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Beer Glass Battle Brewing at Capitol

March 31st, 2017 by Jake Stofan

 

There is a battle brewing in the state Capitol over free beer glasses. The state’s biggest brewer wants to give them away free to bars and restaurants, but craft brewers and even a brewer as big as Miller-Coors says it will put them at a competitive disadvantage.

Most bars offer you a cold one on tap in a custom glass.

Bars and restaurants aren’t allowed to accept glasses for free under the state’s Tied House Evil Law.

They have to pay for them at the brewers cost.

But, Anhueser Busch, the Restaurant and Lodging Association, and the Retail Federation are all backing House bill 853.

It would allow beer distributors to give away up to three cases of glasses for up to three brands.

“20 other states do it. Europe does it,” said the bill’s sponsor, State Representative Tom Goodson of Brevard County

The legislation has cleared its only committee in the House where even big-dog brewer Miller-Coors testified against it.

Craft brewers hate it too.

Bryon Burroughs owns Proof Brewing in the shadow of the state capitol.

“It’s basically legalized pay to play. It puts craft brewers at an immediate disadvantage and it’s really bad for small business,” Burroughs said.

 

Josh Aubuchon represents the states Craft Brewers Association.

“It’s a way of Anheuser-Busch coming in and pushing the little guys out, and trying to buy up more tap handles using any means necessary,” said Abuchon.

Small breweries like Proof Brewing have claimed it may cost up to fifty thousand dollars to hand out glasses to all of their clients.

But Goodson says the impact is being overstated.

“You’re talking about usually twenty-four to thirty dollars a case.  A dollar per glass. They are welcome to do it also, and I think you’ll seem them do it,” said Goodson,

The Senate version of the bill will have its first hearing Monday.

The legislation does not address other prohibited gifts such as napkins or serving trays. It cleared its only House committee on a non-party line 10-4 vote this week.

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Hundreds rally to save State Attorney’s job

March 30th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

300 people from across the state rallied in support of Orlando State Attorney Aramis Ayala today at the State Capitol, bringing with them more than a hundred thousand petitions in support of her decision not to seek death sentences.  She wasn’t there, but she is expected next week as the Governor weighs whether to suspend her.

Supporters of the State Attorney’s decision not to pursue death sentences came from nearly every corner of the state with unified message.

Raymond Jackson âme from Walton County “Because we feel like injustice was served.”

Russel Meyer came to represent the FL Council of Churches from Tampa  “It’s very simple. thou shall not kill. Please don’t kill in my name” he said.

Darlene Farah’s daughter was murdered in 2013. The Jacksonville mom has consistently sought life for her daughters killer. She believes the Orlando state attorney is doing the right thing.

“She knows the procedures of the death penalty and feel like she’s looking out for the best interests of the people in the community” said the death penalty opponent.

Randolph Bracy, the State Senator who represents Orlando, where prosecutor Ayala chose not to seek death for a cop killer, says the Governor and lawmakers need to keep their hands off.

“She was independent elected by the ninth Circuit and she has the power to make that decision Bracy told the crowd.”

Herman Lindsey knows about death sentences first hand. He is one of 26 Floridas exonerees.

“I think this is the beginning of the ending of the death penalty” says the former death row inmate.

State Attorney Ayala did not come to this rally, but she is expected to be here Monday night to meet with the back Caucus.

Lawmakers continue to call for her removal from officer and are considering cutting her budget. Organizers delivered more than a hundred thousand on line petitions to the Governor. He wasn’t in town, but said in Tampa he’s still considering his options.

“I am still shocked she made this decision” says Scott.

scott added that Cop killer Markeith Lloyd should be prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law…which is death.

If the Governor decides to suspend the State Attorney, she would face a trial by the State Senate, which would’t likely take place until early next year.

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Senate passes gambling bill

March 30th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The first gambling bill to hit the State Senate since 2010  passed today with no debate.

The bill expands slot machines across 8 counties where locals voted to approve them.

The Seminole Tribe says it is opposed to the bill because it threatens their exclusivity granted them by  prior agreement.

Sponsor, Bill Galvano of Bradenton says there are issues that will need to be sorted out.

“Well the compact still exists and I remind people of that all the time. There’s another 14 years on the existing compact, but the question is do we have a compact with a fight over bank-hard games and a fight over revenue share and what’s available.” says Galvano.

The House opposes any gaming expansion beyond current gaming.  Galvano says the bill will start a conversation between the House and Senate.

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Texting legislation in trouble

March 29th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

After losing a child in 2015, A St. Petersburg family is at the center of efforts to allow police to stop and ticket texting motorists, but one of the most powerful people in the state House says the cost to freedom is too high.

