Citizens Insurance May Delay Rate Hike

June 20, 2018

Citizens Property Insurance is poised to delay a 7.9 percent rate increase for policyholders, after some board members suggested Tuesday another rate hike may be too soon following a May 1 increase.

The Citizens Board of Governors, which oversees the government-backed insurer that has some 443,000 policies in the state, will discuss the proposal at its Wednesday meeting in Maitland.

Bette Brown, a consumer representative on the board, asked the Citizens Actuarial and Underwriting Committee on Tuesday to delay action on the annual rate request. She said much of the state, particularly South Florida and the Keys, is still dealing with the aftermath of Hurricane Irma, which hit the state last September.

“Florida is still in an ongoing emergency, really, recovering,” said Brown, who lives in Monroe County, one of the state’s most heavily damaged areas.

The actuarial committee unanimously adopted Brown’s recommendation, saying the question of the next rate increase will be considered by the full board.

John Wortman, chairman of the actuarial committee, said one possibility would be to delay the 2019 rate increase to next May 1, since a 6.6 percent increase for homeowners with Citizens multi-peril policies took effect last month.

The 2018 rate increase, which normally would have taken effect in February, was delayed until May, following a 90-day rate freeze imposed after Irma.

Under the 2019 rate proposal that will be considered by the board, personal-lines policies for Citizens customers will increase by a statewide average of 7.9 percent, while commercial lines will increase by 8.9 percent.

Personal policyholders include homeowners, condominium-unit owners, renters and mobile-home owners. Commercial lines include condominium associations as well as non-residential property.

Under the rate proposal, inland homeowners with multi-peril policies will face an average increase of 8.3 percent, while coastal homeowners would have a 9.5 percent increase. Wind-only personal-lines policies would increase statewide by 7.8 percent.

Rate increases will vary by county, although the highest increases will be in populous South Florida. Average rates for homeowner multi-peril policies in Miami-Dade County will increase 9.8 percent, with an average annual premium of $3,945. In Broward, rates will increase 9.9 percent on average, with a $3,294 premium.

Wind-only homeowner policies in Monroe County would increase by an average 7.8 percent, with a $3,737 premium.

Pinellas County, which has the third highest total of Citizens multi-peril homeowner policies, would see a 2.8 percent average increase, with a $1,705 premium, according to the proposal.

Rates would decline in a few counties, including Okaloosa, where multi-peril homeowner policies would decrease by an average of 5.5 percent, with a $1,811 premium. But there are only 118 Citizens homeowner policies in that Panhandle community, compared to 54,431 in Miami-Dade.

A factor in the rate increase is the continuing controversy over the “assignment of benefits” practice where property owners with claims assign their insurance benefits to contractors and other firms, which seek reimbursement from the insurance companies. Citizens officials say it leads to increased fraud and inflated claims, while defenders of the practice say it allows property owners to be adequately compensated.

The new rate proposal notes that assignment of benefit claims “are on the rise, particularly in South Florida, and are one of the major factors driving increased non-weather water losses and Citizens’ increased rate need.”

Any rate increase approved by the Citizens Board of Governors is subject to review by the Florida Office of Insurance Regulation. Last year, the board approved a 6.7 percent increase for homeowners’ multi-peril policies but the rate was reduced to 6.6 percent by state insurance regulators.

Citizens annual rate increases are capped at 10 percent under a “glide path” provision in the state law.

by Lloyd Dunkelberger, The News Service of Florida

New Candidate In Race For Ingram’s House Seat; Jay Woman Files For Williamson’s Seat

June 20, 2018

The race for an open seat in nearby House District 1 drew a late candidate Monday, when Republican Lisa Doss of Milton opened a campaign account, according to the Division of Elections website. The Escambia County seat is open because Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, faces term limits.

Five candidates have opened campaign accounts, with two — Republican Rebekah Bydlak and Democrat Vikki Garrett — listed on the state website as having qualified as of early Tuesday afternoon. The qualifying period started Monday and will last until noon Friday.

Meanwhile, it appears Rep. Jayer Williamson, R-Pace, won’t receive a free pass back to the Florida House. Bobbi Sue Osborne, a Jay resident running without party affiliation, opened a campaign account Tuesday to challenge Williamson in House District 3, which is made up of parts of Okaloosa and Santa Rosa counties, according to the state Division of Elections website.

Williamson, who formally qualified for the race Monday, had been running unopposed. He had raised $100,750 for his re-election bid as of May 31.

by The News Service of Florida with contribution from NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

United Way Announces $850K In Community Grants

June 20, 2018

United Way of Escambia County announced $850,000 in grants Tuesday for 42 local nonprofit programs through their community investment process. These programs provide critical services to individuals and families throughout the area.

