Bill Would Shield Taxpayer Email Addresses

December 21, 2014

Warning of identify theft and other crimes, a Florida  lawmaker has filed a proposal that would prevent the release of taxpayers’ email addresses held by tax collectors. The proposal, filed this week by Sen. Jack Latvala, R-Clearwater, will be considered during the 2015 legislative session, which starts in March.

The proposal would create a public-records exemption for email addresses that are used in the course of communications between taxpayers and tax collectors.

“In order to conduct business electronically with a tax collector, the taxpayer must report his or her personal email address,” the bill said. “Under current law, email addresses are public records available to anyone for any purpose. However, such addresses are unique to the individual and, when combined with other personal identifying information, can be used for identity theft, taxpayer scams, and other invasive contacts. The public availability of personal email addresses invites and exacerbates thriving and well-documented criminal activities and puts taxpayers at increased risk of harm.”

by The News Service of Florida

Weekend Gardening: Creative Gift Ideas For Your Favorite Gardener

December 21, 2014

by UF/IFAS Extension Service

Still don’t have a Christmas present for your favorite gardener? Take heart, there is still plenty of time to find, or make, that perfect “green” gift.

Many gardeners don’t think of their landscapes as just plants in the ground. To the knowledgeable landscape designer, the landscape is a series of rooms; rooms that may require decoration.

Garden art can be anything from the whimsical garden gnomes, functional obelisks or metal sculptures.

Garden obelisks can serve many functions. In addition to providing interest during all four seasons, they can act as beautiful focal points in the garden. They can make your garden look as if it was designed by a professional.

In a flower garden, they provide support for plants such as climbing roses, flowering vines and many other climbers and twiners. In the edible garden, many types of fruits and vegetables, such as various types of beans, can be grown on obelisks.

Obelisks come in many different sizes and shapes. Common shapes include tall, rounded or oblong forms, rectangular forms, and pyramids. Most vining plants will take to any shape. Choose the shape that is pleasing to you and blends in with your garden design. Obelisks can be made from a variety of materials including cedar, copper and wrought iron.

Furthermore, if you are an avid recycler, there are plenty of materials just laying around that can be made into a functional obelisk with a minimum amount of skill and time. Take a look on the internet and you will find plenty of help in fashioning a home-made creation.

A “growing” trend is metal garden art. Metal garden art can be fun, playful or even classical. It can be used to create a focal point in the garden or to brighten up a dull spot. From small garden stakes, to colorful wall art, to sculptures small and large, the possibilities are endless. With so many materials to choose from and so many artists working in the field you will be sure to find at least one piece to add color and character to your yard.

Again, if you are an avid recycler, you will be able to find many pieces made from recycled metal. Recycled steel drums or tanks, discarded bicycle or tricycles, old car parts, these all provide the raw materials for the creative eco-artist.

Copper is widely used in metal garden art because it is beautiful, durable and adds elegance to any garden. If allowed to oxidize it will age gracefully to a natural weather worn green patina. It can also be preserved with a clear coating to maintain its bright, shiny look. Copper sculptures, wall art and garden stakes add a touch of class to any decor.

For a classic look add a bronze garden sculpture. Bronze sculptures have been around for thousands of years. They remain popular today because they are classic, timeless and will last for generations.

Whatever your taste, classic, contemporary or just playful, garden art will warm your heart even on the coldest winter day.

Submitted photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Changes Pondered In Funding For Disabled Services In Florida

December 21, 2014

Complying with a court ruling, the state Agency for Persons with Disabilities on Thursday held a hearing about a mathematical formula that helps determine how much money is spent on services for developmentally disabled Floridians.

The 1st District Court of Appeal in July found that the agency did not properly carry out a law that created what are known as “iBudgets.” The law was designed to provide set amounts of money to people with developmental disabilities, depending on their needs, and then give them flexibility in how the money is spent on services.

The court found that the Agency for Persons with Disabilities improperly used the formula, or algorithm, to make decisions that led to lower funding for some people.

Now the agency is increasing the money available for services for about 14,000 people in the iBudget program.

