November 23, 2014

Thursday's Daily Pulse

What You Need to Know About Florida Today

Visit Florida under fire from legislature

Tourism officials say efforts to sell Florida to the rest of the nation will be crippled by a plan to reorganize the state's marketing agency. "This is a terrible idea,'' said D.T. Minich, Pinellas tourism director. "It's a huge step backward.'' Last week, 71 local tourism industry executives gathered on a statewide conference call to discuss a Senate bill that would combine Visit Florida with five other state agencies. All 71 opposed the legislation. "What came out is that everyone was adamant this is wrong and bad for tourism,'' said Richard Goldman, past chair of the Florida Commission on Tourism, which oversees Visit Florida. The quasi-public agency works with local tourism officials and travel-related businesses to buy advertising that promotes the entire state and specific destinations. Its funding comes from a portion of Florida's $2-a-day rental car tax, general revenue and contributions by tourism businesses. If the Senate bill becomes law, Visit Florida and other entities — including Enterprise Florida and the Florida Sports Foundation — would be wrapped into a new government agency called Jobs Florida. Their revenues would be pooled and doled out by a board chaired by Gov. Rick Scott. [Source: St. Petersburg Times]

Legislative Roundup
» House Speaker Cannon scales back court reform proposal
» From the Florida House to national media, 'uterus' is runaway hit
» Proposals could make summer classes at UF required
» Bill would deregulate telemarketers, auto mechanics and movers
» Florida Senate approves pension plan
» Fla. Senate wants left lane drivers to move over
» Senate removes triple-dipper provision from retirement bill
» Florida budget cuts threaten transportation jobs


Amway Center earns gold for green

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The Amway Center is so chock-full of environmentally friendly features that it is the first new NBA arena to earn a gold certification from the U.S. Green Building Council, city and Orlando Magic officials told the Orlando Sentinel on Wednesday. Officials with Orlando, the building's owner, and the Orlando Magic, its developer, have made no secret of their efforts to win recognition for the arena under the nonprofit council's green-design program. But earning gold, the second-highest level under the Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design program, is a bigger achievement than many conservationists expected. "It's huge," Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer said. "It's almost top-level certification. And going forward, the cost of electricity, the cost of water and the cost of maintaining the building have been reduced." [Source: Orlando Sentinel]


CSX Chief Says He 'Can't Be Part of' Obama High-Speed Rail Plan

CSX Corp. (CSX) "can't be part of" President Barack Obama's rail vision because passenger trains don't make money and high-speed trains don't belong on freight tracks," Chief Executive Officer Michael Ward said. "I'm a corporation. I exist to make money, OK?" Ward said today in an interview at Bloomberg's New York office. "You can't make money hauling passengers, so why would I want to do that? That wouldn't be fair to my shareholders." CSX is the third-largest major freight railroad in the U.S. by revenue. If CSX were to advocate for high-speed rail, he said, "it's then 'why aren't you donating part of your infrastructure to that?' which I can't do and be true to my obligation to my shareholders." While moving more people by train might make sense for society, letting passenger trains traveling faster than 90 miles per hour share tracks with freight trains doesn't make business sense, said Ward, whose Jacksonville, Florida-based railroad owns 21,000 miles of track east of St. Louis. [Source: Bloomberg]


Community health aimed at attracting business

A regional economic development group on Wednesday unveiled what may be the first of its kind: an eight-county assessment of the state of health in the greater Tampa Bay area. That alone is a great contribution to the area. But the goal of the Tampa Bay Partnership's regional health project is not limited to improving the quality of people's health. Ultimately, the group hopes to be able to pitch Tampa Bay as a healthier place full of trimmer, more energetic people and use that message to recruit businesses. We have some work to do. The report — How Healthy Is Tampa Bay? — is compelling, and often alarming. The good news? Our regional death rate for stroke is much lower than the nation's. The more abundant bad news? Deaths in Tampa Bay from suicide and lung cancer are greater than the state and the nation. More Tampa Bay residents are diagnosed with diabetes than people are nationally. Motor vehicle deaths, plus pedestrian and bicycle traffic deaths are all "alarmingly high," says Denise Remus, BayCare Health System chief quality officer, who is involved with the regional health assessment. Finally, the new report finds the ranks of the uninsured are much higher in the Tampa Bay area, at 28 percent, than for the nation, at 22 percent. [Source: St. Petersburg Times]


Legal team targets BP to recoup Florida tax losses from spill

A team of high-powered lawyers is preparing to file claims against BP on behalf of Florida school districts, cities and counties over lost tax money blamed on last year's oil spill. The lawyers, including Orlando-based Morgan & Morgan, three more Florida firms and others in New York City and Dallas, have been talking with school boards and county commissions throughout the state, though primarily in western Florida, plus cities and other local governments along the coast, about filing claims in federal court. The districts, counties and cities signing on intend to go after lost taxes, particularly sales and tourism taxes, blamed on the April 20, 2010, explosion of the Deepwater Horizon oil rig and the ensuing oil spill. In addition to BP, which operated the rig, the claims will go against the rig's owners and others linked to the disaster. Because the state shares sales-tax money across the state for school districts and counties, even those distant from the Gulf of Mexico are considering signing on. [Source: Orlando Sentinel]
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ALSO AROUND FLORIDA:

