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Alan Crotzer Back Behind Bars

July 31st, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

The man who has been the voice and face of the wrongfully convicted in Florida finds himself behind bars tonight. Alan Crotzer spent 24 and a half years in prison for a rape which DNA proved he didn’t commit. Tonight, as Mike Vasilinda tells us. Crotzer is accused of firing a gun into a car in an alleged dispute over a CD.

Alan Crotzer kept track of every day he spent in prison.

“24 years, 6 months, 13 days, and 4 hours.”

Since being proven innocent, Crotzer has worked to keep kids on the straight and narrow. As a volunteer for the Innocence Project, he has been an outspoken critic of eyewitness identifications.

“I’m trying to raise awareness that the system is failing at a large rate, really fast,” Crotzer said in May of this year.

Now Crotzer is accused of firing eight shots into a moving car this past Sunday evening while driving on this four lane highway in view of the state capitol. The argument was apparently over a CD.

Crotzer was here Monday night meeting with his attorney when a team that included a federal marshall, showed up to arrest him.

A woman who appeared at the door of his condo told us there was no story to tell.

Most who know Crotzer say the charges are inconsistent with the Alan they know.

“There’s no evidence that he harbored any bitterness, bitterness based on the 24-and-a-half years of his life that essentially were stolen from him,” Human Rights activist Mark Shlakman said.

Lawyer Tom Powell says there is irony in Crotzer being picked out of a photo lineup as the perpetrator.

“I now understand what the allegation is,” Powell said. “It’s bizarre on its face. It’s inconsistent with the Alan that I’ve known for the last year or so.”

There is no mention of a gun being recovered in the probable cause paperwork. Crotzer is being held without bond on attempted murder charges.

Posted in Crime, Criminal Justice, State News | No Comments »

Amendment I Vs. Amendment II

July 31st, 2012 by flanews

A battle of constitutionally protected rights is headed to a federal appeals court. Last month a judge in Miami ruled doctors have a first amendment right to ask patients if they exercise their second amendment. Governor Rick Scott is appealing the ruling. As Whitney Ray tells us, the case is pitting two power lobbies, guns and doctors, against each other.

Dr. Louis St. Petery never stopped asking his patients if there were guns in the home, even though a 2011 law banned the practice.

“The typical thing that happens is a small child finds a loaded handgun in a bedside table drawer and shoots a sibling,” said St. Petery.

Dr. St. Petery is an officer in one of three medical associations that sued to overturn the law and won.

“Our issue was a first amendment issue, our right to talk with our patients regarding the proper storage and handling of firearms,” said St. Petery.

This week Governor Rick Scott announced, he’s appealing the decision.

The case pits the first amendment against the second amendment and the medical lobby against the NRA. Former NRA president Marion Hammer says some doctors are trying to force their political views on their patients.

“Once you tell them you own guns, they council you to get rid of your guns,” said Hammer.

When doctors get the information about gun ownership, it’s shared with health insurance companies. Hammer fears the insurance companies are building a list to share with the government.

“Government has access to your medical records and your doctor puts in your medical records that you own guns, it can be filter and become a de facto form of registration,” said Hammer.

Doctors say if children are in homes with guns they need to know, so they can distribute safety information. The NRA says the responsibility is on the gun owner and responsible parents already know how to keep weapons away from children.

Dr. St. Petery says even though gun information is shared with insurance companies, federal HIPAA laws prevent unauthorized access to the information.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

TB Testing for Homeless Begins

July 30th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

After a higher than usual number of TB cases among the homeless in Northeast Florida, other areas of the state have begun testing the homeless for the disease. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, state health officials are also releasing a coordinated treatment plan they call a model for the state.

Antonio Lockridge is homeless.

“Bad circumstances in California,” Lockridge said. “Lost my home, lost my job.”

Antonio was one of the first to be tested for TB by a Tallahassee health clinic set up next door to a homeless shelter after a spike in cases among homeless in Jacksonville. The staff at this clinic are quick to point out that their effort shouldn’t be a surprise.

“You’re always going to have some TB,” nurse Lucille Jones said. “Always.”

The state also released this detailed system-wide response plan, followed by a conference call in which health officials emphasized the number of TB cases is declining every year.

“The rate of Tuberculosis in Florida is coming down in 2012,” Florida Surgeon General Dr. John Armstrong said.

