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Duke Energy to Keep $223 Million in Tax Savings

June 11th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida utility regulators voted to allow Duke Energy keep its $223.5 million tax savings that the company saw as a result of last years Federal tax package Tuesday.

The money will be used to offset Hurricane Michael costs incurred by the company said Deputy Public Counsel Charles Rehwinkel.

“This is a good opportunity to use the tax savings to pay for a catastrophic event. It’s very important that customers recognize that the company has a legal right to recover the storm costs,” said Rehwinkel.

While on the hook for storm costs, ratepayers were also entitled to share in the tax savings.

Other utility companies, such as Florida Power and Light have opted for the same settlement.

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New Citizens Initiative Restrictions Signed into Law

June 10th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Two proposed constitutional amendments, have collected enough signatures to be reviewed by the State Supreme Court.

One would ban assault weapons, the other would let you choose where you buy your electricity.

But a new law signed by the Governor could make it harder for those and other amendments to make it on the ballot.

Medical marijuana, Florida Forever, automatic restoration of voting rights for felons are just a few major initiatives put in the state constitution through citizens initiatives.

“The people of Florida use the initiative process to get what they want done when the Florida Legislature is standing in their way,” said Scott McCoy with Southern Poverty Law Center.

The new law creates restrictions for campaigns that pay petition gatherers.

All paid petition gatherers must now register with the state and it’s now illegal to pay petition gatherers by the signature.

“It seems that the Legislature, and the Governor for that matter, really don’t like it when the voters tell them what to do,” said Jonathan Webber with the Florida Conservation Voters.

Webber worked on the Florida Forever campaign.

“There’s no question that [if] HB 5 were in law when we were doing our amendment, [it] would have been next to impossible, or extremely extremely difficult to get this on the ballot,” said Webber.

When asked about the legislation in May, Governor Ron DeSantis told reporters he wasn’t confident the new restrictions went far enough.

“We’ve let too much policy go into the constitution,” said DeSantis. “If you want to do policy through an initiative it should be a statutory initiative.”

However, Florida law doesn’t allow that.

Supervisors of Elections also have a number of questions about the new law.

It requires supervisors to print, distribute and track petitions.

“The main concern is how we’re going to get these petitions developed, how we’re going to have them numbered, how we’re going to keep track of that process and the cost associated with it,” said Ron Labasky with the Florida State Association of Supervisor of Elections.

Petitions gathered before the new law officially takes effect on July 7th will be exempt from the new requirements, but it will still affect initiatives for the 2020 election.

Some of the ongoing campaigns include open primaries, a $15 minimum wage and legalizing recreational marijuana.

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Delay Requested in Scott Israel Suspension Hearing

June 10th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Attorneys representing former Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel have asked for a delay in his suspension hearing.

Israel was removed from office by Governor Ron DeSantis, who accused the sheriff of negligence and incompetence in his response to the Parkland shooting.

Israel’s attorneys have requested the final hearing be delayed, so they can obtain documents related to the arrest of former Marjory Stoneman Douglas SRO Scot Peterson.

The Governor’s attorney Nicholas Primrose objected to the request, arguing no new information would come to light.

“To say that in anyway the Scot Peterson arrest should impact this final hearing and the Senate’s vote on whether to remove Scott Israel I don’t think should be granted,” said Primrose.

The decision to delay will be made sometime this week, but for now the final hearing is still scheduled to start next Tuesday.

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US Ag Secretary Talks Florida Hurricane Recovery and USMCA

June 7th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Farmers in the panhandle were devastated by Hurricane Michael and have been undercut by cheaper Mexican crops.

A coalition of Florida lawmakers and state officials met with the head of the US Department of Agriculture Friday morning, to talk about what can be done to help.

The meeting came just one day after the $19.1 billion dollar disaster-relief package signed into law by the President.

The news came as a relief to many in the Florida panhandle, farmers in particular, who suffered an estimated $1.5 billion loss of crops in Hurricane Michael.

US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue met with a panel of Florida officials to hear what needs are still unmet.

“We want to help people survive, to farm and go another day,” said US Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.

The disaster-relief package included $4.5 billion specifically to help with agricultural losses.

Director of the Florida Division of Emergency Management, Jared Moskwitz said there is now a sense of urgency to get boots on the ground.

“Cause this is a piece that is literally gonna put money into people’s hands that have been dramatically affected and whose lives have been up-ended by Hurricane Michael,” said Moskowitz.

