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77 Ideas for Better Hurricane Response

January 17th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

A 12 page report on what went wrong during Hurricane Irma and how to improve responses was approved by a Select House Committee today in the state Capitol. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the majority of the 77 recommendations are less than specific.

 

The report calls for the Department to encourage the use of rail lines to move fuel. It also calls for putting GPS trackers on fuel trucks so emergency managers know when will fuel arrive.

“This is just a starting point” says Chair Jeanette Nunez.

To better move traffic in and out of the state, the report calls for extending the Suncoast Parkway, which now runs from Tampa to Crystal River, all the way to the state line.

And policy makers are still waiting from a report from the Department of Transportation on whether the state ought to actually storm more fuel.”  rep. Ray Rodriquez says the recommendations can make a difference in the future.

“So ideally, if all of those things become implemented, what we will see is a better evacuation process in the future.”

On Wednesday, the House will take up an extended sales tax holiday for hurricane supplies. Also on the agenda, eliminating the sales tax for nursing homes that purchase purchasing generators and their fuel.

“My mother died in Irma.”

Amy Datz’s 94 year old mother died after she was moved during Irma. She believes if generators had been in place her mom would not have been evacuated.

“They moved her into a crowded shelter.  And because of the crowding in the shelter, she got the flu which turned into pneumonia, which ultimately caused her death” says Datz.

“And you think she would have lived ifs she had stayed in the nursing home?”

“Absolutely, she would have lived because she wouldn’t have been exposed to the flu.”

The report, if passed into law would instruct the PSC to study whether it is cost feasible to bury electric lines to avoid lengthy outages.

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First Responders one step closer to PTSD Help

January 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Studies show 15% of Firefighters contemplate suicide sometime in their career, often due due to PTSD resulting from the things they see, but in Florida firefighters and other first responders can’t be compensated for the work related mental injury unless the suffered a physical injury along with it.
New Legislation given unanimous approval by a Senate committee Tuesday would change that.
Prior to a vote in a senate committee, lawmakers joined the families of three first responders who developed PTSD. 
“At home, where he could be his true self, the demons would come out,” said Leslie Dangerfield, who lost her husband David to suicide.”
All three of the first responders were ineligible for workers compensation because they didn’t also have a physical injury. Unable to access care, two ended their lives. 
“David took his own life because he could no longer live with the nightmares he experienced during his career,” said Dangerfield.
The other,  a first responder at the Pulse Nightclub Shooting, lost his job.
His wife Jessica Realin spoke at the press conference.
“The time is now,” said Jessica Realin. “How many more families must be destroyed?”
Their stories aren’t unique. In America, more first responders are lost to suicide than in the line of duty. 
“We know that this is happening and we’re doing nothing about it,” said House Sponsor Representative Matt Willhite, who is also a firefighter.
It’s why Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis wants local governments to cover mental health injuries as they would a physical injury.
“It’s our time to step up and make a difference,” said Patronis.
Although cities say they support first responders, they worry the broad language in the bill would result in too high a cost on local governments.
Similar Legislation in Ohio was estimated to cost $189 million a year.
“We suspect costs could be even higher for Florida,” said David Cruz, a lobbyist for the League of Cities.
Supporters say they’ll work on a compromise, but Senate Sponsor Lauren Book is determined to pass the Legislation despite concerns.
“I don’t care what the price is,” said Book.  “These folks are fighting for us each and every day.”
Bill sponsors estimate the coverage will cost the state between $1.3 and $5 million a year, but no one really knows.

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Legislators Celebrate Religious Freedom Day

January 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
In honor of Religious freedom day Lawmakers in the 30 states around the country held press conferences reaffirming their commitment to the right to religious freedom guaranteed in the US constitution.
In Florida lawmakers touted last year’s Legislation which guarantees religious freedom in Florida schools. They also mentioned a new proposal put forward this year to require public schools to display the words, “In God We Trust.”
“This generation and the generation to come must be educated and exposed to foundational principles that made America the super structure that it is today, but it must start from the foundation,” said Daniels.
The religious freedom day holiday honors Thomas Jefferson’s Virginia Statute for Religious freedom. It become law on this day 232 years ago.

