Florida Senators Back School Safety Plan

February 27, 2018

The emotionally raw conversation about guns escalated Monday in the Capitol, as a group of gun-control advocates flailed a key Senate panel considering legislation that students, parents and educators angrily argued would do little to make Florida’s schools safer because it does not include a ban on assault-style weapons.

The intense debate came during a Senate Rules Committee hearing on a broad package addressing school safety, guns and mental health, in response to this month’s massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland that left 17 people, including 14 students, dead.

More than 1,000 people, many of them wearing “Rally in Tally” neon orange T-shirts emblazoned with #GunReformNow, traveled by bus to Tallahassee to rally and meet with lawmakers before attending the Rules Committee meeting, where the outspoken and frustrated crowd berated members of the panel.

The sea of orange confronted senators during a discussion of an amendment, sponsored by Sen. Jose Javier Rodriguez, that would ban more than a dozen types of semi-automatic, assault-style weapons like the one used by 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz to mow down students and teachers at the Broward County school.

In the days following the Valentine’s Day mass shooting, many students from the Broward County school have pleaded with lawmakers — and President Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Scott — for the prohibition on assault-style weapons, an idea opposed by the powerful National Rifle Association and many leaders of the Republican-controlled Legislature.

“Assault weapons are weapons of war. They’re designed for the battlefield and then modified for civilian use … to efficiently extinguish human life,” Rodriguez, a Miami Democrat who is running for Congress, said.

But Marion Hammer, the NRA’s Florida lobbyist, argued Rodriguez’s proposed amendment would stop just “short of banning practically every gun known to man.”

Eric Friday, general counsel for the gun-rights group Florida Carry, likened the weapons targeted in Rodriguez’s amendment to the “equivalent of the same hunting rifle my father and grandfather used.”

The comments of the gun-rights proponents elicited jeers and hisses from the overflow crowd and drew a rebuke from two 15-year-old survivors of the catastrophic event.

“I don’t understand how you can find the hobby of murdering animals the same importance as the murdering of my classmates and teachers,” Bela Urbina said. “This weapon has killed so many people. It is a militarized weapon that we don’t need. We don’t need civilians to have it.”

Her friend Katherine Guerra was even more pointed.

“Do you think that your sport is more important than human lives? And if you believe that, you need to reassess yourselves,” she said.

The raucous crowd erupted in applause for the girls, wearing their school colors of burgundy and silver.

Dozens of speakers lined up to weigh in on the proposal. Nearly all of them spoke heatedly in favor of the ban.

“Shame on all of you,” Andy Oliver, a Methodist pastor from St. Petersburg, angrily scolded lawmakers for failing to enact stricter gun laws in the wake of previous mass shootings, including the 2016 murders of 49 clubgoers at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando. “The blood is on your hands.”

The amendment failed in a 7-6 vote, with Miami Republican Anitere Flores crossing party lines to join Democrats, who voted as a bloc in favor of the proposed ban on assault-style weapons.

After the ban failed, the crowd again erupted, threatening lawmakers with being voted out of office in November.

The overall package approved by the Rules Committee would allow specially trained teachers to bring guns to schools, prohibit people younger than 21 from buying rifles or other long guns, and give law enforcement officers the ability to get court orders to take guns away from mentally ill people they deem dangerous.

Parkland Mayor Christine Hunschofsky read notes of support for the bill, even without the prohibition on assault weapons, from the parents of two students who were killed. Fred Guttenberg, whose 14-year-old daughter Jamie was slain, called the proposal a “minimally acceptable first step.”

Hunschofsky said her community is “still grieving and mourning” the event that rocked the tight-knit enclave in northern Broward County.

“Everybody knew somebody who was affected,” the mayor said. “It’s a very difficult time for all of us.”

Hunschofsky said the bill isn’t perfect but she supports the measure.

“My friends who just buried their children, they want action,” she said. “I remind everybody, three weeks ago, I don’t think anyone in the state of Florida would have thought we would ever be discussing a bill like this. So I appreciate any step in the right direction.”

The mayor said she was “not a fan” of a controversial element in the bill that would allow teachers who receive special training and are deputized by the local sheriff to serve as school “marshals.” School districts could choose whether they want to participate in the program.

The school marshal program, not included in a similar package being pushed by Scott, would require trained teachers to be “distinctly and visually identifiable to responding law enforcement officers, faculty, staff, and students, in the case of any active assailant incident on a sponsoring school district’s campus.”

