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Retailers Hopeful Liquor Wall Will Fall

December 3rd, 2018 by Jake Stofan

You might soon see Whiskey next to the Wheaties in Big Box stores thanks to an Administrative Law Judge’s ruling, but advocates for traditional liquor stores say the ruling is a far cry from putting an end to the debate over where hard liquor can be sold.

For at least the past five years, dozens of lobbyists have worked lawmakers to allow the sale of hard alcohol in big box stores instead from a separate storefront.

Last year it passed by one vote, but was then vetoed by Rick Scott.

Trying a new strategy, Walmart and Target turned to an administrative law judge, successfully challenging a rule that defined items customarily sold in restaurants.

“Anybody can go to these places [restaurants] and see that they’re selling stuff that isn’t hot and cold food and beverages,” said Will Spicola, an Attorney representing Walmart, Target and Top Golf.

Spicola says the way the rule had been applied prohibited retailers from acquiring Consumption on Premisses licenses, which if granted, would allow them to sell liquor in their main stores, while businesses like hotels and bowling allies got away with selling products off the state’s list.

Retailer hope with the rule gone, they might now be able to acquire a license.

“A lot of these big box retailers have restaurants,” said Spicola. “They have concession areas where they’re selling food and drink to their patrons. There could be an opportunity there for them to get a license to sell things just like every other restaurant does.”

While the ruling favors retailers, there’s nothing in it prohibiting the state from creating a new rule blocking the big box stores.

Attorney Will Hall with the Florida Independent Spirits Association says a new rule would likely add tee shirts and branded merchandise and not much else.

“If the point of all of this at the beginning was to basically allow every item in a Costco warehouse to be customarily sold in restaurants, this ruling doesn’t do that,” said Hall.

The state could also choose to appeal.

In that case, the ruling would be put on hold until it gets a second look from the First District Court of Appeals.

We reached out to the Department of Business and Professional Regulation for comment on this story, but did not receive a response in time.

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Three Day Governor

December 3rd, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Rick Scott is scheduled to begin his term as a U-S Senator on January 3rd, but a new Governor won’t be sworn in January 8th.

The Constitution says he can’t hold two offices, so Scott may ask the Senate to swear him in later so he can finish his term.

He could also resign and let the Lt. Governor have the top title, as happened just over 30 years ago.

In January 1987,Then Governor Bob Graham became a U-S Senator, three days before his successor, Bob Martinez was due to be sworn in.

Graham resigned making Lt. Governor Wayne Mixson Florida’s 39th Governor.

Mixson, now 96, made the most of those three days.

He printed stationary.

He spent the night with his wife Margie, in the Governor’s mansion.

“Never before has a Lt. Governor succeeded to the office of Governor,” said former Governor LeRoy Collins at Mixson’s inauguration. “He is a person of rare good judgement.”
The state could have, and would have paid for it all, but Mixson did it all at his own expense.

“Well, I don’t enjoy the criticism, whether it’s just or unjust that would have come otherwise,” said Mixson.

Mixson even has a portrait hanging outside the Governor’s office.

Like everything else, he paid for it himself.

Rick Scott is scheduled to he a US Senator five days before his term as Governor ends.

If Scott chooses to resign, Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez Cantera would become governor.

If that happens, Mixson’s advice is to make the most of those five days.

“I appointed between fifty and sixty County Commissioners or Water Management Districts and these kids of things,” said Mixson. “It was a lot of fun. I felt relevant”

The only other Lt. Governor to succeed to the Governor’s office was Buddy MacKay.

That was on December 12, 1998, the day outgoing Governor Lawton Chiles died.

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Rick Scott’s Statement on the Passing of George H.W. Bush

December 1st, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

“Today, the world lost a statesman who was the symbol of the highest level of civil commitment and who helped weave the fabric of an America that represents freedom and prosperity. The contributions of George H.W. Bush to our country were beyond that of his presidency. As a Naval aviator and fighter pilot, Congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations, Director of the CIA, Vice President and President, George H.W. Bush dedicated his life to service to our nation and vowed to use his presidency and the power of our nation as “a force for good.” I have had the privilege of knowing the Bush family for years and am incredibly grateful to have met such a genuine, gracious and kind man.

 

“The United States of America is stronger today because of the selfless service of 41. Ann and I send our deepest condolences, thoughts and prayers to the Bush family as they mourn the loss and celebrate the amazing life of George H.W. Bush.” – Governor Rick Scott

 

Governor Rick Scott’s Communications Office

media@eog.myflorida.com

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State Senate Seeks Immunity from Sexual Harassment Investigation

November 30th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The State Senate says it is immune from a Federal investigation looking into a sexual harassment claim made by a female staffer.

