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Can Jeff Greene’s Wealth Buy Him the Election?

June 21st, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Greene flew to the Capitol on his private jet to qualify for Governor.
At 15 his parents lost everything. His mother waited tables at the Breakers in Palm Beach.
“I was a busboy during college at the Breakers Hotel. I was clearing those dirty dishes too,” said Greene. “I worked three jobs, and let me tell you something, when I’m Governor, I’m going to make sure every busboy in Florida can have the same dreams I had, and maybe they’ll be flying around in a private jet too.”
When his parents lost their business, Greene stayed behind with relatives in Massachusetts.
“Why? Because I heard the schools in Florida were not good enough to get me into a top university.That’s what I heard in 1970,” said Greene.
Now he says every child deserves a chance to succeed.
“So, two years of Universal Pre-K education. It can’t be tied to your good fortune of being born in a wealthy zip code,” said Greene. “Every child deserves to get a good education.”
Greene would ban AR-15 style rifles.
“If they want to fire, you know, 50 round guns, and go off fifty rounds in a minute, or fly fighter jets, join the military, but not on our streets,” said Greene.
Greene is pushing the same progressive agenda as other Democrats.
He says he’s in the race for two reasons: They haven’t caught fire, and they need his money.
“We have not had the funds to compete with this Republican onslaught,” said Greene. “This Republican amount of money thats been two to three times what we’ve been able to spend.”
Greene has already pledged to give half his $3.3 billion away… or at least half of what’s left after the Governors race.
Greene says he will take no special interest or PAC money and is limiting individual contributions to $100.
State law allows contributions of up to $3,000 in the gubernatorial race.

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U.S. Supreme Court Clears Way for States to Tax Online Purchases

June 21st, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The U-S Supreme Court today cleared the way for states to collect sales tax from out of state internet vendors.
A previous decision made before computers were commonplace banned the collection.
Some estimates suggest Florida could be losing as much as a billion dollars a year.
James Miller with the Florida Retail Federation says the decision will go along way to stabilizing brick and mortar retailers.
“Online has had such a competitive advantage. You know, when you’re not paying six, seven percent, especially on those big ticket items, so that can be significant savings, so people are going to use those sights rather than some of the Florida based ones. So this is great news,” said Miller. “We’re excited by it. Again, level playings field. Everyone’s playing by the same rules. And because of that competition and innovation is are going to determine who succeeds, not who ever’s paying taxes and not paying taxes.
State law already requires residents who buy out of state merchandise to voluntarily pay sales tax, but few do.
Enacting internet collection will require an act of the Legislature.

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What Does the Future Hold For Immigrant Children Housed in Homestead?

June 21st, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Video provided by the Department of Health and Human Services shows the first glimpse into the conditions at the 1,200 bed Homestead facility housing immigrant children.
At least 94 children housed there were separated from their families while crossing the boarder.
“They’re already fleeing some form of persecution and trauma and this certainly was another layer that the U.S. Government inflicted upon them,” said Human Rights Attorney and Immigration Expert Mark Schlakman.
While President Donald Trump ordered an end to the practice of separating families, the future for the 2,300 already separated remains uncertain.
“Will those 2,000 families be reconnected to their loved ones? Do we know where their loved ones are? This is a total absence of moral leadership in my opinion,” said Gubernatorial Candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum.
“It would be reasonable to presume that there would be some effort to reunite these young children with their families,” said Shlakman.
Three Democratic Gubernatorial Candidates confirmed on Twitter that they plan to march together outside the facility this weekend.
Gillum also plans to attend.
“For me personally it was hard to shake the images of these kids being torn away from their family members,” said Gillum. “It’s not who we are as a country.”
The future is also uncertain for more than 1,000 teenagers also being housed at the Homestead facility, many of whom crossed the boarder unaccompanied seeking asylum.
While Gubernatorial candidates march outside, U.S. Senator Bill Nelson will be inside the facility speaking with the children housed there as well as staff.
It’s believed there are an additional 174 separated children housed throughout Florida, aside from those in the Homestead facility.

