May 15th, 2013 by Matt Horn
Under a new bill sent to the Governor by state lawmakers, Floridians battling mental illness will be banned from purchasing a gun.
Supporters say it will save lives, while medical professionals say it will wrongfully take away second amendment rights for a large group of Floridians.
A loophole in Florida law has allowed people diagnosed with mental illnesses to continue purchasing firearms, until lawmakers closed the loophole with just one dissenting vote. “If it’s just one and they save one life, it’s a significant bill,” said Representative Barbara Watson (D) Miami.
The bill gained support by Democrats, Republicans and the NRA. “Keeping guns out of the hands of dangerous people with mental illness saves lives,” said NRA past President Marion Hammer.
The legislation requires people who voluntarily commit themselves to give up their gun rights. “This only keeps mentally ill people who are determined to be dangerous from being able to buy guns,” she said.
But thousands have called or emailed the governor seeking a veto of the bill. “I hope the governor vetoes it,” said counselor Robert Carton. Health officials worry the legislation will keep people from seeking treatment. “It’s likely to create the opposite effect of what legislators are intending,” he said. “Not everybody with a mental illness is homicidal, not everybody with a mental illness is suicidal.”
90-thousand mentally ill Floridians are already prohibited from buying guns. If the governor signs the bill that number is expected to drastically increase. If signed into law, the mentally ill would be prohibited from buying a gun after July 1st.
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May 9th, 2013 by Matt Horn
State lawmakers recently passed “Lets Kids Be Kids” bill, focusing on allowing foster children to live lives as similar to their peers as possible.
State lawmakers were in Washington trying to help reform the national foster care
19-year-old Martan Gordon is adjusting to life after being in Florida’s foster care system for more than eight years. “It was basically go to school come home or group home. Wherever I was and that was basically my life,” said Gordon.
Laws had forced kids and their foster care families to get approval from social workers and judges on nearly every decision made, creating a feeling of isolation. “We have bubble wrapped these kids and deprived them of any kind of normalcy when it comes to childhood,” said Senator Nancy Detert.
Federal lawmakers listened to Florida’s new bill giving insight on possible changes at the federal level. “States might examine a law Florida enacted just this year, that is to ensure that foster youth are treated like every other child,” said U.S. Representative Dave Reichert.
Secretary of the Florida Department of Children and Families, David Wilkins says the strict rules made it difficult for not only kids in the system, but the adults trying to help those children. “Foster parents are burdened with paper work, court responsibilities, and jobs responsibilities all surrounding protecting the child,” he said.
Now federal officials are looking to Florida to see what changes to make so foster kids everywhere feel some sense of normalcy while living in the system.
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May 6th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda
After the massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary in December, State leaders promised that “everything” was on the table when it came to guns and school safety.
Efforts to put a guidance counselor in every school to spot trouble, require schools to hold more frequent lockdown exercises…or a bill to arm teachers all died when lawmakers went home.
Representative Dennis Baxley chairs a committee that heard some gun bills. We asked why more gun bills, pro or con, didn’t pass. “Definitely a sense of not over reacting to some of the spectacular things that happened like Sandy Hook” says Baxley.
The NRA’s lobbyist was in the gallery when the only gun bill..out of 15 introduced…passed.
The bill clamps down on the ability of the mentally ill to buy a gun. Sponsor Audrey Gibson says it passed because the NRA supported it. “At lease we are at the table talking about it..and we should continue to talk about other ways to make sure we stop gun violence” says the Jacksonville State Senator. After a law enforcement memorial for fallen police officers, Fraternal Order of Police President James Preston says they would have liked some clarification to the controversial Stand Your Ground. “If there is an opportunity to recede or back away from the violence, that would be our preference, but if you have to protect yourself, then by all means, the public needs to be able to do that” says the FOP President.
The bill that would have done that never got a hearing. “We never even had the discussion about stand your ground” said State Senator Chris Smith, the sponsor of legislation to prohibit someone from pursuing someone and then claiming Stand Your Ground.
But the NRA says lawmaker looked and decided nothing was broken that needed fixing.Last year a task force held seven public hearings on Stand Your Ground and made minor recommendations to tweak the legislation, but even that bill was not heard by lawmakers.
