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November Gun Sales Increase

November 30th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida’s love affair with guns remains strong, with Black Friday sales setting a record for the weekend. Black Friday is seen as the kickoff for what has become a gun buying season and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, 2015 is no exception.

The number of people seeking background checks for gun purchases this past weekend hit an all time high for Black Friday Weekend. Friday through Sunday saw almost 15 thousand people buying guns pending that background check. This weekends number is nearly two thousand more than 2013, which set a yearly record for gun purchases.

Miles Glass, the manager of Kevin’s Guns, a Tallahassee Sporting Goods store sees no sign of a gun love affair abating.

“Business has stayed strong. I would say our gun sales are probably up a little bit above last year” says Glass.

We watched as Todd purchased a handgun and ammo for several other guns. He declined to give his last name but told us he is retired law enforcement.

“I’ve owned guns for years.  But if  you are asking if there is an alternative reason, of course there is. Just like everybody else is scared” he told us.

Now, the numbers we’re talking about reflect background checks only…not the number of guns sold. Put another way, someone could pass a background check and take home two or three guns.”

The weekend saw a mix of gun buyers. Many already have concealed carry permits and could take their guns with them. Others are waiting three days.

“We get a lot of first time buyers” says manager Glass.  “Absolutely. Especially in this day and age there is a lot of new buyers and new people getting into guns, certainly. A lot of that is going to be for home defense and personal defense.”

While Black Friday weekend is typically the busiest gun buying weekend of the year,  December’s typically outpaces every other month in gun sales.

Based on background check information provided by the state, December gun sales typically run twenty to fifty percent higher than other months.

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Missing Sales Tax

November 30th, 2015 by flanews

It’s cyber Monday, which means your credit card might need a break by now. As Matt Galka tells us, all of the online transactions could actually be costing the state some money.

It’s deal season throughout the country and the state.  James Miller with the Florida Retail Federation says retailers have high hopes for business with Black Friday having just passed and the holiday shopping season going into full swing.

“All the numbers so far, the preliminary numbers, show that it was a strong Black Friday. We expect Cyber Monday to be equally huge. It doesn’t change our perspective that there’s going to be an increase of 4.5 or 5% for Florida in terms of year over year growth,” he said.

Cyber Monday – the online version of Black Friday, provides another opportunity to boost revenue numbers. But there’s a problem. While the deals are great for online shoppers, it’s actually the state that could be missing out on big bucks.

Sales tax isn’t collected on all online transactions. But Robert weissert with Florida TaxWatch says it’s supposed to be.

“The cost to the state from this lost sales tax revenue is possibly in the billions of dollars. If you buy something online and the retailer does not charge you the taxes, it’s your responsibility to send in the money to the department of revenue,” he said.

It’s up to Floridians to fill out their own sales tax forms when shopping online. Good luck. The Department of Revenue says they only collected $8.2 million dollars of online sales tax this past year. A fraction of what could be paid.

“It’s a really important issue, not only for total sales tax collection, but also, we’re turning regular Floridians into scofflaws. People are avoiding paying taxes because they don’t know they owe the tax,” said Weissert.

Florida did cut some of their losses last year. 2014 was the first time the state collected sales tax from online retail giant Amazon. Sales tax collected from Amazon alone is expected to be around the $100 million dollar mark.

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Medical Marijuana Licenses Bring Concerns and Joy

November 24th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

5 growers across Florida are gearing up for the first legal marijuana in the states history. The five licenses were awarded yesterday, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, it will still be the middle of next year before patients see the first products.

Lifelong nurseryman George Hackney was awarded one of five licenses to grow marijuana on Monday.

“Our application was over 1900 pages. It’s tedious and everything, but its very rewarding to see it all come to fruition” says Hackney:

 

Marijuana is a big risk for the family run nursery.  “We are concerned about the banking and how we handle that. We are concerned about our other assets and how we keep assets from possibly being seized if it was ever on the Federal level, raided.”

The nursery must post a five million dollar bond by th middle of next week.. it plans two retail outlets…for now.

Q:” Do you even know what you’ll see it for now?

A:”Absolutely not.”

The low THC legislation probably would never have passed if it were not for a Gulf Breeze mother and her epileptic child.”

Holly Mosley and daughter Rayann led the effort to make low thc oil available.

“We got to see firsthand the success that plant is having for these children”  Holly told us last year when the legislation passed.

In the process they attracted support from hundreds of parents like

Theresa Merriam, who says it has taken too long to get her daughter help.

