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Federal Conservation Fund Set to Expire Sunday

September 28th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A federal program that has provided billions of dollars for land and water conservation for more than half a century is set to expire on Sunday, but environmental groups in Florida are fighting for Congress to keep the program alive.
The Federal Land and Water Conservation fund was created in 1964.
Funded by taxes on offshore oil drilling, it’s provided billions of dollars for the acquisition and maintenance of environmental lands.
“What better way to use those monies, than to actually protect some of our treasured national areas,” said Executive Director of Florida Conservation Voters, Aliki Moncrief.
But the program is set to expire this Sunday. Environmental groups say if that happens, Florida will in loose a valuable funding source, which has provided more than $1 billion to the state.
“We would see a diminution of funding for a lot of places that people enjoy today,” said Manley Fuller, President of the Florida Wildlife Federation.
In Florida, the economy is tied to the environment.
“We have an almost $60 billion outdoor recreation industry. A lot of that is tied to protecting these special areas,” said Moncrief.
Large parks like the Everglades or Osceola National Forrest receive funds through the program, but the fund also helps purchase land for and maintain local recreational parks throughout the state.
“They brag that the Land and Water Conservation Fund during the course of its lifetime has funded at least one park in every county in the country,” said Executive Director of Audubon Florida Julie Wraithmell.
With the attention of Congress heavily focused on the Supreme Court Confirmation process, it’s likely the fund will not be renewed before the Sunday deadline.
However Congress can reauthorize the program.
Environmental groups hope to see the fund re-enacted after the election in November.
In the meantime, they’re encouraging the public to contact their representatives.

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New Penalties for Animal Abusers Take Effect Monday

September 27th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A new law taking effect Monday will make it more likely animal abusers do jail time.
It also requires animal shelters get lost pets back to their owners after a disaster.
A police body cam video shot in 2017 showed the public a case of animal abuse that occurred in Daytona Beach.
A young Labrador Retriever named Ponce had been beaten to death.
“And the public outcry about the sentencing, or lack of, was massive,” said Kate MacFall with the Human Society.
The incident drew attention to the state’s relatively weak penalties for animal cruelty and spurred new Legislation to crack down on abusers.
“This shows us a lot about the courage of Floridians and what we’re capable of and how much we care about our pets,” said Jennifer Hobgood, Director of State Legislation for the ASPCA’s Southeastern Region.
The Legislature approved Ponce’s Law in March of 2018.
It raises aggravated animal cruelty from a level three to a level five offense.
“It’s easier and more appropriate at a level five to assign jail time,” said MacFall.
It also clarifies that judges can prohibit convicted abusers from owning or even having contact with animals.
“So if they are found having contact with animals during their probation it would be a violation of their probation,” said Hobgood. “They could go to jail.”
Tagged onto Ponce’s Law is another change, which establishes a set of procedures for animal shelters like this one to follow after a natural disaster to help reunite lost pets with their owners.
“Things like scanning for a microchip in a timely fashion and properly, checking for tags, calling identified owners of lost pets,” said Hobgood.
An educational campaign launches the same day the law goes into effect.
It’s goal is to spread word about Ponce’s Law to prosecutors, judges and law enforcement throughout the state.
The campaign kicks off in Ponce’s home Daytona Beach and is led by Debbie Dario, the Escambia County paralegal who spearheaded Ponce’s Law.

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Charges for Sheriff’s Deputy Accused of Planting Evidence Likely Months Away

September 27th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
It could be a month or more before charges are filed in the case of a North Florida Deputy accused of planting drugs on unsuspecting motorists.
In body-cam video released by the Jackson County Sheriff, Deputy Zachery Wester first tells Theresa Odom there was a problem with her brake lights.
Then he said a drug sniffing dog was on the way.
“Instead of doing that would you consent to a search of your vehicle,” Wester asked Odom in the video.
At about five minuets into the stop, Wester is already searching her car, holding what appears to be a baggie with a white substance in his left hand.
“The one that I saw was clear and the one I saw had  some still photos which confirmed what the video showed us,” said Glenn Hess, State Attorney of Florida’s 14th Judicial Circuit.
Presented with the find, Odom proclaims her innocence, as others did as well.
Over 250 cases involving the deputy were reviewed.
This week 49 cases were thrown out, bringing the total to 119.
The Deputy was fired but he has yet to be charged.
Hess says it could be a month or longer before anything happens.
“Until the investigation is completed, we don’t know what charges to file, and we don’t know how many charges to file,” said Hess.
Theresa Odom is free.
She declined to be interviewed for fear of jeopardizing the investigation, but she did allow this picture to be taken and in a lengthy conversation both on and off the record, she told us her tail lights never malfunctioned,
The Department of Law Enforcement, which is investigating this case says last year out of 85,606 law enforcement officers statewide, just 1,154 disciplinary cases were opened.

