Pensacola, Florida
Sunday December 17th 2017

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The Buzz 7/20/17

Student Loan Help
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson (D-FL) visited the University of West Florida and met with graduates to discuss the Student Loan Relief Act, legislation sponsored by Nelson that aims to cut student loan interest rates and allow borrowers with existing student loans to refinance at the lower rates.

Senator Nelson said, “Our ability to stay competitive globally is going to be by our ingenuity and creativity and in order to do that we have got to have an educated work force.”

He said student loans total almost $1.3 trillion, making it the second largest debt in America, only behind mortgage debt. On July 1, federal student loan interest rates for undergraduate students increased from 3.76 percent to 4.45 percent.  The senator said this continual increase hurts a number of students after college.

“The loan interest rates for undergraduates can go all the way up to 8.5 percent, that’s a cap,” Nelson said.  “But for graduate students, it can go all the way up to 10.  So what I would try to do is cap it at 4 (undergraduate students), 5 (graduate students) and 6 percent for parents.”

Erin Percifull told Senator Nelson that she did not have student loans coming out of undergraduate school, but furthering her education came at a high price. Percifull incurred $80,000 of debt earning her master’s degree.

“I received my masters from Columbia University,” Percifull said. “My debt is a combination of different student loans.  And right now with interest rates the way they are I’m hardly making a dent in my principal.”

She said the interest rates on her loans range from 5 to 7 percent with the highest at 7.2 percent.  With Nelson’s proposed legislation, Percifull could save around $5,000 on her student loans.

Percifull’s problem is not a singular case. Nelson’s legislation could help alleviate tons of students if the senator can get the bill through Congress.

“I mean right now we’re on a grid lock,” Nelson told Inweekly.  “And it will depend on what the price tag is when I get this priced out by the congressional budget office.”

He continued, “If the bill has a huge price tag then, of course, you have to argue the obvious justification that these are benefits to our society versus the cost of taxpayer’s money.  But I suspect this bill is not going to be a tremendous cost.”

Vote for Downtown Y
The Bear Levin Studer Family YMCA is in the running for the fourth annual People’s Choice competition launched by the Florida Association of the American Institute of Architects (AIA Florida). Voters from around the world have cast over one million votes recognizing buildings from Cinderella’s Castle to Miami’s iconic Fontainebleau over the past three years.

The competition highlights the work of Florida’s architects, who are skilled professionals that help meet the needs of communities through innovative building design. The 2017 People’s Choice Award contest includes 41 buildings from around the state.

Last year the Pensacola area contributed two buildings that garnered over 7,900 votes—Rex Theatre Northwest, which placed 14, and Voices of Pensacola Multi-Cultural Center, which placed 20.

The public can vote for their favorite buildings at floridapeopleschoice.com until midnight, July 28. Buildings will be listed by the structure’s name and location. The results of the voting will be announced at AIA Florida’s Annual Convention on July 29.

“It is our honor and privilege as members of the architecture profession to share with the public just how much value and impact the profession can have on the community,” said Peter W. Jones, AIA, Chair of the Florida Foundation for Architecture. “We have composed a ballot of Florida’s iconic new structures and look forward to the public’s choosing their favorites.”

Rechargeable Technology
Gulf Power is testing a huge rechargeable battery at its McCrary Training and Storm Center on Pine Forest Road in Pensacola.

How huge is it? Picture 11,636 D-size batteries, the kind that your flashlight runs on. Combined they weigh 3,970 pounds or almost two tons.

For the next two years, the Southern Company and Gulf Power along with Electric Power Research Institute and Tesla scientists and engineers plan to research this emerging technology. The three objectives Southern Company laid out are: 1) Demonstrate and validate the performance of a commercial/industrial energy storage system; 2) Improve integration of distribution-level energy storage technology; and 3) Refine industry standards and best practices.

The energy storage system ideally would help large industrial and commercial customers store energy and use the battery energy at peak hours to avoid buying it from Gulf Power.

The Southern Company has managed about $2.3 billion in R and D investments. The company decided in the 1960s that it needed to be a part of researching advancements that may improve the delivery and reliability of its system. Energy company officials said they want to try out the Tesla Powerpacks first before they put their company’s name behind it.

“We cannot just stand by and watch it happen,” said Kimberly Greene, Southern Company Executive Vice President, and Chief Operating Officer. “We recognized we needed to be part of the solutions. We need to shape change. Innovation is in our DNA.”

The Tesla system is designed to be expandable and portable to an industrial or commercial site in the future. It was even suggested by a Gulf Power official that a large subdivision might want to invest in energy storage.

Also, researchers expect to learn more about siting, installation, and operational requirements, plus discover the advantages the system might provide customers through “peak sharing, demand management, ancillary services, energy arbitrage and backup power.”

“Energy storage is critical,” said Stan Connally, Gulf Power CEO. “We think there is great promise here.”

Downtown Paving Update
Pensacola City Administrator Eric Olson told the City Council at its July 10 Agenda Review that downtown resurfacing will be completed by Aug. 8. One of the most sensitive areas, Main Street, began resurfacing on July 11.

The 23 rain days in June have put most of the city’s construction projects behind.

