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AirBNB Taken off List of Scrutinized Companies

June 4th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Ron DeSantis was lauded in Israel for his quick action back in January when he and the Cabinet placed AirBNB on the state’s list of scrutinized companies for refusing listings on the disputed West Bank in Israel.

The company relented in April, and on Tuesday, his first full day back on the job, the Governor and Cabinet took the company off the list.

“The key headliner here is that we’ve had a very positive outcome on the engagement with AirBNB in relation to the boycott, divest and sanction Israel movement. As you know we engaged them previously. They reversed their policy, and so we have removed them from the scrutinized list with your vote here today,” said Executive Director of the State Board of Administration, Ash Williams.

Had the company refused, the state pension fund would have been prohibited from investing in the company if it ever went public, and state employees could not have used AirBNB on state business.

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Florida Cabinet Recognizes FDLE Annual Award Winners

June 4th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The Governor and Cabinet adopted a resolution Tuesday morning and recognized the winners of the Florida Department of Law Enforcement Annual Awards.

Four winners were recognized, including Jennifer Clark, a crime lab analyst in Tampa, whose forensic work led to the arrest of the suspect in the 2017 Seminole Heights killing spree.

Special Agent Jennifer Wolf, Officer Joseph Wyland and Research and Training Specialist Deborah McDonald were also recognized.

“The FDLE mission is to protect Florida’s citizens and visitors, and it is the mission that we are committed to each and every day, so on behalf of the award winners, we thank you for this opportunity and we thank you for honoring us today,” said McDonald, who was awarded FDLE Distinguished Member of the Year.

The winners beat out more than 200 members who were nominated for the 2019 awards.

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Representative Mike Hill Facing Calls for Resignation

June 3rd, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Pensacola State Representative Mike Hill is coming under fire from Florida Democrats and some members of his own party for an exchange he had with a constituent who suggested Hill should sponsor legislation that would make homosexuality punishable by death.

While Hill didn’t agree with the suggestion, he’s been accused of not being critical enough and laughing during the exchange.

“A statement that just came out of the audience, I tried to brush it aside,” said Hill.

Hill said the exchange has been misrepresented.

“There was no way at all that I condoned or even said the words that gays should be executed,” said Hill. “That’s just absurd.”

Some Republican’s, including House Speaker Jose Oliva, took to Twitter and called on Hill to apologize saying in part, “I believe he owes his colleagues an apology and he owes the Republican caucus a better example of political courage.”

Representative Hill has not apologized.

Instead, he has said he’s the victim of a ‘social media lynching’.
“They know I’m a Christian,” said Hill. “They know that I am true to my convictions and they know that I am going to bring the heartbeat detection bill to this next legislative session.”

Democratic Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith said Hill should resign or be ousted from the Legislature.

“As a gay man who has survived anti-gay hate violence myself… this is completely unacceptable,” said Smith.

A rally has been scheduled in Pensacola Monday evening demanding Hill’s resignation.

Hill said he has received violent threats since the Pensacola News Journal first ran the story this weekend andhas threatened legal action against the paper if any of the threats come to fruition.

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Gillum’s Attorney Responds to Federal Subpoenas

May 31st, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Former Democratic Gubernatorial candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum has been issued subpoenas by the FBI according to the Tampa Bay Times, which obtained the documents.

While Gillum’s opponents have said the subpoenas are further evidence of corruption in the Gillum campaign, Gillum’s attorney said it’s more likely an attempt at a political hit job.

Federal subpoenas obtained by the Tampa Bay Times demanded documents ranging from 2015 to 2018 from Andrew Gillum, his gubernatorial campaign and his political committee, Forward Florida.

The subpoena asked for the documents by May 7th.

Gillum’s attorney, Barry Richard said Gillum’s campaign has been complying with the request.
He believes it’s another example of an attempt to discredit the high profile Democratic figure.

“He ran a very positive race and obviously a lot of people in this state thought a great deal of him and nationally,” said Richards. “And almost the entire time since he’s had to defend himself from investigations that were started because of people who want to undermine him.”

