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Bob Hurst: Homeless Trumpet Player

October 20th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Bob Hurst has been playing the trumpet for more than 50 years. He found himself homeless  a little over a year ago, so he packed up his instrument and hitched a ride to the state Capitol,  where as Mike Vasilinda tells us, he’s making friends and playing music.

Bob Hurst started playing the trumpet at age six

Now 61, Bob was living in Tampa, but working in Miami as an electrical subcontractor on a three month gig. When payday came, he got stiffed, then tossed out of his apartment. That was 14 months ago.

“I’ve never been like this before” Bob told us. “ But, in my opinion, it’s not what happens to you, the events that happen to you, it’s how you respond to them.”

Now, five, six or seven days a week he can be found playing music on the streets of the State Capitol.

“I get to see people out here. I like it.”

That’s where he met the former president of FSU. Others bring him lunch.

“She’s told me she hears me playing all the time. She appreciates me.

What he doesn’t do is ask for anything. Somedays there is as little as three dollars in his cup.

“But I’m not doing it for the money. I’m doing it for the community and for myself.”

Like many homeless, drinking has been a factor.

“I used to drink a lot, yeah. Now I drink very little.”

But never drugs.

“Most the guys I knew that were Jazz musicians, a lot of them were heroin addicts and it kinda scared me.”

When he isn’t playing, Bob is reading…often the bible.

Bob turns 62 in April, and he’s hoping his Social Security will be enough to cover rent.

Bob also plays the blues…but he sure doesn’t have them.

 

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First Amendment Watch Dogs Concerned Over Proposed Change to Sunshine Law

October 20th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Sunshine Laws make Florida’s state and local governments some of the most transparent in the nation.
But First amendment advocates fear recently filed legislation would cast a shadow on the policy It allows two public officials to meet privately without public notice or access.
“If you want to conduct business in private then go into the private sector or go to a state that doesn’t have Florida’s tradition of open government,” said Attorney Florence Snyder.
Last session lawmakers made a similar proposal.
It would have allowed two public officials to discuss legislation off the record.
The bill failed by just one vote in the House.
At the time the sponsor Representative Byron Donalds told us it was simply decriminalizing an already commonplace practice.
“Are we going to criminalize all elected officials and say that you are barred from doing what normal people do in the course of business,” said Donalds.
The new bill doesn’t go as far, specifying public business can’t be discussed in the meetings.
Sponsor State Senator Dennis Baxley says the current law doesn’t take in to account close relationships between local officials.
“In some communities you even have the husband and the wife in the same bedroom, but they can’t be in a meeting together because they’re both elected officials,”said Baxley.
Despite the restrictions, With only the two officials behind closed doors, there would be no way to know if public business was discussed or not.
“Ultimately you still have to trust your elected official to be truthful about what they did or didn’t do,” said Baxley.
The bill has already passed one committee.
Another hears it Tuesday which means lawmakers have it on a fast track.
Changes to the state’s Sunshine laws need a 2/3 majority vote in both chambers to become law.

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How Will Education Lawsuit Impact Funding Boosts for Under-Preforming Schools?

October 19th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The list of districts suing the state has grown to 14.
Others are still considering joining  the suit against the state.
“You have larger districts and you have smaller districts so it’s really a good representation of the school districts across Florida,” said Executive Director of the Florida School Boards Association Andrea Messina.
The new lawsuit includes two main objections.
The first is the fact the new law interferes with districts local control over how to spend tax dollar by requiring districts to share a portion of the revenue with charter schools.
“At the expense of public schools being able to build up their infrastructure, repair their roofs,” said Joanne McCall, President of the Florida Education Association.
Also, under the legislation some charters don’t have to answer to local school boards, which districts say violates a constitutional requirement for all public schools to be uniform.

“If I was a school board member I’d be mad as heck too and I’d want to know why aren’t they being held to the same standards,” said McCall.

The lawsuit came just days before 11 low performing schools in the state were approved for a $2000 per-student funding boost through the same education legislation.
Only one county involved in the suit, Bay County, is also receiving money from the legislation to improve two low performing schools.
14 additional schools have yet to be chosen for the funding boost.
Education Advocates hope the lawsuit doesn’t impact who’s chosen.

“What we’ve got to make sure is that we have the funding that they need in different areas to ensure that all of the students, all of the students no matter the zip-code are going to get the education that they need and deserve,” said Messina.

The lawsuit elevates tensions between the state and school districts.
“It would be my hope that we could have some legislative fixes to this,” said Messina. “I’m not sure that that is going to happen.”
State lawmakers have already voiced opposition to the districts law suit, which could lead to greater scrutiny from lawmakers when they meet in January.
The lawsuit still has a long way to go before its conclusion, which will likely come in the form of a ruling by the Florida Supreme Court.

