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Gwen Graham Delivers Over 4,000 Petitions to Senator Rubio Against Senate Healthcare Plan

June 27th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Former US Representative and gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham was at the State Capitol today speaking out against the Senate’s proposed healthcare bill and delivering nearly 5,000 petitions to Senator Marco Rubio’s Office.
Congresswoman Graham is urging Senator Rubio to vote no on the bill she says would cost 22 million people their insurance, and would make drastic cuts to Medicaid.
The bill also allows preexisting conditions to affect insurance costs, something Graham says has become personal after her husband was diagnosed with stage IV prostate cancer.
“This has made this very personal for me. He now would be considered to have a preexisting condition and if he ever lost his insurance he would not be able to get insurance if preexisting conditions were not covered,” said Graham.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell says a vote on the Senate bill won’t be taken until after the July 4th Recess.

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New Law Allows All County Residents a Voice in Public School Learning Materials

June 27th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Your neighbor will now have a say in what your kids are learning in school, thanks to new law.
The new law has many in the education system concerned.
Three years ago state lawmakers told local school boards to seek more input when selecting textbooks. Keith Flaugh with Citizens Alliance says few listened.
“Parents get you know like a three to four week window to raise objections, after they’ve already made their decision what they’re going to buy,” said Flaugh.
The concerned Naples Grandfather forced legislation through during this past session that now requires school boards to give all county residents a say on selection.
Supporters say parents and families will now be guaranteed a say in what their kids are taught, something they say they were previously left out of.
Not everyone agrees. State Senator Bill Montford, a former school superintendent voted no on the legislation. He worries people taking advantage of the complaint system might keep old books on the shelves.
“It could cause the students in these schools not to have the opportunity for a good textbook or good material just because someone may disagree with something in there. And again they may very well be in the minority,” said Senator Montford.
Conerstone Learning Community is a private school and not impacted by the new law. Nonetheless, Director Jason Flom agrees the new law is a bad idea.
“We risk putting opinions over facts. We risk putting feelings and beliefs over tried and true methods,” said Flom.
Even with the new law, local school boards will still have the final say on adopting new educational materials, but voters have the final say on who is elected to the school boards.
School Boards will also be required to keep a list of instructional materials they’ve purchased on their websites.

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Governor Rick Scott Name Jimmy Patronis as New Chief Financial Officer

June 26th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Governor Rick Scott has named a former state legislator to be the state’s next Chief Financial Officer.
Jimmy  Patronis of Panama City has a long resume, but us environmentalists says his actions while in office raise concerns.
Governor Rick Scott, in a rare appointment, has named the former Panama City State Representative to be the states next chief Financial Officer.
“Look forward to bringing a continued legacy of economic prosperity, job creation and a stronger economy to our great state,” said Patronis after the announcement Monday morning.
Patronis supported Scott for Governor in early 2010 when few know the current Governor.
“He’s a small business person, he knows the impact government has on businesses. He knows higher taxes and more regulation hurts businesses,” said Governor Scott.
Patronis, made a name for himself supporting anti-regulatory legislation that many felt harmed the environment.
As CFO, Petronius will vote on state lands and will have oversight of the Department of Environmental protection.
As a legislator, he sponsored 2013 legislation signed by the governor that sped up the permitting for natural gas pipelines.
It is credited with helping ease the construction of the Sabal Pipeline which sparked numerous protests.
“He was a standard bearer for developers who wanted to bypass much needed regulations who just wanted somebody who would just get them right through,” said Johanna Cervone with the Florida Democratic Party.
Petronius replaces Jeff Atwater, who is resigning to take a top post at Florida Atlantic University.
“It was the honor of a lifetime you know from City Council to state house to state senate to sitting on the Cabinet. It’s been a wonderful run,” said Atwater.
Since working as a State Representative Patronis has held the positions on the Constitution Revision Commission and the Public Service Commission.
Patronis is expected to swear in on Friday, Jeff Atwater’s last day.
Patronis will finish out Atwater’s term which ends next year.
It’s unclear whether he will run for a full term in 2018.

