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FSU Shooting Victim Recovering

November 26th, 2014 by flanews

A campus group at FloridaState say last week’s shooting is proof that licensed students should be allowed to carry guns on campus.  Matt Galka tells us more about the push, and spoke to the man who was working in the library before he was shot by a mad gunman.

Nathan Scott is recovering comfortably in his home.  He works at Florida State’s Strozier library, and just about a week ago, his shift started at midnight – about 30 minutes before a gunman started shooting.

“He raised the gun and fired the shot, and we could kind of hear, after, the ‘click, click, click’ going on. There was definitely intent to fire more than one shot,” said Scott.

He showed us the x-ray of where he was shot in the leg.  He says he’s been thinking about how lucky he was that things didn’t end up worse.

Now a campus group says the shooting is proof gun laws need to change.  FSU’s Students for Concealed Carry fired off a letter to lawmakers asking them to reconsider allowing permitted students to carry at school. The group’s president, Erek Cullbreath, says it could have prevented last week’s tragedy.

“That could have never happened, It could have been way worse, it was a packed library, there could have been tens of people killed in the minutes it took for police to respond,” said Cullbreath.

Nathan Scott is a member of the group.  His views haven’t changed even after being a victim of gun violence.

“I mean, yea, if I had a gun I probably would have been at least been able to protect myself, I don’t know if I would have taken it to work,” said Scott.

The law almost changed in 2011 before Florida State’s current president stepped in. When President John Thrasher was a State Senator – he played a big role in keeping the law in place.  Thrasher’s friend Robert Cowie had just lost his daughter, Ashley, in a shooting incident at a Florida State fraternity house. The Senator said he couldn’t support the bill in the months after.

If the law were to be changed, only students 21 and older would be granted a concealed carry permit unless they’ve been honorably discharged from the military.

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Mental Health Needs Lacking

November 26th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

In the wake of the shootings at Florida State University and the killing of a deputy sheriff at the hands of an anarchist, mental heath professionals are saying more value needs to be placed on mental heath counseling.  Florida ranks last or near the bottom on mental health and drug abuse funding.

Police described the man behind the FSU shootings this way. “Mr. May was in a state of crisis.”

And two days later, 53-year-old Curtis Wade Holley opened fire on first responders. “This person was anti government, anti establishment” says Leon County Sheriff’s spokesman James McQuaig.

Friends and family had sought help for FSU Shooter Myron May to no avail even after the 30 year old left bizarre voice mails for a fellow conspiracy theorist. On a YouTube video posted by the recipient, he is heard saying “Renee, look, I’m getting hit by direct energy weapons right now as we speak.”

The problem is that as daily stresses increase, mental health funding has been stagnate says Mike Hansen of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health.  “That infrastructure is crumbling. Resources have not been put in to keep pace with increased costs, and if we don’t get additional resources, that existing system is going to fall apart. It is falling apart already” says Hansen

When the friends of Myron May reached out and sough help for what they perceived to be mental health issues, They were told nothing could be done. That’s despite a state law that would have allowed a judge to order May to take medication without being institutionalized.

The Program has never been funded says Hansen.

“We’re paying for it anyway. We’re paying for it in an inappropriate way, and we get results nobody likes. I’m not saying we can ever prevent things like this, but there are probably things we can do to make it less likely to happen.”

A state survey says the state is meeting less than half the need for mental health care.

Providing mental heal care for everyone who needs it would cost the state upwards of 600 million more dollars a year. When patients aren’t treated, they often end up I emergency rooms or jail.


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Officer Down

November 25th, 2014 by flanews

Florida law enforcement said their final goodbyes to one of their own Tuesday. Matt Galka tells us about the somber ceremony for a Leon County Sheriff’s Deputy killed over the weekend.

Deputy Chris Smith loved two things: his family, and his job.  There was no length he wasn’t willing to go for either one.

