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Red Tide Appears in the Panhandle

September 17th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Beach goers in Panama City Beach were greeted by a grizzly sight this weekend.
Thousands of dead fish spanning the coastline… The killer? Red tide.
While red tides this far north are less common than in the south, FSU Oceanographer Dr. Jeff Chanton says it’s nothing new.
“The red tide organism was first observed here in the 1500’s by the Spanish explorers,” said Chanton.
The blooms are caused by high nutrient levels in the water.
While they can occur naturally, scientists believe the length and severity of the outbreaks have increased due to human use of fertilizers.
Southwest Florida has been experiencing red tide since last October.
“The fish of the Gulf of Mexico suffer terribly because of this. Sea birds suffer because of this. It’s a very disturbing thing,” said Chanton.
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said it’s investigating whether the red tide in south Florida spread north, or if the outbreak in the panhandle is a separate, unrelated incident.
Jonathan Webber with Florida Conservation Voters says whether or not the outbreaks are connected, the worsening situation calls for action from the state.
“In Florida, our economy is our environment. You know it’s directly related and things go bad on the coast or where ever it may be, I mean that gets around and it affects how much money our state is able to make,” said Webber.
Researchers at University of South Florida predict the red tide outbreak to move east along the panhandle.
The FWC will be releasing an updated red tide report Wednesday.
You can get the latest updates on red tide and blue green algae conditions throughout the state by going to www.myfwc.com.
To report fish kills to the FWC call, 1-800-636-0511.

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New Report Suggests Charter Schools Come at a Heavy Cost to Taxpayers

September 17th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
One in ten students in Florida now attends a charter school.
State records show that 373 charter schools have closed since 1998.
A year long study by Integrity Florida raises questions about how corporations profit from charter schools.
The report says lax regulation and oversight is common.
It also found corporate headquarters over-billing for rent and supplies.
“At it’s worst, these hidden costs represent a corporate, for profit, taxpayer scam that looks more like corporate welfare than public education,” said Ben Wilcox with Integrity Florida.
Proposed reforms include requiring for-profit schools to report their expenses and profits, the posting of annual grades, audits and reports on the web, and giving local school districts greater contractual oversight, which is now virtually non-existent.

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Governor Hit With Public Records Suit

September 14th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
Governor Rick Scott is appealing a judges order that he turn over three months of his detailed schedule, and now he’s been hit with another lawsuit alleging he has been slow to turn over public records.
The Aids Healthcare Foundation is appealing the award of a multimillion dollar contract for aids care to someone else.
It’s also suing the Governor for records, including emails between the office and a list of health care lobbyists of rival vendors.
“Virtually every other governmental entity  provides if not all, at least some of the records within that five day period. I think its telling that we didn’t even get one document from the Governor’s office,” said Attorney Ryan Andrews representing the foundation.
Most days, Rick Scott’s schedule is blank, but often there is much more to the governors movement.
Andrews got a judge to order the Governor to release the details of his schedule for a three month period.
The Governor is appealing.
Suing the governor over public records is nothing new for this law firm.
In 2015, Ryan’s father Steve sued the governor over different public records.
He discovered Rick Scott was doing state business through two private email accounts, and won a $700,000 judgement.
This is what the Sr. Andrews told us.
“One of the most important rights the citizens of Florida have protected by the Florida Constitution is the right to public records. In any form. Private emails. Cell phones,” said Andrews.
In response to the latest suits, Scotts office called the latest lawsuit, “Nothing more than a publicity stunt and a desperate attempt on behalf of a vendor who is upset that the state will be contracting with another service provider.”
Andrews is also asking for legal fees in this case.
The outcome of the Aids Healthcare Foundation bid challenge could rest on the public records requested, and because of that, their delivery is required to be expedited.

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Lawmakers Ignore Governor’s Request to Reallocate School Safety Funds

