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School Safety Plans Have Few Differences

February 23rd, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott and Legislative leaders today released specific plans to prevent  mass shootings in schools from ever happening again. As Mike Vasilinda tells us the plans are similar except in one area.

“Carmen Schentrup”

Governor Rick Scott began by recognizing Parkland’s 17 victims.

“Unfortunately, none of the plans I am announcing today will bring any of them back said Scott after the 17th name.”

The Governor’s plan calls for hiring an armed school resource officer for every 1000 students in a school, requiring schools add security measures before making other repairs, raising the age to buy any gun to 21.

“We need to be swift and decisive.”

Scott would also create a violence restraining order, something sought by police, to take a gun away for at least 60 days. from someone making threats

“60 days is the minimum. After that, you have to go back to the court.”

The plan does not ban assault style weapons, which thousands marched for on Wednesday.

“I’m supporter of the second amendment, the first amendment, and the entire bill of rights for that matter” says the Governor.

State lawmakers launched an almost identical plan, and say the 450 million sought by the Governor for security is not out of line. Where they differ is allowing trained, armed, deputized civilian to carry in schools. Sen. Bill Galvano says they would not allow just anyone to carry a gun. They would have law law enforcement training and be deputized.

“So law enforcement takes responsibility for them as they would for any other deputy.”

Lawmakers highlighted twenty one points of failure. Now they are asking law enforcement to check their records. Sen. Lizbeth Benacquisto (R-Ft. Myers) made the plea.

“See if there is another person like this out there. That warnings have been given and tips have been called in.”

All agree if the changes had been in place, Nikolas Cruz would never have gotten a gun or kept it.

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Democrats and Schools Express Concerns Over Proposed Parkland Response

February 23rd, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The Governor and the Legislature have announced comprehensive proposals in response to the Parkland School shooting to increase school safety and prevent the mentally ill from acquiring guns.

Both call for raising the age to purchase guns to 21-years-old and spending hundreds of millions of dollars to fortify schools and identify threats before another mass shooting can take place, but Democrats say it doesn’t go far enough.

5,000 people who came to the Capitol this week were demanding a ban on assault style weapons.

Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith says the Governor and Legislature’s proposed fixes are missing the point.

 

“There is support for an assault weapons ban, that’s what the students want, that’s what the teachers want,” said Smith.

Governor Scott and Legislative leaders say banning assault weapons would unfairly penalize law abiding citizens and would violate the second amendment.

 

“Even in difficult times we have to follow the constitution,” said Senate President Joe Negron.

Democrats also take issue with allowing teachers to carry guns, even if they’re also sworn law enforcement officers.

 

“More guns in our schools is not the solution. Teachers need to focus on teaching,” said Smith.

Schools also have concerns that the proposals may take away too much local control.

The main concern is Governor Scott wants to use school construction and repair funding for school hardening before it’s spent on anything else.

 

“There needs to be some consideration to what other obligations exist,” said Ruth Melton with the Florida School Boards Association.

Senator Bill Montford also represents the state’s School Super Intendants.

He say’s there’s time for the schools’ concerns to be addressed… When it comes to banning assault rifles, he’s not so confident.

 

“It’s a weapon of war, so that gives me great pause and a great deal of concern,” said Montford.

Putting more guns in schools and neglecting calls for a ban on assault rifles is likely going to be a road block to Democrats’ support.

The Legislature’s proposal also calls for a three-day waiting period before purchasing a firearm, it’s another idea with Democratic support that could be in jeopardy is a compromise is not reached.

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School Safety Plan Emerging

February 22nd, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

State lawmakers have noticed a hearing for Monday afternoon for the first discussion of new school safety and firearm legislation. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the legislation does not include the one thing that drove thousands to protest at the Capitol yesterday.

The emerging school safety plan calls for more firepower in schools. Patterned after the Sentinel Program in Polk County. It calls for well trained, armed school personnel to be the first line of defense. Incoming Senate President Bill Galvano is leading the negotiations.

 

“This isn’t just a situation of arming teachers. This is a program that is run through the Sheriff’s Department, on a voluntary basis, where in someone who seeks to become deputized has a psych eval and 132 hours of training” says Galvano.

The legislation will be a souped up version of legislation debated and sponsored by now Senator Dennis Baxley since Sandy Hook.

 

“Part of this focus has to be, what happens in the first five minutes” says Baxley.

