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Crime Falls to 41 Year Low

April 30th, 2012 by flanews

Florida’s crime rate is at a 41 year low.

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement released 2011 crime statistics today. They show statewide crime is down almost an entire percentage point. When you look at violent crimes alone, the statistic show an almost four percent drop. FDLE Commissioner Gerald Bailey says Florida is seeing significant changes in the most serious crimes.

“Murder is down .2 percent, forcible sex offenses are down a fraction, robbery is down 1.8 percent and aggravated assault has dropped five percent,” said Bailey.

While crime is down, police shootings are on the rise. In 2011, police killed 70 people, that number is up from 56 in 2010.

Posted in State News | 11 Comments »

Floridians Don’t Understand Merit Retention

April 30th, 2012 by flanews

Just one out of every 10 Floridians knows about merit retention.

Merit retention is the process which allows voters to decide whether or not a judge should stay on the bench. Florida judges face a retention vote every six years. The Florida Bar is trying to raise awareness about merit retention before the November Election. Bar President Scott Hawkins says voters need to understand retention so they’re not duped by efforts to unjustly unseat judges.

“A judge is not permitted by the cannons of judicial ethics to enunciate their policy views. They can’t explain how they’ve ruled in the past or how they might rule in the future,” said Hawkins.

Since Florida adopted merit retention 40 years ago no judge has ever been voted off the bench. Efforts are now underway to unseat three state Supreme Court justices, who helped kick a constitutional amendment on health care off the ballot.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

SYG Preview

April 30th, 2012 by flanews

Major changes tonight, begin suggested to Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. As Whitney Ray tells us, a rogue task force on the self-defense law is releasing its recommendations on the eve of the first meeting of the governor’s stand your ground task force.

Following the shooting death of 17-year old Trayvon Martin and his shooter’s claim of self-defense, cries to review Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law grew louder.

Governor Rick Scott waited until the investigation into Martin’s death was over before naming a task force on Stand Your Ground. State Senate Chris Smith didn’t.

“We took an adult look at Stand Your Ground and we had adult discussions,” said Smith Monday at a news conference in Tallahassee.

Smith empanelled a task force in early April. Monday he released this report calling for major changes.

“If you take a life the least you should have to do is explain what happened fully and let police investigate,” said Smith.

Changes include a grand jury review of every future stand your ground case, an education campaign about the law and a system to track self-defense claims. The recommendations come a day before the governor’s task force is scheduled to meet.

Black student protestors from FSU and FAMU were requesting a spot on the governor’s stand your ground task force saying they are more likely to be victims of gun violence. Their requests were denied.

Instead the governor appointed FSU Campus Police Chief David Perry to bring student concerns to the panel. Perry brings year of experience dealing with students and connections with other universities throughout the state.

“I’m not just representing Florida State, I’m representing the whole university system,” said Perry.

His appointment isn’t enough to keep, young protestors at bay. The Dream Defenders, a student civil rights group, plans to attend Tuesday’s meeting. Smith will give his recommendations to the Governor and his task force. He’s also calling for a special session to implement the changes.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Governor Names Rev. Holmes to Stand Your Ground Taskforce

April 30th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

On Tuesday, a 19-member committee will begin its review of Florida’s “Stand Your Ground” law. The review was ordered after a neighborhood watch volunteer shot and killed an unarmed 17 year old. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the panels co-chairman says data and testimony will determine the future of the controversial law.

When Governor Rick Scott named a panel to review the Stand Your Ground law, standing next to him was the panel’s vice chairman, Rev. RB Holmes.

The Reverend is not a stranger to controversy.

“I try to be honest and fair and try to judge folks based on who they are, and don’t come in with hidden agendas,” Holmes said.

The Reverends day job is Pastoring to one of Florida’s largest black churches.

He’s expanded his ministry to include an assisted living facility, a radio station, and more.

“You just cannot try to prepare folks to get to heaven, and not deal with the hell folks are undergoing down here,” Holmes said.

Within days of FAMU Drum Major Robert Champion’s death, Holmes had organized a national conversation on hazing at black universities.

“Hazing is a part of this culture,” Holmes said. “And we must now work hard to eradicate it.”

When it comes to Stand Your Ground, Holmes says the evidence will lead where it leads.

“If the data says that this law has been misapplied, and if through our public hearings the citizens of Florida begin to speak out and say do something about this law, then, my good friend, then our conscience ought to guide us,” he said.

Holmes said the task force will be thorough and not to expect a recommendation until early next year.

