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Targeting problems raised by the sinking of Jacksonville-based cargo ship El Faro, the President will now consider a bill on maritime safety.  The Senate passed the measure on Wednesday, and the House adopted it Thursday. This comes nearly three years after the ship sank in Hurricane Joaquin, killing all 33 people on board. El Faro was heavily loaded, when it started taking on water while traveling between Jacksonville and Puerto Rico. Federal investigators have concluded the ship over-corrected in its effort to balance a list and lost lube oil suction as a result. Without propulsion, with a substantial list, and dealing with the conditions around this major hurricane, the ship sank.  GALLERY: Tributes to the El Faro crew AUDIO: El Faro’s Captain describes “marine emergency” Both the NTSB and a Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation examined the sinking, and faulted decision making by the Captain, in bringing the ship too close to the storm, as a primary reason for the sinking. The attorney for the Captain's widow has disputed those findings. There were many contributing factors identified by investigators as well, though, including not detecting longstanding deficiencies in inspections and insufficient safety management systems on board. The reports from both of those federal investigative bodies have led to this legislation, which is known as the “Hamm Alert Maritime Safety Act of 2018”, after one of the men who died in the sinking, and his family, who fought for the changes.  FULL COVERAGE: The sinking of El Faro Among the changes, the legislation requires the Commandant of the Coast Guard enter negotiations to amend international standards to require freight vessels be outfitted with high-water alarm sensors and float-free Voyage Data Recorders with emergency position indicating radio beacons. This addresses two concerns raised by federal investigators. First, the high-water alarm sensors will give the bridge a better awareness of water getting on board, because the sensor would be connected to both audible and visual alarms on the bridge. Second, a float-free VDR with an EPIRB will ideally be able to be more easily located and retrieved. It took two missions to find El Faro’s VDR, and a third to recover it from the wreckage on the ocean floor. Analysis of the more than 26 hours of data captured on the VDR proved to be invaluable in piecing together the final hours on board.  IN DEPTH: El Faro’s VDR IN DEPTH: Additional portions of El Faro’s VDR The Commandant will also conduct a cost-benefit analysis of requiring VDRs capture internal telephone communication. For El Faro, the VDR only recorded sound on the bridge, so while it captured a substantial amount of audio, there is no documentation of what crew members were saying while speaking to someone on the bridge, if they weren’t on the bridge themselves.  GALLERY: El Faro’s Voyage Data Recorder To make it easier for a ship’s crew to anonymously report potential safety issues on board, this bill establishes an anonymous safety alert pilot program with a direct line of communication to the Coast Guard. With El Faro, there were questions raised on whether issues could be truly anonymously reported to the ship’s owner and operator, TOTE Maritime Puerto Rico and TOTE Services, because the phone was on the bridge and emails were not done on private computers.  There are more requirements on timely and detailed weather forecasts in this bill- areas where the NTSB sought action before their investigation had even concluded. The main weather system used on El Faro, Bon Voyage System, had a duplicated hurricane forecast track that the ship used to track Hurricane Joaquin’s path in the hours ahead of the sinking. It also took hours for the forecast data to be processed and sent to the ship, through that system. The National Hurricane Center further said Hurricane Joaquin was an especially difficult storm to forecast. The bill doesn’t specify what the changes will look like, but generally requires ships get “timely synoptic and graphical chart weather forecasts” and timely advisories, when available.  The Coast Guard will be ordered to conduct a review on openings, stability standards, and lifesaving equipment, through the bill. The investigations on this sinking showed some openings on the ship were used both as water-tight and weather-tight, which could have made them vulnerable points for taking on water. While it’s not believed by investigators that the crew would have been able to survive, even if they abandoned ship, they say the best chance for that would have been if the crew had enclosed lifeboats, as opposed to the open design allowed on El Faro, because of her age. Lifeboats are not explicitly addressed in the bill, but rather a review of “lifesaving equipment for mariners, including survival suits and life jackets”.  There is another provision in the bill requiring search-and-rescue units procure equipment to mark any item that can’t be immediately retrieved with a radio or Automated Identification System beacon. The SAR operations after the sinking of El Faro located one body, but the remains were not immediately recovered, because crews had to go investigate a report of a waving survival suit, meaning a possible survivor. That survival suit was not located, and the beacon that was left on the remains did not work, and the crew was not able to locate the remains again. A SAR representative admitted during the investigation that those beacons were often faulty, but he said they were already in the process of upgrading.  