Senate staffer Rachel Perrin Rogers filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission in January after a Special Master found she was sexually harassed by former State Senator Jack Latvala.

Latvala resigned last December.

The complaint spurred an investigation into the Senate’s handling of the incident.

The state argued in federal court Friday that sovereign immunity protects it from the investigation.

“It’s highly technical and nitpicking what they’re doing,” said Employment Attorney Richard Johnson.

Johnson believes the state’s argument wont hold water.

He says the mere fact the state would try to absolve itself from responsibility is problematic.

“It’s just not fair or decent for a governmental institution in a democratic society to try to be exempting itself, making itself unaccountable for discrimination and harassment,” said Johnson.

The hearing just after the Senate adopted new procedures for dealing with future sexual harassment claims.

Those too are drawing criticism from employment attorneys.

The most glaring issue according to Johnson, is a new rule that would impose a gag order on Senators, preventing them from discussing sexual harassment claims publicly.

“It’s a club and you know they’re trying to take care of their own,” said Johnson. “You know and they’re all worried about, what about the things that I’ve done? Are they going to come up some day?”

The federal judge postponed any ruling until at least Monday.

Regardless of what the Judge decides, the final decision on the state’s case will likely end up in the hands of a federal appeals court.

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Calhoun County Hoping State Will Cover Mutual Aid Bills After Michael

November 29th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Rural counties in Florida’s panhandle say they’re headed for financial disaster if the state doesn’t speed up reimbursements for Hurricane Michael recovery.

With an annual budget of merely $4 million, Calhoun County says it doesn’t have enough cash to pay all its hurricane related bills.

The county is asking the state to pay for assistance other counties provided during the initial storm recovery after Hurricane Michael.

County Commissioner Danny wise says the total amount the county may owe is unknown.

“If it was a million, that still is a lot of money,” said Wise.

Wise says when the county originally reached out to the Division of Emergency Management the response they received was less than optimal.

“It’s like we wasn’t supposed to ask them for help, but we are,” said Wise. “We’ve got to.”

However, Calhoun County Clerk of Courts Carla Hands says the Governor’s Office put some of her worries at ease.

“As of this time we’ve not received any invoices,” said Hand. “They did assure us however, that it we did to please send them to the governor’s office.”

The conversation fell short of a full commitment to cover any potential future bills.

If the county does has to foot the bill for the mutual aid, they say they’ll have make major cuts elsewhere.

Likely resulting in lay offs in an area where schools and county government are some of the biggest employers.

“If the state would, you know come in and do the mutual aid and upfront money for repairs on county facilities that would be a tremendous boost to get us back quicker, trying to recoup after this,” said Wise.

Local representatives say the Legislature plans to do something to help rural counties like this one, but they don’t start meeting for another four months and time is of the essence.

The Division of Emergency management said in a statement that it covered the cost for emergency debris removal and has expended $930 million supporting communities impacted by Hurricane Michael.

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Fight Over Concealed Carry Permits to Intensify

November 28th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Newly elected Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried is drawing fire from the NRA.

She wants to move the issuance of concealed carry permits to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

She joins Democratic lawmakers who are planning to introduce legislation making the change for the 2019 session.

The effort comes after an incident earlier this year where an employee at the Department of Agriculture failed to conduct full background checks for nearly 300 applicants.

Current Ag Commissioner Adam Putnam called the problem isolated when asked June.

“291 people who should not have gotten a license to carry a concealed weapon did so, but they were revoked as a result of the processes that we put in place,” said Putnam.

Former NRA President Marion Hammer worries giving law enforcement control over concealed carry permits is a slippery slope.

“Previously it had been handled by 67 different counties and abuse at the hands of county sheriffs was rampant,” said Hammer.

The NRA does agree the permitting process should be taken away from the Department of Agriculture, believing it would be in better hands under the control of the Chief Financial Officer.

“The second amendment is a guaranteed right under the constitution,” said Hammer. “It needs to be under an elected official answerable to all of the people.”

CFO Jimmy Patronis says he’s open to the proposal, but the decision is ultimately in the hands of the Legislature.

Democrats are still drafting legislation to move the permitting process to FDLE.

Republicans are expected to introduce a bill sending the permits to the CFO.