But Rodriguez asked if such an identification program would potentially make teachers “become targets of mass shooters rather than individuals who are presumably helping defend us.”

Sen. Bill Galvano, a Bradenton Republican who is sponsoring the $400 million package, said it would be up to local law enforcement “to make sure they know who these participants are and how to identify them.”

Senate Minority Leader Oscar Braynon, who is black, said he fears that arming teachers could have disastrous consequences, especially for minority children.

Braynon, D-Miami Gardens, said he was unable to vote for a bill that “puts children that look like me, look like my child, in harm’s way.”

“I just cannot do it,” Braynon said.

Before the committee signed off on the sweeping measure (SB 7026) in a 9-4 vote, Galvano noted that lawmakers are hurriedly acting to respond to the catastrophe with the goal of preventing others.

And Galvano acknowledged the topic of guns evokes passion, as it did during Monday’s 3 ½-hour meeting. He praised the Legislature for being willing to “revisit” gun regulations.

“That’s not been a debate that this Legislature has ever meaningfully had since I’ve been elected,” the Bradenton Republican, who’s served in the Legislature for more than 14 years, said. “There’s still work to do, but I ask you to join me in supporting this major step in moving this to the next committee so that we never have to endure a tragedy like we have recently endured again.”

After the meeting, Hammer told The News Service of Florida the NRA does not support the measure.

“The bill contains gratuitous gun control language that will not save kids. We support hardening the schools. We support keeping guns out of the hands of the mentally ill. We support putting armed security in the schools. We do not support taking away Second Amendment rights of law-abiding citizens because a mentally ill young man who should have been stopped numerous times by the system wasn’t stopped, and gun owners are being blamed,” she said.

The bill is expected to go Tuesday to the Senate Appropriations Committee. Also, the House Appropriations Committee is scheduled to take up the House version of the bill Tuesday.

by The News Service of Florida

Escambia County Awards $273K In Athletic Park Mowing Contracts, Estimates $50K Savings

February 27, 2018

Escambia County has awarded grounds mowing and trimming bids for 16 athletic parks totaling $273,603.50 for the year.

Each park will be mowed and trimmed 40 times during the year.

The Escambia County Parks and Recreation Department assumed some of the mowing and trimming responsibilities for a total of 16 athletic parks, to alleviate the costs of maintenance for athletic associations at county parks.

The county estimates that they will save over $50,000 per year using private contractors versus county staff performing the work. (Click here for the cost savings breakdown.)

The logistics of mowing and trimming during a short playing season, combined with the distances between parks, and the playing schedules make it impossible for one contractor to meet the needs of all the parks in a cost-efficient and responsive manner, so the Parks and Recreation Department divided the 16 parks into six zones, with each zone containing at least two parks of similar size, located within a reasonable distance of each other

Bids were awarded as follows, with an option to renew each for two additional one year terms:

Zone 1: Total Landscape Service, Inc / $29,450

  • Bradberry Park, 4760 Highway 99A, Walnut Hill, 7 acres
  • Ernest Ward, 7650 Highway 97, Walnut Hill, 2 acres
  • Travis Nelson Park, 4525 West Highway 4, Bratt, 40 acres

Zone 2: Rhett James Landscaping, Inc / $63,990

  • Cantonment, 681 Well Line Road, 30 acres
  • Quintette, 2490 Quintette Lane, 18 acres
  • Molino, 2320 Crabtree Church Road, 12 acres

Zone 3: Emerald Coast Grass Company, LLC, $36,172.50

  • Brent, 4711 N. “W” Street Pensacola, 30 acres
  • Raymond Riddle, 1704 N. “W” Street Pensacola, 5 acres
  • Mayfair, 50 S. Garfield Pensacola, 5 acres

Zone 4: Coastal Landscaping and Maintenance, Inc / $36,950

  • Bellview, 2750 Longleaf Avenue Pensacola, 20 acres
  • Lewis Powell 7000 Rolling Hills, Pensacola, 2 acres
  • Myrtle Grove 99 N. 61st Avenue, Pensacola, 17 acres

Zone 5: Big Orange Enterprises, LLC, d/b/a Escape Landscaping and Lawn Care / $54,720

  • Brosnaham Park, 10370 Ashston Brosnaham, Pensacola, 110 acres
  • John R. Jones, 555 E. Nine Mile Road, Pensacola, 20 acres

Zone 6: Gulf Coast Environmental Contractors, Inc / $52,320

  • Southwest Complex, 2020 Bauer Road, Pensacola, 217 acres
  • Baars, 13001 Sorrento Road, 8 acres

Pictured: The Travis Nelson Park in Bratt is mowed on Monday. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.

