Scott Vetoes Bill To Tear Down ‘Liquor Wall’

May 25, 2017

Pointing to concerns about preserving small-business jobs, Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday vetoed a heavily debated and lobbied measure that supporters said would repeal a relic of the nation’s emergence from Prohibition.

The so called “liquor wall” law, which requires hard spirits to be sold in separate facilities from most retail goods, will remain in place after Scott’s veto of the repeal bill. The veto was a victory for independent liquor-store owners, ABC Fine Wine & Spirits and Publix Super Markets, which fought the bill during the legislative session that ended May 8.

Scott’s decision on the proposal (SB 106) also ends for now the noisy legislative battles about the issue. Supporters of eliminating the law, including retailers Target, Costco and Walmart, argued that a repeal would promote free markets and customer convenience.

“We have made tremendous progress in the last four years, and there is a clear momentum in Florida for this common-sense approach to liquor sales,” said Michael Williams, a spokesman for the group Floridians for Fair Business Practices, which supported the repeal. “While Governor Scott ultimately chose to veto Senate Bill 106, we look forward to working with state leaders in the future to finally put an end to this outdated, Prohibition-era law.”

Scott, in a letter accompanying his first vetoed bill of the year, said the proposal’s impact on small businesses outweighed his desire to further cut regulations.

“I carefully reviewed this bill and I have met with stakeholders on both sides,” Scott said. “I listened closely to what they had to say and I understand that both positions have merit. Nevertheless, I have heard concerns as to how this bill could affect many small businesses across Florida. I was a small business owner and many locally owned businesses have told me how this bill will impact their families and their ability to create jobs.”

Opponents of the bill argued that a repeal would hurt small liquor stores, eliminate jobs, result in a greater ability for minors to get liquor and lead to more impulse-buying of alcohol.

“We applaud Governor Scott for saving hundreds of Florida small businesses that employ thousands of Floridians, while at the same time keeping safeguards in place for minors,” ABC Fine Wine & Spirits Chief Executive Officer and President Charles Bailes said in a prepared statement.

Along with the independent liquor stores, Publix has been involved because it operates stand-alone liquor stores in many of the same shopping centers as its grocery stores. Meanwhile, retailers such as Target and Walmart — battling online sales — have been looking to sell liquor in the same stores where shoppers pick up groceries and other goods.

The bill was highly controversial, passing the Senate in a 21-17 vote and the House by a 58-57 margin.

Members of the Florida Independent Spirits Association, which also opposed the repeal, mobilized after the bill received final legislative approval April 26.

“More than 1,000 letters and 3,000 petitions from around the state were delivered to the governor with the message that vetoing this bill would save our Florida small retailers and jobs that help our local economies,” Florida Independent Spirits Association President Rory Eggers said in a release thanking Scott.

In addition to repealing the Depression-era law, the bill would have prohibited new package stores from being licensed within 1,000 feet of schools; required small bottles, 6.8 ounces or less, to be displayed only behind the counter; and required that checkout clerks under the age of 18 be supervised by people 18 or older when alcohol is purchased.

To help Publix with its existing leases, the bill would have staggered the repeal, limiting the percentage of liquor that could have been stocked in chain stores over a four-year period.

Scott had until Wednesday to act on the bill. As the deadline approached, he offered little as to what he would do.

Scott on Tuesday scheduled a telephone call with Walmart President and CEO Greg Foran and a meeting at the Capitol with Bailes of ABC Fine Wine & Spirits.

Bailes said after his meeting he had no indication how Scott would handle the bill.

“I think he’ll do the best thing for the state,” Bailes said. “He gave me the opportunity to state what our position is, which hasn’t changed, and he was very gracious about it.”

On Wednesday, Scott attended the summer board meeting for the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, which was part of the coalition pushing to tear down the wall.

by Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida

Pictured: A separate liquor store next to the Publix in University Town Center on West Nine Mile Road. Photo for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.

Molino Man Charged With Battery Of Pregnant Girlfriend

May 24, 2017

A Molino man has been accused battery on his pregnant girlfriend, who is the mother of his four other children.

