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Compensating Wrongly Convicted James Richardson

April 18th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Imagine being sent to death row for poisoning your seven children knowing you were innocent. That’s what happened to James Richardson in the small town of Arcadia (90 miles southwest of Tampa), in 1968. Now, after nearly 40 years, Richardson is fighting to be compensated for his wrongful conviction

Fruit picker James Richardson went to death row in 1968 for allegedly poisoning his seven children. In the late 1980s high profile attorney Ellis Rubin started questioning the conviction.

“This case will illustrate what racism was in Florida in 1967,” said Rubin in a December 1998 interview.

A thorough investigation by the Governor and Special Prosecutor followed.

“Justice ought to prevail,” said Former Governor Bob Martinez in February 1989.

A neighbor confessed, the lawyer got the state Supreme Court to hear an appeal.

“We have alleged 17 instances of perjury with the knowledge of the state,” said Rubin.

Freed, pending a new trial, the state declined to retry Richardson.

“It’s marvelous,” said James Richardson in a 1989 interview. “I can be able to go where ever I want to go.”

Now James Richardson faces another obstacle, current law won’t allow him to be compensated for his lost years because there’s no DNA, but for that matter even a case file.”

“Because our wrongful-incarceration statute requires DNA…” said Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando).

Senator Thompson has legislation that threads a tricky legal needle. The bill would allow Richardson to apply for compensation.

“And the special Prosecutor issues a no-cross memorandum, which she did,” said Sen. Thompson. “And if the conviction was prior to 1980 that he should qualify to apply to be compensated.”

If approved, Richardson could apply for a payment of $50,000 for each of the 21 years he spent as an innocent man behind bars.

Richardson, now 79 is living in Wichita, Kansas.

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What’s Left In Session?

April 18th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Vacation time will be over for lawmakers on Monday and a 10 day scramble to pass laws will begin. Money matters will be on the front burner, and other high profile legislation is in doubt.

Senator Jack Latvala was confident his bill providing in-state tuition for undocumented students was a lock. It only has one more hurdle to clear.

“Negron, Sen. Negron, but he won’t hold us up. There’s no thought that will happen,” said Sen. Latvala (R-Pinellas County) at a rally two weeks ago.

Not so fast, Jack.  It now looks like Senator Joe Negron will block the bill. He chairs the appropriations committee. It leaves the proposal’s chances of passing in serious jeopardy.

Governor Rick Scott has supported the bill from the start of session. Mostly because it puts limits on tuition hikes for all students.

Scott is bringing serious heat to the in-state tuition issue. Former Governors Jeb Bush and Bob Martinez joined Scott to urge lawmakers to pass the proposal.

While in-state tuition legislation may come down to the wire, one thing that needs to be passed will be the budget.

A half-billion dollar tax cut is in the works. State spending watchdog Florida TaxWatch says the House and Senate will have a lot to work on to come to an agreement.

Dominic Colabro/Florida TaxWatch C.E.O.

“The sticking point is how long the sales tax holiday will be and what variations of those, and also there are some more broad based tax reliefs the Senate provides,” said TaxWatch C.E.O. Dominic Colabro.

$400 million of proposed tax cuts are already on their way.  A rollback of tag fees that were raised in ‘09 was signed by the Governor. The average person will save about $20. But those people who have signed up for a 2 year renewal prior to the tax cuts going into effect will most likely not be getting a refund.

Many believe that pressure from the Governor and House Speaker on the in-state tuition bill could lead to a last-minute breakthough, ultimately allowing the bill to pass.

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Easter Baby Duck Warning

April 17th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Easter time means a cute baby animal could be nestled inside those Easter baskets, but the Fish and Wildlife Commission has a warning out for people thinking about giving baby ducks as a present.

The cute, cuddly, and fluff baby mallard ducks seem like a great Easter present. But the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission says not so fast.

“These ducks they’re cute when they’re little but they do grow up, they do get bigger, they get loud, they get messy, and people get tired of them and let them go,” said FWC Waterfowl Manager Jamie Feddersen.

