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Medical marijuana compromise in the works

April 30th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida House gave tenative approval to its medical marijuana legislation Friday. 71 percent of voters approved it in November, but patients looking to smoke medicinal pot may be out of luck.

Compromise over marijuana is in the air at the Capitol. A restrictive house plan has gotten more patient friendly, says Senate Sponsor Rob Bradley.

“They’ve gotten rid of the ninety day waiting period. they’ve added edibles. They’ve added vaping. So I feel feel like the House is in a much better position than they were before” Bradley says.

Weeks ago, House sponsor Ray Rodrigues said almost everything was on the table.


“Aside from the issues of no smoking and no taxation.”

Neither the House or Senate plan now allows smoking medical marijuana.

“If the drafters of the amendment wanted to be explicit on that point, they would have been explicit on that point” says Bradley.

But authors of the amendment say smoking is referenced once, when it is prohibited in public, implying it is allowed, and through the definition of cannabis already in law. More importantly, drafter Ben Pollera says ask a hundred people.

“What they think of when they think of marijuana, they think of a green leafy thing that you smoke” Pollera told us by phone.

Pollera says lawsuits are likely if smoking isn’t in the final version

The biggest sticking point between the House and Senate is how many new licenses there will be, and who will get them.

Black Farmers are guaranteed a license in both the House and Senate. The Senate plan produces more licenses faster than the House, which lobbyist Ron Watson says is needed.

“To ingest more competition into the system. to drive down prices” says Watson.

Both sides will be working on a final comprise over the weekend.

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Legislature chooses Air BNB over local governments

April 30th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda
The Florida House has voted 63-56 after two hours of debate to restrict local governments ability to regulate home sharing companies such as Air BNB, which typically contract and list homes for daily, weekly, and monthly rentals. Opponents spoke of a parade of horribles, in which middle class neighborhoods are being destroyed.
“They are buying houses on the Gulf of Mexico and gutting them. Putting ten to twelve bedrooms in, and renting them daily and weekly by the room. Now, this is not a home” said Rep. Kathleen Peters. 
But supporters say it comes down to a more basic right. You can do what you want with your property unless a homeowners association prohibits it.
“We as the legislature and local governments have no right to tell us or other s what they can or can not do with their properties. That is what property rights are all about” argued Rep. Blaise Ingoglia.
A Senate vote could come next week.

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House Bill Would Allow Government Officials to Meet Behind Closed Doors

April 28th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Florida has been hailed for having the best open government laws in the country, but advocates fear legislation moving through the state Capitol Will shut the door on that openness.
Public officials have been prohibited from meeting secrecy to discuss public business since 1968., but House Bill 843 would end the prohibition.
Sponsor Byron Donalds  says officials are already violating the law, so it should be changed.
“The real question is, are we going to criminalize all elected officials and say you are barred from doing what normal people do in the course of business,” said Donalds.
Each year though more and more exemptions to the States Sunshine Law are passed.
“So he wants to take what it an unlawful act and make it lawful? That doesn’t mean it’s right,” said Barbara Petersen, President of the First Amendment Foundation.
Both sides agree its local communities would be most affected by the bill, the question is whether it will be a positive or negative effect.
“Sometimes people need to sit down and think about it some more before they cast that vote,” said Donalds.
Representative Kristin Jacobs doesn’t think it’s necessary.
“I spent sixteen years in local government solving problems on the dais in the open and haven’t had any struggles doing it,” said Jacobs.
The bill limits what officials can discuss in private, some question how that would be enforced.
“For example it says that you can’t meet privately in an attempt to circumvent the law, but how would we know because there would be no record of that private meeting,” said Petersen.
In the 50 years Florida had required openness,  more than one thousand exemptions have been enacted.
Advocates say this would be the most devastating.
The bill is expected to be back on the House Floor, Monday.

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Gambling moving quickly as lawmakers fear court intervention

April 27th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

For the first time since 2010, state lawmakers are increasing the odds a new gambling deal will emerge by the time they finish, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, it could result in fewer greyhounds being raced, and more slots in counties that have approved them.

