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Booster Seats Bill Hits Roadblock in House

March 25th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Across the country, four children are killed and 490 are injured everyday in traffic crashes.

More than half are totally unrestrained.

In an effort to make the roads safer for children lawmakers are looking to increase the age kids must be kept in booster seats, but some say the Government shouldn’t be playing parent.

Tajiria Howard has a one year old daughter.

For now, she rides in a car seat, but Howard says once she turns four she’ll move to a booster seat.

“It’s the safest thing. I don’t want to not have a car seat and then something happen,” said Howard.

Howard says she’ll keep the booster seat until her daughter is six.

Florida law only requires a booster seat for kids five and under, but new legislation would raise the age to six and under.

“Just put a 20 or $30 booster seat in and potentially save kids from long term disabilities and traumatic brain injuries we’ve seen that last a child their whole life,” said Senate sponsor Kieth Perry.

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration recommends kids age seven and under should restrained in a booster seat, but supporters hope increasing the age gradually, will give the bill a better chance of passing.

However, House Transportation Subcommittee Chairman Rep. Brad Drake says he doesn’t intend to give the bill a hearing, arguing the government shouldn’t be playing parent.

“I’m not real comfortable with a government making those choices that belong to the parents,” said Drake.

Mary Lynn Cullen with the Advocacy Institute for Children has been pushing for the change for years.

“The fight’s not over yet,” said Cullen.

She points out that the $60 fine in the bill can be waived, if the parent takes a booster seat safety course.

“This really is a learning bill, not a gotcha bill,” said Cullen.

Supporters of the bill hope opponents have a change of heart, arguing the more time that passes, the more kids stand to be injured or even killed in accidents.

On Tuesday supporters of raising the minimum age for booster states will hold a rally in the state capitol.

Speakers will include former first responders who have witnessed first hand how dangerous it can be for young children to ride without booster seats.

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Hemp Moving Out of the Shadows

March 25th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Hemp, which is marijuana with a low THC level, was legalized and taken off the Federal Schedule I list of dangerous drugs last year.

While it remains illegal under Florida law, a Senate committee Monday voted to legalize hemp, and that’s good news for what is already a growth industry for the state.

Charles Savage got bitten by a tick and ended up with lime disease.

“It took a big toll on me, like arthritis and pain,” said Savage.

For months, he got no relief until he tried CBD oil made from low THC hemp.

“It pretty much was a game changer for me. I have full ability now, zero pain. It’s phenomenal,” said Savage.

With his pain gone, Savage opened his own CBD store, but Hemp and its CBD oil remain in a legally gray area.

“It’s still as schedule one drug as it relates to our statutes, so the goal is to free that up and let this industry thrive and grow,” said Rep Ben Albritton.

While hemp is still in a legally gray area, hemp is out of the shadows.

The Hemp Association has its office less than a block from the Capitol.

Gabe Suarez owns two CBD stores with at least three more in the works.

He’s been raided by police but not arrested.

“We hope this will guide law enforcement in the right direction and to enforce things properly, and not be misinformed and sometimes harassing stores like we experienced in the past,” said Suarez.

Saurez supports licensing.

“There is a good number of players that do things honestly and right, but you can’t guarantee everybody always will, so this will regulate that,” said Saurez.

The legislation also calls for the testing of products for THC levels and for purity, something missing in today’s market.

Unlike medical marijuana, the hemp program would be overseen by the Department of Agriculture.

Citrus farmers as well as those who lost timber in Hurricane Michael has expressed interest in growing hemp.


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Medical Marijuana Business Association Dropped By Suntrust Bank

March 25th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Suntrust Bank is facing some criticism tonight for closing the bank account of the Tallahassee based Florida Medical Marijuana Business Association.

The association was told by letter that the bank is looking out for not only its customers best interests, but the banks as well.

The letter made no mention of marijuana, but founder Jeff Sharkey says there name tells it all.

“We’re trying to find banks that want to get involved. Hopefully congress will do something to eliminate the restrictions at the federal level. But, you know, we got thirty days to find a bank,” said Sharkey.

Marijuana remains a schedule one drug under federal law.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, who saw her campaign account closed last year because of donations from marijuana lobbyists calls SunTrusts action a move in the wrong direction.

“As we move forward on cannabis with an expansion of access to medical marijuana and a state hemp program, SunTrust’s policy shift is a move in the wrong direction. A lack of financial services forces all cash operations, which is inefficient and a public safety risk. Businesses can’t operate with irregularities restricting their growth, stability, and ability to pay bills,” said Fried. “Cannabis provides an important medicine and an incredible economic potential for Florida. We should be enacting forward-thinking policies to position our state to become a national leader in the industry.”

