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Permanent Bright Futures Expansion Includes Expansions for an Additional 43,000 Students

October 9th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Governor Rick Scott voted a permanent increase in Bright Futures funding, but top lawmakers are back with bright futures increases they are hoping the Governor will accept.
Florida’s top Bright Futures recipients are getting a taste of what might become a permanent boost to their scholarships this year.
The payout for the Florida Academic Scholarship is covering 100% of tuition and an additional $300 stipend for books.
“It was a crazy difference for me. It allowed me to pay for dorm and my meal plan without having to break my wallet,” said FSU Student and Academic Scholarship Recipient, Kayleigh Wingard.
To ensure the estimated 50,080 Academic Scholars don’t loose their financial safeguard, Legislative leaders have vowed to make the changes permanent this year.
“We want to make sure that every student that has an opportunity to further their career through education at our great universities and colleges, that they have that opportunity,” said the bill’s cosponsor State Senator Rob Bradley.
The bill will also expand the second highest scholarship payout, the Medallion Scholarship, which currently covers about 50% of tuition.
If the change is approved, it will cover 75%.
“The money that I get back from the Bright Futures just helps me with my rent, it helps me get the food and helps my mom and them sometimes down south so getting a full 75% would absolutely make a difference for me,” said FSU student and Medallion Scholarship Recipient James Milton.
Last session, the Governor vetoed the scholarship increases because other provisions in the bill cut funding for state and community colleges.
Higher Education Advocates say this year, the increases stand alone, hopefully making them attractive to the Governor.
“I see it as a positive thing for universities and for faculty and for colleges as well because they don’t have as many Bright Futures students, but they do have some,” said United Faculty of Florida Executive Director, Marshall Ogletree.
If approved, more than 93,000 college students in the state will be able to breathe a little easier.
The bill also allows Bright Futures to be permanently used for summer classes and includes expansions to the Benacquisto Scholarship Program, the  First Generation Matching Grant Program and the Florida Farmworker Student Scholarship Program.

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Legislation Proposed to Ban Bump Stocks

October 9th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Background checks for the sale of a firearm are up 28 percent for the fist eight days of October, which correlates with he massacre in Nevada.
An average of 17 thousand background checks for conducted for the 8 day period over the last five years.
This years checks total nearly 22,000.
Monday, State Senator Linda Stewart filed legislation to stop the sale of Bump Stocks…the device used by the Vegas shooter to simulate an automatic weapon.
“The national attention that’s been placed on it and discussion has already begun, that I think people now understand what this stock would do to semi automatics, and since automatic is already illegal it just makes sense. So I think that we should be able to come together on something here in Florida and hopefully if it’s passed nationwide it’d be better,” said Sen. Stewart.
NRA supporters in the state Capitol appear to be warming to the ban after the NRA said a the national level that that ATF should regulate bump stocks the same way they regulate automatic weapons.

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A Lawful Right to Say No to Searches Stalls in First Committee

October 9th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The fourth amendment to the US Constitution protects your right from unreasonable searches, but legislation being heard at the state Capitol today would go one step further, making it harder for police to search your home or car. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, most people don’t realize they already can say no to a warrantless search, but few do.

Police who smell weed in your car, or see a weapon on the seat have probable cause to search your vehicle. Statistics gathered by State Senator Gary Farmer suggest that in a quarter of the cases police seek consensual searches, those being searched feel violated.

“You have a right to refuse a consensual search, that’s why its called a consensual search” say Farmer.

Farmer says it’s because most people don’t feel they can say no to police.  His legislation would require such a notice.

“To be able to exercise a right, you have to be fully aware of your right. You have to be conscious to all elements of that right” says Farmer.

A US Supreme Court ruling 1973 found citizens didn’t have to told they could object to a search.

Florida’s Police Chiefs say the legislation raises concerns, though they have yet to take an official position.

State Senator Dennis Baxley says the legislation is headed the wrong direction.
“I think it could be made part of your drivers license that you are going to cooperate with law enforcement. If you don’t want to, then you don’t have to have a drivers license.”

Q:”So you would actually go the opposite way?”

“Absolutely. I think we are supporting too much rebellion against law enforcement doing their job” says Baxley.

 

But the sponsor believes that telling people their rights would result in better cases at trial.

“So many police officers now have body cameras, they’re going to tape that exchange right there. So how is an accused gonna come in and say I didn’t consent to that search” says Farmer.