“We really do want this to be an open dialogue,” agency Deputy Director for Programs Denise Arnold told about 100 advocates, service providers, support coordinators and family members at the hearing. “We will make it better.”

The formula is intended to provide an equitable distribution of available resources among people who are in the program. It’s based on an evaluation process that includes the age and living situation of the person being served, along with an assessment called a QSI that scores his or her ability to perform functions such as maintaining hygiene.

Once the individual budget is determined, the client and caregivers can choose how to spend the money on services and providers.

The purpose of the hearing was to adjust the formula to better reflect the degree of care that people in the iBudget program require.

“The test for getting more services is pretty stiff,” said Nancy Wright, an attorney representing The Arc of Florida, an advocacy group for people with developmental disabilities. “If you took that literally, to its extreme, that would mean if you kept somebody safe sitting in a room watching TV all day … maybe you don’t need more than that. But all of us know that if you’re going to look at mental health and quality of life, you’ve got to look at more than that.”

Speakers said the formula should be altered to include more frequent assessments of people’s needs, because cognitive and physical abilities tend to deteriorate in middle age.

“I think (age) 50 is a critical cut-off point,” said Janice Phillips, chairwoman of the Association of Support Coordination Agencies of Florida.

Other speakers said factors such as where a person lives and the quality of his or her support coordinator affected how far the money would stretch for services.

“Some support coordinators cared more, did a better job of advocating for their clients, and some didn’t even take the time to see if (the assessment) was accurate or if their client needed additional advocacy,” said Julie McNabb, chief executive officer of Horizons of Okaloosa County, a service provider. “This is supposed to be a scientific process … but as soon as you put the people into it, the science kind of goes out the window.”

McNabb also said it’s probably a conflict of interest to have the Agency for Persons with Disabilities administering the QSI assessment “and also controlling the pocketbook.”

Mark Barry, executive director of The Arc Nature Coast, urged the agency to make the iBudget process more transparent.

“That’s a big part of where and how we got off track,” he said.

The cost of complying with the appellate court ruling could be as much as $120 million, but Arnold said the implications for her agency’s budget were “unknown at this point.”

“We’re trying to look at how we implemented the algorithm in the past and take some improvements and suggestions from the stakeholders to see if we can run something that matches more individuals’ needs,” she said after the hearing. “We’re trying to approach this from individual needs right now, not what the cost is of things necessarily right now.”

The agency is expected to turn to the Legislature for help with the issue next year, which could involve additional funding or changes in state law.

by Margie Menzel, The News Service of Florida

FWC Law Enforcement Report

December 20, 2014

The Florida FWC Division of Law Enforcement reported the following activity during the weekly period ending  December 18 in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties.

ESCAMBIA COUNTY

Officers Livesay and Miller along with Investigator Goley worked a detail targeting night hunting in an area where multiple complaints have recently been received. From a concealed location, Officer Livesay observed occupants of one vehicle quickly shine a small light in multiple locations attempting to disclose deer.  Officer Livesay stopped the vehicle and discovered a rifle in the front seat between two subjects. After questioning, one of the subjects admitted they were trying to kill a deer.  Officer Livesay seized the gun and light and issued notice to appear citations for the violation.

Lieutenant Lambert was given the last name and vehicle description of two subjects that had illegally killed two doe deer at night.  Both deer were shot with a .22 caliber rifle, five days apart.  Neither deer was recovered by the subjects, but both deer were found the day after they were shot.  Several hours after receiving the tip, Lieutenant Lambert observed one of the suspects shining a light attempting to disclose deer on the same road where one of the deer was shot earlier in the week.  At that time, the subject did not have a gun in his possession, but after being questioned, admitted to killing the two illegal deer.  After obtaining a written confession, Lieutenant Lambert traveled to the second subject’s house and obtained a second written confession.  The rifle was seized and charges were filed on both subjects for two counts of taking deer at night with a gun and light.