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Jeff Greene Qualifies for Governor

June 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Billionaire Jeff Greene is now an official candidate for Governor.
The Palm Beach Democrat filed his paperwork this afternoon in the State Capitol.
He has promised to spend as much as is needed to win, and told reporters he hopes to reverse 20 years of Republican rule in the Capitol.
“Anyway you look at it, the Democratic message is the winning message in the state of Florida. There are more Democrats. I think more independents absolutely lean Democratic. The problem is we have not had the funds to compete with this Republican onslaught,” said Greene. “This Republican amount of money that has been two to three times what we’ve been able to spend. So will I put my money behind our message? Yes I will.”
Greene’s net worth tops $3 billion, but he noted his parents were poor and he himself once worked as a busboy.

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Report: Florida’s Low State Taxes Cost Residents More on the Local Level

June 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A new report shows that state taxes in Florida are among the lowest in the nation.
Florida TaxWatch says the state ranks 42nd, but the low state tax burden comes at a cost in other, higher taxes.
Floridians pay an average of $5,679 a year in state and local taxes, almost $1,400 below the national average.
Florida TaxWatch says one of the reasons is tourists pick up part of the tab.
“That does offset the need, or the requirement for having a state income tax, a state inheritance tax,” said Dominic Calabro with Florida TaxWatch.
While the overall burden is low, the study found that local government taxes in Florida are the second highest in the country.
As lawmakers cut taxes, they pushed the burden to local government, especially when it comes to schools.
“So then the local has to raise their taxes, so the local is the one who looks bad and the state looks good,” said Joanne McCall, President of the Florida Education Association.
Florida is also one of the few states that charges businesses a sales tax when they rent property.
That’s made business taxes the 12th highest in the country.
This year, lawmakers cut the tax on commercial rentals by 0.1%, saving between 30 and $40 million.
The Florida Retail Federation has been fighting to end the rental tax altogether.
It’s something that all the businesses that rent space have to deal with,” said James Miller with FRA. “Also, local governments have been running wild with local taxes to pay for programs and initiatives on the backs of businesses. So that report doesn’t surprise us at all that we would have taxes that high.”
Also bringing down the state tax rate are higher than average taxes on utilities, fuel, cell phones and alcohol.
People in Arizona pay the least state and local taxes at $4924 a year.
North Dakotans pay the most at just over $12,000 a year.

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Nearly a Year After the Storm, State Has Only Dispersed 1% of FEMA Aid for Irma

June 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Hurricane Irma caused an estimated $50 billion in damage when it hit last Fall.
While the one year anniversary of the storm is less than three months away, federal aid hasn’t made it to local communities.
“Cities that are on the frontlines are having to figure out will the money be there or not be there as they prepare their budgets,” said Jeff Branch, a lobbyist for the Florida League of Cities.
The State Division of Emergency Management has received more than $108 million from FEMA, but only 1% (about $1.1 million) has actually been given to local governments.
204 communities that have applied are still waiting for aid.
“DEM says it’s FEMA. FEMA says it’s DEM,” said Branch.
It’s not uncommon for federal aid to be slow following a disaster.
In Leon County, the vast majority of FEMA aid for Hurricane Hermine, which hit the panhandle in 2016 was only received a few months ago.
“We understand that the process for FEMA reimbursement takes some amount of time,” said Mathieu Cavell, Assistant to the Leon County Administrator for Community Relations.
While Leon County was able to cover the cost with reserves that’s not the case for all communities.
“Cities are having to decide how to figure out whether or not services will be reduced or services will be cut,” said Branch.
Cavell says it speaks to the importance of having a disaster fund in place before a storm hits.
“Because when disaster strikes it’s too late to have the policies in place that align you best for FEMA reimbursement,” said Cavell.
There have been cases of local government receiving FEMA dollars, only to have to pay back a portion years later.
Part of the delay this time around is the state trying to make sure the expenses are justified.
In a statement, DEM pointed the finger at local governments for the slow dispersement, noting nearly 80% of the federal funds remain unrequested.
DEM says it’s waiting on documentation from local communities before it can disperse the vast majority of the $13.6 million that have been requested.

