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Senator Frank Artiles Resigns over “vulgar” language

April 21st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

A State Senator who made vulgar and racist remarks about other State Senators and the Senate leadership resigned today, a scant 86 hours after losing his temper in a Tallahassee watering hole. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, Frank Artilles would likely have become the first State Senator to be expelled from office in modern times if he had not left  on his own.

The resignation letter was delivered to the Senate Presidents office before noon Friday. In it Frank Artilles says  “My actions and my presence in government is now a distraction to my colleagues, the legislative process and and the citizens of our great state.”

Artiles had apologized for the Monday night remarks on Wednesday.

“As you can see, my harsh words have reflected more on methane they could ever have on anyone else” Artiles said on the Senate Floor.

The resignation was expected. Wednesdays apology rang hollow for many of Artilles Colleagues. Sen. Perry Thurston filed the complaint seeking Artiles expulsion, and it was moving quickly to conclusion.

“Did someone go to him and say you’ll get thrown out if you don’t resign?”

“Well, I don’t know that but I would think that was the case because several people have come to us in the meantime and saying is there way for a soft landing?” says Thurston.

“Is this a soft landing?”

“I don’t know if this is a soft landing. To end someone’s political career. to have to resign. to have to put your family thought this. It’s unfortunate.”

In a hastily arranged news conference, the Senate President called the resignation appropriate.

“All of us are accountable for our actions and comments. So I think it’s an appropriate resolution” said Senator Joe Negron.

It’s now up to the Governor to set a date for a special election.

The resignation was an abrupt turnaround for the brash, defiant, former Marine. On Wednesday he vowed he would stay.

“I’m also going to file for 2018 and win my election. thank You.

A prediction which is now very unlikely to be fulfilled. In his letter Artiles also said “It’s clear there are consequences to every action, and in this area, I will need the for personal reflection and growth.

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County Resident May Soon Have a Bigger Say in What is Taught in Their Schools

April 21st, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Parents were given a say in the selection of learning materials used to teach their kids in public schools in 2014.
Many school districts turned a blind eye to parental input and  legislation to guarantee parental say is gaining momentum.
In 2014, parents were given the right to tell school boards what they though of  materials being used to teach their children, but there was no teeth in the law.
Some boards ignored what parents had to say.
As a result, new legislation makes the input mandatory.
Senate sponsor Tom Lee says school districts didn’t start listening until decisions were already made.
“Yeah and I don’t know how widespread this problem is. We have a fair amount of anecdotal information coming out of the local communities,” said Sen. Lee.
Keith Flaugh with Citizens Alliance says they’ve found a number of objectionable material in K-12 textbooks.
“In the form of political and religious indoctrination, sexually explicit material that just would shock you,” said Flaugh.
The proposal will open the door for not just parents, but everyone in the county  to play a bigger role in deciding which text books make it into the schools.
Supporters say opening up input to the entire community will help the vetting process become stronger.
“So many parents we talk to and even teachers are afraid to come forward and get involved in the process because they don’t want to put a bulls-eye around their child by raising objections,” said Flaugh, “Grandparents on the other hand usually have the time to get in this.”
State Rep. Joe Geller was one of the few no votes when the House passed the legislation Thursday.
“You’re setting it up for there to be small groups of parents that are organized. This thing could turn out also to end up violating separation of church and state,” said Rep. Geller.
Ultimately, it’s still the school board that will have the final say.
The Bill’s next stop will be a vote on the Senate floor, next stop… the Governor’s Desk.

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Baptist Ministries Call for Senator Artiles Ousting

April 20th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Baptist ministers in Tallahassee plan a protest outside the Tallahassee office of State Senator Frank Artilles next Tuesday.
That is the day a special masters report is due after a complaint was filed alleging Artiles used a racial slur and called a fellow Senator the B word.
The Reverend RB Holmes of Bethel Baptist Church said Artiles must resign or lawmakers must remove him.
“His comments have put a bad scar on theSenate and it’s come upon Republicans and Democrats to s
peak loudly against those inflamatory comments that came out of his mouth,” said Holmes.
The National Organization for Women also called on Artiles to step down or be removed from office.

