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Gun violence voter tour may be too little too late in Florida

September 30th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

The so called Vocal Majority Tour to support what they call common sense change that keeps guns out of the wrong hands stopped in the State Capitol today, in part because of the 2014 shooting at Florida State University, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us the groups efforts may be too little, too late to impact the 2016 election.

The state Capitol was the fifth stop on a 50 city tour before election day. The tour, sponsored by gabby Giffords group Americans for Responsible Solutions is urging voters to choose candidates promoting gun restrictions. Lauren North is leading the tour.

“Common sense gun regulations need to happen this November” says North.

The event was interrupted by the proverbial train thats already left the station. The trains horn make it hard to hear speakers. The groups message did not resonate voters in the August 30th primary.

While the campaign is asking voters to think about guns in November, it may a little late. The NRA backed candidates in the August primary won more than 75% of the time.

In contested state primaries, the NRA was five for five. NRA backed candidates also won 14 of 17 House primaries.  State Rep. Alan Williams has been on the losing side of most gun votes in the legislature.

“All of the major gun backers in Florida won their primaries. Isn’t it a little late for this” we asked?

A:Well, I don’t think its ever too late for this” responded the term limited legislator.
We asked Lauren North the same question.

“Well, I think it’s an ongoing case that we are making. We are hoping that in November, even though those candidates wonton their primaries. we can show that gun rights, or gun violence prevention voters really do have a voice in North Florida and beyond” says North.

The NRA also claimed victory in the Jacksonville State Attorneys race, taking out incumbent Angela Corey because she prosecuted the woman who got 20 years for firing a warning shot at her ex husband.

The NRA declined to comment on this story. Among the restrictions being sought are smaller magazines, better background checks at guns shows and for transactions between individuals, and a ban on semi automatic assault style weapons.

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Mayor, others facing law suit over gun ordinance

September 30th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda


Mayor Andrew Gillum and several Tallahassee City Commissioners are being sued by the Attorney General and the group Florida Carry. The suit was filed because the elected officials, against the advice of law enforcement and the city attorney, refused to remove an ordinance from the books that prohibits firing a weapon in a park. State law prempts all regulation to the state, but Mayor Gillum says it comes down to free speech.

“What we are now trying to get is a constitutional reading on whether or not Flordia law violates our first amendment right if we are to assume that by voting that’s its an expression of our democratic right. It’s out belief and our attorney’s belief that Florida law is unconstitutional” says gillum.

The case is currently before the First District Court of Appeals


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Latvala Says No To Amendment 2

September 30th, 2016 by flanews

It’s crunch time in election season, and in Florida, people on both sides of the medical marijuana issue Floridians will vote on in November are ramping up their efforts. As Matt Galka tells us, a strong voice in the Florida legislature is saying no.

Pinellas County Senator Jack Latvala wants to make sure everyone knows he’s against the Medical Marijuana Amendment 2 measure on the ballot in November.

“I don’t want candy like this to be out in candy dishes and people’s homes where children can take advantage of it. I just see too many opportunities for abuse,” he said.

The Senator – who is set to be that chamber’s main money man – joined former Florida Supreme Court Justice Kenneth Bell in opposing putting pot in the state’s constitution.

“You create a fundamental right but the legislature is very constrained in the ability to deal with unintended consequences,” said Bell.

Sen. Latvala also launched an ad urging people to vote “no” on the amendment.

But supporters are pushing back.  We reached Ben Pollara via Skype. He’s leading United for Care’s push for the Amendment.

“Most people who would benefit under medical marijuana under amendment 2 simply don’t have access to it at all under current law,” he said.

St. Petersburg Senator Jeff Brandes also chimed in. He supports the amendment, and doesn’t agree the legislature has done enough so far.

“Now that the legislature has declared and the Governor has agreed that it has medical properties, I think we should allow doctors to practice medicine,” said Sen. Brandes.

Latvala’s ad cost him $100,000, but Yes on 2 people are optimistic it will be too little, too late.

A recent Florida Chamber of Commerce poll showed nearly 75 percent of Floridians are in support of the medical marijuana amendment.

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Voter Registration Ramps Up

September 29th, 2016 by flanews

With Florida likely to be the key to a presidential victory – the battle for the sunshine state is heating up in the lead up to November.  As Matt Galka tells us, one campaign is pushing voter registration and early voting.

There were just under 12 and a half million people registered to vote in Florida at the end of last month.  But with just about two weeks left – the race is on to sign-up as many people up as possible.

Kyra Mason registered on Florida State’s campus Thursday.

