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Dog Flu Confirmed in Florida

May 31st, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The Florida Department of agriculture say 12 cases of the highly contagious dog flu have been confirmed by the University of Florida.
Most dogs have no immunity and are not vaccinated for the disease.
Pet owners are being urged to keep an eye out for symptoms in their dogs.
Coughing, sneezing, and lethargic behavior can all be signs a dog is infected.
Symptoms only show up in 80% of dogs. To be safe vets recommend limiting exposure to other dogs.
“It can spread quickly especially in boarding kennels, hospitals, dog parks, places like that. So if they show symptoms, they’re spreading this disease and they can spread it up to four weeks,” said Dr. Karis Dickey with North Florida Animal Hospital.
The Florida Humane Society say it’s taking similar precautions.
“Our guard is always up and we’re always extra careful. And I think this is just an opportunity for owners to kind of take the same awareness and take the same precautions that we would,” said Lisa Glunt, Director of the Leon County Humane Society.
Never before seen in Florida, the first seven cases were reported Tuesday, by Wednesday the number was up to 12.
“They believe that it originated from two possible dog shows. One in Perry Georgia and the other in Deland Florida. All of the dogs that they’re currently treating are in stable condition,” said Jeann Meale with the Florida Department of Agriculture.
Dog Flu isn’t generally fatal, but when left untreated veterinarians say it can develop into potentially life threatening conditions.
“Usually they don’t develop serious cases. Dogs that do develop serious cases can get phenomena and they need to be hospitalized for treatment,” said Dr. Dickey.
Vaccinations for dog flu do exist.
They’re not 100% effective, but can reduce your dogs risk of getting the disease and also reduce their chance of spreading it.
Vaccines run between $20 and $40.
Although less common, the disease has also been known to spread to cats.

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Protesters Around the State Call for Rubio to Reject Congress ACA Replacement Bill

May 30th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Hundreds of Floridians across the state gathered outside of Rubio’s seven state offices today, to share why they believe he shouldn’t support the House bill that would repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act.
They note Florida is the state with the most people to benefit from the ACA. Losing it, they say would cause millions to lose insurance and would reduce access to services for mental health and Planned Parenthood.
“It’s all in the same vain of making sure people have access to quality healthcare and making sure Senator Rubio knows that all of these groups have come together to show their opposition and we want him to do the right thing,” said Jordan Anderson with For Our Future.
Senator Marco Rubio has not yet taken a stance on the Congressional attempt to repeal the ACA.

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FHP Staffing Shortages Causing Fewer Speeding Tickets

May 30th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A major staffing shortage at the Florida Highway Patrol may be welcome news to speeders on the road, but the department says it’s struggling to respond to the growing number of accidents in the state.
The department is hoping a pay raise for troopers in the State budget will help.
The Florida highway patrol has lost 993 troopers to retirement or resignation since 2010.
That’s more than half of its current work force.
Vanessa, a Texas driver traveling to Disney said she prefers to speed.
“But I’m cautious because we’re not from Florida so I don’t want to get a ticket from a place I’m not from,” said Vanessa.
But a speeding ticket is something she may not have to worry about until there are more troopers on the road.
The drastic reduction in employees has resulted in an 18% drop in the number of traffic tickets being written.
The drop doesn’t bother some motorists like Dave from Naples.
“Speed traps? I really don’t like them,” said Dave.
The drop in tickets and high turnover rate is being blamed on poor pay.
“You have trouble recruiting people to the Highway patrol with the low salary and then you have trouble retaining folks within the highway patrol because the salary stays low,” said Matt Puckett with the Florida Police Benevolent Association.
As staffing takes a hit, the number of crashes in the state continues to rise.
Car crashes increased 70 percent between 2011 and 2016.
Fewer troopers on the road means longer response times.
“It really is a public safety concern when you have this low staffing,” said Puckett.
The Legislature raised troopers starting salary by $2,200 dollars starting in July during session. The budget also would increase all troopers pay by 5%.  Which the FHP  hopes will bring in more recruits.
“We just had 63 new recruits graduate the Florida Highway Patrol Academy. We currently have 25 new recruits in the academy at this time,” said  Captain Jefferey Bissainthe with the FHP.
Even with the pay raise in the budget, troopers salaries  will still fall behind what most other southern states offer.
As of May 4th, there were 201 vacancies at the Florida Highway Patrol.