September 14th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A special commission of state lawmakers is ignoring the Governor’s calls to redirect unused funds for arming school staff to other school safety needs.
When Governor Rick Scott signed the school safety legislation passed in the wake of the Parkland shooting it included $67 million for training and arming school staff excluding teachers, but he did so with an expectation.
“I want to work with them [the Legislature] to move those dollars over for more law enforcement,” said Scott.
Scott made his initial request for the Legislature to free up $58 million in unused guardian program funds for other school safety needs in late August.
Last Friday Scott got his response in a letter from incoming Senate President Bill Galvano.
It was a hard no.
Galvano said the program needed time to grow.
The Governor had hoped the Joint Legislative Budget Commission would redirect the funds in their meeting Friday morning.
Democrats on the commission who had spoken in support of the Governor’s position joined by phone but sat silent.
The topic never even came up.
Afterwards the incoming Senate President defended his decision to keep the funds in place.
“We’re going to continue to keep monitoring it,” said Galvano. “We can revisit later and it may be that we come back at some point and say, okay here’s where we are with these funds. Now we have X left, let’s look at school hardening for example.”
The Florida School Boards Association told us in August that it supported redirecting the guardian program funds.
It says it’s now neutral on the issue saying there is no consensus among individual districts.
The State Board of Education decided this morning to ask for more funding for the Guardian Program in its 2019 budget request.

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Jimmy Ryce’s Legacy Helping to Train Rescue Bloodhounds 22 Years Later

September 13th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Each year the Florida Missing Children’s Day ceremony honors a bloodhound team for recovering a child, but a little known four day event following the ceremony pits bloodhounds and handlers from around the country against each other.
9-year-old Jimmy Ryce was abducted then murdered just about a mile away from his family’s home in 1995.
“Mrs. Ryce believed that if there had been a bloodhound on scene, that Jimmy’s life may have been saved,” said Steve Feaster, Lead Trainer of the Bloodhound Scent Tracking School at the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy.
A year later the family began the Jimmy Ryce Foundation.
It breeds, trains and donates bloodhounds to law enforcement across the country.
This year, 19 bloodhounds and their handlers participate in a training course held at the Pat Thomas Law Enforcement Academy outside of the state’s capital.
More than half of the K-9’s are Ryce dogs.
Deputy T.K. Graves started her career in Manatee county soon after the Ryce tragedy.
She and her Ryce dog ‘Nellie’ now track down missing persons in Michigan.
“It’s just been a wonderful opportunity to bring that up to Michigan and be part of a team and share what these bloodhounds can do and share the Jimmy Ryce tragedy and what good can come out of that,” said Graves.
While some of the handlers were directly inspired to begin their work with bloodhounds after the murder of Jimmy’ Ryce, others have reasons that hit even closer to home.
Teresa Cummings is the trailing coordinator for the North Carolina K-9 Emergency Response Team.
“When my son was 23 months old, he went missing in the wilderness for two days,” said Cummings.
Her son was thankfully found alive, but like the Ryce family, she felt a tracking dog would have brought her son home sooner.
“We had a happy ending, which we always try to,” said Cummings. “And that’s our goal, is to bring them back alive, but we at least want to bring them back one way or the other.”
The teams from North Carolina say they’ve already been activated to help with the response to Hurricane Florence.
The training program is in its 12th year.
Last year’s class was canceled due to hurricane Irma.

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Gillum Says Scott Won’t Appoint Three New Justices

September 13th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
Three of the State’s seven Supreme Court justices are being forced to retire on January 8th.
It’s the same day a new governor takes office.
When Governor Rick Scott named a new justice in December 2016, we asked who would appoint those three new judges.
“Well, I’ll appoint three more Justices the morning I finish my term,” said Scott.
Scott’s answer sparked a lawsuit by the League of Women Voters.
“We have an official press conference by the Governor where he is asserting his right,” said League of Women Voters Attorney, John Mills in November of 2017.
In the end, the justices decided since there was no vacancy and no one being appointed, there was nothing to decide.
Now the Governor is reigniting the controversy, calling for recommendations to fill the three seats.
Applicants have until October 8th to apply, but the idea isn’t sitting well with Democratic nominee Andrew Gillum.
“Our read of the Constitution is pretty clear,” said Gillum. “The next Governor of the State of Florida will make the next three appointments to the Supreme Court.”
Gillum says he will seek clarity from the high court the day after the election.
“It certainly could be a constitutional crisis,” said Human Rights Attorney Mark Schlakman.
Schlakman says the court punted on a decision last year, but the debate could soon be brought back into the courtroom.
“Arguably, by way of the Governor initiating a process, that might be enough in the way of Gubernatorial action to revisit the matter,” said Schlakman.
The Nominating Commission has 60 days to submit between three and six names for each vacancy.

