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Florida Officers Remember The Fallen Heroes of 2017

April 30th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Officers from around the state filed into the capitol courtyard as solemn bagpipes cried in the background.
Ten officers who lost their lives in 2017 were honored, along with 4 others who were recently discovered.
Families of those lost placed a symbolic red rose on an arrangement of white roses.
“We need to remember and our communities need to remember the sacrifice that these children and their families make so that their loved ones can go out and protect the rest of us,” said Erica Reynolds who lost her father more than 30 years ago.
Nationwide, 129 law enforcement officers lost their lives in 2017.
The ceremony is to honor those who lost their lives last year, but the fact it comes just 11 days after Sergeant Noel Ramirez, and Deputy Taylor Lindsey were gunned  down as they ate lunch was not lost on the gathering
Kissimmee Police Sergeant Stacey Baseggio lost two of her fellow officers in a similar incident last year.
“Unfortunately, someone who did not like law enforcement at the time decided to take things into his own hands and he took their life,” said Baseggio.
The threat of violence is an everyday reality for officers as well as their families. Law enforcement says that threat only seems to be increasing
“It’s like we’re sacrificial pieces of furniture, like it doesn’t matter. We’re human beings just like everybody else,” said Fraternal Order of Police Florida State Lodge President, Bobby Jenkins .
The four Florida officers who have lost their lives since January will be remembered next year
806 names are currently inscribed on Florida’s Law Enforcement Memorial.

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Federal Qualifying Begins

April 30th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A handful of candidates showed up today to personally file the paperwork to run for congress, state attorney and judicial positions in Florida.
The week long qualifying period began at noon today and ends at noon Friday.
Those looking to run for Congress will have to fork out more than $10,000, State Attorneys just slightly less. Judges in Florida pay about $5,800 for the privilege of running.
“I’m just excited to put in for my candidacy and I wanted to come here and do it in person just to make sure that everything goes smoothly,” said Edward Spaight, who filed to run for Circuit Court Judge in Florida’s 5th Judicial Circuit.
The final playing field for congress and the state’s judicial offices won’t be set until Friday, while state candidates begin qualifying in June.

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Breast Feeding Advocates Rally Across the Country

April 27th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Breast feeding advocates gathered at state capitols around the country Friday, bringing awareness to the importance of women’s right to breast feed in public.
A small group of mothers showed up at Florida’s Capitol for the Nationwide Nurse-In.
They say Florida has great protections for public breast feeding, but the state could improve by adding protections for  mother’s to pump in the work place.
“For me it’s incredibly important because if I didn’t have the wonderful support from my job to be able to pump I would not have been able to keep breast feeding my child, because if you can’t pump at work you can’t keep your milk supply going, which means it’s harder to breast feed at home as well,” said Alicia Lane with the Nationwide Nurse-in campaign.
Currently, there are federal protections for pumping in the workplace included in the Affordable Care Act, but the mothers say the state should have it’s own law in case ACA were ever to be repealed.

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Marijuana Advocates Say Card Processing Wait Times are to Blame for No New Growers

April 27th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The medical marijuana patient registry has grown to over 100,000.
That’s supposed to open up four new growers licenses, but The Department of Health says since only 78,000 patients have received ID cards, the licenses are on hold.
Jeff Sharkey with the Medical Marijuana Business Association says long wait times for card applications to be processed are to blame.
“Not all registered patients are asking for cards, but a lot of them have been and of course as you know historically it’s been very slow in turning that around,” said Sharkey.
The Department says the law requires patients to be active in order for them to count.
It says without a card a patient is not considered active.
With only about 3,000 new cards approved each week, it could be months before the number of active patients breaks the 100,000 mark.
Doctors agree the current 16 to 18 day waiting period for card applications to be processed is too long.
“The card processing is definitely faster then 2 years ago when we had a 90-day waiting period–we had several patients die while waiting for their card, so they never received medicine–but there is still room for improvement,” said Dr. Mark Moore, of Medcan Florida. “I’d like to see a fast-track approval for patients with confirmed terminal conditions, which would help these patients get their medicine sooner.”
Sharkey says it shouldn’t take more than a week.
“There’s not a lot of supply out there statewide. To the extent the department can really expedite this, I know patients really want this medicine,” said Sharkey.
The department has also yet to issue four other licenses, which were supposed to be granted last October.
Top brass at the department face their pay and benefits being withheld beginning in July if it doesn’t issue licenses, and comply with other parts of the law.
So far 13 growers have been approved in the state.