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Tallahassee Crime Rate Front and Center in Governor’s Race

September 26th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The state ’s Republican Party doubled down Wednesday on the crime rate in the state capital, where the Democratic gubernatorial nominee is the Mayor.

Tallahassee has had the highest crime rate in Florida four years running.
The GOP is also pointing to this mailer from mayoral candidate Dustin Daniels, who is Gillum’s former chief of staff, suggesting Daniels blames Gillum for crime.
”And it’s just not correct,” said Daniels. ” All I have ever said is I believe that we need to invest in the programs he has put forward because they are shown to be working.”
However, residents of a north side neighborhood just blocks from the Mayors home were hit with at least a dozen car burglaries over the weekend.
Shots were also fired.
“Scared the hell out of me,” said resident Marti Hill.
Police have arrested two juveniles for the weekends crimes.
They seized six guns.
Tallahassee Reports, an alternative conservative newspaper is reporting that the city commission, of which Mayor Andrew Gillum is a member, refused police requests for more officers.
“As you look at the documents, they kept asking for help,” said reporter Steve Stewart. “Kept telling the City Commission we have a problem, and they never responded until it really got to a problem where it was gonna take years to correct.”
The City has since hired about 50 new officers.
Leon County Sheriff, Democrat Walt McNeil, took the GOP to task for it’s criticism, saying “The political fear mongering from his opponent is false, dangerous, and disrespectful to the law enforcement officers on the front lines fighting crime every day”.
McNeill was elected in 2016, blasting the high crime rate at the time.
While police say crime is at its lowest in five years, how the city ranks statewide is unknown.
Statewide crime rates for the first six months of the year are yet to be released.

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FWC Discounts Pollution in Red Tide Discussion

September 26th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission has agreed to increase funding for red tide research and new fish hatcheries.
The current red tide bloom has been active for nearly a year.
In that time more than 1,200 fish kills have been reported to the FWC.
“Probably a lot more than that if people had reported everything,” said Fish and Wildlife Research Institute Director Gil McRae.
During their Wednesday meeting, commissioners were briefed on the outbreak and approved a $3.5 million budget request for 2019 to establish a red tide research center and task force.
“Our efforts need to be focused on recovery we need to continue and boost research and we need to continue to explore innovation,” said FWC Director Eric Sutton.
The commission says it will be experimenting in the field with a special clay from Asia, along with conducting lab research on other potential ways to combat the algae.
Environmentalists have suggested pollution and agricultural runoff may be factors in sustaining prolonged red tide blooms, but pollution was never mentioned in the meeting.
The commission instead reassured the public that the current bloom was a natural phenomenon.
Sutton said it was wrong of environmental groups to center the discussion around pollution.
“It means they don’t understand red tide, because to point to any one single individual or source is irresponsible,” said Sutton.
The commission suggested the extended bloom has likely been caused by abnormal weather patterns and iron brought into the Gulf by unusually high dust deposits from the African Sahara.
FWC Commissioners also agreed to extend a catch and release designation for red fish and snook in the counties most impacted by red tide through May 10th.
$1.2 million for red fish hatcheries was approved at the meeting to help replenish the populations after the blooms subside.

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Big Box Retailers Sue State, Reviving Whiskey and Wheaties Debate

September 25th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Walmart and Target are suing the state to accomplish what they’ve been unable to get for at least the last five years: The ability to sell alcohol by the bottle in their main stores.
The retailers are trying to accomplish through an administrative process what they couldn’t get from the Governor and State Lawmakers.
Big Box stores can only sell liquor if it’s separated by a wall from their main grocery shelves.
In 2017 they almost succeeded at tearing those walls down.
The so called ‘Whiskey and Wheaties’ bill was narrowly approved by lawmakers, but Governor Rick Scott soon vetoed the bill.
“I’ve had family members that have dealt with, had the challenge of alcoholism,” Scott said in a 2017 interview.
Now, Walmart and Target are trying a new strategy, arguing they should qualify for consumption on premises liquor licenses because many of their stores are licensed as restaurants.
To get a consumption on premises license, the law says liquor can only be sold alongside “items customarily sold in a restaurant”, but the statute doesn’t define those items.
Walmart and Target argue the list defined by agency rule making more than two decades ago is too narrow.
ABC Liquors lobbyist Scott Dick has fought the big box stores each year in the Legislature.
He believes the administrative challenge suggests the retailers are running out of options.
“Costco sells caskets. So caskets would be customarily sold in a restaurant. I mean it’s a far stretch,” said Dick.
Walmart and Target say the state arbitrarily enforces the existing rule, allowing companies like hotels to obtain consumption on premises licenses, despite selling items outside of the state’s own definition of items customarily sold in restaurants.
Will Hall represents the Florida Independent Spirits Association.
Hall says repealing the rule would create confusion for traditional liquor stores.
“They basically say anything in the world can fit the definition, I think that renders the statute meaningless. You can’t do that,” said Hall.
If the rule is stricken, not only would stores like Walmart and Target be allowed to sell liquor on their shelves, but they would also be allowed to sell beverages for customers to drink while they shop.

