Florida Governor Signs Growler Bill

By on May 15th, 2015 | Last updated: May 18, 2015 at 12:02 pm

Florida will soon join 47 others states that allow the sale of 64-ounce growlers.

Gov. Rick Scott signed SB 186 on Thursday which legalizes the sale of the large refillable beer containers known as growlers.

First Magnitude is currently allowed to sell 128-ounce growlers (left) or 32-ounce growlers. But starting July 1, SB 186 will allow them to sell 64-ounce growlers.

First Magnitude is currently allowed to sell 128-ounce growlers (left) or 32-ounce growlers. Starting July 1, SB 186 will allow them to sell 64-ounce growlers. Jonathan Muñoz / WUFT News

SB 186 was filed on Dec. 16, passed unanimously through House and Senate and approved by the governor on Thursday.

The bill will go into effect starting July 1.

But the bill comes with some restrictions. Breweries and wineries are legally allowed to sell products for at-home consumption, but there are limits on how many ounces can be sold at a time.

Prior to the bill being signed, only 32-ounce, or quart, and 128-ounce, or gallon-sized, were allowed to be filled and sold to consumers. There was no in between size.

“It was kind of a silly law because we could legally fill two 32-ounce growlers,” said John Denny, the head brewer and one of four owners at First Magnitude Brewing Company in Gainesville. “I’m really happy to see the law being changed to a much more sensible one.”

Denny said he’s excited to be able to legally sell 64-ounce growlers, adding that the 64-ounce growlers are the industry’s standard and the ideal size for the consumer.

In anticipation of July 1, First Magnitude has already created the design and ordered the glassware for their 64-ounce growlers.

Tourists come to Florida for the craft beer industry, according to Denny. Many of whom would bring their 64-ounce growlers to be filled at First Magnitude. Until July 1, he won’t be unable to fill them.

SB 186 also requires that the growlers are filled and refilled by a vendor-licensed brewer in a sealed container for off-premise consumption. The growlers are to be labeled with the anticipated percentage of alcohol by volume and the seal must be unbroken.

In an attempt to keep a large brewer to take over the retail market, the bill states that breweries can only sell their beer at eight locations. There are also limits on how much beer may be transferred from one brewery location to another.

A violation of the growler requirements is a first degree misdemeanor, which is punishable by no more than one year in prison and no more than a $1,000 fine.

But there are still opponents to the bill. Anheuser-Busch wants to maintain the Florida beer laws that went into effect shortly after Prohibition.

Brandon Nappy, marketing manager for Swamp Head Brewery in Gainesville, said he’s excited.

“No more having to break the bad news to craft beer tourism,” he said.

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Citrus Greening Continues To Plague Florida Orange Groves

By on May 15th, 2015 | Last updated: May 15, 2015 at 6:03 pm

What scientists have called the worst disease to ever hit orange groves continues to plague Florida citrus growers.

On Tuesday, the Florida Department of Citrus pushed for $5.75 million from the state’s general fund to curb effects of citrus greening on the state economy.

Citrus greening, a bacterial disease that prevents citrus trees from retaining nutrients, hit the orange juice industry hard this year. There has been a decrease of 7.6 million boxes of oranges compared to last season.

The state will generate an estimated 96.4 million boxes of oranges this year, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, much lower than the 102 million boxes put out last years. The forecast is the lowest of any non-hurricane season in 50 years.

The problem began in 2004 when the Asian citrus psyllid, a small insect that feeds from the sap of citrus trees, was brought into the United States through the port of Miami. The insect transmits a bacteria that has had a rippling effect on Florida’s industry, which supplies 80 percent of the U.S. market.

The bacterial disease prevents trees from absorbing nutrients, which causes their small, green fruit to fall before they are ripe and are ready to eat. Last year, University of Florida researchers said they believed every grove in the state may have been infected.

“The updated citrus forecast, which has decreased by 5.6 million boxes since the April announcement, illustrates just how severely citrus greening is devastating Florida’s citrus industry,” said Agricultural Commissioner Adam Putnam in a prepared statement.

The Florida citrus industry has previously received over $125 million of federal and state money to help pay for research on a solution to the problem. Proposed solutions included nutrient supplements, root stock additives, genetic modification, heat therapies and a bacterial killer.

The more time passes, the more orange trees are affected. The more orange trees are affected, the more citrus farmers are put out of work.

Agriculture employs about 75,000 people across Florida, the second biggest industry following tourism.

Putnam’s agency recently requested $18 million for research on disease relief, to grow clean citrus stock and replant trees.

