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Explore Offshore Coalition Wants Florida to Consider Offshore Drilling

August 15th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
A coalition calling itself “Explore Offshore” wants to encourage the exploration of the oil and natural gas off the coast of Florida and other states.
“Reliable and affordable energy greatly bolsters economic security, which bolsters national security,” said Explore Offshore Co-Chair Jim Nicholson.
Nicholson previously served as the U.S. Secretary of Veterans Affairs under President George W. Bush.
Explore Offshore says drilling could bring in $2.6 billion a year, and create 56,000 jobs in Florida alone, but Jonathan Webber with Florida Conservation Voters says Florida can’t afford another disaster like the 2010 BP oil spill.
“Anything that would put our coastal tourism in jeopardy needs to be considered long and hard by our elected officials and the people of Florida,” said Webber.
Also serving as a co-chair of the coalition is former Florida Lieutenant Governor Jeff Kottkamp.
Kottkamp and Nicholson both say developments in technology have made off shore drilling safer than ever.
“We can do this in a balanced and responsible way to protect the environment of Florida,” said Kottkamp.
But Webber says no technology is fool-proof.
“There’s no human endeavor that’s ever been without any kind of human error,” said Webber.
President Donald Trump announced earlier this year offshore drilling would be on the table for The United States’ coastlines.
Soon after the announcement U.S. Department of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke announced Florida would be exempt.
“We are going to take the new oil platforms, new oil and gas platforms off the table,” said Zinke in January.
How much weight that commitment holds is unclear.
A constitutional amendment appearing on the November ballot would ban off shore drilling in state waters if it receives 60% voter approval.
A lawsuit filed Tuesday is seeking to remove the amendment from the ballot because it also would ban vaping in the workplace.

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BS Ranch Decision Partially Overturned

August 14th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The Governor and Cabinet have sided with Polk County in a land use dispute over a solid waste composting company know as BS Ranch.
The four officials voted unanimously to overturn portions of an administrative law judges order that found the county exceeded its authority to regulate odors coming from the ranch.
BS Ranch officials could decide to appeal the decision to a district Court of Appeals.

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Environmentalists Double Down, Blasting Governor for Red Tide

August 14th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
More than two million pounds of dead and rotting fish have already been removed from Florida beaches.
On Monday, Governor Rick Scott declared a state of emergency for seven affected counties.
The declaration allows local governments to access additional funds to aid clean up efforts.
A half million will go to Visit Florida to help local businesses.
“There’s some money in there to help communities essentially deal with the mass of dead fish and dead organisms,” said Aliki Moncrief, Executive Director of Florida Conservation Voters.
But Moncrief says the order doesn’t do anything to prevent future outbreaks.
“It doesn’t go to the root of the problem, which is pollution in our water ways fueling these ever virulent algal blooms,” said Moncrief.
Scott and his opponent in the race for the U.S. Senate Bill Nelson have blamed one another for the environmental disaster.
While Nelson and Scott continue to point the finger at on another environmentalists say Scott’s cuts to water management districts outweigh any actions by Nelson.
Scott touted the cuts as a success in 2011.
“I took action on the proposed budgets of Florida’s five mater management districts. All together these budgets reflects a reduction of more than $700 million dollars over last year,” Scott said in his Weekly Video Update from August of that year.
“700 Million dollars,” said Moncrief. “Those are the agencies that are responsible for making sure that pollution is under control.”
When asked about the cuts Tuesday, Scott pointed the finger at the water managers.
“The water management districts decide their budgets,” said Scott.
However, the Governor appoints water managers and has final approval over their budget.
Scott says his efforts to expedite repairs to the  Lake Okeechobee dike will help prevent future blooms by allowing water levels to be raised and reducing discharges.
Environmental groups warn raising water levels could kill the ecosystem in the lake.

