Friday, February 21, 2020

Ashley Moody Warns Floridians About Census Scams

scam

On Tuesday, Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody issued a Consumer Alert with tips for Floridians to avoid scams related to the U.S. Census.

The U.S. Census is conducted every 10 years to count every person living in U.S. states and territories. Participation is required by law. In the past, scammers have used the mandatory count to take advantage of unwitting Floridians and steal personal information. Moody said she wants to make sure Floridians know how to avoid these scams and where to report any suspicious activity.

“The U.S. Census performs a critical role in the function of our representative government, and it is important that Floridians participate. It is awful that bad actors would try to exploit this process to defraud people, but by following some simple tips you can avoid falling victim,” Moody said on Tuesday.

One way scammers might exploit information is through phishing emails. Phishing is a criminal act in which someone tries to steal information from others by pretending to represent an official or trusted entity, like the U.S. Census Bureau. Phishing emails may try to direct victims to a website that looks real but is actually fake, and perhaps infected with malware. Malware is software that contains viruses or spyware and can infect victims’ computers when attached to emails or suspicious websites. Be cautious when opening emails and only open email attachments from known senders.

Another type of scam to be aware of involves criminals who impersonate U.S. Census workers going door-to-door. The aim being to break-in to victims’ houses to steal money, property or commit violent acts. Official Census Bureau employees will have badges and ID numbers that can be confirmed by calling 1(800) 923-8282.

More tips to avoid common Census scams include:

Know that the Census Bureau will not send unsolicited emails, or ask for Social Security numbers, bank account or credit card information, or money;

Confirm that the return address on mail from the Census Bureau is Jeffersonville, Indiana;

Check the ID badge of a Census worker doing home visits by looking for the worker’s photograph, U.S. Department of Commerce watermark and expiration date; and

Call 1(800) 923-8282 if questions remain about a Census worker’s identity and ask to speak with a local Census Bureau representative. If it is determined that the visitor does not work for the Census Bureau, contact local law enforcement.

The Bureau does ask for some personal information, such as the full names and dates of birth for every household member. However, the Bureau will not ask questions about how much money is in a bank account, passwords, Social Security numbers, mother’s maiden name, work times or other questions that produce answers that might prove useful to identity thieves or cyber criminals.

Census questionnaires will be sent by mail to most households starting in mid-March. Beginning in April, Census canvassers will begin quality check interviews at some homes, and in May, will visit households who have not responded.

To report suspected Census scams, call the Bureau at 1(800) 354-7271, in English, or 1(800) 833-5625, in Spanish.

 

Michael Bloomberg’s Campaign: Joe Biden, Pete Buttigieg Are Not Viable, Can’t Win in Florida

mike bloomberg

Former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg is turning up the heat on his Democratic presidential rivals in Florida.

Bloomberg’s staff told reporters there are only three viable candidates left: President Donald Trump, U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and the former New York mayor.

On a campaign call with reporters ahead of the looming Florida primary, Dan Kanninen, Bloomberg’s state director, said it is time for Democrats to consolidate behind one candidate and understand what the long term implications are of both Super Tuesday and the March 17 Florida primary.

“Of that bunch, only Mike Bloomberg has a chance to beat Donald Trump in the fall elections,” Kanninen insisted.

Kanninen said he is thinking about the Trump campaign effort already, calling it “tremendous” and “strong.”

”We can look at the president and how he tweets. We can look at the White House and the chaos that exists on a daily basis and easily forget that amidst that chaos and undisciplined nature of him personally, his campaign is extraordinarily well organized,” he said.

Kanninen claimed the Trump campaign is afraid of Bloomberg, maintaining that was the only candidate they feared.

“Donald Trump, again and again, tweets at Mike, is obsessed with the kind of campaign we are running and the kind of statements Mike can make strongly against him. He understands that Mike Bloomberg represents everything he wishes he was in real life,” Kannien said.

To get there, the Bloomberg campaign will have to start winning. The former mayor hasn’t even been on a primary ballot yet–and won’t be this Saturday in Nevada or next week in South Carolina. Bloomberg’s strategy rests on proving the rest of his primary rivals can’t win–and hope the middle will consolidate against Sanders.

