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Winston Sited for Sea Food Theft

April 30th, 2014 by flanews

How many times have you left the grocery store and forgotten to pay? That’s the story being told by Star FSU Quarterback Jameis Winston. The Heisman Trophy winner will face community service and restitution.

Shortly after 9 Tuesday night, FSU Quarterback Jameis Winston left this Publix near campus. He did not pay for 32 dollars worth of seafood. He was quickly identified and police went to his residence.

“In a post-Miranda interview he did in fact acknowledge he had left Publix without paying for the items,” said Maj. Mike Woods of the Leon County Sheriff’s Office. “He indicated to the deputies he had forgotten and when he got home he realized he had not paid, but he in fact made no effort to contact Publix or return to pay prior to the Deputy’s arrival.”

Winston was not arrested, but given an adult civil citation. He must pay back the store back and serve community service.

“The facts are not in dispute,” said Maj. Woods, “he left without paying and I can’t see inside his head to see what he was thinking so with that said, it warrants a civil citation for petty theft.”

Both Publix and Jameis Winston had to agree to the civil citation program, if he fails to complete all of the terms, he could face petty theft charges.

Winston apologized in a written statement, calling the act “youthful ignorance.” His lawyer says it was a mistake.

“This was stupid,” said Winston’s Attorney Tim Jansen, “No doubt about it. He had the money and resources to pay for it. He could have paid for the dinner.”

After the citation became public, there was an explosion of social media. Even the State’s agriculture Commissioner tweeted about the incident in jest.

The attorney says the explosion should be a reminder to Winston.

“Maybe this will send a message to people like Jameis,” said Jansen. “If you do something in the public spotlight and you bring embarrassment to yourself, it’s going to be exaggerated to the point that you really don’t want this to happen.”

Winston reports to begin discussing his 20 hours of community service on Thursday.

Video of Jameis Winston exists but is not being released because it could be part of a criminal investigation if he does not complete the terms of the citation.


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Keep Calm and Carry

April 30th, 2014 by flanews

Lawmakers want to make sure gun owners can take their weapons with them during an emergency regardless of whether they have a concealed carry license. Florida sheriffs say it’s a bad idea.

At a time when some Floridians on the panhandle were evacuating due to severe weather, the Senate debated on whether or not people forced to evacuate should be allowed to carry a concealed weapon without a permit.

“If they carry them in a backpack, they can be charged as felons while complying with a mandatory evacuation order, I don’t think that’s right,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Persburg).

If this storm was bad enough to force evacuations, the bill would allow an unlicensed citizen to carry a weapon on them concealed, and not have to store it and put it in the car. Sheriffs say that’s the problem.

The Florida Sheriff’s association says the bill is too open ended.  They’re worried about people walking around with guns claiming they’re still evacuating.

“A State of Emergency was declared in WaltonCounty due to flooding. What we don’t want to see is someone show up in Miami carrying a concealed weapon that they aren’t licensed to carry into a club,” said Walton County Sheriff Mike Adkinson.

The bill’s sponsor says the scenario won’t happen.

“Once they reach their final destination they are no longer in compliance,” said Sen. Brandes.

Senator Chris Smith (D-Fort Lauderdale) also has concerns. He’s worried about itchy trigger fingers.

“You’ve got an evacuation, you’re talking about people who’s emotions are high, people who are kind of edgy, and you have those not trained to carry a concealed weapon,” said Sen. Smith.

The NRA supports the bill. The sheriffs say this isn’t a 2nd amendment issue, it’s a public safety issue. The Senate will have two days to vote on the issue before session is scheduled to end on Friday night.

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Energy Policy Non Existent

April 29th, 2014 by flanews

State lawmakers were booed today as they touted a resolution calling on congress to allow the Keystone pipeline to be build, The pipeline would carry oil from Canada to US refineries. The memorials are symptomatic of a lack of state energy policy.

This year, Florida Utilities will collect millions of dollars to build and repair nuclear power plants. Duke Energy has already pulled the plug on its Crystal River Plant, but customers will be on the hook for at least another billion dollars.

Angry clean energy advocates booed state lawmakers at a news conference calling on congress to build the controversial Keystone Pipeline.

One of them, House Energy Chairman Jose Diaz (R-Miami) says the House has taken modest steps this year, despite abolishing the only solar rebate program the state’s ever had.

“This year’s energy package,” said Diaz. “We are encouraging electric vehicles, we’ve given incentives for people to convert their vehicles to natural gas, which is more cost-effective.”

But Susan Glickman of the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy says Florida’s energy program is moving backwards.

