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Attorney General Jeff Sessions Calls for Death Sentences for Drug Dealers

March 22nd, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

U-S Attorney General Jeff Sessions madd his first public appearance here in Florida since distributing a memo to prosecutors yesterday, urging them to seek death sentences in the fight against opioids. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, his visit to the state Capitol comes as the state prepares to sue drug makers.

The U-S Attorney General’s visit comes one day after this memo was sent to Federal prosecutors urging them to seek death sentences for some drug dealers.

He spoke to a room of 100 local state and Federal law enforcement officers.

“Career drug traffickers can take more lives than even a mass murderer. Overdose deaths are up, and gang violence is up, and we need to reverse those trends. The President has ordered us to seek the death penalty in those cases where its appropriate to do so” said Sessions.

On Monday Governor Rick Scott signed legislation restricting opioid prescriptions to either a three or seven day supply.

“We are gonna do everything we can in this state to help individuals not become addicted. If they are, try to get them off of it” Scott told reporters.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says the state is continuing to interview outside law firms for an expected lawsuit which will allege drug companies encouraged doctors to overprescribe opioids.


“It’s in their best interests to attempt to resolve it as soon as possible” says Bondi, “and at least correct their conduct. Then we’ll go back and get all the money they owe these people.”

The lawsuit, if filed, will be similar to what Florida did in the 1990’s when it sued tobacco companies. Florida eventually recovered the more than 400 million a year it was spending treating diseases caused by their products.

The Attorney General estimated the cost of the epidemic at a hundred fifteen billion dollars a year to the national economy.

The Attorney General also said the Federal government would increase funding to fight the opioid epidemic to as much as six billion dollars over the next two years. He said some of that money would be used to assist local governments who are suing the opioid makers.

A number of Florida jurisdictions (Alachua, Broward, Hillsborough, Miami-Dade, Palm Beach, Calhoun, and Panama City) have already filed their own law suits against drug makers, seeking to recover the costs of emergency visits and drug overdose kits.

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School Board Term Limits Moves Forward

March 21st, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida voters may soon decide if local School Board  members should be subject to an eight year term limit. The limit would not apply to other local officials, which as Mike Vasilinda tells us raises questions about the motives behind the proposal before the Constitution Revision Commission

The idea to limit school board members to eight years in office comes, ironically, from a School Board member Erika Donalds of Collier County.
“Term limits provide fresh faces and new ideas to elective office. They reduce special interest influence and make room for the citizen legislature.”

Former lawmakers on the Commission, Arthenia Joyner and Chris Smith, who were subject to term limits, say limiting school board members would result in less experience.


“It took time to get up to speed. And then a the point where we best mastered what it was we were elected to do, it was time to go” Joyner told Commissioners.

“We have term limits. People don’t want them they go vote and throw them out” Smith reminded the room.


Many in the Capitol believe the term limits are really retribution by the House Speaker. That’s after more  than a dozen school boards joined a law suit challenging the House Speakers Schools of Hope legislation.


The sponsor was appointed to the revision commission by the Speaker of the House. The Florida School Boards Assn said no comment when asked about the motivation,

Executive Director Andrea Messina did tells us that during the last election cycle, 87 incumbent school board members were re-elected while 75 new Members also got seats. Messina says  the numbers speak for themselves.


“Forty six percent of the school board seats had new members. Forty six percent! That’s almost fifty percent” says Messina.

No other local officials would face term limits under the proposal.

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CRC Almost Debates Assault Rifle Ban

March 21st, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida Constitution Revision Commission debated banning assault style rifles this afternoon, sort of. Three Commissioners tried to amend a ban on the rifles used in Parkland and Pulse to another proposal, so the debate wasn’t about banning assault rifles, but about whether the amendment was within the commission’s rules.

Hank Coxe, a lawyer appointed by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court urged the Commission to let his amendment go forward.

“The state of Florida is prepared on it. That’s how the state of Florida know that 73-74% of them want the right to vote on this issue. And that’s all we would be doing, giving them the right to vote on it. We wouldn’t say the are illegal. We wouldn’t say they ar legal. We would say, you the citizens have encountered such a horrific experience after experience in this state, lets lead this country and do something about it” says Coxe.

The Chair of the Commission ruled the amendment was out of order, or not Germain, because it dealt with a different subject than the original proposal. Attorney General Pam Bondi spoke passionately to uphold the ruling.

“It’s not even close to being Germain: said Bondi. “And to say the shooting came up recently, well, we had Pulse nightclub a year ago, You’ve all know about that from day one. No one did anything on that. We acted with the legislature on a timely basis and following the laws of our land. We all have to follow the rules.”

