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Marsy’s Law Amendment Headed for a Vote by Full Constitution Revision Commission

January 19th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A proposal to put victims rights in the state constitution cleared a a committee of the Constitutional Revision Commission Friday morning.
Mike Liles’ wife was murdered in a home invasion last year.
“I came home and found my wife beaten to death on the floor of our kitchen,” Liles said.
Since then, he’s been dealing with a lengthy legal process in an attempt to convict the man accused of killing his wife. It’s a process he says isn’t sensitive to victims.
“It’s a frustrating system to follow. It’s a frustrating system to understand and you never know exactly what rights you do have,” said Liles.
A proposed ballot measure moving through the Constitutional Revision Commission known as Marsy’s Law aims to help people like Liles.
It would guarantee a set of victims rights in the state’s constitution.
“They ought to have rights as well. They ought to have prerogatives. They ought to have the opportunity to have their voice heard,” said CRC Commissioner and former Senate President Don Gaetz.
Lawyers say because the proposal allows victims to refuse giving a deposition to the defense team, it could lead to more innocent people being convicted.
“The ability to question a witness and a victim under oath prior to a trial is paramount to be able to test the credibility of their allegations and to advise our clients about whether proceeding forward with a trial is a good idea or not,” said 8th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Stacy Scott.
Commissioner Timothy Cerio is the sponsor of the proposal. He says when it comes to victim depositions, Florida is the outlier.
“We are one of only five states in the union that have depositions for victims so 45 other states don’t allow it,” said Cerio.
Florida is among just 15 states that don’t guarantee victims right in their state constitution.
It will be several months before the full Constitution Revision Commission decides if Marsy’s Law should be on the November ballot.
If it makes it on the ballot it would need 60% of voters to approve it to become part of the Constitution.

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Gubernatorial Hopeful Andrew Gillum Wants to Raise the State Cooperate Tax

January 19th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate and current Tallahssee Mayor, Andrew Gillum says if he’s elected, he would increase the cooperate tax rate.
He announced his plan this morning. It would raise the cooperate tax 2.25%. He says it would generate $1 billion a year for the state, which he would use to fund education. He says he would raise teacher’s starting salaries to $50,000 a year and rebuild public schools.
Gillum says cooperation can afford the tax hike, considering they’ll save a combined $6.2 billion under President Donald Trump’s new tax plan.
“Take a portion of the Trump cooperate give away and invest it where it should have gone in the first place,” said Gillum. “My plan will keep the state cooperate tax low yes, but it will grow our economy from the middle class out by investing in our future and the critical elements that will ensure a strong future for the state of Florida.”
The state of Florida didn’t have a cooperate income tax until 1971. The last time it was adjusted was under Governor Bob Graham in 1984.

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Two More FSU Frats Suspended

January 18th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Two FSU Fraternities have been suspended for hazing violations and violating the universities ban on greek activities. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the violations occurred both before and after the death of a 20 year old pledge which resulted in 9 frat members being charged with felony hazing.

Alpha Epsilon Pi was found responsible in four out of five incidents. They include humiliating pledges during a a six week period and not supervising a party in which a woman was found unresponsive at 4:30 in the morning.

The fraternity is suspended for four years.

“I am imposing an indefinite interim suspension on all fraternities” FSU President John Thrasher announced on November 6th.

Four days after the university suspended all greek activity,  FSU police found 50 members of The Chi Phi Fraternity violating the ban. They were in their underwear at 3 in the morning at the fountain in front of the administration building. It is suspended for two years.

Neither fraternity responded to a request for a comment.

At a trustees meeting In Panama City, we asked FSU President John Thrasher if the cases would be referred to prosecutors.

“If the State Attorney or somebody makes a complaint to the State Attorney  , he would would make a decision on whether there would be any criminal charges made, or to make and govern himself accordingly” says Thrasher

Gainesville State Senator Keith Perry, who sits on the Higher Ed Appropriations Committee says they culture has to change.

“So how do we break that, how do we understand, and I’m not sure what the answers are, but I know we need to do more” says Perry.

Attorney General Pam Bondi agrees.

“They’ve got to get their act together and if they are going to be on a campus, they have to abide by the law” Bondi told us.

But apparently the Greek community hasn’t gotten the message.

All organized greek activity remains banned on campus.

