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Crime in Florida Down, But Reported Rapes Are Up Compared to 2016

November 22nd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
According to the latest report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement the first half of 2017 saw crime drop 2%.
Gretl Plessinger with FDLE says it reflects success of law enforcement.
“So it shows that crime is down across the state of Florida again, for more than four decades,” said Plessinger.
But rape is up 8% over the same time period in 2016.
Historically, sex crimes are greatly under reported.
The Florida Council Against Sexual Violence says the numbers may actually be a good sign, not indicating a rise in the total number of rapes in the state, but instead a greater number of victims willing to come forward.
Criminologists have multiple theories for what caused the increase.
Jennifer Dritt, Executive Director of the Council believes it may be the result of a greater societal sensitivity towards sex crimes.
A trend she sees continuing to gain momentum.
“There’s more attention to sexual assault. There’s some statewide projects that are helping inform law enforcement about conducting trauma informed investigations,” said Dritt.
Statistically murders are down 5%, but that’s only because of the 49 victims who lost their lives in the Pulse Night Club Shooting.
Removing them from the equation, shows murders are up 3%.
Returns on stolen property are also low.
Six out of ten people who have their cars stolen get them back, while only 8% of people who have other property taken ever see it again.
Florida also saw reports of domestic violence drop 1%.

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Scott Files Motion to Disqualify Justice Pariente From Ruling on His Case

November 21st, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Governor Rick Scott wants a Supreme Court Justice removed from a case, which will decide whether the Governor has the authority to appoint three new justices before he leaves office.
The Governor claims comments made by the Justice caught on a hot mic suggests bias.
“I’ll appoint three new justices the morning I finish my term,” said Scott.
Scott has filed a motion to have Justice Barbara Pariente disqualified from the case.
She was heard saying the word, “crazy” in a hot mic incident.
The comment was made while the Justices looked at and discussed a list of people who will nominate future judicial candidates.
The audio is intermittent and unclear at times.
Scott’s Attorneys argue, due to the context of the conversation it could only be assumed the use of the word crazy was directed at either Scott or one of his appointees.
Scott says it’s enough evidence to suggest the Justice is incapable of rendering a fair verdict in the case.
Scott also included in his motion comments the Justice made back in 2012.
Justice Pariente was quoted during her retention election saying a vote against her retention, “Will Give Governor Scott the right to make his appointments, which will result in partisan political appointments.”
Damien Filer with Progress Florida says the argument is weak.
“What she said was that if she and others up for merit retention weren’t retained, that the Governor would make partisan political appointments. That’s just factually accurate. That’s what Governors and Presidents do,” said Filer.
It’s up to Justice Pariente as to whether she will disqualify herself.
We reached out to the legal team representing the League of Women Voters, but they declined to comment.

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Governor Proposes Money for Elections Supervisors

November 20th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida’s 67 elections supervisors are continuing to talk with Homeland Security and the FBI over attempts to hack the voter database in some counties during the 2016 election, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, Governor Rick Scott is now proposing money for more security at both the state and local level.

As many as a dozen of Florida’s 67 elections supervisors got suspicious emails last summer and fall that could have lead to a breach of the voters database. None were successful says Ron Labasky, the attorney for the Supervisors.

 

“Whatever the purpose of that, we don’t really know” says Labasky.

Taylor County Supervisor Dana Southerland was on the warning call with the FBI and others last year. She is the Supervisors Association President.

“Did they tell you you were in danger of being hacked?” We asked.

I don’t know that they used those words so to speak, but I think anytime you are dealing with electronics and computers, everybody is prone to something happening” says Southerland.

Governor Rick Scott is asking for a half million dollars to add five people at the state level. In an email, a spokesman for the Secretary of State told us: The Cybersecurity Unit will bolster current efforts and focus solely on cybersecurity for all of the department’s mission critical system

Another 1 point nine million would go to local supervisors.

If the money were divided equally, it wold be just over twenty eight thousand dollars a county. that wold go a lot further in a small county than a big one.”

“We’re sorta going through a number of protocols” says Labasky “talking to the state, Department of State, and some of the Federal people who brought information forward to find out what is needed.”

Final budget decisions are up to lawmakers, who could decide that supervisors need even more to make sure public confidence in elections isn’t eroded.