Over the past year, 266 companies and nearly 7,000 individual donors contributed to United Way for health, education and financial stability programs.

TOP 5 WORKPLACE CAMPAIGNS

1. Gulf Power Company
2. Publix Super Markets, Inc.
3. Ascend Performance Materials
4. Navy Federal Credit Union
5. Regions Bank

Health Awards:
2018-19 Health Awards:  $116,264
1. Access to Care2 – Health and Hope Clinic
2. Child Abuse Prevention Education – Gulf Coast Kid’s House
3. Epilepsy Services and Resource Center – Epilepsy Foundation of Florida
4. Healthy Seniors Food Program – Manna Food Pantries, Inc.
5. Kids for Camp Summer Learning Lab – Autism Pensacola
6. Lakeview Center Victim Services – Lakeview Center
7. Mobile Outreach Program – OASIS Florida
8. The Salvation Army Emergency Shelter, Sally’s House – The Salvation Army
9. VIP Children’s Program – Independence for the Blind

2-3 Year Committed Health Awards: $260,962
1. Essential Life Skills – Capstone Adaptive Learning and Therapy Centers, Inc.
2. Family Advocacy – Gulf Coast Kid’s House
3. Healthy Lifestyles – Boys and Girls Clubs of the Emerald Coast
4. Nutrition Program – Council on Aging of West Florida
5. Older Blind Program – Independence for the Blind
6. Pearl Nelson Child Development Center/Pediatric Therapy – The Arc Gateway, Inc.
7. Senior Companion Program – Council on Aging of West Florida
8. Sexual/Physical Abuse Treatment Program – Lutheran Services of Florida
9. Youth Development – YMCA of Northwest Florida

Education Awards:
2018-19 Education Awards: $129,682
1. Big Brothers Big Sisters Community Based Program – Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida
2. Every Adult Achieves Self-Sufficiency – Pathways for Change
3. GED Program – AMIkids Pensacola
4. Girls Earning Diplomas (GED) Program – PACE Center for Girls
5. Milk & Honey Afterschool Program – Milk & Honey Outreach Ministry
6. ReadingPals – Every Child A Reader Escambia (ECARE)
7. School to Work – Big Brothers Big Sisters of Northwest Florida
8. Service Learning and Leadership Development – Chain Reaction
9. Workforce Development: Providing a Path to Self-Sufficiency – Waterfront Rescue Mission, Inc.

2-3 Year Committed Education Awards: $258,093
1. Academic Success – Boys and Girls Club of the Emerald Coast
2. Capstone Academy – Capstone Adaptive Learning and Therapy Centers, Inc.
3. Heritage Oaks Affordable Housing – Be Ready Alliance Coordinating for Emergencies (BRACE)
4. Independence for Dependent and Homeless Youth – Legal Services of

North Florida
5. Pearl Nelson Child Development Center/Early Intervention Services – The Arc Gateway, Inc.
6. School Readiness Program – Early Learning Coalition of Escambia County
7. Teenspace – Children’s Home Society of Florida
8. Transition Program – Independence for the Blind
9. Veterans Legal Assistance – Legal Services of North Florida

Financial Stability Awards:

2018-19 Financial Stability Awards: $67,500
1. Child Care – YMCA of Northwest Florida
2. Emergency Assistance – Catholic Charities of Northwest Florida
3. Moving Escambia County from Hunger to Hope – Manna Food Pantries, Inc.
4. Social Services – Basic Needs – The Salvation Army
5. The Mobile Pantry Program – Feeding the Gulf Coast

2-3 Year Committed Financial Stability Awards: $17,500
1. Domestic Violence Shelter – FavorHouse of Northwest Florida, Inc.

Jay Honors Former Town Clerk By Renaming Community Center

June 20, 2018

Tuesday evening, the Jay Community Center was renamed the Linda Carden Community Center in honor of longtime town clerk Linda Carden.

Carden retired after serving the community for 40 years. She started working for the Town of Jay in 1976 as the assistant to Town Clerk Theda Bray. She worked under three mayors – J.D. Bray, Jackie Ard and Kurvin Qualls.

While serving as town clerk, Carden earned the Master Municipal Clerk designation from the International Institute of Municipal Clerks. She retired in October 2016.

NorthEscambia.com file photo, click to enlarge.

George Stone Has A New Name – George Stone Technical College

June 20, 2018

George Stone Area Vocational–Technical Center has been renamed George Stone Technical College.

Officials hope the new name will better identify its mission so that more parents of high school graduates will realize the opportunities the institution provides for career preparation after high school.

