What Is Your Church Doing For Easter? Share With Our Readers

March 30, 2015

What is your church doing for Easter?

NorthEscambia.com will provide free promotion for churches in North Escambia or North Santa Rosa counties in Florida, or Atmore or Flomaton in Alabama. If your church is having a special Good Friday and/or Easter service, or any other special service or event, let us know!

We will share your information with thousands of readers across the area. We will list the services on our Events page free of charge. Please try to keep your announcement for our events page to 100 words or less.

Send your announcement to news@northescambia.com or click here for our contact page. We will also be happy to publish photos after your event; email them to news@northescambia.com.

Pictured top and below:  A morning “Sonrise Service” at Pensacola’s Maritime Stadium last year. Pictured inset: The sign last Easter at Poplar Dell Baptist Church sums up the Easter story in simple terms. NorthEscambia.com photo, click to enlarge.

Education Changes Approved By House

March 30, 2015

Charter schools would get more construction funding, class-size penalties would be relaxed and school districts would be encouraged to enact dress codes under a series of education bills approved Friday by the Florida House.
Most of the school-related bills were passed in lopsided votes, though Democrats united to oppose a measure that could funnel local tax dollars to charter-school construction (HB 7037).

While the construction bill would change the standards needed to qualify for the facilities funding and make it easier for some charters to expand, the most controversial provision would allow charter schools to tap into local property taxes used to pay for capital projects at traditional public schools. If the Legislature failed to fully fund charter-school construction under a state formula, local districts would be required to use a portion of a 1.5-mill property tax to make up the difference.

That would amount to about $34 million in the budget year that begins July 1, even if lawmakers follow through on a House plan to spend $100 million on charter-school capital projects, according to one estimate.

Supporters of the change, which passed in a 75-35 vote, say charters receive less funding per pupil for construction costs than other public schools and that the new law would help ensure that their funding more closely tracks the number of students.

“That 1.5 mill puts the public charter-school student and the district school student on somewhat equal footing,” said Chris Moya, a lobbyist for Charter Schools USA, a management company.

But in a statement issued after the vote, House Minority Leader Mark Pafford blasted the change.

“The Legislature shouldn’t starve public schools while shoveling resources to special interests,” said Pafford, D-West Palm Beach.

A bill (HB 665) relaxing penalties for school districts that don’t comply with the state’s class-size limits was approved on a 107-3 vote. Voters added the class-size limit to the Florida Constitution in 2002, but some lawmakers complain that the funds could be better spent elsewhere.

The penalties are not established in the constitutional amendment, leaving lawmakers with the ability to ease them.

“What we’re trying to do now is make sure that those dollars go back into the classroom,” said Rep. Shevrin Jones, D-West Park.

But Pafford said the move was part of longstanding legislative efforts to undermine the class-size amendment.

“This is basically death by a thousand cuts in terms of class size,” he said.

The House also passed, by a 102-8 margin, a bill (HB 7043) that would make it easier for school districts to approve student dress codes and establish financial bonuses for districts that do so.

by Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

Travis Smith Named Florida Peanut Producers Young Peanut Farmer Of The Year

March 30, 2015

Travis Smith from Jay has been named the 2015 Florida Peanut Producers Young Peanut Farmer of the Year.

A fifth generation farmer, he started his farming career as a youngster when he could barely see over the steering wheel of his father’s tractor. Several years ago he was a recipient of a scholarship from the Peanut Producers Association.  Today, he still assists his father while farming over 200 acres of his own and managing a small herd of cattle.

Travis is married to Brittany Smith and they have three children: Leah, Lexie, and Tate.   Travis is a member of the Florida Peanut Producers Association and is active in the Young Farmers and Ranchers program.  Travis and his family are members of the Century Church of Christ.

Photo for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Century Residents Can Apply For Windstorm Upgrades To Their Homes

March 30, 2015

The Town of Century will assist local residents strengthen their homes against hurricanes and other windstorms.

The program will provide funding for the installation of hurricane resistant windows and doors, roof upgrades, installation of hurricane straps or clips, anchor walls or columns to the foundation and other upgrades.

