Florida Senate Pushes For Higher Education Changes

September 4, 2017

Universities would have to develop block tuition plans by next fall, and expansions in Bright Futures scholarships and need-based aid programs would become permanent under a Senate bill filed recently.

The legislation (SB 4), filed by Senate Higher Education Appropriations Chairman Bill Galvano, R-Bradenton, revives major parts of a higher-education bill (SB 374) passed during the 2017 legislative session but vetoed by Gov. Rick Scott.

A key difference is the new bill, which will be considered when the Legislature convenes in January, does not include measures related to state colleges. Those issues will be filed in a separate bill by Senate Education Chairwoman Dorothy Hukill, R-Port Orange.

Scott vetoed the 2017 bill citing concerns about the impact on the state college system.

Senate President Joe Negron, a Stuart Republican who has made elevating the state university system a top priority of his presidency, told the system’s Board of Governors that even with Scott’s veto of the policy bill, a major portion of the Senate’s higher-education initiative is already having a positive impact on the 12 state institutions.

Most of the Senate proposals were included in the new $82 billion state budget, including a record expansion of need-based aid and a major boost in Bright Futures scholarships, which are merit-based.

But as part of the annual budget, as opposed to being put into law, the changes are not permanent.

Negron told the Board of Governors, meeting at the University of Florida, that the idea behind the new Senate bill is “to make these tremendous gains permanent and to continue to build this vision” for an elite university system.

One provision in the bill would make permanent the expansion of the Bright Futures scholarships for the highest-performing students, known as “academic scholars,” to cover 100 percent of tuition and fees and to pay $300 per semester for books. Also, it would permanently allow academic scholars to use their Bright Futures awards to cover summer classes.

A new provision in the bill would expand the Bright Futures scholarships for “medallion” scholars to cover 75 percent of their tuition and fees. The scholarships now cover $77 of each credit hour, which average about $215 per hour across the university system.

The new bill also revives a proposed requirement that universities develop block tuition plans, where students pay a flat fee per semester rather than a credit-hour charge, with the new tuition plans taking effect in the fall of 2018.

“I think block tuition makes sense for a school like us,” said Michael Martin, the new president of Florida Gulf Coast University. “For one thing, it would create a reasonably good incentive for a student to carry as big a (class) load as they possibly can.”

Martin said it would help more students graduate quicker, which is one of the key performance standards for schools.

Kent Fuchs, president of the University Florida, said he likes the provisions in the bill that would bring permanency to the expansion of the need-based and merit-based financial aid programs.

“Any kind of aid that is a combination of need aware and based on merit really supports those students who are bright who can go to college anywhere but they can’t afford it, so we support that too,” he said.

Florida State University President John Thrasher, who helped create the original Bright Futures program when he was in the Legislature, said it’s “a great thing for students” to restore the scholarship program to cover full tuition, as it was originally designed.

“I think it should be fully funded,” Thrasher said. “I’m proud of Joe (Negron) for doing that.”

Scott said he has not seen the new Senate bill but supports the permanent expansion of the Bright Futures scholarships.

“I’ve been very supportive of making sure we fully fund Bright Futures,” Scott told reporters in Jacksonville. “I want to make sure that our students have Bright Futures that are covered both in the summer and cover all their costs.”

The new Senate bill also would authorize programs to help schools attract top-level professors and reward high-performing graduate schools. The current budget included $121 million for those programs, but the funding would be in doubt in subsequent years without the legislation.

The bill would also require schools seeking to become “pre-eminent” institutions, which qualifies them for more state funding, to meet a 60 percent four-year graduation rate. But the bill would allow schools, like the University of South Florida, that are expected to reach pre-eminent status in the next year to use the current standard of a 70 percent six-year graduation rate.

The bill would also impose a four-year graduation standard for all schools seeking performance funding. The formula now uses a six-year graduation measure.

Several financial-aid provisions did not survive Scott’s veto of the policy bill but would be renewed with passage of the new Senate bill.

Among them, it would double the state match for scholarships aimed at “first generation” in college students. Currently, it’s a one-to-one match for the funds.

A provision to extend to out-of-state students the Benacquisto scholarships, which pay full tuition for National Merit Scholars, would also be authorized in the new bill. Even without the out-of-state extension, Negron said funding in the budget increased the Benacquisto scholars to 873 this academic year, up from 665 last year.

The bill would also create a new scholarship program for students from farmworker families.

The Senate bill would prohibit university and state college foundations from using public funds to pay for travel. And by 2023, it would prohibit the “direct-support organizations” from using public funds to pay for personnel.