“None of the other Democrats besides Mike and Bernie are really in a position to amass delegates in a serious way on Super Tuesday,” Kanninen said in the conference call before turning his fire towards former Vice President Joe Biden.

“Although he had a very strong public polling posture through the summer and most of the fall, that has really collapsed since the campaign in Iowa and New Hampshire. As you saw in the NPR/PBS/ Marist poll that came out this morning, he has dropped nine points since that last poll alone and Mike has now surpassed him, rising 15 points,” Kanninen said.

The Marist Poll shows former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg falling as well. Kanninen said this is consistent with what the Bloomberg team’s internal polling is showing.

“It is evident to us based on the trajectory of the campaign, the polling, the rise in enthusiasm in the crowds, and the surge in Mike’s support that Mike is quite clearly in a strong second place in this primary and rising rapidly above the rest of the field,” he said.

The Bloomberg campaign is at full throttle in Florida with 10 field offices already open with 135 statewide employees and plans to open 10 more field offices in the coming weeks.

Scott Kosanovich, who is directing Bloomberg’s efforts in Florida, touted the endorsements of leading Democrats including U.S. Rep. Ted Deutch, D-Fla, U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla., and former Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. However, Kosanovich insisted those 135 organizers are the key to winning the Florida primary.

“The best spokespeople for our campaign when they are talking to our communities are people that are from those communities,” Kosanovich said, adding they plan to add 65 more staffers in Florida before the primary.

To win Florida, Bloomberg has to defeat Sanders who leads in national polls and is claiming momentum. Kanninen admitted his candidate is not in first place yet–so they are going on the attack.

“When Floridians are going to the ballot box, and looking at who can take on Donald Trump effectively, they are going to see one campaign in Mike that can do it, and another campaign in Bernie that we do not think can do it, and that will be compelling in getting voters to come to our side,” he said.

The Bloomberg campaign also insisted their candidate is the only Democrat who can carry Florida in November.

 

Reach Mike Synan at mike.synan@floridadaily.com.

 

Rick Scott: Time to Stop American Companies that Sell to Huawei

At the end of last week, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., brought out a proposal to keep American tech companies from selling to Huawei due to its ties to the Chinese regime.

Noting that the federal government “has determined” Huawei “to be a national security threat and continues to be a bad actor across the globe,” Scott pointed out American “exports to Huawei have been banned, but some U.S. companies are finding ways around the blacklisting, including supplying Huawei through subsidiaries or partners in foreign countries.” His bill would close that loophole.

“We know Huawei is supported and controlled by the communist regime in Beijing, which continues to violate human rights and steal our data, technology, and intellectual property,” Scott said when he introduced the bill. “Companies in the United States should not be allowed to sell to Huawei, and my legislation will further restrict their ability. I look forward to all of my colleagues and the administration joining in support of my proposal to crack down on U.S. exports to Huawei, protect our national security and the security and growth of the U.S. technology industry.”

Scott’s office also offered some of the details of the proposal.

“Currently, a foreign-produced good that contains 25 percent U.S.-origin content can be exported to a blacklisted company. Senator Scott’s bill would permanently cut that threshold down to 10 percent for any goods exported to Huawei or its in-house semiconductor business. This proposal is currently under consideration for rulemaking by the Department of Commerce,” Scott’s office noted.

Scott’s bill was sent to the U.S. Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee last week. So far, he has not been able to reel in any cosponsors. So far, there is no companion measure over in the U.S. House.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

The Dean’s List: A Look at Who Made the Honor Roll in Florida Politics–and Who Didn’t

the dean's list

Those Who Made the Grade

State Rep. Blaise Ingoglia. One of Gov. Ron DeSantis’ pet projects is to deregulate certain industries and leading the charge is Ingoglia is helping lead the effort. The Spring Hill Republican has a bill for the deregulation of professions and occupations which would remove barriers for labor organizations, hair braiders, hair wrappers and body wrappers, boxing timekeepers and announcers and revises certain requirements for barbers, nail specialists, business organizations and impacts other professions. Ingoglia said some regulations will need to exist but cutting down on occupational licenses is a step in the right direction.