Applicants must meet HUD low and moderate income limits, based on family size and reside within the Century town limits.

To apply, call the Century Town Hall at (850) 256-3208 during the application period which ends at 3 p.m. on Friday, April 10. Funding will be provided by the Florida Division of Emergency Management.

Senate Takes Pot Regulation Into Its Own Hands

March 29, 2015

Facing another legal challenge to the state’s attempt to craft a framework for a medical-marijuana industry, a Senate committee moved forward last week with a measure that would jump-start the process after hearing from dozens of speakers who objected that the proposal does not go far enough.

Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Rob Bradley, who was instrumental in passing a law last year that legalized non-euphoric cannabis for patients with cancer or chronic muscle spasms, is pushing a new plan that would expand the types of patients who would be eligible for the treatment. The plan also includes specifics about how the Florida Department of Health would choose nurseries that can grow, process and distribute the substance.

Under the current law, health officials were supposed to begin selecting by Jan. 1 five nurseries to operate as vertically-integrated “dispensing organizations.” Those nurseries would have to meet qualifications, such as being in business for at least 30 years and processing a minimum of 400,000 plants. But a judge tossed the department’s first attempt at regulations last year, siding with a handful of nurseries and other businesses that objected, among other things, to the use of a lottery to select the licensees because a lottery wasn’t included in the law.

Health officials earlier this month took a second stab at the regulations after a rare and exhaustive “negotiated rule-making” workshop. But a lawyer representing a 4-year-old girl with inoperable brain cancer filed a legal challenge to the revised proposal two weeks ago, creating more delays in getting the law implemented. A judge has set an April 14 hearing in the case.

Last year’s law was “a promise to families across Florida that had children suffering from as many as 100 seizures a week that we would give them the relief they were asking for,” Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said. “A year has passed and unfortunately we have yet to be able to fulfill this promise that we made to those families, even though we wrote a law that said a system would be in place to deliver the substance by Jan. 1. The purpose of this bill is simple. To deliver on the promise we made last year.”

The Department of Health “was given an impossible task,” Bradley said he concluded.

Bradley’s new proposal, approved by the Regulated Industries Committee in an 11-1 vote, would expand the number of licensees to 20 nurseries and broaden the types of eligible patients to include those with multiple sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, HIV and AIDS and a handful of other ailments.

His plan (SB 7066) would also lower a bond required for the applicants from the current $5 million to $1 million, set the initial application fee at $50,000 and the biennial licensure fee at $125,000.

But to the consternation of a standing-room only crowd who nearly all complained that Bradley’s proposal won’t help them or their children, his current plan does not increase the levels of euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, now limited to .08 percent, or change the amount of cannabadiol, or CBD, now required to make up at least 10 percent of the product.

Moriah Barnhart, whose lawyer filed the challenge to the low-THC pot rule on behalf of her 4-year-old daughter Dahlia, pleaded with the committee to consider expanding the THC levels to benefit children like her daughter, who suffers from inoperable brain cancer and uses a high-THC treatment.

Barnhart said she filed the challenge to speed up the process of implementing the law and does not oppose Bradley’s measure but wants more.

“We are desperate. We are desperate to get their medicine here in this state and not have to fear being arrested for saving their lives,” Barnhart said.

Former medical-marijuana user Dani Hall told the committee she had been addicted to opiates for years after repeated back surgeries until she began to the pot treatment.

“Medical marijuana saved my life. Literally,” Hall said.

But the current law won’t do anything for her son, who was diagnosed with autism, Hall said.

“This bill … is simply not good enough. It’s not going to help my child,” she said.

Others complained that expanding the patient base without expanding the THC levels would do nothing to help patients because the benefits of the low-THC treatment are likely restricted to patients who suffer from seizures.

Bradley has refused to hear in his committee a measure that would legalize full-fledged medical marijuana and has consistently said he wants last year’s bill to be implemented before expanding THC levels.

But, at the end of  testimony on the bill, the chairman left the door open for that possibility after being questioned by Sen. Miguel Diaz de la Portilla, a Miami Republican.

