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Environmentalists Upset Over Proposed Fertilizer Rule

June 30th, 2016 by flanews

The Fourth of July weekend will bring many Floridians and out of towners to the state’s beaches, but they’re battling some nasty algae at some beaches in South Florida. As Matt Galka tells us, some are worried that the problem will spend under a new state proposal.

Slimy invasive algae has hit some south Florida waterways and forced some beach closings for the 4th of July weekend. The situation prompted the Governor to declare a state of Emergency for Martin and St. Lucie counties.

Alisa Coe with Earthjustice says the slime could be a threat to the public.

“It can be green or blue. It smells, it can cause respiratory problems, it can contain toxins that are harmful for animals and people,” she said.

Earthjustice is worried that the state could be setting itself up for problems at more beaches with a proposed rule change.  The Department of Agriculture may no longer require fertilizer sale reporting.

“We know that sewage, fertilizer, and manure pollution trigger algae outbreaks like what we are seeing down in south Florida,” Coe said.

We reached out to the Department of Agriculture. A spokeswoman said that while they require self-reporting of fertilizer sales…they don’t track fertilizer use.

Coe says Floridians deserve better.

“When they’re taking their families out or going outside their homes or even their businesses, they’re confronted with mats of green slime that’s caused by fertilizer pollution,” she said.

Environmentalists say that even though fertilizer usage isn’t tracked, cities and counties still rely on sales data to ballpark the amount of pollutants that may be heading towards waterways.

Lawmakers in Lee County have asked the Governor to extend the state of emergency to that county as well so they will have access to some of the emergency resources used to fight the algae blooms.

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Rape Kit Testing to Ramp Up In New Budget

June 30th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

After a survey found more than ninety-four hundred rape kits that should have been tested still  in police evidence lockers, lawmakers responded with money for testing the backlog, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, there is a strict new timetable in the law to keep the backlog from returning.

Few police agencies in the state reported not having a rape kit backlog in their evidence lockers. In the state  budget that begins Friday, more than two point three million will be used to begin testing that backlog. Gretl Plessinger with the Department of Law Enforcement says ending the backlog will take time.

“We anticipate that is going to take about three years to get all those kits done” says Plessinger.

More importantly say victims advocates, is an aggressive timetable to keep the backlog from returning. Police must now submit kits within 30 days of collection or authorization by an alleged victim. Plessinger saysFDLE will then have 120 days to complete the tests.

“Lawmakers fully funded all of our forensic needs, so we are confident we’ll be able to meet this mandate” says the Public Information Officer.

Advocates say if the same DNA shows up more than once in the testing, it will prove to police that something may not have been a she-said, he-said situation.

Jennifer Dritt from the Florida Coalition Against Sexual Violence calls the testing requirements the most progressive in the nation.

“Survivors will feel validated. Law enforcement will see connections between sexual assaults they had never seen before as a result of the testing. It’s going to be great” says Dritt.

House Sponsor Janet Adkins (R-Fernandina Beach) expects the testing to produce solid leads in cold cases.

“It’s more than just the crime that has taken place. It’s the delay in receiving justice that adds injury.”

The move to end the backlog comes as police are seeing a two to three percent increase in the number of sexual assaults being reported.

Victims advocates don’t believe the number of rapes is on the upswing, but that more victims feel more comfortable coming forward. Nationally, estimates range from as few as a quarter to no more than a third of sexual assaults being reported.

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Second Suspect in FSU Professor Murder Makes Court Appearance

June 30th, 2016 by flanews

One of two men accused of carrying out a hit on a beloved Florida State University law professor was back in Tallahassee before a judge Wednesday. Matt Galka has the details.

Luis Rivera appeared via video screen in a red and white jumpsuit Wednesday morning for his first appearance in Leon County court.  The hearing lasted less than 10 minutes. Rivera was transferred and booked into Leon County jail Tuesday night. He was cordial throughout.

Police say Rivera and another man, Sigfredo Garcia, drove to Tallahassee from South Florida to carry out a hit on Florida State University law professor Dan Markell in 2014.

“You are not to have any contact with your codefendent, so no contact with Mr. Garcia or the victim’s family,” said Judge Layne Smith.

Surveillance video allegedly shows the two men tailing Markell from the gym on the day he was murdered. A photo from later the same day shows Rivera and Garcia at an ATM together.

The other suspect in the case, Sigfredo Garcia, has already pleaded guilty.

Garcia’s bond hearing was originally scheduled last week, but was delayed. His lawyer says the state only has circumstantial evidence. Rivera will be appointed a public defender.