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Clemency Division Puts Felons Rights in Hands of Voters

April 26th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

State officials received a reprieve from a Federal Appellate court just hours before they were to begin re-writing the states rules for clemency after a lower Federal judge declared the system unconstitutional. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, organizers behind a felons rights amendment on the November ballot are happy to see the court suit on hold.

The appeals court decision sites the 14th amendment, which specifically says the right to vote can not be abridged or denied “except for participation in rebellion, or other crime.  Renowned civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump says the court overlooked the obvious.

 

“The fact the one out of five black men in the state of Florida can not vote” says Crump.

The last minute order effectively leaves the clemency process intact.

“Has he ever threatened you?” Asked Governor Rick Scott at one Clemency meeting.

 

At least until November, when voters could decide to restore voting rights to anyone who has completed their sentence. 

The organizers behind the felons rights amendment, Amendment Four, are pleased there’s not going to be a court battle, while they’re pushing the campaign.

A spokesperson told us they worried a competing court suit would confuse voters.

Clemency expert Mark Schlakman disagrees. 

 

“The opinion raises awareness about what’s in play in Florida today. Many people are unaware” says Schlakman.

The court ’s opinion did leave open the possibility of finding the state’s process discriminatory. One way or the other, Democratic Gubernatorial hopeful Andrew Gillum says the policy has to change.

“If I’ve got the ability to be Governor of the State of Florida, we’re going to do it through executive order. However, I think the most sustainable solution is a constitutional amendment” says Gillum. 

Felons rights will likely be more of an issue in the GOP Gubernatorial primary that in the Democratic primary. 

It is unlikely the federal appellate court will hear the states appeal until after the November election, which means voters will have spoken on the felons rights amendment and elected a new Governor and Cabinet.

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Hundreds March in Support of Restoring Felons’ Rights

April 26th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Activists marched to the State Capitol Thursday afternoon supporting the automatic restoration of felons rights.
Hundreds marched along a half mile path from a black church to the State Capitol.
They’re advocating for amendment 4, which would change the clemency process in the state by allowing non violent felons who have paid their debt to society automatically have their right to vote restored.
“We all stand in unity for this important issue of dealing with the restoration of the rights of those who are returning citizens,” said Rev. Tan Moss from Jacksonville.
Many of those marching are former felons, who have been out for years, but are still bared from voting.
“Let me ask you, do I have time to go through all of that investment in applying for clemency when I’m trying to find somewhere to live [and] I’ve got a child,” said one ex-felon, Stanley Sims.
The issue of felons rights will be a key issue in the up coming gubernatorial race.
The main star of the event was Reverend Al Sharpton.
“Florida will be ground zero for us to turn around this affront on voting rights,” said Sharpton.
Sharpton says amendment 4 will play a key role in the outcome of the 2020 presidential election as well.
“It will alter the political landscape in Florida, which also alters the national landscape,” said Sharpton.
Marchers say this rally is only the beginning of a larger movement which won’t stop until Florida process is changed once and for all.
In addition to restoring civil rights for felons, marchers also demanded stricter gun laws in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

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Former State Employees Bash Scott Over State Pension

April 26th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A small group of five retired state workers are spoke out against the Governor this morning for or accepting contributions from groups that were given lucrative contracts to help manage the state pension system.
The companies received a total of $250 million of new investment commitments.
They say the Governor’s campaign for Senate received over $50,000 from the private equity executives.
“This appears to be a very clear case of close coordination and circumvention of the pay to play rule, “ said David Jacobsen, President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. “So it may not have garnered a lot of attention right now, but we want to shed a spotlight on what Rick Scott is doing.”
The group also called out Scott for a law he signed his first year in office, which cut state employees pay by making them pay higher amounts into their pension plans.