Under the plan, police would have more power to take guns from the mentally disturbed without a declaration of incompetence. Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualteri said this week, the current law ties law enforcments hands.

 

“We need the authority to take their weapons. To take the guns away from them that they have just threatened to hurt somebody with, and we can’t do that today.”

In a meeting with legislative leaders late Wednesday, the Governor reportedly said he was willing to give any tax cuts this year, if the money was needed for school safety.

But the proposals don’t do what thousands asked for this week:

“Gun control” changed marchers.

A Ban on assault style rifles. Democrats will keep trying says Leader Oscar Braynon.

 

“We believe that’s the solution. None of this happens without that.”

And Lawmakers say policy decisions will drive cost not the other way around.

Other features included more power to take guns from people evaluated under the Baker Act, raising the age for assault rifle purchases, and requiring a three day cooling off period.

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House and Senate Divided on How to Increase Land Acquisition Trust Funding

February 22nd, 2018 by Jake Stofan

In 2014 three out of four voters told the Legislature they want more funding for land conservation, but the Legislature justified ways to spend the money elsewhere.

Now, lawmakers are trying to make sure the money gets to where it needs to be.

 

“It’s another step in the right direction,” said Florida Conservation Voters Executive Director, Aliki Moncrief.

Both the House and Senate have their own ideas when it comes to how the increase should look.

In the Senate, Rob Bradley is proposing $100 million to go to the Land Acquisition Trust Fund. No money could be spent on administrative costs.

 

“To make sure that all the dollars go towards what I think is an appropriate use of those dollars,” said Bradley.

In the House, Representative Matt Caldwell would spend a total of $200 million. Most of the money would pay outstanding debts, with $57 million left over to specifically go towards purchasing land.

 

“We enjoy those properties so having those conserved for ourselves and our children, our grandchildren is key,” said caldwell.

Environmental advocates say both proposals have an upsides and a downside.

The Senate allows the funds to be used for water management and the House allows money to go toward administrative costs.

 

“That money really needs to be focused on where voters intended and that’s conserving lands for people, conserving lands for wildlife and conserving lands to protect our waters,” said Moncrief.

While the two bills may differ, lawmakers say they believe a compromise can be reached.

Two weeks remain for those details to be worked out, and if they don’t agree, voters will be no worse off then they are now.

The House’s although smaller initially, bill increases funding over time. It would allocated $200 million for land acquisition by 2029.

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Senator Bill Nelson Meets With State Democrats oil Gun Legislation

February 22nd, 2018 by Jake Stofan

After 5,000 people marched on the state Capitol demanding stricter gun laws, US Senator Bill Nelson made a stop in the Capitol to speak with House Democrats about the issue of gun control in the state.

Earlier in the week democrats tried to bring a proposal to ban assault weapons in the state up for a vote in the House, but it was shot down with 71 no votes. Senator Nelson says he’s not surprised. He says the only reason there seems to be any movement on other gun restrictions like increasing the age to purchase assault rifles and creating waiting periods is because of the passion shown by the victims of the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School shooting.

“Two years after Pulse, why hasn’t the state of Florida taken any action? Not one iota, until these kids come up and sit and look them in the eyeballs and demand that they do something because they are grieving so much,” said Sen. Nelson.  “So there’s been a lot of foot dragging over the years and I think people are getting fed up.”

Senator Nelson says he supports a ban on assault rifles. He noted the weapons were banned federally from 1194 to 2004. Since the law was repealed, mass casualty events have become more deadly.

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No Debate on Students Top Priority…Yet

February 21st, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

 

For the second day in a row, state lawmakers passed on debating an assault rifle ban as dozens of survivors from last weeks school shooting watched. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, legislative leaders say the debate will happen…but just not yet.

At it’s first meeting since the deaths at Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High, the Florida Senate paid tribute to the victims…through a slide show to a moment of silence.

“Please Rise” asked Senate President Joe Negron.

Two gun bills, including one allowing concealed carry in churches, were on the agenda…until controversial amendments banning assault rifles and adding waiting periods were filed.

Sot: Sen. Joe Negron

Senate President

“Show the next bill temporarily postponed” the President announced when the bills turn came up.

 

Amendment sponsor Gary Farmer wanted to know when the bills would come up.

“Today, the bill has been temporarily postponed” Negron responded curtly.

We asked Farmer about the delay.

“Should we be surprised?”

Q:”Are they afraid of the debate?”

“Yeah, Yeah, they are afraid of the debate, I think” he told us.