Kendall Rashad Kennedy, 27, allegedly went to his girlfriend’s home and used his arm to hold her against a wall and choke her.  The victim told deputies that the two began to argue over dinner when he pinned her against the wall and began slapping her in the face. The victim told deputies that Kennedy was fully aware that she was nine months pregnant.

The victim refused treatment by Escambia County EMS. He was released from the Escambia County Jail on a $5,000 bond.

Amtrak’s Return To The Area In Jeopardy

May 24, 2017

President Donald Trump’s budget proposal released Tuesday would eliminate all Amtrak service in Florida and end ongoing efforts to restore service in Florida’s Panhandle and along the Gulf Coast. The proposal cuts funding for Amtrak’s long-distance routes, which includes all three routes in Florida.

“This just doesn’t make sense,” said U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson (D-FL). “Eliminating Amtrak service in Florida not only affects the nearly one million Floridians who ride the train each year, it would have a real impact on our tourism-driven economy by making it harder for folks to come visit our state.”

The Gulf Coast Rail Service Working Group was established by the FAST Act in December 2015 to evaluate the restoration of rail passenger service between New Orleans, Louisiana, and Orlando, Florida. The previously-existing passenger rail service was stopped prior to Hurricane Katrina. Damage to the route has been repaired and freight service was restored, but the passenger rail service has not been restored.

In February 2016, a Amtrak inspection train across the Gulf Coast made stops at several location on the Gulf Coast, including Atmore and Pensacola. The train was packed with Amtrak officials, local officials and VIPs and the media to gauge the reaction to the possible return of rail service to the Gulf Coast.

Pictured top: An Amtrak inspection train rolls into Pensacola in February 2016. Pictured inset and below: The train also made a stop in Atmore. NorthEscambia.com file photos, click to enlarge.

Boil Water Notice Lifted: Filly Road, Filly Court, Winner’s Circle

May 24, 2017

Update 5/24 4 p.m.: Effective immediately, the Precautionary Boil Water Notice -PBWN- issued by the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority (ECUA) to customers located in the area listed below has been lifted.  All results of bacteriological samples are clear.

A Precautionary Boil Water Notice -PBWN- has been issued by the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority to customers located in the following area:

  • Filly Road
  • Filly Court
  • Winner’s Circle
  • 791 and 803 E. Kingsfield Rd.

This notice is being issued following a break in the water main.  Precautionary Boil Water Notices are issued as a part of the standard protocol following any loss of water pressure, whether as a result of planned maintenance activities or unscheduled repairs.

Residents located in the specified PBWN area are advised to boil water for one minute at a rolling boil or to use 8 drops of regular unscented household bleach per gallon of water, for water to be used for drinking or cooking purposes.  Two independent bacteriological samples have been initiated and the advisory will be lifted as soon as possible. This process routinely takes 48 hours.

ECUA crews repaired the main and have flushed out the lines.  Residents are advised that there is a possibility of discolored water as a result of the utility work, and to flush their home’s plumbing by running their taps for a few minutes.  If problems persist, customers are asked to contact ECUA Customer Service at 850-476-0480 for assistance.  Precautionary boil water notice guidelines are available on the ECUA website at www.ecua.fl.gov/water-quality/boil-water-notices-and-why-we-issue-them.

Special Election: Jay Residents Vote To Appoint Town Clerk

May 24, 2017

In a special election Tuesday, voters in Jay decided that the position of town clerk will be appointed every four years by the town council rather than elected.

The vote was 31 in favor of the change, 12 against   There were no other issues or candidates on the special ballot.

With 43 total votes out of 405 registered voters, voter turnout was a low 10.62 percent. There were 30 ballots cast in person on Tuesday, while 13 were received by mail.

Brewton Mill Completes $388 Million Energy Project, Announces Another $50 Million Investment

May 24, 2017

Local and state officials recently joined Georgia-Pacific Brewton mill employees and their families to celebrate the completion of a $388 million energy improvement project after two years of construction. The project modernized and streamlined the mix of equipment in the mill’s recovery boiler system and now provides the mill with the ability to generate its own energy using natural gas and biofuel residuals from the paper-making process.

