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Special Session in the Works to Address Gambling

March 30th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Lawmakers may be returning to Tallahassee sooner than later. The issue… Gaming.

Legislative leaders have confirmed a $60,000-a-day special session is in the works for as soon as mid-April.

Gambling reform has failed in the State Legislature for the past decade.

This year there was a sense of urgency to get something done because a constitutional amendment slated for the November ballot would require lawmakers to put any changes to the state’s gambling laws in front of voters.

 

“If that amendment were to pass it would severely restrict the ability of the Legislature to make decisions on how we move forward,” said Senate President Joe Negron when asked about the No Casinos amendment in February.

In addition to the amendment, a deadline set to pass at the end of the month will allow the Seminole Tribe of Florida to stop their more than $300 million annual payments to the state if the tribe feels the state isn’t holding up its end of the deal in state’s 25-year compact with the tribe.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran has warned if the tribe were to completely stop paying the state, between $390 and $441 million in General Revenue would have to be redistributed to make up the cost.

The Seminole Tribe could reduce payments over perceived violations of the tribes exclusivity to certain card games and slot machines.

Attorney Barry Richard represents the tribe.

He says the idea that  payments would stop outright is unlikely.

 

“The tribe doesn’t operate that way. They’re going to do what they think is reasonable given what their rights are and what the economic impact is upon them,” said Richard.

The sentiment was shared by next-inline for the Senate Presidency Bill Galvano this spring

 

“I feel like they still want to be partners with the state and realize there’s a value to working with us,” said Galvano.

Before any deal is approved by the Legislature, the tribe will have to be onboard if lawmakers want to ensure it continues to pay.

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Bill Awaiting Governor’s Signature Tackles Computer Classes and Student Teacher Romance

March 29th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Students may soon be able to take computer science courses under a bill awaiting the governor signature.

The idea to create greater access to computer science education in Florida schools first came from a 14 year old in 2015.

Originally the proposal would have allowed computer courses to be used in lieu of taking a foreign language.

A bill now awaiting the Governor’s signature would require schools to offer computer scene courses, but instead of replacing a foreign language, students would be allowed to replace a low level math or science course with the computer course.

Incentives would also be offered to teachers who become certified to teach the classes.

 

“What those incentives are designed to do is to have teachers who may be teaching other subject areas get that additional training so so that they can then teach computer science courses,” said Andrea Messina, Executive Director of the Florida School Boards Association.

The bill also clarifies that it’s illegal for any school district employee to have a romantic relationship with a student who has turned 18, even if they consent.

The legislation also implements new standards to ensure incidents are reported and shared among schools.

 

“We have to be able to criminalize that behavior and be able to go after those bad teachers that are taking advantage of the circumstance and molesting these students or having sex with them,” said Barney Bishop with the Florida Smart Justice Alliance.

The Governor has until April 10th to sign the Legislation.

The bill also allows students enrolled in AP courses to forego End of Course exams.

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Florida Ordered to Change Clemency Process by April 26th

March 28th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A Federal judge has given the state until April 26th to come up with a new plan for restoring voting rights to felons who have paid their debt to society.
The current system has resulted in a 10-year delay and a backlog of more than 10,000 cases.
When a person is convicted of a felony in the state of Florida they lose their civil rights, including the right to vote. 
The decision on whether they can get those rights back is up to the state’s board of executive clemency, made up of the Governor and the Cabinet. 
Governor Charlie Christ made the process easier during his administration by allowing non violent felons to automatically have their rights restored.
“They deserve a second chance,” Christ told reporters in 2007.
Governor Rick Scott and Attorney General Pam Bondi led the effort to end the automatic restoration of a felons civil rights during their first clemency meeting after taking office in 2011.
“I believe you should have to ask and there should be an appropriate waiting period,” said Bondi in 2011.
Now, a Federal judge has told the State  the system leaves too much room for emotion in deciding if a person has their right to vote restored.
“The policies are far more restrictive than they’ve ever been,” said Human Rights Attorney Mark Schlakman.
While the judge ruled a felon should be able to get a decision within a four year election cycle, a constitutional amendment on the November ballot would automatically restore the right to vote after felons have served their time, paid their fines and finished probation.
Because of the looming amendment and lack of guidance in the judge’s ruling, Schlakman doubts any change to the process by the current administration will be significant.
“And it’s unclear whether the Governor and Cabinet will appeal,” said Schlakman.
The Governor’s Office is reviewing the ruling, saying Florida’s clemency process has been left to elected officials for more than a century.
If the Governor and Cabinet choose to appeal the ruling they could ask for a stay on the injunction to keep the current process In place while the issue works its way through the courts and goes before voters.