“I think we have a big voice, and I think we’re a deciding factor of the future,” said the FSU student.

Hillary Clinton’s campaign enlisted the help of former NBA player Jason Collins to lead a registration event at the school.

“There’s big issues, there are big stakes, and it’s important who will be sitting in the Oval office for the next four years and I want that to be Hillary Clinton,” he said to a group of students.

Collins was the first openly gay major sports athlete in the country.  He said the language coming from the right pushed him to stump for Clinton.

“Donald Trump uses language that preys on people’s fears, he uses language that pulls people apart, and the country, going forward – needs a candidate that uses language of equality and inclusion,” said Collins.

And the Clinton campaign is calling on the state to use the maximum number of early voting hours starting October 24th.

Couple that with robo calls urging people to send in their votes, and the old expression is ringing true for the two candidates vying for the white house and for Florida – every vote counts.

Nine counties out of Florida’s 67 are offering the 168 maximum early voting hours. The voter registration deadline in October 11th.

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Workers Comp Rising 14.5%, More to Come?

September 28th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

State regulators have approved a fourteen and a half percent increase in the cost of business insurance to protect injured workers. The increase is across the board and effective for all new and renewing policies after December first, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us , the hike will have different impacts on different industries.

High risk industries such as construction or roofing pay as much as a dollar in workers comp insurance for every four dollars they pay in salary. Others like Mark Folmar, who owns this pawn shop, pay 80 cents for every one hundred dollars in wages that they pay.

“It’s not like we’ll turn around and set our prices slightly different. We’ll try to make more money, which is what we try to do every year” says Folmar.

The hike is a direct result of two court cases that found portions of the law unconstitutional. In one case, attorney’s fees were limited to as little as a dollar fifty an hour. The other limited total disability benefits to just two years.


The fourteen and a half percent is for every business, but it could have been worse. the insurers were asking for nineteen and a half percent.

The National Federation of Independent Businesses and others now want lawmakers to change what the courts ordered.

“So the business community will look very closely for opportunities where we can increase benefits for injured workers, but we’re going to have to restore the attorney fee cap in order to do that” says Bill Herrle, NFIB’s Tallahassee lobbyist.

But the lawyers say they would never be involved if insurers did the right thing from the beginning.Paul Anderson is a Personal Injury and Workers Comp Attorney.

“And even when they deny benefits and they have a claim in front of them for those benefits, they have a 30 day safe harbor under the statute, where they can furnish the benefits and still avoid paying fees” says Anderson.

And because regulators cut five percent off the initial request for higher rates, the industry controlled rating group is expected to seek higher rates again next year.

Regulators gave the hike a soft landing, making it effective on December 1 or on the renewal date of the policy, instead of raising all rates in time for Christmas.An estimate of increased legal fees from the two court cases account for just over 12 percent of the rate hike. The other 2 percent is because of higher reimbursements to doctors and hospitals.




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Catholics Have Pot Concerns

September 28th, 2016 by flanews

November’s medical marijuana amendment in Florida is polling well, but as Matt Galka tells us, some religious groups aren’t on board.

In a little more than a month, Florida voters will face a burning question beyond who to elect for president – should the state legalize medical marijuana.

Amendment 2 failed by a thin margin two years ago and is polling well heading into November.

But the Florida Conference of Catholic Bishops isn’t quite ready to roll with medicinal pot just yet.

“It would suggest that this would be prescribed by physicians, or this would be dispensed in pharmacies. Really that’s not the case, in fact the regulatory requirements that today pertain to drugs are expressly prohibited from being applied to these drugs that will be more available through the amendment,” said Michael Sheedy, the Conference’s Executive Director.

The group isn’t quite ready to completely oppose the measure, either.

“The bishops being informed by the experience of caring for the sick and the suffering want to make sure that people are aware of the concerns as they weight wether to support it or oppose it,” he said.

The No on 2 campaign is ready to ramp up their attacks on medical marijuana, with 1 million dollars worth of tv ads hitting airwaves at the beginning of October.

But medical marijuana supporters are optimistic.

“The legislature will be able to write statues to implement this. So we think there’s a lot of safeguards, what we call belts and suspenders here, enabling us to trust our doctors,” said Yes on 2 spokesman Reggie Garcia.

Supporters are hoping a presidential election bump gives them the required votes to push the measure over the required 60% approval mark.

Florida, Missouri, and Arkansas all have medical marijuana legalization on the ballot this November.  25 states and Washington, D.C. have already passed laws allowing medical pot.

