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Blue Bell Ice Cream Recalls All Products Over Listeria Concerns

Blue Bell Ice Cream Recalls All Products Over Listeria Concerns

Blue Bell Ice Cream has  voluntarily recalled all of its products currently on the market made at all of its facilities, including ice cream, frozen yogurt, sherbert and frozen snacks, because they have the potential to be contaminated with listeria. “We’re committed to doing the 100 percent right thing, and the best way to do that is to take all of our products off the market until we can be confident that they are all safe,” said Paul Kruse, Blue Bell CEO and president. “We are heartbroken about this situation and apologize to all of our loyal Blue Bell fans and customers. Our entire history has been about making the very best and highest quality ice cream and we intend to fix this problem. We want enjoying our ice cream to be a source of joy and pleasure, never a cause for concern, so we are committed to getting this right.” The products being recalled are distributed to retail outlets, including food service accounts, convenience stores and supermarkets in several states, including Florida and Alabama. Blue Bell has now had several positive tests for Listeria in different places and plants and as previously reported five patients were treated in Kansas and three in Texas after testing positive for listeria. “At every step, we have made decisions in the best interest of our customers based on the evidence we had available at the time,” Kruse said. “At this point, we cannot say with certainty how Listeria was introduced to our facilities and so we have taken this unprecedented step. We continue to work with our team of experts to eliminate this problem.” Blue Bell is implementing a procedure called “test and hold” for all products made at all of its manufacturing facilities. This means that all products will be tested first and held for release to the market only after the tests show they are safe. Blue Bell expects to resume distribution soon on a limited basis once it is confident in the safety of its product. Consumers who have purchased these items are urged to return them to the place of purchase for a full refund. Listeria can cause   serious and sometimes fatal infections in young children, frail or elderly people, and others with weakened immune systems. Although healthy individuals may suffer only short-term symptoms such as high fever, severe headaches, stiffness, nausea, abdominal pain and diarrhea, a listeria infection can cause miscarriages and stillbirths among pregnant women.  Read More →

April 21, 2015 | Read the story »

ESCO: Pot, $42K Seized In Traffic Stop

ESCO: Pot, $42K Seized In Traffic Stop

The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office seized several pounds of pot and thousands in cash following a weekend traffic stop. Sunday morning deputies were proactively conducting surveillance in an area of Medford Avenue known to have high drug activity. At one residence there was considerable foot traffic, and deputies noticed large bags being transferred to vehicles in front of the residence, the department said. A traffic stop was conducted which led to a felony narcotics arrest. During a search of the vehicle over 10 pounds of marijuana,  just over $42,000 in currency and the vehicle were seized. Hoang Thanh Huynh, 29, was a charged with possession with intent to sell. Courtesy photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.  Read More →

April 21, 2015 | Read the story »


Fair Provides $30K In Educational Grants To Local Students

The Pensacola Interstate Fair, Inc. has given out a total of $30,000 for the 2014-2015 John E. Frenkel, Sr. Educational Grants. This grant provides $1,000 each to 30 recipients, made payable to any accredited college.  Since the inception of the grant program in 1983, Pensacola Interstate Fair, Inc. has given over $1 million to local students. These grants are restricted to graduating High School Seniors of Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties who, during their high school years, have participated in or volunteered at the Pensacola Interstate Fair. The grant recipients for this year are: Brandon H. Ingram, Central High School Mark A. Reid, Escambia High School Amanda S. Tanner, Escambia Virtual Academy Sydney J. Ezelle, Gulf Breeze High School Makenzie C. Bray, Jay High School Kolby L. Copeland, Jay High School Clayton T. Fischer, Jay High School Tucker C. Harrington, Jay High School Jeffery T. Kelley, Jay High School Micah J. Kemp, Jay High School Colby A. Odom, Jay High School Tyler W. Odom, Jay High School Alisa B. Roberts, Jay High School Emily S. Russell, Jay High School Kourtney P. Smith, Jay High School Derrill S. Starling, Jay High School Donald P. Cunningham, Pace High School Elizabeth A. Parra, Pensacola High School (IB) Erin B. Fairall, Pine Forest High School Carissa J. Carroll, Tate High School Tristan W. Fromm, Tate High School Samantha Early, Washington High School Amy K. Fellgren, Washington High School Briahna D. McDavid, Washington High School Christopher P. Searcy, Washington High School Michaela A Tullius, Washington High School Joshua L. McLamb, West Florida High School Raleigh E. Nesbitt, West Florida High School Hannah E. Power, West Florida High School Josephine N. Venable, West Florida High School  Read More →

April 21, 2015 | Read the story »


Scott, State Workers End Fight Over Drug Tests

Ending a four-year legal battle that cost taxpayers at least $675,000, Gov. Rick Scott and lawyers representing a state workers’ union have agreed on the types of Florida government employees who can be forced to undergo suspicionless drug tests. Lawyers for the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, which represents the workers, and Scott haggled for more than a year over which employees can be subjected to random drug testing after an appellate court found that Scott’s blanket drug-screening policy violated constitutional protections against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. Under a settlement agreement filed Monday in federal court, the state agreed to pay the ACLU $375,000 in legal costs for the drawn-out litigation and to limit the drug tests to about 7,000 workers in 157 different job classes, a fraction of the 34,000 employees Scott’s blanket policy was intended to cover. The agreement applies to the union’s collective bargaining units, which include employees who are not dues-paying members, and job applicants. Scott, whose drug-testing push also included an attempt to require applicants for welfare benefits to submit to urinalyses, issued an executive order requiring all state workers to undergo random drug screens shortly after he took office in 2011. A federal judge put the policy on hold after the ACLU filed suit that summer, and the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that Scott could not constitutionally justify drug testing for all types of state employees without a reason, though it said testing could occur for some workers such as those in “safety-sensitive” positions. The appeals court ordered Scott and lawyers for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, or AFSCME, to come up with a list of jobs that could be subject to testing. Scott appealed that decision to the U.S. Supreme Court, which refused to consider the case. Monday’s agreement, which still requires court approval, identified more than 100 job classes that Scott can test for drug or alcohol use. Workers in most of the positions deal with vulnerable children or adults, handle heavy equipment or are already required to undergo medical tests for other reasons. “We are pleased that the settlement will allow Florida to protect families by ensuring state employees working in the most critical areas of safety and security remain drug-free,” Scott spokesman John Tupps said. In addition to the $375,000 Scott agreed to give the ACLU, the state has paid private lawyer Thomas Bishop at least $180,000 for legal fees associated with the case. The state has also spent nearly $120,000 on a special master to oversee the negotiations with the ACLU. “It doesn’t seem to have panned out. That’s an understatement. It seems like an enormous waste of money spent on something that was obviously not constitutional to begin with. I’m not sure why (Scott) made that choice and why he decided to pursue it for so long, but we are happy that the courts have recognized the unconstitutionality of this policy and that we can finally bring this very expensive — to the taxpayers and the parties — litigation to a close,” said ACLU lawyer Shalini Goel Agarwal. The minimum $675,000 tab for the state worker drug-testing lawsuit does not include at least $300,000 Scott also spent on a losing battle to force applicants for Temporary Assistance for Needy Families to undergo drug screens. Scott dropped his appeal of the case earlier this year after the same federal appeals court ruled that the state law, pushed by Scott in his first bid for governor, also violated Fourth Amendment protections against unreasonable searches and seizures by the government. The taxpayers’ bill for the welfare drug-testing lawsuit does not include potentially hefty legal fees for the ACLU, which also represented the plaintiff — a veteran who is a single parent — in that case. by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida  Read More →

April 21, 2015 | Read the story »