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No More Tipping Off Perps

September 24th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

It will soon be harder for child pornographers and abusers to know their internet activities are being investigated by law enforcement. A new law taking effect October first will keep internet providers from tipping off suspected perps.

It is the irony of all ironies. Big internet providers and cloud storage services find porn or child abuse, then tip off police. Wayne Ivey is the Sheriff of Brevard County., who says once they get a tip… “And then, before we could start delving into it, they (the ISP) would notify the perps because they were worried about being sued and stuff.”

It was his investigators who discovered and fought to close the loophole that allowed ISP to contact their customers under investigation.

“There’s going to be evidence that’s preserved as a result. Potentially victims will be saved as a result because come of these people actually have victims in their homes” says the Sheriff.

Clearwater Representative Chris Latvala told us in February the loophole was motivated by greed.

“These companies are more concerned with their trade secrets or their products than they are doing the right thing” said the sponsor of the legislation.

The Law enfprcement task force members who discovered the loophole were honored at this years Missing Children’s Day. Donna Uzell from the Florida Department of Law Enforcement announced their award  “The innovative and persistent work has resulted in a significant, on going contribution to the safety of countless children.”

We interviewed Sheriff after he just finished talking to his agents. “I was just telling them as we were taking the picture, I was telling the, each and every day you guys do amazing things. But what you’ve done here will save the lives of innocent children for decades and decades to come

Under the new law, internet provides can’t tell a perp they’re being investigated for 90 days. If police need more time, they can have that delay extended in 90 day increments.

The legislation is such a no-brainer,  it received a unanimous vote every step of the legislative process.

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Uber Driver Held Without Bail

September 24th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

An Uber driver accused of kidnapping a college student last week will remain in jail without bond for the time being. Medical staff told the judge at Destiny Green’s first appearance this morning that she  suffers from schizophrenia and stopped taking her medicine in January. Judge Nina Ashenafi Richardson ordered Green to remain in jail until she has resumed taking her medicine.

“It’s too early for this court to be comfortable releasing you, okay? There’ll have to be some more assurances that where you are, what your state of mind is, and how you’re going to be able to care for yourself, okay?”  Green appeared on closed circuit television.

Green’s public defended argued that Uber driver was not guilty of kidnaping, and only the false imprisonment charge she faces has any merit at all. The judge also ordered Green to not resume driving for hire until the case is resolved. Uber has already terminated Green.

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Suspect in Uber Kidnapping Had History of Strange Behavior

September 21st, 2018 by Jake Stofan
New information has come to light in the case of an Uber driver accused of kidnapping a college student in the state capital.
The female driver was ordered to under go psychological evaluation Friday, but the kidnapping incident isn’t the first time the female driver has acted strangely.
30-year-old Uber driver Destiny Green is charged with kidnapping St. Petersburg native Brooke Adkins, who is currently attending college in Tallahassee.
Police say Green picked up Adkins around 3 am on Wednesday to take her back to her apartment after a night out with friends.
“Miss Adkins, who was the victim, felt uncomfortable with what was going on and asked her to stop the car and let her out. Miss Green refused,” said Tallahassee Police Department PIO Damon Miller.
Unable to unlock the car door, Adkins rolled down the window and leapt out.
Adkins posted photos of her injuries on social media following the incident.
“We’re just lucky that she doesn’t have any life threatening injuries or basically worse of than she is right now,” said Miller.
After jumping from the window Adkins ran to a Walgreens where she waited for authorities to arrive.
“The good thing about this case is that with Uber the driver is identified and it also has the tag number and vehicle and everything,” said Miller.
Green was scheduled to make her first appearance in court Friday morning, but the arraignment was delayed so she could undergo a mental health examination.
Green was involved in an incident on June 14th of last year.
The police report says her fiancé alerted authorities because Green was acting like she, “never had before.”
Officers described her behavior at the time as extremely manic.
Her fiancé reported she did not use drugs and had no known mental health issues.
Green is now expected to make her first courtroom appearance Monday.
Uber has reportedly terminated Green since the incident.
We reached out to Uber for comment, but did not receive a response in time for this story.

