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Gun Lovers Get Tax Breaks

June 22nd, 2015 by flanews

The governor spent Monday on a tax cut victory tour. as Matt Galka tells us, part of the plan eliminated what gun supporters called a tax on the 2nd amendment.

J.D. Johnson with the Talon gun range about 20 minutes away from Florida’s Capitol says he has about 1500 membership accounts.

“Our gold membership, which is our highest membership, is about 300 bucks a year,” he said.

All of those people were charged sales tax on their membership, but that’s about to change.  The legislature passed a tax cut package repealing the extra charge on gun club memberships. It will save member’s at the Talon Gun club around $22 bucks.

“We really didn’t agree with the sales tax in the first place, we questioned it in the first place.  And the Department of Revenue basically said “no, it’s taxable,” so we charged tax on it. We don’t get to make those rules up,” said Johnson.

The NRA has had the tax in its sights for about five years.

Former National Rifle Association president Marion Hammer says the Department of Revenue was violating the constitution by collecting the tax.

“Only the legislature can regulate guns and ammunition in any way, and certainly taxing gun clubs is a regulation,” she said.

The break promises to save Floridians around $1 million bucks out of the $427 million dollar tax cut package.   While the cut passed easily out of the legislature, there was some concern from Democrats that instead of cutting the fee, the money could be better spent in other areas of the budget.

The NRA hopes the Department of Revenue will begin the process of returning the taxes they collected on memberships in the past.

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Confederate Battle Flag Left Florida Capitol Quietly

June 22nd, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

The Confederate battle flag flew on the grounds of the new Capitol in Tallahasse until 2001. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, It’s removal marked a five year effort by black legislators and civil rights advocates to see it sent to a museum.

Florida was the third state to join the Confederacy.

The battle flag has been a presence in Tallahassee every since.

It was at this 1996 March on Martin Luter Kings birthday that one of the marchers noticed the Confederate Flag flying with the other flags that have flown over the state. In 1996, Kendrick Meek (D-Miami) was among Black legislators calling for it’s removal.

“I don’t believe it needs  to become a number one priority for the state to get rid of the flag now, but I feel it does need to come down” said Meek at the time.

But nothing happened…until one day in early 2001, just a month after the bitter 2000 election was settled…that the flag poles on the west side of the Capitol were gone.

The Rev. RB Holmes Jr went to Bush with a message. “We went to him and said, Governor, this flag must come down. And he brought the flag down, the confederate flag that is, without major dissension” says Holmes.

At the time, Jeb Bush said the flag no longer represented modern Florida.

“We should be proud of our past. We should not ignore it. We should learn from the lessons of history, but we are a progressive state that is moving forward” said Bush in February 2001.

Not everyone believes Jeb Bush’s motives were pure. The NAACP had been pushing for an end to the Flags display since 1999. Dale Landry is theNAACP Criminal Justice Chair. “Even Senator Meek, who at the time was a state Senator, thought it was for other reasons in that Jeb actually did it in preparation for his run again in 2002” says Landry.

The Flag ended up at the state museum, just a few blocks away…where construction will keep it from being see by anyone for at least another month.

Jeb Bush did not publicize the flags removal, nor did he issue a news release. But the Sons of Confederate Veterans said at the time they felt “betrayed.”

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NAACP: Florida Church Threatened

June 22nd, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

confed flag00000006The NAACP says at least one black church in South Florida has reported it received a threat that was turned over to the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. Dale Landry, the Chair of the NAACP’s Criminal Justice Committee is asking everyone to be on the look out for threats on social media.

“So what we are saying and what we’ve been asked in joining with the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement asking anybody if you see it out on social media, capture it, then get it back to law enforcement so they can investigate it. Because we need to remember it wasn’t long ago they were burning the churches down. Now they’re going into churches and shooting up people” says Landry.

The Department of Law Enforcement confirmed the Miami Gardens Police Department and the FBI are investigating the threat. The Department of Law Enforcement is assisting.

