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Amidst Scheduled Student Walkouts, More Acts of Gun Violence Shock the State

April 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Two acts of gun violence in two days in Florida are making national headlines.
A school shooting injuring one in Marion county and a lone gunman killing two Sheriffs deputies in Gilchrist county.
Students around the state walked out of class at 10 am.
Friday was the 19th anniversary of the Columbine shooting.
The protest is a continuation of a nationwide movement, sparked by the parkland school shooting… the rallying cry. Never again.
“It’s just not good to be in schools that are dangerous,” said Tallahassee High School Freshman Carely Garcia.
But the just before the protest began, news of yet another school shooting in the state broke.
The news brought high school teacher Janalee Jarrett to tears.
“I’m just crushed, just so sad that we can’t stop it. We’re supposed to be able to control and direct our government and it’s not happening,” said Jarrett.
The shooting comes just a day after two sheriffs deputies were shot and killed in cold blood in Gilchrist county.
“The reality of it is… it is unfortunately common. It is common… acrimony directed at law enforcement officers because they are law enforcement officers,” said Walton County Sheriff and President of the Florida Sheriff’s Association, Mike Atkinson.
 In response to the shooting of Sgt. Noel Ramirez and Deputy Taylor Lindsey FDLE said in a statement, “Our case is active.  Our thoughts and sympathies are with the Gilchrist County Sheriff’s Office and the families of Sgt. Ramirez and Deputy Lindsey.”
To protesters the two shootings are more examples supporting the need for change.
“The Government really needs to start listening to us and our concerns about gun violence, because they not fake. They’re a serious issue that we need to address,” said High School Sophomore and organizer of the walkout at Rickards High School in Tallahassee, Tessa Jones.
And despite the two recent tragedies students remain hopeful change is on the horizon.

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Jury Foreman:” I can’t unsee those images.”

April 19th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

At the height of the debate over gun control, Tampa State Representative Ross Spano took some heat over his efforts to pass a resolution declaring pornography a problem instead of focusing on guns, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us many believe pornography is a growing problem.

Vikas Kapoor is serving a 27 year prison sentence after being convicted on more than two dozen counts of having child porn on his computer. 

“There are certain pictures that I can’t unsee.”

 

Ron Watson was the jury foreman.

“We’re talking about pornography with three, four, five year old children” Watson told us.

While Watson resents being forced to watch disgusting images as part of his civic duty, porn is now easier than ever to find.

New studies suggest, that because of this, 70 percent of our teens are actually stumbling across porn as they search the internet. 

“The average age that you first view pornography is eight years old for kids now” says State Representative Ross Spano.

Unable to pass a bill to educate kids about the dangers, Spano championed a House resolution this year. He’s hoping to shine a spotlight on the problems porn creates.

“It’s causing eating problems, its causing children to be sexually active before they should be” says Spano.

In his final interview before he was executed, One of Florida’s most notorious serial killers, Ted Bundy, blamed his killings on pornographic fantasies.

“I’ve met a lot men motivated to commit violence, just like me, and without an exception, every one of them was deeply involved with pornography, without question” Bundy told interviewer and anti porn crusader James Dobson on the night before he was executed.

The interview was discounted at the time of Bundy’s death as a scapegoat, but the idea that it could be addictive is gaining more and more traction among professionals. 

The resolution was meant to be a place to start a conversation about pornography, but Spano is leaving the State House this year, so someone else will have to start the conversation.

