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Supreme Court Makeover Underway

January 15th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Ron Desantis is on a mission to remake Florida Courts.

He’s already filled two vacancies on the state’s highest court and one more appointment is in the works, but there’s no guarantee his choices will ultimately make decisions to the Governor’s liking.

The new governor made it clear in his inaugural address what he wants in a judge.

“For far too long, Florida has seen judges expand their power beyond constitutional bounds,” said DeSantis.

So far, his picks for the State Supreme Court are being praised.

Barbara Lagoa is the first female Hispanic on the court.

Robert Luck, at 37 could spend nearly four decades there before reaching mandatory retirement at 75.

A number of controversial decisions from Florida’s Supreme Court have been decided on a four to three vote, but there has also been unanimous votes.

Mark Schlakman is a former Gubernatorial Special Counsel.

He says no ideological guarantee comes with any selection.

“When they reach that level, given Stare Decisis and precedent, most judges do the right thing for the right reason,” said Schlakman.

The new Governor is also facing some criticism.

For the first time in decades, no African American is on the court.

The panel that screened potential judges chose not to recommend one.

Attorney Thomas Dickens says it matters.

“What if you were say, a white litigant, and you go before a panel that is all African American jurists,” said Dickens. “How does, does that make you feel comfortable that justice was done once the answer comes back?”

Democrats have already filed legislation to revamp the makeup of the panels that screen and nominate judicial candidates, but it stands little chance of passing.

Even if lawmakers were to approve changing the judicial nomination commission make up, this or any Governor would likely veto it, since the Governor controls all the appointments.

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Lawmakers Aim to Ban Predatory Pet Leasing

January 15th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

We’ve all heard about leasing a car, but how about a cat or a dog?

Animal rights groups say these so called, ‘lease-to-own schemes’ prey on people’s love of animals, but newly filed legislation aims to ban the practice in Florida.

Carol Hoover owns Carol’s Critters.

She’s been in business for nearly 30 years, but when we asked her if she had ever heard of pet leasing, she was dumbfounded.

“You know, a car or something maybe, but I’ve never heard of leasing a pet. It’s obviously something we would not do here,” said Hoover.

Her reaction isn’t surprising.

So called, ‘lease-to-own’ options only began gaining popularity over the past few years and are most commonly offered for purebred dog sales.

However, the bill filed by Democratic Senator Annette Taddeo would ban the practice in Florida for all pets.

Jennifer Hobgood with the ASPCA calls the practice, predatory and deceptive.

“The problem is most people don’t read the fine print,” said Hobgood. “They don’t realize they’re signing a lease and that they won’t actually own the dog until they make payments over a long period of time.”

Some victims of lease-to-own schemes report spending as much as three times the list price of a pet.

For some dog breeds that can add up to thousands of dollars.

“Even if the dog passes away, dies, runs away, if they can’t keep the animal anymore and have to surrender it to a shelter they’re still paying for that dog for often times years,” said Hobgood.

If purchasers can’t pay, the family pet could legally be taken away by the leasing company.

For Carol Hoover, the thought of using a pet as collateral is reprehensible.
“It must just not be anybody with any heart, any emotions, any clue what they’re doing to people if they would take their animal away from them,” said Hoover.

So far three states have banned lease-to-own schemes.

Animal rights groups hope Florida will become the fourth this year.

According to the ASPCA, of the approximately 65 puppy-selling stores in Florida, all but 6 offer leasing options.

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Sate May Seek Internet Tax Collections

January 14th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida law requires residents to report and pay the sales taxes they own on items purchased from mail order catalogs or the internet.

Few do, but a recent US Supreme Court decision cleared the way for out of state businesses to begin the collections, but the change would require legislative approval.

Buy something on the internet from Amazon or any company that has a physical presence in Florida, and you are charged sales tax, but buy from some company with no store front in the state, and state law shifts the burden to report and pay the tax to the purchasers.

We asked internet shopper Quincy Davis Internet Shopper if he knew what the DR-15MO form was.

“Out of state purchase return,” said Davis. “What’s this?”

You’re supposed to fill out the form when you make an online purchase.

When newly elected state lawmakers were briefed on the system

Some had the same reaction, asking how the state would collect the taxes owed from purchasers.