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Session Over

June 20th, 2015 by flanews

Lawmakers have officially ended 2015’s special legislative session with a state budget. Matt Galka breaks down the final moments.

The state legislature put a bow on 2015’s special session with the ceremonial hankey drop that usually ends regular sessions earlier in the year. The only reason they did it: to honor the Senate’s retiring Sergeant at Arms.

There were plenty of hugs and smiles even though session was unique.  A deep divide developed over Medicaid expansion. The Senate pushed for it. The House ultimately killed the idea.

“We come here knowing that we’ve got to work together get things done for out state. We had a job in front of us, and we all stood up for what we believed in. At the end of the day we were able to pass a balanced budget,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

Members from both chamber maintain there’s no hard feelings now that session is over.

“I don’t think there’s any ill will, you saw the comments made on each side today, things were respectful, everybody has their opinion, but you saw what happened. At the end of the day you have a bicameral process. People have different opinions. But that budget was a balanced budget and it passed bipartisan,” said Rep. Matt Hudson (R-Naples).

The budget ended up being close to $79 billion dollars.  Lingering issues like healthcare will need to be addressed in the future.

 

“Time is an ally here. And I think, over time, we’ll reset the clock, some of these issues still exist,” said Senate Budget Chief Tom Lee.

The Governor gets the final say. He’ll be wielding a veto pen and whittling down the budget before the current budget expires at the end of June.

As soon as session was over, committee meetings were announced for lawmakers ahead of next year’s legislative session. Everyone will be back at the Capitol in mid-September.

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U.S. Congressman Slams Legislature

June 19th, 2015 by flanews

Florida Congressman Patrick Murphy was in Tallahassee on the day lawmakers are expected to pass a budget to scold the legislature for not passing Medicaid expansion.

Surrounded by state democrats, Murphy cited a pending Supreme Court ruling that could impact many Floridians currently on Obamacare.

“Floridians pay a certain amount of taxes and these taxes are now going to every other state and not coming back here to hardworking Floridians paying these taxes. And in doing so, we have left 4 billion dollars on the table as Floridians,” he said.

The disagreement over expanding Medicaid in the state forced lawmakers to go into a special session. It was ultimately shot down by the Florida House.

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Senate Takes Parting Shots at House

June 19th, 2015 by flanews

By the end of today (Friday) Florida should have a budget in place and a government shutdown will likely be avoided. Matt Galka wraps up what lawmakers were doing before they voted on the spending plan.

Senator John Legg acknowledged Florida’s unique legislative session during a prayer.

“Today we find ourselves at the end of that very long journey. And yes, we are a little more tired, a little more weary, but we are grateful and stronger,” said the Lutz Republican.

The regular session started in March and went off the rails when both the Florida House and Senate couldn’t see eye to eye on healthcare funding. It delayed a budget, which pushed the state to the brink of a government shutdown and forced lawmakers into overtime.

The Senate spent a majority of Friday debating the budget, the house did their debating on Thursday.

A budget it all but in place pending a final vote. But that didn’t stop Senator Jack Latvala (R-Clearwater) from pointing out the bitterness between the two chambers. He cited the House’s refusal of film and stadium incentives.

“That hurts in Jacksonville, that hurts in Orlando, that hurts in Miami. And that especially hurts in Daytona Beach, and we fought for those on behalf of the Senate, but the folks at the other end of the hall don’t like incentives,” he said.

Senator Nancy Detert (R-Venice) also took a shot.

“There’s an old expression ‘you can’t choose your relatives,’ we also can’t choose our colleagues down the hall,” she said.

When lawmakers do go home for the year, they won’t have as much time to sit and stew. 2016’s legislative session is set for January. The early start means lawmakers will be back meeting again in the fall.

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Florida Healthcare Problems Could Grow Exponentially

June 19th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

After being defeated last week, the push for expanded healthcare is already underway for the coming session, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the fate of 1 point three million Floridians health insurance, which is in the hands of the US Supreme Court, could speed up the debate.