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Department of Health Moves Ahead With Medical Marijuana

May 26th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
After Florida lawmakers failed to pass legislation implementing medical marijuana, the Department of Health says it will issue rules for implementing the voter approved amendment.
It’s another signal the Legislature is running out of time to call a special session.
Medical marijuana advocates say the Department of Health is doing the best they can to implement amendment 2 properly, but they’re hoping Lawmakers will come back to finish the job 71% of voters asked them to do.
The Department of Health announced it will give 15 days notice of what rules it intends to adopt prior to implementing anything.
It also has offered three days of public comment before adopting any rules.
The Medical Marijuana Business Association says the time frames are acceptable considering the rapidly approaching deadline of July 3rd.
“Everybody will be very vigilant watching the Department watching what the department is going to be doing, so I think it’s the best they can do,” said Jeff Sharkey, founder of the association.
As the deadline draws nearer calls for a special session are growing.
Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam has joined the ranks those asking the Legislature to come back.
“I think that a special session is in order because I think that for a constitutional amendments implementation it’s important for elected officials to do it not the bureaucrats at the department of health,” said Putnam.
Drug Free America also wants a Special Session.
“It’s really quite overwhelming for us to expect the Department of Health the bare the burden of this without the guidance of the Legislature,” said Executive Director Calvina Fay.
If lawmakers don’t come back, DOH is bound by current law, requiring patients to wait 90 days before receiving their medicine after its recommendation.
“They know what the people want. Will they implement it? Will the voices make a difference?” said Josephine Cannella-Krehl with the Florida Cannabis Action Network.
Rules for medical marijuana must be in place by October 3rd.
The 90-day waiting period does not apply to terminally ill patients.

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Mission BBQ has an American Take for Missions Accomplished

May 26th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

For many Viet Nam era veterans, homecoming was not a pleasant experience. But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, veterans and first responders have a friend in a small chain BBQ restaurant.

Mission BBQ has 8 stores in Florida. Founders believe there’s nothing more American than BBQ and the men and women who serve our country.

Watch what happens at noon.

“Ladies and gentlemen, please join us in honoring our country, which we do everyday at noon, with the singing of our national anthem’”

“Oh say can you see by the dawns early light.”

Afterwards Applause.

Florida Veteran’s Foundation President Dennis Baker invited us to come and meet two veterans at the eatery.

“And he fought in World War II, China Korea, and Vietnam” Baker said as he introduced Maj. John Haynes, USMC (retired).

John Haynes tried to become a Marine at 13, got in at 15, spent 30 years serving and saw countless men die.

“Our comrades who gave their all for this county. they really gave two lives. They gave the life they were no living, and they also forfeited the life thatchy would have lived.” Haynes told us before lunch.

Dale Doss is a one war veteran. Vietnam, where he spent five years as a POW.

“There’s so many guys I know who gave the full measure of their life and you always wonder why they went and you didn’t” Doss pondered, but was thankful for a full life.

Patrons here were clearly proud of the two vets, both of whom asked us to remind you that Memorial Day is about more than just a good deal at the mall.

The Florida Veterans Foundation is a non profit supporting entirely by donations. It’s motto: No Veteran Left Behind.

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Taxwatch Finds 111 Budget Turkeys totaling 177 Million

May 26th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Lawmaker have yet to send the budget to the Governor, but Florida Taxwatch is out with its list of 111 items it says should be vetoed because they were stuck in the final budget without going through proper channels. The budget watchdog says lawmakers did a better job this year than most of not hiding projects. ButVP for Research Kurt Wenner did take issue with much of the final budget being negotiated behind closed doors. They are asking the Governor to veto the items.

“We’re pointing them out to the Governor. It’s up to him to make that call, l but we’re pointing out areas where we feel the legislature fell short of what’s required for deliberation and consideration” Wenner told reporters.

The budget is expected to go to the Governor next week. One he has it, he has 15 days to decide if he vetoes the entire budget, just parts of it, or allows the spending to take place.