The facility offers 22 career and technical programs, from cybersecurity and firefighter/EMT to culinary arts and cosmetology. Officials believe that in order to boost awareness and enrollment at GSTC, a name change was needed.

The School Board agreed at its June 19 Regular Board Meeting to change the name to George Stone Technical College, a move that will coincide with a statewide movement.  Escambia County is the 40th of the 48 school districts that offer adult education and training centers to add “technical college” to its name.

“These technical colleges saw a five to fifteen percent enrollment increase in the first year after changing their names,” said TJ Rollins, GSTC principal.

“The change will improve visibility, recognition and acceptability of the school as a viable post-secondary option for high school graduates and for other citizens of the Escambia County region,” according to the district’s Workforce Education Director, Michelle Taylor

Taylor said it will cost roughly $15,000 to change signs, business cards, letterhead and other materials. The name change comes at the time of year that materials are typically printed annually.
The educational institution began in Escambia County in 1968 and was named after Florida Rep. George Stone of Walnut Hill, an avid supporter of vocational education in the Florida legislature.

Bydlak Endorsed By Florida Chamber In Florida House Race

June 19, 2018

The Florida Chamber of Commerce Monday announced their endorsement of Rebekah Bydlak for Florida House District 1.

“Rebekah Bydlak is a candidate who is focused on serving the public and will ensure that free-enterprise principles and long-term solutions are put ahead of short term political fixes,” Marian Johnson, senior vice president of Political Strategy at the Florida Chamber of Commerce, said. “The Florida Chamber is proud to endorse Rebekah Bydlak to serve in the Florida House.”

Bydlak was endorsed for her pro-jobs commitment and support of continuing to move Florida in the right direction, according to the Florida Chamber.

“As the daughter of a small business owner and as a nonprofit executive, I’m honored to receive the endorsement from the Florida Chamber of Commerce,” said Rebekah Bydlak. “Few organizations have done as much to defend job creators in my home state, and I look forward to fighting for free enterprise, economic growth, and job creation in the legislature.”

Florida Smokable Medical Marijuana Issue May Be On Hold

June 19, 2018

In a widely expected move, an appellate court Monday refused to lift a stay on a Tallahassee judge’s ruling that would allow patients to smoke medical marijuana if their doctors approve it.

The 1st District Court of Appeal’s decision means that patients will continue to be barred from legally smoking medical marijuana for the foreseeable future — at least until the appellate court issues a final ruling on the merits of the case.

Leon County Circuit Judge Karen Gievers last month sided with Orlando trial lawyer John Morgan and a group of plaintiffs who filed a legal challenge after the Legislature included a ban on smoking in a 2017 law carrying out a constitutional amendment broadly legalizing medical marijuana.

Gievers agreed that the text of the constitutional amendment, approved by 72 percent of Floridians in 2016, allows patients to use any form of marijuana as their treatment.

Health officials, who argued that the amendment did not expressly authorize smoking and that the state had broad leeway to regulate medical marijuana use, immediately filed an appeal, which put an automatic stay on Gievers’ May 25 ruling.

On June 6, Gievers vacated the stay, prompting the state to ask the appellate court to keep it in place. The court sided with the state on Monday, saying that Gievers’ order vacating the stay was “quashed” and that the hold “shall remain in effect pending final disposition of the merits of this appeal.”

Whether patients should be able to smoke marijuana if their doctors recommend it has set off a partisan firestorm, with Morgan — a political rainmaker and registered Democrat who largely bankrolled the 2016 constitutional amendment — stirring the political pot.

Morgan told The News Service of Florida he had expected the appellate court to keep Gievers’ ruling on hold.

“Not surprised. Rick Scott could end the appeal today. It will cost him his Senate bid. The makers of opioids are cheering him on,” Morgan wrote in an email Monday.

Morgan has repeatedly asked Scott to drop the appeal, warning that the governor’s opposition to smokable medical marijuana will alienate moderate Republicans and independents in the governor’s quest to oust U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson in November.

Nelson, a Democrat, recently came out in support of doctor-ordered smokable marijuana for sick patients, as have each of the Democratic candidates seeking to replace Scott as governor.

In her June 5 order lifting the stay, Gievers wrote that plaintiffs Cathy Jordan, a Lou Gehrig’s disease patient who credits smoking marijuana with saving her life, and Diana Dodson, who has neuralgia associated with HIV, would suffer without having access to smokable marijuana.

“Individual patients Jordan and Dodson are exposed to irreparable harm on two fronts. First, they cannot legally access the treatment recommended for them. Second, they face potential criminal prosecution for possession and use of the medicinal substance,” the judge wrote.

