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Senator Bill Nelson Meets With State Democrats oil Gun Legislation

February 22nd, 2018 by Jake Stofan

After 5,000 people marched on the state Capitol demanding stricter gun laws, US Senator Bill Nelson made a stop in the Capitol to speak with House Democrats about the issue of gun control in the state.

Earlier in the week democrats tried to bring a proposal to ban assault weapons in the state up for a vote in the House, but it was shot down with 71 no votes. Senator Nelson says he’s not surprised. He says the only reason there seems to be any movement on other gun restrictions like increasing the age to purchase assault rifles and creating waiting periods is because of the passion shown by the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

“Two years after Pulse, why hasn’t the state of Florida taken any action? Not one iota, until these kids come up and sit and look them in the eyeballs and demand that they do something because they are grieving so much,” said Sen. Nelson.  “So there’s been a lot of foot dragging over the years and I think people are getting fed up.”

Senator Nelson says he supports a ban on assault rifles. He noted the weapons were banned federally from 1194 to 2004. Since the law was repealed, mass casualty events have become more deadly.

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No Debate on Students Top Priority…Yet

February 21st, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

 

For the second day in a row, state lawmakers passed on debating an assault rifle ban as dozens of survivors from last weeks school shooting watched. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, legislative leaders say the debate will happen…but just not yet.

At it’s first meeting since the deaths at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High, the Florida Senate paid tribute to the victims…through a slide show to a moment of silence.

“Please Rise” asked Senate President Joe Negron.

Two gun bills, including one allowing concealed carry in churches, were on the agenda…until controversial amendments banning assault rifles and adding waiting periods were filed.

Sot: Sen. Joe Negron

Senate President

“Show the next bill temporarily postponed” the President announced when the bills turn came up.

 

Amendment sponsor Gary Farmer wanted to know when the bills would come up.

“Today, the bill has been temporarily postponed” Negron responded curtly.

We asked Farmer about the delay.

“Should we be surprised?”

Q:”Are they afraid of the debate?”

“Yeah, Yeah, they are afraid of the debate, I think” he told us.

Senate sponsors say they will keep trying to amend an assault ban on any gun bill that goes to the Senate floor.

 

In a long Q&A with the Douglas students, the House Speaker defended the procedural vote, taking dozens of tough questions, including one from MSD Junior  Alondra Gittelson.

“The AR-15 did so much damage. How is an individual in society allowed to acquire such a gun?” She asked.

In the end, the Speaker said an assault rifle ban wasn’t likely, but money should be no object.

 

“If its 200 million, its 200 million. The issue is not the number, the issue  solving the problem” says Corcoran.

And the admittedly exhausted students said they were tired of what they were hearing.

Ryan Deitsch is a senior at Douglas.

“They’re using political double talk as much as they can.”

And Delaney Tarr added a warning.

“The people around us failed us, and if the continue to fail us, they will no longer be in office. Because soon we will be given the ability to vote, and we will vote them out” she said during a news conference

Whether or not they win a ban this year, it’s clear the Students have put an exclamation point on the gun debate.

The Governor has promised to announce his plans to prevent future shootings on Friday. Legislative leaders say the conversations at the Capitol have been on going since the shooting.

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Thousands Rally for Gun Control on Capitol Grounds

February 21st, 2018 by Jake Stofan

 

An estimated Five thousand students and protestors rallied at the Capitol, demanding lawmakers pass meaningful gun control legislation, Wednesday.

Students from FSU, FAMU and around the state came to show support for the movement that began with the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

 

“I don’t want to be scared for my kids when my time comes to be a parent,” said FSU student Erfaan Mahmoodi. “I don’t want to be scared for them when I leave them at school, when they go out to the movies, that they might get hurt in something like this.”

Students from the high school took to the podium surrounded by Democratic lawmakers, demanding action from the GOP controlled Legislature.

 

“If the government thinks something is not going to change they’re sadly mistaken,” said survivor of the shooting, Rachel Catnia. “No person should have to go through what my peers and I went through. How many more innocent people have to die before we make a change.”

 

Another survivor of the shooting, Sheryl Acquaroli said, “You will not turn these 17 human beings into a statistic!”

Tensions were are high at the rally, as were emotions.

Protesters feared counter protests, but they never happened.

