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Unemployed Will Once Again Have to Prove They’re Looking for Work

May 12th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Unemployment recipients in Florida will soon once again have to show they’re actually looking for work if they hope to continue collecting checks.

The Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees the state’s reemployment program, says there are plenty of employers looking to hire.

Altrua Global Solutions, a printing company in the state’s capital city, usually prints ads and promotional material for businesses.

Now they’re primarily printing help wanted signs

And even they’re having a hard time finding employees to do the work.

“A lot of people, they’ll come in and interview, but then we might hire them and they don’t show up for the job,” said Altrua President Skip Smelko.

It’s become a common sight across the state, ‘closed due to pandemic signs’ replaced by ‘now hiring’ signs

“The 2021 pandemic is unemployment. Not being able to hire,” said DEO Secretary Dane Eagle.

Eagle announced Wednesday the state will soon reimplement work search requirements for those collecting unemployment.

“The goal here is to help everyone find employment. There is hope on the horizon. 400,000 jobs are out there,” said Eagle.

The state is hoping the announcement will send a message to unemployed Floridians to start looking for a job now, before benefits run out entirely.

“I don’t want them to wake up Monday morning and realize unemployment is not available and they also don’t have a job.”

And the state is hoping to help Floridians in that process, requiring new benefit recipients to sign up with Employ Florida, which will link them with businesses looking for workers.

“The network is here to help Florida businesses, large and small, connect with the hundreds of thousands of Floridians we know want to get back to work,” said President & CEO of Career Source Florida Michelle Dennard.

Those who are currently collecting checks won’t be required to register with Employ Florida, but both new and current recipients will have to prove they’re looking for work to receive benefits after May 29th.

Secretary Eagle also said the state doesn’t currently plan to opt out of the additional $300-a-week federal unemployment benefit program before it expires in September, but going forward he said the option remains on the table.

If you need help looking for a job you can sign up at CareerSourceFlorida.com or at EmployFlorida.com to get connected with employers.

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Long Lines and Empty Pumps Persist in Panhandle

May 11th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Gas distribution problems resulting from the cyber attack that shut down the Colonial Pipeline are causing long lines and empty pumps in the Florida panhandle.

State officials are urging residents to remain calm and avoid panic buying.

There were two scenarios at gas stations in the state’s capital city Tuesday.

Empty stations drained of all fuel and others with long lines full of drivers fighting for a full tank.

Tallahassee resident Dondre Thompson came to the pump expecting a length wait.

“I’ve already been to like 15 gas stations around the east side of Tallahassee so I’m on E. I’m just trying to get some gas,” said Thompson.

Florida Director of Consumer Services Rick Kimsey told us a perfect storm of separate issues has resulted in the distribution problems.

“It started with a fuel quality issue in the Western Panhandle. That coupled with a nationwide driver shortage for petroleum truck drivers and then the cyber attack on the Colonial Pipeline,” said Kimsey.

Kimsey doesn’t expect the problem to spread statewide, as much of the Peninsula gets its gas from the ports.

He said even in the Panhandle there’s plenty of fuel.

It’s just a matter of getting it to the pump fast enough to keep up with demand, which is skyrocketing due to panic buying.

“Any pressure on the system is going to make the situation worse,” said Kimsey.

Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried put out a video on Twitter urging Floridains to refrain from panic buying.

“Fuel is continuing to move around our state,” said Fried.

We witnessed first hand how panic can breed panic while speaking with Tallahassee resident Aryn Rosenbaum.

“Everyone’s panicking unfortunately and I only have an eight of a tank, so unfortunately I have to panic too,” said Rosenbaum.

When the pipeline will come back online isn’t entirely clear.

In the mean time, the state is working on finding other means to deliver fuel to impacted areas.

Director Kimsen told us if you are in a situation where you need gas now, try to only take what you need.

Gas is on the way.

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Theme Park Loophole Creates Opportunity to Skirt Social Media Censorship Bill

May 10th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Disney World could face new competition if social media companies take advantage of a loophole included in legislation aimed at cracking down on social media censorship currently awaiting the Governor’s signature.

The bill creates new rules companies must follow if they move to censor, deplatform or shadow ban Florida citizens and political candidates.

Senator Ray Rodrigues sponsored the bill in the Senate.

“I think this bill will ensure that the virtual square is open to all of Florida’s candidates and all Florida citizens,” said Rodrigues.

Under the bill, social media companies would face $250,000 a day fines for censoring statewide political candidates and $25,000 a day fines for other candidates.

