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Economists Mull Cost of Legal Marijuana

October 4th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

How much money would legalizing recreational marijuana generate for the state?

That’s the question before state economists as they consider the potential impacts of a proposed constitutional amendment that would regulate marijuana similar to alcohol.

Their job is to determine how much money it could generate or cost the state if it were to be approved by voters.

“This is a beginning point of all the different governmental things that you’re going to have to have in place for this to work,” said Don Kangston, who represents the Florida House on the Financial Impact Estimating Conference.

Steven Hougland with the Florida Sheriff’s Association testified to economists that legalizing marijuana would impose significant costs related to police K-9s.

“The safest thing to do would be to eliminate the dogs that search for marijuana, which is any drug dog,” said Hougland.

The Division of Business and Professional Regulation, which would be tasked with overseeing the legal cannabis market, also projected high startup costs.

“The staffing projection, that’s 225 full time positions,” said Thomas Philpot with DPBR.

But those costs could be offset by sales.

Economists estimate of the 2 million cannabis-using Floridians over 21, about half would enter the retail market.

However, Amy Baker with the Office of Economic & Demographic Research said the number of those who choose to continue purchasing on the black will largely depend on how heavily the Legislature chooses to tax marijuana.”

In other states the tax rate is between ten and 30 percent.

“If the Legislature comes in and chooses to do more you would probably have fewer people coming out of the black market,” said Baker.

The proposed amendment still has to receive approval from the State Supreme Court and gather more than 600,000 additional signatures before it could go before voters.

Even then, it would need 60 percent voter approval to pass.

Attorney General Ashley Moody has asked the Florida Supreme Court to strike down the proposed amendment, because she believes it is too long and would mislead voters.

There are also two other competing ballot initiatives that would also legalize recreational marijuana.

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Financial Records Analyzed in Markel Murder Trial

October 4th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Two people on trial for murdering an FSU Law Professor for money saw intimate details of their financial lives shared with the jury Friday.

For the last two weeks, the family of the slain FSU law professor Dan Markel has been in the courtroom, listening to every minute of testimony that the jury has been hearing.

They also listened to the nitty gritty as prosecutors try to prove who paid for the hit on their son.

Mary Hull is a forensic accountant who analyzed bank records for the three alleged conspirators as well as the Adelson family, which is suspected of funding the hit.

Of special interest is a Lexus transferred from Harvey Adelson to Katherine Magbanua.

“I could not find any record of a payment,” said Hull.

The records also show confessed hitman Luis Rivera changed his spending habits drastically after the 2014 murder.

“He was not relying on his payroll to provide cash for himself,” said Hull.

The biggest bombshell in those financial records: Katherine Magbanua’s cash deposits soared in the year FSU law professor Dan Markel was murdered and in the two years after..

A police officer also testified that Charlie Adelson, who dated defendant Katherine Magbanau, deleted all of her text messages after she was arrested.

No one in the Adelson Family has been charged and they deny any involvement.

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Markel Trial: Stapled Cash and a Nervous Brother-In-Law

October 3rd, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Stacks of cash in a safe and paychecks for a job a woman accused of coordinating the murder of an FSU Professor didn’t have were topics of important testimony Thursday.

Prosecutors are pushing for evidence against the former in-laws of the slain professor.

Convicted murderer turned informant Luis Rivera testified he, Sigfredfo Garcia and Katie Magbanua were paid a $100,000 in cash for killing law professor Dan Markel.

Realtor June Umchinda dated Charlie Adelson, the brother of Markel’s ex-wife, for over a year.

She testified there were large amounts of cash in his bedroom.

“I mentioned he had staples on the hundreds before,” said Umchinada.

The scorned woman was still together with Charlie Adelson when she noticed a change at the time the first arrests were made in 2016.

“He was nervous, and worried, and just not himself,” said Umchinada.

Prosecutors spent a lot of time trying to prove that the alledged go between in the murder for hire got a lot of checks from the Adelson dental office without ever working there.

Dental office employees were visited by the FBI in 2015 seeking payroll records on Katherine Magbanua’s employment.

Assistant Erika Johnson spoke with Charlie in a call no one knew was being recorded.
“I wouldn’t give them anything,” said Johnson.

Then Magbanua’s friend since childhood Yindra Velazquez-Mascara, took the stand.

She testified she was never aware of Magbanua being employed at the Adelson’s office.

Velazquez-Mascara also testified she was asked to keep Magbanua’s kids the night before Dan Markel was murdered, but was never told their father, Sigfredo Garcia.