Lavon Reese was a Senior at FSU when she was hit and killed by a texting driver. That  was January 2015. Now the family of the St. Petersburg native is on the forefront of lobbying for tougher texting laws. Jeffrey Beaten is Lavon’s cousin.

“My cousin was one of two hundred and eighteen individuals who passed away. was killed in accidents relating to texting and driving. So my family is not alone.”

Q:”In one year?”

“In one year. 2015 alone” says Beaten.

The legislation has cleared two Senate committees, but Sponsor Rene Garcia of Hialeah is not optimistic.

“I think its on life support, unfortunately. I hear that the House is reluctant to move the bill.”

There have been no hearings in the House. The biggest obstacle is this man. Speaker in waiting Jose Oliva. We asked for an interview. but House spokesman Fred Piccolo provided us with a statement saying the House had not yet formulated a position. This is what Oliva told us in 2013.

“I like everyone else want to see the end of children texting and getting killed in automobiles. Not at the expense of our civil liberties” said Olive as he was negotiating whether texting and driving would be against the law at all  back in May 2013.

House sponsor Emily Slosberg believes it could be 2021, after Oliva is out of the legislature, before the bill could pass. We asked Jeffrey how he felt about the date.

“It will be 2021 before there is a Speaker who is friendly enough to let this come up.?

“That’s really difficult for me to grasp” he said.

The driver who killed Lavon Reese is serving a three year prison sentence.

The legislation would allow police to stop motorists seen texting without observing some other violation first. It carries a thirty dollar fine. In 2015, the state reports there were 45,740 accidents caused by distracted drivers.

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Constitution revision concerns

March 29th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

 

 

Florida is the only state with a commission charged to review the constitution once every 20 years. The 2017-18 Constitution Revision Commission holds its first meeting tonight in Orlando. But the League of Women Voters and others stood on the steps of the state Capitol today with concerns. The first Commission in 1978 was all Democrats. All five of its proposals failed. In 1998 the commission was evenly divided. It passed 8 of 9 ideas. League President Pamela Goodman says this year’s commission is again partisan.

“This year’s CRC is overwhelmingly Republican, and the Speaker and Senate President publicly announced the issues they expect their appointees to support. these issues include legalizing school vouchers, term limits for judges, and returning power to politicians to draw districts for themselves” says Goodman.

While voters have the final say, Progress Florida is worried a lack of openness at the Commission could make the decision difficult for voters.

“A lot of these are very complex issues and when you talk about things like judicial term limits or school vouchers. There a lot of different ways these things could be framed and formulated and lot of decisions about whether these will be on the ballot. Are these the things that Floridians are most concerned about or not” asks Filer.

The commission is yet to adopt its rules, and advocates want it to require all meetings to be open and that the elected officials on the panel be prohibited from taking contributions from people seeking favor from the commission.

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Seniors press lawmakers

March 29th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Two thousand seniors from across the state filled the state Capitol today. The annual event is designed to draw attention to the needs of the states oldest citizens, which include funding for health care and increased screening for dementia. Organizer Jason Zaborske says lawmakers would be wise to listen.

“Seniors mean business in the state of Florida. They are huge economic drivers. they are the ones who pay real estate taxes, property taxes and have the most to say. they are the ones that vote” says Zaborske.

Seniors, along with the state’s realtors are also looking for an increased homestead exemption.

 

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Lawmakers plan budget cuts for controversial State Attorney

March 28th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Orlando based State Attorney Aramis Ayala lost a bid in court today to have an accused cop killers case returned to her circuit. Governor Rick Scott has ordered the change after Ayala refused to seek the death penalty. Now, state lawmakers are looking to cut the prosecutors budget.

State lawmakers don’t have the power to impeach State Attorneys, but the Speaker of the House has said they would have already started the process against Orlando based Aramis Ayala if they had the authority. Instead they are looking at cutting the circuit’s budget by at least one point three million. Rep. Bill Hager is the House Justice Appropriations Chair.

Q:Is this a message to her” we asked?

“Absolutely not” responded Hager. “And in fact, as we reviewed the budget, we determined that they prior fiscal year, there had been more money, more dollars appropriated, as it turned out, were necessary.”

Senator Aaron Bean says the Senate is looking at similar cuts or more, anticipating more potential death cases will be transferred out of the Circuit.

“Using that reduction to set up a fund to cover the additional case load to other circuits” says Bean

Senator David Simmons calls the cuts appropriate.

“ I think that its a statement that is made concerning the conduct of that State Attorney” says Simmons.

All of which has Democratic leader Oscar Braynon calling foul.

“Retaliatory. I hope that’s not what it is, but if they say its an administrative thing I would argue that they should change that” Braynon told us.

Protestors are expected here at the Capitol Thursday to deliver petitions to the Governor, asking him to send the death case back to the prosecutor.

Organizer Christine Henderson told us to expect as many as a thousand people.