In addition to cyber security money, the Governor is also asking for $800,000 to assist individuals with disabilities and more than $445,000 for election fraud prevention.

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Despite Irma, Projections Show a Healthy Holiday Shopping Season

November 20th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Holiday sales are expected to rise in the state this Christmas Season.
Florida retailers say record high tourism and record low unemployment are playing a big part.
This holiday season Florida retailers are predicting a 3.5% increase in holiday spending.
The growth is slightly below the 4% growth expected nationally.
“Florida usually follows the national predictions pretty closely or exceeds them.” said Communications Director of the Florida Retail Association, James Miller. “But due to hurricane Irma that hit southwest Florida, southeast Florida and the Jacksonville area near 3 really large population centers it’s going to impact those people’s ability to spend money this year.”
Despite post-Irma economic hardships, Floridians are still expected to spend, on average, a record $967 on holiday shopping this year.
A major contributing factor for increased spending is the state’s unemployment rate, which is  the lowest it’s been in a decade.
Shoppers we caught up with say their Christmas budgets are still lean.
“Well I’m supposed to be spending less. My husband is trying to retire,” said Tallahassee resident Betsy Hines.
“Of course it’s been a rough year as far as the hurricane and everything like that, but [I’m] just trying to save up more for 2018 I guess is the habit I’m trying to bring in now,” said Jacksonville native, Larry Mitchell.
But Floridians aren’t the only ones driving the increased spending.
The holidays are the peak time for tourism in South Florida.
State efforts to boost tourism after Hurricane Irma are helping according to the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
“Here we had hurricanes and we’re still up, and so it’s getting the message out,” said Carol Dover, President of the Association.
The state saw record numbers of visitors for the third quarter in a row.
“You know, 100 to 120 million shoppers coming in each year, all of whom are leaving with more than what they came with, which is a great thing,” said Miller.
The Governor announced Monday a record 88.2 million tourists visited the state in the first 9 months of 2017.
The top gift for loved ones are gift cards, but Floridians are also expected to spend more on themselves this holiday season, about $141 on average.

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FSU Homecoming One to Remember, but for Wrong Reasons

November 17th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The death two weeks ago today, an FSU fraternity pledge after a night of drinking at an off campus homeport a dampen today;’s homecoming parade. Following the death,  FSU President John Thrasher banned alcohol at all school events and banned greeks from taking part in campus activities. Now as mike Vasilinda tells us, the President is taking the alcohol ban on e step further.

Hundreds, not the usual thousands, lined the route for FSU’s homecoming parade. Alumna Nancy Bracewell as disappointed but not surprised,

 

“What do yo think of the turnout” we asked.

“It’s not good at all. It’s terrible actually” Bracewell responded.

Members of this fraternity said they would have had a float if they had not been banned from all activity following the death of a 20 Pi kappa Phi pledge two weeks ago. The few people watching from the Pi kappa house scattered when they saw our camera.After banning alcohol at all student activities, FSU President John Thrasher has now banned alcohol from the President Box for homecoming and the following home game,

 

 

“I mean, I think it would be a little bit hypocritical for use to serve alcohol in our box and ask them not to do what they are doing” says the President.

On Thursday, the President eased restrictions against Greek organizations. He’s allowing them to meet, but only with an advisor.

Students for the most part were taking the ban on Greek involvement in stride,

We caught up with Joyce Chiang riding on a float.

 

“Homecoming is supposed to be a time when we all come together and celebrate the school year, but obviously, we can’t do that this year like we have. We have a sorority under us F 85 under us and they can’t practice with the band homecoming, so it’s a little upsetting, but hopefully everything will be better” Chiang told us.

2017 will likely be a homecoming to remember, but for all the wrong reasons.

The President has not set a timetable for when Greek activity may resume. A vigil was held for 20 year old Andrew Coffey on Wednesday night.

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Democratic Party Chair Resigns Under Pressure

November 17th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

All four announced democratic candidates today called on the chairman of their party to resign after six women came forward and said he leered at them and created a hostile environment by using a breast shaped exercise ball. The got they wish. Candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew gillum says it is for the best.

“If women have to fell like they have to go two by two  into their bosses office to avoid an environment of fear or intimidation, or inappropriateness, then something is clearly wrong and we have to change that dynamic, so the chairman stepping down was the right thing to do” says Gillum.