State Rep. Michael Grieco. In Tallahassee this year, there has been a debate about whether concealed weapon permit holders should be allowed to carry guns onto church and school property and over if they can take their guns into government meetings. Grieco, a Miami Beach Democrat, said it was strange that concealed weapons permit holders–which he is–couldn’t bring their gun to meetings, adding that government officials should be able to protect themselves.

State Sen. Aaron Bean. A few years back, Bean and other Senate Republicans were on the wrong side when they backed Medicaid expansion in the aftermath of Obamacare. The First Coast Republican, the chairman of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Health and Human Services, now supports a more modest approach to Medicaid expansion. He is backing Medicaid Block Grants, which would allow Florida more flexibility to use how the services should be provided without as much federal involvement.  Bean said the grants could save taxpayers around $100 million dollars a year.

Those Who Didn’t Make the Grade

State Rep. Anna Eskamani. The Orlando Democrat is calling for legislation that would go after private schools that turned away LGBT students. Some private schools have policies that forbid these students from attending their schools but Eskamani insisted private schools that receive “tax dollars” for education should be denied public funding because they discriminate. But the question remains, shouldn’t the money follow the child? If parents–who pay taxes–want to send their child to a school of their choice, even if it puts limits on who they accept, they should be able to do so.

Jacksonville Downtown Investment Authority. In order to “spur” economic growth, the Jacksonville Downtown Investment Authority is almost giving away the farm when it comes to attracting business using taxpayers dollars. This includes restaurants receiving incentives of up to $350,000 in five-year, forgivable loans. Other establishments would get government financing ranging anywhere from $50 to $75 per square foot with a $350,000 cap while small coffee shops and juice bars could get $40 per square foot for projects.

Kevin Wagner. Wagner, a political science professor at Florida Atlantic University (FAU), recently wrote an op-ed where he addresses the issue of political gerrymandering in the Sunshine State.

“Partisan gerrymandering…is very much alive and well, and is practiced by both major parties,” Wagner insisted. Wagner is correct but every columnist that writes about this issue “acts” as if they are surprised it still happens. Of course, if the GOP, is in power then it is seen as partisan redistricting.

Wagner and others fail to realize there will always be gerrymandering, no matter how you draw up legislative districts. Certain groups and communities will always be included in a district and others will be left out. Some counties have more Republicans than Democrats and vice versa. Not all districts will be able to see a good split between Democrats and Republicans especially with the growing number of voters outside the major parties.

 

Reach Ed Dean at ed.dean@floridadaily.com.

 

Central Florida Democrats Announce DHS Funds to Help Defend Orlando From Terrorism

At the end of last week, three Democrats representing Central Florida in Congress–U.S. Reps. Val Demings, Stephanie Murphy and Darren Soto–announced that Orlando is getting funds from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security (DHS) to help defend the city against terrorism.

Orlando is getting funds from Urban Area Security Initiative (UASI) which will be between $2.8 million through $3.5 million. In 2018, UASI sent $1.5 million to Orlando. Last year, Orlando received $3.25 million from UASI. The funds can be used to plan and respond to terrorism in urban areas including dealing with cybersecurity, emerging threats and crowded areas.

The three representatives weighed in on the funds on Friday.

“This Valentine’s Day announcement is great news as we work to keep Central Florida safe. Having the safety and shield of well-trained, well-prepared first responders is what has allowed Orlando to become a haven for business, art, culture, tourism, and innovation. It brings me great joy to know that everyone in our community can enjoy the tremendous opportunities and joys of living in this thriving region as we continue to grow,” said Demings who then cited her experience in law enforcement.

“After seeing every level of community safety in Orlando, from midnight patrols to chief of police, I know how important this federal support is to our law enforcement’s ability to be proactive against possible threats. As a member of the Homeland Security Committee, Orlando’s re-inclusion in the UASI program has been a highlight of our work in Congress and we will continue to advocate for this critical funding,” Demings added.