Wahoos Beat Barons

Scoring one run in six different innings, the bats slowly came to life as the Pensacola Blue Wahoos topped the Birmingham Barons 6-5 in the first game of the series. Pensacola posted season highs in almost every offensive category in tonight’s win with highs in runs (6), hits (11), doubles (7), triples (2), RBIs (6), walks (8) and extra base hits (9). It started in the third inning as Juan Silva doubled to start the inning. Sean Buckley drove him home with a soft fly ball single to the right field as the Blue Wahoos took a 1-0 lead. RHP Robert Stephenson made his first start since Opening Day and posted four strikeouts in the first two innings. The bats also came to life for the Barons in the third inning as Jeremy Farrell homered to right center. In the next at bat, Joey DeMichele got a triple and then scored off of Tim Anderson’s single to right field. Anderson stole two bases and then scored off of a sac fly by Christian Marrero. Despite the Barons three runs in the third, the momentum continued to build for the Blue Wahoos as the team scored a run in the fourth, sixth, seventh, eighth and ninth inning to win the game. Marquez Smith scored in the fourth off of a sac fly by Chris Berset. In the sixth inning, Juan Silva was walked home. The Barons held on tight as Birmingham came to bat in the sixth inning and scored their final run of the night to head into the last third of the game with a 5-3 lead. Smith doubled in the seventh inning and then was brought home off the bat of Seth Mejias-Brean as he registered a triple. The Blue Wahoos tied the game back up in the eighth inning as Silva scored off of a single by Jesse Winker. Mejias-Brean drove in Kyle Waldrop for the final run of the game in the top of the ninth to give the Wahoos their third win of the season. Carlos Gonzalez got his first win of the season after throwing one inning of relief in the eighth as Ben Klimesh got his first save of the year by allowing only one hit in the ninth. Stephenson finished the night with 5.1 IP, 6 H, 5R, 2 BB, 9 SO and 1 HR. Since the Wahoos scored five runs in tonight’s game, fans win with 50% off Papa John’s pizza when they order online using promo code WAHOOS on Tuesday, April 21. The two teams will square off Tuesday night in Birmingham at 7:05 p.m.  Read More →

April 21, 2015 | Read the story »

Northview Assistant Coach Headed To Tennessee

Northview Assistant Coach Headed To Tennessee

Northview High School assistant football coach Derek Marshman has announced that he’s headed to a new job in Tennessee. Marshman has been named an assistant coach at Signal Mountain High School just outside Chattanooga. There, he will join the school’s new head coach, Ty Wise. Marshman and Wise were part of the coaching staff that led the Northview Chiefs to a state football championship in 2012. Wise departed in 2013 to take the head coaching job at Graceville. Marshman will remain at Northview through the end of the school year before moving to Tennessee with his family, including his wife Brittany, a teacher at Byrneville Elementary School. “It was a great opportunity for my entire family,” Marshman said Monday night. “We visited this past weekend for the first time, and it was just beautiful up there. The entire town just blew us away.” Marshman said he will miss the Northview Chiefs, which he predicted will do great things this fall. “There’s a really good group of juniors moving up as leaders. Northview will have a very strong team this fall.” Pictured top: Northview assistant coach Derek Marksman (center) is resigning and taking a job in Tennessee. Pictured inset: Marshman reacts to the Chiefs falling behind during a home game. Pictured below: Marshman calls a play. NorthEscambia.com file photos, click to enlarge.  Read More →

April 21, 2015 | Read the story »

DCF Faulted For Oversight Of Privatized Agencies

Two reports presented to lawmakers last week criticized the Florida Department of Children and Families for poor oversight of the privatized agencies that deliver child-welfare, substance-abuse and mental-health services statewide. The reports arrived as the Legislature is considering further changes to all those services. The Florida Office of the Auditor General published its findings last month and reviewed them Thursday with members of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee. One report faulted the state’s oversight of what are known as managing entities, which oversee the delivery of substance-abuse and mental-health services. With lawmakers focused on improving those services this year, the managing entities could be revamped under a bill (SB 7068) ready for a vote by the full Senate possibly as soon as Wednesday. The House version (HB 7119) is ready to go to the full House. The other report criticized the state’s oversight of community-based care organizations, known as CBCs, which provide foster care, adoption and family-support services. The agencies have been under legislative scrutiny in recent years for a series of child deaths from abuse and neglect. Now, lawmakers are revisiting a child-welfare reform law passed last year — and the possibility of more funding for the CBCs to provide mental-health and substance-abuse treatment, among other services. Together, the reports point to shortcomings in the Department of Children and Families’ monitoring of the privatized agencies, which receive hundreds of millions of dollars a year to coordinate and deliver services in their regions. “The department did not always adequately conduct, document, review, and report the results of (community based care agencies) monitoring,” noted the report on the foster-care services. “The department could not provide documentation supporting the conclusions reached on cost analyses performed for (managing entity) contracts awarded on a noncompetitive basis,” said the report on mental-health and substance-abuse services. “The department had not always documented that employees involved in the contractor evaluation and selection process attested in writing that they were independent of, and had no conflict of interest in, the MEs (managing entities) evaluated and selected.” What’s more, department monitoring of the managing entities “did not ensure that all key assessment factors and performance measures were included in the scope of its monitoring activities. Additionally, the department did not always appropriately document that proper follow-up on ME actions was taken to correct deficiencies identified through monitoring.” Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll, in a response to both reports, wrote, “The department generally concurs with the findings.” The criticism comes as the House and Senate prepare to vote on whether to alter the way the seven statewide managing entities bid on Department of Children and Families contracts. The House and Senate bills would require those contracts to be performance-based and to include consequences for failing to comply. What’s more, the House proposal would require that at least two managing entities bid on each contract — or the bidding process could be opened to for-profit companies and Medicaid managed-care organizations. Members of the Senate Children, Families and Elder Affairs Committee questioned Lisa Norman, an audit manager with the Auditor General’s Office, on the reports, and some of the individual agencies objected to specific findings. For instance, the report faulted Our Kids, the community-based care agency serving Miami-Dade and Monroe counties, for expenditures related to a $28,000 graduation event for young adults in the Independent Living program. The costs included $6,684 for food for 250 guests, which the Auditor General’s report found an inappropriate expenditure under state law. “We recommend that Our Kids, in consultation with the department, make appropriate funding source adjustments for the unallowable costs related to the graduation event,” said the report. But in her written response to the report, Our Kids president and CEO Jackie Gonzalez said that the event helps young people in foster care build their self-esteem. “Our Kids has received approval from DCF for this event since we began acknowledging the success of our students in a ceremony in 2009 and did not think it necessary to receive approval each year,” the response said. “We believe that (the Auditor General) is taking an overly narrow view.” Committee Chairwoman Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, asked Norman how Our Kids could have done the event differently. “Use private funds,” Norman replied. Christina Spudeas, executive director of the advocacy group Florida’s Children First, reminded lawmakers that under former DCF Secretary David Wilkins, the department had slashed most of its quality-assurance positions — which had performed some of the monitoring. “They went down 70 positions,” Spudeas said. “Two years ago, you gave funding, but only reinstituted one-half of those. We need the rest of those positions to do full quality assurance, quality improvement, for the programs around the state. It’s very important for the children in care.” As to the managing entities, the chief executive officer of one of them, Linda McKenna of the Central Florida Behavioral Health Network, said that the four selected for the Auditor General’s scrutiny “were the newest managing entities in the state and had all recently come up and were developing their procedures.” Mark Fontaine, executive director of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association, agreed, but said it was clear that lawmakers were “redefining their expectations” for the managing entities and their coordination of the services they provide. “The expectations on the MEs are going to be greater,” Fontaine said. “It’s more like shifting to health-care management: ‘Let’s look at the people we’re serving and figure out how to do better services for those people.’ ” by Margie Menzel, The News Service of Florida  Read More →

