Amazing July Weather Continues One More Night

July 31, 2014

Pictured: A Molino farmer took advantage of dry, sunny weather Wednesday to cut hay. Photo courtesy Escambia County Extension for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Here is your official North Escambia area forecast:

  • Thursday Night Partly cloudy, with a low around 66. North wind around 5 mph becoming calm in the evening.
  • Friday A 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 92. Calm wind becoming northwest around 5 mph in the morning.
  • Friday Night Mostly cloudy, with a low around 69. North wind around 5 mph becoming calm.
  • Saturday A 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 92. Calm wind becoming west around 5 mph in the afternoon.
  • Saturday Night A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 71. West wind around 5 mph becoming calm in the evening.
  • Sunday A 50 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 91. Calm wind becoming south around 5 mph in the morning.
  • Sunday Night A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 69. South wind around 5 mph becoming calm.
  • Monday A 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 90.
  • Monday Night A 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly cloudy, with a low around 69.
  • Tuesday A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly sunny, with a high near 91.
  • Tuesday Night A 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly cloudy, with a low around 70.
  • Wednesday A 30 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly sunny, with a high near 90.

Northview Mini Cheer Camp Set For Next Week

July 31, 2014

The Northview High School cheerleaders will host their annual mini-cheerleading camp next week.

The camp will be held August 5 from 4-6 p.m. and August 6 from 1-3 p.m. Registration is $25 for the camp or $35 for the camp and a shirt. The camp is open to anyone age three through the eighth grade. Mini-cheerleaders will admitted into the first Northview football home game for free and cheer the entire first quarter with the varsity NHS cheerleaders.

‘Pot Trucks’ Coming To Florida?

July 31, 2014

Florida pot dispensers could truck their product to patients, under a revised rule proposed by health regulators in advance of a workshop Friday about the state’s move to a limited type of medical marijuana.

The latest plan also would loosen restrictions on who could own the dispensing organizations. Nurseries with only one-quarter ownership of pot distribution businesses would be eligible for licenses, according to the draft rule released late Tuesday by the state Department of Health’s Office of Compassionate Use.

Despite numerous complaints expressed by nursery owners, lobbyists and others at a rule-making workshop earlier this month, health officials aren’t backing away from a lottery-based system to choose the recipients of five licenses, a competition drawing operators and investors from around the world.

The state has until Jan 1. to come up with the regulations regarding a strain of marijuana, authorized by the Republican-dominated Legislature and approved by Gov. Rick Scott earlier this year, that purportedly does not get users high but can alleviate life-threatening seizures in children with severe epilepsy. Under the new law, patients who suffer from severe muscle spasms or cancer would also be eligible to get cannabis that is low in euphoria-inducing tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, and high in cannabadiol, or CBD, if their doctors order it.

The law restricts dispensary applicants — who would grow, process and distribute the low-THC product, usually a paste or oil — to nurseries that have done business in Florida for at least 30 years and grow 400,000 plants or more. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services has identified at least 55 nurseries that currently meet the criteria.

Nursery owners have been bombarded by offers from investors and operators eager to cash in on the state’s newest regulated industry. Rumors are rampant about nurseries that are demanding millions from potential partners or growers who are being offered money to stay on the sidelines. Many of those interested in “Charlotte’s Web,” a low-THC strain named after a Colorado girl, are hoping to get started in the pot business now with an eye on a proposed constitutional amendment going before voters in November that would allow doctors to order “traditional” medical marijuana for certain patients.

In the meantime, eligible nursery operators are pairing up with lobbyists and lawyers as they wade into turf unfamiliar to even the most sophisticated regulatory experts.

The law allows one dispensing organization in each of five regions around the state. It also allows the dispensing organizations to have “an infrastructure reasonably located to dispense low-THC cannabis to registered patients statewide or regionally as determined by the department.”

At the rule-making workshop earlier this month, health officials heard that just five locations would be inadequate to meet patients’ needs.

The new draft rule would allow dispensing organizations to deliver 30-day supplies of the medical marijuana derivative directly to patients. Potential operators are divided on the transportation issue.