“As a top tourist destination, the Orlando area is vulnerable to acts of terrorism that endanger the lives of residents and visitors alike. That’s why our congressional delegation fought so hard to ensure Orlando received this critical funding. I will keep working to bring home federal dollars that increase public safety and give law enforcement the tools they need to keep our community safe,” Murphy said.

“Nothing is more important than the safety and well-being of Central Floridians,” Soto said. “We are extremely grateful to be approved for funding this year under Homeland Security’s Urban Area Security Initiative, which will aid us in funding programs focused on terror-prevention and preparedness. The people of Orlando have felt firsthand the impact of extreme tragedies perpetrated by those seeking to create panic and fear, and we are determined to use this funding to eliminate such instances wherever possible.”

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

Florida Law Enforcement Groups: Drug Offenders in State Prison Are Violent and Not Low Level Offenders

prison cell

On Tuesday, law enforcement groups met at the Florida Capitol to push back against the “myth that drug offenders in the state prison are non-violent, low level offenders.”

The Florida Sheriffs Association (FSA) and Florida Police Chiefs Association (FPCA) released their findings on the state prison population.

“Data from the Florida Department of Corrections (FDC) establishes that most inmates incarcerated in Florida’s prisons (56 percent) have been previously convicted of violent offenses, and over 95 percent of all prisoners are repeat offenders. Despite these facts, advocates for eliminating minimum mandatory sentences and releasing drug offenders 35 percent earlier than their judge-imposed sentences have recently identified these repeat criminals as low-risk, non-violent offenders. An analysis of inmate data from the Department of Corrections shows this assertion is wrong,” the two groups noted.

“A recent analysis examined the criminal history of the 10,917 inmates in FDC custody as of October 2019, who were convicted of a drug-related crime. These inmates accounted for a total of 394,019 prior criminal charges, or an average of 36 charges per inmate, prior to their current incarceration,” the groups added.  “Most importantly, 85 percent of these drug offender inmates committed a forcible felony, a burglary, or both prior to their current prison sentence. Forcible felonies are violent crimes committed against a person.”

Reviewing almost 11,000 prisoners currently held by FDC over drug-related offenses, the law enforcement groups noted “on average, each inmate had 36 prior criminal charges and an average of 18 convictions” and “85 percent of these inmates committed a prior forcible felony, a burglary or both, prior to the current state incarceration.”

Reviewing almost 2,200 drug trafficking offenders currently held by FDC, the groups noted “on average, each drug trafficker had 18 prior criminal charges and 16 convictions” and found “88 percent of these inmates committed a prior forcible felony, a burglary or both, prior to their current state incarceration.”

“As the data shows in this report, there are no first-time drug offenders ending up in our state prisons. These inmates have long criminal histories that have led them to this point of state incarceration. It is now up to these inmates, after numerous interactions with the criminal justice system, to decide if they want to be rehabilitated or to continue their criminal behavior after their release. We should continue to offer a helping hand toward their rehabilitation, but not at the expense of handing out lesser sentences after these criminals have already turned away from numerous second chances,” the law enforcement groups noted.

“This analysis debunks the myths of the criminal justice reform debate regarding our state prisons being full of first-time drug offenders,” said Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri, the president of the FSA. “The state prisons are made up of inmates with long criminal histories. Of the 10,917 drug-related offenders currently in the Florida Department of Corrections, 85 percent of these inmates committed a prior forcible felony, a burglary or both, prior to the current state incarceration.”

“The vast majority of criminals in prison for drug-related crimes are high-risk, violent offenders,” said Chief Gary Hester, the government affairs coordinator for the Florida Police Chiefs Association. “And the vast majority of them are repeat offenders – they keep committing crimes, over and over. And this report proves it.”

 

Rick Scott: FDA Should Confirm Pharmaceutical Imports from Communist China are Safe Amid Coronavirus

Rick Scott

At the end of last week, U.S. Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., wrote the commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) following the FDA’s recent decision to remove the agency’s inspectors of Chinese pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities from the country in response to the Chinese Coronavirus outbreak. Scott’s office noted that the senator “is focused on making sure that all products being imported from China are safe for American families.”

