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“Don’t Boo, Vote” Initiative Hits Universities Around the State

October 31st, 2016 by flanews

Early voting ends either this Saturday or Sunday depending on your county, and as Matt Galka tells us, today a statewide effort to get students to the polls for free kicked off the final week heading into election day.

Jasmine Smith had been helping register students at Florida State campus before the deadline. Now, she’s trying to get them to the polls.

“Not every student has a car or a way to get to the polls, and even though election day is November 8th, that day doesn’t always work out for everyone,” she said.

It’s part of the “Don’t Boo, Vote” initiative. Former state Representative and Hillary Clinton supporter Curtis Richardson says turnout is always a concern and that apathy and not voting is a vote for the opponent.

“It is particularly important that students show up to the polls because it’s their future that is at stake,” he said.

The shuttles departed from FSU’s student union. People could sign up for a set time or some got scooped up along the way. They were then brought to a polling place and back to campus in about 20 minutes, and similar events were going on statewide at other Florida universities.

Earlier this month, two Florida State political scientists cautioned a group of interested voters to not get apathetic and get caught up in polls that predict election outcomes. They even mentioned the fallout after Brexit – when England voted to leave the European Union earlier this year.

“A number of voters after Brexit said ‘well I didn’t think it was going to really happened so I went and voted and expressed myself but I didn’t think it was going to happen.” And I think it’s important for people to express their will and express their interests when they vote,” said FSU political scientist Brad Gomez.

As of Monday, more than 3.7 million Floridians have already voted.

The University of Florida, UCF and USF had similar initiatives. Republicans lead Democrats by about 9 thousand votes cast so far in early voting. 631 thousand no party affiliates have also voted.

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Kaine Stumps at FSU

October 28th, 2016 by flanews

Presidential candidates and their VP’s aren’t done with Florida yet. As Matt Galka tells us, Hillary Clinton’s potential second in command Tim Kaine tried to appeal to students in Florida’s capital city Friday.

Senator Tim Kaine, Hillary Clinton’s vice presidential pick – fired up a crowd of mostly students at Florida State University.

He appeared alongside Congresswoman Gabby Giffords and her husband Mark Kelly. Giffords, a victim of gun violence, has been on a gun control tour around the country.

“She will stand up to the gun lobby and that’s why I’m voting for Hillary Clinton,” said U.S. Rep. Giffords.

Kaine stressed the importance of Florida and its 29 electoral votes.

“Let me give you a punchline right now, Florida is checkmate. Did you all know you were that important,” he asked the crowd.

He also took shots at the Democrats two biggest opponents – Donald trump and Marco Rubio – as the party tries to win not only the White House but also a senate seat.

“(Rubio) was asked whether Donald Trump was a good role model and wouldn’t’ answer that question. Is that a hard question? Do you need to go do some research for a year or two to determine whether Donald Trump is a role mode? No, it’s an easy question. You want someone who knows that Trumpism is something we should reject,” he said.

The rally started around the same time the FBI announced they’d be looking into more Clinton emails – an issue that didn’t seem to bother many in attendance

“If they didn’t find anything wrong with it I don’t see any reason to be worried about it,” said FSU senior Lindsay Cheng.

The event also comes three days after GOP nominee Donald trump stumped in Tallahassee.

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Federal Judge pleased with new voter verification progress

October 28th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

A weeklong extension of voters registrations because of Hurricane Matthew resulted in more than 100 thousand new applications. Of those new applicants, about 21 thousand voters applications are still unverified by the state. That resulted in a federal judge calling an emergency hearing.

At 9 AM Friday, the Division of Elections showed that more than 106 thousand voter applications had been submitted since Federal Judge Mark Walked extended the registration period by a week. The site also showed there are still more than 21,000 unverified applications, which is why Walker called an emergency hearing by phone.

“Still engaged in the same efforts, the same extra staff, the same extra resources and overtime?” asked Walker near the beginning of the hearing.

Elections bureau Chief Maria Matthews told the judge the state was still working seven days a week to verify the applications.