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Gillum Supporters Tout the Mayor’s Record in Tallahassee

September 13th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
About two dozen Tallahassee activists came out to support Democratic Gubernatorial nominee Andrew Gillum.
They sought to draw a contrast to the current Governor and Gillum by holding the event outside the Governors mansion.
Former City Commissioner Dot Inman Jonson says Gillum won’t pander to special interests.
“It is time to end the two decades of gerrymandered GOP control of Florida by election a governor who put the interests of Florida’s nearly 22 million residents first,” said Johnson.
“He defends Florida sanctuary cities and will help promote a more diverse and welcoming Florida for our immigrant community,” said Lakey Love with the Campaign for Prison Reform.
Gillum has served on the Tallahassee city commission since 2003. While he holds the title of Mayor, it is mostly a ceremonial title.
Rick Scott has offered to let the Governor-Elect interview the nominees for the positions, but he hasn’t said they will have a say in who gets appointed.
The court must have five justices to decide cases.

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Constitutional Officials Want Public to Vote Yes on 10

September 12th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
8 counties in the state have either taken power away from some constitutional officers or made some positions appointed instead of elected.
“Our faces are out there. Our name is on the ballot. And that provides accountability” said Lake County Property Appraiser Carey Baker.
Amendment 10 would ensure voters choose their local sheriffs, tax collectors, property appraisers, elections supervisors, and clerks of court.
“This is a protection amendment for the people” said Sheriff Mark Hunter, President of the Florida Sheriff’s Association.
A coalition of constitutional officers gathered at the State Capitol Wednesday to voice their support.
“We can’t put all the power in the hands of a few. You gotta have that diversity so the tax payers know who’s responsible,” said Larry Hart, Lee County Tax Collector.
The amendment also makes the existence of a state Department of Veterans Affairs a requirement and creates a state Office of Domestic Security and Counter-Terrorism.
The bundling of the proposals was the subject of a lawsuit to have the amendment removed from the ballot.
The Supreme Court recently ruled in favor of keeping amendment 10 and two other amendments on the ballot.
The court also took amendment 8 off the ballot.
It would have removed local control of charter schools.
Martin County Clerk of the Court Carolyn Timmann sponsored amendment 10 in the Constitution Revision Commission.
“Amendment 10 is the only one that passed through the trial court and the unanimously through the Florida Supreme Court,” said Timmann. “I think that’s tremendously significant.”
Other challenges to amendments passed by the CRC are still working their way through the courts, including one filed by a former Supreme Court Chief Justice.
The suit filed by retired Florida chief justice Harry Lee Anstead challenges 6 amendments for bundling.
A recent ruling by a lower court agreed, ordering amendments 7, 9 and 11 off the ballot.
The Supreme Court will have the final say on the suit.

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Last Clemency Hearing Before Election More Generous than Normal

September 11th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The constitutionality of Florida’s clemency process is pending review from a federal appeals court after being ruled unconstitutional by a lower court.
The clemency board met for the last time Tuesday, ahead of a vote on a constitutional amendment that could dramatically change the state’s process.
Takesha Tyler was arrested for domestic violence in 1998.
Her case was one of 90 before the executive clemency board.
Three years after applying she was given her civil rights back.
“We did it. I have one more stage. I’m actually going to try for a pardon,” said Tyler.
Michael William waited eleven years before having his rights restored.
“It’s been a road that’s just been unbelievable to go down,” said William.
On this day, the board was particularly generous and granted clemency to most who showed up in person.
The board hasn’t been so supportive in recent years.
Many credit the criticism from a federal judge and  Late Night Talk Show Host’s  John Oliver’s scathing report on Florida’s process which aired Sunday night for the change of heart.
 Introducing his segment on civil rights disenfranchisement Oliver said, “The worst state of all concerning this and arguably everything else, is Florida.”
Oliver’s report took aim at the arbitrary nature of the state’s process.
It included multiple clips where Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis asked felons if they went to church as an example.
No questions of faith were asked in the meeting Tuesday.
President of the Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers Richard Greenberg represents clients in clemency meeting on a regular basis.
“John Oliver will probably take most of the credit. If you watched his show the other night, it was an expose on how the clemency process has been handled in the state of Florida the last few years. I think it’s a good step forward to be granting more of these applications,” said Greenberg.
Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam stood by the current process for certain felons.
“When you have someone who is a child molester, they ought to be in front of us and explain,” said Putnam.
But when asked if he supported Amendment 4, which would automatically restore the right for non violent felons to vote he said no.
Many who earned that right back Tuesday morning say Amendment 4 has their support.
60% of Florida voters will have to approve amendment four in order for it to pass.

