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Senate Approves Bill That would Allow Classroom Teachers to Carry Guns

April 23rd, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The Florida Senate has approved an expansion to the school safety package originally passed following the Parkland Shooting.

The a provision that would allow for teachers to be armed was kept in, to the disapproval of teachers unions and gun control advocates.

Following the Parkland shooting, lawmakers considered including classroom teachers as part of its guardian program, but left them out.

Now many have had a change of heart.
“I wish we had a law enforcement officer on every floor of every school. We do not and we cannot,” said Senator Ed Hooper.

ESE teacher Lissa O’rourke from St. Johns County worries about unintended consequences.

“ESE students sometimes have a hard time self regulating and that could become a dangerous situation if there was some kind of gun in the classroom,” said O’rourke.

Debate on the Senate floor echoed those concerns.

“Teachers accidentally discharging a weapon, a lost or dropped gun,” said Senator Gary Farmer.

Sponsor Senator Manny Diaz says it gives districts an option.

“The most contentious part of this bill in this chamber is completely optional,” said Diaz.

Ultimately the legislation was approved along party lines in a 22-17 vote, with only one Republican voting no.

$57 million in unspent funds for the guardian program from last year will be carried over in this year’s budget, but if it’s not used to arm teachers or staff, it can’t be spent on anything else.

So far 25 counties have established a guardian program.

14 more have expressed an interest.

However, in districts that have chosen not to participate, coming up with money to hire enough traditional school resource officers has been a challenge.

Michelle Dillon, President of the St. Johns Education Association says her county had to ask the local city commission to make up the difference.

“It shouldn’t be done in this half baked manor where you’re offering teachers to be armed,” said Dillon. “It should be fully trained law enforcement officials.”

The bill still needs to pass the House.

Less than two weeks remain for the chamber to act.

Under the bill, teachers who volunteer to carry a gun would have to undergo a psychological evaluation and 132 hours of training.

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DeSantis Fights Back Against Anti-Canadian Drug Importation Ads

April 23rd, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

A Pharmaceutical industry funded group is spending tens of thousands of dollars on an ad targeting lawmakers who want to lower prescription drug prices, but the Governor and lawmakers say the effort to lower drug prices is hitting raw nerve.

An ad that has been blanketing TV’s in the Capitol City for two weeks states, “Too many have already died from counterfeit drugs.”

Based on what the industry is spending in Tallahassee, it is likely a million dollar a week plus statewide buy.

Governor Ron Desantis is pushing the plan for cheaper Canadian drugs.

Now he’s pushing back against the ad.
“You know, I was told initially that it’s not going to make a difference. If it’s not going to make a difference, why would you want to spend all that much money, so, that tells me that it is a consequential attempt at reform,” said DeSantis.

DeSantis also poked at the ad in an appearance before the AARP.

“Do you think I’m just going to bring in a bunch of drugs from Pakistan off the street and just thrown them on you? Come on,” said DeSantis.

Bill Sponsor Aaron Bean believes his bill has hit a raw nerve.

“We have discovered something that they don’t want anybody else to know or make any changes. Because we are paying the highest prices on the planet for prescription drugs,” said Bean.

Phillip Combs is taking a new cholesterol drug.

His copay is $400 a month, a fourth of his monthly budget.

“I personally don’t have the resources to pay for an expensive drug like that,” said Combs. “I need it.”

Even if the bill gets out of the Senate and is signed by the Governor, the Federal Government will still have to approve the importation.

The Governor tells us getting Federal approval is a 50/50 proposition.

DeSantis also says savings on Canadian drugs can range up to 70% percent, adding he has the Presidents’s backing for the legislation.

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DeSantis Acknowledges Potential Gambling Deal

April 23rd, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Ron DeSantis acknowledged Tuesday that he has seen an outline of a new gambling pact between the Seminole Tribe and the State.

It was negotiated by state Senate leaders and contains new games for the Seminoles, but the Governor says there are more questions than answers.

Like whether the recently approved amendment giving all gambling expansion to votes applies to the tribe.
“There’s a lot of legalities that are involved in this,” said DeSantis. “There was just an amendment that passed. You know, the question, does it apply to the tribe? Does it apply to this or that. There’s a whole host of things that need to be vetted through, but prior to yesterday, I had not seen the outline. We have seen it now and are going through it.”

