FWC continues to monitor avian influenza across Florida

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) continues to monitor bird mortalities suspected to be attributed to Highly Pathogenic Avian Influenza throughout Florida.

This strain has been documented in the United States since 2021 and was detected for the first time in Florida in January 2022.

The FWC has documented the virus in 37 counties and a variety of bird species. The most common species affected in Florida include black vultures, lesser scaup and Muscovy ducks.

Owls, bald eagles and other raptors, along with aquatic birds and waterfowl, have also been affected.

There is a low risk of HPAI transmission to humans, which can be minimized by following basic safety protocols. To prevent the spread of HPAI, the public should avoid handling sick or dead wildlife, prevent contact of domestic birds with wild birds and report wild bird mortalities to the FWC. Domestic poultry mortality should be reported to the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services. Additionally, precautions for hunters, the general public and wildlife rehabbers can be found at MyFWC.com/AvianInfluenza.

Please be advised that because HPAI is not treatable and is easily transmitted in wild birds, some wildlife rehabbers may not accept these animals. Information regarding carcass disposal is available through the Florida Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services.

The FWC is working closely with the U.S. Department of Agriculture-Wildlife Services, the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, the University of Florida, the National Wildlife Health Center, the Southeastern Cooperative Wildlife Disease Study, the Florida Department of Health and wildlife rehabilitators to study mortality events involving wild birds.

Additional Resources:

Citrus County Sheriff’s Office seeks elderly man in Homosassa

Wayne Brown, reported missing in Homosassa on Tuesday, Feb. 28, to the Citrus County Sheriff's Office (Feb. 28, 2023)
Wayne Brown, reported missing in Homosassa to the Citrus County Sheriff’s Office (Photo: Citrus County Sheriff’s Office on Feb. 28, 2023)

Please be on the look out for missing elderly male Wayne Brown.

He was last seen at 10 a.m. on Monday in the area of South Suncoast Boulevard and West Green Acres street in Homosassa.

His vehicle was located in the area of Hog Pond Trails in Homosassa.

He is a 74-year-old white male who his 5-feet-11 inches tall, weighs 185 pounds and has salt-and-pepper hair.

If located or if you have any information on his whereabouts please contact the citrus county sheriff’s office at 3 5 2- 2 4 9- 2 7 9 0.

DeSantis signs bill to strip Disney of self-governance privileges

The Center Square — The Walt Disney Company has officially lost its cozy relationship with Florida.

Gov. Ron DeSantis held a news conference Monday in Lake Buena Vista to sign House Bill 9B that will put an end to many of Disney’s governance privileges with the Reedy Creek Improvement District.

Critics charge that Disney will retain much of its tax privileges and that DeSantis has appointed political contributors to the new board.

“The corporate kingdom finally comes to an end, there’s a new sheriff in town and accountability will be the order of the day.” DeSantis said.

“Since the 1960’s they’ve [Disney] enjoyed privileges unlike any other company or individual in the state of Florida.” DeSantis said, adding that Disney essentially had its own government, including exemptions from laws.

DeSantis noted that Disney had also been given huge benefits, had not paid their fair share of taxes and had amassed a municipal debt of over $700 million.

One DeSantis critic in the Legislature says that a better idea than stripping Disney of its privileges with Reedy Creek was to close corporate tax loopholes that she says the company exploits.

State Rep. Anna Eskamani, D-Orlando, said in a statement that Disney retains the same tax breaks as before and that the new board would be filled with DeSantis-appointed “hostile conservative cronies.”

“It’s absolutely wild to see a self-proclaimed capitalist like DeSantis celebrate the government takeover of a private board which is exactly what the governor just did today,” Eskamani said. “Disney still maintains the same tax breaks — but their First Amendment rights have been suppressed, and it sends a message to any private individual or company that if you don’t purport to what the governor wants, then you’ll be punished.”

DeSantis mentioned the objection Disney had in 2022 to the Parental Choice in Education Act, which banned educators from teaching children about gender identity and other issues from kindergarten through third grade.

“Disney came out against something that was really just about protecting young kids, and making sure that students are able to go to school learning to read, write, add and subtract and not having a teacher tell them they can change their gender.” DeSantis said.

DeSantis noted that the protest from Disney about the legislation was only a “mild annoyance” but added that Disney’s actions had shown that there was a movement within the corporation itself to inject sexualized material into children’s programming.

“We want our kids to be kids, we want them to enjoy entertainment, school, without having an agenda imposed upon them.” DeSantis said, adding, “If you’re going that way as a corporation, those are not values we want to promote in the State of Florida.”

DeSantis pointed out that the situation with Disney was indefensible from a policy perspective, noting that it is not fair one theme park gets preferential treatment over another.

“We believe that was not good policy, we believe, being joined at the hip with this one California-based company was not something that was justifiable or sustainable,” DeSantis said, adding, “So, we said we were gonna do something about it.”

Disney will be treated like any other theme park in Florida, according to DeSantis, and that includes Florida laws that the area has been exempt from up until this point.

The $700 million municipal debt incurred during the corporation’s period of self governance will be paid by Disney and not by the taxpayers who live in Orange and Osceola counties.

Disney will also be responsible for paying its share for infrastructure, something that DeSantis said they weren’t paying for years.

“I’m glad that we could stand up against some of the madness,” DeSantis said, adding that he was also happy that the Legislature is working on more permanent protections for every Floridian.

Report: Hotel-generated state and local tax revenue to reach new highs in 2023

Hotels on hiring spree to meet demand as occupancy nears 2019 levels

By American Hotel & Lodging Association | Special Report

WASHINGTON (Feb. 21, 2023)Hotel-generated state and local tax revenue will reach new heights nationally ($46.71 billion) and in states across the nation this year, according to state-by-state projections released today by the American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA) and Oxford Economics.

