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Unspent Security Funds Will Go Back to Elections Supervisors, With Some Extra

June 17th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Help is on the way to Florida’s 67 Supervisors of Elections ahead of the 2020 election cycle.

Last year, they collectively had to return more than a million dollars meant to enhance election security back to the state, but the Governor has announced they’ll get a second chance to spend the cash, with some extra.

On May 22, the Governor Ron DeSantis ordered the Secretary of State to come up with a plan to ensure the state and counties’ election systems were secure.

The Governor said Monday that the plan is moving forward.

“The plan will first asses the security of Florida’s elections systems and identify any vulnerabilities,” said DeSantis. “If vulnerabilities are identified the will be addressed.”

Last year, $19.2 million was made available to the state’s Supervisors of Elections to enhance election security, but not all of the money was spent.

$1.4 million had to be returned to the state, but DeSantis said he’s making $2.3 million in unexpended funds available for security enhancements.

“To ensure the safest most up to date modifications are made to our infrastructure,” said DeSantis.

The announcement came after it was revealed two Florida counties’ election systems were hacked in 2016.

Secretary of State Laurel Lee said the state is committed to preventing future hacks.

“The Department of State will ensure that no county stands alone against foreign threats to Florida’s elections,” said Lee.

The money will go to back to the counties that were unable to spend their share in 2018.

One of the reasons the cash went unspent was because the state put overburdensome requirements on how it could be spent.

DeSantis said that won’t happen this time around.

“I don’t want to grind this process to a halt because you’ve got to dot a hundred different I’s and cross a hundred different T’s,” said DeSantis.

The $2.3 million will be added to another $2.8 million appropriated by the Legislature, giving supervisors another $5.1 million to share on security.

The Governor says he’ll ask for additional funds in his 2020 Budget Request if any vulnerabilities are identified throughout the review.

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Jewish Voters Could Decide a Red or Blue Florida in 2020

June 17th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

On the eve of President Trump announcing his re-election plans in Florida, there’s a push to convince more Jewish voters to vote Republican.

The Governor’s recent trip to Israel could start tipping the balance towards the GOP and help the President’s re-election campaign.

Becoming Governor was a race Ron Desantis won by just over 32,000 votes.

In Florida, Jewish voters are about 5 percent of the electorate.

A 2018 CNN exit poll found 19 percent of jews voted Republican.

That’s more than double DeSantis’s victory margin.

So will the Governor’s trip to Israel pay future political dividends?

Pres. Zionist Organization of America Mort Klein said it will.

“Governor DeSantis, as a Congressman, was the greatest friend supporting US Israel relationships in the United States,” said Klein. “Republicans have become much stronger supporters of US, Israeli relations than Democrats. That wasn’t true 20 or 30 years ago.”

State Representative Fine, the only Jewish Republican in the State Legislature agreed, Democrats tend to fall behind in their support for Israel.

“In many corners of the other side, being an antisemite is seen as some sort of a badge of honor, and that’s not okay,” said Fine.

While waiting for the Governor at the Western Wall in Jerusalem we met two Miami men, Yechiel Cinert and Joseph Leuchter.

Both were Jewish voted for DeSantis.

“The Republican Party has morphed into you know, this Pro-Israel party, right, even more so that the Democratic Party, which I think, you know, hasn’t fallen on deaf ears,” said Cinert.

“Also there’s a latent, there’s antisemitic elements in the Democratic Party,” said Leuchter.

Big elections in Flordia are decided by less than one percent.

So any movement in Jewish voters can have a big impact.

“I have a lot of Republicans come to me and say, my gosh, how can any Jews vote or vote for a Democrat given Israel, but I think that’s very simplistic to view Jewish voters that way,” said DeSantis.

It’s not an accident the President begins his reelection campaign in the biggest swing state where its Governor is Israel’s best friend.

Florida Jews make up about 3.5 percent of Florida’s population, but account for about 5 percent of all registered voters in the state.

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DeSantis Says He Will Put Governing Ahead of Campaigning for Trump

June 17th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Ron DeSantis will be in Orlando Tuesday for President Trump’s re-election campaign kickoff, but he told reporters Monday that he’ll be doing his job as Governor rather than being a Trump surrogate on the stump every day of the campaign.

