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MSD Strong License Plate

March 8th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Minutes after massive gun safety legislation passed Wednesday night in the state Capitol, the lone lawmaker who attended Marjorie Stoneman Douglas High amendment a speciality license plate bill headed for the Senate. It creates a plate to honor the school.

“You know, what better to potentially bring some money into the system and honor the high school  by creating an MSD Strong license plate. So, those people who want to bring more money into the system state wide for school hardening, they should go bu that license plate” says Moskowitz.

The plate could take a year or longer to hit the streets, How much it raises depends on how many decide to purchase it.

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Legislation to Prevent Sexual Harassment Stuck in Senate

March 8th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Two state senators resigned for sexual misconduct last fall, Jack Latvala for claims of sexual harassment and Jeff Clemons for having an affair with a lobbyist.
Afterwards, lawmakers vowed addressing the issue would be at the top of their agenda.
“The Florida Senate has zero tolerance for sexual harassment,” said Senate President Joe Negron in his address on the first day of session.
Proposed legislation would explicitly prohibit lawmakers, lobbyists and state employees from engaging in harassment of any kind and establish a sexual harassment task force.
It didn’t clear the House until last Thursday, just two weeks before the close of session.
“We can do a whole lot here, but if we don’t have it echoing on the other side we won’t have accomplished what we have tried,” said Representative Kristin Jacobs.
Now, the Speaker of the House and House sponsor Jennifer Sullivan want to know why the Senate has yet to take it up.
“Not hearing this bill, is once again showing that these victims voices don’t matter,” said Rep. Sullivan.
The Senate bill stalled in its last committee. With no more scheduled meetings, Committee Chair Dennis Baxley says the bill has hit the end of the line. 

“I want to do it at a time and in a way that we can have a very contemplative approach to it before we put things in statute that everyone else is going to need to abide by,” said Sen. Baxley.
Without this legislation the names of sexual harassment victims could be made public.
Senate sponsor Lauren Book says she’s exploring every option.
“You know, there’s two days left and I’m maybe an eternal optimist, but I do believe that hopefully we’re going to be able to see something happen,” said Sen. Book.
If the senate doesn’t act it will leave the status quo in place, which, has prevented some victims from coming forward in the past.

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Nursing Homes and Public Schools Get Boosts in Budget

March 8th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Lawmakers have finalized an $88.7 billion budget. It allocates $21 billion for public school funding. It’s a 2.4% increase over last year. 
Nursing homes are also getting a boost. Lawmakers agreed to divvy out $130 million for Medicaid reimbursements. The move has been criticized by some, because the money can be used for purchasing generators, which became required after hurricane Irma.
Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley says that wasn’t the intention behind the boost.
“Nursing homes are an important part of making sure that we live up to the promise that we should have to those who have built our communities and fought in our wars, to make sure that they end their life in a dignified manner,” said Bradley. “So we’re not going to apologize for one second about making sure that there’s sufficient funds in place to make sure that they’re taken care of.”
The budget has to “cool off” for 72 hours once it’s published before lawmakers can take a vote.

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Legislature Agrees on Budget

March 7th, 2018 by Jake Stofan


This is the second year In a row lawmakers have failed to complete the budget in time to end session in 60 days.

The failure was highlighted by Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Chris King Wednesday morning.


“I believed one-party state government was not working. I am more convinced of that today than I have ever been,” said King.

The sticking point… healthcare spending.


“Not surprisingly the Hospital part of the budget is proving to be difficult,” said Senate Appropriations Chair Rob Bradley, Tuesday morning.

But negotiations started to gain momentum early Wednesday

“Our budget chair is continuing to negotiate with the House and we hope that in the next few hours we’ll get some resolution,” said Senator Wilton Simpson.

And after countless closed door negotiations, a deal was announced early afternoon.


But the budget needs 72 hours to cool off before lawmakers can call it a year, meaning session will be extended.

Each extra day will cost tax payers roughly $60,000.

Governor Rick Scott seems to be leaving it up to the Legislature to determine how session will be extended.


“I look forward to the session finishing, getting the budget done, having an opportunity to go through the budget,” said Scott.

Senate Minority leader Oscar Braynon has his bets on lawmakers choosing to extend to Monday.


“If we’re going to do it we’d probably do a come back versus stay until Saturday and Sunday,” said Braynon.

On Tuesday, House Speaker Richard Corcoran said the best case scenario would be lawmakers staying in town through Saturday to wrap up the session.

Although agreed on, the details of the budget have yet to be released.

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Rick Scott Will Sign Mental Health Compensation for First Responders

March 7th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

During the annual Ringing of the Bell Ceremony for Fallen Firefighters, Governor Rick Scott announced he plans to sign legislation to require workers comp for first responders cover mental health the same way it covers physical injuries.