GALLERY: El Faro’s wreckage The Coast Guard is also being ordered to review the documentation of “major conversions”. Some conversion work on El Faro was not classified as a “major conversion”, although investigators have since said it should have been. If it got that designation, the ship would have been required to adopt more modern standards, including with the type of lifeboats it had.  Another area that saw substantial review under these investigations is the Alternate Compliance Program, which is the inspection protocol that El Faro was under and that’s still being used on commercial vessels currently. It allows alternate classification societies to do survey work on behalf of the Coast Guard, to eliminate the duplication of their inspections. The investigations in to this sinking showed the Coast Guard had become reliant on the ACS’s because of a shortage in their own resources and experience. Further, it was concluded that there was not proper oversight of this program by the Coast Guard, and that the ACS’s were not always operating as expected under the program in terms of the thoroughness of the surveys and experience of the surveyors. This bill will require improved training programs for the Coast Guard, relating to their oversight of ACP and third-party organizations. Another problem with ACP is the gaps between Coast Guard and ACS rules. That was previously addressed through a “Supplement”, but that was often lagging in updates, and there may be several different ones in place. This legislation would move toward one unified Supplement.  The legislation further is requiring an audit of safety management systems, to ensure ships are safe at sea. A portion of safety management required everyone have a full and working knowledge of safety procedures on board, but testimony showed that Polish riding crew members who were on El Faro working to convert her for the Alaskan trade may not have received the full safety training required. There will also be more training for steamship inspections and advanced journeyman inspectors. GALLERY:Photos from the NTSB’s investigation of the El Faro sinking Florida Senator Bill Nelson, who co-sponsored the bill in the Senate, says the bill is designed to prevent a tragedy like this sinking from happening again.  “The families of the El Faro crew deserve much of the credit for getting many of these potentially lifesaving measures through Congress,” he says.  The House previously passed a bill that came from its own Committee work, but Nelson’s office says the Senate’s version is broader in addressing recommendations from both the NTSB and Coast Guard Marine Board of Investigation. It is the Senate’s version that was ultimately adopted in the House as well, and sent to the President’s desk. The bill text says, in 2017, there were more than 21,000 deficiencies issued to US commercial vessels, and “no sail” orders were issued to 2,500 US vessels- showing that this problem goes beyond the El Faro.

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  • After yet another day which featured no hints of progress in ending a funding fight that has to a partial government shutdown taking paychecks away from over 800,000 federal workers, President Donald Trump tweeted on Friday evening that he would make a ‘major announcement’ on Saturday about his push to get money to build a wall along the Mexican border, which has led to an ongoing standoff with Democrats in Congress. “I will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown,” the President wrote on Twitter, giving no details about what he might announce. With no indications that Democrats in Congress are ready to give in on their opposition to a border wall, some Republicans have continued to urge the President to declare a ‘national emergency’ under existing laws, and move money around in the military’s budget to build a wall. I will be making a major announcement concerning the Humanitarian Crisis on our Southern Border, and the Shutdown, tomorrow afternoon at 3 P.M., live from the @WhiteHouse. — Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) January 18, 2019 “He ought to go ahead and declare an emergency, and it would be over,” said Sen. Jim Inhofe (R-OK). “I don’t know why he is reluctant to do that.” Inhofe – who chairs the Senate Armed Services Committee – said Thursday that he would not oppose the President dipping into military construction funds to build the wall, though other Republicans have publicly opposed the idea. Democrats on Friday also pressed the Department of Homeland Security on another front – using eminent domain to take land away from landowners, in order to build the way – focusing on a case involving the Catholic Church in Texas, which owns land that the Trump Administration wants. “The federal government must exercise extreme caution when seizing private property,” wrote Senate Democratic Leader Charles Schumer to the Homeland Security Secretary. To @SecNielsen: The Trump Administration’s lawsuit against the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brownsville, Texas, raises important questions on the exercise of eminent domain to build a border wall. We ask you to respond to these questions by January 31: pic.twitter.com/MXcfoQib9E — Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) January 18, 2019 The President has asked for $5.7 billion in border security money for both fencing and a wall; Democrats in Congress have offered $1.6 billion – the original requests of the Trump Administration and Republicans – but Democrats want none of that to go to the wall.