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Environmental attorney calls notification change “window dressing”

September 27th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott toured the sinkhole at a phosphate mine in Polk County today, a day after he announced an emergency rule that would require residents to be notified if a spill occurs. Scott and the Department of Environmental Protection were widely criticized for not saying anything to nearby residents when 215 million gallons of radioactive wastewater drained into the acquire until after a report by WFLA’s Steve Andrews detailed the spill. Environmental attorney David Guest calls the new rule window dressing.

“Well, it’s an improvement, but it’s kind of ironic the Governor is doing this because they have fostered a culture of secrecy at DEP and the Governor’s office that is worse than in living memory. It comes as no surprise that it took weeks for them to disclose a threat to drinking water because of that culture. I think its going to get worse before it gets better. This is window dressing for a major problem” says Guest, who previously worked for Earth Justice before going into private practice.

DEP refused interviews after the spill became public. A week ago Scott told reporters that DEP was doing a good job handling the spill. Today, he didn’t answer a direct question on what has changed since that statement.

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Debate Drama may be inconsequential this election cycle

September 27th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda


Donald Trump’s first campaign stop after last night’s debate is Florida. He will be speaking in Melbourne tonight at 7. Florida is a must win for Trump, while electoral math suggests Clinton can win without the Sunshine state. Still, Clinton and husband Bill will be here in Florida on Friday. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the unusual dynamics of this election may make the winner or loser of the debates irrelevant.

She called him inexperienced.

“I know how to win” responded Donald Trump.

He called her a Washington insider.

“Whooo” is how Hillary Clinton responded

And It’s not surprising that supporters think their candidate won.

Evan Power supports Trump.

“I think he held his own and was able to exposer as part of the problem having been in Government so long” says the Leon County GOP Chair.

Steve Schale ran Obama’s Florida re-election in 2012,

“I thought she did a great job o baiting him into some bad answers, and frankly, I was surprised at how poorly he pivoted back to what he wanted to talk about” says Schale, who worked to draft Joe Biden to run.

While debates can sometimes help pick a winner or a loser, one political scientist says this year is so strange, the debates may not matter that much.

USF Political scientist Susan MacManus says that people are so fed up with Washington that many have already made their minds up.

“Fear is a big motivating factor in politics and when you are afraid about the economy, and you are afraid about your personal security and you see a Washington leaning Congress doing nothing on either front, you are at a desperation stage and you just say, I don’t care who it is. No matter what they are, it’s my last chance to change something in Washington.And that’s where we’re at” says MacManus

Schale disagrees.

Q:”They just want somebody new?” we asked.

“Yeah, but they also want somebody who is competent somebody who;s got the temperament on the nuclear button to make the good decisions when he needs to” says Schale.

The reality is that Trump must win Florida to win and right now the race is a dead heat.

No Republican has won the White House with winning Florida since Calvin Coolidge did it in 1924. Back then Florida had six electoral votes. Today it has 29.



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New Skimmer Law Goes on the Books This Weekend

September 27th, 2016 by flanews

October 1st means some new laws will be on the books in Florida, and as Matt Galka tells us, one hopes to keep your money safer while you’re filling up your tank.

For too long, crooks were pumping money from Floridian’s wallets by installing skimmers at gas pumps around the state.  A new law going into effect this weekend hopes to crack down on it.

Aaron Keller with the Department of Agriculture says they’ve discovered more than 300 gas skimmers around that state since last year – all with the ability to steal someone’s financial information. It might not sound like a lot, but…

“Each skimmer can take advantage of 100 consumers for north of $1,000 each, so it’s really a big problem,” said Keller.

The law going on the books October 1st would make the crime a second degree felony – which could carry 15 years of prison time.  That’s up from a third degree felony with only five years maximum behind bars.

“It used to be a slap on the wrist if someone was found with these devices or committing this crime and it really bumps it up to a much strong penalty,” said Keller.

Gas stations would also be required to at minimum have security tape on the side of their pumps, with broken tape an indicator of a possible skimming situation.

The new law also makes it easier to charge someone in possession of counterfeit credit cards.  It used to take 10 fake cards for someone to get hit with a second degree felony…now it will only take five.

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North Carolina Protests Open Wounds in Tallahassee

September 26th, 2016 by flanews

Demonstrators have hit the streets of Charlotte, N.C. for nearly a week following the police shooting of Keith Lamont Scott.  As Matt Galka tells us, the protests have reopened a wound for a family in Tallahassee.

In September of 2013, unarmed Jonathan Ferrell was shot and killed by a police officer outside of Charlotte, N.C.

