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Money in Marijuana

September 30th, 2015 by flanews

Expanding medical marijuana use in Florida is expected to be up to voters again in November of 2016, but as Matt Galka tells us, state economists are talking the potential monetary impact before it gets to that point.

Representatives from the Governor’s office and state legislature gathered Wednesday to hear Florida economist’s projections for revenue from a potential expansion of medical marijuana.  They’re using data from 20 other states that have already legalized pot for medical use.

“Estimating how doctor’s will be involved and how they’ll treat this and what people will do and the behavioral side of it is much harder, and that’s really what we’re looking to other states for,” said Chief Economist Amy Baker.

Potential revenue could shift either way based on what types of diseases are covered by medical marijuana.

Supporters say hundreds of millions of dollars could be at stake.

Drug Free America reminded the group that when pot is legalized as medicine, it’s not all profit.

“In the state of Colorado, the marijuana enforcement division spends about 9.5 million dollars a year to include 35 FTE’s on managine their program,” said Alan Suskey.

But Jeff Sharkey with the medical marijuana business association says expanding medical marijuana could more than pay for itself.

“It would potentially pay for any type of ancillary programs people would request. Drug education for kids, education program in terms of the medical benefits of this that I think would be necessarily required,” he said.

Florida passed a low-the medical marijuana law last year. Economists put the revenue generated from the very specific form at around $6 million dollars for the state.

Wednesday’s meeting was the first of three. Economists expect to have an estimated number on expanded medical marijuana revenue during their final meeting.

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Warning Shot Keeps Man in Prison

September 30th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

When state lawmakers passed a bill allowing warning shots instead of deadly force, they cited the case of a Polk County man, Orville Lee Wollard, who’s serving 20 years for shooting into a wall. Today, Wollard asked to be freed, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, you might be surprised by the decision.

After a 2008 altercation with his daughters drug using boyfriend, Orville Lee Wollard fired a warning shot into the wall. Charged with a crime, Wollard turned down five years of probation, went to trial, and is instead serving a mandatory 20 years.

“The executive Clemency Board is now called to order” said Rick Scott as he gaveled the quarterly Clemency Board meeting open. Wollard’s case was the first on the agenda.

A year ago, warning shots became legal in Florida.  Wollard’s case was even sited in the footnotes as a reason to change the law. His family, including daughter Sarah, who’s then boyfriend was at the center of the case, came to the state Capitol to ask for his release.

“You have five seconds to leave and my boyfriend just looked at him and smirked and thought it all was a big joke. So my dad pointed the gun at the wall and shot into it which was a few feet away from my boyfriend” she recounted for the Governor.

The recommendation by clemency staff was to deny.  They found cocaine use in the 1990’s even though there were never criminal charges filed. Prosecutor Jerry Hill came to  say Wollard was incapable of making good decisions.

“it was unnecessary, and I suggest it’s not a murder charge by three or four inches.”

Almost immediately, Rick Scott announced “I deny commutation of sentence. When you read the record and there are things like domestic violence.”

The family looked on in disbelief. His wife Sandy was nearly speechless “And I’m just stunned and just crushed” she said afterward.

Under these published rules for someone seeking clemency, Wollard must serve at least half his sentence before he can apply again. That would be in 2019.”

On their way out of the building we asked Sarah Wollard “Sarah, if you had one thing to say to the Governor, what would it be?”

She didn’t answer.

Wollard was never charged with cocaine offenses, nor was he ever charged with domestic abuse. He did face child abuse charges for restraining his daughter.

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Dozier School for Boys Facing Uncertain Future

September 29th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott and the Florida Cabinet listened today to pleas to save the former Dozier School for Boys as a monument to the kids that lost their lives there while in state custody.  A two year survey has yielded 51 bodies  buried on the campus, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, a Dozier survivor believes more bodies are buried on the site.

These pictures of juveniles at the Dozier School for Boys are some of the last taken before the school closed. A two year search of the abandoned fourteen hundred acre campus has yielded 51 bodies. All were found on the black  side of the segregated campus. Charles Fudge came to the Capitol to say he thought there were more bodies.

“There is a cemetery on the white side. We were not desegregated in 60 and 61. I know there was a cemetery there. My brother knows the cemetery was there.Those boys need to be found” Fudge told the Governor and Cabinet.

Fudge and his brother spent a year at Dozier for stealing money out of a woman’s purse.
“They should never let any kind of building be put on that property. Those boys, you know, when we were sent there, we didn’t expect to be beaten, and we certainly didn’t expect to die.