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Election Experts Say Florida is Vulnerable to Cyber Attack

April 19th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Election experts in the state are joining Senator Marco Rubio, expressing concerns over the security of the state’s election system.
With only 7 counties so far adding extra security measures, it means there are still sixty more counties in Florida who may be unprepared for possible threats to this year’s election.
Leon is one of the counties to upgrad its system, by implementing additional auditing measures.
“It is very powerful in that it look for problems in marking ballots,” said Leon County Supervisor of Elections, Mark Early.
With 60 counties in the state lacking a rigorous auditing system, experts say its unlikely most will be able to implement protections before the upcoming election cycle.
The additional measures aren’t required by state law.
“I have to fault the Florida Legislature for failing to enact legislation that would require more use of this technology,” said former President of the Florida State Association of Supervisor of Elections, Ion Sancho.
The Governor asked to hire five cyber security experts in the 2018 budget, but the Legislature ignored the request.
“They’re over confident that they’re okay and quite frankly that is hubris,” said Sancho.
The Legislature did approve $1.9 million in federal funding to help counties purchase additional security equipment.
Author Eric Eggers says it’s not enough.
“No one is really incentivized to detect or expose election fraud, because that undermines the very basis of our democratic ideals,” said Eggers.
During the 2016 election, 5 Florida counties were unsuccessfully targeted by Russian hackers. Experts believe those attacks aren’t likely to stop any time soon.
The Florida Department of State is working to hire additional cyber security personnel prior to the 2018 election, saying in a statement, it is laser focused on election security as we look ahead to the 2018 election and beyond.

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Barbara Bush was Frequent Visitor to Tallahassee

April 18th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

 

First Lady Barbara Bush was a frequent visitor to Florida’s Capitol City. She came to support her son before and after he was elected Governor, to campaign for him, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, was a major influence in Jeb Bush’s efforts to improve students  reading  skills.

In April 1992, more than six years before Jeb Bush was first elected Florida’s Governor, Barbara Bush came to Sealey Elementary School. Her purpose: Donate a penny in an effort to teach students about large numbers. 

“We decided to collect a million pennies” says then gifted students teacher Cheryl Cliett”

So they asked Barbara Bush to come.

“She not only put in the last penny, she put in one penny more to start us on our next million” recalls Special Needs Teacher Lea Reeves

But one of the first things the First Lady did was demonstrate she knew where the cameras were located, bringing a laugh from the crowd as she re-arranged where her student host was standing.

The First Lady had been invited by teachers Cheryl Cliett and Lea Reeves.

.

”What do you remember about Barbara Bush, something you didn’t know before you met her?” Wee asked.

“I think how kind she was and how much she loved children” responded Cliett.

“The whole program was just kids doing it and Barbara was just so natural with everybody” recalled Reeves.

The First Lady spent 45 minutes that day at the School, telling students and teachers “You have absolutely confirmed what I have always felt in my heart.  Little things do count. Not just coins. But little acts of kindness, little pieces of knowledge, and individual people.”

She would be back in the Capitol for her son’s first inauguration, his second, and sometimes just to visit.

And of those people who worked for Jeb Bush, not one doubts that his mother had a major influence in his push to improve reading scores in Florida.

And because Barbara Bush was Jeb’s mother, her impact on Flordia goes far beyond the times she visited.

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Proposed Constitutional Amendment Could Set Up a Competing Education System in Florida

April 18th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Education advocates are speaking out against a proposed constitutional amendment passed by the Constitution Revision Commission Monday.
Here in the state capital there’s an ongoing debate between school board members, over whether to allow two new charter schools to move in.
“We don’t believe there’s a need. We believe it’s a waste of taxpayer dollars,” said Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna.
If the proposed constitutional amendment passes that decision could be put in the hands of a state agency, not local elected officials.
Hanna says the proposal is hidden in the amendment, which also includes requiring civics education and a 6-year term limit on school board members.
“Oh by the way we’re also looking to take away local control these charter decisions at the state level as opposed to the local school level,” said Hanna.
The amendment would authorize the creation of a state entity that could authorize the creation of new schools. It would operate separate from the current school districts.
“Well the question then of course of concern is if you have two systems how do we know that each will be funded equitably,” said State Senator and head of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents Bill Montford.
The existing public education system would have to share state funding with the new one, possibly thinning out an already tight budget.
“We’re going to have to start looking at eliminating programs, especially those in art, music, science, mental health counselors and all the things we need to provide for the good of the whole,” said Hanna.
Because the change would be in the constitution, it would be difficult to undo.
“They’re trying to amend the constitution to defund and have for the next 20 years a policy that will gut our public school systems,” said Fredrick Ingram, Vice President of the Florida Education Association.
Some members of the Constitution revision commission tried to unbundle the proposals, but it failed.
The amendment will need 60% voter approval come November to pass.