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Susan B. Anthony List Protest’s Nelson Abortion Record

April 26th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

The Pro Life Susan B. Anthony List staged a protest in front of US Senator Bill Nelson’s office in the State Capitol. Some two dozen, mostly women protestors, held signs decrying Nelson’s support of Planned parenthood funding. Jill Stanek, the National Campaign Chair for the organization said because of Nelson’s votes, the US is one of only seven nations that allow later term abortions in some cases.

“It puts us in the same camp as China and North Korea. Senator Nelson wants us to stay in this campaign. His shameful extremism has no place in Florida, or in Washington, and we will defeat him on elections day, right? Stanek told the crowd.

In a statement, Nelson says “While I am personally opposed to abortion and believe it should be rare, I support a women’s right to make decisions about her health with her doctor, without interference from the government.”

The rally was held in front of a Federal Courthouse where judges have overruled several state attempts to restrict abortions in Florida. 

 

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Last Minute Federal Ruling Lifts Stay on Florida’s Clemency Process

April 25th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A federal appeals court has lifted a stay on the state’s clemency process issued by a federal judge last month.
The ruling comes just about an hour before a scheduled cabinet meeting, which would have introduced plans for a new clemency process in the state.
The meeting was canceled since the original order to come up with a new process no longer stands.
The outline for the changes were released earlier in the day and would have created an expedited process for rights restoration for felons who met certain criteria.
The Governor said in a statement, “We are glad that the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals has stayed the lower court’s reckless ruling. Judges should interpret the law, not create it.”
The appeals court has yet to issue a final ruling on the constitutionality of the state’s clemency process.
Those who showed up for the meeting to give public testimony addressed the press after hearing about the cancellation, vowing to continue the fight for rights restoration.
“When a person has served his time or her time and they’ve payed off all requirements that have been levied upon them, the next thing they look for is the restoration of their rights. So tonight our message is clear. We won’t stop until the Governor and everyone else knows that when a person has served his time, their rights need to be restored,” said Gregory James who has been awaiting clemency since he was released from prison in 2008.
Faith leaders and felons rights advocates will march on the Capitol grounds Thursday morning in support of amendment 4, which would automatically restore non violent felons rights.

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Clemency Board Holds 11th Hour Meeting

April 25th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida’s Governor and Cabinet will hold a rare meeting later tonight sitting as the Executive Clemency Board. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the meeting comes just hours before the Board faces a Thursday deadline set by a Federal Court Judge.

On March 28th, Federal Judge Mark Walker Declared Florida’s Clemency process unconstitutional because if left too much up to the Governor and Board members. 

 

“I move to grant restoration of civil rights” Scott said in one case. He has the ultimate say, because without his vote, no one gets their rights back.

Desmond Meade, the organizer behind a November rights restoration ballot question has previously told us the process takes far too long. 

 

“And once they apply, what we’ve seen is a processing time upwards of ten years.”

The Judge set April 26 as the deadline for the Board to submit a new plan. 

A week later, the state appealed, asking a higher Federal court to stay the order. 

The Clemency Board has virtually nothing in the weeks since it asked a higher Federal Court to stay the judge’s order. Now they risk being in contempt.

The Board set a meeting for 9:30 Wednesday night. Now Veteran clemency watcher Mark Schlakman says the Board is scrambling.

 

“It suggests they didn’t take the court seriously” Schlakman told us Wednesday.

Asked about the meeting Wednesday morning in Tampa , Governor Rick Scott had only this to say: “Well, we’ll be reviewing that tonight. We’ll be reviewing exactly what the courts have decided and we’ll make a decision on how we go forward.”

Under the plan the current Governor and Cabinet adopted in 2011, about 5 thousand former felons got their rights back…that compared to more than 155 thousand who were processed by the previous administration in half the time.

Tonights meeting, unless it is cancelled because the Federal Court issues a stay before it starts, will be held via phone. The public is invited to speak to an empty Dias in the State Capitol.