The legislation faces an uphill battle in conservative legislature.

The Senate Criminal Justice Committee postponed a vote on the legislation after opposition from several members, According to the U.S. Department of Justice, in 2008 50.8% of searches conducted on vehicles and drivers were performed with consent, while 78.3% of total searches were perceived by the subject as illegitimate.

 

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Kid Care Recipients in Hurricane Limbo

October 9th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida KidCare health insurance covers some 160,000 children aged five to eighteen. The cost to most families, depending on their income, is fifteen to twenty dollars a month. Because of Hurricane Irma, the state extended the families deadline from the beginning of October to the end of the month, But Advocate Karen Woodall and others are asking the state to do the same thing it did for concealed carry permit holders: waive the health care fees for October and November.

“So the concern is that people are struggling financial and that the assistance that’s provided needs to have two things in mind. One, helping them financially, and two, making sure that their children don’t have a gap in coverage and a loss of their coverage” says Woodall.

The state did waive the fee for a lost concealed weapons permit and security guard licenses through the end of November. Governor Jeb Bush also waived the heath care premiums for Kid Care following four storms in 2005.

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Vigil Held at State Capitol For Executed Inmate

October 6th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
57-year-old Michael Lambrix was put to death Thursday night at 10:10 pm.
He was convicted of killing two people after a night of drinking.
To the end Lambrix maintained his innocence.
Anti-death penalty advocates held a vigil in the State Capitol as a show of protest against the state’s death penalty law.
“He was a better person than the act that occurred that day. He went on to do other things with his life. He became a completely different person,” said Sheila Meehan with Tallahassee Citizens Against the Death Penalty.
A record number of 29 vigils were scheduled from Wednesday through Friday around the state.
“Which is just an indication that the concern with the death penalty is increasing in our state,” said Ingrid Del Gado with The Florida Catholic Conference.
Those at the vigil say Lambrix, guilty or not didn’t deserve to die.
“Mike Lambrix would have been just fine if he had had a life sentence and would never have harmed anyone. We’re no safe today because he’s dead,” said Meehan.
          
Until the very end, convicted killer Michael Lambrix held out hope the state would stop his execution.
“As we get closer and closer the expectations grow fewer and fewer,” Lambrix said in an interview two days before his execution.
In his final hours Lambix’s attorney filed four applications for his execution to be delayed by the Supreme Court. All of which were denied without explanation.
Lambrix’s sentence was handed out without a unanimous jury vote, a practice deemed unconstitutional by the U.S. Supreme Court.
He wasn’t eligible for re-sentencing  because his crime was committed before 2002.
Lambrix was declared dead late Thursday night.
He was the 94th inmate to be executed in the state since the death penalty was reinstated in 1976.
Lambrix was also the 24th inmate executed under Governor Rick Scott.
Scott has put more prisoners to death than any other Florida Governor.

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New Website Grades Florida Lawmakers

October 6th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
FloridaReportCard.com is a new tool for voters to learn about their State Senator and Representatives voting record on issues.
Sponsored by Progress Florida, the groups first report tracks how legislators voted on concealed weapons, environmental funding, charter school expansion and more.
Damien Filer says the web site is a way for Floridians to help influence public policy in a way that puts People First.
“In essence what this is is a resource for Floridians to be able to go to the website and take a look and see where every single Legislator, leadership, their local delegation, their local state representative and senator, where they voted on a myriad of issues that are important to Floridians and see so they can match up the rhetoric with the reality,” said Filer.
The first report card produced 31 A’s and 101 F’s out of a total of 158 lawmakers.

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EOC’s Interim Director Draws Criticism from Florida Democats

October 5th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott put the State emergency Operations center on full alert for potential hurricane Nate. For the first time in more than four decades, the primary agency charged with preparing for and responding to a major emergency is without a permanent director. And as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the choice of an interim director is drawing some criticism.

Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon left his state job on October first.

Rick Scott named Koon’s chief of staff, 29 Year old Wes Maul, to be interim director. Maul spent there years as Rick Scotts travel aid, and the last 17 months at emergency management.

The lack of experience brought criticism from Florida Democratic Party spokesperson Johanna Cervone, who called the appointee inexperienced and unprepared.

 

“And appointing a political crony to head, arguably, one of the most important departments in the state is frankly reckless” Cervone told us by phone.