Last year there were 753 TB cases in Florida. So far this year there have been 284.

Ashley Turbin, homeless after a trip to jail, came in to be tested after she slept in a packed homeless shelter.

“Where I sleep at is in the roll-away beds, and you’re like scrunched up like sardines. Probably about 25 women in that one room,” Turbin said.

TB is curable once detected. Severe cases can require isolation. The state just closed AG Holly; it was the last TB hospital in America. Future cases will go to hospitals or select boarding houses.

Posted in Health, State News | 2 Comments »

Integrity Florida: Corruption Risk Report

July 30th, 2012 by flanews

Already this year state lawmakers and top Florida politicians have received more than 100-thousand dollars in gifts. Some have also increased their net worth by millions while in office. As Whitney Ray tells us, the findings are part of a corruption risk report released by Integrity Florida, a government watchdog group calling for more transparency in state government.

Flights to exotic locations, fancy meals and extravagant hotel stays are just some of the gifts given to Florida politicians you put in office.

Monday, Integrity Florida released this report exposing, among other things, gifts given to lawmakers during the first six months of the year.

“We’ve posted gifts, more than 100 thousand dollars worth of gifts public officials have received this year,” said Dan Krassner, the President of Integrity Florida.

The gifts range from the extravagant to the mundane, and they’re all legal because they aren’t from lobbyists.

A neighbor mowed the lawn of Representative Larry Metz while he was in Tallahassee for session. Price tag 200 bucks. Representative Richard Corcoran received 850 dollars worth of cigars, all from other lawmakers.”

“Legislators especially are still receiving gifts despite the gift ban and I think you have to look at it on a case by case basis,” said Ben Wilcox, Integrity Florida.

The report also highlights increases in the net worth of elected leaders. In total Florida’s 40 senators have seen their net worth grow by 35 million dollars since they took office. Integrity Florida Director Dan Krassner says it doesn’t necessarily mean they’re doing anything wrong.

“There’s nothing wrong with people making money but if they’re making more money because of their public job, their government job, we need to hold them accountable for that,” said Krassner.

While the government watchdog group stops short of calling out lawmakers by name, they say with stronger state transparency laws, it would be apparent who’s taking advantage of their office.

The report also calls out 11 state lawmakers who work for firms that lobby. It’s legal, but Integrity Florida is asking them to post online what causes their employers lobby for.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

TB Resurgence Raising Concerns

July 27th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

The number of diagnosed tuberculosis cases in Florida has dropped from a high of 1764 in 1994 to 753 last year. But the homeless in Jacksonville are seeing a spike. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, that spike is prompting other communities to step up their own TB testing.

While declining statewide, TB cases in Jacksonville are on the rise. The city has averaged just over 12 cases a year. But since January, there have been 39 new cases primarily among homeless. The spike has prompted state health department officials to send reinforcements.

“We have five teams that are doing the screening and testing for Duval County residents,” Kim Barnhill, Chief of Staff of the Florida Department of Health said.

In Tallahassee, Glenda Williams was being tested. She is a nurse at this low income community clinic.

“What did that feel like?” “Just a little bee sting.”

Because of the spike in Jacksonville, this clinic will begin offering free TB testing to the homeless two days a week, starting next week.

“The economy, we think, has got more people going into shelters, closer, people are traveling more, and we don’t want what happened in Jacksonville, to happen here,” Bond Community Clinic Chief Health Officer Dr. Temple Robinson said. “So we’re trying to get ahead of this.”

The first thing medical professionals want to know if you test positive is who you’ve been in contact with.

Health officials are quick to point out that testing is what all 67 county health departments are ready to do.

“This is something that health departments do everyday,” Barnhill said. “So, stepping up our game–we do that everyday.”

The spike in Jacksonville coincides with the state’s closing of its last 1950s era TB hospitals this summer.

TB is an infection that can be treated. Symptoms include a cough that lasts three weeks or longer, chest pain, coughing up blood, weakness, weight loss and sweating at night. It is passed by inhaling droplets from another in close proximity.

Posted in Health, State News | 1 Comment »

ALEC under fire

July 26th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

Voters in most Florida counties will have seven fewer days to early vote. The same thing is happening in other states that are controlled by Republicans.