April 21, 2015 | Read the story »

Escambia Woman Charged In Morning School Bus Hit And Run

An Escambia County driver was arrested after a school bus hit and run crash this morning. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 24-year old Starmeka Turner pulled her 2005 Lincoln out of a Circle K parking lot on Jackson Street into the path of a school bus with 12 passengers on board about 7:45 a.m.. Turner then fled the scene, but was located a short time later and arrested. There were no injuries to the driver or 12 passengers on the school bus. Turner was charged with leaving the scene of a crash with property damage and violation of right of way. At noon, she remained in the Escambia County Jail  with bond set at $250.  Read More →

April 20, 2015 | Read the story »

Escambia Schools Release 2015-2016 School Calendar

The calendar for the 2015-2016 school year has been released by the Escambia County School District. To download the calendar (pdf), click here. 2015 Fall Semester Highlights: Teachers will return to schools on Monday, Aug. 10, 2015. Students are to report on Monday, Aug. 17, 2015. Labor Day Holiday will be observed Sept. 7, 2015. (Schools and offices will be closed.) Students will have Oct. 12, 2015 off – Teachers have a planning day. Veteran’s Day Holiday will be on Weds., Nov. 11, 2015. (Schools and offices will be closed.) Students and teachers will have Nov. 25, 2015 off. (Offices will be open.) Thanksgiving Holiday will be observed Nov. 26 and 27, 2015. (Schools and offices will be closed.) Schools and offices will be closed for the Winter Holiday, Christmas and New Years from Dec. 21, 2015 to Jan. 1, 2016. 2016 Spring Semester Highlights: Teachers return from the winter break on Mon., Jan. 4, 2016. (Students off.) Students return to school and begin the second semester on Tues., Jan. 5, 2016. Martin Luther King, Jr. Day will be observed on Jan. 18, 2016. (Schools and offices are closed.) Students will have Feb. 15, 2016. (Pres’s Day) off – Teachers have a planning day. Students and teachers are off for Spring Break March 21 to 24, 2016. (Offices are still open.) Spring Holiday will be observed March 25, 2016. (All schools and offices will be closed.) The last day of school for students will be Thurs., May 26, 2016. Memorial Day will be observed on May 30, 2016. (All schools and offices will be closed.) Last regular working day for teachers will be Tues., May 31, 2016.  Read More →

April 20, 2015 | Read the story »

Man Charged With Dumping Paint

An Escambia County man is facing a felony charge after allegedly dumping dozens of gallons of paint into the ground. Ezequiel Santos-Gomez was charged with littering in any quantity for commercial purposes, a third degree felony, and disposal at an unpermitted sold waste facility. Escambia County Code Enforcement received an anonymous complaint about the improper disposal of paint. Code Enforcement and Florida Fish and Wildlife Law Enforcement officers responded and found an excavated pit that was 5-feet wide, 11-feet long and 4-feet deep. They reported finding white paint around and inside the pit, along with about 100 five-gallon plastic buckets stacked adjacent to the pit, located in a residential area near Pensacola Christian College. Santos-Gomez reportedly told officers that he checked an could only dispose of 20 gallons per day at the landfill. It was estimated that 60 gallons of paint had been dumped in the pit.  Read More →

April 20, 2015 | Read the story »

Blue Wahoos At Smokies Rained Out

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos’ series finale against the Tennessee Smokies was postponed on Sunday due to rain. The game will be made up as part of a doubleheader in Pensacola on Wednesday, May 6th beginning at 5:30 p.m. Pensacola hosts Tennessee next month on May 5-9. This is the third game postponed due to rain for the Blue Wahoos this season. The Blue Wahoos travel to Birmingham to face the Barons in a five-game series with the opening game scheduled for 7:05 p.m. Monday night. Scheduled to take the mound is RHP Robert Stephenson (0-1, 4.76) for Pensacola and RHP Frankie Montas (0-0, 1.69) for Birmingham. The Blue Wahoos return home to Pensacola Bayfront Stadium on April 25 against the Biloxi Shuckers.  Read More →

April 20, 2015 | Read the story »

Grocery Prices Up In ‘Spring Picnic’ Survey

Higher retail prices for several foods, including sirloin tip roast, ground chuck, deli ham and orange juice, resulted in a slight increase in the American Farm Bureau Federation’s Spring Picnic Marketbasket survey. The informal survey shows the total cost of 16 food items that can be used to prepare one or more meals was $53.87, up $.60 or about 1 percent compared to a survey conducted a year ago. Of the 16 items surveyed, eight increased and eight decreased in average price. “Several meat items increased in price, accounting for much of the modest increase in the marketbasket,” said John Anderson, AFBF’s deputy chief economist. “The 1 percent increase shown by our survey tracks closely with the Agriculture Department’s forecast of 2 percent to 3 percent food inflation for 2015,” he said. Items showing retail price increases from a year ago included: sirloin tip roast, up 14 percent to $5.71 per pound ground chuck, up 12 percent to $4.61 per pound orange juice, up 7 percent to $3.47 per half-gallon toasted oat cereal, up 7 percent to $3.12 for a 9-ounce box deli ham, up 6 percent to $5.53 per pound eggs, up 4 percent to $2.05 per dozen shredded cheddar cheese, up 3 percent to $4.59 per pound potatoes, up 2 percent to $2.74 for a 5-pound bag These items showed modest retail price decreases compared to a year ago: flour, down 9 percent to $2.52 for a 5-pound bag bacon, down 8 percent to $4.44 per pound apples, down 8 percent to $1.47 per pound chicken breast, down 7 percent to $3.28 per pound whole milk, down 6 percent to $3.45 per gallon vegetable oil, down 6 percent to $2.67 for a 32-ounce bottle bagged salad, down 5 percent to $2.47 per pound white bread, down 3 percent to $1.75 per 20-ounce loaf Price checks of alternative milk and egg choices not included in the overall marketbasket survey average revealed the following: 1/2 gallon regular milk, $2.24; 1/2 gallon organic milk, $4.47; and one dozen “cage-free” eggs, $3.57. The year-to-year direction of the marketbasket survey tracks closely with the federal government’s Consumer Price Index report for food at home. As retail grocery prices have increased gradually over time, the share of the average food dollar that America’s farm and ranch families receive has dropped. “Through the mid-1970s, farmers received about one-third of consumer retail food expenditures for food eaten at home and away from home, on average. Since then, that figure has decreased steadily and is now about 16 percent, according to the Agriculture Department’s revised Food Dollar Series,” Anderson said. Using the “food at home and away from home” percentage across-the-board, the farmer’s share of this $53.87 marketbasket would be $8.62. .  Read More →

April 19, 2015 | Read the story »

Tate To Present Precussion Only Spring Recital

Percussion students at Tate High School will present a Spring Recital Monday at 7 p.m. in the school cafeteria. The concert will feature four talented soloists in addition to the three concert percussion ensembles that all earned Superior ratings at the recent district competition. This is a free concert that is open to the public. It’s the first “percussion only” concert held at Tate, and the school hopes that will become an annual event. Participating in the program will be: Concert Percussion Stephen Cleary Morgan Ghiorso Alex Hatley Mason Humphries Bryan LeDuc Patrick McHaney Crosby Mowry Colin Smith Will Talley Symphonic Percussion Landon Benson Nikki Grant Tristan Hacker Ethan Jensen Kathryn Skipper Ben Wagner Hunter Welch Tate Percussion Ensemble Peyton Benson Caleb Colon Aaron Gavin Maurice Hendricks Kyle Irps Paxton Metcalf Honya Richbourg Kaitlin Sainata Danae Smith Ryan Tanton  Read More →