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Districts Find Creative Solutions to Meet Safety Officer Mandate

August 13th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Every school must have at least one school resource officer starting this year.
It sounds simple, but Florida school districts say meeting the new requirement has proven a daunting task.
“Finding a way to pay for that, that really is the challenge,” said Andrea Messina with the Florida School Boards Association.
A lack of funding in the state’s new school safety law forced districts to fork out a large portion of the cash themselves or find creative ways to meet the requirement temporarily.
In the State’s capital city, the school district is allowing off-duty officers to pick up shifts at schools.
“Over 140 police officers volunteered to step up on their day off to help us in off duty capacity,” said Leon County School Superintendent Rocky Hanna.
Hanna says the solution is cheaper than hiring and training new officers.
“Without that support from our sheriff’s department and Tallahassee police we would not be able to accomplish this,” said Hanna.
Other counties like Clay County have put a referendum on the ballot that would increase taxes to help cover the cost.
In the meantime, some aspects of the law like school hardening have been put on hold while schools work to make sure the resource officer mandate is addressed.
“Some of the money that could have gone to hardening is actually going into the SRO funding,” said Messina. “So we may see a delay in some of the physical hardening of facilities.”
Lawmakers and school officials say more funds will need to be allocated in next year’s budget to ensure all counties in the state have a way to hire permanent school resource officers for all of Florida’s more than 4,200 schools.
Starting this year students, faculty and staff will be required to take part in active shooter training once a semester.

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Denise Williams Charged with Three Counts of Insurance Fraud

August 10th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
In a case drawing national attention, a Tallahassee woman already charged with the planning, and murdering her husband was back in court this morning, charged with three counts of insurance fraud.
Mike Williams disappeared while duck hunting 18-years ago.
His wife, Denise collected $1,750,000 from several insurance policies.
Denise was arrested after her husbands best friend told police the two had conspired to kill Mike and collect the life insurance.
The best friend and Denise married five years after Mike’s disappearance.
Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis said in a statement, “The insurance fraud charges are just one part of this case, and I assure the community we will work diligently toward a successful prosecution. Insurance fraud is a very serious crime, one that impacts every single insurance consumer.”
Denise has pled not guilty to all of the charges.

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Confusion Mounts Following Sen. Nelson’s Allegations of Russian Election Hacking

August 10th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
U.S. Senator Bill Nelson made the claims of Russian hacking twice in the last week.
“They’ve already penetrated certain counties in the state and they now have free reign to move about,” said Nelson.
When asked to elaborate, he called the information classified.
Now, Florida Secretary of State Ken Detzner has written a letter asking the US Senate intelligence Committee Chair to confirm if there has been any meddling, and if so where.
“We’ve got non-disclosure agreements in place for those kids of things so they should feel safe to tell us,” said Leon County Supervisor of Elections Mark Early.
Early says sharing that information with state and local officials is imperative.
“We’re trying to conduct elections,” said Early. “We want people to feel secure about their ability to vote and that their vote is safe and they will be able to have a good experience at the polling place whether that’s early voting or Election Day.”
Elections experts say the threat of hacking shouldn’t deter people from voting.
Instead, they say, if people have problems at the polls, they can help fight back by letting their local supervisor of elections know.
And if you do have an issue, insist on casting a ballot, even if it’s only a previsional one.
“This is critical. Instead of just getting angry and walking away from the polls and blaming the election system, which is quite frankly what the Russians want people to do, people need to become more active,” said former Leon County Supervisor of Elections Ion Sancho.
The Department of State has reached out to Homeland Security, the FBI and the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.
All three agencies say they have no information to back up Nelson’s claim of a breach.
As of Thursday all 67 counties in Florida have submitted applications for a piece of a $19 million Federal grant aimed at boosting election security.
So far $10.3 million has been approved for 43 counties.

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Levine Highlights Ron DeSantis as Major Threat to Democrats

August 9th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Philip Levine is visiting campaign offices ahead of the primary election at the end of the month.
Levine traveled to offices in both Jacksonville and Tallahassee, Thursday.
He interacted with supporters and staff, asserting his belief that Republican front-runner Ron DeSantis poses the greatest threat to a Democratic victory in November.
“This election is about the future of our nation,” said Levine. “We have to stop Donald Trump and radical Ron right here and we need the best person out there who can fight Donald Trump. Not someone who says they’re going to fight Donald Trump. Someone who’s actually done it already and I have a year and a half under my belt.”
Levine will participate in a televised forum with the four other major Democratic candidates Thursday night at Jacksonville University.