“We again ask for the public’s patience,” said Olson. “On the back end of this, we’re going to end up with a lot of really good improvements to the city’s infrastructure.”

The city administrator did not go into any detail regarding the flooding the Tanyard neighborhood that led to raw sewage flowing on DeVilliers Street. He said, “This city’s original topography determines where the storm water goes, and while it may be altered or disguised, such as Washerwoman’s Creek, that is where the water is going to flow.”

Olson told the council that the mayor’s office would try to address issues such as the Tanyard “as best we can.”  The city has asked the Emerald Coast Utility Authority to install rain guards to keep storm water from getting into the sanitary sewer system.

Cyber Safety Town Hall
The Youth Ministry of Greater Little Rock Baptist Church is hosting for children and parents a “Be Social, Be Safe: A Cyber Safety and Sex Trafficking Town Hall” on Wednesday, July 26 beginning at 6 p.m.

This town hall will include a presentation from KlaasKids, a self-defense demonstration by Calvin Colbert of Colbert’s Taekwondo Academy, along with safety tips from the Pensacola Police Department and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office.

The meeting is open to the public. The church is located at 901 North A St.

County Thunderdome
According to numbers given to Inweekly, the Escambia County Main Jail had 1,011 prisoners on July 10 in a facility built in the mid-1980s to house only 798 inmates–127-percent of its capacity. Prisoners are doubled bunked in rooms, and some are sleeping on floors.

The conditions have made the main jail a much more violent place, according to the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office CAD reports.

In 2013, when Sheriff David Morgan averaged less than 800 prisoners a day in the main jail, the facility had 66 offense reports which included aggravated battery (2), battery (14), battery on a law enforcement officer (11) and sexual battery (2).

In 2016, the main jail had 151 offense reports, which included affray (6),  aggravated battery (10), battery (100), battery on LEO: (25), and sexual battery (5).

The violence hasn’t dropped off this year – 70 offense reports through July 5. Six of those were sexual battery – more than any full year in the main jail since at least 2008.

Fort Pickens By Candlelight
Gulf Islands National Seashore will hold its annual Candlelight Program at Fort Pickens on July 27. The program will start at 6:30 p.m. and end at 8:30 p.m. The Candlelight Program allows visitors to experience the fort in a whole new light, learn about life at the fort, and the experience of the Civil War soldier at Fort Pickens in 1861.

Park rangers, volunteers, and Youth Conservation Corps (YCC) members will guide visitors through Fort Pickens with stops featuring unique stories. Living historians will be on site to provide further insight into the life of a soldier at Fort Pickens during the early years of the American Civil War.

Visitors are encouraged to dress appropriately and bring drinking water and a flashlight. This is a rain or shine event. The program is free, but there is an entrance fee for the Fort Pickens Area. For additional information, contact the national seashore at 934-2600.

Healthcare Town Hall
Indivisible Northwest Florida presented a Healthcare Town Hall meeting featuring the group’s founder, Vickie Neapolitan-Scott, and Dr. Jennifer Zimmerman at the J. Earle Bowden Building in downtown Pensacola on July 12.

The meeting was an opportunity for the people to ask questions regarding the Better Care Reconciliation Act 2017 (BCRA) and hear answers from stakeholders.

“There are tons of moving parts with this healthcare bill, and the one thing I want to do is give people the information without partisanship,” Neapolitan-Scott said.

She added, “Everything in our minds is translated to dollars and cents when it comes to healthcare and expenses, but the reality of this bill is there will be two million people without health care if it passes.”

Neapolitan-Scott broke down the bill that is currently in the U.S. Senate.  She said the BCRA hasn’t changed much from the bill proposed at the end of June. Its goal is to decrease premiums and decrees deductibles and make healthcare affordable, but the reality is this bill will be a transfer of wealth, according to Neapolitan-Scott.

“Right now, 71 percent of Americans like their current healthcare,” she said.  “While 51 percent of Republicans and 85 percent of Democrats like it.”

There were a handful of people in attendance, and Dr. Jennifer Zimmerman a local pediatrician spoke about doctor’s practices and their ideas about Medicaid.

“We established Medicaid for the vulnerable population in the U.S.,” she said.  “To me, healthcare is a necessity, just like the food we eat, just like the air we breathe.  And it’s sad to me that most doctors turn patients with Medicare away.”

With the BCRA there could be an increase in premiums for older Americans and those with pre-existing conditions, which isn’t fair, Zimmerman said.

“I’m not only a healthcare provider, but I’m also a health care consumer,” she said.

Indivisible Northwest Florida founder said moving forward citizens should continue lobbying congressmen.  She encouraged the attendees to knock on the officials’ doors, write letters and make phone calls because those efforts make a difference.

“But we should also involve America’s youth,” Neapolitan-Scott said. “They are the future and can change American politics as long as they stay optimistic.”

Santa Rosa Women’s Democratic Club
The Santa Rosa Women’s Democratic Club will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, July 24th, 6:30 pm at Henderson Hall, St. Augustine’s Episcopal Church, 7810 Navarre Parkway, Navarre. The guest speaker will be Ms. Michelle Jones, City Director, Refuge for Women Emerald Coast. Her topic is providing aftercare and counseling for women that are sexually exploited. For more information, contact Margie Purkerson at margiep@bellsouth.net