April 19, 2015 | Read the story »

Smith Completes Parris Island Training

PFC Cody Dewayne Smith graduated recently after 13 weeks of Marine Corp training at Parris Island, SC.  Smith served as a squad leader during his training. He was awarded as an expert in rifle markmanship  and was promoted to private first class. Smith is the son of Rex and Theresa Smith of Jay.  Read More →

April 19, 2015 | Read the story »

Smokies Top Blue Wahoos

After splitting a doubleheader on Friday night, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos dropped its Saturday night game against the Tennessee Smokies 7-1. Smokies’ pitcher Felix Pena pitched a gem giving up one run through six innings of work to clinch the series between the two teams. The series finale is Sunday at 1:05 p.m. CT. LHP Wandy Peralta had a strong start with one hit in two innings until he gave up three runs to the Smokies on three hits in the third. After giving up a fourth run in the fifth inning, RHP Jacob Johnson came into the game in only his second relief appearance of the year. The only run for the Blue Wahoos came in the top of the fourth. LF Sean Buckley started the inning with a double to left field and proceeded to score off of a single from 1B Kyle Waldrop. In the first inning, RF Jesse Winker hit a single to extend his on-base streak to six games. Johnson gave up a three-run homer to Willson Contreras in the sixth inning as the Wahoos’ bats were unable to come to life with only one hit in the final four innings of the game. Smokies’ Fernando Cruz gained the save with three innings of work. RHP Chad Rogers came into the game in the eighth and threw a hitless inning with two strikeouts while RHP Drew Hayes closed the game giving up only one hit. The Blue Wahoos return to Pensacola Saturday, April 25th against the Biloxi Shuckers.  Read More →

April 19, 2015 | Read the story »

Florida Gov’t Weekly Roundup: The Week The Legislature Stood Still

It was The Week the Legislature Stood Still. Lawmakers acknowledged this week they almost certainly won’t get the budget done on time — by the scheduled May 1 conclusion of the legislative session — because of a health-care funding issue that state officials have known about for the past year. A quick round of finger-pointing ensued in an unusual four-way conflict that involved Gov. Rick Scott, the House, the Senate and the federal government, but that did little to solve the problem. The two main parties to the squabble are the House and the Senate, which stand $4.2 billion apart, thanks largely to differences in how they handle the Low Income Pool, or LIP, program and the Senate’s proposal to use $2.8 billion in Medicaid expansion funds to help lower-income Floridians purchase private insurance. And as increasingly caustic remarks flew between the two Republican-controlled chambers, it was clear that the Era of Good Feelings (real or imagined) of the last two years was over. Democrats worked to conceal any glee they might have over those developments by speaking of their disappointment. “Apparently, we’ve got a train wreck, and those two locomotives are about ready to hit,” said House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. And as the collision approached, the chambers slogged through schedules that had minimal impact. Dozens of bills were approved by the House, but few drew much attention. Members of the Senate Appropriations Committee endured a daylong meeting Thursday that was notable for how little true controversy was attracted by the legislation on the agenda. Lawmakers weren’t quite adrift, but knowing that they wouldn’t complete the one constitutional requirement for the annual legislative session — and won’t have the bargaining power that the budget provides to reach agreement on other legislation — gave the events an air of going through the motions. GIVING ME LIP The discussions surrounding LIP, which provides money to hospitals and other health providers that serve large numbers of poor and uninsured patients, were already tense when a high-ranking official at the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services sent a letter Tuesday that set off a wave of recriminations. The letter suggested that continued funding for LIP, set to expire June 30, was tied to the state’s decision on Medicaid expansion. CMS official Vikki Wachino wrote that “the state’s expansion status is an important consideration in our approach regarding extending the LIP beyond June.” “We believe that the future of the LIP, sufficient provider rates, and Medicaid expansion are linked in considering a solution for Florida’s low income citizens, safety net providers and taxpayers,” Wachino wrote. Any remaining comity between the two chambers disappeared. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, responded to the letter by issuing a statement lambasting the federal government and the Senate. “It is unthinkable that (the federal government) would leave our state on the hook for over a billion dollars simply because they want a specific policy outcome,” Crisafulli said. “We believe the Florida Senate has provided inaccurate and false hope to Washington, D.C., and has muddled negotiations. Let me be clear — the discussions about LIP and Medicaid expansion must be separate.” Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, wrote a memo to senators predicting stark consequences — including the possibility of closed cancer centers or dialysis units — if the state didn’t get LIP or a health-care expansion done. “The bottom line is: more than ever, today’s correspondence from CMS highlights the link between LIP and expansion and the need to consider a comprehensive Florida solution,” Gardiner wrote. “Time is of the essence. The Senate remains open to meeting at any time to discuss our free-market approach to expansion or any alternative the House or governor would like to propose.” The next day, the head of the state agency that deals with Medicaid went before the Senate Ethics and Elections Committee for a confirmation hearing. Despite what ended up being an 8-1 vote in her favor, it was not smooth sailing for Agency for Health Care Administration Secretary Liz Dudek. Senators were skeptical of the contention that the agency was unaware that LIP funding and Medicaid expansion were tied together until the CMS letter arrived. Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, pointed to media reports that a letter sent to CMS by the state’s congressional delegation dated Tuesday — and asking that LIP and expansion be considered separately — was largely written on an AHCA computer well before. “But yet weeks ago, a letter was crafted within the agency, and you asked members of the United States Congress to sign it, and if you didn’t have any understanding or prior notice that coverage expansion and LIP were linked, why go to all the trouble of getting a letter and circulating it around Congress?” Gaetz asked. “We had heard — and there’s a lot of information that seems to go around through the grapevine — that they were considering that there might be a linkage,” she said after the meeting. “We wanted to make sure that they would support LIP regardless of what happened with expansion.” Scott’s administration responded Thursday by saying the governor would file a lawsuit trying to force the feds to pay up. Scott’s lawsuit would rely on a potentially novel interpretation of the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the federal Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. In that case, NFIB v. Sebelius, the court ruled that the federal government couldn’t coerce states into expanding Medicaid by requiring any state that didn’t do so to give up all of its Medicaid funding. The governor’s legal action would argue that the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is doing the same thing by linking LIP and Medicaid expansion. “Our citizens already pay federal taxes that go into the federal LIP program,” Scott said in a statement announcing the action. “Now, President Obama has decided that the state must take on a larger Medicaid program, forcing our taxpayers to pay even more to government, before they get their own federal tax dollars back. This is outrageous, and specifically what the Supreme Court warned against.” Even lawmakers who supported the governor’s suit conceded it won’t free up the money on time to fix the budget mess. And some questioned the wisdom of the move. “That’s the governor’s prerogative, that’s the job of the executive, but I just don’t understand how that would help any negotiations,” said Sen. Rene Garcia, a Hialeah Republican who oversees health-care funding. “If you are trying to negotiate a deal on LIP with CMS, I just don’t understand why you would sue the federal government in the middle of negotiations.” THE OTHER FEDERAL NEWS Maybe negotiations with the federal government will go more smoothly if one of the state’s favorite sons — former Gov. Jeb Bush or U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio — manages to capture the Republican presidential nomination and the White House. This week, Rubio announced what pretty much everyone already knew: He’s running. “Before us now is the opportunity to author the greatest chapter yet in the amazing story of America,” Rubio said. “But we can’t do that by going back to the leaders and ideas of the past. We must change the decisions we are making by changing the people who are making them.” It was a none-too-subtle shot at former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and perhaps Bush, both of whom have been around longer than the 43-year-old Rubio and both of whom share last names with former presidents. The announcement, which Rubio has said will keep him from seeking a second term in the Senate, set of a frenzy of activity among the state’s politicos. The top contender for Rubio’s seat, state Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater, had taken his name out of the running over the weekend. Congressmen and state lawmakers like Gaetz were among those considering runs for the GOP Senate nomination. Leading Democrats have already begun uniting behind Congressman Patrick Murphy, a moderate, but Congressman Alan Grayson, a liberal firebrand, is looking likely to make a run as well. GLASS HALF FULL There was some actual activity on policy around the state Capitol. Scott signed a wide-ranging bill aimed at rolling back the number of tests given to public school students, one of the highest-profile measures of the session, following up on weeks of legislative wrangling and his own campaign promise to review the level of testing in schools. “I agree with many teachers and parents who say we have too many tests, and while this legislation is a great step forward, we will keep working to make sure Florida students are not over tested,” Scott said in a statement issued by his office. The legislation (HB 7069) puts a hold on the use of student test data for school grades, teacher evaluations and student promotion to fourth grade until the new Florida Standards Assessments can be independently validated. It also scraps a law requiring school districts to come up with end-of-course tests in classes where the state doesn’t administer such exams; caps the amount of time students can spend on state and school district tests at 45 hours a year; and reduces the portion of a teacher’s evaluation tied to student performance from the current 50 percent to one-third. The Senate approved a bill that would restore a popular adoption-subsidies program — while repealing a 38-year-old law that banned gay adoption. The measure (HB 7013), passed on a 27-11 vote. Its main purpose was to provide cash incentives to state workers who adopt children in Florida’s foster-care system, especially children with special needs. But the bill the Senate passed Tuesday also included an unanticipated and controversial provision added by the House last month: a formal end to the gay-adoption ban. Sen. Tom Lee, a Brandon Republican who voted against the bill, took issue with the House move to add the repeal to the incentives bill. “This is a valid issue,” Lee said of the debate about the ban. “It should stand alone,” adding that it shouldn’t “hijack a piece of legislation that was supposed to be a feel-good moment for this Legislature and divide senators.” Gaetz agreed that the term “hijacked” was a fair description. However, he said, “If I thought for one minute that I was imperiling the welfare or the upbringing or the life of any child with anything in this bill, I’d lead the floor fight against it. But there is no evidence anywhere, by anybody, that anything in this bill will do anything other than give children a chance for their dreams to come true.” The dreams of lawmakers, lobbyists and reporters were more modest than those of children. It was a dream of a session that wraps up before June. STORY OF THE WEEK: The budget process was left in a shambles amid a deepening conflict between Gov. Rick Scott, the House, the Senate and the federal government about what to do with health-care funding. QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Throw Dinah the bone. Please put your paw on the green button.”—A flyer being distributed by Lisa Miller, a lobbyist, who is trying to get the Legislature to add animals to a research component included in a Senate medical-marijuana proposal (SB 7066). Miller believes marijuana could help her dog, Dinah. by Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida  Read More →

