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One Year After Pulse, Activists say Governor Rick Scott has Dropped the Ball on Protecting LGBTQ Rights

June 22nd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Officials with Equality Florida and the Florida Democratic Party are criticizing Governor Rick Scott for failing to issue an executive order protecting LGBTQ individuals from employment discrimination.
Leon County Democratic Party Chairman, Andy Janecek says the Legislature as a whole has failed the LGBTQ community when it comes to protecting employment rights.
“In Florida aside from some county protections, there’s now law that protects you if you go to work the next day and you place a picture of your new partner or your wedding on your desk, your employer can terminate you for that very reason in Florida. That is still allowed and that’s unacceptable,” said Janecek.
Activists say they had an open dialogue with the Governors staff in the wake of the Pulse Night Club shooting and were assured Scott would take action on the issue. Now more than a year later there hasn’t been any movement on the issue.

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National Organization for Women Calls for Board of Governor’s Member to Resign

June 22nd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A member of the Governing Board of the State University apologized after suggesting the reason women make less than men is because of genetics.
But the National Organization for Women says the apology doesn’t go far enough.
While discussing the pay gap between men and women graduates, Board of Governors member Ed Morton said this,“The women are given, maybe some of it is genetic, I don’t know. I’m not smart enough to know the difference.”
A furor followed. Rick Scott, who appointed Morton, made it clear he didn’t agree and released a statement through his press secretary saying…. “As a father of two daughters, the Governor absolutely does not agree with this statement.”
The following day Morton apologized in a statement that said in part, “I chose my words poorly. My belief is that women and men should be valued equally in the workplace.”
The apology isn’t enough for the National Organization for Women.
“Mr. Morton should resign,” said Barbara DeVane, a Lobbyist for Florida NOW.
NOW says if Morton doesn’t step down, Rick Scott Should remove him from office.
“No one in 2017 should ever be making such a statement. Especially someone who’s on the Board of Governors,” said DeVane.
Florida is one of 15 states that has not ratified the Equal Rights Amendment.
“Every session we don’t even get a hearing, just like this past session. So for someone in this position to be making such a statement is idiotic and ignorant,” said DeVane. “Genetics has nothing to do with the difference in salary between a man and a woman. It all has to do with discrimination.”
In Florida women who graduate from state universities are being paid on average $5,500 less each year than men.
Governor Rick Scott’s press office failed to issue a statement regarding whether or not the Governor would consider removing Morton from office in time for this story.

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Morton Apologizes for “Poor Choice of Words”

June 21st, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Florida’s Board of Governors were told statistics show women graduates make less than their male counterparts a year after leaving school.
During the Tuesday meeting, board member Ed Morton suggested teaching salary negotiating skills for women, but also said the gap may be genetic.
“The women are given, maybe some of it’s genetic, I don’t know. I’m not smart enough to know the difference, but I do know that negotiating skills can be something that can be honed and we can improve,” said Morton.
Morton, appointed by Governor Rick Scott, was quickly condemned by the Governor in a statement issued by his press secretary: “As a father of two daughters, the Governor absolutely does not agree with this statement.”
Morton has since apologized, issuing a statement but refusing interviews. He says in part, “I chose my words poorly. My belief is that women and men should be valued equally in the workplace.”
The controversy comes after legislation failed in the 2017 regular session that attempted to close the wage gap between men and women.
More women than men graduate from Florida universities, still women’s median starting salaries are $5,500 less than men.
Dr. Wayne Hochwarter a professor  of Organizational Behavior at FSU says the gap is more likely a result of women choosing professions that pay less.
“Whereas you still have a large section of young men who are also in the business school and engineering and in medical areas, as well as the legal profession,” said Dr. Hochwarter.
Dr. Hockwarter also says research shows women often times are better prepared and better equipped for situations like negotiating salaries.
The report presented to the Board of Governors also revealed African American graduates make $3,500 less that other graduates in their first jobs.

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As Rain Falls in Florida, Assignment of Benefits is Getting Costly

June 21st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

 

When you go to your doctor, most people sign a form allowing the doctor to bill the charges directly to your insurance company (if you are lucky enough to have one). The same thing often takes place when it comes to home repairs, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, claims of abuse in the assignments are about to raise insurance rates in Florida.

