House Alters, Approves Online Registration Bill

April 29, 2015

Before heading home Tuesday, the House approved a bill that would allow Floridians to register to vote online, a proposal opposed by Gov. Rick Scott’s elections chief.

The measure (SB 228) will go back to the Senate because of a late change tacked onto the bill by Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa.

Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg, called the amendment — which would require a risk assessment to be conducted before the online voter-registration system could go public — a “thinly veiled attempt to kill this bill.”

However, Sen. Jeff Clemens, a Lake Worth Democrat who is sponsoring the bill, said he is fine with the change and expects the measure to get Senate approval. Though the House adjourned and went home Tuesday, the Senate will meet Wednesday.

“I wouldn’t call it mischief,” Clemens said of the amendment. “Is it something that could have been addressed by the secretary of state? Probably. But I think there are some members in the House who have reservations about how we’ve run technology in the state.”

The Senate approved the measure 34-3 on Monday before sending it to the House.

The House voted 100-9 on Tuesday to approve the bill. The measure includes $1.8 million, which must still be approved as part of the budget, and requires the state Division of Elections to develop the online voter-registration application by Oct. 1, 2017.

Grant pointed to well-publicized technology troubles in other state programs as a need for his amendment.

The state had expensive problems with the 2013 rollout of an unemployment website as well as problems this year with the educational-testing platform used with the Florida Standards Assessments.

Secretary of State Ken Detzner opposed the bill as it moved through legislative committees. In part, he said his agency will be busy next year overseeing what is expected to be the largest election in state history and is already undertaking a two-year rewrite of the statewide voter-registration system.

Detzner has also said his office would be under deadline pressure to coordinate the required online registration changes with 67 county supervisors of election and the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

Detzner has also warned the system would have to be built to ward off cyber-attacks from “forces of evil.”

Proponents say the bill will make it easier for service members from Florida to register and update voting records.

Rep. Matt Caldwell, a North Fort Myers Republican who sponsored the issue in the House, said supervisors of election will still have to verify each application as they do with all other voter-registration forms.

by Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

Pictured: Precinct 33, located a the First Baptist Church of Bratt. file photo, click to enlarge.

West Florida Eliminated From 4A State Playoff Series

April 29, 2015

The defending 4A state champion West Florida Lady Jaguars are out of the state playoffs. The Lady Jags lost to the Walton Braves Tuesday 6-0 in the Region 1-4A quarterfinal.

Farrah Nicholas pitched six innings for West Florida, allowing eight hits and six runs while striking out three. Hitting for the Lady Jaguars were Kayla Miller 2-3 and Ealon Pyle 1-2.

For more photos, click here. photos by Gary Carnley, click to enlarge.

More Photos – New Langley Bell 4-H Center

April 29, 2015

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Pictured: The new Langley Bell 4-H Center on Stefani Road will open Saturday. Photos for, click to enlarge.

Wahoos Drop Another One To Biloxi Shuckers

April 29, 2015

It was Fat Tuesday at Pensacola Bayfront Stadium but the Biloxi Shuckers did all the partying.

With the stadium decorated in purple, green and gold balloons, the Shuckers had five runs cross the plate in the second inning and the celebration was on. Biloxi, the Southern League South Division leader at 13-6, won the game, 6-2, and now has taken seven of nine from Pensacola (5-13) this season.

Pensacola Manager Pat Kelly credited Josh Smith for coming back and retiring 13 in a row after giving up five runs in the second inning.

“Our bullpen has been pretty taxed the last couple of days,” Kelly said, pointing out reliever Drew Hayes got called up to Triple-A Louisville and Layne Somsen started Sunday. “He became Josh Smith again. That’s the Josh Smith I’ve known and seen the last couple of years.”

Smith ended up throwing seven innings giving up six runs, three earned on six hits, no walks and striking out four.

If Pensacola had turned a double play to begin the second inning, Biloxi would have had no runners on base with two outs. Instead, Biloxi loaded the bases and Nick Shaw doubled to score two runs and Yadiel Rivera singled to score two more. In all five runs crossed the plate.

Rivera, the Milwaukee Brewers No. 13 prospect according to Baseball America, increased his on-base streak to 18 games and is hitting .367.

Blue Wahoos third baseman Seth Mejias-Brean singled to increase his on-base streak to six games. Wahoos shortstop Juan Perez, who had a nine-game hitting streak end Monday, hit a triple and scored his first run of the season on a single by center fielder Beau Amaral.

The Blue Wahoos are hitting .206 as a team, which is 10 points higher than the Jacksonville Suns, in the Southern League.

“Hitting is contagious but so is not hitting,” Kelly said. “These guys really feed off each other. There hasn’t been one guy go in and swing the bat good every time. It just takes somebody getting hot.”

The final game of the six-game series with the Milwaukee Brewers Double-A affiliate Biloxi Shuckers is scheduled at 6:35 p.m. Wednesday. LHP Wandy Peralta (1-1, 2.30) takes the mound for the Wahoos and is scheduled to be opposed by the Shuckers RHP Jorge Lopez (1-2, 5.25).