April 19, 2015 | Read the story »

FWC Law Enforcement Report

The Florida FWC Division of Law Enforcement reported the following activity during the weekly period ending April 16 in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. ESCAMBIA COUNTY Officers Hoomes and Pettey were watching fishermen in a popular redfish spot when they observed a man catch a large fish.  When the man landed it, he held it up by the gills and they could see that it was a large redfish.  The fisherman put it in a cooler. When the officers checked them, they observed 5 redfish in the cooler.  All of them were well over the maximum size limit.  Two of the men admitted to catching the fish and were charged with taking oversized redfish and the bag limit violation. Lieutenants Hahr and Lambert were patrolling in the Perdido River WMA when they overheard three people talking about hiding their “bad stuff.”  After a short while, they observed one of the subjects smoking marijuana and give the pipe to the other to hide again.  A short time later, they all gathered up and began to smoke something else.  When they approached the group, the officers observed a meth pipe in their possession.  Their conversation and subsequent admissions indicated that they were all smoking meth as the officer approached.  Several items of paraphernalia were also located, as well as bags containing methamphetamine, spice, cannabis, Xanex, and one unidentified pill.  They were all charged with possession of methamphetamine, possession of not more than 20 grams of cannabis, and possession of drug paraphernalia.  One subject was also charged with another count of possession of controlled substances for the pills. SANTA ROSA COUNTY Officers Barnard and Manning were patrolling around the Garcon Point Bridge and observed one boat fishing there.  Upon checking their catch, they found three oversized redfish.  One man admitted to measuring all of the fish and was charged with harvesting oversized redfish. Officers Manning and Livesay were about to go on water patrol at the Santa Rosa Yacht club, when a citizen flagged them down and reported that a sail boat was flipped over not far from the yacht club.  At this time there was a severe thunder storm in the area with high winds.  Officer Livesay and Manning responded to the overturned sail boat and found three subjects struggling to swim. Officer Manning and Livesay were able to safely pull the individuals out of the water. Officers Jones and Land were patrolling on the Eglin Reservation and Wildlife Management Area.  They were targeting early entry and hunting in closed areas during the current spring gobbler turkey season.  While working along the boundary of a unit listed as closed, the officers observed two trucks driving out of the closed area.  The two hunters were detained and issued notices to appear in county court.  Eglin Range Patrol Officers responded and suspended the hunter’s Eglin permits. This report represents some events the FWC handled over the past week;however, it does not include all actions taken by the Division of Law Enforcement. Information provided by FWC.  Read More →

April 18, 2015 | Read the story »

Florida House To Consider Abortion Waiting Period

The House on Tuesday is expected to take up a controversial bill that would require a 24-hour waiting period before women could have abortions. The bill, filed by Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, is the major piece of abortion legislation moving in the Capitol this year. Three House panels have approved the bill in party-line votes, with Republicans in favor and Democrats opposed. Meanwhile, the Senate version, filed by Sen. Anitere Flores, R-Miami, will be heard Monday afternoon in the Senate Fiscal Policy Committee. If approved, the bill will be ready to go to the full Senate. by The News Service of Florida  Read More →

April 18, 2015 | Read the story »

Corrections Agency Settles With Paralyzed Inmate

A paralyzed inmate at a Northwest Florida prison who was denied the use of a wheelchair and faced retaliation for suing the Department of Corrections has reached a settlement with the agency, according to lawyers representing the prisoner. The complaint, filed in federal court, alleged that Santa Rosa Correctional Institution officials for more than a year prevented Richard Jackson, who is paralyzed in his lower limbs, from using a wheelchair in his cell, forcing the inmate to crawl on his hands and knees to get to his bunk or to use the toilet or sink. A year after he filed the lawsuit, Jackson was transferred to the Northwest Florida Reception Center, where guards and others allegedly retaliated against the inmate for failing to drop the case. Within hours after arriving at the Chipley prison, a guard handcuffed Jackson to his wheelchair and repeatedly punched him in the face and kicked him while threatening that “he would be getting more if he did not drop the lawsuit,” according to the complaint filed by the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida and the Florida Justice Institute. The settlement requires the department to pay $97,000 for Jackson’s legal fees and damages and also requires that he be allowed to use his wheelchair. “The abuse and violence that goes on in Florida prisons violates the principles that our Constitution was created to protect. With the eyes of the state on our prisons as more horror stories seem to come out of our prisons every week, we hope this settlement will bring us one step closer to ending the toxic culture of violence that has plagued the Florida Department of Corrections,” ACLU of Florida lawyer Benjamin Stevenson said in a statement. by The News Service of Florida  Read More →

April 18, 2015 | Read the story »

