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Shelter Arrives for Some Eastpoint Residents, Others Still Waiting

July 18th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Eastpoint residents who lost their homes in a controlled burn that got out of hand are finally beginning to see the first wave of housing put in place.
Wanda Chasnoff’s family lost nearly everything in the fire that ripped through the community more than three weeks ago.
“It’s been horrible to be honest. The children crying, wanting to go home. Trying to get things on a schedule with the children,” said Chasnoff.
The family of seven has been living in a shack on their property ever since.
“They’re crying you know they want stability again and they don’t have it right now,” said Chasnoff.
Construction is now underway putting in place one of six mobile homes purchased through the Franklin County Sheriffs Office.
“Everything here I lost. My big tool shed,” said Eastpoint resident Jimmy Boone.
Jimmy Boone is expecting a similar home to be put in place soon.
“I don’t know what day, but I will get one. They’ve got me ready for it,” said Boone.
Other victims will receive temporary fifth-wheel trailers, purchased through the state sometime in the near future.
Others say they still have no idea if and when they might get shelter.
Tammy Butler, her husband and son were living in a trailer before it was destroyed by the fire.
Now all that’s left is charged rubble and a few scattered memories that survived the flames.
She and her husband have been living in a tent for the past three weeks.
The hardest part is still not knowing when help will come.
“My hands stay dirty my feet stay dirty. You know I don’t have a shower, we don’t have a kitchen,” said Buttler. “We don’t have what we used to.”
Those moving into temporary trailers will have six months to secure permanent housing.
Most residents say that’s simply not long enough.
Many of the residents we spoke with say they’ve contacted attorneys.
Permanent housing was made possible by money donated to a GoFundMe page set up by the Franklin County sheriffs office.

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Statue of Slave-holding Founder on FSU Campus to be Moved

July 18th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
A two year campaign by FSU students to move a statute of a man once thought to be FSU’s founder and to rename the law school has mostly succeeded.
Frances Epps, former mayor of Tallahassee, slave owner and grandson of Thomas Jefferson has graced the grounds outside FSU’s administration building for almost two decades.
He won’t be there much longer.
“We found that he was not “the” founder, he was among a lot of folks who worked on the establishment of Florida State University,” said FSU President John Thrasher.
Thrasher will also be asking the Legislature to rename BK Roberts Hall, the main law school building.
Roberts was Chief Justice of the State Supreme Court and he thwarted a black man, Virgil Hawkins, from attending UF’s law school.
“His opinions in that case clearly circumvented the United States Supreme Court and I believe violated the rule of law in that case,” said Thrasher.
Thrasher didn’t adopt one of three recommendations.
The building named for Thomas Jefferson’s grandson won’t change, and the statute, which is a couple of hundred feet away, is likely to come to be moved inside.
Tampa freshman Seth Ravenna thinks the punishment fits the crime.
“He did own some slaves and stuff, but he should still be involved in this place,” said Revenna.
The Students for a Democratic Society had spent two years pushing for Epps removal.
“The way that Epps handled law enforcement during his time as Justice of the Peace and as Mayor was a very racist, anti abolitionist, pro slavery way to do law enforcement,” said member Maddie Hendrick.
SDS sys it will continue to try and remove Epps name from the criminology building.
Chris Epps, Francis Eppes’ great, great, great, great, great grandson said in a statement, “I am proud of my ancestor’s role as one of the prominent figures that helped establish Florida State University and I am happy to hear that President Thrasher will honor that legacy by preserving the name of Eppes hall.”

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Sherry Johnson Continues Push to End Child Marriage Nationwide

July 17th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
Legislation prohibiting child marriage took effect July first in Florida, and the Tampa woman who spent her childhood in slavery is pushing other states to ban child marriage as well.
Sherry Johnson was just eight when she was first raped by her church deacon.
“[It] devastated my life,” said Johnson.
Sherry gave us this copy of her marriage license with the condition she doesn’t want us to show the name of the rapist she was forced to marry at age eleven.
By the time she was 17 she had six kids.
“When little girls were playing with barbie dolls, I was attending to a real doll,” said Johnson.
Sherry was the moving force behind a new Florida law that bans child marriage before age 18.
A cable network documentary is in the works about Sherry’s ordeal and she’s negotiating a contract to update her book, Forgiving the Unforgivable.
Speaking of the unforgivable, Sherry once confronted her mother about what happened to her.
“And why did she allow these things to happen to me and like I said it ended up in a situation where I regret actually even going to her,” said Johnson.
Still, the two have a relationship.
“I forgive her for all the things that she did not do and that she allowed to happen to me,” said Johnson.
For Sherry, the book and the documentary are part of her healing process.
So is her advocacy.
“I’m looking to actually go across the nation to cover this,” said Johnson. “Where a child won’t be married before the age of 18.”
Other states have followed suit, but Sherry says she won’t quit until she’s sure what happened to her won’t happen to anyone else agin anywhere in America.
There are three exceptions to marriage before age 18 in Florida.
One party is no more than two years older than the other, a licensed physician verifies in writing the existence of pregnancy, or if the parents or guardian of each minor consents in writing to the marriage.

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Case to Open Governor’s Blind Trust Continues

July 17th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
An effort to require Governor Rick Scott to reveal his investments in his blind trust got a hearing before an appellate court Tuesday.
Big-time Democratic donor Don Hinkle filed an complaint with the Florida Commission on Ethics, asking it to look into the Governor’s blind trust.
“You know his last enterprise plead guilty to seven felonies. So maybe we should be able to check his homework here,” said Hinkle.
The complaint was thrown out.
Since then he’s been fighting his way through the courts
Hinkle says because the commission never did a deep dive into the details there’s no way of knowing if the trust is actually blind.
“The ethics commission didn’t even gather the documents. They just summarily dismissed it,” said Hinkle.
The Governor on Monday, maintained his blind trust is indeed truly blind.
“When I got elected I did a variety of things. One I set up put all my assets in a blind trust,” said Scott. “So I don’t know how they invested the dollars.”
The Governor’s attorneys asked a lower court to dismiss the case.
It refused.
Now the Governor is appealing that decision.
The Governor argues the ethics commission should have had the final say.
“Complaints to the commission are the method of implementing the people’s mandate of ethics in government,” said the Governor’s lawyer, Daniel Nordby.
Hinkle says citizens should have the option of going through the courts.
“I just urge the court not to allow the Commission on Ethics to say, we’re not considering this and that be the end of the road,” said Hinkle.
The Governor will be required to reveal the contents of he and his wife’s blind trusts in less than a month as part of his U.S. Senate bid.
Hinkle says the outcome of the case could have impacts on future Governor’s and all elected officials.
If the Appellate Court upholds the previous decision to allow the case to proceed the case will go back to the Circuit Court.
A final decision won’t likely come before the federal financial disclosure deadline.

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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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