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New Political Ads Target Controversial Education Bill

May 24th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The battle over the Legislature’s sweeping Education bill is heating up with new political ads.
Those in support and those against the bill are trying to win public support.
House bill 7069 grew from a dozen pages to 278 pages over a weekend.
Negotiations were behind closed doors.
The secretive nature has many calling for the Governor to veto the bill.
The legislation is the top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
The House has it’s own video, hoping to school the public on what it believes are the bills benefits.
On the night lawmakers went home, the Speaker called the legislation, “The greatest educational K-12 policy that we’ve passed in the history of the state.”
Lawmakers tried to craft the bill in a way to make it veto proof.
The bill appeals to parents with mandatory recess for elementary students. It has 30 million for special needs scholarships.
“They can now appeal to the public and appeal to the governor saying look you don’t want to lose these great pieces so we’re going to kind of force you to swallow the bitter pill,” said Rich Templin with Florida AFL-CIO.
It also has 140 million for new charter schools.
The Florida Education Association says the bad heavily out weighs the good.
“For us it’s a veto straight up,” said President of FEA, Joanne McCall.
Even Commissioner of Agriculture and Gubernatorial hopeful Adam Putnam is speaking out.
“Many of the members who were asked to vote on it were unaware of all the different things that were taped together at the last second,” said Putnam.
Once the Governor receives the bill he’ll have 15 days to decide whether or not to veto it.
The Department of Education declined to comment on the story.

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Former Tampa Police Officer Denied Parole over Threatening Gestures

May 24th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

A former Tampa police officer who has spent 37 years in prison for a murder during a robbery gone bad had a release date of this coming July 4th, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, a panel decided the release put society, the Attorney General and a high ranking former prosecutors at risk.

Former Police Officer Charles Norman got life for killing a 20 year old security guard in 1975. He’s one of several thousand inmates sentenced before 1983 when life only meant 25 years.

While maintaining his innocence, Norman has become a nationally recognized writer and sculptor in prison.

Attorney Bill Shepard and Norman’s Wife Elizabeth came to the Commission on Offender Review to argue the former cop could safely be released as early as July 4th of this year.

“He shows no tendency toward violence, and exhibits no thought disorders and is in the lowest five percent category of risk” Shepperd told the panel.

But prosecutor Kimberly Hindman painted a different picture.

“Anyone who opposes this man becomes a focus and a target for how he’s going to take that person down” Hindman told Commissioners.

Before becoming Attorney General Pam Bondi was a prosecutor in the office that put Norman away.
“He sent letters to me with veiled threats” she says.

Now Prosecutors argue neither Bondi nor former State Attorney Mark Ober would be safe if Norman is released.

“Because Pam Bondi, Mark Ober, and anybody else who gets in his way when he is released have to start looking over their shoulder 24 hours a day seven days a week” says Hindman.

The panel denied Parole

The decision means Norman will spend at least the next two and perhaps the next seven years in prison.

Afterwards we asked wife Elizabeth “Not what you expected?”

“I have nothing to say, thank you” she responded.

Norman’s fate was sealed when Prosecutors disclosed Norman is still making threats which were recorded during a prison phone call with his wife.

Life Isn’t Life Package Script:

sig out

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NRA Confident in Department of Agriculture’s Ability to Recover from Hack

May 23rd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The Department of Agriculture says it fights hundreds of cyber attacks each day, but they say had never experienced a hit like the one that obtained the information of thousands of residents.
The Department announced the attack on its website.
It says 16 thousand had names but no other identifying information stolen off the Concealed Carry License Data Base.
“This was an unprecedented attack. It came just a couple of days before the global hack that occurred,” said Commissioner of Agriculture, Adam Putnam.
But another 400 plus who renewed their licenses with a credit card online had their social security numbers compromised.
“They had used their social security number in ecommerce business transactions within the department. Not gun related,” said Putnam.
Marion Hammer with the National Rifle Association fought to take the concealed carry names out of the public record nearly two decades ago.
She has confidence the Department of Agriculture will do what is necessary too protect permit holders privacy.
“Hackers are getting more sophisticated, but we’re also getting more sophisticated in how to stop it,” said Hammer.
The more than 400 people who had their social security numbers stolen in the breach are being offered protection through life lock.
A review of the department’s cyber security measures has been ordered in light of the attack.
“I’m sure there’s a renewed effort. To be sure that a hack of that main database cannot occur,” said Hammer.
The Department of Law Enforcement believes the attack came from over-seas.

