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Who Owns Guns in Florida

December 28th, 2012 by flanews

One million citizens in Florida are licensed to pack heat and countless more people without a conceal carry permit own guns. But who are they, and does the public have a right to know? Earlier this week a New York newspaper posted the names and addresses of gun owners online, sparking outrage from the NRA. Whitney Ray checked to see if the same thing could happen in Florida.

The posting is catching the ire of the NRA.

“That’s malicious conduct,” said Former NRA President Marion Hammer. Hammer says not too long ago Florida journalists were doing the same thing.

“They published the names of prominent business people, politicians, judges and that’s where they made their mistake. They made the wrong people angry,” said Hammer.

But all that changed with a 2006 state law. It exempts conceal carry license information from public records requests.

Conceal carry permits are awarded by the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, after a background check. The information is stored on a database which, according to department’s spokesperson, can only be accessed by a few people.

“The data is stored on a secure network requiring an individual username and password, so that only individuals that should access the information can,” said Spokesperson Amanda Bevis.

While there is a list for permit-holders, state law bans the government from collecting data on non-permitted gun owners. Gun sales are recorded by individual dealers. Each purchase is given a number and the buyer can only be tracked down during a criminal investigation.

Even police can’t access the state conceal database without probably cause. For instants if you’re pulled over for speeding or a seatbelt violation alone and their no reason to believe you’re a physical threat, the officer can’t check to see if you have a gun permit. But if you’re pulled over for DUI, or an officer sees ammo or gun accessories in the car, the officer can then check the database.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Telemarketers Top 2012 Complaints

December 28th, 2012 by flanews

Floridians are fed up with telemarketers and in 2012 they picked up their phones to let the state know. Today the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services released a list of the top 10 complaints its consumer hotline and website received this year. The department received 190-thousand calls and 33-thousand emails about telemarketers. Amanda Bevis, a spokeswoman for the Department, says many of the complaints were from people who’ve already registered their number with the state’s Do Not Call List.

“We do have a Florida Do Not Call List. People can submit their phone numbers so they don’t receive calls from telemarketers and so we hear a lot of complaints from those subscribers against businesses who may be violating the Do Not Call List,” said Bevis.

Floridians can now join the list for free. The web address is www.fldnc.com. This is the fourth straight year complaints about telemarketers have topped the department’s list.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Five Florida Universities Make Best Value List

December 27th, 2012 by flanews

A year end review of the nation’s best value universities is out and five Florida schools are on the list. As Whitney Ray tells us, low tuition and the governor’s pledge to keep it that way could help more Florida schools make the list in 2013.

A meeting of the minds, after winning over lawmakers, UF and FSU were just a signature away from being able to raise tuition above the yearly 15 percent cap.

“If I’m losing faculty it’s harder for our students to have classes and it slows down their ability to finish. That’s a waste of state dollars and that’s a waste of student dollars,” said FSU President Dr. Eric Barron during an April meeting with the governor over the preeminence bill.

They tried to convince Governor Rick Scott to sign the bill, but in the end Scott stuck to his guns.

“You want to make sure that families in the state can afford a great education,” Scott said following the meeting.

Scott crushed the schools hopes with a veto in April. Then in June, for the first time in nearly four years, tuition increases statewide stayed below the 15 percent max.

The governor’s tough stance on tuition may now be paying off, at least in one ranking. A year end review of the best value universities in the nation ranked five Florida universities in the top 100.

Kiplinger, a DC based financial forecaster, ranked schools based on graduation rates, academic support, access to financial aid and tuition.

UF Ranked highest in Florida at number three, New College made the top 10 at number seven and FSU is the 26th best value school in the country. UCF and UNF also made the list. Absent from the list were FAMU, FAU, FGCU, FIU, USF and UWF.

More Florida schools could make the list next year. Florida’s public universities have vowed no tuition increases in 2013, as long as state lawmakers fund their budgets.

Governor Responds to Rankings

“We need to keep costs low for students and parents, while ensuring schools give students the best possible preparation to continue their studies or start a career. There are two key factors that make up the value of a higher education degree – affordability and results. To have a great value you need both,” Scott said in a written statement.

