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Addiction Advocates Urging House to Include Funding for Vivitrol in State Budget

February 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The Legislature’s main opioid response bill is on its way to both the House and Senate floor.

The bill limits opioid prescriptions to a three to seven day supply.

Restricting supply is supposed to prevent patients from becoming addicts.

Medical professionals like the idea, but want exceptions.

 

“Exceptions for cancer treatment, hospice care, surgery and trauma cases should be adopted,” said Jeff Scott with the Florida Medical Association.

Lawmakers are also increasing opioid crisis funding to $50 million, but the House budget cuts funding for a program aimed at helping addicts get clean.

It’s for a drug called Vivitrol, which blocks addicts’ cravings.

 

“Which then allows that individual to take a serious use at their drug use,” said Mark Fontaine with the Florida Behavioral Health Association.

The House budget slashes funding for the drug by $7 million.

Most of those funds come out of correctional programs that use the drug to help addicted inmates stay clean when they’re released.

Currently, 609 patients around the state receive Vivitrol through state funded programs.

 

“You’re talking about people that are on this medication that are benefiting from it that we’re going to have to say we can no longer provide this to you and it’s going to have a disastrous impact on their ability to stay clean,” said Vivitrol Nurse, Patrick Lane.

The medication is expensive, costing nearly $1,000 per dose, but a single dose can reduce cravings for a month.

Advocates say it’s worth the cost, considering 16 Floridians die from opioids each day.

 

“Ultimately it will get worse, and there’s no magic bullet and we’re not saying Vivitrol is that, but it’s an important piece of the puzzle when trying to get clean and stay clean,” said Lane.

While opioids may be harder to get under the legislation, without the funding for Vivitrol, getting clean may also be harder for those already addicted.

 

 

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Legislation to Ban Dismemberment Abortions Ready For the House Floor

February 15th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

In 2016 nearly 70,000 abortions were performed in the state. roughly, 4% were dismemberment abortions that would be made illegal.

The Legislation would make it a third degree felony for a doctor to perform the procedure.

In a committee hearing, Retired OBGYN Kathi Aultman described the procedure to members in graphic detail. She says performing the procedure changed her mind on abortion.

 

“Eventually I guess your conscience comes through,” said Aultman.

Barbara DeVane with the National Organization for Women was the one opponent who testified. She said lawmakers had treated pro-choice advocates poorly in prior hearings. In one case a legislator went as far to call doctors who provide abortions monsters.

 

“This shaming of women is a perfect example of why I’ll be the only one testifying,” said DeVane.

Afterwards opponents held a press conference outside the House Office building.

Jasmen Rogers with the Miami Worker’s Center says the bill would limit a woman’s right to choose, particularly for minority women.

 

“We don’t have as much, not only income, but knowledge, clinic access, healthcare access to be able to get birth control or other forms of contraception. So abortion is often times the only form of contraception we can use,” said Rogers.

Sponsor Erin Grall, says the procedure, if performed humanely,  would still be allowed.

 

“There are many providers that are already giving the injection to cause fetal demise before …the dismemberment is performed and it merely requires that additional step,”  said Grall.

Eight states have banned the procedure, but In six of those states legal challenges have prevented the bans from taking effect.

“If a woman needs it and has made that painful decision to do so, it is her right to do so,” said Representative Amy Mercado.

The bill hasn’t been heard by the Senate, but the Legislation could be used as a bargaining tool as the legislative session moves forward.

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Lawmakers Push For More Healthcare Options for Vets

February 15th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

State Senator Rene Garcia and a group of veterans and vert’s advocates are asking the Legislature to move legislation that seeks to increase healthcare access to Florida’s veterans.

The bill would create the Veterans Care Program within the Agency for Health Care Administration, which would work to get Federal dollars to help find alternative healthcare options for Veterans in the state.

Senator Gracia says it’s need because for some veterans, VA services aren’t easily accessible.

 

“We don’t want to take anything away from the VA. We want to make sure that we enhance and give and work in conjunction with our federal partners to ensure that especially those that live in real areas have access to quality care and most importantly choice,” said Garcia.

While the bill is steadily moving through the Senate, it’s stalled in the House. Advocates hope the language can be tagged on to another bill to help push it through the finish line.

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University of Florida Takes Over the State Capitol

February 15th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The University of Florida was represented at the State Capitol today for UF Gator Day. The individual colleges and programs within the University set up displays showing off their work and achievements.