Greyhounds may not be racing much longer. Lawmakers are moving toward allowing dog tracks to stop racing greyhounds. Undecided is whether county voters where tracks are located must first vote. Either way. aAnimal rights activist Carey thief is elated.

“I’m confident that we’ll pass those referendums, but there will be a delay. More dogs will be injured. More dogs will die” says Thiel of Grey2K USA.

Gambling legislation is moving for the first time since 2010 because lawmakers fear a pending court ruling. Lobbyist Ron Book  says the so called Gretna case has lawmakers looking over their shoulder.

“That’s what in part is certainly pushing the House, the court decisions, and not wanting further expansion by judicial edict as opposed to conscious edict by the policy makers” says Book.

Lawmakers also want a quick decision because they also face pressure from a proposed citizen’s initiative that wold give any future gambling changes in the future to citizens.

Still on the table is whether 8 counties where voters approved slots will get them. The Senate, which proposed the idea is holding firm, but offered to reduce the number of machines to appease a reluctant house. Representative Jose Felix Diaz

“The Federal courts. they continue to take positions that expand gaming in Florida. And if we really want to curb gaming, it would some sense to expand a little.”

Naples Ft. Myers dog track operator Izzy Havenick is hopeful.

“It’s the hardest thing to run a business when any day things could change. You don’t know tomorrow what’s going to be legal, You don’t know two days down the road” says Havenick.

Lawmakers also want to come to a deal because they need the cash more games will bring, especially if they lost the case now coming from the Seminole tribe.

The legislation, as proposed, would also remove any legal questions about daily Fantasy sports games.

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Senate Gives Apology to Groveland Four, 67 Years After Wrongful Conviction

April 27th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
For the second day in a row, the State Senate apologized on behalf of the state for a past wrong.
In 1947 four black men in rural Groveland Florida were wrongly accused of raping a white teenager.
Three were arrested, A fourth ran and and was killed by a mob.
State Senator Gary Farmer called the affair shameful.
“We cannot change the hands of time. We cannot go back to this terrible event and undo it, but we can acknowledge our wrongs and we can bring peace and healing to the families who have suffered for so long,” said Farmer.
In 1951, while transporting two of the boys to the Lake County Jail, the sheriff shot the boys in the head on the side of the road, killing one.
The survivor was sentenced to life after the incident, then paroled in 1968.
Now surviving family members say the legislative apology has lifted a burden from their families.
“It’s uplifting you know? To realize that when we do make a mistake that we can correct it. Granted it’s been 67 years,” said Beatrice Greenlee Roberts, the niece of Charles Greenlee who was one of the Groveland four.
With this apology, family members hope the State never allows the same mistakes to happen again.
“This means a future for Florida. This means a future for children. This means that something positive has come out of something so wrong and so negative and so bad,” said Carol Greenlee, the daughter of Charles.
Carol Greenlee says her father has always wanted forgiveness for what happened to him, with this apology she says he finally has it.
The resolution calls for the Governor to speed up the exoneration process for the four boys and issue a formal apology on behalf of the State.

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State Formally Apologizes for Atrocities at Dozier School for Boys

April 26th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Florida officially apologized today to hundreds of men who were abused at a state run boys school in the 1950’s and 60’s.
The two dozen survivors stood as their names were called. They came to personally hear the apology..some from as far away as Texas.
“We say to you… We apologize. We are sorry,” read Senator Darryle Rouson on the Senate Floor.
For decades, the state turned a blind eye to abuses at the panhandle boys school.
At least 500 have said they bore witnesses to the horrors.
Charles Fudge was one of four brothers sent to the reformatory.
““It is something you live with every day. You remember your cottage number, your locker number,” said Fudge.
Johnny Lee Gaddie says many more were killed that the 55 bodies recovered.
“They was feeding the boys to the hogs. The hogs will eat anything. And they eat the bone,” said Gaddie.
The States apology came too late for those who died, but for survivors, the apology did bring some solace.
Some would like to see the state do more.
“If they could just make restitutions to these families that lost their children up there,” said survivor, Robert St. Clair.
The apology may not be able to mend the wounds of those that suffered, but the Sate’s commitment to never allow it to happen again may hopefully prevent future wounds.
Survivor Robert Staley says he sees the State improving on that front already.
“Things where they’re taking boys and they’re not just sending them on the pipeline to prison like they were. They’re keeping them in group homes, they’re trying to do something,” said Straley.
Still uncertain is whether lawmakers will spend one million dollars to build two memorials and rebury the bodies unearthed at the boys school.
The House bill includes the money for the memorials and also the possibility of some restitution for victims. The Senate says it will be considering adopting those previsions.