“We’re still in the middle of Hurricane season. we’ve got another month, almost two months left in hurricane season” governor Rick Scott said in Pensacola.

Scott was In Pensacola on Thursday urging people to prepare for Nate. Historical records show Florida has had more than 40 tropical storms and hurricanes hit the state during the months of October and November hit the state since 1900. No area of the state has been immune.

 

Former Director Bryan Koon called Wes Maul highly qualified, saying he has learned a lot in the year and a half they worked together.

Based on what he saw from Maul during Irma, Scott also says he made the right choice.

“He was instrumental in helping us open almost six hundred shelters. So he is very resourceful and I have complete confidence in him” said Scott.

Nate’s track has shifted west, but that could change..and there are still more than 50 days left in the hurricane season that could test whether Maul was the right choice.

In addition to more than 40 named storms in October and November, at least a dozen more threatened the sunshine state but later changed course.

 

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As Hate Crime Rates Increase, More Groups Seek Protections

October 5th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Florida has seen an increase in hate crimes according to the latest statistics, with 73 offenses recorded in 2014 up to 102 reported in 2015.
Three bills have been filed for the 2018 session that would add new protections under Florida hate crime laws.
Currently hate crime laws in Florida protect people on the basis of race, religion, ethnicity, color, ancestry, sexual orientation, or national origin.
But some like Petra Doan, a transgender woman and professor of Urban and Regional Planning at FSU say current law leaves transgendered individuals at risk.
“People can choose to do harm to me or people that I know in my community and there’s no real recourse,” said Doan.
A bill filed by a democratic state representative would add gender identity to the list of protected groups.
It would increase the severity of any crime committed against a trans person on the basis of their gender identity up one level.
Along with gender identity, bills seeking protections for first responders and political affiliations have also been filed.
Both of those bills were filed by republican lawmakers.
Defense Attorney Luke Newman spoke with us when the first responders bill was filed.
He told us adding occupations to the list could have unintended consequences.
“Are construction workers next? You know depending on your point of view, you start adding occupations. I think there could be a criticism made that there’s a slippery slope involved,”” said Newman.
Defense Attorney Bill Davis says adding protections for political affiliation could have even more widespread consequences.
“What these people are talking about doing is making it a felony, five years in prison, to pull a campaign sign out of somebody’s hand,” said Davis.
The gender identity protections bill also includes protections for disabled individuals.

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Death Imminent for Convicted Killer

October 4th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Dozens of prayer vigils for death row inmate Michael Lambrix are taking place tonight and throughout the day tomorrow before his scheduled 6PM execution. Although Lambrix has maintained his innocence for 34 years, he told Mike Vasilinda and other reporters he won’t repeat the claim, out of respect for the victims families, if it comes time for him to make a final statement at his execution.

Michael Lambrix is a Plant City high school dropout. He had run ins with the law at an early age.

“Just stupid stuff. writing bad checks, and stealing a couple cars” said the convicted killer.

Lambrix was arrested after his girl friend was stopped in Tampa driving the victims car,

“A witness that the jury in my first trial found so un-credible that they couldn’t reach any verdict” he told reporters.

Florida’s Catholic Bishops have sent this letter to Governor Rock Scott, asking him to stop the pending execution. Ingrid DelGado says it cites both constitutional and moral grounds.”

‘Had Mr. Lambrix been sentenced after 2002, his case would be eligible for re sentencing, but also Mr. Lambrix has indicated he was offered a plea deal, which had had he accepted it, he would have already returned to society.”

During an hour long interview, Lambrix repeatedly professed his innocence.

“And in fact, I’ll be the only honorably discharged disabled veteran Governor Scott has ever killed” says Lambrix.

But the death row inmate says he will not repeat his claims of innocence if it comes to making a final statement at his execution.

“Because the last thing I want to do is cause any more pain or suffering to the Bryant family.”

Instead, Lambrix will say the Lords Prayer

“I have no doubt what so ever that I’m going to wake up to a better existence.”

 

Lambrix’s family, including his mother, step father, sisters and children are all at the prison. All are being counseled about grief in what could be the final hours of Michael Lambrix’s life.
A spokesman for Governor Rick Scott said, “Signing death warrants is one of the governor’s most solemn duties. The governor’s top concern is always with the families of the victims of these horrible crimes.”

