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Latest News: $200M pledged for train between Miami and Aventura

Published September 28, 2023 at 6:00 AM EDT

It's Friday, Sept. 29, 2023.

🌡️ Check here for today's weather forecast.

On the WLRN website today:

⬇️ Scroll down for the latest news in South Florida:

Law & justice

Suspended Miami commissioner ousted from local Republican committee

Posted September 29, 2023 at 8:18 PM EDT
Miami Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla, pictured here in 2019.
Charles Trainor Jr.
Miami Herald
Miami Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla, pictured here in 2019.

Suspended Miami Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla has been ousted from yet another political leadership position.

He was removed as a committeeman for the Miami-Dade Republican Party this week, according to the Miami Herald.

Miami-Dade GOP leaders stressed the removal was not related to Diaz de la Portilla’s high-profile arrest. He was removed from his post because he missed too many party meetings.

READ MORE: DeSantis suspends Miami commissioner following arrest on corruption charges

South Florida

Miami-Dade is set to end decades-long pit bull ban

Posted September 29, 2023 at 8:11 PM EDT
Close up of a pitbull behind a cage
Wilfredo Lee
A shelter dog looks out from a crate after having been unloaded from a cargo plane, Tuesday, April 20, 2021, in Fort Lauderdale, Fla.

Miami-Dade County’s decades-long ban on pit bulls will be invalidated starting on Sunday.

A new Florida law bars local governments from enacting breed bans.

Miami-Dade introduced the ban in 1989 after a pit bull attacked and seriously injured a young girl. County voters affirmed the ban in 2012 when it was on the ballot.

Although the state law nullifies the county ban, public housing officials could still enforce policies regarding dangerous dogs. However, it can’t be specific to breed, size or weight.

READ MORE: Miami-Dade's ban on pit bulls is set to end - and could help Broward shelters


Palm Beach County students retake AP Psych exam after results were lost

Posted September 29, 2023 at 2:02 PM EDT
Two students sit in a classroom
Charles Dharapak
FILE - In this Feb. 7, 2014 file photo, students Julian Lopez, second left, Ben Montalbano, second right and James Agostino, right, listen during their Advanced Placement (AP) Physics class at Woodrow Wilson High School in Washington.

Imagine you're a high school student and you've taken Advanced Placement courses for college credit. You take your AP exams, cross your fingers and then poof! Those tests disappear.

It happened to over two dozen Palm Beach County students whose AP exams were lost in May, and they've been given only three weeks to study for a retake.

The Palm Beach Post reports that out of those 27 students from Royal Palm Beach High School, only six have decided to take their exams again and salvage their college credit.

The school district said package-tracking information shows that the box of tests did reach the College Board, which grades the exams. The College Board had no comment.

READ MORE: South Florida schools are now offering AP psychology

Transportation & Development

$200M committed to a rail line between downtown Miami and Aventura

Posted September 29, 2023 at 1:00 PM EDT

Development of a commuter rail between downtown Miami and Aventura is being given high priority.

Miami-Dade's Transportation Planning Agency voted yesterday to commit nearly $200 million to the rail line.

The project would run on existing tracks owned by Brightline.

Chairman Steve Bovo said he hopes Thursday's vote will set things in motion after more than two decades of planning.

"The longer this stuff takes, the more that number's gonna keeps inching up, inching up, inching up and then it becomes problematic," Bovo said. "This area, obviously, has a lot of density, with a lots of apartments and whatnot. And there's clearly an opportunity from a ridership standpoint to get some federal funds."

The estimated cost of the project has increased significantly in recent years. Two years ago, it was almost $400 million. Today it's nearly $600 million. 

The train is part of a regional project that aims to ultimately connect Broward and Palm Beach counties along the coast.

 READ MORE:First private US passenger rail line in 100 years is about to link Miami and Orlando at high speed


Jackson Health's beleaguered heart transplant center gets a new chief

Posted September 29, 2023 at 11:11 AM EDT
Sign of Jackson Memorial Health System
Sam Navarro
The Miami Herald
The Miami Transplant Institute’s heart transplant program at Jackson Memorial Hospital – which has been shut down since March, but was given the O.K. to reopen in late July – has a new chief.

A beleaguered heart transplant center in Miami is getting a new chief.

Jackson Health System has named thoracic surgeon Doctor Hari Mallidi as new head of the heart transplant program.

The move is widely considered the first step in restructuring Jackson Health’s cardiac care.

The transplant program was shuttered in March. The drastic move was prompted after the national organ transplant network, UNOS, investigated at least one complaint about patient deaths. The program was given the greenlight to reopen in late July.

Mallidi currently heads cardiac surgery at a Harvard Medical School teaching hospital.

He will begin at Jackson in mid November.

READ MORE: How Medicare's drug price negotiations could impact Floridians

Government & Politics

Florida Supreme Court requests justification for FPL rates

Posted September 29, 2023 at 10:39 AM EDT

The Florida Supreme Court is telling state regulators they did not adequately justify approval of a settlement that increased base electric rates for Florida Power & Light customers.

The justices want a new explanation from Florida's Public Service Commission.

Justices, in a 4-2 opinion, sent a battle about the settlement back to the Florida Public Service Commission, saying regulators in a 2021 decision did not meet a legal requirement of showing why the agreement “is in the public interest and results in rates that are fair, just and reasonable.”

READ MORE: Florida ranked 8th for highest electric bills across the U.S. in 2022, according to a study

Government & Politics

Likely government shutdown could hurt disaster recovery efforts in Florida

Posted September 29, 2023 at 7:00 AM EDT
The Capitol is seen late Tuesday night, Sept. 26, 2023, in Washington, as lawmakers work to advance appropriations bills on the House floor. The Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate are starkly divided over very different paths to preventing a federal shutdown. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
J. Scott Applewhite/AP
The Capitol is seen late Tuesday night, Sept. 26, 2023, in Washington, as lawmakers work to advance appropriations bills on the House floor. The Republican-controlled House and the Democrat-controlled Senate are starkly divided over very different paths to preventing a federal shutdown. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Disaster-recovery projects in Florida and other states could be affected by the looming federal-government shutdown, the White House said Thursday.

