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FSU Hires 11th Head Coach

December 8th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida State University has a new head football coach. Mike Norvell has coached at Memphis for the last four seasons and has a 38-15 winning record. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the FSU says he was the only coach offered the job.

Florida State’s 11th head coach, Mike Norvell, was greeted with fanfare by the band as he, his wife, and daughter strolled across Doak Campbell stadium for the official announcement.

We were the first to talk to him as he finished his first walk across the field. 

“It’s breathtaking, unbelievable, leaves me speechless. Its an incredible opportunity, so very excited about the future” he told us.

Minutes later he was officially introduced to a crowd of about two hundred boosters,  FSU President John Thrasher telling them he is certain they got the right man.

“This gentleman right here was the only person I offered the head coaching job at Florida State University to”,said FSU President John thrasher, adding “and I couldn’t be prouder that he accepted it”

Norvell comes to FSU with passion and energy.

He will make $3.7 million a year.

“I want to be the coach that gets us back. I want to be the coach that leads this program. I want to be the coach to give college football what it needs…and that’s for Florida State football to be one country’s elite” Norvell told the crowd.

Afterward, the new head coach met briefly with about a dozen former players, telling them “Friday night before games, or whatever, you’re going to be a part of our game day preparation.”

One of them was Peter Boulware.

He played for FSU from 1993 t0 1996.

“And from I heard today” says Boulware,  “I think we are headed in the right direction, finally, for the first time in a long time.”

And Florida State’s new head coach left open the possibility to coaching in a bowl game.

Either for Memphis or Florida State.

Norvell said the decision of whether to coach his former or current team will be made in the next few days.

FSU relied on a private recruiting consultant to set up meetings and identify Norvell and other candidates.

It paid $100,000 for the service.

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Legislation Would Keep Medical Professionals Working Through Student Loan Debt Troubles

December 6th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Nurses are in short supply in the state of Florida and medical professionals have called the situation even worse than the teacher shortage.

Compounding the problem is a law that allows the Department of Health to suspend medical professionals’ licenses if they don’t pay back student loans.

Nearly half of Florida’s nurses are over the age of 50.

About 37,000 are expected to retire within the next five years.

Martha DeCastro with the Florida Hospital Association believes the shortage is reaching a crisis level.

“It’s not possible for the educational programs to replace all of them in time,” said DeCastro.

The state is making the shortage worse.

The Department of Health can suspend or even revoke medical professionals’ licenses if they fall behind on government-backed student loan debt.

121 suspensions were issued last year alone.

“Taking away that ability for them to go out there and practice their profession as well as earn money to pay down their debt is very counter intuitive,” said Brewster Bevis with the Associated Industries of Florida.

Nationwide about 70 percent of nurses report graduating with debt.

On average they owe roughly $30,000 out of school.

But a new bill moving in both the House and Senate called the ‘Keep our Graduates Working Act’ would take away the state’s ability to suspend licenses based on student debt alone.

“This isn’t just wiping their debt, however, it does remove the state’s ability or these agencies’ ability to simply take away their licensing and their ability to go out there and earn money,” said Bevis.

The bill faced opposition last year from some lawmakers who worried it would lead to more people failing to pay off their loans, but this year attitudes are changing.

Rep Randy Fine came to support the bill after seeing data from other states that showed Florida’s penalties aren’t working.

“This, ‘we’ll take away your license if you don’t pay your student loans’ is not actually increasing the rate of people paying them,” said Fine.

And DeCastro said anything the state can do to keep medical professionals working goes a long way in the Sunshine State.

“We know that our population is growing. We know our population is aging,” said DeCastro.

The bill gets its second committee hearing in the senate on Monday and its second in the House Wednesday.

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Opposition to Toll Roads Building

December 5th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Plans to build 350 miles of toll roads has big Florida businesses cheering and environmentalists crying foul. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, one small town devastated decades ago from the construction of Interstate Ten is now worried a new toll road will undo 40 years of progress.