“There is much hope, but not enough data, for several chemical and genetic modification approaches,” said Professor Dean Gabriel, a University of Florida plant bacteriology specialist. “We scientists, as well as growers, would like more certainty.  I am personally much more optimistic than last year.”

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Gainesville Community Reacts To The Loss Of A King

By on May 15th, 2015 | Last updated: May 15, 2015 at 6:01 pm
B.B. King has played at the Cotton Club in Gainesville. Courtesy of Bert Burt Wetherington.

B.B. King’s legend lives on in Gainesville. King has played at the Cotton Club and the Phillips Center. Courtesy of Burt Wetherington.

Blues legend B.B. King died Thursday at the age of 89, but the memory of him will not be lost by members of the community.

Michael Blachly remembers the interaction between King and another legend from the jazz and blues era backstage at a show.

Bo Diddley and B.B. King shared stories, their history and even exchanged guitar licks.

Blachly, director of the Curtis M. Phillips Center for the Performing Arts, has worked with B.B. King numerous times in the past including King’s most recent performance in 2000 at the Phillips Center.

Blachly remembers King managing his concerts in an extremely professional manner.

“He didn’t short-change the audience. He didn’t cut corners,” Blachly said. “He just gave a full and rich show and gave everything he could.”

Vivian Filer, chair of the board of directors of the Cotton Club Museum and Cultural Center, said she had a strong feeling of emptiness when she heard about his death.

“He was such an idol and such a pioneer. The thought of him being gone is pretty heartbreaking.”

King performed at the Cotton Club in the late ‘40s to early ‘50s.  The Cotton Club was part of the chitlin’ circuit, a collection of venues that were considered safe for African Americans to share their music and talent with the community.

King’s type of music set the pace for a lot of musicians following him, according to Filer.

“He brought the real blues that people loved.”

King showed the community how music and the arts are a valuable bridge to one another.

“His music is a link worldwide,” Blachly said. “Music is a common language and he believed very strongly in the gift that music was and what he could give as a result of his playing.”

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Governor Scott Signs 28 Bills Into Law This Week

By on May 15th, 2015 | Last updated: May 15, 2015 at 5:42 pm

Governor Rick Scott signed 27 bills into law on Thursday and added another one Friday by signing a bill that mandates online voter registration in October 2017.

Scott, who is currently in the first year of his second term as governor, addresses issues ranging from beer growlers to revenge porn.

Scott signed the following bills into law this week:

1. Closing the Gap Grant Program (SB 94)

Expands the list of priority health areas under the Closing the Gap grant program to include sickle cell disease.

2. Disabled Parking Permits (SB 132)

Authorizes veterans to use alternative documentation for renewal or replacement of a disabled parking permit.

3. Alcoholic Beverages (SB 186)

Legalizes the sale of 64 ounce growlers in Florida and prohibits EBT cards from being used to purchase alcohol.

4. Public Records/E-mail Addresses/Tax Notices (SB 200

Exemption from public records requirements for e-mail addresses used in official business between tax collectors and taxpayers.

5. Electronic Commerce (SB 222)

Creates a civil cause of action through the Computer Abuse and Data Recovery Act for businesses that are victims of hacking to supplement the existing criminal and limited civil penalties. Effective Oct. 1.

6. Traffic Enforcement Agencies and Traffic Citations (SB 264

Prohibits a county or municipality from establishing traffic citation quotas.

7. Nursing Home Facility Pneumococcal Vaccination Requirements (SB 332)

Creates requirements for the pneumococcal polysaccharide (pneumonia) vaccine as recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

8. No Contact Orders (SB 342)

An increase in the protection of victims by making no contact orders that are part of pre-trial release effective immediately and specifies prohibited acts in the order. Effective Oct. 1.

9. Animal Control (SB 420)

Provides alternatives to auction provisions for stray livestock, including adoptions, and allows cruelty violations to be pursued through code enforcement boards in lieu of the court system.

 10. Regulation of Health Care Facilities and Services (HB 441)

Revision of the requirements relating to home health agencies and other providers. Effective May 14.

11. Florida College System Boards of Trustees (SB 446

Requires all Florida College System board of trustee members to serve staggered, four-year terms. The bill also requires St. Johns River State College to have seven board of trustee members from the area the college serves. Effective May 14.

12. Labor Pools (SB 456)

Authorizes certain employers to use a debit card as compensation.

13. Long-Term Care Insurance (SB 520)

Allows an insurer to offer a non-forfeiture provision in a long term care insurance policy that returns a premium if the insured dies or the policy is completely surrendered or cancelled.

