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Lawmaker seeks to open adoption records

March 17th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

In Florida, adopted children who become adults have no mechanism for obtaining their original birth certificates, and  two members of the legislature who were adopted at birth are at at the center of the debate.

State Representatives Richard Stark and Jason Brodeur were both adopted. Both have very different takes on finding their birth parents.

You found your birth parents some time ago?”

“30 years ago. I didn’t need a birth certificate to do it” Stark told us.

Rep. Jason Brodeur’s got a different take.

Q:”Have you found your birth parents or tried to?”

“Nope”

Q:Not interested?”

“Nope” says Brodeur

Stark has filed legislation that would allow adoptees, after they turn 18, to request the original copies of their birth certificates.

“I mean, it’s something that’s personal to you. You’d like to have a copy of it. It’s your history” sys Stark.

The idea is not without controversy says Brodeur.

“What I don’t want to do is make it mandatory that those parents have to reveal themselves at some point. What I think that that could result in is higher numbers of terminations of pregnancies from those who fear what could happen in 18 years.”

Nat sot” Nash was my original name” Stark said as he showed us the original adoption paperwork.

New Jersey allows birth parents to opt out. But only 558 birth parents out of 3 hundred thousand did so.

And Stark says that women more than men are more interested in finding their birth parents.” “And they in more cases than the men, want to know where they came from. And so very often, they are the ones really pushing the legislation.”

Stark shared that his mother was 15, got pregnant, and opted for adoption.

“I lucked out. I was raised in a great home” he says. “And I know from the birth family, even though they are very nice people, it was not a great situation.”

And Stark says he is still closer to his adopted parents who are 97 and 89.

Stark told us the greatest thrill of finding his birth parents is he learned they later married and have two more boys, whom he has met. 26 states have some mechanism for adoptees who become adults to get their original paperwork or medical records. All but two have some way for birth parents to opt out of being found.

 

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Impeachment authority legislation likely to move more quickly

March 17th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The leadership of the state House discovered that it didn’t have the power to bring impeachment charges against State Attorney’s and Prosecutors after a Jacksonville public defender’s conduct became controversial. He is no longer in office, but legislation to ask voters to give lawmakers impeachment powers is ready for a floor vote in the House. State Senator Greg Steube is carrying the bill in the Senate.

“You know, there’s kind of a legal imbalance if you will because they’re the only constitutional officers that can not be impeached. So we’re simply just trying to apply the same rules to every constitutional officer in the state” says Steube.

While the full House is ready for a floor vote, Steube’s Senate version has four committee references and has yet to be heard in any committee. That is likely to change after furor erupted when the Orlando State Attorney’s announced she would no longer seek the death penalty.

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Florida prisons facing staffing crisis

March 16th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

State Lawmakers were told today that high turnover and inexperienced staff in state prisons are pushing life inside the bars to a boiling point. The prisons chief says it is a disaster waiting to happen.

Over the last 6 six years, there has been a 4 hundred percent increase in contraband being found inside state prisons.Corrections Secretary Julie Jones told lawmakers

“We had a significant find of cocaine, about fifteen thousand dollars worth.”

And it turned out to be the tip of the iceberg.

“And in one search of half a faculty, in one day, they found seven weapons, 6 cell phones,  159 grams of tobacco, 17 and a half grams of K-2, which is a synthetic marijuana” Jones said.

Sen. Jeff Brandes (R-St Petersburg) calls it a crisis. “But there is no doubt that we have an obligation to fund the Department of Corrections fully” Brandes told Appropriations Committee members.

Assaults on inmates and officers are up significantly. The vacancy rate for officers hovers at ten percent. Turnover is just below 30 percent. The prison system is asking for 40 million in new funding. The secretary says they’ve dodged a bullet..for now.

“We have a much more dangerous inmate populations and a lower experienced staff. It will lead to a disaster at some point, no matter how hard we try not to make that happen” Jones told reporters.

While prisons  likely to get the 40 million they are asking for, now some lawmakers, including Brandes, are questioning if that’s enough.

“We’ve got to take this incredibly seriously. this is a core responsibility of the legislature to fund prisons properly” says the St.Petersburg State Senator.

 

Sen. Appropriations Chair Jack Latvala told Jones “Help is on the way”, but will it be enough, soon enough?

