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Andrew Gillum Used Parking Perks for Campaign Travel

May 14th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Since announcing his campaign for governor last March, Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has used his free city airport parking pass 96 times. With daily parking rates between 11 and 13. dollars for the average person, Gillum has saved more than $1,000.
“This line has been blurred here in this case,” said Ben Wilcox with Integrity Florida.
Wilcox says the fact Gillum used the city perk for not only city business, but also campaign travel raises ethical questions.
“A public official is supposed to maintain a really bright line in between their public business and any campaign business,” said Wilcox.
Tallahassee International Airport Director David Pollard says the parking pass is a benefit given to many city officials.
“It’s somewhat typical. Not only at this airport, but several airports throughout the country,” said Pollard.
The airport doesn’t explicitly say Gillum can use the pass for only city business, but some political watch dogs say since it cuts costs for his campaign, it should be considered a campaign contribution.
Integrity Florida says at the very least, Gillum is treading a thin line.
“I don’t think the public likes to see public officials getting free stuff or stuff that they don’t get that kind of benefit,” said Wilcox.
In the meantime, the airport says it will review its current policy.
“We’re certainly looking at all the rules and all the regulations,” said Pollard.
Gillum has used the pass nearly four times more than other city officials over the same time period.
Gillum’s campaign spokesperson Geoff Burgan says while they believe Gillum did not violate any ethics standards, the Mayor will stop using the parking pass for campaign trips moving forward out of an abundance of caution.
Mayor Gillum simply used the airport’s parking system as the current rules allow,” said Burgan. “He’s kept up an active campaign schedule and that’s clearly what this shows. Moving forward, out of an abundance of caution, he’ll pay the regular fees even though he’s not required to.”

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Backlog Leaves the Door Open for Mentally Ill to Purchase Guns

May 11th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
As many as 57 hundred people adjudicated mentally ill may have been able to buy a gun anyway because Florida’s Clerks of Courts were late entering the name into a database used for firearm background checks.
Florida first began including the mentally ill in a background database used for firearm purchases in 2007.
If a person is found to be mentally unstable they’re supposed to be entered in the database within a month, but a 2016 audit shows the vast majority are entered within two months, but in some cases it can take more than a year.
The audit showed 17 percent, or nearly one in five of the records were entered in to the database late.
Parkland shooter Nikolas Cruz bought his guns legally, but the NRA says the backlog opens the door for a dangerous person to slip through the cracks.
“That information needs to go in within three hours or three days, not three months or three years,” said former NRA President, Marion Hammer.
Florida’s 67 clerks of courts are responsible for submitting the information to the Department of Law Enforcement, but no one is charged with holding them to the deadline.
“When they pass legislation and they don’t give specific oversight, then everybody says it’s not my job,” said Hammer.
Clerk of Courts say a major reason for the delay is a lack of funding.
Governor Rick Scott’s Office says it only recently learned of the problem.
“There was an expose on this very issue back in October of 2017. So anybody who says in government that they didn’t know about it is not paying attention,” said Hammer.
Clerks of Courts say they’re attempting to put together updated numbers to see if there’s been any improvement since the 2016 audit.
The problem has become an key issue in both the U.S. Senate and Governor’s race.
Senator Bill Nelson accused Scott’s administration for failing to address the backlog.
Scott’s Office responded saying, “FDLE will continue to identify additional grants and resources to provide even more assistance to the clerks.”

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Long Shot Gubernatorial Hopeful

May 10th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Hundreds of candidates have until midnight to report their monthly fundraising totals. Gubernatorial candidates will be reporting six and seven figure numbers, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, one thirty year Capitol veteran is hoping for just a few thousand.

Tony Knox has shined the shoes of six of the last seven governors. 

“I started with Governor Martinez” he told us as we walked past portraits outside the Governor’s Office. 

 

He’s hoping to add another to the list after November, when he shines his own shoes. Knox filed the paperwork to run a year go this week.

“Why?”