The bill addresses the high suicide rates of fire fighters and other first responders that results from the tragic incidents they witness on a regular basis. The legislation was a priority of Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis.


“To ensure that our firefighters needs, those silent needs that we don’t hear about are truly addressed and those benefits that they needed in order to get the help possible will become a reality and the Governor just concluded with that, he’ll sign it, so it’s actually a really great day of celebration of life too,” said Patronis.

Two fire fighters who lost their lives in the line of duty were honored at the ceremony. James F. Dorminy with Reedy Creek Fire Department and Joseph T. DeMarinis with Clermont Fire Department.

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House Debates School Safety, Fights Back Amendments

March 6th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida House began talking about School Safety and Guns before lunch today, and is expected to continue the discussion into the early evening, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, a final vote is not expected until tomorrow.

House members asked probing questions about arming teachers.

Rep, Kionee McGee (D-Miami) asked:  “Where in your bill does it prevent a school guardian from possessing an AR-15?

In response, House Speaker-to-be Jose Oliva said many of the questions were more about delay than information.

“But the idea of guarding in a classroom, and having the last line of defense should probably rise above political theatre” said Oliva.

Speaking of theatre.


“Hands Up, Don’t Shoot.”

A handful of activists laid down..for 17 minutes…in the rotunda outside the House, Name cards identified the 17 dead in Parkland. Amber Martin is an FSU Student who participated.


“I don’t think they are really listening to us. We didn’t want more guns on school campuses” she told us.

Inside, Democrats filed 90 amendments… All expected to fail on party lines,

House Democratic Leader Janet Cruz got her fellow Democrats to take a caucus position against the legislation.


“Hope springs eternal. We’re going to keep fighting to the last minute” says Cruz.

The expectation  here is that the bill will pass exactly as it was sent from the Senate. That will allow the Governor to get it on Wednesday.

And the PTA is already looking to the Governor to find a way to kill the provision arming teachers, but Angie Gallo says the PTA is not looking for a veto.


“We don’t want him to veto the bill. We don’t want a veto of the bill because there is just too much good stuff in there for our schools, and our students and families need that, especially in Parkland” she told us.

And at least one victims father was in the Capitol working behind the scenes to change no votes to yes votes.

And if any amendments pass, changing the bill in any way, sending it back to the Senate could mean its death.

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Opioid Response Legislation Faces a Tight Deadline to Pass

March 6th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The shooting in Parkland tragically claimed 17 lives and responding to the issue has taken up most of Legislators focus for the past few weeks, but lawmakers like Senator Darryl Rouson, want to make sure Response to the opioid crisis, which kills 16 Floridians each day doesn’t fall by the wayside.
“The same number of people that died in Parkland have died since Parkland and every day before that,” said Sen. Rouson.
The subject came up multiple times while Senators debated Legislation on school safety Monday.
“Parents come in with their two and three-year-old children, lay them on the stretcher while they’re seeking drugs,” said Senator Denise Grimsley.
The effort this year seeks to tackle the supply of medical opioids.
Proposed Legislation would limit doctors to prescribing just a three day supply in most cases, with the option of a seven day supply if it’s deemed necessary.
Some in the medical profession say the restrictions included in the bill are too tight.
But other provisions in the bill like requiring patients to enter into the Prescription Drug Registery to prevent doctor shopping and requiring ongoing training for doctors to prescribe the medications have strong support.
“Somebody from North Florida can’t just go over to Georgia and get their medications. So we think that’s beneficial,” said Mark Fontaine, President of the Florida Behavioral Mental Health Association.
The Senate bill sets aside more than $53 million for opioid response, but until the budget finalized that number isn’t guaranteed.
The bill was temporarily postponed in the Senate Tuesday, leaving only three more days for its passage.

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Senate Approves School Safety Bill 20-18

March 5th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

After three hours of debate this afternoon, the State Senate response to the Parkland shootings that claimed 17 lives was approved by a vote of 20 to 18. Sponsor Bill Galvano, a republican from Bradenton told Senators that had this legislation been in place, the shooter in Parkland would not have gotten a gun and if he had, it would have been taken away.

“This bill will make a difference now. When it becomes law, things will start changing” Galvano said in closing on the legislation.

“Lock the Board and announce the vote.”

20 Yeas, 18 Nays, Mr. President”

“So by your vote, the bill passes.

3 Democrats voted for the bill, Four Republicans against. One of them, State Senator Tom Lee of Brandon says lawmakers could have done more.

“I don’t think it went far enough. I thought it was too political. I think the solutions on the gun stuff are not strong enough. If you really are going to do some sort of gun control, then don’t create a model where all you have to do is sell guns to 18 year old on a three year lease, like you do on an automobile, and they can still buy them. You know, close those loopholes” says Lee.