Signs of discontent are everywhere in Monticello. Extending the Suncoast parkway through the county to the Georgia line is almost universally opposed here. 

“We’re really concerned the downtown economics here would really suffer” says store owner Michelle Arceneaux.  

Residents point to shops closing here in the late 70’s when I-10 diverted traffic off US-90 through the middle of town.

Merchants here on on Us 19 say about forty percent of their business comes from out of state residents traveling south to north, and they say that will all go away if a toll road is built.

At the state Capitol, more than a dozen environmental organizations chanted “No roads to ruin” and cried foul on how the plan made it through the legislature.

“It was rammed through the 2019 legislative session on the last day” argues Sot: Trish Nealy of the League of Women Voters.

Senate President Bill Galvano is the driving force behind the expansions. He argues the plan isn’t just roads.

“We are addressing the water projects and sewer projects in these smaller counties,

and we are improving access to broadband so small county schools can have internet, first responders can, businesses can” says Galvano.

Florida expects four and a half million more people and three million more cars by 2030. We asked coalition leader Ryan Smart what he would do instead.

“We need to be looking at high speed rail and how we are going to move people in twenty-one hundred and twenty-two hundred” says Smart.

But the plan has Galvano’s backing as well as that of the man who will lead the Senate into 2022, which is after the roads scheduled groundbreaking. 

The push for the roads is also being sold as an improvement in public safety and improve the ability of residents to evacuate as a major storm approaches.

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High Profile Figures Concerned About Capital City Crime

December 4th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The home country of the State Capitol has the highest crime rate in the state for five years running.

Now high-profile figures are beginning to demand action.

A recent spree of robberies at FSU has University President John Thrasher worried.

“I’ll tell you what keeps me up at night and it’s about the crime in Tallahassee,” said Thrasher.

Thrasher isn’t the only one having trouble sleeping.

“I hear the sirens at night,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.

So far this year, 61 shootings have taken the lives of 19 in the Capital County.

Deputy Dave Teems with the Leon County Sheriff’s Office said addressing the crime rate is a top priority.

“We are working as a community, all of your law enforcement partners, all of your community partners are working together to try and tackle this issue,” said Teems.

Federal and State cooperation with local law enforcement has increased in recent years.

The Governor said the state is willing to ramp up efforts.

“If they want help from the state on something we’re willing to look at it. I mean we’ve got some folks with FDLE who do this stuff a lot,” said DeSantis.

The crime rate did drop 7 percent between 2017 and 2018.

Law enforcement expects to continue making progress.

This summer a slew of new initiatives were launched in Leon County.

They’re aimed at prosecuting top offenders, helping low level criminals reintegrate in the community and preventing crime on the front end.

The goal is a 25 percent reduction in crime by 2021, but some like Thrasher are hoping to see faster results.

“Because I’m telling you, if young people around the state start to fear about coming to Tallahassee it’s going to make a difference in both Florida A&M, certainly FSU and our community college,” said Thrasher.

There is no word yet on whether local officials will take the Governor up on his offer to provide additional state help.

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Clemency Board Rules on 70 Clemency Cases as State Fights Felons’ Rights Lawsuit

December 4th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

A federal judge has suggested the state is dragging its feet in an effort to delay allowing felons the right to vote until after the 2020 election.

The Governor and Cabinet met as the Clemency Board Wednesday, and disposed of just 70 cases.

Larry Barefield got caught 25 years ago with a small amount of crack cocaine.

”I don’t drink no more, don’t do no drugs,” said Barefield.

Larry and his wife Janey were in the Capitol asking for all of his rights back, including the authority to own a gun.

What he got was his voting rights.

“I feel good, I feel good about that, but I want it all redone,” said Barefield.

“It’s like ten years ago we first applied,” said Janey Barefield.

Roy Hemlock was convicted of attempted sexual battery.

He told the Board the crime was trumped up by an angry wife during a bitter divorce.

He broke down when he was told no.

“It doesn’t mean you can’t be held responsible,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.

“But sir, I didn’t do what I was accused…” said Hemlock before falling on the ground and bursting into tears.