“It’s time for a change”

He’s been shining shoes in the Capital City for 30 years

“Can you start a business with a hundred dollars right now?” He asked me. 

Q: “Because you did?”

“Yes. I started with five dollars and fifty-six cents.”

All the while supporting a wife and 8 kids.

“We have 8 out of high school. We have three out of college, and we have three in college.”

His politics are conservative.

 

“No more food stamps. Unless you are a senior citizen, handicapped, disabled, or working.”

Tony Knox knows he’s a real long shot, and he says if he’s not at the top of the heap when the ballots are counted November 6th, Florida will get what it deserves.

“It’s any given Sunday on the football field. Any given election, a man can win” says Knox.

And his slogan?

 

Q:” Donald trump wants to make America great again. You want to do what?”

“Make Florida shine again.”

If lightening does strike and he is elected…the first thing we would do is convene all the former Governor’s to be his advisors.

Next week Tony Knox hits the road,  down one coast and up the other to raise at least six thousand dollars to pay his qualifying fee. It’s due in mid June.

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Firefighters March to Improve Cancer Coverage

May 10th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
Fire fighters face heightened risks for cancer.
It’s a reality that comes with the job.
But Florida’s fire fighters say there aren’t enough protections in place to cover medical bills associated with the disease.
31-year Orange County Fire Rescue veteran Tom Hill, or Bull as he likes to be called, began what has become known as the ‘March of the Bull’.
Starting at the southernmost point of Key West and ending at the State Capitol, he walked to honor two fellow fire fighters who lost their battles with cancer.
Although his journey began alone, over the 650 mile trek he’s marched along side thousands who have joined in support of his cause.
Hundreds showed up to complete the final 3 mile leg of the march.
Most all of them firefighters… Virtually all have lost a colleague to cancer.
“I’ve got Lieutenant W.C. Donaldson’s fire helmet in my hand right now. He passed away about two weeks ago,” said Sarasota Firefighter, Wayne Balcom.
The names of 915 fire fighters and the ashes of three have followed Bull throughout the march.
Most were victims of cancer.
Those left behind like Renee Donaldson who lost her husband to cancer in 2005, say Florida doesn’t do enough to help families. Who are often left in financial peril after their loved one passes.
“Basically what I got from the State of Florida was letters of condolence from my state representatives,” said Donaldson.
Marchers want firefighters cancer covered under workers comp.
This march comes two months before a new law requiring local governments to cover PTSD for first responders takes effect.
Some say it’s a step in the right direction… Bull says until he sees change, he’ll continue fighting.
“It’s not a start until they act like adults and do what’s right,” said Bull.
Cancer coverage for firefighters in Florida has been introduced in years past, but the bills died in committee.
Florida Chief Financial Officer and State Fire Marshal Jimmy Patronis has vowed to make cancer coverage for Firefighters one of his top priorities in the 2019 session.

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Charges in 17 Year Old Murder

May 9th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

The case of a Duck hunter gone missing 17 years in North Florida has taken a new twist. His widow and best friend have long been suspects, and  As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the case appears to have come together after their relationship fractured.

Mike Williams loved to hunt. So when he went missing just before Christmas in 2000, it was investigated as an accident. Co-Worker Brett Ketcham. 

 

“We just assumed there was an accident in the lake”Ketcham told us.

Suspicions grew when no body was found. Williams was quickly declared dead, life insurance policies were cashed in.  And  within five years the widow and best friend, brian Winchester, married.

 

“And I know I deserve punishment” Winchester told a court in December.

The marriage unraveled completely after the best friend turned husband kidnapped Denise Williams in 2016. She asked a judge to jail him for life.

“It comes down to my life or his” she said at the time. 

Now Denise Williams has been indicted on first degree murder charges, conspiracy to murder and being an accessory after the fact.

“These are all punishable by life offenses” a judge told her during a first appearance.

She’s being held without bond. Ethan Way, her attorney, calls the charges “fiction”.

 

 

“Were gonna fight it and we’re gonna get acquitted.”

Q: “and he flipped?”