“Because solar is distributed on people’s roofs, and electric utility monopolies can’t own and control it,” said Glickman, “they really have suppressed solar in every way we can.”

Clean energy advocates say there’s a very simple reason nothing happens here: money.

Freshman Dwight Dudley (R-St. Petersburg) is one of a handful of lawmakers who have been pushing for the end of customers paying up front nuclear costs.

“Just this session alone, 3 million dollars given to lawmakers,” said Dudley. “So it’s a lockdown against renewable energy.”

While lawmakers aren’t talking about energy policy, it is expected to be one of the hot topics in the Governor’s race this summer and fall.

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Hope For Public Schools

April 29th, 2014 by flanews

Lawmakers are going to start spending on school maintenance again. A multi-year dry spell of maintenance money has lead many to say this is a long time coming.

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Traditional public schools have been starving for maintenance money.  A proposed budget deal reached would give them more than $100 million dollars of Public Education Capital Outlay, or PECO funds, to fix ailing schools. The Senate budget chair credits the Senate president.

“He wants the state to be a partner with our local school districts to make sure that we are fixing leaky roofs and are leaving them in good shape for the students,” said Sen. Joe Negron (R-Stuart).

The proposal sounds great to public schools which haven’t received the PECO dollars since 2011. $50 million would be split among 67 school districts.  Seven other smaller districts would receive nearly $60 million for buildings. Wayne Blanton with the Florida School Board Association says the schools will take all the help they can get.

“We have a lot of older schools in Florida many schools are over 75 years old, we have schools that are over 100 years old and we have to start replacing those very, very soon,” said Blanton.

Per-pupil funding will increase by almost 3 percent.  The number is still short of the record high of more than $7100 dollars in 2007 and 2008. Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa) says the money is nice, but not nearly enough.

“No way will it begin to cover the needs of just one county with many schools, so we need to do better in that area,” she said.

Charter schools – which are considered public schools – received 50 million. It was a big time regression from last year where they were allocated more than 90 million compared to nothing for traditional public schools.

The budget can still be worked on before a final vote on Friday but many expect the education portion won’t be tweaked.

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Flood Insurance Compromise

April 28th, 2014 by flanews

After ranging for two months over how much flood coverage a Florida homeowner should be forced to buy under policies authorized by the state the battle is over.

Florida homeowners who faced double and even triple digit increases in National Flood Insurance premiums may soon be able to buy a policy from a Florida insurers.

With the legislative session set to end Friday, the State House took up its bill requiring homeowners to cover the full replacement cost of their home.

“And it invites the market,” said Rep. Ed Hooper (R-Clearwater), “to come in and take care of Floridians at a rate that is going to be less.”

Insurance Agent and State Representative Kevin Rader said be careful what you wish for.

Under Florida law, if a Florida company can’t pay its claims, everyone in the state could be on the hook for decades.

“Enormous, for every policy holder in the state of Florida,” said Rep. Kevin Rader (D-Palm Beach). “It could be $50 to $100 per policy.”

After passing by a wide margin, the bill went to the Senate which wanted policyholders to only have to buy enough insurance to cover their unpaid mortgage. They’re now backing down.

“I still believe that we should offer more flexibility but the offer is on the table that we could take right now,” said Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg).

In the end, bankers say it doesn’t matter what coverage amounts the state requires, lenders will have the final say.

The legislation takes effect July first, and if it makes it past the Governor, lower cost policies could be available this summer.

It’s widely believed insurers will be able to sell policies for less because Florida sends $3.66 to Washington for every dollar in claims it gets back.

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In-State Tuition Now or Never

April 28th, 2014 by flanews

A two month battle over whether or not colleges and universities should grant in-state tuition to undocumented students is down to its final week.  The bill’s supporters believe they’ve found a way to make it happen.

A group of undocumented students started DREAM University at the Capitol in support of stalled legislation that would grant in-state tuition to college kids here illegally. Undocumented student Veronica Perez has been studying for her college finals on the Capitols fourth floor.

“We still want to continue our studies so we started this DREAM university so we’ve been teaching classes every day to show them we still want to work here,” she said. Undocumented students from around the state of Florida say they’ll be here every day until session ends to try and convince lawmakers to reconsider the bill.

A new proposal could bring the measure back to life. A pending amendment would grant in-state tuition to kids who were born in the U.S. but had parents living here illegally.  Students who themselves are illegal would compete for out of state tuition waivers.

Senate sponsor Jack Latvala (R-Pinellas County) met with the dreamers to thank them for their support.  He firmly believes this last effort makes it through the chamber.

“I think we got the votes, I feel like we’re going to be successful,” said Sen. Latvala.