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April 30th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda
State lawmakers have sent the Governor a bill closing a loophole that has allowed mentally ill people to purchase guns. The legislation requires those who voluntarily commit themselves to sign away their firearm rights until they are well. The legislation is the only bill dealing with guns that will be approved by lawmakers during the 2013 legislative session. Sponsor Audrey Gibson calls it the beginning of a conversation. ”It’s something that is a rallying point because of the some of the incidents that have happened in our country. And as I told Marion , at least we’re at the table talking about it. And we should continue to talk about other ways to make sure we stop gun violence” says the Jacksonville Demcrat.
At the beginning of the session there was great speculation the Stand Your Ground law would be reviewed. NRA’s Marion Hammer, who watched today’s bill pass, says there was not need for a review. “There is nothing wrong with the legislation. There are problems with the way people are interpreting it, and that’s an easy fix. So, there was no “Stand Your Ground” or Castle Doctrine legislation” says the longtime NRA spokesperson.
A Stand your ground task force held meeting across the state and made several recommendations on stand your ground changes, but no legislation was heard.
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April 25th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda
Governor Rick Scott has been championing a twenty-five hundred dollar a year pay raise for every teacher in Florida since February.
Today is the fifty-second day of the annual sixty day legislative session, and lawmakers have yet to agree to the raises. They would prefer merit based pay hikes, but Scott says teachers have done their job and deserve an across the board hike. ”We’ve had a dramatic turnaround in this state. We can brag about our education system; number six in the country. But we constantly have to work on how to do we improve it. Right now one way to improve it, in my opinion, is the classroom, the payroll increases” says Scott.
Scott’s second priority, a sales tax break on manufacturing equipment is also in limbo. He has been using veiled threats of vetoing priority projects of legislative leaders if he doesn’t get his way.
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April 25th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda
Legislation named the “Freedom from Unwarranted Surveillance Act” was signed into law today. The measure requires law enforcement agencies to get a search warrant before flying over your home or property with an unmanned drone. Supporters say it’s better to have rules in place before most law enforcement agencies are flying over your house.
By signing legislation requiring police to get a search warrant if they want to fly an unmanned drone over your property, the Governor says he and lawmakers are protecting fourth amendment rights. “We want our own privacy. We believe in a fourth amendment. Now, there are exceptions”says Governor Scott.
There are three exceptions to the ban on drone use: The first is if police are stalking a suspected terrorist. Drones can be used if evidence has been presented to a judge and a search warrant issued. The third is swift action is needed to save a life or prevent serious property damage.
Only two law enforcement agencies in Florida are known to now have drones. Sponsor Joe Negron, says having rules in place before more own them is important. “There is an industry that wants to sell hundreds and thousands of these drones all over the country and before they’re up in the sky, hovering around, monitoring people in their cars and their backyards, I think it was a good idea to say, here’s the rules we’re going to have in Florida on that.”, says Sen. Negron, R-Stuart.
Most law enforcement agencies initially opposed the limitations on drone use until they saw how much legislative horsepower was behind it.
House Sponsor Rich Workman (R-Brevard County), likens to use of drones to the early days of wiretaps. “It was pretty well willy-nilly used. It seemed like a good way to find the bad guys. But it also invaded people’s privacy that weren’t guilty.”
One of the biggest fears has been that police would use drones to monitor neighborhoods, and farm lands looking for crimes being committed. The ban takes effect July first.
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April 20th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda
Increased health care for up to a million Floridians remains up in the air tonight as legislators in Tallahassee push drastically different plans. The end result could be no additional coverage for anyone.
Under a plan being pushed by the state House, 113,000 low income Floridians would pay a 25 dollar monthly co-pay for private insurance. A plan favored by the Governor and State Senate, would cover ten times more people. It’s funded completely by the federal government for the first three years. But it is that federal funding where House Republicans are drawing the line.
Rep. Charles McBurney R-Jacksonville, told the panel “What the government giveth, the government taketh away.” Rep. Steve Precourt, R-Orlando, called the Feds record into question “Furthermore the federal government does have a demonstrated check record of being an unreliable funding partner.”
In pushing for the larger coverage, Democrats made a reference to Boston, where first responders rushed to a crisis. Rep. Darryl Rouson of St. Petersburg says Florida should be rushing to solve a health care crisis. “We lend a helping hand. That’s what America is all about” said Rouson.
Despite the plea the committee shut down the federal money plan on a party line vote.
Rep. Mia Jones, D-Jacksonville, says the GOP is still angry they lost the election “It’s really not about providing coverage under those plans, it’s simply about saying no to the Affordable Care Act.”The decision not to take federal money sets up a very real possibility the lawmakers could leave the State Capitol in two weeks and do absolutely nothing to expand health care.