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Deadline Approaching For Hurricane Irma Claims

March 22nd, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Low income families, including the elderly, and those families with disabilities or children under 18 who suffered damage to their home from Hurricane Irma in 2017 are eligible to apply for funds to rebuild their home from Rebuild Florida, but the deadline to register for assistance is next Friday, March 29th.

Department of Economic Opportunity Director Ken Lawson says if you don’t register by the deadline, you’ll miss your chance for assistance.

“Any Floridian that suffered damage from Hurricane Irma is eligible to register. Then, once they register, explain who they are, type of damage, then we’ll review it and determine if they can apply. And if they apply, and determine that we can be helpful, we’ll work with them to either rebuild or repair their home,” said Lawson.

More than six thousand people have already received funding from Rebuild Florida.

It is part of a one point four billion dollar grant from the Federal Government.

For more information you can visit the website, RebuildFlorida.gov or call the Department of Economic Opportunity at 844.833.1010.

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Early Budgets Show Big Divides In Major Areas

March 22nd, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Over the last 24 hours the House and Senate spending plans were unveiled.

Governor Ron DeSantis released his more than a month ago.

While the three are fairly close on some big issues like the environment, other areas like education show big differences.

When the Governor unveiled his initial budget request earlier this year he asked for $625 million for the environment and water clean up.

“I think with the water, people want us to tackle it and so I’m serious about doing it and we’re going to get it done,” said DeSantis.

Now it’s looking like the Governor may get his way.

The House budget is $18 million short, but the Senate raised the Governor $25 million, proposing $650 million for the environment.

“There’s a lot of good stuff in there,” said Jonathan Webber with the Florida Conservation Voters.

But Webber says it’s not all good news.

He points out neither chamber honored the Governor’s request for $100 million for land acquisition.

“Protecting land is protecting water. So if you want to do a lot of ecological good in Florida, start protecting the most important lands,” said Webber.

While overall spending for the environment is close, education spending is far apart.

The Senate wants to raise the education budget by $1.1 billion.

The House is proposing $600 million.

“A step in the right direction, a small step with the Senate budget,” said Martin Powell with the Florida Education Association.

FEA, the state’s largest teachers union, is happy to see $600 million in flexible funds, that could be used for teacher pay raises, included in the Senate’s budget.

“I know there’s a negotiation to be had. I’m hopeful that the House comes up to the Senate, rather than the Senate coming down to the House,” said Powell.

Health care is another area the House and Senate are far apart. The Senate is proposing $543 million dollars than the House.

Hurricane Irma and Michael recovery makes the budget especially tight this year, which means lawmakers have a lot of work ahead of them if they’re to come to an agreement by May 3rd.

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Vegetable Garden Protections Clear Senate

March 21st, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida Senate passed a bill Thursday preventing local governments from banning front yard vegetable gardens.

While only a few cities actually have a ban, it became a matter of property rights for some powerful and influential lawmakers.

Edgar Jackson grows vegetables to give away.

He is a man of few words, putting bluntly when we asked if he would want someone telling him he couldn’t grow his produce on his property.

“No, I wouldn’t,” said Jackson.

But State Senator Rob Bradley has plenty to say when it comes to local governments banning gardens in someone’s front yard.

“I find it outrageous that a local government would keep someone from growing food for their family on their own property,” said Bradley. “That’s why I filed the bill.”

Only a handful of cities ban front yard gardens.

A Miami Springs couple challenged the ban all the way to the supreme court and lost.

“I think it’s our duty to review decisions that are made in the courts,” said Bradley.

A handful of opponents say a sweeping ban goes too far.

“Where do the property rights of my neighbor end and mine begin with regard to a nuisance,” asked Senator Bobby Powell.

“These are fundamental property rights. When you own a piece of property you should be able to grow food on that property for your families consumption. With that I ask your support on this bill,” said Bradley.

The bill passed with a 35 to 5 vote.

One of those no votes is ironically named Farmer.

“Having a vegetable garden in a front yard will just attract more iguanas, as well as rats and some other stuff,” said Senator Gary Farmer.

As the bill moves through the House, there’s likely to be an effort to limit how big someone’s front yard garden can be.

The legislation has been a pun generator

“Lettuce get this done today,” said Senator Bradley addressing the chamber.

The legislation shows the reach a powerful state senator can have.

Miami Springs is the city that put the garden ban on the sponsor’s radar.

It’s 350 miles from his district outside Jacksonville.

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First Smokable Medical Marijuana Sold

March 21st, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Trulieve, the first company to open a medical marijuana dispensary has become the first company to sell smokable marijuana.

The company says it will soon offer the smokable marijuana at all 25 of its locations.

State Senator Jeff Brandes, is the author of the legislation that led to the sale.