“It’s happening in Georgia, Maine, New Hampshire, Arizona, Tennessee, you name it, if it has a Republican controlled legislature, they’re making it more difficult for citizens to cast accessible ballots in person,” Ion Sancho, Leon County Supervisor of Elections, said.

A new 50-page report says the changes in Florida and other states are no coincidence. The citizens lobby, Common Cause, blames the corporate-sponsored American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC.

“The research that we’ve seen is that ALEC exists for a sole purpose, a single purpose, and that is to move racks of legislation, corporately sponsored bills, through state houses across the country,” Doug Clopp, with Common Cause, said.

The report is clear. Language drafted by ALEC shows up in multiple bills in Florida.

“What’s wrong with it is that the impetus behind these bills is profit for the corporate partners that are behind this legislation,” Damien Filer, with Progress Florida, said. “It’s non what’s in the best interest of public policy.”

ALEC’s involvement in legislation became front and center when State Representative Rachel Bergen introduced this bill, leaving in a paragraph referencing ALEC. A short time later, she reintroduced the exact same bill without the ALEC language.

Bergen’s legislation dealt with lowering the corporate tax rate.

Posted in Legislature, State News | No Comments »

Equality Florida Wants Apology for too Pretty to be Gay Comment

July 26th, 2012 by flanews

A gay rights group is demanding an apology tonight from Florida’s Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll. In an attempt to explain away allegations that she had a lesbian affair, Carroll told reporters essentially… she’s too pretty to be gay. As Whitney Ray tells us, pressure is building for Carroll to apologize.

Under fire by a former employee accusing her of carrying on an inappropriate relationship with a female staffer, Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll offered this explanation.

“Black women who look like me don’t engage in relationships like that,” Carroll said during a Jacksonville visit on July 16th.

Carroll’s comments sparked backlash from gay and lesbian groups. The latest comes from Equality Florida. The advocacy organization started an online petition demanding an apology from Carroll.

The petition was launched Wednesday and by Thursday afternoon the group had nearly meet its goal.

The petition asks Carroll to, “have the character to apologize for your statement that demeans and diminishes the existence of black lesbians and stereotypes all black women.”

Dr. Louise Ritchie signed it.

“I think there are many people in the state who don’t want to support ignorance and would be happy to sign the petition,” said Louise Ritchie.

Ritchie is a clinical physiologist and has taught diversity courses at some of the country’s top businesses.

“I think it is a teachable moment and it is a time that many people can learn that you can’t look at a person and tell if they’re gay,” said Ritchie.

Ritchie is straight, but says she has gay friends who look like her. In the aftermath of Carroll’s comments, Twitter has exploded with people making similar statements and tweeting pictures. One tweet aimed at Carroll reads “I am what a black lesbian looks like and so are you.”

We asked the governor’s office what Carroll meant by her statement and if she plans to apologize. We are still waiting on a response.

Posted in State News | 16 Comments »

Concealed Weapons Permits Continue to Rise

July 25th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

Concealed weapon license applications are increasing by ten thousand a month, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, Florida is on track to have more than a million concealed license holders by this fall.

It is Woman’s Wednesday at this Wakulla County gun range. This week, there were two first-timers.

“It’s to protect myself, learn to shoot it properly, the right way, and be safe,” first time visitor Shalia Chinnery said.

Reporter: How’d you like it?

“It’s good,” Chinnery said. “The gun has a lot of kick, so I’m trying to get used to steadying my hand.”

In Florida, 952 thousand people have a concealed weapons license. The state is expected to become the first with a million permits by the end of the year.

Since a high-profile murder here three years ago, more than 1500 people have come through this range for a concealed weapons permit.”

Nearly a thousand people have paid a yearly fee to join  this range since the death of Sunday school teacher Cheryl Dunlop.

“If it’s you or them, I’d rather it be them,” gun range instructor Freddie Bright said.

What makes the range unique is that it’s owned and operated by the local sheriff.

“It’s the county’s range, and the citizens of the county should be able to use it,” gun range supervisor Lt. Fred Nichols said.

Cathy Watson, who is also a first-time user, says what see and everyone using the range has in common is the desire to protect themselves.

“Things are just getting bad, and you just never know if you might end up having to use it,” Watson said.