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DOH Seeing Record Numbers of Flu Outbreaks

January 18th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The State Department of Health says it has never seen this many flu out breaks this early in the flu season.
Just since January 1st there have been 34 outbreaks throughout the state. Since the season began in October there have been more than 100.
The virus has left two children dead from flu related complications.
It’s why Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis used his flu shot as an opportunity to spread awareness.
“These different types of vaccines that we’ve been able to introduce into healthcare have increased the lifespans of people… and at the end it’s good for health,” said Patronis.
The vaccine remains the most effective way to prevent yourself from getting sick.
“It’s not going to guarantee you not getting sick, but it is absolutely better than the alternative,” said Patronis.
Young children and the elderly are at the highest risk of dying from the virus. 94% of the outbreaks in the state this year have been in facilities serving the at risk populations like daycares and retirement homes.
Hospitals say they aren’t doing anything different this year than they would do any other flu season.
Martha DeCastro is the Vice President for Nursing and Clinical Care Policy for the Florida Hospital Association. She says hospitals take precautions every flu season.
“If they’re admitted they’d be placed on isolation with special precautions that are recommended by the CDC,” said DeCastro.
In addition to the vaccine DeCastro says avoiding large crowds and frequently sanitizing your hands can help you avoid coming down with the bug.
People remain at risk until the end of flu season, which is in May.. Many pharmacies offer the vaccination at no cost.

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Lawmakers Highlight Needle Exchange Proposal

January 18th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Florida ranks the highest in new HIV cases in the country, in large part due to opioid addicts sharing dirty needles. Nearly 5,000 were newly diagnosed last year alone.
To combat the spread of the blood transmitted diseases lawmakers are proposing a statewide needle exchange program. It would be modeled after a program successfully implemented in Miami-Dade county, by not only providing clean needles for addicts, but also offering addiction resources and education for those who want to to get clean. Representative Shervin Jones is sponsoring the Legislation.
“This act would bring about a program that would offer educational tools that would help prevent substance abuse and act as a liaison for victims of the opioid crisis and other substance abuse epidemics,” said Jones. “We must understand that by educating the public about this crisis and how we can use preventative measures, could be the difference between life and death. “
Treatment for a single person infected with HIV costs tax payers an average of $379,000 throughout their life time. It’s roughly the same amount of money that it takes to run a needle exchange facility for a year.

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Scott Supports Tougher Texting Law

January 18th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott, who rarely voices an opinion on pending legislation, today came out in support of making texting while driving a primary offense. The legislation would allow police to stop motorists without first observing some other violation.

“I haven’t seen the bill, but I clearly think that we ought to look at doing something like that, You know, you see too many accidents were people are distracted, so no one should be texting and driving” Scott told reporters.

Anti texting advocates have fought for tougher texting laws for at least the last four years. Lat month, the House Speaker, who had previously blocked the change, said statistics show the danger and he is now supporting primary enforcement.

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FDLE Putting Cold Cases on the Web in Hopes of Finding Answers

January 17th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A new website developed by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement is looking to help law enforcement solve cold cases.
The have been 16,000 unsolved murders in the state since 1990.
The website currently hosts more than 420 cases from 29 agencies across the state. Senator Aaron Bean says the hope is by consolidating the cases in a central location, citizens who may have information on cases may come forward.
“Every case has a story, a face and it’s heart breaking, but maybe somebody knows. Maybe somebody knows facts of the case. They can send a tip. They can send an anonymous tip directly to the lead investigator of that agency,” said Bean.
Currently only unsolved murders are hosted on the site, but eventually it could expand to other cold cases like missing persons.
You can access the site here.

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Final Low-Performing Schools Selected to Receive Schools of Hope Funding

January 17th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The State Board of Education approved the rules for rolling out last year’s controversial “Schools of Hope” legislation.
The rules lay out how charter schools can apply for a piece of the $200 million in state funds allocated to the program.
The law allows charters to open within a five mile radius of low performing schools, in hopes they can turn around student achievement.
The legislation was sponsored by Representative Chris Latvala.
“Previous to our bill being passed there were close to 70,000 students in Florida that were trapped in schools that were persistently failing,” said Latvala.
The bill also allows for 25 of low-performing traditional public schools to receive an additional $2,000 per student to raise performance.
14 schools were approved for the funding at the meeting. 31 had applied.
There are more than 100 consistently low performing public schools in the state. While 25 will receive additional funding, more than 75 will have to do without.
Though the the program is moving forward, 13 school districts have filed a lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of the law, even though some of them have applied for the money.
“It’s a little bit of a challenge having to follow current law that they believe is unconstitutional, but they also understand that currently that’s their obligation and responsibility,” said Andrea Messina with the Florida School Boards Association.
School Districts argue the state overstepped its authority by requiring public schools to share tax dollars with the privately owned charters.
This was the second round of selections. The 14 schools chosen were the last of the 25 permitted under the law.