He was surprised, but pleased with the speed of getting the product to patients.

“That seems like the Department is all in the know and everything’s on the up and up and acting in good faith,” said Brandes. “I think everyone knew it was coming, but I think it speaks well of Governor DeSantis wasting no time making sure people have access to medical cannabis.”

A second dispensary, Curaleaf, has also been approved to sell the smokable marijuana.

A third company, Altmed, has applied but not yet been authorized.

All three companies applied before the passage of the Senate Bill authorizing the sales.

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Lawmakers Look to Regulate Peer to Peer Car Loans

March 21st, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Tampa International Airport is suing a company that operates like AirBNB does, only instead of renting someone’s house, you can rent someone’s car.

The company seeks to stop the company, Turo, from picking up people at the airport without paying the same fees as other rental companies.

State Senator Jeff Brandes, who is know for pushing new tech ideas, says the airport is over reacting,

“I want the airport to do the right thing here. They need to recognize changing business models and to recognize these are not traditional car rental companies. That they don’t have a physical presence on their facilities, other than maybe a parking space now and then. So to the extent that we can help these peer to peer transactions. I mean these are government facilities. People are all paying taxes. How do we help facilitate that transaction and be open to new ideas and new businesses? I think they need to be leading here instead of suing here,” said Brandes.

Brandes believes lawmakers should wait a year or two and before trying to regulate the startup.

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To CRC or Not to CRC?

March 21st, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Many Florida voters were upset when they saw bundled constitutional amendments on the ballot this past November.

Lawmakers are pushing two separate initiatives that would prevent bundling in the future.

Do you want to ban vaping in the work place?

How about banning oil drilling?

Last November if you wanted one, you had to accept the other as well.

Senator Rob Bradley says voters took offense.

“That’s the one complaint I heard more than any,” said Bradley.

There were five bundled amendments on the ballot in 2018, all put there by the Constitution Revision Commission.

It’s the only body not limited to a single subject rule, but Senator Bradley is sponsoring legislation poised for a floor vote in the Senate would change that.

“This bill ends bundling,” said Bradley.

Legislation in the House goes even further.

It would put the option of abolishing the CRC before voters.

Sponsor Rep. Brad Drake says the last CRC abused its power and acted as a quasi-Legislature.

“Their sole purpose was to be a proxy vote by those who appointed them. That’s where I say, okay we’ve gone too far,” said Drake.

Lawmakers in support of abolishing the CRC altogether say they’d be in support of both proposals being put on the ballot, and letting voters decide which path to take.

But Senator Bradley believes the CRC does still serve a purpose.

“People generally are comfortable with the idea that there is a citizen’s body that can meet every 20 years to take a look at our constitution,” said Bradley.

Rep. Drake says if someone figures out how to remove the politics from the CRC, he’d kill his own bill.

“I would abandon my idea and support that if I thought that there was a way to get there,” said Drake.

If either proposal gets legislative approval this year, voters will make the final call in 2020.

Sponsors say if nothing gets passed this year, they’ll have plenty of time to try again.

The CRC only meets once every 20 years.

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Suicide Prevention Highlighted at State Capitol

March 21st, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Suicide is the 8th leading cause of death in Florida.

Suicide prevention advocates were at the state Capitol this morning, drawing attention to progress made and areas the state still needs to improve in.

One major area of concern, lesbian, gay and bisexual individuals are 3 or 4 times more likely to take their own lives. Trans people are 8 to 10 times more likely to commit suicide.

Rep. Michael Grieco says banning conversion therapy in the state could help.

“For those who are unfamiliar, conversion therapy is the discredited practice aimed at changing an individuals sexual orientation or gender identity through shaming, emotionally traumatic or physically painful stimuli with the hope that the victim will associate those stimuli with their identities,” said Grieco.

Each year suicide costs the state $2.8 billion in lost productivity and healthcare costs.

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Workplace Vaping Ban Clears Senate

March 21st, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

With no fanfare and no debate, it took the Florida Senate just 29 seconds this morning to fulfill voters wishes when it comes to banning vaping in the workplace.

“This is the bill implements Amendment nine, adding the vaping ban to existing prohibitions against smoking in indoor work. places,” said Senate sponsor Wilton Simpson.

It passed with unanimous support.

Vaping is permitted in stand alone bars and vape shops.

Violating the ban could land someone a fine of at least $250 up to $750 for a first offense.

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More Than 100 March for AOB Reform

March 20th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

125 supporters seeking to reform Assignment of Benefits contracts, which assign insurance benefits to third party contractors, marched to the state Capitol this morning.

Insurers have been fighting to close loopholes in the contracts, which they say has resulted in frivolous lawsuits. Under current law insurance companies often have to pay a contractors legal fees when suing the insurer.