Gillum struck a plea deal and paid a $5,000 fine last month following a probable cause finding in an ethics complaint that alleged he accepted gifts from an undercover FBI agent.

Erwin Jackson filed the complaint.

“I’ve felt for a long long time now, several years, that Andrew Gillum is a crook,” said nJackson.

Jackson said he believes the new subpoenas are further evidence of corruption by the former Gubernatorial Candidate.

“We’re beginning to hold some of these dishonest politicians accountable,” said Jackson.

One thing both sides agree with is that the new subpoenas are separate from the FBI investigation into Tallahassee City Hall, which has led to the indictment of three.

Richard called the numerous allegations against Gillum unfortunate.

“We make it very undesirable for honest people to run for office, said Richards.

Gillum’s attorney said the former candidate isn’t letting the news of subpoenas slow him down.

Instead, he said Gillum is focusing his energy on his voter registration campaign ahead of the 2020 election.

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FHP Preparing for Texting While Driving Education Campaign

May 30th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The Florida Highway Patrol is working on an educational campaign to inform Florida drivers about the state’s new texting while driving law.

Advocates against distracted driving believe the new law will make roads safer, but that it doesn’t go far enough.

Florida drivers will have to get used to waiting to send that text message until after they get out of the car, or come to a complete stop under the state’s next texting while driving law.

If they don’t, they could be pulled over and receive a $30 ticket.

“One of the most dangerous things you could do is be on a wireless communications device while you’re on the road,” said Captain Thomas Pikul with the Florida Highway Patrol.

Pikul says the agency is preparing to roll out out an educational campaign to ensure Florida drivers understand the change in the law.

“We’ll be consultation with the Florida Department of Transportation, of course with our local law enforcement partners, with schools, with statewide agencies to ensure that the education is out there,” said Pikul.

The new texting while driving law takes effect on July 1st, but will only be issuing warnings for the first few months.

Starting January 1st 2020, law enforcement will begin writing tickets to offenders.

FHP said more than 50,000 car accidents in the state were caused by distracted driving last year alone.

“13% of all crashes are due to inattentiveness. we want to make sure that everyone is educated on that,” said Pikul. “That they know the dangers of having these devices in their hands.”

In 2014, 19 year old Anthony Branca was killed in a suspected distracted driving accident.

His father Demetrius is one of many advocates who fought for the new Florida law.

He said lawmakers missed the target.

“Nothing kills more kids under the age of 24 than distracted driving and they are taking half measures to stop it,” said Branca.

Advocates had originally hoped for a fully hands free law.

The new law is only hands free in construction and school zones.

“What we have is full of loopholes,” said Branca. “If you get pulled over for distracted driving right now you can just tell the cop that you were looking at your map and then you’re free to go.”

While advocates against distracted driving weren’t able to get everything they wanted this year, they’ve said they’ll keep fighting for a fully hands free law and stiffer penalties going forward.

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DeSantis and Cabinet Wrap Up Last Day in Israel

May 30th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

It has been a whirlwind trade mission to Israel for Governor Ron DeSantis and about 100 other Floridians on the trip with him.

The the trip has been a nonstop affair.

The four and a half day trip was filled with 12 and 16 hour days.

The schedule for the Governor’s last day in Israel was turned upside down when a last minute meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu was scheduled.

“The relationship’s good. He went over some of the threats Israel faces and the map of the Middle East and showed the pockets of ISIS,” said DeSantis.

The meeting prompted an Israeli journalist to ask whether the Governor have his eye on the Oval Office.

“Certainly not in 2020, you can guarantee that,” said DeSantis.

After the Netanyahu meeting, the Governor placed two notes on the Western Wall.

The first asked God to spare the state from any hurricanes this year.

“So that would be wonderful if we could get through this hurricane season,” said DeSantis.

The second came from a young girl who lost her home in the Panhandle during Hurricane Michael.

“She had a note, asking me to put in the Western Wall,” said DeSantis. “So I did not read it, you know privacy, but I did put her note in the Western Wall.”

The Governor also placed a wreath at a holocaust museum Thursday, to honor the six million Jews who lost their lives in Nazi Concentration Camps.

A round table discussion on school safety followed.