Posted in Crime, Criminal Justice, Rick Scott, State News | 5 Comments »

Warning Signs Won’t Come in Time for Fire Season

April 27th, 2012 by flanews

Legislative efforts to prevent tragedies like the pileup on I-75 that killed 11 people in January won’t be in place when Florida’s wildfire danger is at its peek. Lawmakers put two million dollars in the state budget for digital warning signs on I-75, but as Whitney Ray tells us, the signs won’t be up until the bulk of the smoke is clear.

Before the tragic pileup on I-75 that cost 11 people their lives. State troopers put mobile warning signs on standby, because smoke from a nearby wildfire was threatening to engulf the interstate.

Had the digital signs been in place, they could have warned drivers of the dangerous road conditions.

After the tragedy state lawmakers acted fast. Within weeks, two million dollars was put in the state budget to buy permanent digital signs for I-75.

“They’ll span the whole interstate, they’re electronic informational signs, you see them all over Florida,” said Rep. Keith Perry.

Two million dollars could buy as many as eight signs just like this one, but before the Department of Transportation can put them up, they’ll first have to pinpoint the most smoke and fog prone locations. That could take all summer.

The state is already in a dangerous wildfire season and according to the Florida Forest Service it could get worse. The season peeks in May, June and July.

“Everything burns, the swamps burn, the stumps burn, what we call thousand hour fuels, those are those big stumps and stuff, they’ll burn in these drought conditions and they’ll provide all the smoke,” said Forest Service Director Jim Karels.

And when winds shift that smoke can envelop a road in minutes. According to this FDLE report, detailing the events of the I-75 tragedy, troopers decided to reopen the interstate when they could see a half mile up the road. Thirty minutes later, as cars began to ram into each other, visibility had dropped to just three feet.

DOT is still working out the detail of the sign placement study with FSU and UCF. The department won’t have money for the study or the signs until July. That’s when Florida’s new budget goes into effect.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Florida Judges Face Organized Opposition

April 27th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

Every six years, Appellate judges in Florida must go before voters to keep their jobs. It is called Merit Retention. This year three Florida Supreme Court judges are before voters, and for the first time there is organized opposition.

Pariente, Lewis and Quince in Crosshairs

Restore Justice 2012 bills itself as a grassroots effort working to unseat three judges on the Florida Supreme Court. On the web site, founder Jesse Phillips sites a 2006 case on the death penalty and a 2010 case that saw a constitutional amendment relating to relating to Health Care Act get thrown off the ballot. The judges decided the ballot summary would have misled voters.

“They made the decision two months before the election to, from my view point, disenfranchise every voter in Florida who had a right to vote on these ballot questions” says Phillips.

Lawmakers fixed what the court found objectionable. Voters will see the health care amendment in 2012, along with three supreme court judges on the same ballot.

Those judges made news when they had to stop a court proceeding to file paperwork to have their names on the ballot. That brought this letter from the sponsor of the once failed health care amendment suggesting the justices broke the law.

Their spokesman says non-sense. The campaign to oust three Florida justices comes after three judges were kicked off the bench in Iowa. Insiders fear if they win here, they’ll spread the campaign nationally.

And Stengel, the justices spokesman, says that makes this vote about more than three judges and a couple of opinions. “and whether or not we have a fair and impartial judiciary that acts without fear or favor” says Stengel.

Voters traditionally cast fewer ballots for judges than they do on big time races at the top of the ballot. To be retained in office, justices must get at least fifty percent saying yes. In 2011, lawmakers tried but failed to raise that threshold to sixty percent.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

FDLE Releases I-75 Investigation Report

April 26th, 2012 by flanews

We’re learning more tonight about the deadly pile up on I-75 that killed 11 people. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigated the accident and released its report today. As Whitney Ray tells us, it shows at least one trooper had concerns about reopening I-75 before the pileup began.

A deadly mixture of fog and smoke in the early morning hours of January 29th cost 11 people their lives. In a frantic 911 call you can hear the cars slamming in to each other on I-75 near Gainesville.

A report released by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Thursday found that a lack in communication among state troopers may have contributed to the pile-up. A spokesperson for FDLE couldn’t comment in depth about the report.

“Everyone on duty that night acted in a manner they felt was appropriate,” said FDLE Spokeswoman Gretl Plessinger.

Two wrecks shortly before midnight caused by smoke from a near by wildfire and fog, forced the Florida Highway Patrol to shut down the interstate.

According to a timeline of events laid out in the report around 3:00 AM, an FHP lieutenant drove I-75. He could see a quarter to a half mile up the road. 20 minute later he drove the road again and claimed visibility had improved even more.

Before the 2nd run, FHP Sergeant Bruce Simmons told the lieutenant quote, “I’m concerned that another cloud might roll through and then we got to go though all this again.”