The White House warned that Florida could see 272 projects affected as the Federal Emergency Management Agency is forced to prioritize immediate life-saving and life-sustaining operations.

The list didn’t detail all of the specific projects.

"In Florida, hundreds of millions of dollars of Hurricane Ian recovery obligations would continue to be delayed," the White House said.

Last week, Florida Emergency Management Director Kevin Guthrie said the state has about $500 million “in the queue” awaiting matching money from FEMA.

“When we don't have those funds coming back in from the federal government, that hampers our recovery,” Guthrie said.

Thursday marked the one-year anniversary of Hurricane Ian making landfall in Southwest Florida before causing damage across the state.

Saturday will be the one-month anniversary of Hurricane Idalia making landfall in Taylor County and crossing parts of North Florida.

A shutdown could begin Sunday, the start of the federal government's fiscal year, because the House and Senate have been unable to agree on a spending package.

Government & Politics

Report: Pembroke Park lacks controls over official credit card expenses by commissioners

Updated September 29, 2023 at 6:30 AM EDT
Posted September 29, 2023 at 6:30 AM EDT

Broward’s Inspector General says it found no proof that a Pembroke Park commissioner misspent a town−issued credit card because the town has "no standard" rules on their use.

Instead, Inspector General Carol Breece scolded the town’s failure to have adequate rules governing the use of “p−cards” or “purchasing cards.” 

“Because the town had no standard to which we could hold the commissioner accountable, the allegation of misconduct was unsubstantiated,” wrote Breece in her 138−page report.

"[T]he Town has placed itself at great risk of fraud and waste resulting from uncontrolled p-card usage," she wrote.

"We observed several concerning transactions on the commissioner’s p-card and discussed a sample of them with him, but we could not test their propriety given his explanations as compared to the town’s lack of adequate law, policy, and procedures regulating p-cards and travel expenditures," Breece wrote.

Breece indicated that her office will review the town’s credit card policies in 60 days. 

The Inspector General said it got tipped that a commissioner — who was not named in the report — spent more than $35,000 over nearly three years on food, gas, electronics, tools, airline tickets and other items. 

The Sun−Sentinel, citing the report, found the commissioner spent $81 on Amazon for a Bluetooth loudspeaker, $100 at a Hollywood restaurant to test the menu to be used for an upcoming town Christmas party and $1,900 for a United Airlines ticket to Las Vegas to attend a national mayors conference.

The Sun−Sentinel reportedthat Broward officials confirmed that Commissioner Geoffrey Jacobs, a former town mayor, was the focus of the investigation.

Jacobs told the Sun−Sentinel alleged that his political enemies contacted the Broward Inspector General. He also said he had raised questions about spending accounts of other town commissioners, but town officials took no action. 

“Everything on my receipts is stuff for the town,” he told the Sun−Sentinel.

Transportation & Development

Skytrain at Miami International Airport shuts down indefinitely

Posted September 29, 2023 at 6:00 AM EDT
People at the airport walk through airport
Jose A. Iglesias
The Miami Herald
People with their luggage walk past a closed entrance to the Skytrain on Concourse D at Miami International Airport, Wednesday, Sept. 27, 2023.

The automated mover Skytrain at Miami International Airport has been shut down indefinitely for maintenance.

The Miami Herald reports that engineers under contract with Miami-Dade County found earlier this month that some concrete structures under the elevated tracks of the train were rapidly deteriorating.

As a result, many passengers now have to walk the route they used to take by train. But for those who may be mobility-limited, commuters may also request the airport's courtesy shuttle throughout the day.

An MIA spokesperson said the service halt is expected to last through at least mid-October.

READ MORE: Could the Key West International Airport be renamed in Jimmy Buffett's honor?

Law & Justice

Miami Mayor's attendance at high-profile events under investigation

Posted September 28, 2023 at 6:07 PM EDT
A man speaks at a news conference.
Wilfredo Lee
Miami Mayor Francis Suarez speaks during a news conference June 12, 2023, in Miami. Suarez is running for president in 2024 and filed paperwork Wednesday, June 14, with the Federal Election Commission to make his bid official.

The Florida Commission on Ethics has officially opened an investigation into Miami Mayor Francis Suarez.

According to the Miami Herald, this comes after a complaint was filed against Suarez, which scrutinized his attendance at exclusive, high-priced sporting events, like the Miami Formula, one race in May and the FIFA World Cup in Qatar last year.

The complaint was filed by a Miami Democratic activist.

Investigators will look into whether Suarez complied with Florida’s ethics laws, which require that politicians disclose receiving gifts.

According to the complaint, Suarez did not file a gift disclosure for his Formula 1 VIP access passes last year. He also failed to report his travel to Qatar for the World Cup.

READ MORE: The City of Miami’s legal woes continue to mount


Health advisory lifted for Dubois Park in Jupiter

Posted September 28, 2023 at 5:10 PM EDT

A health advisory for Dubois Park in Jupiter has been lifted after high bacterial levels were detected there this week.

The Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County sampled the water at Dubois for enterococci bacteria.

Higher levels usually indicate the presence of waste and fecal matter. As of today, results show the levels to be in “good” range.

The cause of elevated levels of the bacteria could be due to heavy rains and high surf from high winds, among other factors.

READ MORE: A rare but dangerous flesh-eating bacteria is infecting Florida residents


Coastal flood advisory in effect for parts of South Florida

Posted September 28, 2023 at 5:00 PM EDT

Parts of coastal Miami-Dade Broward, and Palm Beach counties are under a Coastal Flood Advisory until 8 a.m. tomorrow [9/29].

A combination of King Tide conditions and easterly onshore winds could produce possible flooding along the Atlantic coast, especially in low-lying areas.

King Tide season ends in late November.

READ MORE: 1 year after Hurricane Ian, Central Florida homeowners are still rebuilding out of pocket

Transportation & Development

Miami Beach gives ownership of Nikki Beach Club to hospitality group

Posted September 28, 2023 at 4:23 PM EDT
Sign of Nikki Beach
Pierre Giraud
Courtesy of Nikki Beach
Nikki Beach has a lease with the city of Miami Beach that expires in 2026.

After months of debate over the fate of the Nikki Beach Day Club, it’s official. 