On the heels of this completion, Brewton also kicked off another $50 million investment for upgrades to the mill’s paperboard machine. Slated to begin in late summer, this project will rebuild part of the machine and will improve the quality of the mill’s white-top linerboard product and increase the mill’s competitiveness.

“The investments in Brewton, and across Alabama, drive home our focus on continuously improving operations and meeting the needs of our customers, our company and communities for the long term,” said Christian Fischer, president and CEO, Georgia-Pacific.  “I’m proud of the hard work and dedication from our 450 Brewton employees and I’m confident that the mill is positioned for continued success.”

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Alabama Governor Kay Ivey and other state and local officials were on hand to congratulate the mill team for the successful completion and startup of the energy project.  Approximately 700 people including employees, family members and special guests were in attendance.

“Georgia Pacific’s total investment of $438 million to grow and expand its business is a testament to the continued opportunity for the success of economic investment in Alabama. Our state is a great place to live, work and to raise a family,” Governor Kay Ivey said. “I am committed to continuing to work with existing businesses, like Georgia-Pacific, and to attract new ones to invest here. It’s a new day in Alabama and we’re open for business.”

Brewton Mayor Yank Lovelace, Sr., said, “We are very happy for the Brewton mill team and proud to have this mill as part of our community. This project and others at the mill demonstrate GP’s intent to remain a valued business partner of the region for years to come.”

This year marks the 10-year anniversary of Georgia-Pacific’s $355 million acquisition of the Brewton mill from Smurfit-Stone Container Corp. In the last five years, Georgia-Pacific has invested approximately $8.5 billion into operations across the country, including Alabama, where approximately $1.2 billion in capital has been invested to grow existing operations, acquire new operations, and improve safety and environmental performance across all businesses.

Escambia County Commission Chairman Raymond Wiggins, added, “These projects will keep Georgia-Pacific competitive for generations to come, providing more opportunities for people to make a good living and raise their families here in Escambia County.

Teams at the Brewton mill produce white-top linerboard and solid bleached cartonboard. The mill is the largest employer in Brewton, with approximately 450 employees.

“Today is not just a celebration of this project, but also a day to acknowledge the hard work and commitment our employees made in making this a reality for the mill,” said Jeff Joyce, vice president and general manager, Brewton mill. “Today is about recognizing what we’ve achieved, celebrating those successes and turning our focus to our future and the other important projects planned for our long-term growth.”

In Alabama, Georgia-Pacific employs approximately 2,300 people directly, and those jobs create an additional 8,500 jobs indirectly. Total compensation and benefits for Georgia-Pacific Alabama employees is approximately $216 million directly, resulting in a broader economic impact of $644 million in combined wages and benefits.

Convicted Felon Gets 15 Years For Firearm Possession

May 24, 2017

An Escambia County man is headed to prison as a habitual offender.

Circuit Judge Thomas Dannheisser sentenced Kiara Sanders to 15 years in state prison as a habitual felony offender. Sanders pleaded no contest to possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, possession of a short-barreled rifle, and driving with no valid driver’s license.

On August 13, 2016, a traffic stop was initiated by the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office on a vehicle driven by Sanders. When the deputy approached the vehicle, he smelled a strong odor of marijuana. A K-9 arrived at the scene and gave a positive alert for the presence of narcotics. A search of  the vehicle was conducted which revealed a short-barreled rifle in the console. Sanders admitted that he did not have a valid driver’s license and that he was a convicted felon.

Kiara Sanders was deemed to be a habitual felony offender based on his prior criminal history which includes convictions for burglary, theft, trafficking in stolen property, false information to a pawnbroker, criminal mischief, battery upon a jail detainee, robbery without a weapon, possession of marijuana, violation of probation, and driving while license suspended.

He was most recently released from state prison in 2014.

‘Cat Fund’ Healthy Heading Into Hurricane Season

May 24, 2017

The Florida Hurricane Catastrophe Fund is in its strongest financial position ever as the state heads into the annual storm season next month.

