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State Formally Apologizes for Atrocities at Dozier School for Boys

April 26th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Florida officially apologized today to hundreds of men who were abused at a state run boys school in the 1950’s and 60’s.
The two dozen survivors stood as their names were called. They came to personally hear the apology..some from as far away as Texas.
“We say to you… We apologize. We are sorry,” read Senator Darryle Rouson on the Senate Floor.
For decades, the state turned a blind eye to abuses at the panhandle boys school.
At least 500 have said they bore witnesses to the horrors.
Charles Fudge was one of four brothers sent to the reformatory.
““It is something you live with every day. You remember your cottage number, your locker number,” said Fudge.
Johnny Lee Gaddie says many more were killed that the 55 bodies recovered.
“They was feeding the boys to the hogs. The hogs will eat anything. And they eat the bone,” said Gaddie.
The States apology came too late for those who died, but for survivors, the apology did bring some solace.
Some would like to see the state do more.
“If they could just make restitutions to these families that lost their children up there,” said survivor, Robert St. Clair.
The apology may not be able to mend the wounds of those that suffered, but the Sate’s commitment to never allow it to happen again may hopefully prevent future wounds.
Survivor Robert Staley says he sees the State improving on that front already.
“Things where they’re taking boys and they’re not just sending them on the pipeline to prison like they were. They’re keeping them in group homes, they’re trying to do something,” said Straley.
Still uncertain is whether lawmakers will spend one million dollars to build two memorials and rebury the bodies unearthed at the boys school.
The House bill includes the money for the memorials and also the possibility of some restitution for victims. The Senate says it will be considering adopting those previsions.

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House Bill to Keep Universities Search Process for Top Officials Concealed Passes House

April 26th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A bill passed through the State House allowing Universities to keep their search process for top officials closed to the public during the initial application phase.
This comes after a bruising effort trying to pick a new President for Florida Gulf Coast University this past fall and winter that saw the search resumed after the search panel count agreed on three names.
Sponsor Representative Bob Rommel said Florida doesn’t reach its full pool of applicants because of the state’s overly transparent policy.
“Just imagine if it was you trying to better yourself or your family for a new job and you had to go and tell your current boss, that boss, I applied for a new job,” said Rommel.
Names of final applicants would still have to be released 21 days prior to a final decision for public input.

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Whiskey and Wheaties Bill Headed to the Governor’s Desk

April 26th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
In what may have been one of the closest House votes this session the State House has voted to tear down the walls separating hard liquor and big box retailers.
The bill passed by just one vote after two days full of hours of testimony and debate.
Support for the bill broke party lines and came down to the individual judgement of each individual representative.
“But I think we should do our do-diligence, the people that are watching and the people in this Chamber as parents and not let the kids get to the liquor that we have in our own homes,” said Representative Wengay Newton during the debate, “Just like we lock up our guns and protect our guns we should lock the liquor up or not buy it. Tear down this wall.”
The bill is now headed to the Governors desk.

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Lawmakers closing in on Budget deal, maybe.

April 26th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

State lawmakers are closing in on the broad outlines of an 83 billion dollar state budget, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, even small details could derail the progress long enough to push lawmakers into overtime.

The Senate gets it’s plan to build a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee. The House would get it’s cuts to Visit and Enterprise Florida, The House would also get a 200 million dollar plan for Charter Schools of Hope. In exchange for the Senates gets a boost to University funding. Early Wednesday, Senate Budget Chairman jack Latvala tweeted there was no deal until it was announced by the Senate President. The Majority Leader said discussions were on going.

“I wouldn’t classify anything as having fallen apart” says galvano. “And  at this point there is some tweaking going on on what I would call second and third tier issues.”

After the morning Senate Session, President Joe Negron wasn’t ready to announce a deal, but sounded optimistic.

“It’s down to just a few issues where we’re trying to clarify some language to the satisfaction of both the House and the Senate” Negron told reporters

On the House side, the Speaker was absent from the floor most of the morning. In an exclusive interview he appeared to pour water on the finality of the talks.
“It’s very very difficult. we’re a very conservative body, and its difficult dealing with a body that doesn’t hold our principles and our values” Corcoran told us.

And while lawmakers appear to be shutting down the Governor’s top priorities, he will in fact have the final say.

Under the deal, Visit Florida would be funded at 25 million, a third of this years total. Enterprise Florida would survive, with no money for incentives. Governor Rick Scott issued a statement from his trade mission in Argentina sayings “Lawmakers cannot be shortsighted at the expense of Florida families

Budget negotiators could begin going through a complete analysis of the differences as early as tonight. A budget must be on members desks by next Tuesday for an on time adjournment.