Senate sponsors say they will keep trying to amend an assault ban on any gun bill that goes to the Senate floor.

 

In a long Q&A with the Douglas students, the House Speaker defended the procedural vote, taking dozens of tough questions, including one from MSD Junior  Alondra Gittelson.

“The AR-15 did so much damage. How is an individual in society allowed to acquire such a gun?” She asked.

In the end, the Speaker said an assault rifle ban wasn’t likely, but money should be no object.

 

“If its 200 million, its 200 million. The issue is not the number, the issue  solving the problem” says Corcoran.

And the admittedly exhausted students said they were tired of what they were hearing.

Ryan Deitsch is a senior at Douglas.

“They’re using political double talk as much as they can.”

And Delaney Tarr added a warning.

“The people around us failed us, and if the continue to fail us, they will no longer be in office. Because soon we will be given the ability to vote, and we will vote them out” she said during a news conference

Whether or not they win a ban this year, it’s clear the Students have put an exclamation point on the gun debate.

The Governor has promised to announce his plans to prevent future shootings on Friday. Legislative leaders say the conversations at the Capitol have been on going since the shooting.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Thousands Rally for Gun Control on Capitol Grounds

February 21st, 2018 by Jake Stofan

 

An estimated Five thousand students and protestors rallied at the Capitol, demanding lawmakers pass meaningful gun control legislation, Wednesday.

Students from FSU, FAMU and around the state came to show support for the movement that began with the shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

 

“I don’t want to be scared for my kids when my time comes to be a parent,” said FSU student Erfaan Mahmoodi. “I don’t want to be scared for them when I leave them at school, when they go out to the movies, that they might get hurt in something like this.”

Students from the high school took to the podium surrounded by Democratic lawmakers, demanding action from the GOP controlled Legislature.

 

“If the government thinks something is not going to change they’re sadly mistaken,” said survivor of the shooting, Rachel Catnia. “No person should have to go through what my peers and I went through. How many more innocent people have to die before we make a change.”

 

Another survivor of the shooting, Sheryl Acquaroli said, “You will not turn these 17 human beings into a statistic!”

Tensions were are high at the rally, as were emotions.

Protesters feared counter protests, but they never happened.

The Legislators spoke directly to the Republican majority, which has blocked their attempts at reform for years.

 

Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith has sponsored Legislation to ban assault rifles in the state since the Pulse Night Club Shooting. Two sessions later it’s never gotten a hearing.

He put the question to Republicans saying, “Are we gonna get a fucking hearing?!”

House minority leader Janet Cruz went as far to say the Legislative process in the state was, “Bull shit!”

The goal of achieving an outright ban on assault rifles is slim to none, instead lawmakers will focus on mental health and background checks.

The students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School left the State Capitol Wednesday night, but the movement they’ve created seems to only be gaining traction.

The students are also planing a march on Washington next month.

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Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Students Arrive in Tallahassee

February 21st, 2018 by Jake Stofan

 

Students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School were bused into the state Capitol Tuesday evening in preparation for their rally to ban assault weapons.

Hundreds of students joined by State Legislators gathered outside Leon High School in anticipation of roughly 100 students from the South Florida high school to arrive.

 

“We’re just here to show as much love and support as we can,” said Leon High School Senior, Kellen Long.

They’re joined the fight for a ban on assault weapons in the state.

Tanzil Philip, a sophomore at Stoneman Douglas said, “Our Message is very simple and it’s ‘never again’.”

Earlier in the day the House rejected a move to hear Legislation that would have banned the weapons, with 71 members voting against.

It brought Stoneman Douglas junior, Sheryl Acquaroli to tears.

“It’s too much. Those are 70 murderers,” said Acquaroli.

At the governors round table with law enforcement, education leaders and mental health experts there was no mention of Banning assault weapons.

When asked if he would consider a ban the Governor repeatedly said, “All options are on the table.”

For now it seems the Governor’s focus is on preventing the mentally ill from obtaining fire arms and increasing communication between law enforcement, mental health professionals and schools.

“Can you measure it to make sure it happens. I mean in business that’s what you have to do, you have to measure constantly what you’re doing,” said Governor Scott. “So as I try to think through these proposals, is it going to change something. Is it really going to move the needle and make something happen.”

But for many students who experienced the terror of last weeks shooting, it’s not enough.

 

There’s going to an empty space in peoples lives and it’s going to be there fault, because they could have done something today,” said Acquaroli.