 

A link to a list of prayer vigils can be found Here

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CRC Could Propose Amendment to Quell Lawsuits Filed by School Districts

October 4th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Lawsuits by state school districts trying to derail new charter school legislation may be at risk.
The Constitutional Revision Commission is likely to  propose an amendment to invalidate any current and future legal challenges by school districts.
HB 7069 was passed by the Legislature in May, packed with provisions opposed by many public education advocates.
At the top of the list, a requirement school districts share local tax revenue with privately owned charter schools.
“That’s an issue that local school board members believe is their authority to decide,” said Andrea Messina with the Florida School Boards Association.
Palm Beach county is the first to file suit against the State Board of Education and the DOE.
Districts argue the law unconstitutionally takes away local districts ability to dictate how to spend tax dollars.
But The law suit could be in jeopardy.
The Constitutional Revision Commission is expected to propose an amendment to the constitution, giving charters the same rights as other public schools.
The CRC’s 37 members is packed with with people who make their money from charter schools and lawmakers who voted for the controversial legislation.
At the commission meeting Monday, we asked CRC Commissioner and CEO of the Foundation for Excellence in Education Patricia Levesque if she thought pro-charter amendments would be on the table.
“I think what’s really important is that we ensure that the constitution represents all students,” said Levesque.
We also attempted to interview Marva Johnson, Chair of the Florida Board of Education following her for more than a block.
CRC Chairman Carlos Beruff says its too soon to speculate what the 37 member commission will do.
“We’ll see in a couple of months what filters through the process and the committee process,” said Beruff.
If the CRC puts an amendment on the ballot to combat lawsuits from school districts it would have to be approved by 6 out of ten voters to become law.
At least 14 other school boards have signed on to a pending lawsuit against HB 7069.

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Criminologists Predict Florida Gun Laws Won’t Likely Be Affected by Las Vegas Massacre

October 3rd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The Las Vegas mass shooting is sparking new calls for gun control, but Criminology experts predict the Las Vegas tragedy won’t have a major impact on gun control in the sunshine state.
Nearly two dozen proposals to change Floridas gun laws were filed before the Las Vegas tragedy, which is sure to play a role in the debates over proposals on both sides of the isle.
Professor Emeritus of Criminology at Florida State University, Gary Kleck says these conversations are sparked after every mass shooting, to a predictable outcome.
“There’s intensified support for gun control, which passes after a few weeks or on rarer occasions it results in unproductive kinds of gun control measures,” said Kleck.
After the Pulse Nightclub shooting last year, State Senator Linda Stewart proposed Legislation to ban assault weapons and high-capacity ammunition clips, but the proposal fell on deaf ears.
No committee heard the legislation.
Now she is trying again.
“We can’t determine what somebody’s going to do in advance of when they do it, but having these particular weapons that we see used time and time again is not going to help things at all,” said Sen. Stewart.
Two other gun control bills filed for the 2018 session include mandatory trigger locks and notifying police when a person is denied purchasing a gun.
Instead of focusing on mass killings, criminologists say the real issue is addressing the more common gun violence in the U.S.
“That kind of mass shooting accounts for a fraction of 1% of all the gun murders in the country,” said Kleck.
For starters, Kleck suggests universal background checks, part of which should include access to mental health records.
“Certainly a lot of the people who engage in this sort of mass murder are mentally ill,” said Kleck.
A bill filed late Tuesday afternoon would require background check for those looking to obtain a concealed carry permit, it too was filed last year.

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Death Row Inmate Holds First Group Interview in a Decade

October 3rd, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Lawyers for a man convicted of two murders more than 30 years ago are expected to ask the US Supreme Court to stop his scheduled execution, arguing his jury was not unanimous in recommending death.  As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the condemned man spent an hour today talking with reporters.

Michael Lambrix has maintained his Innonence for 34 years. Set to die Thursday, he told his story again to a dozen reporters, the first group interview at the prison in more than a decade.

“It won’t be an execution. It’s going to be an act of cold blooded murder. And the State of Florida is going to be deliberately putting to death an innocent person” claims the 567 year old Lambrix.

Lambrix claims he killed the male victim in self defense after he found him strangling the 19 year old woman. He met both earlier that February 1983 night in a bar. He didn’t go to police because he had walked away from a prison work camp.

“ And I really should have told them exactly what happened right up front” Instead Lambrix ran and didn’t tell police anything, invoking his fifth amendment right when caught days later.

No physical evidence ties Lambrix to the murders…the first jury was hung. During the second trial, the state’s top investigator allegedly slept with the states key witness.

