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Friday's Daily Pulse

Small Sugar Land Deal Still Draws Bitter Debate

All the familiar critics turned out Thursday to blast Gov. Charlie Crist's no-longer-so-big sugar land purchase as a bad deal that could wind up hurting Everglades restoration more than it would help it. They were joined by a few fresh faces: Tea Party protesters and Rick Scott, the multi-millionaire Republican gubernatorial candidate. Scott charged that rival Bill McCollum, the state's attorney general, had cut a "secret deal" with the U.S. Sugar Corp., which stands to pocket more than $197 million from selling its land. Scott, with a heckler hounding his every word, suggested the deal would result in a "secret sugar tax." [Source: Miami Herald]

Retailers Ready for Flood of Tax-free, Back-to-school Shopping

Retailers have stocked up and are all-hands-on-deck this weekend as Florida has its first back-to-school tax-free holiday in three years. The state Legislature has not authorized the sales tax break since 2007 over concerns about government budget restraints, but reinstated it this year to give taxpayers a break and try to stimulate economic activity. While the break has been a week to 10 days in the past, it is just three days this year, starting at 12:01 a.m. today and ending at midnight Sunday. That means some of the shopping that would otherwise be spread out over the weeks before school will be concentrated in one weekend. [Source: Gainesville Sun]

Offshore Nurseries Cultivate Rare Corals

About 30 feet below the ocean's surface above a colorful reef off Key Largo, Ken Nedimyer holds up a small slate on which he has written, "Let's plant corals." With that, the volunteer divers who surround him scatter and busily begin using epoxy putty to give tiny bits of staghorn coral a toehold in the vast, blue-green sea. In the ocean waters off Key Largo, Fort Lauderdale and a few other spots, Nedimyer, a one-time tropical fish collector from Tavernier, along with scientists and the volunteers are raising thickets of rare coral to repopulate the depleted reefs of the southeastern United States. [Source: South Florida Sun-Sentinel]
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South Florida Ports Seek More Trade with Brazil

A 46-member delegation from the Brazilian port of Santos -- the largest in Latin America -- visited the Port of Miami on Thursday, and Miami officials were eager to put their best foot forward. Even though Brazil, Latin America's largest economy, is Florida's top trading partner, it ranked 27th in fiscal 2009 in doing business with the Port of Miami. "One of the things I'm not happy about is the Port of Miami's market share with Brazil is declining. This is a trend that we have to reverse," said Port Director Bill Johnson. [Source: Miami Herald]

Brevard Ripe for High-tech Center

If Brevard County attracts a high-tech consortium to perform photovoltaic research and manufacturing, it could be because of established strengths in the solar energy field. A research hub, the Florida Solar Energy Center in Cocoa -- which has a staff of 150 -- was created in 1975 and is one of the main reasons Brevard County was chosen to vie for a photovoltaic manufacturing consortium that could bring up to 300 research jobs to the county, Lynda Weatherman, president and CEO of the Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast, said. [Source: Florida Today]

» RELATED: Businesses Vie for Photovoltaics Research


› Care Cutoff Likely, Florida Hospital Warns Patients
In a letter to its doctors dated Wednesday, Florida Hospital's chief operating officer warned that United Healthcare patients are likely to be cut off from services this weekend unless both sides agree to a temporary contract extension. In the letter, obtained by the Orlando Sentinel, Brian Paradis wrote that "even if we accept [United's] proposal, there is no way to have a contract in place by Saturday."

› EDITORIAL: Public Deserves to Know Scott's Record
If Rick Scott wants to run for governor on his record as a businessman, he needs to make that record public. But the health care executive has stubbornly refused to answer specific questions about his role in a company that paid a record $1.7 billion fine for Medicare fraud. Now he's also refusing to discuss recent allegations that another health care company he started also skirted the law. Four months into his self-funded campaign, the first-time Republican candidate still doesn't grasp a basic tenet: The public has a right to know the private business dealings of people seeking high public office — particularly when that is the only record upon which to evaluate them.

› First Coast Seniors Get More Help to Avoid Scams
Where a contractor promised Mary Lindsey new replacement appliances, there is an old, cracked stove and an aging refrigerator. Where she believed there were improvements to her backyard, the old fence still stands and her pool is filled with construction debris. Where she thought she was financially stable if not comfortable, she now finds herself out more than $100,000. And although advocates call her case extreme, they also believe that there could be more and more seniors who, like Lindsey, are falling victim to fraud and scams. Yet there have never been more resources to help seniors avoid them or get help if they do have a problem.

