DISASTER FUNDING Volunteer Florida awarded $300,000 to organizations throughout Florida to start or improve their emergency response efforts. The City of Orlando and Orange County were among the 40 recipients of the federal funding from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Funding will be used for recruiting and training of civilians to assist first responders during disasters.
In other disaster news, Governor Rick Scott issued an executive order on December 2nd extending the state of emergency by 60 days for those impacted by Hurricane Matthew. The hurricane brushed the east coast of Florida on October 7th and 8th, causing extensive wind and flood damage as it made its way north. The latest report from the state Office of Insurance Regulation estimates the total damage from the storm at $729 million.
CONSERVATION During their December 6th meeting, the Florida Cabinet agreed to spend $2.9 million to conserve approximately 2,300 acres of rural land in Putnam County in Northeast Florida under the Rural & Family Lands Preservation Program. Conservation easements such as this allow landowners to continue farming or ranching on the property, but limits future development. The Legislature approved $35 million for the Rural & Family Lands program in the current fiscal year. Agriculture Commissioner Putnam has asked lawmakers to allocate $50 million for the program in 2017.
Last month, the Cabinet approved three deals that will help conserve more than 14,000 acres of land. The largest deal, with a proposed cost of $16.1 million, involved the state buying 11,027 acres in Leon and Jefferson counties from Natural Bridge Timberlands, LLC. The deal is the largest acquisition of its kind in more than a decade.
ALL ABOARD FLORIDA All Aboard Florida, which is constructing a high speed rail system called Brightline for passenger train service from Miami to Orlando, asked the U.S. Department of Transportation to rescind its approval of the financing it needs to continue its project. Instead of $1.75 billion of tax-free bonds, All Aboard Florida wants $600 million for only the first phase of the project from Miami to West Palm Beach. Local elected officials in Martin and Indian River counties had filed federal lawsuits against the US DOT regarding these bonds.
SANFORD BURNHAM The Department of Economic Opportunity has demanded that Sanford Burnham Institute in Orlando pay back $77 million of the $155 million in incentives it was given in 2006. In response, Burnham reiterated its position that they are not required to refund any of the incentives. The Institute had sought to transfer their facility to the University of Florida and the University of Central Florida, but the universities declined due to the financial commitment involved. Speaker Corcoran has made it clear he is not in favor of economic incentives for companies and believes the Institute should repay its obligations. The Institute failed to create enough jobs by 66 positions according to the DEO.
DRONE USE Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles has reiterated that it does not intend to develop rules allowing for the use of drones to issue speeding tickets. The Florida Cabinet has voiced support for the Department’s plan to ask the Legislature to set up a pilot program that would use the technology to help manage traffic crashes. A 2013 state law prohibits the use of unmanned aerial vehicles by law enforcement for surveillance and evidence gathering. The law limits the use of automated surveillance aircraft by law enforcement unless a judge issues a warrant, if there is a “high risk of terrorist attack” or if officials fear someone is in imminent danger.