If the department receives the 40 million it is requesting, it would use the money to increase pay by ten percent for about 15 of its 19 thousand employees making base salary and offer a thousand dollar hiring bonus in prisons with vacancy rates are above ten percent.

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Prosecutor sparks death penalty furor

March 16th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

On Monday, Governor Rick Scott signed legislation requiring a unanimous jury in death cases. today, the state’s first black female State Attorney, Aramis Ayala, elected in August in Orlando, said she would not seek the death penalty in the high profile case of a cop killer or any other case doing her term in office. It prompted Governor Rick Scott to call for her to recuse herself from the case, while one of the most powerful state Senators, Jack Latvala, called for her removal.

“I think that’s unconscionable” says Latvala. I believe that State Attorneys and all of us in elected office take an oath to uphold our constitution and our laws of the state, and I don’t think State Attorneys have any special privilege to decide which laws they want to enforce and they don’t want to enforce. And I think the Governor should give serious consideration to what his options are, up to, If I were Governor, And I have the power, I’d throw her out of office. I’d suspend her tomorrow.”

Lawmakers do not have the power to remove a State Attorney or Public Defender from office, but this morning, a House committee approved a constitutional amendment giving lawmakers impeachment power for prosecutors. the move was filed long before this mornings announcement about not pursuing death cases.

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Viewing Police body camera footage

March 16th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

A House committee voted 17 to 0 to allow police officers to view footage from their body cameras before submitting reports or responding to complaints, House Bill 305 would give local agencies that use body cameras the authority to allow the viewing. Matt Puckett of the Police Benevolent Association says the viewing could eliminate some confusion.

“There is an accuracy issue right now, where you have video footage and you have the officers report, and sometime they don’t jive up. So what do we have? We have people that should be in trouble for DUI’s and other crimes that get off because of this accuracy issue. So we hope it’s a no brainer” says Puckett.

Police agencies are not required to use body cameras, so those that do, do so voluntarily, but legislation has been filed to require all agencies to use the cameras.

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Lawmaker wants background checks on all gun transfers

March 16th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Legislation has been filed to close the so called “gun show loophole” when it comes to background checks for gun purchases. Under current law, individuals selling or giving guns to another person, as long as they are not in the gun selling business, do not have to runs a background check. State Senator Gary Farmer says the law needs to change.

“If you are a domestic violence offender, If you’re someone with a checkered criminal past, if you are someone who’s mentally imbalanced, what are you going to do?  You’re gonna wait and go to a gun show and not have to undergo any background check. that is simply wrong. It’s an easy fix” says Farmer.

Licensed gun dealers are required to run background checks, even at gun shows. But sales between individuals are not regulated. The legislation would require checks on every transfer of a firearm.

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Shifting burden of proof in Stand Your Ground cases

March 15th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

By a vote of 23 to 15 The Florida Senate this afternoon approved changes to the Stand Your Ground law, shifting the burden of proof during initial hearings from individuals to prosecutors. Prosecutors worry the change will increase the number of Stand Your ground cases.

A Supreme Court ruling created a preliminary hearing when someone asserts Stand Your Ground. It requires a person to prove they were in fear for their life.

“And he stopped in the middle of the road and will not move his vehicle.”

But Lawmakers say the ruling turned their intent upside down. Sponsor Rob Bradley  wants the burden to rest with prosecutors.

“The government should rightfully carry the burden from the time of arrest until the end.” said Bradley on the Senate floor.

Democrats, including st. Petersburg’s daryl Rouson opposed the legislation.

“And what we do here has consequences” he warned.

“23 years, 15 nays Mr President.”

Audrey Gibson of Jacksonville fears the worst.

“This isn’t a gun bill, its a murder bill” say Gibson.

Prosecutor Bill Cervone of Gainesville worries the number of cases claiming self defense will skyrocket.

“Be it a person involved in a domestic violence situation who wants to claim the  victim him him first, therefore he was entitled to assault her. It involves any weapon, not just firearms” says Cervone.

The legislation has been a top priority of Marion Hammer, for NRA President.
“The burden of proof is about protecting law abiding people from abusive prosecutors” says Hammer.

The bill now goes to the House.

The House has more than 40 co sponsors. Some of those are suggesting that they will try to appease prosecutors.

No hearing has yet been scheduled in the lone House committee assigned the bill, giving prosecutors more time to press their case.

The 23 to 15 vote was along party lines with just one Republican joining Democrats in opposing the bill.