“If she owes the use tax, and is willing to send the money into the Department of Revenue, that would be one way. It’s probably not the most common way,” said House Ways and Means Staff Director Dr. Don Langston.

A recent US Supreme Court decision overruled an earlier case.

It said computers no longer make it too big of a burden on businesses to figure out and charge tax no matter where you are.

“This is very serious. This is something that’s vital, obviously for our retailers going forward,” said James Miller with the Florida Retail Federation. “Every company has an advantage outside of Florida right now. Most of them do at least. And we’re getting killed by companies particularly.”

The big political roadblock  in the state Capitol is that policy makers don’t want to get tagged with raising taxes.

Even though they wouldn’t be doing that , they’d just be collecting taxes already owed.

Making the change could bring as much as seven hundred million a year to the state treasury.

If lawmakers move forward in collecting the tax, one idea being talked about is to cut a like amount of other taxes, so no one can accuse them of raising taxes during the next campaign.

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New Bill Would Ban Abortions After Heartbeat is Detectable

January 14th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

New Legislation filed by a conservative state lawmaker would severely restrict abortions in the state.

Legislation in 2017 aimed at banning abortions in Florida after 20 weeks died in early committee meetings.

The new bill, filed for the 2019 session, goes even further.

It would make it a 3rd-degree felony for a doctor to perform an abortion if a fetal heartbeat could be detected.

“Consider the rights of that unborn baby,” said bill sponsor Representative Mike Hill.

Hill says the decision to file the bill came down to his constitutional oath.

The legislation also redefines an “unborn fetus” as an “unborn human being.”

“My oath said that I would protect life liberty and the pursuit of happiness. Life being the first one,” said Hill.

Kimberly Scott with Planned Parenthood calls the heartbeat bill: “The most dangerous bill that we have seen for reproductive health in the Florida Legislature.”

Representative Hill says a fetal heart beat can usually be detected after 18 days.

Planned Parenthood says 6 weeks.

Either way, it would be a major decrease from the 24 weeks currently allowed under Florida law.

Planned Parenthood says legal challenges would undoubtedly ensue if the bill became law.

“They spend millions of tax payer dollars in order to defend this type of Legislation in the courts,” said Scott. “This legislation is not in effect anywhere because it is so blatantly unconstitutional.”

However, Hill says the shifting make up of the courts might help his bill hold up.

“We think we can start overturning a lot of these abortion rulings that are killing the unborn,” said Hill.

Similar laws passed in three states were blocked by the courts, a nearly identical bill was vetoed in Ohio.

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DeSantis Touts Executive Order, Environmentalists Cautiously Optimistic

January 11th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Environmental groups say Florida’s environmental policies are headed in a positive direction after Governor Ron DeSantis issued a sweeping Executive Order since taking office on Tuesday.

The order aims to clean up the state’s water ways.

The move is a giant shift from the previous administration that never spoke of climate change.

When former Governor Rick Scott was asked if he believed in climate change back in 2014 he dodged the question.

“I’m not a scientist, but I know what I can do and that’s do everything I can to protect the environment,” said Scott.

This is how DeSantis responded to the same question.

“To me I’m not even as concerned about, is it this sole cause or that sole cause? You know if you have water in the streets you have to find a way to combat that,” said DeSantis.

Governor Ron DeSantis campaigned on cleaning the states water ways and in his first week in office he issued an executive order taking a stance against fracking and offshore drilling, giving the Department of Environmental protection and Scientists a larger role in mitigating algal blooms and promising $2.5 billion for everglades restoration.

“Probably the boldest set of policies that we’ve seen in quite some time in Florida,” said DeSantis.

Another major change DeSantis included in his order puts a priority on the construction of a reservoir south of lake Okeechobee to help filter agricultural run off.

It’s an ask Governor Rick Scott repeatedly ignored, despite continued calls from environmentalists.

The Group Earth Justice says it’s a huge change in attitude.

“It’s certainly a shift in tone and whereas we never really had reason to be cautiously optimistic with Governor Scott, we are now,” said Bradley Marshall, an attorney for Earth Justice.

Even some Democratic lawmakers like Senator Gary Farmer say the new Governor is taking the state’s environmental policies in the right direction.

“This Governor has undone things that our prior Governor did do that I think were detrimental to our environment,” said Farmer.