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LGBTQ Activists Calling For Executive Order From Governor to Protect LGBTQ State Employees

June 23rd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
LBGTQ activists say Governor Rick Scott broke his promise to do more to protect against discrimination after the Pulse night club shootings.
One year later there are still no additional employment or housing protections for LGBTQ individuals.
Brandon Wolf is a survivor of the Pulse Nightclub shooting.
The tragedy took the life of his close friend.
Wolf says even in the wake of the deadliest mass shooting in recent history, little to no progress has been made in the state.
“If somebody out there in the private sector didn’t realize that I identified as LGBTQ they could watch this interview and I could lose my job. I could lose my home. I could be denied access to public accommodations. That is appalling,” said Wolf.
Florida law does not protect LGBTQ individuals from employment discrimination.
Activists with Equality Florida say the Governor promised an executive order to extend protections to state employees and contractors, but has since pulled back.
The Governor’s Office has issued a statement explaining why the order never became reality.
“In accordance with federal guidelines” the order says in part: “Florida state agencies do not discriminate on the basis of sexual orientation.”
State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith says Scott’s statement isn’t backed up by solid legislation or policy.
“It requires explanation, it requires proof and he needs to answer why he has not delivered on the executive order that was promised,” said Representative Smith.
At least 11 counties and 33 cities in Florida have passed their own local ordinances offering employment protections to LGBTQ individuals in both the private and public sector.
20 states have also adopted policies to protect the LGBTQ community from employment and housing discrimination.
The lack of explicit language in Florida policy means traditional routes of discrimination protection don’t exist for LGBTQ state employees, but civil suits may be filed against an employer if a person were terminated due to their sexual orientation under EEOC guidelines.

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Father’s Anti Texting Fight Continues

June 23rd, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The families of people who have died at the hands of texting or otherwise distracted drivers are unhappy state lawmakers did noting this year to prevent deaths. But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, one distraught father is using his hurt and anger to keep pushing for change.

Anthony Branca was 19 when he died just before thanksgiving in 2014.

 

“He slowed down to take a left turn on his motorcycle and the guy behind him didn’t because he was distracted by something” says Anthony’s father Demetrius.

Dad Demetrius has turned his anger and hurt into action. He’s been a frequent advocate for tougher texting laws at the state Capitol.

“46 other states have enacted primary laws against distracted driving” he told a rally in April.

But legislation that would have allowed obviously distracted drivers to be ticketed never got a hearing in the House.

“There’s a lot of people ho are gonna die between now and next legislative session that we maybe could have rescued” says Demetrius.

The Department of Highway Safety says there were more than 50 thousand accidents caused by distracted driving in 2016 alone.

That’s one hundred thirty-six accidents a day; or almost six an hour. every day and a half, somebody dies.

And the prognosis for changing the law in 2018 isn’t much better says the Senate sponsor Rene Garcia (R-Miami).

“It’s going to be hard to get that passed through the House of Representatives” concedes Garcia.

The problem is the man next in line to be Speaker. Rep. Jose Oliva, readily agrees that there is a problem,  but he worries about infringing on  civil liberties. Demetrius agrees with Oliva on that point.

I”don’t want the police to be able to pull me over and look in my phone. But they don’t need to look in my phone to see what I was doing to know that I was driving distracted” Demetrius told us.

The tenacious father, relentless in telling his son’s story, says Anthony would be doing the same for him if the death had been his instead.

In addition to continuing to lobby for tougher penalties for texting, Demetrius Branca says he’s also pushing the idea of requiring hands free devices if someone needs to talk while driving.

 

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One Year After Pulse, Activists say Governor Rick Scott has Dropped the Ball on Protecting LGBTQ Rights

June 22nd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Officials with Equality Florida and the Florida Democratic Party are criticizing Governor Rick Scott for failing to issue an executive order protecting LGBTQ individuals from employment discrimination.
Leon County Democratic Party Chairman, Andy Janecek says the Legislature as a whole has failed the LGBTQ community when it comes to protecting employment rights.
“In Florida aside from some county protections, there’s now law that protects you if you go to work the next day and you place a picture of your new partner or your wedding on your desk, your employer can terminate you for that very reason in Florida. That is still allowed and that’s unacceptable,” said Janecek.
Activists say they had an open dialogue with the Governors staff in the wake of the Pulse Night Club shooting and were assured Scott would take action on the issue. Now more than a year later there hasn’t been any movement on the issue.