No member of the Adelson Family has been charged with a crime and the family denies any involvement in the murder of Dan Markel.

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Rebuild 850 Putting Spotlight Back on Hurricane Ravaged Panhandle

October 3rd, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Next week marks the one year anniversary of Hurricane Micheal making landfall in the panhandle as a Category 5 storm.

The group Rebuild 850 is painting a bleak picture of the ongoing recovery as it attempts rally public support.

Video taken just days ago shows massive damage from Hurricane Michael still littering the ground.

“The further you get from North West Florida geographically, the less people know that Hurricane Michael even happened,” said Rebuild 850 coordinator Ron Sachs.

But forgetting for those in the panhandle isn’t an option.
“We still have people who are living under blue tarps that are rotting they’re that old,” said Sate Senator Bill Montford.

Shocking statistics including 5,000 homeless, 4,000 lost jobs, eroding tax bases, more than 20,000 outstanding insurance claims and more than $9 billion in uninsured losses barely scratches the surface of the situation in the region.

“When the wind starts blowing these elementary kids in particular start crying,” said Montford.

Rebuild 850 is hoping to put the spotlight back on the panhandle with the one year anniversary of Michael only a week away.

“If these solutions aren’t found in a relatively short period of time you could find yourself with a community that has a hard time ever looking like it did pre-Michael,” said Rebuild 850 co-chair and Former Florida House Speaker Will Weatherford.

Former FEMA Director Craig Fugate said if homes aren’t repaired and rebuilt within five years it could be too late.

He added the onus falls on local, state and federal officials to act boldly and make the money available.

Fugate believes Housing and Urban Development funds are the best option and it’s been done before.

“Louisiana was able to get those dollars to go make direct repairs to damaged homes that didn’t have insurance,” said Fugate.

Locals fear recovery will continue be placed on the back burner if public support remains scarce.

Rebuild 850 has raised more than $600,000, which has been donated to Volunteer Florida to help with recovery efforts.

If you’d like to make a donation visit Rebuild850.org.

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Markel Murder Trial: Star Witness Credibility Under Fire

October 2nd, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Defense attorneys for two people charged in the murder of FSU law professor Dan Markel spent Wednesday in court trying to destroy the credibility of the state’s star witness.

They continue to point out the accomplice, Luis Rivera, who flipped will spend less than seven years behind bars for the murder.

Rivera dodged a possible death sentence by agreeing to cooperate.

Rivera and Sigfredo Garcia, the accused triggerman, have been friends for 30 years.

Riveria testified he was paid a total of $37,000 for making two trips to Tallahassee with Garcia.

Defense Attorneys asked why the payment was so high, when he claims he didn’t pull the trigger.

“You didn’t do the job you were hired to do,” said Garcia’s Attorney Saam Zangeneh. “You simply where like a chauffeur correct?

“Yes,” Rivera replied.

But it was Rivera’s gun that fired the fatal shot.

The defense is hoping to shift the blame to Rivera who is a member of the Latin Kings gang, but Rivera denies the gang was involved.

“Why you keep saying Latin Kings. They ain’t got nothing to do with this. You’re wrong man.This got nothing to do with no Latin Kings. This is about me and Garcia. No Latin Kings,” said Rivera.

Defense attorneys questioned changing stories on who was driving when, whether a picture of the law professor was in black and white or color, and how the arrangements to pick up the payoff were made.

We learned Luis Rivera has five children.

A partial explanation perhaps of why he said he couldn’t shoot the law professor in front of his kids.

Defense attorneys for Katherine Magbanua, who is accused of arranging the hit on the professor, asked for the second time that her case be separated from co defendant Sigfredo Garcia.

He’s the father of her children.

It was denied.

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Florida May Follow California on College Athlete Compensation

October 2nd, 2019 by Jake Stofan

College athletes aren’t allowed to be paid, but with more and more money being generated through college sports, attitudes are changing.

“It’s just becoming more and more of a business. I mean you have college coaches making close to ten million dollars a year,” said Dr. Jason Pappas, a Professor of sports management at Florida State University.

On Monday, California became the first state in the nation to require the NCAA to allow college athletes to hire agents and directly profit from endorsement deals.

But some, including Dr. Pappas, are concerned allowing players to profit may harm competition.

“We promote recruiting at such a high level now that it’s only going to perpetuate based on those institutions willing to and able to pay for those endorsements to be able to signify that they’re a Nike school or and Adidas school,” said Pappas.

Nearly identical legislation has now been filed in Florida.