The deal was estimated to be worth at least $350 million to the state each year.

So far, that money has not been included in the version of the budget now being negotiated.

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Expansion to Hazing Laws Passes Senate

April 23rd, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The Florida Senate approved a bill that would expand hazing laws in the state Tuesday morning.

The change would allow persons who solicit another to commit a hazing crime to also face prosecution, not just those who directly carry out the offense.

It also includes immunity protections for those who report hazing.

The legislation comes in response to the death of FSU fraternity pledge Andrew Coffee in 2017.

“Andrew was a hard worker, a loyal friend. He was in the ROTC and he was the captain of his swim team. Andrew’s death was preventable,” said Book.

The bill must now be given final approval by the Florida House, before it’s sent to the Governor’s desk.

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Anti-Vaccination Proponents Rally at the State Capitol

April 23rd, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

A hundred or so people, many mothers of vaccine impacted children spent the day at the State Capitol.

They are fighting legislation that has already cleared the House that requires doctors to automatically list with the state, which children have been vaccinated.

House Bill 213 eliminates a provision that allows parents to opt out of the database.

Tampa mother Erin Olszewski is a founder and President of the Florida Freedom Alliance.

“My son was vaccine injured. So at twelve months he received the MMR vaccine,” said Olszewski. “He was walking talking, bubbly laughing, you know before that shot. After that shot, he immediately regressed into infant. He didn’t talk, he didn’t walk. We spent thousands of dollars on a speech therapist, everything. Finally, now he’s six and just started talking.”

The Senate is still considering legislation that continues the opt out for parents, who like Erin Olszewski, believe the legislation is an infringement of their constitutional rights as parents.

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23,000 Sign Petition for More Public School Funding

April 23rd, 2019 by Jake Stofan

More than 23,000 Floridian’s have signed petitions calling on the Legislature to spend more on public education.

The state’s largest teachers union, the Florida Education Association gathered the signatures.

FEA President Fedrick Ingram takes issue with a part of the House’s education package.

It forces counties that have passed local referendums to raise additional taxes for public schools to also share the money with charter schools.

“Stakeholders around the state have chosen to support their neighborhood public schools through local referendums, choosing to pay out of their own pockets to support our students and keep qualified educators the classrooms,” said Ingram. “The Florida House now wants take that money in yet another attempt to defund our neighborhood public schools.”

The union says it supports the Senate’s education budget over the House.

The Senate includes an additional $600 million in flexible funds that could be used for things like teacher pay raises.

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Law Enforcement Runs in support of Special Olympics

April 23rd, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Hundreds of law enforcement officers ran down the main street of the State Capitol Tuesday, carrying the torch for the 36th Special Olympics.

So far, more than $3 million was donated by Publix for this year’s games.

29-year-old Kami Downey has competed for 21 years.

“Special Olympics inspires all of us to try harder, play harder, be fit, eat healthy, have a good attitude. Cheer on our friends. And meet new people. It’s great,” said Downey.

The 2019 games will be held in the summer at the ESPN complex near Orlando.

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Moody Defends Opioid Transparency Legislation

April 23rd, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida Senate is refusing to hear legislation that would provide the age, county, and zip code of patients prescribed opioids to the Attorney Generals Office.

Attorney General Ashley Moody says she the information will shave years off a lawsuit she has filed against several pharmacies and opioid makers, and cost millions if she had to seek depositions to get the information.

Moody says she was surprised and disappointed the bill was not taken up, and blames it on misinformation.

“Privacy is not an issue,” said Moody. “I think some of the concerns voiced were that someone could identify a specify person, but the likelihood, according to our experts, of being able to link up an identification number with a patient from the information we receive is about the same as someone being struck by a meteor.”

Moody says she is working with Senators and House members to get the bill heard in the Senate.

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Immigrants Rally Against Sanctuary City Ban

April 23rd, 2019 by Jake Stofan

More than 100 immigrants and immigrant advocates rallied at the state capitol Tuesday.

They’re standing in opposition to a bill that would ban sanctuary cities in the state by requiring local law enforcement to cooperate with ICE detainer requests.

State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith says the move would have unintended consequences for asylum seekers in the state.

