Palm Beach Post: “Florida lawmakers call for genetically modified mosquitoes”

TALLAHASSEE — With Congress showing no signs of breaking its long deadlock over funding to fight the Zika virus, Florida lawmakers Wednesday threw in behind a new weapon — Franken-skeeters.
A majority of Florida House members asked federal health officials to approve releasing genetically modified mosquitoes in the state to reduce the risk of more cases of the Zika virus. Florida has already reported more than 700 cases, including 56 that could be linked to local mosquitoes.

Led by Incoming House Speaker Richard Corcoran, R-Land O’ Lakes, and Rep. Janet Cruz, D-Tampa, who becomes her party’s House leader after the November elections, 61 House members sent a letter to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Sylvia Burwell requesting emergency action to fast-track the modified insects with the colorful nickname.

“We must find and utilize new strategies to both curb the spread of the virus and prevent additional outbreaks,” the Florida leaders wrote.

Palm Beach County Reps. MaryLynn Magar, R-Tequesta, Bill Hager, R-Delray Beach, Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana, and Kevin Rader, D-Delray Beach, were among those signing.

+Richard Corcoran photo

The British company Oxitec has developed technology to mutate millions of Aedes aegypti mosquitoes in a lab setting, deploying a synthetic protein that kills their offspring before they can emerge from larvae as adults and transmit the Zika virus.

Last month, Oxitec received a federal go-ahead for a pilot project in the Florida Keys.

If wild female mosquitoes mate with sterile males, the population dies off rapidly. The approach has been used in Brazil and Caribbean islands with some success, but questions remain about whether it would make much difference in Florida.

Mosquito populations would have to be narrowly targeted, and a large metropolitan area like Miami could prove a challenge, officials have said.

“If the federal government follows its normal bureaucratic processes, it might take years for Florida to access this technology. Such a delay presents an unnecessary health risk to the people of our state. Red tape is never an acceptable justification for the loss of human life,” the Florida lawmakers wrote.

The letter was sent as the U.S. Senate — just back from a two-month recess — defaulted to what has been its familiar position of deadlocking over Zika funding.

A $1.1 billion proposal failed Tuesday in a 52-46 vote after Republican leaders included a provision dropping Planned Parenthood from the list of providers getting new funding to combat the spread of the virus, which can be sexually transmitted.

Democrats wouldn’t go along with the move against Planned Parenthood. Florida Republican Sen. Marco Rubio voted for the measure, while the state’s other senator, Democrat Bill Nelson, voted against it.

Rubio, who is running for re-election, has said that he would support the entire $1.9 billion Zika funding package proposed in February by President Obama — but not taken up by the GOP-controlled Congress.

Rubio’s opponent, U.S. Rep. Patrick Murphy, D-Jupiter, has ridiculed him for failing to get those in his own party to drop their stand against Planned Parenthood.

While many Florida members of Congress have clamored for action, Rep. David Jolly, R-Belleair Bluffs, underscored the push Wednesday by bringing a jar with about 100 mosquitoes to the House floor, warning that the University of South Florida needs funding to continue research into the virus.

News Service of Florida: “Voters Give Green Light To Solar Tax Break”

By Jim Turner – News Service of Florida

Primary-election voters Tuesday approved the expansion of a renewable-energy tax break that backers say will help businesses and spark the expanded use of solar energy in Florida.

But while the measure had support from an array of groups, they are divided on an unrelated solar amendment on the November general-election ballot that could lead to a major political fight.

The proposed constitutional amendment approved Tuesday was known as Amendment 4 and was placed on the ballot by the Legislature. It is designed to extend a residential renewable-energy tax break to commercial and industrial properties.

Shortly after the polls closed, the measure was more than 10 percentage points above the required 60 percent threshold needed for approval of constitutional amendments.

The preliminary results indicated that the measure, which backers say will spur growth in solar and renewable energy, was supported in almost every county.

“The strong showing of support for Amendment 4 sends a clear message to elected officials at all levels of government that Florida voters want more diversity in our energy market,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes, a St. Petersburg Republican who sponsored the proposal during the 2016 legislative session.

Though approved by voters, the measure still needs the Legislature to enact the changes.

The measure — sponsored in the House by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, and Rep. Lori Berman, D-Lantana — will exempt for 20 years the assessed value of solar and renewable-energy devices installed on businesses and industrial properties.