“There are people who don’t support the death penalty. There are also people who feel that Governor Scott had a bit of an overreach” said Henderson.

Governor Rick Scott had recommended a small increase for Ayala, but that was before she said she would not seek death sentences.

House leaders call the reductions “a repurposing”.

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Recess bill watered down but alive

March 28th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

At it’s last meeting today, a House subcommittee approved a watered down recess bill. A movement called recess moms had wanted five days of recess, each lasting twenty minutes for kids in kindergarten through fifth grade. The version approved today stops at third grade. Sponsor Rene Plasencia says the measure was all the House was willing to accept.

“So it won’t take away the daily mandate of recess because you would still have the ability to have recess on the days you have physical education. On the days that you don’t then you are obligated to have recess” explained the House sponsor afterwards.

Florida PTA Legislative Chair Angie Gallo says without compromise there would have been no bill.

“We do have concerns. We have concerns about it opening up the PE statute. We’re concerned that it only addresses K through 3, but it’s a process and this is only step one in the process and we look forward to working with them as it goes forward” says Gallo.

Q: And this is better than nothing?”

“This is absolutely better than nothing and we do have the Senate version which I believe is slated to go to the floor this week or next week”.

The Senate Version has five days of recess with no encroachment on PE classes.

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Children’s Week packs Capitol Courtyard

March 28th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Several thousand advocates for Children filled the courtyard in the state Capitol for most of the day. The event is designed to get lawmakers to pay attention to the needs of children. Surgeon General Celeste Philip told the crowd the Department of Health would be working to make kids healthier by encouraging changes in lifestyle through better surroundings such as healthier food options at local stores.

“Health care itself accounts for about twenty percent of what makes people healthy. Other factors in our community, where we live, where we live work and play as we say in public health, actually influence our health much more than health care. sometimes our zip code is the most sensitive indicator of what our overall health is” says the Surgeon General.

Others urged advocates to push local officials for more parks and zoning that would allow healthier food options in poor neighborhoods.

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Eyewitness identification to get new rules for police administrators

March 27th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The House Justice Appropriations Committee has unanimously approved legislation this afternoon requiring law enforcement agencies to follow a set of procedures called double blind when conducting live or photo eyewitness identifications. The legislation is a result of witnesses getting it wrong too often.

Alan Crotzer was convicted of a strong arm robbery in 1983 even though he never matched the height or weight first described by the only eyewitness.

“From the beginning, I did not fit the description.” Crotzer told us in 2012.

An Innocence Commission study in 2011 found that  3 out of 4 people released by DNA exonerations were sent to prison by faulty eyewitness testimony.

“So, we want to make sure the right person is convicted” says Rep. Gayle Harrell, who

wants to fix the problem by requiring police to use officers unfamiliar with the crime or suspect when conducting photo or live lineups.

“You would have to have an independent administrator handle it, so anyone working on the case would not know  who is there and wold not be able to influence in any way at all” Harrell told us.

Police agencies that don’t adopt the standards wouldn’t face a penalty, but this: Defense attorneys would be allowed to raise their non-compliance at trial.

Nancy Daniels spent 26 years as a Public Defender. She says the change is a big deal.

“And even if the judge allows the evidence, it can be presented to the jury, so they know the procedures now required by law were not used” which Daniels describes as compelling information for a jury.

And neither the Police Chiefs or Sheriffs are objecting. Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings is President of the FL Sheriff’s Assn.

“We certainly don’t want anyone who is innocent to be tried and convicted” Demings says.

And Harrell is quick to point out, catching the right person the first time makes everyone safer.

Alan Crotzer received fifty thousand dollars for each of the 24 years he wrongfully spent in prison. So getting it wrong can also be costly for taxpayers.

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Voter intimidation legislation filed

March 27th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Following reports that a south Florida House candidate and a county commissioner helped voters fill out their mail in ballots, another State Representative has filed legislation to make such conduct a felony. Rep. Emily Slosberg says current law protects voters in line and in polling places, but not at home.

“And out laws have to catch up with the times. Times have changed. Now we have about a third of the voters are voting at their homes, and we need laws that will protect those voters from intimidation while they are voting” says sponsor Slosberg.

Violations wold be a third degree felony, punishable by up to five years in prison and a five thousand dollar fine.

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Childrens Week begins

March 27th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

As many as four thousand children and their parents are expected at the state Capitol tomorrow. The Rotunda in the Capitol was decorated over the weekend with thousands of colorful hands drawn by children from Key West to Pensacola. Organizer Jason Zaborske says since kids can’t vote, their strength is in numbers.

“That’s really our biggest strength” says Zaborske  “The advocates and the community is that we can tell the story and we can show what is working and what is not working. We can explain those things to policy makers so they can understand and can streamline and make sure government works better and funding is adequate enough to provide the quality of service that we need to deliver services to children and to seniors.”