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Philip Levine Ahead in Poll, Says He Will Fight for Local Control

March 27th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Democratic Gubernatorial Candidate Philip Levine was in the state’s capital city today speaking to a crowd of political movers and shakers.

Levine touted his achievements as Mayor of Miami Beach, which include implementing infrastructure improvements to combat sea level rise, raising the minimum wage in the city and passing a local assault weapons ban.

He said he would fight to do the same for the state as Governor. The assault weapons ban passed in his city was preempted by state laIf elected Governor, Levine says he plans to put more control in the hands of local governments.

 

“Government works best that’s closest to the people and I believe that’s what we need to get back to. I know another system that didn’t work out too well was the Soviet Union System where basically you had central planning from Moscow and they told everyone what you’ve got to do for the next five years,” said Levine. “That does not work. Local communities need to be given their rights and their opportunities to say what’s best for them. One size does not fit all.”

Levine is ahead of other Democratic candidates in a recent poll conducted by Public Policy Polling. Levine has 22% of the vote, but 46% of voters have yet to get behind a candidate.

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Ponce’s Law Signed By Governor

March 27th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Increased penalties for animal abusers will take effect later this year under legislation signed by the Governor.

When Travis Archer led police into his back yard last year they were horrified by the scene they came upon.

 

 

“The dog was gagged, bleeding from the mouth and dead,” said Representative Thomas Leek.

Archer is charged with felony animal cruelty and is awaiting trial. He faces up to five years in prison.

Kate Mcfall with the Humane Society says, the tragic death of Ponce, Archer’s 9-month-old Labrador retriever sparked outrage in the community.

 

“The public is behind this. It was a wave of support,” said McFall.

That outrage resulted in Ponce’s Law, signed by the Governor on National Puppy Day.

It raises felony animal cruelty from a level 3 to a level 5 offense.

While the increase doesn’t guarantee an offender does time in prison, it makes it more likely if other charges are combined.

 

“It’s a predictor. People who commit animal cruelty are very, very likely to commit cruelty to violence to humans, children,” said McFall. “In the coming years we will see even more and more momentum to perhaps make this a second degree felony.”

The law also gives judges the option to prohibit users from owning or even having contact with animals for a period time.

McFall says enforcing those court orders will take community involvement.

 

“People, advocates, just neighbors, people in the community, if you see something just say something,” said McFall.

The bill signed by the Governor also includes new requirements for animal shelters in the state to take extra steps to locate owners of lost pets after hurricanes.

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2nd Frat Member to Enter Plea in Hazing Death

March 27th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

A second FSU fraternity member has scheduled a plea hearing in the death of a pledge last November. And as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the plea deals come as FSU sets standards for allowing alcohol back on campus.

Alcohol was banned last November, following the hazing death of 20 year old Andrew Coffey. In emails sent to campus stake holders, the Vice President for Student Affairs says alcohol can return, but only  after organizers and supervisors complete risk management training. FSU President John Thrasher.

“Obviously there are things off campus we have no control over, but I think we made a point of saying to them: culture gotta change, you gotta help us change it, and if another mistake is made, its not gonna be good” says the FSU President.

 

The change comes as two of the nine men charged in Coffey’s death have set court dates to enter a plea.

“I’m not going to negotiate in the media”

State Attorney Jack Campbell, who has been criticized for offering 60 days in jail, stands by the decision

“I’m not ashamed of anything I’m doing. I’ll be happy to talk about it when it’s over” says Campbell.

David Bianchi, the Coffey Family attorney calls the pleas appropriate.

 

“I think it’s the right thing to do, because they are guilty, and they should not prolong the criminal process for themselves or the anguish for the family. “If they want to try to eventually move on with  their lives, they need to take  responsibility for what they did, and they are taking a step in the right  direction by pleading guilty” says Bianchi.

The Coffey Family is also suing the fraternity members individually and its national organization for the wrongful death of their son.

The other seven frat members charged in the case have until April first to accept a plea or face a court date in June.

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Charters Asking for Districts to Fund Security Guards

March 26th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

When the Parkland Shooting occurred about 2,000 Florida schools were lacking a school resource officer.