We reached out to Fried’s communications team for this story, but they were unavailable for comment.

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Banning Assault Weapons 2020 Style

November 27th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Voters may get a chance to vote to ban assault style weapons in Florida.

Following the Parkland Shooting Democratic lawmakers tried to force a debate on banning assault weapons.

The effort was shot down, mostly along party lines, as students from Marjory Stoneman Douglas watched in dismay from the gallery, but family members of victims are now leading a new effort to put the question before voters in 2020.

We spoke over the phone with Ban Assault Weapons Now Chair Gail Schwartz.

She lost her nephew in the Parkland Shooting.

“We are tired of waiting for the Legislature to do something. We’re tired of our children dying,” said Schwartz.

The proposed amendment would prohibit all semiautomatic rifles and shotguns capable of holding more than ten rounds.

The group has already collected more than $400,000 from just over 1900 supporters.

The average contribution is small, just $145.00.

“This is going to be very expensive,” said Schwartz. “It’s a massive endeavor and it shows that Floridians are ready for change.”

Gun dealers Mark Folmar who owns Folmar’s Gun & Pawn in the state’s capital say when people worry their gun might be taken away, sales jump.

“There are people who don’t have one, who don’t want to have their right taken away and so they feel like, well if I don’t then I never can,” said Folmar.

If the amendment passes, those who already own assault weapons could keep the guns they already own, but would have to register their firearms with the state within a year the amendment’s effective date.

So far no signed petitions have been verified by the state.

Experts say it takes collecting at least a million signatures to meet the required 766,200 signatures to get on the ballot.

We reached out to the NRA and Mom’s Demand Action Against Gun Violence for this story.

Neither were available for comment.

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Pastors React to Racist Post Aimed at FSU Football Coach

November 26th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

A group of politically active Tallahassee Pastors is condemning a racist post by an FSU fan.

They are encouraging him to apologize to the coach and the FSU community.

“Instead of attacking him, I want to challenge him to retract those comments, and go and get some help,” said Reverend of Bethel Baptist Church, RB Holmes. “Because those comments are not what America is about. It is not what education is about. And we would not tolerate comments about lynching someone. That takes us way back to some of the most violent and ugly days of our history.”

The pastors also called on the poster to become active in ending racist stereotypes.

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Lawmakers Take Another Stab at Tightening Texting While Driving Laws

November 26th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Police in south Florida are still trying to sort out why a distracted driver plowed into a group of bicyclists killing one and injuring five.

The news comes as Florida lawmakers take another stab at tightening the state’s texting while driving laws.

In 2014, 19-year-old Anthony Branca was killed by a distracted driver.
“He was my best friend, he was my conscience,” said Anthony’s father, Demetrius Branca.

A law passed one year earlier made texting while driving illegal, but in order to get a ticket divers have to first be pulled over for another traffic offense.

Branca, says it’s one of the weakest laws in the country.

“We don’t allow our cops to pull people over for doing something that is extremely dangerous,” said Branca. “We allow people to just keep driving.”

Legislation to strengthen the law by allowing officers to pull over drivers for texting behind the wheel alone has been filed every year since 2015, but concerns over racial profiling and privacy issues have put the breaks on any change.

Under this year’s proposal, drivers could still use cell phones for navigation, but if they want to talk on the phone, it would have to be hands-free.

Last year then State Senator, now Senate Minority leader Audrey Gibson told us moving to hands free would end concerns of racial profiling.
“If we had hands free, then there’s no question and there’s no issue,” said Gibson in 2017.

But Branca says this year’s attempt leaves much to be desired.

“There are loopholes in there that allow people to escape by saying they were looking at their maps or something else and to me that is inexcusable,” said Branca.

Keeping with current law, the Legislation allows for cell phone records to be accessed in cases resulting in death or physical injury, possibly quelling some of the privacy concerns seen in year’s past.

A nearly identical bill was filed in the House Monday.

It includes a requirement that the law enforcement make record of the race of drivers they ticket for texting behind the wheel and submit the finding to the Governor on an annual basis.

This year’s bills have not been assigned to any committees yet.

Lawmakers return to Tallahassee for the first rounds of committee hearings in December.

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Man Fired After Racist Post Aimed at FSU Football Coach

November 26th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

After FSU lost to the Florida Gators on Saturday, a racist post depicting FSU head football coach Willie Taggert at the end of a rope with the hashtag FIRETAGGERT has gotten the FSU Alum fired from his job and sparked a criminal investigation.