Bittel says he is working with others in the party to set an election for his successor.

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FDC Hoping Job Fair Attendance Will Increase With New Incentives

November 17th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The Florida Department of Corrections has seen a 103% increase in vacancies since 2016 alone.
The vacancy rate at some prisons is near 30 percent.
The Department asked for and got a $2,500 raise for correctional officers. the raises started October first. DOC is also  offering $1,000 signing bonuses to new hires in high turnover prisons.
40 perspective correctional officers showed up here in Wakulla County Friday at a Department of Corrections hiring event.
DOC says about 70% of them will likely be hired with a starting salary of just over $30,000.
Captain Ron McDonald is a  Regional Recruiter for the prison agency.
He says  the turnout is fairly typical, but also says interest has increased with the addition of new incentives.
“There’s just so many different things you can do with the department. Those that are in our central office and our ELT team and all. Most of them have started right here as a correctional officer. So you can go as far as you want with the department,” said McDonald.
Some applicants say the bonus was part of what motivated them to show up at the job fair.
“I mean it’d be a good place to start.$33,500 isn’t really a starting place for many 19-year-olds,” said applicant Dylan Stevens.
Others like Keyambreia Sapp say it’s simply something they’ve always wanted to do.
“I saw flier on Facebook. I’ve been trying to get into the corrections system. I was like hey this sounds like a good idea, going out to the hiring event,” said Sapp.
The lack of qualified officers has had a direct effect on moral within prisons and has hampered DOC’s ability to keep drugs and other contraband out of the hands of inmates.
Correctional Officer positions come with options for health insurance and pension plans.
To find out more about job opportunities with FDC click here.

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When is Paying More Taxes not a Tax Increase? You Decide

November 16th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

If you pay more in property taxes this coming year, would you consider it a tax hike. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, it’s a battle state lawmakers are about to have, and depending how it turns out, it could cost you more.

Property values in some counties are up 9 percent this year. As a result, school districts will collect 569 million more from property owners

“That’s not a tax increase”  says Senate Budget Chair Rob Bradley.

The Governor, and lawmakers like Bradley who want the money to boost school spending say it’s not a tax increase, because the tax rate did not go up. Bradley uses the analogy of buying a two lawnmowers months apart.

“You will pay more taxes on the second lawnmower than the first lawnmower because the price has increased, but that’s not a tax increase. the tax rate is the same” says Bradley.

 

But Rep. Matt Caldwell, who chairs the House Governmental Accountability Committee calls the comparison Apples and Oranges.

“At the end of the day the taxpayers are paying more than they were last year” says Caldwell.

The issue is important because lawmakers, not local governments, set the required local effort, which is designed to equalize school funding across the state.

Lawmakers have actually reduced the required local effort over the last two years.

Last year the House drew a line in the sand. Rep. Paul Renner wants to keep it that way again this year.

“We certainly want to lower the tax burden on citizens this year, not increase it” Renner told us.

Rick Scott is siding with the Senate this year. The bulk of his proposed increase for public schools comes from higher local property values.

This year, Governor Rick Scott is seeking fewer tax cuts  and more spending ahead of what is expected to be a run for the U-S Senate.

We asled the Governor’s Office for a statement. Here’s what they sent:

 

Q: Why did local funds increase in the FEFP?

  • The local millage tax rate will not increase and will remain at the Fiscal Year 2017-18 level of 4.308. This means there is no tax increase because the rate will not change.
  • The amount of local funding provided in the FEFP calculation primarily increased due to a 6.15 percent, or $117.1 billion, rise in the school taxable value that was the result of an increase in the value of Florida property. When property values rise, it’s a good thing for Florida families.
  • While Florida is currently experiencing increased local revenues because property values are rising, the state has also experienced significant reductions in local revenues when property values decline, as it faced during the national recession.

 

Q: Has state funding increased at a higher rate than local funding in the FEFP since Governor Scott has taken office?

  • Yes. During Governor Scott’s administration, state funding for Florida’s K-12 public schools has increased by $3.2 billion or 36.7 percent, from a total amount of $8.7 billion in Fiscal Year 2011-12 to $11.9 billion in the 2018-19 Securing Florida’s Future budget. During this same time period, the local contribution to the FEFP has risen at a slower pace, increasing by $1.6 billion or 20.8 percent.