Miami Beach Commissioners have voted to grant the long-standing Ocean Drive property to Boucher Brothers. 

City commissioners decided in a narrow vote yesterday to give ownership up to the hospitality management group, according to the Miami Herald. Boucher Brothers will take over the site for 10 years after the current operator’s lease ends in 2026.

Boucher's proposal said it will put $26-million into renovating the site. That includes the addition of a pool and childcare and wellness centers.

READ MORE: Surfside officials give conditional OK to preserving Champlain memorial space

Government & Politics

Miguel Gabela can stay on November ballot for Miami city commission

Posted September 28, 2023 at 12:14 PM EDT
Prospective Miami Commission candidate Miguel Gabela, pictured here at a Sept. 23, 2023 commission meeting.
City of Miami
Prospective Miami Commission candidate Miguel Gabela, pictured here at a Sept. 23, 2023 commission meeting.

City of Miami commission candidate Miguel Gabela scored a court victory in his battle to stay on the 2023 ballot.

A Miami-Dade Circuit judge ruled yesterday that Gabela meets the one-year residency requirement to run for office. Gabela is running to represent Miami’s district 1, which includes Allapattah and the Health District. 
The city had sued the candidate, arguing that he did not live in District 1 continuously for a full year, and therefore warranted changes in the city’s voting map.

Gabela will now face off against former City Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla and a handful of other candidates. Gov. Ron DeSantis suspended Diaz de la Portilla this month after he was arrested and charged with alleged money laundering and official misconduct. Early voting in Miami begins Oct. 28.

READ MORE: Miami faces another lawsuit over redistricting — depending on Supreme Court decision

Government & Politics

Tenant rights bill aims to limit rent increases, require AC units

Posted September 28, 2023 at 10:12 AM EDT

Legislation filed at the state capitol would limit rent increases, revise lease termination requirements and require air conditioning in all Florida rental units.

Under a bill filed earlier this month for the 2024 legislative session, rent increases would be limited to once per year, with a 30% cap for most tenants.

Additionally, if a partial rent payment is made, landlords would have to give tenants additional time to come up with full payment before a lease can be terminated.

Democrat Tae Edmonds, who represents Palm Beach County's House District 88, sponsored the bill. He said many low-income Floridians are being taken advantage of, with rental prices on the rise across the state.

“We are not stopping landlords from being capitalists and making their money. We just want to stop the predatory actors from taking advantage of those who can’t hire an attorney to fight for them or aren’t aware of the law,” Edmonds said.

The 2024 legislative session will begin Jan. 9.

READ MORE: Miami is spending $4.1m on six homes, to be sold at a loss. Is this good affordable housing policy?

Government & Politics

VP Kamala Harris to visit FIU and attend fundraisers

Posted September 28, 2023 at 6:45 AM EDT

Vice President Kamala Harris is scheduled to visit Miami on Thursday afternoon to talk to students at Florida International University — and to do some campaign fundraising.

The FIU event is part of the vice president's "Fight for Our Freedoms College Tour." It will be co-moderated by rapper Fat Joe and actor Anthony Ramos.

Her visit to FIU's main campus in west Miami-Dade was among several stops she's making of colleges, including historically Black and Hispanic-serving schools.

More than six in 10 FIU students are Latino, according to the FIU website, and is among the largest universities serving Hispanics

State schools, community colleges and apprenticeship programs are also part of the tour, which began Sept. 14.

POLITICO Florida reported that Harris is also in town to raise money for the Biden Victory Fund joint fundraising committee at two events in Miami Shores. A "Champion" level ticket for a dessert reception costs $10,000. Among the hosts: Former Ambassador to Singapore Kirk Wagar and his wife Crystal Wagar.


South Florida readies for King Tides, expected this week and next

Posted September 28, 2023 at 6:40 AM EDT
A parked car is partially submerged in a king tide flood in November in Miami. The city now routinely employs portable pumps to handle the higher tides, but some areas remain problematic.
Emily Michot
Miami Herald
A parked car is partially submerged in a king tide flood in November in Miami.

King tide season is here and South Florida coastal communities are bracing for the higher-than-normal tidal conditions.

Eyes are on coastal and low-lying areas in Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach counties. With each county forecast to experience king tides at various points this week and next.

In Palm Beach County, king tide period spans this week through Oct. 3. Monroe County is set to experience King Tide effects through Oct. 7.

The City of Miami Beach Parking Flood Relief Program offers free temporary parking during king tides.

Municipal officials across areas experiencing flooding advise residents to avoid contact with standing water as they can contain pollutants and debris. Officials also stress to not drive through flooded areas.

READ MORE: Demand for pumps jumps with rising seas and flood risks. Florida’s bill will be massive


Animal services boss steps down after suspension, denies improper conduct

Posted September 28, 2023 at 6:02 AM EDT

Miami-Dade's director of Animal Services is officially stepping down.

The Miami Herald reports that Bronwyn Stanford turned in her letter of resignation on Tuesday. It comes nine weeks after County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava suspended her with pay.

During her tenure, Stanford faced slander allegations from a top benefactor and was accused of violating county policy by receiving free X-rays for her cat at the shelter.

In her resignation, Stanford denies any improper conduct.

Stanford was hired to handle the county's overpopulated shelter during a surge in stray dogs and dog surrenders.

Government & Politics

Florida's top Hispanic group: Cubans, according to Census Bureau

Posted September 28, 2023 at 6:00 AM EDT

The largest Latino group in Florida: Cubans, according to newly released detailed 2020 Census data.

The latest report by U.S. Census Bureau shows there were 1.5 million Cubans, followed by 1.2 million Puerto Ricans. The third-largest group was Colombians, with 403,567.

Statewide, 25% of Hispanics are Cuban, the data shows.

The Census Bureau data also shows that Miami-Dade County is home to the largest Latino groups in the country.

Nearly 50% of the Hispanic population in Miami-Dade County, identified as Cuban.

Miami-Dade also had the largest populations of the following Latino groups: Nicaraguan, Argentinean, Chilean, Colombian, Peruvian, Uruguayan, and Venezuelan.