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House Bill to Keep Universities Search Process for Top Officials Concealed Passes House

April 26th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A bill passed through the State House allowing Universities to keep their search process for top officials closed to the public during the initial application phase.
This comes after a bruising effort trying to pick a new President for Florida Gulf Coast University this past fall and winter that saw the search resumed after the search panel count agreed on three names.
Sponsor Representative Bob Rommel said Florida doesn’t reach its full pool of applicants because of the state’s overly transparent policy.
“Just imagine if it was you trying to better yourself or your family for a new job and you had to go and tell your current boss, that boss, I applied for a new job,” said Rommel.
Names of final applicants would still have to be released 21 days prior to a final decision for public input.

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Whiskey and Wheaties Bill Headed to the Governor’s Desk

April 26th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
In what may have been one of the closest House votes this session the State House has voted to tear down the walls separating hard liquor and big box retailers.
The bill passed by just one vote after two days full of hours of testimony and debate.
Support for the bill broke party lines and came down to the individual judgement of each individual representative.
“But I think we should do our do-diligence, the people that are watching and the people in this Chamber as parents and not let the kids get to the liquor that we have in our own homes,” said Representative Wengay Newton during the debate, “Just like we lock up our guns and protect our guns we should lock the liquor up or not buy it. Tear down this wall.”
The bill is now headed to the Governors desk.

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Lawmakers closing in on Budget deal, maybe.

April 26th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

State lawmakers are closing in on the broad outlines of an 83 billion dollar state budget, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, even small details could derail the progress long enough to push lawmakers into overtime.

The Senate gets it’s plan to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. The House would get it’s cuts to Visit and Enterprise Florida, The House would also get a 200 million dollar plan for Charter Schools of Hope. In exchange for the Senates gets a boost to University funding. Early Wednesday, Senate Budget Chairman jack Latvala tweeted there was no deal until it was announced by the Senate President. The Majority Leader said discussions were on going.

“I wouldn’t classify anything as having fallen apart” says galvano. “And  at this point there is some tweaking going on on what I would call second and third tier issues.”

After the morning Senate Session, President Joe Negron wasn’t ready to announce a deal, but sounded optimistic.

“It’s down to just a few issues where we’re trying to clarify some language to the satisfaction of both the House and the Senate” Negron told reporters

On the House side, the Speaker was absent from the floor most of the morning. In an exclusive interview he appeared to pour water on the finality of the talks.
“It’s very very difficult. we’re a very conservative body, and its difficult dealing with a body that doesn’t hold our principles and our values” Corcoran told us.

And while lawmakers appear to be shutting down the Governor’s top priorities, he will in fact have the final say.

Under the deal, Visit Florida would be funded at 25 million, a third of this years total. Enterprise Florida would survive, with no money for incentives. Governor Rick Scott issued a statement from his trade mission in Argentina sayings “Lawmakers cannot be shortsighted at the expense of Florida families

Budget negotiators could begin going through a complete analysis of the differences as early as tonight. A budget must be on members desks by next Tuesday for an on time adjournment.

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House makes “Substantial” gaming offer

April 26th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

State Lawmakers are closer to a deal on gambling than anytime in the last seven years after the House made what both sides are calling a substantial deal. The House would allow voters in counties with dog tracks to decide if the tracks could stop racing dogs but keep operating card rooms. Grey 2k activist Cary Thiel says the move is a big step forward.