A grand jury indicted both Rivera and Garcia on first degree murder charges earlier this month.Rivera is a Miami Latin King’s gang leader was already serving 12 years on a different racketeering charge when he was named a suspect in the murder.

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Planned Parenthood Seeks Injunction in Federal Court

June 29th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

New restrictions on abortion clinics were on trial today in a Federal Courtroom in the State Capitol. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, Planned Parenthood is asking the court to stop three of the new laws provisions before they take effect on Friday.

The state budget provides that no family planning money can go to an organization that also provides abortions, even if the money is kept separate. The law also requires the state to inspect half of all abortion records every year, and it appears to redefine when pregnancy begins in an effort to shorten the available time for an abortion from 13 to 11 weeks.

On all three issues, Judge Robert Hinkle peppered attorneys with questions. He likened cutting off family planning cash to the states failed efforts to drug test welfare recipients, saying people can’t be penalized for engaging in constitutional conduct.

Afterwards, Planned Parenthood attorney Carrie Flaxman was upbeat.

“The law is quite clear, Supreme Court Case after Supreme Court case. You can not deprive an entity of funds because of constitutionally protected conduct they engage in with other funds, and that is precisely what this law does” Flaxman told reporters.

If left to stand, the law would require more than 35 thousand records be inspected each year, something Barbara Zdravecky, CEO of Planned Parenthood SW and Central FL,

called unworkable and intrusive.

“Looking at those records certainly puts the confidentiality of the patients in jeopard” says the CEO.

The judge has said he’ll try to have a ruling before Friday. but that’s not a guarantee. and if he doesn’t rule, Planned Parenthood says it will comply with the law.

Planned parenthood says a loss of state funding would stop non abortion services for about 15 thousand mostly low income people.

A 24 hour waiting period also in the law has already been stopped by the State Supreme Court in another lawsuit filed against the legislation. The High Court has not yet scheduled a hearing.

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Dems Force Special Session Poll

June 28th, 2016 by flanews

Republican state leaders have made it clear that calling a special legislative session for gun laws isn’t on their list of priorities. As Matt Galka tells us, that hasn’t stopped Democrats from trying.

Florida Democrat staff dropped off 46 petitions at the Secretary of State’s office Tuesday morning. The letters called for a survey of all 160 members of the state legislature to see if there are enough “yes” votes for a special session on gun control.

“There were over 244 attempts by suspected to purchase firearms in the United States in 2015 alone, and 91% of that time, they were successful,” said Orlando Sen. Darren Soto.

They aim at crafting legislation that would prevent suspected terrorists from legally buying firearms.

Outside of the Capitol a memorial to all of the 49 victims of the Orlando Pulse nightclub shooting, Florida Democrats say these names should be enough of a reason to call a special session.

It’s a long shot with many Republican leaders already expressing a special session isn’t in the cards.  The National Rifle Association calls the move a stunt.

“The background check system, firearms, it’s foreign to them, so to rush to judgement to try and call a special session, to do something about guns when they oughta be looking at terrorists, it’s really kind of sad,” said lobbyist Marion Hammer.

Democrats would need 3/5ths of both the state House and Senate to say yes to a special session in order to trigger one.

The Department of State received the required number of petitions from the Democrats to start the poll. They will have seven days to survey the legislature.

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SCOTUS Abortion Ruling Could Have Florida Impact

June 27th, 2016 by flanews

The Supreme Court of the United States dealt a blow to pro-life supporters with a ruling against a Texas abortion access law. And as Matt Galka tells us, the high court’s ruling could have implications here in Florida.

Florida lawmakers passed a law earlier this year hitting abortion clinics with tougher regulations.  Abortion doctors would need hospital admitting privileges or clinics would have to have a transfer agreement with a hospital close by.

A similar law in Texas forced around 20 of the state’s abortion clinics to shut down. The U.S. Supreme Court ruled 5-3 against that law Monday. Pro-choice groups see it as a win.

“We are very excited from this ruling, this could mean that a lot of the legislation that we anticipated that could possibly restrict access to abortion here in Florida is now deemed unconstitutional,” said Kimberly Diaz with Planned Parenthood.

Justices ruled the Texas law was an undue burden on abortion access. But The Florida Catholic Conference says the decision hurts women’s care.

“We are disappointed with the decision because even though we uphold the dignity of life from conception we do realize that some women choose abortion, and those women should have a higher quality of care,” said Ingrid Delgado.

