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Reported Rapes Increasing

May 23rd, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Every major crime index fell in Florida last year, with the exception of one: forcible rape. As Mike Vasilinda tells us victims advocates are applauding the increasing number of reports.

Victims advocate Meg Baldwin says rape is the most underreported crime in Florida and the nation.

 

“If you take the reported number and multiply it by five, with the understanding that there is a twenty percent reporting rate, then you are probably reaching the right number for what the real incidence of sexual assault is.”

The most pressing reason victims don’t report is the fear of not being believed.

“And you said she was raped? Yeah.”

This interview was recorded during a rape investigation conducted by FSU Police.

 

“She was afraid to like call the police because she didn’t want anyone to be mad at her” said a friend of the victim.

Because rape is so under reported, when reports go up, as they have the last five years in a row in Florida, advocates know they are doing their job.

“When we see it go down, we’re concerned whether we are doing the right kind of outreach to encourage victims to come forward for help. When we see it go up, that can be an indication that the community is doing a good job” says Baldwin.

 

Adding confidence for victims is that FDLE is caught up on a backlog of eight-six hundred rape kits, and is now testing rape kits as they come in.

Fewer than 2 thousand old rape  kits remain to be tested. FDLE reports it is testing 99.9 percent of new kits within the 4 months allowed by law and many much quicker. 

9-1-1 operators are also receiving better training and police are being taught to be more sensitive.

Seven thousand, nine hundred and thirty four (7934) rapes were reported in Florida in 2017. Using the guideline that only one in five was reported, just under forty thousand people were raped last year.

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Students Sue for Better Access to Early Voting

May 23rd, 2018 by Jake Stofan
In 2014, Florida expanded the number of places people could vote early, but the Secretary of State decided the new law didn’t apply to locations on college campuses.
“It’s quite frankly, simply a partisan effort to ensure that they don’t vote,” said former Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho.
Now, the League of Women Voters backed by six university students, are challenging the decision, arguing it limits students’ ability to vote.
Students we spoke with at Florida State University agreed allowing early voting on campus could help students.
“Obviously everybody’s schedules are crazy so if they have like the opportunity to go earlier then yeah,” said FSU student Ashley Thomas.
“For students that do live on campus or don’t have any transportation to get around Tallahassee it would be easier,” said FSU student Tamera Howie.
Plaintiffs say with the wave of youthful political involvement following the Parkland shooting, the state should do everything possible to make sure students have the opportunity to have their voice heard.
“I would think our Secretary of State would be wanting to encourage young people to get engaged in the process,” said Patti Brigham, President of the League of Women Voters of Florida.
Elections experts say since young people have a lower voter turnout, more needs to be done to encourage them to become engaged.
“It’s fair,” said Sancho. “You do this for other populations groups, why not do it for students?”
The Governor’s Office responded to the suit calling it an election year gimmick, noting University buildings can be used as polling places on Election Day.
Elections experts say the decision of where early voting should be offered should be in the hands of local supervisors.

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Adoption Anxiety

May 22nd, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz was adopted at birth. New studies suggest adoptees face a higher risk of mental illness and suicide, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, efforts at the state Capitol to help adopted children find their birth parents, which could reduce some anxiety, have gone nowhere. 

 

For the second year in a row, state lawmakers failed to give a full hearing to legislation that would allow adoptees access to their original birth certificates. Sponsor Richard Stark was adopted.

“Statistics are higher for mental illness and, um, things like suicide among people who are adoptees” says Stark.

 

“I searched for thirty years” says adoptee Dr.Mark Pamer.

Not knowing their birth parents leaves many adopted children feeling lonely, restless and with a sense of not belonging.

“You have all these questions but you have no answers, and it nags at you, It nags at you” Pamer told us.

 

Adopted as a child, Pamer has made researching the impact of adoption his lifelong past time.

“In my own case, there was always a drive to know who I was from at a biological level..” 

 

Pamer didn’t speak specifically about accused Parkland school shooter Nikolas Cruz. Cruz was adopted at birth.  

“You see an over representation of adoptees in the mental health systems, which all occur when the person finds out they were adopted, because at some psychological level, the rug is pulled out from under you as to who yo are in a biologic level.” 

Many adopted kids don’t want to find their birth parents, but those that do say it does provide closure.”

Lee Peterson’s son found her 49 years after he was adopted.

We’re developing a relationship. We’re had a lot of building blocks, We’ve had a lot of up and downs” says the birth mother.