Smith was ambushed and killed over the weekend while doing his duty by responding to a house fire that was intentionally set.  As thousands of police officers from around the state said goodbye to the man they affectionately called “Tater,” they remembered his commitment to the community.

“Wednesday night we were talking about some remodeling we were doing in the church and some of the contractors were asking for some helping hands, and he said ‘Preacher I’d be there but I have to work Saturday.’ Little did we know that would be his last day of work. Brother Chris wanted to be there and help,” said Dr. David Walker who was Smith’s pastor.

The service was attended by local elected officials as well as the Attorney General and the Governor. Governor Rick Scott ordered flags at half staff to honor Smith’s memory.  State Senator Bill Montford said it was tough seeing someone from his district make the ultimate sacrifice.

“It’s a sad day for this community and all of Florida. It’s a good reminder, though, of how important law enforcement and first responders are to us,” said Sen. Montford (D-Tallahassee).

The 47-year-old had been in law enforcement since 1989, and will be forever remembered in the hearts behind badges around the state. Smith was laid to rest in his hometown of Monticello, Florida.

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Woman Who Inspired “Warning Shot” Legislation Enters Plea

November 25th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

The Jacksonville area woman who inspired legislation allowing the use of warning shots instead of deadly force has entered a plea deal instead of facing a possible 60 years behind bars. The NRA says the case of Marissa Alexander has been unjust since the beginning.

In July 2010, Marissa Alexander fired a shot in the direction of her now ex-husband.  Prosecutors claimed it was out of anger, not self defense. Two years later, she was given 20 years for firing a gun under the states 10-20-Life law.

“32 yeas, 7 nays, Mr. President. And so the bill passes.”

It was that sentence that inspired state lawmakers earlier this year to pass what has been dubbed the warning shot, or threatened use of force legislation. The legislation was sponsored by Sen. Greg Evers of Milton. “This is about self defense. This is about the right thing to do” said Evers as the bill passed the Senate on April 3rd of this year.

The NRA’s Marion Hammer, who helped shepard the bill through the legislature says Alexander should never have been charged. “Because, 10-20-Life was never intended to be used in cases of self defense, and this clearly was a self defense case,”

A year ago, Alexander was released on bail and put on house arrest pending a new trial.   This time around she faced sixty years. So, on Monday, she appeared in court and agreed to serve three years on aggravated assault charges. She is expected to be released in January. Hammer says Alexander did what was right for herself and her children. “Why should she be the standard bearer for changing a law and be punished just to affect the kind of change that needs to be made.”

The warning shot legislation inspired by Alexander became law in June, and while she still faces some time in prison, others will not.

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PSC Ditches Energy Conservation Measures

November 25th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

By a 3-2 vote. The state Public Service Commission today adopted a staff recommendation, allowing utilities to reduce energy conservation programs. Environmental groups criticized the vote. In a statement, the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy said “Instead of siding with customers, the PSC sided with monopoly utility shareholders, once again, by setting meager goals that promote the construction of new power plants – which earn the companies a hefty profit, while leaving fewer opportunities for customers to lower energy use and save money on bills.”

The PSC did agree to hold public hearings to discuss cost effective and feasible solar programs.


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Pastors Seek Calm

November 25th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Pastors from the National Action Network today called on Black Floridians to remain calm in the face of Ferguson, Missouri. In calling for peaceful protests and a dialogue with police, The Reverend RB Holmes called for law enforcement to be respected.

“Violence has never worked. Violence is not the answer. This is a comprehensive issue of distrust of police officers. We have to continue to work toward strengthening community and police relationships” says Holmes.

The pastors are also calling for more counseling, and the development of mental health programs, as well as more social services to ward off poverty.



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Campus Shooting Victim Paralyzed

November 24th, 2014 by flanews

One victim remains in the hospital after last week’s shooting on Florida State’s campus.  Matt Galka spoke with the student’s sister who provided an update on the 21 year old’s condition.