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Sean Shaw Promises Immediate Action on Gun Violence if Elected

August 9th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Representative Sean Shaw says if he’s elected Attorney General in November, his first action would be to establish a task force on preventing gun violence.
“Eradicating the type of violence that resulted in the live of Floridians being cut too short at places such as the Pulse Night Club, Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, the Clearwater convienience store,” said Shaw.
The task force comprised of legislators, law enforcement and others would travel the state and make policy recommendations to reduce gun violence.
The task force would have between 60 and 90 days to submit their report.
“This is going to take a concerted effort, a wholistic approach and I believe Florida is worth that effort,” said Shaw.
A similar task force was established by Governor Rick Scott in 2012 to look at the state’s stand your ground law.
Reverend R.B. Holmes was the vice chair.
“We have to do something about this Stand Your Ground law and I think the next Attorney General ought to be the one to kind of talk about this very forthrightly and transparently,” said Holmes.
Shaw’s opponent in the Democratic primary Ryan Torrens responded to Shaw’s announcement saying in a statement, “I am the only candidate in this race who would not defend the Stand Your Ground law. This is an unconstitutional license to kill, and I will not defend it in the courts.”
Shaw was asked how he would handle stand your ground if elected.
“That will be one of my number one priorities, to get that law repealed,” said Shaw. “We have to convince the Legislature to repeal that law.”
But that would likely prove an uphill battle in the Republican led Legislature.
Republican Attorney General Candidate Ashley Moody responded to Shaw’s announcement saying in a statement, “My politician Democratic opponent who has plenty of experience in running political campaigns has never prosecuted a case, led investigations, or taken one gun away from criminals who pose a danger to our community. His “solution” is more gun control laws which will only take guns away from law abiding citizens.”
Our attempt to reach out to candidate Frank White went unanswered.

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Elections Supervisors Not Aware of Breaches Announced by Sen. Nelson

August 9th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Elections supervisors are reacting after U.S. Senator Bill Nelson announced some Florida county’s voter databases have been penetrated by Russian hackers.
The Florida Association of Supervisor of Elections says it was not aware of any breaches prior to Nelson’s comments, but are not surprised that the Russians would be trying to interfere.
Executive Director Ron Labasky says the news adds to the need to prioritize the strengthening of elections systems.
“We have been working diligently for the last 18 months to ensure that we’ve fortified our registration system and our methodology,” said Labasky. “So that no one can get into the system without us stopping it or knowing about it and then stopping it.”
$19 million in Federal funds have been approved to beef up the state’s election systems.
The hope is to put the money into action before November.

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McGlockton’s Fiancé  and Faith Leaders Demand Meeting With Governor on Stand Your Ground

August 8th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
Two dozen pastors, the mother of Marquis McGlockton’s children and her lawyer were initially rebuffed Wednesday when they sought an audience with the Governor or one of his staffers over stand your ground.
It began with a rally at a local church with a call for the end of stand your ground.
“And my kids are still asking questions,” said MgGlockton’s fiancé Britany Jacobs. “Where is, you know, their father?”
Then a half mile march to the Capitol where one of the cities most connected pastors pushed for an impromptu meeting with the Governor or someone on his staff.
As the clock ticked, the group became impatient.
“This is a candidate running for the US Senate and he does not want our audience,” said attorney Christopher O’Neal. “Is that correct?”
After an hour Jacobs and her attorney had to leave.
“We think its a shame that nobody in the Governor’s office would address this young lady who traveled hundreds of miles to talk to the leader of our state about a miscarriage of justice,” said Crump.
But three pastors and Democratic Gubernatorial candidate Andrew Gillum stayed behind, vowing not to leave until they met with someone.
“And we’re being treated like illegal immigrants,” said Reverend R.B. Holmes.
Then they risked arrest by jumping the barrier to the outer office sitting area.
After an hour and a half, the Governor’s office got someone to finally meet with the pastors.
After 15 minutes, the four emerged.
“We asked for several l things,” said Holmes. “That the Governor should call the fiancee.”
In addition to a call to the widow, pastors say they asked for a serious discussion on Stand Your Ground.
Governor Rick Scott was out of the country, in Columbia, during the demonstration.
Faith leaders say they are considering a march on the Capitol later this month.