 

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Decriminalizing Open Carry?

March 15th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Concealed weapons permit holders who inadvertently display their gun would no longer be committing a crime.  Legislation approved by the House Criminal Justice Committee would decriminalize the display. Sponsor Neil Combee of Lakeland calls it a reluctant compromise on open carry.

“If you are walking down the street and a gust of wind blows your coat open, you’re not going to jail. If you’re in the grocery store and you bend down to pick up a case of water off your shopping cart, and a quarter inch of your gun might show, you’re not going to jail, at least not the first time” Combee told the committee,

People who inadvertently show their gun the first time would face a 25 dollar fine. Second offenses would bring a 500 fine. Third offenses would remain misdemeanor offenses.

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Mosquito Control seeks more money

March 15th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The association representing the states mosquito control districts is asking lawmakers for one point two million dollars more than last year. Andrea Leal, executive director of the Florida Keys Mosquito Control district says the money would be used to help smaller counties ramp up efforts to fight Zika.

“So this will really help those smaller counties that may not have the local funds. And that’s what we’re trying to do. We’re trying to allow them to increase funds to be able to increase surveillance, hire more personnel if possible, to deal with this specific mosquito” says Leal.

So far this year, there have been 21 travel related Zika cases, one locally acquired infection, and 9 cases involving pregnant women. Pasco County Mosquito control director Dennis Moore says the warm winter could make the season unpredictable.

“We’ve had a mild winter, so I would guess there are more mosquitos that survived this winter than most, so its really difficult to predict what this spring is going to be like. Its really difficult to forecast mosquito populations based on weather over the winter” said More when asked.

The 1.2 million being asked for is in addition to an additional 1.9 million Governor Rick Scott is asking for to hire more people at the department of Health.

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Family of deputy killed by wrong-way driver want DUI interlocks for everyone

March 14th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

This past Sunday marked the one year anniversary of the death of Hillsborough County Deputy Sheriff John Kotfila. The lone witnesses says Kotfila positioned his car in front to hers and was hit by a drunk wrong-way driver on the Selman expressway. Today, the deputy’s family were in the Capitol seeking stronger laws.

The driver of the car that killed Deputy John Kotfila had a blood alcohol level almost three times the legal limit. Terry and John Sr, his parents, spent the day walking the halls of the state Capitol, talking to anyone who would listen.

“He was killed a year ago by a wrong-way driver.” terry told one aide.

They want to require everyone convicted of DUI to have an ignition interlock device.

“You always know that every time they put on that badge, them may not come home,  But never did I think that it would be due to a drunk driver” says Terry.

Currently, only those caught driving at twice the legal limit are required to have the devices.

On any given day, about ten thousand people in Florida have to blow into one of these before the car will start. most of them are second, third or fourth time offends.”

In Massachusetts, where John Sr is a state trooper, the devices are required for every offender.

“In the last nine years, 38 thousand times, someone has tried to get behind the wheel of a car over the legal limit and was stopped from doing that because of this device. It’s time for Florida to pass this” aid the Deputy’s father.

Terry Kotfila says she now worries about her daughter, who will soon graduate from a police academy.

“Although we are very proud and supportive of her, it’s bittersweet because she will be patrolling the same streets where so many have lost their lives, and where her brother was killed.”

29 other states already require interlock devices for most if not all DUI offenders.

Nationwide, MADD says two point three million would be drunk drivers have been stopped from driving by interlock devices in the states where they are required.

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Whiskey and Wheaties narrowly moves forward

March 14th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

 

A House committee, by a vote of 7 to 6, has approved legislation that would allow big box stores to sell liquor in the main store instead of at a walled off location. The measure was opposed by independent liquor stores who say the legislation will make it easer for kids to get alcohol. John Stevens owns a store In Jacksonville.

“It’s in a liquor store that where every kid that walks in is stopped. I don’t have 16 year olds or 17 year olds coming into my store, and neither does anybody else because we stop them. Once you put it on the stores, there’re gonna get it” Stephens told the committee.

The change is being pushed by big box stores like Walmart and Target. Lobbyist Joseph Salzverg of Target told the committee the current law is hurting their customers.

“The way Target structures their business model, its a racetrack type of shopping , one stop shop. that’s why we currently don’t offer bifurcated  stores in the state of Florida. this bill allow us to meet our customers needs, and we appreciate the representative for bringing it forward” says the Target representative.