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Florida Democrats Demand Action From Rick Scott on Homestead Facility

June 19th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The above photos were released by the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services in 2016.
They depict a facility in Homestead, Florida, which at the time housed hundreds of immigrant children.
The 1000 bed facility was shut down in 2017, but silently reopened earlier this year.
Democrats and faith leaders are blaming President Donald Trump’s “Zero Tolerance” policy on immigration.
“Children are being used as pawns. They’re being held as hostage for one to negotiate a deal,” said Pastor Lee Johnson with Trinity United Presbyterian Church.
Maria Rodriguez Migrated to the U.S. legally in 2000 from Columbia.
“My family was being persecuted by the FARC. The revolutionary armed forces in Columbia,” said Rodriguez.
While her journey was legal, she expressed extreme concern over the idea Florida is being used to detain immigrant children.
“How much lower can we go,” asked Rodriguez. “To what depths is this government going to go to try to prevent people from coming into the United States?”
Florida House Minority Leader Janet Cruz is leading the call for Governor Scott to intervene anyway he can.
“Go and talk to his friend Donald Trump and ask him to stop this process in Florida,” said Cruz.  “We don’t need to be a part of this.”
Governor Scott announced early Tuesday evening that he had reached out to HHS, demanding and end to the mandatory separation of children and families.
He had three requests for the agency…
  • Will you notify federal, state and local authorities immediately of any current or future unaccompanied minors – or children who were separated from their families under President Trump’s zero-tolerance policy toward illegal entry into the United States – coming to, or placed in, Florida?
  • Are you conducting health screenings both at the border and again at the time the children are placed in shelters?
  • What health, educational, or other social services have been provided to any children placed in Florida?

Scott pointed the finger at Congress, saying decades of failed immigration policies had led to the current situation.

In order to help reunite children already separated, Scott offered assistance on behalf of the state and requested information on any potential measures the state could take to expedite the process.

Scott has no authority over the camp or its future, but he does have the President’s ear.
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz attempted to tour the facility Tuesday morning, but were not cleared.
They’ll have to wait at least two weeks before they can enter.

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Rising Seas Could Affect 1/10 Florida Homes By 2100

June 19th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A new report by the Union of Concerned Scientists suggest Florida is the most at risk state for sea level rise, with hundreds of thousands of homes worth billions of dollars potentially at risk in the next 90 years.
The report looked at flood models from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and data collected through the home listing company Zillow.
The report found NOAA’s prediction of 6 1/2 feet of sea level rise by the year 2100 would put 1 out of 10 Florida homes at risk of flooding on an almost daily basis.
Florida Conservation Voters say this study is yet another wake up call for lawmakers to take action, who have previously chosen to hit the snooze button.
Jonathan Webber with the group says less well off populations are at the highest risk.
“I think government at every level from the Governor’s Office down to city commission, local government needs to be thinking about the people who don’t have the means to leave,” said Webber. “The elderly, the paycheck to paycheck people, those who work in the service industry, which is as we know very popular here in Florida.”
The report suggested 93 percent of Florida’s at-risk homes could be saved by the end of the century if the world keeps fossil fuel emissions low.
The authors cited the standards in the Paris Climate Agreement as an example.

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Networks Pushing Tallahassee Crime Stories

June 19th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
For four years running, Tallahassee, the state Capitol has had a higher per-capita crime rate than any other city in the state.
This week, two high profile cases have drawn national attention.
Denise Williams along with her husband’s best friend Brian Winchester, who was her lover, is accused of conspiring to murder her husband, Mike Williams back in 2000.
The case unraveled two years ago when Winchester tried to kidnap her.
He has since confessed.
“And I ended up shooting him [Brian Williams],” said Winchester in a recording played in the courtroom.
Denise Williams was asking for bond, but it was denied.
The trial is set for September 26th.
“Of course we’ll be ready for this. We’ve been waiting for 17 years,” said Prosecutor Jon Fuchs.
In court Tuesday, was Sigfredo Garcia, a Miami man accused of stalking and murdering an FSU law professor for money.
His accomplice Luis Rivera, had already confessed and told police the motive was custody of the law professors two kids.
“And the lady wants her two kids back. She want full custody of the kids,” Rivera told police.
Police have asked for a warrant to arrest the professor’s mother-in-law.
They say she paid for the hit, but prosecutors say there isn’t enough evidence.
Two major newsmagazines are in town this week, shooting for soon to be aired stories.
Network news producer Jaime Hellman says it is unusual to have two such high profile cases in what many consider to be a sleepy southern town.
Both cases go to trial this fall.
The news magazine stories will air shortly thereafter.
Producers from both Dateline NBC and CBS’s 48 Hours declined to be interviewed on camera.
Both networks are covering both murder stories, as are other network magazines.