DOZIER00000010Researcher Erin Kimmerle of the University of South Florida says she has done everything possible in her search for more remains.

“Does that mean we can certify there I’s no other burials? No. I mean no one could ever do that” says Kimmerle.

“Just six of the 51 bodies that have been recovered have been identified so far. But researcher Cr. Erin Kimmerle says she is close to identifying ten more” says the USF researcher.

The NAACP says many families don’t have the five thousand dollars it will cost for the reinternment their loved ones. It wants the state to pick up the cost.

The Final report from the University of South Florida is due at the end of the year. Decisions on what to do with the site will be made next year.

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Hospital Cost Containment Rick Scott Style

September 29th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott wants hospitals to post their prices for procedures and annual financial reports on their web sites. Scott also wants to give consumers a place to complain when they feel they have been charged too much. Today Scott said hospitals want tax payer dollars, then taxpayers should know how they are using the money.

“We’ve got to make sure they put out the information so people know what things are going to cost. All hospitals should have the same standard for what disclosure they are going to make. If they’re going to come back and ask us for your tax dollars, because its your tax dollars we’re spending, we don’t know how they’re spending the money. What is there cost structure? What’s their price? We should know all these things if they‘re going to ask for out tax dollars, and that’s what they’re doing” Scott told reporters,

During much of the 1980’s Florida required hospitals to publish their costs and profit structures, but the legislation was weakened and finally abolished in the 1990’s.

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Veterans Hall of Fame Nominees

September 29th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

larry campbellFormer Leon County Sheriff Larry Campbell was one of eight names presented to the Governor and Cabinet today for inclusion in the Veteran Hall of Fame 2015 class. Campbell died last year after two decades as sheriff and four decades in law enforcement. Veterans Affairs Director Mike Pendergast says Campbell’s military service  and subsequent work in law enforcement earned him a place in the hall of fame.

Former Governor Lawton Chiles and Congressman Charles Bennett were also included in this years nominees. Governor Rick Scott and the Cabinet will vote on the nominations later this year.

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Firefighter Pay Raises

September 29th, 2015 by flanews

Imagine putting your life on the line by battling wildfires, but only earning a few bucks more per hour than minimum wage.  As Matt Galka tells us, that’s the story for many state fire fighters, and the state’s Agriculture Commissioner wants to change that.

The average Florida teacher makes around $46,000 according to the Department of Education.

Jobs website Indeed dot com says you’re likely to make around $35,000 dollars for an entry level job in Tampa or Jacksonville.

And way below all of that, you’d make around $27,000 thousand dollars as a state firefighter.  Below average pay for an above average job according Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam.

“Our firefighters are demonstrably underpaid relative to their peers in other southeastern states,” said Putnam.

Putnam’s pushing for a $2,000 dollar pay raise for the state workers battling blazes.

A pay raise was already approved earlier this year by the legislature, but eventually vetoed by the Governor.

“They’re certainly putting their lives on the line to protect property and other lives of Floridians. As we’ve seen out west this year and in Florida as recently as four years ago,” said Putnam.

Fire officials say low pay forces a high turnover rate among state firefighters which could be a safety problem.

“A seasoned firefighter is a safer firefighter. The one with experience the one with training, and when we rotate and have to bring in new firefighters day in and day out it not only is more expensive for us, it adds that additional element of safety that we worry about,” said Jim Karles, the Florida Forest Service Director.

More than 500 Florida state firefighters were deployed this year to battle wildfires in other parts of the country.

The Governor justified the pay raise veto earlier this year by saying that not just one group of state workers should be receiving a pay raise.

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Plastic Bag Ban Proposed for Coastal Communities

September 28th, 2015 by flanews

Paper or plastic? The common grocery store phrase could be a thing of the past. As Matt Galka tells us, some environmentally conscious lawmakers have proposed allowing cities near the water the option to ban plastic bags.

You won’t catch Kathleen Turner with a plastic bag. She was on her way into Whole Foods with a reusable bag for groceries and wouldn’t mind seeing the common plastic bag done away with.

“I think the ban is late, I think they should have done it earlier, I think we’re way behind the times,” she said.

Some environmental conscious lawmakers are with her and have filed legislation that could impact plastic bag use in the state.

It won’t be an outright ban but in 2016, lawmakers will consider a bill that could ban the plastic bags around coastal communities.