Cottage Hill Boil Water Notice Lifted For Area Including Jim Allen Elementary

February 27, 2018

Cottage Hill Water Works  has lifted a boil water notice put into place last week due to a broken water main.

The boil water notice was issued last Thursday after natural gas pipeline crew hit a water main. The accident left the area bounded by Neal Road, Wellline Road and Highway 29 without water temporarily, including Jim Allen Elementary School.

The utility said the water main has been repaired and bacteriological sampling showed the water to be safe to drink.

The Escambia County School District provided bottled water and hand sanitizer to students at Jim Allen Elementary during the boil water notice.

NHS Girls Weightlifting Presents Awards

February 27, 2018

Northview High School’s girls weightlifting team recently held an end of season breakfast banquet and presented several awards.

Pictured above are Team Leadership Award winner Lexi Bagget, MVL (Most Valuable Lifter) Natasha Walker-MVL (most valuable lifter), and Team Dedication Award winner Abigail Nelson.

Other winners and honorees are listed below their photos (scroll down).

First year lettering in weightlifting: Libby Pugh, Ayiana Courtney, Emily Stabler, Naudia Carach, Hailey Harigel and Lynnsey Holzapfel.

Three Year Awards: Rhayeshawanna Davidson, , Coach Natalie Nall and Lexi Bagget

Second Year Awards: Lexi Broadhead, Susannah Amerson and Crystal Douglas, Coach Natalie Nall.

First Year Awards: Shelby Bashore and Natasha Walker.

Photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Tate High Jazz Band Scores Superior Rating At District Assessment

February 27, 2018

The Tate High School Jazz 1 Band scored a superior rating recently at the District 1 Florida Bandmasters Association Music Performance Assessment at Washington High School. The band, under the leadership of Jakob Wisdom, will travel to Gainesville on March 26 for state competition. Photo for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

FWC Division of Law Enforcement Receives Reaccreditation

February 27, 2018

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s (FWC) Division of Law Enforcement has completed the review process to maintain its accreditation status. The FWC was initially accredited in 2009. This was its fourth completion of the accreditation process.

“The FWC Division of Law Enforcement continues to maintain the highest standards of credibility, effectiveness and professionalism,” said Eric Sutton, FWC executive director. “Our staff work diligently to uphold these important standards each and every day. Reaccreditation by the Commission validates the hard work they do, and provides a strong vote of confidence in their ability to protect the public and conserve Florida’s natural resources.”

Florida law enforcement accreditation is certified by an independent reviewing authority, the Commission for Florida Law Enforcement Accreditation (CFA). There are approximately 240 prescribed standards reflecting best management practices that a law enforcement agency must consistently meet or exceed over a three-year period in order to achieve this status.

“Accreditation is a voluntary but important process intended to hold an agency to a higher level of accountability by an external source,” said Col. Curtis Brown, director of the Division of Law Enforcement. “We are very pleased with the CFA’s determination that reaccreditation of the Division was earned.”

An accreditation assessment team composed of law enforcement representatives from other accredited Florida law enforcement agencies conducted on-site inspections of the division’s procedures, policies, practices and equipment to determine compliance. The team visited FWC headquarters in Tallahassee and several other offices around the state, interviewing individuals, reviewing written materials and observing activity.

“We sincerely support the accreditation process,” Brown said. “It has been an effective way to ensure that we are operating efficiently and providing the best service we possibly can.”

Pictured: The FWC Division of Law Enforcement at Fischer Landing in Century. NorthEscambia.com file photo, click to enlarge.

Partly Sunny Tuesday

February 27, 2018

Here is your official North Escambia area forecast:

Tuesday: Partly sunny, with a high near 75. Northeast wind 5 to 10 mph becoming southeast in the afternoon.

Tuesday Night: A 20 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 61. Southeast wind around 5 mph.

Wednesday: A 20 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 78. South wind 5 to 10 mph.

Wednesday Night: A 20 percent chance of showers. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 67. South wind 5 to 10 mph.

Thursday: A 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 77. Southwest wind 10 to 15 mph becoming northwest in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 20 mph.

Thursday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 47. North wind around 10 mph.

Friday: Sunny, with a high near 67. North wind 5 to 10 mph.

Friday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 42. North wind around 5 mph.

Saturday: Sunny, with a high near 69.

Saturday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 45.

Sunday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 70.