The post first appeared following FSU’s stunning 41-14 loss to arch rival Florida.

It shows Taggert superimposed on a black man hanging from a tree.

FSU President John Thrasher condemned the post.

“I love Willie Taggert,” said Thrasher. “And we’re going to make sure we wrap our arms around him and make sure he understands we care about him at Flordia State University.”

State Attorney Jack Campbell opened an investigation shortly after the post appeared, but it’s not clear if the post rises to the level of a criminal act.
“We’re having to take a hard look at that right now,” said Campbell. “Right now it’s an active criminal investigation.”

Both Florida State Police and the Leon County Sheriff’s Officer are also investigating.
“Coach taggert is a husband, a father. He deserves the protections of the full force of this office,” said Campbell.

Students on campus who had not seen the post were stunned
“Really disturbing to see that,” said FSU Junior Andrew Cog.

“Atrocious and very racist,” said Nicole Knight, a senior at the university.

When asked how he’d feel if a similar threat was made towards him, FSU senior Ilani Fernandes said, “I’d be very offended and I would want somebody to do something about it.”

We reached out to Coach Taggert but we were told he wouldn’t be doing any interviews.

By losing Saturday, FSU broke a 36 year streak of bowl game appearances.

While condemning the post, Thrasher called for leniency,

“You know, I don’t want him punished in some ways, but he really made a really serious mistake, and he needs to understand that,” said Thrasher.

The man behind the post was fired from his job with a major hotel chain Monday.

The post also ended any questions about Taggert’s future after a disappointing first season.

President John Thrasher says the coach will absolutely be back next season.

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What Role Will Lawmakers Play in Restoring Felons’ Right to Vote?

November 21st, 2018 by Jake Stofan

5.1 million Floridians voters supported automatic restoration of a felons’ right to vote after they’ve paid their debts to society.

Lawmakers are already contemplating how to ensure more than million newly enfranchised Floridians don’t face obstacles while trying to register.

Just under 65% of voters who weighed in on Amendment 4 voted yes.

The language is straight forward, felons can vote after they’ve served their time and paid their fines, but Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Earley says it’s not that simple.

“I would probably tend to recommend to voters that, be patient and wait a bit,” said Early. “Don’t come to our office right now and try and register to vote because we don’t have the data.”

How Supervisors will ensure felons are qualified to register to vote is still something that needs to be sorted out.

“We need to streamline the verification process and allow the Supervisors to quickly verify whether someone is allowed to register,” said CRC Commissioner and former State Senator Chris Smith.

Clemency Lawyer Reggie Garcia argues the state can green light those who qualify for rights restoration with data it already has.

“There’s a current data base of convicted felons who can’t vote and that’s the exact list who arguably can now vote on January 9th with the exception of anyone convicted of murder or a sex offense,” said Garcia.

It’s unclear how the more than 1 million newly enfranchised people will impact the outcome of Florida’s historically close elections and what, if any, influence they might have on the agenda of the Legislature.

Prison reform is a hot button issue in the state.

A new voter base with personal ties to the criminal justice system could create momentum.

“And our President is even talking about criminal justice reform,” said Smith. “So I think this is the year to finally try and get something like that done.”

How may felons register to vote and what party they register with will be something both parties will keep a close eye on.

The Legislative session doesn’t begin until March, but bills have already begun being filed.

So far no proposals related to Amendment 4 have been put forward.

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Dems Score Seats in Election, Republicans Urge Bipartisanship

November 20th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The Florida House and Senate elected a new Speaker and President Tuesday morning.

Both are Republicans and both are urging bipartisanship, but the emotions from the 2018 election could make working together more difficult.

House Speaker House Jose Oliva and Senate President Bill Galvano urged the chambers to move past the contentious 2018 election.

“The campaigns are over and we turn our attentions now to governing,” said Oliva.

“Now is the time to move forward united together,” said Galvano.

However, scars from the hard fought election still bled through.

Janet Cruz won the most expensive race ever for the state senate, where a combined $12 million was spent.

“And it breaks my heart to see campaigns head in that direction,” said Cruz.

Overall, Democrats scored five new seats in the House and one in the Senate, but Republicans still hold clear majorities in the two chambers.

While Legislative leaders are talking about the need to do away with bipartisanship, that didn’t stop Speaker Oliva from making his agenda clear.

Oliva touted deregulation and tax reductions as solutions to the state’s key issues.

Newly chosen House Minority Leader Kionee McGhee says he’s confident the two parties can work together to find middle ground.