Sponsor Stark plans to reintroduce the birth certificate legislation this fall.

Stark is one of two Florida lawmakers adopted at birth. He is term limited out of the state House after this November. The other, Orlando Rep. Jason Brodeur, is running for the State Senate. 

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Amendment 4 Could Save the State $385 Million a Year According to New Report

May 22nd, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A new report found the State of Florida is losing hundreds of millions of dollars and thousands of potential jobs every year because of its restrictive policy for restoring felons’ rights.
Voters will decide this November whether felons should be automatically allowed to vote after they’ve paid their debt to society.
“It does good things for families, reuniting those families together and enabling them to get back on their feet to become productive citizens, paying taxes and contributing back to society,” said Dominic M. Calabro, President of Florida TaxWatch.
A new report by the Washington Economics Group suggests voting yes on Amendment 4 could save tax payers money.
The report suggests Florida’s economy has lost $385 million and 3,500 potential jobs every year since Governor Rick Scott implemented a 5 year waiting period for felons to apply for clemency in 2011.
“It highlights that there are other implications to the civil rights restoration scenarios in Florida, again being arguably the most restrictive state in the nation,” said Human Rights Attorney, Mark Schlakman.
The Governor’s Office responded to the report saying, “The concept that Florida’s economy is not booming and that clemency guidelines have reduced tax revenue or economic growth is absolutely false.”
The Governor’s Office points to 1.5 million new jobs and a a 47-year low in the state’s crime rate as a counter to the reports findings.
Economic watch dogs point to budget shortfalls in state agencies including the department of corrections as examples of how the additional revenue could be used.
“It could go into treating mental health and drug abuse instead of taking folks who need that treatment and locking them up,” said Karen Woodall with the Florida Center for Fiscal and Economic Policy.
The state is currently appealing a ruling by a federal judge, which found the state’s clemency process unconstitutional.

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Scott Silent on Whether He Will Fix DOC Funding

May 22nd, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Contractors who provide transitional and addiction services to inmates and parolees will have their budget cut by $24.9 million Friday, unless the Legislature or Governor decides to act.
The cuts are expected to result in hundreds of lost jobs and the complete cancelation of many programs designed to help prisoners rejoin society and reduce the chance they’ll commit another crime in the future.
The Department of Corrections announced the cuts at the start of the month because of budget shortfalls in other healthcare areas.
When asked if Governor Rick Scott intended to fill the gap by taking out of the state’s rainy day funds Scott instead put the blame on the Legislature.
“We have, in my budget, I’ve asked for in the last eight budgets, I think it’s almost $400 million more than what the legislature has funded,” said Governor Scott. “The process is, I can propose a budget and the Legislature decides what they’re going to put into it. The Department of Corrections is working hard, recidivism rate is down, the crime rate is down, but I’m disappointed the legislature didn’t fund all of it.”
The cuts come as the state faces an opioid crisis, which claims the lives of 16 Floridians each day.

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State Lawmakers Got More Than $1 Million From Opioid Manufactures in the Last 20 Years

May 21st, 2018 by Jake Stofan
An investigation conducted by the Miami Harold found Florida lawmakers accepted more than $1 million from 9 opioid manufacturers and distributors over the past two decades.
The discovery comes a week after Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi filed suit against those same companies for their role perpetuating the opioid crisis.
“They were on notice as to what they were doing, yet continued to do it and market their products, in my opinion no different than a street level drug dealer,” said Bondi.
The investigation found Bondi herself has received $1,500 from companies listed in the suit.
Ben Wilcox with Integrity Florida says while the individual donations were relatively small, that doesn’t mean their influence wasn’t felt.
“Florida has been slow among the other states in this country to address the opioid crisis and I think that can be directly attributed to the companies buying access and influence through campaign contributions,” said Wilcox.
Nine of every ten dollars contributed went to Republicans.
Government watch dogs say that’s to be expected since the GOP is in power.
Representative Jason Brodeur, Chairman of House Health Care Appropriations Subcommittee received the most at $15,250.
“They’re not giving this money in the interest of good government,” said Wilcox. “They’re giving this money in the interest of government being good to them.”
Representative Brodeur denies the donations ever influenced his vote, noting they amount to less than 1% of the total contributions to his campaigns.
Governor Rick Scott, who has received $6,000 from companies named in the suit also held $300,000 in Johnson and Johnson stock.
Scott awarded the company $4.9 million in incentives in 2015.
Donations from Johnson and Johnson make up nearly half of the contributions to lawmakers.