“I’m not one for ultimatums, and I’m certainly not going to start on this one,” Bradley said.

Bradley’s measure would also create more specific guidelines for the University of Florida to conduct research on the efficacy of the low-THC treatment, something in last year’s law. Research is sparse because, under state law, marijuana is classified along with other dangerous drugs like heroin, he said.

“There is not enough research in this area. There just isn’t … because this is a Schedule 1 substance in state law, and frankly it shouldn’t be,” Bradley, a former prosecutor, said. “We should acknowledge that. That has kept the research from happening.”

by The News Service of Florida


Florida Department Of Health Reminds Residents To Test For Radon

March 29, 2015

The Florida Department of Health is reminding Floridians about the importance of identifying and addressing elevated indoor radon levels in homes and buildings statewide.

Radon is a naturally occurring radioactive gas that you cannot see, smell or touch and is found in most soils and earthen construction materials. It is formed by the natural radioactive decay of uranium in rock, soil and water. While outdoor levels produce little risk, higher concentrations found indoors present potential health hazards. According to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), radon in indoor air is estimated to cause about 21,000 lung cancer deaths each year in the United States. Radon is the second leading cause of lung cancer in the U.S. after smoking and the leading cause of lung cancer among non-smokers.

“Exposure to elevated indoor radon levels is dangerous to a person’s health, so it is important to know how to protect yourself from this health hazard,” says Dr. Anna Likos, director, Division of Disease Control and Health Protection. “One in five Florida homes tested for radon has elevated levels, so we encourage you to test for radon and to take corrective actions if needed to keep your family safe and healthy.”

Radon levels can be measured with a simple test and elevated levels can be lowered through well-established techniques. To prevent dangerous radon exposure, the department and EPA recommends the following:

  • All residents should test their homes. Schools, day cares and work places should be tested. Test kits are available at many hardware and home improvement stores as well as through online retailers. The department has certified radon measurement professionals who are available to provide radon testing for a fee.
  • Building owners should address elevated radon-related problems immediately—this can be done by a department-certified radon mitigation professional.
  • New buildings should include radon-resistant features, which can be easily and inexpensively installed during initial construction—these features are especially important in areas reporting elevated radon levels.

For more information about radon, its health effects and testing procedures, please visit the department’s Radon Program’s website at http://radon.floridahealth.gov or contact the Department’s Radon Hotline at 1-800-543-8279.

Lady Aggies Take Second In Kissimmee Klassic

March 29, 2015

The Tate High School Lady Aggies took second place in the Kissimmee Klassic Saturday after a 5-2 loss in the championship game against 8A Hagerty.

The Aggies’ Tori Perkins was named defensive player of the tournament.

The Lady Aggies moved into the championship game after an earlier victory Saturday 4-0 over St. Cloud.

Florida Gov’t Weekly Roundup: Nearing The Halfway Mark

March 29, 2015

The House and Senate committees charged with crafting budget plans have finished their first drafts. Differences between the two chambers on some of the major policy issues are starting to emerge.

And Capitol insiders are beginning to speculate that a special session could be in the cards.

http://www.northescambia.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/floridaweeklly.jpgIn others words, all the usual signs that the midpoint of the session is at hand are on display in Tallahassee. And as usual, there are almost as many questions as answers.

Will the budget include money to defray the medical costs of low-income Floridians, either through a form of Medicaid expansion or something else? Just how far will lawmakers really go in reining in the testing and accountability system that has been the hallmark of the state’s education reform efforts for 15 years? And is this the year that advocates of a gambling deal hit the jackpot, or will they once again go bust?

The past week helped set up some of the battles. The next month will be about resolving them. Unless, of course, the chattering classes finally have it right and lawmakers will need a few extra weeks to hammer out their differences.

WHAT’S A FEW BILLION AMONG FRIENDS?

There’s always a gap of some sort between the House and Senate budgets. Usually, one of the chambers floats the idea of removing a program from the state ledger, or adding something to the spending plan, or cutting this tax or that expense.