Some big names in Florida athletics like FSU football coach Willie Taggart are behind the idea.

“I think that’s fair, I mean it’s a new time,” said Taggart.

As are players, like FSU running back Cam Akers.

“Me being bias, I’m a college athlete, but yeah I think so,” said Akers. “Why not?”

For or against, the passage of California’s law may have set a in motion an unstoppable chain reaction that Florida may have no choice but to join according to Dr. Pappas.

“You look at it and say, well if California does it, we need to do it in order to be able to stay at the level of high recruiting to be able to bring in the best athletes they possibly can in order to be competitive,” said Pappas.

The legislation still has a long way to go, so far there’s no companion bill filed in the Senate, but that could change before session starts in January.

If passed, the legislation here in Florida wouldn’t take effect until 2023, the same as the law signed in California.

We reached out to the NCAA for comment on this story, but did not receive a reply.

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Ex-Lover and Hitman Testify in Markel Trial

October 1st, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Tuesday brought explosive testimony in the murder trial of two people accused of killing FSU law professor Dan Markel in 2013.

Jeffery Lacasse dated Makel’s ex-wife Wendi Adelson for about nine months.

Taking the stand, Lacasse said five days before the law professor was murdered in his garage Adelson told him something that made his stomach turn.

“She said that Charlie had explored all options to take care of the problem, and that he had looked into having professor Markel killed. It would cost about $15,000. And so I didn’t know what to make of it, my stomach kind of flipped. It was like a chilling statement,” said Lacasse.

The former boyfriend was also asked about a dinner two weeks after the murder.

“These are her words. She said Charlie and I went to what he described as a celebration dinner,” said Lacasse.

After lunch break in the courtroom Luis Riveria, the hitman who flipped in exchange for 19 year sentence, said he was told the hit was ordered because someone wanted their kids.

He described what happened as he and accused triggerman Sigfredo Garcia followed Markel into his driveway.

“Soon as I pulled in Garcia jumped out. He jumped out of the car and went around, not around, but infant of the car. Right behind his car and in front of the car I was driving. Went to the drivers side and shot him… Twice,” said Riveria.

Wendi Adelson testified on Friday that she did try to drive by Markel’s house about an hour after the murder.

A police officer on the scene said he’d been alerted to look for the make and model of her car.

Riveria confirmed he Grarcia and the third charged in the murder, Katherine Magbanua, were paid a $100,000 in cash on the day after the hit.

No one from the Adelson family has been charged with a crime and they deny any involvement.

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Stronger Firearm Background Checks May Be on the Table for 2020

October 1st, 2019 by Jake Stofan

A Republican State Senator is looking to build support for legislation that would enhance the state’s firearm background check process.

It will be no easy feat, but the Senator believes the idea is gaining traction.

This year, the Senate President tasked a committee to formulate a response to the Dayton and El Paso mass shootings.

Kate Kyle with Moms Demand Action delivered 807 letters from Florida voters to Committee Chairman Tom Lee.

She said the number on ask is universal background checks.

“It is a policy solution we have in our toolbox that we haven’t tried here in Florida and I think it’s the most effective. I don’t think it tramples anyone’s rights,” said Kyle.

Lee seems to be listening.

“This seems like the most common sense thing to do is to see if there’s some holes in the background check system that could be tightened up,” said Lee. “I understand that there was about 9,000 people last year that applied for a background check… that were denied and ostensibly because they had a prior felony. Why aren’t those people being prosecuted?”

He said public response has been positive.

“Former police chiefs and law enforcement people from my area of the state, which is a pretty conservative area saying look, you know, this is not unreasonable,” said Lee.

The NRA, a powerful force in the Florida Legislature, has long held the position that enforcing current laws would be more effective than passing new ones.

Exactly what Lee might propose is unclear at this time.

“We’re just kind of peeling back the layers of the onion and trying to figure out how do we make the place a little safer for Floridians,” said Lee.

Lee said whatever the final product, bipartisan support will be critical.

At least eight unique bills aimed at increasing gun control have been filed for the 2020 session.

Last year, no gun control measures were passed.

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Gwen Graham Steps Down as Co-Chair of Rebuild 850

October 1st, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Following a volley of Tweets criticizing Governor Ron DeSantis, former Congresswoman and Democratic gubernatorial candidate Gwen Graham was asked to step down as co-chair of Rebuild 850.

The nonpartisan group was formed after Hurricane Michael to aid recovery efforts in the panhandle.

Rebuild 850 coordinator and longtime friend of Graham, Ron Sachs made the decision to ask Graham to step down.