The Legislators spoke directly to the Republican majority, which has blocked their attempts at reform for years.

 

Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith has sponsored Legislation to ban assault rifles in the state since the Pulse Night Club Shooting. Two sessions later it’s never gotten a hearing.

He put the question to Republicans saying, “Are we gonna get a fucking hearing?!”

House minority leader Janet Cruz went as far to say the Legislative process in the state was, “Bull shit!”

The goal of achieving an outright ban on assault rifles is slim to none, instead lawmakers will focus on mental health and background checks.

The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School left the State Capitol Wednesday night, but the movement they’ve created seems to only be gaining traction.

The students are also planing a march on Washington next month.

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Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Students Arrive in Tallahassee

February 21st, 2018 by Jake Stofan

 

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were bused into the state Capitol Tuesday evening in preparation for their rally to ban assault weapons.

Hundreds of students joined by State Legislators gathered outside Leon High School in anticipation of roughly 100 students from the South Florida high school to arrive.

 

“We’re just here to show as much love and support as we can,” said Leon High School Senior, Kellen Long.

They’re joined the fight for a ban on assault weapons in the state.

Tanzil Philip, a sophomore at Stoneman Douglas said, “Our Message is very simple and it’s ‘never again’.”

Earlier in the day the House rejected a move to hear Legislation that would have banned the weapons, with 71 members voting against.

It brought Stoneman Douglas junior, Sheryl Acquaroli to tears.

“It’s too much. Those are 70 murderers,” said Acquaroli.

At the governors round table with law enforcement, education leaders and mental health experts there was no mention of Banning assault weapons.

When asked if he would consider a ban the Governor repeatedly said, “All options are on the table.”

For now it seems the Governor’s focus is on preventing the mentally ill from obtaining fire arms and increasing communication between law enforcement, mental health professionals and schools.

“Can you measure it to make sure it happens. I mean in business that’s what you have to do, you have to measure constantly what you’re doing,” said Governor Scott. “So as I try to think through these proposals, is it going to change something. Is it really going to move the needle and make something happen.”

But for many students who experienced the terror of last weeks shooting, it’s not enough.

 

There’s going to an empty space in peoples lives and it’s going to be there fault, because they could have done something today,” said Acquaroli.

The Governor says a proposal will be ready by Friday, leaving two weeks in the Legislative session to move it through both chambers.

The students will meet with lawmakers throughout the morning, prior to the noon press conference.

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Students Push Gun Control

February 20th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

The first contingent of South Florida high school students seeking controls on assault rifles and better background checks following last week’s deadly school shooting are in the State Capitol today meeting with lawmakers. And as Mike Vasilinda tells us, they are confronting those who oppose their efforts.

The three dozen students found a friendly ear with Democratic State Senator Perry Thurston He represents part of the county where 17 were killed last week.

 

Rachel Catania is a Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Sophomore.

“It’s easier to buy a gun than it is to make plans with my friends on the weekend, and that’s not okay.”

While bills have already been filed to ban assault style rifles, they’re going nowhere. Thurston now plants to ament them on other bills.

Q:”At least you’ll get them on the record?” We asked.

“Get them on the record but also hopefully to get them to prick their hearts and hope to get them to do the right thing” says thurston.

The next stop for the students, State Senator Dennis Baxley.

“Come on in and talk to me.”

 

Baxley is the author of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law. He’s an advocate for arming teachers as the first line of defense.

Sot: Natalie Feehand

MSD High School Student

“I’ve had anxiety attacks. We need you to work the left to get things done” MSD student Natalie Freehand told Baxley.

“Five minutes before law enforcement even gets set up. What do we do with that?” asked the veteran lawwaker.

Lizzy Eaton another MSD High School Student wasn;t thrilled with the meeting.

“I think he did emphasize with us, and I think he did understand us, but I think he needs to really, you know, step outside his comfort zone and really make a change” says Eaton.

At another stop down the hall. Miami State Senator Rene Garcia.

Ashley Keene is a Cypress High School student.

“I think we can all collectively agree that no fourteen year old should be shot in the stomach while trying to learn algebra” Keene told Garcia.

“New legislation is being developed that will not go as far as the students would like, but it is a step in their direction.”

It raises the age for buying an AR 15 from 18 to 21. It also requires a three day cooling off period for all gun purchases, not just handguns.