“An infrastructure cannot be a truck. An infrastructure is a place,” said Louis Rotundo, a lobbyist who represents the Florida Medical Cannabis Association, a coalition of growers, investors and others interested in the pot business.

The proposed rule may also mean that dispensing organizations can transport their product statewide.

Giving dispensers the ability to distribute statewide as the law permits is critical, said Ron Watson, a lobbyist who is consulting for a group of former pharmaceutical executives who want one of the five licenses.

“A regional distribution system has no checks and balances and will punish the patient through cost and availability. A patient should be able to choose the best medicine regardless of where it is grown,” said Watson, who also represents the Florida Medical Cannabis Association.

The proposed rule also would restrict dispensaries from opening near schools, day-care centers, churches and public parks, which Rotundo said is too far-reaching.

“Why should they not be allowed to open as if they were any other drug store in the jurisdiction? They’re dispensing a medicine and certainly a medicine much less dangerous than every pharmacy carries. I’m not following the logic of this,” said Rotundo, who also represents several municipalities.

The latest version of the rule also restricts nurseries to applying in only one region, meaning that at least five nurseries would be able to participate in the industry. Growers are forging partnerships in some areas of the state.

And the proposed rule also addressed some concerns that potential owners expressed earlier this month regarding a lack of clarity about a $5 million performance bond required by the law. Under the draft rule, a condition of the bond would be that the money would be used to destroy all of a dispensing organization’s pot if the dispensary loses its license or chooses not to renew it. The condition of the bond may help potential businesses secure funding from investors or even banks.

Rep. Katie Edwards, a Plantation Democrat who was instrumental in getting the low-THC measure passed, said she was pleased that health officials took some of the concerns expressed at the last meeting into consideration.

But Edwards said the “million dollar question” regarding pot’s future in Florida remains unresolved — how the original plants, seeds or tissue culture will get into the hands of growers. Marijuana remains illegal under federal law.

University of Florida scientists recently revealed the school would not participate in research — the law contains $1 million for the university to study the effect of low-THC, high-CBD marijuana on epileptic children — because it could lose millions of dollars in federal grants.

“I equate it to the ‘what came first the chicken or the egg’ question. In Florida, we are trying to figure out what comes first —the low-THC cannabis plant or the Charlotte’s Web medicine?” Edwards said.

Kerry Herndon, owner of Kerry’s Nursery in Apopka, blasted health officials for keeping the lottery provision in the proposed rule.

“It’s a disaster for the patient population. You’re making medicine for sick children. So it’s like anybody at random within the pool and not the most qualified? Really?” said Herndon, whose nursery is eligible for one of the licenses and who is interested in pursuing one.

Health officials are doing the best they can to meet “a very aggressive timeline” set by the Legislature, said Sen. Rob Bradley, one of the bill’s sponsors.

“We have told them that they need to produce a rule by Jan. 1, 2015, and they need to come up with a system whereby we can get this in the hands of the parents of the suffering children. I trust the department to come up with a practical way to get Charlotte’s Web in the hands of these suffering families,” Bradley, R-Fleming Island, said.

by Dara Kim, The News Service of Florida

Sex Offender Gets Life Without Parole

July 31, 2014

A man was sentenced Wednesday to spend the rest of his life in prison for a kidnapping and sexual attack.

Bret Randall May was sentenced by Judge Linda Nobles to life without parole for one count of kidnapping and two concurrent life sentences without  parole for two counts of sexual battery.

The charges stemmed from allegations that in the early morning hours of August 25, 2013, May forced an intoxicated woman into his car, transported her to a secluded area of Pensacola Beach and sexually battered her. Witnesses notified law enforcement who located the defendant’s vehicle and witnessed the attack.

May is a registered sexual predator having been convicted previously of three sexually related offenses in Alabama. In one of the Alabama cases, May’s victim was a nine year old female.

Wahoos Win In Extra Innings

July 31, 2014

The Pensacola Blue Wahoos (15-25, 46-64) won the series finale in extra innings, 1-0, over the Mississippi Braves (22-18, 61-48). With the win in the 10th inning, the Wahoos snapped their four-game losing streak to the Braves.