› Florida's Housing Market 'Winners'
Prices of previously occupied homes rose in five of 12 Florida metro areas this spring -- perhaps an early signal the state's housing market is starting to approach some sense of stability -- as buyers took advantage of tax incentives that gave the struggling housing market a temporary jolt. The five "winners" with rising prices compared to last year include Fort Myers, Miami-Fort Lauderdale, the Palm Bay-Melbourne area, Sarasota-Bradenton and -- ever so slightly, with a 0.4 percent gain -- the Tampa Bay area.

› Councilmen Miss Votes to Dine with Jaguars Reps
While their colleagues stayed behind to finish up roughly two more hours of work, two Jacksonville City Council members left Tuesday night's meeting right after a vote to approve the stadium naming-rights deal to enjoy a steak dinner with Jaguars representatives. Council Vice President Stephen Joost and Councilman Richard Clark, a former council president, left soon after the board voted 14-3 to approve the Jaguars' agreement with EverBank, which allowed the team to keep the entire $16.6 million in revenue instead of sharing about $4 million with the city. Clark and Joost voted in favor of the contract.

› Dean Steel Builds Markets in Other Countries
Dean Steel Buildings has been making a virtue of adversity in Southwest Florida's construction bust — thriving by using three generations of experience to build up its markets in the Caribbean and Central America. "They haven't seen as much of a recession as here," said Nanette Dean, president of the company and granddaughter of company founder Charles Dean, who started manufacturing steel buildings in 1972.

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› Pinellas Audit Flags St. Pete Nonprofit for Loan Breaks
Pinellas County encourages nonprofit agencies to build affordable housing for residents by offering incentives — forgiving loans they get through the county to build an apartment complex, for example. But a new internal audit shows that the vast majority of concessions for rental housing have gone to just one agency — one with close ties to county government.

› Balance of Power: Are Castro Brothers United or Divided?
A clearly revived Fidel Castro marks his 84th birthday Friday, officially out of government yet holding veto power over brother Raúl's plans for economic reforms and hopes for improved U.S. relations. That much is pretty certain, said analysts in Cuba and abroad who have watched Fidel make a dozen unusually public appearances after a near-fatal health crisis in 2006 that forced him out of the limelight. What remains less clear is the balance of power between Fidel and Raúl, amid reports of tensions between the brothers and hints that the succession from the older to the younger Castro is far from settled.

› Failings of the Foreclosure Process Laid Bare
Attorney Ralph Fisher had a “eureka moment” while studying some paperwork in a case involving a client at risk of losing his home. A document that would give the lender's lawyer the green light to take the home was supposedly signed on Dec. 5, 2007, but the date on the notary seal meant the document could not have been created until May of 2008 — five months later.

› City Official's Aunt Gets Top Dollar for Home
In an October 2009 e-mail to the daughter of Beverly Gray, an employee in the St. Petersburg real estate department warned that the city needed to move quickly to buy her mother’s home for a park before a new mayor took office and that a new appraisal would not be as generous. The city paid $80,000 for the house — its 2007 value — in December.

› For Palm Beach Officials Life's a Beach
The Town of Palm Beach made a dramatic last-minute rescue of its lifeguards on Thursday, abandoning a plan to leave its two public beaches unguarded because they are mostly used by out-of-towners. "I know without ocean rescue, people will die. That's a plain fact," town council member Bill Diamond said at the budget-crunching meeting. "And even if they're not Palm Beach residents, they're men and women of our community."

› TV Station Denies Age Discrimination Charges
Jurors will decide whether WSVN-Fox 7 fired its healthcare reporter Marilyn Mitzel in December 2005 because top management thought she was too old to be on the air. The case is being heard this week before Miami-Dade Circuit Court Judge Maxine Cohen Lando. Mitzel, now 56, sued Sunbeam Television Corp., the owner of Channel 7, alleging age discrimination, in 2007, after filing a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission. She was 52 when she was fired.

› Two Biotech Firms Moving to Jupiter
Two small biotech firms that hope to create cancer drugs will move to Jupiter from elsewhere in Florida, the Business Development Board of Palm Beach County said today.

› Help wanted: Must Like Bears
The economy remains rough, but there are jobs out there for enterprising people. Do you like bears? Do you enjoy working outdoors? How do you feel about bear carcasses? Really. The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is looking for black-bear agents in Orange and Seminole counties.