Fire Marshal Investigating Midday Fire In Molino

April 28, 2015

A suspicious midday fire Tuesday in Molino is under investigation.

A passerby reported the fire in a mobile home in the 5000 block of Highway 95A, south of Cedartown Road. The first firefighters on scene reported smoke showing from the trailer. The fire was quickly extinguished.

The Florida State Fire Marshal’s office was called to investigate the cause of the fire. There were no injuries reported. photos, click to enlarge.

Florida House Calls It Quits And Heads Home Early

April 28, 2015

In a surprising twist in the Legislature’s budget impasse, the House abruptly adjourned and went home Tuesday, killing scores of bills and deepening a crisis surrounding the spending plan for the year that begins July 1.

While the Capitol had buzzed with rumors that the House might adjourn “sine die” — from the Latin phrase for “without day” — before Friday’s scheduled end of the annual session, the chamber’s leadership had shown few signs of the impending move. House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, said he only knew what was happening moments before House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, began addressing the chamber.

In his remarks to the House, Crisafulli blamed the shutdown on the Senate’s unwillingness to drop its insistence on discussing a Medicaid expansion alternative before agreeing to a budget. The House has repeatedly refused to consider any plan that would use Medicaid expansion dollars, including a Senate proposal to tap those funds to help lower-income Floridians purchase private health insurance.

“I made a promise to you when you elected me to be your speaker that I’d never ask you to vote for something that I wouldn’t vote for myself,” Crisafulli said. “Accordingly, I will not force anyone to expand Medicaid. And so for now, we stand at an impasse with the Senate. … I do not see a need to keep you here waiting around, away from your families, away from your businesses, until the Senate decides they are ready to negotiate with us.”

It was not immediately clear if the Senate would follow suit and end its session Tuesday, or if it would continue to meet through the week. It continued hearing bills Tuesday afternoon.

Either way, the Legislature will have to return for a special session before June 30 to approve a budget.

After a brief flurry of offers late last week, budget negotiations again ground to a halt over the weekend. The state is still waiting to hear back from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services on whether the agency will approve a plan to extend the $2.2 billion Low Income Pool, or LIP, program past June 30. LIP is largely used to cover the expenses of uninsured, low-income Floridians who show up at hospitals needing treatment.

The Senate and the federal government have said the fate of LIP is tied to whether the Legislature approves the Senate expansion plan. The House and Gov. Rick Scott reject that idea, and Scott has threatened to sue the Obama administration over attempts to connect the two issues.

Pafford said after the session that the House should have continued its work through Friday. But he said he did support the House closing out the regular session instead of extending it into the coming week s — and said the adjournment could help the Senate Medicaid proposal, which House Democrats support.

“Now, we can clearly come back and talk about the only item that apparently was so massive enough that it’s brought down business in the Florida House, which is health-care expansion,” Pafford said. “In a way, it might be the best thing, largely because now we’re going to talk about health-care expansion.”

by The News Service of Florida

Today’s Tate and Jay Softball Playoffs Game Rescheduled

April 28, 2015

Today’s Tate and Jay softball playoff games have been rescheduled  for tomorrow.

The Tate Lady Aggies will host Niceville at 7 p.m. Wednesday.

The Jay Lady Royals will host Franklin County at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Century Double Shooting Suspect Now Behind Bars In Florida

April 28, 2015

The suspect wanted in connection with a double shooting March 26 in Century is now in the Escambia County (FL) Jail after being captured in Alabama.

Brian Keith Sanders, 28, was taken into custody without incident in the parking lot of the Wind Creek Casino in Atmore. Authorities said the Poarch Creek Tribal Police Department responded to a reported suspicious person in the casino’s parking lot and found that Sanders had outstanding warrants in Florida. He was transferred to the custody of the Escambia County (AL) Sheriff’s Office.

He was extradited to Floriday Tuesday, where he was charged with aggravated battery, deadly missiles, possession of a firearm by a convicted felon and criminal mischief. He was being held in the Escambia County (FL) Jail with bond set at $141,000.

The Escambia County (FL) Sheriff’s Office received a call from the Jay Hospital emergency room the night of the shooting alerting them that two gunshot victims had arrived in a private vehicle seeking treatment. The gunshot victims advised that they were shot on Jefferson Avenue in Century.  Both victims were shot in the shoulder or upper-arm area, and they were treated and released .

They were apparently shot while in a vehicle that was discovered on Mayes Street at Jefferson Avenue. It appeared that the driver’s window of the Chevrolet Impala had been shot out. exclusive photos, click to enlarge.

Rain Chance Continues Tonight

April 28, 2015

Here is your official North Escambia area forecast:

Tuesday Night
Showers likely and possibly a thunderstorm before 7pm, then scattered showers and thunderstorms, mainly between 7pm and 1am. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 58. Northwest wind around 5 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%.

Mostly cloudy, with a high near 72. Northwest wind 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph.

Wednesday Night
Mostly cloudy, with a low around 53. North wind 5 to 10 mph.

Mostly sunny, with a high near 73. Northwest wind 5 to 10 mph.