Miami Beach commission to decide who takes over Nikki Beach site

Posted September 27, 2023 at 5:24 PM EDT

Miami Beach commissioners are voting on the fate of Nikki Beach day club today.

That’s when they’ll decide which vendor will take over the long-standing Ocean Drive institution ahead of the current operator’s lease ending in 2026.

According to Axios Miami, longtime South Florida staples the Penrod family has overseen the property since 1985.

City officials say the hospitality group Boucher Brothers is poised to win the commission’s deciding vote.

The company has said it is putting forth a $26 million renovation plan and plans to rename the famed establishment Pier Park.

The proposed site would include partnerships with high-end restaurants and the construction of child care and wellness centers.


Family of woman in BSO helicopter crash files wrongful death claim

Posted September 27, 2023 at 5:17 PM EDT

The family of a woman who was killed in a helicopter crash last month is asking the Broward Sheriff's Office for compensation.

Lurean Wheaton was one of two people who died when a BSO fire rescue helicopter crashed into her Pompano Beach apartment.

The Miami Herald reports that Wheaton's family filed a wrongful death claim asking for $50 million.

It points to a report that concluded that BSO’s poor maintenance posed serious safety concerns.

READ MORE: BSO helicopter crash casts spotlight on aging aviation unit

Transportation & Development

Wasserman Schultz addresses housing affordability in Dania Beach

Posted September 27, 2023 at 11:45 AM EDT
Woman speaks during a meeting
Andrew Harnik
Pool AP
FILE Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., speaks during a House Committee on Oversight and Reform hearing on gun violence on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, June 8, 2022.

There are multiple reasons for South Florida's affordable housing crisis — including rising rents and skyrocketing insurance rates. 

Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz met with affordable housing stakeholders on Tuesday in Dania Beach to discuss possible solutions. 

"There's absolutely a need for us at the federal level to recognize that affordable housing and the lack of it across our country, particularly here, is a main driver of the challenges that people are facing to be able to have an affordable quality of life," said.

Dania Beach is one of the few cities in Broward County developing affordable housing.

Broward County Commissioners voted earlier this month to allocate more than $23 million dollars to projects in an effort to create more affordable housing.

READ MORE: No money in Broward budget for tenant right to counsel program, despite activists pleas


Boat crash sends three to hospital

Posted September 27, 2023 at 9:58 AM EDT

A boat crash in Biscayne Bay left three people hospitalized Tuesday afternoon.

The Miami Herald reports rescue crews responded to the incident about 2.5 miles northeast of Black Point Marina. The victims were airlifted to Jackson South Medical Center.

Authorities are still investigating what caused the crash.

Government & Politics

Surfside to review development plans for site of collapsed condo building

Posted September 27, 2023 at 7:00 AM EDT
DAMAC International is developing a luxury residential building at 8777 Collins Ave., where the Champlain Towers South collapse killed 98 people in 2021.
Verónica Zaragovia / WLRN
DAMAC International is developing a luxury residential building at 8777 Collins Ave., where the Champlain Towers South collapse killed 98 people in 2021.

Surfside commissioners will take up plans Wednesday for a luxury condominium to be built where the Champlain Towers South condo building collapsed in 2021, killing 98 people.

Some worry the design would take away from a planned memorial space to remember those lost in one of worst building failures in U.S. history.

At issue are plans to include garbage collection and a loading dock on the same street as the proposed memorial site.

After pushback from critics, the Dubai-based developer — DAMAC International — made some changes by moving garbage pickup to the basement. But the loading dock, where people would move in and out of the building, remains on 88th Street, which reduces square footage for the memorial.

Opponents are expected to rally in front of Town Hall against the proposal and other potential delays to the memorial ahead of the commissioners' meeting.

READ MORE: Families fume over plans taking space from Surfside condo collapse memorial


Fecal matter found in Palm Beach County park's water

Posted September 27, 2023 at 6:00 AM EDT

The Florida Department of Health in Palm Beach County is warning residents about water quality at Dubois Park.

In a health advisory, Palm Beach Health officials said Tuesday that a recent sampling from the area showed high Enterococci bacterial levels. That’s usually an indicator for the presence of fecal matter in the water.

Human exposure to the water could mean an increased risk of infectious disease. Especially for those who may already be immunocompromised. Health officials are cautioning against recreational water usage in the affected area.

Earlier this month, Palm Beach health officials hadlifted a similar warning about the water.

Law & Justice

Fort Lauderdale Police Department finds new temporary home

Posted September 26, 2023 at 2:00 PM EDT

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department has found a new home while its headquarters undergoes renovations.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reports that the department has started moving into the first two floors of the Kaplan University building in northern Fort Lauderdale.

The first year of rent will cost taxpayers approximately $1.5 million — plus almost $130,000 in property taxes — if the the building loses its tax exempt status.

Disruptive construction on the building's aging infrastructure forced hundreds of employees to look for a temporary space in July.

The $140 million headquarters is expected to open in 2025.


New dispute in Miami-Dade toll roads fight - over pay packages for execs

Posted September 26, 2023 at 12:51 PM EDT

A new dispute has arisen in the fight that shifted control of Miami-Dade's toll roads over to the state.

According to the Miami Herald, the Greater Miami Expressway Agency — GMX — is raising concerns over the severance packages of some ousted executives.

GMX is the state-backed board that took control over five busy commuting routes. The agency replaced the Miami-Dade Expressway Authority or MDX which had overseen county toll roads since the 1990s.

Last month, two top MDX executives had been suspended with pay.

But last week the state-backed board issued a statement saying the severance packages of the suspended executives was alarming.

The note said their severance packages were worth a year's salary. But Florida law only allows government agencies to pay up to 20 weeks of compensation.

READ MORE: Florida regained control of Miami-Dade County toll roads. What now?


Parkland shooting's mention in a new history book surprises families

Posted September 26, 2023 at 10:59 AM EDT
FILE - People attend a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018. A reenactment of the 2018 massacre that left 17 dead, 17 wounded and hundreds emotionally traumatized, is scheduled to be conducted Friday, Aug. 4, 2023, as part of lawsuits filed by the victims' families and the injured.
Gerald Herbert
FILE - People attend a candlelight vigil for the victims of the Wednesday shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, in Parkland, Fla., Thursday, Feb. 15, 2018.

