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“I may not make it home” thought Trooper of the Year

December 7th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

A five year veteran of the Florida Highway Patrol is this year’s Trooper of the Year in part because of his heroism caught on dash cam video.

Trooper Nickolas Dolan smiled as the Governor presented him with the Trooper of the Year award, but last February Dolan was in fear of his life. Marion County Deputies were chasing an active shooter, and asked for help, says FHP director Col. Gene Spaulding.

“Gentleman was shooting a .50 calibre rifle at construction equipment at a known protest location at one of the pipelines” Spaulding told the Governor. 

The suspect crossed into citrus county where deputies there picked up the chase continued the FHP Director.

“This was an active shooter situation. He hears the Lieutenant with the Sheriff’s office tell the deputies to pull over and put on their ballistic rifle vests before they engage the subject.”

Dolan was driving toward the fleeing suspect. 

“February 26th last year changed my life forever” says the Trooper.

As the suspect passed, the report says he pointed a hand gun at Dolan, but didn’t fire.

In hot pursuit, Dolan is about to execute what is call a pursuit termination maneuver, or PIT, then momentarily backs off. Director Spaulding explained why.

“These two motorcycles coming in the opposite direction. He has the presence of mind to hold off until they get in a safe location. He immediately engages the suspect in a PIT maneuver.”

The car slides into the ditch, the police cruiser running into it.

The suspect then slides out of the truck holding a handgun and wearing bullet proof equipment. He refuses to drop it.” Shots are fired.

“I may not have made it home, but I wanted to make sure everybody else is okay” Dolan told the Governor.

But go home he did.  Trooper Dolan says he regrets having to take a life that day, but says he would do it again. 

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New Bill Would Make Not Buckling Up Your Kids Child Abuse

December 6th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Newly filed legislation would impose stronger penalties for adults who don’t properly restrain their children in a car.

The Senate bill would allow incidents where unrestrained children are killed or injured to be investigated as child abuse.

In Florida if your child isn’t wearing a seat belt you face a minimum $60 fine.

Even still, Corporal Patricia Johnson Shaw with the Florida Highway Patrol says unrestrained children in vehicles remains a major problem.

“You’ll have a lot of it actually when they’re picked up from the schools and they’re just jumping in the cars and the parents are taking off,” said Shaw.

Nationwide, In 2016, 723 children age 12 years and younger died in motor vehicle crashes.

Of those, 35% weren’t restrained.

“When you see that it’s a child it takes it to heart,” said Shaw. “And knowing that, that child was not properly restrained, it makes it even worse.”

A new bill filed for the 2019 session would allow the Department of Children and Families to investigate adults for child abuse if a child passenger is injured or killed because they weren’t properly restrained.

A recent study found that in a single year more than 600,000 children in the US rode in a car at least once without a seat belt or car seat.

Corporal Shaw says kids are much more likely to ride unrestrained if their parents don’t set a good example.

“The example that you set as a parent, that’s the example the kids see,” said Shaw.”If a kid doesn’t see you strapped up, it’s more likely that they wont strap up.”

Currently in Florida children five and under are required to be restrained in a car or booster seat.

A House companion bill has not been filed yet, but is expected to come soon.

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Uber Drive Takes Plea in Kidnapping Case

December 6th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

The former Uber driver accused of false imprisonment after she refused to stop and let a passenger out of her car has entered a plea.

31-year-old Destiny Green will spend four years on mental health probation and pay the costs of her prosecution.

Judge James Hankinson ordered Green to stay away from the victim and to not drive for a ride sharing company.

“Place you on four years mental health probation,” said Judge Hankinson. “The mental health probation will be consistent with the addendum that you signed. There be special conditions, 77 days in jail. Credit for 77 days served. Have no contact with Brooke Adkins. You may not work as a driver for a ride sharing company.”

Green spent 77 days in jail without bond.

A mental evaluation found she was fit to enter her plea of no contest.