“This is what we have been fighting for for over two years. And this is what we will continue to fight for until it is in our hands” says the Orlando mother of a ten year old.

George Hackney sees marijuana growing as an extension of what he is already doing.

“Our plants, I like to say beautify the world. They help the environment. I feel here, now, we’re helping people” says Hackney.

The first low thc medicine should be available for patients around June first.

Challenges to the license awards could delay even further the delivery of low thc marijuana. George Hackney plans to grow his marijuana inside under 24 hour security.

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AAA says Be Safe, Not Sorry

November 24th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

More than two million Floridians are expected to hit the roads over the Thanksgiving weekend. According to Triple A motor clubs, It is the busiest holiday travel weekend since 2008, and the auto club says the traffic is going be bad, there’s nothing you can do about it, so relax.

“You can expect very buy roadways and very busy airports this year. The smart traveler is going to plan ahead, get all your travel plans made and give yourself more than ample time to get to your destination. You’ve got to just know the airports are going to be crowded and the roads are going to be crowded. We don;t anyone getting into a hurry on the roads and making unsafe driving decisions. So expect it and know it, and enjoy your travel” says AAA’s Williams.

Gas prices, which are 70 cents lower than last Thanksgiving are one of the reasons this coming Holiday will be so heavily traveled.

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Rick Scott Proposes 79.3 Billion State Budget with Potentially Higher Property Taxes

November 23rd, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott is proposing a record state spending plan that cuts taxes by a billion dollars and boosts education spending. But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the increase in school spending is coming from local property taxes, not state coffers.

Governor Rick Scott chose a Jacksonville small company as the back drop for his budget announcement. He’s pitching a billion dollars in tax cuts…mostly for businesses. The irony is that those same businesses could see their property taxes go up to fund the Governor’s school budget.

“So this year were going to have historic finding for K-12 education” Scott told reporters.

Scott is pitching a 45 dollar per student increase. More than 400 million would come from what is called the required local effort….That’s the money local school districts are required to levy in property taxes to fund schools.

Scott defends the idea this way.

“We are not raising the milage rate.  We haven’t done that since I got elected. But property values when they go up, that’s good for us” says Scott.

And while the millage rate…or the amount of tax per hundred dollars of value is the same, Property owners will pay more because their property values have gone up.

Businesses will actually be hit harder than homeowners if the required local effort stays in the budget. That’s because businesses don’t have a homestead exemption.”

Without being forced to raise an extra 400 million, local school boards could lower the millage rate, saving taxpayers money. Andrea Messina is the new Executive Director of the Florida School Boards Association. “The record funding levels that are being touted are actually on the backs of the local school boards. They’re not with the increase in revenues that are coming into the state coffers” she says.

The Governor’s push to keep the required local effort at the same level comes as the state has more that five billion in surplus.

Legislation filed last week would require lawmakers and local school boards to public notices disclosing how much local taxpayers are being asked to pay for schools. It is yet to be assigned to a committee.

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Fantasy Sports Rules

November 20th, 2015 by flanews

Mounting legal issues have daily fantasy sports websites like draftkings and fanduel fighting legal battles in states like New York and Massachusetts, but as Matt Galka tells us, Florida legislators are scrambling to keep it legal here.

Nevada says its gambling. New York says they can’t operate in the their state.  But daily fantasy sports websites DraftKings and FanDuel aren’t slowing down in Florida.

 

Two influential lawmakers filed bills to keep the websites up and running – and legal – in the state.

Senate President in waiting Joe Negron and State Rep Matt Gaetz have legislation that would regulate the industry.  Rules include registering with the Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services and preventing certain people from exchanging info.

“It’s no different to me than a bowling league that players pay 25 dollars for and get prizes at the end. Fantasy sports is a game of skill,” said Sen. Negron.

House Majority leader Dana Young says she’s on board.

“This is a recreational activity by more than three million people in our state play. And I am absolutely fine with it, but I do think that because there have been some questions in other states on some of the rules, I think we should regulate it and make sure that it’s fair for the people who play,” she said.

Daily fantasy sports sites like DraftKings and FanDuel are asking players in the state to support the bills.

The Fantasy Sports Trade Association is backing the proposals along with throwing money at lawmakers.

Daily fantasy sports is estimated to be a nearly $30 billion dollar business around the country.

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FSU One Year Later: A Quiet Anniversary

November 20th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Today marks the one year anniversary of a shooting on the campus of Florida State University. Three students were injured. One critically. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the university wasn’t taking any chances today.

Two marked police vehicles were prominent outside Strozier Library. When asked, University officials said it was to give students peace of mind. Unsaid was the fear of a copy cat gunman.