The amendment also prevents every university except for FloridaState and the University of Florida from raising tuition without lawmakers approval. FSU and UF would still be allowed to raise tuition by up to 6 percent a year. The Governor has gone to bat for the legislation and has said reducing tuition is a top priority.

The Senate is expected to hear the amendment in the next two days. Time is not on the Dreamers side, session ends Friday.

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Second Abortion Bill Sent to Governor

April 25th, 2014 by flanews

Earlier this week, lawmakers sent Governor Rick Scott legislation making it a crime to hurt or kill a fetus, even if unintentional. Now, lawmakers are also redefining when a fetus is viable, which could shorten the window for abortions.

Under current law, abortions are legal in Florida through the 24th week and later if the woman’s health or psychological condition are at risk.

The latest abortion bill changes the third trimester benchmark to one of viability. Viability is defined in the bill as “the stage of fetal development when a fetus is sustainable outside the womb through standard medical measures.” Sponsor Sen. Anitere Flores (R-Miami) says viability could now be as early as 20 weeks.

“But there does come a point where we say now there are two and that is the point after viability,” said Flores.

Democrats say any decision should be between a woman and her doctor.

“This bill further erodes a woman’s right to choose and it’s not our providence to take that personal right away from a woman,” Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa).

The change passed on a party line vote.

Scott’s office said he plans to sign the legislation protecting unborn fetuses sent to him earlier this week and he’s likely to sign this bill as well.”
Planned Parenthood is already calling for a veto. A statement from Governor Rick Scott’s office says, ‘Governor Scott is pro-life. He looks forward to reviewing this legislation now that it has passed both the House and Senate.”

In addition to shortening the potential time in which an abortion can be performed, the legislation also deletes psychological conditions as a reason for a late term abortion.

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Fixing What’s Not Broken

April 25th, 2014 by flanews

For the second year in a row lawmakers are battling over whether or not the state’s pension system needs to be fixed. Many believe it’s one of the healthiest in the nation.

Giving newly hired state employees the option of a defined benefit plan or a 401 k style plan has been a tough sell.  The Florida Retirement System at 86 percent funded is one of the nation’s strongest. It was more than 100 percent funded almost a decade ago. Then the legislature started dipping into it.

“Despite our best efforts to weaken the system, it still remains one of the strongest in the nation. So when will enough be enough? I say right now,” said Lake Mary Democrat Rep. Mike Clelland.

Democrats don’t want to fix what’s not broken. Republicans say it’s the right move.

“Hearing the story that someone put in 7 years and is going to leave the state without a nickel is not smart. In the new plan they will walk away after a year being vested<” said Rep. Marlene O’Toole (R-Lady Lake).

As Republicans cheered. Democrats booed.  The bill passed the House without much worry.

Even though the measure passed easily in the House, there are no guarantees when it gets to the Senate.

The House attached the bill to a local plan that would strengthen police and fire pensions.  Combining the two could spell trouble in the other chamber.

“The local bill, it’s going to pass 40 to 0. The cities and the unions have come to an agreement. If the FRS bill’s attached to it you go from 40 votes to trying to scramble 21,” said Sen. Jeremy Ring (D-Margate). Ring is the sponsor of the local bill.

Both chambers have a week to figure out what’s best for Florida’s workforce.

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I Wanna Drive 75

April 24th, 2014 by flanews

The Florida Senate is still in session at this hour and is expected to take up and pass legislation that would allow the speed limit to go up to 75 miles an hour before they go home tonight. The measure allows but doesn’t mandate higher speeds.

Florida may soon be the 17th state to raise the speed limit on interstate highways. Under legislation nearing a final vote, speeds of 75 miles an hour would be allowed, but only after a study by the Department of Transportation.

“This bill allows the Department of Transportation to look at minimum speeds and maximum speeds and adjust them to where they feel that’s appropriate based on safety,” said Senator Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg).

During questioning on the Senate floor, Senator Maria Sachs (D-Broward County) brought up texting. She wants police to be able to stop someone and ticket them without some other violation first.

“I have yet to have anybody call me and say you know what, my 17-year-old child needs to go faster because that will make them safer,” said Sachs. “Never heard that yet. But I have heard, legislators you go on up there and make sure that these kids stop texting and driving.”

Sponsors argue people are people are already exceeding the posted 70 miles an hour limit… But AAA Motor Clubs hate the idea. It says there are problems in most states with higher limits.

“Every one of those states except two,” said Lee Moffitt of AAA Motor Clubs, “the fatality rates are higher than the states that have speeds of 70 miles an hour.”