The Wahoos finally broke the scoreless tie in the 10th inning. Devin Lohman walked to begin the inning and Ray Chang laid down a sacrifice bunt to move him to second. After a wild pitch moved Lohman to third base, Yorman Rodriguez singled sharply up the middle to give Pensacola the lead. Rodriguez and Kyle Waldrop had multi-hit games for the Wahoos.

In the bottom of the 10th inning, Braves’ left fielder Mycal Jones began the inning with a walk. The Braves had successfully used the running game all series long, but for the second time in the game, Wahoos’ catcher Chris Berset threw out a runner at second. The Braves put together a couple of singles, but Shane Dyer was able to get Barrett Kleinknecht to ground into a double play to end the game.

RHP Michael Lorenzen had a terrific start for the Wahoos; he went 5.0 innings and allowed no runs on three hits. LHP Scott Maine, RHP Tim Adleman and RHP Carlos Gonzalez put together four straight scoreless innings before the game was sent to extra-innings. The trio struck out four batters and allowed just two hits. Gonzalez moved to 3-0 on the season with the win and Dyer earned his 12th save of the season.

RHP Mitch Atkins produced a fantastic start for the Braves. He went 7.0 innings and surrendered six hits while striking out four batters. RHP Jorge Reyes fell for the first time this season for the Braves.

Pensacola continues along their 10-game road trip as they head to Kodak, Tenn. RHP Ben Lively (0-5, 3.68) is set to start game one for the Wahoos. The Tennessee Smokies will send RHP Matt Loosen (4-5, 5.69) to the mound.

by Joey Truncale

Tax Watch: North Escambia’s New $1.1 Million Bridge To (Almost) Nowhere

July 30, 2014

Traffic on Pineville Road in North Escambia  was transitioned to a temporary roadway and bridge Wednesday so crews could begin demolishing and replacing the existing bridge over Brushy Creek.

Don’t know where that is? You are not alone. The $1.1 million bridge project funded by the Florida Department of Transportation is on one of the most remote and least traveled dirt roads in Escambia County.

The existing bridge, which inspections have shown is in need of replacement, was constructed in 1967. It’s about two miles off  County Road 97A in Enon, a tiny quiet community where most residents take pride in living in the “middle of nowhere”.  The bridge, however, does not serve most Enon residents on their normal commute. It’s not a hurricane evacuation route, truck route, or any kind of route. It is (almost) a bridge to nowhere.

The southern end of Pineville Road is a sandy road that winds through literally thousands of acres of  timber, mostly owned by La Floresta Perdida, Inc.  It’s peaceful, quiet and scenic. The sound of Brushy Creek flowing around white sandy banks is broken only by the wind and birds. There are no power lines out here, and cell service is spotty at best on most carriers.

On the distant side of the bridge, there are maybe a half dozen homes where residents can leave home and either go south on Pineville Road and cross the bridge to reach Highway 97A or go north to Occie Phillips Road to reach 97A. The maximum detour length around the new bridge is 1.9 miles, per FDOT.

“I don’t see why they don’t just close the road instead of spending money on the bridge,” one resident said, not wanting us to use his name because he did not want to upset his few neighbors. “It’s not like it goes anywhere.”

The traffic count on Pineville Road, according to FDOT data, is 40 vehicles per day. That’s less than two vehicles per hour, on average, all day. Many of those, the resident acknowledged, are likely forestry workers, hunters or “kids going to the creek”.  But those 40 drivers per day won’t be inconvenienced by a detour on Pineville Road with the construction of a temporary steel bridge opening Wednesday that includes guardrails and paved approaches on the lonely dirt road.

However, when looking toward the future, FDOT estimates traffic on the bridge will increase from 40 vehicles per day to 44 per day by the year 2032.

On the other side of Escambia County, just outside Century, FDOT is replacing a bridge on Fannie Road. The average daily traffic count on that bridge, for comparison, was 1,104 vehicles per day. No temporary bridge was constructed; area residents must take a lengthy detour through Century and Flomaton, Ala., to reach their destination.