When it comes to the anniversary, the basic philosophy of the administration here has been to remember respectfully, and quietly.

Inside the library, small banner proclaims “one year later we are still FSUnited”. Police were at their post inside the main entrance.

We found student Kiaah Stover of Pensacola outside studying in almost the exact location where the first student was shot.

“I always felt really safe on our campus. Even with something like that happening here, I don’t know, ,

I always felt like there was more of a sense of togetherness if anything” says the Human Right major.

President John Thrasher posted a message on the University’s home page, praising police as heroes and asking people to remember Ronny Ahmed, the most seriously wounded student who remains paralyzed.

“Truly is a family. And I learned it that weekend and that week during that shooting that , you know, we hang together” says Thrasher.

Ronny recently told us he expects to walk again.

“I would say probably the next ten years or so? Technology progresses incredibly fast” says ronny.

Nathan Scott was shot in the leg and co worker Paige McPhadden escaped injury when  the gun mis fired or was empty. Both plan to celebrate privately.

Since the shooting, Ronny Ahmed has been given an apartment and wheelchair accessible van. More than 2 hundred thousand dollars for his care has been donated privately, but his lifetime medical costs are expected to top a million dollars. You can learn more at https://www.youcaring.com/search/go?w=ronny+Ahmed

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FSU One Year Later: Paralyzed Victim Still Recovering

November 20th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Just after midnight tonight (Thur)marks the one year anniversary of an on campus shooting. 22 year old FSU engineering student Ronny Ahmed was paralyzed from the waist down last November. As Mike Vasilinda tells us the  now wheelchair bound student hasn’t let his injuries keep him from moving forward.

Ronny Ahmed was pulling an all nighter at Strozier Library last November. Two hours into it, he took a break.

“I saw his really really stern face. When someone like that’s holding a gun, it’s not going to end well” were his first thoughts.

The first shot dropped him to the ground, paralyzing him instantly.  The second shattered his arm. He actually hung up his 9-1-1 call so he could talk to his mom.

“Because there was a part of me that wasn’t exactly sure how everything was going to pan out.”

Waking up in the hospital the next day, he made the decision not to give up.

“Even though it sucks. Even though it;’s unfair, there’s no reason to sit her and constantly cry about it.”

In June, he skydived for the fist time.

“that was amazing” he says in the video posted on his Facebook page.

And he has taken up scuba diving.

“I really don’t have any pain I have to deal with when I’m scuba diving, which is really nice.”

Ronny plans on getting a Ph.D. In biomedical engineering and predicts he’ll walk again.

“Technology progresses incredible fast, so I have no doubt that I will be walking fairly soon.”

And Ronny echoed what other victims told us this past week. The library is a good place and no one should be afraid to come here.

He says he has no feelings on way or the other about his attacker.

“It sucks what he did, and he shouldn’t have done it, but at the end of the day, I’m here and he’s not.”

“Both the bullets are still inside of me” he says pointing to a scar from an entry wound.

Thankful to be alive, he has gotten tattoos showing where he was shot…including one of the bullet still lodged next to his heart.

Ronny says stronger background checks are needed to keep the mentally ill from buying guns and says after exhibiting signs of mental problems, his attackers weapons should have been taken away.

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Guns on Campus Bill Clears Final House Committee

November 19th, 2015 by flanews

Friday marks one year since a gunman opened fire at Florida State’s library, and lawmakers are using the chaotic scene as a jumping off point for controversial legislation. As Matt Galka tells us, the bill to allow concealed carry on college campuses continued to move through one legislative chamber.

There’s no lack of passion on either side of the guns on campus issue. People on both sides of the issue have been following the bill through every committee stop.

Teachers, students, and second amendment advocates all came out to testify for and against the bill at its final House committee stop.

And on the eve of the one year anniversary of the Florida State library shooting – the proposal cleared its final House committee.  Bill sponsor Greg Steube says the law would have made a difference on FSU’s campus if it was in place last year.

 

“I don’t think it’s a what-if. There was an individual, it’s been widely reporting, who was in the library who had a concealed carry permit, was a military veteran, and could have reacted very quickly if he had a concealed carry on him at the time,” said Rep. Steube (R-Sarasota).

But two survivors…Nathan Scott who was shot last November while working at the library…and coworker Paige McPhadden who had the gun pointed at her before hearing a click and getting away…say they’re not sure they would have had a weapon on them.

“I probably wouldn’t feel comfortable being armed at work, either, but having said that, I would definitely defend the rights of others who wanted to,” said Scott.