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Former FSU President Survived Hate Speech Pressure

October 19th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

 

Unrest at college campuses over speakers is nothing new. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, Florida State University has struggled with controversy over so called hate speech, and thrived.

In 1999, then FSU President Sandy D’Alemberte had his own freedom of speech problems.

FSU Professor Glayde Whitney had written a glowing tribute to Former KKK grand wizard David Duke.

Students were livid.

“So, Can Florida State University afford to have students paying tuition to be mis-educated by this man” asked a student at a 1999 town hall meeting on campus.

D’Alemberte defended Whitney’s First Amendment rights.

Q:”Why was that important”?

“We;;, you know, academic freedom. I thought he was absolutely wrong. but darn it I did not want to stifle anybody. I did not want to take away his privileges” D’Alemberte says today.

 

Spencer has his supporters. A YouTube video has been generating more than a thousand views an hour since it was posted Wednesday.

“Basically, anytime the left doesn’t like someone they’ll find a way to make their words hate speech” chimes the announcer in the eight minute video.

D’Alemberte thinks the University of Florida played into Richard Spencer’s hands by first blocking his speech.

“I think they way it’s been handled has given him a hell of a lot more exposure than he should have gotten. I think UF was wrong in the first instance to turn him down.”

And D’Alemberte says we can all learn by listening to different view points.

“And you really need to get the pressure off, and one of the ways you do that  is by allowing speech.”

Even if we don’t agree with it.

While the FSU professor did keep his job, he was not allowed to teach classes required for graduation.

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Second Lady’s FSU Visit Promoting Art Therapy Draws Protesters

October 18th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Karen Pence, Second Lady of the United States was in the state capital Wednesday.
She was at Florida State University to promote art therapy, but protesters on campus say her husbands stances on other issues overshadow her passion.
The Second Lady says she has only one focus while in Washington:  To shine the light on art therapy.
It’s relatively obscure field, with only an estimated 6,000 practicing therapists nationwide.
However, it has a wide range of uses from helping people cope with post traumatic stress, to assisting those with autism.
“Art therapy is a mental health profession. it is not arts and crafts,” said Pence.
The Second Lady kicked off her campaign to bolster the art therapy profession at FSU.
The university is home to one of the country’s most prestigious art therapy programs.
“Here’s an opportunity, here’s a chance for us to become a house hold term, for people to understand what art therapy means,” said Chair of FSU’s Department of Art Education, Dave Gussak.
The goal is to recruit more professionals like Jordyn Dooley.
She’s one of 30 FSU students pursuing a Masters degree in Art Therapy.
“I think it’s great that she’s trying to inform people that it is a clinical field that’s psychologically based and has research basis and that it can help people. All people,” said Dooley.
Despite the relatively noncontroversial reason for Pence’s visit, both protesters and supporters gathered outside the venue.
“Art therapy is wonderful, but again it’s not okay to ignore the rest of what she’s doing,” said protestor Cassandra White. “Especially the fact they [Karen and Mike Pence] also believe in conversion therapy.”
College Republicans came to balance out the protesters’ presence.
“We heard about this counter-protest over here,” said Josheph Wolski, an FSU student siding with Pence’s supporters. “We just wanted to make sure she knew that that was not representative of the entire Florida State community and that she had support here.”
The Second lady also met with art therapists at an eating disorder clinic before leaving the state capital.
To keep track of the Second Lady’s art therapy campaign, follow her on Twitter, @SecondLady.
To learn more about art therapy you can visit arttherapy.org.
Vice President Mike Pence will be in Orlando for a Republican Party event on November 2nd.

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“Scott Air” posing Dilemma for Next Governor

October 18th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The misuse of state airplanes was an issue in the 2010 Governors Race, and because of it, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the next governor faces a quandary when it comes to traveling the state.

As a virtual unknown, Rick Scott campaigned in 2010 on getting rid of the state planes.

“I’ll put an end to petty spending projects and I’ll sell the state airplane” Scott says in one TV spot.

Scott kept his word. Two days after taking office he put the planes on the market.

“It’s a campaign promise I made, I’m going to live up to them” Scott told reporters before boarding his jet.

Fabulously  wealthy, Scott has been been flying on his own jet ever since. Now, unless the legislature takes action when it meets in January, the next Governor won’t have a plane on which to travel the state.

Q:”What’s the next Governor going to do about a plane”? we asked Scott after Tuesdays Cabinet meeting.

