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NRA Wants to Give New Ag Commissioner a Chance

February 18th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

After 291 people were improperly issued concealed carry licenses by a previous administration, Florida’s new Commissioner of Agriculture vowed to fix the program.

While the NRA initially opposed the new commissioner, the organization now wants to give her a chance.

Both the NRA and Fried are toning down their support for moving the concealed carry licensing program out of the Department of Agriculture.

In a newsletter former NRA President Marion Hammer said the program should stay put, but called on Fried to focus on fixing quote ‘real problems’ with the program, warning 1.9 million license holders will be watching.

“There’s nothing wrong with saying that you’re going to fix things that are wrong and we suspect that she’s going to do that. Trying to fix imaginary problems though, that’s another thing,” said Hammer.

Hammer says one problem that should be addressed to improve concealed carry permitting is an issue where people with out of state arrests are blocked from acquiring a permit, even in some cases where they were never convicted of a crime.

After Fried took office, Hammer had suggested moving the licensing program to the Chief Financial Officer, while Fried supported moving it to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

“It’s irresponsible to just pick it up and move it to another department just because it’s a Democrat that’s been elected,” Fried said in January.

Commissioner Fried now says her main priority is to look at recommendations from an internal report and a separate inspector general’s report concerning the licensing program.

The NRA is also supportive of Fried picking Stephen Hurm to head the Division of Licensing.

Hurm is the husband of gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham.

“We don’t expect to see any abuse of power out of him, nor would we expect that he would allow any,” said Hammer.

While both Fried and Hammer have toned down the rhetoric, Hammer says the two have not been in direct communication.

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Ted Bundy Movie Becomes Available Later this Year.

February 18th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Serial Killer Ted Bundy was executed 30 years ago this past January, but his story continues to fascinate people of all ages.

He’s the subject of at least three new documentaries and now a new movie staring Zach Efron.

Thousands flocked to Park City Utah for this years Sundance Film Festival.

120-plus movies were screened.

The Hollywood Reporter named the new Ted Bundy movie, as one of the top ten movies to see.

Hundreds showed up for an 8:30 Sunday morning premier.

The title comes from the reading of Bundy’s death sentence.

“You are extremely wicked, shockingly evil, and vile,” Judge Edward Coward said in July of 1979.

The movie is surprisingly violence free.

This scene from the trailer shows Zach Efron, who plays Bundy dead on most of the time, lifting a crow bar, but we never see the woman being hit.

Director Joe Berlinger has been taking some heat from glorifying Bundy.

“This movie is not a catalog of his killings,” said Berlinger. “In fact there is very little violence in the movie. It’s about deception and betrayal, and I think people need to understand how one becomes a victim to a serial killer who is using charm to lure you to his crimes.”

Some liberties were taken in the film like in the scene where the infamous picture of Ted Bundy when his murder indictment was read was taken.

In the movie it shows a media circus watching the whole process, but in reality, there were just a few people in the room.

Instead of violence, the movie is told from the perspective of Liz Kloepfer, Bundy’s girlfriend of six years.

“You know, as a father of daughters, I want to send out that message to people that, you know, before you deeply trust somebody, they better earn your trust,” said Berlinger.

The movie has a surprise ending in which Bundy makes a dramatic confession to his once girlfriend, but revealing any more would be a spoiler.

The movie becomes available for streaming later this year.

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More Marijuana Research Coming to Florida

February 15th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Two years ago, Florida lawmakers created a marijuana research board at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, but the project has been dead in the water because of inaction by the Department of Health.

That’s about to change though, under the new Governor.

In the two years that the Medical Marijuana Research and Education Board has been in existence, it’s given out just two grants totaling $150,000.

It’s not the board’s fault.

Last year lawmakers authorized $1.75 million.

Dr. Tom Sellers is the board’s director.

“We were supposed to be supported from funding from the state, which was pointed out earlier, through a collection of fees from the growers,” said Sellers.

The problem is that the Department of Health didn’t adopt rules to make the funding available to the board.

“For year two, we did not receive any money,” said Sellers.