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NRA Appeals Jane Doe Ruling

May 18th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

The NRA is back in court tonight in its efforts to overturn a new state law banning firearm purchases to anyone under 21. The advocacy group is appealing a judges decision to deny two 19 year olds to enter the case anonymously. And without the 19 year old’s, the case could be difficult to win.

Five days before the age raising legislation was signed into law, it was a major point of contention for 19 year old Mason Bonowitz at this pro gun rally at the State Capitol.

“Why can’t you have the right to protect your own family?” He asked.

The ink on the Governor’s signature was barely dry when the NRA filed suit to stop the law. Bundles of threatening hate mail began flowing into the NRA’s capitol office.

 

“We consider some of them real threats” says veteran lobbyist Marion Hammer.

The group asked the federal court to allow two 19 year olds to join the suit anonymously. The judge said no. Now the NRA is asking an appeals court to stop the progress of the suit until the anonymity issue is settled.

Q:”Why shouldn’t she do it publicly?”

“Why should she have to be bullied, harassed, and threatened by hate mongers and gun banners to stand up and exercise her first amendment right” asks Hammer.

 

At this pawn shop, the impact of raising the age limit has been minimal.

“We had some transactions that we weren’t able to complete because of the changes in the law” pawn broker Alex Folmar told us.

 

 

18 year old Justin West had a hunting rifle on layaway when the law changed. 

“If you are 18 and have a hunter safety course and a current hunting license, you can still get a long gun at 18” West told us.”

If the courts don’t allow the 19 year olds to join the suit using a pseudonym, they’ll have to decide what’s more troubling…facing threats or losing their second amendment rights.

Without someone under twenty one  named as plaintiffs in the law suit, it would be difficult for the NRA to argue that someone’s rights were being harmed.

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Greyhound Breeders Sue Over Amendment 13

May 17th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Greyhound breeders have filed a lawsuit, trying to derail a a constitutional amendment that could put them out of business.
Greyhound Racing will be banned if voters approve Amendment 13 this Fall.
Breeders fear losing a tradition they’ve upheld for generations.
“Right now we probably have eight to 9,000 dogs in the state and many more that are being raised at this time and all of those will be put at risk,” said Florida Greyhound Association President Jim Blanchard.
Recent polls show it passing overwhelming, so breeders are attacking the ballot language.
In a lawsuit breeders argue the ballot language is misleading, in part because bets could still be placed on races in other states.
If the courts agree, there wont be a vote.
“Live greyhound racing grossed over $82 million on just live greyhound racing last year alone. It is good for Florida and it’s good for the greyhounds,” said Jack Cory, a lobbyist for the Florida Greyhound Association.
Kate MacFall, campaign cochair for Protect Dogs-Yes on 13 says breeders are grasping at straws.
“It’s pretty much dead on arrival. It’s a desperate attempt by the greyhound breeders to prevent Florida voters from having a voice on amendment 13, on whether or not greyhound racing should continue,” said MacFall.
Breeders also argue tax payers could be on the hook for reimbursing Greyhound breeders and tracks for lost profits.
“You’re talking about 12 greyhound tracks, you’re talking about 8,000 greyhounds, you’re talking about 3,000 Florida jobs directly and another 10,000 indirectly,” said Cory.
Breeders estimate reimbursing the industry could cost between $500 million and $1 billion.
Breeders say regardless of how lower courts rule, they intend to appeal the case for a final decision by the State Supreme Court.

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Smokable Marijuana Gets Day in Court

May 16th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
Florida law allows medical marijuana to be consumed via oils, sprays, tinctures, and vaping. 
 
Edibles are also allowed, but no rules have been developed for their use. 
 
Wednesday, advocates had their day in court challenging a ban on smokable medical marijuana.
Cathy and Robert Jordan have been using marijuana to keep her ALS at bay for almost 30 years.
Cathy says doctors have never told her not to smoke marijuana.
“Never. An actually more interested in how healthy I am after having ALS for so long,” said Jordan.
“And even Cathy, we didn’t know she’d make it this But we got long. But we got our day in court. We believe…we’re very optimistic e’re going to win this thing because its medicine,” said Cathy’s Husband, Robert.
In the end, just three witnesses were called. None by the state.
 