“My goal is the next Governor is going to focus how thy can get more jobs in the state” was his response as he went to his go to talking point.

There are five serious candidates in the Governor’s race. None own their own plane. Only one potential candidate…John Morgan can afford to fly on his own jet.  He won’t make a decision until spring, but in a recent TV spot he sounded more like a candidate than every before.

“I grew up poor, but the taste of desperation helps me do my job today” Morgan says in a TV spot for his law firm that is more of a bio piece on him than a commercial.

Key lawmakers, including the House Speaker, who himself may run for Governor are aware of the dilemma, and they may even fund a plan this coming session. But rumors of a veto abound.

Scott won’t say.

”I’m going to propose a budget and the legislature is going to come back to me with a budget and I’ll review it at that time” Scott says.

And in 2011 the Governor was asked how other state leaders were supposed to travel without a plane.

“They can drive or fly” he responded back then.

But flying commercial or driving aren’t likely good options for the next governor.

None of the five announced candidates would comment for this story on the record. Several state agencies still own planes, mostly for law enforcement missions. Those planes, including a King Air, could be drafted for short term use by the next Governor.

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Florida Attorney General: Just Say No to Richard Spencer Appearance

October 17th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The planned appearance of white nationalist Richard Spencer at the University of Florida continues to evoke emotion at the State Capitol.
 
“I would urge all students not to go to that. There’s no place for hatred and espousing these horrible, horrible views,” said Attoney General Pam Bondi.
 
How students will react to the controversial speaker is a concern.
 
A Brookings Institute study found a bare majority of 51% of college students think it’s okay to shout and drown out speech they find offensive.
At FSU we got a similar response.
 
“I think you should listen to what anyone has to say and then wait with your rebuttal,” saoid FSU student Karl Roche.
 
“Yeah, you can shout over someone that’s exercising their free speech. I mean, it’s not cool,” said FSU student Serfina Cruz. 
 
More shockingly, the Brookings Study found 1 out of 5 students agreed violence was okay to use against offensive  speakers.
 
All of the students we interviewed say they disagreed with using violence. But none of were surprised by how many had answered yes in the survey.
“I mean obviously there’s going to be a split between people so some people are going to think violence is the answer,” said FSU student Alexandra Marcus. 
Ahead of Spencer’s planned UF visit, Governor Rick Scott Declared a state of emergency to protect students.
 
“I believe in the first amendment rights that people have. I do expect people to be safe. I wont condone any violence,” said Governor Scott. 
 
Commissioner of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Rick Swearingen will be in Gainesville, overseeing law enforcement operations.
 
“Those who show up to exercise their constitutional right under the first amendment, they will have no issues. Those who show up to engage or encourage violence, they’re going to have problems,” said Sweringen. 
 
Protests have already begun being held on UF’s campus ahead of Spencer’s appearance.
The Brookings study also found that six out of ten students believe event organizers are legally required to provide opposing viewpoints. No such law exists.

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Number of Irma Related Insurance Claims Rises to Over 745,000

October 17th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Insured losses from Hurricane Irma continue to rise.
The state’s insurance commissioner told the Governor and Cabinet that as of Friday, there were 747,534 claims filed with an estimated loss of 4 point 9 billion dollars.
More claims are expected says Insurance Commissioner David Altmaier.
“What we’re hearing is that we had a lot of claims… it was a high frequency low severity event… A lot of claims that aren’t costing a whole lot on an individual basis, but that are still going to add up for the carriers,” said Altmaier.
 
Some insurers will be able to tap into the state’s hurricane catastrophe fund, which operates as a reinsurance fund for companies.
The fund has more than 17 billion dollars to cover losses.

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No Card, No Medicine for Thousands of Medical Marijuana Patients

October 16th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Thousands of medical marijuana patients are caught in a catch 22. They have been recommended for treatment, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us. they can’t start receiving medication until they receive an ID card from the state, which has been delayed because of short staffing.

Lauren Drake’s parents, both in their 70’s, have been recommended for medical marijuana. Getting the recommendation has been far easier than getting the medicine.

“It took 50 days for an approval. They still haven’t received their cards” says Drake.

Christian Bax, the Director of Medical Marijuana Use in Florida told lawmakers the ID card delay was running 30 days.

Others. like Lauren, says the wait can be two or even three months.

Jeff Sharkey of the Medical marijuana Business Assn says part of the problem is short staffing.

“You know, if you’re sick, it’s a long wait” says Sharkey.

Lauren’s problem gets more complicated:

“My mother doesn’t know what to go down and get from the one dispensary that we have in our location. My father is not capable of going. I don’t know how, at this point, to go and get the caregiver card so that I can go” says the caregiver.