Sot: Carey Theil

Grey2K USA

“from the animal welfare perspective, we’re starting to have hope  that we’ll see finally some change. We’re seeing greyhounds dying in Florida every three days at these facilities. This is the beginning of a blueprint to fix that problem.”

The offer also give the Seminole Tribe more games such as baccarat, but if does not open to slots in the eight counties where voters have approved slots referendums. Naples-Ft. Myers Dog Track owner Isadore Havenick says the deal does’t go far enough.

Sot: Isadore Havenick

Naples – Ft. Myers Dog track

Magic Casino

“We had a referendum. We had a referendum in the general election and the residents of Lee County voted, over 63 percent in favor of us being able to offer a new product, and we just hope the legislature listens to the will of the people.”

The offer also included one new permit for gambling in south Florida. The Senate wants two new facilities.

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One Hundred Liquor Store Owners and Employees Protest Whiskey and Wheaties Bill

April 25th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
One hundred liquor store owners greeted House members as they entered the Chamber Tuesday.
The message on their shirts was clear.
Vote against a bill allowing  big retailers like Walmart to sell liquor on their shelves instead of in a separate adjoined store.
“That will severely impact my business. I employ six other people so we have a total of six families that are dependent upon my business staying open,” said one owner, Elizabeth Durling from Fort Meyers.
They said they can’t compete with the convenience big retailers would be able to offer.
“I can’t suddenly start selling diapers and candy overnight.,” said store owner James Simms from Panama City.
Nor can they compete with the prices.
Purav Shah owns multiple liquor stores in Tampa, he estimates if the bill passes he’ll have to make major cuts to keep his doors open.
“I’m pretty sure 20% of my staff would have to be relocated or reassigned,” said Shah.
The liquor store owners said it’s not all business.
They also don’t want their kids exposed to alcohol on the shelves at grocery stores.
The store owners filled many of the seats in the House gallery, then waited.
Sponsor Representative Bryan Avila said the the change won’t make Florida more deadly.
“The states that do not have a separation, those states have less incidents of alcohol related incidents,” said Rep. Avila.
But opponents noted the statistics are confusing.
“Seven of the ten states that have the highest hard alcohol consumed per capita, are states that have allowed hard liquor to be sold in big box retailers,” said Representative Randy Fine.
A final vote is set for Wednesday, if approved by the House, the measure will go to the Governor.
1700 liquor store owners and employees have signed an on line petition opposing the  change.

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Bills to Combat Drug Overdoses Move to House Vote

April 25th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Two bills to help combat drug overdoses in the state were on the House floor Tuesday.
One bill creates a system for medical staff including EMTs to report drug overdose incidents.
The goal is to help law enforcement find hot spots for drug activity they may not have previously known.
The second bill encourages hospitals to recommend addiction treatment in cases of overdose.
Representative Joe Gruters has been involved with both bills.
“We can’t look at it as a drug problem, we’ve got to look at it as, people are sick and how can we help them,” said Gruters, “Some of these bills hopefully will try to give people the support so we can try and reunite some of these families that are being broken up over drug abuse and curb the deaths that we’re seeing on a daily basis.”
Both bills will be voted on Wednesday.

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Bill Could Allow Colleges to Begin Researching Hemp for Cultivation

April 25th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Hemp. It’s not exactly marijuana, but it’s close and still illegal in the state, but legislation moving in both the House and Senate would allow universities begin researching the plant for industrial use.
Hemp doesn’t get you high, but it is used in dozens pf products you use everyday. 
Items ranging from beauty products to rope, drywall, and  even some car dash boards.
“So when your head hits the dashboard during an accident, it actually molds to the point where you don’t have the damage in your head,” said House sponsor Representative Ralph Massullo.
Despite hemps many uses it’s still illegal to grow in Florida. 
“The US imports $570 million of hemp products every year, but because it’s scheduled as a schedule one drug like cannabis, you know the recreational cannabis, it hasn’t been grown here for 70 years,” said Jeff Sharkey with the Medical Marijuana Business Association.
Legislation to allow Universities with an agricultural program to begin researching Hemp is ready for a floor vote in both the House and Senate.
The University of Florida and Florida A&M would qualify.
“You’re testing different seeds. So you’re trying to optimize the growth, minimize any restrictions to the growth, evaluate how hemp interacts with the climate, other crops. One big comment people have had is to make sure it’s not an invasive species,” said Rep. Massullo.
Supporters believe the bill comes at an opportune time for Florida’s agricultural industry.
With crops like oranges not succeeding at the level they have previously, hemp could become one of Florida’s cash crops.
The bill requires a minimum of 2 years of research.
If hemp is found viable legalizing hemp could be on the horizon.
If the bill passes, Florida will become the 31st State to legalize the cultivation of hemp in some capacity.

