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Will They or Won’t They Tackle Death Penalty?

December 8th, 2016 by Matt Galka

The death penalty is still in limbo here in Florida, and as Matt Galka tells us, it could remain that way for some time and ultimately be up to the high court.

Florida’s legislature thought they’d be fixing death penalty sentencing problems earlier in 2016. Instead, they may have to try again.

“The most single biggest issue is going to be the death penalty,” said Rep. Chris Sprowls (R-Clearwater).

Sprowls will lead the House Judiciary Committee this upcoming legislative session.  They’ll have to tackle an October ruling from the Florida Supreme Court again calling for unanimous juries when recommending the death penalty.

The ruling came after the legislature changed Florida’s laws to require 10 out of 12 jurors to recommend death.

“Part of us is looking at what the U.S Supreme Court is going to do, but as we roll into committee weeks and into the session, obviously it’s an issue that’s hanging over us and one we’ll have to look at,” said Rep. Sprowls.

And Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi says she’ll be appealing the October ruling to the U.S. Supreme Court. The move by Florida’s supreme court leaves the door open for new sentencing trials for some inmates on Death Row.

“We’re waiting on clarification, I don’t want to comment on that yet. The opinion was not…not vague, it left many questions for us as to what to do next, and we just want to do it the right way,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi.

The legislature could choose to do nothing at all and wait until the legal challenge plays out.

 

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Clemency process time consuming and difficult. Advocates seek change

December 7th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

80 convicted criminals asked for mercy today at the state capitol. It happens four times a year, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, many believe the system is inefficient and not working.

Florida is one of just 9 states that require action by the Governor to restore the civil rights of convicted felons.

“Speeding on a county road, no registration certificate, no proof of insurance, speeding, speeding” read Rick Scott, who has access to confidential information.

It’s seldom easy.

“He doesn’t care about the law” said Scott to one lawyer.

christmas-clemency-00000006Robert French got bused 30 years ago smuggling pot. He told the panel “I take full responsibility for everything I’ve done.”

French got his rights back, in part because he brought the sheriff elect of Franklin County to speak for him.

“I should support people who have made mistakes but now are doing the right thing. That’s what I want to do because a lot of people make mistakes but it doesn’t man they are bad people” said the Sheriff elect.christmas-clemency-00000007

The board meets just four times a year., and there were only 80 cases on the agenda.

It wasn’t always this way.  In 2011, The current board reversed a policy started four years earlier that automatically restored the rights of non violent felons. Attorney General Pam Bondi pushed the change.

“If you committed a felony, especially any type of violent felony, you should ask. You should have to ask to have your civil rights restored” said Bondi, who added she stands by the change.

UPDATE: The AttorneyGeneral says the Clemency Board  handles hundreds of more cases each month, but they are decided without a hearing, saying that once the Governor signs off on a restoration of rights, other members also consider the cases

Now voters may change the policy. The Supreme Court is set to review a proposed initiative restoring rights when a sentence is completed.

Melissa Beth Ann-Miller got her rights back the hard way, but she wants to see a change.

christmas-clemency-00000014“Being a second class citizen is indescribable to those haven’t been disenfranchised” the Tampa resident told us.

An estimated 1.5 million people could get their rights back if the initiative were to pass.

While 80 cases were on the agenda today, fewer than half got their rights restored. At the same time, an average of 95 people a day are released from state prison. Rules require a felon to wait at least five years to apply to regain their rights.

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Prison Problems

December 7th, 2016 by Matt Galka

Problems continue for the state’s troubled prison system, as Matt Galka tells us, a surprise visit from a Florida lawmaker uncovered more problems.

Representative David Richardson (D-Miami) has been known to pop in on prisons.  But he wasn’t ready for what he saw when he showed up to Columbia Correctional Institution in late November.

“”This is the worst that I have seen…I saw two toilets that weren’t working properly. One of them, apparently, took about 20 flushes to get the water to go down, and so I asked the inmate how long it had been like that, he and his Bunkie told me it had been that way for about two weeks,” he said.

Richardson spent the better part of last year visiting facilities all over the state.

And even if the problems might sound small – they can grow into dangerous situations. Now the hope is that there can be some fixes legislatively.

