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Are our lawmakers accountable? Ethics Bill Sparks Debate - February 10, 2024 Weekly Newsletter


The Florida Statehouse is a very puzzling place.


Ethics Legislation In Tallahassee...What Could Go Wrong?


In a move that's drawing significant concern and disappointment from ethics advocates and citizens alike, the Florida Senate has recently passed a bill that seems to sidestep the very principles of transparency and accountability it ought to uphold. Caroline Klancke, a renowned ethics expert and the head of the Florida Ethics Institute, is leading the charge in denouncing this legislation as a severe blow to the integrity of governmental operations.


At the heart of the controversy is an amendment in the ethics bill (SB7014) that fundamentally alters how complaints to the state ethics commission are lodged. The new requirement demands that such complaints must stem from "personal knowledge or information other than hearsay." This provision effectively disqualifies a range of critical sources, including reports, news articles, or audit findings, from being used as grounds for raising ethical concerns.


Ethics experts have sharply criticized this narrowing of scope, suggesting it's a calculated move to shield unethical conduct from the public eye and potential legal consequences. They also point out the highly impractical nature of the "personal knowledge" criterion, which may dissuade insiders privy to corruption from stepping forward due to fear of retaliation or other risks.


It's not just the content of the bill that's raising eyebrows but the manner of its passing. Despite the bill's controversial provisions, it received unanimous Senate approval—a decision that seems disconnected from the pulse of public opinion and welfare. This legislative push is part of a broader trend that includes contentious measures affecting environmental litigation, an area of particular significance to our community. The Florida Center for Government Accountability (FLCGA) is sounding the alarm, urging the public and the media to maintain a vigilant stance and push back against these troubling legislative developments.


In a perplexing contradiction, the Florida Legislature, once lauded for enacting the Sunshine Law to promote transparency and public involvement, acts like this when accountability comes its way. Despite the Sunshine Law setting a precedent for open governance, the legislature's persistent failure to pass real and effective ethics reform for its members casts a shadow over its commitment to integrity. This hesitancy to self-regulate not only undermines public trust but also raises questions about the sincerity of legislative efforts to ensure a transparent and ethically sound government.


It's clear that the passage of SB7014 isn't just about the technicalities of legal wording. It's a reflection of a concerning shift in how government ethics, transparency, and accountability are perceived and implemented at the legislative level. This bill, with its potential to cloak unethical behavior, stands in stark contrast to our community's values and the principles we, at the IRNA, staunchly advocate for. Now, more than ever, it's crucial for citizens, organizations, and media outlets to unite in reaching out to our legislators and challenge legislative actions that threaten the very fabric of our democratic and ethical standards.


Contact Information:

Sen. Erin Grall

Phone: 850-487-5025

Address: 3209 Virginia Avenue, Suite A149, Fort Pierce, FL 34981


Rep. Robbie Brackett

Phone: 772-778-5005

Address: Suite B2-203, 1801 27th Street, Vero Beach, FL 32960


 

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Together, we are planting seeds of change, nurturing a vision of a vibrant, sustainable Indian River County. Your support is the water that will help these seeds grow and blossom. Your contribution today is more than a donation—it's a commitment to our community's future. Thank you for being the lifeblood of our mission. Join us, as we turn ripples of change into waves of progress.



 

County selects consultant for urban service boundary study


The county has selected Inspire Placemaking Collective Inc. as the consultant for the urban service boundary study. The study will evaluate and analyze the urban service boundary (USB) and determine whether or not any adjustments need to be made. There is still plenty of land inside the USB, so the consultant may determine that an expansion at this time is unneeded.


The USB is a line that demarcates the area within which the county will provide urban services, such as water and sewer. The boundary is typically reviewed and updated every few years to ensure that it is meeting the needs of the community. The study will include an inventory of land within the current USB, an analysis of existing infrastructure capacity, and an identification of areas for expanding the USB and preserving agricultural/conservation/natural lands. The study will also include a comparison of other Florida counties that have recently moved their USBs.


Community involvement is crucial to this process. The words of the people will be taken into account. There will be public workshops and online activities throughout the project. The IRNA encourages our residents to stay informed and participate in the process.


A report on the study will be prepared and delivered to the county by the end of the year. The report will include recommendations for changes to the USB, which will be considered by the county commission.


How can you get involved?

  • Sign up for the project mailing list to receive updates about the study.

  • Attend public workshops

  • Participate in an online activity.

  • Contact the County's Chief of Long Range Planning, Christopher Balter at cbalter@indianriver.gov, with your questions or comments or if you would like to be kept informed of updates on this project.


We trust that the County is committed to working with the community to develop a USB that meets the needs of all residents. By working together, we can create a more sustainable and livable community for everyone.


Here are some additional details about the project:

  • The project is expected to be completed by the end of the year.

  • The total cost of the project is estimated to be $200,000.