“Gwen, who has every right as a citizen to express strong opinions that are political in nature, but as volunteers with Rebuild 850, which is completely nonpolitical and nonpartisan, it’s not appropriate to take personal shots at the Governor or anybody. The Governor has made it a priority to focus on recovery in Northwest Florida and that’s our mission too at Rebuild 850,” said Sachs.

Since stepping down, Graham has been active on Twitter, posting support for the panhandle and Hurricane Michael victims.

If you’d like to donate to Rebuild 850 to help those struggling in the panhandle, visit rebuild850.org.

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Ag Commissioner Announces New Controlled Burn Regulations

October 1st, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried has announced a new set of rules aimed at increasing the safety of controlled burns in the state.

The state will now factor in the air quality index before authorizing burns.

There are also new regulations specifically targeting the sugarcane industry, creating an 80-acre buffer zone between woodlands and burn sites on dry windy days.

The rules also require the industry to get special approval for nighttime burns and prohibits burns before 11 am on days with fog advisories.

“And in the near future we’ll be announcing additional changes to our agriculture burning process. These changes may include shortening the length of the burning season, potential improvements to the zone model to increase safety for populations, increased compliance checks and training to further enhance public safety and a rule making process to increase fines and penalties for those who choose not to follow these regulations,” said Fried.

Fried also announced improvements to the state’s smoke plume prediction tool, a new software system to provide real-time updates to fire responders and more user friendly fire maps for the public.

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New Hazing Law Takes Effect Tuesday

September 30th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

A tougher anti-hazing law passed earlier this year goes into effect Tuesday. 
The law was named to honor a 20-year-old fraternity pledge at Florida State University who died of alcohol poisoning in 2017.
It was members of the former Pi Kappa Phi fraternity that forced pledge Andrew Coffey to drink an entire bottle of Wild Turkey and then didn’t seek help as Coffey succumbed to alcohol poisoning.
“It was a wake up call,” said Associate Vice President for Student Affairs at FSU Angela Lauer Chong.
The incident led to a temporary suspension of Greek Life and alcohol ban at FSU.
“Unfortunately we have got to take steps in a serious manner with our partners and stakeholders and students to make sure it doesn’t happen again,” said FSU President John Thrasher while announcing the suspension in November of 2017.
Five charged with the hazing death pled guilty in March of 2018. 
Only one, Conner Ravelo, apologized to Coffey’s family.
“And I can make a promise to you that moving forward I’ll be part of the solution and not part of the problem,” said Ravelo.
The tragedy inspired Andrews Law, which was signed into law earlier this year.
The law allows organizers of hazing events to be charged, even if they’re not physically present when the crime occurs.
It also grants immunity to those who do seek help when hazing goes too far.
“It really emphasizes the fact of caring for one another and not to hesitate if you think someone is in need of medical care because of any level of hazing, alcohol intoxication etc. And that has the most potential in my eyes to make a difference,” said Chong.
Four of the nine fraternity members charged in Coffey’s death are still fighting their charges. 
They’re expected to argue their case before an appellate court in mid October. 
The Coffey family reached a settlement in their civil case for an undisclosed amount of money. 
Their attorney has been traveling the state and speaking to university students teaching them about Andrew’s Law.

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Murdered FSU Professor’s Ex-Wife Takes the Stand

September 27th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Phil and Ruth Markel, along with other family members have been in the court room for two days, just twenty feet from the two people on trial for their sons murder.

In a statement they have asked for privacy, but they have listened to their son’s last words

“He said can you please hold on a second, there is an unfamiliar person in my driveway. I heard a loud sound,” said Stewart Schlazer when he took the stand.

Schlazer was on the phone with Dan Markel when he was murdered.

The Markels also heard testimony from police expert Shawn Yao on the bullet’s trajectory.

“You see that there’s a slight downward declination. It goes downward into the victim,” said Yao.

The autopsy testimony was so gruesome that Ruth Markel left the courtroom.

The Markels have also been exiled from their two grandsons since the murder.

The children’s names have been legally changed from Markel to Adelson.

On Tuesday the Markel’s son’s ex-wife Wendi Adleson took the witness stand.

Adleson was asked if she was aware of a safe filled with cash in her parent’s home.

She said she didn’t.

The questions quickly turned to conversations Wendi Adleson had with her brother Charlie.

Wendi denied that her brother ever mentioned hiring a hitman to kill her husband, but acknowledged Charlie did joke about it being cheaper to buy her a television for a divorce gift than to hire a hitman.