Representative Chris Sprowls (R-Clearwater) chairs the House judiciary committee and he knows the Department of Corrections budget will be a big issues.

“It’s too early, it’s too early to say, obviously everytime you look at a budget item, whether it’s something as important as department of corrections, or healthcare, or education, we have to look at global needs and find out where the resources need to go first,” he said.

Overrun corrections officers have had to quell six riots at prisons this year.

Statement from DOC:

Ensuring that all inmates are living in safe, humane and protected environments is a top priority of the Department. Building repairs and maintenance issues are addressed by priority as our facilities staff triage repair requests within each of the Florida’s 49 major institutions. FDC leadership worked to immediately address Representative Richardson’s concerns during his visit to Columbia Correctional Institution and scheduled a follow up visit for this week.

Both the Governor and the Legislature have provided support and significant funding in recent years and we welcome our Legislative partners’ additional input and support as we work to address infrastructure needs at our prisons.

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Pam Bondi: No telling Trump secrets about job offer

December 6th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

Attorney General Pam Bondi added fuel to speculation that she is bound for the Trump administration, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, Governor Rick Scott is hoping she will stay.

Attorney General Pam Bondi spent two hours in Trump Tower on Friday. Afterwards, she said three times she is the Attorney General. “Right Now.” Right now I’m the Attorney General of Florida.” I’m AG of Florida right now” when asked about job prospects.

Bondi was back in the state Capitol Tuesday. She dodged the question of a job offer once again.

“Frankly, I don;t think anyone should come out of those meetings and talk about anything that was said in those meetings” says Bondi.

Speculation has Bondi becoming the next drug czar. And the Attorney General would not commit to finishing out the remaining two years of her term.

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“I knew you were going to be asking that question today and I’m not prepared to answer anything. I’m not going to confirm or deny anything right now” leaving little doubt she has been offered a job.

The Governor told us he’s not yet developed a short list to replace the Attorney General.

“Look, I have, what, 29 hundred appointments to boards and commissions.  So I focus on the things that are infant of me. I’m hoping that Attorney General Pam Bondi stays” says Rick Scott.

Bondi was the only Republican elected statewide to miss last weeks legislative swearing in. We asked if her duties on the Trump Transition team were taking most of her time.

“I hope not. I’ve been busy more with National Attorneys General than anything, fighting this war on drugs. I was in DC with them and then in Ft. Lauderdale as well” which only bolsters her anti drug credentials.

And while Scott may not have a short list of potential replacements, Others do. The list includes former Scott Job Czar Jesse Panuccio.

The Constitution allows the Governor to fill unexpired terms until the next election. No Senate confirmation is necessary. Bondi and anyone who would be appointed to the job are second in line of succession if something were to happen to the Governor.

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Sewage spill consent order

December 6th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

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After allowing more than 70 million gallons to go into Tampa Bay during Hurricane Hermine, the City of St. Petersburg and the State Department of Environmental Protection are negotiating a consent order. The order would require the city to spend upwards of eight hundred thousand dollars to improve sewer facilities. DEP Secretary Jon Stevenson says the order should work for both sides.

“They have the ability. I don;t want them to just stroke the department a check. I want them to actually fix the issues at hand, and they have the ability instead of one government paying another government, they have the ability to put back in their infrastructure and improve that overall” says Steverson.

Q:”This is not something they would do on their own, you assume?”

“I don’t know that, but I know we have a consent order now and we’re going to make sure they do that in a timely manner.”

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Trooper of the Year

December 6th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

A twenty year plus veteran of the Highway Patrol was honored this morning as the Trooper of the Year. Lt. Channing Taylor was on his way home on a Sunday night. He stopped to gas his car, noticed a car without headlights pull into the station, and wen to caution the driver as a courtesy. When the driver couldn’t produce an ID, Taylor ran the tag on the car and was hit as the passenger began firing. Taylor retuned three shots, killing the passenger.

“Law enforcement is a thankless occupation and it always has been. We don’t go into it because we want the recognition and the rewards and money and stuff. There’s no money in our job. Unfortunately. we do it because we want to help people and there’s a lot of other occupations that are the same way, and they don’t get shot at” says taylor.

Q:”How do you feel having a target on your back these days” we asked.

“It makes me nervous. It makes think twice. I make some enjoy the minutes I do have on the face of the earth and in Florida. I wouldn’t trade it for anything” responded taylor.

