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 8th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda
Florida A&M University has named a new Director of Bands, which is seen as a major step toward reinstatement of the famed Marching 100. The band was suspended following the hazing death of a band student in November 2011.
Florida A & M has crowned Dr. Sylvester Young as the new Director of Marching and Pep bands.
The appointment is a home coming. Young experienced a form of Hazing as a student in 1965. “And I wore red socks with my short white pants, and the first sense of hazing I had was an upper class-man made me leave the field and take those socks off.” Young chuckled.
Young knows he has to change the culture of the band. Hazing has gotten progressively more violent since his stint as a trombone player. Ten people still face second degree murder charges in the hazing death of Drum Major Robert Champion. “Other schools are watching us very closely and we can actually come out of this being an icon for all other universities” says Young.
The new band director is adamant. He wasn’t promised the band would be back this fall. Interim President Larry Robinson says while no date has been set to make a decision about the bands return, all the right people are now in place.“This is critical piece of that, and we’ll do our assessment, and once we’re done, we’ll be prepared to make an announcement one way or the other” says Robinson.
Students Kachi Ukpabi Jr. worries the clock is ticking too fast for the band to return this fall “If he can’t come in to June, People want a band by August, I mean, its a lot of work.”
Young starts in mid June, but a decision on the bands return could be made before then. Dr. Young was the Universities second choice for band director. The school had scheduled an announcement on January 15th, but the candidate backed out at the last minute. Young says he didn’t apply during the initial selection process, but decided he had something to offer.
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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 22nd, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda
House and Senate negotiators have said no to the Governor’s across the board pay hike for teachers, opting instead for merit based increases. Both plans cost 480 million dollars. The Governor says the across the board raises are one of only two priorities he has and believes the legislature will come through. “We need to do an across the board twenty five hundred dollar pay raise for each and every one of our classroom teachers. Our k-12 school system is doing an outstanding job” says Scott.
Scott got a boost from Orange County School Superintendent Barbara Jenkins, who says implementing merit pay a year earlier than scheduled for 2014 would be difficult. “We are convinced that it is a time to reward our teachers for their hard work and for our great outcomes. It’s also a great mechanism for us to retain our talent and to recruit new talent as Florida lags behind the nation on average teacher pay” says Barbara Jenkins.
Two weeks remain in the legislative session. What’s uncertain is if the differences in pay plans are philosophical, or if lawmakers want something from the Governor in return.
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April 19th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda
More Environmental Education Needed
Rain dampened Earth Day ceremonies at the state Capitol today, but several hundred kids still showed up to hear from the state hydrologist why rain is a good thing. Environmentalists applauded the Department of Environmental Protection sponsored event, but Janet Bowman of the Nature Conservancy says kids in Florida today are being shortchanged at schools when it comes to environmental education.
“If we don’t expose children to the outdoors. They won’t be important to them. They won’t understand why protecting water and our lands are important. And when they grow up, they won’t really have the background to appreciate what many in Florida have fought for 30 years to protect” says Bowman.
State parks across the state will celebrate Earth Day this weekend with a variety of activities.
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April 17th, 2013 by Mike Vasilinda
In the summer of 1989, Floridians were horrified over the death of two year old Bradley McGee at the hands of his stepfather. The child had been dunked head first in the toiled, beaten and tortured for weeks before dying. Thomas Coe was sentenced to life, but under the law at that time he is entitled to a parole hearing. Today was that hearing.
Bradley McGee spent most of his life in foster care…returning home just two moths before being beaten and tortured to death by his step father. Thomas Coe received a life sentence. Cheryl Coe served nine years. Under the law at the time, Coe is entitled to parole. Polk County State Attorney Jerry Hill described the crime to the Parole Commission this way: “I think this is the worst case I’ve ever appeared on. I promise you is far and away one of the saddest.”
At the time, Bradley became the poster child for change. His foster mother Pam Kirkland lead the charge. ”I think we’re tired of children paying the price that we adults have the responsibility to protect these children.”
Kirkland has now passed and is buried next to Bradley. Her daughter came to tell the Parole Commission the world has no use for Thomas Coe ”And the anger and the mentality he has will never change because there’s no remorse today.” Another family friend, Dorine Parsons, nearly broke down from rage. ”This morning Thomas Coe got up and he breathed. This baby did not.”
The Commission denied parole…and set a lengthy seven year period before the case can be heard again. The decision satisfied the Samantha Campbell. ”It’s a shame that Sheryl got to walk because of overcrowding which is very sad, but God will take care of that not us.”
Bradley McGee would be 26 had he survived.
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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
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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