The proposed bill would give local governments near the water the option of making their own rules or bans on plastic bags.  It’s being pushed as a 2.5 year pilot program.

Environmentalist Julie Wraithmell says the bags wreak havoc on Florida’s ecosystem.

“They do cause tremendous problems for our communities, they effect wildlife, they also effect your tax dollars. When waste water storm drains get clogged, a lot of times these are the culprit,” she said.

She says the bill is a step in the right direction.

“Florida has a long history of letting local governments decide what’s best for their constituents, and as long as local governments are more protective than the state rather than less that’s a good standard,” said Wraithmell.

Some stores have banned the bags already and instead opt for paper or biodegradable bags for customers.

Last year, a proposal was shot down that would have allowed all local governments the option to ban bags, and big grocery stores and pharmacies would have charged customers a dime extra if they didn’t bring their own bags.

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Florida Teens Smoking at an All-Time Low Rate

September 25th, 2015 by flanews

Florida high schoolers are smoking cigarettes in numbers that are at an all time low according to a new report from the state. But as Matt Galka tells us, Florida health officials are now concerned about a different growing trend.

18 year old Florida State student Cailen Lyons-Howey says she doesn’t see too many of her classmates smoking, and that’s a good thing.

“I think it’s bad for people’s health and there’s not really any positive sides to smoking because people get addicted to it,” she said.

New data from the department of health says that just 6.9 percent of Florida teens throughout are smoking. That’s an all time low down from almost 9 percent two years ago.

The Department of Health says the numbers are encouraging but at the same time, there’s been a dramatic increase in e-cigarettes among teens.

In the same two year span, e-cigarette and vaping use has gone from 5.4 percent up to 15.8 percent.

Tim Rider is the General Manager of South Georgia vapors, an e-cigarette shop based in Georgia that expanded to Florida’s capital.  He’s seen customers quit regular smoking thanks to the product.  But he wouldn’t push it on teenagers as an alternative.

“If they’re not going to smoke I’d say don’t start anything at all, but this is a product I’ve used to quit smoking. A lot of people have. I wouldn’t recommend picking up just for fun, because there are certain health risks,” he said.

Greg Tish is on the board for the Northwest Florida American Lung Association and a former smoker. He says there’s just too many uncertainties right now about e-cigarettes.

“We just don’t know anything about it, if tobacco companies are jumping on board with vaping, there’s a little hint it may not be the best thing,” said Tish.

Last year, Florida officially banned the sale of e-cigarettes to minors.

The state’s report says that the amount of Florida high schoolers that have tried a cigarette has gone down 43 percent since 2007.

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Report Gives Florida Low Marks for Unemployment Benefits

September 24th, 2015 by flanews

Are Florida’s jobless being shut out by the state when they’re in need of unemployment benefits? As Matt Galka tells us, a new report says yes, and that Florida’s tougher on job seekers than any other state.

It’s another day of job hunting for Wendy Strickland

“I want to work,” she said.

It’s tough for Strickland, and right now it’s even tougher playing the waiting game for unemployment benefits.

“I’m applying for them, I’m waiting to see if they’re going to come through. That’s the challenge. The waiting period, you know what I mean? While I’m waiting, I’m trying to be actively looking for a position or a job,” she said.

A new report says Strickland isn’t alone.  The National Employment Law Project says just 12 percent of unemployed Floridians receive benefits – the lowest rate in the nation. The national average is 27 percent.

 

Stiffer requirements for benefits and fewer payout weeks contributed to Florida’s low ranking.

 

The Department of Economic opportunity said the study wasn’t painting an accurate picture. DEO spokespeople responded in a statement and pointed to the nearly one million jobs created in the last five years and the decline in unemployment rate.

The Governor said his focus is on creating jobs.

“We have over 270 thousand job openings in our state, so my big focus is how do we make sure everyone can get a job,” said Gov. Rick Scott (R-Florida) at an event in Panama City.

The report focused on the past four years in Florida: a time period where unemployment was marred by skills tests and clunky computer filing systems.

Florida’s unemployment rate sits at 5.3 percent, just above the national unemployment rate of 5.1 percent.

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Redistricting Trial Begins (Again)

September 24th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Which Congressional district you live in will likely be decided by a judge in Tallahassee, who as Mike Vasilinda tells us, spent the day listening to lawyers for the legislature and voters groups telling him why one of the seven maps submitted is better than the others.

Judge Terry Lewis ruled last August that GOP consultants and lawmakers made a quote

“Mockery” of drawing fair districts without political intent.