The Trooper fired just three shots because he was worried about other in the station.

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Alleged killer in court, gets trial date

December 6th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

The woman charged in the murder for hire of an FSU law professor made her first court appearance today after being indicted on first degree murder charges last week. The court set a February 27th trial date for Katie MagBanua (Mag-Bon-A-Wah). She is accused of setting up the hit and being the go between the father of her children, who is accused of pulling the trigger, and the family of the professors ex wife. She has plead not guilty and the family has denied any involvement.

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Recount Again? Probably Not, but People Are Trying

December 6th, 2016 by Matt Galka

An election recount, in Florida, again?! As Matt Galka tells us, not likely, but some are pushing for it.

Donald Trump won Florida by more than 100 thousand votes.  The results were certified. Still, not everyone’s happy.

Three voters filed a lawsuit challenging the results in the Leon County courthouse this week.  They want a recount due to what they claim were irregularities in this year’s election.

But the idea isn’t gaining much steam around Tallahassee.

 

“Our elections already been certified, Donald Trump is going to be our next president,” said Gov. Rick Scott (R-Florida).

Even Democrats aren’t exactly thrilled. Strategist Steve Schale says energy could be better spent elsewhere.

“This is a waste of money chasing a tinfoil conspiracy and that money would be better spent organizing voters, registering voters, doing research and getting ready for 2018,” said Schale.

The court has ten days to respond to the filing.

Barry Richard knows a thing or two about recounts.  He represented former President George W. Bush during the 2000 recount.

“In 2000 it all came down to one state, and that was the first time since 1876 that we had an election that was that close, in this case Clinton would have to get the election overturned in multiple states, and in each one of those states the difference is substantially larger than it was Florida in 2000,” he said.

In short.

“It’s not gonna happen,” said Richard.

The clock is also ticking – the electoral college meets December 19th. The lawsuit calls for a hand recount of every paper ballot in Florida.

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A Long Dam Fight

December 5th, 2016 by Matt Galka

A Florida environmental fight that has been going on since President Richard Nixon was in office got new life Monday.  As Matt Galka tells us, a Florida dam is the target of environmentalists who are hoping legal action settles the dispute.

Environmentalists are hoping legal action settles a decades long fight over the Rodman Dam.  The northeast Florida dam has since been named the Kilpatrick Dam, and was originally supposed to be part of a canal connecting the Gulf of Mexico and the Atlantic Ocean – but the canal was stopped by President Richard Nixon in 1971 – and the battle has been on ever since to get the dam destroyed.

And former Governor Buddy MacKay is joining the fray, he’s been calling for the removal of the dam since he was a congressman in the ‘80’s.

“I think when you look at it, it’s an absolute outrage with everything that’s been done and we still have this dam. There’s no reason whatsoever to do this. In fact, it’s a bizarre situation,” said the former Governor Buddy MacKay.

Environmentalists say the dam is hurting the flow of the Ocklawaha River and St. Johns as well as damaging surrounding springs and forests.  But supporters say that removing the dam would damage the bass fishing economy created around it.

“Fundamentally the science that they are espousing is simply not backed up,” said attorney Jane West.

Going the legal route comes after decades of political frustration.

“We’ve been sissies. we really haven’t gone after them they way we should. we tried to take,what people thought were reasonable approaches,” said attorney Bruce Kaster.

The dam costs around $1 million dollars a year to maintain.

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FWC Hopes Videos Make People “Bear Wise”

December 2nd, 2016 by Matt Galka

Nuisance bears can be a scary sight, and as Matt Galka tells us, state officials want to make sure you’re prepared.

Let’s say you find yourself face to face with a Florida Black Bear – would you know what to do?

David Telesco with the state’s Fish and Wildlife Bear Management program wants to help.

“All of our state agencies want people to know how to exist with bears, what to avoid, how to avoid conflicts, and so we’re all getting behind this idea of Bear Wise,” he said.

Ramping up education efforts and getting people “bear wise” is a priority for FWC.  They’ve taken 4,630 bear related calls just this year.

“It means that I know who to call, and I know when there’s an issue, I know how to interact with a bear. I know that we can scare them away and we should keep our trash and other things secure,” he said.