Chris Taylor also got turned down because he hadn’t paid a $50,000 fine.

“A lot of this things are so old, it’s difficult to find paperwork,” said Taylor.

“We only got married after they told him his fines had gone away,” said his wife Elizabeth.

A federal judge has already ruled the state must give felons the right to vote if they can’t afford to pay their fines and fees.

The state is appealing.

The lone Democrat on the Clemency Board, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said no matter what happens in court, the clemency board could change its own rules.

“We have the power today as the Clemency Board to change the rules and regulations, and I am completely supportive of us moving forward with those changes,” said Fried.

After after meeting for just a little over two hours, a backlog of 13,000 cases remain.

The Florida Supreme Court was asked by the Governor to decide whether Amendment 4’s language “complete all terms of a sentence” means fines and fees.

It could issue a ruling as early as Thursday.

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Open Primary Amendment Draws Rare Bipartisan Opposition

December 4th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

In a rare show of bipartisanship both the Republican and Democratic parties came out swinging at the State Supreme Court Tuesday morning.
They want the high court to block a proposed constitutional amendment from the 2020 ballot that would allow all voters to vote in primary elections.
Currently in Florida, only voters who currently belong to a political party can vote in a primary election and only in the races for their respective party.
But if approved by voters, the proposed constitutional amendment would force Republicans and Democrats to compete in a single primary open to all voters.
The top two candidates would then face off in the general election.
“It would force a moderation of behavior. Right now you see bad behavior on both sides on the extremes. Pandering to the base, throwing out the red meat,” said Glenn Burhans, Chair of All Voters Vote.
Florida has become more moderate over the past few years.
Currently, just shy of 28 percent of Floridians do not belong to either the Democratic or Republican party.
Both Republicans and Democrats oppose the amendment.
“9.7 million registered voters in Florida who have chosen a party affiliation would lose their ability by direct vote to choose their party nominee,” said Rob McNeely, an attorney representing the Florida Democratic Party.
But Justices seemed unconvinced.
“All candidates go on the primary ballot and the two highest vote getters advance to the general election. Again I cannot follow your reasoning of how that disenfranchises anybody,” said Chief Justice Charles T. Canady.
One area the justices did express concerns over is the fact that the amendment leaves room for the Legislature to potentially create a third election that could still be closed off to other voters and give parties an opportunity to nominate a candidate.
McNeely said voters reading the amendment wouldn’t understand that potential.
“No it’s not clear. It’s confusing and therefore it shouldn’t be allowed on the ballot,” said McNeely.
If approved by the court, voters will have the final say in November.
The amendment sponsor anticipates it will take at least 6 million yes votes to reach the 60 percent threshold for approval.

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Trooper of the Year Awarded at State Capitol

December 3rd, 2019 by Jake Stofan
The 2019 Florida Trooper of the year was named by the Governor and Cabinet Tuesday morning.
The honor goes to FHP Trooper Mithil Patel.
Patel saved the life of a man near West Palm Beach by pushing him out of the way of a hydroplaning vehicle last December.
Patel was hit instead and suffered severe injuries.
“He immediately put himself in harm’s way to move that witness, to push him out of the way to keep them from being hurt. You know my grandfather used to say the true character of a man is the decisions they make in a split second. It is a testament that this is what he is a true hero,” said FHP Director Colonel Gene Spaulding.
Patel gave a special thanks to his wife, who is a nurse, while accepting the award.
Patel said she took direct care of him during his nine months of recovery.

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Christmas Comes to the Capitol

December 3rd, 2019 by Jake Stofan
The State Capitol is kicked off the holiday season Tuesday morning with Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried presenting the Governor and Cabinet with a Florida-Grown Christmas tree.
The Carolina Sapphire tree, provided by Tallahassee based Bavarian Tree Farm is one of 16,000 Christmas trees grown by more than 140 Christmas tree farms across the state.
“Thank you again for this honor to be part of the tradition and really wanted to encourage everybody to not only have fresh from Florida trees at home but make sure that that’s what you are actually putting on your tables is fresh from Florida food,” said Fried.
Fried, who is Jewish, presented the Governor with and additional gift during the ceremony, Hanukkah Menorah ordainments to go on the tree in the Governor’s Office.