The FWC says that’s a problem for the animal and environment. Mallard’s breed with the Florida Mottled duck. Up to 25% of the Mottle duck population could be hybrids with Mallards. The species would be in trouble if the trend continues.

“We could literally breed the native Florida Mottle duck out of existence,” said Feddersen.

Baby ducks aren’t the only popular animals this time of year. Easter time means bunnies.

Pet store owner Carol Hoover says bunnies are a big seller,  but the same problems with ducks happen with four legged critters.

“We definitely don’t like people just to get them because it’s Easter and they don’t want them after the fact,” said Hoover.

Releasing a bunny into the wild could have severe consequences for an animal used to living in a cage.

“It’s definitely no good for the animal. They will probably die. They’re not used to being out on their own,’ she said.

Hoover recommends seriously thinking it over before purchasing any animal. For those still interested in buying a mallard, it is illegal to buy or sell one without a special permit.

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Free Marissa Alexander Rally

April 17th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Freedom for a Jacksonville woman facing 60 years for firing a shot in the direction of her now ex husband has become a national cause. Thousands have signed an online petition seeking the woman’s release.

Marissa Alexander spent two years of a 20 year sentence behind bars for firing a shot in the direction of her ex husband. Alexander is on house arrest after being given a new trial. Prosecutor Angela Cory is now seeking a sixty year sentence. That’s sparked national outrage.

“She has consistently and persistently overcharged and under-prosecuted the killers of black and brown bodies in the state of Florida,” said Edward James of the Black Youth Project 100.

The group brought a hundred thousand online petitions to the Governor’s office. The petitions seek Alexander’s release and the firing of Cory.

“Nobody was hurt,” said Melissa Bryne of Ultra Violet. “Aside from her, when she was abused by her husband and now you want to take away 60 years of her life.”

One petition says “Let this woman go…she has suffered enough.” Another asks, “How can a man go free for murdering a boy…And a woman face 60 years in jail for injuring no one?”

The Governor’s office accepted the petitions and the flowers.

It’s been two weeks since lawmakers passed the bill that basically legalizes the firing of warning shots. It has yet to make it to the Governor for his signature.

Aimee Castenell from Color of Change says the new legislation is good…but: “This is a larger issue of judging the systemic violence against black and brown people in the state of Florida,” she said.

The legislation also encourages anyone convicted of firing a shot and sent to prison to seek executive clemency from the Governor.

The legislative language on clemency is a strong hint lawmakers believe Clemency is appropriate for anyone who’s in jail for firing in self defense.

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National Media Report Skewers Jameis Winston Investigation

April 16th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Florida State university and the police department that handled the Jameis Winston case have now come under national scrutiny, but there are still many unanswered questions about the investigation.

A scathing media report cited numerous missteps in the Tallahassee Police Department’s investigation. They included a lack of effort in obtaining surveillance footage from the bar the accuser and Winston were at and half-hearted attempts to contact witnesses and a cab driver. State Attorney Willie Meggs, who’s office was not notified until 11 months after the encounter, has maintained the police department didn’t make it easy from the beginning.

“It would have been nice to talk to people in Potbelly’s, it would have been nice to have the video of what went on in Potbelly’s prior to the incident, it would have been nice to have an interview with the suspect,” said Meggs.

The Tallahassee Police Department declined an interview, but part of a statement they gave us reads “we take seriously the obligation to respond to any individual who wants to report a crime, regardless of who they are accusing.”

The university came under fire, as well, including how they report sexual assaults and when they began looking into the Winston case. FSU launched a website devoted to their response to the media report. The university legally has to look into a sexual assault complaint the moment they’re notified. FSU maintains they have fulfilled all of their legal obligations and objected to the media report.

The university is currently being investigated by the US Department of Education for their handling of the case. Winston’s accuser filed the complaint.

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Will Jeb Bush Run?

April 16th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

A new poll in Iowa shows former Florida Governor Jeb Bush running second to Mike Huckabee in the 2016 GOP Presidential Primary. Astounding numbers for a man not yet in the race.