“I don’t know what he flipped. I think he made something up. There’s a  big difference because flipping and fiction.”

But Prosecutor Joh Fuchs says the defense doesn’t know what they know.

 

“To make comments on what the evidence is or is not is premature” Fuchs s told reporters. 

Mike Williams body was found at Lake Carr, not too far from the state Capitol, but 50 miles from where the grand jury says he was killed.

Co-worker Ketcham, says the arrest validates most people’s suspicions.

“I think we saw this day coming”

Q:It took a long time, though?”

“Absolutely.”

When asked if Brian Winchester would be indicted, Prosecutor Jon Fuchs had few words. “No comment.

Brian Winchester, the new husband is serving a 20 year sentence for kidnapping Denise Williams. This afternoon, the state opened an investigation to determine if the death was part of a scheme to fraudulently profit from his life insurance policies. More than 2 million was reportedly paid to the widow.

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House Speaker Ends Speculation over Gubernatorial Bid and Endorses Putnam

May 9th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
In a surprise turn, House Speaker Richard Corcoran says he won’t be running for Governor.
Corcoran launched a controversial television ad during the 2018 session against sanctuary cities.
It was anticipated to be his first shot in an expected race for Governor.
Now, instead of running, Florida’s second most powerful Republican is endorsing Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam for Governor.
“To have the support of someone who knows Florida so well and is so passionate about Florida’s future and is such a principled conservative means everything in the world to me,” said Putnam.
Low name recognition and a lack of funds seems to have forced Corcoran’s hand.
“You know you start sitting down with your team, you start sitting down with your family and you figure how much money does it take to be competitive,” said Corcoran.
In contrast to Corcoran’s slow fund raising, Putnam has already banked more than $20 million.
Democrats were quick to criticize differences between the two.
Putnam has been critical of Corcoran’s education agenda support for increased gun control.
Corcoran has criticized Putnam’s stance on immigration.
Putnam has taken a turn to the right in recent weeks as he battles Congressman and Fox News favorite Ron DeSantis.
“We share a passion for public safety, law and order, secure boarders and safe communities,” said Putnam.
Recent speculation had Corcoran shifting to the Attorney General’s Race, but Corcoran says he has no interest in seeking an alternative office.
“I think I’ve been very clear that I said all along, you know, I was going to run for Governor or go home,” said Corcoran.
Corcoran says his next move is to work to keep a Republican majority in both the Florida House and Senate following the November election.

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Paternity Problem: Three Parents?

May 8th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda
A five year old Florida girl is in the middle of a legal battle between her biological father and the man married to her mother at the time of her birth. 
The girl’s parents remain legally married and no divorce petition has been filed. 
 
Yet, no one disputes that the biological father is not the mother’s husband, but under Florida law, the husband of a child born into a marriage is the legal father.
Now, The Florida Supreme Court must sort it out.
“You can have two legal moms, you can have two legal dads,” said the legal father’s attorney, Victor Waite. “You can have a mom and a dad. What you can’t do is have three parents. You’re only allowed to have two parents.”
The biological father’s attorney, Nancy Hass, is asking the court to give him shared custody and parenting rights.
“We do that all the time in custody cases. We do it in dissolution of marriage cases,” said Hass.
“Maybe that has to be… Maybe that’s for another day, not this court,” said Justice Barbara Pariente.
 
Ultimately the lawyers, and at least one judge say its going to be up to the Legislature to modernize Florida’s law.
The legal father’s attorney says even if he were to divorce, he wants to be a part of the child’s life.
“I don’t believe any state has allowed for three parents yet,” said Waite. “It’s the difference between having a legal parent and a step parent. Step parents don’t have the right to make legal decisions for the child. A legal parent does.”
The biological father’s attorney told us it’s absurd to think there can’t be three legal parents.
“We have fifty percent of children, I believe, under the age of thirteen who are living in blended families in the state of Florida. So, this is a very relevant issue,” said Hass.
Hass says if the ruling goes against her client, an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court is likely.
 