Doing nothing says House Speaker Will Weatherford, would be profitable to taking federal money. “If it’s taking federal money that we can’t count on going home, I think we would prefer to go home” Weatherford said in an exclusive interview.
The plan being pushed by the House Speaker, gives eligible enrollees two thousand dollars to buy coverage of their choice. The House plan does not cover single, childless adults, which is one of the major differences from the Medicaid expansion favored by the Governor. His plan also saves the state an estimated 430 million dollars on money it now spends on the medically needy program.
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April 16th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda
Three teachers from three counties, Escambia, Alachua, and Hernando, have filed a lawsuit in Federal Court, challenging a 2011 law that tells districts how to evaluate teacher performance.
All three are former teachers of the year. The say they are not receiving equal protection under the 14th amendment because they are being measured by test scores of students they have never taught. Florida Education President Andy Ford calls the system absurd.
“It’s very compelling that when you have teachers who have been honored by their faculty and in their districts as being a Teacher of the Year to have an unsatisfactory evaluation or evaluation that’s less than perfect. Based on student test scores of kids you’ve never taught in a grade level you never taught. It is just absolutely absurd and we need a new system” says Ford.
Beth Ann Moore is a high school teacher in Hernando County and says her evaluation is based on students she has never taught. “Seems like I should be evaluated on students I teach and the subjects that I teach. So that way I am truly getting an evaluation of my teaching abilities and also seeing the growth of my students in my subject area” says Moore.
A second plantif in the case is Kim Cook. She teaches grades one through three in Gainesville. Cook filed the lawsuit challenging the states system of evaluating teachers because her scores were based on students at another school that she has never seen. ”And they were students I’ve never met at a completely different school. I’ve had no part in instructing them whatsoever. ”
Reporter: “So you have been evaluated on based on performance of students you’ve never taught.” ”That’s correct” says the elementary school teacher.
The case was filed in Federal Court in Gainesville.
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April 3rd, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda
A Bradenton couple, arrested last month for growing marijuana for medical reasons has learned the charges were dropped.
The arrest came the same day a poll showed overwhelming support for legalizing medical marijuana. In a memo, prosecutors say they were assured Cathy Jordan has Lou Gherigs disease and that marijuana is the only thing that relieves her symptoms, so she and husband Bob qualify for what is called a medical necessity in Florida. Bob Jordan says the couple has been vindicated.
“We were doing this for sixteen years and you know now finally it went through the legal system and they’re saying that we’re right all along. I’ve been saying that there is no pharmaceutical can do what the plant does.”
The couple said they planned on applying for a permit to grow marijuana. A provision of the medical necessity law says “the evil sought to be avoided was more heinous than the unlawful act perpetrated to avoid it”.
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April 3rd, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda
For the first time in five years, a bill banning texting while driving is headed to the House floor in Tallahassee. The measure cleared its last committee this morning, but the bill could still face an uphill battle.
For these kids from the Drivers Ed class of the Florida Virtual School, it was democracy in action. “The bill bans the use of wireless communication devices while driving.”, says Rep. Greg Holder, R-Sarasota.
The students came to the Capitol to support a ban on texting while driving, as they watched Sponsor Greg Holder told the House committee, that taking your eyes off the road for five seconds was more dangerous than drinking. “We’re talking about an activity that is equivalent to drinking four beers very quickly and getting behind the wheel of a car.”, says Rep. Greg Holder, R-Sarasota.
The bill passed with just one no vote…the chairman’s. “I think it’s important that if we’re going to push laws forward that we push laws forward that actually enforceable.”, says Rep. Jimmy Patronis, R-Panama City.
The legislation is a secondary offense with a 30 dollar fine, that means police can’t stop you for just texting. Florida is just one of the five states that doesn’t have some sort of ban on texting while driving.
St. Petersburg’s Police Chief says officers will do their best to enforce the law. “If you cross the lane or hit a curb or do something like that then that gives an officer enough reason to stop them. I’ve seen them texting I think it can be enforced.”, says Charles Harmon, St. Petersburg Police Chief.
Afterwards, the kids tested their driving skill on a simulator. Jenny Ruben crashed every time she checked her phone. “As simple as not texting at the wheel can save your life and it can really save you from any debilitating injury.”, says Ruben.
Under the bill, being involved in an accident while texting will result in tougher penalties.
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