› Engineering company official says reservoir doesn't need major repair
The company that designed Tampa Bay Water's troubled reservoir says it doesn't need a multimillion dollar repair job that would raise customers' rates, as utility officials contend. Instead, according to HDR Engineering's senior vice president, Tim Connolly, all the reservoir needs is regular monitoring for any new cracks in the walls, and perhaps the occasional patch job. The cost: Less than $1 million a year, which would mean no need for a rate increase. The reason: Although Tampa Bay Water has been drawing water out of the reservoir since last fall, no major new cracks have developed. And the cracks that appeared in the past "were in a very small area of the reservoir," so the entire reservoir doesn't require repair, he said. The claim by a top HDR executive this week comes on the eve of Tampa Bay Water receiving bids on the big fix, which by some early estimates may cost $125 million, nearly as much as the reservoir cost to build.

› UF scientists continue to study Colony Collapse Disorder
Alachua beekeeper Wayne McChesney pulled the lid off of a white bee hive, home to about 60,000 bees, and gently slid out one of the frames as hundreds of female workers crawled across the wax surface. "They're lovable little girls," said McChesney, known as "Chappie" to his friends. He doesn't wear the typical white uniform with a netted hat, saying he doesn't need it. He even reaches out to stroke the backs of the bees. "My hives are booming -- I take care of my bees," McChesney said. The 65-year-old has been tending to the honey makers since he was in the second grade and said he has seen bees die off or disappear in cycles about every 20 to 30 years. So the onset of Colony Collapse Disorder in 2006, when some beekeepers reported losing 30-90 percent of their bees, did not surprise him.

› Foreclosures sales surpass conventional sales in Tampa Bay area
For maybe the first time ever, sales of foreclosed homes in the Tampa Bay area have exceeded traditional sales. With thousands more foreclosures in the pipeline, home prices will continue to fall. Peter Murphy, president of Tampa's Home Encounter, a full-service real estate firm, expects the median sales price to drop another 25 percent before hitting bottom in the bay area. Foreclosures and short sales, he said, will drive the market in 2011. "Until the banks are no longer the biggest players, conventional sales will decline more," he said. "There's nothing to deter it. There is no way competition can stop that from happening."

› Disney to test regional cruise ports in U.S.
Walt Disney Co. will use its newly expanded cruise fleet to move into regional ports around the U.S. next year, with plans to put ships in New York, Texas and Seattle. The company on Wednesday released its 2012 cruise schedule, providing the first glimpse of how it will deploy a fleet that is doubling in size from two ships to four. Disney is spending more than $1.8 billion on the expansion, which includes the Disney Dream, which began sailing out of Port Canaveral in January, and the Disney Fantasy, which is to make its maiden voyage on March 31, 2012. The two new ships each carry 4,000 passengers, compared with 2,700 passengers each aboard Disney's two original cruise ships. Plans call for the Fantasy to replace the Disney Magic at Port Canaveral in Brevard County, the company's home port roughly an hour's drive from its flagship Walt Disney World resort. Disney will then move the smaller ship to New York, where it will spend the summer alternating between eight-night voyages to the Bahamas, five-night voyages up the New England and Canadian coasts, and two-night introductory cruises to nowhere. In the fall, Disney will reposition the Magic to Galveston, Texas, where it will sail seven-night itineraries throughout the Western Caribbean.

› Playboy looking for University of Florida's 'girl next door'
An unassuming Gainesville hotel room was turned into a Playboy audition site Wednesday, as close to 100 University of Florida students posed there for magazine photographers. The photographers are in town in search of models for the magazine's latest "Girls of the SEC" pictorial, to be published in October. Robyn Bird, 20, was among the students who posed for test shots in the hopes of being chosen to appear in the magazine. "I felt good about my experience," she said. "Even if I don't get chosen, I really enjoyed it." Casting photographer Stephanie Ortiz said about 100 girls signed up for the first day of Gainesville auditions and that more were expected today. The magazine isn't looking for typical models for the college pictorial, she said. "We're looking more for the kind of girl that's the girl next door," she said. The magazine's college pictorials have been one of its most popular features over the past 35 years. The last "Girls of the SEC" pictorial ran in Playboy's October 2007 issue.

› Federal judge dismisses lawsuit over Florida panther habitat
A federal judge Wednesday threw out a lawsuit aimed at forcing the government to do a better job of protecting the habitat of the endangered Florida panther. The suit, filed by a coalition of environmental groups, sought to overrule the Obama Administration's refusal to declare 1.3 million acres as critical habitat for the panther, Florida's state animal. Although panthers have been on the federal endangered list since 1967, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has not declared any of its habitat to be critical, a step that would make it harder for developers, miners and farmers to alter the land. The agency has repeatedly rejected petitions to declare any land occupied by panthers to be critical to the species' future survival. Not even a letter signed by three Florida congressmen could change the agency's decision.


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