“That automated match process generates about an 85 percent automatic verification. that means 85 percent  of those records that are verifiable become, those individuals become registered voters” she added.

Of the 21,000 unverified applications, 15 thousand have been sent back to local supervisors. That’s because they contained an error, and many may never be verified.

Ron Labasky is the lawyers for the state’s Supervisor’s of Elections.

“A supervisor will contact the individual whose application was deficient. Obtain the information possible, if the voter is cooperative. Sometimes the individuals just don’t care to respond and those will just never get processed” says Labasky.

Judge Walker ended the hearing saying he believed was satisfied the state was doing everything it could to verify valid applications quickly.

The state and judge previously agreed to a deadline of Monday morning to verify all valid applications, That’s when all of the counties in Florida must begin early voting.

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Scientists Challenge Trump to Discuss Climate Change

October 27th, 2016 by flanews

The environment and climate change haven’t been a big part of the run-up to the election. But as Matt Galka tells us, a group of scientists from Florida are trying to change that in the final two weeks.

Why isn’t climate change part of the national conversation as the country prepares to elect a new president? That’s the question being asked by multiple scientists in Florida.

Two years ago, the same group challenged Governor Rick Scott and his opponent Charlie Crist to address climate change.

Now Dr. Jeff Chanton has penned a letter to GOP Presidential Nominee Donald Trump asking the businessman to discuss the issue and his past claims of it being a hoax.

“In our opinion, at least in my opinion, this issue is just as important for the long term as ISIS,” said Chanton, a Florida State Professor of Oceanography.

But GOP strategists say it’s not a bigger part of the national conversation because everyday people don’t talk about it.

Government Affairs Director for the Jones Walker firm Chris Moya says voters aren’t impacted by climate change on a daily basis.

“When you ask scientists what should be done, the results of what should be done are incremental, long term, and difficult to calculate the impact on the climate. But the results for the average American family in the business economy right now are present, impactful and large scale.”

Bu

“It has not been mentioned in the debates one bit! I’d like to call out Anderson Cooper, and Chris Wallace, and Ken Bone for not bringing this up! Why is this not talked about? It’s such a big issue.”

 

Chanton says bringing up the climate change issue two years ago was a success because it brought the issue to the forefront. He hopes that’s the case again in the closing laps of the race for the White House.

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More than Two Million Early Ballots Cast Already

October 26th, 2016 by flanews

Florida is on pace for record early voting turnout, and as Matt Galka tells us, both sides say the early numbers are good for their parties.

Becky Bush wasn’t going to wait around. She voted early.

“I work downtown and it’s convenient,” she said.

And to her, this election cycle is “crazy.” So crazy that she voted opposite of her registered party.

“I look at the candidates, I look at the issues, and I vote my conscience. I don’t always vote with party,” she said.

More than two million people have already voted early in the state.  Republicans have cast about 5,000 more ballots. Not every county has early voting open right now but must open their early voting polls by the 29th.

Leon County GOP chairman Evan Power says the best is yet to come.

“From the Republican standpoint, early voting’s never been a strong point, some of our most hardcore voters vote on election day no matter what we try to do,” he said.

But Democratic strategist Steve Schale says they’re ahead of the game.

“Today in 2012 they were up by about 4.5 percent, today we’re basically tied. Based on where we should be, where we typically are at this point in the election, I feel very good,” he said.

Nearly five million people voted early or by mail in 2012…a record that’s expected to be shattered this year.

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Trump train

October 26th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

Each of Florida’s  five statewide elected Republicans continue to support Donald Trump. But not all of them are jumping whole hog on the Trump Train.

Governor Rick Scott was the first statewide elected Republican to jump on the trump train.   He was followed by Pam Bondi, Jeff Atwater, and Adam Putnam. All three supported Jeb Bush and only adopted Trump after the primary.

Bondi now calls calls some comments Made by Trump

“Disgusting. period” says Bondi. But she remains strongly behind the Donald, based on who he says he will appoint to the US Supreme Court

“He will appoint conservative justices” Bondi told us.