“I’m probably not going to be that involved. I mean, I’ll go to this, and if the President needs me, but as for every single day, following this news or that news of the Democrats, I mean. I got a job to do so I’m going to be focusing on that. But I do appreciate you know, what the President has done to help Floridians. Particularly the one’s that have been in need in Northwest Florida,” said DeSantis.

DeSantis was endorsed early in the 2018 campaign by President Trump and it immediately gave him frontrunner status.

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Democrats React to Sanctuary City Becoming Law

June 14th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida Democrats say Florida has abandoned our immigrant community with a bill signed into law today penalizing elected officials who don’t cooperate with immigration officials. The lone statewide elected Democrat, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, calls the legislation divisive.”

“Obviously I was a staunch opponent to the bill. I am disappointed its getting signed into law today.  I think all it does is make people scared and divide our state at a time when we should be coming together” says Fried. 

The legislation fulfills a campaign promise by the Governor. It was one of the sharpest contrasts between the two men running for Governor last November. Democrat Andrew Gillum vowed to make Florida a sanctuary state. He lost by 32,463 votes.

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Hemp Legislation Goes to Governor

June 14th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Hemp could soon be a 20 billion dollar industry in Florida, but it depends on the Governor signing legislation he received today legalizing industrial hemp, and the state’s Agriculture Commissioner wants you to encourage the Governor to sign the legislation.

Hemp is marijuana’s second cousin…made illegal in 1957. But perhaps no longer in Florida. Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried wants you help to make that happen.

“The bill was actually sent to the Governor this morning, so if anyone has an ear of the Governor, encourage him to sign the hemp bill” Fried told the Capitol Tiger Bay Club.

Fried sees hemp as a possible savior for panhandle families who lost a 20 yer old crop of pine trees during Hurricane Michael.

“It is going to be something thats going to replace all of our styrofoam, our plastic, out paper. Hemp creeps. It is gong to be what I call an industrial revolution across our state  and the country, and it’s all biodegradable” says Fried. 

Elected as an advocate for Medical marijuana, Fried says big changes are needed before patients will really benefit.

“Stronger competition means it becomes more affordable. Getting them out of the black market and into our licensed dispensaries.and we need to fight for health care for medical marijuana patients.”

Asked if marijuana would ever be legal in Flordia, the Commissioner said its going to take time.

“And I do see that happening as more and more states legalize it and get into the marijuana space, you’re going to see more movement in DC.”

11 States have already legalized recreational marijauana. An initiative trying to get on the 2020 ballot would to add Flordia to that list faces an uphill battle. 

The legislation requires hemp and CBD products meet testing standards for food safety. Fried says consumers should be careful buying the products until the state has developed testing standards.

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Sanctuary Cities, One of Most Controversial Bills of 2019, Signed into Law.

June 14th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Governor Ron DeSantis has signed into law a ban on Sanctuary Cities in the state. The legislation was one of the most controversial of the 2019 legislative session, but as Jake Stofan tells us you wouldn’t know it based on the large crowd that gathered to support the signing in Okaloosa County.

More than 300 people packed into to the Okaloosa County Commission room to watch the Governor sign one of the most controversial bills of the year into law.

“Sanctuary cities, they try to defy federal law” says the Governor.

The new law prohibits local governments in Florida from adopting sanctuary policies, and requires local law enforcement to hold illegal immigrants that have been arrested for 48 hours, to give Federal Immigration Officials an opportunity to retrieve them.

Senate Sponsor Joe Gruters (R) Sarasota says the legislation is about the rule of law.

“This is not about immigration. This is about making sure that we cooperate with with Federal Immigration Authorities.”

Only a handful of protesters showed up. Among them Aliza Sager of Fort Walton Beach.

She argues the new law will deter illegal immigrants who have been victims of crime themselves from going to police, for fear of deportation.

“If you have a problem, your immigration status should not prevent you from going to the police” says Sager.

The Governor and conservative lawmakers push back against opponents concerns, arguing undocumented immigrants have nothing to fear, as long as they haven’t committed a crime.

“These are people that have been in the community illegally, committing crimes, and then the Federal Government is asking for our assistance” explains the Governor.