“We must look at healthcare, we must look at environmental reform, we must look at transportation, we must look at helping our veterans,” said McGhee.

Committees start in December and the 2019 session officially kick off in March.

That’s when we’ll know if legislators are truly willing to play nice this year.

Republicans hold more than 60% of the seats in the House, which means Democrats will be unable to block Legislation by numbers alone.

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Elections Likely Key Issue in 2019 Session

November 20th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

The November 6th election results are now official.

Vote totals certified today show Republicans sweeping all statewide offices with the exception of Democratic Nikki Fried being the first woman ever elected Agriculture Commissioner.

After the court drama of the last two weeks, calls for election reform continue.

Despite two weeks of election uneasiness, it took the State Elections Canvassing Commission just 5 minutes to certify the November 6th results.

State Senator Rob Bradley filled in for Governor Rick Scott, who recused himself from the ministerial duty.

“First of all, I’m one hundred percent confident that the results that we just certified reflect the will of the voter,” said Bradley.

As lawmakers organized as they do after each election five floors up, Governor-Elect Ron DeSantis got standing ovations in the House and Senate

The consensus of many in the Legislature is that the problems in the election were isolated to just two counties.

Both the House Speaker and Senate President say that what went wrong on November 6th will get a thorough review.

“The bottom line is we need to make sure people can trust their electoral process, and in this case, it was just two counties of all our counties, but two of them failed, and in doing so damaged that trust,” said House Speaker Jose Oliva.

Agriculture Commissioner hopeful Matt Caldwell lost his statewide race by just 6,700 votes.

“Both sides, myself and Miss Fried, deserve a straight answer, it doesn’t look like we’re ever going to get that from Broward and Palm Beach. They failed in this instance and I think the legislature needs to be prepared to prevent that from happening in two years,” said Caldwell.

The certification opened a 10 day window for any voter to challenge the results.

Few in the Capitol believe the state should spend any money fixing voting machines, saying that is the responsibility of locally elected officials.

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Rep. Jose Oliva Elected Next Florida House Speaker

November 19th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Republicans in the Florida House late Monday afternoon voted unanimously to make State Rep. Jose Oliva their next speaker.

Oliva is the heir to a Miami cigar company that bears his name.

He enters his final term in the House.

In a brief address, he cautioned members to be strong in their partisan beliefs but not to practice partisan politics.

“A word about partisanship. There are two very different types of partisanship. and they often get conflated one to the other,” said Oliva. “There is the one partisanship that i nefarious, petty, and it’s useless. And that’s the partisanship that’s says if you are from another party, I don’t care what you think.I don’t care what you are trying to accomplish, I will not be of help to you. In my seven years in the Florida House, I have never been a part of it, and in the next two, I will not abide that type partisanship.

Oliva did tell members it is right to stick up for their ideals.

Oliva will officially take the reins of the House Tuesday morning and will serve two years as Speaker.

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Florida Democratic Party Under Investigation for Election Fraud

November 19th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Democrats have conceded in both the race for the US Senate and Governor, but not before the State asked Federal authorities to investigate possible election fraud conducted by the party.

The U.S. Department of Justice declined, but the Florida Department of Law Enforcement and the Office of Statewide Prosecution say they have an opened a criminal investigation into the allegations.

Evidence reported to the Department of State suggests a possible effort by Democrats to have voters fix ballots after the state’s deadline in at least four counties.

Cure forms for mail ballots sent to voters by the party show the return date changed from the day before the election to two days afterwards.

Democratic Strategist Steve Schale says it was likely just a mix up.

“Some 23-year-old staffer probably got two dates mixed up,” said Schale. “They put the date down for the provisional ballot cure, not the absentee ballot cure thing and actually by doing it all they did was make it harder for their own voters to vote.”

Republicans point to the fact Democrats successfully sued to extend the deadline after the fact.

“It looks like they were just planning on a judge siding with them because of the bias towards trying to allow as many votes as possible to count that were legally cast,” said Eric Eggers, Author of the book ‘Fraud’. “It’s the first evidence we have of systemic efforts to under cut or subvert election law as it was on the book.”

Supervisors of Elections who brought the changed forms to the state’s attention say even if it was just a mix up, official elections forms should never have been altered.

“I think the question it raises is what other efforts were under way to subvert election law that we don’t know about yet,” said Eggers.

The Florida Democratic Party says it’s hired its own independent investigator to look into the case.

It says it plans to release any findings once the investigation is complete.

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