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Pam Bondi Reacts to Supreme Court Rejecting Appeal in Case of Florida Death Rulings

May 23rd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Attorney General Pam Bondi had asked the US Supreme Court to look over Florida’s highest court decision requiring unanimous jury recommendations in death cases.
On Monday, it refused.
Tuesday morning she said the state ruling only requiring unanimous  jury recommendations after a 2002 case was fair.
“I don’t believe that any of the people who had been executed who did not receive a unanimous death recommendation that i’m aware of, look at the serial killers. I don’t think Ted Bundy was a unanimous death rec. And Clearly, he should have been executed,” said Bondi, “So clearly, I don’t have a problem with that. But going forward, we will respect the courts and the change in the law. That’s our system. Our laws evolve and change as we progress.”
Approximately two hundred convicted killers on death row sentenced after 2002 will get new sentencing hearing.

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Forecasted Rains May Put a Damper on Wildfires

May 23rd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The Director of the Florida Forest Service says he has his fingers crossed that weather patterns are changing and recent rain has dampened fire danger.
South Carolina crews fighting fires in Florida will go home this week.
Still Director Jim Karels says the drought is still a major concern.
“A lot of equipment fires. A lot of vehicle fires lately. and when we start going to vehicle fires and catalytic converters in this state when the humidity doesn’t quite drop like it does in the west that we are extremely dry,” said Karels, “Because they are just parking their cars or trucks and the next thing you know they come back and the truck’s burned up and there’s a two or three hundred acre fire running away from them. It’s that type of situation.”
More than 170 thousand acres have burned in Florida so far this year.
The day began with 114 active wildfires.

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Last Call for the Liquor Wall

May 23rd, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott must decide whether to sign, veto, or let become law legislation allowing big box stores to sell alcohol inside their main stores. It is one of the most controversial issues to come out of the 2017 legislative session. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, supporters say the current law requiring liquor to be sold in a stand alone store is antiquated.

It’s a common sight. A big box store with a liquor store attached. The law has required separate entrances since the end of prohibition. Michael Williams represents Floridians For Fair Business Practices.

“This law has been on the books for 83 years. It’s something that’s outlived it’s usefulness. It’s time to repeal it” says Williams.

Walmart, Cosco, Target and others pushed hard for a change and got it. On the other side, Publix, ABC, and independent liquor store owners. 4 dozen independent owners made one last call on the Capitol Tuesday. The Governor has until Wednesday to make a decision.

Chris Knightley came from Orlando, he says, to try and save his family business.

“We’re hoping Governor Scott will veto SB106” says Knightley.

The independent owners say they can’t compete.

We asked the crowd “How many of you think you’ll be out of business in five years if the Governor signs this bill?” Nearly every hand went up.

Karim Hemdara came from Springhill in Hernando County.

“Winn Dixie already has a liquor license. And they have exclusivity in the shopping center with the landlord, and they, you know, force me out of the shopping center in about six months time.”

“The bill cleared the Senate by a two vote margin, and the House by just one vote.”

Three House members voted no after the roll call but their votes don’t change the outcome.

Scott says he is still talking to both sides.

“A lot of feedback on that bill. You’re right, I’ve had family members who have dealt, had challenges with alcoholism. It concerns me” the Governor told us.

Scott must decide by midnight Wednesday.

Here are the numbers from the Governor’s office of people voicing an opinion on the liquor wall bill.

Phone: Support – 689, Oppose – 266

Emails: Support – 477, Oppose – 2686

Letters: Support – 8, Oppose – 575

Petition Signatures: Support: 0, Oppose – 3989

Sponsors say the law has not had an adverse impact in the more than 20 other states that have allowed big box liquor sales.

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Legislation to Increase Penalties on Shark Finners Awaits Governors Signature

May 22nd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A bill on Governor Rick Scott’s desk seeks to discourage the illegal practice of shark finning off Florida’s coast, but some marine activists say it doesn’t go far enough.
Shark Fin Soup is an expensive delicacy in Asian countries like China and Japan.
To feed their appetite, Shark landings have tripled since the1950’s.
The over-fishing has taken a toll on the global shark population.
Jack Rudloe owns Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratories in Panacea.
He says if sharks aren’t thriving, the rest of the ocean’s ecosystem is sure to follow.
“If you don’t have apex predators thinning things out then you get a proliferation of diseases that come in and parasites,” said Rudloe.
Legislation sent the Governor would raise the fine for finning from $500 to $4,500.
Poachers also face 60 days in jail and a 180 day suspension of their saltwater license.
The penalties increase each time a person is caught. A third offense permanently suspends a person’s salt water license.
“The fines were almost negligible before and now they’re up to $10,000 and the almost immediate loss of your commercial fishing license. So i do hope that the combination will help to deter this practice,” said the bill’s House Sponsor, Represenative Alexandra Miller.
Although marine activists support the idea of increased penalties on shark finners, they don’t believe this bill will have a significant impact on the global trade.
“The United States is not the problem. Asia is the problem. The Chinese fisheries are the problem,” said Rudloe.
Rudloe says there needs to be a major dietary change in Asia where the fins are highly coveted for boosting sexual potency, preventing heart disease, and lowering cholesterol.
The Governor has until Wednesday to sign the legislation, let it become law, or veto it.

