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NRA Lobbyist Sues Five for Cyber Stalking and Threats

July 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer is suing five individuals for harassment and cyber stalking.
Following the Parkland shooting where 17 people lost their lives the NRA became a prime target of protestors.
This is what NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer told us back in April.
“The threats are unbelievable against me and my family,” said Hammer.
Hammer spoke in length about the profanity laden emails and letters she received following the valentines day shooting.
“People who say they want to stop violence are threatening violence, who say they want to stop gun violence are threatening to shoot me,” said Hammer in April.
A Federal lawsuit names four individuals.
Another suit in state court targets a Miami-Dade resident.
Hammer is asking for a total of $2 million for attorney’s fees and damages…
Payment she says for her family living in constant fear of harassment and violence.
The 129 page federal lawsuit includes emails Hammer allegedly received and graphic photos of gun shot victims Hammer says were sent to her by people named in the case.
Included in the suit is a copy of a lawsuit seeking anonymity for two young plaintiff’s in the lawsuit against Florida’s new age restrictions on gun purchases.
Hammer told us at the time it was to protect them from the same harassment she’d experienced.
“No one should go through that, particularly a 19-year-old young woman,” said Hammer in May.
We did reach out to Hammer for comment on this story, but she says her lawyers don’t want her taking about a pending case.
Of the five individuals being sued, one lives in California, one in Connecticut, and a third in Miami-Dade.
The residence of the other two is unknown at this time.

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Federal Judge to Decide Early Voting Challenge

July 16th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
A federal judge must decide if Florida went too far when it said student unions on college campuses don’t qualify for early voting sites.
The Federal lawsuit began with this 2014 opinion, when the City of Gainesville asked the Secretary of State if the Student Union at the University of Florida qualified to be an early voting site.
The state responded “No” because the student unions isn’t a convention center or a government owned community center.
Former State Elections Supervisors Association President Ion Sancho sides with the League of Women voters.
“The process should be accessible to all students, Students are citizens also, and that’s something the state sometimes forgets,” said former Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho.
Lawyers for the state argued students that students at UF could vote early just a mile away. The League of Women voters countered many are first time voters and easily stymied.
“I think it would be best if you talk to the Communications Director for the Secretary of State,” Attorney for the Secretary of State, Mohammed Jazil.
Neither side would talk with reporters when the two and a half hour hearing ended.
“I want to let the judge issue his opinion,” said Elizabeth Frost, the attorney representing the League of Women Voters.
While this case could impact all 12 state universities and 28 state colleges, the focus is really on FSU and the University of Florida.
In Gainesville, more than 60% of the population is either a student or works on UF’s campus.
“Essentially, what I see going on is partisan politics and that shouldn’t be the deciding factor over how citizens utilize their right to vote,” said Sancho.
If overruled, the state expects local supervisors to get sued by early voters over the lack of parking campus.
Florida law limits early voting sites to eight kinds of buildings, but it also provides one wild card option for every county.

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Governor’s Executive Order Only a Temporary Fix for Beach Access

July 13th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Governor Rick Scott has issued an executive order urging local governments to make sure the public doesn’t lose access to Florida beaches.
The order comes just two weeks after a new law took effect that many argued restricts beach access.
When HB 631 took effect it established a process for local governments to allow public access on private beaches.
Christina Basile lives on Shell Point Beach.
She says she interpreted the law to mean she had the right to cut off public access.
“I’ve got no qualms with them, but based on that new law I could actually go out there and tell them [to leave],” said Basile.
The law caused a lot of confusion, especially in Walton County.
Previously a local ordinance maintained an open beach policy, but the new law preempted it.
A cell phone video taken last week captured an interaction with Walton County Sheriff’s deputies informing two women they were on a private beach and had to leave.
“Our interpretation of the law was that beach front property had to be treated identically as residence in a neighborhood,” said Walton County Sheriff, Mike Adkinson.
The Governor’s office issued an executive order Thursday, in an effort to encourage local governments to avoid persecuting confused beachgoers.
“It does encourage local governments, sheriff’s, state’s attorney’s to perhaps use some caution and discretion in terms of enforcement and in charging people with trespassing,” said Holly Parker with the Surfrider Foundation.
The order also directs local governments to only pass ordinances restricting access to public beaches if it’s in the name of public safety.
Democrats are calling the move a flip flop on the law the Governor signed only four months ago.
The Governor’s Office says the executive order doesn’t undo anything in the law.
Instead, Scott’s office says the order only clarifies his position on public access to beaches and establishes a way for the public to file complaints.
“The public, visitors alike should rest assured that they should continue to utilize the beach as they always have, but it’s something for the state to sort out in the long term because this isn’t a permanent fix,” said Parker.
Beaches created by dredging are always accessible to the public.
If you feel you’re being blocked access to a public beach, you will soon be able to file a complaint online with the Department of Environmental Protection.