After backing Bush, Atwater and Putnam both say they will vote for Trump, but neither is working overtime for his election.

“I haven’t been asked to be included and we’ve been plenty busy but if the occasion presents itself, we’re committee to helping republicans get elected across Florida”

Q:So if you were asked you would not shy away from going to a Trump event?”

“No, no, I wouldn’t” Atwater said Tuesday, hours before Trump arrived in the Capitol City.

Governor Rick Scott still heads Trumps  fundraising efforts, but he has made few appearances with the candidate, and won’t be at Trump’s Tallahassee rally Tuesday night.

“I’m focused right now on, we’ve got the Zika, we’ve got, um, I’m trying to figure out the things we can do better in case we have another hurricane. That’s my primary focus right now.”

Rick Scott appears to be running for a higher office, and when it comes to Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam, it’s pretty clear he wants to be Governor. But when it comes to the CFO and the Attorney General, well, their political future is somewhat murky.

US Senator Marco Rubio also calls Trump the best alternative to Hillary Clinton, but has dodged appearances with the Donald.

New polling suggests Hillary Clinton leads Donald trump in Florida by only two percentage points.

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Driver’s license troubles blamed on the move of an aging computer system

October 26th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

If you are going to be renewing your driver’s license or vehicles tags in the near future, you might want to budget some extra time, just in case, because aging computers at the state agency have become unpredictable.

Taking a number at a Tax Collectors officer doesn’t guarantee you speedy service when you are renewing your drivers license or vehicle tag.  An aging state computer server has been crashing, putting motorists and clerks like Andrea Daughtry in limbo.

“It come can come back on in a minute, it can come back on in an hour, it can come back on in five hours” says Daughtry.

When it works, it works. “ten minutes, maybe” said one customer when asked how long it tool to renew her drivers license.

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But Tax Collector Doris Maloy says the crashes are happening with more frequency.

“We’ve know for years that they have an outdated system. They are very sorry, of course, that this is happening. It couldn’t happen at a worse time” says Maloy

And the Tax Collectors, many of whom are running for re-election, are quick to point out that this is the state’s problem, not theirs.”

The problem has been on going, but got worse back in April. That’s when the state decided to move its computer center out to this bat infested office complex, says the head of the Department of Highway Safety.”

“I think that’s what initiated the, you know, pretty quick or consistent outages for awhile” says Rhodes.

Lawmakers have already given the agency six point five million to upgrade its computers, but rhodes says replacement is taking time.

“I’m constantly on it and so they systems are working now, but we just confident that we can keep everything going” she says.

The new equipment isn’t expected to be to be up and running until next June, making a sign in one office proclaiming “Quick and Easy Service” questionable.

In a statement released this afternoon, the Department says in part:

“the number of department customers continues to grow each day and, on average, the department and its partners process more than six million inquiries and 2.5 million driver license, registration and title transactions each month. We are working as fast as we can to get the system replaced with a newer, more stable environment” (Beth Frady, Communications Director, DHSMV

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Trump Stumps in Tallahassee

October 25th, 2016 by flanews

In two weeks we should know who the next president of the United States is, and that means Florida becomes that much more valuable to the candidates. Matt Galka was in Tallahassee for Donald Trump’s rally in the capital…a unique choice for a GOP candidate to head into a perennially Democrat voting county.

The trump train rolled into the state Capitol Tuesday night, but not before Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi sang the businessman’s praises.

“Donald Trump is my friend, Donald Trump is a good man, and Donald Trump is going to make America great again,” said Bondi to the crowd.

Trump took the stage around 6:30 p.m. to a loud ovation from the crowd of about 10,000 and he came out swinging.

He promised to replace and repeal Obamacare, bring back jobs, and said that anyone voting for his opponent Hillary Clinton was “crazy.”

Leon County is almost always blue, and hasn’t voted for a Republican president since 1988. But Trump’s message resonated with the crowd.

“Our country is just in a downward spiral, and we just cannot afford four more years of that,” said Mark Bacon who traveled from nearby Panacea, FL.