Glenn Good, Dean of the School of Human Development and Organization says this year UF has a lot to brag about.

 

“Well were hoping for continued support. This last year, UF broke in to the top ten among public universities and we’re not resting on that, we’re looking to get into the top five and we’ll need their help in making that happen,” said Good.

Last year UF enrolled more than 52,000 students, accepting just shy of 40% of student who applied.

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Mom’s Demand Action on Background Checks

February 15th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Two dozen red shirted women delivered petitions to the Senate President, asking for legislation that would require someone who fails a background check for a gun purchase get reported to police. The bills have been pending since the beginning of session but have not moved in committee. Kate Kile says someone trying to buy a gun who shouldn’t have it is a danger sign worthy o investigation.

 

“If someone has a felony, if they are a domestic abuser, if they have a restraining order, thats valuable information to know that that person is trying procure a firearm, so, we fell that’s the kind of action we are looking for” says the groups Tallahassee team leader and spokesperson.

Fewer than two percent of the more than one million checks conducted on gun purchasers each year come back with a negative answer.

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Opioid Medical Amenesty

February 15th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

41 states and the District of Columbia give amnesty to participants reporting alcohol or drug overdose. Florida is about to join them. The measure cleared the Senate Rules Committee today after Sponsor Jeff Brandes told members it will result in more overdoses being reported before they become fatal.

“The primary reason call for help is not made is fear of arrest or police involvement. Research has shown that students who are aware a medical amnesty policy is in effect are two and a half times more likely to call for help while witnessing signs of alcohol poisoning than students who are students are expecting disciplinary actions” Brandes told the Senate Rules Committee.

The legislation’s next stop is the full Senate.

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Tourism Taxes May Go Elsewhere

February 14th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Hundreds of millions of dollars is collected on hotel room stays every year to fund tourism advertising in Florida, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, some lawmakers want to begin sing the bed tax money to fix some smelly problems.

Hotels in Florida collect between three and six percent extra each night on top of their quoted rate.

“We’re here in Chicago where it’s cold”  chimes a Visit Florida commercial playing up north.

The so called bed tax is used to fund tourism advertising and promotion.

“I’d rather be in Florida” says one of the people on camera.

 

Advertising aside, State Senator Jeff Brandes thinks the bed tax cash should pay for things like broken sewer pipes that might keep tourists from coming.

 

“And if they say we should spend our money on advertising, go spend the money on advertising, but if it’s to spend out money on sewer pipes to upgrade our produce, let’s spend our resources there” says Brandes.

The states hotel’s are in an uproar. Carol Dover is the CEO of the FL Restaurant and Lodging Assn.

“Soon to be one hundred twenty million visitors. That is directly correlated to the amount of money we are spending on advertising.”

“So losing it means less tourists?”

“Absolutely. Less tourists. Less jobs” Dover told us.

The legislation cleared the full House on Wednesday. Randy Fine is the House Sponsor.

 

“If you need to build a road to get to the convention center, or put in sewage, or put in electric lines to get to the convention center, you certainly can do that” Fine says of the idea.

The state’s hotel industry is worried about what they are calling mission creep.

There has already been some mission creep…beach front counties can use the money for lifeguards and emergency services. Orlando’s Mike Miller has voted no three times on the legislation in committee.

“It was not what the bill was originally designed to do, and that is advertising our state to other places” says Miller.

If approved, diverting the cash to infrastructure would require an an independent analysis conducted by a qualified expert on it’s impact on tourism.

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House Tax Bill Faces Uncertain Road in the Senate

February 14th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The House’s tax plan passed the House Ways & Means Committee Wednesday.

This year’s plan includes some big savings for Floridians.

Most notably, a ten day back to school tax free holiday along with three separate three-day hurricane preparedness tax free holidays.

 

“A Typical back to school tax holiday of three days, consumers save about 30 to 40 million dollars, so if we have a ten day holiday this year that would be significant,” said James Miller of the Florida Retail Federation.

The plan also includes property tax cuts for people who can’t live in their homes after hurricane Irma, help for agriculture,  and nursing homes purchasing generators.

The plan also reduces the business rent tax.

They’re ideas both parties agree with.

 

“And I sure wish I could be voting in favor of that today,” said Democratic Representative Joe Geller during the meeting.

The disagreement is over the inclusion of expansions for private school vouchers.

The legislation allows the names and addresses of the 200 Florida companies that pay the highest corporate income taxes to be made available to groups that run private school voucher programs.