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Court Lifts Stay, Allows Florida Patient to Grow Own Marijuana

April 17th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

 

Update: The First District Court of Appeal issued the order to show cause a little more than an hour after a motion was filed to review the lifting of the stay. The court did not give Redner the full 10 days to respond as the rules allow.  Redner will have until Thursday to respond.

 

A circuit court judge has lifted a stay preventing Tampa night club owner Joe Redner from growing his own marijuana for juicing.

Last week a circuit court judge ruled a state law prohibiting Tampa Night Club Owner Joe Redner from growing his own plants violated his constitutional right to use medical marijuana.

The state appealed, automatically putting that ruling on hold.

Back in court, Redner’s lawyers argued halting his treatment puts his health at risk.

“Mr. Redner wants to remain in remission. Everyday he misses, we just can’t get that back,” said Redner’s Attorney, Luke Lirot.


The state argued the stay should stay in place because Redner isn’t currently growing marijuana so he isn’t losing anything.

“Mr. Redner has never been receiving the treatment that he is trying to get with this order,” said Department of Health Attorney, Jason Gonzalz.

The judge sided with Redner a second time.

“There really shouldn’t be any obstacles to doing this,” said Lirot. “It’s that sacred relationship between a doctor and a patient that the department has put its foot into with out any right.”

The state will again seek to put the ruling on hold.

This ruling does not allow anyone other than Redner to grow marijuana.


But the ruling could play a role in other pending cases, including John Morgan’s NoSmoke is a Joke lawsuit.

“I think that this court will find that limiting smoking marijuana is also an unconstitutional deprivation of the plain language of amendment 2,” said Lirot.

If it stands, the ruing would open the door for other patients to seek the same treatment.

The suit now heads to the 1st District Court of Appeal, but a final decision will likely have to come from the State Supreme Court.

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Five Fraternity Brothers Plea to Misdemeanor Hazing

April 16th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Five of the nine men charged in the hazing death of a 20 year old FSU fraternity pledge have entered guilty pleas. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, four remaining defendants turned down the deal and will face felony charges. 

20 year old Andrew Coffey died last November after being given an entire bottle of Wild Turkey. 9 Were charged with felony hazing. On Monday 5 entered guilty pleas.

Conner Ravelo was the first to plea. He bought the bourbon using a fake ID. Ravelo is the only one to apologize in court.

 

“I apologize for all of this and I make a promise to you in moving forward I will be  part of the solution and not part of the problem” Ravelo said as he faced the Coffey family.

With her husband gently rubbing her back, Andrew Coffey’s mother, Sandra, was near tears as she told the court about her son. 

 

“We are haunted by the image of Andrew being left alone in a room unable to get help from his own and without a single brother coming to his aid” said the mother.

Three of the remaining four defendants face a June Trial date. A fourth could be delayed into the fall.

 

 

David Bianchi, the attorney handling the Coffey Family’s civil suit, believes the other four will try to make Andrew the guilty one.

“And that’s sickening. It reminds me of a sexual assault case” says Bianchi.

 

 

But defense attorney Fed Conrad says FSU bears part of the blame.

“Why FSU isn’t being held accountable, I have no idea. Maybe if the administration would get out of the skybox and come down to the parking lot during a football game they would realize they have a problem.” 

FSU banned alcohol on campus following the death. It has since been lifted.

In addition to 60 days in the County jail, each of the five will serve two years probation, participate in anti hazing events, and apologize to the Coffey family. Christopher Hamlin has asked to serve his time in the Hillsborough County Jail, Brett Birmingham is asking to serve his time in either Santa Rosa or Wakulla County.