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Rick Scott Approves 180 Million in Tax Cuts

May 25th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Governor Rick Scott signed this years tax package Thursday morning..
The package includes $180 million dollars in tax cuts for Floridians.
The tax cuts are welcomed by business groups, but others say they go to far.
Hurricane season begins next Thursday, the Hurricane tax holiday begins the next day.
Items covered in the exemption include batteries, power generators up to $750 and flashlights.
The three day holiday is expected to be a boom for retailers.
“We got hit by a bunch of hurricanes last year, not to mention tornadoes and floods. This disaster preparedness holiday will be huge for retailers and huge for consumers in preparing themselves in case a natural disaster hits again this year,” said James Miller with the Florida Retail Association.
Shoppers will also get a three day tax holiday for back to school shopping in August.
People can purchase clothing and shoes up to $60 and school supplies up to $15 tax free.
New this year is a technology exemption, extending the tax breaks to items like computers and tablets up to $750.
The business rent tax is seeing its first ever reduction.
The Florida Chamber of Commerce says the cut will provide a boost for small businesses.
“They can reinvest back into their businesses, they can reinvest in their employees, provide raises, additional benefits,” said Carolyn Johnson with the Chamber.
Florida is the only State to tax business rent.
The tax plan also creates an exemption for feminine hygiene products like tampons menstrual pads.
Governor Rick Scott likes to brag that he’s cut taxes more than 50 times since taking office.
Some feel it isn’t a good idea.
The Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy has been criticizing the Legislature’s tax plans for years.
“If you’re going to change the sources of revenue, you can’t just cut. We have to look and create new revenue,” said Karen Woodall with the center.
The center says tax cuts contribute to budget cuts in other areas like education, the environment and healthcare.

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New Political Ads Target Controversial Education Bill

May 24th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The battle over the Legislature’s sweeping Education bill is heating up with new political ads.
Those in support and those against the bill are trying to win public support.
House bill 7069 grew from a dozen pages to 278 pages over a weekend.
Negotiations were behind closed doors.
The secretive nature has many calling for the Governor to veto the bill.
The legislation is the top priority for House Speaker Richard Corcoran.
The House has it’s own video, hoping to school the public on what it believes are the bills benefits.
On the night lawmakers went home, the Speaker called the legislation, “The greatest educational K-12 policy that we’ve passed in the history of the state.”
Lawmakers tried to craft the bill in a way to make it veto proof.
The bill appeals to parents with mandatory recess for elementary students. It has 30 million for special needs scholarships.
“They can now appeal to the public and appeal to the governor saying look you don’t want to lose these great pieces so we’re going to kind of force you to swallow the bitter pill,” said Rich Templin with Florida AFL-CIO.
It also has 140 million for new charter schools.
The Florida Education Association says the bad heavily out weighs the good.
“For us it’s a veto straight up,” said President of FEA, Joanne McCall.
Even Commissioner of Agriculture and Gubernatorial hopeful Adam Putnam is speaking out.
“Many of the members who were asked to vote on it were unaware of all the different things that were taped together at the last second,” said Putnam.
Once the Governor receives the bill he’ll have 15 days to decide whether or not to veto it.
The Department of Education declined to comment on the story.

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Former Tampa Police Officer Denied Parole over Threatening Gestures

May 24th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

A former Tampa police officer who has spent 37 years in prison for a murder during a robbery gone bad had a release date of this coming July 4th, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, a panel decided the release put society, the Attorney General and a high ranking former prosecutors at risk.

Former Police Officer Charles Norman got life for killing a 20 year old security guard in 1975. He’s one of several thousand inmates sentenced before 1983 when life only meant 25 years.

While maintaining his innocence, Norman has become a nationally recognized writer and sculptor in prison.

Attorney Bill Shepard and Norman’s Wife Elizabeth came to the Commission on Offender Review to argue the former cop could safely be released as early as July 4th of this year.

“He shows no tendency toward violence, and exhibits no thought disorders and is in the lowest five percent category of risk” Shepperd told the panel.

But prosecutor Kimberly Hindman painted a different picture.

“Anyone who opposes this man becomes a focus and a target for how he’s going to take that person down” Hindman told Commissioners.

Before becoming Attorney General Pam Bondi was a prosecutor in the office that put Norman away.
“He sent letters to me with veiled threats” she says.

Now Prosecutors argue neither Bondi nor former State Attorney Mark Ober would be safe if Norman is released.

“Because Pam Bondi, Mark Ober, and anybody else who gets in his way when he is released have to start looking over their shoulder 24 hours a day seven days a week” says Hindman.