The question before the court was whether lawmakers over stepped their authority when they banned smokable marijuana for patients.
“Kathy Jordan believes she is alive because she uses smokable marijuana,” said amendment 2 author Jon Mills.
But the state argued its job is to protect people..including patients from the dangers of smoking.
“And those harmful effects can occur, not the first time you do it, but certainly over a period of time,” said Senior Assistant Attorney General Karen Brodeen.
Medical Marijuana originator John Morgan filed the lawsuit.
”And if I was Rick Scott, I’d take a look of this video of this woman today, and I’d say enough is enough. Let’s stop the politics. Lets let these people live,” said Morgan.
The judge asked attorneys on both sides if they lose, to file speedy appeals, noting lives are on the line.
 
The Constitutional Amendment approved by voters mentions smoking just once, saying medicinal pot can’t be smoked in public. 
 

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SWAT Officer at Pulse Night Club Shooting Named 2017 Officer of the Year

May 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Eight officers were nominated for the 2017 Law Enforcement Officer of the Year Award for going above and beyond the call of duty.
Fort Meyers Detective Wolfgang Daniel was recognized for his pivotal role in taking down 22 members of a gang known as the Lake Boyz.
“Detective Daniel was the foundation of this investigation,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Volusia County Deputy Justin Ferrari’s act of heroism came during a response to a domestic dispute where a woman had been shot by her partner.
“They could hear the female victim screaming for help,” said Bondi.
Ferrari’s darling rescue was captured on his body cam.
Jumping into the line of fire he pulled the injured woman and her three children to safety.
Taking home the title of the 2017 Offer of the year was Orlando Police Lieutenant Scott Smith for his actions during the Pulse Night Club shooting.
Smith organized and led a party into the club and exchanged fire with the gunman.
“SAWT team members including Lieutenant Smith returned fire, killing the monster,” said Bondi.
His advice to other officers… love what you do.
“Enjoy serving the public and helping people and that what it comes down to. It comes down to that desire to help people,” said Smith.
Special recognition was also given to five Florida police officers who’ve lost their lives since the start of 2018.
The ceremony comes just one day after Highlands County Sheriff’s Deputy William Gentry was laid to rest.
In 2017 nine Florida officers lost their lives in the line of duty.

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Bondi Responds to Gwen Graham Criticism of Opioid Lawsuit

May 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is responding to criticism from Gubernatorial Candidate Gwen Graham over the lawsuit filed Wednesday on behalf of the state against opioid manufactures and distributors.
Graham, a Democrat said Bondi had stuck her head in the sand regarding the opioid crisis and took too long to file suit.
Bondi says Florida waited so it could build a stronger case.
“We have filed the most comprehensive lawsuit, I believe, in the country,” said Bondi. “So I think that was reckless, irresponsible and unnecessary without even looking at the facts. This is a bipartisan effort and to make something like the opioid crisis so partisan is sad.”
Bondi also pointed to other states, some Republican and some Democratic, which waited or are still waiting to file suit.

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No Smoke is a Joke Heads to Courtroom

May 15th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

A Bradenton woman who says her suffering from ALS disease is decreased because of smokable medical marijuana gets her day in court tomorrow. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, she and other plaintiffs are challenging the states ban on smokable medicine.

As lawmaker debated the rules for medical marijuana, Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri was adamant.

“We don’t think there should be smokable marijuana” Gualtieri told lawmakers in January 2017.

 

Fast forward five months, and John Morgan, the man who bankrolled the amendment, filed his no smoke is a joke law suit. He argues people knew what they wanted.

 

“The vast majority, if not one hundred percent knew that smoke was included” Morgan told reporters.

The Constitutional amendment mentions smoking just once. It says smoking can’t be in public. In a January hearing, advocates argued that means it can be smoked in private.

Jon Mills is the Amendment Two Author. “There’s no question that  the definition of marijuana in this constitutional provision includes smokable marijuana.”

The state says otherwise. Rebecca Nordby was the attorney for the Department of Health. 

“There is no express requirement that smoking medical marijuana has to be allowed.”

 

Plaintiff Cathy Jordan and her husband Robert say that smoking marijuana has kept her ALS at bay for more than twenty years.”, “Noticeable difference” Robert told uswhen it cae to vaping or edibles.

Jeff Sharkey of the Medical Marijuana Business Association says it will likely come down to what doctors recommend.

“If the amendment didn’t say it was prohibited, then implicitly, it’s allowed.”

The same judge in this case recently ruled that a Tampa man could grow his own marijuana based on a doctor’s recommendation. The state opposed that, just as it opposes this.

And no matter how the judge rules, the loser is likely to appeal.