“People talk sometimes, but I’m still for Trump and I still believe everything that he says and does and I want those jobs, and I don’t want to be handed anything in life, I want to work for my things,” said Florida State University senior Kristyn Caltagirone.

The stop wraps up a whirlwind tour of the state for Trump. He was in Sanford and Doral earlier in the day.

Governor Rick Scott did not attend the rally. Trump exits Florida and plans on being in Washington, D.C. Wednesday morning for the grand opening of his new hotel.

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Butterfly Magic

October 24th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

In this time of political strife, questions about secure borders and a wall between the US and Mexico, Mike Vasilinda has a story about a mass migration that won’t give you heartburn.

The majestic monarch. Millions are on their way to Mexico. And year after year, one of their favorite resting places is here in St. Marks along the Big Bend of Florida.

Normally, the monarchs live just a month, but a hormone kicks in when the temperature drops, extending their live to seven or 8 months, making the migration to Mexico possible.

“I got one. Oh No” exclaimed Victoria Benson of Lakeland as we watched.

The butterflies attracted these two Polk County high schoolers. they’ve been coming since 2012, conducting a science experiment:

“We can tag that one, we haven’t tagged that one” Victoria told friend Taylor OByrne as the two dabbed at a butterfly’s stomach.

The are measuring levels of a Protozoan that caterpillars ingest from Milkweed and carry into adulthood as a butterfly.

“A lot of Farmers are applying more pesticides and everything to their crops and killing Milk weed because it is invasive, so when there is no milkweed, they have no where to go, no where to eat” taylor told us.

Victoria chimed in as well.  And without the small areas of the food web and without pollination stuff, we;’re not going to have what we can, so we need to do what we can to save our environment.”

In year’s past, these trees have actually appeared more black and orange than green from hndreds, even thousands of animals.

Cheryl Lachance says this year’s crop small. Really small.

“See the canopy on this one here where you have a few of them, times it by about twenty, thirty.”

The butterflies return in the spring, lay their eggs, and then die, only to leave next years migration to a new generation of monarchs.

The butterflies normally hand around the wildlife refuge through the middle of November, depending on the temperature. When they leave, they will follow th gulf coast into Texas and then Mexico.

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FDLE, Other Law Enforcement Ramp Up Counterterrorism Efforts

October 24th, 2016 by flanews

State leaders want to ramp up counterterrorism efforts, but as Matt Galka tells us, it starts with an old slogan and you.

This gas station in Tallahassee doesn’t seem like where state officials would launch counterterrorism efforts. But the Florida Department of Law Enforcement, Homeland Security, and local law enforcement say it’s just the place where preventing the next attack could start.

“We have a litany of examples where individual citizens could have made a difference but just for whatever reason didn’t mention it to law enforcement,” said Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam.

State and local leaders are putting a new emphasis on “If you see something, say something.” A slogan that went mainstream after 9-11.

Stickers will start going up on gas pumps around Florida as a reminder to people to report suspicious activity.

FDLE Commissioner Rick Swearingen says people may be complacent, or too afraid, to help out.

“It could be they’re afraid of…there’s a culture of political correctness here, maybe they’re afraid they’re reporting something that’s really nothing, I don’t really know. But all we’re saying is, if you see something suspicious, if you’re gut tells you something is wrong, report it. That’s our job to determine if there’s something there or it really was nothing,” he said.

The initiative is part of an overall counterterrorism plan FDLE is shaping.  The Department is requesting an additional $6.2 million dollars next year to create 46 new counterterrorism positions.

Swearingen

“I certainly hope all those people will be busy with the amount of tips that come in.”

The Department said there are no specific threats that inspired the extra emphasis on the “if you see something, say something” campaign

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Volunteer Gets Crafty With Hand Painted Yard Signs for Candidate

October 21st, 2016 by flanews

In a time of big money campaigns, volunteers in one Florida Congressional race are a real throwback. As Matt Galka tells us, some folks are getting crafty when it comes to yard signs.