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Solar, Renewables Tax Break Paying Dividends

May 22nd, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

State lawmakers may not have been able to agree on medical marijuana, but they wasted no time implementing the solar amendment voters approved last August. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the sponsor calls the voter approved amendment transformational.

A 120 acre solar field is about to spring up on the outskirts of the state Capitol. it will be owned by a private company on land leased from the city. Under legislation implementing the constitutional amendment approved by voters last August, the company, won’t be taxed for 80 percent of the 30 million in panels they install.

“So, it’s a huge incentive for businesses” says Sponsor Jeff Brandes. He says the amendment and implementing legislation will define Florida’s future.

“You’re going to see over the next ten or fifteen years, a significant transition to more solar. And this bill, and they will point to this bill as being one of the impetus’s of that” says Brandes.

The tax break was approved by a bigger percentage of voters than those who said yes to medical marijuana.”

Aliki Moncrief is with Florida Conservation Voters and believes the amendment is a big step forward.

“And even with this amendment alone, it’s going to be a very different place. It’s going to be a cleaner greener energy state” says Moncrief.

The upside for governments or businesses, with no fuel to buy, contractors can offer a steady price for power for twenty or thirty years at a time.

The tax break is expected to be a big incentive for utilities to invest in large scale solar.

“It  doesn’t give us any grief at all that this is an incentive for the utilities to start improving their record on how much solar they are installing” says Moncrief.

Florida now ranks 12th nationally in solar installations. It is expected to be 7th within the next five years, in part because voters said yes last August.

While businesses will still pay 20 percent of the tax that would have been due on solar equipment, homeowners have had a 100% property tax break on solar equipment since 2013. The business break is expected to cot local governments 54 million a year.

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Smart Justice Bill Would Get Prisoners Out Early if They Get Educated

May 19th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
One out of four prisoners released in Florida will end up back in prison within three years.
The bill headed to the Governor’s Desk would let prisoners get out two months early if they complete their high school education behind bars.
The average felon in Florida prison has just a sixth grade education.
The lack of education combined with a criminal record can make it difficult to find employment.
No job, more often than not, leads to a criminal relapse.
Barney Bishop, President and CEO of the Florida Smart Justice Alliance says other states with similar laws have seen drastic reductions of return offenders.
“Part 1-A is getting them the education. Part 1-B is then getting them that job and if we can do those two things then the chance of them recidiviating is diminimis,” said Bishop.
Giving prisoners an education behind bars means they will leave with a better shot at life than they might otherwise have.
The bill is a part of a shifting attitude in the Florida prison system.
“present programming to inmates, encourage them to do the program and get the education, get the additional skills, reward them for that. So we put out a better citizen when they leave prison,” said Corrections Secretary, Julie Jones.
Not only will released prisoners be more marketable to potential future employers, but their self-esteem may also increase.
“It makes them proud of themselves, more importantly it makes them understand that if they work hard they’re diligent that they have the opportunity to succeed,” said Bishop.
Prisoners serving a life sentence or mandatory minimum would not qualify for the reduced sentence under the bill.
And each prisoner who leaves two months early will save taxpayers about three thousand dollars in room and board.
The Florida Smart Justice Alliance says there an even bigger impact on lowering recidivism would happen if the state provided better addiction and mental health treatment behind bars.

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Supreme Court Ruling Says No Slots Expansion

May 18th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida Supreme Court today ruled voters can not authorize slot machines except in two south Florida counties. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the ruling means that votes authorizing slots in eight counties are invalid.

In 2012 Gasden County became the first county to authorize a vote to legalize slots. Organizers promised more jobs.

“Vote yes” said paid sign wavers in front of the Courthouse in Quincy.

Seven other counties followed suit. Each was denied a permit by the state.

Last June, the case went to the State Supreme Court.

The state held firm.

“The legislature did not intend to legalize slot machines statewide when  it changed the eligible facility definition” Justices were told by State Solicitor General Jonathan Williams.

But slots backers said lawmakers intentionally created a loophole.

“First you have to get a county commission to authorize a referendum, that’s what that language means. Second, you have to pass the referendum” saidLawyer Marc Dunbar.