 

 

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Death of Deputy Raises Concerns Over Sate’s Probationary Program

May 15th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Nine days after he was fatally shot and killed, Highlands County Sheriff’s Deputy William Gentry is being laid to rest.
“They have to be prepared for every situation,” said Mathew Puckett with the Florida Police Benevolent Association.
The accused cop-killer, Joseph Ables, was classified as a “Violent Felony Offender of Special Concern”.
He was severing a 4-year probation for aggravated battery.
“I don’t know what the deputy knew as he was going there, but he was called out to investigate this circumstance, a dispute between some neighbors,” said Puckett.
The State Department of Corrections says it followed the court’s supervision orders and until the shooting, Ables hadn’t violated his probation.
Florida Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones said in a statement, “The terms of Joseph Ables’ probation were determined by a court, not FDC… Any assertion that FDC is somehow responsible for this disturbed individual’s alleged actions is unfair and irresponsible. We strive every day to keep our communities safe, and when a brother or sister in uniform is killed, we are devastated.”
However, Able’s probationary status is resurfacing concerns over the state of Florida’s probation program.
Over the last decade, there’s been a reduction of hundreds of officers and an increase in less experienced officers.
“They haven’t had the experience yet,” said Puckett. “They haven’t seen everything that some of the offenders are going to offer.”
Police advocates say a lack of funding is to blame.
Now, other transitional programs like addiction and re-entry services are being cut by $29 million for the same reason.
“Hopefully we don’t have people being killed, but we’re going to have problems. We’re going to have re-offenses,” said Puckett. “We’re going to have recidivism. We’re going to have these offenders going out and not reintegrating into society because they can’t do it.”
Police advocates say funding at the Department of Corrections has escalated to a crisis level.
They say corrections should be at the top of the agenda in the coming gubernatorial race.

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Amendment 2 Could Save Florida Tax Payers $700 Million

May 15th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A new report says a constitutional amendment slated for the November ballot could save Florida tax payers $700 million each year if approved.
Amendment 2 would make permanent a 10% cap on annual non-homestead property tax increases that was implemented by a constitutional amendment in 2008.
The current cap is set to expire at the start of next year.
While the exemption doesn’t directly benefit homeowners, its repeal could impact living costs for renters and seniors on a fixed income according to the report.
“You know a recession is when your neighbor’s out of a job, a depression is when you’re out of a job and so you say, well what is it going to affect me? Well, if it’s affecting someone and it’s on a fixed income, it affects them pretty bad,” said Florida TaxWatch President, Dominic M. Calabro. “So people will go, ‘oh don’t worry it’s only an extra $10 a month.’ For some people that’s very hard.”
Prior to the 2008 amendment’s passage non-homestead properties were subject to massive tax hikes.
In 2006 30% of non-homestead properties saw a property tax increase of 80% over the previous year.

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Parking Priorities over Drug Treatment

May 14th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

What do a parking garage for State Senators and substance abuse treatment programs have in common. Nothing, except as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the state is choosing one over the other.

28 million dollars in repairs to this parking garage for state senators and their staff are nearly complete.  The underground parking garage holds 210 cars…so the cost: One hundred thirty three thousand dollars per space. 

 

And just across the street, this parking garage, with room for a hundred cars, sits virtually empty.”

The spending is taking place as the Department of Corrections is cutting a like amount… 29 million, from substance abuse treatment. The cuts will close some programs and send some offenders to prison. 

 

Mark Fontaine is the Executive Director of the FL Alcohol and Drug Abuse Assn.

“And every community will be affected. Drug courts in particular. Veterans courts will lose very..well, will have a greatly diminished option” says Fontaine, a 40 year veteran in the fight against drugs.

 

DOC says the cuts are needed to fund inmate health care.

“Mental health is health care, but substance abuse is not. They are drawing a distinction. We don’t think there is a distinction” says Fontaine.

Q:” This is health care?”

“This is health care.”

State lawmakers could make budget amendments to save the programs before the cuts take effect a week from Friday, but so far, they aren’t budging. The treatment programs make up just one and a half percent of DOC’s 2.4 billion dollar budget.

“Its hard to imagine in a budget that you can’t find one point five percent” says Fontaine.

 

Senators say they will deal with the substance abuse funding in the fall or spring, But by then it may be too late for some of the programs to survive, and some receiving treatment will be behind bars.

The parking garage repairs were necessary for safety, but constructing  new, above ground parking would have cost less than half as much. The Drug Abuse Association’s Fontaine did not respond to a direct question about drug treatment being less of a priority than underground parking for elected officials. 

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