Supporters of the bill think it’s different enough from the one in Texas and will hold up. The Florida law is set to go into effect July 1st.

A challenge to Florida’s abortion law is set to get its first hearing in federal court Wednesday where opponents of the law are seeking an injunction to keep it from going into effect July 1st.

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Murder Suspect in FSU Professor Slaying In Court

June 24th, 2016 by flanews

One of the prime suspects in a possible murder for hire plot of a beloved Florida State Professor was in court Friday morning. As Matt Galka tells us, the suspect’s attorney says the state has no hard evidence and his client should be a free man.

Sigfredo Garcia was led into his bond hearing Friday morning in shackles.  The 34 year old Garcia was indicted on first degree murder charges…accused of carrying out an execution style murder of Florida State University law professor Dan Markel in 2014.

His attorney Jim Lewis says he’s innocent and Garcia pleaded not guilty.

But the state wants Garcia locked up while the investigation continues. Surveillance video released Friday shows Garcia apparently tailing Markel before the murder.

“There’s a real danger to the community if Mr. Garcia is released,” said prosecutor Georgia Cappleman.

Court documents link Garcia and another man, Luis Rivera, to the family of the professor’s ex-wife in a murder for hire plot. More charges are expected in the case, but in the meantime, Garcia’s attorney says he should be a free man.

“All they’ve got are theories. No facts, no eyewitnesses, no physical evidence, no confessions, no statements,” said attorney Jim Lewis.

The state is seeking the death penalty.

“As far as I know there’s no DNA at the crime scene, I don’t have a witness who will say I saw Mr. Garcia who killed Mr. Markell, so he’s right to that extent, but there’s a mountain of other evidence,” said Capplem

The bond hearing was pushed back possibly to as early as next week.

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Bear Hunt Postponed

June 23rd, 2016 by flanews

For many, another bear hunt seemed like a done deal this year, but an all day meeting made way for a postponement to the controversial black bear season. As Matt Galka tells us, anti-hunt groups are claiming partial victory.

More than 100 people gave an earful about Florida’s bear hunt Wednesday. After eight hours of public testimony…state fish and wildlife officials said there would be no bear hunt this year.

It was a huge surprise to anti-hunt advocate Laura Bevan with the Humane Society of the United States.

“I was shocked, I thought the commission was ready for another hunt,” she said.

2015’s bear hunt sparked public outcry leading up to the state’s first hunt in 20 years which saw more than 300 bears killed in two days. But animal rights activists are calling this a temporary win.

The commission voted 4-3 to postpone the hunt until at least 2017.

“Certainly they set it up that this will be discussed in 2017. This was a reprieve, not a repeal, but 3 to 400 bears won’t be killed this year,” said Bevan.

The commission had mulled the idea of a scaled back hunt with fewer hunting permits granted, but that idea was voted down 4 to 3.

Black bears had been on the state endangered species list until 2011. State estimates now have bear population at 4,350, a number that anti-hunt activists say needs to be refined.

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FWC Debates Future of Bear Hunt

June 22nd, 2016 by flanews

Will bears be hunted again this year after a controversial 2015 bear season sparked public outcry? As Matt Galka tells us, there’s still plenty of opposition, but fish and wildlife officials are recommending another *scaled back* hunt

Hunter Bill George travelled all the way from Zephyr Hills up to Eastpoint, FL, A small panhandle town where state officials debated the future of bear hunting in Florida.

“We have very stable, large populations of bears in Florida and there’s enough bears to hunt,” he said.

George agrees with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission – the state can sustain another black bear hunt. 2015’s was the first in 20 years – where 304 bears were killed in two days.

Maria Bolton-Goubert from Orlando says FWC isn’t listening to a majority of the public in opposing the hunt.

“Cubs and mothers were impacted, and to me that took away from what I thought they wanted with this hunt,” she said.

South Florida Wildlands Association Executive Director Matthew Scwartz says the black bear won’t survive hunts as long as the population keeps going up.

“This is not going to support the black bear population that we have right now, its not going to support virtually any wildlife,” he said.

But FWC officials say the bear population is healthy, and hunting can help control population and conflicts with humans.

Leah Reeder was attacked by a bear in Easpoint in 2014. she survived, and her family now supports the hunt.

Outside the meeting, FWC had other bear management tools on display, including bear proof trashcans.

FWC staff recommended a scaled back hunt for 2016 including limiting hunting permits and breaking the season up into three four day seasons.

More than 100 people signed up for public comment on the 2016 bear hunt.  FWC commissioners voted/have yet to vote on what they will do. Their other options include getting rid of the hunt, postponing it, or doing the same week long hunt as last year.