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9 Charged in Fraternity Death

January 17th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

9 leaders of the Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity at Florida State University have been charged with Felony hazing following the November death of a 20 year old pledge. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the nine could face up to five years in prison.

Only two of the nine had turned themselves in by mid afternoon. 22 year old Clayton Muehlstein and 20 year old Christopher Hamlin were released on 25 hundred dollars bond, ordered not to consume alcohol, or associate with others in the fraternity.

State Attorney Jack Campbell says he focused on the leaders of the frat that caused the death.

 

“A lot of thought went into exactly who to charge and who not, looking at the relative positions of each of the people and how they interfaced” says Campbell.

20 year old Andrew Coffey died November third at this off campus house after a night of drinking. His Blood alcohol  level was more than 5 time the legal limit for a DUI. The State Attorney says after investigating, the charges did not rise to manslaughter.

“So this is not a situation where they were driving a car while intoxicated, or shooting a gun through a setting where it hurt him. This was a pattern of hazing that had gone through the semester.”

Because a death was involved, all nine face third degree felony charges. That charge carries up to five years in prison and a five thousand dollar fine.

Campbell says he has promised the family he would personally handle the case.

“And I promised them I would be with them good bad or whatever, but I will walk this walk with them.”

In a statement, FSU President said These arrests are the first step in seeking justice for Andrew and his loved ones.

The charges come less than a month before the Florida Supreme Court hears a challenge to the states having statute. The State Attorney says he will decide if other charges are warranted if the court throws the statue out as unconstitutional.

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77 Ideas for Better Hurricane Response

January 17th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

A 12 page report on what went wrong during Hurricane Irma and how to improve responses was approved by a Select House Committee today in the state Capitol. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the majority of the 77 recommendations are less than specific.

 

The report calls for the Department to encourage the use of rail lines to move fuel. It also calls for putting GPS trackers on fuel trucks so emergency managers know when will fuel arrive.

“This is just a starting point” says Chair Jeanette Nunez.

To better move traffic in and out of the state, the report calls for extending the Suncoast Parkway, which now runs from Tampa to Crystal River, all the way to the state line.

And policy makers are still waiting from a report from the Department of Transportation on whether the state ought to actually storm more fuel.”  rep. Ray Rodriquez says the recommendations can make a difference in the future.

“So ideally, if all of those things become implemented, what we will see is a better evacuation process in the future.”

On Wednesday, the House will take up an extended sales tax holiday for hurricane supplies. Also on the agenda, eliminating the sales tax for nursing homes that purchase purchasing generators and their fuel.

“My mother died in Irma.”

Amy Datz’s 94 year old mother died after she was moved during Irma. She believes if generators had been in place her mom would not have been evacuated.

“They moved her into a crowded shelter.  And because of the crowding in the shelter, she got the flu which turned into pneumonia, which ultimately caused her death” says Datz.

“And you think she would have lived ifs she had stayed in the nursing home?”

“Absolutely, she would have lived because she wouldn’t have been exposed to the flu.”

The report, if passed into law would instruct the PSC to study whether it is cost feasible to bury electric lines to avoid lengthy outages.