On the other hand, “there is no evidence the defendants (the state) will suffer harm if the stay is vacated,” the judge wrote.

“Lifting the stay preserves the status quo by returning the law to its previous state as it existed following the 2016 adoption of the constitutional medical marijuana rights” and before the 2017 law went into effect, she added.

But during a hearing before Gievers, Assistant Attorney General Karen Brodeen argued that there was no hurry for the stay to be lifted, in part because of a lengthy state rulemaking process. Smokable pot “won’t be available for a long time,” if the courts ultimately decide that it is legal, Brodeen said.

“There’s no irreparable harm here. Nobody, at this time, can go to a medical-marijuana treatment center and purchase smokable marijuana. That’s going to take several months down the road, after an order that requires it to be available,” she said.

The legal tangle over smokable medical marijuana is one of at least eight marijuana-related administrative or legal challenges about the state’s burgeoning cannabis industry, which some experts estimate could exceed $1 billion in revenue by 2020.

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida

Incumbent Boutwell Qualifies To Run For Century Council

June 19, 2018

Incumbent Ben Boutwell qualified Monday to run again for his Century Town Council seat.

Boutwell was first elected to the town council in 2014. In 2016, he resigned to run for mayor. His mayoral bid was unsuccessful, and he was reappointed by the council to succeed himself. He was then re-elected to the seat in a special election.

Photo courtesy Escambia County Supervisor of Elections for NorthEscambia.com.

Forester: Good Management Prevents Pine Bark Beetles

June 19, 2018

by Escambia County Forester Cathy Hardin

Pine bark beetles rarely affect healthy trees. Impacted trees generally have been stressed in one or more ways during the past year or two. Stressors can include drought, flooding, lightning, fire, wounds to the trunk or larger limbs, compaction of soil, poor soil, competition, etc.

While there has been a slight upward trend in Southern Pine Beetle infestations in other parts of Florida, so far, the western panhandle has been spared. Southern Pine Beetles are potentially the most devastating of the southern pine bark beetles. In an outbreak, SPB can spread fast, killing many trees in a “spot” that gradually spreads outwards.

The best treatment for pine bark beetles is prevention through good forest management. To help combat one of the most economically devastating forest pests of the Southeast, the Florida Forest Service is accepting applications for the 2018 Southern Pine Beetle Assistance and Prevention Program from non-industrial, private forest landowners through June 29.

This program encourages sound management by providing incentive payments for landowners who conduct a first pulpwood thinning and offers partial cost reimbursement for activities such as prescribed burning, mechanical underbrush treatments and the planting of longleaf or slash pine rather than the loblolly pine, the beetle’s preferred species.
To obtain an application or to learn more about the Southern Pine Beetle Assistance and Prevention Program, visit FreshFromFlorida.com/SouthernPineBeetle/Prevention. Or contact the Escambia County Forester Cathy Hardin at (850) 587-5237.

This Is Qualifying Week For Local Candidates (With List Of Offices On The Ballot)

June 19, 2018

It’s qualifying week for local seats on the 2018 ballot. Qualitfying continues in Escambia County until noon on Friday.

Candidates can file their paperwork at the Supervisor of Elections (SOE) office on the second floor at 213 Palafox Place, or Wednesday only from 10 a.m. until 3 p.m. in the Century Town Hall council chambers (available to all candidates, not just those for Century council).

The Primary Election will be held August 28, 2018, and the General Election will be November 6, 2018.

The following local offices are up for election in 2018, each listed with the current office holder.

Century Town Council

  • Council Seat 3: Ben Boutwell
  • Council Seat 4: Gary Riley
  • Council Seat 5: Sandra McMurray Jackson

Pensacola City

  • Mayor: Ashton Hayward
  • Council District 2:  Sherri Myers
  • Council District 4:  Larry Johnson
  • Council District 6:   Brian Spencer

Escambia County Commission

  • District 2:  Doug Underhill
  • District 4:  Grover Robinson

Escambia School Board

  • District 1: Kevin Adams
  • District 2: Gerald Boone
  • District 3:  Lee Hansen (Linda Moultrie resigned)

Judicial County Court

  • County Court Judge Group 2:  Joyce H. Williams
  • County Court Judge Group 4:  Amy P. Brodersen
  • County Court Judge Group 5:   Kerra A. Smith

Special Districts

  • ECUA District 2: Lois Benson
  • ECUA District 4: Dale Perkinsfsan
  • SRIA: Thomas A. Campanella
  • Escambia Soil & Water Group 1:  Betty Wilson
  • Escambia Soil & Water Group 2:  Austin Courson
  • Escambia Soil & Water Group 4:  Lynn Laird

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