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Lawmakers Dig In On Mandatory Minimums Following Spike in Drug Related Deaths

November 16th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A new report from the state’s medical examiners shows drug related deaths jumped 22% between 2015 and 2016.
The findings may short circuit efforts to reduce mandatory minimum sentences for drug trafficking.
Opioids played a factor in 5,725 deaths last year, a 35 percent increase over the 4,242 Floridans who died the year before with opioids in their system.
Florida’s medical examiners say deaths directly caused by fentanyl almost doubled.
Mark Fontaine, Executive Director of the Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association says the numbers are shocking.
“16 a day die this way and indications are the first half of 2017 it’s going to jump to 20 a day die this way,” said Fontaine.
This year three bills have been filed to give judges the option of reducing mandatory minimum sentences for certain drug crimes.
The idea was introduced last session.
It sparked heated debate before ultimately being thrown out.
This year lawmakers are hoping the idea will gain traction, but after the release of the latest medical examiners report, Lawmakers who were already opposed are doubling down.
“Who knows, those numbers may have been higher. Hopefully we’ll be able to get some of these traffickers off the street,” said Senator Kellie Stargel.
“I wouldn’t at all be in favor of reducing minimum mandatories for the dealers and the traffickers,” said Representative Jim Boyd.
Senator Jeff Brandes is sponsoring the most extreme of the mandatory minimum reduction bills.
“We have to stop treating addicts, like kingpins, ” Brandes said.
He says the latest statistics only reaffirm his position.
“When you keep trying to incarcerate our way to less deaths, what we’re going to see is most likely the opposite,” said Brandes.
The effect of major opioid Legislation passed this spring is still a work in progress.
Whether it cut deaths wont be known until next November when there will be a new report from the medical examiners.
The Florida Alcohol and Drug Abuse Association hasn’t taken an official position on the mandatory minimum reduction bills, but it does agree a more treatment based approach needs to be adopted by the state when it comes to dealing with addicts.

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Hurricane Panels wants Answers on Debris Removal

November 16th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The House Select Committee on the Hurricane Irma response began delving into why its taking to long to remove tree limbs and other debris since the storm passed. Rep. Paul Renner says its important to know what went wrong before the next storm.

“We want to look and see what happened. you know, did people skirt their contractual obligations and what the remedy should be going forward for that. And how do we make sure in the next storm that we get debris picked up in the shortest time possible, Look at best practices” the Palm Coast representative told us.

In some counties, debris was taken to a central staging area quickly, where other contractors than permanently disposed of the debris.

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Haitians Seek Notice before Temporary Status Ends

November 16th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

50 or so Haitian refugees walked the hallways of the State Capitol today, they came to ask the estate to send a message to Congress Give Haitians in the US on temporary status, which is set to expire early next year, at least 18 months to make arrangements to go home. The Committee voted overwhelming for the resolution sponsored by State Senator Daphne Campbell.

“Everyone understands they re not asking to stay on temporary status all the time. Just give us the time to be ready, that’s all” says Campbell.

Q: Give enough time?” we asked.

“Yes, make decisions or be prepared. You know if I have to leave, I can sell my home, my business, to know where I am going to leave my children” says Campbell, who is of Haitian descent.

Some of the 60 thousand Haitians here have been in the US on temporary status since an earthquake rocked the island nation in 2010.

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Confederate General One Step Closer to being Booted from Statuary Hall

November 15th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida lawmakers are moving ahead with plans to replace the statute of a Confederate General representing the state in the US Capitol with that of a civil rights icon and educator, As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the move is not with it’s critics.

In 2016 lawmakers voted to boot Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith from Statutory Hall in the US Capitol. Smith became one of two statues representing the state in 1922. The other is air conditioning inventor John Gorrie.

Months later, a special committee narrowed more than 130 recommendations down to three. Civil Rights Icon Mary McLeod Bethune was the top vote getter.

At the time, Daisy Grimes was a special assistant at Bethune Cookman University.

“She stood bold for what she believed in. And she believed in this country. She believed in the goodness of this country and what it could be” said Grimes.

Lawmakers dodged the change last session. Now it’s back.

 

Sen. Perry Thurston is the bill sponsor.

“Dr. Bethune served as the first African American woman to head a federal agency” he told fellow Senators.