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Election Officials Working Hard, but Not Overconfident

April 25th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
With the 2018 midterm elections drawing ever closer criticism of Florida’s election security has been a hot button issue for politicians like U.S. Senator Marco Rubio who called election officials overconfident.
Election Supervisors like Brian Corley who oversees elections in Pasco county say that’s simply not the case.
“I would in no way say that we are overconfident. We have been giving everything we have… to make sure that voters know when they come out to cast their vote, their vote will count,” said Corley.
Florida law requires a sample of ballots to be hand audited after each election to ensure accuracy and 7 counties (one of which is in a pilot phase) have taken that auditing process a step further, by implementing an electronic auditing system called Clear Audit.
In a normal audit elections officials have to comb through hundreds of ballot boxes looking for specific precincts. The electronic auditing system takes the manual search out by scanning ballots into a database.
“It allows you to find the paper you need to review much more efficiently,” said Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Early.
Early used the Clear Audit system in the 2016 general election.
“Having a good audit system in place is a very good protection and it’s kind of your baseline,” said Early. “That’s the most critical thing, is making sure you’re counting your ballots right.”
60 counties don’t use the Clear Audit system, but say manual audits have still proven effective and accurate.
“It just doesn’t mean that one method is necessarily better than the other or vice versa,” said Corley.
While auditing is one piece of the puzzle, supervisors are working with the Department of Homeland Security to ensure security is adequate in the face of potential cyber threats as well.
In a statement, The Department of State says it’s taken, “significant steps in recent years to upgrade hardware, software and firewalls.”
The Department also plans to hire additional cybersecurity personnel ahead of the 2018 election.

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Recruits Train as Deputies Laid to Rest

April 24th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

As two Gilchrist Sheriff’s Deputies were laid to rest after being ambushed at lunch last week, Mike Vasilinda tells us, training for future law enforcement officers continued as scheduled at the largest law enforcement academy in the Southeast.

Flags were at half staff in honor of the slain deputies at the Florida Public Safety Institute 25 miles west of the State Capitol

But at the academy, it was training as usual.

 

This defensive tactics class teaches officers to gain compliance from suspects

using pressure points of pain.

The fact two officers were laid to rest as they trained was not lost on the class.

 

Jonathan McCall is a Tallahassee Police Recruit. “It makes you reflect on the…on the seriousness of the job, but that’s where we come in here and get the training that we did” he told us.

Many recruits like Jonathan have military backgrounds. They know the pay is low, the danger high. Still, they want to serve.

 

“I just finished a 25 year career in the military and so I wanted to serve in a different capacity at my community level” recruit Alexander Perea told us.

Recruits here will spend anywhere from eight hundred to a thousand hours learning their trade.

 

 

The Highway Patrol trains recruits for seven months here. Together, 60 state and federal agencies train at the 1500 acre academy.

 

Florida Public Safety Institute Director E.E. Eunice says “We replicate the real world as much as possible.”

By the time these cadets leave, they will have the skills to be a cop. Whether they have the temperament to withstand the dangers is something they will find out on their own once they’re on the street. 

Over the course of their seven month training, the Highway Patrol will spend about 7500 dollars per recruit feeding and housing new hires. Recruits themselves earn just over 3100 dollars a month while in training. 

 

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Charter Schools Want New School Authorization Process to be Uniform Statewide

April 24th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
In the state’s capital city and elsewhere in the state, charter organizations are facing an uphill battle to get authorization to open schools from local school boards.
Superintendent of Leon County Schools, Rocky Hanna is leading the fight to deny two pending applications, arguing there are already enough schools in the county.
“So it puts us in a precarious situation where we’re actually going to approve tax dollars being spent to build student stations that are simply not needed,” said Hanna.
Matthew Gunderson is the Director of School Improvement for Plato Academy Schools.
“We have two counties that have approved this identical application and for some reason in Leon it’s caused a great amount of unrest,” said Gunderson.
He says the road blocks are the main reason why charter schools are backing a constitutional amendment slated for the November ballot.
It would create a new state entity authorized to approve new charter schools, sidestepping local districts.
“To have have a state authorizer would make it more objective and more fair,” said Gunderson.
Public school advocates say the amendment would set up a parallel school system, which would compete with the current public system for funding.
As it stands charter schools already have an option to appeal to the state if their application is denied by a local school board.
“So why make a change,” argued State Senator and head of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, Bill Montford. “Why put another education system, an authority if you will, a dual system in Florida?”
Florida is behind only California and Texas in the number of charter schools and the number off students who attend them.
The amendment on the November ballot also includes term limits for school board members and mandatory civics education for Florida students.