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Wave of Criticism Directed at CRC

April 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
There was controversy at the Constitution Revision Commission meeting this morning in the State Capitol.
Firefighters benefits have been combined with a proposal to make it harder to raise college fees. A ban on offshore oil drilling has been combined with a ban on indoor vaping.
24 distinct proposals have now been bundled together in hopes of making some of the ideas more likely to be approved by voters.
The multiple subjects covered by six of the amendments has many groups outraged.
“Much like we’ve seen in the Legislature over the past two years, this idea of log rolling is a common Legislative trick to get what you want,” said Rich Templin with the Florida AFL-CIO.
Commissioners considered a motion to unbundle all the proposals but it failed.
“People want to vote on the separately. Let people vote on them separately,” said Commissioner Chris Smith.
“We’re talking about undermining a process that we are allowed to do,” argued Commissioner Brecht Heuchan.
Other groups are upset that many of the proposals like banning greyhound racing should be left for the Legislature to decide, not be included in the constitution.
“Just because the Legislature decides not to do something, doesn’t mean you put it into the constitution,” said Jack Cory with the Florida Greyhound Association.
Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Major Harding says the proposals threaten to clutter the constitution.
“To remove something from the constitution requires a great deal more than it would be for the Legislature to take something out that they had put in,” said Justice Harding.
There are already five amendments put on the November ballot by lawmakers or citizens initiative.

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Victims Rights Amendment Will Appear on November Ballot

April 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The state’s Constitution Revision Commission approved Marsy’s Law for the November ballot.
The constitutional amendment would beef up crime victims’ rights in the state constitution. It would give them the right to be heard in court proceedings and be notified of key events like bail, sentencing and parole hearings.
The state’s constitution includes a brief section on victims rights, but supporters of Marsy’s law say it doesn’t go far enough.
“Florida has a discussion in the constitution sort of vague reference in the constitution to victims rights that the Legislature sought to implement it by statute, but what we’re finding is that the statutes are often ignored,” said Amendment sponsor Commissioner Tim Cerio.
6 States have adopted Marsy’s law. The amendment will need 60% voter approval in November to be adopted into Florida’s constitution.

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Hundreds Rally in Support of the Second Amendment at State Capitol

April 14th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Supporters of the second amendment rallied at state Capitol’s throughout the country Saturday.
For the second time this year hundreds of gun owners rallied on the Florida State Capitol grounds to stand up for their second amendment rights.
“And that right shall not be infringed. I don’t know why people have a hard time understanding this part of it,” said Howard Wemple from Auburndale.
Attendees say they believe there is a nationwide effort to suppress law abiding citizens right to own a gun.
“That’s why we’re here today, is to speak up against that assault, to stand up against it, to say no,” said former state Representative Mike Hill.
Brandi Miller says after she was shot 31 years ago, it secured her feelings on firearms.
“Blew my face off, my throat apart, my heart, my stomach and I think every woman should be armed,” said Miller.
Many here support the mental health and school safety aspects of legislation passed in response to Parkland, but they disagree that firearm sales should be banned for those under 21.
“Taking away the rights of 18 to 20 year old’s to even own a rifle to defend their home is an overreach. I feel like the school safety side of it is at least a step in the right direction,” said Jacksonville resident Uriah Denton.
“I think every American has the right to own a gun, especially 18 year olds,” said Bradenton local Christopher Greeley.
The gun control aspects of the bill have turned some against Governor Rick Scott.
“Governor Rick Scott, he’s a traitor,” said Jeremy, a Pensacola resident who did not wish to reveal his last name.+
The anger towards Scott from second amendment supporters is likely to cost him votes in the race for U.S Senate… how many votes is still unclear.
At least fourteen municipal governments  are suing the state to overturn a ban on tougher gun regulations at the local level

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NRA Lobbyist “Death Threats” Increasing

April 12th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Longtime NRA Lobbyist Marion Hammer is receiving death threats almost daily. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, threats are nothing new to the crusty advocate for guns,  but says this time her family is also being threatened.

As more than a hundred people packed a County Commission meeting this week in the State Capitol to argue for and against tougher gun laws, one person was conspicuously absent: NRA Lobbyist Marion Hammer.