The sergeant’s concerns were ignored and at 3:30 the interstate was reopened. Around 4 AM, the pileup began; according to the report there was less than three feet of visibility. A spokeswoman says FHP officials are still reviewing the findings and a more in-depth response will be released in two to three weeks.

The report calls for FHP to change its road closure policies from guidelines to mandates. It also recommends FHP communicate better with DOT, the Florida Forest Service and other agencies when there are hazardous road conditions. An FHP Spokeswoman says some changes have already been made. More are coming soon.

Posted in State News | 6 Comments »

Do Not Call

April 26th, 2012 by flanews

Bad news tonight for telemarketers. Since our story Tuesday about the state waiving signup fees for its Do Not Call List tens of thousands of people have registered. 110-thousand phone numbers were added to the list in just the past four days. Adam Putnam, the Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services says since there is no longer a signup fee, his department will have to collect more money from telemarketers.

“We are certainly losing some revenue on the elimination of the fee, but we can make it up on the direct administration or imposition of the fines of telemarketers who violate the Do Not Call Registry,” said Putnam.

The list is updated four times a year, at the beginning of each quarter. So if a number is added now, telemarketers can still call until July.

Posted in State News | 7 Comments »

Random State Drug Testing Ruled Unconstitutional

April 26th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

For the second time this year, Governor Rick Scott has been told he can not order random drug tests. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, a Federal Judge in Miami has said random drug testing of state employees is unconstitutional.

After 22 years of working for the state, Paul Brewer felt insulted when Rick Scott ordered random drug tests.

“I found it appalling that they would be asking little old ladies to have to pee in a cup,” Brewer said. “I didn’t like the idea at all. I thought it was wrong.”

A federal judge in Miami found the tests unconstitutional, saying employees have a “reasonable expectation of privacy,” and that the plan does not identify a concrete danger that must be addressed by suspicionless drug-testing.”

The ACLU, which brought the suit, claimed victory.

“Her decision will protect the basic dignity and privacy rights of tens of thousands of state employees who otherwise would have been drug tested for no reason whatsoever” ACLU attorney Shalini Goel Agarwal said.

The vast majority of employees that we talked to said it really didn’t matter one way or the other because it didn’t affect them.

And the president of the union representing state employees said the drug testing money could have been better spent on much need pay raises.

“It demeans state workers and state workers have gone through so much,” AFSCME Local 79 President Jenette Wynn said. “No raises.”

The ruling covers only an executive order Rick Scott issued last year. In a statement, Scott defended the testing and promised an appeal. The judicial finding does not cover new hires by the state and a law that takes effect July first does require testing for all new hires.

Posted in Rick Scott, State Employees, State News | 1 Comment »

Florida Joins the U.S. Supreme Court Arizona Immigration Case

April 25th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

More than one US Supreme Court Justice expressed concerns today about US citizens being detained under Arizona’s tough immigration law heard by the high court today. Efforts to pass a similar law in Florida failed, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, Florida’s Attorney General joined the case, urging the nation’s high court to let states detain suspected immigrants.

Florida is one of 16 states that has joined in supporting Arizona’s first in the nation immigration law before the US Supreme Court. The brief argues states can make arrests or detain people under Federal law.

Attorney General Pam Bondi campaigned on being tough on immigration.

But now the Attorney General says she only joined 14 other states supporting Arizona because the Federal Government has failed to act.

“Arizona has to protect themselves because the federal government did not protect them, and Governor Brewer had a right to protect herself and her state,” Bondi said. “It’s states’ rights. That’s what the issue is.”

Immigrants came to the capitol in force when Florida flirted with an immigration bill in 2011.

The 2011 law did not pass, but Governor Rick Scott said at the time that he would have signed. He has since stopped pushing the idea publicly.

The American Civil Liberties Union Florida says that if the nation’s high court upholds Arizona’s law, average citizens will be in trouble.

“I think people need to know what our attorney general is doing in our name,” Howard Simon, with the Florida ACLU said. “And I think she’s trying to evade responsibility for it. She has asked the U.S. Supreme Court to authorize racial profiling.”

Neighboring Georgia and Alabama have both adopted tough immigration laws and both have faced tourism and agricultural backlashes.

The Supreme Court is expected to rule in June, adding more fuel to the national campaigns.

Posted in Pam Bondi, State News | 1 Comment »

Project Snake Eyes

April 25th, 2012 by flanews

The state is giving millions of taxpayer dollars to companies and using code names to disguise the giveaways. As Whitney Ray tells us Project Snake Eyes and Project Bacon are just two of the aliases given to more 300 proposed deals.