Jeb Bush was inaugurated twice as Florida’s governor, the first and only Republican so far to have two terms.

Al Cardenas is one of Jeb Bush’s closest advisors. He thinks the former Governor is inching closer to making the run for president.

“If you had asked me six months ago, I would have said it’s highly unlikely he will run,” said Cardenas. “If you asked me today, I would say it’s fifty-fifty.”

But the run is anything but certain.

“As a friend,” said Cardenas, “I want him to do what’s best for him and his family and he ought to make a decision based on knowing all of the facts and I think that’s the process he’s going through right now.”

Jeb Bush has been taking a lot of flak from his party’s right over comments on immigration, or as he called it, ‘an act of love for their children.’

Bush has always been a moderate on immigration and while the right wing of his party is unhappy, USF political scientist Dr. Susan MacManus believes Bush’s statements will end up helping, not hurting if he runs.

“His view,” said MacManus, “which right now may be, not what the extremely conservative people want, but it may be mainstream by the time the election comes along.”

And MacManus says the former governor’s doing all the right things to get in the presidential race. But in the end,

“A lot of people think he will make his decision on whether he feels like based on polls and gut instincts and everything else that he can beat Hilary Clinton,” said MacManus.

Bush has promised a decision after this November’s election.

Jeb Bush’s oldest son, George P. Bush is running for a statewide office in Texas. Asked if the country has Bush fatigue after two Bush presidencies, Al Cardenas told Mike Vasilinda that will be up to the people’s choice.

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Financial Literacy Stuck in House

April 15th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

It’s tax day and who can argue with teaching our high school students to fill out a tax return or balance their checkbook? Apparently, some ranking members of the State House.

Balancing your checkbook or filling out a tax return are just two of the things high school students would be required to learn in a financial literacy course. The half-hour course would be mandatory starting this fall. It would take the place of an elective. A coalition of banks, credit unions and others are pushing the idea.

“It does one simple thing;” said Mark Anderson of the Florida Council on Economic Education, “it teaches kids how to manage their money before they graduate from high school.”

The bill sets 13 benchmarks, including how to apply for a loan, figuring out the interest on a credit card, and even how to contest an incorrect charge. Senate Sponsor Dorthy Hukill (R-Port Orange) says it only makes sense.

“They can be faced with these issues almost immediately,” said Hukill. “How do I sign a lease? What does it mean? What does a debit card mean? Kids are more in debt now than ever before.”

Financial institutions are banking on the idea that better educated students will mean they’ll write off fewer bad debts. They also like the idea of successful people making more deposits.

The legislation has cleared two Senate Committees by 6-3 and 12-1 votes. But it can’t get a hearing in the House.

Mark Anderson says no one’s really saying why the bill won’t be heard…but there are rumblings.

“To the extent we’ve received any feedback, it’s been perhaps there’s a concern on the part of increasing more requirements at a time when maybe the legislature wants to take a breath from that,” said Anderson.

Teaching financial literacy would cost the state as little as $200,000 or as much as $8 million if a text book were needed for every student.

The legislation was filed after a state Council on Economic Education study found that almost half of all high school seniors in Florida lack a basic understanding of common financial issues.


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First Veto Request

April 15th, 2014 by Matt Galka

A bill allowing a person to fire a warning shot at an attacker without penalty is waiting for the Governor’s signature. But a group that protects first amendment rights is asking the Governor to veto the measure because you might never know who has fired a shot.

The warning shot bill passed both the House and the Senate.  But First Amendment Foundation president Barbara Petersen says what’s not in the bill is its biggest problem.

“There will be no record of what happened or how it happened or why it happened and that’s a great concern,” said Petersen.

The bill allows for all records to be expunged if someone who fires a warning shot is found innocent. Petersen says it could lead to a laundry list of other issues that would go undetected.

“Misdeeds, prosecutorial misconduct, law enforcement misconduct, a bad investigation, an unlawful arrest,” she said.