“It’s like banging your head on a brick wall. It really is. The thing is, nobody wants to listen” says Lambrix.

What makes his case unusual is that neither vote for death was unanimous. Lambrix’s problem is that his crime was so long ago.

“Myself, and everybody sentenced to death since 1974 that anything less than a unanimous jury verdict were illegally and unconstitutionally sentenced to death”

For 34 years Michael Lambrix has maintained his innocence, even turning down a plea deal. His family has stood with him every minute of it.

For a final meal, Michael Lambrix has asked for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner He says its the same meal his mother promised him if he was ever set free.

A visitors list shows more than thirty people authorized for the final days. It includes Lambrix’s mother and two of his four children.He’s asked them not to bring his seven grandchildren.

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Integrity Florida Report Calls Florida Public Service Commission a, ““Captured Regulatory Agency””

October 2nd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A new report by Integrity Florida is calling the Florida Public Service Commission a “Captured Regulatory Agency”.
The report says the Commission is unable to operate free of pressure from the state Legislature, which the report says favors utility companies over consumers.
The report says utility companies have ben skewing settlements during hearings on rate hikes, setting their prices too high initially, resulting in favorable prices after settlements.
“There’s a bias. You know, the PSC is biased towards the utilities and tends to give them what they want, at the expense of their customers,” said Bill Wilcox, Research Director at Integrity Florida.
The report concludes the PSC needs more independence from political influence.
One GOP candidate has called for a ban on utility contributions to politicians.
Over a two year cycle, the major utilities give between three and five million to candidates.

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CRC Proposes Two Publicly Suggested Constitutional Amendments

October 2nd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The 37 member Constitution Revision Commission met at the State Capitol this morning.
The Commission met for only eight minutes, during which it filed two proposed amendments suggested by members of the public.
One would end a proposed high speed railway in the state.
The other would allow voters of any affiliation to vote in party primaries if no candidate from another major political party is running.
Despite more than 1,400 proposals from the public the Commission has only filed 10.
Commissioner Chris Smith noted in the meeting a number of amendments filed by commissioners are combinations of public proposals.
“So just because we only took up two today, as commissioners a lot of the things we’re filing, especially the one Senator Joyner and I filed is the essence of the hard working and the intellect of Floridians,” said Smith.
During the meeting the commission also voted to extend the date for public proposals can be submitted until October 5th.

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Two Dozen Proposed Gun Bills Filed for 2018 Session

October 2nd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Governor Rick Scott has ordered the flags of all state and local buildings be flown at half mast until sun down Friday in respect to the victims of the Las Vegas shooting.
Nearly two dozen gun bills have been filed for the 2018 session, but anti-gun activists hope the massacre in Las Vegas may serve as a wake up call.
Meeting in the state Capitol, The Constitution Revision Commission began its meeting Monday with a moment of silence for the victims in Las Vegas.
Patricia Roberson supports Moms Demand Action against gun violence.
“At this point it’s like what does it take? I mean what does it take for people to realize something needs to be done,” said Patricia Roberson, a member of Moms Demand Action.
So far, about two dozen gun bills have been introduced for the 2018 session.
Most expand gun rights and include the right for lawyers to store a gun at the courthouse, make it easier to pay for background checks, or harder to charge someone who inadvertently shows their concealed weapon.
Of the nearly two dozen guns bills  filed for the 2018 session only three explicitly seek to tighten restrictions.
Large scale magazines like the ones used in Las Vegas  would be banned and penalties for using an assault weapon would be enhanced.
Another requires trigger locks all the time, even when the gun is being carried, and a third would require local police to be notified when someone is turned down for a gun purchase.
Rep. Chris Sprowls, the chairman of a House Judiciary Committee, which has a life or death say in new gun legislation, says it is too early to speculate which way lawmakers will go.
“I think the focus today is really just grieving for the victims and their families and really thanking law enfocement for all that they did in Las Vegas,” said Sprowls.
The League of Women voters thinks anti gun legislation is long overdue.
“If we do just common sense measures I think we would all feel a little bit more positive about the direction we’re going in,” said the League’s Lobbyist, Marty Monroe.
We reached out to the NRA, but they declined to comment for this story.
To make a donation to the victims of the shooting in Las Vegas you can contribute to this GoFundMe set up by the city to go towards the medical bills of the victims

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