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University of Florida Takes Over the State Capitol

February 15th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The University of Florida was represented at the State Capitol today for UF Gator Day. The individual colleges and programs within the University set up displays showing off their work and achievements.

Glenn Good, Dean of the School of Human Development and Organization says this year UF has a lot to brag about.


“Well were hoping for continued support. This last year, UF broke in to the top ten among public universities and we’re not resting on that, we’re looking to get into the top five and we’ll need their help in making that happen,” said Good.

Last year UF enrolled more than 52,000 students, accepting just shy of 40% of student who applied.

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Mom’s Demand Action on Background Checks

February 15th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Two dozen red shirted women delivered petitions to the Senate President, asking for legislation that would require someone who fails a background check for a gun purchase get reported to police. The bills have been pending since the beginning of session but have not moved in committee. Kate Kile says someone trying to buy a gun who shouldn’t have it is a danger sign worthy o investigation.


“If someone has a felony, if they are a domestic abuser, if they have a restraining order, thats valuable information to know that that person is trying procure a firearm, so, we fell that’s the kind of action we are looking for” says the groups Tallahassee team leader and spokesperson.

Fewer than two percent of the more than one million checks conducted on gun purchasers each year come back with a negative answer.

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Opioid Medical Amenesty

February 15th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

41 states and the District of Columbia give amnesty to participants reporting alcohol or drug overdose. Florida is about to join them. The measure cleared the Senate Rules Committee today after Sponsor Jeff Brandes told members it will result in more overdoses being reported before they become fatal.

“The primary reason call for help is not made is fear of arrest or police involvement. Research has shown that students who are aware a medical amnesty policy is in effect are two and a half times more likely to call for help while witnessing signs of alcohol poisoning than students who are students are expecting disciplinary actions” Brandes told the Senate Rules Committee.

The legislation’s next stop is the full Senate.

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Tourism Taxes May Go Elsewhere

February 14th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Hundreds of millions of dollars is collected on hotel room stays every year to fund tourism advertising in Florida, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, some lawmakers want to begin sing the bed tax money to fix some smelly problems.

Hotels in Florida collect between three and six percent extra each night on top of their quoted rate.

“We’re here in Chicago where it’s cold”  chimes a Visit Florida commercial playing up north.

The so called bed tax is used to fund tourism advertising and promotion.

“I’d rather be in Florida” says one of the people on camera.


Advertising aside, State Senator Jeff Brandes thinks the bed tax cash should pay for things like broken sewer pipes that might keep tourists from coming.


“And if they say we should spend our money on advertising, go spend the money on advertising, but if it’s to spend out money on sewer pipes to upgrade our produce, let’s spend our resources there” says Brandes.

The states hotel’s are in an uproar. Carol Dover is the CEO of the FL Restaurant and Lodging Assn.

“Soon to be one hundred twenty million visitors. That is directly correlated to the amount of money we are spending on advertising.”

“So losing it means less tourists?”

“Absolutely. Less tourists. Less jobs” Dover told us.

The legislation cleared the full House on Wednesday. Randy Fine is the House Sponsor.


“If you need to build a road to get to the convention center, or put in sewage, or put in electric lines to get to the convention center, you certainly can do that” Fine says of the idea.

The state’s hotel industry is worried about what they are calling mission creep.

There has already been some mission creep…beach front counties can use the money for lifeguards and emergency services. Orlando’s Mike Miller has voted no three times on the legislation in committee.

“It was not what the bill was originally designed to do, and that is advertising our state to other places” says Miller.

If approved, diverting the cash to infrastructure would require an an independent analysis conducted by a qualified expert on it’s impact on tourism.

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House Tax Bill Faces Uncertain Road in the Senate

February 14th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The House’s tax plan passed the House Ways & Means Committee Wednesday.

This year’s plan includes some big savings for Floridians.

Most notably, a ten day back to school tax free holiday along with three separate three-day hurricane preparedness tax free holidays.


“A Typical back to school tax holiday of three days, consumers save about 30 to 40 million dollars, so if we have a ten day holiday this year that would be significant,” said James Miller of the Florida Retail Federation.

The plan also includes property tax cuts for people who can’t live in their homes after hurricane Irma, help for agriculture,  and nursing homes purchasing generators.

The plan also reduces the business rent tax.

They’re ideas both parties agree with.


“And I sure wish I could be voting in favor of that today,” said Democratic Representative Joe Geller during the meeting.