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National Organization for Women Calls for Board of Governor’s Member to Resign

June 22nd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A member of the Governing Board of the State University apologized after suggesting the reason women make less than men is because of genetics.
But the National Organization for Women says the apology doesn’t go far enough.
While discussing the pay gap between men and women graduates, Board of Governors member Ed Morton said this,“The women are given, maybe some of it is genetic, I don’t know. I’m not smart enough to know the difference.”
A furor followed. Rick Scott, who appointed Morton, made it clear he didn’t agree and released a statement through his press secretary saying…. “As a father of two daughters, the Governor absolutely does not agree with this statement.”
The following day Morton apologized in a statement that said in part, “I chose my words poorly. My belief is that women and men should be valued equally in the workplace.”
The apology isn’t enough for the National Organization for Women.
“Mr. Morton should resign,” said Barbara DeVane, a Lobbyist for Florida NOW.
NOW says if Morton doesn’t step down, Rick Scott Should remove him from office.
“No one in 2017 should ever be making such a statement. Especially someone who’s on the Board of Governors,” said DeVane.
Florida is one of 15 states that has not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.
“Every session we don’t even get a hearing, just like this past session. So for someone in this position to be making such a statement is idiotic and ignorant,” said DeVane. “Genetics has nothing to do with the difference in salary between a man and a woman. It all has to do with discrimination.”
In Florida women who graduate from state universities are being paid on average $5,500 less each year than men.
Governor Rick Scott’s press office failed to issue a statement regarding whether or not the Governor would consider removing Morton from office in time for this story.

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Morton Apologizes for “Poor Choice of Words”

June 21st, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Florida’s Board of Governors were told statistics show women graduates make less than their male counterparts a year after leaving school.
During the Tuesday meeting, board member Ed Morton suggested teaching salary negotiating skills for women, but also said the gap may be genetic.
“The women are given, maybe some of it’s genetic, I don’t know. I’m not smart enough to know the difference, but I do know that negotiating skills can be something that can be honed and we can improve,” said Morton.
Morton, appointed by Governor Rick Scott, was quickly condemned by the Governor in a statement issued by his press secretary: “As a father of two daughters, the Governor absolutely does not agree with this statement.”
Morton has since apologized, issuing a statement but refusing interviews. He says in part, “I chose my words poorly. My belief is that women and men should be valued equally in the workplace.”
The controversy comes after legislation failed in the 2017 regular session that attempted to close the wage gap between men and women.
More women than men graduate from Florida universities, still women’s median starting salaries are $5,500 less than men.
Dr. Wayne Hochwarter a professor  of Organizational Behavior at FSU says the gap is more likely a result of women choosing professions that pay less.
“Whereas you still have a large section of young men who are also in the business school and engineering and in medical areas, as well as the legal profession,” said Dr. Hochwarter.
Dr. Hockwarter also says research shows women often times are better prepared and better equipped for situations like negotiating salaries.
The report presented to the Board of Governors also revealed African American graduates make $3,500 less that other graduates in their first jobs.

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As Rain Falls in Florida, Assignment of Benefits is Getting Costly

June 21st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

 

When you go to your doctor, most people sign a form allowing the doctor to bill the charges directly to your insurance company (if you are lucky enough to have one). The same thing often takes place when it comes to home repairs, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, claims of abuse in the assignments are about to raise insurance rates in Florida.

Water remediation and remodeling contractors likely paid a finders fee to get the work to repair these flooded homes. The extra fee drives up the overall bill.

The contractors are doing what doctors do. They ask you to sign a form so the insurance company pays them. It’s called assignment of benefits or AOB.

When an insurance company balks at repair costs, contractors sue. If they get a penny more than the company originally offered, the insurer, by law, must also pay their attorneys fees.

The problem is primarily in South Florida, but spreading north. The States Insurance Commissioner says those law suits are going to cost you more, soon.

“Rate increases could be as much as ten percent if this is unaddressed” says Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier.

 

On average the owner of a hundred fifty thousand dollar new home will be paying 65 dollars more for insurance next year…by 2022, that number jumps to 350 dollars a year.

 

”Well, I think it’s manufactured crisis” says  Jeff Grant of the Florida Assn of Restoration Specialists. He has been calling for his industry to be regulated.

“I think if you regulate us, gets rid of all the riffraff in our industry. You have to be background checked, and the majority of these issues goes away” says Grant.

The number of AOB lawsuits has skyrocketed. From 400 a decade ago to more than 40 thousand this year.

In addition to water remediation and remodeling contractors, insurance regulators say they are seeing fraud in windshield and roofing repair.