Thursday Night
Mostly clear, with a low around 52. Northwest wind 5 to 10 mph

Sunny, with a high near 74. North wind 5 to 10 mph.

Friday Night
Mostly clear, with a low around 54. North wind around 5 mph.

Sunny, with a high near 78.

Saturday Night
Mostly clear, with a low around 57.

Sunny, with a high near 80.

Sunday Night
Mostly clear, with a low around 59.

Mostly sunny, with a high near 82.

House Approves Controversial ‘Fracking’ Bill

April 28, 2015

The House on Monday approved a measure that would require oil and gas companies to inform the state of chemicals being injected into the ground as part of a controversial drilling process known as “fracking.”

The bill (HB 1205) also would prohibit permits from being issued until a study is completed on the potential impacts of fracking.

However, a number of Democrats contend the measure that now awaits Senate approval simply creates the appearance of government scrutiny at the expense of the state’s groundwater at a time when lawmakers are looking to implement new water policies.

“We have a very unique state, with a unique hydropology, and we absolutely should not be doing anything with fracking,” said Rep. Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, a Tallahassee Democrat who said the state should ban fracking. “Our aquifer is so sensitive and our lands are so sensitive that this is not the right answer for Florida to move forward with new industry or with energy independence. This puts everything at risk that we cherish”

Fracking involves injecting water, sand and chemicals underground to create fractures in rock formations, which allows the release of natural gas and oil. Florida has long had oil drilling in parts of Southwest Florida and the Panhandle. The techniques are formally known as chemical hydraulic and acid fracturing.

The Florida Petroleum Council-backed bill, approved 82-34, would set up a state permitting process for fracking, require companies to register the chemicals being used on a national website and prohibit local governments from imposing their own regulations.

Lawmakers in support of the bill contend the drilling process helps the nation establish energy independence.

Rep. Neil Combee, R-Polk City, argued there is always risk in producing energy and that the bill gives needed authority to the state Department of Environmental Protection to regulate fracking proposals.

“I like the outdoors. I like hunting and fishing. But let me tell you another thing, I like electricity,” Combee said. “I like lights and air conditioning and television. I like gasoline to put in my truck to come up here to visit with all my friends.”

In opposing the proposal, Rep. Evan Jenne, D-Dania Beach, said the state needs to be more cautious about the impacts to its water supply.

“On Friday we heard a little about how it’s all new technology and everyone is going to be perfectly safe,” Jenne said. “The odd thing is, the last time I heard that very specific debate point being made on this floor was literally one week before Deepwater Horizon blew sky high.”

The April 20, 2010, Deepwater Horizon oil spill flooded the Gulf of Mexico with 4.9 million barrels of oil and nearly 2 million gallons of chemical dispersants, but wreaked most of its havoc on the open Gulf itself and the coastal areas of Louisiana, and to some degree Mississippi, Alabama and Florida.

The Senate version of the fracking bill (SB 1468), which is similar to the House proposal, is scheduled to make its first appearance on the Senate floor Tuesday.

House sponsor Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, has been pursuing the registry in recent years, with the House approving a similar proposal in 2013 only to have the bill never make an appearance on the Senate floor.

Not all Democrats opposed the bill.

Rep. Katie Edwards, D-Plantation, said she could support the bill because the study required on the potential impacts of fracking will create a moratorium on the drilling process that could last two years.

“The choice for me isn’t to be able to vote against fracking,” Edwards said, “but to at least put something in place that taps the brakes, to have a thoughtful study and have a rulemaking process in place that reflects the safe needs and the environmental concerns that I share with the members here in the back row.”

The state study would look at the impact of the geology under the counties where fracking may occur, the impact on ground water and surface water, what would become of chemical-filled water, and whether reclaimed water, also known as recycled or irrigation quality water, could be used rather than water directly from the aquifers that produce drinking water.

The permitting process, to require a company to declare upfront the kind of drilling that will occur, was added at the request of the state Department of Environmental Protection, which currently has no authority to issue or prohibit permits related to fracking.

The request followed the discovery that unauthorized acid fracking had been conducted in Collier County in December 2013 and January 2014.

The bill would increase the daily fine to $25,000, up from the current $10,000 a day fine, for companies that begin fracking without permits.

Rodrigues wasn’t able to get a second fracking-related measures advanced Monday.

The House postponed a vote on a separate measure (HB 1209) that would alter the process for gas and oil companies to shield the chemicals they use from the public.

Rodrigues said his public-records measure would have put more of an onus on oil and gas companies to maintain their trade secrets when someone files a public-records request.

“Currently if you want to challenge a trade secret, you have to hire an attorney, as an individual, you have to file a court case and pay for the fees to do that,” Rodrigues said after the floor session Monday. “Under my bill, an individual would file a public records (request). DEP would then say this has been requested, tell the corporation you have 10 days — and that was an amendment we put on at the request of the First Amendment Foundation — to challenge this.”

A two-thirds vote of the House is needed to pass new public-records exemptions, and with several Republican lawmakers absent it is unknown if the measure would have survived Monday.

by Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

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