“There are no exemptions for asylum seekers, for example folks who have fled the Maduro regime in Venezuela who have not yet had their paperwork approved by the Trump administration. This would escalate deportation in mass in our state,” said Smith.

The Florida House is expected to give tentative approval to the bill this afternoon.

However it must first consider more than 50 amendments filed by Democrats.

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Increased Penalties for Texting While Driving Clears Florida House

April 23rd, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Florida is one step closer to strengthening it’s texting while driving laws after the state House voted to approve legislation Tuesday afternoon.

The bill would make texting while driving a primary offense.

That means a law enforcement offer could pull someone over if they see a driver texting.

Keyna Cory with the Florida DNT TXT N DRV Coalition says unlike the House’s bill, the Senate would make using a wireless communications device in any capacity a primary offense.

However, under the hands free proposal using a cell phone with a bluetooth device would be allowed.

“The Legislature hasn’t had an appetite for this issue for a little while. So this year everybody seems like they’re on board of doing something and so now we’re down to horse trading and figure out exactly what’s going to be in the final bill,” said Cory.

Multiple attempts to strengthen the state’s texting while driving laws have died in the last minute in year’s past.

Less than two weeks are left in session for the chambers to come to an agreement.

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Tobacco Free Florida Targets Teen Vaping As Usage Skyrockets

April 22nd, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Tobacco Free Florida is calling teen vaping an epidemic, and it’s launching a new campaign, hoping to discourage youth from using e-cigarettes.

in 2018, one in four Florida high schoolers admitted to vaping.

The staggering 58% increase among the youth, is contrasted by adult vaping rates, which have remained fairly constant around 4%.

“So this is a youth issue,” said Bureau Chief of Tobacco Free Florida, Laura Corbin.

Corbin says the same tobacco companies that marketed to teens in the past are now using the same methods to promote e-cigs today.

“Juul, the most popular brand among the youth comes in a variety of flavors,” said Corbin. “They have high amounts of nicotine. Nicotine exposure can be harmful to youth brain development.”

Beginning Monday, as part of Tobacco Free Florida week, the state Agency is launching a new digital media campaign called ‘E-Epidemic’.
Corbin says similar campaigns helped reduce smoking rates among the youth.

“Our message is simple, vaping is not safe for kids, teens or young adults,” said Corbin.

Health experts with the American Cancer Society says education is a good first step, but they’re also pushing to raise the age for purchasing vaping products from 18 to 21.

“People under 18 are still able to get tobacco products, but there are 18-year-olds in high school right? So seniors in high school can give the freshman, sophomores and juniors those tobacco products, but there aren’t a lot of 21-year-olds in high school,” said Matt Jordan with the American Cancer Society.

The Tobacco 21 Act, which would raise the age for both e-cigs and traditional tobacco products is moving quickly through the Legislature.

Jordan says there are some issues with the legislation in its current form.

The House includes preemption langue that could take away local governments ability to set restrictions on how tobacco companies can advertise in their communities.

The Senate also includes a carve out for cigars.

The bill is ready for a floor vote in the House and gets its final committee hearing in the Senate Tuesday.

To learn more about the Tobacco Free Florida campaign, visit tobaccofreeflorida.com/Eepidemic for statistics, data and information on how to quit.

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Final Days of Session Closing In

April 22nd, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida lawmakers are heading into the final stretch of their annual session with most major legislation unfinished.

Just 9 days remain unless overtime is needed to finish the budget and lawmakers are showing no sense of urgency as the clock is ticking.

In seven weeks, Just 26 bills have been sent to the Governor.

Most are inconsequential, but the final nine days are likely to see marathon sessions.

“The most dangerous days in all the Florida calendar, the last few weeks of the legislative session. A lot of things can happen, probably will happen very quickly in the next few weeks,” said Senator Jose Javier Rodriguez.

Time frames for filing amendments are greatly compressed.

Committee hearings can be called in two hours.

In the 1990s, the legislation that ultimately led to Florida winning billions from tobacco companies was described as a technical change in the late hours of the final day.

There’s an old adage that no one’s life, liberty or property are safe when the legislature is in session.

That’s even more true in the final days.

This is a time when bills come back to life says author, lawyer and lobbyist, Pete Dunbar.

“A bill dealing with the lottery, where we have some advertising disclosures being required. Apparently very important to the Speaker, never heard in the Senate, but all of a sudden it has popped up and moved very quickly,” said Dunbar.