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House makes “Substantial” gaming offer

April 26th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

State Lawmakers are closer to a deal on gambling than anytime in the last seven years after the House made what both sides are calling a substantial deal. The House would allow voters in counties with dog tracks to decide if the tracks could stop racing dogs but keep operating card rooms. Grey 2k activist Cary Thiel says the move is a big step forward.

Sot: Carey Theil

Grey2K USA

“from the animal welfare perspective, we’re starting to have hope  that we’ll see finally some change. We’re seeing greyhounds dying in Florida every three days at these facilities. This is the beginning of a blueprint to fix that problem.”

The offer also give the Seminole Tribe more games such as baccarat, but if does not open to slots in the eight counties where voters have approved slots referendums. Naples-Ft. Myers Dog Track owner Isadore Havenick says the deal does’t go far enough.

Sot: Isadore Havenick

Naples – Ft. Myers Dog track

Magic Casino

“We had a referendum. We had a referendum in the general election and the residents of Lee County voted, over 63 percent in favor of us being able to offer a new product, and we just hope the legislature listens to the will of the people.”

The offer also included one new permit for gambling in south Florida. The Senate wants two new facilities.

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One Hundred Liquor Store Owners and Employees Protest Whiskey and Wheaties Bill

April 25th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
One hundred liquor store owners greeted House members as they entered the Chamber Tuesday.
The message on their shirts was clear.
Vote against a bill allowing  big retailers like Walmart to sell liquor on their shelves instead of in a separate adjoined store.
“That will severely impact my business. I employ six other people so we have a total of six families that are dependent upon my business staying open,” said one owner, Elizabeth Durling from Fort Meyers.
They said they can’t compete with the convenience big retailers would be able to offer.
“I can’t suddenly start selling diapers and candy overnight.,” said store owner James Simms from Panama City.
Nor can they compete with the prices.
Purav Shah owns multiple liquor stores in Tampa, he estimates if the bill passes he’ll have to make major cuts to keep his doors open.
“I’m pretty sure 20% of my staff would have to be relocated or reassigned,” said Shah.
The liquor store owners said it’s not all business.
They also don’t want their kids exposed to alcohol on the shelves at grocery stores.
The store owners filled many of the seats in the House gallery, then waited.
Sponsor Representative Bryan Avila said the the change won’t make Florida more deadly.
“The states that do not have a separation, those states have less incidents of alcohol related incidents,” said Rep. Avila.
But opponents noted the statistics are confusing.
“Seven of the ten states that have the highest hard alcohol consumed per capita, are states that have allowed hard liquor to be sold in big box retailers,” said Representative Randy Fine.
A final vote is set for Wednesday, if approved by the House, the measure will go to the Governor.
1700 liquor store owners and employees have signed an on line petition opposing the  change.

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Bills to Combat Drug Overdoses Move to House Vote

April 25th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Two bills to help combat drug overdoses in the state were on the House floor Tuesday.
One bill creates a system for medical staff including EMTs to report drug overdose incidents.
The goal is to help law enforcement find hot spots for drug activity they may not have previously known.
The second bill encourages hospitals to recommend addiction treatment in cases of overdose.
Representative Joe Gruters has been involved with both bills.
“We can’t look at it as a drug problem, we’ve got to look at it as, people are sick and how can we help them,” said Gruters, “Some of these bills hopefully will try to give people the support so we can try and reunite some of these families that are being broken up over drug abuse and curb the deaths that we’re seeing on a daily basis.”
Both bills will be voted on Wednesday.

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Bill Could Allow Colleges to Begin Researching Hemp for Cultivation

April 25th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Hemp. It’s not exactly marijuana, but it’s close and still illegal in the state, but legislation moving in both the House and Senate would allow universities begin researching the plant for industrial use.
Hemp doesn’t get you high, but it is used in dozens pf products you use everyday. 
Items ranging from beauty products to rope, drywall, and  even some car dash boards.
“So when your head hits the dashboard during an accident, it actually molds to the point where you don’t have the damage in your head,” said House sponsor Representative Ralph Massullo.
Despite hemps many uses it’s still illegal to grow in Florida. 
“The US imports $570 million of hemp products every year, but because it’s scheduled as a schedule one drug like cannabis, you know the recreational cannabis, it hasn’t been grown here for 70 years,” said Jeff Sharkey with the Medical Marijuana Business Association.
Legislation to allow Universities with an agricultural program to begin researching Hemp is ready for a floor vote in both the House and Senate.
The University of Florida and Florida A&M would qualify.
“You’re testing different seeds. So you’re trying to optimize the growth, minimize any restrictions to the growth, evaluate how hemp interacts with the climate, other crops. One big comment people have had is to make sure it’s not an invasive species,” said Rep. Massullo.
Supporters believe the bill comes at an opportune time for Florida’s agricultural industry.
With crops like oranges not succeeding at the level they have previously, hemp could become one of Florida’s cash crops.
The bill requires a minimum of 2 years of research.
If hemp is found viable legalizing hemp could be on the horizon.
If the bill passes, Florida will become the 31st State to legalize the cultivation of hemp in some capacity.