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DOH Still Holding Out on New Grow Licenses

June 18th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The State Department of Health continues to delay the issuance of four new medical marijuana growers licenses required by law when the number of patients hits 100,000.
Every Friday, the Department of Health releases an update on medical marijuana statistics.
Two numbers updated each week are the number of patients in the registry and the number of approved ID Card applications.
On Friday the number of cards issued broke 100,000, which many believed meant four new growers licenses would become available.
“I think there’s a lot of folks out there, patients included who are waiting for that threshold trigger to happen so that we can have more competition, more product in the marketplace,” said Jeff Sharkey with the Medical Marijuana Business Association.
However, the Department says the number includes card renewals and says some previous card holding patients may no longer be active, arguing the threshold for new licenses has not been reached.
This is the second time there’s been confusion over the new licenses.
In April the number of patients in the registry broke 100,000, but the department said, not all of the patients had cards so it didn’t count.
Four out of five Democratic candidates for Governor have criticized the department for it’s job of rolling out medical marijuana in the state.
“We need to fully implement medical marijuana and get that available for the people of Florida,” Candidate Gwen Graham said in an interview Friday.
Advocates say the lack of competition in the market place is hurting patients.
“We need to expand the number of medicine makers so that our patients have easier access,” said Josephine Cannella-Krehl with Cannabis Therapeutics.
Advocates are calling on the Department of Health to start including the true number of patients in its weekly report so everyone can be on the same page and prepared for when the new licenses do in fact become available.
The Department of Health issued this statement regarding the new licenses, “The department fully expects that, once we have the ability to accept new MMTC license applications, that four new licenses will be available.”

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Gillum Qualifies for Governor’s Race

June 18th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Monday afternoon, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum became the third Democrat to officially qualify for Governor.
Gillum filed the paperwork at the State Division of Elections with his wife and children at his side.
Gillum is running the most progressive campaign.
He says the campaign is about every child in Florida.
“For all of the kids of the state who deserve to grow up in a state where they can go to school and their parents can be relatively sure they are going to come home safe and alive,” said Gillum. “What we pay our teachers what they are worth, where we’re not testing our kids to death, but, um, teaching them and inspiring them for the futures they want to lead.”
Gillum joins Former Miami Beach Mayor Philip Levin, who qualified Monday morning and former Congresswoman Gwen Graham, who dropped off her paperwork on Friday.

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Levine Qualifies for Governor’s Race

June 18th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Noon Monday marked the beginning of the official qualifying period for state and local offices in Florida.
A smiling Former Miami Beach Mayor Phil Levine arrived at the State Division of Elections just after 9 am on the first day of qualifying.
Right now, Levine is the frontrunner in the Democratic race for Governor.
He’s spent upwards of $6 million of his own cash on TV.
Billionaire Jeff Greene has also said he will run, but Levine was mum on what Greene’s entry into the race could mean.
“We never really talk about my opponents , if you’ve noticed. We just talk about our campaign and what we are doing,” said Levine.
We asked if that meant no negative campaigning.
“Well you know what. We really don’t attack anybody or talk about anybody,” said Levine. “We just don’t do it. We’ve just got so much to talk about about with our own candidacy.”
Across town, the former Mayor greeted supporters as he opened a campaign office blocks from the Capitol.
“I’m not running for Governor to do small things. I’m running for Governor to do big things, and to change our state,” Levine told the crowd.
Offices in Tallahassee, Panama City, Pensacola, and soon to be Jacksonville suggest Levine is not writing off the Panhandle.
Candidates have until noon Friday to get everything in order.
After that, if they haven’t qualified, they are out of luck.
Levine’s financial disclosure was not immediately available, but his net worth is said to be north of $100 million.
He says if elected, he will create a blind trust to avoid any conflicts with state business.
“I think that when you become governor, your number one priority needs to be Governor, every single day, twenty-four- seven,” said Levine.
The Primary takes place in just 70 days.
Monday afternoon, the lowest polling Democrat in the race, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum qualified.
Two unknown Republicans, an NPA and a Reform Party candidate all submitted their paperwork by mail and paid qualifying fees to run for Governor

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Off to the Races

June 16th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
Qualifying for Governor and other state and local offices begins Monday at noon, but at least one Gubernatorial candidate got a jump on the field, dropping her paperwork off Friday.
Gubernatorial hopeful Gwen Graham was greeted by about forty supporters outside the State Division of Elections.
Graham came to personally file her paperwork to put her name on the ballot in the Democratic Primary for Governor. 
Qualifying doesn’t begin for another 3 days, but she wasn’t taking any chances. 
State law allows the division to accept the paperwork up to two weeks in advance.
Graham-paid the $5,200 fee, which is equal to 5% of the governor’s salary, then spoke to reporters.
“It’s not going to be the special interests. It’s not going to be the lobbyists,” said Graham. “The people of Florida are going to be in charge of Florida again when I am the next Governor.”
She’s a moderate who angered some constituents when she was in Congress because she didn’t always vote along party lines.
Graham is the only Democrat so far to say she isn’t in favor of recreational marijuana.