After nearly a year. The Supreme Court has said the votes were not legally binding and said the law “limits licenses to Miami-Dade and Broward Counties.”

Before the ruling, the prospect of more slots was one of the reasons anti gambling advocates began circulating petitions to ban all future gambling expansion without voter approval.  That petition is still something lawmakers will have to deal with.

No Casino’s John Sowinski calls the ruling a partial victory. but says he will continue their push for a constitutional amendment.

“We’ve got almost two hundred thousand signatures of the million plus we need in order to put it on the ballot. we’re well on track so voters can decide this issue once and for all” says Sowinski.

If the initiative gets on the 2018 ballot, unlike this time, voters will have the final say one way or the other.

Organizers issued a statement saying they were disappointed and were considering their next move.

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4,000 Additional Bear-Proof Garbage Cans Coming to Florida

May 18th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
If you live in an area prone to bears, get ready for more encounters.
The The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission says Spring and early Summer are prime time for bear activity.
There are now 4,000 bears in Florida.
The population is increasing between two and 15% a year.
That’s why  hunting advocates pushed earlier this year to bring back a bear hunt.
Ultimately animal activists were able to convince the FWC to hold off for at least two years.
“They listened to the will of the people. Floridians don’t support trophy hunting and certainly not bear hunting,” said Kate MacFall with the American Human Society.
Bears can grow  to as big as 750 pounds, but average between 250 and 300 pounds for males.
Females weight less than 200 pounds.
All bears can be dangerous and the FWC says avoiding them is the best policy.
“Our number one challenge is educating the public and keeping up with our growing population, not only of residents, but how many visitors come in,” said David Telesco with the FWC.
Six out of ten bear complaints involve garbage cans.
The FWC’s got just over 400 thousand dollars to help purchase bear resistant trash cans.
This year 4,000 of those can will be made available, spread out among eleven different counties.
“We need to keep the trash secure because it’s only going to take one bear, who is going to wander into a neighborhood, start getting used to trash and then potentially be a public safety risk,” Telesco.
While not complaining about the FWC’s bear management efforts, The Humane Society says the legislature should be provide more funding to the programs.
“For more cans, and also on a commercial side, for bear proof dumpsters,” said MacFall.
Bear proof trash cans are currently allowed in 16 counties
36 bears had to be euthanized last year.
The FWC hopes the additional cans can help reduce that number.

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Correctional Officer Memorial Service Honors 2 Who Died in 2016

May 17th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The Department of Corrections today added two names to a memorial honoring fallen correctional officers. Neither of the two died at the hands of an inmate, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, how many more names are added in the future may depend on how quickly the department can hire and retain officers.

Every time a correctional officer walks through secure gates and into work, l they don’t know if they’ll be coming out alive. And, while police officers face the same risk, they are armed. Correctional officers are not, even though many inmates have weapons.

At a ceremony at Wakulla Correctional Institute, Correctional Officer Jerry Waters recognized those who lost their lives in the last year.

“We will forever honor their legacy, commitment, dedication and service” Waters told the crowd.

Two officers died on duty in 2016. Neither at the hands of an inmate, but from the stress of the job says Secretary Julie Jones.

“Having a heart attack is no different than being taken out by an inmate, in my estimation” said Jones after the ceremony.

Names not on this are the names of officers, beaten, punched and perhaps stabbed on an almost daily basis.

Since 2010, inmate on inmate assaults are up over 68 percent. Inmate on officer assaults are up 56 Percent. part of the problem is a vacancy rate over 20 percent in some prisons, requiring 16 hour shifts.

Lawmakers responded with 56 million for pay raises and hiring bonuses.

 

“It does open the employment pool to individuals who would not have envy considered us because of the pay. Um, but then this pay plan also rewards the ones who have stayed with us” says the Secretary.

The dead were honored with a 21 gun salute.

With the additions two names this year, 49 names are listed on the correctional officer memorial. How many more are aded in the future may well  depend on how quickly the DOC can find qualified staff and increase safety for everyone.

Since 2010, turnover among officers has been 95 percent. To stem the flow, Officers under the rank of Captain will see a twenty five hundred dollar raise come July first. New hires will see a thousand dollar hiring bonus, and officers who see promotions will also see a raise.