Workshop To Help Landowners Do Battle With Invasive Species

September 4, 2017

The Florida Forest Stewardship Program and the Six Rivers Cooperative Invasive Species Management Area are presenting a workshop September 28, 2017 from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. at the University of Florida Extension office on Airport Road in Crestview.

The title of the workshop is Invasive Exotic Species and Control and the topics will include herbicide label, required personal protective equipment, applications techniques, herbicide resistance, modes of action, rotation, terrestrial and aquatic invasive exotic plants and control update, invasive species identification and look-alikes, established and new invasive exotic insects, and working with the Six Rivers CISMA.

Participants can learn about identifying and controlling cogon grass, Japanese climbing fern, privets and other non-native invasive species. Participants can earn pesticide applicator and forestry CEUs. Registration is $10 per person and participants may sign up on line at https://fsp-workshop092817.eventbrite.com or call (850) 689-5850.

Pictured top: Cogon grass. Photo for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Wahoos Beat The Jumbo Shrimp

September 4, 2017

Pensacola starting pitcher Keury Mella turned in his fourth strong start in a row for the Blue Wahoos.

This time, the 24-year-old Dominican allowed one run in seven innings, while Pensacola third baseman Josh VanMeter singled in the winning run to help the Blue Wahoos overcome the Jacksonville Jumbo Shrimp, 2-1, Sunday at the Baseball Grounds of Jacksonville. The win tied the series, 2-2.

Mella gave up just four hits, no walks and struck out six. In the past four games, the right-hander has given up six runs, five earned in 25 innings for a 1.80 ERA, while striking out 23. He has turned his year around since the Mobile BayBears chased him from the game by scoring seven runs in 2.2 innings on Aug. 10

The victory improved his regular season record to 4-10 with a 4.30 ERA.

Blue Wahoos closer Tanner Rainey picked up his fourth save in his last four appearances since Aug. 28. Rainey, whose fastball touches 100 mph, has not allowed a run or hit in his last six games, recording 13 strikeouts in 6.2 innings.

Sunday, the big right-hander made it interesting, though. Rainey walked the first two batters he faced in the ninth inning. However, he got a strikeout and then Jacksonville right fielder John Norwood hit a line drive to second baseman Shed Long, who quickly threw to first to get Austin Dean out for a double play to end the game.

Pensacola rallied to beat Jacksonville with two out in the sixth inning by getting three singles in a row by right fielder Gabriel Guerrero, Long and third baseman Josh VanMeter. Guerrero’s single scored Mella, who had singled, to tie the Jumbo Shrimp, 1-1. Then VanMeter singled up the middle to drive in Long and put Pensacola up, 2-1.

Jacksonville’s only run of the game came on a solo home run by first baseman Justin Bour, who is on a rehab assignment from the Miami Marlins where he hit 21 homers this year.

Because Pensacola won the Southern Division in the first half, it will play Jacksonville, the second half champion, in the best of five game playoffs scheduled to start Sept. 6 at Blue Wahoos Stadium.

The Blue Wahoos won a Southern League record four halves in a row to tie the Tennessee Smokies, which also won four straight halves between 2009 and 2011.

Pensacola improved to 33-36 in the second half and 73-66 overall, while Jacksonville fell to 39-30 and 69-70.

Man Charged With Battery Of Girlfriend, Her Grandmother

September 3, 2017

An Escambia County man has been charged with battery on his girlfriend and her 69-year old grandmother.

Deputies responded to the victim’s residence where she stated that her boyfriend, 31-year old Kristopher Durant Coates, had struck her several times in the face with a closed fist while the two were involved in a verbal argument.  The victim told Escambia County Sheriff’s deputies that Coates also hit her grandmother in the face with a closed fist.

He fled on foot as the victim called deputies, according to an arrest report. He was taken into custody the following day.

Coates was charged with felony battery on a person 65-year of age or older and battery. He was released from the Escambia County Jail on bond.

Weekend Gardening: It’s Easy To Attract Hummingbirds

September 3, 2017

by UF/IFAS Extension Service

Few sights are more thrilling in the garden than rapidly moving hummingbirds darting among colorful flowers. Hummingbirds, also known as hummers, are always a wonder to see, and it’s easy to attract them to your garden.

In Florida, we see three different types of hummingbirds, but the most common is the ruby-throated. This feathered jewel is only about three inches long and weighs as little as a single penny.

For their size, hummingbirds have among the largest appetites in the bird world. They feed every 10 or 15 minutes from dawn until dusk. During this period, they eat more than half their weight in food and 8 times their weight in water.