The $1,116,299.22 bid to replace the Pineville Road bridge over Brushy Creek and build the temporary detour bridge, was awarded to Murphree Bridge Corporation of Troy, AL. Other bids on the project were from Gulf Group, Inc. for $1.17 million, Scott Bridge Company for $1.48 million and Anderson Columbia for $1.60 million.

The project is expected to be complete sometime this fall.

Pictured: A temporary bridge is now in place next to the soon to be demolished and replaced Brushy Creek Bridge on Pineville Road. The area averages just 40 vehicles per day. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.

Many Retailers Counting On School Sales Tax Holiday For Bump In Sales

July 30, 2014

The Florida Retail Federation fully supports the upcoming three-day sales tax “holiday” on back-to-school items, with stores expecting to see a 30 percent increase in sales for the weekend.

However, the retail-industry lobbying group would have preferred the holiday period to be, as Gov. Rick Scott requested, at least a week longer. The three-day period begins at 12:01 a.m. Friday.

“Not everybody gets paid on the same schedule,” said John Fleming, a spokesman for the group. “The people who get paid at the end of the month, they’ll be fine. But there are people on that two-week cycle of paychecks. And we have always thought if you extend it to two weekends in a row you’d get more people to take advantage.”

Still, even at one weekend — the same length lawmakers set the previous four years — retailers should see an increase in shoppers from 2013 because of a couple of changes, according to state economists.

The first change raises the tax-free bar on clothing, bags and backpacks from a maximum of $75 per item to $100.

The second waives the collection of sales taxes on the first $750 of computers and related gear, regardless of the overall price of the electronics. Last year, when computer equipment was first introduced into the discount period, items had to cost less than $750.

“I do think it’s going to allow (electronics retailers) to sell more of their product line,” Fleming said. “This expands the ability for people to buy what they need.”

During the discount period, the collection of sales taxes will also be eliminated on certain school supplies costing less than $15 each, such as notebooks, pens and lunch boxes.

Florida economists have projected the “holiday” period will reduce state revenue by $32.3 million and local revenue to the tune of $7.3 million.

The projections are a jump from 2013, when a similar three-day “holiday” hit state revenue by $28.3 million and local government income by $6.4 million.

The projected increase this year is in part due to a higher demand for electronics.

The changes were included as part of the wide-ranging “patchwork of awesomeness” tax package approved by state lawmakers this spring. When combined with a rollback in vehicle-registration fees, the package gave Scott his election-year request for $500 million in cuts to taxes and fees.

The patchwork (HB 5601), so named by one of its chief architects House Finance & Tax Chairman Ritch Workman, R-Melbourne, offered a wide array of tax cuts. They included two other sales-tax holidays: discounts from May 31 to June 8 on hurricane supplies and another tax-free period that will run from Sept. 19 to Sept. 21 on the first $1,500 of the sales price of new Energy Star and WaterSense products.

by Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

How Much Money Are Your Lawmakers Worth?

July 30, 2014

For most state lawmakers, 2013 was another good year financially, regardless of party.

Still, those with an “R” affixed to their names are doing better, in general, when it comes to the bottom line thanks mostly to stronger housing and stock markets.

Updated financial-disclosure reports for 2013 were due July 1. And from the reports posted online, the average net worth in the Senate is just under $3.77 million, while the average net-worth figure is a little more than $1.4 million in the House.

Among local members of the legislature:

  • Greg Evers, R-Baker listed a net worth of $1,219,469. He reported income from his senate job and his farm in Okaloosa County. His assets include mostly real estate related to his residence and farm, and farm related equipment, while most of his liabilities were  payable on bank loans.
  • Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola listed a net worth of $18,807. His only listed income was his legislative job. His assets included a  home in Pensacola, while his primary liability was  his mortgage.
  • Mike Hill, R-Pensacola listed a net worth of $1,273,991. His primary income was from his State Farm insurance agency and his legislative post. His primary assets listed included his home, rental properties, insurancy agency property and investments. His primary liabilities were bank notes.