We asked State Senator Aaron Bean if he was worried about nefarious lawmaking over the final days.

“One man’s nefarious is another person’s this is the greatest thing ever, so it’s session,” said Bean.

The crush has already started.

Last week, a Senate committee passed five bills, each averaging a hundred pages, in five minutes.

Lawmakers are on pace to pass fewer bills than in any other session since the legislature began meeting every year in 1968.

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Environmentalists Call on Governor to Act on Climate Change

April 22nd, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Arguing that Florida is the state most vulnerable to the impacts of climate change, a coalition of environmental groups calling itself Florida Clean Energy for All has sent a letter asking the Governor to take real steps to reduce greenhouse gases.

Calling Ron DeSantis the most powerful voice in Florida, they want him, “to take immediate and decisive action to accelerate the pace of Florida’s transition to a clean-energy economy.”

Susan Glickman says the state could win on two fronts if it greatly expanded solar.

“And one point we make in the letters is that about fifty billion dollars a year goes out of state, out of Florida, other places to bring in fuel from elsewhere. So if we keep those energy dollars here in the state, Not only can we avoid the worst impacts of climate change, but we can create high paying jobs here at home and keep those energy dollars working her in our local communities,” said Glickman.

The letter calls the threat to Florida agriculture and tourism “dire”.

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Divers Return to View Maple Leaf Ship Wreck Artifacts After 30 Years

April 19th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

A historic civil war era shipwreck in the St. John’s River was discovered in the late 1980’s and excavated in the 90’s.

The team that was responsible for the discovery got a chance to revisit many of the artifacts for the first time Friday, since they removed them from the mud nearly 30 years ago.

In 1865 a The Maple Leaf, a steamboat carrying supplies for the Union army hit a mine in the St. Johns river and sank into the muddy waters below.

“And the hull is in an intact U-shapped time capsule,” said Dr. Keith Holland, President of St. Johns Archeological Expeditions.

With the help of a team of divers, the wreck was discovered more than 100 years later, and researchers were able to recover more than 6,500 artifacts, mostly personal items, that were trapped inside.

“It was just literally grope and feel. Where we would reach into the mud and find an object,” said divert Larry Tipping.

The items inside were preserved almost perfectly.

“Even letters that were received and written. It’s just a human element that’s there and there’s not another site like it anywhere,” said Holland.

Now, primarily stored in this state archive in Florida’s capital city, the original team returned for the first time to visit the artifacts since they were brought up from the mud in the 1990’s.

“I think it’s important to know our history and you know, of course looking at the artifacts that were part of history really just kind of continues that,” said Tipping.

It’s believed the excavation in the 90s only scratched the surface of what remains on the ship.

The items recovered represent only 0.1% of the ship’s cargo.

The discovery of the Maple Leaf was so significant the site of the wreck is now designated as a national historical landmark.

Dr. Holland says, ensuring the wreck and its cargo are still around for future generations, is a responsibility shared by all in the state.

“And we’re going to do everything we can to educate students and people of all ages about Maple Leaf and not let her just drift back into obscurity,” said Holland.

If the site is protected properly, divers say it will keep open the possibility of future excavations to recover some of what is still buried in the mud.

While the items in the state archive are not readily accessible for viewing by the public, many of the artifacts recovered from the Maple Leaf ship wreck are loaned out to museums across the state, including the Museum of Science and History in Jacksonville and the Museum of Florida History in the State’s Capital City.

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Hurricane Michael Upgraded to Cat. 5 By NOAA

April 19th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Friday that Hurricane Michael has officially been upgraded to a Category Five storm.

NOAA found the Hurricane had average sustained winds of 160 miles per hour, exceeding the baseline for a cat five storm by three miles an hour.

State Senator Bill Montford represents counties impacted by the storm.

He hopes the announcement will help the state secure Federal relief dollars.

“Keep in mind, if I’m not mistaken there’s only been four Hurricane 5’s that’s ever hit the United States and it hit a very pristine, very unique part of our state. So again, this validates what we’ve been saying all along and hopefully this will spur Congress to do their job,” said Montford.

Senator Montford is sponsoring the State Legislature’s Hurricane relief package. He says negotiations for how much the state will be able to spend on panhandle recovery will begin next week.

 

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