It also allows some sales tax dollars to go towards funding the private school vouchers.

Democrats call it a “Titanic” approach to education, where vouchers act as lifeboats.

 

“But at the expense of all of our students who rely on public education dollars and there will never be enough life boats, like there weren’t on the Titanic,” said Rep. Geller.

Republicans say it simply helps those who need other options.

 

“There are kids in the lifeboat, but there are kids that are drowning. This bill takes a giant leap forward to give every child what they deserve and that is a lifeboat to a better future,” said Representative Paul Renner.

The inclusion of the voucher expansions could become a road block in negotiations with the Senate.

 

“If the Senate does not support this, I think we could get into massive gridlock,” said Representative Joseph Abruzzo.

That could jeopardize the passage of any tax plan this year not something lawmakers want to do in an election year.

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Democrat Wins GOP Leaning FL House Seat

February 14th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Democrat Margaret Good won a surprise victory in a GOP leaning Florida House Seat in Sarasota yesterday. The took the oath of office this afternoon in the state capitol. Good won by more than 7 percent in the highest turnout special election in almost two decades. Democrat Strategist Steve Schale says it was Democratic and GOP women who made the difference.

“So last night you saw Democratic women really turn out in record numbers. They drive turnout. Their percentage was higher than any other sub group. You saw old line midwestern Republicans vote for a Democrat. Sarasota is very much like the midwest, like Chicago, Milwaukee. These are not Alabama republicans. They are old school establishment types. Social moderates and fiscal conservatives, and I think last night they sent Trump a message” says Schale.

Good’s election was the second consecutive win for a Democrat in a Florida Special election since Donald Trump became President.

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Help for the Flu

February 14th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Here’s something you doctor may not like, but you might. Legislation at the State Capitol would allow pharmacists to conduct simple tests to see if you have the flu and then administer medicine to ease symptoms. Dr. Cary Pigman, a co-sponsor, says it could speed up recovery because you won’t have to wait to see your doctor or spend hours in the emergency room.

“What this  bill tries to achieve is to take the walking wounded, the people who are otherwise healthy but are ill and would like to get seen straight away. We would allow them to go to a pharmacy and get tested and if positive, be treated. Both for Strep, which would be antibiotics and if flu, with a anti viral agent” says Pigman.

Not surprisingly, the Florida Medical Association is opposing the legislation.

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Gillum and Corcoran Face Off Over Sanctuary Cities

February 13th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Democratic Gubernatorial candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum faced off against Republican Speaker of the House in debate over the Speaker’s bill to ban sanctuary cities in the state.

While Gillum argued the policy could lead to racial profiling and needlessly created immigration agents out of local law enforcement and even teachers, Corcoran argued the bill simply requires local governments to adhere to Federal immigration law.

The bill requires local law enforcement to hold undocumented immigrants for up to 48 hours at the request of Federal immigration authorities. Gillum says it violates the 4th amendment.

Gillum also took issue with a television advertisement put out by the Speaker depicting a hooded individual gunning down a woman. Gillum demanded an apology for the ad, saying it promotes the stereotyping of immigrants as criminals and that the hooded image was intended to invoke memories of the Trayvon Martin case.

Corcoran attacked Gillum asking him if he would support an all-out sanctuary policy in the state.

Neither got the response they had hoped for from the other.

 

“He won’t take a stance on making the entire state a sanctuary state and he won’t take a stance on making the entire state not a sanctuary state and that’s what this whole debate was about. I’ll take that stance, I’ll to everybody at anytime. Florida in not one city in not one square mile of Florida should be a sanctuary city,” said Corcoran.

 

“I think it’s unfortunate. I didn’tt say this there, but the Speaker clearly is intent on appealing to a very very small slice of the Republican primary voter, for a race that he has yet to determine that he wants to enter,” said Gillum.

The sanctuary ban has cleared the House, as it has in years past. It’s currently stalled in the Senate.

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First Responders Could Get Help with PTSD

February 13th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

First responders in Florida may soon have new mental health benefits to help them with the trauma they see everyday, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, it could be local taxpayers who end up footing the bill.

First responders see the grizzliest of things, the kinds of things we can show you on TV.

 

Leslie Dangerfield is the widow of a first responder who took his own life. She says he say too much:

“Recovering a toddlers body from the river. Holding a child clutching a teddy bear as she took her last breath, and carrying decapitated teens body across the sand who was a victim of a shark attack” said Dangerfield.