Lauren can’t get a caregivers card because the state has yet to issue rules for getting them. She says the state isn’t focusing on patients.

“Why couldn’t my parents walk out and immediately go to the local dispensary and get medicine. I don’t understand what the holdup was” she says.

The delay is shortening the time between patients visits to their doctor, increasing their costs.

When patients get a recommendation for medical marijuana, it’s good for nine months. But here’s the problem: the clock starts ticking the day that recommendation is made, not when the card is issued.

The department is in the process of hiring a private vendor to issue ID cards. But the wait could get worse before it gets better.

This afternoon, the Department of Health said it now had 44,164 patients and 1,066 doctors. The department has issued 21,873 cards to date. The department also says their email can serve as a temporary card, but one Ft. Myers patient told us by phone his dispensary would not accept his email.

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Nursing Homes Battle the State in Administrative Hearing

October 13th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Nursing Homes are duking it out with the Agency for Health Care Administration in front off an administrative judge over an emergency rule requiring facilities to install generators in their facilities.
They’re challenging the rule’s November 15th deadline.
The generators are required by an emergency rule issued in mid-September following the deaths of 8 elderly residents in a Broward County nursing home.
Days later the death toll hit 14.
Nursing homes and assisted living facilities faced off with the state in the Administrative hearing Friday.
The homes are arguing 60 days is not enough time to plan for and install generators and four days of fuel.
Homes that miss the deadline face a $1,000 dollar a day fine and potentially the loss of their license.
“There’s so many moving pieces to this to be able to come in full compliance,” said Gwen Thibault, Chairperson of the Florida Argentum Association.
The state says homes who can prove they can’t meet the deadline can ask for another 6 months to comply.
“The ability to comply with this rule is there, the waiver process is there, which gives relief for those that, for a good reason, can’t,” said Attorney Steve Ecenia, representing AHCA and the Department of Elder Affairs.
The Agency for Health Care Administration released a new emergency rule Thursday, outlining in detail how facilities can apply for the extension.
It came as good news to nursing homes and assisted living facilities.
“It’s a step in the right direction and does take away the ability to fine us,” said Thibault.
Despite concerns from nursing homes, the state says most should be able to make the 60 deadline.
A deadline it argues, that will make residents safer.
“We’ve seen the danger that not putting a safe environment for people can cause and we want to ensure that doesn’t happen in the future,” said Ecenia.
Even if the emergency rule is overturned, nursing homes likely wouldn’t be off the hook.
At least three bills have been filed for the 2018 session to require generators.
The nursing home groups have also filed challenges to the emergency rule in a state appellate court.

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Frank White Joins Race For Attorney General

October 13th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A freshman legislator from Pensacola, Frank White, has entered the race for Attorney General to succeed term limited Pam Bondi.
White says he will be the conservative voice in the race.
“You know first I want to protect consumers, and especially seniors. That’s my top priority. Second, I want to fight those who are attacking the Constitution. So stand up for our constitution, fighting liberal tax, and finally just know every tax payer dollar that goes into that office will be spent wisely,” said White.
White joins Ashley Moody, a former Judge from Hillsborough County and Bondi’s pick for a replacement.
State Representative Jay Fant of Jacksonville is also seek the top law enforcement job.

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USDA Says Florida’s Citrus Crop Fared Better than Expected

October 12th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Orange lovers got a bit of good news Thursday.
Irma’s damage to the states citrus industry isn’t quite as bad as first thought according to the latest projections released by the USDA, but the State’s Agriculture Commissioner is still seeking Federal help.
Irma is estimated to have wiped out 70% of the states citrus crop this year.
Early estimates projected the crop would have the lowest yield in 75 years.
The new projections show the crop fareed better than anticipated: Oranges are down 21% from last year.  Grapefruit and tangerines are down almost 40%.
While Irma is long gone, the damage is still pilling up every day.
“You can stand in the grove and continue to hear fruit fall,”Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam  Putnam said.
The wide spread scope of the damage will likely translate to higher prices at the grocery store.
“The alternative to that would be a flood of imports from foreign countries that could over time replace market share that should be going to Florida’s farmers,” said Putnam.
Putnam wants Congress to allocate $2.5 billion to help farmers around the state recover.
A Senate Committee heard from farmers Thursday.
3rd generation Citrus Farmer and Citrus commission chairman Ellis Hunt Jr. says he’d never seen damage as great as Irma’s.
“This time it got everything. We did not survive in any area and it’s just that widespread damage that’s the real devastation this go around,” said Hunt.
State Senator Dennis Baxley says the need for Federal assistance is imperative if the industry is to recover.
“The urgency is upon us and this is 20% of our economy is still agriculture, although Florida’s changed a lot,” said Senator Baxley.
Relief could be voted on as early as next week or as late as December.
The Disaster Aid bill passed through the US House of Representatives this afternoon.
The request for Agriculture relief wasn’t included.
The bill will be taken up by the US Senate next week.