“And my security advisors said, you will be endangering an awful lot of people.”

  

 

Hammer was told not to go after receiving multiple death threats.

Q:”I know you have been threatened for decades.”

“right”

Q”Is this different?”

“It’s uglier. It’s nasty.”

Q:”Are you afraid?”

“No. You can’t live in fear. You’re cautious. You’re observant.”

Q:”Have you reported it to police?”

“In the past I have.”

Q:And what did they do?”

“Nothing. They say they can’t do anything until somebody does something.”

The NRA lobbyist did allow us to see a stack of emails, but not copy them. She wouldn’t say if they could be part of a future investigation.

Q:Are you still getting them?”

Yes. Some came in this morning.”

Hammer does say the threats have altered her daily routine. Not because she is afraid, but because she doesn’t want her family to be in fear.

Hammer was near tears after we turned the camera off when talking about the threats to her family. That is a first.

Mike asked the Department of Law Enforcement if they were investigating. They did not respond to his request. A group advocating for gun restrictions also did not return a call when asked about the threats.

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State Appealing Ruling in Marijuana Lawsuit

April 12th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The state wasted no time appealing a ruling by a Leon County judge to allow a Tampa night club owner to grow his own medical marijuana.
The ruling could impact a myriad of other cases seeking to expand the ways patients can take their medicine.
 Redner sued the state, so he could grow his own medical marijuana to juice for a treatment prescribed by his doctor.
“It’s really about a patient saying, ‘I’m sick. I can’t get what I want and I want to be able to choose how I get it and the constitution allows me that right’,” said Jeff Sharkey, head of the Medical Marijuana Business Association.
A Leon County Judge ruled in favor of Redner, but the state has appealed the decision in the First District Court of Appeals, effectively putting the ruling on hold.
The current law prohibits smoking and the sale of whole flower marijuana.
The judge’s ruling says that exclusion was an overreach by lawmakers on the constitutional amendment passed by 71% of voters.
“This seems to answer the question of whether or not I can smoke whole flower. That means these MMTC’s could potentially sell that,” said Sharkey.
Trulieve is one of two growers currently suing the state to allow the sale of whole flower products.
Advocates say using the whole flower has health benefits vaping and edibles can’t provide.
“Even if you do the best job you can extracting the cannabinoids into an oil or an extract you’re still leaving parts and pieces behind,” said Jodi James with the Florida Cannabis Action Network.
The lawsuits filed by growers along with the NoSmoke is a Joke lawsuit filed by John Morgan to allow smoking may stand a better chance of succeeding if Redner’s ruling stands.
Which ever way the appellate court goes it’s likely to be appealed to the state Supreme Court.
Trulieve has also filed suit against the state against a provision in the law that limits growers to owning only 25 dispensing locations.

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Risk Protection Order under Review

April 11th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

A 21 year old North Flordia man who has been involuntarily confined is the latest to have his weapons seized under a state law enacted a month ago. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, police two assault style rifles with more than 800 rounds of ammunition.

Christopher Mark Newhouse got his first of two hearings under the new state law that allows police to seize weapons if they believe someone is a danger to themselves or others. 

”Court is now in session.”

In an affidavit, police say Newhouse threatened to kill police officers as recently as February. He was taken into protective custody once in February and again in March.

Police seized two assault style rifles this past Friday: including An AR-15  with 836 rounds of ammunition. A third gun he was know to own was reported stolen.

 

Theresa Flurry is the attorney for the Tallahassee Police Department.

“At the same time, the defendant reported that the other two rifles were in the car, but they were in the trunk, so they were not stolen” Flurry told the court.

 

Under questioning from Judge J. Lee Marsh, the 21 year old Newhouse indicated he hoped to get the weapons back.

“Do you know that you are not allowed to possess, use, or acquire any additional firearms or ammunition.”

“At the current time, yes your honor” he responded.

“Okay, and do you have any others in your use, possession or control?”

“No.”

“Okay, lets keep it that way” 

The court will decide next week just how long Mr. Newhouse will be without his guns. 