Two lower courts have issued different rulings in the case. 
 
One giving the biological father some rights and a second court upholding the legal father’s rights.

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Battle Underway Over Police Radio Contract

May 8th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The state wants to make sure first responders can talk to each other during an emergency, even if they’re from different agencies, but selecting a vendor is proving to be a daunting task.
“You know a law enforcement officer from one county not being able to speak to another county when they’re rushing to a disaster,” said Joseph Goldstein, an Attorney representing the Division of Management Services.
The state selected Motorola for the contract to create an improved system.
It would cover 95% of the state and make it easier for law enforcement to communicate across agency.
But the previous vendor, Harris Corporation, is arguing the Division of Management Services improperly awarded the contract to Motorola.
It also alleges Motorola’s proposed design has flaws that could make the public less safe.
“The design proposed by Motorola is unreliable, because it uses certain microwave lengths that are subject to rain fade or rain attenuation,” said Karen Walker, an Attorney representing Harris Corp.
Motorola says Harris Corporation is dragging out the process, out of spite.
“The treatment for the movie would be: incumbent vendor loses huge long term contract, here up to 25 years, to its major business competitor,” said Robert Vezina, an attorney representing Motorola.
Harris held the state contract since 2000.
The deal cost the state $18 million a year.
No matter who ends up with the contract the annual price tag will millions of dollars higher than before, but Motorola’s deal would cost the state $300 million less than Harris’ over time.
Arguments will be made throughout the week. The administrative judge will then have the final say on whether Motorola keeps the contract.

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Name Changes Could Be Coming to FSU Campus

May 7th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

A panel of 15 FSU faculty, staff, students and alumni has voted to relocate a statute of a former slave owner who played a a role in providing the land for the University.  As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the panel is also recommending renaming two buildings.

The statue of Frances Epps, A grandson of Thomas Jefferson,  sits prominently to the right of Wescott Hall…the main administration building for Florida State.  Jefferson’s grandson helped gain the land the school sits on. A plaque inaccurately calls him the founder of the University.

 

“There is no one founder for Florida State University. He was on a couple of committee’s” says Students for a Democratic Society spokesman Maddie Hendrick. 

Now, a 15 member panel is recommending the Epps statue be moved , and the building behind the statue named for Epps be renamed.  The Students for a Democratic Society pushed for the change.

 

“He was particularly especially brutal, especially racist, especially pro slavery” says Hendrick.

In October 2016 a vote to get rid of Frances’s Epps statue failed. Miserably. Seventy-thirty.”

The panel is also recommending the FSU law school, named for former Florida Chief Justice BK Roberts, also be renamed. Roberts was instrumental in keeping Virgil Hawkins,  a black man from attending the law school at the University of Florida.   

FSU Alum Andre Gordon see’s both sides.

 

“A lot of the land here, was probably…probably had slaves on it. So I don’t know, are we going to remove everything” Asks Gordon.

Renaming the law school would require a vote of the legislature. The fate of the statute and Epps Hall are now in the hands of FSU President John Thrasher. He’s promised a decision sometime this summer.

Nearly 63 Hundred FSU students, about 11 percent of the student body, voted to keep the statue during the October 2016 referendum. New information on the lack of Epps role in founding the University has recently come to light.

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NRA Calls Pam Bondi a “Bully”

May 7th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The NRA filed a response today after Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi asked a  Federal court to deny a 19-year-old woman’s request to remain anonymous in the suit against the state’s new age restrictions on gun purchases.
The NRA requested the teen be allowed to proceed as Jane Doe in order to protect her from potential bullying, harassment and threats.
Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi is asking the federal court to deny the request, angering former NRA President Marion Hammer, who has personally received numerous threats in the wake of the Parkland shooting.
“The refusal to help protect this young woman is an act of bullying itself,” said Hammer.
Bondi argues the vast public interest of the case outweighs concerns over any potential harassment Jane Doe may face from publicly signing on to the suit.
But Hammer says courts have allowed anonymity in other cases.
“She apparently has forgotten Roe V. Wade and many other lawsuits in which courts decided to protect the identity of people involved who were vulnerable,” said Hammer.
Bondi argues the proper way to deal with any potential harassment would be to rigorously enforce existing laws.
Hammer says if Jane Doe isn’t granted anonymity, she may not sign on to the case.
“If it were my daughter I would not subject her to that,” said Hammer.
The NRA has also requested anonymity for a John Doe, who wouldn’t sign on as a plaintiff, but who’s story would be referenced in the case.
The judge will have the final say on whether or not to grant anonymity. It’s not known when that decision is expected.