Water remediation and remodeling contractors likely paid a finders fee to get the work to repair these flooded homes. The extra fee drives up the overall bill.

The contractors are doing what doctors do. They ask you to sign a form so the insurance company pays them. It’s called assignment of benefits or AOB.

When an insurance company balks at repair costs, contractors sue. If they get a penny more than the company originally offered, the insurer, by law, must also pay their attorneys fees.

The problem is primarily in South Florida, but spreading north. The States Insurance Commissioner says those law suits are going to cost you more, soon.

“Rate increases could be as much as ten percent if this is unaddressed” says Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier.

 

On average the owner of a hundred fifty thousand dollar new home will be paying 65 dollars more for insurance next year…by 2022, that number jumps to 350 dollars a year.

 

”Well, I think it’s manufactured crisis” says  Jeff Grant of the Florida Assn of Restoration Specialists. He has been calling for his industry to be regulated.

“I think if you regulate us, gets rid of all the riffraff in our industry. You have to be background checked, and the majority of these issues goes away” says Grant.

The number of AOB lawsuits has skyrocketed. From 400 a decade ago to more than 40 thousand this year.

In addition to water remediation and remodeling contractors, insurance regulators say they are seeing fraud in windshield and roofing repair.

 

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Florida Universities Begin Laying the Framework For Industrial Hemp Projects

June 20th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The University of Florida and Florida A & M  could soon be in the business of researching hemp.
Legislation allowing the research, which has only been legal since 2014 has been signed into law.
FAMU is gearing up in anticipation for the research to begin.
Florida’s farmers are looking for new ways to make ends meet.
Citrus production is down.
The new law is giving universities in the state with a college of agriculture the go ahead to look at hemp as a possible alternative.
“That they could actually count on as a cash supplement, even between times when they’re growing whatever normally they would grow,” said Representative Ralph Massullo, who sponsored the bill in the House.
Hemp is a non-psychoactive cousin of marijuana.
It has a long history of cultivation in the US and the country imports about $600 million worth each year.
Last April we interviewed a hemp farmer from Kentucky, whose family has been growing the plant since the early 1800’s.
Two Universities qualify to begin pilot hemp projects, The University of Florida and Florida A and M.
The majority of the funding for the programs will come from private partners.
FAMU says it’s already receiving inquiries from excited investors.
“There are a lot of companies that would like to get on board so to speak,” said Dr. Robert Taylor, Dean and Director Land Grant Program at FAMU.
Before the first seed can be planted the Department of Agriculture has to come out with a set of guidelines for universities to follow, including how to make sure plants are safe and secure.
Even though hemp can’t get you high, it’s still a controlled plant.
“People from the outside may think that it is you know, more marijuana than hemp,” said Dr. Taylor.
FAMU says it plans on support from their private partners to keep the plants secure.
The universities will report back to the Governor and the Legislature in two years to brief them on what the research has found.
If all goes well the Legislature will look at legalizing hemp cultivation for farmers in the state.
The department of Agriculture has 4 months to implement rules and guidelines for the research programs.

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Trial Date Set in Murder for Hire of FSU Law Professor

June 20th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Nearly three years after an FSU law professor was killed in an alleged murder for hire plot, a trial date has been set for the accused triggerman. As Mike Vasilinda tells us documents given to defense attorneys show the investigation is still ongoing.

Sigfredo Garcia got a court date. January 22, three and a half years after he’s accused of shooting FSU law professor Dan Markel point blank in a hundred thousand dollar murder for hire plot.

Co-defendant Katherine Magbanua is the mother of Garcia’ s children. She’s accused of arranging the murder with the law professors ex wife’s brother and mother. Prosecutor Georgia Cappleman had asked for a November trial date.

 

“I don’t have any plan to make any arrests at this time, additional arrests” says Cappleman.

Two cell mates of Garcia have told investigators that Garcia confessed to them.

“He got drunker and drunker.” says Nicholas Atteridge. Atteridge says Magbanua’s arrest hit Garcia hard.