“He did make that joke. He tended to repeat himself and sometimes he would make jokes that weren’t very funny,” said Adleson.

Wendi Adleson’s brother did buy her the TV.

It was being serviced at the time Dan Markel was murdered.

Wendi Adleson received immunity for anything that she said on the stand.

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DeSantis Raising Money to Stop Impeachment of Trump

September 27th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Governor Ron DeSantis is inserting himself in the scandal surrounding President Donald Trump by urging supporters to donate to a ‘Presidential Protection Fund’ to help put an end to Democrats’ impeachment efforts.

The creation of the fund was sent out in an e-mail, in which DeSantis described Democrats’ impeachment efforts as ‘ a disgusting attempt to overturn a legitimate US election.

“For Republicans, Trump is still hugely popular,” said Democratic Starategist Steve Schale.

Schale isn’t surprised by DeSantis’ move.

“You look at his own party, you see that the President has still got a 95 percent approval rating. They feel very comfortable being in that place,” said Schale.

DeSantis wasn’t shy about showing support for Trump during his campaign for Governor, releasing a commercial in which he teaches his children to build a wall and Trump’s ‘Make America great again’ slogan.

Since taking office though, the Governor has largely toned down his pro-Trump rhetoric, even telling us in an interview in June that he didn’t plan to spend much time campaigning for the President’s reelection.

“I should be focusing on my job as Governor of Florida more so than on politics and that’s what I’ve tried to do. Doesn’t mean I won’t help him,” said DeSantis.

Schale suspects the Governor’s intentions might have less to do with helping the President and more to do with helping his own political aspirations.

“He potentially wants to run for President himself one day and so being seen as the guy defending Trump among the types of voters he’ll need in 2024 is a pretty smart move on his part, at least for now,” said Schale.

According to the donation website, the funds given to the Presidential Protection Fund appear to go to the Florida GOP, but it’s not entirely clear how the funds will be spent.

We reached out to the Florida GOP Chairman and the Governor’s Office for comment on this story, but did not receive any response.

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Red Flag Ruling Could Lead to Expansion of the Law

September 27th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

An appellate court has upheld the state’s red flag law, which was passed in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

It allows law enforcement to petition a court and prohibit individuals deemed to be a threat from owning firearms for up to a year.

The announcement comes as lawmakers hold discussions investigating mass violence and potential legislation to make the state safer.

Beth DuMond with Moms Demand Action hopes the latest ruling will push lawmakers to expand the current red flag law to also allow family members to petition a court if they believe a loved one shouldn’t own firearms.

“We know that red flag laws work, but we also know that family members are often the ones who best positioned to see that their loved ones are in crisis, which means that they are often the best ones who are positioned to start this process,” said DuMond.

In the ruling, the appellate court deemed the prevalence of recent mass shootings a compelling and urgent interest that justified the state’s red flag law.

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Lawmakers Seek to Abolish the CRC for Second Year in a Row

September 26th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

One of the first bills passed in the initial committee hearings for the 2020 Legislative Session would as voters to abolish the Constitution Revision Commission.

The CRC is a constitutional body mostly comprised of political appointees that meets every 20 years to propose constitutional amendments.

While it might seem strange legislation that wouldn’t impact the state for nearly two decades has been made such a high priority for lawmakers, Senate sponsor Jeff Brandes believes the conversation needs to happen now.

“Five years from now I don’t think the Legislature would propose this type of thing because it’s too far from the voters’ minds, but I think it’s still fresh today,” said Brandes.

What’s still fresh, is the memory of the CRC bundling seemingly unrelated proposals like indoor vaping and oil drilling into single amendments when it last met in 2018.

The body also came under heavy criticism for seemingly making up rules as it went along.

In some cases it passed proposals off the floor that hadn’t been vetted in committees.

“It was essentially a Jumanji-type process,” said Brandes.

Last year legislation to abolish the CRC passed the Senate, but it was never taken up for a vote on the House Floor.

Some House members like Rep. James Grant still have hesitations about completely doing away with the CRC.

“I think a revision and review of our constitution is a healthy thing,” said Grant.

Grant believes it may be better for the Legislature to limit the CRC’s authority, to only updating existing constitutional language.

“Our constitution should not be a secondary place of statute. Our constitution should not be an unelected group of people offering new language into the constitution,” said Grant.

While Abolishing the CRC is clearly on the fast track in the Senate, so far companion legislation has not been filed in the House.

If abolishing the commission makes it out of the Legislature, voters will have the final say in November of 2020.

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