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Lawmakers Announce ADA Education Campaign

January 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Lawmakers announced the roll out an education campaign to help Florida businesses come into compliance with the American disabilities act.
Representative Tom Leek passed legislation last session to help businesses avoid “drive by lawsuits” caused by being out of compliance.
The law helps businesses access recourses to find out what they’re doing wrong and come up with a plan to come into compliance. They’ll be shielded from lawsuits as long as their working to get up to code.
“It requires businesses who want to be compliant to come into compliance and if you don’t come into compliance than the lawsuits are going to be as effective against you as they were yesterday, but if you do come into compliance then you’re going to get the protection from this bill,” said Leek. “So the measure of success is we’re going to have to look five years down the road and see if we have curtailed the frivolous lawsuits.”
Business owners can go to floridabuilding.org to find out more about the program.

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New Criminal Justice Report Takes Aim at Influencing Florida

January 16th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Criminal Justice Advocates are applauding the release of a new report looking into criminal justice reform, in hopes it will help pass Legislation in Florida.
The report was published by the Academy for Justice. It includes findings from 120 top criminal justice scholars throughout the country.
Unlike most scholarly articles, it’s written in layman’s terms and provides policy suggestions to fix the wide variety of issues explored in the report.
Vikrant Reddy with the Charles Koch Institute says Florida is a key state for reform, not only because of its size, but because of its conservative demographics.
“They say things like, ‘Gosh well if tough on crime Florida can do this, we can do it too.’ That’s why for so many people in the advocacy community, Florida is the great white whale,” said Reddy. “You want to reach Florida. You want to see change in Florida, because it make such a big difference in the way people across the country talk about the issue.”
You can find the report at acadamyforjustice.org.

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Air BNB Seeks Less Regulation

January 16th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Cities and counties would lose their ability to regulate vacation rentals by homeowners. The legislation wold preempt all jurisdiction to the state. Sate Senator Greg Steube calls the current regulatory scheme a patchwork.

“Article One, Section Two, basic rights. You have an inalienable right to private property and the use of property and I believe that’s being infringed on by local governments as to how they treat vacation rentals. Some jurisdictions can give you a twenty thousand dollar a day fine. And I think to have a uniform policy for the state, just like we do for hotels and motels makes more sense” says Steube.

Local governments would still be able to control zoning decisions. In some areas, corporate owners have gutted single family homes and turned them into mini hotels, which is why local governments are fighting the change.

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Rep. Sean Shaw Seeks AG Post

January 16th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Tampa State Representative Sean Shaw today announced his run for Attorney General. He is the son of a former Supreme Court Chief Justice and made the announcement in front of the court. He criticized the current office holder, Pam Bondi, for doing little to help consumers, saying he would make consumers his focus if elected.

“We haven’t done much in that office. And I’m telling you this is a wonderful office, This is the best office to protect Floridians, that’s why I’m running for it. This is the best office that you can have to protect Floridians from anything. Fraud, elderly abuse, children from opioid abuse, that’s why I’m excited for this. We’re going to do something when I get to this office” says Shaw.

One other Democrat is in the race, and there are at least three credible Republicans running as well.

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Reuniting Shelter Pets

January 16th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida’s animal shelters say more than a thousand pets didn’t end up back home after Hurricane Irma. New legislation would standardize the shelter’s requirements to try and locate their owner, including notifying newspapers and posting pictures. Sponsor Janet Cruz says storms complicate the return process.

“Many of these shelters in Florida already utilize these reasonable policies and procedures , but with hurricanes  and wildfires, pets don’t recognize county lines on the map. So we need to streamline the policies to ensure that pet owners are afforded the opportunity to quickly and reliably reclaim their lost pets” says Cruz.

The shelters would be required to post any identifying marks or identification of the animals within 48 hours of them being received.

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Slavery Memorial and Confederate Statue Replacement “Long Over due”