You’ve probably never heard of Project Bacon or Project Snake Eyes and for good reason. They’re the names of secret deals being cut between the state and corporations using millions of taxpayer dollars.

Dan Krassner, Executive Director of Integrity Florida spent months investigating the taxpayer giveaways, requesting information from the Department of Economic Opportunity.

“What we are asking about are secret and code named projects so it will take time,” said Krassner.

Krassner also asked about Project Mae West and the more than 300 other taxpayer deals the state is considering. He’s still waiting for answers.

All the deals come with contracts requiring the companies to create jobs. According to this report by Integrity Florida, the state has signed 1.7 billion dollars in contracts since 1995, with the promising of 225-thousand new jobs. So far one in three promised jobs have been created.

The companies want the deals to remain secret to keep competitors from stealing their business plans. Until this year state law protected the contracts from public viewing for two years. A new law shortens it to 180 days, but with a waiver a company can keep the deal hidden longer.

“We’ve got to make sure we don’t put ourselves at a disadvantage to be able to recruit companies here,” said Scott.

Governor Rick Scott says trade secrets have to be protected, but within reason.

“It’s a trade off. We’ve got to make sure we can compete with these other states, but we’ve got to make sure people know how their dollars are spent,” said Scott.

Integrity Florida is calling for the governor to put all the contracts online. The government watchdog group is also asking Enterprise Florida, the state’s public, private economic development group, to better job of publicizing its board meetings.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Victims Rights Week

April 25th, 2012 by flanews

The state is honoring people who protect the rights of victims of sexual and physical abuse.

This week is Victims Rights Week in Florida. Today at the state capital the governor and attorney general awarded law enforcement officers who’ve help protect the identities of domestic abuse victims. Stephanie Haridopolos, the wife of Florida’s Senate President, shared her story of domestic abuse at the hands of her ex-husband.

“I would file the restraining orders and have the arrests done and flee for my life, but eventually I would forgive him because I always had that hope that he would get better,” said Haridopolos.

In total seven people who work with victims of crime were given the Distinguished Victim Services Award at today’s ceremony.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Wildfire Danger Greater this Year than Last

April 24th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

Tuesday began with 79 active wildfires, with fourteen of them larger than one hundred acres. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, there have been more fires and more acres burned so far than this time last year.

Active wildfires are burning in every part of the state, from West of Boca Raton to rural Washington County in the Panhandle. In a sharp contrast to most years, the panhandle is actually wetter than peninsula Florida. And that worries Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

“The drought index today is about 100 points worse than it was at the same point a year ago,” Commissioner Putnam said. “We’ve lost more acres, about 10,000 more acres to date this year than we did at this point last year.”

The average drought index for the state is 473, that’s a moderate risk. But nearly half the state is already showing extreme conditions. Worse than last year when a wildfire claimed two firefighters.

“It’s gonna take a tropical event or a long, prolonged rainfall to get out of this drought,” Florida Forestry Chief Jim Karls said.

Controlled burns like this one remain firefighters’ greatest weapon against wildfires, but…

The problem is that it has been so dry and so windy this year, controlled burns like this one are few and far between.

Governor Rick Scott and Cabinet members got their first wildfire briefing of the season on Tuesday. It won’t be their last.

“I hope that we have more rain, it would be nice. And then no hurricanes,” Scott said.

Since January, more than 58,000 acres have burned in Florida.

Lawmakers agreed to spend 5.6 million replacing or repairing firefighting equipment in this budget year.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Scott Says He Won’t Need to Self Fund Re Election

April 24th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

He’s only been Governor about 16 months, but Governor Rick Scott reiterated today that he plans to seek the job again in 2014. Scott spent an estimated 75 million dollars of his own money to become Governor, but he says he does not expect to spend any of his own money the next time around. Scott says the job is the best you can have.

“In this job, if you care about anybody’s family in this state, you can have a positive impact. You can have an impact on their education system, you can impact their ability to get a job, you can impact their cost of living, you can impact public safety. You can do so many good things for people, and that’s why I like this job.”

Despite low poll numbers, Scott says he will continue doing what he promised when he ran, and thats to try and create jobs. Scott also says he has been asked by some lawmakers to campaign for him, but he did not say if he would be out on the stump this fall.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Forbes Got UF Story Wrong Says Scott

April 24th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

Several national news outlets have printed that the University of Florida is cutting its computer science program to the bone while increasing athletic funding. Athletic funding is going up, but is funded with private donation, and the computer science program is losing graduate teaching assistants, but students, according to the governor, will actually end up with the same number of classes and better teachers in the classroom

“My understanding of that is that they were saving the money by doing the right thing and that is they were having professors teach more classes. The savings was with teaching assistants” says Scott.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

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