For some Parkland survivors and family members of victims, it came as a surprise that the tragedy that they still live with every day … could now be in the history books.

According to the South Florida Sun Sentinel, content about the Parkland shooting — and the activism that followed — is now featured in a high school U.S. history textbook published by National Geographic Learning. 

The lesson is optional — and it focuses on documentaries, detailing how student activists launched a national movement for gun control, and includes an interview with one of the survivors.

Educators in Broward County, where the shooting took place, are being urged to be sensitive if they decide to use the lesson.

READ MORE: Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School building of 2018 Parkland shooting to be demolished


Contractor to provide report on Brickell construction site collapse

Posted September 26, 2023 at 10:04 AM EDT

Just days after a structural collapse at a construction site in Brickell – City of Miami officials scrambled to meet with the site’s demolition contractor and property owner in an emergency meeting.

The incident occurred at the Brickell City Center, near SE 7th Street and Brickell Avenue, where large swaths of a building slated for demolition came crashing down — narrowly missing people and vehicle traffic below.

While no injuries were reported, city officials said in a statement that the contractor involved will be required to provide a detailed report on what happened — and advise on any overlooked safety measures policies, procedures, site conditions and activities that may have contributed to the incident. 

Unsecured debris have been removed from the area. Demolition will remain on hold until the contractor’s review process is completed.

Business & Economy

Florida minimum wage to rise $12 an hour

Posted September 26, 2023 at 8:30 AM EDT

Florida’s minimum wage will increase to $12 an hour for non-tipped employees – and just under $9 dollars for tipped employees. That’s effective beginning September 30th.  

It's now at $11 per hour for non-tipped employees and just under $8 for those who earn tips.

The raise is the third installment in Florida’s minimum wage increase after voters overwhelmingly approved the annual bumps in 2020. 

The minimum wage went to $10 an hour for workers across the state in 2021 and then $11 in 2022. That rate will increase $1 each year through 2026 – peaking at $15 an hour.

After that, the rate will be adjusted annually for inflation and cost-of-living increases.

Arts & Culture

PETA criticizes Miami Seaquarium for moving Li’I to Seaworld in Texas

Posted September 26, 2023 at 6:15 AM EDT
Li’i, a Pacific white-sided dolphin, performs a trick during a training session inside his tank at the Miami Seaquarium on Saturday, July 8, 2023, in Miami, Fla. On Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, Li’i was moved to SeaWorld of San Antonio after Lolita, the Seaquarium’s orca whale, died in August. Li’i had been Lolita’s longtime companion at the Seaquarium.
MATIAS J. OCNER mocner@miamiherald.com
Miami Herald
Li’i, a Pacific white-sided dolphin, performs a trick during a training session inside his tank at the Miami Seaquarium on Saturday, July 8, 2023, in Miami, Fla. On Sunday, Sept. 24, 2023, Li’i was moved to SeaWorld of San Antonio after Lolita, the Seaquarium’s orca whale, died in August. Li’i had been Lolita’s longtime companion at the Seaquarium.

The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, PETA, slammed Miami Seaquarium’s decision to move Li’I, the dolphin companion to Lolita, the famous orca who died last month, to a new home in Texas.

"By violating its promise to send Li’i to a seaside sanctuary and condemning him to spend the rest of his life in yet another concrete cell, the Miami Seaquarium has failed this long-suffering dolphin, just as it failed Lolita,” said PETA Executive Vice President Tracy Reiman in a statement.

“Li’i deserves the chance to return to his ocean home, to explore, dive, and finally feel some sense of freedom after nearly 35 years spent in a chlorinated concrete tank,” Reiman said in urguing Seaquarium officials “to give him the peaceful oceanic retirement he is owed and send him to a seaside sanctuary."

The dolphin had been with the aquarium for 35 years. He was relocated to SeaWorld in San Antonio, Texas last week. And is in a habitat with other dolphins of his same species.

The news comes after Lolita the orca died in late August. Just before local officials were ready to send her back home.

Government & Politics

Citizens Property Insurance policy holders climb to near 1.4 million

Updated September 26, 2023 at 6:00 AM EDT
Posted September 26, 2023 at 6:00 AM EDT

The state's insurer of last resort, Citizens Property Insurance Corp., is on the verge of hitting 1.4 million policies.

After three years of massive growth, Citizens had 1,399,554 policies as of Friday, according to data posted on its website. That was up from 1,391,777 policies a week earlier and 1,387,163 policies two weeks earlier.

Citizens has been flooded by homeowners seeking coverage as private insurers have shed policies and raised rates because of financial problems.

How has Citizens grown over the past few years:
September 30, 2020: 511,055 policies
September 30, 2021: 708,919 policies
September 30, 2022: 1,071,850 policies


Eight people hurt after extreme turbulence on flight into Fort Lauderdale

Posted September 25, 2023 at 3:47 PM EDT

Eight people on a JetBlue flight to Fort Lauderdale were injured Monday morning after the aircraft hit turbulence.

Seven passengers and a crew member were hurt when a flight coming from Ecuador hit extreme turbulence ahead of landing at the Fort Lauderdale-Hollywood International Airport shortly after 5 a.m.

Those injured were taken by paramedics to the hospital for evaluation and treatment. The airline said it couldn't comment on the severity of the injuries.

The airline said the Airbus 320 twin-engine plane was taken out of service for inspection.

Law & Justice

November's election will decide Alex Díaz de la Portilla's replacement

Posted September 25, 2023 at 9:17 AM EDT
Mugshot of a man in an orange jumpsuit
Miami Dade County Government
Mugshot of Miami Commissioner Alex Diaz de la Portilla after he was was arrested on Thursday, Sept. 14, 2023, on numerous felony charges relating to money laundering, misuse of his public office and campaign finance violations.

Miami commissioners will let an upcoming election decide who will fill the commission seat left vacant after the arrest and suspension of Alex Díaz de la Portilla.

The Miami Herald reports that the four commissioners voted unanimously on Saturday to let the already-scheduled Nov. 7 general election determine who will be the next District 1 commissioner.