National Junior Honor Society At Ernest Ward Middle Inducts New Members

Sixty students were inducted into the National Junior Honor Society during a candlelight ceremony Friday at Ernest Ward Middle School. The NJHS is the nation’s premier organization established to recognize outstanding middle school students. More than just an honor roll, NJHS serves to honor those students who have demonstrated excellence in the areas of scholarship, leadership, service, citizenship and character. New National Junior Honor Society members at Ernest Ward are: Austin Adams Lauren Ahern Addison Albritton Rebekah Amerson Madicyn Bell Trevor Bomba Cassidy Boutwell Emily Boutwell Alexia Broadhead Keaton Brown Juliana Bryan Katherine Buford Colby Burkett Micah Calhoun Lacie Carter Logan Chavers Destiny Cleckler Jayda Crabtree Karlee Criswell Justin Cruce Anthony Day Jackson Edwards Jason Fayard Neionni Findley Jakob Gibson Ian Gifford Jordan Godwin John Gulledge Ashlan Harigel Elijah Harigel Anna King Aubree Love Ansleigh Maholovich Jessie McCall Hannah McGahan Kayla McKillion Hannah Merchant Colby Morris Chris Nordman Charleigh Parham Joseph Parker Kinzie Rackard Teriana Redmond Dariontae Richardson Savannah Roley Kyle Sconiers Ryan Sconiers Bailey Seibert Shelby Sloan Cloe Smith Savannah Spence Savannah Steadham Josiah Stilwell Nicholas Trump Bailey Van Pelt Josh Warren Brianna White Cassidy White Raeleigh Woodfin Ashten Wright Pictured: Sixty students were inducted into the National Junior Honor Society Friday at Ernest Ward Middle School. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.  Read More →

April 18, 2015 | Read the story »

Blue Wahoos Split Doubleheader With Smokies

The Blue Wahoos split Friday night’s doubleheader against the Tennessee Smokies on an evening where Pensacola’s starting pitchers, Daniel Wright and Tim Adleman, combined for 11 strikeouts and only allowed four hits. The Smokies took the first game 1-0 while the Wahoos won the second game 4-1. The first game of the doubleheader was a pitchers’ duel with the teams garnering a combined six hits. After giving up six runs in 2.2 innings of work in his first start of the year, RHP Wright gave up no runs and two hits in five innings before being relieved by RHP Kevin Shackleford. RHP Ivan Pineyro took the mound for the Smokies also only gave up two hits in six innings of work. Shackleford walked C Kyle Schwarber in the bottom of the seventh inning, advanced to second on a single by 1B Dan Vogelbach and then to third on a wild pitch. RF Bijan Rademacher singled through the hole at second base to drive in Schwarber for the walk-off win. The pitching duel continued into the second game with RHP Tim Adleman throwing 59 pitches, 44 for strikes, in five innings. Reliever Carlos Gonzalez had a strong showing in the bottom of the sixth inning giving up a hit. First baseman Kyle Waldrop started the second game with a home run in the second inning to give the Blue Wahoos an early 1-0 lead. This marked his second home run in seven games this year. RHP Ben Klimesh came in for the save in the seventh inning but the Smokies tied it up with a run by Rademacher. In the eighth inning, RHP Kyle McMyne came into the game and threw a one-hit inning to give the Wahoos another chance in the top of the ninth. After a hitless day, RF Jesse Winker hit a double in the ninth inning and advanced to third after Beau Amaral reached base on a fielding error by first baseman Dustin Geiger. Amaral then reached second on a wild pitch by RHP Zach Cates. Waldrop drove in Winker with a sacrifice fly to left field and then Amaral scored on a pair of errors by second baseman Stephen Bruno. Zach Vincej had the final run of the night after scoring off of a double by 2B Juan Perez. McMyne returned to the mound and closed out the game to secure the win for the Blue Wahoos. This was his first win since July 1, 2014 for the Bakersfield Blaze. LHP Wandy Peralta (1-0, 0.00) is scheduled to take the mound for the Wahoos against RHP Frank Batista (1-0, 1.50) on Saturday night at 6:05 p.m. The Blue Wahoos return to Pensacola Saturday, April 25th against the Biloxi Shuckers.  Read More →

April 18, 2015 | Read the story »

Regulators Approve Gulf Power, Military Solar Plan

The Florida Public Service Commission on Thursday approved a plan that would lead to Gulf Power Company buying electricity from major new solar facilities on Northwest Florida military bases. “Adding solar energy to our portfolio is another step in further diversifying our energy mix,” said Stan Connally, Gulf Power president and CEO. “Through careful planning, we’ve been able to work alongside our military partners to help provide cost-effective renewable energy — and all our customers will reap the benefit.” The solar energy farms will be constructed at Eglin Air Force Base in Fort Walton Beach (30 megawatts), Naval Air Station Whiting Field, Outlying Landing Field Holley in Navarre (40 megawatts), and Naval Air Station Pensacola, Outlying Landing Field Saufley in Pensacola (50 megawatts). “We support this important partnership between Gulf Power and the U.S. Air Force and the U.S. Navy that will play a major role in Florida’s energy future,” Public Service Commission Chairman Art Graham said. “The solar facilities will diversify the utility’s power supply and increase Florida’s emissions-free electricity generation.” Gulf Power will serve customers across Northwest Florida with power from these renewable energy-generating facilities. Together, these new solar facilities, which will be developed by HelioSage Energy, could produce enough energy to power approximately 18,000 homes for one year. As an intermittent energy resource, the solar farms will not replace Gulf Power’s generation plants, but will have the capability to provide energy that will diversify the power supply and provide a cost-effective alternative during peak energy usage. Construction is scheduled to begin in February 2016 and the facilities are expected to be in service no later than December 2016. The company’s first renewable energy project was the 3.2-megawatt Perdido Landfill Gas-to-Energy facility, which has produced more than 100 million kilowatt hours of electricity since starting commercial operation in 2010. Gulf Power also submitted a request in February to the FPSC to approve an agreement that would make the utility a leading purchaser of wind generation among Florida utilities. If approved, this would bring the company to a total of five renewable energy sources. Pictured: Examples of HelioSage Energy solar photovoltaic (PV) facilities. Courtesy photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.  Read More →

April 17, 2015 | Read the story »