Anchor Tag: The NRA says it will not comment on the legislation now being drafted it is in writing and filed for consideration. Two more bus loads of students are expected to arrive in the State Capital this evening.

 

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House Rejects Assault Rife Ban, Shooting Survivor Brought to Tears

February 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Democratic lawmakers attempted to force a hearing for a proposed ban on assault weapons in the state at the start of the House session this afternoon.

The Legislation was assigned to committees which will not meet again before session ends, by putting the proposal up for a vote Democrats could have bypassed the committee process.

The move was shot down by Republicans, with 71 votes against.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School junior, Sheryl Acquaroli was visibly upset after seeing the results of the vote.

 

“The next death of someone with an assault rifle here in Florida is going to be on them. It’s going to be on them and it’s going to be their fault that those people are dead and that those people aren’t going to go home to their families and that there is going to be an empty space in people’s lives and it’s going to be their fault, because they could have done something today,” said Acquaroli.

While the full ban on assault rifles has stalled, other proposals including wait times for assault rifle purchases and increasing the age to purchase the weapons to 21 are still alive.

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Statue Replacement Bill On its Way to the Governor’s Desk

February 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

A three-year push to replace the statue of Confederate General Kirby Smith currently representing Florida in the nation’s Capitol is on its way to the Governor’s desk.

The replacement will be civil rights activist and founder of Bethune-Cookman University, Marry McLeod Bethune.

The Bethune-Cookman choir opened the House session before the vote, singing the national anthem. The Legislation passed with just one no vote from Jacksonville Representative Jay Fant. Bethune-Cookman University Interim-President Hubert Grimes says the no vote doesn’t take away from the accomplishment.

“Today is a great day. It’s a day for all Floridians. It’s a day that we can all look back and say we’re more alike than apart, that we can work together, that we can build bridges and that this is going to be a defining moment in the life of our founder,” said Grimes.

Bethune will be the first African American to represent a state in the National Statuary Hall if the Governor approves the Legislation.

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College Students Say Legislation Would Stand in the Way of Free Speech

February 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Students from at least the state universities rallied against the passage of a bill that seeks to penalize universities that stifle free speech on campus.

The Legislation was filed after white nationalist Richard Spencer made an appearance at the University of Florida last year, which resulted in counter protests and students shouting over his speech.

Students say penalizing those who speak out against hate groups restricts the free speech of students, while promoting hate groups.

 

“It is undeniable that this bill is designed to confuse the public and distract those who might not support it. It’s very conveniently titled “Free Expression on Campus,” which leads most of its constituents to believe that this bill promotes free expression when in reality it simply suppresses it while picking and choosing what our modes of expression and in toleration of hate speech, racism and fascism on our campus can be,” said FSU student Reem Zaitoon.

Universities and individuals could be held liable for damages of between $500 and $100,000 for violating a persons first amendment right to free speech under the bill.

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Sheriff’s Roundtable on Gun Violence

February 20th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Lack of cooperation, record sharing and the lack of resources for manpower and technology game out of a roundtable of state and local law enforcement officials working to solve school safety issues. They came from across the state at the request of the Governor. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd echoed what many believe: Non sworn school personnel should be trained and armed as the first response to an active shooter.

“How did that work for those children last week, when there was no one at the school that could protect them? And yet, teachers ran in, unarmed, only to be shot along with the children” asks Judd.

In addition to law enforcement, mental heath experts and educators held two other discussions on school safety. They will present their reports to the Governor later tonight.

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Don’t Tread on My Front Yard Garden

February 19th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Don’t tread on me became an early motto for the American revolution, and now as Mike Vasilinda tells us, Senate Bill 1776 seeks to remedy what many are calling an overreach by a local government.

Seven miles northwest of Miami, the City of Miami Springs told a couple who had grown vegetables in the front year for 17 years, to knock it off. Ari Bargil is the couples attorney.

 

“Seems to me this was an attack on a lifestyle decision that she made to grow her own food. The city didn’t like the look of it” he told us after testifying before the State Senate.

State Senator Rob Bradley isn’t pleased.

“This is ridiculous” he told the Senate Rules Committee.

 

Bradley first heard about the garden ban at a delegation meeting hundreds of miles away.

“And when I found out about it, I got mad, so I filed a bill.”