The panel denied Parole

The decision means Norman will spend at least the next two and perhaps the next seven years in prison.

Afterwards we asked wife Elizabeth “Not what you expected?”

“I have nothing to say, thank you” she responded.

Norman’s fate was sealed when Prosecutors disclosed Norman is still making threats which were recorded during a prison phone call with his wife.

Life Isn’t Life Package Script:

sig out

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NRA Confident in Department of Agriculture’s Ability to Recover from Hack

May 23rd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The Department of Agriculture says it fights hundreds of cyber attacks each day, but they say had never experienced a hit like the one that obtained the information of thousands of residents.
The Department announced the attack on its website.
It says 16 thousand had names but no other identifying information stolen off the Concealed Carry License Data Base.
“This was an unprecedented attack. It came just a couple of days before the global hack that occurred,” said Commissioner of Agriculture, Adam Putnam.
But another 400 plus who renewed their licenses with a credit card online had their social security numbers compromised.
“They had used their social security number in ecommerce business transactions within the department. Not gun related,” said Putnam.
Marion Hammer with the National Rifle Association fought to take the concealed carry names out of the public record nearly two decades ago.
She has confidence the Department of Agriculture will do what is necessary too protect permit holders privacy.
“Hackers are getting more sophisticated, but we’re also getting more sophisticated in how to stop it,” said Hammer.
The more than 400 people who had their social security numbers stolen in the breach are being offered protection through life lock.
A review of the department’s cyber security measures has been ordered in light of the attack.
“I’m sure there’s a renewed effort. To be sure that a hack of that main database cannot occur,” said Hammer.
The Department of Law Enforcement believes the attack came from over-seas.

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Pam Bondi Reacts to Supreme Court Rejecting Appeal in Case of Florida Death Rulings

May 23rd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Attorney General Pam Bondi had asked the US Supreme Court to look over Florida’s highest court decision requiring unanimous jury recommendations in death cases.
On Monday, it refused.
Tuesday morning she said the state ruling only requiring unanimous  jury recommendations after a 2002 case was fair.
“I don’t believe that any of the people who had been executed who did not receive a unanimous death recommendation that i’m aware of, look at the serial killers. I don’t think Ted Bundy was a unanimous death rec. And Clearly, he should have been executed,” said Bondi, “So clearly, I don’t have a problem with that. But going forward, we will respect the courts and the change in the law. That’s our system. Our laws evolve and change as we progress.”
Approximately two hundred convicted killers on death row sentenced after 2002 will get new sentencing hearing.

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Forecasted Rains May Put a Damper on Wildfires

May 23rd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The Director of the Florida Forest Service says he has his fingers crossed that weather patterns are changing and recent rain has dampened fire danger.
South Carolina crews fighting fires in Florida will go home this week.
Still Director Jim Karels says the drought is still a major concern.
“A lot of equipment fires. A lot of vehicle fires lately. and when we start going to vehicle fires and catalytic converters in this state when the humidity doesn’t quite drop like it does in the west that we are extremely dry,” said Karels, “Because they are just parking their cars or trucks and the next thing you know they come back and the truck’s burned up and there’s a two or three hundred acre fire running away from them. It’s that type of situation.”
More than 170 thousand acres have burned in Florida so far this year.
The day began with 114 active wildfires.

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Last Call for the Liquor Wall

May 23rd, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott must decide whether to sign, veto, or let become law legislation allowing big box stores to sell alcohol inside their main stores. It is one of the most controversial issues to come out of the 2017 legislative session. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, supporters say the current law requiring liquor to be sold in a stand alone store is antiquated.

It’s a common sight. A big box store with a liquor store attached. The law has required separate entrances since the end of prohibition. Michael Williams represents Floridians For Fair Business Practices.

“This law has been on the books for 83 years. It’s something that’s outlived it’s usefulness. It’s time to repeal it” says Williams.

Walmart, Cosco, Target and others pushed hard for a change and got it. On the other side, Publix, ABC, and independent liquor store owners. 4 dozen independent owners made one last call on the Capitol Tuesday. The Governor has until Wednesday to make a decision.

Chris Knightley came from Orlando, he says, to try and save his family business.

“We’re hoping Governor Scott will veto SB106” says Knightley.

The independent owners say they can’t compete.

We asked the crowd “How many of you think you’ll be out of business in five years if the Governor signs this bill?” Nearly every hand went up.