The former Florida A&M football player had crashed his car after 2 a.m. and knocked on the door of a nearby house. The homeowner called police, and officer Randall Kerrick shot and killed Ferrell after he started running in his direction.

The shooting of Keith Lamont Scott in Charlotte has reopened the wound for Ferrell’s family.

“It just replays everything, you know? It took you right back to the time when you first heard about the situation, when my mother first told me about the situation. And it’s very hurtful just to see other families have to go through the same things,” said Willie Ferrell, Jonathan’s brother.
Kerrick was charged with voluntary manslaughter but got off after a judge declared a mistrial. The mistrial was declared last year and sparked several days of protests at the time.

“It’s like you get prone to it, but the hurt never goes away because you relive it over and over again and we’re not seeing any justice,” said Ferrell’s mother Georgia.

The city of Charlotte reached a more than $2 million dollar settlement with the Ferrell family in a civil suit following Jonathan’s death. But his brother says the money doesn’t bring Jonathan back, and doesn’t make it any easier to be black in America.

“You’ll be afraid no matter how much money you make, no matter what kind of car you drive, no matter what you do. You’ll still be stereotyped, you’ll still be racially profiled,” said Willie Ferrell.

The city of Charlotte had instituted a midnight curfew because of violence during protests last week, but they lifted the curfew after demonstrations were mostly peaceful over the weekend.

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Amendment 2 battle about to get hot

September 26th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

Thousands of slick brochures are showing up in mailboxes across the state. Much like the successful campaign two years ago the mailer tells horror stories about medical marijuana  that saw the initiative losing by less than three points.

Christina Johnson says little has changed since voters last weighed in.

“This is really nothing but recreational pot. I MEAN, The Florida Medical Association, the American Medical Association that are against it” says the No on 2 spokesperson.

A full page of the mailer take shots at Attorney John Morgan, the organizer behind Amendment 2. It recounts one of the Yes campaigns gaff’s when Morgan was on a late night tour of college bars two years ago. Morgan, drink in hand, uses profanity to get his point across.

“If you don’t get out and vote we can’t win” the Amendment 2 backer told the crowd.

And a flurry of emails since Friday from the Yes on 2 campaign ask for money to buy TV, It points out No on 2 has booked more than a million for the first 10 days of October alone.

“With Amendment two, bud tenders will legally deal pot” says one ad.

Yes has out raised No in this pot battle by more than a million dollars, yet No has a million dollars in the bank, but yes, just over a hundred thousand.

Proponent Reggie Garcia says voters shouldn’t be fooled by the claims made in the slick mailer or on  TV.

“There’s ten very specific debilitating medical conditions, so we think there’s a lot of safeguards to trust our doctors” says the Yes on 2 spokesman.

And while No says little has changed, the 2016 version is more strict than the version two years ago.

Much of the NO on 2 money is coming from just several; sources. Casino magnate Sheldon Adelson recently dropped a million dollars into the campaign, and Tampa developer and former Ambassador Mel Sembler has also spent a million with a promise of up ten times that much.

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Zika Hits Tourism Industry

September 23rd, 2016 by flanews

Just under 900 people in the state have tested positive for the Zika virus, and as Matt Galka tells us, while the virus continues to take it’s toll on people, Florida’s biggest industry is starting to get bit.

Florida’s $90 billion dollar cash cow, the tourism industry, is feeling the sting of Zika.

$24 billion dollars alone comes from Miami-Dade – where local transmission of Zika started in the state.  And worried people are cancelling their travel plans.

Hotel rooms sold in the Miami beach area are down more than 2 percent compared to the same time last year. Visit Florida isn’t taking the threat lightly

“Having Zika in Miami doesn’t help, and it’s certainly a cause for concern, it’s an issue that is very well known among travelers around the country and around the world,” said CEO Will Seccombe.

But the state’s tourism agency says they can get through it.

“It’s a blip, it’s important that we not hide from that, and make sure that we continue to let people know that this is a challenge, and continue to support our government, local officials, doing everything they can to get the word out,” said Seccombe.

A zika zone in the Wynwood area was cleared this week. The Governor hopes a night out next week shows people it’s safe to go.

But even with everything South Florida has to offer – Zika fears might deter the itch to head south for worried people around the country.

The Governor added another $25 million dollars of state funds to aid in the fight against the virus this week. The state’s Department of Health is set to grant the money to researchers and developers working on a vaccine.