Now Senate Bill 1776 would keep local governments from banning front yard gardens.

The couple have lost their case in multiple courts. But, two weeks ago the Florida Supreme Court said the dispute was better settled by state lawmakers.

And it appears they will over the objection of the League of Cities. David Cruz tried to tell lawmakers the cities positions.

 

“You might have a situation where someone might grow corn in front of their house, and if you live next door to that house, that might affect your property values” says Cruz.

At this 100 year old feed and seed store in the shadows the Capitol, people planting their own vegetables didn’t mince words.

“Sounds kind of dumb to me” one Gardner told us.

Sot: George Yont

Homeowner

“Too much government. Way too much government” says another.

Owner Stan Gramling is as incensed as everybody else.

 

“You know, on your property, you need to be able to do what you’re gonna do, without infringing on somebody else” says Gramling.

The message to local governments: Property rights reign supreme.

The legislation is now ready for a vote by the full State Senate.  The League of Cities did not have an estimate on how many cities could be effected if the legislation becomes law.

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Calls Growing For Assault Rife Ban in Florida

February 19th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

 

After last weeks shooting, which claimed the lives of 17 a growing number of top GOP donors have vowed to discontinue financial support of candidates that don’t support a full ban on assault weapons.

They join the voices of at least 100 students from Stoneman Douglas High School who will be at the Capitol this week supporting a ban on the weapons.

This is the second year in a row the legislation has failed to get a hearing.

Sponsor Linda Stewart thinks, now, things may be different.

“The component of the very young, has really caused there to be attention, more than there ever has been,” said Senator Stewart.

Gun sales in Florida didn’t spike after the shooting. Pawn shop owner Mark Folmar says that could change if the ban gets a hearing.

“Because they feel like they won’t ever be able to get this again and so now is the time,” said Folmar.

Paige McFadden survived the FSU school shooting in 2014 after the attacker’s gun jammed. Even though each mass shooting since has made her relive the memory of her experience, she doesn’t support banning assault weapons.

“I rather them be registered and licensed, that way if in the instance the obtain these firearms it’s assigned to a particular individual and therefore they should take responsibility,” said McFadden.

The GOP controlled legislature is reluctant to restrict guns, but Governor Rick Scott, who has an A+ rating from the NRA says all options are on the table.

Republican lawmakers are considering a proposal that would add three day wait periods for rifle purchases, increase mental health screenings and raise the age to purchase assault rifles to 21.

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Addiction Advocates Urging House to Include Funding for Vivitrol in State Budget

February 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The Legislature’s main opioid response bill is on its way to both the House and Senate floor.

The bill limits opioid prescriptions to a three to seven day supply.

Restricting supply is supposed to prevent patients from becoming addicts.

Medical professionals like the idea, but want exceptions.

 

“Exceptions for cancer treatment, hospice care, surgery and trauma cases should be adopted,” said Jeff Scott with the Florida Medical Association.

Lawmakers are also increasing opioid crisis funding to $50 million, but the House budget cuts funding for a program aimed at helping addicts get clean.

It’s for a drug called Vivitrol, which blocks addicts’ cravings.

 

“Which then allows that individual to take a serious use at their drug use,” said Mark Fontaine with the Florida Behavioral Health Association.

The House budget slashes funding for the drug by $7 million.

Most of those funds come out of correctional programs that use the drug to help addicted inmates stay clean when they’re released.

Currently, 609 patients around the state receive Vivitrol through state funded programs.

 

“You’re talking about people that are on this medication that are benefiting from it that we’re going to have to say we can no longer provide this to you and it’s going to have a disastrous impact on their ability to stay clean,” said Vivitrol Nurse, Patrick Lane.

The medication is expensive, costing nearly $1,000 per dose, but a single dose can reduce cravings for a month.

Advocates say it’s worth the cost, considering 16 Floridians die from opioids each day.

 

“Ultimately it will get worse, and there’s no magic bullet and we’re not saying Vivitrol is that, but it’s an important piece of the puzzle when trying to get clean and stay clean,” said Lane.

While opioids may be harder to get under the legislation, without the funding for Vivitrol, getting clean may also be harder for those already addicted.