“Licensed and registered…and if I could have? I probably wouldn’t have because I would have never expected it, but the fact knowing that I could have carried, would have made me feel a lot better,” said McPhadden.

A full vote from the Florida House awaits the bill when legislative session begins in January. Whether the bill becomes a law rests with the Florida Senate. That chamber caused the bill to stall last year.

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FSU One Year Later: Victims Still Trying to Heal

November 18th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Friday marks the one year anniversary of the shooting at the FSU Strozier library that injured three. Today, Mike Vasilinda has the story of how two people who could have died next to each other that day last year are handling the fact they survived.

Nathan Scott can still be found sitting behind the same desk he and co worker Paige McPhadden hid under when the library at Florida State was attacked a year ago.

“I said no,no,no and that’s when I got shot” Nathan told us.

Security video shows Nathan being shot, then the gun pointed at Paige. It went click click click…but didn’t fire.

“I’ll never forget the smell of the gun powder” says Paige.

Paige, in her first and only interview since the shooting, confides she has been diagnosed with PTSD and is seeing a counselor.

“Some nights I sleep, some nights I don’t. But it’s something I gotta live with” she says.

Nathan says he is about to leave the library for an engineering job.

“My life hasn’t changed a whole lot, which is, I guess,a good thing. I got pretty lucky I think with the extent of my injuries. They could have been a lot more serious” says the engineering School graduate.

Paige changed jobs in August and is hoping to take the MCAT or Medical School Admission Test. She says she thinks about her brush with death almost every day.

“Life is short and that day brought that to my realization. Like I realized that you have to live every day like it’s your last” says Paige.

Neither Nathan or Paige say they hold a grudge against the man who tried to kill them.

“Basically, he thought that if he carried out this action, the voices in his head would stop”  says Nathan.

From Paige:  “People suffer from mental illnesses everyday. And, he just snapped.”

Both are second amendment advocates and neither says their views about gun ownership have changed.

Nathan says he doesn’t own a gun. Paige has a concealed carry permit and does. Both are unsure if being armed last November would have made a difference.

VICTIMS00000001

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Healthcare for Immigrant Children

November 18th, 2015 by flanews

Almost four hundred thousand children don’t have access to quality health coverage here in the state, an alarming number. As Matt Galka tells us, lawmakers are trying to cut into that number with a bill that would focus on children of legal immigrants who desperately need health care.

Kids whose parents are legal immigrants are sometimes stuck when it comes to healthcare coverage.  Immigrant children have to wait five years before low-cost KidCare health insurance kicks in. United Way President Ted Granger says that’s way too long.

“Of course if you’re a one year old and you’ve got a medical problem, waiting five years is a long, long time,” he said.

Granger and other children advocates are backing a bill that would eliminate that waiting period.

Senator Rene Garcia’s (R-Hialeah) proposal cleared its second Senate committee Wednesday. He says the providing the children with health coverage is a better option than the emergency room visits families usually have to make during the five year wait period.

“It’s not an immigration issue, it’s a humanitarian issue like taking care of these children and the federal government recognized that they eliminate the five year wait period, why can’t the state of Florida do the same thing?” he said.

The bill cleared the Senate last year, but the hang-up has been in the House. The bill’s House sponsor says he’s confident he can get the proposal to the finish line this time around.

Rep. Jose Felix Diax (R-Miami) says the bill makes more financial sense this year.

“Because the federal government has come in with a 95% match, now that we only have to pay 5% that means we only pay $1.4, $1.5 million dollars, which is a rounding error in an $80 billion dollar budget,” he said.

Around 25,000 children could benefit from coverage if the bill passes. The bill would not apply to undocumented immigrants living in the state.

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GOP Lawmakers Seek Immigration Changes, Penalties

November 17th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Five GOP lawmakers are behind a series of three bills to change immigration policy. One would make it a crime for someone who has been ordered deported to be in the state, another would remove lawsuit protections, known as sovereign immunity, for so called sanctuary cities that protect those here illegally, and a third would recalculate how welfare benefits are determined if there is an illegal immigrant in the household. State Rep. Matt Gaetz says the failure of the federal government to secure the borders has made state action necessary.

“The federal government has failed the people of the United States of America when it comes to immigration policy. Our borders are porous, enforcement is lax and immigration poses a threat to our physical security, our national security and our economic security” says Gaetz.

The bill providing enhanced criminal penalties for illegal immigrants will get its first hearing Wednesday.