Díaz de la Portilla faces bribery and money laundering charges for alleging selling his vote in exchange for $245,000 in political contributions.

READ MORE: DeSantis suspends Miami commissioner following arrest on corruption charges


Nova Southeastern University's president is stepping down

Posted September 25, 2023 at 7:33 AM EDT

There’s another change in leadership coming to one of South Florida’s universities. Nova Southeastern University’s president will be stepping down in 2025, and the school already knows who its next leader will be.

Nova Southeastern President George Hanbury’s last day on the job will be Jan. 1, 2025. He’s led NSU since 2010.

But the transition should be a smooth one. The Board of Trustees voted unanimously to appoint the school’s Chief Operating Officer Harry Moon to become the next president.

Moon was trained as a physician and was the CEO of Cleveland Clinic Florida before moving into higher education. In his current role, he also oversees NSU’s growing medical enterprise.

With a years-long offramp and an experienced internal candidate ready to step up, the private school’s transition plan is a sharp contrast to some of the leadership changes happening at South Florida’s public colleges and universities.

READ MORE: Broward College President tenders resignation, but the board wants him to stay


Miami Beach receives $1M to plant trees along the city's beachwalk

Posted September 25, 2023 at 6:27 AM EDT

The federal government is throwing some shade on Miami Beach. Literally.

That’s after the city received a $1 million federal grant which will go toward planting hundreds of trees along the recently completed beachwalk

The trees will be planted along the more than 7-mile oceanfront beachwalk that spans South Beach and North Beach. The city's Environment and Sustainability Department is leading the project that is slated to begin in 2024.

The grant will cover the cost of reforestation for program-eligible areas of the beachwalk. Other sections that are not eligible will be covered by a 2018 voter-approved bond.

And Miami Beach isn't alone in this endeavor.

Other South Florida municipalities receiving grants include Hollywood, Homestead and the city of Miami, which are receiving awards ranging between $455,000 and $2 million.

The grants were awarded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Urban and Community Forestry Program.

READ MORE: Miami-Dade promised to plant more trees but didn’t. Religious leaders push for new vows


U.S. embassy says it will start taking visa appointments in Haiti

Posted September 22, 2023 at 6:15 PM EDT
A group of people line up in front of a building
Odelyn Joseph
Haitians line up outside an immigration office as they wait their turns to apply for a passport, in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Tuesday, Jan. 10, 2023.

The U.S. embassy in Port-au-Prince is opening a large number of non-immigrant visa appointments for Haitian nationals. The first available appointments start in 2026.

According to the Miami Herald, the embassy warns that anyone who paid a U.S. visa fee prior to Oct. 1, 2022, will need to book an appointment online before the end of this month, or they might have to repay the fee later. 

Visa processing fees recently increased from $160 to $185. The State Department also issued extensions at embassies around the world during the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The extension allowed applicants to postpone those payments until they could book an appointment. Meanwhile in Haiti, regular visa services remain suspended due to the continued rise of gang violence. 

Embassy officials do not know when normal visa services will resume.

READ MORE: Migrants, mostly from Haiti, burst into southern Mexico asylum office demanding papers

*For more Americas news and analysis from Tim Padgett, sign up for our WLRN newsletter here.

Government & Politics

Miami-Dade allocates part of its $11.7B budget for seniors, animal services

Posted September 22, 2023 at 5:02 PM EDT
Woman stands in front a podium with two people on either side of her
Arianna Otero
Miami-Dade Mayor Daniella Levine Cava presents her proposed budget for the new fiscal year as County Commissioner Eileen Higgins and Chairman Oliver Gilbert wait to give remarks on the budget.

Miami-Dade County’s nearly $11.7 billion spending plan for fiscal year 2024 was approved yesterday without much debate.

The Miami Herald reports that the final version of the plan addressed some of the criticism and requests made by commissioners earlier this month at the first budget hearing.

One of the changes was shifting $19 million, which was allocated for an under-used mortgage relief program, to provide more aid for low-income seniors.

Other changes included raises for county workers and $2 million in funding for Animal Services. Those funds were previously earmarked for a sanctuary meant for dogs without homes.

READ MORE: The City of Miami’s legal woes continue to mount

Government & Politics

Former FDLE agent Steve Geller announces run for Broward Sheriff

Posted September 22, 2023 at 2:11 PM EDT

A new candidate with decades of law enforcement announced he's running for Broward County Sheriff.

The South Florida Sun Sentinel reports that Steve Geller has worked most recently as a special agent with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

Prior to that, Geller served the Plantation Police Department for 29 years, working his way up from road patrol officer to captain.

Geller is running against Broward Sheriff Gregory Tony in the August 2024 Democratic primary.

He is not to be confused with the Broward County Commissioner and long-time Florida lawmaker who goes by the same name.

READ MORE: BSO helicopter crash casts spotlight on aging aviation unit

Transportation & Development

Utility work on Keys highway poses threat to safety, officials say

Posted September 22, 2023 at 1:15 PM EDT

The chief law enforcement officer for the Florida Keys said that underground utility work on the only highway spanning the entire island chain is posing a threat to public safety.

The Miami Herald reports that Monroe County Sheriff Rick Ramsay has warned state transportation officials about the patchwork that AT&T is using to cover trenches on a 2-mile stretch of U.S. 1.

After workers finish their job for the day, they place steel plates over the trenches. Ramsay said that drivers are traveling in turn lanes and veering into oncoming traffic to avoid driving over the plates.

He also worries about the safety of motorcyclists because the road is not well lit at night and they might not see where the road is uneven.

READ MORE: Major makeover in the works for Key West’s iconic sunset spot. There’s one reason why

Transportation & Development

One killed in Delray Beach after Brightline train strikes pedestrian

Posted September 22, 2023 at 11:33 AM EDT
A white and yellow train on a track
Brynn Anderson
A Brightline passenger train passes by Nov. 27, 2019 in Oakland Park, Fla.

We have more information on a tragedy that's cast a pall over Brightline's inaugural trip from Miami to Orlando today.

Delray Beach police said that a Brightline train struck and killed a pedestrian there this morning.

A Brightline spokesperson told WLRN that the train involved was not the same one that's part of today's inaugural ride.