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Confederate General to Get the Boot

June 22nd, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

The statute of a Confederate General representing Florida in the Nations capitol could soon be replaced. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, a special committee today narrowed a list of 130 possible replacements down to three.

General Edmund Kirby Smiths statute has represented Florida in the nation’s Capitol since 1922. This year, lawmakers decided that honoring a confederate general didn’t reflect the states diversity. they asked for nominations for a replacement. set up a nomination process for a replacement.

130 people were nominated. Wednesday, a panel of four narrowed the list to seven,

and then down to three. The top vote getter was Dr, Mary McLeon Bethune. She’s the founder of Bethune-Cookman University.Daisy Grimes is a Special Assistant at Bethune Cookman.
“She in 1875 being born and then living the true american dream and not letting anything stopping her from believing, believing in what our constitution says” says Grimes.

Marjorie Stonemason Douglass and George Jenkins each got two votes. Douglass originated the effort to save and protect the Everglades, Jenkins founded Publix Supermarkets. Maj General Michael Calhoun, Adjutant Gen. Florida National Guard cast one of the votes for Jenkins.

“You can’t ride anywhere without seeing a Publix. And the competition has kind of faded away,and that’s probably because of the quality of service they do there” says the top National Guardsman in Florida.

Even the man who gave Floridian’s name, Ponce DeLeon, was nominated, but he didn’t really fit all the criteria.

Fictional characters weren’t allowed to be considered. But Committee member SL Frisbee joked that Mickey Mouse has certainly played a role. His creator, Walt Disney was on the list, but fell short,

“The ones that we selected were more totally Florida focused” says Frisbee.

Florida lawmakers can choose one of the three, or anyone else they want.

In total, just over three thousand people submitted a nomination. Since the decision now goes back to the legislature, which is a political body, we checked the records and found that Bethune Cookman has two registered lobbyists, Publix has four, while the Everglades Trust and Foundation have 15.

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Congressional Candidate Creates Firestorm with Firearm Give Away

June 22nd, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

A congressional candidate in Florida’s Panhandle plans to give away an AR-15 rifle on July Fourth, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, what may seem insensitive in some parts of Florida is being greeted with enthusasim in the small town of Baker.

Florida doesn’t get more rural than Baker, Population about three hundred give or take few. In God we trust is emblazoned the water tower. Jennifer Augustine runs the feed store here and says people love their guns.”


“They like to shoot for sport and pleasure and protect their family. There are some crazy people out there” says Augustine.

Greg Evers is the State Senator here. He’s running for congress. This week he announced he’s giving away this brand new AR 15 rifle. It’s similar to what was used in Orlando, and it’s exactly what the President and others want to ban.

“This has nothing to do with the incident in Orlando. Now,a lot… ”Q:” But it could still be construed as insensitive?” “Not really. Because this is the second amendment we’re talking about ” says the candidate.

The gun is top of the line, valued at just under two thousand dollars. The second amendment is printed on the lower portion of the rifle.

In addition to passing a background check, to be eligible to win, you have to live in the first congressional district.

Evers has been promoting the give away  on Face book. After complaints, the post was removed. His follow up post says the action was anticipated and the contest will continue.

“What makes this acceptable in this district?”

“The conservative, being a conservative. Being born and raised here” says Evers.

And while some…even many, may not like the gun give away, it seems to be playing well in this first congressional district including with Hayward North.

“So you think giving away a gun is a good idea?” “Yeah!” North responded.

Just How well it goes over will get a real answer when primary voters make a choice in late August.

Evers has also gotten an earful on social media, with one post wishing his son ill at the hands of an AR-15. Evers says he isn’t surprised by the comments. His chief rival in the GOP primary calls the give-away a stunt, but he too is a staunch gun right supporter.

Gun Giveaway00000004

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Officials Consider Another Bear Hunt

June 21st, 2016 by flanews

Last year’s bear hunt in the state was supposed to be a week long but ended in only two days after thousands of hunters descended into Florida woods. As Matt Galka tells us, state officials will start planning this week for another possible hunt even though critics aren’t changing their stance.

American Sportsman Taxidermy is still working on bears brought in from 2015’s bear hunt.

“We have a few left from last year’s hunt, we should be done in a couple months,” said owner Charles Larry Quinn.

304 bears were killed in Florida’s first bear hunt in 20 years. The hunt went on despite public outcry and protests from animal rights groups.