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Hero Humbled by Support

July 12th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
Job offers and a GoFundMe account for an Academy Sports manager who was fired for physically stopping a would be gun thief are giving the family hope for the future, but the family remains on pins and needles.
The story of Dean Crouch, wife Rebecca, and their two small children is going viral.
Dean was fired from Academy Sports after tackling a gun thief at the front door.
The contact was against company policy.
“To comply with their policy would to have allowed Mr. White to leave the store, follow him to the parking lot area and ask him to return to the store,” said Crouch.
Reporter: ”If there was a rape on in the dressing room, you couldn’t stop it?”
“Yeah. We’re not allowed to physically put our hands on customers, I guess,” said Crouch.
The NRA and Dean’s attorney Ryan Hobbs are calling him a hero.
“He stopped the crime of theft,” said Hobbs. “He stopped potential crimes that the criminal admitted he was going to act out on with the weapon that Mr. Crouch stopped him from stealing.”
The family, especially unemployed Dean, remain on pins and needles about their future.
“I’ve only been able to sleep maybe two, three hours a night. Worried about my family, and what’s going to happen next with us,” said Crouch.
While we were here visiting the family, at least one job offer was texted to the couple’s attorney.
Yet their house remains up for sale.
GoFundMe account had raised just under 18 hundred dollars in less than 24 hours.
And Dean, who said on Wednesday he was hoping to get his job back, is no longer sure that’s what he wants.
Surveillance video of the incident exists but it is unclear if it will ever be released.

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League of Women Voters Sues to Remove Amendment 8 from Ballot

July 12th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The League of Women Voters have filed a lawsuit to have Amendment 8 removed from the ballot this November.
The Amendment passed by the Constitution Revision Commission focuses on education.
It would require civics education and put term limits on school board members.
The League says it should be removed because it misleads voters by not accurately explaining a third provision, which would remove the power of local school boards to approve and deny new charter schools in their districts.
Attorney Ron Meyer is representing the League in the case.
“We also submit in the lawsuit that this was done with a purpose to mislead and deceive,” said Meyer. “Put some bright sparkly things, term-limits, civic education around something more sinister, taking away the right of a local elected school board to control and operate the schools in the district.”
This is the second amendment approved by the CRC to be challenged for misleading voters.
The other, Amendment 13, would ban greyhound racing in the state.

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Equality Florida and Planned Parenthood Protest Trump’s Supreme Court Pick

July 12th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
About 40 people protested outside the State Supreme Court Thursday, against President Trump’s nomination of Judge Brett Kavanaugh for the U.S. Supreme Court.
“President Trump has made clear that his Supreme Court nominee would automatically overturn Roe V. Wade,” said Missy Wesolowski with the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates.
Kavanaugh would replace Justice Anthony Kennedy who is known as a swing vote on a number of social issues including abortion and LGBTQ rights.
“And for having a nominee who doesn’t have a clear record on these issues Equality Florida has a lot of concerns with Judge Kavanaugh’s nomination,” said John Harris Maurer with Equality Florida.
But there are at least two examples that raise concerns.
“Kavanaugh actually ruled allowing employers to have say over whether their employees have access to contraception at no co-pay under their insurance plan,” said Wesolowski. “Rulings like that make us very nervous.”
In another case Kavanaugh argued in favor of delaying an abortion for an undocumented teen.
Kavanaugh is only 53-years-old, making him a young pick for he nation’s highest court.
It means he could help shape decisions for decades to come.
If Roe v. Wade were to be overturned, protesters say it would be a devastating blow to women’s health.
“What people don’t understand is that just because you take away the right to abortion doesn’t mean that abortion goes away,” said Kimberly Scott with  the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates. “Women need that access to care in a safe and legal way.”
While Democrats don’t likely have the votes to stop the nomination, they’re all but guaranteed to do what they can to delay Kavanaugh’s confirmation.
Equality Florida and the Florida Alliance of Planned Parenthood Affiliates are urging Floridians to write their Senators and urge them to vote against Kavanaugh’s appointment.