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State to Lose $140 Million on Uncollected Internet Sales Taxes Over the Holidays

December 2nd, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

On Cyber Monday, the internet’s rival to Black Friday, and across the state millions are shopping online, many of them tax free.

But in 2020 state lawmakers will again tackle the issue of trying to collect a sales tax that is already owed.

In the State Capitol, one in every five commercial buildings are empty.

While every vacant building has its own unique story, Scott Shalley, President of the Florida Retail Federation said online sales are hurting local businesses here and everywhere else in Florida.

“Creates a pricing differential and also puts the consumer in a bad spot. The consumer has a very complex situation in terms of paying the tax,” said Shalley.

In 2018, the US Supreme Court allowed states to start collecting sales taxes from out of state vendors with no physical presence in the state except for their online presence, but Florida is one of two states that has yet to start collecting.

That will cost the state about $140 million or about $4.5 million a day this holiday season.

Legislation to allow the tax stalled last year after a newly elected Governor Ron DeSantis worried it looked too much like a tax hike.

A window into how the Governor thinks was opened when he was asked about collecting corporate taxes already owed but not being paid.

“I just don’t want people to have tax increases. I think we are getting investment driven to Florida so let’s just hold people harmless,” said DeSantis.

Technically Floridians are supposed to file a DR15-MO and pay the tax they owe to the Department of Revenue.

Few do, and retailer Geof Weldon believes it puts him at a six percent disadvantage.

“Online is a huge competition. Online is a very big competition. You know they have a lot more power to run a lot of deeper sales and stuff that I really can’t do,” said Weldon.

Not only does the nonpayment put brick and mortar stores at a six percent disadvantage, it’s costing the state an estimated $700 million annually.

The internet sales tax legislation has cleared one Senate Committee, but it faces a tough road in the House, and perhaps even with the Governor.

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Forward Florida’s New Voter Registration Claims Under Question

December 2nd, 2019 by Jake Stofan

After losing his bid for Governor by just over 30,000 last year, former Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum launched a voter registration campaign, setting a goal of registering one million voters.

Gillum’s Forward Florida Action campaign claims to have registered 106,000 voters between April and October.

GOP strategist Mac Stipanovich is skeptical.

“I believe that the number is inflated,” said Stipanovich.

Numbers put out by the Florida Division of Elections show by the end of September, third party voter registration organizations had totaled less than 27,000 registrations.

Forward Florida told us people who were already registered, but were at risk of being removed from the roles because of outdated addresses or inactive status are also included in its 100,000 figure.

The campaign said getting those voters’ information corrected has prevented them from joining the 371,000 that have been removed from the roles in 2019.

In an official statement Florida Forward Action Spokesperson Josh Karp said:

“We made a commitment to bring resources and infrastructure to register and reengage voters, and we’re proud to be delivering for Florida. Progressive organizers across our state are doing the hard work of democracy. We will hold the the state of Florida accountable for improving their infrastructure to smoothly add these new voters to the rolls —and doing their part to ensure every vote is counted next November.”

Forward Florida Action was bankrolled in part by $500,000 in unspent funds from Mayor Gillum’s Gubernatorial race.

So far the organization has distributed $1 million to 22 groups in its voter registration effort.

But Stipanovich said based on what the campaign has produced so far, its new goal of flipping the Florida Legislature in 2020 is wishful thinking.

“Split the difference, let’s suppose it’s 50,000 new voters… Most of the voters appear to be people who were already eligible to vote and may or may not have voted in the past and there’s a big difference between registering someone to vote and getting them to vote,” said Stipanovich.

One thing is clear, with the Presidency on the line both side are likely to see huge voter turnouts.

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The Plight of the Florida Turkey

November 27th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

In 2018, 32,700 hunters bagged an estimated 20,300 Wild Florida Turkeys, but the annual harvest wasn’t always so bountiful.