The disagreement is over the inclusion of expansions for private school vouchers.

The legislation allows the names and addresses of the 200 Florida companies that pay the highest corporate income taxes to be made available to groups that run private school voucher programs.

It also allows some sales tax dollars to go towards funding the private school vouchers.

Democrats call it a “Titanic” approach to education, where vouchers act as lifeboats.


“But at the expense of all of our students who rely on public education dollars and there will never be enough life boats, like there weren’t on the Titanic,” said Rep. Geller.

Republicans say it simply helps those who need other options.


“There are kids in the lifeboat, but there are kids that are drowning. This bill takes a giant leap forward to give every child what they deserve and that is a lifeboat to a better future,” said Representative Paul Renner.

The inclusion of the voucher expansions could become a road block in negotiations with the Senate.


“If the Senate does not support this, I think we could get into massive gridlock,” said Representative Joseph Abruzzo.

That could jeopardize the passage of any tax plan this year not something lawmakers want to do in an election year.

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Democrat Wins GOP Leaning FL House Seat

February 14th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Democrat Margaret Good won a surprise victory in a GOP leaning Florida House Seat in Sarasota yesterday. The took the oath of office this afternoon in the state capitol. Good won by more than 7 percent in the highest turnout special election in almost two decades. Democrat Strategist Steve Schale says it was Democratic and GOP women who made the difference.

“So last night you saw Democratic women really turn out in record numbers. They drive turnout. Their percentage was higher than any other sub group. You saw old line midwestern Republicans vote for a Democrat. Sarasota is very much like the midwest, like Chicago, Milwaukee. These are not Alabama republicans. They are old school establishment types. Social moderates and fiscal conservatives, and I think last night they sent Trump a message” says Schale.

Good’s election was the second consecutive win for a Democrat in a Florida Special election since Donald Trump became President.

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Help for the Flu

February 14th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Here’s something you doctor may not like, but you might. Legislation at the State Capitol would allow pharmacists to conduct simple tests to see if you have the flu and then administer medicine to ease symptoms. Dr. Cary Pigman, a co-sponsor, says it could speed up recovery because you won’t have to wait to see your doctor or spend hours in the emergency room.

“What this  bill tries to achieve is to take the walking wounded, the people who are otherwise healthy but are ill and would like to get seen straight away. We would allow them to go to a pharmacy and get tested and if positive, be treated. Both for Strep, which would be antibiotics and if flu, with a anti viral agent” says Pigman.

Not surprisingly, the Florida Medical Association is opposing the legislation.

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Gillum and Corcoran Face Off Over Sanctuary Cities

February 13th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Democratic Gubernatorial candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum faced off against Republican Speaker of the House in debate over the Speaker’s bill to ban sanctuary cities in the state.

While Gillum argued the policy could lead to racial profiling and needlessly created immigration agents out of local law enforcement and even teachers, Corcoran argued the bill simply requires local governments to adhere to Federal immigration law.

The bill requires local law enforcement to hold undocumented immigrants for up to 48 hours at the request of Federal immigration authorities. Gillum says it violates the 4th amendment.

Gillum also took issue with a television advertisement put out by the Speaker depicting a hooded individual gunning down a woman. Gillum demanded an apology for the ad, saying it promotes the stereotyping of immigrants as criminals and that the hooded image was intended to invoke memories of the Trayvon Martin case.

Corcoran attacked Gillum asking him if he would support an all-out sanctuary policy in the state.

Neither got the response they had hoped for from the other.


“He won’t take a stance on making the entire state a sanctuary state and he won’t take a stance on making the entire state not a sanctuary state and that’s what this whole debate was about. I’ll take that stance, I’ll to everybody at anytime. Florida in not one city in not one square mile of Florida should be a sanctuary city,” said Corcoran.


“I think it’s unfortunate. I didn’tt say this there, but the Speaker clearly is intent on appealing to a very very small slice of the Republican primary voter, for a race that he has yet to determine that he wants to enter,” said Gillum.

The sanctuary ban has cleared the House, as it has in years past. It’s currently stalled in the Senate.

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First Responders Could Get Help with PTSD

February 13th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

First responders in Florida may soon have new mental health benefits to help them with the trauma they see everyday, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, it could be local taxpayers who end up footing the bill.

First responders see the grizzliest of things, the kinds of things we can show you on TV.