FSU Responds to Ranking

“We are pleased with this latest recognition. Florida State University continues to be an excellent value. By all accounts, we are one of the most efficient and effective universities in the United States,” said FSU Barron in a email released after the ranking were published.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

Florida Leads Nation in Death Sentences

December 26th, 2012 by flanews

At a time with executions nationwide are declining, Florida is leading the way in death sentences. A new report shows Florida’s 21 capital punishment sentences in 2012 are far more than any other state in the union. As Whitney Ray tells us, while Florida sentences more people to death, most of the state’s 400 death row inmates will die of natural causes, not lethal injection.

After spending 27 years locked up for a murder he didn’t commit, William Dillon was released from prison on DNA evidence and slated to meet Governor Rick Scott.

“The night before I knew I was going to meet Governor Scott, I thought about ‘what am I going to say to him?’” said Dillon.

This is what Dillon came up with.

“Nice to meet you there Governor good thing they didn’t give me the death penalty because you wouldn’t be talking to me right now,” said Dillon.

A sobering thought, especially when you consider that since the 70’s, 24 death row inmates in Florida has been exonerated. The latest, just before Christmas, when Seth Penalver was freed after spending half his life behind bars.

But all the wrongful convictions haven’t deterred death row sentences in Florida, in fact we lead the nation in sentencing people to die. This year alone 21 people have been sentenced to death, compared to just 15 in Texas.

But most of those waiting to be executed in Florida will die of old age, not lethal injection. Florida may lead the nation in death sentences, but it lags behind many states in carrying out the punishment.

This is a video from a vigil for the first of three inmate executed in Florida this year.

According to a new report, just nine states executed people in 2012, with many killing two or three times as many inmates as Florida.

“It just continues the cycle of violence and it’s just not necessary in this day and age,” said Mike McCarron with the Florida Catholic Conference.

The Florida Catholic Conference continues to fight to end capital punishment. They’re efforts will be supported in Florida by a bill to be filed for the 2013 session.

Some quick facts about capital punishment. Thirty-three states still carry the death penalty, but just nine used it last year. Most death row inmates die of natural causes, not execution. Florida has more than 400 inmates on death row, costing the state 50 million dollars a year to keep in maximum security and offer the proper legal opportunities.

Posted in State News | 5 Comments »

Gun Sales Setting Records

December 21st, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

Three of the five days since since last Fridays shootings in Connecticut have set a state record in the number of gun background checks being conducted. Wednesday, the latest data available, shows 8,250 people underwent background checks. Tomorrow, the Saturday before Christmas is often the day that sees the most sales of the year.

It is clear that Floridians are snapping up guns at a record pace says Gretl Plessinger for the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. “Typically are two highest volume days are Black Friday and the Saturday before Christmas” says the spokesperson.

Three of the six days since the tragic Sandy Hook school shootings have set a record for the number of background checks being made in Florida.

Floridians are on track to buy 750,000 guns this year. That’s a hundred fifty thousand more than last year.

Gun dealer Mark Folmar says  the people buying guns from him are not reacting to the shootings. “Most of the guns we’ve sold this Christmas season have been guns that people had planned to buy anyway.”

Florida State University Criminologist Gary Kleck agrees. “They were gonna get them eventually” says Kleck.  Kleck also says rather than focus on the Connecticut tragedy, policy makers should look at violent deaths overall.  “Because ninety nine percent of the homicides in America are not mass shootings” says the renowned criminologist.

One way to do that says the researcher, is to do a better job of screening someone’s mental health. “We have wildly incomplete mental health records; records that would establish that a person has been declared by a court of law to be dangerous to themselves and others. And yet, the guy doing the background check is not likely to have access to the vast majority of those records” says Kleck.

It is illegal for someone with mental health problems to purchase a gun in Florida, but without adequate background checks or mental health services, the law is meaningless.

Since 2004, the Florida Department of Law Enforcement has conducted just over four point three million background checks on gun purchasers. The vast majority have been approved.