House Sponsor Cord Byrd (R) Jacksonville, says the law allows the Governor to suspend locally elected officials who pass any policies that may hinders Federal immigration law.

“We’re not telling an elected official that they can’t speak about certain things,  but when they transition that speech and put it into action as a public official, that’s where they’re violating the law.”

The law officially takes affect July 1st.

After that, cities and counties with sanctuary policies already on the books have 90 days to repeal them or face fines between $1,000 and $5,000 a day.

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Concealed Carry Program Back on Track

June 14th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

 

Nearly three hundred concealed carry permits went to people who couldn’t pass a background check under the previous administration. Speaking to the Capitol Tiger Bay Club, Newly elected Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is crediting a top to bottom restructuring of the program to making it work again.

“And so now that we have a new leadership in place, a new culture, we have actually reduced the amount of time to get your concealed weapons permit.  We walked in, we were at ninety three days. The statutory limitation is ninety. Since taking office we are now down to forty five days” says Fried.

The agency got 25 new positions from lawmakers this year and is poised to issue its two millionth permit this summer.

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Ag Commissioner says Panhandle Farmers Need More Help.

June 14th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Speaking to the Tiger Bay Club in the State Capitol today, Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried said farmers in the panhandle need more help than they have gotten so far from the state and Federal governments especially when it comes to a one point three billion dollar loss in timber. 

“There is no crop insurance because timber is not considered a crop. So they have no backup besides what’s in their own bank accounts. What would have been fifteen hundred dollars an acre is now fifteen hundred to get off, so its a three thousand dollar deficit. So how do you figure our how to get, not only this timber off the ground  but to encourage people to not leave the community” says Fried.

Fried is suggesting that hemp, if legislation legalizing it is signed by the Governor, could be a crop in the ground by the end of the year and at least offer some opportunity for Panhandle farmers.

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Elections Officials Hope to Recover $1.4 Million in Unspent Security Funds

June 13th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

More than $1 million meant to enhance election security for the 2018 election cycle in the Florida went unspent and had to be returned to the state.

Supervisors of Elections said tight deadlines are to blame.

In 2018, Florida received $19.2 million from the Federal Government to help improve election security.

Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley said the money was able to be spent on a wide range of security enhancements.

“Software that could better protect our systems and track problems, but also we had a new building here so physical security of the building,” said Earley.

But the turnaround to spend the money was tight, less than four months

All the while, supervisors were preparing for the upcoming midterm elections.

“Having to have it all spent before November 1st was a bit of a challenge,” said Earley.

The end result was that all but nine counties were unable to spend all the money they received.

The remaining $1.4 million had to be returned to the state.

“The concern was that it was either a use it or lose it,” said Earley. “There was no guarantees that anybody would see that money again.”

The 2019-2020 budget has a total of $2.8 million to improve election security.

It becomes available July 1st, the start of the fiscal year.

The Secretary of State’s Office said it’s currently evaluating how the $1.4 million left over from 2018 can be returned to election officials.

Earley said the more money the better, especially with the revelation that two Florida counties election systems were breached in 2016.

Another general election is also just a over a year away.

“Every improvement that we can make is another way to combat any kind of distrust or uncertainty that the voting public might have,” Earley

Supervisors expect the funds will go to counties with the greatest needs.

Possibly the counties that had to return the most money to the state last year.

Election Supervisors said they’re optimistic based on their discussions with the new administration that if and when the leftover money becomes available, they won’t face the same tight time constraints seen last year.

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Governor Signs Bill Allowing Self-Driving Cars On The Road

June 13th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation allowing autonomous vehicles to drive on Florida roadways on Thursday.

In signing the legislation, the Governor said it will make Florida the most friendly state in the nation when it comes to driverless cars.

While there are some driverless vehicles, most are still in testing mode.

Sponsor State Senator Jeff Brandes of St. Petersburg said he believes they will be commonplace by 2025.

“Well if you go to the villages, voyages in the villages, you got companies called Starsky Robotics that’s operating trucks in Plantation Florida. You got Ford and Argo AI down in Miami, so you’re starting to see more and more of this discussion,” said Brandes. “I think over the next few years up until 2025 you’ll see more and more of this discussion shifting into automation. And people are seeing more and more automation in their cars today. You already have adaptive cruise control, you already have lane assist. Those will only get more robust over time and so people will begin to see us moving up the levels of automation and that to me is really exciting and Florida is really on the leading edge of this.”