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Supervisors Defend Mail Ballot Standards

September 20th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
An ACLU report on voting by mail problems produced for the ACLU raises questions about varying standards for judging the validity of a voters signature and suggests the state create rules for accepting or disqualifying a ballot.
Leon County Supervisor Mark Earley says those standards already exist.
“I would disagree. I think there are statewide standards. 101.68 of Florida statutes has a very defined process. Certainly, each canvassing board is made up of human eyes, people with different thoughts about what…you know, its somewhat of an subjective process. Anytime you are matching signatures, it’s a subjective process,” said Earley. “But I think we do our best to do things in a uniform manner accross the state in most regards, and I think this is another one of those.”
Voters who’s mail ballots are disqualified are allowed to correct their mistakes until the day before the election.
If they don’t, they can still show up in person on election day.

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Report Suggests Voting by Mail Poses More Risks Than Traditional Voting

September 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A new report by a University of Florida Political Scientist for the ACLU found that voting by mail is the riskiest way to cast a ballot.
The risk of not having a mail ballot counted is greatest for those under 30, blacks and hispanics.
Nearly 28,000, or just over 1% of all mail ballots cast in 2016  weren’t counted.
The most likely reason is that voters didn’t sign the ballot, or their signature didn’t match the voting record.
“The process on mail in ballots is to compare the signature on the ballot when it’s returned to determine, and we hope to determine, that it is the correct voter who has cast the ballot,” said Ron Labasky with the Florida State Elections Supervisors Association.
When ballots are flawed, supervisors are required to contact the voter and give them an opportunity to fix the problem.
“We send a notice, a cure affidavit, to their address where they got their ballot, and if they have an email address  or a phone number on file with us, we will call that number several times,” said Leon County Elections Supervisor Mark Earley.
The bottom line, voting by mail is inherently more risky than casting a ballot in person.
“Yeah, its coming through the mail. It’s not as simple as going to your polling place where your ballot is not going to be rejected,” said Labasky.
The report found that voters under 30 had just 9.2% of all mail ballots, yet 30% of those ballots were rejected.
FSU Student Jaimie Mayer thinks the higher failure rate is due to being unfamiliar with the mail voting process.
“We’re so used to doing everything online now that we kinda almost forget to fill out what’s important,” said Mayer.
Voters who didn’t cure their mail ballot in time can still show up election day and cast a ballot.
The first mail ballots go out to military and overseas voters this weekend.
In state mail voters will get their ballots beginning October 3rd.

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Can Funding the Land Acquisition Trust Fund Combat Red Tide?

September 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Red tide continues to spread along Florida’s west coast.
At least four counties in the panhandle are reporting the algae blooms.
The crisis has Governor Rick Scott ordering a resumption of research into the cause and possible solutions.
Red tide has been known to exist for hundreds of years, but scientists still don’t know enough.
“The funding for basic research questions is just minimal,” said Oceanography professor at FSU Dr. Sven Kranz.
Dr. Sven Kranz says in recent years the blooms have become more frequent and last longer, but since 2013 the state has essentially stopped all research on red tide.
“To understand an outbreak of Karenia Brevis like the one we’ve had the last year basically we do need more research,” said Kranz.
South west Florida is suffering from a nearly year long bloom.
New blooms are also appearing in the panhandle.
Now, Governor Rick Scott says  the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission will resume working with researchers to find ways to quell the algae.
However, environmental groups say Scott’s orders aren’t dealing with  pollution and agricultural run off, which they believe is the root problem.
“It’s a result of continued lack of regulation and control,” said Alisa Coe, an Attorney with the Florida Office of Earth Justice.
Red tide algae is caused by high nutrient levels.
Like in a fish tank, the more nutrients added either from natural sources or through fertilizers or animal waste, the more algae.
Unless you have enough plants to consume the nutrients first.
It’s the reason why environmental groups are asking the courts to make funds for land acquisition available immediately.
“We need to start the projects that would capture the water and treat it,” said Coe.
They say it could be used to purchase lands South of Lake Okeechobee, where water could be expelled and filtered through the plant-rich everglades.
A lower court sided with environmentalists earlier this year and ordered the Legislature to fully fund the Land Acquisition Trust Fund.
The state appealed, putting a hold on the ruling and preventing the funds from becoming available.
Scientists agree agricultural runoff plays a role in maintaining longer blooms, but they say research into other factors such as hurricanes and natural processes still need more investigating.