“That He would do life in prison for here. He wants to get word to her to do what ever she has to do to get out, testify against him, give up the Adelson’s” Atteridge told investigators.

A second cell mate said Garcia told him the ex-wife’s family paid for the hit.

 

“The Don Adelson are the people who provided the money to Garcia” said cellmate Jason McNair in a recorded interview.

Garcia’s attorney, Mutaqee Akbar, says the testimony is worthless.

“Jailhouse snitches are not reliable, and anybody can tell you that” Akbar told reporters.

The January 2018 trial date is not set in stone. The defense says its likely going to need more time.

Prosecutors have also released several hours of undercover video, showing the ex brother in law meeting with Magbanua, then his father and mother. The video adds no conclusive evidence, but it does show the efforts law enforcement is making to close the case.

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“Rain is Gonna Fall”

June 20th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Rain fell across most of north Florida all day long and is expected to last through Thursday. The Governor’s office is warning of flooding and says “Affected counties have not reported any unmet needs and every county emergency operations center (EOC) remains in monitoring status. Tropical Storm Cindy is expected to make landfall west of Florida and so far the state’s Emergency Operations Center remains at a level 2 status, the same status it was at when wildfires were covering the state. The center is not expected to fully activate for Cindy.

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Judge Reverses Decision, Makes Pre Reveal Games Illegal

June 19th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A Circuit Court Judge has reversed his ruling on Pre Reveal Game Machines to reclassify them as illegal slots.
The ruling comes after the judge was asked to reconsider his decision by the Seminole Tribe.
The Seminole Tribe has exclusive rights to slot machines and banked card games like blackjack in Florida, except in two southeast Florida counties.
In return, the tribe pays a percentage of it’s profits to the state.
That exclusivity was  jeopardized over a court ruling that legalized machines known as Pre Reveal Games.
“These machines as we understand it are spreading rapidly,” said Barry Richard, a lawyer representing the Seminole Tribe.
The games play like slot machines with one exception, players can know ahead of time if the next game will be a winner.
Although players now the outcome of a game before they put their money down, they can’t know the outcome of future games.
And that’s where the gamble is.
“And nobody leaves a winning game on the machine so you always start with a losing game. And you’re playing a losing game even though you know it,” said Richard. “Why do you do that? You do it because you want the chance of winning the next game and you don’t know the result of the next game. That’s a slot machine.”
State regulators deemed the machines illegal, but manufacturer Gator Coin II challenged the state.
Circuit Judge John Cooper initially ruled the games were not gambling.
He reversed his decision Monday.
“Because the tribe is entitled to have no competition even from one machine. They’re paying over 250 million dollars a year,” said Richard. “That’s twice as much as the casino taxes from all of the parimutuels put together that have casinos in Florida.”
If the Seminole Tribe pulled out of its agreement with the state, it could have cost the state between 250 and 300 million dollars in annual revenue.
Two pre reveal game manufacturers declined to be interviewed before the court hearing.
Bars and gas stations currently operating machines in their businesses will have to cease with the new ruling.
Officials with Gator Coin II say they plan to appeal the decision.

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Building Code Changes Worry Disaster Managers, others

June 19th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Legislation making major changes to Florida’s building code got bundled with more than a dozen other changes in construction law this past session, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, a coalition of building officials and insurance interests fear the legislation could lead to a patchwork of requirements and higher insurance costs.


When Hurricane Ivan stormed into the panhandle in 2004, it leveled this 1950’s era brick house, while a newer home right next door sustained little if any damage. The difference, stronger building codes following 1992’s Hurricane Andrew.

House Bill 1021 is on the Governor’s desk. Florida Homebuilders CEO Rusty Payton pushed for the legislation, which he says streamlines future changes to the building code.

“It doesn’t weaker the code in any shape, form, or fashion. All it does is change the process by which we adopt future changes” Payton told us.

The legislation would allow Florida to pick and choose what new items it wants to add from the code. Building officials and Leslie Chapman Henderson of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes call it a disaster waiting to happen.

 

“If it becomes law, it will take Florida back to a system that lead to death, billion dollar losses, and certain destruction” says Chapman Henderson.

Home builders disagree.