Posted in State News | 4 Comments »

School Resource Officers for all Public Schools

December 20th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

A 15 year old high school student in Tallahassee has been arrested by a school resource officer and charged with brining an unloaded gun to campus today. The weapon was allegedly to be sold after school. It was seen by another student who reported it to a teacher  resource officer. While some are calling for arming teachers, the Governor is being asked to fund school resource officers at every school.

School resource officers have been on high school campuses in Tallahassee since 1981. It was a school resource officer who arrested a 15 year old for bringing a gun to Leon High School on Thursday. Principle Bobby eping says his presence made a difference. “Having a sworn law enforcement officer on campus today made it go even better. Obviously he was here and has the expertise to handle the situation” says the principle.

Now the Leon County Sheriff and School Superintendent want the Governor to fund resource officers at every school in the state. The call comes as some suggest arming teachers. Sheriff Larry Campbell says guns don’t belong in the hands of the inexperienced. “The number of hours that we put in the course of a career makes the law enforcement officer far superior than some civilian that says I know how to use a weapon” says the 50 year law enforcement veteran.

Experts say there is a parallel about the security that was once needed in courthouses and is now needed in schools. Security was hap-hazard at Florida courthouses until a judge was shot and killed in 1987 during a messy divorce. Now many state lawmakers, including State Senator Bill Montford say a comprehensive review of school security is needed. “Where we are, how we got to where we are, and what changes we need to make. This is a serious issue. this is an American tragedy. Our children shouldn’t have to go to school being afraid” says Montford.

Lawmakers will take the first steps at improving school safety at committee hearings in January.


Posted in State News | No Comments »

First Lady’s Role in Reelection

December 14th, 2012 by flanews

Tis the season at the Governor’s Mansion in Tallahassee, and today Florida’s First Lady showed us the holiday decor. Whitney Ray was one of a select group of journalists invited to tour the mansion, and as he tells us, the exclusive tour may signal the first lady has a role to play in her husband’s reelection campaign.

Deck the halls at the governor’s mansion. Christmas trees, wreaths and lights have taken over the new home of Governor Rick Scott and First Lady Ann. Friday Ann invited a group of elementary school students and a few journalists on a tour of the mansion.

Besides turning the mansion into a Jingle Bell Jungle, the Scott’s have also added a personal touch. Pictures of their two daughters and grandson Auguste are placed throughout the mansion.

This is a rare visit from Ann. She normally works behind the scenes giving tours and promoting literacy, but in a one-on-one interview Ann told me she’s ready to help her husband lead the state anyway she can.

“I see my job as supporting the governor, being a goodwill ambassador,” said Ann.

And that help may be needed sooner than later. Even while on the tour, signs of Former Governor Charlie Crist and his wife loomed large. And just a block from the mansion is a billboard with a picture of Crist in his new job peering over at his old house.

If Crist does run for governor, Ann could be used to help improve Scott’s low likability numbers, but political scientist Carol Weissert says traditionally first ladies don’t play a major role in reelection campaigns.

Carol: The wife reminds us that he also is a family person and we can sort of envision him in that kind of setting.
Reporter: But what happens once we get in the voting booth, does that matter?
Carol: It matters not a wit in the voting booth.

Ann is ready to help. She plans to spend many more holiday seasons in the Governor’s Mansion.

Reporter: How many more do you want to spend in the Governor’s Mansion?
Ann: Six… hahaha.

The governor and first lady are hosing a holiday party tonight for the capital press corp. It’s one of half a dozen parties at the mansion this holiday season. As for Rick and Ann, they will be celebrating Christmas at their home in Naples.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

William Dillon Saga Ends

December 13th, 2012 by flanews

A Florida man who spent 27 years behind bars for a murder he didn’t commit is receiving a full pardon from the state tonight. William Dillon was exonerated for murder in 2008, but because of a prior drug conviction he had to wait four years before he was compensated. As Whitney Ray tells us, Dillon was pardoned for the drug conviction this morning and now he’s on a campaign to change the law.

William Dillon could be spending another Christmas behind bars instead of recording songs, but DNA evidence freed him after 27 years locked up for murder.

Dillon was exonerated in 2008, but it took four years for the state to cough up the million dollars he was owed for the wrongful conviction.