The legislation was signed in Polk County at the grand opening of SunTrax, the country’s newest autonomous vehicle test track.

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Pulse Victims Remembered at State Capitol

June 12th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

On the third anniversary of the Pulse Nightclub shooting a coalition of religious groups, LGBTQ activists and gun control supporters held a vigil at the State Capitol.

Many of the 49 who were killed in the shooting were members of the LGBTQ community.

Activist highlighted the ongoing need for more protections for LGBTQ individuals, especially since the group is a common target for hate crimes.

In 2018 there were 26 transgender people murdered in the United States, five of those cases were in Florida.

Gina Duncan Director of Transgender Equality at Transaction Florida said in the years since Pulse, the transgender community has suffered a number of defeats at the federal level, from military service, to healthcare protections.

“We honor the 49 with action. Together let us commit that we will not go back, we will not retreat into the closet and we will not live in the shadows. We commit that we will fight. We will fight with every breath in our bodies for the right to choose, for the right to exist without fear of violence,” said Duncan.

Since the start of 2019 there have been at least six documented murders of transgender people in the US.

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Assault Weapon Ban Ready for Supreme Court Review As State Remembers Victims of Pulse

June 12th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Three years ago Wednesday, a man who pledged himself to the Islamic State took the lives of 49 people at the Pulse Night Club in Orlando using an assault style rifle.

As members of the LGBT community mourned those lost, a citizen initiative aimed at banning assault weapons in the state crossed a major hurdle.

First hand accounts from survivors of mass shootings in a new ad are part of a campaign to ban assault weapons in the state, called Ban Assault Weapons NOW.

“Everyone around me was either dead or shot,” one survivor of the Parkland shooting recalled in the ad.

Just days before the third anniversary of the Pulse Night Club Shooting, the campaign announced it had collected 100,000 signatures for an initiative that would put the question of banning assault weapons before voters in 2020.

The proposed constitutional amendment will now be revised by the Florida Supreme Court.

“They have no place whatsoever in civilian hands,” said League of Women Voters of Florida President Patricia Brigham.

Brigham was in Orlando for the anniversary of the shooting.

“The best way to never forget is to honor those who were lost by getting these weapons of war off the streets,” said Brigham.

Beth DuMond with Mom’s Demand Action Against Gun Violence said the citizen initiative is the result of a Legislature that has repeatedly refused to consider a ban.

“If they’re not going to be heard by their legislators they’re going to have to go around them,” said DuMond.

New restrictions on how petition gathers can be paid will likely make it more difficult for Ban Assault Weapons NOW to collect the remaining signatures needed to make it on the 2020 ballot.

Lakey Love, an LGBTQ activist, said the restrictions won’t deter those pushing for the initiative.

“The Executive level leadership and the political arena is really pushing us to that place where the people just have to stand up and fight back,” said Love.

However, with more than 600,000 signatures needed and less than a year remaining to collect them, it’s guaranteed to be an uphill battle.

A vigil was held at the State Capitol Wednesday evening in remembrance of the 49 who lost their lives at Pulse.

For many the shooting was the spark that triggered the outcry for a ban on assault weapons.

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Newly Formed Blue Green Algae Task Force Gets to Work

June 12th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

The state’s first ever Chief Science Officer Dr. Thomas Frazier convened the state’s first ever Blue Green Algae Task Force Wednesday.

The panel is on a mission to solve a problem decades in the making.

The Blue Green Algae Task Force has a charge to examine state regulations and not be afraid to challenge the status quo.

“The goal is simply to ask what can we do to achieve more now, and how do we get better,” said Secretary of the Florida Department of Environmental Protection Noah Valenstein.

The task force is made up of five PHD scientist, all distinguished in their field.

Presentations were heavy on jargon.

Dr. Michael Parsons of Gulf Coast University said solving the problem may come down to more monitoring and more boots on the ground.

“I think its more or looking at what’s in place and doing a better job of monitoring and making sure there is compliance. And make sure we can help people get into compliance is that’s not the case,” said Parsons.

More money will help.

