearheaded this initiative on the ground and successfully secured transportation of the radios from Miami to Puerto Rico.

Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levine, who is helping secure a staging ground in Miami for the radios prior to shipment to Puerto Rico, said the crisis “requires our ongoing support and commitment, which is why I’m thankful to the NAB for stepping up to provide critical communications infrastructure. I saw firsthand how the local leadership and residents are eager to restore normal order and the efforts by the NAB and a number of companies in the private sector is what’s making a big difference. I look forward to the continued efforts to aid the great people of Puerto Rico because right now, todos somos Puertorriqueños (‘We are all Puerto Ricans’).”

She’s baaaack! Hugs for Hukill

HukillSen. Dorothy Hukill received a round of applause yesterday from her colleagues during roll call in the Environmental Preservation and Conservation Committee.

The Port Orange Republican, who missed the entire 2017 legislative session due to cancer treatments, even seemed delighted to hear the input of Brian Pitts, the ubiquitous Capitol gadfly.

Pitts, a.k.a. Justice to Jesus, was commenting provided on a bill that would designate $50 million a year for beach renourishment.

“I missed it,” Hukill said, to the disbelief of Clearwater Republican Jack Latvala.

“At the first committee meeting of the final year of my 16 years up here, and I listen to the speaker,” Latvala, the bill’s sponsor, said, “and I think about the things that I’m going to miss in the process, and the things that I’m not going to miss, that’s definitely going to be on one of those lists.”

Hukill, a 71-year-old attorney who admittedly can be “pretty insistent,” spent the 2017 session watching the session on a pair of screens — a home computer and an iPad — at her Port Orange home while recovering from surgery for cervical cancer.

“It’s very exciting to be in the (committee) room,” Hukill said after Monday’s meeting. “It’s lovely to watch it on the wonderful Florida Channel, which I was very, very happy to have. But I’d rather be here.”

Hukill noted she often got “verbal” at the screens while watching the 2017 session and that a number of people “got tired of me calling them.”

She expects the welcome-backs and hugs to quickly give way to legislative normalcy.

“It’s exciting to be back. People are giving give me a breather for a day or two,” she noted. “It’s tough not being here.”

Hukill, the chair of the Education Committee, had been diagnosed as she was running for re-election in 2016.

Radiation treatments ended just as the 2017 regular session was coming to a close.

Hukill, who represents parts of Brevard and Volusia counties, has been in the state Legislature since 2004, the Senate since 2012.

By Jim Turner.

Black farmers group closed membership after new pot law passed

budIn the latest in Florida’s weed wars, an organization representing a handful of the state’s black farmers is admitting it closed its membership after the Legislature passed a law requiring the state to give someone in the group a medical marijuana license.

The new law, passed during a special session in June, called for an overall increase of 10 licenses by Tuesday (health officials said late last week they couldn’t meet the deadline of granting five licenses by Oct. 3).

One of the five licenses is required to go to a black farmer who is a member of the Black Farmers and Agriculturalists Association (Florida Chapter) and who was part of settled lawsuits, known as the “Pigford” cases, about discrimination by the federal government against black farmers.

Columbus Smith, a black farmer from Panama City, filed a lawsuit against the state last month, challenging the constitutionality of the law.

Smith alleges that the law is so narrowly drawn that only a handful of black farmers could qualify for the license. The lawsuit contends that the measure is what is known as an unconstitutional “special law.”

In the lawsuit, Smith claims he tried to join the black farmers’ association but was told the group isn’t taking new members. He also said that there the organization currently has only only three to five members.

The organization conceded that it closed its rolls after the law was passed, but that it will establish a “trust fund from the proceeds of the profits of the medical marijuana business that the state of Florida has set aside for our organization” to benefit Florida Pigford litigants.

In a press release, the BFAA-FL said the association has been “inundated” with calls and internet requests for information.

“The vast majority of these requests were solely for the purpose of applying for the Pigford Litigants / Claimants medical marijuana license. At the direction of our Board of Directors, and in preparation for applying for the license before the growing/harvesting season, we closed our membership even though membership in BFAA-FL is not solely to meet the requirement for MMTC licensure. We will reopen our membership after the State has issued a medical marijuana license,” the release reads.

Black farmers who aren’t part of the association can still apply for one of the four other licenses, the release points out. Health officials are giving extra points to applicants who can show minority participation in their operations.

“BFAA-FL is excited to help grow more minority participation in the new cannabis industry that has taken America and most of the world by storm. The organization is excited to see the State of Florida embrace minority participation in next round of minority applications. More importantly, BFAA-FL is excited to announce the grant that will be part of helping change the exclusionary process that has plagued the industry,” the release said.

 

BFF raising money for UF student injured in Las Vegas massacre

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A classmate of Kristin Babik, the University of Florida law student injured in the Las Vegas mass shooting earlier this week, has raised more than $6,000 for his bestie in a gofundme campaign.

Mikey Ballou started the online campaign to help defray costs for Babik’s medical expenses and provide financial assistance to her family, he wrote on the fundraiser site.

Babik, 24, was “simply visiting friends and enjoying a weekend away” when, attending the Route 91 Harvest Festival Sunday night, she was among the hundreds shot by gunman Stephen Paddock. Fifty-eight people died in what is the worst mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

Babik has a punctured lung and broken ribs and is recovering, Ballou wrote.

“Bad things happen to good people, but I still believe good will prevail,” he said.

As of this morning, Ballou’s effort reaped $6,532 from 144 people over just two days. That’s more than halfway toward his $10,000 goal.

Here’s his pitch:

My name is Mikey Ballou, and I’m from Gainesville, Florida. My best friend, Kristin Babik, was injured in the shooting that happened at the Route 91 Harvest Festival across from Mandalay Bay in Las Vegas. She has a punctured lung and broken ribs, but she is in stable condition. Kristin is a brave soul, but no one should have to endure this. I want to raise money for Kristin who was simply visiting friends and enjoying a weekend away. All of the money donated will go to her and her family to cover medical expenses and the time they take off work to care for her. Bad things happen to good people, but I still believe good will prevail. I thank you from the bottom of my heart, and I know Kristin thanks you from the bottom of hers.