The Department of Health has been under constant pressure from lawmakers, who say it deliberately slowed down all things marijuana.

“So, I think this is a little bit of collateral damage within that discussion,” said Moffitt Legislative Affairs Director Jamie Wilson.

In an exclusive interview, Senate President Bill Galvano told us that’s about to change.

“Well, I think we need research,” said Galvano. “There is a dearth of research.”

What’s changed is that Ron DeSantis brings a who new attitude about marijuana to the Governor’s Office.

“We have a commitment that the department is moving forward and taking the necessary steps, so we’ve included the funding, the $1.8 million that was at issue, and hopefully we will have more research,” said Galvano.

Researchers caution that if lawmakers want information, they’ll have to provide a steady stream of funding.

The research board is made up of researchers from five hospitals across the state.

This past year, it planned to award four research projects, but had to put them on hold because of the lack of funding.

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Teachers Union Criticizes ‘Equal Opportunity Scholarship’

February 15th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Governor Ron DeSantis unveiled a plan this morning to clear a backlog of students on a waiting list for the Florida Tax Credit Scholarship.

DeSantis is asking the Legislature to create a new “Equal Opportunity Scholarship” funded by general revenue to cover the scholarship for 14,000 students currently on a waiting list.

DeSantis defended his proposal to send public dollars to private schools, arguing if taxpayers foot the bill, it is public education.

The State’s largest teachers union disagrees.

“It’s a false notion, because we want the same regulations. If they’re going to be public schools let them have the same regulations. Let them test the same. Let them have the same qualified teachers. Let the understand the same budgetary constraints that we have. So that everybody is working from the same starting line. You’re trying to advantage one to disadvantage the other and that’s not fair,” said FEA President Fedrick Ingram.

At $6,500 a student, the total cost for the new scholarship could be as much as $90 to $100 million.

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Solving Florida’s Teacher Shortage: Bonuses or Pay Raise?

February 15th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Governor Ron DeSantis wants to overhaul the state’s Best and Brightest teacher bonus program, by nearly doubling its funding and changing how teachers qualify, but the state’s largest teachers union says expanding incentives won’t solve the state’s teacher shortage.

Florida needs to hire 2,200 teachers.

Governor Ron DeSantis hopes overhauling the state’s Best and Brightest Program could help fill the gap.

The Best and Brightest Program was originally passed in 2015.

It was supported by then House Speaker Richard Corcoran, who now heads the Department of Education.

Andrea Messina with the Florida School Boards Associations says one major issue with the program in its current form is that it uses college entrance exam scores to determine whether a teacher qualifies for a bonus.

“You know test results don’t necessarily reflect effectiveness in the classroom,” said Messina.

DeSantis wants to do away with that practice.

“To me that didn’t make sense, you’re already in a professional setting,” said DeSantis.

DeSantis wants to nearly double the overall funding for the bonus program, from $234 million to $423 million.

As many as 45,000 teachers in the state could receive $9,000 bonuses under DeSantis’ proposal.

However, the Florida Education Association, the state’s largest teachers union, says bonuses aren’t the answer.

“To insist that these merit pay schemes or bonus schemes are going to do something to attract and retain teachers is a fallacy,” said Union President Fedrick Ingram.

With a median salary of $48,000 a year, Florida ranks 45th in the nation for teacher pay.

Instead, Ingram says a pay raise would be a better use of the funds.

“A bonus package does nothing to impact teachers being paid 45th in the nation and we know that and the Governor knows that,” said Ingram.

Now it falls on the Legislature to make DeSantis’ proposal a reality, though no bills have been filed to make the change so far.

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House Considers Amendment 4 Implementation

February 14th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Lawmakers are still debating how to register more than a million newly eligible voters following the passage of Amendment 4.

Two House Committees heard from prosecutors, elections supervisors, clerks of courts and state agency heads Thursday, to learn what issues need to be addressed.

Amendment Four automatically restores the voting rights of all felons in the state who have completed their sentence, excluding those convicted of murder or sex crimes.

It’s considered the largest expansion of voting rights since the passage of the Voting Rights Act in 1965.