Earlier this year FWC cancelled the second year of a planned bear hunt.

The hunt – designed to manage bear population – was scrapped after controversy surrounded the 2015 hunt.

A bear season will be considered again next year. But in the meantime, people need to know how to handle a potential bear-human conflict.

“So we know it’s intensifying, and we have to get that word out that you can coexist with bears, as long as you know what to do,” said Telesco.

FWC is in the process of doling out more than $800,000 of grant money to cities and counties for bear conflict solution programs.

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Undocumented Students In-State Tuition Benefits Could Be in Jeopardy

December 1st, 2016 by Matt Galka

Immigration was a hot topic during the presidential election, and could be a hot topic here in the Florida state legislature. As Matt Galka tells us, there could be a fight brewing over how much undocumented students pay for college.

Undocumented students from across the state took to the capitol in 2014.

Week after week they rallied in support of a bill that granted in-state tuition to some undocumented children looking to go to college.

The historic bill was signed by the Governor after it was passed with bipartisan support.

“We have the funding now to be able to pay for education,” said Governor Rick Scott in June of 2014.

Daniela Donoso was a student at Florida State when the bill was being debated and supported its passage.  She came to Florida from Ecuador when she was six months old.

“We have students at Florida State that benefit for this out of state tuition waiver,” she said. Donoso now works with the school’s Human Rights Center

Now a repeal bill of that law has been filed putting the in-state tuition benefits in jeopardy for some undocumented students.

“Why “punish” those students who have done everything right, have gone through education, have applied and have been admitted to a university to further their education?” said Donoso.

Both the new House Speaker and new Senate President voted against the 2014 bill.

Senator Greg Steube, who proposed the repeal because he says it’s an important issue to his constituents, also voted against the original 2014 bill when he was a member of the Florida House.

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Corrections Settles Whistleblower Lawsuit, Attorney Says it Could Have Cost State Less

November 30th, 2016 by Matt Galka

Whistleblowers who tried to expose a cover up in the states department of corrections and claimed to be retaliated against will be getting a hearty pay day. As Matt Galka tells us, the price tag is on the backs of Florida taxpayers….and could have been *a lot* cheaper.

In 2010 – Franklin Correctional Institution inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo died in his cell.  The Department of Corrections said it was natural causes – but internal investigators alleged there was a potential cover up and that Jordan-Aparo was gassed to death.  The investigators then claim they were retaliated against.

“It’s been three years of hell for my clients,” said attorney Ryan Andrews.

Andrews handled the investigator’s whistleblower claim. The department settled for $800,000 dollars.

The settlement comes as the department is trying to fill critical staffing needs at prison’s around the state. The average correctional officer makes around $30,000 grand, and with more than $320,000 of tax payer money being used on the settlement, that could have filled 10 positions for one year.

The remaining part of the settlement will be handled by insurance.  But here’s the rub for taxpayers – Andrews says the lawsuit could have been settled for around $25,000 last year.

“Eventually they said look, just transfer us to another agency and let’s see, we’ll be happy to do that, keep our same rate of pay – no harm no foul. DOC was hoisted on their own petard, they were trying to to transfer people who they tarnished with bogus internal affairs investigations, and nobody wanted them,” said Andrews.

Franklin Correctional had a prison riot that forced a lockdown at the prison on the same day the settlement was filed.

We reached out to the Department of Corrections and asked about the settlement and if it could have been settled for less last year – we are awaiting their response.

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Enterprise Florida funding could spark trouble between Governor, House Speaker

November 30th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

Enterprise Florida is the state’s economic development arm. It is holding more than 150 million dollars in cash to pay out if companies meet employment goals after relocating here, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, legislative leaders are balking at putting any more state cash into what they are calling corporate welfare.

Governor Rick Scott says the state’s job growth is a direct result of enterprise Florida closing deals to bring companies here, But Scott urged its high profile board members to strong arm lawmakers if they want to keep jobs growing.

“If we are not politically active with the legislature about the importance of job creation for every family, it won’t continue”  Scott told EFI board members meeting in Sandestin today.

The public-private agency is sitting on more than 150 million in state cash. Most of it is earmarked for companies who live up to job creating commitments.

economic-developement00000004

But that pile of cash was a big reason lawmakers said no to another 250 million for the agency this spring.