Leslie Dangerfield is the widow of a first responder who took his own life. She says he say too much:

“Recovering a toddlers body from the river. Holding a child clutching a teddy bear as she took her last breath, and carrying decapitated teens body across the sand who was a victim of a shark attack” said Dangerfield.


First responder Stevie LaDue took his life last September. He had sought help for the mental strain of the job, got it, then had it taken away.  Ed Benoway  is his father in law.

“He didn’t want to die, but he wanted the pain to go away.”

Now state lawmakers are closing in on legislation requiring cities to educate firefighters on PTSD and cover their treatment, including paying them while injured, just as they would for a broken leg. Rep. Sean Shaw (D-Tampa) says of the legislation:

“This is one of the most important bills this legislature will address this session.”

Meghan Villa is Stevie LaDue’s sister. She believes the legislation could have saved her brother.


“When you lose a family member to suicide, so many things become uncertain. And one thing I am certain is this bill needs to pass” says Meghan.

The price tag for increased benefits…anywhere from thirty to one hundred million dollars a year.

Florida cities have opposed the legislation because of the cost…but now they have scaled back their opposition, asking lawmakers simply to make the date of the new coverage coincide with their insurance polices renewal.

Cities fiscal year begins on October first. The legislation applies to all first responders, The bills sponsor is a firefighter who ran for office because of the gap in coverage he and his fellow first responders see everyday.

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Lawmakers Feeling Lucky on the Prospect of Passing Gambling Bill

February 13th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The State Senate is moving forward with sweeping gambling reform in the state.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran says gaming is the one issue where the chances of seeing legislation pass is either 1% or 99% depending on the day.


After unanimous approval from a Senate Committee Monday, Sponsor of this year’s attempt Senator Travis Hutson says he gives it a fifty-fity shot.


There’s a new urgency this year. If passed, a constitutional amendment slated for the November ballot would require lawmakers to put any future changes to gambling in front of voters.


“We do want to get something done. In my opinion no is not an option this year. We have to figure out how to solve this, this year,” said Senator Kelli Stargel.

The Senate’s current proposal includes a new 20-year deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

It allows them to add craps and roulette, in exchange for $3 billion over the next seven years.

It also allows fantasy sports in the state, which the tribe opposes. Hutson says it’s about give and take.


“Certainly when you add craps and roulette to the mix, which is something they want, there’s definitely a deal to be made and it’s about getting into the details of that deal,” said Hutson.

The Senate’s bill would allow dog tracks and certain horse tracks to stop running races, but still host card rooms.

It could be seen by the House as an expansion of gambling, something the Speaker has vowed to never do.

Hutson argues it’s actually a contraction of gambling.


“There are less bets that are going to be made on dogs, on jai alai, on quarter horses,” said Hutson.

The Senate proposal also designates pre-reveal games as slot machines. Currently the legality of the games is making its way through the judicial system.

The Senate bill has one more committee stop before a vote on the Senate floor.

Senator Hutson anticipates negotiations with the House will begin soon, in hopes of finding middle ground by the end of session in March.

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Survivors of Violent Crime Rally at the State Capitol

February 13th, 2018 by Jake Stofan


Two hundred victims of crime gathered in the state capitol Tuesday, holding rally in support of stronger victims services in the state.

Many of those at the event lost a loved one to violent crime. Holding candles, they spoke the names of their lost friends and family.

Darlene Farrah lost her daughter Shelby in 2013, when a gunman robbed the Metro PCS store she was working at and shot her four times. She says she’s had to cope with the tragedy without any help.


“This is my family now. This is what helps me through it. Not counseling. There was no funding for counseling or anything,” said Farrah. “You know, and all we can do is be there for each other. It’’s awful you know?”

Victims are asking the state to fund trauma recovery centers, to help victims in the aftermath of violent crime.

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Pay Day Loans to get Higher Limits

February 13th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Short term loans formally know as payday loans have a new name and could soon have higher borrowing limits. Now know as deferred presentment transactions, borrowers could soon get up to a thousand dollars for 90 days. The current limit is five hundred for thirty days. Dozens came to speak for the change before a legislative committee, arguing. Like Pastor Clethen Sutton of Tampa did, that the loans are the only way some people make ends meet.

“My members they use it if they come up short, and they can get one hundred dollars, a couple hundred dollars to pay what ever bill to keep from going into default, to ruin their credit. So I’ve seen it work” says Sutton.

