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Quinnipiac Poll Shows Governor’s Race (Roll the Drums)…..Tied!

October 22nd, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

The latest Quinnipiac poll of likely voters shows the race between Rick Scott and Charlie Crist tied at 42 percent. Independent Adrian Wyllie is at 7 percent. The poll is the first to question voters who have already case a ballot.

Rick Scott remains ahead with men, Charlie Crist with women voters. More men then women are voting for the Libertarian. Pollster Peter Brown says the race is a dead heat.

“A Republican who can break even with women will win the election. A Democrat who can break even among men will win the election.Neither one of that is going to happen in this race, and that’s why it’s so close.”

Nearly one million absentee votes have already been cast. This is the first poll to survey those who have voted. The poll was conducted before early voting began, and there is a surprise. Charlie Crist leads Rick Scott by four points among absentee ballots cast.

The lead, while still in the margin of error, is important because Republicans traditionally outpace Democrats by up to a two to one margin in mail in ballots. Pollster Brown has no explanation.

“A dead heat is a dead heat” says Brown

90 percent of Scott or Crist voters say their mind is made up. But one in four voting for Libertarian Adrian Wyllie say they may change their vote. Over three polls Wyllie’s  support has dropped from 9 to 8 to 7 percent. Pollster Brown says Wyllie voter defections could be the difference. “If it gets down to five or four percent for Mr. Wyllie, that’s going to be another point or two that someone else, either Crist of Scott’s is gonna get. And in a race this close, that could be the difference.”

One constant in the poll…neither Scott or Crist is well liked…which means voters will be choosing whom they believe to be the lesser of two evils.

The poll was conducted before a disagreement over the presence of a fan at the second debate..which has become known as Fangate. The candidates held their third debate last night.

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One Florida, Two States

October 22nd, 2014 by Matt Galka

City commissioners in South Miami want to break up the state into two separate Florida’s. As Matt Galka tells us, their proposal isn’t as crazy as it sounds because it centers around the highly debated issue of climate change.

South Miami is hot about North Florida. So much so, that they want the two Florida’s to break up.

“The real issue for separation is the absolute reality of climate change.  Global warming, rising sea levels, this is no longer political,” said South Miami Vice Mayor Walter Harris at the commission’s October 7th meeting.

Environmental concerns led to the city commission to pass a resolution in favor of a split by a vote of 3 to 2.

“We can’t wait any longer, it won’t be easy but the alternative will be even more difficult,” said Harris.

South Florida, the proposed 51st state, would consist of about 24 counties.

The South Florida counties contain a majority of the population and a majority of revenue contributors.  Susan Glickman with the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says this should send a message to lawmakers who have yet to act.

“This should be a wake up call to lawmakers to say that we need to take a look at this serious issue, we need to start now because energy decisions made now are going to impact us into the future,” Glickman.

Climate solutions have been a surprising issue dogging Florida’s Governor leading up to November’s election.  Rick Scott has met with scientists after claiming he wasn’t one.  More than 90,000 signatures were delivered to his office earlier this week from parents and kids pressing for environmental answers.

“Just this year, we’ve experienced six of the seven hottest months in the history of temperature,” said Susan Mcleod, a Florida grandmother who dropped off the petitions.

The split would need statewide approval and then ultimately the approval of Congress.

The proposed boarder of North and South Florida would be Pinellas, Hillsborough, Polk, Orange, and Brevard Counties. City officials say the idea of a split has been tossed around for 60 years.

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Not the Only Flip-Flopper

October 21st, 2014 by Matt Galka

Two weeks to go and there’s no clear cut front runner in the Florida Governor’s race. As Matt Galka tells us, one candidate could be on the verge of dipping into his own pocket for re-election.

Rick Scott was very confident two years ago when asked if he would be self funding a re election campaign.

“I won’t have to,” said the Governor in 2012.

Scott does have plenty of money rolling in. His campaign and the Republican Party have spent more than $56 million dollars on mostly negative ads. Democratic opponent Charlie Crist has spent around $26 million on the same.

But polls won’t tell you who is out front with just two weeks to go. A virtual dead heat between the two has led to speculation that Scott will be writing a check for $20 million bucks to his own campaign.  He spent more than $75 million of his own money to win in 2010.

Political Scientist Carol Weissert says all the negativity can lead to burnout, not turnout.

“We do know that’s one of the things negative ads do.  People get turned off totally,” said Weissert.

A neck and neck race probably isn’t what Scott was planning on.

“I don’t know what it will cost but we’ll have the money to win,” said Scott two years ago.

Both the Scott campaign and the Republican Party of Florida had no comment when we asked if the Governor would be self-funding. We’ll know if each candidate donated their own money when the campaign finance reports are due on October 31st, just four days before the election.

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Red Light Camera Holdup

October 20th, 2014 by Matt Galka

You may be off the hook if you’re holding a red light camera ticket. Matt Galka tells us about two cases that could be the beginning of the end for the controversial program.

A ruling out of South Florida on Red Light cameras could be a major road block for the program in the state.

An appeals court ruled that the city of Hollywood can’t allow third-party vendors who are for-profit to issue traffic citations.