“Eliminating high tax barriers will unleash the potential of the ‘Sunshine State’ to become a leader in solar energy production,” Rodrigues said in a prepared statement.

Berman said the election results allow Florida to “enter a new era where renewable energy can be accessible for all, and clean energy jobs can be at the forefront of Florida’s economy.”

Voters approved a similar exemption for residential property owners in 2008, with the measure taking effect in 2014.

The new proposal also has an element to help residential property owners, as it would exempt all renewable-energy equipment from state tangible personal property taxes.

Support for the measure came from a wide range of organizations such as the Florida Retail Federation, the Florida Restaurant & Lodging Association, the Florida Petroleum Marketers and Convenience Store Association, the Florida AFL-CIO, the Nature Conservancy, the Sierra Club of Florida and Surfrider Foundation.

A poll released last week by the Florida Chamber of Commerce showed 70 percent of Floridians supported the proposal, with 14 percent opposed.

Yet on Friday Mason-Dixon Polling & Research released findings that indicated the measure was having serious trouble with Republicans and independent voters.

Some late opposition to the measure came from groups such as the Orlando-based political action committees Stop Playing Favorites and the Advocacy, Action & Accountability Alliance, which claimed the amendment would provide “millions in tax breaks to big corporations” at the expense of money that would otherwise flow into minority communities.

Backers of the measure also had to overcome some confusion that the proposal was linked to a separate utility-backed solar proposal on the November ballot.

With Tuesday’s victory, supporters of Amendment 4 are now expected to divide up on what is known as Amendment 1 in November.

Stephen Smith, executive director of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy, said his group is ready to immediately “pivot” from having supported Amendment 4 to vocally opposing Amendment 1.

“What Amendment 1 does not have is the support of a broad, very diverse, grassroots coalition,” Smith said. “It is exactly what it is, a utility-backed, utility-funded, self-promoting approach to try to keep a monopoly control on their terms.”

The November “Consumers for Smart Solar” initiative would generally maintain the status quo in allowing Floridians with solar equipment on their property to sell energy to power companies.

More than $15 million has already been spent promoting the November amendment.

Florida Politics: “Jeff Brandes, Lori Berman, Ray Rodrigues launching campaign for solar power tax breaks”

The three legislators responsible for a statewide initiative concerning home and industrial solar power system tax breaks announced on Tuesday they’ll be launching a campaign to get the measure passed on the August ballot.

“Because we’ve moved to the August primary, we have a really short window in order to really spin up a campaign,” said St. Petersburg state Sen. Jeff Brandes, who sponsored the bill in the Senate. “We think we’ll be very active right up front, and we’re going to be doing a lot of work in the next few weeks.”

The amendment would essentially be a tax break: It would exempt solar power equipment on homes from being counted toward a house’s value for property tax purposes. It also would exempt from taxation solar energy devices on commercial and industrial properties.

“This constitutional amendment represents bipartisan support from the Legislature for a radical shift in the way we prioritize clean, renewable energy in Florida,” said Boynton Beach Democratic Rep. Lori Berman. “Cutting taxes to promote the expansion of solar and renewable energy production is the right policy for our future, and this amendment will provide high-paying jobs for our of hardworking families.”

Berman and Fort Myers Republican Ray Rodrigues sponsored the measure in the House, where it passed unanimously.

Brandes initially proposed the solar amendment in 2015.

“At the end of the day a couple of things came into play,” he said of its passage. “There were already a couple of solar constitutional amendments being discussed and so I think that the opportunity to have a more robust discussion about a third, the Legislature was ready to have that discussion.”

One of those constitutional amendments backed by the public utilities and a group called Consumers for Smart Solar is slated to appear on the ballot this November. The second one, backed by the group Floridians for Solar Choice, was a more grassroots effort that failed to get the necessary signatures to trigger a Florida Supreme Court review. That proposal does share bipartisan support, as Brandes noted about his constitutional amendment.

“It’s one of those issues where we can get the conservatives and the more progressive to agree that, both, we want more solar and we like to cut taxes, and so here were the Baptists and the Bootleggers to come together and agree on a policy.”

An existing ad valorem abatement for solar and renewable energy devices on residential property already exists in the state constitution. The lawmakers’ proposal opens the door for significant expansion of solar and renewable energy production on a larger scale in Florida. Once implemented by the legislature following approval in August by the voters, the ad valorem tax incentives of the amendment will begin in year 2018 and continue for 20 years.