Opponents, like Don Russ of Jacksonville, tried to convince budget writers that keeping Smith was a way to remember history.

 

“I got to tell ya, you need to reconsider what you are doing” Russ told Senators. He later stormed away from the podium after accusing Chair Rob Bradley on not listening and already having his mind made up.

 

Only Dennis Baxley voted no. His Great-Great-Great Grandfather was a poor farmer who fought for the south.

“I’m very concerned what this does to us as a culture, we go through cultural purging” said Baxley before the vote.

Supporters of Kirby Smith say if he is indeed removed from the nation’s Capitol, he ought to be brought home here to Tallahassee to the old Capitol.

David McCalliser of the Sons of Confederate Veterans in Tampa wants Smith brought back to Florida.

“We need to turn this into a positive thing and respect our veterans.”

Who would pay to replace Smith, or bring him back to Florida, aren’t addressed in the legislation.

A 2016 estimate says it will cost $388,000 to replace the Kirby Smith statue,  which includes bringing Smith back to Florida.  The 2016 law replacing him suggested the money would have to be raised privately.

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Newly Filed Nursing Home Legislation Most Comprehensive Yet

November 15th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
After 14 people died in a nursing home in south Florida following Hurricane Irma the Governor issued an emergency rule requiring nursing homes and assisted living facilities install generators.
Fines of $1,000 a day for not complying kicked in Wednesday.
An administrative law judge has thrown out the emergency rule.
The Governor is appealing, so it remains in effect.
Even if the rule is overturned, Lawmakers have filed legislation that would require not only generators, but also prioritize power restoration to elder care facilities.
“Prioritize them appropriately. Make sure that each county includes ALF’s and nursing homes in their restoration of power program,” said House Sponsor Katie Edwards.
The bill also restores power to the state longterm care ombudsman, giving the position more authority to investigate facilities.
“And fix those problems before they have a catastrophic result,” said Senate Sponsor Gary Farmer.
The Florida Health Care Association opposes the legislation, saying a requirement for facilities to acquire liability insurance means bigger payouts for trial lawyers when something goes wrong.
“The Legislature is already requiring nursing homes to pay their judgement,” said Kristen Knapp with the FHCA. “If they don’t pay their judgement, they lose their license. So why do they need liability insurance?”
Bill sponsors argue heightened oversight will result in fewer accidents like the one that took the lives of 14 elderly residents, meaning less opportunities for lawsuits.
“If good nursing homes are providing good care, they shouldn’t have anything to fear from this legislation,” said Senator Farmer.
The bill would require generators in nursing homes and assisted living facilities by July of next year, a month after hurricane season begins.

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Lawmakers Tout Criminal Justice Reform Legislation for 2018

November 15th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A bi-partisan coalition of state lawmakers and criminal justice organizations touted new Legislation aimed at improving the state’s sentencing laws this afternoon.
The press conference discussed three bills filed which would give judges the option to of handing out a sentence lower than the mandatory minimums set for certain drug crimes.
It’s a luxury already granted to prosecutors.
“I think that that shows you the kind of dedication you’re seeing and the kind of leadership you’re seeing on this issue. When you have the presiding officers from both of these chambers for the last many years stepping up and saying it’s okay to talk about criminal justice reform, it’s okay to be bold on these ideas,” said Senator Jeff Brandes.
Legislation has also been filed that would end the practice of suspending drivers licenses when a person fails to pay a fine because they can’t afford it.
Another bill would raise the monetary value of stolen property to qualify as a felony from $300, to $1,500.

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Senate Backs School Funding Boost at Local Taxpayer Expense

November 15th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott’s final budget is asking for a two hundred dollar per student increase. Nearly six hundred million of the increase would come from local taxpayers in what is know as the Required Local Effort, or RLE. The plan doesn’t’t increase property owners milage rates, but it does use the growth in property values to fund schools. Senate Budget Chair Rob Bradley says that doesn’t qualify as a tax increase.

“We’re very committed in the Senate to K 12 education. A very important part of that commitment is making sure we have the RLE. And so, it’s not a tax increase. We agree with the Governor” Bradley told reporters after his first meeting as budget chair.

Whether or not paying more is a tax increase or not has been a point of contention between lawmakers last year and the year before.

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