Average U.S. hotel occupancy is projected to reach 63.8% in 2023 – just shy of 2019’s level of 65.9%. Staffing is expected to remain a challenge for many U.S. hotels in 2023, as the industry continues to grow its workforce back to pre-pandemic levels.

“Hotels are making significant strides toward recovery, supporting millions of good-paying jobs and generating billions in state and local tax revenue in communities across the nation,” said AHLA President & CEO Chip Rogers. “To continue growing, we need to hire more people. Fortunately, there’s never been a better time to be a hotel employee, with wages, benefits, flexibility and upward mobility better than ever before.”

Florida is No. 2 among 10 states projected to have the highest gross increase in hotel-generated state and local tax revenue from 2019 to 2023.

Hotels across the country are on a hiring spree because they’re looking to fill many of the jobs lost during the pandemic. As of Dec. 2022, national average hotel wages were at historic highs of over $23/hour and hotel benefits and flexibility are better than ever. Nearly 100,000 hotel jobs are currently open across the nation, according to Indeed.

To help hotels fill open jobs and raise awareness of the hotel industry’s 200+ career pathways, the AHLA Foundation’s “A Place to Stay” multi-channel advertising campaign is now active in 14 cities, including Atlanta, Baltimore, Chicago, Dallas, Denver, Houston, Los Angeles, Miami, Nashville, New York, Orlando, Phoenix, San Diego, and Tampa. For more info on the campaign, visit thehotelindustry.com.

Additionally, AHLA affiliate “Hospitality is Working” recently launched the Workforce & Immigration Initiative. The effort is aimed at urging Congress to address workforce shortages with bipartisan solutions to incorporate more immigrants into the American economy. You can learn more about the effort here.

On average nationally, every direct hotel job supports an additional 2.6 jobs in the community, according to the projections. Florida is No. 3 among the 10 states expected to have the highest direct and hotel-supported employment levels in 2023.

Florida, meanwhile is No. 4 among the 10 statesprojected to have the highest hotel occupancy in 2023

More information:

  • Click here for state-by-state hotel tax revenue projections
  • Click here for state-by-state hotel employment projections
  • Click here for state-by-state hotel occupancy projections

ABOUT AHLA (The American Hotel & Lodging Association (AHLA))

The AHLA is the largest hotel association in America, representing more than 30,000 members from all segments of the industry nationwide – including iconic global brands, 80% of all franchised hotels and the 16 largest hotel companies in the U.S. Headquartered in Washington, D.C., AHLA focuses on strategic advocacy, communications support, and workforce development programs to move the industry forward. Learn more at www.ahla.com.

Governor appoints 3 to water management board

Governor Ron DeSantis appointed James Holton, Dustin Rowland and Robert Stern to the Southwest Florida Water Management District’s Governing Board.

Holton, of St. Petersburg, is the president and owner of JWH Properties, Inc., MHH Enterprises, Inc. and James W. Holton, P.A. He earned his bachelor’s degree from Stanford University and his master’s degree and juris doctor from Boston University. Holton represents Pinellas County.

Rowland, of Dade City, is the president and owner of Rowland Truck Lines. He graduated from Zephyrhills High School in 1994. Rowland represents Pasco County.

Stern, of Tampa, is a partner and attorney for Trenam Law. Stern earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration and his juris doctor from the University of Florida. Stern represents Hillsborough County.

The appointments are subject to confirmation by the Florida Senate.

Governing Board members are unpaid, citizen volunteers who are appointed by the Governor and confirmed by the Florida Senate. The Governing Board sets policy for the District, whose mission is to manage the water and related resources of west central Florida to meet the needs of current and future water users while protecting the environment.

Key Training Center: Choice, Independence

As the Consumer Price Index (CPI) has increased by 20% over the last five years, an increase for non-wage operational costs for iBudget providers has not been addressed in even longer.

For the 2023 Legislative Session, we are seeking $44.6 million in General Revenue ($67.7 million in Federal Match) equating to $112,286,417 critical dollars to address this funding gap.

Thank you! On behalf of the people with intellectual and developmental disabilities we serve, we are grateful to Governor DeSantis and the Florida Legislature for taking the time to listen and understand our direct care worker crisis in the 2022 Legislative session, a vital first step in ensuring that we continue to provide programs that promote CHOICE AND INDEPENDENCE.

  • We still need your help as we are experiencing unprecedented increases in gasoline, health insurance, business insurance, and other non-wage operational costs which threatens our service delivery. While this initial step was instrumental in ensuring program delivery, unfortunately it did not address non-direct care worker support staff and veteran direct care workers already making $15 per hour.
  • Operational costs need to be addressed when funds are added to the Home and Community-based Waiver Program. The iBudget gives individuals with intellectual and developmental disabilities the CONTROL AND FLEXIBILITY TO CHOOSE SERVICES that are important to them, providing resources for them to live as independently as possible in their own home or in the community and achieve productive lives.
  • Direct Support Professionals (DSPs) provide essential, hands-on care accounting for approximately 70% of the total cost of providing services.
  • Providers using the iBudget waiver have been covering operational cost deficiencies at a loss.
  • A joint survey conducted by Florida ARF and The Arc of Florida showed that 85% of providers said the new rates do not cover their costs. If not addressed, the providers committed to providing services that supports client choice may have to reduce their services, impacting our neighbors, friends and family member with intellectual and developmental disabilities. Let’s Continue.