They say the excessive litigation has driven up rates for consumers.

“Consumers across Florida have experienced first hand the abuse of AOB practices in our state and as a result, the home and auto insurance rates that are skyrocketing and costing us all as Floridians. This strong show of solidarity sends a loud message to lawmakers, that something must be done to stop assignment of benefits abuse and it must be done this session,” said Executive Director of the Florida Chamber of Commerce, David Hart.

The group delivered 10,000 signed petitions demanding action from lawmakers. This session Florida’s Chief Financial Officer has set AOB Reform as his top priority.

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House Poised to Pass Comprehensive Healthcare Package

March 20th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The House is expected to pass its comprehensive healthcare reform package Thursday.

Florida’s House Speaker Jose Oliva has vowed to end what he calls the “Health Care industrial complex”.

Oliva says if hospitals faced more competition, their prices would be forced to come down.

“It is time for us to bring real reform,” said Oliva on the opening day of session. “We are now spending almost as much on healthcare as we are spending on all other things combined.”

To prove his point, the Speaker brought in healthcare researcher Chris Pope to brief house members on Wednesday.

“Hospital costs are enormous,” said Pope.

Pope likens current local hospitals to small scale monopolies.

“It’s important to support these hospitals and it’s important to support access to essential care, but we need to have accountability for this,” said Pope. “Just handing over money and market power and trusting hospitals are going to put the money where we want them to put the money, that hasn’t worked out very well.”

Another idea being pushed this year would expand the scope of duties advanced registered nurse practitioners could perform without supervision from a doctor.

The bill is facing opposition from some doctors, who say the expertise doctors bring is essential to ensure quality care.

“Most challenging diagnosis in family medicine are those in early undifferentiated stages, when there are often only subtle difference between a serious and minor ailment,” said Orlando Doctor Nikita Shah.

But bill sponsor Rep. Carey Pigman says 22 other states have already made the change without seeing any problems.

“So this is sort of calling it on the table,” said Pigman. “If we’ve not seen a benefit, there’s not some measurable benefit from the supervision, why do we tolerate any of the cost?”

While hospital reforms are moving quickly through the House, there are signs of trouble in the Senate, which nearly killed a bill that would make it easier for new hospitals to come to an area earlier this week.

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Former Female Prisoners Advocate for Better Conditions

March 20th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Former female prisoners rallied at the State Capitol Wednesday morning in support of legislation that would require Florida prisons to provide feminine hygiene products to inmates.

Supporters say female prisoners are often provided with a limited supply and forced to pay for, or even outright denied additional mensural products.

“For a woman who has resources, I had support, who had to actually quantify my cycle, which meant put used pads in a brown paper bag to show a male officer in order for them to get me more pads, and the inhumane and disgusting treatment that I felt, I couldn’t imagine what women felt and went through who didn’t have resources,” said Topeka K. Sam, Director of Dignity for Incarcerated Women.

The bill would also make changes to how male corrections staff are allowed to handle female inmates.

It also increases reporting of inappropriate incidents between male staff and female prisoners.

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New Hazing Law Aims to Incentivize Reporting Incidents

March 20th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Fraternity members who haze one another would have an incentive to call for emergency help under legislation filed in response to an FSU student’s death in November 2017.

The parents and others believe their son would have lived if an immunity provision was law at the time.

Fraternity Pledge Andrew Coffey was forced to drink an entire bottle of Wild Turkey before passing out on a couch in this off campus house.

Instead of calling for help, fraternity members left for hours before returning to find him dead.

Even then they hesitated to call 9-1-1.

“It is written to save someone’s life,” said Representative Chip LaMarca, who is sponsoring new legislation the would provide immunity to the first person who calls for help in a case of a hazing incident.

LaMarca filed the bill in response to Coffey’s death. When asked if he believed it would have saved the student’s life he responded, “Absolutely, 100 percent.”

State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith says students also came to him.

“And they want to make sure that if they call 9-1-1 for assistance that the student is not going to get in trouble for trying to help another student. Maybe the reality is that they were under age drinking. Maybe they were doing illegal drugs,” said Smith.

Florida is one of only ten states that doesn’t provide immunity to the first one who calls.

17 months after the death of their son, the Coffey family is still visibly shaken.

“We’d like to ask you to pay very close attention to this bill. That you enhance it…and make it so this never happens again,” said Andrew’s father, Tom Coffey

The legislation also expands the law to allow fraternity leadership who help plan a hazing, but aren’t there to be charged with the crime.

Nine were charged in the hazing death of Andrew Coffey.

The Pi Kappa Phi fraternity was closed, and FSU instituted tough new standards for Greek life on campus.

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