If the change actually happens, one idea the DOT is talking about is replacing the zero with a five, rather than replacing the whole sign.

If the legislation clears the final hurtle, it would take effect July first. That means higher speeds could be coming to a road near you sometime this fall.

For the speed limit to go up, the DOT would have to conduct a study and find that 85 out of 100 motors are already traveling faster than 75.

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Lawmakers Buckle-In With Booster Seats

April 24th, 2014 by flanews

Florida has the loosest child booster seat laws in the country.  A more than decade long battle to change them and raise the age requirements could be coming to an end soon.

Jo Davis buckles her four-year old niece Rae-Lynn into a booster seat after a day at the park.  Florida law only requires a booster seat for kids 3 and under.  Davis says that’s not enough.

“A child who’s five or even eight needs more constraint. They’re smaller,” said Davis.

A bill that would boost the age requirement from 3 years and younger to 5 years and younger passed its final committee Thursday.

Supporters of the bill say that the seat belt is fine for adults like me, but when younger children get in the car, the seat belt goes across their neck and not their chest, and that could cause injury.

The Center for Disease Control says a booster seat can cut the risk of serious injury for 4 to 8 year olds nearly in half compared to a seat belt. Children’s advocate Mary-Lynn Cullen has been fighting for stricter legislation for years.

“What we’re going to do with this bill when it does pass is save lives and horrible injuries for children next year,” said Cullen.

Senator Denise Grimsley was the only member to vote “no.”

“I just feel like as a parent I can make the decision about whether my child can ride in the car seat or not,” said Sen. Grimsley (R-Sebring).

Senate Sponsor Anitere Flores understands the argument. But keeping kids safe is her bottom line

“It’s taken some time because I think there’s folks that are feaful of further government intrusion into their lives but when we’re talking about the safety of our children nothing could be more important,” said Sen. Flores (R-Miami).

The House unanimously passed similar legislation Wednesday.  It’s an indication the Senate won’t have a rough ride on the floor with their bill.

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Justice for Reme Lee and Memphis

April 23rd, 2014 by flanews

Legislation protecting an unborn fetus is on its way to the Governor. The legislation was inspired by a Tampa woman who was given an abortion inducing drug disguised as an anti-biotic. Watching the legislation was an emotional experience.

Reme Lee lost her unborn child Easter Day 2013. She was tricked into taking an abortion pill. John Andrew Welden is serving a decade in federal prison on product tampering charges.  We asked Reme if she felt the sentence was long enough.

“Are you ever supposed to feel from the person that hurt you the most who took the most precious thing away from me,” said Lee.

Lee and her family arrived at the State Capitol early and spent a day watching the State Senate before legislation allowing up to a life sentence for hurting  a fetus was debated.

“If you kill that baby,” Sen Kelli Stargel (R-Lakeland), “you’re gonna go to jail for that because you’ve done this violence against a woman.”

Reme says her hope is that other women won’t be tricked as she was.

“I hope that even if one women gets to hold their baby as a result than this will all be worth it to me,” said Lee.

And her father Jim says the ordeal has had an effect on multiple generations.

“This would have been my mother’s first great-grandchild, my wife and I’s first grandchild,” said Jim Lee, “and it’ll always live with us.”

Reme Lee may have one more trip to make back here to the state Capitol, to watch the Governor sign the legislation. Reme says if and when the legislation is signed by the Governor, she’s going to give him a hug.

The family has filed a civil lawsuit against the pharmacy that provided the pill.

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Big Tobacco vs. Cities and Counties

April 23rd, 2014 by flanews

A bill banning e-cigarettes to minors almost went up in smoke thanks to big tobacco flexing their muscle.  Cities, counties, and anti-tobacco advocates were concerned they’d have local power taken away.

Banning the sale of e-cigarettes to minors flew through the legislature until recently.  Cities and counties were for the ban, but they would have lost the ability to set stricter regulations on their own. The sponsor says the state needed to set the tobacco and nicotine rules.

“I believe there needs to be uniformity because the wholesalers and the distributors that actually sell 3.5 billion dollars worth of tobacco products, they just want uniformity,” said Rep. Frank Artiles (R-Miami).

Anti-smoking groups weren’t going to back his legislation until lawmakers cleared the air about whether or not they’d let cities establish future ordinances.

Heather Yeomans with the American Cancer Society says preemption of local governments is a way for big tobacco to get what they want.

“By design, it’s easier to lobby the state government than it is to lobby 67 counties and 400 separate cities,” she said.

Florida’s League of Cities had no problem with the ban.  But lobbyist Casey Cook says local governments know what’s best for their citizens when it comes to tobacco.