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House passes budget meltdown safety valve

April 25th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

State lawmakers have until a week from today to come up with a final budget in order to avoid costly overtime, and until today, there has been little real discussion about the two billion dollar difference between the House and Senate.

The State House has been promoting its version of the budget ideas with an in-house video guide.

“The House will not raise taxes” chimes the video.

But the problem is that the Senate doesn’t like a lot of the ideas. Like this one:

“We also added twenty five thousand dollars to the homestead exemption.”

With no agreement in sight,  Tuesday began with a worst case scenario.

“The one thing we’re not going to do is kick the can down the road” says House Budget Chair Carlos Trujillo

The House Appropriations Committee passed last years budget minus money for members projects.

“Could we get a budget done in the next ten days? Possibly. But if we don’t, if we don’t, this is our safety valve” Trujillo told committee members.

Democrats on the Committee are up in arms. Minority Leader Janet Cruz of Tampa was downright angry.

“We all just need to grow up. we need to sit at a table together and we need to do what the citizens of Florida and the fricking taxpayers have asked us to come here to do” says Cruz.

With Two billion dollars separates the chambers, the Speaker and Senate President finally began meeting face to face. Senate Majority Leader Bill Galvano remains optimistic.

“And so there’s continuing offers between the chambers, and we’ll take it from there” says galvano.

A decade ago, Special Sessions cost forty thousand dollars a day. Now there are new estimates from Cruz.

“It is seventy two thousand dollars a day.”

Q:”Is that the new number?”

“That’s my number.”

Q:”Okay, ho’d you come up with that?”

“Ah, we just tried to kinda figure out what lodging costs, what folks per diem is, and what it costs for staff.”

Passing a budget is the legislators only constitutional responsibility…but the constitutions says nothing about doing it on time.

Negotiations are occurring on two levels, total dollar amounts, and spending for policy items like charter schools, tax breaks, education funding and the environment, particularly building a reservoir south of Lake Okeechobee.

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Law Enforcment Honors Fallen Hero’s and their Families

April 24th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Hundreds of police officers from across the state were in the State Capitol today to pay tribute to the officers who were lost last year. And as Mike Vasilinda tells us, pay tribute to those who survived.

Hundreds of officers paraded a half dozen blocks to the Capitol to show respect for their fallen brothers and sisters.

The families of those being remembered filled a hundred seats or more. FDLE Deputy Commission Don Lardner promised the state would remember their fallen hero and those they left behind.

“To the families we also promise to you that we will never forget you. You are out hero. your sacrifice continues day in and day out” Lardner told the audience.

Ten new names were added to the memorial, Seven who dies this year, and three that were previously unknown.

Massachusetts State Trooper John Kotfila Sr. came to remember his son John, a  Hillsborough deputy who blocked a wrong way driver from killing two others wth his car. He died in a fiery crash.

“My son was a special individual and we didn’t know how many lives of pople he that he touched. I’ve had people come up to me, involving cases he’s been involved in three or four years ago, and tell me what a wonderful person he was and how caring he was” the Senior officer told us.

Stephen Oliver was near tears recalling his older brother Eric, a Nassau County Deputy, killed while chasing an illegal immigrant on foot.

“He was always looking out for everybody else, except for himself. You know, he wanted to do what was right.” says Stephen.

A 21 gun salute ended the ceremony.

2 florida officers have already died in the line of duty since the beginning of the year.  Both from Orlando.

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Budget Showdown

April 24th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

A showdown over school funding, property taxes, and economic development are just a few of the items keeping lawmakers from agreeing on a new state budget. The legislature has until a week from tomorrow to agree on an 80 billion dollar plus plan or face costly overtime. Today, negotiations collapse after House Speaker Richard Corcoran offered a continuing resolution to spend at least years level. It was quickly rejected by Senate Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala.

“Why do we want to model Florida after Washington D.C.? they haven’t had anything anything but a continuation budget in Washington DC in eight or ten years. And we want to copy that? Does the Speaker want to copy Washington D.C.  I don’t think the vast number of people I represent have much confidence in Washington D.C.” says Latvala.

A special session of the legislature will cost upwards of 40 thousand dollars a day. But Latvala says there is still a good change the budget will get worked out on time.

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Texting legislation gets workshop, no movement to Floor

April 24th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

A House Committee held a work shop on tougher texting laws today, but took no vote. The legislation has been stalled because of opposition of the incoming Speaker, but that is no solace to Demetrius Branca, who lost his son Anthony to a distracted driver last year.