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Marijuana Advocates Say to Expect More Legal Confusion Among Dispensaries if Lawmakers Don’t Pass Legislation

May 17th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The State Department of Health sent this cease and desist order to the owners of the North Florida based Trulieve, one of seven licenses marijuana growers in the state.
The letter demanded they stop selling their “Entourage” product which contains smokable marijuana in a mesh container.
The leaf product was being sold for use in vaporizers, which are legal under current law.
But because the leaf could be easily removed from the mesh and smoked, the Department considered it illegal.
The Medical Marijuana Business Association said if legislators had passed guidelines this session there would be less confusion for growers and the public.
“This should only substantiate the need for clarity and the need for substantial regulatory framework,” said Taylor Biehl with the association.
Legislation to implement the voter approved constitutional amendment fell apart when lawmakers disagreed on capping the number of retail marijuana dispensaries.
Representative Kionne McGhee said it’s the Legislature’s responsibility to do something.
“We need to listen to the people. 71% of the folks have basically gone out and said they want this medical marijuana issue to be dealt with this year and I expect our legislature to do the same,” said Representative McGhee.
The House Speaker said he favors coming back.
The Senate President has sent mixed messages.
If lawmakers don’t come back the association said there’s a good possibility grey areas in the current law would result in even more cases like Trulieve improperly dispensing the drug.
“We will be left with questions unanswered and potentially more wrongful practices in distribution,” said Biehl.
When it comes to calling a special session, Governor Rick Scott said he’s considering his options.
If lawmakers don’t return, the Department of Health will have to present their regulations by July 3rd.

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Firefighters Hoping for a Strong Rainy Season as Fires Blaze Across the State

May 16th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Tuesday began with 134 actively burning wildfires in the state.
The fires have scorched 170,000 acres of land in the State since the beginning of the year and firefighters are hoping the rapidly approaching rainy season will bring relief.
Florida’s peninsula has received less than half of its annual average rainfall this year.
The dry spell has manifested itself in the massive, billowing West Mims fire.
The fire has consumed more than 150,000 acres in Florida and Georgia since it began in early April.
Embattled firefighters are hoping the state’s rainy season, which usually begins in late May offers relief.
“The National Interagency of Fire Standards shows elevated fire conditions for us all the way to August which is not the norm in Florida,” said Jim Karles, Director of Florida Forrest Service.
If rains don’t materialize, or are less than the normal seasonal rainfall of 18 to 20 inches, the fire danger could increase.
“What you need really is widespread areas where you get multiple inches of rain,” said Parks Camp with the National Weather Service.
The National Weather Service says even if the wet season does bring showers, the worst could still be yet to come.
“Problems we have with especially the beginning of the rainy season is with the thunderstorms as you get lightening,” said Camp.
That prospect has firefighters worried.
“A thunderstorm is isolated and the winds that it blows and where it’s not raining, it’s causing severe fire conditions,” said Karels.
For any major relief,  the National Weather Service says it will take multiple heavy sustained rains across the state.
“Weak tropical storm or tropical depression or something like that, that produces a lot of rain across the area that can change things tremendously. It can help,” said Camp.
The National Weather Service will be coming out with it’s 2017 hurricane forecast in the next few weeks, but the number is only an estimate of how many storms will form, and not how many will actually make landfall.
Preliminary predictions from The Weather Company suggest 2017 will be a nearly average year with an estimated 12 named storms.

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Florida Tourism at All Time High

May 15th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Stop in any rest area in Florida and you’ll likely see cars with out of state plates.
Georgia residents Jason Ingram and his mother Shaon Holland were on their way to Mexico Beach in the Panhandle.
“Mexico Beach is real quiet, laid back, a great place to fish,” said Ingram.
“We’ve always traveled in Florida a lot because we’re so close by. We used to go to the East coast a lot, but the Gulf is our first choice,” said Holland.
This year Florida has seen more visitors to the state than ever before.
“We have a little pent up demand so people are ready to travel this year and from every indication AAA is predicting a strong travel season this year,” said AAA spokesperson W.D. Williams.
31.1 million people visited the state in the first three months, that’s a 2.5 percent increase over last year.
And Governor Rick Scott has said those numbers mean Florida should continue investing more in tourism marketing.
In Tweets posted Monday, he attributed the growth of tourism to the funding of VISIT FLORIDA.
Scott has criticized the Legislature for cutting VISIT FLORIDA funding by two thirds.
He said it puts the industry at risk.
Still, AAA expects growth to continue with or with out the additional marketing.
“With all the attractions in the state and the natural resources that we have here. I believe people are going to continue coming to Florida and visiting Florida. Once they come once they’re going to come back,” said Williams.
Not all the news is good.
Overseas tourism dropped for the third straight quarter.
Canadians traveling to the state also fell.
Visitors from our northern neighbor has dropped nine straight quarters.
Visit Florida says the lack of funding will make it harder for the state to compete with other tourist destinations and could possibly lead to the state losing billions of dollars in revenue.
Rick Scott is still debating whether to veto the entire budget approved by lawmakers, or just parts of it.

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