During the meeting a former senior Israeli intelligence officer Uzzi Sheyia told the Governor that social media was emboldening terrorists and major companies were doing nothing about it.

“They’re allowing well known, black listed terrorist entities to use them knowingly,” said Sheyia.
On top of all the agreements that have been signed throughout the trip, the journey to Israel has definitely solidified Ron DeSantis’ status as the most Israel-friendly governor in America.

The Governor leaves Israel at 7 am local time or 11 pm Eastern Time Thursday.

They’ll get back to the state mid-afternoon Friday.

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UM Signs Agreement with Jerusalem Hospital

May 30th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

The University of Miami signed an agreement Thursday with a leading hospital in Jerusalem.

The agreement obligates the two to train trauma surgeons in Miami and to share knowledge.

It was signed in Jerusalem with the Governor present.

Dr. Enrique Ginzburg is a Vice President at Miami Jackson Memorial Hospital and a trauma specialist.

He said both signers will lead the world into new and best practices.

“It’s a continued recognition and encouragement to continue the exchange of training, more importantly to continue the training of trauma surgeons from Israel in Miami so they come back and become the leaders of trauma bit it’s now ex tending into orthopedic surgery and we want it to extend in all aspects of education at the university of Miami and the Hebrew university,” said Dr. Ginzburg.

The hospitals have already been working together, but the new agreement signals more people and more cooperation.

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Chief Financial Regulator Fights Back Against Sexual Harassment Claims

May 30th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

The state’s Chief Financial Regulator, in the job less than four months, is fighting back against allegations claiming he harassed female employees.

Robert Rubin sent a memo that said he is being fired because he refused to hire someone suggested by Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis.

In Israel Thursday, Patronis denied he ever asked Rubin to hire anyone.

“We issued a statement yesterday I think it’s been pretty clear by the preliminary findings of the IG report that there ‘s definitely issues afoot.If I could remove them unilaterally, I would,” said Patronis.

Firing Rubin requires three out of four votes on the state Cabinet.

One of them would have to be the Governor, who also from Israel, suggested that the writing is on the wall.

“I haven’t seen the inspector general report yet but obviously if the CFO has taken that position, you know, that does’t look good for Mr. Rubin,” said DeSantis.

Action to fire Rubin could come as early as next Tuesday, when the Governor and Cabinet meet again in Tallahassee.

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Lawsuits and Technical Difficulties Plague Cabinet Meeting in Israel

May 29th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida now has the toughest anti semitism law in the country according to Governor Ron DeSantis, who ceremonially signed the legislation outside the US embassy in Jerusalem Wednesday.

The signing followed another controversial issue of his trade mission to Israel, a meeting of the Florida Cabinet, which first amendment advocates had attempted to stop over the state’s open meeting laws.

The out of county Cabinet meeting may have been the first of its kind.

The First Amendment Foundation filed a lawsuit on Tuesday, trying to enjoin the meeting over access issues for the public.

The Governor brushed off the criticism meeting with reporters.

“It’s totally baseless and meritless. Here’s the thing, sometimes we’ll do Cabinet meetings on the phone. Sometimes there’s not even a psychical location at all and this is being streamed, you guys [the press] are going to be there,” said DeSantis.

When the 3:30 PM meeting began, it was 8:30 AM back in the state Capitol, where a live stream played to a nearly Cabinet Room.

The meeting had several technical difficulties.

The opening prayer given by a Rabbi in the State Capitol was cut cut off abruptly when the phone went dead.

No votes were taken, except on one resolution.

Attorney General said she’s certain the meeting complied with the letter of the law.

“We have been diligent in ensuring that we complied with the Sunshine Law,” said Moody.

Afterwards, the Governor held a ceremonial signing of what has been called the strongest antisemitism law in the county.

The genesis for the legislation began when House Sponsor Representative Randy Fine was in 7th grade and failed a test.

“He went and he asked the teacher why did I fail algebra? And the teacher said you missed a test. And I said I missed it on Yom Kippur. And that teacher said if it were a real holiday, we would have all had that off,” said Fine.

It will require educational institutions to treat anti-Jewish behavior as it would racism.