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Loan Given by Ann Scott Raises Questions About Governor’s Blind Trust

August 8th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Governor Rick Scott’s finances are coming under new scrutiny following the release of his federal financial disclosure.
When Governor Rick Scott took Office he put his assets in a blind trust to ward off any speculation that his investments would influence policy decisions.
Embroiled in a neck and neck race for the US Senate, Incumbent Bill Nelson points to the trust  as a problem spot for Scott.
“His blind so-called blind trust is not blind, because it’s [run by] his longtime business partner and business advisor,” said Nelson.
The 125 page federal financial disclosure of the Scotts’ finances reveals Mrs. Scott loaned between 100 and $250,000 to a woman who works for the same company that employs the trustee of the Governor’s blind trust.
“His wife is loaning money to the very people that are managing his money,” said Nelson.
Governor Rick Scott responded to Nelson on twitter saying in part, “You are embarrassing yourself and our state. There is no justification for you attacking my wife.”
This isn’t the first time Scott’s blind trust has come under fire.
There’s currently a lawsuit aimed at requiring him to be more transparent about his investments.
Big-time Democratic donor Don Hinkle is spearheading the lawsuit.
“He can talk to his wife, his wife is talking to the trust. It’s just a tiny fig leaf trying to cover the shenanigans that are his finances,” said Hinkle.
Mrs. Scott responding to criticism says the loan was given to a close family friend of more than 20 years who was in a, ‘situation where she needed help’.
“I was glad to help her. That’s what friends do for each other, and I would do it again,” said Mrs. Scott.
The report shows the Scotts’ combined net worth is between at least $255 and $510 million, but it’s likely much higher.

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Circuit Judge Rules Portions of Medical Marijuana Law Invalid

August 7th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Two court rulings are calling into question the constitutionality of the state’s medical marijuana law.
Medical Marijuana in Florida is no stranger to controversy.
Architect of the state’s law, Senator Rob Bradley has stood by his creation through it all.
“The law itself works and is a solid piece of legislation. The implementation has not proceeded as quickly as many of us would like,” said Bradley in July.
Director of the state’s Office of Medical Marijuana Use, Christian Bax announced he’ll be stepping down by the end of this week.
Until now, most criticism has been directed at the agency.
“The bottom line of all this is we want affordable accessible medicine,” said Taylor Biehl with the Medical Marijuana Business Association.
Circuit Court Judge Charles Dobson has ruled that limiting the number of Medical Marijuana Treatment Centers and requiring a seed to sale vertically-integrated system a violation of the amendment approved by 71% of voters.
“Judge Dobson’s ruling said that he believes the authors of the constitutional amendment did not intend for a vertically integrated system, nor did they intend for caps on licenses,” said Biehl.
Bradley responded to the rulings in a statement saying, “The trial court ruling injected unnecessary uncertainty into the emerging medical marijuana marketplace. I’m confident that our appellate courts will uphold the constitutionality of SB 8-A.”
Both Judge Dobson and an Administrative judge have called into question an aspect of the law that gives priority to certain potential growers over others.
If upheld, the decision would undo a requirement one license be granted to a black farmer and preference for licenses to go to citrus processing facilities.
Other lawsuits are moving through the courts challenging the ban on smokable marijuana and the prohibition on patients growing their own plants.
Both were given the okay by lower courts, but are being appealed by the state.