Legislative attempts this summer to draw new maps collapsed amid political turmoil. Now Lewis must decide between one of seven maps draw by lawmakers and voters groups. David King, representing the League of women Voters and Common Cause told the court “the burden of proof is on the legislature.”

The legislative staff director who drew what has been called a base map behind closed doors was the first to testify. Jason Poreda was grilled on whether political figures had input into the map drawing.

Q:”And could the Speaker of the House come into the room?”

“No. No he could not.”

Q:Did he ever try?”

“No.”

Two seats in Tampa were redrawn to keep them from crossing Tampa Bay.

Raoul Cantero, who represents the state Senate said of the two districts  “We fixed that. They have no problem with that.”

So the fight is over how two seats in South Florida were drawn. Lawyers contend political intent has made them overwhelmingly Republican when at least one should be competitive.

The voting groups lawyer says recent reports about African American prisoners being packed into a Jacksonville to Tallahassee district will not affect who wins the seat.
“We’ve looked at that pretty carefully. I don’t think.If you are suggesting that the prison population will somehow affect the ability to elect a minority candidate in district 5, I don’t think that’s the case at all” says David Kind.

Florida’s Supreme Court has set a deadline of October 17th for having this process done.”

The hearing could continue into Monday.

Congressman Daniel Webster, who’s GOP safe seat will become majority Democratic under the new maps was not allowed to intervene in the trial today. Two State Senators involved in the latest map drawing are expected to take the witness stand Friday.

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Leon County Likely to Remain Split Among Two Congressional Districts

September 24th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Circuit Judge Terry Lewis held the first of what could be a three day hearing into new congressional maps after the old maps were ruled unconstitutional and lawmakers failed to draw new maps. A total of seven maps were submitted by opposing sides. All seven split Tallahassee and the State Capitol into two different Congressional districts, leaving the judge little choice but to accept the split. League of Women Voters Attorney David Kind call the split unavoidable.

“The problem there is its very difficult to accommodate the minority district in North Florida. And when it runs east-west,  that results, unfortunately, in the split of Leon County” King told us.

The Florida Supreme Court could order new maps drawn or accept the map Lewis recommends in October.

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Florida Deadliest State in the Country for Bicyclists

September 23rd, 2015 by flanews

A new report says cyclists are in more danger riding around Florida than in any other state. As Matt Galka tells us, with ridership growing, the state is coming up with future plans to try and combat the problem.

Diane Arnold avoids city streets on her bike.

“I find it dangerous because people don’t respect the biking lane,” she said.

She sticks to the trails because of personal experiences.

“Yea I’ve had people who had accidents, suffered injuries, whether it’s brain injuries, other physical injuries, some have lost their lives,” said Arnold before taking off on a bike trail.

It’s a problem that’s given Florida a terrible top ranking. The Centers for Disease Control says Florida is the deadliest state in the country for cyclists.

Chris Hill is a bike mechanic in Florida’s capital city who also uses his bicycle to commute to work. He says the problem is a two way street.

“People in cars who aren’t paying attention or don’t ride a bike so they don’t know what it’s like, but there are also people on their bikes who aren’t necessarily the most comfortable, they can be a little squirrelly,” he said.

The Florida Department of Transportation says there’s no quick fix to the fatality problem. The DOT met Wednesday to discuss future safety options.

“It’s everything from enforcement, to education of drivers to make sure that they understand the laws that protect bicyclists and pedestrians,” said the DOT’s Jim Wood.

Randy Wells with the Florida League of cities says the stats should be a wake up call.

“I think it’s a call to action, and other communities, other states, have made very significant impacts, we’ve got a targeted goal of reducing pedestrian bicycle accidents, fatalities, ultimately it comes down to speed kills,” he said.

Legislation stiffening penalties on drivers that hurt bicyclists failed in 2015. A bill has already been filed for 2016. It’s designed to protect Florida’s “vulnerable road users” including bicyclists and motorcycle users.  A motorist who hurts a cyclist could be hit with higher fines, and if they do it twice in five years, could face prison time.

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Civil Citation Program Expands Next Week

September 23rd, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Beginning next week, Florida teens who get caught breaking the law will have an expanded chance of getting a civil citation instead of being arrested, As Mike Vasilinda tells us, advocates who pushed for the expansion  say sparing a kid a criminal record will save taxpayers money.

In the last year, just over four of every ten teens facing misdemeanor charges were diverted into a civil citation program. Current law allows just one diversion, but beginning in October, kids could get up to three civil citations. Roy Miller of the Childrens Campaign calls the program a good use of resources.