The restoration of the Florida’s wild turkeys is one of the great conservation success stories, but new environmental stresses could be putting the population at risk once again.

Turkeys might not be the first animal that comes to mind when you think Florida wildlife, but they have a long rich history in the sunshine state.

“We have two subspecies and those are the Eastern and the Osceola Turkey. Something that’s really special about the Osceola Turkey is that it’s only found in the Florida Peninsula and nowhere else in the world,” said Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Spokesperson Rebekah Nelson.

Florida hasn’t always been kind to its avian friend, their numbers were once estimated to be a quarter million, but 70 years ago only 26,000 remained because of overhunting.

“It was because they’re so tasty. There was a lot of hunting and it wasn’t sustainable,” said Julie Wraithmell, Executive Director of Audubon Florida.

What followed was a success story as the state embarked on a concerted restoration effort.

“With science-based management we’ve gotten back to a robust turkey population,” said Nelson.

But according to FWC reports, turkeys could soon face a new threat.

“Habitat fragmentation and habitat loss are definitely concerns,” said Nelson.

Climate change and urban sprawl stand to destroy 2.1 million acres of turkey territory by 2060.

“Certainly as our state urbanizes we will see changes to the distribution of those birds,” said Wraithmell.

For now, the birds are still safe to hunt.

The FWC has also developed a ten-year strategic plan for managing Florida’s wild turkeys, to ensure their population stays healthy for future generations to sample on their Thanksgiving plate.

It’s too late to sign up for a permit to hunt your own Thanksgiving turkey this year, but hunters still have until November 30th to get a permit for the Spring season.

They can be purchased at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com.

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Politics and Holiday Season Drive Uptick in Gun Sales

November 27th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Florida gun dealers began seeing an uptick in gun purchases, based on background check applications in June.

Thousands are expected to start the purchasing process this Friday.

Gun sales have lagged in Florida since 2016 set a record for over a million background checks.

The slowdown in growth held through the first six months of this year, but that changed about the same time an impeachment and proposed ban on assault weapons in Florida started getting traction.

“Any time you have uncertainty, you are going to have people that are going to want to go ahead and buy it now because if I buy it now, I can own it. Some people would even say it they pass a law they’d have to take it away from me,” said Pawn shop owner, Mark Folmar.

Black Friday could, and often is, the biggest day of the year for Florida gun dealers.

“Politics always is going to have a little bit to do with it, but it’s that time of the year. Its holiday season and hunting season. It’s a good time of the year for gun sales,” said Brandon Long with Kevin’s Guns and Sporting Goods in Tallahassee.

If history is any guide, 9,000 to 11,000 people will apply for background checks on Friday.

At Folmar’s, sales are driven by personal safety.

“The majority of gun buyers do not hunt, or that’s not their main purpose. They really like shooting,” said Folmar.

But across town at Kevins Guns, hunting is king, at least at this time of the year.

“People do like to buy them as gifts and you have hunting season right in the middle of it,” said Long.

On Wednesday, waiting for a background check to be processed took just minutes.

On Friday, it could be an hour or more.

All guns sold in Florida are subject to a three day waiting period unless the buyer holds a concealed carry permit.

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Two Minutes of ‘Silent Reflection’ Could Soon Start Off Florida School Days

November 26th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Students would be required to take between a one and two minute moment of silence to start off each school day if two state lawmakers get their way.

Many teachers already offer students the option, but the new legislation would make the reflection period mandatory.

With all the distractions in life it can be hard to find the time to center yourself, especially for students.

“Every now and then you need to pause,” said Pastor R. B. Holmes with Bethel Baptist Church in Tallahassee.

Holmes said a minute or two of reflection can go a long way.

“And try to seek God’s will and direction that would give a person a sense of calmness and a sense of confidence in these trying times that students are going through,” said Holmes.

Under current law, school boards can authorize teachers to offer one to two minutes of silent prayer or meditation at the start of the school day.