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First Responders one step closer to PTSD Help

January 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Studies show 15% of Firefighters contemplate suicide sometime in their career, often due due to PTSD resulting from the things they see, but in Florida firefighters and other first responders can’t be compensated for the work related mental injury unless the suffered a physical injury along with it.
New Legislation given unanimous approval by a Senate committee Tuesday would change that.
Prior to a vote in a senate committee, lawmakers joined the families of three first responders who developed PTSD. 
“At home, where he could be his true self, the demons would come out,” said Leslie Dangerfield, who lost her husband David to suicide.”
All three of the first responders were ineligible for workers compensation because they didn’t also have a physical injury. Unable to access care, two ended their lives. 
“David took his own life because he could no longer live with the nightmares he experienced during his career,” said Dangerfield.
The other,  a first responder at the Pulse Nightclub Shooting, lost his job.
His wife Jessica Realin spoke at the press conference.
“The time is now,” said Jessica Realin. “How many more families must be destroyed?”
Their stories aren’t unique. In America, more first responders are lost to suicide than in the line of duty. 
“We know that this is happening and we’re doing nothing about it,” said House Sponsor Representative Matt Willhite, who is also a firefighter.
It’s why Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis wants local governments to cover mental health injuries as they would a physical injury.
“It’s our time to step up and make a difference,” said Patronis.
Although cities say they support first responders, they worry the broad language in the bill would result in too high a cost on local governments.
Similar Legislation in Ohio was estimated to cost $189 million a year.
“We suspect costs could be even higher for Florida,” said David Cruz, a lobbyist for the League of Cities.
Supporters say they’ll work on a compromise, but Senate Sponsor Lauren Book is determined to pass the Legislation despite concerns.
“I don’t care what the price is,” said Book.  “These folks are fighting for us each and every day.”
Bill sponsors estimate the coverage will cost the state between $1.3 and $5 million a year, but no one really knows.

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Legislators Celebrate Religious Freedom Day

January 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
In honor of Religious freedom day Lawmakers in the 30 states around the country held press conferences reaffirming their commitment to the right to religious freedom guaranteed in the US constitution.
In Florida lawmakers touted last year’s Legislation which guarantees religious freedom in Florida schools. They also mentioned a new proposal put forward this year to require public schools to display the words, “In God We Trust.”
“This generation and the generation to come must be educated and exposed to foundational principles that made America the super structure that it is today, but it must start from the foundation,” said Daniels.
The religious freedom day holiday honors Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious freedom. It become law on this day 232 years ago.

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Lawmakers Announce ADA Education Campaign

January 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Lawmakers announced the roll out an education campaign to help Florida businesses come into compliance with the American disabilities act.
Representative Tom Leek passed legislation last session to help businesses avoid “drive by lawsuits” caused by being out of compliance.
The law helps businesses access recourses to find out what they’re doing wrong and come up with a plan to come into compliance. They’ll be shielded from lawsuits as long as their working to get up to code.
“It requires businesses who want to be compliant to come into compliance and if you don’t come into compliance than the lawsuits are going to be as effective against you as they were yesterday, but if you do come into compliance then you’re going to get the protection from this bill,” said Leek. “So the measure of success is we’re going to have to look five years down the road and see if we have curtailed the frivolous lawsuits.”
Business owners can go to floridabuilding.org to find out more about the program.

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New Criminal Justice Report Takes Aim at Influencing Florida

January 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Criminal Justice Advocates are applauding the release of a new report looking into criminal justice reform, in hopes it will help pass Legislation in Florida.
The report was published by the Academy for Justice. It includes findings from 120 top criminal justice scholars throughout the country.
Unlike most scholarly articles, it’s written in layman’s terms and provides policy suggestions to fix the wide variety of issues explored in the report.
Vikrant Reddy with the Charles Koch Institute says Florida is a key state for reform, not only because of its size, but because of its conservative demographics.
“They say things like, ‘Gosh well if tough on crime Florida can do this, we can do it too.’ That’s why for so many people in the advocacy community, Florida is the great white whale,” said Reddy. “You want to reach Florida. You want to see change in Florida, because it make such a big difference in the way people across the country talk about the issue.”
You can find the report at acadamyforjustice.org.

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Air BNB Seeks Less Regulation

January 16th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Cities and counties would lose their ability to regulate vacation rentals by homeowners. The legislation wold preempt all jurisdiction to the state. Sate Senator Greg Steube calls the current regulatory scheme a patchwork.

“Article One, Section Two, basic rights. You have an inalienable right to private property and the use of property and I believe that’s being infringed on by local governments as to how they treat vacation rentals. Some jurisdictions can give you a twenty thousand dollar a day fine. And I think to have a uniform policy for the state, just like we do for hotels and motels makes more sense” says Steube.

Local governments would still be able to control zoning decisions. In some areas, corporate owners have gutted single family homes and turned them into mini hotels, which is why local governments are fighting the change.

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