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Life-Saving Hero Fired

July 11th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
An Academy Sports assistant manager is being hailed as a hero by everyone but his own company.
The 32-year-old assistant manager tackled a man stealing a firearm, but the manager was fired because a company policy prohibits touching customers.
In late June, 24 year old Jason White asked to see a .40 caliber handgun at this Academy Sports.
Once it was in his hand, he bolted for the door.
Assistant Manager Dean Crouch was nearby.
“My employee yelled stop that man. And I turned and looked and saw saw Mr. White running from the gun bar toward the front of the store with a firearm in his hand,” said Crouch. “At the front door is where I stopped him. I tackled him to the ground. We apprehended him, um, and detained him. We secured the firearm.”
White had stolen two other guns earlier in the day.
Ammunition was found in his car.
He was charged with three felonies, released on $5000 bond and required to undergo mental health counseling.
He admitted to police he wanted to kill people.
Dean Crouch violated company policy when he tacked White.
The first thing the company did was suspend Dean for a week.
Then they fired him.
They didn’t do it in person, but on a conference call.
“Our world is pretty much turned upside down after this,” said Crouch. “We had to put our house on the market because of this.”
The NRA calls the firing just plain crazy.
“This is insanity. This man is a hero,” said former NRA President Marion Hammer. “He stopped an initial crime that would have led to other crimes, and he gets fired. How on earth is that right?”
Dean has gotten several job offers.
He’s also emailed the company asking them to reconsider.
“I loved my job there, yes I did,” Crouch said.
In a statement, Academy Sports spokesperson Elise Hasbrook said, “While this incident ended without injuries, actions inconsistent with our corporate policies were taken. Although we don’t comment on specific personnel issues or share company policies, we can confirm that we’ve addressed the matter with the local store team and the individuals involved.”

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Eastpoint Fire Victims Set to Receive Temporary Housing

July 11th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Two weeks ago a controlled burn got out of hand and destroyed 36 homes.
Donated food and a $5000 Per household emergency cash outlay by the state have tided them over.
So far the state has dispersed $125,000 to 26 individuals.
“Nothing like this is healed overnight. It takes a little time, but I think we’re heading in the right direction,” said Franklin County Sheriff A.J. Smith.
Local officials say the disaster caught everyone off guard, making the relief effort especially daunting.
“A lot of people that were affected were living day to day and doing the best they could and that’s what they’re doing now,” said Chair of the Franklin County Commission Smokey Parrish.
Housing has remained the most pressing issue.
Since the fire residents have had to find their own shelter.
Some have stayed with family or neighbors while others camped out on their lots or in their cars.
The State Division of Emergency Management has helped secure 24 trailers that will provide temporary shelter to victims.
The first wave is set to arrive Wednesday evening.
When the trailers arrive they will be furnished and cleaned with help from the Franklin County Sheriffs Office.
Officials hope the victims can begin moving in by early next week.
The Franklin County Sheriffs Office has also acquired additional housing through more than $200,000 in donations.
“We had three 5th wheel travel trailers that were donated to us and one of them we were able to put with a resident yesterday,” said Sheriff Smith. “A lady who had just gotten out of the hospital.”
The goal is to secure permanent housing for all of the victims within six months.
It’s still uncertain when and how victims will be compensated as the investigation continues.
“They need to step forward and help these people and move forward,” said Parrish. “Lawyering up and taking four years to help these people, it’s just reprehensible. “
The company contracted by the state to oversee the controlled burn, Wildlands Fire Service Inc. had a $5 million insurance policy.
Early damage estimates put the total cost of the disaster at around $1.7 million.
You can help the relief effort by contributing to the GoFundMe page set up by the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office.

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Rally Demands Smokable Medical Marijuana

July 11th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
About 50 people protested the state’s decision to appeal a court decision allowing smokable marijuana this afternoon at the state Capitol.
They are also upset the state appealed the case of Tampa Strip club owner Joe Redner, who also won a court battle to juice marijuana leaves.
Josephine Caneella-Kriehl of the Cannabis Action Network says patients are tired of waiting for medicine they say works.
“Our message today is that we have waited long enough. We’ve been respectful. We’ve been patient.We’ve been persistent, and we’ve played by the rules,” said Cannella-Krehl. “And now we want access that we deserve. It’s not just a constitutional right, it is a moral imperative.”
The cases are now pending before the First District Court of Appeal.
Both the First DCA and the Supreme Court have refused to expedite the cases.