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Dozens Deliver Complaints to Gov. Scott in Support of State Attorney Aramis Ayala

April 20th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Three dozen people crowded into the hallway outside the Governor’s office at the State Capitol today to deliver a message.
They support the decision of Orlando are State Attorney Aramis Ayala to not seek death sentences.
They are petitioning the Governor to return more than 20 death cases to her circuit.
Robin Harris spoke at the gathering and said voters knew what they were getting.
“We said loud and clear who we wanted. Our progressive champion was Aramis Ayala, our State Attorney,” said Harris, “Yes we applaud her efforts. We voted for her because she was progressive, she was a thinker.”
Ayala has sued the Governor and the case is before the State Supreme Court.
The Florida House of Representatives  and the state’s other 19 prosecutors are siding with the Governor.
No hearing in the case has been set.

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Artiles AWOL on day after apology

April 20th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Calls for a State Senator who made what some are calling racist remarks to step down are increasing. A formal complaint seeking the expulsion off Senator Frank Artiles has been found to have probable cause, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us. with just over two weeks left in the legislative session, the issue could come to a head next week.

Sen. Frank Artiles was nowhere to be found at the Capitol the day after apologizing for improper and racist statements.

“I realize that my position does not allow me for the looseness of words, or slang” Artiles said on the Senate Floor on Wednesday.

The Complaint alleging racist comments and seeking his expulsion from the legislature is already being investigated by a Special Master. Rules Chairman Lizbeth Benacquisto will get a report on Tuesday.

“And we’re giving the respect the complaint deserves, and certainly protecting everyone’s rights within that process, we believe” says Benacquisto.

Artiles confronted Sen. Audrey Gibson at at private club Monday night and berated her for opposing his legislation. By Thursday she just wanted to get back to work.

“Well, I’m very focused. that’s why the people sent me here. You know how I work. I take my analysis home at night. i read them and that’s been my focus” says the Jacksonville Senator.

Records dating back to the 1880’s show no Senator has ever been expelled.

Representative Bert Riddle was the last person expelled from the legislature.  He sent an obscene note to a page. Senate Democratic Leader Oscar Braynon believes Artiles conduct is just as bad.

“I think this of that level” Braynon told us. “I mean, referring to colleague, a female colleague as the B word is reprehensible. Using racial slurs I think is also reprehensible.”

If lawmakers choose not to expel Artiles, he could be reprimanded or censured, which could include the loss of all of his committee assignments.

The National Organization for Women today called for Artiles to resign or be removed from office. So did Baptist ministers in both Tallahassee and Miami.

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Bear Season Debate Draws Nearly 100 to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Meeting

April 19th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Hunters and environmentalists are battled it out again Wednesday morning over whether Floridians will be able to bare arms for a bear hunt this year.
The Florida Fish and Wild Life Conservation Commission (FWC) is trying to balance science and passion while they prepare to make a decision.
A sea of blaze orange occupied most of the seats in the room.
83 people came to testify on a possible 2017 bear hunting season.
Commissioners said it’s more than they’ve ever seen on any one issue.
“The is absolutely no reason going forward why you could not vote for support or implement a hunt,” said one hunter named Mike who testified to the commission.
The hunters said studies conducted by the FWC support a bear hunt this year.
“Eventually this will return and eventually the hunt will go into place, you know the science is there for it,“ said Chuck Echenique, a hunting activist from Tampa.
Opponents came out in mass too.
They say it’s too soon for a bear hunt despite the population growing to over 4,000.
“No one needs a bear rug or a bear to survive. No one, you know I have hunter friends and their take on bear meat is that it’s not very good,” said Adam Sugalski with One Protest.
Statistics gathered by the FWC suggest most Floridians support conservation hunting.
Although, 43% are opposed to a bear hunting specifically.
Commissioners noted despite a healthy population of bears in the state, public opinion still factors in to whether or not there will be a hunt.
“Although we believe hunting is a good tool and a useful tool and necessary, we still believe we need more time to work on this issue,” said FWC Executive Director, Nick Wiley.
Hunters said in the end, it’s the bears that will pay the price.
“You let it overpopulate, get to the point that we were talking about a while ago of saturation, you’re going to lose off a lot,” said hunter James Mew, who testified at the council.
The FWC voted 4-3 to kill the idea of a hunt in 2017.
Along with bear numbers rising, reports of people encountering bears are down from last year.