Farhana Ahmed calmly stood in front of reporters Monday afternoon.  She would have had every reason to be shaken up, though, after her brother Farhan “Ronny” Ahmed was one of three victim’s in last week’s shooting at Florida State’s Strozier Library

“Ronny immediately knew that something was wrong, because one of the first bullets struck his spine, and it’s left him paralyzed from the waist down,” said Farhana Ahmed.

Ronny is a 21 year old bio-medical engineering student at FSU.  He was studying for finals at the library when a gunman opened fire.  His sister praised the police who quickly responded and the school for helping them through this difficult time.

“If not for their quick response, probably a lot more students would have gotten hurt, and Ronny himself was probably saved by the quickness of their actions,” said Farhana.

Ronny is still in the hospital but he is doing better.  His condition was upgraded from critical to serious. Florida State president John Thrasher said the school will do whatever it can to help the Ahmed’s.

“Florida State University is 100% committed to ensuring that we do everything we can to fulfill Ronny’s dreams, as Farhana said, of achieving his goal of graduating from Florida State University,” said Thrasher.

Ronny’s friends have set up an account online to help pay for medical bills and long term care.  The site reads that Ronny was the first person shot, but was still able to alert authorities.

Farhana says the family is grateful Ronny is still with them, and she still has a brother.

“It’s just me and him, so I’m really glad he’s still here, because we need each other,” she said.

Ronny Ahmed has a year and a half left before he graduates, something his sister says he still plans on doing.

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Florida State Shooting

November 20th, 2014 by flanews

More details are starting to emerge from the shooting nightmare that happened on FloridaState’s Campus last night.  Matt Galka has been on the scene since the news broke at 1 a.m., and brings us the very latest.

Tallahassee police confirmed Florid aState alumnus Myron May was the gunman who opened fired at Strozier library Thursday morning.

He injured three people using a semi-automatic handgun. Campus police shot and killed him outside the library’s doors.

“13 days ago – FSU conducted active shooter training,” said FSU Police Chief David Perry.

He credited recent training to a quick response. School president John Thrasher was in New York City when the shots were fired, and did everything he could to get back quickly…and try to return the campus to normal.

“Strozier library will be open again. The rest of the events that we have scheduled this weekend, we plan to move ahead with,” said Thrasher.

Florida’s Governor traveled to FSU to address the situation.

“Just like any tragedy, the ultimate question of ‘why’ will never satisfy the answers of those whose loved ones have been injured or killed,” said Governor Rick Scott.

Multiple vigils were held throughout the day.  With students still in shock hours after the tragic event.

“I live right off campus, and your heart just drops, I started crying, and you just think about how lucky we are to be here,” said FSU Senior Emma Blanton.

While some questions have been answered, many still remain. Police are still searching for a motive as to why May would open fire in a library filled with hundreds of students.

Police said that they found evidence May thought he was being “targeted,” but by who or for what still have yet to be answered.

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Video from Inside FSU Library

November 20th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

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November 19th, 2014 by flanews

Around 1 million Floridians could benefit from Medicaid expansion, something Florida has so far not taken up. As Matt Galka tells us, it doesn’t look like that fight will get anywhere again in 2015.

As new House and Senate leaders were sworn in this week, the same question remained: would Florida accept federal money and expand Medicaid. It’s a move that could help nearly one million people.

House Speaker Steve Crisafulli didn’t jump at the opportunity

“We believe, we stand firm, where we believe we are right now and that’s without expansion,” he said.

Floridians falling into the coverage gap are part of the working poor: people who make too much for Medicaid but too little for open market coverage.  Senate President Andy Gardiner says Washington isn’t being very flexible with the money

“The Federal Government ahs given us absolutely no flexibility at all on any expansion of medicaid, it’s either all or nothing, and I think that’s been one of the biggest problems,” said Sen. Gardiner.

Florida Legal Services released a report last week that said hospitals could be losing billions of dollars because of the failure to expand. Director of Advocacy Anne Swerlick says safety net hospitals will take a hit next summer.