Critics have asserted simply criticizing Israel in public would violate the law, but Fine has refuted the claims.

“Being stupid is not illegal. You’re allowed to be an antisemite. I wish they weren’t, but you are allowed,” said Fine. “This does not say you can’t be.”

The signing was ceremonial because the actual legislative documents stayed behind in the states.

Once the Governor signs the real thing the law will take effect immediately.

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Another Private School Voucher Legal Battle Likely on the Way

May 29th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

The inclusion of a private school voucher program in the 2019 education package is likely to result in lawsuits.

The battle over vouchers has a 20 year history in Florida dating back to Governor Jeb Bush.

It started in 1999, when then-Governor Bush signed into law the Opportunity Scholarship Program.

It allowed students in failing schools to get a tax funded voucher to attend private schools.

“I think we’re in for a renaissance in public education,” said Bush at the bill signing.

In 2006, the program was declared unconstitutional by the State Supreme Court, which found it violated the requirement public education be uniform and equal.

Ron Meyer represented the state’s largest teachers union in the case.

“They were under no standards.They didn’t teach the same curriculum,” said Meyer.

An appellate court also ruled funding religious schools with tax payer dollars unconstitutional.

“Religious schools are fine, but they shouldn’t be paid for with state dollars,” said Meyer.

Bush continued fighting for vouchers and led a push to put the question before voters in 2006.

“Floridians will say yes, that this is a fundamental right, that this is a civil right, that this is as American as apple pie,” said Bush at 2006 Save Our Schools rally.

While Bush failed to gather the support needed from the Legislature at the time, the legal battle for school choice is about to be revived.

The Florida Legislature has approved a new private school voucher program called The Family empowerment Scholarship.

It’s a new name, but the concerns from public school advocates are the same.

“This is a disturbing trend,” said Meyer.

The Family Empowerment Scholarship was a priority for Governor Ron DeSantis.

Many supporters of school choice hope the newly conservative leaning State Supreme Court will have a different option on vouchers.

Meyer said this time there might also be a discrimination argument made.

“Private, schools, religious schools are free to kind of pick and choose among the students that they want,” said Meyer.

A lawsuit won’t likely be formally filed until after the law takes effect on July 1st.

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DeSantis Applauded by Israelis for Tough Stance on AirBNB

May 28th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Ron DeSantis received accolades in Israel for his showdown with AirBNB over its refusal to list houses on the disputed West Bank.

The company remains on the list of scrutinized companies, despite changing its policy more than a month ago.

AirBNB announced it would no longer list rentals on the disputed West Bank in late 2018.

On the campaign trail and then again as Governor, DeSantis took the company to task.

At the state’s second Cabinet meeting of the new administration in mid-January, AirBNB became the first American company to be placed on the list of scrutinized companies for its perceived anti-Jewish actions.

“What they have done is tied themselves in knots and you end up with a policy, which really only negatively impacts one group of people in the world,”
said DeSantis.

In Israel Tuesday, the Governor got high marks for his swift action.

“Your position and your activity changed the mind of the people in AirBNB and that’s really really appreciated,” said Yuhada Danon, Ariel University President.

Much like an honorary degree, Ariel University awarded the Governor a fellowship.
“Ron is a warrior. He understands the importance of Israel,” said Dr. Miriam Adelson with Ariel University.

AirBNB changed its policy in April, the Governor said they should be rewarded.

“I mean I never had it out for AirBNB. I never used AirBNB, but I always thought that they had a neat thing,” said DeSantis. “So when they reversed course and they’re not discriminating, you know we should not penalize a company that does the right thing.”

While its unclear if the Governor and Cabinet must take another vote to remove the company from the list of scrutinized companies, it won’t happen in Israel.

That’s because Wednesday’s Cabinet meeting will be strictly ceremonial.

Even the Governor is uncertain if he and Cabinet must take another vote to remove Air BNB from the scrutinized companies list, or if it will happen automatically.

AirBNB refused comment on the story, but in a statement AirBNB said it will continue listing properties on the West Bank, but will take no profits from the listings.