The totals run from a high of $26 million for outgoing Senate President Don Gaetz to a negative $127,138 for Rep. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat who remains underwater on a pair of home loans.

Gaetz, a Niceville Republican with two years remaining in the Senate, was a co-founder of VITAS Healthcare Corp. He actually saw his net worth slip slightly in 2013, by about $140,000, from the prior year.

“The decline in my net worth is forcing me to make economies,” Gaetz quipped in an email response. “I’m afraid I will have to cancel some newspaper subscriptions.”

Of the 156 lawmakers who served during both the 2012 and 2013 sessions and whose reports were available, 119 recorded increases in net worth, 35 went down and two posted no change.

The reports represent an individual’s net worth on Dec. 31, 2013. While the reports were due July 1, lawmakers have until Sept. 2 to file them before facing fines.

As of Dec. 31, 2012, the average for all 40 senators stood at $3.34 million. The average for the 120 House members was $1.27 million.

A little more than $30,000 in income for each legislator comes from their state salaries.

Senate Republicans on average are worth $4.3 million per the latest reports, while their House GOP counterparts chime in at an average of $1.7 million. Democrats in the Senate averaged $2.77 million, while in the House the average stands at $865,224.

Of the 40 Senators, 18 are millionaires, one more than during the prior year. In the House, 35 of the 120 members are members of the millionaires club, the same number as the previous year though the list of millionaires does not include all the same representatives.

In the House, 12 members — two fewer than a year earlier — owe more than they’re worth, mostly due to outstanding home, student and auto loans.

by Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

Seniors Can Earn Income As Foster Grandparents, Senior Companions

July 30, 2014

The Council on Aging of West Florida is seeking individuals 55 and older in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties who are interested in earning a tax-free stipend and additional benefits while sharing their wisdom, time and talents as a participant in its Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion programs.

Benefits include: a monthly stipend set by federal guidelines at $2.65 per hour; an annual physical; transportation provided or reimbursed at .445 cents per mile; insurance coverage for on-the-job injuries, and on-going training.

Opportunities are available to both men and women. To qualify for participation, individuals must: be age 55 or older; earn an annual income of no more than 200% above federal poverty guidelines; possess a sincere ability to work with others; be physically capable of working a minimum of 20 hours per week, and pass required background screenings. Bilingual participants are encouraged to enroll in both programs.

Foster grandparents work with children in schools, HeadStart programs and child care centers. Activities may include helping with classwork, reinforcing values and caring for children with disabilities. Foster grandparents generally work four hours per day, Monday through Friday.

Senior companions help their less mobile peers live independently in their own homes by providing friendship and assistance. Activities may include helping with meals, socialization and providing respite to family caregivers.

The Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion programs are national programs of Senior Corps, funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service. The programs are sponsored in Escambia and Santa Rosa Counties by Council on Aging of West Florida. For more information, please call Robin Stevens at (850) 432-1475 ext. 605 or visit www.coawfla.org.

Scott Visits Escambia Tech Company With 120 New Jobs

July 30, 2014

Gov. Rick Scott visited an Escambia County technology company Tuesday that plans to bring about 120 new jobs to the area.

Scott talked about his plans to create more jobs for Florida at Global Business Solutions, an internet and technology training company on Michagan Avenue.

“In order for Florida to remain a global hub for business, we have to make sure advanced industries are able to thrive and continue to create jobs and diversify our economy. That means developing a well-educated workforce, eliminating roadblocks for job creators and investing in our research institutions. Florida has come a long way, but we have a long way to go – and focusing on jobs for the next generation will ensure that we continue to create long-lasting, high-wage, more resilient careers,” Scott said.

The stop was part of Scott’s “Jobs for the Next Generation” tour, with Scott highlighting new proposals to permanently end sales tax on manufacturing equipment and reward the state’s best STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) teachers with summer residencies at private sector companies.

Pictured: Gov. Rick Scott speaks Tuesday afternoon at Global Business Solutions in Escambia County. Courtesy photo for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

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