January 15th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A memorial to enslaved Floridians and a plan to replace a confederate general with a statue of a civil rights activist are moving forward in this years legislative session.
Many believe the honors are long overdue.
As Floridians at the state Capitol celebrated Martin Luther King Junior’s birthday, they reflected  on how far the state has come since the 1960’s
“We’re all in. We’re committed to the dream,” said Leon County Sheriff, Walt McNeil.
Part of moving forward is acknowledging the mistakes of the past. It’s the idea behind a proposal in the state Legislature to construct a monument honoring the contributions of enslaved Floridians. Activists at the rally say it would be a powerful gesture.
“I feel like it would be a good way to show that, that was a part of our history and we need to remember that,” said Terence McCrey.
“I think that’s great in stepping forward and showing that we want to right the wrong,” said Fran Barber.
There’s also a proposal to replace the statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith representing Florida at the U.S. Capitol, The top choice is civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune.
“[It’s] something that would represent what Martin Luther King represented,” said Poll Spears.
While the statutes would be symbolic gestures honoring how far the state has come, people we spoke with say much more needs to be done.
The top issue, the state’s clemency backlog.
There are 1.5 million people in the state unable to vote due to felony convictions.
“Make things come to pass so these people can have the rights that everybody else has,” said Pastor Quincy Griffin.
There are at least 8 proposals in the Legislature to fix the clemency process.
There are at least 8 proposals up for consideration this year looking to reform the state’s clemency process.
U.S. Representative Al Lawson wants to see the state use its 87 billion dollar budget this year to help disenfranchised communities.
“Those issues are extremely important for us to make a difference in Florida,” said Lawson.
State lawmakers go home in early March. If the monuments win ultimate approval, it will be in time for the 50th anniversary of Martin Luther Kings April 4th assassination.

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Civil Rights Activists Rally in Honor of MLK

January 15th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Between two and three hundred Civil rights activists marched on the state Capitol this morning in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day.
The annual event celebrated the achievements of Dr. King and the impact he made on the nation.
89 years after Kings birth and 50 years after his assassination, speakers reflected on the progress made since the civil rights movement began sending a message of love, acceptance and perseverance in the face of bigotry.
“Don’t go home and be miserable at night because you don’t think that the President is bringing some of the teachings that you taught,” said U.S. Representative Al Lawson. “Nothing lasts forever in America. Nothing lasts forever. Everything will change. You’ve got to keep prayer and praying. That’s what Martin Luther King would tell you.”
Speakers also noted the country and the state have work to do, pointing at recent comments made by President Donald Trump and voting access for minorities in Florida.

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Haitian State Senator Daphne Campbell Wants Trump’s Resignation

January 12th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
State lawmakers in Tallahassee are condemning a tweet by President Trump in which he referred to under developed nations with derogatory slang. Florida’s first lawmaker of Haitian descent is calling on Trump to publicly apologize or resign.
“If he refuse to do it, he needs to resign. He needs to resign, simple as that. I don’t think he need an impeachment. I don’t think he need anything. It’s fairness.  Enough is enough. He just needs to give his resignation as the President,” said Senator Daphne Campbell. “He’s not qualified, not fitted to be President and to represent anyone in the United States of America. American made on immigrants.”
Trump’s tweet was also referenced dozens of times by Democrats debating immigration reform in the State House this afternoon.

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Sanctuary City Bill Passed in the Shadow of Trump’s Immigration Comments

January 12th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The Florida House of Representatives today passed Legislation requiring Florida cities to follow federal immigration law or face consequences.
Immigration activists lined the pathway to the House floor before the debate on the controversial bill.
It would impose fines of up to $5,000 a day on local governments that refuse to cooperate with immigration detainers.
“[To] force authorities, local governments to work as immigration customs enforcement,” said Julio Calderon with the Florida Immigrant Coalition.
The vote comes in the shadow of anti-immigration comments made by president Donald Trump towards Haiti and African countries.
“He made remarks that should offend everyone in this room,” said Representative Sean Shaw, while in debate.
Surrounded by House Democrats, Representative Al Jacquet made an impassioned plea for Republicans to consider possible unintended consequences.
“Racial profiling is real,” Jacquet said. “Some of us don’t believe it is because we don’t experience it.”
Republicans maintained the issue at hand comes down to making sure local governments follow the law.
“If government officials and by extension, local government bodies such as a city council is permitted to pick and choose the laws they intend to follow and abide by, our entire system of government crumbles around our feet,” said Representative Ross Spano.
Democrats, also believe the Legislation violates the U. S. Constitution.
“I don’t see any court in this state or in this country upholding this piece of legislation. So in my opinion I think this is just all show,” said Jaqcuet.
Jacquet reassured the Haitians living in Florida they would be alright. Speaking directly to the community in Haitian.
With a vote of 71 in favor and 35 in opposition down party lines the House approved the legislation.
The bill has been passed the House before, but the Senate has never given it a hearing.
Similar Legislation passed in Texas, but was ruled unconstitutional by a federal court.
The sponsor of Florida’s bill anticipates legal challenges if it becomes law.