The state allocated $97.5 million to hire more security, but now Charter USA, one of the state’s largest charter school operators is asking districts to pay for their security as well.

The request for armed resource officers was made to the 13 school districts where the company’s schools are located.

Rock Hanna, Superintendent for Leon County Schools rejected Charter USA’s request.

“It’s incumbent upon them to make their budgets work, just like we do,” said Hanna.

He says his district is struggling as it is to make sure its traditional public schools meet the one resource officer per-school required by law.

“We’re looking at having to come out of the general fund up to a million dollars to meet this mandate,” said Hanna.

The Florida School Boards Association says it’s the same around the state.

“Those extra dollars just don’t exist. So how they are going to get to that point is really the challenge that school districts and charter agencies are having to face,” said FSBA Executive Director Andrea Messina.

The state funding is expected to cover 647 new officers.

That still leaves more than 300 schools without.

Charter USA says the school safety legislation specifically allows public charter school students the same protections available to district public school students.

Governor Rick Scott says there is funding included for charters in the new law.

“You know charter schools are public schools. All schools are covered by that bill,” said Scott.

The funding for increased school safety don’t become available until this summer, Charter USA requested the money from districts by April 1st.

Some of the 13 school districts have yet to respond, but most if not all are expected to reject Charter USA’s request.

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Scott Decision on US Senate Could Come Soon

March 23rd, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott says a decision on whether he will run for the US Senate this fall is on the Horizon, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, some of the things Scott has been saying leave little doubt he will run.

As this countdown clock shows, Rick Scott’s days as Governor are running out.  One of the worst kept secrets in the Capitol is that Scott has his eyes on Challenging US Senator Bill Nelson in November, but when asked, he isn’t tipping his hand.

“Most politicians  think about their next job. I’ve got to finish the job here” Scott told the Florida Channel on Wednesday.

But the Governor is sending clues. When announcing his plan for school safety last month he was asked specifically about Nelsons record on guns.

“So Bill Nelson is a career politician. He talks a lot. He does nothing.”

Then the day he signed the school legislation he volunteered this:

“I want to point out this is a far different way of operating than they typical inefficiency we see from the Federal government in Washington.”

He did the same thing four years ago when he signed a non political tax cut,

“In 2009 Charlie Crist raised this tax on all Florida families that had a car.”

Criticizing Charlie Crist, the man who would run against him in 2014.

So far, four Republicans have filed to run for the US Senate, but you’ve never heard of any of them.And the lack of a high profile republican is a definite sign that this is rick Scott race, if he’s in.

But Scott has no reason to be in a hurry. He waited until April before announcing his first run in 2010..at the time, his was a near total unknown…and he still won.

The race between Scott, if he files, and Nelson is expected to be the most expensive ever in Florida and that’s saying a lot after Rick Scott spent more than 80 million of his own cash to get elected in 2010.

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Attorney General Jeff Sessions Calls for Death Sentences for Drug Dealers

March 22nd, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

U-S Attorney General Jeff Sessions madd his first public appearance here in Florida since distributing a memo to prosecutors yesterday, urging them to seek death sentences in the fight against opioids. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, his visit to the state Capitol comes as the state prepares to sue drug makers.

The U-S Attorney General’s visit comes one day after this memo was sent to Federal prosecutors urging them to seek death sentences for some drug dealers.

He spoke to a room of 100 local state and Federal law enforcement officers.

“Career drug traffickers can take more lives than even a mass murderer. Overdose deaths are up, and gang violence is up, and we need to reverse those trends. The President has ordered us to seek the death penalty in those cases where its appropriate to do so” said Sessions.

On Monday Governor Rick Scott signed legislation restricting opioid prescriptions to either a three or seven day supply.

“We are gonna do everything we can in this state to help individuals not become addicted. If they are, try to get them off of it” Scott told reporters.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says the state is continuing to interview outside law firms for an expected lawsuit which will allege drug companies encouraged doctors to overprescribe opioids.

 

“It’s in their best interests to attempt to resolve it as soon as possible” says Bondi, “and at least correct their conduct. Then we’ll go back and get all the money they owe these people.”

The lawsuit, if filed, will be similar to what Florida did in the 1990’s when it sued tobacco companies. Florida eventually recovered the more than 400 million a year it was spending treating diseases caused by their products.

The Attorney General estimated the cost of the epidemic at a hundred fifteen billion dollars a year to the national economy.