 

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Florida Universities Begin Laying the Framework For Industrial Hemp Projects

June 20th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The University of Florida and Florida A & M  could soon be in the business of researching hemp.
Legislation allowing the research, which has only been legal since 2014 has been signed into law.
FAMU is gearing up in anticipation for the research to begin.
Florida’s farmers are looking for new ways to make ends meet.
Citrus production is down.
The new law is giving universities in the state with a college of agriculture the go ahead to look at hemp as a possible alternative.
“That they could actually count on as a cash supplement, even between times when they’re growing whatever normally they would grow,” said Representative Ralph Massullo, who sponsored the bill in the House.
Hemp is a non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana.
It has a long history of cultivation in the US and the country imports about $600 million worth each year.
Last April we interviewed a hemp farmer from Kentucky, whose family has been growing the plant since the early 1800’s.
Two Universities qualify to begin pilot hemp projects, The University of Florida and Florida A and M.
The majority of the funding for the programs will come from private partners.
FAMU says it’s already receiving inquiries from excited investors.
“There are a lot of companies that would like to get on board so to speak,” said Dr. Robert Taylor, Dean and Director Land Grant Program at FAMU.
Before the first seed can be planted the Department of Agriculture has to come out with a set of guidelines for universities to follow, including how to make sure plants are safe and secure.
Even though hemp can’t get you high, it’s still a controlled plant.
“People from the outside may think that it is you know, more marijuana than hemp,” said Dr. Taylor.
FAMU says it plans on support from their private partners to keep the plants secure.
The universities will report back to the Governor and the Legislature in two years to brief them on what the research has found.
If all goes well the Legislature will look at legalizing hemp cultivation for farmers in the state.
The department of Agriculture has 4 months to implement rules and guidelines for the research programs.

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Trial Date Set in Murder for Hire of FSU Law Professor

June 20th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Nearly three years after an FSU law professor was killed in an alleged murder for hire plot, a trial date has been set for the accused triggerman. As Mike Vasilinda tells us documents given to defense attorneys show the investigation is still ongoing.

Sigfredo Garcia got a court date. January 22, three and a half years after he’s accused of shooting FSU law professor Dan Markel point blank in a hundred thousand dollar murder for hire plot.

Co-defendant Katherine Magbanua is the mother of Garcia’ s children. She’s accused of arranging the murder with the law professors ex wife’s brother and mother. Prosecutor Georgia Cappleman had asked for a November trial date.

 

“I don’t have any plan to make any arrests at this time, additional arrests” says Cappleman.

Two cell mates of Garcia have told investigators that Garcia confessed to them.

“He got drunker and drunker.” says Nicholas Atteridge. Atteridge says Magbanua’s arrest hit Garcia hard.

“That He would do life in prison for here. He wants to get word to her to do what ever she has to do to get out, testify against him, give up the Adelson’s” Atteridge told investigators.

A second cell mate said Garcia told him the ex-wife’s family paid for the hit.

 

“The Don Adelson are the people who provided the money to Garcia” said cellmate Jason McNair in a recorded interview.

Garcia’s attorney, Mutaqee Akbar, says the testimony is worthless.

“Jailhouse snitches are not reliable, and anybody can tell you that” Akbar told reporters.

The January 2018 trial date is not set in stone. The defense says its likely going to need more time.

Prosecutors have also released several hours of undercover video, showing the ex brother in law meeting with Magbanua, then his father and mother. The video adds no conclusive evidence, but it does show the efforts law enforcement is making to close the case.

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“Rain is Gonna Fall”

June 20th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Rain fell across most of north Florida all day long and is expected to last through Thursday. The Governor’s office is warning of flooding and says “Affected counties have not reported any unmet needs and every county emergency operations center (EOC) remains in monitoring status. Tropical Storm Cindy is expected to make landfall west of Florida and so far the state’s Emergency Operations Center remains at a level 2 status, the same status it was at when wildfires were covering the state. The center is not expected to fully activate for Cindy.

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Judge Reverses Decision, Makes Pre Reveal Games Illegal