The commission could still take the matter up before it finishes its work in May, but that would take a change of heart by a super majority of the 37 members.

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CRC Postpones Vote on Proposal 97

March 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

When you skip an item on the ballot should it be counted as a no vote?

Some members on the state’s Constitution Revision Commission think so.



After voters approved smaller classroom sizes in 2002 with 52% of the vote, then Governor Jeb Bush and the Legislature campaigned for and won a ballot initiative raising the threshold to 60 percent.

Now, there’s a new push to raise the standard again.

Aliki Moncrief with the Florida Conservation Voters says it’s because voters have continued to approve initiatives to lawmakers dismay, like medical marijuana and increased funding for land acquisition.


“There’s been a constant chipping away at the ability of citizens to basically take their issues directly to voters,” said Moncrief.

Proposal 97 being considered by the Constitution Revision Commission would still require future amendments to get 60% approval, but blank votes would count as no votes.


“This proposal really is about hearing more of citizens’ voices,” said Commissioner Belinda Keiser.

Supporters argue a blank vote means a person doesn’t believe an issue is important enough to be included in the constitution. Opponents say that’s not the case.


“I shouldn’t have the Government telling me that it’s a no vote, because I wanted to put my vote in the hands of my fellow citizens,” said Commissioner Bob Solari.

Of 22 constitutional amendments passed by voters since 2006, only ten would have passed if the higher standard were in place at the time.

Due to a lack of support the higher threshold was temporarily postponed before a vote was taken.

The proposal could be brought back up for a vote before the commission ends its business in May.

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CRC Moves Forward With Amendment to Ban Vaping in the Workplace

March 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The Constitution Revision Commission voted in favor of an amendment that would ban the use of vapes and E-cigarettes in businesses.

The proposal would bring the electronic forms of smoking inline with existing language in the state constitution barring smokable tobacco in the workplace.

Sponsor of the amendment, Lisa Carlton says the goal is to keep non-smokers safe from the potentially harmful effects of the vapors.

“This has now reached the level of danger for those of us that are inhaling these vapors and these aerosols from these 400 different mechanisms out there on the market,” said Carlton.
The proposal now moves on to drafting. After that it will be put up for a final vote before the commission before it can be placed on the November Ballot.

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Full Constitution Revision Commission Begins Debate

March 19th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Dozens of proposals that could affect how Florida Government works are up for discussion at the state Capitol at the once every two decades Constitution Revision Commission. As Mike Vasilinda tells us,  everything from how elections are run to whether greyhound racing should continue are on the table.

The Constitution Revision Commission has only met twice before. 1978 and 98.

“30 yeas, 3 nays”

On Monday, the 37 member panel got down to debating what should and should not be in the Constitution.

“I believe that the Constitution is reserved for rights that are fundamental and important” CRC Commissioner Tom Stemberger told commissioners.

Commissioners have introduced 103 proposals. Some want the commission to to what lawmakers have refused to do, like ban greyhound racing. Veteran State Senator Tom Lee says the Commission can go where no commission has gone before.

“This body has a unique opportunity to go directly to the voters with things special interests groups have been successful time and time and time again at killing in the Florida legislature” says Lee

A retired Supreme Court Justice says just because the Commission can do something, doesn’t mean it should.

Former Chief Justice Major Harding says the constitution is no place for proposals that could be done by lawmakers,

“And deal only with those things that go to the basic foundation of government” says Harding.

But the states elected sheriffs, tax collectors, property appraisers and Clerks of court see some counties trying to weaken their responsibilities. They want the CRC to protect their jobs going forward. Chris Nocco is both the Pasco County Sheriff and CRC Commissioner.

“Our offices are rely on our citizens, and every four years, we’ll be judged. We’ll be judged by what we do” says Nocco, as he defended local officials.

The commission must come up with a final list for the November ballot by early May. Then 3 of 5 voters must approve.

In the coming days, the Commission is expected to vote on easing restrictions on school vouchers and on whether no party voters can cast ballots when only one party has a candidate, ending the write in candidate loophole.

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Governor Rick Scott Suspends Funding for FIU Pedestrian Bridge

March 19th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

In a split second, commutes on South West 8th street in Miami went from routine, to nightmarish… A pedestrian bridge designed by FIGG Bridge Engineers collapsing on to the busy road, taking the lives of six.

Governor Rick Scott directed the Florida Department of Transportation, Monday to suspend more than $13.6 million in federal funding for the bridge’s construction, until the cause of the collapse is determined.