If you’re fascinated by hummingbirds, you probably hang out a feeder or two in the summer to provide them with sugar water. Artificial feeders will attract hummingbirds.

However, feeders should not be the sole source of food provided. The sugar solution may appeal to the hummingbirds’ sweet tooth, but it provides little nourishment. Nectar is much more vital to the hummingbird than just water and sugar. By planting certain flowers and shrubs, home gardeners can provide food and habitat for hummingbirds.

Typical hummingbird flowers are red, have a tubular shape and have no strong scent. But there are several notable exceptions to this general rule. Many plants with red flowers don’t contain very much nectar. Roses, petunias, geraniums and zinnias have brilliant colors but little nectar.

Plants that produce an abundance of flowers over an extended period of time and those that require little care are good choices. Native plants can “fill the bill” where nectar-seekers are concerned and should be used whenever possible.

Perennials that are recommended as nectar sources include butterfly milkweed (Asclepias tuberosa), red basil (Calamintha coccinea), shrimp plant (Justicia brandegeana), cigar plant (Cuphea ignea), firespike (Odontonema stricta), red star hibiscus (Hibiscus coccineus), and obedient plant (Physostegia spp.).

It’s also important to plant a mixture of nectar producing trees, vines and shrubs that have overlapping blooming seasons. This will insure that a continuous source of nectar will be available to hummingbirds throughout the growing season. Some of the species recommended include red buckeye, bottlebrush, firebush (Hamelia patens), wild azalea, trumpet vine, and coral honeysuckle.

Contrary to popular belief, hummingbirds are not strictly nectar feeders. Insects and other invertebrates are the primary source of protein for adult hummingbirds and their young. An adult female can consume up to 2,000 insects per day. Small invertebrates including mosquitoes, gnats, small bees, fruit flies, spiders, caterpillars, aphids, and insects eggs make up the hummingbirds diet. So keep your plants free of pesticides. Pesticides destroy the insect food base vital to hummingbirds and their offspring, and may also contaminate the nectar they drink.

And if you do use artificial feeders, remember that the sugar solutions must be kept fresh. Florida’s hot weather can cause rapid bacterial growth in these feeders and birds that drink contaminated water could die. To avoid this, change the solution every 3 to 5 days. Clean the feeders with hot water and white vinegar. Do not use soap or chlorine bleach.

Century Changes September Council Meetings, Sets Budget Hearings

September 3, 2017

The Century Town Council has changed their meeting scheduled for September to accommodate the Labor Day holiday and budget hearings for the upcoming fiscal year.

The September council meeting schedule will be as follows:

  • Monday September 4 — Canceled – Labor Day
  • Monday September 11 — 6:50 pm First budget reading
  • Monday September 11 — 7:00 pm Council Meeting
  • Monday September 18 — 6:50 pm Second budget reading, public hearing
  • Monday September 18 — 7:00 pm Council Meeting

All meetings are open to the public and are held at 7995 North Century Boulevard.

NorthEscambia.com file photo, click to enlarge.

Florida Gov’t Weekly Roundup: Scott, Democrats Claim Victories

September 3, 2017

The historic flooding in Texas this week mesmerized people throughout the nation, including Florida Gov. Rick Scott, who dispatched hundreds of search and rescue personnel to the storm-ravaged region.

While the impacts of Hurricane Harvey rightfully garnered most of the attention, the Sunshine State was awash in news.

Scott emerged the victor in a controversial battle over a Central Florida prosecutor and the death penalty. A critical mayor’s race in St. Petersburg injected Democrats with enthusiasm. And the fallout at the Florida Highway Patrol over speeding ticket quotas netted two more victims.

http://www.northescambia.com/wp-content/uploads/2011/01/floridaweeklly.jpgOn a more somber note, hundreds of attendees said farewell to Panhandle strawberry farmer and former state Sen. Greg Evers, who captured the hearts of Republicans and Democrats alike during his 15-year tenure in the Legislature.

“This plainspoken man with a Southern drawl was equally at home in work clothes rolling around in the dirt trying to repair a broken tractor or in a suit and highly polished cowboy boots debating on the floor of Florida House or the Senate trying to do the right thing for Florida citizens,” Marion Hammer, a Florida lobbyist for the National Rifle Association and a close friend of Evers, said during a eulogy at his funeral on Tuesday.

COURT BACKS SCOTT IN DEATH PENALTY DISPUTE

With a 5-2 ruling Thursday, the Florida Supreme Court delivered a major victory to Scott in a battle with 9th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Aramis Ayala.

Siding with Scott, the court’s majority decided that the governor did not exceed his authority by stripping the Orange-Osceola prosecutor of death penalty cases.