Sot: Demetrius Branca


“There is always a back door to file legislation and gets things passed. I just don’t know if that’s going to happen. I think there is still too much resistance from Leadership” says the grieving father.

Q: “Next Year, the year after?”

“Next year we’re coming in hard and hot. we’re gonna try everything we can to make

this happen. People are dying everyday and we can’t wait. We can’t wait until next year, but we have to” says Branca.

The legislation Branca and others are seeking would allow police to stop texting offenders without some other offense. Currently enforcement is a secondary offense, and tickets can only be issued when the office stops a motorist for something else,

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March For Science Puts a Spotlights the Separation of Science and Politics

April 21st, 2017 by Jake Stofan

Saturday is Earth Day and to show their love of the earth, science lovers and advocates will be taking to the streets in more than 500 marches across the country.

More than 1,000 people have RSVPed on Facebook to participate in the March for Science taking place in Tallahassee.
At the march scientists will give talks highlighting why science is so important to protect.
Organizer Susan Glickman, says the message comes at a critical time, citing the current political climate.
“That’s the whole point of this. People want to let the science and the facts stand. they don’t want scientific research hidden of manipulated in anyway. We just need to make our decisions based on facts and science,” said Glickman.
To find the nearest march to you, go to MarchForScience.Com.

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Senator Frank Artiles Resigns over “vulgar” language

April 21st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

A State Senator who made vulgar and racist remarks about other State Senators and the Senate leadership resigned today, a scant 86 hours after losing his temper in a Tallahassee watering hole. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, Frank Artilles would likely have become the first State Senator to be expelled from office in modern times if he had not left  on his own.

The resignation letter was delivered to the Senate Presidents office before noon Friday. In it Frank Artilles says  “My actions and my presence in government is now a distraction to my colleagues, the legislative process and and the citizens of our great state.”

Artiles had apologized for the Monday night remarks on Wednesday.

“As you can see, my harsh words have reflected more on methane they could ever have on anyone else” Artiles said on the Senate Floor.

The resignation was expected. Wednesdays apology rang hollow for many of Artilles Colleagues. Sen. Perry Thurston filed the complaint seeking Artiles expulsion, and it was moving quickly to conclusion.

“Did someone go to him and say you’ll get thrown out if you don’t resign?”

“Well, I don’t know that but I would think that was the case because several people have come to us in the meantime and saying is there way for a soft landing?” says Thurston.

“Is this a soft landing?”

“I don’t know if this is a soft landing. To end someone’s political career. to have to resign. to have to put your family thought this. It’s unfortunate.”

In a hastily arranged news conference, the Senate President called the resignation appropriate.

“All of us are accountable for our actions and comments. So I think it’s an appropriate resolution” said Senator Joe Negron.

It’s now up to the Governor to set a date for a special election.

The resignation was an abrupt turnaround for the brash, defiant, former Marine. On Wednesday he vowed he would stay.

“I’m also going to file for 2018 and win my election. thank You.

A prediction which is now very unlikely to be fulfilled. In his letter Artiles also said “It’s clear there are consequences to every action, and in this area, I will need the for personal reflection and growth.

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County Resident May Soon Have a Bigger Say in What is Taught in Their Schools

April 21st, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Parents were given a say in the selection of learning materials used to teach their kids in public schools in 2014.
Many school districts turned a blind eye to parental input and  legislation to guarantee parental say is gaining momentum.
In 2014, parents were given the right to tell school boards what they though of  materials being used to teach their children, but there was no teeth in the law.
Some boards ignored what parents had to say.
As a result, new legislation makes the input mandatory.
Senate sponsor Tom Lee says school districts didn’t start listening until decisions were already made.
“Yeah and I don’t know how widespread this problem is. We have a fair amount of anecdotal information coming out of the local communities,” said Sen. Lee.
Keith Flaugh with Citizens Alliance says they’ve found a number of objectionable material in K-12 textbooks.
“In the form of political and religious indoctrination, sexually explicit material that just would shock you,” said Flaugh.
The proposal will open the door for not just parents, but everyone in the county  to play a bigger role in deciding which text books make it into the schools.
Supporters say opening up input to the entire community will help the vetting process become stronger.
“So many parents we talk to and even teachers are afraid to come forward and get involved in the process because they don’t want to put a bulls-eye around their child by raising objections,” said Flaugh, “Grandparents on the other hand usually have the time to get in this.”
State Rep. Joe Geller was one of the few no votes when the House passed the legislation Thursday.
“You’re setting it up for there to be small groups of parents that are organized. This thing could turn out also to end up violating separation of church and state,” said Rep. Geller.
Ultimately, it’s still the school board that will have the final say.
The Bill’s next stop will be a vote on the Senate floor, next stop… the Governor’s Desk.

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