 

First responder Stevie LaDue took his life last September. He had sought help for the mental strain of the job, got it, then had it taken away.  Ed Benoway  is his father in law.

“He didn’t want to die, but he wanted the pain to go away.”

Now state lawmakers are closing in on legislation requiring cities to educate firefighters on PTSD and cover their treatment, including paying them while injured, just as they would for a broken leg. Rep. Sean Shaw (D-Tampa) says of the legislation:

“This is one of the most important bills this legislature will address this session.”

Meghan Villa is Stevie LaDue’s sister. She believes the legislation could have saved her brother.

 

“When you lose a family member to suicide, so many things become uncertain. And one thing I am certain is this bill needs to pass” says Meghan.

The price tag for increased benefits…anywhere from thirty to one hundred million dollars a year.

Florida cities have opposed the legislation because of the cost…but now they have scaled back their opposition, asking lawmakers simply to make the date of the new coverage coincide with their insurance polices renewal.

Cities fiscal year begins on October first. The legislation applies to all first responders, The bills sponsor is a firefighter who ran for office because of the gap in coverage he and his fellow first responders see everyday.

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Lawmakers Feeling Lucky on the Prospect of Passing Gambling Bill

February 13th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The State Senate is moving forward with sweeping gambling reform in the state.

House Speaker Richard Corcoran says gaming is the one issue where the chances of seeing legislation pass is either 1% or 99% depending on the day.

 

After unanimous approval from a Senate Committee Monday, Sponsor of this year’s attempt Senator Travis Hutson says he gives it a fifty-fity shot.

 

There’s a new urgency this year. If passed, a constitutional amendment slated for the November ballot would require lawmakers to put any future changes to gambling in front of voters.

 

“We do want to get something done. In my opinion no is not an option this year. We have to figure out how to solve this, this year,” said Senator Kelli Stargel.

The Senate’s current proposal includes a new 20-year deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida.

It allows them to add craps and roulette, in exchange for $3 billion over the next seven years.

It also allows fantasy sports in the state, which the tribe opposes. Hutson says it’s about give and take.

 

“Certainly when you add craps and roulette to the mix, which is something they want, there’s definitely a deal to be made and it’s about getting into the details of that deal,” said Hutson.

The Senate’s bill would allow dog tracks and certain horse tracks to stop running races, but still host card rooms.

It could be seen by the House as an expansion of gambling, something the Speaker has vowed to never do.

Hutson argues it’s actually a contraction of gambling.

 

“There are less bets that are going to be made on dogs, on jai alai, on quarter horses,” said Hutson.

The Senate proposal also designates pre-reveal games as slot machines. Currently the legality of the games is making its way through the judicial system.

The Senate bill has one more committee stop before a vote on the Senate floor.

Senator Hutson anticipates negotiations with the House will begin soon, in hopes of finding middle ground by the end of session in March.

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Survivors of Violent Crime Rally at the State Capitol

February 13th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

 

Two hundred victims of crime gathered in the state capitol Tuesday, holding rally in support of stronger victims services in the state.

Many of those at the event lost a loved one to violent crime. Holding candles, they spoke the names of their lost friends and family.

Darlene Farrah lost her daughter Shelby in 2013, when a gunman robbed the Metro PCS store she was working at and shot her four times. She says she’s had to cope with the tragedy without any help.

 

“This is my family now. This is what helps me through it. Not counseling. There was no funding for counseling or anything,” said Farrah. “You know, and all we can do is be there for each other. It’’s awful you know?”

Victims are asking the state to fund trauma recovery centers, to help victims in the aftermath of violent crime.

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Pay Day Loans to get Higher Limits

February 13th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Short term loans formally know as payday loans have a new name and could soon have higher borrowing limits. Now know as deferred presentment transactions, borrowers could soon get up to a thousand dollars for 90 days. The current limit is five hundred for thirty days. Dozens came to speak for the change before a legislative committee, arguing. Like Pastor Clethen Sutton of Tampa did, that the loans are the only way some people make ends meet.

“My members they use it if they come up short, and they can get one hundred dollars, a couple hundred dollars to pay what ever bill to keep from going into default, to ruin their credit. So I’ve seen it work” says Sutton.

The interest on the thousand dollar, 90 day loan, would come to Three hundred and forty-four dollars, but most loans are for fewer than 20 days. Current and proposed law would only allow borrowers to have one loan at a time.

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