Others promised not to forget the 17 who died, insisting they would address more issues during the 2019 Session. The legislation now goes to the House, and because of the tight Senate vote, any changes could jeopardize the bills passage.

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Bullying Victims Scholarship Passes Florida House

March 5th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Bullied public school students will be able to get a scholarship funded by taxpayer dollars to transfer to a private school under legislation approved 71-41 by the Florida House Monday.

50,000 public school students experience bullying each year in Florida. For some it might be a single incident, but for others the problem can be chronic.


“When there are children who are in real need, who are in dire straights, when they’re not getting the resolution that they are looking for from the public school system we still have an obligation to help those children,” said bill sponsor Representative Bryron Donalds.

Democrats say the bill doesn’t do anything to address the bully.


“In this instance the bully just moves on to another victim. So he bullies someone or she bullies someone. That victim is then moved to another school. That bully stays; bullies another kid. It’s a never ending pattern,” said Representative Jared Moskowitz.

If the bullied student chooses to stay in the public school, both the student and the bully will receive counseling services.

The move to include counseling helped bring some Democrats to vote yes.

“It doesn’t go as far as I’d like it to, but I’m going to stand with you,” said Representative Sherivn Jones.

The scholarships would be funded by the sales tax on automobile purchases, if the buyer agrees.

Sponsors estimate $40 million will be generated. It’s money education advocates say should go to public schools.


“We’re going to send students who are bullied to a private institution that we have no guarantee that it’s a safe place because private institutions have to report zero incidents,” said President of the Florida Education Association, Joanne McCall.

The issue is so important to House leadership the language is included in serval bills in hopes one will clear the senate.

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6,000 Petitions Call on Governor Scott to Help Working Class Floridians

March 5th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

6,000 petitions signed by Floridan’s were delivered to the Governor’s Office Monday morning..

They urge Rick Scott to prioritize the needs of working class families during his final months in office. Supporters of the petition point to Governor Scott’s slashing of Medicaid and underfunding of public education as examples of Scott’s failure to stand up for working class Floridians.

Damien Filer with Progress Florida says the number of Floridians who qualify as working poor has also grown to 45% since Scott was elected.


“There’s something wrong with these numbers. It’s Governor Scott’s last year in office, it’s his last session it’s the last week of the last session and we’re here today on behalf of 6,000 Floridian’s who are calling on him to do something about this while there’s still time,” said Filer.

Supporters of the petition are asking Governor Scott to veto the House’s education package as a first step. The bill allocates more state funds to private schools and threatens some teachers unions.

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“Organic” Gun Rally Draws 300

March 4th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

A pro gun rally that began organically with a post on Facebook  drew an estimated 300 gun advocates to the state Capitol this afternoon. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the rally comes on the eve of a Senate vote which will have little impact on those who were there.

The social posting drew people for every corner of the state.

“Parker Florida”

“Ft. Lauderdale, Flordia.”

“Crystal River.”

“I came from Navarre to protect our second amendment rights.”

“So gallantly streaming” sand the crowd.

Their shirts and signs proclaimed their patriotism and their allegiance to the second amendment. “One nation Under god.”

Emotions were high as the names of 265 people, killed in mass violence attacks since Columbine, were read aloud.

“Parkland, Florida”

The people here are taking an oath to the Constitution.

State lawmakers are poised to vote on increased school security by allowing some personnel to be armed.

“I don’t want to add any more damn names to that list” said co-organizer Nathan Buraux.

Hands shot up when the crowd was asked who would volunteer.

“If they want to stop the killings, allow the teachers who can carry, to carry” says James Morris of Parker, FL.

Also included in the legislation are better background checks and more focus on mental health, but the legislation will have little impact on most who came. The exception, those under 21 could no longer buy a rifle.

University of Florida Student Tiffany Berkley says she would feel less safe. “People are living away…for the first time they are living away from their parents homes. And they need to know how to defend themselves, as long as you have the proper training, and everything.”

Some, like James Calkins of Navarre, call it a slippery slope.

“They’re going to try and move it up to 30. That’s what we are afraid of” he says.

The rally also brought at two long shot candidates for Governor and one Pensacola State House Candidate.

The Florida Senate will take a final vote on its school safety package when it meets at ten Monday morning.

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State Senate Hears School Safety Plan

March 3rd, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The Florida Senate met for a rare Saturday session to debate the Legislature’s plan to increase school safety.

Before the Senate convened a group of protesters gathered in the Capitol courtyard, urging lawmakers to forego the Marshal Program included in the School Safety bill.

It would allow trained teachers to carry a gun in the classroom if a school district chooses to allow it. 1st grade special ed teacher, Kristin Mackay was among the protesters.