The Governor says a proposal will be ready by Friday, leaving two weeks in the Legislative session to move it through both chambers.

The students will meet with lawmakers throughout the morning, prior to the noon press conference.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Students Push Gun Control

February 20th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

The first contingent of South Florida high school students seeking controls on assault rifles and better background checks following last week’s deadly school shooting are in the State Capitol today meeting with lawmakers. And as Mike Vasilinda tells us, they are confronting those who oppose their efforts.

The three dozen students found a friendly ear with Democratic State Senator Perry Thurston He represents part of the county where 17 were killed last week.

 

Rachel Catania is a Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High School Sophomore.

“It’s easier to buy a gun than it is to make plans with my friends on the weekend, and that’s not okay.”

While bills have already been filed to ban assault style rifles, they’re going nowhere. Thurston now plants to ament them on other bills.

Q:”At least you’ll get them on the record?” We asked.

“Get them on the record but also hopefully to get them to prick their hearts and hope to get them to do the right thing” says thurston.

The next stop for the students, State Senator Dennis Baxley.

“Come on in and talk to me.”

 

Baxley is the author of Florida’s Stand Your Ground Law. He’s an advocate for arming teachers as the first line of defense.

Sot: Natalie Feehand

MSD High School Student

“I’ve had anxiety attacks. We need you to work the left to get things done” MSD student Natalie Freehand told Baxley.

“Five minutes before law enforcement even gets set up. What do we do with that?” asked the veteran lawwaker.

Lizzy Eaton another MSD High School Student wasn;t thrilled with the meeting.

“I think he did emphasize with us, and I think he did understand us, but I think he needs to really, you know, step outside his comfort zone and really make a change” says Eaton.

At another stop down the hall. Miami State Senator Rene Garcia.

Ashley Keene is a Cypress High School student.

“I think we can all collectively agree that no fourteen year old should be shot in the stomach while trying to learn algebra” Keene told Garcia.

“New legislation is being developed that will not go as far as the students would like, but it is a step in their direction.”

It raises the age for buying an AR 15 from 18 to 21. It also requires a three day cooling off period for all gun purchases, not just handguns.

Anchor Tag: The NRA says it will not comment on the legislation now being drafted it is in writing and filed for consideration. Two more bus loads of students are expected to arrive in the State Capital this evening.

 

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House Rejects Assault Rife Ban, Shooting Survivor Brought to Tears

February 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Democratic lawmakers attempted to force a hearing for a proposed ban on assault weapons in the state at the start of the House session this afternoon.

The Legislation was assigned to committees which will not meet again before session ends, by putting the proposal up for a vote Democrats could have bypassed the committee process.

The move was shot down by Republicans, with 71 votes against.

Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School junior, Sheryl Acquaroli was visibly upset after seeing the results of the vote.

 

“The next death of someone with an assault rifle here in Florida is going to be on them. It’s going to be on them and it’s going to be their fault that those people are dead and that those people aren’t going to go home to their families and that there is going to be an empty space in people’s lives and it’s going to be their fault, because they could have done something today,” said Acquaroli.

While the full ban on assault rifles has stalled, other proposals including wait times for assault rifle purchases and increasing the age to purchase the weapons to 21 are still alive.

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Statue Replacement Bill On its Way to the Governor’s Desk

February 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

A three-year push to replace the statue of Confederate General Kirby Smith currently representing Florida in the nation’s Capitol is on its way to the Governor’s desk.

The replacement will be civil rights activist and founder of Bethune-Cookman University, Marry McLeod Bethune.

The Bethune-Cookman choir opened the House session before the vote, singing the national anthem. The Legislation passed with just one no vote from Jacksonville Representative Jay Fant. Bethune-Cookman University Interim-President Hubert Grimes says the no vote doesn’t take away from the accomplishment.

“Today is a great day. It’s a day for all Floridians. It’s a day that we can all look back and say we’re more alike than apart, that we can work together, that we can build bridges and that this is going to be a defining moment in the life of our founder,” said Grimes.

Bethune will be the first African American to represent a state in the National Statuary Hall if the Governor approves the Legislation.

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College Students Say Legislation Would Stand in the Way of Free Speech

February 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Students from at least the state universities rallied against the passage of a bill that seeks to penalize universities that stifle free speech on campus.

The Legislation was filed after white nationalist Richard Spencer made an appearance at the University of Florida last year, which resulted in counter protests and students shouting over his speech.