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Bi-Partisan Ticket Could Shake Up Democratic Race

May 4th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

 

A new poll of Democratic primary voters suggests two former congressmen, one a  Democrat, the other a Republican running on the same ticket would immediately become front runners in what has so far been a lackluster Democratic primary for Governor. But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, there could be legal problems.

A poll of 750 likely Democratic voters is embracing a potential bi partisan ticket headed by former Democratic Congressman Patrick Murphy with former Republican Congressman David Jolly as his running mate. Pollster Keith Frederick says the results make it clear voters are angry with the current system.

“Voters in America today are quite fed up with the political system, and this is another manifestation of that” says Frederick.

 

Front runner Phil Levin dropped from 20 to 17 percent in the poll. That’s after spending 8 million on TV.

“It means he has rented his lead. He hasn’t solidified it” Frederick told us.

 

Democrats Gwen Graham, Andrew Gillum, and Chris King all fell further behind in the race.

“Under State law, candidates sign an oath they’ve been a member of the same party for the last year. Now, some are suggesting that would make illegal for a Democrat and a Republican to run together under one party’s flag ship. And Mark Herron, one of the state’s best election law lawyers says he doesn’t know the answer to that.”

Q:”This has never been done before?”

“Not to my knowledge in the state of Florida” Herron told us.

Q:”and, is it legal?”

“Well, the question is I do not know the answer to that question.”

Q”Sounds like it’s ripe for a challenge if it happens?”

“It’s gonna be an adventure if it happens, yes.”

Murphy and Jolly have until June 22 to qualify for the race. If they do, Florida politics will be entering uncharted waters.

Even with Murphy and Jolly in the race, 41 percent of likely Democratic voters are undecided, leaving room for almost any of the candidates to win.

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Medical Marijuana Advocates Say Patient Access Problems Could Have Been Avoided

May 4th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The State Department of Health still hasn’t issued 4 new grow licenses state law says should have been approved in October.
Advocates say it’s hurt the availability of medical marijuana.
“The State of Florida needs to immediately open the licensure program to as many people as can compete in the market as possible,” said Jodi James with the Florida Cannabis Action Network.
Joshua Lavy suffers from cerebral palsy. He had to stop using medical marijuana entirely, because he couldn’t be sure he’d get a consistent product.
“I can’t take one medicine one week and then something different the next. It’ll affect me in school it’ll affect me at work,” said Lavy.
Lavy also says long wait times for card approvals and renewals deterred him from continuing to use cannabis as a treatment.
The DOH has blamed pending lawsuits on its inability to issue new licenses.
Two lawsuits on the departments lap include John Morgan’s No Smoke is a Joke suit and Tampa Night Club owner Joseph Redner’s suit to allow him to grow and juice his own plants.
Advocates say if patients had been allowed to grow and smoke their own medicine in the first place, patient access wouldn’t have ever been an issue.
“Tens of thousands of patients would have brought in harvests for themselves while we waited on the Legislature, while we waited on the department of health,” said James.
Advocates hope while the lawsuits make their way through the courts the Department of Health speeds up its approval process for growers.
The number of card holding patients as of this afternoon is just shy of 81,000. When the registry reaches the 100,000 mark, it will require an additional four grower licenses be granted.