While qualified felons began registering January 8th, lawmakers say some basic questions need answers, like what is murder and what is a sex crime?

“Felony sexual offenses I can tell you there is a wide array of offenses that people of good faith can differ over about whether they should or should not be included,” said Representative Paul Renner.

While lawmakers believe those questions can be answered relatively quickly, other issues may take more time.

For instance, there is currently no single place a person or agency can go to definitively find out if a person has completed their sentence.

Renner says creating one could streamline the roll out of amendment 4.

“Where someone can walk out of prison or walk out of their probation office when their sentence is complete and have that certificate and everybody sees that across all the agencies that are involved… I think is where we want to go,” said Renner.

Clemency attorney Reggie Garcia says a more urgent issue is defining what constitutes a completed sentence.

“I think where the ambiguity comes is whether there’s unpaid restitution or court costs,” said Garcia.

Prosecutors say until lawmakers clear up the ambiguity surrounding Amendment 4, they have no intention of prosecuting people who mistakenly think they qualify and register to vote.

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Parkland: One Year Later

February 14th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

The first anniversary of the Parkland massacre was marked with a moment of silence at the State Capitol, where one anguished father continues to push lawmakers to make schools safer.

The bell tolled 17 times, once for each parkland victim.

Out of deference to the families, Florida’s political leadership was silent.

Inside, well wishers paid their respects to Andrew Pollack, whose daughter Meadow died in the shooting.

The anguished father says the one year anniversary is no different than any other day since her death.

“For today to be any different, it’s not. Every day is the same pain from when you wake up to when you go to sleep,” said Pollack.

He applauds the Governor’s call for a grand jury investigation.

“That’s going to lead to show multitudes of incompetence in the Broward School district,” said Pollack.

Last year lawmakers mandated Fortify Florida, a school related incident reporting app.

Since it went live, 278 tips have been called in.
This year’s legislation will require the Fortify Florida app be installed on every school device students use.
“I fight the people who are just gonna focus on gun control,” said Pollack.

Pollack also supports arming teachers, which was the number one recommendation of the School Safety Commission.

“You know, those are the same people who don’t want to arm the right people at schools. I fight them,” said Pollack.

Asked if he believes his daughter would still be alive if teachers had been armed, he responded, “One hundred percent.”

Flags at the Capitol were at half staff Thursday.

The Governor proclaimed February 14th as Marjorie Stoneman Douglas Remembrance Day, and the Capitol will remain lit with Orange lights through Sunday night to honor Parkland’s victims.

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Momentum Shifting to Arm Teachers

February 13th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

On the first anniversary of the deadly school shooting at Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High School in Parkland, momentum is building for allowing teachers to be armed.

688 trained school personnel have qualified to carry guns under the guardian program.  It was passed in the wake of the deadly valentines day shooting last year. They are protecting students in 25 of Flordia’s 67 counties. Dennis Baxley says lessons were learned in Parkland.

“That first three minutes of exposure when something is becoming an incident, if you don’t act right then, if you haven’t empower somebody there, then it could get worse, much worse. A massacre” fears Baxley.

Lawmakers excluded classroom teachers from being guardians after pressure from then Governor Rick Scott, but Scott is gone and the 15 member commission set up after the shooting has voted to arm teachers. 

“Signify by raising your hand.” The vote was 14-1, but the lone no vote later voted to accept the entire report. 

Senate President Bill Galvano says the commission is working exactly as intended.

“And that commission had a diverse makeup, including families of victims, and law enforcement. And a lot of folks changed their views on the guardian program going into it.”

Right now, a sheriff must first offer the guardian program, and then it’s up to the school board to accept. But a proposed change would flip that. If a school board wants to have armed teachers, the sheriff would have to make it happen.

The guardian legislation is likely to be among the first bills to make it to the Senate floor when lawmakers meet next month.

The Guardian legislation was approved by the Senate Education Committee on a 5-3 party line vote. Florida Democrats, who oppose arming teachers, are using the anniversary to highlight more than a dozen bills, including universal background checks and banning assault style rifles.