The Attorney General also said the Federal government would increase funding to fight the opioid epidemic to as much as six billion dollars over the next two years. He said some of that money would be used to assist local governments who are suing the opioid makers.

A number of Florida jurisdictions (Alachua, Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Calhoun, and Panama City) have already filed their own law suits against drug makers, seeking to recover the costs of emergency visits and drug overdose kits.

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School Board Term Limits Moves Forward

March 21st, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida voters may soon decide if local School Board  members should be subject to an eight year term limit. The limit would not apply to other local officials, which as Mike Vasilinda tells us raises questions about the motives behind the proposal before the Constitution Revision Commission

The idea to limit school board members to eight years in office comes, ironically, from a School Board member Erika Donalds of Collier County.
“Term limits provide fresh faces and new ideas to elective office. They reduce special interest influence and make room for the citizen legislature.”

Former lawmakers on the Commission, Arthenia Joyner and Chris Smith, who were subject to term limits, say limiting school board members would result in less experience.

 

“It took time to get up to speed. And then a the point where we best mastered what it was we were elected to do, it was time to go” Joyner told Commissioners.

“We have term limits. People don’t want them they go vote and throw them out” Smith reminded the room.

 

Many in the Capitol believe the term limits are really retribution by the House Speaker. That’s after more  than a dozen school boards joined a law suit challenging the House Speakers Schools of Hope legislation.

 

The sponsor was appointed to the revision commission by the Speaker of the House. The Florida School Boards Assn said no comment when asked about the motivation,

Executive Director Andrea Messina did tells us that during the last election cycle, 87 incumbent school board members were re-elected while 75 new Members also got seats. Messina says  the numbers speak for themselves.

 

“Forty six percent of the school board seats had new members. Forty six percent! That’s almost fifty percent” says Messina.

No other local officials would face term limits under the proposal.

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CRC Almost Debates Assault Rifle Ban

March 21st, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission debated banning assault style rifles this afternoon, sort of. Three Commissioners tried to amend a ban on the rifles used in Parkland and Pulse to another proposal, so the debate wasn’t about banning assault rifles, but about whether the amendment was within the commission’s rules.

Hank Coxe, a lawyer appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court urged the Commission to let his amendment go forward.

“The state of Florida is prepared on it. That’s how the state of Florida know that 73-74% of them want the right to vote on this issue. And that’s all we would be doing, giving them the right to vote on it. We wouldn’t say the are illegal. We wouldn’t say they ar legal. We would say, you the citizens have encountered such a horrific experience after experience in this state, lets lead this country and do something about it” says Coxe.

The Chair of the Commission ruled the amendment was out of order, or not Germain, because it dealt with a different subject than the original proposal. Attorney General Pam Bondi spoke passionately to uphold the ruling.

“It’s not even close to being Germain: said Bondi. “And to say the shooting came up recently, well, we had Pulse nightclub a year ago, You’ve all know about that from day one. No one did anything on that. We acted with the legislature on a timely basis and following the laws of our land. We all have to follow the rules.”

The commission could still take the matter up before it finishes its work in May, but that would take a change of heart by a super majority of the 37 members.

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CRC Postpones Vote on Proposal 97

March 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

When you skip an item on the ballot should it be counted as a no vote?

Some members on the state’s Constitution Revision Commission think so.

 

 

After voters approved smaller classroom sizes in 2002 with 52% of the vote, then Governor Jeb Bush and the Legislature campaigned for and won a ballot initiative raising the threshold to 60 percent.

Now, there’s a new push to raise the standard again.

Aliki Moncrief with the Florida Conservation Voters says it’s because voters have continued to approve initiatives to lawmakers dismay, like medical marijuana and increased funding for land acquisition.

 

“There’s been a constant chipping away at the ability of citizens to basically take their issues directly to voters,” said Moncrief.

Proposal 97 being considered by the Constitution Revision Commission would still require future amendments to get 60% approval, but blank votes would count as no votes.

 

“This proposal really is about hearing more of citizens’ voices,” said Commissioner Belinda Keiser.

Supporters argue a blank vote means a person doesn’t believe an issue is important enough to be included in the constitution. Opponents say that’s not the case.

 

“I shouldn’t have the Government telling me that it’s a no vote, because I wanted to put my vote in the hands of my fellow citizens,” said Commissioner Bob Solari.

Of 22 constitutional amendments passed by voters since 2006, only ten would have passed if the higher standard were in place at the time.