The letter was as follows:

Dear Commissioner Hahn:

I write to request information regarding the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) recent decision to remove the agency’s inspectors of Chinese pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities from the country in response to China’s 2019 Novel Coronavirus outbreak.

First, I want to commend you for protecting FDA employees and pulling them out of harm’s way. Although there are reports the virus has infected more than 60,000 people globally, I do not trust Communist China to coordinate in a transparent and efficient manner when it comes to combatting the threat of the virus. The United States must do everything in our power to protect Americans and prevent the spread of the virus.

While removing FDA employees from China was the right decision, I write today to ask that you provide answers to the following:

Are inspections still being conducted?

Please provide a full list of products that the FDA typically inspects in China.

FDA facility inspections are typically done for new drugs, or done as part of a risk-based inspection. How many new branded drugs, biologics, generics, vitamins, or medical devices may not be able to enter the marketplace because of the Chinese Coronavirus? How many risk-based inspections will not be carried out because of the current Chinese Coronavirus epidemic? Are these products, or any subset of these products, still being imported into the United States? If so, does the FDA continue to certify that the goods previously inspected in China are still safe for Americans’ use and consumption?

Should the United States consider suspending these products from being imported into the United States until full inspections can be conducted? Given the origin of this outbreak, should the United States consider new, stricter standards for goods imported from China?

Does the FDA have any estimate on how large the inspection backlog will be if FDA inspectors are out of China for a one month period or longer?

Does the FDA have sufficient funding to deal with this workload disruption when the Chinese Coronavirus epidemic is contained?

Thank you for your leadership and for your quick attention to this matter. I look forward to hearing from you as we work together to contain infection cases, protect American consumers and stop the spread of the Chinese Coronavirus.

 

Marco Rubio Champions the Foreign Influence Transparency Act to Push Back at Chinese-Run Programs

marco rubio

Last week, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a member of the U.S. Senate Foreign Relations Committee, brought back a proposal to have some organizations register as foreign agents.

Rubio reintroduced the “Foreign Influence Transparency Act” which would require organizations, such as the Chinese government-run programs known as Confucius Institutes, to register under the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA).” The bill would also amend the Higher Education Act to “require universities to disclose donations, contracts, or the fair market value of in-kind gifts, from any foreign source if the amount is $50,000 or greater.” Earlier this month, the U.S. Department of Education started to investigate some schools–including Yale and Harvard–for failing to report hundreds of millions in foreign donations.

“The American people should know when they are dealing with an agent of a foreign government, and this legislation will bring greater transparency to the activities of foreign nations operating in the United States,” Rubio said when he introduced the bill towards the end of last week. “By forcing agents of foreign governments to register with the Department of Justice, this legislation would close loopholes in current law that allow the Chinese Communist Party to infiltrate our colleges and universities through Confucius Institutes.”

U.S. Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., and U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, are cosponsoring the bill.

“If we want free speech and honest debate on college campuses, then we need to know when other countries are pushing their interests on U.S. soil,” Cotton said. “Requiring organizations like Confucius Institutes to register their activities with the Justice Department and disclose where they get their money is necessary to alert college students to the malign influence of foreign propaganda.”

“I am pleased to join Senators Rubio and Cotton in introducing this important legislation to increase transparency on our college and university campuses concerning foreign funding,” Portman said. “The fact that U.S. schools failed to report $6.5 billion in foreign funding, and that the Department of Education failed to enforce the law, is unacceptable. China has routinely exploited this lack of transparency by controlling, funding, and staffing Confucius Institutes at campuses across our country. Chinese teachers at U.S. Confucius Institutes pledge to the Chinese government that they will follow Chinese law and ‘conscientiously safeguard China’s national interests.’ We cannot allow this stunning lack of transparency to continue.”

The bill was sent to the Foreign Relations Committee. So far, there is no counterpart over in the U.S. House.

 

Reach Kevin Derby at kevin.derby@floridadaily.com.

 

Ross Spano Announces HUD Funds for Programs in Hillsborough, Polk and Lake Counties

ross spano fb 2

Towards the end of last week, U.S. Rep. Ross Spano, R-Fla., announced the U.S. Housing and Urban Development (HUD) Department is sending more than $14 million to his district which stretches through Central Florida towards Tampa Bay.

