December 9, 2019

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What You Need to Know About Florida Today

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Florida's Redistricting Free-for-All

Florida's Constitution says the Legislature must redraw the state's congressional and legislative district boundaries every 10 years, based on the most recent Census.

Redistricting in Florida
[Illustration: Roger Chouinard]
The 2012 redistricting officially begins now, with new mapping tools for the public and an always-political spin. Here's what to expect this time around.

» As always, the line-drawing will be ultra-politicized:
Redistricting is so political that members of Congress hire their own lobbyists who glue themselves to the committee meetings in Tallahassee and scrutinize every proposed boundary adjustment. Predictably, the GOP, now dominant in both the state House and Senate, will attempt to structure the congressional and legislative districts to preserve as many safe seats for Republicans as it can. This year, because so much of Florida's population growth over the decade was Hispanic, leaders from the Hispanic community will try to land better representation in Washington and Tallahassee, particularly along the Interstate 4 corridor. Meanwhile, counties in southwest Florida already are speculating that they'll snag additional representation because of higher-than-average population growth over the past decade. "The interest groups will be out en masse, political interest groups and local groups that don't want to see their cities and counties divided," says Marian Johnson, senior vice president of political strategy at the Florida Chamber of Commerce. "And then you'll still have one little county drawn 70 different ways for 70 different reasons." Read more about what to expect from the redistricting process.


Florida's Indian Casinos Raked in $2 Billion in 2009

Indian casinos in Florida raked in about $2 billion in 2009, the first full year the Seminole Tribe operated Las Vegas-style slot machines and dealt blackjack under a deal with the state. Florida was the fourth-richest state for tribal gambling, behind only California ($7.7 billion), Oklahoma ($3.1 billion) and Connecticut ($2.2 billion), according to the 2011 Indian Gaming Industry Report. The Seminole Tribe owns seven of Florida's eight Indian casinos, including Seminole Hard Rock Hotel & Casinos in Tampa and Hollywood. The Miccosukee Tribe has a Miami casino but offers only bingo-based slots and poker. Statewide, Indian gaming revenue increased $193 million, or 10.4 percent, in 2009 from a year earlier. That was a strong performance in a year when the sour economy forced gamblers to rein in spending, wrote economist Alan Meister, the report's author. Revenue at Indian casinos nationally were flat. Gaming revenue in Nevada fell 10.4 percent, the largest single-year loss in state history. [Source: St. Petersburg Times]


Florida Jumps into Fray over Online Hotel Taxes

Two years ago Florida joined dozens of other states and municipalities in suing online travel companies for a bigger chunk of local hotel taxes.

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This spring, though, the state's Republican Legislature seems poised to do an about-face. The passage of bills in Florida siding with online travel operations such as Expedia, Orbitz and Priceline would be a significant victory for the industry in a conflict that has dragged on for years and led to a patchwork of lawsuits and contradictory court decisions around the country. About 9 percent of the nation's 4 million hotel rooms are in the Sunshine State, where tourism is $60-billion-a-year industry. The bills in the Republican-led Florida Legislature would exempt the online companies from paying a larger share of hotel occupancy taxes. A similar measure stalled in the Senate last year, but backers are buoyed this spring by the militant anti-tax tone set by new Gov. Rick Scott and other new conservative faces in the chambers. The session starts March 8. But lawmakers will act at the risk of angering Florida's hotel and lodging industry, which says shielding the out-of-state sellers from paying more gives the companies an unfair competitive advantage and could ultimately lead to higher taxes as cash-strapped local governments try to make up the revenue. Online travel companies make money by negotiating discounts from hotels and then selling the rooms to consumers at a higher rate. States and municipalities say they are losing tax revenue because the online sellers pay local occupancy taxes only on the wholesale price of the room, not the full rate they charge consumers. [Source: AP]


UCF Video-Game Graduate School Ranks No. 2 Nationally

University of Central Florida is home to a new medical school, a top-ranking research group and graduate programs for the region's business leaders. And now it will be known nationwide for its ability to turn a group of people once seen as society's slackers — video gamers — into professionals capable of making big bucks in a multibillion-dollar industry. On Tuesday, the Princeton Review, which puts out a host of college rankings each year, released its first-ever ranking of video game graduate schools. And UCF ranked No. 2 behind the University of Southern California. UCF's program is small but its students have seen success, university officials said. Since the Florida Interactive Entertainment Academy opened in 2005, it has awarded master's degrees to 191 students who went to work for companies such as Disney, Google and Electronic Arts, which creates games for the Nintendo Wii and Microsoft Corp.'s Xbox 360, and Zynga, creator of the Farmville video game popular with Facebook users. The Review ranked schools based on data collected during a survey of administrators at 150 schools in the U.S. and Canada. It considered factors such as curriculum, faculty and financial aid. "For students aspiring to work in this burgeoning field, and for the companies that will need their creative talents and trained skills, we hope this project will serve as a catalyst for many successful connections," Robert Franek, a senior vice president at the Review, said in a prepared statement. [Source: Orlando Sentinel]


Jackson Lab Picks Sarasota County, Sources Say

Jackson Laboratory has picked Sarasota County as the site for its new personalized medicine institute, sources familiar with the two-month-long talks between lab and county officials confirmed late Tuesday.

The chief factors that define Sarasota's personality are the median age of its population and its wealth—attributes that have produced a community with a trove of quality-of-life resources.