Officers Cushing and Barnard were on water patrol on the Escambia River. They received a complaint regarding multiple bait sites in the Escambia River Wildlife Management Area (WMA). While investigating this complaint, they came across a vessel in the described area. As they were getting out of their vessel on the bank, they observed a subject carrying an automated barrel feeder back to his boat. When confronted, he denied having any previous knowledge of the equipment. He stated that he was removing it from the area because he knew it was a violation. An inspection of his boat revealed a hand-held seed broadcaster with corn in it. Two areas were located with corn and hunting equipment in the immediate area. After a thorough investigation, the officers obtained a written statement from the subject and a citation was issued for placing bait in the WMA. In addition, one citation for an expired registration and several warnings for other boating safety and hunting violations were issued.

SANTA ROSA COUNTY

Officers Clark and Cushing and Federal Officer Demesillo were patrolling Gulf of Mexico federal waters in the FinCat (off-shore patrol vessel). Of the boats they inspected, three were found to be in violation. Federal citations were issued for possession of red snapper, gray triggerfish, red grouper, and gag grouper during a closed season.

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.

Traffic Shift On Pineville Road

December 20, 2014

Traffic on Pineville Road in North Escambia will be transitioned to the completed roadway and bridge over Brushy Creek Monday, December 22. Drivers can expect intermittent lane closures as crews make preparations to open the new bridge to traffic.

The $1.1 million bridge project funded by the Florida Department of Transportation has been under construction since July.

Pictured: A temporary bridge was put in place last July  next to the now demolished and replaced Brushy Creek Bridge on Pineville Road.  NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.

Scott Says Florida Has Reached His 2010 Jobs Goal

December 20, 2014

Gov. Rick Scott declared Friday that Florida has reached his 2010 campaign goal of creating 700,000 jobs within seven years, as the state’s unemployment rate was posted at its lowest rate since May 2008.

Four years ago, Scott’s jobs pledge was accompanied by the line “on top of what normal growth would be,” a phrase abandoned by the governor shortly after he took office but not forgotten by Democrats.

Scott’s declaration that the campaign pledge has been achieved came tied to the monthly jobs report from the state Department of Economic Opportunity, which put Florida’s unemployment mark at 5.8 percent in November, down from 6.0 percent a month earlier.

The state rate is even with the national figure.

The state’s unemployment report estimated that 38,600 private-sector jobs had been created between October and November, the most in a single month since Scott took office at the start of 2011.

The monthly gains were primarily found in services fields, from hotel accommodations and the food industry to health care. The latest numbers also pushed the number of private-sector jobs added in the state to 715,700 since December 2010, “far surpassing (Scott’s) goal to create 700,000 jobs in seven years,” the state report declared.

“Four years ago, we unveiled an ambitious plan to fix Florida’s economy and turn the state around,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “Our goal was to create 700,000 jobs in seven years. Today our goal was reached three years early, with 715,700 private-sector jobs created in Florida since December 2010.”

The release from the governor’s office was titled: “Gov. Rick Scott: Florida did it!”

When Scott took office, the unemployment rate stood at 11.1 percent.

Democrats on Friday called Scott’s mission-accomplished release a “lie,” saying Scott’s 2010 pledge included the caveat of being on top of normal growth as predicted by state economists.

“It’s a fraud against the people of Florida, and an insult to everyone who can’t find a job this holiday season,” Joshua Karp, communications director of the Florida Democratic Party, said in an email.

When the campaign pledge was made, it was immediately viewed as a high bar as the goal was on top of the roughly 1 million jobs economists said Florida will add during that time through normal growth and business expansion.

Sean Snaith, the director of the University of Central Florida’s Institute for Economic Competitiveness, acknowledged that Scott’s campaign pledge has “come back to haunt him,” but called Scott’s claim “valid.”

“We have solid measurements of payroll jobs and we know when he took office and we can count the number of jobs added to payroll since then,” Snaith said. “The fog goes back to some point that there was some claim that this would be on top of the normal jobs, which I don’t know how anyone could know.”

When Scott took office, there were 1.1 million Floridians considered out of work from a labor force of 9.245 million. In the latest report, the number of jobless was down to 556,000 from a labor force now standing at 9.66 million.

By Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

Florida Gov’t Weekly Roundup: Questions About Jobs, Jeb And Marriage

December 20, 2014

One of Gov. Rick Scott’s first and most heavily debated promises was back in the headlines Friday, as the governor claimed he had reached his goal of creating 700,000 jobs — and critics quickly noted that the original pledge was a bit more robust than that.

It was a fitting end to a week full of open questions, often about semantics, that never seemed to get resolved.

http://www.northescambia.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/floridaweeklly.jpgFormer Gov. Jeb Bush announced he would “actively explore” running for president — which many observers saw as a precursor to a formal bid for the 2016 GOP nomination, though Bush still hadn’t officially thrown his hat in the ring by week’s end (and wasn’t expected to for a while). At the same time, longtime Bush-watchers were questioning the national media’s rush to label the state’s former leader a “moderate.”

Attorney General Pam Bondi continued her fight to prevent same-sex marriage from taking effect in Florida — but the clock was running toward an early 2015 beginning for nuptials, and the courts largely remained quiet. Perhaps, like everyone who doesn’t breathe politics, they were simply out doing some Christmas shopping.

700,000 JOBS — GIVE OR TAKE A MILLION

It was notable enough in Friday’s monthly jobs report that the state’s unemployment mark fell below 6 percent for the first time since May 2008, before the financial market crash that triggered one of the worst economic downturns in American history. The jobless rate checked in at 5.8 percent in November.

But the numbers also gave Scott something to crow about: He claimed that the state had created 700,000 jobs since he took office, a fulfillment of the 7-7-7 pledge he made to voters during his first campaign for the governor’s mansion in 2010.

Never mind the fact that not all of the seven steps that Scott had claimed would lead to 700,000 jobs in seven years were fully enacted. And never mind caveats about how many jobs he actually promised.

“Four years ago, we unveiled an ambitious plan to fix Florida’s economy and turn the state around,” Scott said in a prepared statement. “Our goal was to create 700,000 jobs in seven years. Today our goal was reached three years early, with 715,700 private-sector jobs created in Florida since December 2010.”

Not so fast, Democrats countered.

“It’s a fraud against the people of Florida, and an insult to everyone who can’t find a job this holiday season,” Joshua Karp, communications director of the Florida Democratic Party, said in an email.

The dispute dates back to one of Scott’s debates with then-Chief Financial Officer Alex Sink, his Democratic opponent in 2010.

“So, our plan is seven steps to 700,000 jobs,” Scott said during that debate. “And that plan is on top of what normal growth would be.”

The moderator, Antonio Mora, pushed Scott a bit. Economists expected the state to add about a million jobs, so another 700,000 jobs would mean that Florida would have an additional 1.7 million openings over the next seven years, Mora noted, in a state where 1 million people were unemployed at the time.

Scott didn’t correct Mora. “We’re going to grow the state,” he responded, then began ticking off the virtues of doing business in Florida.

Even before this year’s campaign, when Scott’s biggest talking-point was his record of job creation, the exchange with Mora was repeatedly walked back after the governor settled into office. In a statement issued in October 2011, Scott said his promise was “the creation of 700,000 jobs over seven years regardless of what the economy might otherwise gain or lose” — a slight change in phrasing that altered the meaning of the promise.

By the original count, Scott still has plenty of work cut out for him in his second term. But Friday showed that Scott will stick to his revised promised. The question is whether Democrats will want to keep holding him to what he said in 2010, or move on to other fights.

‘ACTIVELY EXPLORING’

With all the policy speeches and newspaper stories bubbling up about the presidential ambitions of the man they once called Jeb!, one could be forgiven for thinking that Bush had already begun to “actively explore” whether to run for the nation’s highest office in 2016.

But that step actually happened this week, as Bush announced Tuesday on his Facebook page. That alone was a sign of how much politics had changed since Bush’s last bid for public office in 2002, before Mark Zuckerberg had begun building the website that would become Facebook.