However,  Aliki Moncrief with the Florida Conservation Voters says DeSantis needs to prove himself with follow through and meaningful action.

“Citizens are going to be in the position of having to hold Governor DeSantis accountable to his promises,” said Moncrief.

Now that task falls to lawmakers to make DeSantis’ asks a reality.

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Groveland Four Pardoned After 70 Years

January 11th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

On July 16, 1949, a seventeen year old central Florida woman accused four black men of rape.

Two were killed, one by a mob, the other by the Sheriff.

Two others served a dozen years in prison.

Now, Governor Ron DeSantis and the Clemency Board have righted a 70-year-old wrong.

Carol Greenlee first met her father, one of four black men accused of rape, in Florida State Prison.

“He was accused, put in jail, tortured, for something he did not do,” said Greenlee.

Norma Padgett, the now 87-year-old alleged victim sat in the front row, when the first cousin of Samuel Shepherd, the man shot and killed in cold blood by the county sheriff, let sparks fly.

“It never happened Miss Padgett. Family, it never happened. You all are liars,” said Dr. Beverly Robinson.

Padgett told the panel she sticks by her story.

“And I don’t want the pardoned. No I do not and you wouldn’t either,” said Padgett. “I know she called me a liar, but I’m not no liar.”

The State Legislature apologized to the Groveland families in 2017.

So has Lake County, where the injustice occurred.

Governor Ron DeSantis told reporters before the meeting he had read the entire file and was convinced action was needed.

“I think it was a miscarriage of justice,” said DeSantis.

Efforts to get the pardon began in 2014.

Attorney General Ashley Moody said it wasn’t about who was telling the truth.

“Today we were focused on righting a wrong of more than 70 years ago,” said Moody.

Carol Greenlee told us she feels the life sentence she’s been servicing is finally over.

“My father is not a rapist. My father is a christian man,” said Greenlee.

In addition to pardoning he two men who served prison time, the board also pardoned the two who were killed before standing trial.

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Prison Workers Protest Shutdown

January 10th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Federal prison workers protested in front of the State Capitol this morning demanding Congress and the President act to reopen the Federal Government.

The protest was organized by the Union representing prison workers in Tallahassee, where the shut down has already resulted in employees losing part of a pay check.

Friday will be the first full pay check employees will not receive.

Union President Ray Coleman Jr. says the President’s assertion that Federal workers support the shut down is simply not true.

“The general consensus is, hey let’s come together and open the government so we can get paid and you guys can dialogue about that and come to a consensus about whatever we need to do to move forward, but pay us for the jobs we’re doing in the meantime,” said Coleman. “You know we don’t like being political pawns in a political chess match.”

Coleman estimates Florida is home to between three and four thousand Federal prison workers. A total of 800,000 Federal employees nationwide are either working without pay or have been furloughed as a result of the shutdown.

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Florida Group Protests Maduro’s Second Term

January 10th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela was sworn in to a second term as President Thursday, and about a dozen protesters made their displeasure know in front of the state capitol.

The group Ola Tallahassee hopes to encourage state lawmakers to take more actions to sanction what the group is calling a corrupt regime.

Last year the legislature ordered the state pension fund to sell any investments in the country.

Maria Naceno says families are fleeing the nation because of the corruption.

“Many people don’t know what’s happening in my country. Many people need to know today he’s going to be the President for the next six years again. Many people don’t know this election was a fraud, so that’s why we are here,” said Naceno.

Legislation has already been filed to continue state financial sanctions against the country and to encourage the U.S. government to do more.

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Rebuild 850 Looks to Help Hurricane Victims

January 10th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Three months after Hurricane Michael caused wide spread devastation in the Florida panhandle, residents there are still in desperate need of help.

The coalition Rebuild 850, named for the area code, is raising money to help pay for unmet needs.

Thursday marked exactly three months since Hurricane Michael tore through Florida’s Panhandle costing billions of dollars in damage to not only homes, but infrastructure, agriculture and businesses.

“Public assistance is needed now more than ever,” said former Congresswoman Gwen Graham.

A bipartisan group led by Graham, former Florida House Speaker Allan Bense and former Florida Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon says the devastation persists.

“A picture that I took Monday,” said Bense. “It’s of a camper that’s overturned four blocks from my house. It’s still overturned. It’s just, it’s ugly.”
The group called Rebuild 850 is partnering with Volunteer Florida to raise money to help in the recovery.