[Sarasota County Portrait]
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The move by the genetics researcher is one that local leaders hope will be a gamechanger for diversifying an economy many think is too reliant on tourism, retirees and construction. The official announcement is scheduled to be made at 11 a.m. Wednesday in a press conference at the Ritz-Carlton Sarasota. The genetics researcher picked Sarasota County over Hillsborough in an intense contest for who would host the sought-after Florida branch of the Bar Harbor, Maine-based Jackson. Whether that institute is built depends on a host of factors as the true negotiations now begin. That includes the ability of state and local governments to provide perhaps $200 million in public money. Jackson officials have made it clear that they need the support of Gov. Rick Scott as part of its upcoming effort to win funding from the Legislature after its session begins Tuesday. [Source: Sarasota Herald-Tribune]

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» Life Sciences: Lab Work


ALSO AROUND FLORIDA:

› Australian Yacht Builder Considers Brevard Site
An Australian superyacht builder is eyeing a Merritt Island boatyard for building lightweight sailing yachts that would use new fiberglass technology developed by a Brevard County composites company. "The next step is to negotiate the facility and to acquire the facility," said Capt. Ronald LePard, operations manager for Evolution Yachts USA, the company's U.S. sales office based in Fort Lauderdale. "The biggest thing we'd have to tackle is getting the permits to do what we want to do, which is basically new sailboats and powerboats." Evolution Yachts, based near the capital city of Perth, has been assisted by Structural Composites President Scott Lewit, whose Melbourne company recently was awarded a $245,000 state grant to help transition boat designs and improved composite construction technology developed for the government to the commercial market. The company will help commercial operators adapt its designs and construction techniques for small boats to be built for the U.S. Navy that will weigh half as much as standard vessels.

› Lack of Car Leads to Lack of a Job for Some in Jacksonville
Curtis Johnson is trying to get a job six months after getting out of prison. He's been offered two but had to turn both down, because he doesn't have a car. Both jobs required Johnson, 42, to work into the early-morning hours, which he didn't realize when he applied for them. One was in Jacksonville Beach as a night bartender; the other was in an Orange Park nightclub. That meant his only option to get to the jobs would be using Jacksonville Transportation Authority buses. But they stop operating around 11 p.m. and don't resume service until 4-5 a.m., leaving Johnson with no way to get back to where he's living on the Northside. "I'd love to move to the beach," Johnson said. "But I don't have any money right now, and I can't make money till I get a job." And for at least two organizations, that's a problem. WorkSource is a state-funded agency that matches job-seekers with employers, and Operation New Hope prepares ex-cons to re-enter the workforce. They both argue that the city's inadequate public bus system perpetuates unemployment and keeps people stuck in poor neighborhoods.

› Sarasota County Business Sales Up 7 Percent
Sarasota County businesses posted their best December in three years, rounding out a 2010 where the local economy started to rebuild after companies saw more than a quarter of their sales evaporate in the Great Recession. The 7 percent gain in December means revenues for all businesses in the county climbed 3 percent for the year. The local economy has not yet suffered a lost decade, but it has been a lost seven years. Last year's total sales of $10.7 billion were far below the $14 billion posted in 2006 — and the 2010 sales are just slightly ahead of what they were in 2003. Manatee County did not fare as well, with sales off 5 percent in December and nearly 1 percent for 2010, a Herald-Tribune analysis of the latest data from the Florida Department of Revenue showed. Statewide, Florida businesses posted an 8 percent jump in December and a 6 percent increase for the year.

› New Republican Club Forms for Business Owners
If Hernando County's economy is going to improve, it will be up to its small business owners to create jobs. But that won't happen until business owners are freed of the crushing federal, state and county regulations that make it prohibitive for them to expand their workforce, says Blaise Ingoglia, chairman of the Hernando County Republican Executive Committee. To that end, Ingoglia on Tuesday announced the formation of the Republican Business Leaders Club of Hernando County," which will meet monthly and focus on the hot-button economic issues of taxation, regulation and job creation. The club, in the process of being chartered through the Republican Party of Florida, is open to current and retired business owners, managers and anyone who has made a payroll and created jobs. "Small businesses will lead this county and our country out of this jobless recession," Ingoglia said.

› Killers Bees Swarming Central Florida?
Eric Uneberg was walking his dog Sasha beneath the live oaks in the backyard of his Marion County home when he got a strange feeling that he was being watched. He looked around as the hairs on his neck began to stand on end. Nothing to the right or left. But as Uneberg turned to go inside the house, he decided to look up. "I thought it was just some strange animal hanging from the tree because it was big and brown and in the corners all you could see were these four golden-like feet," Uneberg said. They were bees. Tens of thousands of them. However, these were not typical pollinators. The unusual hive is a trademark of the African killer bee, a honey bee subspecies that has swarmed the region as it makes its way north from South Florida. The infamous insect is notorious for viciously attacking both animals and people—anyone that threatens the colony. The bees have been reported in more than 26 Florida counties from the south and along both coasts, according to the Florida Department of Agriculture. But they won't stop there — experts say the honey bees will likely encompass the entire state in just a few years.

› At Giant Tech Data Corp., another Strong Quarter and Year
Clearwater tech product distributor Tech Data Corp. said its fourth-quarter net income rose 10 percent on strong sales to beat Wall Street expectations. CEO Bob Dutkowsky said improved technology spending by businesses helped make fiscal 2010 "one of the best years" in the company's history. The company — largest by revenue in the Tampa Bay area — earned $77.3 million, or $1.63 per share, in the period ended Jan. 31. That compares with year-earlier earnings of $70.1 million, or $1.35 per share. Revenue rose about 13 percent to $7.12 billion from $6.28 billion. The company also said that it will buy back up to $100 million in stock.
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