“I’ve taken off like a flower blooms big in the spring,” said Dillon.

Thursday, dressed in black and wearing a silver eagle around his neck, Dillon had one final request. Before being wrongfully convicted of murder, Dillon was arrested for a felony drug possession. He asked the state clemency board to wipe the slate clean.

Because of his prior conviction and a clean hands provision in Florida law, Dillon had to lobby lawmakers to get his claims bill passed instead of getting the money automatically. Now he wants the law changed.

Human Rights Advocate Mark Schlakman says having Dillon on board helps the cause.

“Bill is going to bring some energy and visibility to that agenda as well,” said Schlakman.

But for now, Dillon is focused on his freedom and his music career.

“I have hundreds of songs I’ve written and I’d like to let the world hear those,” said Dillon.

His album, most of which was written in prison, is called Black Robes and Lawyers.

After Dillon was released from prison he moved to North Carolina. He said at the time there were still people who thought he was guilty. Since then the real killers have been caught and Dillon is planning to move back to Florida.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Mortgage Money Goes Unclaimed

December 13th, 2012 by flanews

You may want to pay closer attention to your mail; especially if you’ve fought a foreclosure battle in the last few years. 167-thousand Floridians are owed money from a settlement the state reached with the country’s largest lenders over shady mortgage practices. The banks mailed letters to people who may be eligible, but few people have responded. Attorney General Pam Bondi fears the 150 million dollars owed to Floridians could go unclaimed.

“It’s money that they very well could deserve and are entitled to. What’s happening, we believe, the banks are sending notification letters and many people are thinking it’s junk mail and probably throwing it out,” said Bondi.

Bondi is sending out her own letters this week. To claim the money people have to respond by January 18th. If all the money isn’t claimed by then, the banks will get to keep what’s left.

Posted in State News | 2 Comments »

Juvenile Justice Contract Worker Charged with Battery

December 12th, 2012 by Mike Vasilinda

Disturbing video tonight from a privatized Juvenile Justice facility in Milton Florida just outside Pensacola. On August 9, Officer Shannon Abbott is seen leading a teen inmate at the Milton Girls Juvenile Residential Facility when she suddenly bangs her head against the wall, and then tosses the inmate to the ground. In a prepared statement, the Department of Juvenile Justice says

“We are deeply concerned that the incident as depicted in the video we released today in response to public record requests by the news media seriously contradicts its description to us by officials representing the facility. We are also troubled that the facility did not officially report the incident to DJJ until two days after it occurred, and only when the victim called the DCF Abuse Hotline. This lapse is inexplicable.

Officer Abbott was charged with battery on a juvenile victim. The Department of Children and Families and the Santa Rosa County Sheriff investigated the incident.  The juveniles name is being withheld. The facility is operated by Gulf Coast Youth Services. The Milton facility is one of seven run by the company.

Watch a portion of the video here

Posted in Business, Children, Civil Rights, Crime, Criminal Justice, Ethics, Rick Scott, State Budget | 21 Comments »

One Million Floridians Conceal Carry

December 12th, 2012 by flanews

Florida is about to become the first state in history with one million active conceal-carry permit holders. The milestone will be reached next week. As Whitney Ray tells us, the run for guns is being fueled by fear of regulation from Washington.

Gun instructor Frankie Bright has been teaching conceal-carry classes for three decades. He gives this demonstration despite the rain. Frankie says demand for classes is on the rise.

“A lot of people are coming out and saying ‘listen, I would like to get a conceal carry permit so I can be legal,’” said Frankie.

The reelection of President Barack Obama and fear that Washington will pass stricter gun laws is fueling the run on guns, especially in Florida.

At a news conference at the state capitol Wednesday, Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam announced a fast approaching milestone.

“Florida will have one million active conceal weapons licenses next week,” said Putnam.

Hitting the million permit mark will mean one out of every 19 people in the state will be armed. 219-thousand of them are seniors and 200-thousand are women, few commit crimes.

“Responsible use of these licenses is overwhelmingly the rule and with only .3 percent of licenses having been revoked for inappropriate use, I think the statistics support that,” said Putnam.