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Cannabis Director Expects First Florida Hemp Crop in 2020

May 28th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Business leaders and entrepreneurs in the state’s capital city got an update on the roll out of a hemp industry from the Florida Department of Agriculture’s Director of Cannabis, Holly Bell.

Bell is optimistic a program will be in place by the end of the year.

Florida farmers, investors and entrepreneurs all have their eyes on hemp.

“It’s safer and it’s extremely durable too if you were to talk about clothing, infrastructure and building,” said Braden Ward, a senior at Florida Southern College.

Ward drove 3 hours to hear from Bell on how the hemp industry will look in Florida.

“What’s upcoming in the future for us to try and invest in, if that be the case,” said Ward.

The hemp bill passed in May will officially legalize hemp and its byproducts, like CBD, in Florida.

It’s expected to be a multi-billion dollar industry.

“Industrial hemp has 25,000 known uses today,” said Bell.

In addition to the numerous uses, supporters also hope hemp will become a supplemental crop for panhandle farmers hit hard by Hurricane Michael.

“They see it as, the best way for me to describe it as, a life line,” said Bell.

Governor Ron DeSantis still has to sign the hemp bill into law.

Once he does that, the Department of Agriculture will have to develop rules before the industry can truly get started.

Bell said the hemp industry will be a horizontal system, allowing people to get involved in any part of the process, unlike medical marijuana where license holders have to own everything from seed to sale.

She said it will ensure the industry open to everyone.

“From multi-million, billion dollar companies to a farmer with five acres,” said Bell.

Bell said she anticipates the state will see it first official harvest in 2020, but said it will be a multi year process for the industry and market to fully bloom.

Once the Governor signs the bill, the Department of Agriculture will begin gathering public input from around the state to help guide the rule making process.

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Suspended Okaloosa Superintendent Fights for Reinstatement

May 28th, 2019 by Jake Stofan

Suspended Okaloosa County School Superintendent Mary Beth Jackson made her last plea for reinstatement before a Senate Special Master Tuesday morning.

Jackson was suspended by Governor Ron DeSantis in January after special needs children in her district were reportedly abused by teachers.

The Governor’s attorneys said Jackson was aware of abuse and did not take action.

“One question is before the Florida Senate. Only one question and that question is should Mary Beth Jackson be removed or reinstated in her role as Superintendent. After all the facts and the evidence have been presented the answer to that question will be very clear. In order to protect the health, safety and welfare of the student of Okaloosa County School District she must be removed from office permanently,” said Nicholas Primrose, attorney for Governor’s Office

Jackson’s attorneys argued she took appropriate action in the instances of dealing with the abuse cases and that student performance in her district have significantly improved under her leadership.

The Special Master will provide a recommendation to the Senate to either uphold Jackson’s suspension or reinstate her.

The Senate will then make the final decision, but likely before committee meetings start in September.

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Florida Disaster Official to Receive Training From Israelis

May 28th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

The State Department of Emergency Management signed an agreement with their Israeli counterpart to provide better training for the state, especially when it comes to improving response times on Tuesday.

The agreement, signed in Tel Aviv, could see Israeli disaster managers in Tallahassee in a week or two said DEM Director Jared Moskowitz.

“They’re gonna come down, we’re gonna have multiple working meetings, potentially, hopefully, training sessions,” said Moskowitz. “I also wanna hear what they’re going with artificial intelligence coming in the emergency management space, which is allowing them to do modeling, so they can predict what’s going to happen in an event so it can prepare for that and and respond quicker.”

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FIU to Partner With Israeli University to Study Anxiety

May 28th, 2019 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida International University signed a five year agreement with Tel Aviv University to explore why children become anxious and how to avoid the negative consequences of that anxiety on Tuesday.

FIU President Mark Rosenberg says the two will share a $5 million grant.

“Our psychologists will identify new solutions for addressing child anxiety, new solutions for addressing depression, for reducing individuals who drop out, and in particular, they’re very concerned with child suicide, and they’re going to find a new way to treat the causes and conditions that lead to child depression,” said FIU President Mark Rosenberg. “So we’re very excited about it, 5 year study, $5 million National Institute of Mental Health, FIU and Tel Aviv University.”

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