“One of the most important things we can do for a child is not saddle them with an arrest record. An arrest record slams the doors to their future shut hard, and so by increasing the number of misdemeanors up to three, we’re going to stop children from having arrest records” says Miller.

Civil citations are not a free pass, and usually involve victim approval, apologies to victims and police, community service time, and even drug intervention or counseling.

Florida retailers opposed the initial version of the bill because it made the citations mandatory in some cases, and because it gave kids an unlimited number of bites at the apple.

Retailers finally got on board when the number of citations were limited to three. Cops got behind the idea when they were left with discretion. James Miller of the Florida Retail Federation says they will be watching what happens.

“We’re optimistic it will work, but obviously were interested in going back if we need to and revisiting it depending on the outcome of the bill” says Miller.

Both advocates and retailers will be monitoring the citations. If the number issued don’t increase, advocates will be pushing for a mandatory citation….and if there are too many repeat offenders, lawmakers will be asked to get tougher on law breaking kids.

The Childrens Campaign estimates that a doubling of civil citations could save taxpayers between twenty and sixty million dollars a year. There are disparities in the program. Eleven of Florida’s 67 counties do not have a citation program.

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National Voter Registration Day

September 22nd, 2015 by flanews

Are you registered to vote? If not, today was the day to do it. As Matt Galka tells us, National Voter Registration Day hit Florida, as registration efforts heat up before a presidential election year.

Dozens of students signed up to be newly registered voters or changed their address on Tallahassee Community College’s campus Tuesday.

Similar events were held statewide and across the country to mark National Voter Registration day. Voter outreach assistant Susie Caplowe says it’s important especially before a presidential election primary.

“There’s a point when you get interested, for some people the signs are going up in the yards and you’re on the road and they say “oh, there’s an election happening?” It’s just good to try and make sure that everyone who can, can vote, and has the opportunity to vote,” she said.

19 year old Cheyenne Hernandez registered and will be voting for the first time.

“I think it’s important, I think if you have the opportunity to and you’re old enough, then you should. The president, obviously, effects everybody,” said Hernandez.

TCC Civic Engagement coordinator Ryan Rogers says melting pots like college campuses are always good opportunities to register people.

“It’s the biggest thing we always try to advocate for students, whether it’s SGA, it’s just making sure students have a voice and they have a say so in what’s going on around them,” said Rogers.

Pen and paper registration could be a thing of the past as Florida moves to an online voter registration system in 2017.

The next statewide election is the Presidential Preference Primary in March.  The Republican Party of Florida is currently in the middle of creating a new rule that would require presidential candidates who want to be on that ballot to attend the party’s “Sunshine Summit” in November.

The Secretary of State launched a voter education campaign to coincide with the day. Get Ready, Get Set, Vote! Launched online as a way to encourage people to register. You can visit YOUR-VOTE-FLORIDA DOT COM for more info.

 

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Association of American Universities Unveils Campus Sexual Assault Report

September 22nd, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

A new study by the prestigious Association of American Universities found that more than half of all serious sexual assaults on or near campus go unreported. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, 55 rapes have been reported in the Capitol city since June, but rape counselors are seeing record numbers of women seeking counseling.

One in four students is reporting unwanted sexual contact during their four years in college. Florida State was quick to point out it was not part of the study, but we had no trouble finding FSU students, including Alexia Braxton, who know someone who has been sexually assaulted.

“I think she feels as if her college career is ruined. She’s not going to have any more in college because that happened to her” says Braxton.

The study found that fewer than half of the students reporting penetration report the crime. Half who were violated say they were incapacitated by drugs or alcohol.

One of the things this study points out is that a freshman is more likely to be assaulted than a senior.

Meg Baldwin of Refuge House says nationally, the beginning of the fall semester is referred to as the red zone by police and rape counselors.

“Historically we see the highest rates of victims coming forward for forensic exams in September, October, and November. And that increase is attributable nearly entirely to young women coming onto campus for the first time.

Jennifer Dritt of the Florida Council Against Sexual Violence says the study confirms what is already known.

“People are really reluctant to say this is a serious problem, because everything in us wants to say we’re not living in this kind of world, but we are.”

The report also says students are knowledgeable about what and where to report unwanted sexual activity…but they just don’t do it.

Students survey who did not report assaults say it was out of  fear, shame, or a lack of confidence their report will be acted upon.

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