Scott removed Ayala from handling capital cases earlier this year, shortly after she announced her office would not pursue the death penalty for defendants.

Ayala — the state’s first black elected state attorney — filed a lawsuit against Scott, accusing the governor of usurping her authority by reassigning the cases, including a high-profile case involving accused cop-killer Markeith Loyd.

Scott handed that case and more than two dozen others — including cases involving the recent shooting deaths of two Kissimmee police officers — to Ocala-area State Attorney Brad King, a veteran prosecutor and outspoken defender of the death penalty.

Florida law gives the governor “broad discretion in determining `good and sufficient reason’ for assigning a state attorney to another circuit,” Justice Alan Lawson wrote in a nine-page opinion joined by Chief Justice Jorge Labarga and justices Charles Canady and Ricky Polston. Justice R. Fred Lewis concurred with the result, though he did not sign on to the majority opinion.

Scott’s executive orders reassigning the cases in Ayala’s circuit to King “fall well `within the bounds’ of the governor’s `broad authority,’ ” Lawson wrote.

In a statement issued after the ruling, Ayala said she respects the Supreme Court decision and appreciates the “clarification” from the court. Ayala said she is setting up a “death penalty review panel” to evaluate future first-degree murder cases.

“With implementation of this panel, it is my expectation that going forward all first-degree murder cases that occur in my jurisdiction will remain in my office and be evaluated and prosecuted accordingly,” she said.

But Scott doesn’t appear to be caving, at least for now. His spokesman said the governor won’t stop reassigning capital cases “until State Attorney Ayala fully recants her statement that she will not seek the death penalty in any case.”

TRUMP ALBATROSS IN ST. PETE?

While President Donald Trump may be a boon to conservative candidates, the link with the president likely served as a dead weight for Republican Rick Baker in his bid to oust incumbent St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman.

The battle of the Ricks resulted in a virtual tie Tuesday, even though Kriseman trailed Baker — a former mayor who remained immensely popular — in money and polls throughout the campaign. Both candidates received about 48 percent of the vote, forcing a November runoff because neither topped 50 percent.

Democratic and Republican strategists blamed Baker’s slide on Trump.

Baker’s campaign tried to link Kriseman to a variety of divisive local issues, including a kerfuffle over the replacement of an iconic waterfront pier, a massive sewage link and a pricey new police station.

While those topics may have resonated for many voters, Democratic and Republican political consultants maintained that what likely hurt Baker the most was the Kriseman team’s success in tying Baker to Trump.

Strategists cautioned against overstating the broader significance of Kriseman’s Tuesday comeback in the nonpartisan race.

“But it should be a warning sign. It should be an alert signal. It should cause Republicans to ask themselves, how could a guy who was so beloved in this community (Baker) not be able to turn that on again,” Republican strategist Rick Wilson said.

Kriseman’s success could be a model for progressives and Democrats going into next year’s elections, Progress Florida Executive Director Mark Ferullo said.

“It’s going to validate that strategy going into 2018, to make Trump an anvil to hang around the neck of our opponents,” said Ferullo, whose organization endorsed Kriseman.

NOT A GOLDEN TICKET FOR THESE GUYS

Fallout continued this week in a controversy about whether Florida Highway Patrol troopers received quotas for writing traffic tickets.

The agency has maintained there are no quotas, but the controversy has now led to the departure or suspension of three high-ranking agency officials.

A three-day suspension without pay of Chief Mark Brown from his $118,000-a-year position as the North Florida operations regional commander was announced this week as the FHP said it had completed a review of the quota issue and is enacting new guidelines.

In a letter Wednesday to Brown outlining the suspension, FHP Director Gene Spaulding noted Brown sent an email to subordinate commanders on July 28 “encouraging 2 citations per hour” from troopers working the Statewide Overtime Action Response program aimed at curbing speeders.

“Following a review, it was discovered that other supervisors under your command forwarded similar directives and, as we had previously discussed, it is not appropriate to request that a trooper write a specific number of citations,” Spaulding wrote.

In addition to Brown’s suspension, an FHP release noted that an early retirement request from Lt. Col. Michael Thomas — submitted Monday — was accepted.

Thomas, the second-highest ranking officer in the FHP and a 30-year veteran, had acknowledged he wrote an email in May encouraging troopers to write at least two tickets per hour as part of the statewide program to curb speeding. The email said, in part, “so we can encourage our members to maintain our 2.0 citations per hour ratio, as we attempt to provide a safer driving environment for Floridians.”