American Traffic Solutions, an Arizona based company, handles the citations in Hollywood and in a majority of Florida cities. Tallahassee Traffic manager Allen Secreast says other cities now have to see how it could effect them.

“We’re at the stage now where we are evaluating the ruling in the city of Hollywood to see how it applies to us,” said Secreast.

Attorney Bill Sharpe is in the middle of a separate case involving the cameras.  His clients in Brooksville – a town of about 8,000 that collects nearly $3 million dollars in red light camera revenue – are trying to put an amendment on the ballot that would allow voters to get rid of the program.

“The money… a third of the money goes to the city, but a lot of the money goes toward the red light camera companies, that’s who’s really fighting this stuff,” said Sharpe.

The city is suing to keep the amendment off.

“There’s not any studies, conclusive studies, that red light camera companies keep the roads safe. So I don’t know why they’re so afraid of letting these people vote,” Sharpe said.

A judge will be ruling on that case by the end of the month – and the referendum could be placed on the ballot in November.

Both cases will only apply to the respective cities the ruling is issued, but the rulings give an outline for other cities to follow if and when they have to determine their own cases.

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Laughing Stock Again

October 17th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Add another national headline grabbing political mess to Florida’s list. As Matt Galka tells us, an electric fan has made great fodder for mainstream comedians.

Stuff has definitely hit the fan in Florida.

It’s the gubernatorial gaffe that has put much more attention on the Governor’s race. Governor Rick Scott didn’t show up on stage for seven minutes thanks to Democrat Charlie Crist’s fan.  Comedians were gifted new material for one of their favorite targets.

Comedy Central’s The Colbert Report and The Daily Show tore the state apart thanks to the incident. Governor Scott has been a favorite target of Jon Stewart and co. in the past.

What seems like such a petty issue overshadowed the debate and may change who’s in the Governor’s mansion come 2015.

The rules stated that no electronics, including fans were allowed for the debate. But Crist’s team handwrote on their agreement that “debate hosts will address any temperature issues if necessary.

Debate organizers say the fan violated rules. Each party gives their own version.

“Charlie Crist was allowed to bring the fan on, he was wired on the stage for a fan both at Charlie’s podium and Rick Scott’s,” said Crist’s spokesman Kevin Cate.

“Essentially, Charlie again, was pitching a fit, because he was trying to break the rules, which he did,” said Republican Party of Florida Chair Leslie Dougher.

The answers don’t exactly blow you away.

Both candidates have used the fan as a launching point for a last stretch fundraising campaign leading up to November’s election.

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October 16th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Florida’s 2nd Gubernatorial debate has gone viral, but not thanks any of the candidates stances on the issues. Matt Galka brings us the fallout of what can only be described as #FanGate.

They started out with sketch comedy rather than debating the economy. Rick Scott didn’t show up to the podium for seven minutes thanks to a disagreement over opponent Charlie Crist’s fan.

The delay gave Crist his own platform and caused the incident to go viral.

Political scientist Caroll Weissert said it’s one of the strangest things she’s ever seen.

“Bizarre, it was a bizarre move, yea.  I think it elevated the debate from one that maybe the citizens of Florida watched, to one that maybe people will be watching all over the country, and not in a good way,” said Weissert, a professor at Florida State.

The fan is never far from Charlie Crist because, he doesn’t like to sweat. Now it’s the G.O.P who may be sweating the situation. Insiders are trying to distance themselves from the The Republican Party of Florida says the Governor never refused to take the stage, they were told Crist was in an emergency meeting about the device.

Four years ago, a Democrat gaffe that showed Alex Sink looking at a cell phone during a debate with Scott helped propel the current Governor to a win. 20 years ago, Lawton Chiles used an odd phrase to help seal his victory over Jeb Bush.

This could be a turning point in 2014’s election, but we’ll know in less than three weeks whether that’s just hot air.

The rules did specifically state no electronics, including fans, were to be used. The temperature around debate time on stage was 66 degrees, according to the organization that put it on.

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Getting Lucky, Growing Pot

October 15th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

If you are a patient using medical marijuana, do you want it grown by the most qualified grower, or the luckiest.? That’s the argument being played out in a hearing room at the state Capitol.

The rule adopted by the state to license growers of medical marijuana calls for five nurseries to be selected by a lottery. All have to have at least 30 years experience, but experience at what is one of the questions being asked in this administrative challenge. Ruskin Grower Robert Tornello testified that experiences could vary widely, affecting the quality of the final product. “These guys have tomato fields and farms where they’re just growing plants out there. They don’t have green house facilities, or they may not actually have  experience growing anything to the level food would require as far as safety issues” says Tornello.

The challenge was brought by a large grower and Louis Rotundo from the Florida Medical Cannabis Association. “if you have measurable criteria, you don’t need a lottery. That’s our point” says Rotundo.

The Department of Health’s General Counsel stood by the lottery during hours of testimony. Afterwards we asked if ”Everyone will be qualified will go into the lottery, no one not qualified will go into the lottery?” Her response: “That’s correct. The rule speaks for itself.”

The argument being made against selecting a marijuana grower based on the lottery is that you’’ll end up with the luckiest grower, not the best.