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Missing Children Remembered at State Capitol

September 10th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
In 2017, the state issued 51 missing child alerts and 10 other more serious Amber Alerts.
The alerts brought 14 children home.
A ceremony at the state capitol Monday brought together parents and loved ones from children who never came home.
Zachery was 8 years old when last seen sleeping in his bed 18 years ago to the day his grandmother honored him with a single yellow rose.
“It’s terrible and each year it gets worse. And then tomorrow is the day he went missing,” said Zachery’s Grandmother, Carol Bernhardt.
Mark Degner and Brian Hayes walked away from a Jacksonville middle school in 2005.
They’ve never been seen again.
Mark’s Aunt Pamela Cantrell described the event as, “Emotional. Because you get to see all of the other families that are going through all the stuff we are. It’s kind of a hard situation to be in.”
Morgan Martin was a pregnant 17 year old.
She left one night to tell the father it was a girl.
She never returned.
The father was charged four years later.
“We haven’t located Morgan yet, so, you know, there is always hope,” said her mother Leah.
Her message to other parents, “You just keep an eye on them.”
Nationally, there are just 23 teams that are trained specifically to search and rescue children.
Florida has seven of them.
The ceremony also honored police, citizens, and K-9’s who made a difference keeping children safe and then there were these words from the winner of a fifth grade essay.
“I can’t tell you how many times I’ve talked to kids who don’t even know their parents phone number. Some say they have it logged into their phone, but if you don’t have your phone, you don’t really have anything to go on,” said Denim Rhames, a student at West Gadsden Middle School.
Good advice.
This years ceremony was the 20th annual Florida Missing Children’s Day.
It is set for the Monday closest to September 11th, the day Jimmy Ryce was kidnapped and murdered in 1995.

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Missing FSU Student Baker Acted After He Was Found By Police

September 10th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
19-year-old FSU student Justin Shields went missing last Wednesday.
His car was discovered on the outskirts of Tallahassee.
A massive reach ensued.
Between volunteers and law enforcement roughly 300 people took part in the search effort.
“It’s a great day when you can come together as law enforcement agencies, as emergency management, the drone team, the dogs, the K-9’s. It took everyone. It took a collective effort to bring this to a happy conclusion,” said Florida State University Police Chief David L. Perry.
After four days, Shields family finally got news Justin had been found alive.
“He had been out in the elements for quite some time and our first and utmost responsibility was, our focus was trying to get him some medical assistance,” said Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil.
The Leon County Sheriff’s Office says Shields was delirious, dehydrated and naked when they found him, but otherwise unharmed.
Police say Shields was baker acted following his discovery.
“Per HIPPA laws we can’t get into the, part of the Baker Act we can’t go into exactly what caused that,” said Leon County Sheriff’s Office Deputy Dave Teems.
As of Monday afternoon Shields was still in the hospital. Police have so far been unable to interview him to find out exactly why he was in the woods.
“We are waiting to speak with him until we can make sure that he’s in the best health possible that we can get a good interview from him,” said Teems.
The sheriff’s office says no other persons are connected to the disappearance and foul play is not suspected.
Police have indicated Shields will not likely be charged with any crimes.

Florida State University declined to comment on this story, citing privacy issues.

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FSU Remembers Burt Reynolds

September 7th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The passing of Burt Reynolds is being felt around the world, and the legendary actor’s Florida roots make his death especially hard for many in the state’s capital city.
The original home once owned by Burt Reynolds no longer stands on its former lot in the state’s capital, but the actor’s impact on the city is far from gone.
“He was a giver,” said FSU President John Thrasher.
Thrasher says Reynolds, who graduated from the University in 1958, never forgot his Alma mater.
“His early days here and the reputation that he established as an incredible movie star and all the other things he did really helped put FSU on the map,” said Thrasher.
Reynolds played two seasons on the FSU football team, both cut short by injuries.
After going into acting he continued supporting the team.
“When he built Reynolds hall for the athletes back I guess in the 80’s that was a big contribution back then. He bought uniforms at one time for the athletes,” said Thrasher.
His greatest focus though, was always FSU’s theater and film programs, where he often returned to teach students.
We spoke with Paul Cohen, Executive Director of the the FSU Film School Torchlight Program.
“He would come and do master classes. I mean literally stay for weeks at a time. He was enormously generous and giving and kind with his time,” said Cohen.
Reynolds also has a plaque in the Florida artists hall of fame in the state’s Capitol. He was inducted in 1993.
He was inducted in 1993.
FSU says ideas of how to commemorate Reynolds on campus are currently in the works.