Due to a lack of support the higher threshold was temporarily postponed before a vote was taken.

The proposal could be brought back up for a vote before the commission ends its business in May.

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CRC Moves Forward With Amendment to Ban Vaping in the Workplace

March 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The Constitution Revision Commission voted in favor of an amendment that would ban the use of vapes and E-cigarettes in businesses.

The proposal would bring the electronic forms of smoking inline with existing language in the state constitution barring smokable tobacco in the workplace.

Sponsor of the amendment, Lisa Carlton says the goal is to keep non-smokers safe from the potentially harmful effects of the vapors.

“This has now reached the level of danger for those of us that are inhaling these vapors and these aerosols from these 400 different mechanisms out there on the market,” said Carlton.
The proposal now moves on to drafting. After that it will be put up for a final vote before the commission before it can be placed on the November Ballot.

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Full Constitution Revision Commission Begins Debate

March 19th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Dozens of proposals that could affect how Florida Government works are up for discussion at the state Capitol at the once every two decades Constitution Revision Commission. As Mike Vasilinda tells us,  everything from how elections are run to whether greyhound racing should continue are on the table.

The Constitution Revision Commission has only met twice before. 1978 and 98.

“30 yeas, 3 nays”

On Monday, the 37 member panel got down to debating what should and should not be in the Constitution.

“I believe that the Constitution is reserved for rights that are fundamental and important” CRC Commissioner Tom Stemberger told commissioners.

Commissioners have introduced 103 proposals. Some want the commission to to what lawmakers have refused to do, like ban greyhound racing. Veteran State Senator Tom Lee says the Commission can go where no commission has gone before.

“This body has a unique opportunity to go directly to the voters with things special interests groups have been successful time and time and time again at killing in the Florida legislature” says Lee

A retired Supreme Court Justice says just because the Commission can do something, doesn’t mean it should.

Former Chief Justice Major Harding says the constitution is no place for proposals that could be done by lawmakers,

“And deal only with those things that go to the basic foundation of government” says Harding.

But the states elected sheriffs, tax collectors, property appraisers and Clerks of court see some counties trying to weaken their responsibilities. They want the CRC to protect their jobs going forward. Chris Nocco is both the Pasco County Sheriff and CRC Commissioner.

“Our offices are rely on our citizens, and every four years, we’ll be judged. We’ll be judged by what we do” says Nocco, as he defended local officials.

The commission must come up with a final list for the November ballot by early May. Then 3 of 5 voters must approve.

In the coming days, the Commission is expected to vote on easing restrictions on school vouchers and on whether no party voters can cast ballots when only one party has a candidate, ending the write in candidate loophole.

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Governor Rick Scott Suspends Funding for FIU Pedestrian Bridge

March 19th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

In a split second, commutes on South West 8th street in Miami went from routine, to nightmarish… A pedestrian bridge designed by FIGG Bridge Engineers collapsing on to the busy road, taking the lives of six.

Governor Rick Scott directed the Florida Department of Transportation, Monday to suspend more than $13.6 million in federal funding for the bridge’s construction, until the cause of the collapse is determined.

As investigators continue into what caused the pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University, new details are emerging suggesting bridge engineers and the Florida Deportment of Transportation may have underestimated a problem in the days leading up to the collapse.

The Florida Department of Transportation was quick to distance itself from responsibility, writing in  a press release that the project was a local agency project not  FDOT’s. The agency then  released this voicemail left by the FIGG Lead Engineer Denney Pate. It was left two days before the collapse.

 

“I was calling to share with you some information about the FIU pedestrian bridge and some cracking that’s been observed…from a safety perspective we don’t see that there’s any issue there… obviously the cracking is not good,” said Pate.

An FDOT consultant attended a meeting with the project engineers the day of the collapse and participated in a discussion about the cracks, but FDOT says the engineers said there were no safety concerns and never asked for assistance from the department.

FDOT says the ultimate responsibility for the safety of the project falls on the engineering company. Because the company didn’t question the bridge’s safety FDOT says it had no reason to believe there was a problem.

Governor Rick Scott echoed FDOT’s defense.

 

“The individual said that there were no safety issues,” said Scott Monday.

FIGG maintains their assessment indicated the cracks didn’t compromise the bridge’s safety.

It’s yet to be determined if the cracking was the cause of the collapse.

FIGG says it’s continuing to work with authorities to determine exactly what went wrong.

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