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FSU One Year Later: Security Improvements Continue

November 17th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida State University continues to refine training and security a year after a shooter opened fire at the Strozier library, injuring three. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, a previous incident at the library led to security changes than saved lives.

Security footage from the FSU library shows the soon to be shooter approach the turnstile entrance to the main building. He’s stymied without an access card, turns around and goes outside. Police Chief David Perry says the simple barrier saved lives.

“So without that turnstile system, our shooter walks right into the library, and finds a comfortable, quite place. And then he takes out his weapon and he starts shooting groups of innocent students who are unsuspecting.”

The turnstile access was installed after a rape six years before the shooting. Now an after action review of last November’s assault, is coming up with more ideas for student safety.

The changes are not something police are sharing publicly.

“One of the key learning points for us involved internal communications and some other security related matters” says Chief Perry.

“Hi, I’m at Strozier Library and there is someone here with a gun” is how calmly a student in the library described what was happening in a 9-1-1 call.

Officers arrived a minute forty seconds after the first call. The shooter was dead within twenty seconds.

Q:”Could you respond that quickly again if it were to happen next week?”

“We’d do our best, and that’s what we stress to our staff” says Perry.

There are videos on the FSU PD web site emphasizing Run, Hide, Fight. But police acknowledge getting college students attention can be difficult.

“We currently have an initiative under way to work with our Provost to perhaps include a statement about safety in every course syllabus” says the FSU Chief.

Like seven years ago, police, parents,a and students are hoping that lessons were learned from last year’s attack.

Three people were injured in the shootings that took place at the FSU library last year. One remains paralyzed from the waist down.

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Human Rights Advocates Say State Should Accept Refugees

November 17th, 2015 by flanews

Florida is one of many states asking the federal Government not to send Syrian refugees its way. As Matt Galka tells us, it’s unclear if the Governor can stop it from happening, and human rights groups say it’s the wrong thing to do anyway.

Florida has taken in nearly 3 thousand refugees in the past year.  Around 100 of them have been from Syria.  Florida Governor Rick Scott isn’t backing down from wanting to put a hold on that.

“Stop for a second, lets actually find out what happened in Paris. I’m sure France is trying to create safety for its citizens. How did it happen over there? How did these individuals get in. How did someone pose as a Syrian refugee and get in and take part in murdering all of those people over there,” said Gov. Scott.

Ultimately the decision may not be up to the Governor.

Mark Schlakman is the director for the Florida State Center for the Advancement of Human Rights. He says refugee relocation is entirely federally funded.

“It’s unclear as to what authority a Governor, whether it be Governor Scott or Governors in other states could cite to or rely upon within the context of refugee resettlement,” said Schlakman.

The Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops says it’s still up to our country and our state to try and help people in need. The national conference is one of the major organizations that helps coordinate relocation efforts.

“We are disturbed, however, at calls from officials to end resettlement of refugees here in the United States. These are people who are vulnerable women, children, and families fleeing for their lives. They’re subjects of terror like what we witnessed,” said Michael Sheedy with the Conference.

More than half of the states across the country have said they do not want to take in Syrian refugees.

The terrorists who committed the attack in Paris have not been confirmed to be Syrian refugees, but one may have posed as one.

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Former First Lady Remembered

November 16th, 2015 by flanews

The life of former Florida first lady Rhea Chiles was celebrated today in the Capital. As Matt Galka tells us, the woman behind former Governor Lawton Chiles’ left a lasting impact on the state.

Music and prayer filled the First Presbyterian Church in Florida’s capital city as former Florida First Lady Rhea Chiles’ life was celebrated.  She was the wife of Florida Governor Lawton Chiles.

Dozens gathered to pay their respects including Chiles’ Lieutenant Governor Buddy MacKay.

“She was a brilliant woman, had a great sense of timing and a great understanding of where our priorities should be,” he said.

Many credit Rhea for being the brains behind the successful Walkin’ Lawton campaign. Lawton Chiles walked from Pensacola to Key West during his 1970 campaign for the U.S. Senate.

“That very much was her idea, they knocked on every door in the district when they first ran for the Senate, and they thought they could do the same thing symbolically and it turns out it really connected Lawton to the people, and that connection you could see everywhere you look,” said MacKay.

As family members and friends remembered a graceful woman, former staffer Ron Sachs says it was Rhea who truly helped keep the state running.

“If you wanted to get anything done it was always smart to get her ear and her approval. She improved any idea she wanted to do,” he said.

Rhea’s final resting place will lie next to her husband Lawton in rural Leon County. Rhea Chiles also played a major role in the children’s programs instituted under Governor Lawton Chiles.

 

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