  • The project is being funded by a grant from the state of Florida.


For more information about the project, watch this space or contact the County's Chief of Long Range Planning, Christopher Balter at cbalter@indianriver.gov.


Below is the proposed schedule of the project. Click on it, or click here to see a bigger version.



 

5 groups collaborate to connect families to sewer (Indian River Guardian) - Congratulations to the City of Vero Beach, Clean Water Coalition of Indian River County, Indian River Land Trust, Indian River Community Foundation, and the Economic Opportunities Council for their commendable collaboration in converting homes from septic to sewer systems! This initiative is a significant step towards protecting the Indian River Lagoon and demonstrates a strong commitment to environmental stewardship and community well-being. Well done to all involved in making this project a success and for leading the way in sustainable environmental solutions.



Pipe between John's Island and mainland water plant set to begin construction in May (TCPalm) - Vero Beach plans to spend nearly $9 million on a storm water pipe under the Indian River Lagoon to divert 4 million gallons of water per day from the Main Relief Canal to John's Island, reducing nutrient flow into the lagoon and providing irrigation water.



Three Corners: Four development groups submit proposals (Vero News) - Four development groups, including a local one, have submitted proposals for Vero Beach's Three Corners project, aiming to transform the area with their diverse real estate development plans.



Looking to future, county taps planning firm to chart growth (Vero News) - As mentioned above, Indian River County hired Inspire Placemaking Collective for $128,000 to study the potential expansion of its Urban Services Boundary, considering population growth and development trends, to balance development needs with environmental and community quality of life.



Bill regulating taxing districts gains steam (Vero News) - A bill regulating Florida's special taxing districts, initially proposing a voter referendum every decade for their continuation, has been modified to remove this provision after concerns about job security and operational disruptions were raised.



With climate change, is it time to consider a Category 6 hurricane? (Miami Herald) - A study suggests the introduction of a hypothetical "Category 6" hurricane due to rising ocean temperatures fueling stronger storms, despite the National Hurricane Center's reluctance to focus solely on wind speed as a measure of hurricane danger.\


 

Celebrate a Milestone: Pelican Island’s 121st Anniversary with Notable Guests


Prepare for an unforgettable weekend from March 15-17, 2024, for the celebration of the 121st anniversary of the Pelican Island National Wildlife Refuge, a cornerstone in the nation's conservation history. This event, hosted by the Pelican Island Conservation Society (PICS), promises a blend of education, entertainment, and commemoration.


Highlighting the celebration, Joe Wiegand returns as President Theodore Roosevelt, offering an engaging portrayal that brings the refuge's origins to life. The presence of Ted Roosevelt IV adds a contemporary connection to the legacy of conservation, echoing the environmental ethos of his great-grandfather.


The event also welcomes descendants of Paul Kroegel, the refuge's first warden, whose dedication helped shape the future of wildlife protection. Wayne and Shirley Kroegel's attendance bridges the past and present, honoring the commitment of those who fought for wildlife conservation.


The weekend is packed with activities that cater to all interests. Join the "Evening with Theodore Roosevelt" for a historical journey, meet our special guests, and enjoy the environmental, conservation, and historical exhibits. The Centennial Boardwalk invites guests to immerse themselves in the natural beauty of Pelican Island.


For more information on the event schedule and to make reservations for special activities, visit the PICS website at www.FirstRefuge.org/anniversary or call 772-202-0697.

Be a part of this historic event to honor the legacy and future of Pelican Island and wildlife conservation.


 

To beat Florida developers, community activists learn to be persistent (Florida Politics) - Community activists in Orange County, Florida, have demonstrated that persistent opposition to development proposals that threaten rural areas can be successful, even against powerful and well-funded developers.


Whatever happened to LOSOM – and why is Big Sugar STILL trying to game the outcome? (VoteWater) - The Lake Okeechobee System Operating Manual (LOSOM) process by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, designed to update lake management plans, remains in bureaucratic limbo despite some progress and continued management flexibility, with opposition from groups like the South Florida Water Coalition, representing interests including Big Sugar, which seeks changes that could lead to more harmful discharges to coastal communities.


Infectious Disease specialist warns residents after fecal matter found in Riviera Beach water (WPBF) - In Riviera Beach, Florida, E. Coli and fecal matter contamination was discovered in the city's drinking water supply last June, though residents were only informed in January; the mayor admitted the contamination affected two wells and entered the distribution system, prompting health warnings and an investigation into the delayed reporting and lack of immediate public notification.


Pollution taints even the most remote parts of Everglades, canoe journey reveals (Sun Sentinel) - A scientific expedition retracing Hugh Willoughby's 1897 journey through the Everglades found widespread contamination from human pollution, including pesticides, herbicides, microplastics, and PFAS, even in the most remote areas, revealing the deep environmental impact of modern chemicals on this wilderness.