  • Florida schools are seeing a critical shortage of certified science, English and math teachers. A new report by the Florida Department of Education says those subjects are among areas where substantial proportions of teachers who are not certified in the appropriate field are being hired to teach those courses. “We have a shortage because people aren’t entering the teaching profession like they used to because there’s no security in teaching,” Renna Lee Paiva said. Paiva is president of the Clay County Education Association. She said those who have been in the education field for years are extremely concerned about the teacher shortage. In Duval County, a district spokesperson said there are 146 total vacancies at schools, with 21 open positions in math and four in science. In St. Johns County, the district had 28 unfilled positions as of Jan. 7, including four in math and science. Clay County Schools says it has 14 vacancies overall, with five in math and science. “We start to see fewer freshman coming in and saying, ‘I want to be an elementary teacher or I want to be a biology teacher,’” Paul Parkison, chair of the University of North Florida’s childhood education program, said. He told Action News Jax that the university starts recruitment early, educating incoming freshman about teaching opportunities. “We didn’t used to have to have those conversations, we’d have freshman coming in that were already excited about being teachers,” he said. “We actually initiated a couple programs that are targeted toward particularly the secondary, our UNF graduates who didn’t consider teacher as their primary major. Maybe they’re a history major or a biology major.” Local education experts, including Jacksonville Public Education Fund President Rachel Tutwiler Fortune, said the focus needs to be on higher pay. “There are many potential solutions, including higher pay and more career advancement opportunities,” she said in a statement. “Our pay scales, our benefits is all in jeopardy and it’s up to the legislators to fix it so we can give quality education to our kids -- which is our primary goal,” Paiva said. Full statement from JPEF: “The teacher shortage is a problem in Duval County as well as across our state and the nation, and there are many potential solutions, including higher pay and more career advancement opportunities. The Duval County School Board recently discussed one of these promising solutions -- creating a program to help public high students work toward a degree in education, in order to increase the number of aspiring teachers. This would be a win for Duval County students now and in the future, and we applaud Duval County Public Schools for exploring how we could adopt this innovative model -- known as 'grow your own teacher' -- in Jacksonville.”
  • You've been hearing the buzz about autonomous vehicles for a while, now lawmakers in Florida are discussing the possibility of making the futuristic form of transportation a reality. A state representative from Duval County has filed legislation to allow the development and deployment of those autonomous vehicles.  State Rep. Jason Fischer (R-Jacksonville) says as an engineer by trade, he understands the benefits autonomous vehicles would bring with them. He says if Florida were to ban those types of vehicles, it would stunt the state's potential for growth.  'Those engineers aren't going to move here. Those planners aren't going to move here. Those are high paying jobs,' Fischer says.  He says he can imagine Jacksonville as a place where football fans will be able to hop on driverless vehicles to take them to Jaguars games at TIAA Bank Field. He says the Skyway, linking one side of the St. Johns River to the other in downtown, is a prime example of something that could be updated if his bill goes through.  'We have a public transportation component that's already looking to go that way,' he says. 'My legislation would help enable them to move in that direction.'  Fischer says autonomous vehicles would also be a major help to the blind community. Both AARP Florida and the Florida Council of the Blind have offered their support for the legislation, saying their members will have more mobility opportunities if the bill goes through.  “For blind people, people living with disabilities and some senior citizens, self-driving cars will mean greater independence,” President of the Florida Council of the Blind Sheila Young says in a statement.  Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) is sponsoring the companion measure in the Florida Senate. Fischer says he thinks the legislation should make it to the governor's desk within a couple months.