Sunday Night: Partly cloudy, with a low around 51.

Monday: A 20 percent chance of showers. Partly sunny, with a high near 71.

Pictured: Raindrops on remain azalea blooms during a moment of sunshine Monday near Walnut Hill. NorthEscambia.com photo, click to enlarge.

Don Gavin

February 27, 2018

​Don Gavin, 75, of Jay, Florida, passed away on February 22, 2018, at Santa Rosa Medical Hospital in Milton. Don was born November 22, 1942, to Alton and Martha Gavin and resided in the Jay area most of his life.

Don was in the construction industry most of his life until he retired in 2009. He loved sports and enjoyed following his sons and grandchildren in the various sporting events they were involved in over the years. He and his wife loved spending time with their grandchildren more than anything. Don was an outgoing person who never met a stranger and loved his profession. Most of the people associated with the commercial construction industry in the area could probably tell you a story or two about Don’s good-natured humor through the years.

Don married Sandy Davis on December 3, 1963. He leaves two sons, Wayne (Jamie), of Jay, Florida, and Al, of Jay, Florida; sisters, Ernestine (Bob) Stone of Jacksonville, Florida, Geraldine Hawkins of Nashville, Tennessee; brother, Carlos (Kathy) of Jay, Florida; four grandchildren, Zach, Lauren, Josh, and Taylor; and many nieces and nephews.

He is preceded in death by his wife of 41 years, Sandy Davis Gavin; his parents, Alton and Martha Gavin; and brother, Benny Gavin.

Funeral services were held Tuesday, February 27, 2018, at Holland Town Holiness Church, Jay, Florida.

Burial was at the church cemetery.

The family is indebted to Santa Rosa Health and Rehab for the last few months of his care. The family would also like to thank Dr. David Smith and staff for the numerous years of health care.

Jean Teresa Kirkland

February 27, 2018

Jean Teresa (Walther) Kirkland, 58, of Jay, passed away from her earthly home to her heavenly home on Saturday, February 24, 2018, due to a brief illness.

Jean was born in Milton on December 25, 1959, and was a graduate of Chumuckla High School. After graduation, Jean began her employment with the Santa Rosa County Clerk’s Office in Milton. She enjoyed a successful career for over 20 years. She was most proud of her sons, Jonathan and Josh, and felt that was her greatest accomplishment. Also, for the last five years she has been consumed with pride and joy over her only granddaughter, Dixie.

Jean was preceded in death by the father of her children, Johnny Kirkland; her parents, Norman “Plug” and Grace Walther; her oldest sister, Martha (Ed) Levins; her nephew, Tim Levins; and niece, Alisa Walther.

Jean leaves behind to forever cherish her memory, her loving boys, Jonathan and Josh; and special granddaughter, Dixie. Also, she leaves behind her very best partner in crime, “wife-in-law” Patsy Kirkland, as they often referred to each other. Jean is also survived by her two sisters, Marie (Wayne) Goddard and Jane (David) Chavers; and her favorite brother, Jack (Eddnie) Walther; brother-in-law, Ed Levins; and many nieces and nephews.

Visitation will be held from 11 a.m. until 1 p.m. on Wednesday, February 28, 2018, at Lewis Funeral Home Milton Chapel.

A graveside service will be held at 2 p.m. on Wednesday, February 28, 2018, at Coldwater Community of Christ Cemetery.

State Revenue Estimate Cut By $167 Million

February 27, 2018

State analysts have reduced their previous estimate for state tax and revenue collections by $167 million, citing a continued decline in corporate income tax collections.

The new estimate reduces a Feb. 9 forecast of a two-year increase of $462 million to $274.4 million. The revised estimate means House and Senate members who are working on an $87 billion budget for 2018-2019 will have a little less money to use as they negotiate a final budget deal. The previous forecast acknowledged that corporate income tax collections were $113 million below estimates through December.

But analysts concluded that was caused by a state decision to let businesses impacted by Hurricane Irma hold off on tax payments until Feb. 15. They projected the shortfall would be negated when the delayed payments began coming in, the analysts said. It didn’t happen.

“While the data for February is still preliminary, it appears that only a small fraction of the expected total was actually received,” the new forecast said. Analysts cut their projection for corporate income tax collections in 2017-2018 by $94.3 million and by $73.1 million in 2018-2019, resulting in the $167 million decline in the overall estimate.

Facing a March 9 end to the annual legislative session, lawmakers have not started formal negotiations on a new state budget, which will take effect July 1.

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