The Governor asked for $2.4 billion over four years to protect Florida’s environment.

In the 2019 budget he got more than a quarter of it.

While reviewing a map of septic tanks in Lee County, state officials noted their potential threat.

“They can provide, or can propose a problem, and a significant problem to water bodies,” said DEP Deputy Secretary for Water Restoration Tom Frick.

The new Chief Science officer seemed surprised when he was told the agency doesn’t regulate septic tanks.

“And we have to be able to figure out how to convert septic tanks in some cases to waste water treatment systems,” said Frazier.

But Frazier made a promise to make a difference.

“What we come up with here is not going to sit on a shelf,” said Frazier.

The Florida Audubon Society expressed optimism the task force would find a way to insert scientific solutions into solving what they called a crisis of well know cases when it comes to blue green algae.

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Appellate Court Hears Case Against 2017 Education Law

June 11th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The future of charter schools is on the line in a case heard by the First District Court of Appeal Tuesday morning.

The 2017 legislation allows charter schools to set up in counties with failing schools without local input.

Traditional public school advocates started fighting against the omnibus education package almost immediately after it passed.

Initially, 13 school boards filed suit, but in 2018 Circuit Judge John Cooper ruled against the school boards, leading to three districts withdrawing.

The remaining 10 districts argued their case before the First District Court of Appeal.

Collier County, which filed a separate appeal, also made its case before the panel of judges.

The districts alleged the law is unconstitutional, because it requires districts to share property tax revenue with charter schools.

“They don’t have the money to build that new gym or that air conditioning system because the money is being directed elsewhere,” said Steve Brannock, an attorney representing the school boards.

But the state said the amount of money in dispute is insignificant.

“They would have to spend a very small portion, less than one percent, on their charter schools,” said Testani,an attorney representing the state.

In addition to money, the school boards said the law dilutes their authority by allowing charters, known as “schools of hope”, to open in chronically low performing areas without local approval.

“The statue clearly allows the schools of hope to apply directly to the state and bypass the school board,” said Brannock.

The state argued it has the right to intervene when a school district has consistently failed.

“The state surely is able to step in when school districts are not getting the job done,” said Testani.

The decision in this case could impact other cases challenging similar charter school expansions that were passed in 2018 and 2019.

“It’ll all depend on how the court comes out and what it says where the line is but it’ll certainly be important in looking at 7055 and any other future omnibus education bill and stopping this incremental creep of moving powers from the local officials to the state,” said Brannock.

A decision from the appellate court isn’t expected for months.

Regardless of the outcome, the State Supreme Court will likely have the final say.

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Governor Signs Canadian Drug importation Plan

June 11th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Ron DeSantis signed legislation Tuesday morning that could eventually lead to cheaper prescription medications, but don’t count on any savings just yet.

A statement from The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, or PhRMA, said in part, “Today is a sad day for Floridians. Make no mistake…bad actors around the world are undoubtedly already busy plotting ways to get dangerous counterfeit medicines into the state of Florida.”

With the stroke of his pen, DeSantis likely dealt a blow to the profit margins of big drug companies.

“You have the same exact drug here and in Canada, and its half the price in Canada, you should be able to buy it there,” said DeSantis.

Big Pharma threw what they had at this legislation in an attempt to stop it and still they failed.

“They spent $6.3 million on television ads in Florida in two weeks,” said Dave Bruns with AARP.

Senate Sponsor Aaron Bean still got a 27-13 vote, by arguing the US pays 30 to 190 percent more for drugs than other countries.

“Don’t tell me there won’t be savings because I got the file to show you,” said Bean.

AARP held a town hall meeting and pushed seniors to call lawmakers.

Now it’s celebrating a victory it never expected.

“This was in a lot of ways, a long shot. The Pharmacutical drug manufacturers had won every fight like this they had ever undertaken, in every other state but one,” said Bruns.

Federal approval is required before any drugs can cross the border.

Initially, only the state will be able to bring low cost drugs for inmates and other state facilities, but a second prong of the bill allows does pharmacies to apply for a waiver so they can import cheaper drugs as well.

While the Federal Government has never given a state a waiver to import foreign drugs in 16 years, the Governor has spoken personally to the President about the approval, and it is expected late this year.

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