“We can not weaken water intrusion, can not weaken wind loads” says Paton emphatically.

Chapman-Henderson counters: “This isn’t a streamlining. This is an abandonment. This is an abandonment of a system that has created the strongest building code in the country.”

The legislation contains about a dozen other changes to building and permitting laws, forcing the Governor to weigh the overall impact of the legislation.

Florida’s emergency management director lobbied against the change, which was sponsored by lawmakers who in their private lives are homebuilders and roofing contractors.

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Youth Advocates Searching for a Way to Raise Civil Citation Rates

June 16th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Some Juveniles who get in trouble with the law this weekend will be issued civil citations, others will go to jail.
Efforts to make the citations mandatory failed in the state legislature this year.
So, juvenile justice advocates are looking in to new solutions to make citation rates more consistent throughout the state.
Florida’s counties are all over the board when it comes to issuing civil citations to minors.
A study  by the Department of Juvenile Justice found rates as high as 93% in some counties officers in others issued no civil citations.
Legislation introduced during the 2017 session would have made it mandatory for officers in the state to issue civil citations to minors for their first offense.
The bill died because law enforcement said it would take away officer discretion.
“Essentially we would have had folks up in Tallahassee telling an officer in Fort Lauderdale how to assess the scene he or she was in,” said Sandi Poreda, who represents the Florida Police Chief’s Association.
Standardizing civil citations across the state was the Children’s Campaign’s top priority.
The Campaign says when kids get arrested it can seriously impact their futures.
“And you have to ask the question, how many children aren’t able to get summer jobs because they have an arrest record? And then we look at the arrest record and it’s for a misdemeanor,” said Roy Miller with the Children’s Campaign.
The organization is looking for a way to raise citation rates in way both advocates and law enforcement can get behind.
Officials with the Children’s Campaign believe they may have better luck raising citation rates by creating incentives for officers who write them.
The campaign wants officers to be required to justifying, in writing, why they chose to arrest a minor over issuing a citation.
Advocates with Florida Smart Justice Alliance say the proposal has potential.
“If it’s extra paperwork for them, maybe they’re going to think twice and they’ll say hey lets go ahead and divert this juvenile instead,” said Barney T. Bishop III with the Alliance.
Police say if people want change, it should come fro local residents, not the state.
According to the Department of Juvenile Justice’s study Pinellis County lead the State with a civil citation rate of 93%. Ten of Florida’s counties reported zero citations between 2015 and 2016.

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Pam Bondi Says Lawmakers Who Voted Against Opiate Response Bill Should, “Be Ashamed”

June 15th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Governor Rick Scott has signed into law legislation that increases penalties on traffickers of synthetic drugs like fentanyl and carfentanyl.
The legislation was heavily debated in the Senate because of its inclusion of mandatory minimum sentences for traffickers.
Lawmakers were worried because there was no judicial discretion allowed to not seek the minimum sentence, low level offenders might be swept up in the mix.
Attorney General Pam Boni says in her opinion the inclusion of mandatory minimums isn’t controversial at all.
“Shame on anyone who did not vote in favor of that. I took vials over and showed them seven gains is what it takes to have a possession of fentanyl. Seven little grains can kill you. The trafficking amount, it’s 2,000 to 6,000 lives and it’s just a 3 year minimum mandatory,” said Bondi.
The new law will take affect beginning in October of this year.

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Leon County Ranked Highest Crime Rate in Florida for Third Straight Year