Two of the Committee’s fifteen members were not in the room when the vote was taken.

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Equal pay rally

March 14th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

More than a hundred women jammed into the space outside the State Senate Chambers at midday to protest what they call unequal pay for women. Statistically, they say they earn just 87 cents for every dollar a man earns, prompting House minority leader Janet Cruz to lead them in a chant.

“I want the whole damn dollar. My mama wants her whole damn dollar. My daughter wants her whole damn dollar. My granddaughter will want her whole damn dollar. And every woman should want the whole damn dollar.” chanted Cruz.

Florida is actually above the national average in equal pay for women, but it is due in large part to the high number of minimum wage jobs. Patty Farley of the Women’s clubs of Florida says the inequality can add up over a live time.

“A young woman graduates from college into a thirty thousand dollar salary. Over her lifetime, she will make one point two million less than the young man who is graduating at her side” Farley told the crowd.

For high school graduates, the difference is seven hundred thousand dollars. the Democratic sponsored legislation is yet to have a hearing in the GOP controlled legislature.

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Scott tries to rally troops

March 14th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Hundreds of tourism operators are in the Capitol for their annual tourism day, but this years event is taking on special meaning. That’s because the House has already voted to eliminate the jobs incentive agency and cut funding for Visit Florida, the state’s tourism arm. Governor Rick Scott spent part of the afternoon rallying the troops to strong-arm lawmakers into keeping both programs and to fully fund both agencies.

“You know, its important for jobs in our state. As you know, I travel the state everyday. People care about jobs. enterprise Florida ’s done a great job getting people jobs. Visit Florida’s done a great job getting people jobs. I’m gonna fight everyday to make sure we keep doing it” Scott told reporters afterward.

Lawmakers have been unhappy with multi million dollar contracts, pay raises, bonuses, and lavish dinners funded by both agencies. If either survives, it will be with increased reporting requirements for expenditures.

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Magic Johnson pitches HIV funding and health care contract renewal

March 13th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Basketball legend Magic Johnson invited himself to the state Capitol today. He was there to talk AIDS funding, and renewal of a medicaid contract for companies in which he has invested.

Standing next to lawmakers, Magic Johnson was indeed bigger than life. In the Democratic Caucus he talked about the successes of treating aids after he came out with the disease more than 25 years ago.

“That sorta had them say, maybe I can come out to my family, that I do have HIV” Johnson told Senate Democrats.

In the meeting, Sen. Kevin Rader told Johnson of pending GOP cuts in aids research.

“When you go speak them at ten o’clock, tell them I know you cut a million dollars in HIV/Aids research from the University of Miami and please put it back in.”

“Okay. okay” responded Johnson.

But Johnson barely mentioned aids in a meeting with the Senate President.

“We have been both efficient an effective at the same time” Johnson said of his health care companies.

Johnson is an investor in two heath care plans: Simply Healthcare and Amerigroup. He was in the Capitol pitching a contract renewal. CEO Lordes Rivas says since the state awarded the companies a contract, based on Johnson’s involvement, dental care for poor kids has increased dramatically.

“The access to caress been as low as 28 percent” said Rivas.  “The national medium is fifty percent. and we are now at forty-eight percent.”

Johnson told us part of the magic isn’t just his fame, but community involvement.

“Once you are in the community, they know you, they trust you, they become loyal to your company or what you are providing them” said the former Lakers star.

And what Johnson was proving at the Capitol is that star power can get you in the game, but hard work keeps you there.

Johnson’s companies are in their fourth year of a five year contract to provide managed care in South Florida.

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Stand Your Ground burden of proof legislation to be voted on by Senate on Wednesday

March 13th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Later this week, the Florida Senate is poised to pass the first gun bill of the session. The legislation changes the burden of proof in preliminary hearing in Stand Your Ground cases, Currently, someone who asserts SYG must prove they felt threatened. Under the proposed change, the state would have the burden of proving someone was not afraid. Senator Rob Bradley says the change is necessary to uphold the constitutions premise of innocent until proven guilty.

“It gets described as a gun bill, but for many of us this is more about some fundamental constitutional principles and it’s about making sure that people have a right of self-defense and that it is meaningful that it is not just words on paper” says Bradley.

The legislation is also moving through House committees, which is a change from last year when the House did not take the bill up.

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