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Two Deputies Fired Upon over Weekend

April 23rd, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Two Gilchrist sheriff’s deputies, gunned down as they ate lunch last week will be laid to rest tomorrow. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the deaths, along with two more deputies fired upon this weekend, has law enforcement on edge.

In Collier county, a deputy responding to an alarm early Monday morning was shot at as he arrived on scene. A suspect is in custody.

 

In Marion County, a deputy trying to clear a gathering crowd at two am Saturday took cover behind his squad car as shots rang out. Marion County Sheriff Bobby Woods posted pictures of the car on Facebook and wrote: enough is enough…all my people are on edge.

Police Benevolent Association executive Director Matt Puckett says the same is true across Florida and the nation.

“It’s certainly dangerous other there right now. It seems more dangerous.”

Q:”Is this hurting recruiting?”

“Yes. That a big problem on why we are not filling the ranks right now. The danger and the lack of manpower.”

 

The Florida Highway Patrol has seen a thousand troopers leave since 2010.

“The academy was a tough one, but I made it through” chimes a newly minted trooper in an FHP recruitment video.

The PBA says a second disturbing trend is emerging. People quitting training before they finish.

“They are just making a conscious choice to say, even though I’m near the end, I’m done. I’m not going to complete this” says Executive Director Puckett.

Second Judicial Circuit State Attorney Jack Campbell grew up in a law enforcement family. He says threats aren’t new, but the violence is concerning.

“We need to recognize that killing somebody because of who they are or what they do is totally anti-American” Campbell told us.

The FHP did not respond to A request about hiring and their vacancy rate. 

The Patrol also declined to make recruits at its training academy available. 

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Criminal Justice Experts Say Lawmakers Will Need to Be Careful With New Crime Data

April 23rd, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Florida will begin consolidating crime data from multiple agencies including prisons, law enforcement and courts all in one easy to access data base.
The goal is to get a better understanding of criminal trends in the state to help inform policy decisions, but some criminal justice experts say interpreting those numbers will be a challenge in itself.
Crime data in Florida is scattered among many agencies, making it hard to see the big picture.
“So it [the data] might as well be at times, nowhere,” said Representative Chris Sprowls.
The new system will require local law enforcement, clerk of the courts, state attorneys, public defenders, local jails and the Department of Corrections to submit statistics to the Florida Department of law enforcement.
Lawmakers call it the gold standard in crime reporting.
Florida has the third highest prison population in the country, costing $2.3 billion a year.
The hope is the new data will help reduce the amount of prisoners by helping lawmakers make better decisions.
Barney Bishop with the Florida Smart Justice Alliance says while he believes the data will be useful, lawmakers shouldn’t take the first year’s reports at face value.
“The reality of it is, is that academics are not going to be able to look at that data until you have two or three years so they can look at what trends are,” said Bishop. “But the most important issue is going to be is the criminal justice system really blind? I mean, is there discrimination that’s going on?”
State Attorney of Florida’s 2nd Judicial Circuit, Jack Campbell agrees, adding lawmakers also need to be cautious in the way the interpret the data.
“We want to make sure that we’re counting it right, that we’re defining things right so that when we make conclusions, they’re sound and they’re not just perversions,” said Campbell.
The new law take effect on July first of this year.
Agencies that fail to comply with the new reporting requirements will be ineligible for state funding for 5 years.
The law takes effect on July 1st of this year. The data will be made available to the public on FDLE’s website.

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