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State Senator Artiles Apologizes to Senate for Comments, but Says He Will Not Resign

April 19th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A freshman State Senator is apologizing for making what some are calling racist remarks to a black State Senator.
The apology was found wanting by the Black Caucus, which is calling for his removal.
The remarks were made Monday in the private, members only, Governor’s Club a block from the Capitol.
Senator Frank Artiles was unhappy with questions asked earlier by Senator Audrey Gibson.
Sen. Perry Thurston was there as well.
“Calling her an $#%@%  as well as referring to the Senate President as a #@$%. and also calling the people who elected him as the six ^#@$&,”
At the urging of the Senate President, Artiles apologized personally to Gibson, then publicly on the Senate Floor.
“To Senator Audrey Gibson. I apologize. For the words and the tone I used with you, regretfully, Monday night,” said Artiles.
Gibson kept her back to Artiles as he spoke.
“Originally  your are shocked, and then you feel a sick, sick place in your stomach,” said Gibson.
The Senate President, Joe Negron promptly stripped Artiles of his Energy Committee Chairmanship.
“The future of Senator Artilles to me, rests between him and his constituents,” said Negron.
But while the Senate President was done, The Black Caucus voted to file a formal complaint seeking Artiles expulsion from the Senate.
“I don’t believe an apology will heal the wounds,” said Stste Senator Oscar Braynon, “I don’t believe an apology will correct what has happened.”
Artiles says he will not resign.
“Absolutely not. Not only will I not resign, I’m going to file for 2018 and win my election,” said Artiles.
Now the Senate must decide if remarks made in a bar are grounds for removal.
Not since 1961 has a lawmaker been expelled.
 Under Senate Rules, once a complaint is filed, the Rules Committee must investigate and make a recommendation to the full Senate.

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Ten Year Bear Hunting Ban Watered Down By Senate

April 19th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Legislation to prohibit bear hunting in Florida has been watered down by a Senate Committee.
A compromise prohibiting people from picking Palmetto berries and from shooting lactating female bears has been approved by a Senate Committee on a four to one vote this afternoon.
Sponsor Linda Stewart said the challenge was coming up with language that hunters would understand.
“You know, we had a hard time defining how you would recognize they were lactating. And so we’ve come up with a hundred pound cub nearby,” said Stewart, “That you would not be able to shoot a mother bear if they had a cub nearby or a cub weighing a hundred pounds. That’s about the size of a German Shepard.”
Stewart said the state budget being negotiated has another $500,000 to help people buy bear proof garbage cans.

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Former Death Row Inmates Show Support for Ayala

April 19th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Six former death row inmates walked the Capitol hallways today to support Orlando area State attorney Aramis Ayala.
She has been under fire from lawmakers for refusing to seek death sentences.
But the six Exonerated men say the fact Florida has released 26 innocent men from death row is evidence enough the system is flawed.
Sean Penalver, one of the exonerated death row inmates said many cases involve prosecutors withholding evidence.
“We do also have people who will make up stories. we have mistaken identification. we have human error. You know anywhere you have human error,” said Penalver, “You can’t. It’s not fool proof. You can’t march forward and kill somebody based on a human system.”
Florida has had more exonerations than any other state.

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Ride Sharing Bill Clears Senate, Headed to Governor’s Desk

April 19th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
After four years of trying, legislation to regulate ride sharing services such as Uber and Lyft is on it’s way to the Governor.
It cleared the Senate today by a 36-1 vote. Uber Spokesman Colin Tooze says the law will open more markets in Florida.
“What it does is erase this crazy patchwork of regulations that have been in lace the last couple of years that don’t make any sense for a state like this,” said Uber Spokesman Colin Tooze, “And so Florida is now consistent with an emerging national consensus, becoming the 41st state to recognize  ride sharing should be regulated sensibly at the state level.”
Governor Rick Scott has not indicated what he will do with the legislation when it reaches his desk.

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Victims of Crime Seek New Solutions to Criminal Justice Problems

April 18th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Victims of violent crime were at the Capitol today advocating for criminal justice reform.
They say they want to see legislation that prevents criminal behavior instead of laws that increase jail time.
They say they believe violent crime often results from untreated trauma.
Queen Brown lost her son in 2006 from gun violence, she wants the state to offer trauma therapy to victims of crime to help break the cycle.
“If there’ a hurricane, we have emergency response teams, FEMA, Red Cross,” said Brown, “They’re going to come in because we understand the importance of reaching out to victims and helping them to get on their feet because when victims recover we all recover. We all win.”
The group held a prayer and vigil in the Capitol Rotunda reminding lawmakers only love can drive out hate.