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Contractor Protests Cuts to Successful HIV Program

July 10th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
A nonprofit state contractor providing what they call the state’s most effective HIV treatment is protesting the potential loss of their contact, saying the funding is instead being sent to for-profit companies.
The protest was well organized.
30 people, mostly employees or contractors of Positive Health Care, came to the Capitol carrying signs bashing big Pharma.
Protesters object to the Governor wanting to give the nonprofit’s HIV contract to for-profit companies.
The contract in question, which has been in place since 1999, covers only Miami-Dade and Broward counties.
“Which are number one and number two in the country for people living with HIV,” said Michael Kahane with Positive Health Care.
But organizers say all of Florida should be concerned.
“If people are falling out of care anywhere in Florida, its going to affect the rest of Florida,” said Kahane.
The program being cut, according to organizers, has the highest success rate in the state.
The group contends patients will suffer.
“And they are eliminating a plan that decreases transmission,” said Donna Stidham with Positive Health Care.
Organizers say their secret is one on one care to prod people to take care of themselves.
Luisa Arce is a registered nurse.
“They will become very ill because because they will not have somebody to coach them and encourage them to go see their provider and to take their meds,” said Arce.
The Agency for Health Care administration says only that providers were selected through a competitive bid process.
The award is being challenged before an administrative law judge.
The bid protest was filed last Friday.
AHCA says HIV care will now be available in all 67 Florida counties.

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Algae Emergency Hot Topic in U.S. Senate Race

July 10th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
For a second time in three years Governor Rick Scott has declared a state of emergency in response to toxic algae blooms wreaking havoc in water bodies on the state’s east and west coasts.
The blooms are caused by agricultural run off into Lake Okeechobee that is then released into surrounding bodies of water.
“This hurts bigger than just you can’t go in the water,” said Jonathan Webber with Florida Conservation Voters. “This is an economic issue that can hurt families definitely in this important tourist season.”
The order allows the state to store water in additional areas south of the lake rather than release it into canals feeding coastal waters.
Manley Fuller with the Florida Wildlife Federation says it’s a temporary solution to a persistent issue.
“Until we change some of these critical components, every wet year we’re going to continue to see these kinds of problems,” said Fuller.
Environmental advocates say Scott’s own policies have played a part in causing the problem they are now trying to solve.
“It’s been his administration’s mission to dismantle the regulatory agencies that were designed to protect and clean and monitor the water that is in our state,” said Webber.
In response to environmentalist’s attacks Governor Scott’s office issued a statement saying in part, “Under Governor Scott’s leadership, record investments have been made in Florida’s environment, including $4 billion this year alone. The state has also made historic progress with restoration projects that will provide billions of gallons of water storage and clean water for the Everglades and local communities.”
The Lake Okeechobee problem is becoming a key issue in the race for the U.S. Senate.
Both Scott and Senator Bill Nelson visited the affected areas over the last week.
The two candidates have attacked the other on the issue, but Fuller says the problem transcends finger pointing.
“Republican or Democrat, the Everglades needs to be a priority,” said Fuller.
Environmentalists say to stop the blooms policy makers need to focus on Everglades restoration, acquiring lands around the lake and finding ways to reduce agricultural runoff.

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Ethics Commission Makes Recommendations to Lawmakers

July 10th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
The State Commission on Ethics will be asking state lawmakers to ban partners of a board member from representing clients and appearing before that board.
It is one of five recommendations the board is making to state lawmakers.
The board’s legislative committee chairman Matthew Carson says allowing partners to appear before board could lead to corruption.
“Well I mean that’s the argument against allowing it. At the very least it invites dishonesty,”said Carson. “We’re not accusing anybody of doing anything nefarious, but we think that should be the appropriate standard and that should be the standard that’s maintained.”
The panel also wants lawmakers to require most municipal officials to file a more comprehensive financial disclosure form that discloses actual investments and holdings rather than the current form which requires only broad categories.