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Questions remain over Death Penalty

September 21st, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

The Supreme Court of Florida could rule as early as tomorrow on the fate of nearly 400 death row inmates after the highest court in the nation ruled last January that the way death sentences are handed out is unconstitutional. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the court has two questions to answer.

The US Supreme Court ruled that the way Florida imposes death sentences was unconstitutional because the jury didn’t have the final say.

The first question facing Florida Courts? What to do with the 388 people on death row. In June, Jacksonville lawyer Richard Kuritz, representing one inmate, argued they should all automatically be re-sentenced to life in prison.

“Absolutely, because when we start drawing a line, that’s where the problem is going to be is because the statute has been declared unconstitutional.  The sentencing scheme. well, it’s the same scheme we’ve been using  since the reinstatement of the death penalty case” says Kuritz.

The Second question facing the court is whether the state’s new death sentencing law, which lawmakers passed this spring, goes far enough because it only requires ten of the twelve jurors to agree on death. Former Supreme Court Justice Raoul Cantero was in the court this week lecturing on the death penalty. A decade ago he wrote that that Florida must adopt a unanimous jury if it wanted to continue to impose death.

“But the legislature refused to do it and I think the law has evolved since than, and I think the time has come. “I don’t think 10-2 repairs the deficiencies in the statute” Cantero told us.

And, no matter what this court decides, it’s  likely to face multiple appeals that could take a long time.

Without the 10-2 compromise, lawmakers say there would be no death penalty at all. But in the end, not requiring a unanimous jury may have the same result.

In 1972 when the US Supreme Court temporarily ended the death penalty, inmates on Death Row in Florida saw their sentences commuted to live in prison.

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FDLE Looking For Counterterrorism Funding

September 20th, 2016 by flanews

Getting help for counterterrorism efforts in the state is at the top of wish list for the state’s law enforcement agency. Matt Galka tells us more about the request.

After a summer that saw the Florida Department of Law Enforcement respond to the Pulse nightclub massacre, the department’s commissioner is making stopping future terrorist attacks a top priority.

“I was in Orlando after the Pulse shooting, the morning after the shooting and I was there for that entire week. I went to many funerals with the Governor. I went to the morgue. We can never let that happen again in Florida,” said FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen.

He requested an additional $6.2 million dollars from the General Revenue fund in next year’s budget.  He also cited the recent bombings in the New York City area over the weekend to stress the need.

“We’re seeking funding for 46 new counterteorrism positions which will help us establish a counterterrorism squad in each of our regions,” he said.

And both the commissioner and the Governor stressed the need for the community’s help.

“We all have to start watching out. Anything that looks unusual we need to report it to law enforcement, that’s their job,” said Gov. Rick Scott (R-Florida).

But FDLE will have to battle what other state agencies are also battling, a projected tight budget year.

“We all have to understand that we live in a time that people want to do harm to our country, and we’re going to have to spend more money to fight terrorism,” said Gov. Scott.

FDLE will also push for new legislation that criminalizes more terroristic activities. Swearingen said it would give the state some of the same authority that federal agencies have.

Part of the request includes raising the base salary for FDLE agents from $46,000 dollars a year to $56,000 dollars.

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Hermine Provides Some Tricky Insurance Situations

September 19th, 2016 by flanews

Thousands of people are still wrestling with insurance companies more than two weeks after hurricane Hermine. As Matt Galka tell us, at least one unique case has put a homeowner in a bind, and state officials may step in.

If a tree falls in a storm but doesn’t hit a house, who claims it?

That’s the question facing Joe Greiner. A tree from his neighbor’s yard fell during Hurricane Hermine more than two weeks ago.  It broke a fence and it’s now hovering over his home.

“And it’s kind of a weird situation as far as the insurance goes,” he said.

The neighbor’s insurance company told him to call his own provider.  His insurance company sent out a claims adjuster, but they’re not accounting for the tree.  Paying out of pocket won’t be cheap.

“I got a couple estimates, it’ll be in the neighborhood of four thousand,” he said. “If another hurricane came through it would be really bad news, I suppose.”

And state officials could ultimately have a role in settling this. The Department of Financial Services handles consumer insurance complaints. They’ve received six so far.

“We will contact the insurance company, see if we can step in to resolve the issue,” said Danishia Sword with the Division of Consumer Services.

Greiner says it’s a possibility for him.

“In a perfect world, my insurance company pays for the whole thing, but that’s not going to happen,” he laughed.

For now, Greiner just hast to wait as the problem continues to hang over his head.

The state’s Office of Insurance Regulation says there are still just under 9500 open insurance claims due to Hermine damage.

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