Steve Turner represents Costa Farms. “Government should not select minimally qualified, they should select, and I think the legislature contemplated they would select the best, the most superior qualified person” says Turner.

Each challenge threatens to delay the licensing and potentially the delivery of low TCH marijuana to qualified patients.

The administrative judge could order the state back to the drawing board…or could approve the plan for a lottery…which would likely lead to more legal action.


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Prepaid Day

October 15th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Enrollment is now open for families that want to get started on plan to put their kids through college. As Matt Galka tells us, the Florida Prepaid prices are historically low.

More than 100,000 students attend Florida colleges thanks to Florida Prepaid.  The college funding program allows families to pay monthly and save up for a child before they head off to college.  The recession allowed colleges to raise tuition up to 15 percent a year. Prices doubled, but that changed Wednesday.

“For example, last year at this time if you had enrolled in the four year university plan, you would have been looking for a newborn at 350 dollars a month.  This year you’re looking at only 173,” said Florida Prepaid Spokesperson Shannon Colavecchio.

Open enrollment is officially underway for the new reduced price plans.  Legislation cut tuition hikes earlier this year.

The plans for the most part only cover tuition, students will have to cover other expenses like transportation and books.

Financial consultant Greg Parsons says another plan, called the 529, might be a better option.

“If child number 1 doesn’t go to college, then it can be passed on to child number 2. Child number 2 doesn’t go to college, passed on to number 3. If none of them go to college, then the parents can use the money to go back to school if they want to,” said Parsons.

While prices were skyrocketing, financial planners strayed from recommending prepaid options. Enrollment dropped from 40,000 families a year to 12,000.

“We are hoping that these prices really will bring some families back to Florida Prepaid. Maybe they saw the prices rise in recent years, coincided with when they were starting families, and they might have looked at their budgets and they said “you know what, we just can’t do that right now,” said Colavecchio.

People who purchase a plan before 2015 will have an enrollment fee waived. Payments won’t begin until April. For the families that have already paid, more than 200 million dollars is being refunded to reflect the changes in tuition cost.

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October 14th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Accusations of cover-ups, bullying, and prisoners being murdered have come down on Florida’s Department of Corrections. The man trying to weather the storm; DOC Secretary Mike Crews.

“It’s unfortunate, but we do have a few that have put us in this situation we’re in now,” he said.

Crews has had the top job for nearly two years.  Another death case gained national attention last week, with prominent civil rights attorneys representing the family of a woman who claimed to be threatened by guards, and then turned up dead.

“Do you trust that same institution to now do a fair investigation?” asked attorney Ben Crump.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is currently looking into more than 100 suspicious deaths at Florida prisons. The Secretary says he understands why people sound the alarm.

“If you are a family member that has someone incarcerated with us that has supposedly been subjected to this, yes, I’m going to be concerned, too. What I want those individuals to understand, though, is this. If they have concerns, they need to voice them to us,” said Crews.

An ombudsman will now be used to work with mentally ill inmates. Nearly 20 percent of Florida prisoners have been diagnosed with a mental health condition.

“It’s the first of it’s kind in the country, and this will hopefully not only give the inmates a better level to be able to respond to when they have concerns and when they have issues they want to discuss,” said Crews.

The DOC says more than 2700 staffers have already been retrained on crisis management.  The secretary traveled to every stat facility over the past two months, while the department fired more than 40 employees.

The American Civil Liberties Union along with other human rights advocates have called for a federal investigation into the abuse claims against the Department.

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Gay Marriage Appeal Could Go Directly to State Supreme Court

October 14th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Attorney General Pam Bondi is asking a lower court to send the gay marriage question directly to the state’s highest court. The move is an about face for the states chief legal officer, and the move is drawing criticism from the gay rights community.

Attorney General Pam Bondi hasn’t said publicly if she’s for or against gay marriage, but she’s been adamant about how gay rights cases should be handled. On August 18th, she was confident the case would be decided in Washington. “The US Supreme Court. They need to decided this case. They are going to decide this case, hopefully sooner than later. So, we’ll have finality.”

But after the nation’s highest court turned down appeals, Bondi has filed paper work with a Florida appellate court, saying gay marriage is a matter of great public importance. She wants the case to go directly to Florida’s Supreme Court.

Gay rights activists say the latest filing is just one more delaying tactic, trying to get the Attorney General past the November election. Her office declined comment, leaving a void for gay rights activists to fill. Jim Van Riper is the President of Equality Florida. He says “It’s really time for her to stop wasting taxpayer money, and let it go. It’s time to drop the appeals.”

Democrat George Sheldon has also been chiding Bondi for months to drop appeals…saying the writing is on the wall. “So, if you were Attorney General, what would you do?” we asked. His response:  “I would immediately stop, I would drop the appeals, I would ask the courts in Florida to lift the stays on the decisions for the courts that have already ruled, and, ah, move on.”

The appellate court is not obligated to bump the case up without a hearing and the State Supreme Court is not obligated to take the case without a lower court conflict.

4.8 million voters approved he Marriage Protection Amendment in 2008. It was placed on the ballot through an initiative petition.

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