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Violence in Minority Communities Overlooked

February 13th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

State Representative Shevrin Jones says violence in minority black and brown communities has been overlooked in the rush to make schools safer after the Parkland massacre. Jones is asking the Governor to set up a commission, much like what was set up after the school shooting to study the problem. He says the violence in their neighborhoods is having a traumatic effect on the kids who live there.

“You have children who are looking at homicides on their streets and are going to school with that same visualization in their minds. On a daily basis, especially in the minority community. So they are leaving school  and walking  by the blood on the street that they just saw the night before. That’s trauma, and these are the things that need to be addressed” says Jones.

Jones says the problem has been around long before Parkland, but it was the response that he says was the conversation starter for minority communities.

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Hate Crime Loopholes

February 13th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Jewish lawmakers and the Anti Defamation League say there are gaping holes in the states hate crime laws. They are proposing that crimes against people with disabilities and transgender individuals face tougher sanctions. Rep. Joe Geller says longer sentences for hate crimes may not be a deterrent, but at least they will keep hateful individuals off the streets longer.

“There is some hope that it may have an effect on other members of the public who will see that there can be consequences , but the biggest reason is not deterrence. The biggest reason is to help protect and defend Florida citizens to make sure people who commit this especially heinous acts aren’t going to be back out committing them again too soon” says Geller.

In 2017, Florida reported 145 hate crimes to the FBI. That was a fifty one percent increase over 2016.

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Sean Shaw, Attorney General Candidate, Take Two

February 13th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

More than three point seven million people voted for Democratic Attorney General Candidate Sean Shaw. He championed gun control and worked as a consumer advocate before running. Now he says he’s not going away. Shaw has formed a committee calling itself People over Profits to continue what he started on the campaign.

“We’re still fighting. Just because you lose an election does’t mean you stop believing in in why you ran. And just because I didn’t win an election doesn’t mean those people who voted for and supported me aren’t going to have someone championing these issues. We’re gonna be up here, and that’s what’s this is about” says Shaw.  

Shaw tells us he has no plans to run for another office anytime soon.

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Smokable Medical Marijuana One Step Closer to Reality

February 12th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida’s could soon be dispensing medical marijuana to patients in pre rolled cigarettes. A House Committee today approved making smokable pot available.  Governor Ron Desantis had called for the change, and As Mike Vasilinda tells  us, lawmakers are following his lead.

Police were the first to object to smokable marijuana. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri spoke for Sheriffs in January 2017. 

“We don’t think there should be smokable marijuana.”

Now the man who authored the ban, State Representative Ray Rodriquez, is changing his tune.

“This PCB would allow the smoking of medical marijuana in the form of a pre-rolled, filtered marijuana cigarette” said Rodriguez before the House Health and Human Services Committee which he chairs.

The push was not without opposition. Tampa mother Ellen Snelling came to tell of her daughters addiction and recovery.

“She started smoking marijuana. She went on to pills. There were long nights when I wondered if I would ever see my beautiful daughter again.”

But North Florida veteran John Goodson, who said he was under the influence as he spoke, was one of several who say smoking pot

saved their lives.

“Ever since I started cannabis, I’ve got off three blood pressure medications. I got off my anxiety medicine” the veteran told the committee.

Allowing smoking passed with just two no votes. One was Jacksonvilles Clay Yarborough.

“I have concerns that long term, this will lead to recreation use. It’s more of a foot in the door” says Yarborough.

And it was very clear that this change wouldn’t be happening but for a new Governor said chair Rodriquez. 

 

“Well, clearly, the bill is because the Governor has called on the legislature to bring a piece a legislation that he can support.”

Governor Ron Desantis has asked for the smokable legislation by mid March. An appeals court has said it will wait for the governor before ruling on a lawsuit that declared the no smoking provision unconstitutional.

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Did one legislator bully another?

February 12th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Rep. Omphroy

A freshman state lawmaker from Broward County has filed a complaint with the House Speaker, accusing another member of bullying, and verbal intimidation. The lawmaker, Anika Omphroy, goes on to say she fears retaliation. The alleged confrontation took place at a Democratic function in Orlando over the weekend. The member she complains about, Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, is openly gay. He says he is stunned by the allegations.

