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Head of main Florida power company retiring amid controversy



FORT LAUDERDALE, Fla. (AP) — The leader of Florida’s primary electric company, which has been embroiled in controversy over allegations that it backed sham election candidates and spied on a journalist, will be stepping down next month, it was announced Wednesday.

Florida Power & Light’s parent company, NextEra Energy, announced that CEO Eric Silagy will step down Feb. 15 and then retire in May after assisting his successor, Armando Pimentel, through the transition. Pimentel, a top executive at NextEra, is taking over a company that serves about 5 million Florida homes and businesses, or about half the state.

Since Silagy took over FPL in 2011, it has almost eliminated its use of coal-burning power plants, shifting to cleaner-burning natural gas, expanded its use of solar energy and announced plans to adopt “green hydrogen” power. Last year, it pledged to eliminate its carbon emissions by 2045.

“It has been an honor and privilege to lead the FPL team for more than a decade and I couldn’t be more proud of the accomplishments we have delivered to our customers and the state of Florida,” he said in a statement. There is no indication in the statement he was stepping down because of the allegations.

But FPL has been under scrutiny since last year after the Orlando Sentinel and the Florida Times-Union were leaked documents, texts and emails from a political consulting firm the company hired. The newspapers charged that the consulting company, Matrix LLC, went after politicians FPL opposed and secretly took over a Florida political news website and used it to give the company favorable coverage. It also spied on Times-Union columnist Nate Monroe, who had written critically of the company’s bid to buy Jacksonville’s municipal electric company.

In one case, Democratic State Sen. José Javier Rodríguez angered FPL by proposing a bill that would have eaten into its profits.

In a 2019 email chain obtained by the Sentinel, Silagy tells two of his vice president, “I want you to make (Rodriguez’s) life a living hell.” The vice presidents forwarded the email to Matrix. In the 2020 election, Matrix spent heavily supporting the independent candidacy of a Rodriguez opponent with the same last name. He siphoned votes away as Rodriguez lost his reelection bid. The man, who had never shown any political interest, later admitted he was bribed to run.

Other similar mystery candidates popped up elsewhere in the state to run against FPL critics, all getting support from Matrix. While others involved in those campaigns have been charged with election-related crimes, no one from FPL or Matrix has been.

Silagy told the Sentinel he used a “poor choice of words” in his email, but denied that he or the company ever directed Matrix to do anything illegal. Matrix blamed a former CEO and former employees who it said acted without ownership’s knowledge.

In a Securities and Exchange Commission filing Wednesday, NextEra said its investigation into Sentinel and Times-Union’s allegations “is substantially complete” and “based on information in our possession, we believe that FPL would not be found liable for any of the Florida campaign finance law violations.” It also says it believes FPL will be cleared of federal elections code violations.

In Monroe’s file, there were 72 pages of information on him and his family — including a surreptitious photo of him and his wife walking their dog near their home.

A Matrix spy even appeared to follow him to a wedding hundreds of miles away. In a text to an FPL executive, the spy showed glee when Monroe tweeted that he was getting drunk at the reception (Monroe has said he was being “facetious”). The spy later that night used a sad-faced emoji when he reported back to the executive that Monroe took an Uber to his hotel instead of driving. The former Matrix CEO complained to FPL that Monroe’s personal life is “boring.”

“I believe it is fair to detect an undercurrent of hostility in these records,” Monroe wrote in a column.

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South Florida News

Governor Ron DeSantis Signs Senate Bill (SB) 102, the Live Local Act



NAPLES, Fla. Today, Governor Ron DeSantis signed Senate Bill (SB) 102, the Live Local Act, representing the largest investment for housing efforts in state history. The bill invests $711 million in multiple programs to expand the availability of housing, downpayment assistance, and focused support for military communities. The investment under this legislation is nearly double the investment made in 2022-2023, which was already the highest investment in 15 years. To learn more, click here.

“This legislation provides record support for Florida’s workforce and their families to help them live where they work, while also providing historic support for our military communities and the families living near military bases,” said Governor Ron DeSantis. “I applaud Senator Passidomo for leading on this legislation and look forward to the support it will provide to Florida families.”

“Providing safe, quality and affordable housing for families in Florida continues to be the mission of Governor DeSantis, the Florida Legislature, and the Florida Housing Finance Corporation,” said Mike DiNapoli, Executive Director of Florida Housing Finance Corporation. “As the state’s housing finance agency, we appreciate Senate President Passidomo’s continued dedication to this issue and are honored to be entrusted with the resources to serve Floridians with their housing needs.”

“When I moved here to Naples almost 43 years ago, the community was talking about the lack of housing for our workers,” said Senate President Kathleen Passidomo. “It was a problem then and remains a persistent problem in many areas of our state – that changes today! The Governor and Speaker are amazing partners in this effort. Together, we are shutting down affordable housing stereotypes and creating attainable housing options needed by the majority of our workforce, the backbone of Florida’s economy. It is clear that the broad appeal of the free state of Florida has impacted our population and our housing needs. Countless families and business owners have fled high tax, lockdown states in search of a better life. As our state continues to grow, our Live Local Act will make sure Floridians can live close to good jobs, schools, hospitals, and other critical centers of our communities that fit comfortably in their household budgets, no matter the stage of life or income.”