Perdue said help will be coming quickly.

“If you know the speed of the Federal Government I can assure you we’ll beat that by multiples. We expect this to be weeks not months,” said Perdue.

Florida farmers have also been facing stiff competition from cheaper Mexican crops.

Concerns have been raised that there are not enough protections for farmers in the proposed US Mexican Canada Trade Agreement.

The lack of seasonal protections in the agreement was disappointing to Purdue, but he notes even in the old NAFA agreement, no such protections existed.

“We were not able and successful in getting in there, but we didn’t go backwards,” said Perdue.

Still, the secretary said he’s working with the US Department of Commerce to find solutions to prevent some of the unfair trade practices used by Mexican farmers to undercut US farmers.

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Judge Considers Case Against Fire Arm Preemptions

June 7th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

A coalition of 30 cities, three counties and one Florida resident are suing the state over a law that allows locally elected officials to be suspended or penalized for enacting stricter gun regulations than the state’s.

The group faced off in oral arguments Friday morning, and argued that while it’s the state’s right to preempt gun laws, the state overstepped its authority by giving the Governor the authority to punish elected officials for testing the waters.

Attorney Jamie Cole is representing the City of Weston in the case.

“So it’s really stifled debate, it’s stifled the ability to test the laws, to test the limits of the preemption and it’s really made the country, the state, and the various cities less safe,” said Cole.

No ruling was made in the case Friday morning, but the two legal teams were asked to submit their proposed judgement by 5pm later that day.

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Could Armed Teachers Face Charges For Not Pursuing Threats?

June 7th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Former Broward County Sheriff’s Deputy and Marjory Stoneman Douglas school resource officer Scot Peterson is facing eleven counts ranging from child neglect to perjury.

The charges were brought against Peterson for his alleged inaction during the Parkland shooting.

Now teachers’ advocates have raised concerns that teachers and school staff who choose to be armed under the Guardian Program may face similar liabilities in the case of a school shooting.

Andrew Spar, Vice President of the Florida Education Association said it’s unclear what exactly would be expected of armed teachers in an emergency scenario.

“So there’s a lot of questions there. Who carries the liability and who is the liability for? Is it for the person carrying the weapon? is it for the school district? Is it for the sheriff’s department,” said Spar. “Who knows, there are lots of questions which is, again, why we said this is a bad idea.”

Spar said the concerns were brought up throughout committee stops as the 2019 school safety bill worked its way through the legislative process, but were ignored by lawmakers.

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Gillum Ethics Commission Approved $5,000 Fine for Gillum

June 7th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The Florida Commission of Ethics approved a deal struck in the case against former Democrat Gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum with a five to two vote.

Four of five charges were dropped.Probable cause was found that Gillum accepted a boat ride from an FBI agent on a trip to New York City that may have violated a one hundred dollar limit on gifts.

Gillum will pay a $5,000 fine.

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Ag Commissioner Announces Hemp Workshops

June 6th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Interest in growing hemp in the state is high following legislation legalizing the plant.

Floridians will get a say in the future of the hemp industry through participation in a series of workshops scheduled in June.

Hemp is expected to be a multi-billion dollar industry in Florida.

The Governor is expected to sign this year’s hemp bill into law.

When he does, Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried will be tasked with filling in the blanks in the legislation.

“Having a licensing structure for growing, and the manufacturing side and different requirements. What are we actually going to ask for the testing standards to look like,” said Fried.

The Department of Agriculture’s Cannabis Director Holly Bell said she’s been fielding questions on a daily basis from people eager to break into the industry.

“They want to know how soon they can get a permit to grow, what it’s gonna cost, how they need to qualify, will there be a limited number of permits,” said Bell.

However, until the department completes its rule making process, many of those questions can’t be answered just yet.

The Commissioner and Cannabis Director will tour the state in late June, asking the public what they want Florida’s hemp industry to look like.

There will be three opportunities for public comment, June 20th near Miami, June 21st in Tampa and June 24th in Tallahassee.

“We’re making history here, and we want to make sure the citizens of our state are right there by our side, giving input, suggestions, ideas of things to cover in the rules,” said Fried.

Fried said the goal is to get rules in place as quickly as possible, in hopes of getting the first crops in the ground by 2020.

“This is why we’re having as open of a transparent conversation now. So we hear everybody’s opinions, we get everybody’s advice and suggestions so that we have a smooth rule making process,” said Fried.