Thomas’ resignation followed the resignation of Maj. Mark Welch, a troop commander who oversaw eight counties near Tallahassee and had served the state for more than 35 years. Welch announced his retirement after acknowledging he also sent a July 28 memo to troopers that they interpreted as a mandate for a ticket quota.

STORY OF THE WEEK: Siding with Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Supreme Court decided that the governor did not exceed his authority by removing State Attorney Aramis Ayala from death penalty cases.

QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “If they can win here and they win the Frank Artiles seat, the Florida Democrats are going to be a totally new party.” Barry Edwards, a Democratic strategist and radio-show host, on a virtual tie between St. Petersburg Mayor Rick Kriseman and opponent Rick Baker in Tuesday’s mayoral election.

by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida

Road Construction Remains On Hold Through Monday

September 3, 2017

To promote safety and reduce congestion over the Labor Day weekend, the Florida Department of Transportation (FDOT) has suspending normal road construction activities on all major roads in Northwest Florida.  There will be no work on state roads requiring lane restrictions from Friday through Monday. Work on projects requiring lane closures will resume Tuesday, September 5.  All major roads will be open to normal traffic.

If an emergency situation occurs during  holiday weekend that requires a lane closure, repairs will continue until that lane is reopened to the traveling public and all safety issues related to the traveling public have been addressed.

Motorists are reminded to use caution while traveling through work zones around barricades and equipment on current projects. Travelers can access Florida’s 511 service from cell phones, landlines, and at www.FL511.com to receive updates on travel in the area.

UWF Gets Late Stops To Preserve 20-16 Season-Opening Road Win

September 3, 2017

On a night when the UWF offense wasn’t as prolific as it had been a year ago, the defense came up huge with multiple ‘bend but don’t break’ stops and two turnovers to secure the season-opening 20-16 road win over Missouri S&T at Allgood-Bailey Stadium Saturday.

The Argonauts got a huge break at the start of the fourth quarter when S&T kick returner Rod Chapman fumbled a punt that gave UWF the ball at the 19-yard line. Three plays later Mike Beaudry connected with sophomore Gage Krull inside the five before Krull carried a defender into the end zone that gave the Argos a 20-13 lead.

The Miners got four first downs on the ensuing drive but were stood up inside the 10 and had to settle for a 25-yard Ben Styron field goal – his third of the game.

Both teams traded 3-and-out possessions before the Miners made a push across midfield into UWF territory. Sitting at the 44, Tyler Swart went for a home run ball but graduate transfer Josh Marshall went up and intercepted it at the eight.

The Miners got the ball back again 59 seconds later and drove to the 8-yard line with less than a minute to play. Deshawn Jones found a seam up the middle and was hit at the three, where he launched towards the goal line but saw the ball slip out of his hands inside the one when sophomore Martes Wheeler hit him, allowing sophomore Trent Archie to recover it for the Argos and clinch the victory.

UWF (1-0) finished with 265 yards of total offense. Beaudry, a redshirt sophomore who missed last season while rehabbing a foot injury, was 20-of-31 for 192 yards and a pair of touchdown passes in his first college game. Sophomore Grey Jackson was 5-of-8 for 32 yards.

The Argonauts rushed for just 41 yards, with sophomore Chris Schwarz gaining 34 on 19 carries. He had 10 yards on five trips with a 1-yard score late in the first quarter that put the Argonauts ahead 6-0.

On defense, UWF sacked S&T’s Tyler Swart five times and limited the rushing attack to 65 yards. Wheeler led the defense with nine tackles and junior Marvin Conley added eight.

Missouri S&T (0-1) had 422 yards with 357 through the air, but committed three turnovers in its final five possessions.

The Miners held their only lead at 7-6 following a 65-yard Swart touchdown pass early in the second quarter. The Argos regained the lead with six seconds to play in the half when Beaudry found Rodney Coates in the end zone on a 25-yard pass that ended a drive that covered 75 yards on seven plays in 1:45.

UWF will return home for three-consecutive games at Blue Wahoos Stadium, beginning next Saturday, Sept. 9 against No. 24 Midwestern State (1-0).

Three Consecutive Life Sentences For Child Sexual Abuse

September 3, 2017

An Escambia County man has been sentenced to three consecutive life sentences for child sexual abuse.

Brian Lee Brown was convicted of capital sexual battery on a victim under 12 years of age and three counts of lewd or lascivious battery on a victim 12 to 15 years of age. Circuit Judge John Miller sentenced Miller to three three consecutive life sentences for each sexual battery county and three 15 year sentences consecutive to each other for the lewd or lascivious battery counts.

In September 2016, a child disclosed that he was sexually abused by Brown over a seven year period.

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