Meet Herb Shelton. He’s not running for anything so don’t expect to see his name on the ballot. But Shelton has become a big part of one Congressional campaign.

Shelton has been hand painting signs for Congressional District 2 Democrat Walter Dartland.  Shelton recycles old signs used for previous campaigns and paints over them.

“If somebody wants to discard em, it’s not coming out of my pocket, it’s not coming out of his pocket, it doesn’t cost anything,” he said.

And he did it without any prompting from Dartland. Shelton just noticed there were no signs around town.

“He was kinda thrilled, I mean he thought it was really something that some people thought that much of him, I mean how many people do you see out there painting signs for their candidate? Especially when he’s strapped, he didn’t have any,” said Shelton.

Dartland’s raised more than $100,000 for his campaign. His opponent Neal Dunn – $1.7 million. So he gladly took the help.

“They took it upon themselves, it wasn’t my urging, upon themselves to say “welp, we don’t have the money to buy any so we’ll just create them.” It’s taken off and more volunteers want to do more painting, it’s been a very successful event so more thanks to them,” said Dartland.

Shelton has put up more than 120 hand painted signs with some help of others around the district.

“Maybe this will help him in his big campaign because he is the underdog right now,” he said.

Dunn is expected to win the seat.

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Lawsuit says medical marijuana question not on some ballots

October 21st, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

A lawsuit filed in Southeast Florida alleges that the medical marijuana amendment was left off some mail in ballots.  Attorneys say they aren’t sure if it was a half dozen, ten thousand or a hundred thousand ballots.

A quarter million mail ballots have gone out Broward County, 60 thousand have already been returned. At least one ballot without the medical marijuana amendment was reported last week.

Elections law expert and former Al Gore attorney from the 2000 election, Mark Herron says the first step is figuring out how widespread the mistake might be.

“So I think the court needs to figure out is the nature and scope of the problem. How broad or deep is it” says Herron.

Attorney Norman Kent filed a lawsuit Thursday on behalf of voter Karen Goldstein. In it, He called the consequences potential catastrophic and cataclysmic.

“Anybody who was sent out a voting ballot without amendment two on it, have immediately reissued a new ballot” Kent told us by phone.

s00000003One theory was that it was a collating error. each precinct has a different ballot style and a clerk simply grabbed the wrong page three.

If collating is the problem, Attorney Herron believes the number of bad ballots could be limited.

“But with respect to people who have  already voted, I’m not sure you can correct that problem” he says. we asked about a  recount.

Q: It is reasonable to  do a recount on all the absentee ballots that are still out and see if that question is there?”

Heron responded “I think that would be part of the effort to deal with election day counting.”

In 2014, voters in Broward approved Amendment two by the biggest margin in the state.

The Broward Supervisors office is not with out problems. In August, the office was criticized for releasing election results a half hour early. the office has also been criticized for sending out inaccurate voters cards and once printed yes in the no line of a tax referendum.

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Federal Judge Rules Against Democrats in Registration Case

October 20th, 2016 by flanews

Thousands of Floridians took advantage of an extended voter registration deadline in the state, but getting them verified in time to cast a regular early voting ballot may be in doubt. As Matt Galka tells us, Florida Democrats hoped a federal judge could force the state’s hand and not make them cast provisional ballots.

Florida Democrats couldn’t go three for three in federal court. They filed a motion looking to get newly registered voters in Florida processed by Sunday – a day before early voting starts in parts of the state. The reason – they don’t want provisional ballots being cast.

“When you vote a provisional ballot, it’s not counted unless the county canvassing board approves the ballot, which is a presumption they should in the absence of proof that the voter is ineligible to vote, but obviously we’d rather vote a regular ballot if we can,” said Democratic Party lawyer Kevin Hamilton.

But federal Judge Mark Walker – the same judge who ruled in the Democrats favor in voter registration deadline and mismatching mail ballot signature lawsuits over the past two weeks – denied the motion.

A spokesman for the Florida State Association of Supervisors of Elections said if the ruling had gone the other way, it could have been chaotic.