Fried said the Department has also been in close contact with other states that have already established hemp programs to help guide the rule making process.

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Arson Suspected in Tallahassee Church Fire

June 6th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

An investigation is underway into a fire at a prominent Catholic Cathedral in the state’s capital city.

Multiple chairs in the church caught fire Wednesday afternoon and were quickly doused by firefighters.

The State Fire Marshal said the fire appears to have been intentionally started.

“I am saddened to hear of an apparently intentional fire set at the St. Thomas More Co-Cathedral in Tallahassee yesterday. My arson detectives responded immediately to assist local authorities in determining the cause. Arson is a costly and dangerous crime, and my arson detectives will continue to assist authorities in any way to bring those responsible to justice, said Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis.

Rector John Cayer of the Catholic Cathedral of St. Thomas More was quoted as suggesting the fire was likely caused by arson.

No injuries have been reported.

The Bureau of Fire and Arson Investigators, the Tallahassee Police Department and Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives are involved in the investigation.

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Tax Watch Dog Reccomends $133 Million in Vetos

June 5th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

A leading budget watchdog group is asking the Governor to veto $133 million from the state budget.

Florida Tax Watch says the recommendations are a blueprint to help Governor Ron DeSantis as he reviews the 2019 budget.

According to TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro, the recommended cuts are relatively small compared to past years.

“But it’s still a significant amount of money that could have been spent in areas such as early education,” said Calabro. “That $133 million could have been spent additionally in classrooms, whether it’s public or charter classrooms, hurricane recovery.”

Most of the 109 recommended cuts are local projects.

Calabro said many should be paid for by local governments , while others were added late in the budget process with little to no vetting.

“The process must be transparent and accountable and every appropriation should receive sufficient vetting, deliberation and public debate,” said Calabro.

Governor DeSantis has appeared more eager to trim the fat off of what could be the largest budget in state history.

It was only minutes after session ended that DeSantis mentioned vetos.

“It’s going to be under 91 when I get through with the budget don’t worry about that,” said DeSantis.

Calabro said he hopes the Governor uses a light touch.

“Vetoing a half a billion dollars will be more political then it would be justified,” said Calabro.

TaxWatch says in 35 years it has published the Budget Turkey Watch Report, about two thirds of its recommendations have gotten the ax.

The largest cut recommended in this year’s report is a local road widening project in Citrus County with a price tag of $13.3 million.

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Governor Hopes to Bring New Israeli Technology to Florida

June 5th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The State of Israel is growing food on what was once a desert and they are described by some as the US version of Silicon Valley on steroids.

Governor Ron DeSantis is banking on his recent trip to help make Florida a leading partner with Israel innovators.

At the Perez Center for Peace and Innovation, named for an Israeli prime Minister who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1994, the future is alive.

Director of the Perez Center Efrat Duvdevani showcased a new technology that allows a surgeon to get a first hand view of a patients organ.

“The doctor can see the heart, a hologram of the patients organs,” said Duvdevani. “And then he doesn’t have to open up all the body. He can see it an he can touch it, sort of touch it and see it. We want to showcase and bring to Florida, in how to make the dreams come to reality.”
Another technology Duvdevani highlighted was a chip that can be implanted in the retina.

The technology has been used to help a blind father seen his daughter for the first time.

Another set of glasses brings recognition to the sight challenged.

“For the first time I’m going to somebody and you tell me this is Jeff, and this is Jim and whoever, and the next time I’m walking over, and I’m completely blind, this will tell me Jim, Jack,” said Duvdevani.

Another product ready for market, is a sensor that can tell you if water is safe to drink in a matter of seconds.

Back in the states, the Governor is strong on the possibility of bringing the people behind the innovations to Florida.

“You know all the tech in Israel, they need markets for their innovation,” said DeSantis.

One of the things the Governor has made perfectly clear, unlike the past Governor, is that he’s not going to be paying any company cash to come and do business in the state.

What he is offering, is whatever assistance the state can provide.

“They were talking about specific companies coming over, and joining hands together and making the impossible, possible,” said Duvdevani.

Or in other words, dream big.

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Remembering Late FSU President, Sandy D’Alemberte

June 5th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Former FSU Law School and Dean Sandy D’Alemberte was remembered Wednesday at the university he headed from 1994 to 2003.

