Issues of Interest

ZIKA UPDATE As of August 30th, there were 682 cases of the Zika virus in Florida, 78 related to pregnant women. Governor Scott asked the Center for Disease Control and Prevention to activate an emergency response team to assist the Florida Department of Health and other partners in their investigation, sample collection, and mosquito control efforts.  An unprecedented travel advisory by the CDC was already in place for pregnant women not to visit the Wynwood neighborhood north of Miami. A 1 1/2 square mile area of Miami Beach has also been identified as an area of local transmission.

At least 46 Floridians have been confirmed as contracting the virus directly from infected mosquitoes without traveling abroad.  Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency in February, but the federal government has only recently established a state of emergency for Puerto Rico, denying Florida’s request. Updates on Zika can be found here.

Meanwhile, the Florida Department of Health and Department of Education are working together as classes for students begin this month. Kids can learn about mosquitoes and preventing Zika at spillthewater.com. Additionally, all county health departments are offering free Zika virus testing to pregnant women. Blood collections in south Florida are on hold until safeguards are in place. This interactive map http://www.zikazoneusa.com/ shows where the Zika virus has spread.

EDUCATION School grades released in July by the Department of Education revealed fewer schools earning “F” ratings or “A” grades. Fifty-eight percent of the schools who had an “F” or “D” in 2014-15 improved by at least one letter grade this year. Florida schools are graded on 11 components spread over 5 categories. The categories are achievement, learning gains, middle school acceleration, graduation rate and high school acceleration.  To review the report on the DOE website, go here.

MEDICAL MARIJUANA Medical marijuana can now be delivered to homes or purchased in dispensaries in Florida. Six organizations are authorized to cultivate medical cannabis by the Department of Health and two of them have received dispensing authorization.  An administrative law judge will likely recommend a seventh nursery to receive a medical marijuana license.

Trulieve and Hackney Nursery in Northwest Florida made its first home delivery on July 24th. In order to prescribe medical marijuana, a qualifying physician must have successfully completed an 8-hour continuing education course and examination. Over 100 doctors are listed in the Department of Health’s registry.

ALGAE BLOOMS Algae blooms in south Florida waterways have ignited concern regarding the environmental impacts to the region. About 200 square miles of Lake Okeechobee’s surface is covered by blooms and continues to grow. Earlier this summer, Governor Scott asked for a declaration of a state of emergency in Martin, St. Lucie, Palm Beach and Lee counties, which was denied by President Obama; and Florida Senators Marco Rubio and Bill Nelson have asked the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to stop the flow of water between the St. Lucie River and Lake Okeechobee. The South Florida Water Management District adopted a resolution supporting the Governor’s proposed Indian River Lagoon and Caloosahatchee Cleanup Initiative which would offer partial state funding for residents to replace septic tanks with sewer systems if approved by the Legislature next spring.  An emergency bridge loan program has been activated for small businesses affected by the blooms.

Contact with cyanobateria, which are toxins in the algae, can cause rashes, hay fever symptoms, nausea and vomiting. Residents are encouraged to report blooms at www.reportalgalbloom.com or call 855-305-3903.

WORKERS COMPENSATION RATES  In response to two Florida Supreme Court rulings and a change in state law, the National Council on Compensation Insurance is suggesting an average increase of 19.6 percent in workers’ comp insurance rates.  The increases are based upon the striking down of attorney fee caps in such cases and the elimination of the current 104 week limit on disability payments.  The new rates, if approved by state regulators, will commence October 1st.

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