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House Medical Marijuana Bill Clears Committee Despite Pleas From Activist Groups

April 18th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Marijuana activists at the Capitol are unhappy with current versions of medical marijuana legislation proposed in the House and Senate.
Lawmakers got an earful from 25 people who testified on medical marijuana before a House committee.
“Who do you serve? Is it the people of this bill?” said Bill Brothers with AFS, “Or the people of this state?”
Critics believe the legislature has so far dropped the ball on medical marijuana legislation.
“This is horrible I implore you not to pass this legislation on behalf of the patients,” said Dennis Deckerhoff, a concerned citizen.
Some legislators agreed with them.
“We’re having constitutional amendments pass and then we’re coming up here and we’re trying to figure out how to limit the progressive idea that the voters voted for,” said Representative Jared Moskowitz.
One of the biggest issues that came up was the exclusion of smokable marijuana for non-terminal patients in the bill.
Law enforcement and others against smokable pot argue the amendment didn’t specifically call for lighting up a joint.
“They voted for medical marijuana. They did not vote specifically for what form it comes in,” said Representative Elizabeth Porter.
Those for smoking say no other medicine is so tightly regulated.
The House continues to push a 90 day delay in receiving medical marijuana after being prescribed.
“If this is now a medicine and the voters decided it was a medicine, we need to make it available,” said Rep. Moskowitz.
Sponsor Ray Rodrigues says he’s working to address some of the concerns with the bill.
“We’re in negotiations with the Senate, to get the Senate bill and the House bill reconciled. We’re making progress there. I think we’ll see some policy changes made at the third stop,” said Rodrigues.
Opponents say they don’t think their cause is lost just yet and hope by the end of the session, the bill looks a little more like what they believe voters had in mind.

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Pollution Notification one step closer to reality

April 18th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida Senate has passed legislation carrying hefty fines for companies and governments that don’t timely report hazardous spills to the state. The legislation is a direct result of a giant sinkhole in Polk County and a sewage spill by the City of St. Petersburg.

The Mosaic sinkhole, which dumped more than 200 million gallons of radioactive sludge into the acquirer, was first noticed on August 27th. A day later, it was reported to the Department of Environmental Protection. But the Public, and even Jon Steverson, the DEP Secretary at the time, remained in the dark for weeks.

“I knew at the time and learned in late August there was a water loss incident. I was not aware of the sink hole until a much later point in time” Steverson told us on November 25, 2016.

That same day, the state started rule making authority to require a 24 hour notice, but the effort was cancelled by an administrative law judge.

Now, legislation that has cleared the State Senate. Sponsor Bill Galvano requires companies to report a spill within 24 hours.

“The onus then falls on the Department to notify all impacted interested parties within the next 24 hours” galvano told the Senate.

Afterwards he said “People have a right to wake up in the morning and go about their business and not have to worry they are somehow ingesting or being exposed to harmful contaminants.”

The bill requires DEP to create a sign up sheet on its website and allow people to sign up for statewide or geographic alerts.

“We certainly can send out a notice to property owners by internet, television, robo calls within 24 hours” says Galvano.

Companies, or even governments that don’t report, could face a ten thousand dollar a day fine.

The House bill has yet to be heard, making the legislation part of the end of session horse trading about to begin.

The House bill has yet to be heard, making the legislation part of the end of session horse trading about to begin.

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Florida House Apologizes to Groveland Four

April 18th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida House has approved legislation formally apologizing to the families of four African American men wrongfully convicted in 1949 of raping a white woman. Know as the Groveland Four, three of the men were sent to prison. A fourth was shot by a posse. After the US Supreme Court threw out the convictions, two of the men were shot, one of them fatally, by the Sheriff in Lake County.  Carol Greenlee is the daughter of the longest surviving man. She thanked lawmakers.

“For releasing my family from prison. From releasing my nieces. My son. My brothers from the dark cloud, the shame and the stigma” says the 67 year old, who was four when her father went to prison.

Author Gilbert King won a Pulitzer for his book “Devil in the Grove” about the crime and the murders.

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Uber Legislation on the Runway for a Landing

April 18th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Uber, Lyft,  and other ride sharing drivers will soon have standardized amounts of insurance coverage. The Florida Senate will send legislation four years in the making to the Governor the next time it meets. the legislation requires drivers to carry at least 50 thousand dollars in bodily injury coverage when their cars are empty, and a million dollar policy when riders are present. Sponsor Jeff Brandes says the legislation also standardized background checks.

“Its going to create a standardized system throughout the state. whether you a rein the Keys, or Tampa Bay, or Jacksonville, you’ll know you’ll have the same level of background checks, same level of insurance an this will be standardized going forward” says Brandes.

The bill requires the ride sharing companies to conduct a local and national criminal background check on its drivers every 3 years, and a driving record check just once when the person applies ate be a driver.

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