 

 

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School Safety Underfunded for Decade, Mass Shooting Changes Attitudes

February 15th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

State funding for school safety has remained constant while enrollment has skyrocketed. But after yesterday’s tragic shooting in South Florida, Mike Vasilinda tells us lawmakers are about to open the states checkbook.

Florida is spending 64.4 million this year on school safety. The amount hasn’t increased in seven years, but there are now 308 thousand more students in classrooms.

Juhn Mixon represents Florida’s School Administrators.

“That’s caused school school districts to lay off security staff” says Mixon.

83 percent of the money goest to school resource officers, who by all accounts are catching potential problems before they explode.

 

“We have a weapons related incident two out of every three days across Florida in a 180 day school year” adds Mixon.

Lawmakers were already squabbling over an increase for school safety. It looked bleak, until the Parkland shooting. Now all bets are off. Rob Bradley is the Senate Appropriations Chairman.

“And I can’t even say that it necessarily won’t happen again at this point, and I am tired of it. We are all tired of it” says Bradley.

 

The incoming Senate President is proposing 100 million for mental health for schools, and more to harden them.

 

Bradley also wants to know how the assailant was able to buy a gun.

“If a nineteen year old who is mentally ill is able to obtain a gun, we need to review that, and determine what is happening in our system.”

Even if there is more money for school safety, some lawmakers say that’s still not going to be enough.

Three weeks ago a House subcommittee approved legislation calling for training and arming two people in every school.

” Double yes” voted on member.

But its gone nowhere. Dennis Baxley (R-Ocala) is the Senate sponsor.

 

“And what really protects all of us is that an attacker doesn’t know who is armed.”

The Parkland shooting has at least sparked a conversation, the question, though, is whether it will spark legislative action.

In addition to money for resource officers, administrators want to up grade data mining software that an pick up potential threats on social media. They also say until public schools have the money to be safe, the sate should stop increasing voucher funding for private schools.

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Legislation to Ban Dismemberment Abortions Ready For the House Floor

February 15th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

In 2016 nearly 70,000 abortions were performed in the state. roughly, 4% were dismemberment abortions that would be made illegal.

The Legislation would make it a third degree felony for a doctor to perform the procedure.

In a committee hearing, Retired OBGYN Kathi Aultman described the procedure to members in graphic detail. She says performing the procedure changed her mind on abortion.

 

“Eventually I guess your conscience comes through,” said Aultman.

Barbara DeVane with the National Organization for Women was the one opponent who testified. She said lawmakers had treated pro-choice advocates poorly in prior hearings. In one case a legislator went as far to call doctors who provide abortions monsters.

 

“This shaming of women is a perfect example of why I’ll be the only one testifying,” said DeVane.

Afterwards opponents held a press conference outside the House Office building.

Jasmen Rogers with the Miami Worker’s Center says the bill would limit a woman’s right to choose, particularly for minority women.

 

“We don’t have as much, not only income, but knowledge, clinic access, healthcare access to be able to get birth control or other forms of contraception. So abortion is often times the only form of contraception we can use,” said Rogers.

Sponsor Erin Grall, says the procedure, if performed humanely,  would still be allowed.

 

“There are many providers that are already giving the injection to cause fetal demise before …the dismemberment is performed and it merely requires that additional step,”  said Grall.

Eight states have banned the procedure, but In six of those states legal challenges have prevented the bans from taking effect.

“If a woman needs it and has made that painful decision to do so, it is her right to do so,” said Representative Amy Mercado.

The bill hasn’t been heard by the Senate, but the Legislation could be used as a bargaining tool as the legislative session moves forward.

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Lawmakers Push For More Healthcare Options for Vets

February 15th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

State Senator Rene Garcia and a group of veterans and vert’s advocates are asking the Legislature to move legislation that seeks to increase healthcare access to Florida’s veterans.

The bill would create the Veterans Care Program within the Agency for Health Care Administration, which would work to get Federal dollars to help find alternative healthcare options for Veterans in the state.

Senator Gracia says it’s need because for some veterans, VA services aren’t easily accessible.

 

“We don’t want to take anything away from the VA. We want to make sure that we enhance and give and work in conjunction with our federal partners to ensure that especially those that live in real areas have access to quality care and most importantly choice,” said Garcia.

While the bill is steadily moving through the Senate, it’s stalled in the House. Advocates hope the language can be tagged on to another bill to help push it through the finish line.

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