June 15th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Crime is at a 46 year low in Florida.
But the State Capitol remains the most dangerous city in the state.
Statewide, there are 3,181 crimes for each 100,00 people. In Tallahassee it’s 5,655.
Many of the 60,000 students who come to college in the State Capitol don’t know they’re moving to a county ranked #1 for per capita crime in the state 3 years running.
Elected in 2016, Sheriff Walt McNeil won on the platform of reducing crime.
Florida A& M has issued at least five crime alerts for students since January.
“I don’t stay on campus anymore so its not as bad. I wont be as afraid because I’m home rather than being on campus where stuff happens.,” said FAMU student, Ottisha Torres.
This year county crime has jumped 8%.
The increase hasn’t escaped students.
“Most of the girls they usually walk with other girls like in groups,” said FAMU student, Nicholas Brown.
“Even just going to get a doughnut at night, if you want to get coffee I would not go there alone,” said FSU student, Leslie Yi.
The Florida state University police department saw a 33% increase in crime over last year.
The department says the spike isn’t actually as alarming as may sound.
“When you’re dealing with small numbers just statistically those numbers will go up very rapidly,” said Deputy Chief James Russell with FSU Police Department.
FSU PD also says most campus crimes are minor,  like theft.
“Other things can happen on campus as well. We don’t want them to think it can’t happen here. We need to be prepared for it, but being prepared makes us safer,” said Russell.
Both Universities have Blue Light stations for students to use in an emergency.
They also keep students up to date with text alerts.
Violent crime is down in Leon County over last year.
The county reported an almost 50% drop in murders and slight decreases in reported rapes and aggravated assaults.
FAMU, the Tallahassee Police Department and the Leon County Sheriff’s Office refused our interview requests.

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Rights Restoration a work in Progress

June 15th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Approximately Ten thousand convicted felons have applications pending to have their voting or firearm rights restored, but the process can take five years or more, and only about 2000 cases are disposed of each year. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, a pending constitutional amendment could streamline the process.

Four times a year, the Governor and Cabinet listen to pleas for mercy from convicted felons.

“Yes, I was convicted of manslaughter, and I did it” said one convicted felon.

Thursday, there were 85 cases on the agenda.

“I wish you the best of luck. I want to think about it. I’m gonna take it under advisement” Rick Scott after one case.

But prior to 2011, before Rick Scott and Pam Bondi took office, restoration of rights was near automatic for felons who’d paid their debt to society.

“I never harmed anybody.” Datravicious Smith told the Governor.

Datravicious Smith started the clemency process in 2012. he asked for and got his right to vote back.

“I don’t think just given to you back automatically. You never know” said Smith afterwards.

Jai Jurawan wasn’t so lucky.

“Tell me about the charge of cultivation of cannabis in 2013” Scott asked of him.

Jurawan came with hopes of a pardon.

 

“Not getting it…it sucks” he told us afterwards.

The Florida Supreme Court has cleared an amendment for the 2018 ballot that would automatically restore non violent felons rights.

Richard Greenberg is the President Elect of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

 

“They get released, get off off probation or get out of prison and they can’t vote. It makes no sense” says Greenberg.

If the amendment gets on the ballot and if it passes, it could automatically restore the rights of well over a million felons.

That’s a big if. Organizers still need to collect another seven hundred thousand signatures, and they’re trying to it will all volunteer labor.

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Teachers Union React to HB 7069 Signing

June 15th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

As we reported earlier this week, Governor Rick Scott was expected to sign an omnibus education bill before the week was out. He signed the legislation this afternoon. House Bill 7069 generated nearly 50 thousand letters, emails and petition signatures, early evenly split asking for a veto or to be signed. The legislation, for the first time, gives charter schools access to federal grant dollars to low income students and it allows charters to share local property tax revenues for construction and maintainence. the Florida education Association says the new law will make it harder for public schools to keep up.

“As it is right now, we’re having a hard enough time meeting our growth potentials. Meeting the unfunded mandates the legislature puts on school districts, and so its just going to make it harder for them to meet the needs of our schools and our children” says Pudlow.

Florida’s School Boards and Superintendents and asked Scott to veto the legislation.”

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Seven Florida Educators Awarded SHINE Awards

June 14th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The Governor and Cabinet awarded this year’s SHINE Awards to a group of Florida teachers for their contributions to the State’s education system.
Among those receiving the award is Latrece Brown, who won 2017 Duval County Teacher of the Year.
Brown, a Duval County native and UNF graduate teaches at Andrew Robinson Elementary School.
In her four years of teaching she’s become known for her high energy methods. She says what’s most important to her success is connecting with her students on a personal level.
“The most important thing is to love each child for who they are. Before you even think about educating them or mentoring them. Enjoy the children for who they are they will work and always meet your expectations,” said Brown.
Six other teachers from around the state were also honored with the SHINE award this morning.

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