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State Democrats Call For Special Session to Respond to Puerto Rican Evacuees Entering the State

October 12th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
State Democrats are calling on the Federal and State Government to do more to help the Puerto Ricans affected by Hurricane Maria.
Lawmakers held a press conference this afternoon in the Capitol demanding a special session to come up with a plan for how to deal with the thousands of evacuees expected to flood into the state.
They want more state aid for evacuees, a plan to integrate the thousands of new school children expected to arrive and to ensure Puerto Ricans who show up can access healthcare and affordable housing.
“When they’re here, they need help. They’re not leaving right away if they don’t have a place to go back to and so we urge as my colleague urged further, we need to help them there and we need to help them here. These are our brothers and sisters. These are American citizens. These are Puerto Ricans,” said Representative Amy Mercado.
Some estimates predict as many as 100,000 Puerto Ricans may come to Florida.

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Rare Subpoena Seeks Baground on “Emeril Florida” and “Bass2Billfish” Shows

October 12th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

A Public Integrity Committee of the Florida House today voted to issue subpoenas to a private vendor over contracts with the states tourism arm. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, lawmakers say the subpoenas were a last resort.

Florida taxpayers spent as much as 18 million dollars over a five year period through Visit Florida, funding  a cooking show with Emeril Lagasse,

And a fishing show ”Bass 2 Billfish”.

The Public Integrity and Ethics Committee was told by its lawyer, Adam Tenenbaum, that he’d asked for the records informally. He says a subpoenas is the last resort.

“There wasn’t an affirmative decline or refusal, it was just an absence of action” Tenenbaum told the committee.

State documents require vendors to produce backup documents when requested.

Rep. Larry Ahern (R-St. Petersburg) offered the motion to issue the subpoena.

“I move that the committee approve the issuance of subpoenas” said Ahern.

At the center of the dispute is Tallahassee insider and political operative Pat Roberts.

“Calling Pat Roberts mobile”.

Roberts did not return our phone call

Chair Larry Metz says its too early to know if Roberts will be asked to testify.

“So whether we do that or not remains to be seen. I have no idea. We’re gonna see what the documents show first of all” Metz told reporters afterward.

 

In the end, Rep. Larry Ahern admits its highly unlikely the state will recover any of the money.

“Quite honestly, I’d be surprised if there was any recovery. But again, it might be a lesson for the future when these types of things, these public private partnerships that everyone seems o keen on sometimes, that we take a little more time”.

The review of the contracts was sought by the House Speaker after his very public feud with Visit Florida earlier this year.

And lawmakers say they have yet to clear up who owns the copywriter to the two shows and and cash that might come from re-runs.

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Slavery Memorial Legislation Picks Up Speed and Passes First Committee Stop

October 11th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
While confederate monuments around the country are falling, the Florida Legislature is poised to put a new monument up recognizing the same time period, but the monument would honor those at the heart of the Civil War.
Monuments dot the grounds of the state Capitol. They honor first reposnders, veterans and even Martain Luther King Jr.
Now, Florida is one step closer to adding a new monument to the grounds after a House committee gave a near unanimous thumbs up to a bill constructing a slavery memorial.
“Adding this is a good thing. Not only to remind us of the injustices that have happened in the past, but in the light of everything that’s happening right now,” said Representative Blaise Ingoglia.
There’s no design for the monument yet. That will be left to planners if the bill becomes law.
The bill ran into trouble last session, but after the events in Charlottesville the Legislation has taken on a new importance. Senator Dennis Baxley is credited with killing the bill last session. He says that won’t be the case this time around.
“We should all honor those who came before us because we’re none perfect and we didn’t live in their time, but we can see the challenges that they faced and I want to reward that. And I want to be about building monuments rather than tearing them down and I need to make good on that and so I’m going to try to,” said Senator Baxley.
The bill has strong bipartisan support this year, and lawmakers on both side are optimistic the legislation will pass.
“You’re looking at an incoming leader of the Florida House for the Minority Party here along with the chair of the Republican Party of Florida. If there’s ever a moment where true bipartisanship is shown, it’s here on this defining issue,” said the bill’s sponsor, Representative Kionne McGhee.
If constructed, the monument would be the first of its kind at any state Capitol.
The monument would be constructed by the Department of Management Services. There’s no official cost estimate for the construction.

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