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ICYMI: Orlando leads in vacant houses, Greenwood Cemetery gets a Pulse memorial, plus other news

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Orlando is among the Florida cities leading the nation in vacant homes: Three cities in the Sunshine State currently lead the country in percentage of vacant homes. According to a new study from online lending company Lending Tree, 17 percent of homes in the Miami area are vacant, compared to 16 percent in Orlando and 15 percent in the Tampa Bay area. Jacksonville was also in the top 10, with a vacancy rate of 13 percent. The high vacancy rates in Florida are well above the national average of 9.4 percent, due to the state's popularity for secondary residences and vacation homes.

Repeal of Florida's ban on smokable medical marijuana heads to the governor's desk: In their first full action of the 2019 legislative session, Florida lawmakers ceded to a demand by Gov. Ron DeSantis and approved a proposal doing away with the state's ban on smokable medical marijuana. DeSantis previously threatened to drop the state's appeal of a court decision that found the smoking ban ran afoul of a 2016 constitutional amendment that broadly legalized medical marijuana. The House passed the proposal in a 101-11 vote last week, sending the bill to the governor two days before a March 15 deadline he had set. The Senate passed the bill last week.

Florida House hammers UCF leaders, state university board in new report: The report from a state House committee focused on the university's illegal misdirection of $85 million in leftover operating funds from the state, part of which was used to replace Trevor Colbourn Hall with a new $38 million building: "UCF's budgeting and spending practices fostered ad hoc and unaccountable decisions. ... Compliance activities of the university were inadequate to identify the misspending." UCF's Board of Trustees "lacked training and information," but the Board of Governors contributed to UCF's misspending by having "limited oversight," according to the report.

Orlando's Greenwood Cemetery is getting a memorial to Pulse victims: Plans are in motion to provide victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting buried in Greenwood Cemetery with a permanent marker after the City Council approved the six burial spaces last week. The memorial will be made up of seven rows of seven markers on a concrete slab that features the 49 granite markers donated in 2017 – each marker will be engraved with the name of a victim. Four of the 49 victims are buried in the cemetery.

Florida exceeds 'Million Pollinator Garden Challenge' goal: Thousands of gardens across the state of Florida are playing a part in saving the nation's food system. The Million Pollinator Garden Challenge was launched in 2015 as part of a nationwide call to revive collapsing bee colonies and improve the health of birds, bats, butterflies and other pollinators. The challenge was to register a million new gardens through the National Pollinator Garden Network – and through the efforts of schools, garden clubs, and mayors promoting community gardens, the goal was exceeded by 40,000 gardens. Florida registered more than 55,000 gardens.

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