Brightline began South Florida service in 2018 with stations in Miami, Fort Lauderdale and West Palm Beach. The company has been dogged by concerns about safety near its tracks.

Since the railway launched its Miami to West Palm service, Brightline trains have the highest death rate in the U.S., fatally striking 98 people.

READ MORE: First private US passenger rail line in 100 years is about to link Miami and Orlando at high speed

Business & Economy

Home sales in South Florida drop as mortgage rates increase

Posted September 22, 2023 at 7:06 AM EDT

The number of homes selling in South Florida continued dropping in August as mortgage rates increased and inventory remained historically low.

Single family home sales fell 8% in Miami-Dade, 2% in Broward and 3% in Palm Beach County compared to a year ago.

Mortgage rates hit 7% recently, a two-decade high.

Despite the slower pace of home sales, prices continue climbing, according to the Miami Association of Realtors.

WLRN’s Senior Economics Editor Tom Hudson said demand continues to outstrip supply.

"Fewer homes for sale have given sellers comfort in keeping prices up, and they’re getting most of those higher asking prices for homes and condos," Hudson said. "But more new condos are expected to come to the market next year. That new supply may help cool price hikes."

The median price of a condo sold in Miami-Dade last month jumped 10 %. It was up 4% in both Broward and Palm Beach counties.

The median price of a home sold last month in Miami-Dade jumped another 12.5% to $620,000. The price hikes in Broward and Palm Beach counties were more tame, but still a substantial increase over a year. Broward’s median single family home sold for $600,000. In Palm Beach County, the median price was $605,000.

“Buyers seem to be realizing that home prices aren’t coming down and are more mentally prepared to make an offer on a home that meets their financial condition and needs,” Miami Realtors Chief Economist Gay Cororaton said in a news release.

READ MORE: Miami-Dade approves consumer protections for controversial home improvement program


Entry fees waived at Everglades National Park and Dry Tortugas

Posted September 22, 2023 at 6:00 AM EDT

Entry fees will be waived at national parks and other federal public lands next weekend, but for one day only: Saturday, Sept. 30.

The fee waive is part of the 30th annual National Public Lands Day. Eligible sites in South Florida include Everglades National Park and Dry Tortugas National Park in the Keys.

Advocates hope the day will encourage increased attendance and engagement at national parks. 

READ MORE: Miami Wilds water park vote delayed until December as other sites are considered

Government & Politics

Venezuelans: Fastest-growing Hispanic group in US, reports Census Bureau

Updated September 22, 2023 at 6:30 AM EDT
Posted September 22, 2023 at 2:08 AM EDT

Venezuelans were the fastest-growing Hispanic group.

They nearly tripled their numbers, from more than 215,000 people to more than 605,000 people from 2010 to 2020, as they fled a political, economic and humanitarian crisis that has lasted the entirety of President Nicolás Maduro’s government.

The numbers were tabulated by the U.S. Census Bureau, which on Thursday released the most detailed race and ethnicity data to date from the 2020 census.

South Florida, mainly Doral in Miami-Dade County and Weston in Broward County, is home to the nation's largest Venezuelan community.

“This shows, really, what is going on in Venezuela,” said Ernesto Ackerman, president of Independent Venezuelan American Citizens, an advocacy group in Miami. “There is nothing there and it’s getting worse.”

The Biden administration on Wednesday said it was granting temporary legal status to hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans who are already in the U.S. — quickly making them eligible to work.

The latest Census data shows Mexicans were, far and away, the largest Hispanic group in the U.S. with a population of 35.9 million people, followed by Puerto Ricans with 5.6 million people and Salvadorans at 2.3 million people. The number of Colombians (1.3 million) and Hondurans (1.1 million) topped 1 million for the first time. Cubans nationwide numbered 2.2 million.

READ MORE: White House to allow hundreds of thousands of Venezuelans to work legally in US


Miami Dade College receives $1.8M for construction trade institute

Posted September 21, 2023 at 5:25 PM EDT

Miami Dade College has been awarded more than $1.8 million to establish a construction trade institute. 

On Wednesday, Lt. Gov, Jeanette Nuñez announced the financing as part of the Florida Job Growth Grant Fund. The institute will provide a centralized location for the college’s technical construction courses and expand course offerings. 

So far, over $142 Billion have been awarded for projects that focus on developing a skilled workforce.

READ MORE: Broward schools employees will soon be getting bigger paychecks, thanks to tax referendum

Government & Politics

New law penalizes university staff for using bathrooms that don't match their sex at birth

Posted September 21, 2023 at 4:11 PM EDT
Sign of a gender neutral restroom
Tony Talbot

The board that makes decisions about Florida's public universities could soon make it a fireable offense for a transgender employee at a state university to use a restroom that aligns with their gender identity.

The Board of Governors yesterday agreed to move forward with a notice of intent to adopt a new regulation about the designation of restrooms.

In May, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill into law that requires restrooms to be segregated by gender in public buildings.

The new law also makes it a crime to use the restroom not matching a person’s sex at birth.

Florida's Board of Education, which oversees the 28 schools in the public-college system, passed a similar rule in August. Under the rule, state colleges are required to have separate bathrooms and changing rooms “based on biological sex at birth."

READ MORE: A judge refuses to block Florida's transgender treatment law


Memorial Healthcare has a new medical facility in northwest Miami-Dade

Posted September 21, 2023 at 3:11 PM EDT
Doctor stands at a computer across from a man sitting down who is patient
Courtesy Memorial Healthcare System
The Miami Herald
Dr. Luis Santana Lopez examines Dalier Rodriguez for his annual physical at the new Memorial Primary Care Palms Springs North location, just north of Hialeah and Miami Lakes.

Memorial Healthcare System has a new medical facility but not in Broward County. This one is in northwest Miami-Dade, where about 15% of its patients live.

This center is located in Hialeah at Northwest 186th Street. Aside from checkups, staff will focus on chronic needs like managing diabetes, hypertension and high cholesterol. 

Specialty care includes cardiology, neurology and infectious disease control.

Memorial has plans to add an urgent care center there, too, in the coming months. No precise date has been set yet. 

Visit its primary care web page for more information.