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Gubernatorial Tickets Complete

September 6th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Florida’s two gubernatorial nominees selected their running mates Thursday, meeting a 5 pm deadline required by state law.
Ron DeSantis’s pick, Jeannette Nunez is now the first Cuban-American woman to run to be the state’s Lt. Governor.
As a state representative from Miami for the last eight years,  she rose to the number two leadership position in the House.
In her last year, she passsed legislation to keep the state on daylight saving time year round and she helped broker a deal ending child marriage in the State.
During the Presidential Campaign, Rep. Nunez supported Marco Rubio, tweeting in March 2016 “Wake up Florida voters, Trump is the biggest con-man there is.”
DeSantis’s primary win is largely credited to the President’s support.
Democrat Andrew Gillum chose to make his pick known first on social media.
He chose primary rival, Winter Park Developer Chris King.
“He beat me pretty badly. But I came to care for him, and I came to admire him,” King said in a Facebook live announcement.
Political scientist Carol Weissert says both nominees employed different strategies with their picks.
“Gillum really went for the policy side and DeSantis went for the politics side. Gender, ethnicity, geography. Those are the classic political decisions, rather than finding someone who looks like you ideologically,” said Weissert.
Most Governor’s promise that their Lt. Governor will have a meaningful role.
Few seldom do.
In recent history, only two Lt. Governors have ever moved to the top job.
One for three days, the other for three weeks after the death of Lawton Chiles.

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The Primary Election Went Smoothly…Concerns for General Remain

September 6th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The State Elections Canvasing Commission confirmed the results of the 2018 primary election Thursday morning.
Secretary of State Ken Detzner says last week’s election went off without a hitch.
“We had a very good election. We had no problems with cyber security,” said Detzner.
Detzner says despite a smooth Primary, election’s officials aren’t ruling out the potential for Russian election interference in November.
“Nobody is overconfident. We are working hard making sure all of our systems are working,” aid Detzner.
Complicating election planning are a number of ongoing lawsuits that could affect what voters see on their General Election ballots.
Most are challenging constitutional amendments, but what elections supervisors fear most is a Federal lawsuit demanding bilingual ballots in 32 counties.
“The whole concerns about Russians hacking our elections… There’s going to be enough chaos created by trying to have these counties have bilingual ballots right now,” said Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley.
Elections Supervisors say it would be impossible to print ballots in Spanish before the first mail ballots go out September 22nd.
In a hearing Wednesday, Judge Mark Walker seemed to agree providing bilingual ballots by November was unrealistic, but also suggested the state has been ignoring federal law for years by not providing Spanish language ballots to Puerto Ricans living in the state.
Detzner declined to comment on the case.
“It would be very inappropriate for the Secretary of State to comment on something that the judge is considering at this time,” said Detzner.
A ruling in the bilingual ballot case is expected by the end of the week.
The State Supreme Court has yet to make the final ruling on any of the challenges to the constitutional amendments.

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Federal Judge Considers Suit to Require Bilingual Ballots in 32 Counties

September 5th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Should ballots be bi-lingual?
That’s the question before a Federal judge in the state’s capital city.
The Federal suit against the state was brought after Hurricane Maria when a large population of Puerto Rican’s moved to the state.
It was filed by a coalition of civil rights groups.
They argue the state must provide Spanish voting materials and bi-lingual ballots in 32 counties under the Federal Voting Rights Act.
Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Early began providing a number of voting resources in Spanish after he was contacted by the coalition this past April.
“We had one person request assistance voting in Spanish. You know out of 206,000 voters. 76,000 that voted,” said Early.
And despite Early’s efforts the coalition wasn’t satisfied with the progress because Leon County doesn’t provide bilingual ballots.
Supervisors say it’s impossible to implement everything asked for in the suit in time for the election.
“We have to do the database work first and then we generate the ballots  and send them out,” said Early. “We have to be able to test them before we mail them out. So that September 22nd deadline just 17 days away is a hard fast deadline for every bit of this as far as bi-lingual ballots go.”

Judge Mark Walker seemed to agree the deadline couldn’t be met, but also suggested the state has ignored Federal law for years by not providing the materials to Puerto Ricans in the state.

Walker noted previous court rulings have interpreted the Voting Rights Act to guarantee Puerto Ricans Spanish ballots because they are taught Spanish in U.S. Schools.
“That’s the lesser of the debates right now,” said Early. “The primary debate I think right now is what is possible for supervisors to put in place for the current election cycle.”
A ruling is expected to come quickly.
Based on what the judge said from the bench, neither side is likely to be completely happy with the ruling.
Currently 14 counties provide bilingual ballots.
13 of those are required to do so by Federal law because of their high Spanish speaking populations.

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