When Amy Datz retired from the state, her health insurance jumped to 16 hundred dollars a month.”

“My pension was only 22. How many of you could live on $400 a month?” asks Datz.

So Datz and her husband enrolled in Obamacare. “We saved ten thousand dollars year in health care costs” she says.

Now the future of her reduced health insurance and that of one point three million other Floridians is in question. The US Supreme Court is considering whether subsidies can be legally be provided in states without a heath exchange. We asked State Representative Ed Narain (D-Tampa) how serious he considered the threat.

There are potentially tens of thousands of people in the Tampa area that will lose healthcare?” “And that would be disastrous” says Narain.

One concern is that if the plan is ruled unconstitutional, those one point three million Floridians will end up here in the emergency room.

Under the healthcare plan that was passed by the state Senate and blocked by the House, Florida would have had an exchange. Now, without one, State Senator Renee Garcia of Miami, the man who crafted the plan to reimburse hospitals for uncompensated care, says the problem could only get worse.

“We’re waiting to see what the decision is when it comes out, and  it’s a serious concern. You know, it;s one point three million people that will be left without insurance in the state of Florida” says Garcia.

The court ruling is expected before the end of the month. But State lawmakers aren’t back at the Capitol until September.

House minority leader Mark Pafford is suggesting that if the court rules against health subsidies not provided by state exchanges, Florida lawmakers will have to come back to the Capitol for yet another summer special session.

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NAACP Seeks Protection

June 19th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

The head of Florida’s NAACP met with the Department of Law Enforcement and the FBI in the State Capitol today seeking protection. Adora Obi Nweze is set to open a new chapter in rural Wakulla County tomorrow after several churches had the initials KKK spray painted on their signs or building. NAACP State President Adora Obi Nweze says what happened in Charleston S.C. was unimaginable, yet fears it could happen here as well.

“Here we are thinking we can go to a church and be safe and be able to praise our god or whomever we serve in our sanctuaries, and never thinking that you would have to worry about someone walking in and sitting there with you and shooting and killing people” says Obi Nweze.

The chapter in the county south of the State Capitol will boast more than 100 members when it is officially chartered on Saturday.

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Sgt-At-Arms Retires from State Senate

June 19th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Donald Severance, show here on the right, spent his last day working for the Florida Senate today. He joined the Sgt at Arms office 40 years ago. He had a role in making sure police didn’t over react when a college student named Marshall Ledbetter broke into the Capitol and barricaded himself in a Senate office. Severance says the break-in was just one of the memorable moments.

“Mainly its the security of the Senate and Marshall Ledbetter of whom you spoke was one of them when he broke into our office. Another thing I’ll always remember is that when the nurse downstairs had a heart attack and we went down an performed CPR on her, and saved her life, so she’s spending time with her grandkids today. And of course 9-1-1. When it happened, we had to evacuate the Capitol. So those type things will always stick out in my mind” says the soon to be retired law enforcement veteran.

The soon to be retired Sgt. Was a confident of many powerful senators in his 40 years on the job. Asked if he was going to write a tell all book, he said no…because he didn’t want to leave the state.

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Budget Gets Down to Wire

June 18th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Floor debate on the states record 78.6 billion dollar budget began today. Florida schools will see record funding in the new state budget, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, property owners will pick up the tab for the increased spending.


There will be 30 thousand new students in Florida schools next year. The increase kept lawmakers from approving the highest per pupil spending in state history, Rep. Erik Fresen, R-Miami, says they had to settle for the highest total ever.  “The FEFP budget increases funds for students by three percent. Which is a two hundred and six dollar and fifty two cent per student increase” Fresen said from the House Floor.

But the increase comes at the expense of local property taxes. Of the nearly 800 million increase Florida schools will see, two of every three dollars will come from local property taxes. Rep. Jose Rodriguez (D-Miami) asked pointed questions on the House Floor. “So when we talk about increases in education funding, really what we are talking about is the lions share of that coming from local funds” says Rodriguez.