He is also the person who brought the idea of cameras in the courtroom in 1979.

D’Aleberte served in the State Legislature in the late 1960’s and helped usher in the concept of one person one vote.

He served on the second Constitution Revision Commission as its chair.

His wife, Patsy Palmer called him an eternal optimist.

“If we each dare to dream one dream and do something about it. If we kept our eyes on the dream and not on the obstacles. And if we pursued it with wholehearted joy, then the essence of this of this splendid man might live on and on,” said Palmer.

D’Alemberte also served as the American Bar Association from 1991 to 1992.

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DeSantis Keeps Consistent on Fines, Fees and Restitution in Clemency Meeting

June 5th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Governor Ron DeSantis remained consistent in his belief that all fine, fees and restitution must be paid before felons have their civil rights restored.

DeSantis has supported the idea and indicated he would sign the Legislature’s proposed implementing bill for Amendment 4.

It includes the payment requirements before felons can have their right to vote restored.

In Wednesday’s Clemency Board meeting, some of those seeking pardons were granted their requests, on the condition they pay outstanding fines and fees.
“I just think that when you pay your debt that includes whatever you were sentenced to so if you’re willing to do that I’ll move to grant you a pardon, condition on you just paying the rest that you owe,” said DeSantis.

Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried, the only Democrat on the Clemency Board, approved the pardons as well, but objected to the payment condition.

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Florida Cabinet Members Call on Rep. Mike Hill to Apologize

June 4th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Members of the Florida Cabinet have joined the calls for State Representative Mike Hill to apologize for his response to a constituent who asked him to sponsor legislation to make homosexuality punishable by death.

The embattled Representative has blamed the media for misrepresenting the exchange.

At Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting, Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried recognized June as Pride month.

Without saying his name, Fried took a jab at Representative Mike Hill.

“Despite recent hurtful comments against LGBTQ Floridians, know this: that does not reflect Florida,” said Fried.

Hill is facing criticism for his response to a constituent who suggested he sponsor legislation making homosexuality a crime punishable by death.

Hill defended himself and said he didn’t act inappropriately.

“I didn’t even make the statement. I was simply responding to an absurd statement that was made, and it elicited laughter from the audience. I kinda chuckled and said ‘no, let’s move on, like that’s gonna work’,” said Hill.

Governor Ron DeSantis and Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis have joined other top Republicans in calling for Hill to apologize.

“Mike, look, sometimes we misspoke [sic], maybe you need to go just apologize,” said Patronis.

“I support Speaker Oliva’s comments and I trust the speaker to take whatever actions necessary,” said DeSantis.

Some Democratic lawmakers have called on Hill to resign.

They’ve also called on House leadership to either censor or oust the Pensacola Representative from the Legislature.

A rally was held yesterday in Pensacola, Representative Hill’s district and more than 75 people attended and demanded Hill’s resignation.

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How Successful Was the Cabinet’s Trip to Israel?

June 4th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Ron DeSantis’s was back at work in the State Capitol Tuesday, but his trip to Israel is being criticized on social media as a junket.

However, there have been some positive outcomes so far, and more are likely to follow with time.

In Israel, from daylight to dark, the Governor was on the move.

However, the twitter sphere has been taking him to task for the trip.

While most paid their own way, the Governor, three Cabinet members, and a staff of 20, including the heads of at least three agencies traveled on the taxpayers dime.

“I mean, we’ve been working hard,” said DeSantis last Thursday.

Dozens of agreements were signed between Florida Universities and Israeli institutions.

At a Chamber of Commerce meeting, 500 heard the Governor pitch Florida.

“I would say Florida right now in our country is second to none in terms of a place to build a business,” said DeSantis.

Minutes later he was behind closed doors meeting the CEO of Insightec Eyal Zadicario, an Israeli based company with a US headquarters in Miami.

“The company basically developed insidious neural surgery, transforming neural surgery to completely outpatient, no hospitalization,” said Zadicario.

“They want to really expand the footprint in Florida and I think we have an opportunity to link them with some of our universities,” said DeSantis.

Even Enterprise Florida’s Senior Vice President for International Relations Manny Mencina said its going to take time to know how successful this trip will be.

“I think what you are doing here is building an infrastructure that’s going to pay results for many years to come,” said Mencina.

The trips costs are still being calculated.

An advance security detail arrived in Israel a week before the Governor.

Those costs remain classified for security reasons for now.

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