This year, though, the difference is a bit larger than usual. With the Senate Appropriations Committee passing an $80.4 billion for the budget year that begins July 1 and the House Appropriations Committee checking in with a $76.2 billion outline, the gap between the two is more than $4 billion.

That means legislative leaders will likely have to reach some sort of agreement before negotiations about the budget details can begin. And the biggest source of friction comes in health care.

The Senate would include $2.8 billion for a plan to use Medicaid expansion money from the federal Affordable Health Care Act, better known as Obamacare, to help lower-income Floridians purchase private insurance. The upper chamber also would use nearly $2.2 billion from a potential extension of the Low Income Pool, or LIP, program, which funnels additional money to hospitals and other health providers that serve large numbers of poor and uninsured patients.

That program is set to expire June 30 unless the state can reach an agreement with the federal government.

In the case of expanding health coverage with Medicaid money, the Senate has tried before to get the House to go along with a similar plan, only to get soundly rejected. And the House is also hesitant to put LIP money in the budget, given that the LIP program is scheduled to not exist when the budget takes effect. But something’s got to give, Senate leaders say.

“Whether or not the House wants to embrace either of those two proposals remains to be seen, but we’re going to have to have some solution,” said Senate Appropriations Chairman Tom Lee, R-Brandon.

As reluctant as they are to talk about Medicaid expansion and LIP funding, though, House leaders are eager to discuss taxes. The chamber rolled out a $690 million package of tax relief that slashes levies or offers holidays for a range of items, including cell phone bills, pay TV, gun-club memberships, college textbooks and book fair purchases.

“The average Floridian pays about $1,800 bucks a year in state taxes. That is the lowest in the country, but we can do even better and we will,” said House Finance & Tax Chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach.

But Lee said tax-cut measures may not advance for a couple of weeks due to the talks with the federal government.

“And we’re not going to get into conference (negotiations with the House) unless we get some remedy, in all likelihood anyway, on the health-care funding problems that we have,” Lee said.

INHERITED VICE

The sins — or at least the sinful ideas — of past legislative sessions are coming back to pester lawmakers in 2015. One of the thorniest issues is gambling. On one hand, the House is vetting a soup-to-nuts gaming measure that might end up going nowhere fast; on the other, the Senate is pursuing negotiations with the Seminole Tribe of Florida focused on the state’s existing deal with the tribe.

House Regulatory Affairs Chairman Jose Felix Diaz’s comments at the introduction of a four-hour workshop Thursday on gambling might have foreshadowed the future of a sweeping proposal released by House Majority Leader Dana Young the day before the legislative session began earlier this month.

“Welcome to the most anticipated non-event of the year,” Diaz, R-Miami, quipped to a packed meeting room.

Young’s plan (HB 1233) would allow a maximum of two Las Vegas-style casinos to open in Miami-Dade or Broward counties and would effectively do away with a 20-year revenue-sharing agreement, called a compact, with the tribe. A portion of the deal with the Seminoles giving the tribe exclusive rights to operate banked card games such as blackjack is set to expire on July 31 unless the Legislature reauthorizes it or signs a new agreement.

Meanwhile, Senate Regulated Industries Rob Bradley told The News Service of Florida that his talks with the Seminoles have intensified over the past week.

“We are negotiating right now with the Seminole Tribe. Those are ongoing negotiations. Whether they will be fruitful or not remains to be seen,” Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said.

Under the current agreement, the Seminoles agreed to pay the state a minimum of $1 billion over five years in exchange for exclusive rights to banked card games at five of its seven facilities throughout the state. The tribe’s payments to the state have thus far exceeded the minimum and are expected to increase under a complicated revenue-sharing formula inked in 2010.

Meanwhile, Bradley’s committee has also tackled a state law that allows a limited form of medical marijuana. Facing another legal challenge to the state’s attempt to craft a framework for the pharmacological pot industry, the committee moved forward with a measure that would jump-start the process.

Bradley, who was instrumental in passing a law last year that legalized non-euphoric cannabis for patients with cancer or chronic muscle spasms, is pushing a new plan that would expand the types of patients who would be eligible for the treatment. The plan also includes specifics about how the Florida Department of Health would choose nurseries that can grow, process and distribute the substance.