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Marijuana Edibles to Be Held to Similar Production Standards as Other Foods

May 4th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The State Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services laid out its plans for regulating the production of medical marijuana edibles this morning.
The department says it intends to regulate edible production much in the same way it deals with other food products.
Producers will be subject to random inspections to ensure the products are made in sanitary conditions as mandated by federal standards.
“These are medical foods that are going to patients that may potentially have a compromised immune system, so we’re definitely taking that into account when we’re looking at the food safety systems,” said Chief of Food Inspection at the Department, Matt Colson.
The Department of Health is in charge of determining what forms edibles can take and how much THC can be in each product.
Those determinations have not been released yet.

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Electric Utilities face Hurricane Readiness Questions

May 3rd, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida’s utility regulators have been grilling the states electric utilities and their biggest users over hurricane readiness for the last two days. The debate today, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, was over whether it was more cost effective to do a better job of trimming trees or bury lines underground to prevent outages.

Millions lost power when Hurricane Irma blanketed the entire state last fall. Now, both Duke Energy and FPL say they learned lessons from the storm.

Valerie Petterson is a Duke Energy Spokesperson.

“We’ve made some changes and upgrades and enhancements to our technology. We’re adding more people to respond to customers” Patterson told us during a break at the Public Service Commission. 

(We)“Modified our website. Improved it. rebuilt..reconfigured it in a way that’s going to be able to handle the traffic” said FPL’s Mark Bubriski.

The states major power users are asking regulators to make the utilities do more.

One of the questions raised at the commission, Are the utilities moving fast enough to replace old wooden poles with strong concrete structures?

Jon Moyle represents the Florida Industrial Power Users Group.

 

“Even though the wood is only twenty percent of the system, TECO, if I’m reading this correctly, had all the problems on the wooden transmission poles” Moyle told commissioners.

The Industrial users also want the companies to spend more trimming trees. But Duke Energy says tree trimming wasn’t the issue during Irma.

“A lot of the damage we saw from trees were from trees outside the rights of way” Duke’s Patterson told us.

 

Instead of trimming trees, Florida Retail Federation attorney Schef Wright says customers would be better off if power lines were underground.

“If we get a direct hit, they will more than pay for everything in one storm. And if you get two, you’ve rally saved a lot of money” says Wright.

Staff Recommendations to regulators are due by June 19th, nearly three weeks after hurricane season starts.

Because recommendations won’t be voted on until after Hurricane season starts, and big changes won’t be in place until sometime next year.

Posted in Economy, Energy, Hurricane Season, State News | No Comments »

DOC Budget Shortfalls Leads to Major Cuts for Addiction Treatment

May 3rd, 2018 by Jake Stofan
The Florida Department of Corrections is making drastic cuts to substance abuse treatment options.
The department is slashing its contracts with 33 substance abuse treatment providers by 40%, some face cuts as high as 90%.
The Legislature allocated $19.2 million for the programs, which benefit more than 50,000 inmates and parolees.
“70% of the people that come to prison have a substance abuse problem. It means 70% less will get treatment,” said Mark Fontaine, Executive Director of the Florida Drug and Alcohol Abuse Association.
The department announced the cuts Tuesday and gave providers an ultimatum: Accept the cuts or lose their contracts entirely.
Shelia Randolph is the CEO of The Unlimited Path of Central Florida, which is facing the most drastic cuts.
“The whole system is devoid of any type of treatment with these cuts,” said Randolph.
Less access to treatment means inmates are more likely to fall victim to the opioid crisis when they get out.
Opioids kill 16 Floridians each day.
“This is an emergency and we need the Governor and the Legislature to recognize the problem,” said Randolph.
The department says it has to make the cuts to make up for other healthcare costs, which it’s constitutionally obligated to provide to inmates.
Providers say cutting the programs only stands to cost the department more in the long run.
“Since we started these programs the number of inmates have come down every year,” said Fontaine.
The DOC says the decision to reduce the contracts wasn’t easy and hopes the cuts will only be temporary.
Providers are calling on lawmakers to step in and encourage the DOC to reconsider the cuts or fix the DOC’s budget deficit.

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