“It provides no allocations” said Rep. Jim Boyd when explaining the bill.

Scott will scale back his request for 2017. But, House Speaker Richard Corcoran calls the payouts:

“A horrible, horrible use of taxpayer dollars.”

If he gets has his way, there will be nothing for EFI.

“People in this case, one percent of the world’s wealth get this money, and that is nothing less than defects socialism, and we don’t believe in socialism” says the House Speaker

economic-developement00000007

In 2015, Florida put on a full court press to try and lure General Electric’s Headquarters here. Instead it chose high tax, high amenity Boston.

“The way you make your state attractive  to people is you have the number one education system, you have the best infrastructure” says Corcoran.

But Scott says no cash for a second year would be a disaster,

“Those deals are not going to happen. They are not going to happen in this state” lamented the Governor.

The clash could derail next years legislate session before it ever begins.

Lawmakers say spending money that would have gone to corporate incentives on schools and roads is a better way to attract high paying jobs.

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Crime Rate Drops, but Violent Crimes Rise

November 29th, 2016 by Matt Galka

Florida’s crime rate looks like it will decrease year over year again, but as Matt Galka tells us, violent crimes are on the rise.

When you hear the numbers, things sound good.

“The crime rate is lower by just over 3 percent,” said Gretl Plessinger with the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

FDLE released a mid-year report showing that the first six months of 2016 were safer than last year.

“It’s really driven down by crimes like aggravated assault, larceny, and burglary,” said Plessinger

But it’s not all good news. Murder is up more than 15 percent and rape increased by 2 percent.

The 561 murders accounted for in the report included the 49 victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

“That could factor into the increased murder rate,” said Plessinger.

New Leon County Sheriff Walt McNeil – who formerly served as Florida’s Department of Corrections Secretary – says the numbers are concerning.

“Very much so, very much so. And that’s something that we’ve all got to work on. We’ve got to sit down in each community across the state of Florida. We’ve got to look at the demographics and people being released back into our communities, often times those circumstances fuel crimes in our communities as well. Those persons don’t have opportunities,” he said.

McNeil’s new job means he inherits the county with highest crime rate in the state for two years running according to FDLE. It’s based on crimes reporter per 100,000 people.

If the dip in crime rate holds, it will be a 46 year low for the state.

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Grand Jury hears from admitted hit man in FSU Law Professors death

November 29th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda
A grand jury in the state Capitol has issued a first degree murder indictment for a 31 year old mother of 2. Katherine Magbanua (Mag-Bon-a Wah)  is accused of being the  go between in the murder for hire of an FSU law professor. And, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, prosecutors hope the indictment will lead to others responsible for the professors death.

Renowned FSU law professor Dan Markel was shot point blank in the head as his sat in his car in an upscale Tallassee neighborhood. The was two and a half years ago. In June, two men were charged with the crime.

One of them, Luis Rivera, cut a deal.

“In this you agree that you are going to cooperate and testify truthfully.  Do you understand that?’  asked Circuit Judge Jimmy Hankinson in October. “Yes sir” responded Rivera.

Rivera’s cooperation led to charges against Katie Magbanua. She’s the mother of alleged hit man Sigrid Garcia’s children and the former girlfriend of Charlie Adelson, the brother in law of the slain professor.

Investigators believe the entire Adelson family, ex-wife Wendi, her brother Charlie, and their parents knew about the plot.

Prosecutors hope that indicting her on first degree murder charges will convince her to cooperate as well.

“That’s the only person we are asking them to consider today” prosecutor Georgia Cappleman told us.

Q:’ And she;s the key to further arrests in this case in your mind?”

“She could be” responded the prosecutor.

grand-jury00000006Rivera agreed to tell his story to grand jurors. In police video he testifies he, Garcia, and Magbanua split a hundred thousand dollars for the hit.

He is heard to say “That’s when he said we were coming to kill somebody.”

State Attorney Willie Meggs leaves office in January.
“I don’t know where it will go, but we will follow it where ever it goes” says Meggs.

Police say the motive for the hit was a bitter custody fight over the couples two children.

In addition to the admitted hit man, grand jurors heard from a police investigator and an FBI agent who conducted phone taps on katie Magbanua and accused hit man Sigfredo Garcia.

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