In his post to the social media site, Bush wrote about spending time with his wife, Columba, children and grandchildren at Thanksgiving.

“We also talked about the future of our nation,” Bush wrote. “As a result of these conversations and thoughtful consideration of the kind of strong leadership I think America needs, I have decided to actively explore the possibility of running for President of the United States.”

National political reporters hailed the news as the latest signs of hope for the Republican establishment, and perhaps the now-endangered species of GOP moderates. That puzzled Floridians who had long considered Bush a rock-ribbed Republican who backed school vouchers, tax cuts and efforts to keep life support hooked up for Terri Schiavo, a woman diagnosed by doctors as being in a persistent vegetative state.

“I think what’s intriguing and I’m sure y’all have been reading the national media (reports) that Jeb is a moderate or middle of the road, and — y’all covered him,” Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, said skeptically during a meeting with reporters.

Democrats were all too happy to make the same point, hoping to ding the brother of the last President Bush and lessen the chances that there would be another one.

“Here’s the good news: With this announcement, Americans are going to get their first chance to learn about Jeb Bush,” said Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant. “As Florida governor, Jeb was a partisan extremist who fought to privatize public education and abused the power of government to interfere in private medical decisions in the Terri Schiavo case.”

YES OR NO ON GAY MARRIAGE?

While the political maneuvers over jobs and presidential ambitions continued, a legal battle to decide whether gay couples can marry in Florida also kept moving. On Monday, Bondi asked the U.S. Supreme Court to place a hold on same-sex nuptials, which could begin Jan. 6 unless an extension of the state’s ban is approved.

Bondi’s request came less than two weeks after a federal appeals court rejected her effort to at least temporarily extend the gay-marriage prohibition, which U.S. District Judge Robert Hinkle ruled in August was unconstitutional. Hinkle placed a stay on his decision to allow time for appeals in three cases then pending before the Supreme Court.

Bondi asked the Supreme Court to keep the hold in place until Florida’s appeals run out or until the justices rule in similar cases. The Republican attorney general is asking justices to intervene to avoid confusion and to “maintain uniformity,” her spokeswoman Jenn Meale said in a memo accompanying the filing.

“In a continuation of the effort to maintain uniformity and order throughout Florida until final resolution of the numerous challenges to the voter-approved constitutional amendment on marriage, the Attorney General’s Office filed with the United States Supreme Court an application to extend the stay,” Meale wrote.

Unsurprisingly, lawyers for same-sex couples asked the high court Thursday to reject that request.

“Every day that the couples we represent and the thousands of families across Florida who are also denied the protections of marriage go without those protections, they are suffering real harm, as Judge Hinkle’s order made plainly clear,” said Daniel Tilley, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Florida, in a prepared statement announcing the Supreme Court filing.

But access to marriage for gay couples could be complicated regardless of whether Hinkle’s stay expires. Lawyers for the Florida Court Clerks & Comptrollers have advised county officials statewide not to issue marriage licenses “until a binding order is issued by a court of proper jurisdiction” and warned the clerks that they could be subject to criminal prosecution if they allow gay couples to wed.

“We realize that it may seem to many that Judge Hinkle’s federal district court ruling that Florida’s same-sex marriage ban is unconstitutional and violates fundamental rights would permit all Florida clerks of court to lawfully issue marriage licenses to same-sex couples,” the lawyers wrote in the Monday memo, an update of an analysis the clerks’ lawyers provided in July.

But, the lawyers wrote, “our review of the law indicates that an order and injunction issued at the federal trial level is not binding on any person, including a clerk of court, who is not a named party in the action.”

Hinkle’s ruling only applies to the Panhandle’s Washington County, where one of the gay couples in the lawsuit resides, Greenberg Traurig lawyers Fred Baggett, John Londot, Hope Keating and Michael Moody wrote.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Despite objections by Democrats, Gov. Rick Scott announced that he had reached his goal of creating 700,000 jobs.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “What does the cause of (Cuban) liberty get in return for that?”—State Rep. Jose Javier Rodriguez, D-Miami, on the possibility of the Cuban government opening an embassy in Washington, D.C., following President Barack Obama’s decision to re-establish diplomatic ties with the island nation.

by Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida

Gulf Power Gives Back To America’s Heroes

December 20, 2014

Gulf Power presented $63,400 to two local charities today in support of veterans in the Escambia County area. The money was raised from its second annual Clay Shoot for America’s Heroes held in November at the Santa Rosa Shooting Center in Pace. Two checks for $31,700 were presented to the two organizations at Gulf Power’s headquarters.