As investigators continue into what caused the pedestrian bridge collapse at Florida International University, new details are emerging suggesting bridge engineers and the Florida Deportment of Transportation may have underestimated a problem in the days leading up to the collapse.

The Florida Department of Transportation was quick to distance itself from responsibility, writing in  a press release that the project was a local agency project not  FDOT’s. The agency then  released this voicemail left by the FIGG Lead Engineer Denney Pate. It was left two days before the collapse.


“I was calling to share with you some information about the FIU pedestrian bridge and some cracking that’s been observed…from a safety perspective we don’t see that there’s any issue there… obviously the cracking is not good,” said Pate.

An FDOT consultant attended a meeting with the project engineers the day of the collapse and participated in a discussion about the cracks, but FDOT says the engineers said there were no safety concerns and never asked for assistance from the department.

FDOT says the ultimate responsibility for the safety of the project falls on the engineering company. Because the company didn’t question the bridge’s safety FDOT says it had no reason to believe there was a problem.

Governor Rick Scott echoed FDOT’s defense.


“The individual said that there were no safety issues,” said Scott Monday.

FIGG maintains their assessment indicated the cracks didn’t compromise the bridge’s safety.

It’s yet to be determined if the cracking was the cause of the collapse.

FIGG says it’s continuing to work with authorities to determine exactly what went wrong.

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Company that Designed Bridge that Collapsed at FIU Also Designed Bridge in State’s Capital

March 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The company that designed the pedestrian bridge which collapsed yesterday killing six is facing scrutiny from state lawmakers and questions are being raised about the safety of other bridges designed by the Tallahassee-based company



FIGG Bridge Engineers is located in an unassuming building in the state’s capital.  It’s been there since 1982 and has a 40 year track record.

In a statement the company called the collapse at FIU, “unprecedented,” saying the other structures had proven to be incredibly durable and that no other bridge designed by the company had ever collapsed.

Their work includes the skyway bridge in Tampa and also the Capital Cascades Crossing pedestrian bridge within eye sight of the state Capitol.

The pedestrian bridge in the state capital has stood for nearly two years, but after the tragedy in Miami, city officials aren’t taking any chances.

The city of Tallahassee is calling for the bridge’s bi-annual safety checks to be expedited.

A more comprehensive assessment of the bridge is also pending.

Senate President Joe Negron says he expects there will be a Legislative response to the tragedy once more information comes to light.

“I know it’s been a very tragic situation for everybody involved and I think we should monitor it and I think even before next session you’ll see Legislators evaluating what occurred and coming up with a good response,” said Negron.

Miami Senator Annette Taddeo, who represents the area where the bride collapsed, released a statement vowing to, “Get to the bottom of this disaster and hold those who are responsible accountable.”

FIGG declined our request for an on camera interview.

In a statement the company expressed sympathy for the lives lost and said it would cooperate with authorities to find out what happened and why it happened.

According to the company, FIGG Bridge Engineers have designed 19 bridges spanning nearly 35 miles in the South Eastern Atlantic region of the U.S. and more than 230 nationwide.

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Seminole Tribe Not Worried After Failure of the Legislature’s Gaming Package

March 15th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Gambling is one of the most difficult topics for the State Legislature to agree on.
“The pun is there’s a lot of chiefs in this one. Right? Everybody has something they want. So when you get more players in the room it’s a lot harder to come to a deal,” said State Senator Travis Hutson.
The biggest player in the room is the Seminole Tribe of Florida, which pays the state $300 million a year for exclusive rights to many types of gambling in the state.
Barry Richard represents the tribe. He says the tribe had hoped the Legislature would crack down on attempts to infringe on the tribes exclusivity in any gaming deal.
“Beyond that, I think it’s just a matter of whether or not the Legislature proposes a deal that makes sense to the tribe,” said Richard.
Despite early optimism for the passage of gaming reform in the state,  lawmakers ultimately folded on the last day their annual session, as they have for the past decade… and this year may have been lawmakers last chance to have a say on many gaming issues.
If a proposed constitutional amendment gets more than 60% of the vote in November, voters will have to approve any future change to the state’s gambling laws.
The tribe is secure in their deal with the state until at least 2030.
As an added bonus, any future deal would be exempt from voter approval under the amendment.
“They would be able to make the same deal with the tribe that the could have made before, except they can’t expand gaming outside of the tribal lands,” said Richard.
But the legal status of fantasy sports and pre-reveal games, along with greyhound racing and the expansion of slot machines could soon be left for voters to decide.
Since 1978 Florida voters have voted down 3 attempts at introducing casinos to the state, although voters did approve slots in Miami-Date County in 2004.