 

Rep. Carlos. G. Smith

“I can have a reasonable conversations with any Democrat, and Republican, about any issue. Even when we disagree, but I also do so in a professional and respectful manner. And the allegations she’s putting forward are simply not true, but I want to hear from her and I want to hear more about why she feels the way that she feels” says Smith.

 The House Speaker has opened a “workplace harassment” investigation. Omphroy did not respond to our inquiries and was not at her office this morning. More than a hundred people were in the room when the incident was said to have occurred. At least one other lawmaker says she saw the interaction and it was not intimidating. 

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Democrats Push Gun Bill Agenda

February 12th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida Democrats say the approaching anniversary of the Parkland School Shooting is a time to promote legislation which they say will curb gun violence. They are proposing more than a dozen bills.  Rep. Margaret Good of Sarasota wants to institute universal background checks on all gun purchases, including those between individuals, which are now exempt.

“After the Parkland shooting, I researched policies to prevent gun violence, and found that ninety-six percent Floridians support requiring background checks with virtually every gun purchase. I also learned that in states that require background checks, there are fewer instances of gun related crimes” Says Good. 

Others bills include an assault rifle ban, red flag legislation allowing family members to tell a judge someone in their family is dangerous and should have their guns taken away. They also oppose, as does the Florida PTA, a plan to arm teachers.

“Eighty seven percent of mass shooters sowed signs of crisis.Seventy eight percent revealed their plans ahead of time. And yet Florida still falls at the bottom of mental health funding. We need to do better. And we must not, and should not, take the easy way out by arming our teachers” says Daniella Thomas of the Florida PTA

Most of the ideas were rejected by the Legislature’s GOP majority last year.

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Finding the Truth in Assignment of Benefits

February 11th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

A Florida Senate committee is expected to approve major changes to a state law allowing homeowners to sign over their rights to third party contractors. The practice is being blamed for doubling the number of lawsuits against Insurace companies, and people who remediate water damage are at the center of the dispute.

In response to the public records request, Citizens has declined to provide individual claims data, citing privacy concerns. It has yet to respond with a general picture of settlements before and after a law suit has been filed.  

Dozens of small business owners who specialize in restoring water damaged homes have been walking the Capitol with a proverbial target on their back.

Josh Reynolds, who owns WrightWay Emergency Services in Nokomis is the President of the Restoration Assn. of FL.  He says the target is on their backs for a reason.

“You know, we fight the insurance companies.. we just don’t accept what they are willing to pay” says Reynolds.

Josh and like companies are being blamed for driving up insurance costs. Citizens alone says lawsuits filed by third party vendors are responsible for an average two hundred forty-four dollar rate hike coming this year.

“Some of them call it a scam” says State Senator Doug Broxson. He says it’s only going to get worse.”

“Are the people of Florida willing to pay, potentially double their premium in ten years if you don’t fix this?” Asks Broxson.

Broxson’s bill would allow homeowners who sue to collect their attorney’s fees, but not third party contractors.

But if your roof gets blown off, lawyers like Margaret Gardner say no one’s going to fix it if they aren’t guaranteed getting paid.

“If you can’t get your roof replaced, every time it rains, even with tarping, eventually you’re going to get more water intrusion“ she says.

Fighting back, the contractors have asked for detailed information about more than a quarter million Citizens claims paid over the last five years. They think it will tell a story of Citizens being penny wise and pound foolish.

“And I think afterwards you’ll see that most contractors are able to recover between seventy and one hundred percent of their bills after litigation” says Josh Reynolds.

The restoration specialists admit that they’ve got a few bad actors in their business, and  their solution is to create a system of licensing …license them, which they say will drive the bad guys out.

There’s just one problem. The theme of this legislature is less regulation, not more.”

In response to the public records request, Citizens has declined to provide individual claims data, citing privacy concerns. It has yet to respond with a general picture of settlements before and after a law suit has been filed.  

And late Monday, The Florida Supreme Court agreed to hear an assignment of benefits case arising out of Port St. Joe. 

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