Scott To File Suit Against Feds Over Health Funding

In a new sign of escalating tensions between state and federal officials, Gov. Rick Scott announced Thursday he will sue the federal government to try to resolve a standoff over $2.2 billion in funding for hospitals and other health providers. But even lawmakers who support Scott’s move said any court decision would come too late to resolve a budget impasse that has made it a near-certainty that the Legislature won’t finish a spending plan — its one constitutionally required responsibility — before the annual session’s scheduled May 1 conclusion. If so, it would mark the first time lawmakers have gone into overtime on the budget since 2009. Scott’s lawsuit would rely on a potentially novel interpretation of the 2012 U.S. Supreme Court ruling that upheld the federal Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare. In that case, NFIB v. Sebelius, the court ruled that the federal government couldn’t coerce states into expanding Medicaid by requiring any state that didn’t do so to give up all of its Medicaid funding. The governor’s legal action would argue that the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services is doing the same thing by linking an extension of the Low Income Pool, or LIP, program to whether the state expands Medicaid coverage. LIP, which provides money to hospitals and other health providers that serve large numbers of poor and uninsured patients, is set to expire June 30. “Our citizens already pay federal taxes that go into the federal LIP program,” Scott said in a statement announcing the action. “Now, President Obama has decided that the state must take on a larger Medicaid program, forcing our taxpayers to pay even more to government, before they get their own federal tax dollars back. This is outrageous, and specifically what the Supreme Court warned against.” Advocates and hospitals have said that if the state loses LIP funding, it could cause cutbacks in services or programs across the state. Speaking to reporters after the announcement, Lt. Gov. Carlos Lopez-Cantera said Scott’s administration was doing whatever is necessary to try to get LIP funds for Florida. “We need to explore every option to ensure that these funds are available for the most needy here in Florida,” Lopez-Cantera said. “That’s what Gov. Scott’s always done. He’s always fought for Floridians, and that’s what he’s doing with this.” The lawsuit plays into a heated battle over a Senate plan to use $2.8 billion in Medicaid expansion funding to help lower-income Floridians purchase private health insurance. But the House and Scott — who once favored straight-up Medicaid expansion — oppose that idea. House leaders say the federal government wouldn’t approve it even if they agreed to go along. Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said he’s skeptical that the lawsuit will free up LIP dollars before the new budget year begins July 1. “Certainly, the governor has his opinion and has put forward kind of a new little wrinkle today, but I’m not sure that that solves the situation that we’re in where we have to have a balanced budget, and we have to make some decisions,” Gardiner said. Any case could take weeks to be heard, and any initial ruling could spend months winding its way through the appeals process. House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, a Merritt Island Republican who backed Scott’s lawsuit, also said legal action wouldn’t have a practical impact on the immediate budget problem. “No, most likely, it won’t,” he said. “The only thing that will have an effect on the budget from the standpoint of LIP and CMS is if Washington does something.” Asked about the lawsuit, a spokesman for CMS said the state could do what it wanted with Medicaid, but referred back to a letter in which the agency said “the state’s expansion status is an important consideration in our approach regarding extending the LIP beyond June.” That letter outraged some state officials and eventually led to Scott’s lawsuit. “Florida, like all states, is free to implement Medicaid expansion or not. … We look forward to the state submitting its LIP proposal and CMS will review it based on the principles articulated in our April 14 letter,” spokesman Aaron Albright said in an email. Democrats, meanwhile, blasted the governor for an act that they said wouldn’t solve the problem and would lead to the state being tied up in costly litigation. Scott, whose foray into politics began with a fierce ad war against Obamacare before seeking the governor’s office, has frequently battled the federal government in court. “It’s more of the same from the governor,” said House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach. “It’s a corporate reaction: We sue people. The sad part is, it’s the taxpayers of Florida that will pay more.” Senate Minority Leader Arthenia Joyner, D-Tampa, accused Scott of hypocrisy for pushing for LIP dollars from the federal government while rejecting expansion money from the same source. “Today’s grandstanding underscores his commitment to wasting Florida’s tax dollars to get what he wants, at whatever cost,” Joyner said in a statement issued by her office. “This is all about scoring points against President Obama.” At the same time, Crisafulli signaled a willingness to use state money to try to shield hospitals from the effects of lost LIP funding. The speaker has said before that he would not use state dollars to “backfill” the LIP system, but drew a distinction Thursday between that and setting up a state program. “If we want to talk about a plan moving forward, we can talk about a plan moving forward from the standpoint of trying to help those safety-net hospitals with a different kind of program,” he said. “But for us to take up and put a pot of money out there that they get to draw from like they do right now with LIP is not something that we could possibly do in Tallahassee with even the greatest of budget reserves.”  Read More →

April 17, 2015 | Read the story »

Molino Park Presents ‘Alphabet Adventures of Sometimes Y’

The first grade classes at Molino Park Elementary School presented “The Alphabet Adventures of Sometimes Y” Thursday night at the school. NorthEscambia.com photos by Kristi Price, click to enlarge.  Read More →

April 17, 2015 | Read the story »

Tate Aggies Wrap Regular Season At 21-4 With Milton Win

The Tate High School Aggies beat Milton Thursday night 3-1 to end the regular season with at 21-4. For Tate, Jared Hatch picked up his first varsity win.. Branden Fryman was  1-3, RBI; Mark Miller 1-2, RBI; Jacob Saulnier 1-3; AJ Gordon 1-3, run; Earl Justice 1-1, run; Sawyer Smith 2-2, run. The district tournament is up next for the Aggies next week.  Read More →

April 17, 2015 | Read the story »

Four In A Row: Jay Lady Royals Win 12-Inning District Championship Battle

The Jay Lady Royals won their fourth District 3-1A championship in a row Thursday night 7-6 in a hard fought 12-inning battle over the Chipley Tigers. Hitting for Jay were: Kolby Bray 3-5, R; Emily Dobson 3-6, R, 2 RBIs, 2B; Avery Jackson 2-6, RBI, 2B; Destiny Herring 2-5, R; Samantha Steadham 2-6, R, RBI. The Lady Royals advance to the Region 1-1A playoffs on April 28. Pictured: The Jay Lady Royals won their fourth District 3-1A championship in a row Thursday night. Photo by Diann Tagert for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.  Read More →

April 17, 2015 | Read the story »

Defending State Champ West Florida Drops Close District Final Game

The defending 4A state champion West Florida Lady Jaguars lost to the Walton Braves 2-1 in the District 1-4A championship game Thursday. The Lady Jags took a 1-0 lead, but gave up two unearned runs in the third inning. Farrah Nicholas pitched six for West Florida, striking out two. Emily Loring and Kayla Miller were both 1-3. As district runner-ups, the Lady Jaguars are still in the playoffs. They will travel to Tallahassee next Thursday to play 2-4A champion Florida High School. For more photos, click here. Pictured: West Florida drops District 1-4A championship game to Walton Thursday. Photos by Gary Carnley for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.  Read More →

April 17, 2015 | Read the story »

Escambia Academy Wins Boys Track State Championship

The Escambia Academy boys track team won the 3A AISA State Championship held in Selma, AL. Escambia Academy is located in Canoe, AL, just outside Atmore. NorthEscambia.com photo by Ditto Gorme, click to enlarge.  Read More →

April 17, 2015 | Read the story »

Smokies Win Their Season Opener Against Blue Wahoos

Marquez Smith hit a pinch-hit, two-out double in the top of the ninth inning Thursday against the Tennessee Smokies. Pensacola Blue Wahoos Juan Perez then was put in to pinch run for Smith and advanced on a wild pitch. Beau Amaral walked and Pensacola had the tying and winning runs on first and third base. However, Zach Vincej struck out to end the game at Smokies Stadium. Tennessee held on to win its season opener, 5-4, when it scored three runs in the fourth. Stephen Bruno scored the decisive run on a fielders choice to first by Pin-Chieh Chen, which put the Smokies ahead, 5-2. Both teams will make up Wednesday’s rain out with a doubleheader that begins at 5:30 p.m. ET Friday. Both games are scheduled to last seven innings tomorrow. Yovan Gonzalez doubled in Seth Mejias-Brean and Ryan Wright in the seventh inning to pull Pensacola within one run, 5-4. Making his Blue Wahoos debut Marcus Walden lasted three innings, giving up all five runs to Tennessee on seven hits and three walks. He struck out two. Leading the Wahoos lineup were outfielder Jesse Winker who went 2-4 with an RBI; Gonzalez, who went 2-4 with a double and 2 RBIs; first baseman Kyle Waldrop, who was 1-3 and walked; and Beau Amaral, who scored a run and was 1-4.  Read More →

April 17, 2015 | Read the story »