After the hearing, both sides discussed a possible agreement going forward.

When asked about the discussion, Flurry told us: “That we can talk about at a later time”

So we tried to ask Mr. Newhouse about his case:

“Mr. Newhouse, are you a danger to yourself or others?”

“Negative”

“No comment, no comment, no comment” replied his grandmother, who represented him before the court.

But getting his guns back is for others to decide.

After next weeks hearing, the law allows weapons to be removed from someone for up to a year before another hearing is required. Across the state nearly two dozen cases have been filed since the law was signed on March 9th.

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Crime Victim Advocates Honored at State Capitol

April 11th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Crime victims and those who advocate them were honored Wednesday at the State Capitol.

Law Enforcement, crime victims and those who advocate for them gathered for the annual National Crime Victims’ Rights Week Ceremony. Guest speaker Melissa Dohme Hill was stabbed 32 times by an ex-boyfriend in 2012.

“When I opened my eyes, I knew God saved my life,” said Dohme Hill.

Melissa no longer considers herself a victim, but a “surthriver,” a term she coined for a thriving survivor.

“There is life and love and a wonderful life after abuse,” said Dohme Hill.

Awards were given to six victim advocates.

Those awarded included Orlando Police Chief John Mina, for his actions responding to the Pulse Night Club shooting.

“Chief Mina was and remains the epitome of calm in chaos,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi.

Carl Harms was also honored for his work with victims in the State Attorney’s Office in Jacksonville.

“My father was killed by two drunk drivers. Two separate drunk drivers, 12 minutes apart and that was the moment that changed my life,” said Harms.

The ceremony comes as the state’s Constitution Revision Commission considers an amendment to beef up victims’ rights in the state’s constitution.


Honoree and victim advocate with Hands Across the Bay, Julie Weintraub, says those added protections would be a step in the right direction.

“We have to understand what the victims are going through and make sure that we don’t put the burden on them,” said Weintraub.

Those honored at the ceremony say every person has the ability to make a difference in a victims life, by lending an ear and support through difficult times.

The victims rights amendment, known as Marsy’s Law, is up for a final vote before the Constitution Revision Commission next week. If approved for the ballot it would need 60% voter approval in November.

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Closing the “Gun Show Loophole”

April 11th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Update: The Leon County Commission approved the ordinance on a 6-1 vote shortly after 11 PM

Hundreds of people have signed up to speak at at contentious County Commission hearing tonight for an ordinance that couldn’t get a hearing before the Parkland shootings. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the measure would close the so called gun show loophole. 

No background checks are required for one individual to sell a gun to another in Florida. But county commissioners in the state Capitol want to change that. The proposed ordinance has drawn hundreds of speakers. It would require background checks on any gun sale at a place where the public is invited. 

“This is a loophole.” Says sponsor Mary Ann Lindley.

 

“I’m kinda flabbergasted at the overwhelming response against it, because it really is a precautionary measure, a slight thing. You get background checks to get a passport” argues Lindley.

Gun dealer Mark Folmar says the prohibition will extend to neighborhood yard sales.

“You either are personally restricted in selling that item or having to follow a waiting period or having to go through a licensee to sell that firearm” says Folmar.

Marion Hammer, the Lobbyist for the NRA says the idea infringes on a persons rights to sell their personal property. 

 

“And the Parkland shooter went through a background check and purchased his rifle legally. He cleared the background check because government officials didn’t do their job.” Hammer is calling on penalties for officials who shirk their responsibilities. 

In a concession to opponents, the county is dropping the idea of extending the waiting period from three to five days.

The ordinance got no traction when first proposed it in 2013. Lindley says Parkland changed that. 

“I think it increased peoples interest in taking whatever precautionary measures we can” says the Leon County Commissioner. 

If approved, the ordinance, is expected to draw lawsuits almost immediately.

Under a 1998 amendment to the state Constitution, counties can impose up to a five day wait for gun purchases and require background checks on gun sales at public places. State law preempting firearm regulation to the state does not supersede the constitutional language. 

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