“Special funds that were going to our safety net hospitals amounting to one to two billion dollars a year, those funds will no longer be available,” she said.

While there doesn’t appear to be a movement to accept the $50 billion dollars in funds like there was two years ago, Florida Democrats will continue to make noise.

“Healthcare effects everyone that’s alive, at some point in their life, this is something that if we don’t address, people are dying,” said Rep. Mark Pafford, the House Democratic leader.

The Governor has supported expansion in the past. It remains to be seen if he’ll push for it in his second term. Florida is one of 23 states that have refused federal money for Medicaid expansion.

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Charlotte’s Web Still Tangled

November 18th, 2014 by flanews

Florida took a small step in utilizing medical marijuana during 2014’s legislative session, but as Matt Galka tells us, the law that allows the use of marijuana extract “Charlotte’s Web” is still a tangled mess.

There was elation from families with children suffering from severe seizures when the Florida legislature passed the Charlotte’s Web bill in May.  The low-THC medical marijuana doesn’t get users high.

Here we are in November and no rules are in place.  It means no medicine can be ordered, and bill sponsor Matt Gaetz is frustrated.

“I’m always frustrated when the wheels of government don’t turn fast enough to get needed medicine to vulnerable Floridians, but it’s important here to measure twice and cut once,” said Rep. Gaetz (R-Shalimar).

The Department of Health has held multiple hearings to try and craft rules to regulate the medicine.  An administrative judge tossed the proposals out last week.

The hope was that the medicine would be available for doctor’s to order starting January 1st, but with every day that goes by, that date is more and more in doubt.

There will be five distributing licenses up for grabs.  A lottery system was originally in place for dozens of growers but that’s gone now. Ron Watson with the Florida Medical Cannabis Association says that’s a good thing.

“I think we all agree that we want this medicine to the children as quickly as possible, but we would also like to make sure that it’s done right. So we look forward to working with the Department of Health as they continue to change this rule as we move forward,” said Watson.

The Department of Health says its considering all options to get the drug on the market quickly.  No one seems to have an answer to the biggest question of when that might be. The Governor signed the bill into law in June.  More than 125,000 people in Florida, including epilepsy and cancer patients, could benefit from Charlotte’s Web.

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Legislature Organizes Minus Members

November 18th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida lawmakers met today to organize and seat new members after the election, but  the meeting was anything but usual.

Florida’s constitution give the legislature has the sole authority to decide who has been elected and who hasn’t.  That power was on full display Tuesday. Hpouse Speaker Designate Richard Corcoran moved that election results tied up in court not be accepted. “The House finds itself in the unusual position that we have received certified election results from the executive branch, and at the same time the judicial branch has held that a qualified write in candidate was denied access to the ballot. I move that the House reject the election returns for District 64, which will create a vacancy in that district” says Corcoran.

“The election returns for District 64 have been rejected by the house. A vacancy has been created” said Outgoing House Speaker Will Weatherford.

The vote to throw out the results and have the Governor call a special election was unanimous. House Speaker Steve Cristifulli says rejecting the Tampa election will actually speed up the process for seating a representative. “That actually speeds up the process.versus going through a court that could go on for several weeks, months and even longer.”

A second seat, this one from Jacksonville, remains empty because the incumbent failed to properly qualify. A special election is also being held for that seat.

Holding special elections to fill these two seats will cost taxpayers in Tampa and Jacksonville at least a quarter million dollars a piece.

Voters in the districts will be without representatives for at least a month when the legislative session begins in March.

Voters in two other state house districts and one state senate district will also have special elections due to the resignation of State Senator John Thrasher when he was appointed President of Florida State University. The total price tag for all the special elections will likely top two million dollars.

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Deaf Inmate to Get Hearing

November 17th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

A deaf Tampa man who was convicted of a murder his lawyers say he didn’t commit 33 years ago has a shot at freedom this week, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, he has inspired legislation that would help other deaf citizens who get in trouble.