Karim Hemdara came from Springhill in Hernando County.

“Winn Dixie already has a liquor license. And they have exclusivity in the shopping center with the landlord, and they, you know, force me out of the shopping center in about six months time.”

“The bill cleared the Senate by a two vote margin, and the House by just one vote.”

Three House members voted no after the roll call but their votes don’t change the outcome.

Scott says he is still talking to both sides.

“A lot of feedback on that bill. You’re right, I’ve had family members who have dealt, had challenges with alcoholism. It concerns me” the Governor told us.

Scott must decide by midnight Wednesday.

Here are the numbers from the Governor’s office of people voicing an opinion on the liquor wall bill.

Phone: Support – 689, Oppose – 266

Emails: Support – 477, Oppose – 2686

Letters: Support – 8, Oppose – 575

Petition Signatures: Support: 0, Oppose – 3989

Sponsors say the law has not had an adverse impact in the more than 20 other states that have allowed big box liquor sales.

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Legislation to Increase Penalties on Shark Finners Awaits Governors Signature

May 22nd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A bill on Governor Rick Scott’s desk seeks to discourage the illegal practice of shark finning off Florida’s coast, but some marine activists say it doesn’t go far enough.
Shark Fin Soup is an expensive delicacy in Asian countries like China and Japan.
To feed their appetite, Shark landings have tripled since the1950’s.
The over-fishing has taken a toll on the global shark population.
Jack Rudloe owns Gulf Specimen Marine Laboratories in Panacea.
He says if sharks aren’t thriving, the rest of the ocean’s ecosystem is sure to follow.
“If you don’t have apex predators thinning things out then you get a proliferation of diseases that come in and parasites,” said Rudloe.
Legislation sent the Governor would raise the fine for finning from $500 to $4,500.
Poachers also face 60 days in jail and a 180 day suspension of their saltwater license.
The penalties increase each time a person is caught. A third offense permanently suspends a person’s salt water license.
“The fines were almost negligible before and now they’re up to $10,000 and the almost immediate loss of your commercial fishing license. So i do hope that the combination will help to deter this practice,” said the bill’s House Sponsor, Represenative Alexandra Miller.
Although marine activists support the idea of increased penalties on shark finners, they don’t believe this bill will have a significant impact on the global trade.
“The United States is not the problem. Asia is the problem. The Chinese fisheries are the problem,” said Rudloe.
Rudloe says there needs to be a major dietary change in Asia where the fins are highly coveted for boosting sexual potency, preventing heart disease, and lowering cholesterol.
The Governor has until Wednesday to sign the legislation, let it become law, or veto it.

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Solar, Renewables Tax Break Paying Dividends

May 22nd, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

State lawmakers may not have been able to agree on medical marijuana, but they wasted no time implementing the solar amendment voters approved last August. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the sponsor calls the voter approved amendment transformational.

A 120 acre solar field is about to spring up on the outskirts of the state Capitol. it will be owned by a private company on land leased from the city. Under legislation implementing the constitutional amendment approved by voters last August, the company, won’t be taxed for 80 percent of the 30 million in panels they install.

“So, it’s a huge incentive for businesses” says Sponsor Jeff Brandes. He says the amendment and implementing legislation will define Florida’s future.

“You’re going to see over the next ten or fifteen years, a significant transition to more solar. And this bill, and they will point to this bill as being one of the impetus’s of that” says Brandes.

The tax break was approved by a bigger percentage of voters than those who said yes to medical marijuana.”

Aliki Moncrief is with Florida Conservation Voters and believes the amendment is a big step forward.

“And even with this amendment alone, it’s going to be a very different place. It’s going to be a cleaner greener energy state” says Moncrief.

The upside for governments or businesses, with no fuel to buy, contractors can offer a steady price for power for twenty or thirty years at a time.

The tax break is expected to be a big incentive for utilities to invest in large scale solar.

“It  doesn’t give us any grief at all that this is an incentive for the utilities to start improving their record on how much solar they are installing” says Moncrief.

Florida now ranks 12th nationally in solar installations. It is expected to be 7th within the next five years, in part because voters said yes last August.

While businesses will still pay 20 percent of the tax that would have been due on solar equipment, homeowners have had a 100% property tax break on solar equipment since 2013. The business break is expected to cot local governments 54 million a year.

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