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Clemency Questions Called Racist

July 9th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
The constitutionality of Florida’s Clemency process goes before a Federal appellate court later this month, but new concerns about the sensitivity and appropriateness of questions asked at the boards most recent meeting may play into the decision.
There is no written criteria for deciding who gets the right to vote back, the right to carry a gun, or even a pardon.
At the Boards most recent meeting, CFO Jimmy Patronis asked Erwin Jones how many kids he had and to how many different women.
Patronis was appointed to the job last year.
He faces voters for the first time as a statewide candidate in November.
His opponent, former State Senator Jeremy Ring, says the remarks smack of racism
“It’s insensitive, it’s intolerant. It has no place on the Clemency board, but again, I think it also speaks to as to why the Federal judge smacked down the clemency committee,” said CFO candidate Jeremy Ring.
In a statement, Patronis Campaign spokeswoman Katie Strickland defended the line of questioning, saying they centered on a history of domestic violence in the case and making sure kids were getting their support.
After that June meeting, the Attorney General defended Patronis’s questions.
“I think he’s trying to get people to come out of their shell and humanize them,” said Bondi. “I thought those were nice questions like about your family, tell me about this, if you’ve had a tough life.”
There was no decision in Erwin Jone’s case, but the questions are sure to come up when a Federal Appeals court in Atlanta hears oral arguments later this month about the arbitrary way Florida considers who gets their rights back.
Responding to the charge of racism, this afternoon, the Patronis campaign put out another statement showing he has asked at least three white men about their wives, children, and child support.

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Early Education Advocates Say Kindergarten Readiness Test is Flawed

July 9th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
New Kindergarten Readiness Exam results released by the state Department of Education show nearly half of students entering kindergarten are not prepared.
Only 54% of students entering kindergarten in the state passed.
It’s an 18% drop from the last time the test was administered four years ago.
Linda Alexionok with the Children’s Campaign says the test is flawed because it’s taken online, arguing four and five-year old children aren’t developed enough to properly use a computer.
“A developmentally inappropriate tool like a mouse at four-years-old we think is inappropriate,” said Alexionok.
The state is pushing back, arguing children are given tutorials on how to use the computers before taking the test. If they can’t do it successfully, the test stops and they’re given more help.
It’s also important to point out the test was administered on computers when it was given in 2013 and had much higher pass rates, but that test was scrapped for being too easy.
Roy Keister runs Scottsdale Academy.
He is also president of the Florida Association for Child Care Management.
“We saw about a 10 point decrease,” said Keister.
He says the new test focuses too much on literacy and not enough on areas like social development.
“They don’t measure how much the children have gained socially and emotionally while they go through the VPK program,” said Keister.
The issues with the test ultimately have a greater impact on children from lower socioeconomic areas.
“A lot of children in Florida are living in food insecure houses and when you’re food insecure and you’re hungry it has a direct neuroscience impact on your ability to learn,” said Alexionok.
It’s important to point out the test was administered on computers when it was given in 2013 and had much higher pass rates, but that test was scrapped for being too easy.
Even with the large decrease in the pass rates, children who attend pre-k are still about 10% more likely to pass the Kindergarten Readiness Exam.
Preschools could lose state funding if they don’t maintain a 60% pass rate.

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Trial Canceled for Greyhound Amendment Suit

July 6th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A Circuit Judge has canceled a July trial over the ballot language in Amendment 13, which would ban greyhound racing in the state.
The Florida Greyhound Association says the ballot summary is misleading.
It’s asking for it be removed from the ballot.

Circuit Court Judge Karen Gievers has decided to forego a trial and instead make her decision based on legal arguments alone.

The Amendment was placed on the ballot by the constitution revision commission.

“You can lie to the CRC, you can even lie to the media,” said Jack Cory with the Florida Greyhound Association. “You cannot lie to the court under oath without severe consequences. So we’re very comfortable with where the judge’s ruling was.”

The group Committee to Protect Dogs helped push the amendment through the CRC earlier this year.

It’s been barred from testifying in the case, but is hoping the state will succeed in keeping the amendment on the ballot.

“There’s no question with what the facts are in this case so it’s a legal argument that’s going to be made by both sides and the judge is going to make a decision,” said Len Collins with the Committee to Protect Dogs So this is what we expected and this is relatively typical in this circumstance.”

Regardless of how the circuit court rules, both sides are gearing up for a heated legal battle, that will likely end up in the State Supreme Court.

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