“Any time you preempt, you tie a local governments hands behind their back, and you prohibit them from coming up with a solution that works to help them solve a problem in their community,” said Cook.

The bill was amended without support from the sponsor to allow local governments to establish future rules. Rep. Artiles still believes the main goal of getting nicotine out of young people’s hands was reached.

“We’re ahead of the federal government, we’re acting before the FDA because we need this,” he said.

The House unanimously passed the legislation. The Senate now has to sign off on the amended bill. If the bill passes the Senate receives the Governor’s signature, the ban wouldn’t go into effect until July.

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Scott “Extremely Disappointed” With Senate

April 22nd, 2014 by flanews

It looks bleak for supporters of a bill providing in-state tuition to undocumented students, but students and state leaders aren’t ready to call the proposal dead yet.

Florida International University Student Julio Calderon says he doesn’t know if he can continue to afford school. His shirt reading “undocumented” says it all.

“I really need this bill to pass because it would allow me to continue my education,” said Calderon, an undocumented student from Honduras.

A bill that would help thousands of students like Calderon by providing in-state tuition to undocumented kids is being blocked in the Senate., even though the Governor has thrown his full support behind it.

“College is expensive, we need to do everything we can to reduce the cost of tuition for all of our students, this is a wrong we need to correct,” said Gov. Rick Scott (R-Florida).

Students sat outside the Senate President’s office for the second straight day trying to put pressure on him to allow the Senate to hear the bill.

The Senate President bashed the proposal last week.  Juan Escalante, who met with the Governor on Tuesday, says helping thousands of students out just makes sense for Florida.

“Bottom line is that this is an investment that the state of Florida has made on us and all we want is an education so that we continue to grow our state,” said Escalante from outside the Senate President’s office.

The legislation also caps tuition hikes. It brings it down from 15 percent to 6 percent tuition increases.  Senator John Thrasher says that even though it’s not being heard on its own, the bill can still make it through the process.

The Senate Appropriations Committee didn’t allow that to happen late Tuesday, however. Governor Scott called reporters to his office to express his disappointment.

“I believe this will get to the floor. I’m disappointed in what happened in appropriations today, but I’m optimistic,” he said.

His re-election chairman Sen. John Thrasher (R-St. Augustine) blocked an amendment that would have pushed the legislation through even though he supports the bill.  Thasher remains optimistic.

“I’m not going to make predictions but there’s a good possibility it can still get to the floor, absolutely,” said Sen. Thrasher.

It would take a two-thirds vote from the Senate to resurrect the bill and get it to the floor. Supporters say they have hope until session is officially declared over.

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Charter Schools Win Contract Victory

April 22nd, 2014 by flanews

Legislation to create a standardized contract between charter schools and local school districts cleared a divided state House today. It passed over the objections of most school boards.

Florida created charter schools in 1996. They remained public schools funded by state dollars. The legislation debated by the state House would take away bargaining power for local districts that must approve those charter schools.

“All 67 school districts in the state of Florida do not like this bill,” said Rep Mark Danish (D-Tampa).

Every teacher who is also a legislator voted against the charter change.

“All the School boards are down on it,” said Rep. Carl Zimmerman (D-Tampa), “all the superintendents are down on it, and a lot of charter schools are down on it.”

Five Republicans joined Democrats in opposing the bill.

But Representative Janet Adkins (R-Fernandina Beach) who supports it says the legislation will force unfriendly school districts to approve charters.

“It’s about the students,” said Adkins. “It’s about making sure the parents have that choice to make those decisions for their students.”

The legislation allows out-of-state companies to come in and be judged by their out-of-state performance, and it allows charters to begin operating while they’re still negotiating with school districts. Teacher and State Representative Karen Castor Dentel (D-Seminole County) says the change will neuter local decision makers.

“It will take all the decision away from the local school boards,” said Dentel. “They won’t be able to negotiate their own contracts.”

The legislation must still clear the state Senate where it will face a much closer vote.

Charter schools who receive a failing grade two years in a row would be closed automatically under the legislation.

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Rep. Dane Eagle charged with DUI

April 22nd, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

State Representative Dane Eagle, the Lee County lawmaker who wants public officials to take drug tests has been arrested for driving under the influence. Eagle, of Cape Coral, was stopped at 2AM Monday morning by Tallahassee Police for making an illegal U-Turn, Speeding, and running a red light.


Eagle denied drinking and refused to take a field sobriety test, but the probable cause affidavit says he smelled of alcohol, fell against his rear passenger door exiting the vehicle, and could not stand straight in a level parking lot.



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