The budget debate is taking place nearly two months later than it should have. A legislative meltdown in April over hospital funding was resolved with 400 million in state money and hard feelings over the failure to expand healthcare to the working poor.

All eyes are now on the Governor, who didn’t get the level of tax cuts or education funding that he wanted, and who has threatened massive vetoes in the past.”

And he has plenty to choose from. Lawmakers added three hundred million in local projects at the 11th hour. The Senate Budget Chairman all but made a plea to the governor not to be vindictive.

“What I;ve learned over time is that there are vetoes of principle, and then there are vetoes that are merely a state of mind” says Lee.

After a final vote on Friday, Rick Scott will have until the end of June to sign or reject the spending items.

A final vote on the budget can’t take place until late tomorrow afternoon in the Senate and early evening in the House.

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Tom Lee Apoligetic on Amendment 1 Funding

June 18th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

The Senate’s Chief Budget writer today asked environmentalists to take the long view in fudnding for environmental projects. Sen. Tom Lee acknowledged that many of the people who voted for Amendment One last November will be disappointed by the funding levels set by the legislature, which includes many salaries and programs that were previously paid for out of general revenue.

“I know in this current year that people who are advocates for land acquisition will be underwhelmed with our effort and I respect that, and frankly don’t disagree with them. I don’t. I think…we could do better” Lee told reporters after the Senate’s Thursday session.

Lee said conflicting priorities of the House and Senate leadership, as well as a surprise four hundred million dollar expense for hospitals doomed the environmental appropriations. Audubon Florida and others say they are considering a law suit of mis placed environmental priorities.

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Legislature Holds Moment of Silence

June 18th, 2015 by flanews

Both chambers of the Florida legislature held moments of silence Thursday morning to recognize the nine people killed in a Charleston, South Carolina church shooting. One of the victims was a state senator in South Carolina’s state legislature.

“I ask that we join them this morning on behalf of the Florida Senate and the good people of Florida to let them know that we share their shock, their outrage, and their pain,” said Sen. Arthenia Joyner (D-Tampa).

“We stand saddened, we stand in solidarity with the nation, and our brothers and sisters in the South Carolina legislature,” said Rep. Alan Williams (D-Tallahassee).

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Hospital Funding

June 18th, 2015 by flanews

Florida’s Governor says he won’t drop a lawsuit against the federal government over hospital funding. As Matt Galka tells us, there’s already a deal in place this year, but lawmakers admit the issue isn’t going away.

The Florida House ran through the differences between the state budget they’re about to vote on, and the one they passed during regular session.

 

“We provide for 1 billion dollar low income pool as authorized by federal CMS,” said Rep. Matt Hudson (R-Naples).

The federal government was set to end a program known as the Low Income Pool, or LIP, that provides money to hospitals serving low income patients.  Expanding Medicaid was touted as a better option, but that forced the Governor to sue the Obama administration. The feds backed off and have agreed to provide reduced funds for the next two years.

 

Lawmakers had to use general revenue money from the budget in order to fill some of the healthcare gaps. Something the Governor didn’t want to do.

Senate President Andy Gardiner said using the taxpayer money helped keep some hospitals open.

“The reality is if the Senate, especially, had not been pushing for the Low Income Pool backfill of general revenue, Shands in Jacksonville and others would be potentially closing, so we feel very good that we were able to hold the line and get money into that program,” said Sen. Gardiner.

But it also cut into other things – like a bigger taxcut for Floridians – even though there was $300 million dollars worth of local projects added to the budget late in the process.  Senate Budget Chief Tom Lee says lawmakers tried to find a balance between hospital funding, tax cuts, and lawmaker priorities.

 

“With cuts and limited capital improvement programs back home, there is a pent up demand for some of those things,” said Sen. Lee.

So even though there is a deal in place and a budget vote looming, the Governor isn’t backing off his lawsuit against the feds. He wants a long term decision on the funding, and maintains there was an attempt to force the state to expand Medicaid.

Many around the capitol believe if no long term healthcare solution is found, lawmakers will be in a similar situation in two years – trying to scramble to fill hospital funding again when the federal program ends.