The Department of Health has tried twice to craft rules for the industry. But a lawyer representing a 4-year-old girl with inoperable brain cancer filed a legal challenge to the revised proposal two weeks ago, creating more delays in getting the law implemented. A judge has set an April 14 hearing in the case. Also, two other challenges were filed this week.

Last year’s law was “a promise to families across Florida that had children suffering from as many as 100 seizures a week that we would give them the relief they were asking for,” Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said. “A year has passed and unfortunately we have yet to be able to fulfill this promise that we made to those families, even though we wrote a law that said a system would be in place to deliver the substance by Jan. 1. The purpose of this bill is simple. To deliver on the promise we made last year.”

TEST OF WILLS

Lawmakers are also considering, as usual, an array of measures dealing with education. Perhaps the highest-profile legislation related to schools is a plan to roll back the number of standardized tests that public-school students take each year, and the Senate Appropriations Committee took perhaps the biggest step in that direction yet.

Under the newest version of a Senate measure (SB 616), Florida third-graders would not have to pass the Florida Standards Assessment to be promoted to fourth grade this year until the tests for that grade and others are found to be valid by an independent examination.

In exchange, the proposal would require school districts to identify students who scored in the bottom 20 percent on the test and come up with strategies to help those students.

“You can promote them, if you want to promote them, but you need to demonstrate why you’re promoting them,” said Senate Education PreK-12 Committee Chairman John Legg, a Lutz Republican sponsoring the overall bill.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, didn’t seem eager to join.

“Social promotions, to us in the House, are not something that we’re interested in,” he said.

The House, having already passed its version of the testing bill, moved on this week to other education measures. It approved a proposal that could funnel local tax dollars to charter-school construction (HB 7037), a bill (HB 665) relaxing penalties for school districts that don’t comply with the state’s class-size limits and a measure (HB 7043) that would make it easier for school districts to approve student dress codes and establish financial bonuses for districts that do so.

STORY OF THE WEEK: The House and Senate Appropriations Committees approved the chambers’ respective budget proposals for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I would say to our friends in the House, who have their own views about this matter — views that I respect — that ‘no’ is not a health-care policy. ‘No’ is not a solution for 800,000 people.”—Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, on the House’s reluctance to take up a Senate plan to help low-income Floridians purchase health insurance.

by Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

Navy Helicopter Mishap Off Nine Mile Road

March 28, 2015

A Navy helicopter suffered a “mishap” at a practice field on Nine Mile Road just before 7 p.m. Friday. There were no serious injuries reported.

A Training Air Wing FIVE helicopter had a training mishap at around 6:45 p.m. Friday, according to a press release, at Naval Air Station Whiting Field’s Navy Outlying Landing Field Site 8.

Initial reports from the scene indicate that the helicopter rolled on its right side while landing and the two officers, one instructor pilot and one student, exited the helicopter on their own accord. The pilots were evaluated by NAS Whiting Field EMS personnel  and were transported to a local hospital for a routine evaluation.

A witness described the crash an extremely hard landing, after which the helicopter rolled over on its side. Damage to the aircraft was described as “heavy”.

The field is located on Nine Mile Road near Bell Ridge Drive, just west of the Navy Federal complex.  Military helicopters frequently use the field to practice landings.

Multiple Escambia Fire Rescue stations, Navy Fire, Escambia County EMS and a Navy crash response crew responded to the site.

Photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Counselors Available Monday At Tate High School

March 28, 2015

Counselors will be available Monday at Tate High School, following three unrelated accidents in less than a week that claimed the lives of two 15-year old students and a substitute teacher.

Monday is Spring Break for Escambia County schools, but Tate Principal Rick Shackle said the counselors will be available from 9 a.m. and will be at the school throughout the morning for students with a need.

Tate sophomore Katelyn White was struck and killed by a train Thursday. Last Monday, 15-year Justin Taylor was killed when his pickup truck struck a utility pole.  And last week, a Highway 29 wreck claimed the life of Penny Nellums, a frequent substitute teacher at Tate.

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