“I think its so important that you firmly implement the will of the people in the area of medical cannabis. Then we can move forward,” said Graham.

Candidates don’t have to show up. 
They can submit the paperwork, but as Graham proved, when they do show up, people take notice.
There is also a certainty of making sure the paperwork gets filed. 
In 2002 a Fed Ex plane on the way to Tallahassee on the last day of qualifying crashed with paperwork from at least seven candidates. 
After that plane crash, the Governor ordered qualifying extended for a day and a half. 
We won’t know until Monday which other candidates have taken advantage of the early filing.

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Judge Sides With Environmentalists on Land Acquisition Trust Fund Spending

June 15th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A circuit court judge says the Florida Legislature ignored the will of voters when the approved Amendment 1 in 2014.
After a three year battle, environmentalists scored their first major victory in the fight over environmental spending.
Circuit Court Judge Charles Dodson ruled the Legislature failed to follow the will of voters and improperly fund environmental protection programs.
“I think this sends a very clear message to the Legislature that they have to take voters seriously,” said Aliki Moncrief with Florida Conservation Voters. “They have to honor the will of the voters in their actions as lawmakers.”
The Land Acquisition Trust Fund was established by voters in 2014 when 75%  approved Amendment 1.
It’s purpose was to use a portion  of the tax from real estate transactions to preserve the environment.
“The main driving force here in promoting this amendment was to acquire land,” said Joseph Little, an Attorney representing environmental groups.
When the Legislature implemented the amendment it allowed the money in the trust fund to go towards salaries and ordinary expenses for state agencies, leaving almost nothing to actually purchase new lands.
The new ruling says the state can only use the money in the fund to purchase and maintain new lands.
Environmentalists say the ruling is the first step in ensuring voters get what they asked for back in 2014.
“When people amend the constitution, the courts will say it counts. So this is a big day for the people of Florida,” said another attorney representing environmentalists, David Guest.
The one question not addressed in the courtroom, is what will be done about the funds that have already been improperly spent for the past three years.
The state will likely appeal the ruling, sending the case to the 1st District Court of Appeals, but a final decision may well have to come from the State Supreme Court.

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Democrats Pushing Medicaid Expansion as Key Issue in 2018 Election

June 14th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Democrats are pushing Medicaid expansion as one of key issues in the 2018 election.
They say Governor Rick Scott’s decision not to accept Federal money to expand the program has hurt Florida’s poor and left the state less healthy.
In 2013 Governor Rick Scott said he was in favor of accepting federal dollars to expand Medicaid in the state under the Affordable care act, but in the end, he sided with the Florida Legislature’s rejection of the Federal aid.
“It’s according to whether it’s an election year or not as to what he has to say,” said Barbara DeVane with the National Organization for Women.
A recent report by The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed Floridians without health insurance in 2017 had risen to 20%.
That means one out of five in state state aren’t covered.
“There’s a huge number of people out there who would have benefited from access and coverage under the Medicaid program,” said Karen Woodall with the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy.
A 2015 Senate proposal and opposed by Governor Scott would have provided coverage for about 800,000 of the state’s working poor.
Democrats say the lack of coverage is making Florida a sicker state.
The Commonwealth Fund ranked Florida 47th in the nation based on a study of 43 health care metrics.
Florida has also joined a multi-state lawsuit aimed at repealing certain aspects of the Affordable Care Act, including some protections for patients with pre-existing conditions.
Scott told reporters Wednesday, “If you have a pre-existing condition you need to still be able to get healthcare.”
He stopped short of denouncing the suit.
“He’s trying to have it both ways,” said Woodall. “You can’t say I believe that people with pre-existing conditions should not be denied and then support a lawsuit that will undo that.”
Democrats have launched what they call, “The Time is Now: Medicaid Expansion Tour”.
The campaign will travel the state highlighting Scott’s flip flop on Medicaid Expansion.

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