A $250,000 check presented by Bank of America brings the total collection to nearly $400,000.

Rebuild 850 says the money it collects will go towards things like diapers and the every day living costs that state and federal recovery funds don’t address.

“Our commitment is to make sure that the resources are well spent and spent to help people in their lives and recovery and getting back to a more normal existence,” said Graham.

Volunteer Florida CEO David Mica Jr. says every dollar collected will go directly to victims.

“Volunteer Florida doesn’t take salary or benefit dollars out of those donations,” said Mica. “We move those directly through a granting process to our partners.”

Rebuild 850 is also encouraging people to consider vacationing in the Panhandle because it says Tourism dollars help local businesses stay afloat.

To donate to Rebuild 850 click this link.

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Bill Filed to Remove Outdated Gay Marriage Ban

January 10th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

LGBTQ Activists and Democratic lawmakers are touting new legislation that would repeal the state’s outdated ban on same sex marriage.

While Florida’s ‘Defense of Marriage Act’ was official overturned by a Federal court in 2014 the language was never officially removed from statute.

Senator Sponsor Jose Rodriguez says repealing the law once and for all would be a way of correcting history.

“This discriminatory language in our statutes does not defend marriage. It does the exact opposite. The highest court in the state of Florida, the highest court in the land has defined what marriage is and has undone the discrimination that remains in our statutes,” said Rodriguez. “This is a simple fix. Let’s make sure our statutes don’t discriminate and conform to the constitution.”

The group also condemned an Executive Order issued by Governor Ron DeSantis Tuesday that reaffirmed that state’s anti-discrimination policies, because they say it arbitrarily excluded protections for gender identity and sexual orientation.

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Optimism Dwindling for Groveland Four Pardon Friday

January 9th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Four men considered victims of racial injustice could soon have their names cleared.

The Governor and Elected Cabinet will take up the case this Friday at the first meeting of the new clemency board.

In 1949 four black men, now called the Groveland Four were falsely accused of raping a white woman in Florida.

Two were killed, one by a mob and another by the local sheriff in cold blood.

The other two men spent a collective 30 years behind bars.

In 2017 the Florida Legislature issued a formal apology for the atrocity.

Senate Sponsor Gary Farmer says the apology was only intended as a first step.

“That was an interim step to get to the clemency board and get these pardons issued,” said Farmer.

While the previous Governor and Cabinet never took up the case, Governor Ron DeSantis says it will be a priority, putting the case on the agenda for the first meeting of the Board of Executive Clemency set for Friday.

Whether or not the board comprised of the Governor and Cabinet will grant a pardon at the meeting is still up in the air.

“There’s a lot of things that have come to the surface,” said Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis. “We’re going to get educated.”

Senator Farmer says it’s his understanding Friday’s meeting will be limited to a discussion only.

“Hope springs eternal and I do believe that if not at Friday’s meeting, at the next clemency board meeting this issue will be taken up for a vote,” said Farmer.

Under the previous administration, clemency meetings were only held four times a year.

If a pardon doesn’t come Friday it could be months before action is taken, unless the new board members agree to meet on a more frequent basis.

The only Democrat on the Executive Board of Clemency, Commissioner of Agriculture Niki Fried has been the most vocal advocate in support of approving a full pardon.

“We have conflicted conversations coming from the Governor’s office. From his opinion we’re going to just have a discussion. I’m going to be pushing that we actually have an action item on Friday,” said Fried.

At the time of the apology some lawmakers suggested repetitions such as free college for decedents of the victims.

Whether that is something the new administration is considering, is not known.


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DeSantis Becomes 46th Governor

January 8th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Inaugural festivities got off to an early start this morning at the State Capitol, where, a new governor and state leadership is bringing a new sense of hope to the political landscape.

Doors to the inaugural prayer breakfast opened at 6:45 AM.

“We ask that you bless Governor-elect DeSantis,” said pastor Todd Mullins.

Hours later, a bright sun greeted the 46th Governor.

It was the warmest inauguration since at least 1971.

Snipers on rooftops and police drones added security.

Also on display, newly elected Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried’s nervousness, lifting the wrong hand to swear in, spurring laughter from both Fried and the audience.

At High Noon, it was Ron DeSantis’ turn.