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Health Groups Say Proposed Constitutional Amendment Would Increase Smoking Rates

March 14th, 2018 by Jake Stofan


A proposed constitutional amendment making its way through the Constitution Revision Commission is looking to put more money into cancer research, but health groups oppose it, because the money would come out of the state’s tobacco prevention program.

Former Florida Attorney General Bob Butterworth was one of the main players in the state’s lawsuit against big tobacco in the 1990s.

Since the state won, high school smoking rates have dropped more than 85%. Middle school rates have dropped almost 95%.


“It’s gone down because of the prevention dollars,” said Butterworth.

70 million each year in big tobacco settlement dollars go to Tobacco Free Florida.

Now, a proposed constitutional amendment is seeking to move some of the funding to cancer research.


“And a lot of people would see this on the ballot, ‘Wow more money for cancer, I’m in favor of that,’ but what they’re forgetting is the people involved with cancer at all levels are opposed to this amendment,” said Butterworth.

Medical groups like The American Cancer Society argue less money for anti-smoking campaigns will translate to more smokers.


“Preventing the disease all together is far superior… And if you don’t keep use rates down, cancer rates are going to go up,” said Ray Carson with the American Cancer Society.

Butterworth says he believes the tobacco companies are behind the amendment.


“Everything they’re doing is behind closed doors, probably one-on-one and they will be the big victor,” said Butterworth.

He says the ultimate loser will be the tax payers.

If the amendment were to pass, The State Department of Health estimates the state could see between a 1.9 and 21.4 billion dollar increase in healthcare costs.

If passed, lawmakers will have the final say of how much goes to prevention.

In the past when given the opportunity lawmakers chose to cut the program to the barebones, resulting in increased in teen smoking.

The CRC has until May 10th to approve the amendment for it to appear on the November ballot.


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Florida Veterans Foundation Says it Will Close After State Cuts Funding

March 13th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Florida likes to call itself the most veteran friendly state in the country, but after state lawmakers  defunded a program, which serves 1.5 million veterans in the state, it’s becoming less friendly.


The Florida Veteran’s Foundation has less than 5 employees and uses 90% of it’s  money towards helping veterans in the state.

Retired US Navy Commander Dennis Baker runs the Florida Veterans Foundation.

He says the foundation’s main goal is to connect veterans with other agencies, to make sure they’re getting all the benefits for which they qualify.


“We serve all veterans. We serve pre-9-11, post-9-11, any age, any service. We take care of them all,” said Baker.

The program was able to help veterans access $8 million in Federal funds in one county alone. Baker estimates the foundation has the potential to bring in $500 million statewide.


“We’re a connector a collaborator with other agencies… to provide services globally to the state,” said Baker. “We serve 1.5 million veterans.”

Funding the foundation was a top priority for the Veteran’s Caucus.


“We’re going to fight to raise awareness on these important issues, because even the best initiatives can have a challenge,” said Rep. Danny Burgess, Vice Chair of the Veterans Caucus.

Initially, the foundation asked for $350,000, and eventually cut their request in half. Ultimately, they got nothing.


“It’s glorious, it’s wonderful to do these things. It’s heartbreaking to not… you know… get what I think we deserve to continue on,” said Baker.

Without funding, the foundation says it will have to shut down by the end of June, unless it finds another revenue source to keep it afloat until next session.

If you’d like to make a donation to the Foundation, go to FloridaVeteransFoundation.org and click donate.

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Guns Sales Up, Governor Scott’s Standing With the NRA Down In the Wake of New Gun Laws

March 12th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Since the first of March gun sales in Florida are up almost  20 percent over last year, according to the Department of Law Enforcement.

The jump occurred as state lawmakers voted to raise the age of buying any gun to 21

Just a little more than an hour after Governor Rick Scott signed the bill into law, raising the age to purchase a gun in the state to 21, the NRA filed suit, arguing it violates the 2nd and 14th amendment rights of 18 to 20-year olds.


“You can’t use age discrimination to violate First Amendment rights, Second Amendment rights, any right,” said Marion Hammer with the NRA.

The law allows for some exceptions, including military members, law enforcement officers and correctional officers.

It also doesn’t ban possession of a firearm, only the purchase.

Scott says he plans to defend the law.


“I believe we have to recognize that we want to protect everybody’s rights, but we also want to protect our kids and our grandkids at school,” said Scott.

But Hammer says Scott’s standing with the NRA and gun owners has dropped dramatically.