Battle Over Future Of Escambia Fire Services Heats Up

There’s a battle of sorts heating up over the future of fire services in Escambia County. Will fire stations be staffed by volunteers? Paid firefighters? Both? Will fire taxes be raised for some, or all? Will fire fighters respond at all to an emergency at your home? Good Friday morning, there were two house fires in the area served by the Ferry Pass Volunteer Fire Station, but no truck from Ferry Pass ever rolled to either fire due to a lack of volunteers at the time. Escambia County Administrator Jack Brown placed 24/7  paid fire crews at the station to “assist” the volunteers to ensure proper coverage for the district that includes ares such as North Davis Highway, University Parkway and eastern Nine Mile Road.  The firefighters are being paid with funds already available in the county’s fire services budget this year. In over half of the county’s 23 fire districts, volunteers are the first to answer the call for help. A “manpower summary” report provided to NorthEscambia.com last week by Escambia County show nothing less than a dismal, even a frightening, response level by volunteer fire stations. (article continues below report, click to enlarge) That report shows volunteer firefighter stations did not respond at to one-third of all calls and missed 45 percent of critical incidents where life or property were threatened. Wednesday, the Escambia County Professional Firefighters Local union posted the summary information above online, and relayed it in a Twitter message to several media outlets. But now that report has come under fire as being inaccurate in regards to North Escambia stations. Using the report as ammunition, the union is calling for paid staffing at more of the county’s fire stations, and they will push the Escambia County Commission for a $50 increase in the MSBU (municipal services benefit unit) to fund the firefighters. “It’s a small price to pay,” Nick Gradia, union president said Wednesday. “It would increase the $85 now paid by each resident up to $135, but that’s less than many areas.”  Gradia and union envision the county’s volunteer firefighters continuing their service, working alongside the paid firefighters for an even better response to emergencies. “This is not about getting rid of the volunteers. This is about making sure there is a guaranteed response from the fire station when a resident makes a call for help,” Gradia said. In North Escambia — specifically the Beulah, Century, McDavid, Walnut Hill and Molino fire stations — the numbers provided last week (above) show a poor response by volunteers, including a 47 percent “understaffed” response to critical emergencies by the Walnut Hill Fire Station. According to Escambia Fire Chief Pat Grace, the “understaffed” response computations were based on any response where a fire apparatus did not roll out of a station with at least three firefighters on board. As NorthEscambia.com investigated the county report, we found apparent errors as the numbers relate to the rural North Escambia departments. For instance, apparatus used in the north-end include brush trucks and, in Walnut Hill, a medical squad — all of which have only two seats and can never respond with three firefighters. At fire stations in the north end of the county, one firefighter may respond from the station in a fire engine, while three or more of certified firefighters may respond directly to the incident scene in their private vehicles, but that would have been included in the report as an inadequate response, according to county officials. In a letter dated Wednesday to each of the Escambia County Commissioners, union secretary Dimitri Jansen said the report data (above) provided to commissioners “could be construed as incorrect”, specifically among the North Escambia stations. Other inaccurately reported data could show a non or inadequate response when a specific apparatus is dispatched but instead response was in a different vehicle, or, in the case of Walnut Hill, Century and Molino, the response came from the district’s substation, the letter states. Jansen’s letter admits that the problem with insufficient responses is an issue with departments in the south-end of the county, not among the northern, more rural departments. “Overall the responses for North Escambia have been very  successful and should be considered a model for any fire district within Escambia County,” Jansen wrote to commissioners. “It has never been our intention to inflate or deflate the data we provided to you in order to further any agenda. It is both for the citizens of Escambia County as well as that of Escambia County Fire Rescue best interest to provide you and the public with an accurate analysis of the large gap in fire protection.” Gradia said it had been brought to his attention that data for north-end stations might not be completely accurate due to reporting criteria and different response methodology, but a volunteer response problem still exists in North Escambia, despite better responses than south end stations. “We are not as concerned about the north end where they are doing a much better job,” Gradia said. With the $50 fire tax increase, he said the union would like to see an additional 24/7 advanced life support fire crew stationed in North Escambia, likely in Molino or McDavid, to supplement the volunteer response, along with a 24/7 paid crew already in place in Cantonment and a daytime paid crew already in Century. But Escambia County Public Safety Director Mike Weaver disagrees. “I see nothing in the near future, the next 5-7 years at least, that shows any additional paid crews are needed north of Nine Mile Road,” Weaver said. He said the county “manpower” report being circulated was inaccurate for the North Escambia volunteer fire stations. An internal Escambia County public safety report obtained Wednesday by NorthEscambia.com paints an entirely different picture for several fire stations than the report circulated by the firefighter’s union. (article continues below report, click to enlarge) The report details response from all fire stations in the county during fiscal year 2014. The report was generated after each and every questionable response was analyzed in the county’s fire services software, eliminating almost all inaccurate data for each station. “This report more accurately reflects the true picture of department responses,” Weaver said. Rather than showing 47 percent inadequate response by the Walnut Hill Fire Station, for instance, the newly researched report  (above) shows Walnut Hill missed zero percent of calls. “We should be looking at the northern stations, particularly Walnut Hill and McDavid, and see what they are doing right,” he said. “Some of these stations are a perfect model of how the volunteer system can work”. Weaver said paid-only crews would never work in northern stations. For instance, if a paid crew placed in Walnut Hill responded to a structure fire in the Molino district, it would leave 200 square miles in the Walnut Hill district without any response. “You are always going to have to rely on volunteers at some of these stations.” But one thing is clear on both reports — volunteer non-response at several south-end stations is a problem, and the volunteer only model is simply not working at those stations. “It’s just absolute garbage that the union is trying to push out the volunteers,” Gradia said. “Nothing could be further than the truth. Volunteer and paid can work together and compliment each other in a fire station.” In addition to Ferry Pass, the union is currently pressing for the fire tax increase to fund career crews to higher volume stations in Bellview, Myrtle Grove, Innerarity Point and West Pensacola. “We know that changes are necessary,” Escambia County Administrator Jack Brown said. “The north end is doing fine, but we must do something to provide adequate protection to the citizens of the south end. We need stations in the south where paid firefighters and volunteers are working together.” Escambia County Commission Chairman Steven Barry said the commission will begin to hammer out the fire services issues at a workshop meeting on April 23. Pictured: Volunteer firefighters battle a full-involved house fire on Highway 97 in Davisville last November. NorthEscambia.com file photos, click to enlarge.  Read More →

April 16, 2015 | Read the story »

Evers’ School Gun Bill Likely Dead

A Senate bill that would allow school superintendents to tap employees or volunteers to carry concealed weapons on school property was effectively killed by a committee Wednesday, meaning that two high-profile proposals blending firearms and education could fail during the legislative session. The Senate Education PreK-12 Committee agreed to temporarily postpone — a procedural move similar to tabling — the “school safety” bill (SB 180). Because the committee is not scheduled to meet again, the legislation is bottled up and can’t go before the full Senate. It also can’t be added to another bill on the Senate floor. The bill was postponed as a courtesy to Sen. Greg Evers, the Baker Republican who sponsored the measure, according to Education PreK-12 Chairman John Legg, R-Lutz. It would have failed if the panel voted on it, Legg said. “It did not have the votes in this committee,” he said. Technically, the language could still end up before the Senate. House lawmakers could attach the proposal to another bill, then send it over to the Senate. The upper chamber would then be free to vote on that legislation — but Legg said he thought that move was unlikely. “If it was (amended) onto something, it would put that bill in severe jeopardy,” he said. The House companion (HB 19) to Evers’ bill has cleared all of its committees but is also essentially dead as a stand-alone bill without its Senate counterpart. Bills that would lead to guns at schools have traditionally faced an uphill challenge in the Senate, which is more moderate on such issues than the House. With supporters saying it would improve school safety, the Evers bill called for allowing trained volunteers or employees to be able to carry guns. Those people would need to have backgrounds in the military or law enforcement. Another controversial measure that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on the campuses of Florida colleges and universities (SB 176) also has been bottled up in the Senate Judiciary Committee. “I’ve polled the members of the Senate, and there doesn’t seem to be too much support for that bill,” committee Chairman Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, R-Miami, said last week. Evers represents the North Escambia area. by Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida  Read More →

April 16, 2015 | Read the story »