June 19th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A Circuit Court Judge has reversed his ruling on Pre Reveal Game Machines to reclassify them as illegal slots.
The ruling comes after the judge was asked to reconsider his decision by the Seminole Tribe.
The Seminole Tribe has exclusive rights to slot machines and banked card games like blackjack in Florida, except in two southeast Florida counties.
In return, the tribe pays a percentage of it’s profits to the state.
That exclusivity was  jeopardized over a court ruling that legalized machines known as Pre Reveal Games.
“These machines as we understand it are spreading rapidly,” said Barry Richard, a lawyer representing the Seminole Tribe.
The games play like slot machines with one exception, players can know ahead of time if the next game will be a winner.
Although players now the outcome of a game before they put their money down, they can’t know the outcome of future games.
And that’s where the gamble is.
“And nobody leaves a winning game on the machine so you always start with a losing game. And you’re playing a losing game even though you know it,” said Richard. “Why do you do that? You do it because you want the chance of winning the next game and you don’t know the result of the next game. That’s a slot machine.”
State regulators deemed the machines illegal, but manufacturer Gator Coin II challenged the state.
Circuit Judge John Cooper initially ruled the games were not gambling.
He reversed his decision Monday.
“Because the tribe is entitled to have no competition even from one machine. They’re paying over 250 million dollars a year,” said Richard. “That’s twice as much as the casino taxes from all of the parimutuels put together that have casinos in Florida.”
If the Seminole Tribe pulled out of its agreement with the state, it could have cost the state between 250 and 300 million dollars in annual revenue.
Two pre reveal game manufacturers declined to be interviewed before the court hearing.
Bars and gas stations currently operating machines in their businesses will have to cease with the new ruling.
Officials with Gator Coin II say they plan to appeal the decision.

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Building Code Changes Worry Disaster Managers, others

June 19th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Legislation making major changes to Florida’s building code got bundled with more than a dozen other changes in construction law this past session, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, a coalition of building officials and insurance interests fear the legislation could lead to a patchwork of requirements and higher insurance costs.


When Hurricane Ivan stormed into the panhandle in 2004, it leveled this 1950’s era brick house, while a newer home right next door sustained little if any damage. The difference, stronger building codes following 1992’s Hurricane Andrew.

House Bill 1021 is on the Governor’s desk. Florida Homebuilders CEO Rusty Payton pushed for the legislation, which he says streamlines future changes to the building code.

“It doesn’t weaker the code in any shape, form, or fashion. All it does is change the process by which we adopt future changes” Payton told us.

The legislation would allow Florida to pick and choose what new items it wants to add from the code. Building officials and Leslie Chapman Henderson of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes call it a disaster waiting to happen.

 

“If it becomes law, it will take Florida back to a system that lead to death, billion dollar losses, and certain destruction” says Chapman Henderson.

Home builders disagree.

“We can not weaken water intrusion, can not weaken wind loads” says Paton emphatically.

Chapman-Henderson counters: “This isn’t a streamlining. This is an abandonment. This is an abandonment of a system that has created the strongest building code in the country.”

The legislation contains about a dozen other changes to building and permitting laws, forcing the Governor to weigh the overall impact of the legislation.

Florida’s emergency management director lobbied against the change, which was sponsored by lawmakers who in their private lives are homebuilders and roofing contractors.

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Youth Advocates Searching for a Way to Raise Civil Citation Rates

June 16th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Some Juveniles who get in trouble with the law this weekend will be issued civil citations, others will go to jail.
Efforts to make the citations mandatory failed in the state legislature this year.
So, juvenile justice advocates are looking in to new solutions to make citation rates more consistent throughout the state.
Florida’s counties are all over the board when it comes to issuing civil citations to minors.
A study  by the Department of Juvenile Justice found rates as high as 93% in some counties officers in others issued no civil citations.
Legislation introduced during the 2017 session would have made it mandatory for officers in the state to issue civil citations to minors for their first offense.
The bill died because law enforcement said it would take away officer discretion.
“Essentially we would have had folks up in Tallahassee telling an officer in Fort Lauderdale how to assess the scene he or she was in,” said Sandi Poreda, who represents the Florida Police Chief’s Association.
Standardizing civil citations across the state was the Children’s Campaign’s top priority.
The Campaign says when kids get arrested it can seriously impact their futures.
“And you have to ask the question, how many children aren’t able to get summer jobs because they have an arrest record? And then we look at the arrest record and it’s for a misdemeanor,” said Roy Miller with the Children’s Campaign.
The organization is looking for a way to raise citation rates in way both advocates and law enforcement can get behind.
Officials with the Children’s Campaign believe they may have better luck raising citation rates by creating incentives for officers who write them.
The campaign wants officers to be required to justifying, in writing, why they chose to arrest a minor over issuing a citation.
Advocates with Florida Smart Justice Alliance say the proposal has potential.
“If it’s extra paperwork for them, maybe they’re going to think twice and they’ll say hey lets go ahead and divert this juvenile instead,” said Barney T. Bishop III with the Alliance.
Police say if people want change, it should come fro local residents, not the state.
According to the Department of Juvenile Justice’s study Pinellis County lead the State with a civil citation rate of 93%. Ten of Florida’s counties reported zero citations between 2015 and 2016.

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