Only half the range was in use by the women this Wednesday, but by the weekend it will be full.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

State Wasted 500M Unemployment Dollars

July 25th, 2012 by flanews

Some frustrating news for Florida Business owners tonight. This year the state’s unemployment tax increased by 50 bucks a worker. The frustrating part, as Whitney Ray found out, some of that increase is being used to pay for massive waste in the state’s unemployment system.

Sir Cheezy, AKA James Cullen, is a culinary artist, a food truck entrepreneur serving up gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches to hungry foodies around the state capitol.

“We play with all sorts of different ingredients, all sorts of cheese, different meats. Every week we have something new and different,” said Cullen.

James took out a business loan for his mobile kitchen, and drops thousands of dollars on high quality ingredients.

Gas is a big budget item. But what’s also hitting James in his wallet is an increase in Florida’s unemployment tax.

“Currently I’m paying about 25 to 30 dollars every other week, so roughly 50, 60 dollars a month,” said Cullen.

Florida’s unemployment tax increased 50 bucks this year to 121 dollars per employee, but if that isn’t enough to frustrate business owners, this is, part of the increase is being used to pay for massive waste in the state’s unemployment office.

A report by the US Labor Department found Florida overpaid the unemployed by 500 million dollars from 2008 to 2011. Much of the waste is being attributed to the burden put on the state’s unemployment office during the Great Recession.

The overpayments clearly took a toll on the system. In 2009, the state ran out of cash to pay claims. It borrowed 2.6 billion federal dollars to keep unemployment check circulating.

Now to pay back the loan, the interest and the overpayments, business owners like James will have to make more money to pay the higher taxes.

The Department of Economic Opportunity declined our request for an oncamera interview about the 500 million dollar mistake. But a spokesman responded by email saying not all of money was lost and in fact the state has already reclaimed some of it. We responded asking for specifics, but no one could produce them.

Posted in State News | 3 Comments »

Florida 50th out of 51 in Mental Health Funding

July 24th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

Mental health funding in Florida ranks 50th out of 50 states and the District of Columbia. Only Texas spends less per resident on mental health than the Sunshine State, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, Floridians are paying the price in other ways.

Large numbers of veterans coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan are suffering from post traumatic stress disorder. They are also finding delays in getting treatment. Mark Alvarez is the commander of VFW post 3308. He believes that as many as 40 percent coming home are feeling the effects of combat.

“They’re very quiet, you know, very edgy sometimes,” Alvarez said. “They lose their focus at times.”

A swamped Veterans Administration is the first place for those seeking help to turn. After that, it is private or state programs. The problem is that Florida ranks 50th out of 50 states and the District of Columba in mental health funding. Experts says the state is losing ground.

“If they’re not in an acute situation or a crisis, they often have to go without care or wait a long time to get it,” Bob Sharp with the Florida Council for Community Mental Health said.

With long waits for services or no place to turn, those with problems become homeless, get in trouble, or both, ending up at expensive emergency rooms or state prison.

“The cost for prisons, health care, emergency department is a lot more than what we would pay for outpatient treatment,” Sharp said.

More than half the money the state spends on mental health goes to keeping people locked up, not helping them before they need to be institutionalized.

Posted in Mental Health, State Budget, State News, Veterans | 8 Comments »

Gag Order Denied, Attorneys Scolded

July 24th, 2012 by flanews

A motion to gag attorneys defending a woman making accusations against Lieutenant Governor Jennifer Carroll fell flat today. But even though a gag order was denied, as Whitney Ray tells us, both sides have agreed to tone it down.

In a quick court hearing, following a long closed door meeting, a Leon County Judge refused to silence attorneys making allegations against Lt. Governor Jennifer Carroll.

“I’m not going to enter a gag order, but I’m expecting compliance with the rule of professional conduct,” said Judge Frank Sheffield from the bench in a Tuesday morning hearing.

The prosecution sought the gag order in the case of Carletha Cole, the former Carroll employee charged with distributing an illegal recording.

Cole’s attorneys claim their client was setup because she caught Carroll in a “compromising position” with a female aide. The allegations made headlines across the globe.

The governor’s office dismissed the claims as “outrageous” and directed me to the state attorney’s office for any comment on the case, but after Tuesday’s hearing the prosecutor bolted out of the courtroom without talking to reporters.

Steve Andrews, one of Cole’s attorneys, stuck around. Andrews says the judge wasn’t’ happy with how attorneys on both sides were handling the case.