14. Division of Bond Finance (SB 552)

Deletes the requirement that the Division of Bond Finance publishes a hard copy newsletter that is available online.

15. Notaries Public (SB 526

Revises the methods available to notaries for verifying documents including the use of reliable electronic means.

16. Disclosure of Sexually Explicit Images (SB 538)

Provides criminal penalties for publishing sexually explicit images of a person with personal identification information on the internet without the person’s consent with the intent to cause emotional distress. Makes “revenge porn” punishable by law. Effective Oct. 1.

17.City of Panacea (HB 593)

Creates the City of Panacea in Wakulla County if approved by voters in a referendum.

18.Transitional Living Facilities (SB 682)

Revises and streamlines regulations for transitional living facilities.

19. Surveillance by a Drone (SB 766)

Prohibits the use of drones to record an image of private property or conduct surveillance without consent.

 20. Estates (SB 897)

Update on Florida law to comply with federal law concerning the apportionment between eligible heirs for federal estate tax purposes.

21. Controlled Substances (HB 897)

Adds five dangerous synthetic cannabinoids to Florida’s drug crime laws. Effective May 14.

22. Exemption from Legislative Lobbying Requirements (SB 984

Allows the use of public property made available by a governmental entity to a legislator for a public purpose.

23. False Personation (SB 1010)

Impersonating firefighters and fire or arson investigators is punishable by law. Effective Oct. 1.

24. Community Development (SB 1216)

Revision on several growth management laws as well as the geographic boundaries of regional planning councils. Effective May 14.

25. Corporate Income Tax ( HB 7009)

Updates on Florida’s corporate income tax law with the majority of 2014 Congressional law changes. Effective May 14.

26. State Ombudsman Program (SB 7018)

Revisions on the requirements of citizen and state ombudsmen and the state long-term care ombudsman program.

27. Public Records, E-mail Addresses, Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles (SB 7040)

Provides an exemption from public records requirements for certain e-mail addresses collected by the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles.

28. Online Registration ( SB 228)

Requires the Division of Elections of the Department of State to develop an online voter registration system.


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Florida Bee Population Growing Amid Diminishing Numbers Nationwide

By and on May 15th, 2015 | Last updated: May 15, 2015 at 2:48 pm

More than 40 percent of United States honey bee colonies died in the past year, according to a survey conducted by the U.S. Department of Agriculture and the Bee Informed Partnership.

But Florida experts see a problem with the national numbers.

Local beekeeper Chappie McChesney believes survey data drew disproportionately from commercial beekeepers. Florida’s bee population is growing. The state’s warm climate allows for a nearly year-round beekeeping season, said David Westervelt, Florida Department of Agriculture apiary inspection assistant chief.

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Florida Gov. Grudgingly Oks Online Voter Registration

By on May 15th, 2015 | Last updated: May 15, 2015 at 5:38 pm

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Florida will move ahead with online voter registration despite Gov. Rick Scott saying he is worried about putting it in place.

Scott signed a bill Friday that mandates online registration in October 2017. The Republican governor signed the bill even though the state’s top election official criticized it.

Scott in a letter said that he was signing the bill (SB 228) with “hesitation.”

He said he is concerned about whether the state could put the system in place while also replacing the existing statewide voter database. Scott also said he was worried about potential cyber-attacks.

The online voter registration bill was overwhelmingly supported by both Republican and Democratic legislators. Florida’s county election supervisors also backed the bill. They are responsible for voter registration.

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County Commissioners Discuss Misdemeanor Marijuana Issues

By on May 14th, 2015 | Last updated: May 15, 2015 at 1:16 pm

Figures from the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office marijuana case study provoked discussion at Tuesday County Commission meeting.

The case study focuses on data from stand-alone marijuana charges collected by the sheriff’s office from 2013 to 2014. Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell presented  details from the report, which included the increasing cost and time associated with stand-alone misdemeanor marijuana cases.

Darnell reported officers issued more warnings to residents in 2014 than the previous year, based on their discretion. She said police exercised this use of discretion in circumstances where the person in question cooperated with the police and there was not a warrant for their arrest.

In the meeting, Darnell pointed out the law remains the law. While certain circumstances make each incident unique, in order to uphold her oath as an officer, she must enforce the laws and treat all crimes as the same.

“Nobody thinks that marijuana is a safe substance to use, but we know that jail and court also impacts people’s lives in someway more severely,” Vice Chair Robert Hutchinson said. “So, I am just trying to do the best thing for the most number of citizens. It has impacts on peoples’ lives that are real.”