“The affordable housing package signed by Governor DeSantis will enable hardworking Floridians to put down roots in the communities they serve,” said House Speaker Paul Renner. “This is groundbreaking legislation that will provide Florida’s families, seniors, and workers with a safe and affordable place to live. I commend Senate President Kathleen Passidomo for her passion and tireless work to ensure affordable housing is attainable for all Floridians.”

“Today is a new day for workforce housing in the free state of Florida,” said Senator Alexis Calatayud. “The biggest housing concern we hear from young people is that there is no place for them to raise their own families in communities they grew up in, where their extended families have lived for generations. That changes today. Under the leadership of Governor DeSantis, President Passidomo, and Speaker Renner, our Live Local Act is going to help bridge the gap in a meaningful way with market-driven, short-and long-term solutions that improve options for both homeownership and affordable rental units in communities across our state.”

“As our state continues to grow, we must ensure hardworking Floridians can find affordable housing near good jobs, schools, hospitals, and other critical community centers,” said Representative Demi Busatta Cabrera. “I want to thank Governor DeSantis for signing this legislation and I proud to have worked alongside Senator Alexis Calatayud, President Passidomo, and Speaker Renner to address the housing affordability crisis in our state.”

This legislation invests a record $711 million for housing projects and assistance through the Florida Housing and Finance Corporation (FHFC) to create or build upon housing programs. This includes:

  • $259 million for the SAIL program to provide low interest loans to developers building workforce housing.
    • $150 million of these funds are recurring for certain specified uses such as redevelopment of underused property and projects near military installations.
  • $252 million for the SHIP program to provide local governments with incentives to build partnerships with developers who are preserving available housing or producing more housing.
  • $100 million for the Florida Hometown Heroes Housing Program to provide down payment and closing cost assistance to first-time home buyers with a focus on law enforcement, first responders, teachers, active duty military, and military veterans.
  • $100 million for FHFC to implement a loan program to alleviate inflation-related cost increases for FHFC-approved housing projects.

Additionally, this bill builds upon efforts to help Floridians afford to purchase their first home by codifying the Hometown Heroes program and increasing the borrowing limit per loan to $35,000 or 5% of the purchase price of a home. This bill will also broaden FHFC’s ability to invest in affordable housing for those that are currently in the foster care system or who are aging out of the system and expands eligibility for the Job Growth Grant Fund to authorize public infrastructure projects that support expanding housing opportunities.

This legislation also creates a new tax donation program to allow corporate taxpayers to direct certain tax payments to the FHFC, up to $100 million annually, to help fund the SAIL program and increases the amount of tax credits available through the Community Contribution Tax Credit Program from $14.5 million to $25 million annually. Additionally, the bill provides a sales tax refund of up to $5,000 on building materials for housing units funded through FHFC.

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South Florida News

Trump vs. DeSantis: Florida pastors mull conservative issues



DORAL, Florida (AP) — Several of Florida’s conservative faith leaders have the ear of two early frontrunners for the 2024 Republican presidential nomination – former President Donald Trump, who lives in Palm Beach, and Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The clergy’s top political priorities are thus likely to resonate in the national campaign for the religious vote, even as both men’s agendas are still being weighed from the pulpit.

The faith leaders’ key issues include education, especially about gender and sexuality, and immigration, a particularly relevant matter in Florida, which is a destination for hundreds of thousands of newcomers and home to politically powerful Latino diasporas.

Trump made reducing illegal immigration a strong focus of his previous campaigns, often with strident rhetoric, and has discussed building on his legacy in a second term. DeSantis, who isn’t yet a candidate but is widely expected to run, has taken a more careful approach with immigration developments in Florida, while spotlighting issues related to schools and family.

Several pastors, particularly in heavily Latino South Florida, argue for reforming immigration policy. They want a more orderly process at a time of historically high illegal border crossings, but also more help to regularize and integrate undocumented migrants who are contributing economically and socially in United States communities.

The faith leaders’ top priority, however, is defending their congregations, and youth in general, from what they see as efforts to impose — through public education – concepts of marriage, family and identity that run against their values.

Some LGBTQ advocates, teachers unions, and others argue that the issue of “parental rights” is being used to inject conservative politics into public schools.

But for pastors like Frank López of Jesus Worship Center in Doral, a Miami suburb, exposing children to certain types of sexually explicit materials in schools without their parents’ knowledge is a form of political indoctrination that “brings conflict to a family.”

“We don’t want any government ever to go above a father and mother,” said López, whose church has grown to more than 3,000 members from over 40 different nationalities since it was founded two decades ago with barely three dozen worshippers.

He cited as a counterweight a bill DeSantis signed last year to give parents a say in what books are available in school libraries, targeting the presence of sexually explicit volumes.