A storybook village will occupy the Capitol courtyard Tuesday as elected officials take turns reading to kids. Teens will also testify about services before the Children and Youth Cabinet tomorrow as well.

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Non-viable birth certificates draw criticism

March 24th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Legislation allowing grieving families to receive what is being called a “Non-Viable “ Birth Certificate was approved by a House Committee on a 15-0 vote, but Pro Choice advocates worry the bill is a back door attempt to change the concept of when life begins.

Florida law currently allows a family which has miscarried a fetus 20 weeks or older to apply for and receive a certificate of Fetal Death. State Rep. Bob Cortes wants to cut the time in half, to ten weeks.

“They can take that child right now and bury it, give it proper burial and give it a headstone and everything else to recognize that that child was there. They should have a certificate to recognize that child was part of their life.”

Sponsors believe as many as fifty thousand parents could apply each year.

As the bill was cruising to a 15 to nothing committee vote, The National Organization for Women expressed it’s opposition,

“Waive in opposition” they chimed from the back of the room.

While the Florida Catholic Conference said it supported the bill.

N.O.W. believes the bill is a back door attempt to influence future abortion rulings.

Q:“Is this in your mind about abortion? Is that what this is about?

“Yes, its about giving a death certificate to a fetus” said Barbara Devane.

Charo Valero of the Latino Advocacy Network went even further. “I think this gets us into really tricky territory when  it comes to the start of life.”

So we asked Ingrid Del Gado of the Catholic Conference about their intent.

Q:”Nothing to do with abortion?”

“Nothing to do with abortion, just the value of the loss of an unborn child.”

And Cortes says the bill has nothing to do with changing the definition of when life begins.

“As a matter of fact, if someone aborts a fetus, they will not be eligible to apply for a non viable birth certificate” he told us.

While fetal death certificates have been around in Florida for a decade, the suspicion about them has never subsided.

The legislation is ready for a floor vote in the House, and it’s up before a Senate committee on Monday.

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Religious Freedom wins Senate Vote

March 23rd, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Public school students will have more options to express their religious beliefs under legislation approved by the state Senate today. Opponents worried kids will face discrimination or feel like they have to go along to get along, but the Senate President says schools have gone too far stifling religious discussion.

Supporters of more religious freedom didn’t point out specific instances where it had been denied. They spoke in broad generalities. Sen. Doug Broxson (R-Pensacola) told colleagues it was long overdue.

“This bill sends a message to our sixty-seven counties that you can take some liberties in showing religious expression” says Broxson.

The Debate took place under the state motto: In God we trust. Opponent Audrey Gibson  had a warning.

“That really will create, I believe, more misunderstanding then understanding” said Gibson.

Pastors in the audience cheered the vote; Gerald Bustin made the rip from Marion County.

“Crime, teenage pregnancies exponentially went higher immediately after we took god out of our schools” the pastor told us.

Opponents also warned of students being bullied for their beliefs. That’s what happened to high school senior Maryann Herrera…at a Catholic high school, when she disagreed with the majority in her class.

“I was the only one who had a different view on stuff and that kinda made me feel stumbled upon, you know, everyone was very expressive. and so was I in a way, but they weren’t as respectful” said the high schooler who transferred to public school for more diversity.

The bill requires schools to created a limited public forum where students can speak their mind, if they want.

The legislation was a top priority of the Senate President

“I would never tolerate or should the law tolerate someone being discriminated against, but lets not go to the other extreme where actually we’re unfairly penalizing a student” said Joe Negron after the session.

The House version cleared its final committee on Thursday setting it up for a final vote as early as next week.

The legislation will also allow students to wear religious clothing or jewelry, and form clubs, whenever students are also allowed to wear non secular messages, jewelry, or hold meetings.

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Black Caucus Backs State Attorney

March 23rd, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida Black Caucus said today the Governor overstepped his authority when he took a murder case out of the hands of State Attorney Aramis Ayala after she said she would not ever seek death sentences. They want the Governor to rescind the order. State Senator Audrey Gibson says the decision should be left up to voters.

“The people of that circuit elected her. She made her case, apparently and won that election..They trust her judgement, and the Governor should have stayed out of it.”

But the Fraternal Order of Police are livid. President Robert Jenkins described security camera video showing suspect Markeith Loyd executing the Orlando officer after killing his pregnant girlfriend.

“This this isn’t as normal a case where you would seek the death penalty I don’t know what would be. The officer , Lt. Clayton was executed. Not just killed, shot. She was executed on video. Its not a race issue. Its a fiduciary responsibility, her duty to perform the laws.”

Many have called for Ayala’s removal from office. Governor Rick Scott has said he is considering all his options.

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