“The ballot could never be brought back, because once it’s in the box, it’s gone,” said Ron Labasky. “It would create a problem if an individual who was not eligible, not on the voter roles, casting a regular ballot at early voting or a polling place, not being scrutinized and voting illegally.”

It can take up to ten days to verify new forms, meaning the state should have everyone verified by the end of the month – with early voting starting Monday.

The Department of State released data Thursday afternoon showing that around 72,000 people registered during the extended deadline. They’re increasing staff to try and get everyone verified quickly with more than 21,000 still not verified.

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Politics and Policy at the Pub Thanks to Florida State

October 19th, 2016 by flanews

Some people go to bars and restaurants to get away from the noise surrounding politics – especially during this unique political season.  But as Matt Galka tells us, Florida state University is serving up heady policy discussion at a local pub.

A couple of beers, a little bit of food…and some voting issues. That’s what was on the menu for the McLeod’s at Backwoods Bistro in Tallahassee.

“A lot of the people here are from different political views, and that’s good to see,” said Susan McLeod.

They were part of the crowd at Florida State’s new program “policy pub.” The program’s mission is to engage the happy hour crowd and get them to discuss some deeper political issues. It’s even written right there on the coasters.

“It’s a fun thing, a nice little happy hour where you can discuss. No one throws rocks or chairs,” said Ken McLeod.

FSU Political scientists Robert Jackson and Brad Gomez served up some data driven analysis on voting numbers at this week’s event. They view the presentations as an opportunity to give folks a look inside the classrooms – while they enjoy a brew.

“Some of us study why people vote, but some of my colleagues study why we go to war. So those are important things and many of us don’t know what political scientists do,” said Gomez.

And the outreach is important in such a unique election cycle. With animosity seemingly at an all time high – turnout this year is a little on the unpredictable side.

“I think there are countervailing factors, some people are very hyper energized, we have other people who are discouraged or disgusted with the current climate,” said Jackson.

So maybe it’s a good thing the heavy discussion is held at a bar. After all…this election probably has more than a few people ordering one more round.

If you find yourself in Tallahassee, the next meeting is November 15th, the week after the election, and is titled “It’s over! What Now?”

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Just 12 Consumers have given to Consumers for Smart Solar

October 19th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

 

Florida’s investor owned utilities have pumped more than 15 million into Amendment one on November’s ballot. They say it protects consumers who have solar and those who don’t, but many believe it will only promote solar developed by the very companies companies pushing the amendment.

The ads are slick. “Just think one for the sun” chimes the announcer in one.

They can afford to be. Consumers for Smart Solar has amassed nearly 22 million in donations. Most of it from big utility companies. Campaign finance reports show the average contribution was 168 thousand dollars. Organizer Matt Carter is a former utility regulator and says the goal is to protect consumers.

“Protection from fraud. Protection from Sub standard equipment. Protections from scams and ripoffs” says Carter

So we asked Carter how many consumers had actually contributed.

“I don’t have that information, Mike, but its readily available.”

The answer is 12, contributing a total of 405 dollars out out 22 million raised.

A divided Supreme Court allowed the amendment on the ballot because it was nothing technically wrong with it, but in a dissent, one judge called it a wolf in sheep clothing.

The James Madison Institute is listed on the Smart Solar web site as an endorser.  Sal Nuzzo is JMI’s policy director. And in a  speech he gave in Nashville, he seems to validate the judges concerns.

“So we essentially negated what the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy and all these other folks were after” say Nuzzo, referring to a competing amendment that would have allowed consumers to sell their excess energy.

Colleen Castille is the former Secretary of the Department of Environmental Protection. She opposes Amendment One.

“I would tell people to vote no because it limits their ability to have solar on their home or on their business” says Castille.

60 percent of Florida’s voters have to approve amendment one for it to become part of the constitution.

If the amendment is approved, consumers would be prohibited from ever selling excess energy generated by their panels, Solar could also face steep regulation, most like by the Public Service Commission, the same commission regulating utilities.

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