Local governments in Florida would have a harder time regulating plastic under proposal (Health News Florida) - Florida legislation aims to prevent local governments from banning single-use plastics and polystyrene on their properties, impacting existing local ordinances and potentially hindering efforts to reduce pollution from these materials.


Study: 'Legacy' phosphorus delays water quality improvements in Gulf of Mexico (Environmental News Network) - Phosphorus from Midwest agriculture contributes to a "dead zone" in the Gulf of Mexico, with efforts to reduce phosphorus flows potentially delayed by remnants buried in riverbeds, according to University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign research.


Majority of land hermit crab species now use trash for shells (Washington Post) - A study by Polish researchers found that the majority of terrestrial hermit crab species now use trash, predominantly plastic caps, as shells, highlighting global pollution's impact on wildlife and raising questions about potential evolutionary changes.


 

Discover CARTer's Corner: Your Ultimate Guide to Recycling in Indian River County


Did you know that Indian River County has an app for recycling? It does, and with CARTer's Corner, you can instantly find out if an item is recyclable! Say goodbye to the guessing game—just enter the item into the app and get immediate guidance on whether to place it in the blue cart or dispose of it differently.


And it's not just helping residents; it's empowering the Solid Waste Disposal District (SWDD) too. Your searches provide critical insights, allowing SWDD to tailor educational campaigns and address common recycling questions and misconceptions. By reducing "wish cycling"—the well-intended habit of tossing uncertain items into the recycling bin in hopes they're recyclable—CARTer's Corner is ensuring that our recycling efforts are as effective as possible.


Download the app from the Apple App Store and to Google Play Store and improve your recycling game!


 

Chemicals used in plastic food packaging linked to 10% of preterm births in 2018 (Grist) - Phthalates, chemicals used in plastic food containers and cosmetics, may have contributed to 10% of preterm births in the U.S. in 2018, costing society up to $8.1 billion, with research highlighting the environmental and health costs of the plastics industry and the need for stricter regulation.


Security News This Week: China’s Hackers Keep Targeting US Water and Electricity Supplies (Wired) - FBI Director Christopher Wray highlighted the constant targeting of US critical infrastructure by Chinese Communist Party-affiliated hackers, as the FBI removed malware from routers infected by the Chinese hacking group Volt Typhoon, amidst broader concerns about China's extensive cyber espionage and operations targeting vital sectors like water, energy, and transportation.


These Are the Climate Grannies. They’ll Do Whatever It Takes to Protect Their Grandchildren (Inside Climate News) - Climate grannies, older women with decades of activism experience, are playing a significant role in the climate movement, motivated by a concern for their grandchildren's futures and leveraging their experience to push for environmental protections.


EPA tightens rules on some air pollution for the first time in over a decade (NPR) - The EPA has introduced stricter regulations on PM2.5 pollution, lowering the allowable limit for annual exposure from 12 to 9 micrograms per cubic meter, marking the first update since 2012 and aiming to prevent about 4,500 premature deaths a year by 2032 and reduce healthcare costs by about $46 billion.


What is ‘new denial?’ An alarming wave of climate misinformation is spreading on YouTube, watchdog says (CNN) - A report by the Center for Countering Digital Hate highlights a shift in climate denial tactics on YouTube, where deniers now focus on undermining climate science and solutions rather than outright denying climate change, with these "new denial" claims making up 70% of climate denial content on the platform.


Bayer ordered to pay $2.25 billion after jury links herbicide Roundup to cancer (Washington Post) - A jury awarded $2.25 billion in damages to John McKivison, who developed non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma after using Monsanto's Roundup weed killer for 20 years, marking a significant verdict against Monsanto and its parent company, Bayer, which plans to appeal.


There are 1.5 billion tires wasted annually. There's a better way to recycle them (TechXplore) - Researchers have developed a new recycling process that selectively breaks down rubber without damaging the material, potentially allowing for the use of 70% recycled rubber in new products, aiming to reduce the environmental impact of the 1.5 billion tires wasted annually and promote a circular economy for tires.


 

Attend an essential webinar on February 14, 2024, hosted by 1000 Friends of Florida, featuring key insights into the Florida Legislative Session's impact on planning, conservation, transportation, and community design. From noon to 1:30 PM Eastern, join President Paul Owens, Kim Dinkins, and Haley Busch as they explore significant legislative developments. This session is crucial for professionals, activists, and residents eager to understand the legislative process and its implications for Florida's environment and infrastructure. Register to gain valuable insights into Florida's future planning and legislative agenda.



 

Want your voice to be heard? Use this link to easily contact elected officials—from your city council to the President. Your voice can make a real impact. While the IRNA may occasionally prompt you to contact specific officials about urgent issues, we keep this list handy for your convenience. Can't find who you're looking for? Just let us know; we're here to help connect you with the right people.


 




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