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Groveland Four Will Have to Wait for Pardon

December 5th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida’s Governor and Cabinet cancelled the last scheduled clemency hearing of their terms today due to the funeral of president George H.W. Bush.

The cancellation leaves an injustice uncorrected that dates back to 1949.

A legislative resolution leaves no doubt about what happened in 1949.

Four black men were accused of raping a white woman.

One fled and was shot by a mob 400 times as lawmakers described it during the 2018 legislative session.

Three others, including 16 year old Charles Greenlee were tried and convicted.

The US Supreme Court overturned their convictions and while the two adults were being taken back to Lake County for a new trial, they were shot on the side of the road by then Sheriff Willis McCall.

One survived.

Carol Greenlee’s father Charles was released from prison in 1962.

“He wanted forgiveness for everything that had happened to him. And today, a pardon is forgiveness,” said Carol in April of 2017 after the Florida Legislature issued a formal apology.

It’s now been over 19 months since lawmakers apologized and asked the Clemency Board expedite pardons for the four.

The last scheduled clemency meeting under Rick Scott’s administration was cancelled.

NAACP Chapter President Dalaitre Hollinger says the lack of action is only prolonging the injustice.

“Well I think it’s always important to right the wrong, no matter how long long ago it’s been,” said Hollinger.

Under the clemency board rules, any member can bring up any case at any time.
“The year’s not done and our term’s not done,” said Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam after Tuesday’s Cabinet meeting. “There may yet be an opportunity, but that’s still in flux.”

In a statement, the Governor’s office says, “We continue to review all of our options.”

Under Clemency Board rules, only the Governor can initiate a pardon.

At least one other board member must agree.

The pardon process can take place without a formal hearing

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DeSantis Rumored to Have Eye on Richard Corcoran for Education Commissioner

December 5th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

In a surprise turn Florida Commissioner of Education Pam Stewart has announced her resignation despite having a year left in her contract.

Published reports say charter school advocate and former House Speaker Richard Corcoran may be on the shortlist for the position.

When Corcoran ended his campaign for Governor in May he suggested his career in public office was coming to an end.

“I said all along, you know I was going to run for Governor or go home,” said Corcoran in May.

However, the political landscape has changed.

Education Commissioner Pam Stewart, who had her contracted extended for a year when polling showed a Democrat leading in the Governors race, resigned this week.

Corcoran is now favored to become the state’s top education official.

“It’s no secret that the new Governor and the former Speaker Corcoran are both staunch advocates of school choice,” said Executive Director of the Florida School Boards Association Andrea Messina.

Corcoran is known for championing new voucher programs for private schools and diverting local tax money to charter schools.

“All of this legislation goes directly to what he says as his values, which are disrupting our education program,” said Martin Powell, Chief of Staff of the Florida Education Association.

FEA also points to the fact Corcoran lacks experience in public education, unlike Stewart who worked as a teacher, principal, and administrator for 40 years.

“He is a threat not only to traditional public school advocates and the teachers union, but to traditional schools,” said Powell.

In contrast, State Senator Bill Montford, who also heads the Florida Association of District School Superintendents, is optimistic about a Commissioner Corcoran.

“He’s very bright, he’s energetic and he knows how to get things done,” said Montford.

Stewart will officially step down on January 8th, the same day Governor Elect Ron DeSantis will be sworn into office.

Corcoran was in Washington DC Wednesday, attending a National Convention held by an education think tank established by Former Governor Jeb Bush, another staunch advocate of school choice.

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Cabinet Swan Song

December 4th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The Governor and two members of Florida’s cabinet held their final meeting Tuesday morning.

The final goodbye was full of tears and the future for two of the departing members still remains to be seen.

The final cabinet meeting for Governor Rick Scott, Attorney General Pam Bondi and Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam was a sedimental affair for Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

He offered three resolutions honoring their hard work and dedication.

“You have been a friend when I’ve needed a friend and you have given selflessly to this state,” said Patronis.