“I think as long as they have the biological evidence, which it seems like they do, it’s just another feather in the state of Florida’s cap,” said Quinn.

Now fish and wildlife officials will consider proposals for another hunt Wednesday.  That could include breaking up the hunt into three four day periods. But Laura Bevan with the Humane Society of the United States says that’s not good enough.

“They are proposing different things and trying to make us feel better about killing bears and we as the public, we as bear lovers, are saying you don’t understand, we don’t want the hunt at all,” she said.

Other proposals include an identical hunt to last year’s, postponing another hunt for one year, or getting rid of it.

There have been anti-hunt protests already around the state, and on the other side, the National Rifle Association has been vocal in supporting its hunters.

The FWC meeting will be held in the small Panhandle town of Eastpoint – where two bear attacks have occurred in the past two years.

Anti-hunt advocates say that killing the animals won’t help cut down on interactions with humans…instead the state agency should invest time and money into bear proof trashcan measures to drive the animal from neighborhoods.

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Gun Law Goes to Federal Appeals Court Tuesday

June 20th, 2016 by flanews

Doctors have been fighting a Florida gun law for five years that controls what they can and can’t say to patients about guns. As Matt Galka tells us, they’re hoping a federal court soon sees things their way.

Dr. Louis St. Petery thinks he, and all doctors, should be able to ask their patients about gun ownership.

“Do you have guns in your home, if so, are they properly stored so that kids don’t get killed or injured as a result of improperly stored guns,” he said.

Dr. St. Petery, along with the American Academy of Pediatrics, have opposed  a 2011 law barring doctors from doing that since it was signed. Since then, the commonly referred to “Docs vs. Glocks” law has been tied up in legal battles. The 11th U.S. circuit court of appeals in Atlanta reviews it Tuesday.

The National Rifle Association says it’s not a battle between the 1st and 2nd amendments…because doctors can’t say whatever they want to patients.

“it’s patient’s privacy. How would people react if their doctor asked them how much property do you own? Do you own a place at the beach? Do you own a rolex watch? Do you own a vintage car? How about leaving that to me in your will,” said lobbyist Marion Hammer.

A decision on the statute could have far reaching national implications as other states will see if Flordia can defend the law, and then they could look to craft their own legislation.

“The other states are waiting to see what happens so they don’t have their own lawsuits,” said Hammer.

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Off to the Races; Candidate Qualifying Begins

June 20th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda


Today is the official beginning of what many are calling the most chaotic election cycle in recent history.  As Mike Vasilinda tells us, this is the week for would be candidates to put up or shut up.

One candidate you’ve probably never heard of parked semi trucks outside the office where candidate qualify.

“So pronounce Rocky’s name for me.”

“Rocky DeLa Fuente”

Rocky’s running for the US Senate. Then, at noon.

“Qualifying is now open” said Secretary of State Ken Detzner.

Alex barrio, a candidate for House District 49 jockeyed to be first in line.

“First person to submit their paperwork? Right? Number one” he asked.

By late June, most candidates and races have been well settled. That’s not the case this year says Democratic Consultant Screven Watson.

Q:: So how would you describe this political year so far?”

“Crazy.  I don’t think we’ve seen anything like this, Mike, in decades. It’s amazing, but in the state Senate on the Democratic side of the isle, only four incumbents are coming back. that’s crazy” says Watson.

That’s four our of fourteen. Setting up dominos that will fall all week.

And between now and Friday anything is possible.

And we watched as David Johnson filed the paperwork for two republican State Senate candidates.

“It’s bit of redistricting, it’s an angry electorate.”

But with all than anger, the approach doesn’t appear to be changing.

A Congressional Ad has a familiar theme: “Rising healthcare costs. More debt. More waste.”

Johnson says its a strong message in a GOP primary.

“Opposition to the Presidents policies is very popular, popular platform to run on” says the GOP consultant.

Also not changing is the write-in candidate law, allowing a straw candidate to close a primary simply by submitting some free paperwork, thwarting the idea that everyone’s voice should count.

Candidates who belong to a political party can pay a fee equal to six percent of the job’s annual salary to qualify. No party affiliates pay a lesser fee. Write in candidates pay nothing.

Let the Games Begin00000006

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Gun Sales Surge

June 20th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

New records from the Department of Law enforcement show that twice as many people applied for a background check to buy a firearm this past Saturday as they did the same Saturday in 2017, and the records show the number of background checks was three times as high as it was for the same Saturday in 2014. This year, just over six thousand people went shopping for a gun compared to three thousand last year, and two thousand the year before.

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