Most of the Senate debate on the warning shot bill earlier this month focused on the expungement of records. Sen. Chris Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale) tried to amend the bill to keep the data from getting thrown out.

“It’s the wrong thing, it’s the wrong thing to get rid of these records. I want to be able to track this. I want to have all the evidence out there,” said Sen. Smith.

Former Sheriff and current Sen. Charles Dean (R-Inverness) disagreed.

“Clearly if you’re innocent, that should automatically expunge your name and you shouldn’t have to defend your name for the rest of your life,” said Sen. Dean.

The amendment failed and the bill passed with the expungement provision.  Petersen and the first amendment foundation have sent a letter to the Governor’s office asking for a veto. If the bill is presented to the Governor while lawmakers are still in session, he’ll have seven days to sign it. If it’s outside of session, he’ll have 15 days.

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Bikers Seek Road Safety, Increased Penalties

April 14th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

The roar of nearly a hundred motorcycles pierced the quite at the State Capitol today. The bikes brought the session’s most unusual, colorful and deadly serious lobbyists to the Capitol.

The bikers roared up US 27 and onto the Capitol Grounds. They posted colors, and raised an oversized American Flag

And with each tolling of a bell, another name was read from the organization’s membership that was killed in the last year.

As the names were read, Josh Bear was visibly upset. His brother Jacob was killed six months ago.

“An older lady pulled out in front of him, took a middle-left turn without an arrow and pulled right out in front of him and he passed away on impact,” said Josh.

The bikers are on a campaign to increase penalties when someone dies.

“Right now, the fines run anywhere from 89 to 166 dollars,” said ABATE President Danny Fish, “if you hit and hurt, injure or if you kill somebody.”

The bikers have been pushing for stiffer penalties for several years. The response from lawmakers has been “accidents happen.” Their former President, Doc Reichenbach, reminded them they have power.

“And if you don’t vote,” said Reichenbach, “you have turned your back on every veteran that died in the cause. So vote.”

Two out of three times when a biker is involved in an accident, it’s not their fault.

In previous years, these unusual lobbyist have won money for road safety, the elimination of the helmet law, and even their own license plate.

“We’re not just a bunch of dumb bikers,” said Naples Machine Shop Owner Robert Russel Crans, “like Doc says, we have families…”

And based on their legislative success, they’re not.

While tougher penalties for accidents injuring bikers remain a long shot, leaving the scene of a deadly accident could soon send someone to prison under legislation likely to pass this year.

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Grad Assistants Say It Costs Too Much To Work

April 14th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Graduate Assistants are saying it costs them too much to work for their universities. G.A.’s from Florida State feel like the school is too cheap on their wages compared to other state universities.

Graduate Assistants want to make sure their school’s hear them loud and clear: the school’s are taking too much money from them. The full-time students who double as part-time teachers get tuition waived and receive a stipend for their employment.  A G.A. working 10 hours a week receives about $4,400 at FSU. More than $1800 of that goes back to the university in fees.

“It’s a fee to work. We can be using the money to support ourselves and our families rather than paying some people’s income directly back into the university,” said G.A. Union President Kerr Ballenger.

Even student teachers from FSU’s rival University of Florida are showing their support. UF grad student teachers get their healthcare paid for by the university, but that’s not the case for FSU. Gator Matt Vernon says the money goes a long way in helping kids graduate.

“Every fiscal year, you have to re-budget as a graduate assistant, because your stipend, your wage stays the same. The cost of living increases and then the fees go up as well,” said Vernon.

Senator Dwight Bullard supports the student’s cause.  He says the legislature can’t make FSU or any other university waive the fees. But if some schools are taking in extra money, lawmakers can decrease funding.

“Considering that they’re getting millions of dollars in addition over the other 10 state universities, that’s a discussion that needs to be had,” said Sen. Bullard (D-Miami).

A school’s Board of Trustees has to decide whether to waive or decrease graduate assistant fees. The Graduate Assistant union says that FSU won’t bargain with them on the fees. To compare, the University of South Florida and University of Florida cover some or all of health insurance expenses. FAMU waives stipend fees entirely.

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