His oath was followed by the tradition salute of cannon fire and a fly over from a group of F-15 jets.

In a relatively short inaugural address, the new Governor made it clear fixing the states water woes was near the top of the agenda.
“It doesn’t just drive tourism. It affects property values. It anchors many local economies,” said DeSantis.

With a nod to his congressional background he sought a partnership with the state legislature.
“As a recovering Congressman, I understand and respect the powers afforded to the legislative branch,” said DeSantis.

It was his son Madison who stole the show when it was over.

Ron DeSantis chose not to for go the traditional parade, baptizing his son instead at the Governor’s Mansion with water they personally brought back from Israel.

The new Governor promised to hit the ground running.

Wednesday he makes the first of three Supreme Court appointments.

During his address, the new Governor also promised to embrace school choice, block sanctuary cities and use his power to remove local officials who haven’t done their job, including officials who he believes botched the election.

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Hottest Florida Inauguration Since 1971

January 8th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The Inaugural Ceremony was hot, both in degrees and emotion.

Passion both for and against the new Governor ran high.

The sun beamed down hot on inauguration day at the Florida Capitol Tuesday morning.

In the low 70s it was the hottest inauguration since Reuben Askew became Florida’s 37th Governor in 1971.

It was a high of 39 when Former Governor Jeb Bush took office in 1999.

As for the rising temps?

“You think this is global warming? It’s definitely warmer,” said Bush.

It wasn’t just the temperature running hot, among the several thousand attendees some showed up to passionately oppose the new Governor.

Some displayed political signs promoting issues they care about like abortion or fracking.

“We want to make sure that high on his list is his promise to ensure that a fracking ban happens this time, this session,” said V Miller with Rethink Energy Florida.

Members of the group Dream Defenders watched from outside the gates.

“We’re here to make sure he’s not playing games,” said Dream Defenders member Rachel Gilmer. “You know, he can’t talk a game that he’s for working people, that he’s for Floridians when he isn’t. So we’re here to actually hold him accountable and make sure that people know that this Governor is not for you.”

Others, including Pastor R.B. Holmes who gave the closing prayer at the ceremony, were more optimistic.

“This is a young Governor,” said Reverend Holmes. “He’s trying to bring this community together, to stick together. I think he can do it, if he continues to reach out and hold out the olive branch and he’s doing that.”

While opinions may have been divided, Governor Ron DeSantis spoke of overcoming the tribalism in the state, saying , “We will see that rising sun.”

The new administration is expected to hit the ground running, with appointments expected throughout the week and the first Clemency meeting is scheduled for Friday.

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Nikki Fried Calls on DeSantis to Drop Marijuana Appeal

January 7th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Commissioner of Agriculture-elect Nikki Fried says she supports dropping the state’s appeal of John Morgan’s ‘No Smoke is a Joke’ Lawsuit.

The suit argues the Legislature overstepped its authority by blocking patients access to whole flower smokable marijuana in the law passed in 2017.

A lower court ruled in 2018 in favor of Morgan, but the state appealed.

Fried, a medical marijuana activist say’s she’s calling on incoming Governor DeSantis to drop the appeal.

“We have not spoken about it, but I think I have made my opinion of the situation pretty loud and clear and so I certainly am going to encourage him to drop the case and if not we are looking forward to actually intervening at some point to make sure the patients and the will of the people is heard loud and clear,” said Fried.

The case is set for a hearing before an appellate court Tuesday. The same day Governor-elect DeSantis and the three other members of the Florida Cabinet will be sworn into office.

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Incoming Governor and Cabinet Honor Veterans

January 7th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Governor-Governor-Elect Ron DeSantis along with the rest of the incoming Florida Cabinet honored the state’s veterans this afternoon in the state’s capital city.

The ceremony included speeches from the incoming Commissioner of Agriculture, Attorney General, Chief Financial Officer, Lieutenant Governor and Governor.

DeSantis presented the organization Operation 300 a check for $125,000.

The group helps families of service members who lost their lives in the line of duty.

“When you have somebody who has made the last full measure of devotion in service of the country we obviously can’t forget what they did for us, but we can’t forget the people that are now left behind,” said DeSantis. “The spouse without a husband, the kids without a father.”

The ceremony concluded with a special performance of ‘God Bless the USA’ by singer Lee Greenwood.

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