Students say penalizing those who speak out against hate groups restricts the free speech of students, while promoting hate groups.

 

“It is undeniable that this bill is designed to confuse the public and distract those who might not support it. It’s very conveniently titled “Free Expression on Campus,” which leads most of its constituents to believe that this bill promotes free expression when in reality it simply suppresses it while picking and choosing what our modes of expression and in toleration of hate speech, racism and fascism on our campus can be,” said FSU student Reem Zaitoon.

Universities and individuals could be held liable for damages of between $500 and $100,000 for violating a persons first amendment right to free speech under the bill.

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Sheriff’s Roundtable on Gun Violence

February 20th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Lack of cooperation, record sharing and the lack of resources for manpower and technology game out of a roundtable of state and local law enforcement officials working to solve school safety issues. They came from across the state at the request of the Governor. Polk County Sheriff Grady Judd echoed what many believe: Non sworn school personnel should be trained and armed as the first response to an active shooter.

“How did that work for those children last week, when there was no one at the school that could protect them? And yet, teachers ran in, unarmed, only to be shot along with the children” asks Judd.

In addition to law enforcement, mental heath experts and educators held two other discussions on school safety. They will present their reports to the Governor later tonight.

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Don’t Tread on My Front Yard Garden

February 19th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Don’t tread on me became an early motto for the American revolution, and now as Mike Vasilinda tells us, Senate Bill 1776 seeks to remedy what many are calling an overreach by a local government.

Seven miles northwest of Miami, the City of Miami Springs told a couple who had grown vegetables in the front year for 17 years, to knock it off. Ari Bargil is the couples attorney.

 

“Seems to me this was an attack on a lifestyle decision that she made to grow her own food. The city didn’t like the look of it” he told us after testifying before the State Senate.

State Senator Rob Bradley isn’t pleased.

“This is ridiculous” he told the Senate Rules Committee.

 

Bradley first heard about the garden ban at a delegation meeting hundreds of miles away.

“And when I found out about it, I got mad, so I filed a bill.”

Now Senate Bill 1776 would keep local governments from banning front yard gardens.

The couple have lost their case in multiple courts. But, two weeks ago the Florida Supreme Court said the dispute was better settled by state lawmakers.

And it appears they will over the objection of the League of Cities. David Cruz tried to tell lawmakers the cities positions.

 

“You might have a situation where someone might grow corn in front of their house, and if you live next door to that house, that might affect your property values” says Cruz.

At this 100 year old feed and seed store in the shadows the Capitol, people planting their own vegetables didn’t mince words.

“Sounds kind of dumb to me” one Gardner told us.

Sot: George Yont

Homeowner

“Too much government. Way too much government” says another.

Owner Stan Gramling is as incensed as everybody else.

 

“You know, on your property, you need to be able to do what you’re gonna do, without infringing on somebody else” says Gramling.

The message to local governments: Property rights reign supreme.

The legislation is now ready for a vote by the full State Senate.  The League of Cities did not have an estimate on how many cities could be effected if the legislation becomes law.

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Calls Growing For Assault Rife Ban in Florida

February 19th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

 

After last weeks shooting, which claimed the lives of 17 a growing number of top GOP donors have vowed to discontinue financial support of candidates that don’t support a full ban on assault weapons.

They join the voices of at least 100 students from Stoneman Douglas High School who will be at the Capitol this week supporting a ban on the weapons.

This is the second year in a row the legislation has failed to get a hearing.

Sponsor Linda Stewart thinks, now, things may be different.

“The component of the very young, has really caused there to be attention, more than there ever has been,” said Senator Stewart.

Gun sales in Florida didn’t spike after the shooting. Pawn shop owner Mark Folmar says that could change if the ban gets a hearing.

“Because they feel like they won’t ever be able to get this again and so now is the time,” said Folmar.

Paige McFadden survived the FSU school shooting in 2014 after the attacker’s gun jammed. Even though each mass shooting since has made her relive the memory of her experience, she doesn’t support banning assault weapons.

“I rather them be registered and licensed, that way if in the instance the obtain these firearms it’s assigned to a particular individual and therefore they should take responsibility,” said McFadden.

The GOP controlled legislature is reluctant to restrict guns, but Governor Rick Scott, who has an A+ rating from the NRA says all options are on the table.

Republican lawmakers are considering a proposal that would add three day wait periods for rifle purchases, increase mental health screenings and raise the age to purchase assault rifles to 21.

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