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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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Legislation to Ban Child Marriage Head s to the Governor’s Desk

March 9th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Legislation to put an end to child marriage in the state is headed to the Governor’s desk after being approved by the House Friday morning.

Forced to Marry at 11 to her rapist, Sherry Johnson has worked tirelessly  to put an end to child marriage… She watched from the House gallery as the chamber voted.

With only one no vote, Legislation to close Florida’s loopholes, which have allowed children of any age to marry got final approval from the State Legislature.

In front of the chamber doors Johnson was embraced by the bill’s sponsors.

“Thank you… Thank you,” she said to Representative Jeanette Nunez.

It’s the moment Johnson has been fighting for for six years.


“My goal was to protect our children and I feel that my mission has been accomplished. This is not about me. I survived,” said Johnson.

The Legislation prohibits marriage licenses to be issued to anyone under the age of 18.

The only exception in the legislation is that a 17-year-old can marry someone as old as 19, but only with parental consent.

Despite hoping for a strict age limit of 18, Johnson says she’s pleased with the final product.


“I’m happy… My heart is happy,” said Johnson.

Children married at a young age, particularly women have higher chances of falling victim to domestic violence and are more likely to live in poverty.

Johnson had this message for young women…

“Don’t allow anyone to actually force them into something that they are not comfortable or feel that they should not do,” said Johnson.

Johnson says she plans to continue her fight in other states, in hopes of putting a stop to child marriage nationwide.

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State Budget Follows Through on Threat to Hold DOH Officials’ Pay

March 9th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Lawmakers have decided to withhold $1.9 million in salaries and benefits for top brass at the State Department of Health in the state budget until the department fully implements the sate’s medical marijuana law passed last year.

The Office of Medical Marijuana Use has yet to issue five new grow licenses, which were supposed to be finalized last October. The DOH blames pending lawsuits for the delay, but lawmakers aren’t satisfied with the excuse.

Some advocates like Jodi James with the Florida Cannabis Action Network say lawmakers set the Department up for failure.


“If the issue were as simple as someone not doing their job that might be an appropriate thing to do, but really the Legislature did not give them a job that could be done and deadlines that were reasonable,” said James. “We’ve been saying that what they really did is they created this herculean task, they wrapped it up in a Gordian knot.”

The Department of Health didn’t respond to our request for comment on this story.

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House and Senate Trading Offers on Gambling Deal

March 9th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

With only days left before the 2018 session officially comes to a close State lawmakers are working on a last ditch effort to pass gambling reform in the state.

The two sides still disagree on numerous other issues including decoupling dog tracks and allowing fantasy sports.

But, the House has offered to allow up to 500 slot machines in 3 of 8 counties that have voted for them. The Senate made a counter offer to allow 750 machines in 6 counties.


“This is more of a compromise. We were at 8, we’ve now come down to six and we added a lot more new stuff in there that’s more Senate position because we feel like these slot referendums that we’re talking with the House [about] is going very well and the other stuff we want to put on the table and try and get those locked out,” said Senator Travis Hutson.

Despite negotiations failing for the past decade, there’s a new urgency this year with a looming constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would prevent the Legislature from changing gaming laws in the state without voter approval.

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Victims Families Meeting with Governor. Bill Signing Likely

March 8th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

School safety legislation approved by state lawmakers last evening has arrived on the Governor’s Desk today. And as Mike Vasilinda tells us, Scott will meet with the victims families tomorrow before deciding whether to sign it.

Governor Rick Scott backed up behind this doorway when he saw our camera, as we captured an impromptu meeting with Andrew Pollack. Attorney Genera Pam Bondi was also there, Pollack is the father of 18 year old Meadow, who died in the Valentines day tragedy.

“Since my daughter was murdered, I’m just on a crusade and I got the power of a lion going through me and I’m not going to stop” the father told us.

Scott’s office says he will meet with more families Friday before deciding if he will sign legislation. All 17 issued a statement this week supporting it. We asked Andrew Pollack if he had advice for the Governor.


“He’s a smart enough guy. He doesn’t ned me to tell him what to do next.”

The Governor has 15 days to act on the legislation, but lawmakers believe he will act much sooner.

Scott has so far side stepped questions about what he will do.

“I’ve been clear. I don’t believe we should be arming teachers. I believe we should increasing our law enforcement presence at all of our schools” says Scott.

AttorneyGeneral Pam Bondi had this to say.


“Am I thrilled with the exact language of the legislation, No. No one is. Do you know what that’s called? Compromise.” A clear indication what she is advising.

So the bill passes. Read the next bill.”

The grieving father is exhausted and doesn’t have  kind words for those who tried to kill the legislation.

“Some of them are real people, but you got a lot of empty suits.”

Andrew says he will remain in Tallahassee for a few days, another indication a bill signing could come soon.

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Remember Meadow.com

March 8th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Father Andrew Pollack, whose daughter died in the high school shooting has lead the crusade for stronger schools. Today he say he is working to build a park to honor his daughter.

“We’re going to raise money and build  a spectacular and magnificent playground in all of Broward County, where all the kids can come and I’m just going to go and sit on a bench at the park and watch the kids. So if people want to follow that and me and my crusade to make schools safe, they should go to rememberMeadow.com. rememberMeadow.com.”

The grieving father now says he will take his campaign to all 50 states.


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