Back at the shooting range news of the millionth conceal carry license was received well.

“I really feel safer. If you don’t have a gun at your house and I have a gun in my house and somebody is going to break-in, who’s house are they going to break in to?” asks Frankie.

The state hit a snag in 2009 as permits flooded in, but now the office issuing the licenses has been beefed up and applicants are being processed in about a month.

Florida’s conceal carry licensing program was stared in 1987. Since then more than two million people have been issued permits. Next week will make the first time more than a million have been active at once. Since 2000, the number of licenses requested has increased more than 580 percent.

Posted in State News | 1 Comment »

New Restaurant Violation Scale

December 12th, 2012 by flanews

The state is changing the way it grades restaurants.

The Department of Business and Professional Regulation has adopted a new food code effective January First. Right now violations fall under two categories critical and non-critical. The new scale has three categories, basic, intermediate and high-priority. DBPR Secretary Ken Lawson says the addition of the extra category will make it easier for owners and customers to understand.

“And by having these new streamlined standards it makes it an easier time for you to start your food truck, your restaurant or stay in business and comply with the law,” said Lawson.

The department is currently working with restaurant owners to help them prepare for the changing food code.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

License Plate Saga Continues

December 11th, 2012 by flanews

Concerns over slow distribution times and a 33 million dollar taxpayer contract have changed plans to replace Florida’s licenses plates. As Whitney Ray tells us, the state wants to update the plates to catch more traffic violators but finding the right replacement has become challenging.

To avoid a public relations wreck. The state is putting the breaks on plans to hire a private company to distribute new Florida’s license plates. Currently the tags are made by inmates at a cost of about a $1.70 per tag.

But there are problems with these tags. The embossed characters make it difficult for traffic cameras to read allowing thousands of traffic violators to escape an estimated 7 million dollars in fines a year.

To remedy the problem the director of the Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles wants new tags with flat characters plus a seventh digit. But initial plans have fallen flat over concerns about giving a private company 33 million dollars to produce and distribute the tags.

“We felt the best and cleanest way to represent the thoughts from our stakeholders was to start over again and to completely separate the tag redesign portion from the distribution portion,” said Director Julie Jones.

State Cabinet members are applauding the change in plans.

“Let’s decouple it. Let’s get the right plate and then we can decide what’s the right process for getting it out to the public,” said CFO Jeff Atwater.

“Everyone hopefully can end up being on the same page, but that’s not happening now so I think moving it was the prudent thing to do,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Four designs are posted online and the public can continue to vote for their favorite. But once a winner is selected the focus will shift to who will make the new tags.

You can vote for your favorite design at vote4floridatag.com. The deadline is Friday. The winning design isn’t guaranteed to become Florida’s next plate.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

USF Researchers Find More Dozier Deaths

December 11th, 2012 by flanews

Who’s buried at the Dozier School for Boys and why did an initial investigation by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement fail to find 19 graves?

These are just a few of the questions state leaders want answered tonight. The panhandle reform school, infamous for alleged abuse, was closed last year. In 2009, after several former students reported their classmates were killed at Dozier in the 1950s and 60s, FDLE investigated. The department found 31 graves, but no evidence of any crimes. A new study by the University of South Florida located an additional 19 graves. Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam wants to know how the researchers found more graves than the FDLE investigators.

“And they both differ in a way that raises questions about why USF found so many more bodies than FDLE,” said Putnam.

FDLE concluded its investigation several years ago. Commissioner Gerald Bailey says he’ll reexamine the department’s report to see why it differs so much from USF’s

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Capitol Christmas Tree

December 11th, 2012 by flanews

The smell of cedar is filling the state capitol tonight.

That’s because a Christmas tree is sitting in the entrance way to the governor’s office. The tree was donate by the Camacho family and presented by Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam. It’s a red cedar grown in Florida. Putnam says thousands of Florida trees are sold every holiday season.

“About 14-thousand Florida Christmas trees will be sold. Millions more will be bought for homes across the country, but about 14-thousand of those will be Florida grown Christmas trees,” said Putnam.

Besides the tree the capitol is also festooned with a Menorah in celebration of Hanukkah.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

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