The clay shoot raised money for Building Homes for Heroes and Gulf Coast Veterans In Need — two charities that provide assistance to wounded military members and their families in Northwest Florida.

“Many disabled veterans have nothing in their life to call their own or to be proud of. This support enables veterans to begin anew and start living life the way it should be,” said Army Sgt. Joshua Hamilton, who will receive a home from Building Homes for Heroes on Dec. 27.

Building Homes for Heroes gives mortgage-free homes to wounded American service members. Locally, five homes have been given or pledged with plans for several more in Northwest Florida.

Gulf Coast Veterans In Need supports severely injured veterans in the Pensacola Bay Area. The group works with individual service members to coordinate benefits, community resources and family needs and determines the level and type of additional assistance.

Each charity will receive a check raised through Gulf Power’s Clay Shoot for America’s Heroes event.

“The Gulf Power fundraiser and the Building Homes for Heroes organization has meant the world to us,” said retired Army Spc. Anthony Stroup. “It has given us the opportunity to build a solid foundation for our family and make new lasting memories together. Our family has moved 14 times in eight years, so now our children will have the chance to grow up in the same house in the same school district, and will be able to make lifelong friendships. We have a chance as a married couple to secure our future and provide the lifestyle we never had growing up.”

Close to 80 volunteers from Gulf Power and the community hosted the clay shoot on Nov. 6 with 35 teams of sportsmen and women gunning for clays. Twenty-five sponsors showed their support to make the event possible and volunteers launched clays and scored endless rounds of shots from 130 participants.

“There was terrific response from the community and once again we have selected two great causes that provide much needed support to our military veterans,” said Sandy Sims, Gulf Power manager of Community Relations. “Our employees are proud to support groups that support our military friends and neighbors — and the key is that our partners in the community feel the same way.”

Pictured: Gulf Power presented donations for $31,700 each Friday to Gulf Coast Veterans in need (below) and Building Homes for Heroes (top).  Pictured inset: Gulf Power CEO Stan Connally chats with Army Sgt. Josh Hamilton, one of two area veterans receiving a home through the Building Homes for Veterans charity. Photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Escambia Man Charged With November Murder

December 19, 2014

An Escambia County man was charged Friday morning with a November murder.

Reginald Sherrod Williams, 24, was charged with homicide in the November 25  death of 22 year old Nicolas Baer on Galvin Road.

Baer was discovered deceased on the floor of a residence in the 1500 block shortly before 3:00 pm. Narcotics were also recovered from the residence according to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office. At the time of the homicide, Williams was the suspect in a home invasion which occurred in the 400 block of Shiloh Drive on November 24. He was arrested on November 26 on multiple charges in that case.

Attemped Kidnapping At Elementary School Under Investigation

December 19, 2014

An attempted kidnapping is under investigation at an Escambia County elementary school.

About 4 p.m. Thursday, deputies responded to Warrington Elementary school where a juvenile male victim said he was playing in the rear of the school when he was approached by a man who was smoking and armed with a knife.

The victim said the man grabbed him and carried him to a fence that runs behind the school. The victim told deputies that the suspect then let him go and fled the area.

The suspect was described as a light-skinned male with long straight hair down to his elbows and blue eyes. He had no visible scars or facial hair. At the time of the attempted kidnapping, the suspect was wearing a blue short-sleeve shirt, black jeans, white tennis shoes and a purple cowboy hat.

According to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office, there have been no further reports involving the man, but citizens should be alert.

Anyone with information on the identity of the suspect is asked to call Crimestoppers at (850) 433-STOP.

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