When emergencies strike Florida, a deaf interpreter helps deliver the message, but when Felix Garcia was charged with murder in 1981, he had little or no idea what was happening or what he was signing according to his attorney, Reggie Garcia (no relation). “No sign language interpreter at trial, which is very troubling because he didn’t understand the proceedings. They gave him, quote unquote, a hearing aid and a loud speaker.”

Felix’s brother Frank, who looks like Felix first implicated him at the urging of a since deceased accomplice. Attorney Garcia explained the threats this way. “He was Tina’s boyfriend and pimp. He was wearing the stolen jewelry. He blamed Frank, who was in the hotel room, 13 of his  fingerprints, He blamed Felix, He put a gun to Tina’s head and said you will blame your two brothers or I will kill you. So, once he died, both of them came clean and said in affidavits that Felix had neither to do with it.”

More than a hundred advocates for the deaf came to the Capitol last year to support legislation requiring interpreters for the deaf facing criminal charges.

Last year the legislation giving the deaf an interpreter at court hearings couldn’t even get a hearing.

State representative and former police officer Ray Pilon was one of the co sponsors.

“Somebody who has this malady certainly deserves to be able to understand everything that’s going on in a courtroom, in a real estate transaction,” says Pilon.

Felix ‘s supporters are hopeful that the commission reviewing his case will be supportive.”

Felix Garcia’s supporters say they are not criticizing the fact he did not have an interpreter in 1981 because it was standard procedure for the era, but they do think its reason enough to revisit the case.

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Pot Rule in Limbo

November 17th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

It’s back to square one for regulators trying to set up a plan to grow and distribute low THC marijuana in Florida. An administrative judge late Friday threw out plans to  select vendors by a lottery system, saying the best should get the license, not the luckiest. Jeff Sharky, founder of the Medical Marijuana Business Association of Florida says the decision will benefit patients in the long run.

“On one hand , I think the Department selected the lottery because it would make this as expedient, a,s quick as possible. The judge, obviously looking at all the facts, and listening to all the testimony, came back and said that’s not the best way to make sure patients get a quality controlled drug” says Sharky.

The Department says it is reviewing its options, which do include an appeal of the order.



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Prison Reform

November 14th, 2014 by flanews

A thinktank from one of the state’s top universities is calling for a major overhaul of Florida’s prison system. As Matt Galka tells us, the group says the current model is failing prisoners, employees, and taxpayers.

Florida’s prison system is broken. That’s the message from a new report released from a coalition of public safety advocates known as the Project on Accountable Justice. Former Florida sheriff and Judge Allison DeFoor chairs the group

“Let me be crystal clear on this, the system is broken, it doesn’t matter how good the secretary is if the system is broken, we’ve got to take a look at this systemically, or it’s not going to get fixed,” said DeFoor.

The Department of Corrections has been the subject of numerous reports citing prison corruption and alleged inmate abuse – sometimes resulting in death.

“One would hope when prisoner’s were being cooked like chickens, that would shock all of us into taking a look at what we’re doing,” said DeFoor.

The report recommends have an oversight commission instead of just one Secretary in power. The study also suggest raising hiring standards, and expediting performance reviews.

We reached out to the Department of Corrections for a comment on the report. They responded with some numbers that could indicate new policies are working.

The department sent us this chart showing the decline in use of force incidents between guards and prisoners this year.  616 were reported in July, with only 427 reported last month.

The numbers coincide with a crackdown that current secretary Mike Crews implemented when reports started surfacing.  DeFoor isn’t convinced.

“Things that can’t go on, will stop, and I think that’s what’s going to happen here, this can’t go on,” he said.

It’s expected the legislature will address some problems in 2015.

The report also suggests that the Governor no longer appoint Secretaries to lead the Department, which has seen changes in leadership six times over the past eight years.

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