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Republicans Dismissive of Stand Your Ground Special Session 

August 6th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Florida Democrats are using an obscure state law to push for a special legislative session to change the state’s stand your ground law. 
 
The move has failed in the past and is being labeled a political stunt by Republicans.
The calls were sparked after the release of a video showing a Clearwater man being shot after pushing his assailant to the ground.  
The lack of an arrest in the case has democrats demanding the repeal of the state’s stand your ground law.
The NRA says Democrats are jumping the gun by blaming the law before the courts have a chance to weigh in.
“This case is not about the law this case is about the facts,” said NRA lobbyist Marion Hammer.
Democrats like Gubernatorial Candidate Andrew Gillum say the current law has created a state of emergency.
“The consequence of confusion over how Stand Your Ground is applied in this state can result in the loss of life of otherwise innocent people,” said Gillum in a press conference last Monday.
32 Democrats signed a letter, forcing a poll of all state lawmakers.
Two-thirds of the Legislature must agree a special session is necessary for lawmakers to meet.
Republican Representative Halsey Beshears has already cast his vote against a session. 
“The second amendment is vital to where we live. It’s vital to this state, to this country and this is a way we can defend ourselves legally,” said Beshears.
This is the second time Democrats have used the rule to push for a special session.
The previous attempt was after the Trayvon Martin shooting.
That attempt failed and it’s unlikely Democrats will have the votes this time either. 
 
Legislators have until August 10th to voice their support or opposition to a Stand Your Ground special session.
 

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Early Indications Suggest Successful Back to School Sales Tax Holiday

August 6th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The Florida Retail Federation says early indications suggest this year’s back to school sales tax holiday weekend was a success.
The group says crowds were large, but manageable. 
 
North Florida saw an influx of Georgia residents crossing the border to take advantage of the duty-free items.
Last year saw more than $33 million saved statewide. 
 
The average savings was a little more than $50 per person.
James Miller with the Federation says despite the success it’s unlikely savings will be as high as last year because expensive electronic items like laptop computers weren’t included.
“Unfortunately the parkland situation happened and the hurricane Irma recovery happened as well. So about four or five hundred million dollars got shifted to those two causes and back to school was one of the things That got dropped or at least decreased a little bit in terms of no technology,” said Miller.
It will likely be about a month before the Department of Revenue calculates the exact numbers for the 2018 tax holiday.
 
Miller says the Florida Retail Federation plans to fight for the inclusion of electronic items next session.

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Florida Collects Cash for Political Parties

August 3rd, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida’s two major parties, the Florida Democratic Party and the Republican Party just got checks totaling more than half a million dollars each. It’s because of a quirk in state law that has the state acting as a bill collector for the major parties. 

As candidates swarmed into the State Division of Elections to run for something . Most plunked down a hefty bit of cash. Six percent of the annual job  salary.

In House Candidate Emma Collum’s case, it was 1782 dollars. And in a strange twist in state law, a third of the fee, or just under 6 hundred dollars went to the State Democratic Party.

“You know it doesn’t bother me because as a Democrat, I support my party” she told us on the last day of qualifying.

Some, including Rob Weissert of Florida Taxwatch, liken the payments to a licensing fee to use the party label. The law has been on the books for decades.

“In this case, the state is requiring, by law, a certain amount of filing fees, ,collecting that, and turning over a percentage of it to the private political party’s” says Weissert.

Those running with no political affiliation pay just two thirds of the fee.

“It raises the bar for candidates who run in one particular political party for them to qualify for the office. So the state is essentially collecting money on behalf of the party’s”   says the Taxwatch researcher.

Florida Republicans just got a check for 537 thousand. Democrats got more, 586 thousand, reflecting more candidates running, especially for jobs that pay more.

“That’s pursuant to state law. It’s a decision whether or not its a good thing. But it’s not ultimately the same as a tax” says Weissert.

And while the state handed over one point one million dollars to the political parties, it spend 12 million running the Division of Elections.

In addition to sharing qualifying fees, the state just sent three point four million to seven statewide candidates who applied for public funding. That did come from the state treasury.

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