The interest on the thousand dollar, 90 day loan, would come to Three hundred and forty-four dollars, but most loans are for fewer than 20 days. Current and proposed law would only allow borrowers to have one loan at a time.

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Treating Death Row Inmates Differently “Not Fair”

February 12th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida lawmakers usually criticize judges for being too lenient, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, when it comes to hundreds of death cases, a legislative committee thinks the state’s Supreme Court Justices are being too harsh.


Just over a year ago, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that about half of the people on death row were entitled to be resentenced, but the other half, sentenced before 2002, were stuck with the sentence they got. Mark Schlakman is a Human Rights Attorney.


“These legal distinctions are while excepted and appropriate, are from a fundamental fairness perspective, spurious” says Schlakman.


In 2001, Jacksonville killer David Miller was sent to death row by a vote of 7 to 5. His case is one 80 opinions released over the past few weeks, telling inmates convicted before 2002 that it doesn’t matter their sentence was less than unanimous.


State Senator Ronald Bracy is the sponsor of legislation that would ask the court to order re-sentencing for every inmate who’s non unanimous verdict put them on death row.

“I think that date of 2002 is arbitrary. And I don’t think it’s fair” says Bracy.


The Court’s majority, has said in part, litigation must, at some point, come to an end.


But two of the seven justices think the cutoff date isn’t fair and have repeatedly said so in dissenting opinions.

Now A State Senate Committee is telling the court the same thing. Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St. Petersburg) was one of three votes on the prevailing side.

“A should equal A when it comes to justice. Setting an arbitrary date doesn’t equal justice. I think we need to go back in time and say all of these cases that are similarly situated should be treated the same” Brandes told us after the vote.”

If the admonition passes the Senate, it will likely die here in the House. Which has always wanted a ten-two jury verdict.
The fact a legislative committee sought to intervene is a message to the court that lawmakers are watching.

Every inmate on death row was found guilty by a unanimous jury, but very few were unanimous in the recommendation for death. The reason Florida’s high Court choose the 2002 date is because that is when the U-S Supreme Court first ruled juries must play a unanimous role in sentencing someone to death.

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Sketches by Adolph Hitler to Be Sold at Auction in Tallahassee

February 12th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Years before Adolf Hitler authorized the killing of an estimated 6 million jews in the Holocaust he was a failed artist.

His paintings and drawings can pull in big bucks from history buffs and collectors and  six sketches by the Nazi leader are up for auction in the state’s capital city.


Most artists would consider the sketches to be the work of an amateur, but the signature at the bottom is reason why they carry a price tag between two and four thousand dollars.


“Anytime that you get into the World War II memorabilia situation you’re going to always have the controversial Third Reich Aspect,” said Affiliated Auctions own John Whitworth.

Whitworth is the owner of the sketches. Most are of wooded landscapes. Two are portraits, one of which is believed to be Hitler’s niece.

“These are some kind of obscure, you know more personal, poorly done is always the case, poorly done sketches by him,” said Whitworth.

While the sketches have been authenticated there is some debate as to whether they are real. Whitworth says the signature, style and subpar artistic talent of the pieces are all strong features that point to their validity.

Despite the controversial figure behind the artwork, there’s little controversy over their sale, primarily because of their historical and educational value.

Barbara Goldstein is the founder of the Holocaust Education Resource Council. In education seminars she often touches on Hitler’s early life.

She says the sketches could spark a persons interest to learn more about the history of the Holocaust.


“It might even open some more doors and some minds of saying wow this is something Hitler did, what happened to him,” said Goldstein.

The sketches will go up for auction on March 8th. The auction company believes it will likely be international buyers who take the sketches home.

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Bikers Ride on the State Capitol

February 12th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Members of ABATE, or American Bikers Aiming Toward Education road on to the Capitol courtyard Monday morning, for their annual ceremony commemorating fallen bikers.

They read roughly 50 names of ABATE members who died in accidents over the last year.

The group also thanked Legislators for their efforts to make texting while driving a primary offense.

ABATE President James “DOC” Reichenbach says the Legislation will hopefully result in fewer bikers killed on the roads.


“We’re losing too many people. Too many young people are getting hurt. I’m not gonna pick on the young people because we got older people who do it too, but it’s a good bill, we highly support it and if they need anything from us to do it we’re there for them,” said Reichenbach.

One of ABATE’s goals is to ensure Legislators don’t make it mandatory for bikers to wear helmets. The group also wants state funds, formerly dedicated to motorcycle safety education, to be restored.

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