The misdemeanors cost $13,366.68 in 2013 and $20,697.98 in 2014, a $7,331.30 increase. In that same time, the total number of misdemeanor marijuana charges increased from 195 to 253.

Hutchinson advised leaving it up to the police officers to decide what crimes deserve their primary attention.

“It is an ongoing dialogue, and I have a lot of respect for the Sheriff and I think she has a lot of control on this,” Hutchinson said.

Commissioner Lee Pinkoson is concerned with the abstractness of leaving it up to discretion.

“If they stop someone and smell marijuana, how is that different than if they smell alcohol?” Pinkoson said. “I think what I am hearing is that they are supposed to ignore what is happening with marijuana. I am not too sure where we are going with this; it sounds like 90 percent of the time there is no arrest made.”

Commissioners have varying opinions on how the local government should handle marijuana-related cases but realize that change will have to take place on a bigger stage.

“It is not up to the commission as to how laws are enforced,” Pinkoson said. “The solution is ultimately at the state level since they make the laws. If we want to see change, we need to work with Tallahassee to make it happen.”

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Bert’s Fate Still Has To Wait

By on May 14th, 2015 | Last updated: May 14, 2015 at 6:00 pm

The fate of Bert and other heritage trees surrounding the Nuclear Sciences Building remains undecided despite growing frustrations between the university and its architects.

A meeting was held at 9 a.m. by the University of Florida’s Lakes, Vegetation and Landscaping Advisory Committee to discuss the expansion of the Nuclear Sciences Building, which threatens the existence of seven heritage trees.

At the center of the conversation was Bert, a 36-inch-diameter bluff oak tree that is estimated to be between 138 and 150 years old, according to associate professor of Fire Science and Forest Conservation Leda Kobziar.

While there were other plans, the committee reviewed Grimshaw Architects’ proposed plan called Parallel Bars, which hopes to save Bert and four other heritage trees in the area by creating a design that builds around them.

Committee members refused to move forward and voiced frustration with the plan and asked that the plan be redrafted and resubmitted.

“What we saw in the plan is a simple blocked out area that doesn’t give us enough information to make a decision on this particular project,” said Committee Chair Gail Hansen de Chapman.

Steve Orlando, UF’s senior director of Media Relations, said architects are trying to strike balance between academics and conservation by drafting this particular plan.

He said conservation is important to the university and to his staff as well. But he said their No. 1 mission is education.

“The college of engineering wants to be a top-10 college, and they want a top-10 building,” he said.

But Bert has been awaiting sentencing for nearly two years when the UF’s Nuclear Sciences Building first decided to draft plans to build the Nexus building.

The wait will have to continue for at least another month.

The committee does not expect to see these designs until the next LVL meeting on June 11, said Committee Chair Gail Hansen de Chapman.

Hansen de Chapman said the design was very similar to an original plan discussed in a meeting a year ago.

“We really do want them to make a greater effort to save some of the heritage trees,” she said.

Orlando said the architects are taking the committee’s requests into consideration. He said they have scaled back the building by 20,000 square feet to help save some of these trees.

Bert is considered a staple of campus for many committee members, but his redemption could mean the loss of other heritage trees.

Hansen de Chapman said the bluff oak is a rarity and this project has been especially hard for the committee. But she said she wants to see everyone involved come to a good compromise.

“It’s just a project that takes some thought and discussion on everyone’s part to come up with a result that we are happy with,” she said.

View the proposed NEXUS Building Plans

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Proposed Solar Energy Amendment To Compete With Utility Companies

By on May 14th, 2015 | Last updated: May 14, 2015 at 3:54 pm

The Solar Initiative Amendment would allow businesses to generate and sell their own solar power to neighboring businesses.

“This would give customers a third option where someone owns the equipment, and someone just buys the power,” said Barry Jacobson, president of Solar Impact.

Some Florida cities worry the new sales initiative would bring unwanted competition for utility companies, but utility companies might not have a choice in having to change their business model.

Wendell Porter, University of Florida life sciences lecturer, said the price of solar, wind and other energy alternatives are dropping while the price of fossil fuel is going up.

There’s still work to be done to get the solar amendment on the November 2016 ballot. The groups involved have turned in about 12-percent of signatures needed and the ballot language still needs approval from the Florida Supreme Court.

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In the News: Panama City Bans Beach Drinking, Scammer Dupes Keys Residents, Train Hit Curve At 106 mph, VA Spends Money Improperly, Florida Mother And Child Still Missing

By and on May 14th, 2015 | Last updated: May 14, 2015 at 11:35 am
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