“It was joint scolding. You know Judge Sheffield wants a fair trial and so do we,” said Andrews.

And even though the gag order wasn’t issued, both sides have agreed to tone it down.

“All sides should air on the side of caution with regards to public statements and we will,” said Andrews.

Before Andrews began speaking out, he says Cole wasn’t being treated fairly in the media. Now, he feels, as he backs away from the spotlight, the playing field for his client in the court of public opinion has been leveled.

The next move for the defense is to file a deposition list, and Carroll will be on it.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Concealed Carry Permits

July 24th, 2012 by flanews

Sometime in September Florida will have more than a million active conceal carry permit holders. Right now there are 950-thousand Floridians with a license to carry a weapon and the applications are flooding in. The Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services processes those applications. Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam says permit holders rarely cause problems.

“There continues to be an extraordinarily small number of concealed weapons license holders who break the law,” said Putnam.

The state licensing fee for a weapons permit has fallen this year and Putnam has made changes to speed up the licensing process.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Energy Office Audited… Finally

July 24th, 2012 by flanews

Since it’s inception in 1975, no one has ever audited the state’s energy office… until today. In 2011, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam inherited the energy office, which had previously been under the governor’s leadership. Putnam vowed to clean house. He released the results of an audit today which uncovered waste and fraud.

“With solar rebates, we inherited a pile of coat hangers. It was a disaster,” said Putnam.

When Putnam took over, more than 10-thousand Floridians were still waiting on state rebates for putting solar panels on their homes. Putnam was able speed through their applications, but most only got half the money they were promised. Besides shining light on the solar debacle, the audit was also able to stop 2.5 million dollars in fraud. An investigation into the fraud is underway.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Privatization Thrown Out, Again

July 24th, 2012 by flanews

The First District Court of Appeal is refusing to hear the state’s challenge of a prison privatization ruling. A lower court had ruled plans to privatize several South Florida prisons unconstitutional, because of the way the legislature wrote the deal in the budget. The Florida Police Benevolent Association challenged the privatization plans last year. Spokesman Matt Puckett says the issue needs more research.

“There needs to be an independent study. Does this really work? Is the squeeze worth the juice to privatize a function of law enforcement? Obviously we feel there’s not,” said Puckett.

The privatization plans were written into the 2011 budget. This past session a different prison privatization bill was defeated in the state senate.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Crist Speaks Out

July 23rd, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

Former Governor Charlie Crist is speaking out against the man who succeeded him. The issue is Governor Rick Scotts efforts to purge voters, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the former governor’s words are fueling speculation that Crist might seek the office of Governor again by running against Rick Scott in 2014.

Governor Charlie Crist’s smiling face greets visitor to the Capital City from this law firm billboard that overlooks the Governor’s mansion.

The governor’s mansion is right up this street, half a block, so every time Rick Scott heads for home coming from this direction, he’s looking at Charlie Crist.

Crist, who left office in 2011, did the unusual this past week. He wrote an op-ed piece criticizing the man who succeeded him, Governor Rick Scott. We reached Crist on his way to New York. He says he’s not being critical of Scott, but of his policy to remove voters from the rolls.

“What I find troubling is that there seems to be active suppression,” Crist said.

The writing is fueling speculation that Crist might seek to return to the Governor’ mansion as a Democrat. His op-ed even produced this tweet from the Republican party Chairman, and the GOP spokesperson calls Crist unpredictable.

“Well, as Charlie Crist has proven time and again, trying to guess what he’s going to do is pretty fruitless,” GOP Spokesperson Kristen McDonald said.

Public Relations expert Ron Sachs says the problem for Democrats is an empty bench.

“Well, I think Charlie Crist could be viable,” Sachs said. “Public opinion polls show he could be viable in a statewide race.”

And Democratic Strategist Screven Watson concedes Democrats don’t have many well known faces.

“We have a governor who’s got awful polling numbers, and there’s no other Democrats talking about running,” Watson said.

Despite Rick Scott’s sagging poll numbers, Democrats expect Scott to raise one hundred million dollars for his re-election.

Crist is currently registered to vote as an Independent. State law requires candidates to be a member of the party in which they are running for at least a year before qualifying begins, which means Crist would have to become a Democrat by next June to switch parties.

Posted in Charlie Crist, Elections, Politics, Rick Scott, State News | 2 Comments »

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