The new legislation would make it mandatory, but also remove the words prayer and meditation from the statue.

Andrea Messina with the Florida School Boards Association said because the new legislation would also prohibit teachers from telling students how to use their silent time it helps ensure the separation of church and state.

“It’s a moment of silence for each individual student to use as he or she chooses,” said Messina.

The legislation also directs teachers to encourage parents to discuss how to best use the period of silent reflection with their children.

And with the holiday season just around the corner, Pastor Holmes said maybe we could all use a little time for silent refection.

“One of the reasons why Abraham Lincoln signed the proclamation for Thanksgiving, he was saying for the country to pause, meditate, reflect,” said Holmes.

If the bill becomes law the silent reflection period would start during the 2020 school year.

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Holiday Sales Look Better Than Expected Florida Retailers Say

November 26th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

If you haven’t started your Christmas shopping yet, you are in the minority according to Florida retailers.

Scott Shalley, President of the Florida Retail Federation said more than one of every two Floridians have already started their Christmas Shopping, and it’s only going to get busier this weekend.

“Projects are that about 75 percent of shoppers will shop this weekend. You’ve got small business Saturday on Saturday after Black Friday and then leading into cyber Monday,” said Shalley.

Sales are expected to notch up about four percent over last year.

For retailer Geof Weldon who own the Shoe Box in Tallahassee, that’s welcome news as brick and mortar stores fight back against increasing on line sales.

“I think people sitting on a little money and actually willing to let it go this Christmas season,” said Weldon. “I am very confident in the economy right now.”

Adults age 30 to 50 are expected to spend $50 more than the $1,000 they spent last year.

The bump Is a welcome surprise.

There are fewer shopping days between Thanksgiving and Christmas this year, which caused dire predictions over the summer.

“There’s a lot of positivity out there. Projections are up over last year,” said Shalley.

And there are smiles as well at Nic’s Toggery, a family owned clothing store.

“We tend to be profitable throughout the year, but we tend to make a good profit at Christmas and its a good time of the year for us,” said co-owner Victor Galvas.

Gift cards have been the top seller so far this season, with clothing and electronics not far behind.

Low unemployment, wage growth, and overall high consumer confidence are getting credit for the increased holiday shopping.

Christmas sales account for about 20 percent of a retailers annual profit.

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Push to Expand Hate Crimes Draws Bi-Partisan Support

November 25th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

There were 141 hate crimes in Florida reported to the FBI in 2018.

The gunman who killed a female FSU student and professor at the hot yoga studio in Tallahassee last year was found to have a long history of hating women.

Victim Maura Binkley’s father Jeff Binkley founded Maura’s Voice after the shooting with hopes of uncovering ways to prevent hate spurred violence.

“There’s not much known about it and it needs to be addressed,” said Binkley in March.

The Yoga shooting wasn’t included in the FBI’s 2018 hate crime report, because in Florida gender isn’t included in the state’s hate crime laws.

Maura’s Voice has since come out in support of legislation that would add gender as a protected class.

“The reason we must legally call all hate crimes by their name and provide specific punishments is that they, above all, undermine fundamental values of a decent society in very specific ways, corroding respect for others; a sense of responsibility to all of our brothers and sisters; the freedom to live our lives without fear of being attacked simply because of who we are; and yes, freedom of individual expression,” Binkley said in a statement.

Meg Baldwin with Refuge House believes it would be a step in the right direction.

“To reframe what these crimes are really all about. To dislodge them even further from those old stereotypes that these were all crimes of passion that had to do with an excess of feeling rather than an intention to harm and demean,” said Baldwin.

The legislation has been filed for the past three sessions, but has never gotten traction.

This year however, the legislation for the first time has both Democrat and Republican co-sponsors.

“Hatred of women and crimes against women are not partisan issues,” said Baldwin.

If the bill does pass in 2020, Florida would join 31 other states that already have hate crime laws that include gender-based crimes.

The legislation filed in Florida would also add gender identity to the state’s hate crime statute.

Only 17 states currently include gender identity under their hate crime laws.

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