Spano announced the following funds through Community Planning and Development Program Formula Allocations and noted it represented a $657,078 increase from the last fiscal year.

“As our district rapidly expands, I am concerned that affordable and viable housing options are becoming a challenge for many families in our area. These funds are critical to ensure our local municipalities in Hillsborough, Polk and Lake Counties can help local residents with their housing needs,” Spano said.

Grant details and awarded amounts (by counties and city) below:

  • The Community Development Block (CDBG) Grants program provides annual grants to States and local units of government to develop viable urban communities by providing decent housing and a suitable living environment, and by expanding economic opportunities, principally for low- and moderate-income persons. Hillsborough: $7,286,504 / Lakeland: $977,975 / Lake County: $1,338,110
  • The Emergency Solutions Grants (ESG) program provides annual grants to State, local, and private entities to assist people in quickly regaining stability in permanent housing after experiencing a housing crisis and/or homelessness. Hillsborough: $617,601
  • The HOME program helps to expand the supply of decent, affordable housing to low- and very low-income families by providing grants to States and local governments to fund housing programs that meet local needs and priorities. Hillsborough: $2,774,298 / Lakeland: $393,939
  • The HOPWA program provides housing assistance and related supportive services to local units of government, States and non-profit organizations for projects that benefit low-income persons medically diagnosed with HIV/AIDS and their families. Lakeland: $704,854

 

Florida Sees Growing Electric Vehicle Market

electric vehicle charging

Industry analysts say Florida has emerged as the nation’s fourth-largest market for electric vehicle (EV) sales.

From 2017 to 2018 the number of electric vehicles sold in Florida nearly doubled and the number continues to climb thanks to the Sunshine State’s love of vehicles. According to Dylan Reed, the director of Advanced Energy Economy (AEE), back in July, Florida was home to 21.8 million registered vehicles even though the state that has around 21.5 million people.

Reed said he expected the EV market to continue to grow.

“Electric vehicles become more attractive to consumers,” said Reed.

AEE noted that one key element in EV’s potential for growth in Florida is the availability of charging stations which determine how easily EV drivers can power up during their travels.

“That’s a key question that the Legislature is going to take up this year,” Reed said. “How do we take it from 2,000 charging stations to 10,000 or 50,000?”

Gov. Ron DeSantis has made it clear he wants Florida to be a national leader in electric vehicles and several bills now before the Legislature could greatly expand EV drivers’ options.

A proposal from state Rep. Dan Daley, D-Coral Springs, would require the state Department of Transportation to develop a plan for charging stations along the state highway system. There are also proposals from Daley and state Rep. Ben Diamond, D-St. Petersburg, and state Sen. Jeff Brandes, R-St. Petersburg, which would create an Electric Vehicle Infrastructure Grant Program to distribute grants for the installation of EV charging infrastructure. There are also proposals from state Rep. Emily Slosburg, D-Boca Raton, and from Brandes which would require that electric vehicles pay a special registration fee with half the proceeds dedicated to funding the grant program.

This legislation is particularly timely as more and more Floridians are drawn to the appeal of electric vehicles which many drivers see as friendlier to the environment and more cost-effective.

While the upfront cost of electric vehicles like Teslas and Nissan Leafs can be higher than a gasoline-powered vehicle, car analysts say the total cost over the life of an electric vehicle proves to be lower because of fuel affordability. Reed said the cost of electricity is about one-fourth of the cost of gasoline.

AEE has insisted the market is good for EVs because the upfront costs are dropping rapidly as the costs of batteries decreases. Some car analysts believe in about five years, the cost of electric and traditional vehicles will be close.

Reed told Florida Daily that private investment is shifting Florida towards the EV market and the availability of charging infrastructure will be a central point.

“Already, Florida has over 9,000 people working in the advanced transportation space,” Reed said. “If we continue to up that investment, we’ll see those job numbers go even higher.”

 

Reach Ed Dean at ed.dean@floridadaily.com.