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Violating Do Not Call Getting Tougher Penalties

January 11th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

19 thousand times last year, Floridians complained about robo or sales calls to the state. Now, state lawmakers are responding with a tougher law and higher fines, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, whether it will stop the flood is anybody’s guess.
Hardly a day goes by without an unwanted call.

Nat sot “Hi, this is a one time only call.”

In an effort to keep up with technology, The legislation bans a new practice of sending sales calls directly to your voicemail.

Senator Dana Young (R-Tampa) is the bill sponsor.

“They are ruthless in their desire and willingness to call people’s cell phones.”

The bill also tried to tackle another new technology. It’s known as phone spoofing. That’s when telemarketers use a number that they think you will recognize in hopes  you’ll answer.

“Right now they can use an artificial number and so there is no way to trace it back to the solicitor, but under this legislation, they would be required to use a number that can actually be called back, and that number would be required to be accurate” says Young.

Fines for violating Do Not Call also increase,  from a thousand dollars per violation to up to ten thousand. Despite being on the do no call list, Barbara Rodman estimates she gets more than 300 banned calls a year.

 

“There is no point to it.”

So we asked if the state was doing a good enough job. The answer. As good as can be expected.

“And it’s just very hard to get these solicitors because they are very creative in ways to disguise where they are calling from.  A lot are calling from overseas. Now whether we can catch them, I don’t know, but it gives us one more tool in the toolbox to try and crack down on this practice” says Young.

And If all else fails, new apps on the market seek to do what government can’t, stop unwanted calls.

The legislation cleared it’s last committee today on an 11-0 vote and is headed for passage by the full Senate.

 

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Red Light Camera Ban Up for A House Vote Friday

January 11th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

In 2016 there were 688 red light cameras in use across the state. The devices are designed to make intersections safer, but lawmakers looking to end the use of red light cameras say they actually cause more accidents than they prevent.

A video compilation, released by the state’s biggest red light camera provider, shows red light offenders around Florida.

The company’s message… cameras at the intersections could prevent some of the horrific crashes.

The video was released ahead of a major vote in the Florida House, which bans the cameras throughout the state. Co-sponsor Dane Eagle says the implementation of red light cameras has actually increased accidents by 9%.

 

“When you’ve got the camera up there distracting them, their eyes are off the road they’re worried about other things,” said Eagle.

Opponents say that while red light cameras may result in more minor crashes, on average they’ve lowered red light running by 5%.

 

“That car doesn’t go into the intersection, where then you’re talking about a potential catastrophic car accident,” said Representative Jared Moskowitz.

Florida and local governments take in more than $150 million each year from red light runners.

The idea of losing that much cash has kept the legislation from moving in the Senate.

 

“This bill has been a genesis of dollars, money. So we’ve got to be willing to bite the bullet,” said State Senator Travis Hutson.

At the heart of the argument is the sentiment that local municipalities should have the final say in using the cameras.

 

“If a local municipality wants it for safety for their municipality they should be the ones who make the decision,” said Representative Lori Berman.

Supporters of banning the cameras argue cities and counties have used the cameras as a crutch.

 

“If cities and counties need to raise taxes then they should do that and face the voters, not do it through red light camera tickets,” said Eagle.

According to a survey of local governments that have red light camera programs, nearly half of the revenue generated by tickets went towards paying camera vendors.

The bill is expected to be passed by the House of Representatives Friday.

If the ban becomes law, local governments would have until 2021 to stop using the cameras.

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State Democrats File Legislation to Combat Opioid Crisis

January 11th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

State Democratic Lawmakers announced seven new pieces of legislation aimed at combating the opioid crisis Thursday morning.

The bills range from privacy protections for drug counselors, expanding Medicaid to cover addiction services and creating new requirements for insurance companies to cover mental health services in the same way they cover other illnesses.

There are also new programs being proposed such as a statewide needle exchange, outreach to addicted parents, and increased education for college students about the dangers of addiction.

Representative Kionne McGhee says he’s confident the proposals will stand a chance at passing because of the bi-partisan nature of the issue.

“I can almost assure you, there’s not a single Legislator here, either in the Senate or in the House, who has not seen the effects of what these drugs are causing in our community. So for the 20.3 million American who are out there,” said McGhee. “I can tell you as I stand here with my colleagues who have proposed the bills, that better days are here. Better days are coming. This is not a partisan issue.”

Other bills filed Thursday include warning labels on opioid prescriptions and a $10 court fee for drug related cases to go towards helping rule counties fight the crisis.

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