READ MORE: Advocacy groups file civil rights complaint over Florida's post-pandemic Medicaid process

Government & Politics

Fort Lauderdale swindled out of $1.2M in phishing scam

Posted September 21, 2023 at 2:00 PM EDT

The city of Fort Lauderdale was the victim of a recent phishing scam, say police.

The Fort Lauderdale Police Department said it is investigating the scam, which took place September 14 when the city made a payment of $1.2 million, believing it was a "legitimate bill" from Moss Construction, a local company, according to a police statement.

It was later learned the request for payment was fraudulent.

“Malicious actors took advantage of our good name and publicly available information to attempt a scam,” a Moss spokesperson told the Sun-Sentinel on Thursday.

The Moss Construction official told the newspaper that it was awarded the contract to build Fort Lauderdale’s new police headquarters.

READ MORE: Miami-Dade approves consumer protections for controversial home improvement program

Government & Politics

Jupiter wants its own fire rescue. Some say it's not worth the cost

Posted September 21, 2023 at 1:10 PM EDT

The town of Jupiter is moving forward with the creation of its own fire-rescue department, but some residents aren’t sold on the idea.

According to the Palm Beach Post, town council members approved the measure at the beginning of the month. Some residents, however, argue there was not ample time to collect public comment ahead of the council’s green light.

Some have also wondered whether the estimated $68 million price tag to start the department would burden taxpayers.

Palm Beach County Fire Rescue has serviced Jupiter for the past four decades. The town has an estimated population of about 62,000 people.

READ MORE: Waste crisis: Can Miami-Dade learn from Palm Beach County's recycling example?

Law & Justice

Homestead nurse practitioner convicted by federal jury in $200 million Medicaid fraud scheme

Posted September 21, 2023 at 12:00 PM EDT

A Miami federal jury this week convicted a nurse practitioner from Homestead for defrauding Medicare by turning in more than $200 million in false and fraudulent claims for expensive genetic testing and medical equipment that the Medicare beneficiaries did not need, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Miami.

The feds say Elizabeth Hernandez, 45, of Homestead, signed thousands of orders for medically unnecessary orthotic braces and genetic tests, resulting in fraudulent Medicare billings in excess of $200 million.

“As part of the scheme, telemarketing companies would contact Medicare beneficiaries to convince them to request orthotic braces and genetic tests, and then send pre-filled orders for these products to Hernandez, who signed them, attesting that she had examined or treated the patients,” DOJ officials said. “In reality, she had never spoken with many of the patients.

DOJ officials Hernandez ordered more cancer genetic tests for Medicare beneficiaries than any other provider in the nation, including oncologists and geneticists, and then billed Medicare as if she had examined each patient. She routinely billed more than 24 hours of “office visits” in a single day. She pocketed about $1.6 million, money she used to purchase expensive cars, jewelry, home renovations, and travel.

She will be sentenced on December 14.

READ MORE: UM Agrees To Pay Millions To Settle Medicare Fraud Allegations Raised By Whistle-Blower

Palm Beach County

Pilot program aims to alleviate homelessness, mental health issues

Posted September 21, 2023 at 11:44 AM EDT

A new six-month pilot program in West Palm Beach aims to offer resources for residents facing homelessness and mental health challenges as the city’s population continues to swell.

The West Palm Beach Downtown Development Authority’s program will add special duty police patrols in targeted areas. It also promises to fund outreach teams to help people experiencing homelessness access existing social services in the area, particularly those struggling with their mental health.

It will also establish a Downtown Safety Task Force which will provide the city and community with feedback and advice.

In a statement, the DDA’s executive director, Raphael Clemente, said the program aims to “provide an environment where residents, workforce and visitors can feel comfortable.”

The Homeless Coalition of Palm Beach County saw a 70% increase in people who were homeless for the first time, compared to this time last year. That equates to roughly 1,855 people.

READ MORE: Palm Beach County nonprofit fills growing gap in housing, social services for homeless


Child care challenges could cost $5.4B loss amid expired funding

Posted September 21, 2023 at 7:12 AM EDT
Backpacks line a hallway
Tom Hudson
Backpacks line a hallway at 1 World Learning Center preschool in Miami-Dade County on Apr. 25, 2022.

Thousands of child care centers in Florida have received special federal funding over the past two years to help pay for their operations and salaries. But that grant money expires at the end of this month.

The Florida Chamber Foundation figures child care challenges cost the state economy $5.4 billion as parents miss work — or don’t work — because they don’t have affordable quality child care.

"I think we're open to a lot of different solutions and whether it's federal policy, state policy or business investments within their community," said Kyle Baltuch who works with the Florida Chamber Foundation. "What we understand is that right now it is a stressor for families."

The cost of child care will be a topic on Friday’s Florida Roundup. You can share your story of balancing work and caring for kids by emailing radio@TheFloridaRoundup.org.

READ MORE: 'If we don't open, mom can't go to work' — the pandemic puts a priority on child care

Government & Politics

Miami-Dade and Broward split over proposed site of new incinerator

Posted September 21, 2023 at 6:07 AM EDT
A 2022 aerial view of the Miami-Dade Resources Recovery Facility-Covanta Energy incinerator plant located at 6990 NW 97th Ave. in Doral.
Pedro Portal
Miami Herald
A 2022 aerial view of the Miami-Dade Resources Recovery Facility-Covanta Energy incinerator plant located at 6990 NW 97th Ave. in Doral.

The question over where a new trash incinerator will be located has Miami-Dade and Broward county officials divided.

County officials are hoping to build the incinerator on the former Opa-Locka Airport West site located on the northwest end of the Miami-Dade County line. It’s also across from Miramar, a residential neighborhood in Broward County. 

The Miami Herald reports that Miami-Dade County officials want to move forward with the plan. While many Broward County Officials are pushing against it, they say many residents are concerned for their health and quality of life. 

There is added conflict between the two counties. The Airport West site is aksi being considered for use in the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan. It's a long-running federal effort to preserve wetlands, help with water flow and improve drainage.

The new incinerator would take about 10 years to build and cost over a billion dollars.

READ MORE: Waste crisis: Can Miami-Dade learn from Palm Beach County's recycling example?