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President of Botswana Wants to Rekindle Relations With FSU

September 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Florida State University was paid a visit by a prestigious alumnus Thursday morning.
His Excellency Mokgweetsi Eric Keabetswe Masisi, President of the Republic of Botswana returned to his alma matter to meet with University President John Thrasher and local lawmakers.
President Masisi obtained a Masters degree in education from Florida State in 1990.
Massi expressed his interest in rekindling a closer relationship with the university.
“There’s a lot of value that you bring and we have a number of universities, both public and private that would benefit from partnering with you and I want to beset you to use me and abuse me in creating those linkages, rekindling them,” said President Masisi. “And in our bilateral relations with the United States government, there is no reason why these should not be taken to greater heights.”
Massi and Thrasher touted FSU’s recent accomplishments including being named the 26th best public university in the nation.

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Supreme Court Will Soon Hear Minimum Wage Case

September 19th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Can cities and counties pass a minimum wage is higher than what the state sets?
In 2016 Miami Beach moved to raise its local minimum wage to more than $5 higher than the state’s.
The move was staunchly opposed by groups like the Florida Retail Federation, which challenged the local ordinance in court.
“I think ultimately it should be up to the individual business. I don’t think the government should be telling a business what to pay their employees,” said James Miller with the Federation.
Miami Beach defended its ability to increase wages citing a 2004 constitutional amendment, but business groups argue a state law passed the year before supersedes the amendment.
“The constitution revision said yes you can adopt a higher minimum wage, but they didn’t at the same time limit the authority of the Legislature to put bounds around a municipality’s authority,” said Samantha Padgett, general council to the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
So far, the argument has been upheld by a circuit court and an appeals court, but the state Supreme Court will have the final say.
Recently, law professors in the state’s capital and across the country have come out in support of Miami Beach.
Attorney and former FSU President Sandy D’Alemberte has been authorized to file a friend of the court brief on behalf of the city.
“We really need to respect the idea of giving local government power particularly where the constitution clearly intends for local government to have that power,” said D’Alemberte.
Miami Beach is asking the court to rule soon, arguing workers in the city are losing wages, which are scheduled to increase to $11.31 an hour on January 1st.
If ruled lawful by the State Supreme Court Miami Beach’s minimum wage would reach $13.31 by the year 2021.
The policy was enacted under the leadership of defeated Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine during his time as mayor.

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Corporate Tax Experiment Rings True 58 Years Later

September 19th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
48 years ago, a virtually unknown state Senator became Governor after he showed voters that corporations in Florida were getting a free ride, but not passing the tax savings on to consumers.
Now voters must decide between two widely different taxing philosophies in their choice for Governor.
Republican Gubernatorial nominee Ron DeSantis has signed a ‘no new tax pledge’.
He says growth will fund the state’s needs.
Democrat Andrew Gillum is calling for a forty percent increase in corporate taxes.
“This is an investment in our future and our state’s economy,” said Gillum.
In 1970, Reubin Askew bought shirts in Miami and Atlanta from the same chain and paid the same for each, even though Georgia had a corporate tax and Florida did not.
We duplicated the same purchases, buying a work shirt in Tallahassee for $8.
Then driving 35 miles north to Thomasville, Georgia where we bought an identical shirt from the same retailer for the same $8.
The corporate tax in Georgia is half a percent higher.
Two shirts, same manufacturer, same retailer.
The shirt from Florida?
Four cents more because of a higher sales tax.
Democrat Andrew Gillum wants to raise Florida’s corporate tax from 5.5% to 7.75%.
The Florida Chamber says such a big increase will have to be passed on to consumers.
“Most likely, right? Because companies are going to pass that cost of doing business in Florida on to consumers, so ironically, while the idea might sound good, it probably hurts the people its intended to help,” said David Hart with the Chamber.
However, shirts in Florida and Georgia would likely remain priced the same, because the higher cost of business would be passed on nationwide.
Raising the corporate tax could have the unintended consequence of funneling more money into private voucher schools.
That’s because corporations can choose to give their tax obligations to support organizations and receive a credit from the state.

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