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House passes budget meltdown safety valve

April 25th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

State lawmakers have until a week from today to come up with a final budget in order to avoid costly overtime, and until today, there has been little real discussion about the two billion dollar difference between the House and Senate.

The State House has been promoting its version of the budget ideas with an in-house video guide.

“The House will not raise taxes” chimes the video.

But the problem is that the Senate doesn’t like a lot of the ideas. Like this one:

“We also added twenty five thousand dollars to the homestead exemption.”

With no agreement in sight,  Tuesday began with a worst case scenario.

“The one thing we’re not going to do is kick the can down the road” says House Budget Chair Carlos Trujillo

The House Appropriations Committee passed last years budget minus money for members projects.

“Could we get a budget done in the next ten days? Possibly. But if we don’t, if we don’t, this is our safety valve” Trujillo told committee members.

Democrats on the Committee are up in arms. Minority Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa was downright angry.

“We all just need to grow up. we need to sit at a table together and we need to do what the citizens of Florida and the fricking taxpayers have asked us to come here to do” says Cruz.

With Two billion dollars separates the chambers, the Speaker and Senate President finally began meeting face to face. Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano remains optimistic.

“And so there’s continuing offers between the chambers, and we’ll take it from there” says galvano.

A decade ago, Special Sessions cost forty thousand dollars a day. Now there are new estimates from Cruz.

“It is seventy two thousand dollars a day.”

Q:”Is that the new number?”

“That’s my number.”

Q:”Okay, ho’d you come up with that?”

“Ah, we just tried to kinda figure out what lodging costs, what folks per diem is, and what it costs for staff.”

Passing a budget is the legislators only constitutional responsibility…but the constitutions says nothing about doing it on time.

Negotiations are occurring on two levels, total dollar amounts, and spending for policy items like charter schools, tax breaks, education funding and the environment, particularly building a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

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Law Enforcment Honors Fallen Hero’s and their Families

April 24th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Hundreds of police officers from across the state were in the State Capitol today to pay tribute to the officers who were lost last year. And as Mike Vasilinda tells us, pay tribute to those who survived.


Hundreds of officers paraded a half dozen blocks to the Capitol to show respect for their fallen brothers and sisters.

The families of those being remembered filled a hundred seats or more. FDLE Deputy Commission Don Lardner promised the state would remember their fallen hero and those they left behind.

“To the families we also promise to you that we will never forget you. You are out hero. your sacrifice continues day in and day out” Lardner told the audience.

Ten new names were added to the memorial, Seven who dies this year, and three that were previously unknown.

Massachusetts State Trooper John Kotfila Sr. came to remember his son John, a  Hillsborough deputy who blocked a wrong way driver from killing two others wth his car. He died in a fiery crash.

“My son was a special individual and we didn’t know how many lives of pople he that he touched. I’ve had people come up to me, involving cases he’s been involved in three or four years ago, and tell me what a wonderful person he was and how caring he was” the Senior officer told us.

Stephen Oliver was near tears recalling his older brother Eric, a Nassau County Deputy, killed while chasing an illegal immigrant on foot.

“He was always looking out for everybody else, except for himself. You know, he wanted to do what was right.” says Stephen.

A 21 gun salute ended the ceremony.

2 florida officers have already died in the line of duty since the beginning of the year.  Both from Orlando.

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