“He put his hand on a bible and swore to support, protect and defend the constitution and then he signed legislation that violates constitutional rights. He obviously has a hard time keeping his word,” said Hammer.

Scott an NRA member himself, has previously held an A+ rating from the organization.


“I’m going to remain an NRA member. I’m going to fight for the Second Amendment, but I’m going to fight to make sure that our kids are safe in this state,” said Scott.

Florida is now among just three states to ban the sale of all firearms to those under 21-years-old.

The law took effect with Scotts signature.

The NRA filed a similar suit when the Federal Government raised the age to purchase hand guns to 21.

In that case, a federal court determined it was okay to restrict access to a targeted group for the sake of public safety.



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Governor Signs Education Bills into Law, Could Threaten Teacher’s Unions

March 11th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

With Governor Rick Scott’s signature the year’s controversial K-12 education bill became law.

The legislation allows, for the first time, sales tax payments to fund private school scholarships for bullied students. It also increases per student funding by more than $100.


“This is an election year promise to the students of this state that we will provide every single one of you to the best of our abilities a world class education,” said House Speaker Richard Corcoran. “The one that you deserve that gives you hope and gives you dignity and gives you an opportunity to go out there and change the world.”

The bill also puts new membership requirements on teachers unions.

If a union’s membership drops below 50% of the total teachers, the union will have to apply for re-certification.

Decertification is the brainchild of Representative Scott Plakon, who says it’s about making sure unions are have the support of those they represent.


“There are some labor unions throughout the state, I’ve heard of one that has as little as 3% of the bargaining unit,” said Rep. Plakon. “So you have a small number of people making decisions for a large number of people and that just seems undemocratic to me.”

But teacher’s unions, who say its an attempt to bust unions, argue even teachers who don’t  pays dues, still benefit from the union’s advocacy.


“People belong to the union for whatever reason, or not to the union for whatever reason, but it is a benefit. It creates labor peace in our schools,” said Florida Education Association President, Joanne McCall.

Under the law teachers unions will be required to report their membership numbers each year.

Governor Scott also signed the Higher Education bill Sunday morning. It makes permanent increased Bright Futures awards. It also allows students to use the scholarship for summer classes.

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Lawmakers Close Out 2018 Session

March 11th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Lawmakers have officially ended their annual business in the State Capitol, bringing the 2018 session to a close late this afternoon.

The Senate President, Speaker of the House and Governor touted the accomplishments of the Legislature, including expansions to Bright Futures, increased spending on education and passing the school safety Legislation drafted in the wake of the Parkland shooting.

This is Governor Rick Scott’s last session before he leaves office.


“We had an incredible session, but probably the most important thing we did this year is we listened to the families of Parkland. In a very short period of time we came together and passed historic legislation to make our schools safer. To make sure that we had more mental health counselors. To make sure that those struggling with mental illness, or those threatening others or themselves to do harm no longer have access to a gun.,” said Scott.

The budget for this year came out to $88.7 billion. $400 million of which is dedicated to improving school safety.

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Safe Schools a “Model for the Nation”

March 9th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott has signed legislation to Harden Florida Schools just 23 days after 17 were killed by an active shooter in a South Florida high school. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, Scott and the families say this legislation is a beginning.

Governor Rick Scott said he never considered vetoing the legislation, although he had voiced concerns about arming teachers.

“I called on the legislature to give me a bill that would make our schools far safer, with a much greater law enforcement presence, and hardening our school buildings. This bill does that. I called on the legislature to give me a bill with more finding for mental health services. This bill does that” Scott said with families at his side,

Afterwards, family members Tony Montalto, who lost his fourteen year old daughter Gina, and Andrew Pollack, who lost 18year old daughter Meadow read statements, but did not take questions

“We have paid a terrible price for this progress. We call on more states to follow Florida’s lead, and pass meaningful legislation to make all schools safer. This time must be different” said Montalto.

“How could we be happy?” Asked Pollack.  He buried his sister and I buried my daughter. To me this is a start for us.”

The bill imposes a three day wait on all gun purchases, not just handguns. It also  raises the age for buying a rifle to 21. The NRA opposed the new restrictions. State Rep. Jared Moskowitz, who attended marjorie Stoneman Douglas High, says this legislation reverses a gun friendly trend.

“I think we are on the retreat now, of what has been a march of allowing more guns and more guns and more access in the state of Florida. That has not only stopped, it is in retreat.”

The bill also provides more than 100 million to make mental heath services available at every school.

Shortly after the bill was signed, the NRA filed suit, arguing the law discriminates against adults by prohibiting 18, 19, and 20 year olds from buying firearms.

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