But state officials may bolster the fund, which helps private insurers pay claims if Florida gets hit by a major hurricane, with a purchase of $1 billion in private reinsurance.

“We had a sobering reminder last year of the perils that Florida faces every year,” Ash Williams, executive director of the State Board of Administration, told Gov. Rick Scott and the Cabinet on Tuesday.

But with relatively minimal damage from Hurricane Hermine and a fortunate glancing blow from the more-powerful Hurricane Matthew in 2016, Williams said the so-called “Cat Fund” was largely untapped last year, “which means we come into the current season in the strongest financial position we’ve ever been in.”

The 2017 hurricane season starts June 1 and will last through Nov. 30.

The fund has $14.9 billion in cash, with an additional $2.7 billion in funding from “pre-event” bonds. With a total of $17.6 billion, it has more than enough money to pay its potential $17 billion maximum liability.

The fund has grown because it has been able to collect premiums from private insurance companies, which rely on its backup insurance, for more than a decade without having to make a major payout because of the lack of storms.

Given the current funding, Williams said one option would be to “do nothing,” although that brings a certain amount of risk without knowing whether storms will hit the state this year.

“You won’t really know whether what you have done is the right thing until the subsequent season,” Williams said.

However, if Florida is hit by a major hurricane or series of storms, “you would feel awfully good” about having more financial protections in place, Williams told Scott and the Cabinet.

The key option would be buying $1 billion in reinsurance, which would be triggered if storm losses exceeded $10.5 billion. The option would cost approximately $68 million.

Williams said coverage could be purchased without impacting the overall reinsurance market. Private insurers typically buy private reinsurance, along with getting backup coverage from the Cat Fund.

He also said the coverage could likely be purchased at a lower rate than last year and would provide “equal or better terms” for the state.

“Capacity has continued to be ample, and prices have continued to fall,” Williams said about the reinsurance market.

Florida has purchased $1 billion in reinsurance for the Cat Fund the past two hurricane seasons.

Williams said he will test the reinsurance market for a proposal for this year and report back to the governor and Cabinet.

The financial health of the Cat Fund is important because the state can impose a surcharge on most insurance policies, including auto insurance, if the funding is depleted. That happened after the 2004 and 2005 hurricane seasons, with consumers paying a surcharge, also known as a “hurricane tax,” through 2015.

Jay Tops Northview In Spring Game (With Photo Gallery)

May 24, 2017

In Spring Football action, the Jay Royals defeated the Northview Chiefs 30-16 Tuesday night in Bratt.

This fall the Northview Chiefs will open with a Kickoff Classic game away on August 18 against Lighthouse Christian. The Chiefs will open the 2017 regular season at home against J.U. Blacksher of Uriah, AL. The Jay Royals will open their season at home against Baker on August 18 and travel to Flomaton on August 25.

The Chiefs and the Royals will meet again on October 6.

For more photos, click here.

NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.

McDavid Man Charged With Weapons Theft, Assaulting His Grandmother

May 23, 2017

A McDavid man has been charged with assaulting his grandmother and in connection with the theft of several firearms.

Dakota Forest Smith, 22, was charged with four counts of grand theft of a firearm, armed burglary, grand theft, aggravated assault, resisting without violence and possession of drug paraphernalia. He remained in the Escambia County Jail without bond.

The woman told deputies that her grandson had threatened to shoot her while holding a rifle in his hand at her Brown Road home. The grandson lives on the same property in a separate small apartment.

When deputies went to that apartment, Smith answered the door and then attempted to shut the door in a deputy’s face before running inside. Deputies located Smith hiding inside a bathroom.

Deputies reported finding a bolt action rifle in plan view on a bed; the rifle matched the description and serial number of one stolen in a burglary last Friday. The rifle, boxes of ammunition and a crossbow were discovered, and the grandfather provided deputies a photo of four firearms on Smith’s bed on May 19 that matched the description of firearms stolen from an address on Fannie Road.

Smith provided information to deputies, which was redacted from an arrest report, that led to his arrest for burglary.

Deputies also found syringes and 78 pills believed to be trazodone in Smith’s possession, according to an arrest report.

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