  • Two Florida fifth-graders are accused of plotting to kill an 11-year-old classmate and escape in a golf cart last month. The plot unraveled Dec. 14 at Roberts Elementary School in Tallahassee, where the alleged victim and the accused students, ages 10 and 11, all attend school. A 32-page police report obtained by the Tallahassee Democrat details the plot, which resulted in both students’ suspension and civil citations for conspiracy to commit battery and bringing weapons on school grounds.  The students are also being recommended for expulsion, the Democrat reported.  “This obviously is a very serious matter,” Leon County Superintendent Rocky Hanna said in a statement. “There is zero tolerance in our school system for violence or threats of violence. The individuals who participate in these types of behavior will suffer severe consequences, as (will) these two young boys.” The school’s principal, Kim McFarland, told investigators that the boys “planned and put into effect” a plot to kill their classmate, the Democrat reported.  >> Read more trending news According to the timeline laid out in the police report, one of the accused boys threatened the victim Dec. 10, telling him they would kill him. A few days later, a female classmate told the victim a secret and then went to the two suspected plotters and claimed the victim was spreading rumors about her.  The plotters again threatened the boy, saying they would “take care of him and kill him,” the Democrat reported.  Another student later told police investigators the boys drew a map of where on campus they would take the victim -- an area without security cameras, the newspaper reported. They ultimately changed their mind and planned to take the boy to the school’s garden instead, the police report said.  The day of the planned attack, one of the boys brought a backpack to school with what investigators believe was a murder kit: a wrench, adjustable clamp pliers, a multitool with a 3-inch blade on it and baseball batting gloves. According to police, the student showed the tools to classmates and one of the pair told them “snitches get stitches.” They also told at least one classmate they had the gloves so they would not leave fingerprints, the Democrat reported. They planned to use some of the tools to bust through a gate and flee on a golf cart.  During an after-school program on campus, the boys approached the alleged victim and asked if he wanted to go to the “secret hideout in the garden,” the police report said. He told investigators he refused because other students had told him the boys wanted to hurt him.  The alleged victim went to a teacher supervising the after-school program and told what the boys had planned, the newspaper reported. The boys were taken to the principal, who searched the backpack and found the tools, including the knife. The boys denied wanting to kill the victim, but admitted they planned to beat him up, the Democrat reported.  After the incident, McFarland sent parents an email, which was obtained by WCTV in Tallahassee. “Last Friday there was an incident, with alleged intent to harm a fellow student, that occurred in the afterschool program with a group of 5th grade students who had been developing a plan over a series of days,” McFarland said. “Some of you have reached out with concerns and questions. At this time, I cannot share details, but I can assure that your children are safe and the situation is being handled.” McFarland wrote that she met with the school’s fifth graders to discuss the importance of “see something, say something.”   “Many fifth grade students knew of the potential incident but did not tell teachers or their parents,” the principal said. “We discussed the importance of alerting adults when there is any concern for safety for themselves or their fellow students. Please discuss this with your children. It is imperative they learn this valuable skill now.”
  • The Clay County Sheriff's Office is inviting the community to a fundraiser next month called 'Shootin' with the Sheriffs.' Chris Padgett, the Public Information Officer with CCSO, says the event will essentially be a clay-shoot competition featuring Clay County Sheriff Darryl Daniels and other law enforcement members and the community.  Padgett says proceeds from the event will allow them to send about 30 people from their honor guard and members of their traffic section to Washington D.C., later this year for the police memorial service to honor one of their own.  '...In August 2018, one of our very close friends and deputies, Deputy Ben Zirbel, was tragically killed in a traffic crash on Blanding Boulevard. With that, his name will be getting placed on the law enforcement memorial's wall. And we want to make the sure the members of his direct team and the members of our honor guards go there and partake in that event,' says Padgett.  Padgett says it's important to send a team to be there to represent Zirbel's legacy and represent his wife and his child.  'And that is just so important to us, because they're [Zirbel’s family] going through some extreme hardships and there is one way we can help elevate them and be there as a support element,' says Padgett.  Padgett says the 'Shootin' with the Sheriffs' event will be family-friendly and everyone's invited to either watch or take part.  The event will be held February 25th, from 9 AM- 2 PM, at the Saltwaters Shooting Club located at 900 Big Oak Road in St. Augustine.  To register or help sponsor the event, you can contact Jimmy Stalnaker at (904) 813-9554 or by email at jstalnaker@claysheriff.com. You can also contact Charlie Goldsmith at (904) 838-3350 or by email at cgoldsmith@claysheriff.com.  You can also contact either of them to make a cash donation if you can’t make it out that day, but still want to help.

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