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Murder Trial Delayed Because FDLE did not Disclose DNA Evidence

June 17th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

A judge in the state Capitol is delaying a murder trial because the Department of Law Enforcement did not disclose to prosecutors or defense attorneys that the FBI found a partial DNA match on a phone seized at the site of a quadruple murder in 2010.

For the second time in 16 months, a Florida Department of Law Enforcement Analyst is under fire. In Feb 2014, FDLE fired an analyst for stealing drugs from evidence packets. Now, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the states top law enforcement agency is accused of not turing over dna evidence that could spare a man facing a death sentence.

 

In November 2010, Brandi Peters and her three children were brutally murdered at this home just miles from the State Capitol.  Henry Segura…the father of one of the children had recently been ordered to pay child support and became the key suspect. He was charged in 2011.

 

But now, DNA evidence in the case shows a match to a known columbian drug trafficker who was deported. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement was told of the match in 2013 but never forwarded the dna information to police, prosecutors,  or defense attorney Chuck Hobbs.  “We got it two years and two mothers later, and now we are in the posture of getting ready to go to trial where a young man could be killed potentially for these offenses and there is evidence that points to somebody else” says Hobbs.

 

Early in the investigation, police were told Brandi Peters was a drug courier who owed 80 thousand to her distributors.

 

One of the more gruesome tales of the murders here, all three of the children were found stacked on top of each other in the bathtub.

In a deposition last week, FDLE analyst Jo Ellen Brown said supervisors told her not to forward the new evidence to prosecutors because of the sample size…even though admitting she often forwards evidence when only partial results are available. In the end, the drug dealer was deported and police lost their chance to take new dna samples. Criminal Defense Attorney Tim Jansen says the revelation opens the door to other cases that may have been mishandled.

 

“She falsely said it was un-interperetable, she prepared a report that was false which seriously hurt the defense of a man facing multiple homicides and the death penalty. Nothing could be more serious than this” says Jansen.

 

The FDLE analyst did come forward with the evidence in March, saying it was the right thing to do. Defense attorneys were told in April. In between the known drug dealer was deported.

 

Early in the investigation, police were told Brandi Peters was a drug courier who owed 80 thousand to her distributors.

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Environmentalists Consider Lawsuit

June 17th, 2015 by flanews

The legislature had directions from voters to spend millions of dollars on conservation land. But as Matt Galka tells us, environmentalists say they didn’t accomplish that task – and it could end with a date in front of a judge.

Lawmakers had 700 million dollars to devote toward environmental conservation under the voter approved Amendment 1. Eric Draper with Audubon Florida says the amount that’s actually being committed to land acquisition is far less than that.

“The legislature only put $17 million into Florida Forever, that’s about one-tenth what we ask them to put with amendment one dollars. And that’s way off base for what the voter thought they were voting for,” said Draper.

Will Abberger, who helped get Amendment 1 on 2014’s November ballot, says $17 million dollars is a slap in the face to the 75 percent of Floridians who cast ballots.

“Frankly, Matt, that’s an insult to Florida voters when the 4.2 million voted yes on amendment one last November they voted to funds the land acquisition trust fund,” he said.

The hope was that $300 million dollars would be committed to the Florida Forever program to be put towards buying land. State leaders say they’re meeting the amendments requirements.

“I think the budget shows it covers the acquisition of land and water,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

Environmentalist now say that the amendment one issue could be decided in a courtroom.

“What the legislature is doing now is inconsistent with the purpose and intent of amendment one,” said Abberger.

So where is all the money going? State agencies will be getting a cut.

“If they put money into making sure there are paper towels in the bathrooms, is that the purpose of Amendment 1 dollars? We’re not so sure,” said Draper.

If the matter is eventually decided by a judge funding levels aren’t likely to change this year. The legislature would most likely be given more directions on how to spend the money in the future.

Lawmakers are expect to pass the budget with current Amendment one funding levels on Friday.

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