“I think that the government should not get involved in any religion, but yes I believe that religion should get involved in governing,” said López, whose church has hosted visits by Trump, DeSantis and other conservative politicians.

Tom Ascol, the senior pastor at Grace Baptist Church in Cape Coral who offered a prayer at DeSantis’ inauguration earlier this year, said he wants political leaders fighting “woke mobs” to restore “common-sense sanity” on issues like sexually explicit materials in public spaces with children.

“What Governor DeSantis did here in Florida, I’m grateful for,” Ascol said.

For Rabbi Avrohom Brashevitzky, executive director of Chabad Jewish Center of Doral, the top concern is similarly “the breakdown in morals and ethics,” which he believes leads to societal ills including antisemitism, a growing worry nationwide.

He attributes that breakdown to failures in education to imbue youth with the values of tolerance, kindness and a belief in a higher existence.

“Life doesn’t begin and end with your cheeseburger, you and your pleasures,” Brashevitzky said, praising DeSantis and the Florida legislature for passing a “moment of silence” in schools before the day’s start, where children can pray or reflect.

“We as a society, Christian or not, have a responsibility to protect the young ones,” echoed Abraham Rivera, senior pastor at La Puerta Life Center, a Brethren in Christ church with about 200 members in Miami.

The focus on freedom for conservative faith-based moral values, particularly for youth, is proving a winning argument among religious voters nationwide, experts say.

“I certainly see a lot of energy around what conservatives would call ‘parental rights’ … I don’t see that ending,” said Marie Griffith, the director of religion and politics studies at Washington University in St. Louis.

In Florida, conservative family values might have turned younger Latino voters toward DeSantis, helping to account for his nearly 20 percentage point reelection victory last year — “unheard of” according to Susan MacManus, a professor emerita of political science at the University of South Florida.

The state is almost evenly divided between Democrats and Republicans, she said. Trump won the prized battleground state by single digit percentage points in the last two presidential elections.

“The evangelical vote in Florida is too diverse to be a big force in politics,” she added, but many faithful across denominations like seeing DeSantis take charge of issues like sexually explicit materials available to children. “That resonates.”

The ability to stand up for more conservative values is also inextricably linked to the free exercise of religion for faith leaders like Rivera and his wife, Marilyn, who’s also a pastor and met with Trump when she led South Florida’s Association of Hispanic Ministers, which represents about 800 pastors from different Christian denominations.

“We never come at it from a hate perspective. As a pastor, I happen to believe what the Bible teaches about sexuality and marriage,” he said.

But he and other pastors fear holding on to those beliefs could put their churches at risk of being sued, for example when refusing to celebrate same-sex marriages, or that they might be forced to go against their conscience.

“The effort of some on the ‘progressive side’ to define religious freedom as freedom to worship but not necessarily the freedom to serve or the freedom to advocate” is also a top concern for Thomas Wenski, the Catholic Archbishop of Miami.

Wenski noted that “neither party will necessarily embrace the whole gamut of Catholic social thought,” which includes opposing abortion and capital punishment. Last year, Wenski’s strong advocacy for migrants and refugees put him publicly at odds with DeSantis, who’s Catholic.

Ultimately, faith leaders said that a candidate’s integrity and ability to address their concerns through policies outweighs a candidate’s likeability and other personal traits.

“The Christian church is not about looking for a perfect person or a charismatic person,” López said. “It wants a person who does what he says and a person who’s aligned with God’s values.”

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South Florida News

PortMiami bunkers Seaboard Marine’s first LNG cargo vessel



MIAMI-DADE – This weekend marked the first time in PortMiami’s history that a cargo vessel, the Motor Vessel (M/V) Seaboard Blue, was bunkered at PortMiami using liquified natural gas (LNG) as a fuel. Shell, using its Q4000 bunker barge, filled the Seaboard Blue with LNG prior to its inaugural southbound sailing to Honduras and Guatemala.

The 1,000 twenty-foot equivalent (TEU) M/V Seaboard Blue, previously known as the M/V Elbblue, was retrofitted in 2017 with the capability of running on both LNG and diesel fuel. The vessel was the world’s first container ship converted from conventional diesel propulsion to LNG. This Sunday, for the first time, the Seaboard Blue called PortMiami home and joined the Seaboard Marine’s North Central America service.

“Seaboard Marine’s adoption of greener sources of fuel is exemplary and a significant step towards our goal of keeping Miami-Dade a county on the cutting edge of sustainability,” said Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava. “Together with our shore-to-power project that will soon become a reality, these investments continue to position PortMiami as an industry leader and help to ensure our community becomes future-ready.”

“The Seaboard Blue is a key new component to Seaboard’s fleet transformation,” said Eddie Gonzalez, President, and CEO of Seaboard Marine. “The recent purchase of this LNG-powered ship not only demonstrates Seaboard Marine’s ongoing commitment to sustainability but also to providing reliable service to our customers. As South Florida’s premier ocean carrier, we are grateful for the level of support we have received from Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, PortMiami, Shell, the United States Coast Guard, and the Biscayne Bay Pilots.”

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