“This being passed would not only make me want to quit as a young teacher who’s just starting out, but also my coworkers would be standing by me as well,” said Mackay.

In debate, Democrat Senator Gary Farmer expressed concerns over a lack of state oversight, saying too much authority is given to locals sheriff to determine how the programs are implemented.

“If the sheriff were to authorize the marshal to carry an assault weapon,” asked Farmer. “That would be allowed?”

“That would be left to the sheriffs,” said Senator Bill Galvano.

The Senate briefly adopted an temporary ban on the AR-15 but then backed off.

An attempt for an all-out ban also failed.

Other gun restrictions included in the bill stand in the way of some Republican’s support.

“If it has the age increases and the waiting periods in it I will not support it,” said Senator Greg Steube.

And the greatest threat to Democrats’ support is the Marshal program.

“Some of us who are all about true safety and not arming teachers or any other personnel that would be inside of a classroom,” said Senator Audrey Gibson.

The full Senate will vote on the proposal Monday.

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Gun, School Safety Votes Delayed

March 2nd, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Legislative Leaders are counting votes and twisting arms to get a school safety package to a vote. The State Senate has scheduled a rare Saturday session to begin taking up amendments, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the House vote may be too close to call.


Friday began with more than two dozen students lining the hall to the House Chamber. They’re protesting plans to arm teachers. They were joined by the Principal  Billy Epting from Leon High, the oldest public school in the state



“I can not agree to arming teachers to be a part of this discussion” he told reporters.

And former Marjorie Stoneman Douglass Student Body President Barrington McFarley.

“The last thing we ned to do is weigh them with the additional burden of training and carrying weapons” says McFarley.

The House, however, remains deeply divided on the issue of arming teachers.


State Rep. Rep. Sean Shaw (D-Tampa)  says  “I will not vote for it under any circumstance”

But Rep. Larry Ahern (R-St. Petersburg) supports it. “I think it stays in and is part of the again, a deterrent.”


Rep. Heather Fitzenhagen says the House is in the process of retooling its bill while waiting to see what comes from the Senate…She says the Marshals program is being misunderstood.

“You may, if your school wants you to be.and you fit the criteria, be a marshal. No school has to have  a marshal” says Fitzenhagen, as House leaders try new messaging about the idea.

Some Democrats were told they would have to give up raising the age to buy a rifle if the Teacher Marshall program is stripped from the bill.

GOP members are being told to stick with the plan or lose hometown funding in the budget. Ahern says that nothing new.

“That’s part of the process we go through sometimes, but look, at the end of the day, you have to decide what’s important.”

More than a thousand people are expected at the Capitol Sunday for a pro gun rally.

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Odds Looking Slim for the Passage of a Gambling Bill

March 2nd, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The House and Senate are continuing efforts to pass a gaming package this session.

The Senate’s proposal extends the Seminole compact until 2040 and allows dog tracks and certain horse tracks to decouple, which means they can stop running races and still hold card games


“It’s good that the two chambers are working on a bill, it’s good that they’re talking an negotiating,” said Carey Their with Grey2K USA.

The Senate wants to to allow the 8 counties where voters have approved slot machines to get them. The Supreme Court has said the referendums were not the final say.


“We are like I said, one of the poorest cities in the state of Florida I believe and we need your help. We desperately need this casino to help bring us up,” said Mayor Pro-Tem of the City of Gretna, Helen Franks-Reed.

A proposed constitutional amendment on the the November ballot would require voters to approve any future change to the state’s gambling laws…potentially making this lawmakers last chance to pass something on their own.

But the House doesn’t allow decoupling or the expansion of slots.


“If the help was coming in the way of slot machines, this bill does not do that,” said House sponsor, Rep. Mike La Rosa.

Last month Senate sponsor Travis Hutson said the potential for a gaming package passing was about 50-50.


“Timing is everything right now so it’s probably a little less than that,” said Sen. Hutson.

With the two Chambers moving further apart chances of anything passing are dwindling.


“It’s not over until it’s over so we’ll go into conference optimistic and see what happens,” said Sen. Hutson.

If the bills keep moving, lawmakers will have just a few days to mend the vast divides between the two proposals..something they haven’t been able to do in a decade.

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Students Seek Building Replacement where 17 Died

March 2nd, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Barrington McFarley, the former student body president at Marjorie Stoneman Douglass High School was in the State Capitol today, pleading for the state to spend 30 million dollars to tear down the building where 17 people were murdered.

“We can’t expect students to go back in that building, and look at the spots where their dead classmates were. Video’s they’ve seen over and over. Tragedies repeated in their dreams time and time again. We need the funding.”

The funding remains up in the air as lawmakers negotiate the budget. A final version of the spending plan has to be done by next Tuesday if lawmakers are to go home on time.

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