The four hour long meeting was filled with time honored traditions including pet adoptions and seasonal celebrations.

Photo opportunities, not policies took up the majority of the meeting.

Keeping in line with what has largely defined the Governor’s eight years in office, Rick Scott abruptly left the meeting without taking questions.

Commissioner Putnam, who lost his bid for the Governor’s Mansion says his next move is still in the works.

“I’m focused every day on all the work yet to be done between now and January 8th and then we’ll figure it out after that,” said Putnam.

Beginning January 8th, these seats will be filled by Republicans Ron DeSantis, Ashley moody and returning Jimmy Patronis.

For the first time in eight years a democrat will join the ranks.

Niki Fried will take over as commissioner of agriculture.

Patronis says he’s looking forward to working with Fried, despite their political differences.

“We all serve and love the state of Florida so I’m sure that Commissioner Elect Fried is going to come here with that same type of passion,” said Patronis.

He offered this advice to the newly elected members, show up early and be prepared.

Attorney General Pam Bondi also didn’t take questions after the meeting.

Appearances on FOX News in recent months have lead to speculation Bondi may land a job with the network after she leaves office.

It’s also been suggested she might be a possible candidate for US Attorney General, replacing Jeff Sessions.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

State Transfers Dozier Property

December 4th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

The state has transferred more than 1200 acres including the main campuses at the infamous Dozier School for Boys to Jackson County, where the school was founded in 1901.

County officials say it is one more step to closure in the brutality that took place there.

Hundreds were beaten, some died in the so called White House, all at the hands of state officials during the Dozier Schools 100 years of operation.

In 2017, state ordered the sprawling campus turned over to local officials.

Jackson County Commission Chair Clint Pate acknowledged the schools dark history as he made his pitch for the property.

“We’d like to take the challenge of turning this into a positive impact to Jackson County instead of some of the negative stuff we’ve had with there,” said Pate.

With little debate, the Governor Rick Scott and the Cabinet agreed to turn over the schools 360 acres.

“This is long overdue,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi.

They also transferred another 919 acres for economic Development.

The legislation calls for a monument and the preservation of the White House and the Boot Hill cemetery.

The barbed wire that kept inmates from escaping is now gone.

Several buildings on the property are still usable.

“I’m really excited about urning it into a positive and we’re gonna be good caretakers of the property,” said Jackson County Sheriff, Lou Roberts.

A plan to reinter more than four dozen bodies taken from the campus has been delayed until sometime next year.

While the state has apologized, the question of reparations for dozens of men who survived the abuse remains open.

Seven bodies from children who died in a fire will go back to Boot Hill on the property.

More than 40 others will be reinterred in a Tallahassee Cemetery.

County officials could not put a timetable on how long it will take to turn the property into something positive.

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Retailers Hopeful Liquor Wall Will Fall

December 3rd, 2018 by Jake Stofan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The state could also choose to appeal.

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

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

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Three Day Governor

December 3rd, 2018 by Jake Stofan

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

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

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

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

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

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

He printed stationary.

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

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

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

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

Like everything else, he paid for it himself.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

December 1st, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

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

 

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

 

Governor Rick Scott’s Communications Office

media@eog.myflorida.com

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State Senate Seeks Immunity from Sexual Harassment Investigation

November 30th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

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

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

Latvala resigned last December.

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

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

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

Johnson believes the state’s argument wont hold water.

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

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

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

Those too are drawing criticism from employment attorneys.

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

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

The federal judge postponed any ruling until at least Monday.

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

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Calhoun County Hoping State Will Cover Mutual Aid Bills After Michael

November 29th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Fight Over Concealed Carry Permits to Intensify

November 28th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Banning Assault Weapons 2020 Style

November 27th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

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

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

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

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

She lost her nephew in the Parkland Shooting.

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

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

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

The average contribution is small, just $145.00.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Neither were available for comment.

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Pastors React to Racist Post Aimed at FSU Football Coach

November 26th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

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

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

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

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

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