Users could also sue for up to $100,000 if they’re arbitrarily deplatformed.

But a last minute amendment tagged on in the final days of session creates a carveout for companies that own theme parks.

When asked if Facebook would be exempt if they bought a theme park, House sponsor Blaise Ingoglia gave this response.

“If they bought a theme park, and named it Zucker Land and they met the definition of a theme park under Florida statute then the answer to that would be yes,” said Ingoglia.

Rodrigues said the intent behind the amendment was to prevent Disney and Universal from getting caught in the mix, due to apps the they run for park attendees.

We asked if he thought the amendment would incentive social media companies to buy a theme parks rather than follow the new rules.

“Well I think the easier path for them would be to get their act together on censorship and start treating Floridians equally,” said Rodrigues.

Despite the carveout, Governor Ron DeSantis said the good still out weighs the bad in the bill.

He’s likely to sign it, and told us it will send a message to big tech.

“We’re fighting against oligarchs in Silicon Valley suppressing speech and censoring views that they disagree with,” said DeSantis.

And the Rodrigues told us if social media companies do attempt to skirt the law by purchasing theme parks, the Legislature will tweak the law next year to ensure the intent of the bill is followed.

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Mobile Faith-Based Vaccination Pilot Program Launches

May 10th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

A new pilot program aimed at increasing vaccination rates of Black Floridians launched in the State’s capital city Monday.

A new $300,000 mobile medical unit secured by Bethel Baptist Church with private donations will be used to penetrate into some of the areas in the city experiencing high vaccine hesitancy to provide education and shots on the spot.

Reverend RB Holmes, who sits on the Statewide COVID-19 Vaccination Community Education and Engagement Taskforce, said with only roughly twenty percent of Black Floridians vaccinated so far, innovative efforts like these are pivotal to reaching the goal of 70 percent vaccinated by early 2022.

“You know there’s a lot of hesitancy, a lot of reluctancy, but we’re going to overcome that with this medical mobile unit in this city and across the State of Florida. We’re gonna have to have faith-based leaders, again, those trusted voices [and] now a trusted venue, to go where the people are,” said Holmes.

Florida’s Deputy Secretary of Health attended the launch ceremony and said the goal is to expand mobile faith-based vaccination efforts across the state.

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Honoring Florida’s First Black Supreme Court Justice

May 7th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

The first African American to serve on the Supreme Court of Florida was honored today for his contributions over a more than forty year legal career. Judge Joseph Hatchett died April 30th at the age of 88. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, those who served with him, say he never lost sight of justice.

When Joseph Woodrow Hatchett took the Florida bar exam in 1959, he still wasn’t allowed to spend the night in the hotel where the exam was administered. Supreme Court Chief Justice told family and friends Justice Hatchett never let race get in his way.

“He did not let the barriers of injustice stop him” said Canady.

In 1975, Justice Hatchett became the states first African American to serve on the Florida Supreme Court. In a 2014 interview, he had this to say about Ruben Askew, the Governor who appointed him.

“He had the courage to take on new issues and push the state forward” 

On the court, Justice Hatchett stood up for Journalists and the first amendment, blocking the jailing of a reporter writing about public corruption.

“Because of this decision, Justice Hatchett, to this day, is remembered as a defender of the first amendment, said Canady.”

While on the bench here, Justice Hatchett supported opening Flordia’s courtrooms to television cameras”

He then went on to serve twenty years on the federal bench where appealate court Judge Gerald Tjoflat got to know him well. “And what stuck me was his quiet confidence. His poise” said Tjoflat.

Antoinette Walker is his Niece. “Gatherings was always fun gatherings. We had talent shows. We just had a happy family.”

And Mark Walker, the chief judge for the Northern District of Florida used a Biblical reference to Soloman, who could have asked God for anything, but asked to be a wise judge. “In addition to being brilliant, Judge Hatchett had a wise and understanding heart” said Walker, no relation to the family.

Funeral services are Saturday. Justice Hatchett will be buried Monday in Dunedin.

Judge Hatchett was also a strong supporter of of Legal Services, saying it “costs money to go to court which inhibits the ability of the poor to help themselves”.

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Florida Capitol Open Again

May 7th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Today is the first day the State Capitol has been open since the beginning of the pandemic. Doors opened to visitors this morning after a nearly 14 month closure. We caught up with a Majken (Miken) Peterzen on the buildings observation deck. She told us it was a good day to play hooky with her three year old grandson Mitchell.

“We’re doing big things. We went to a construction site. Now we’re doing an elevator. Then we are going to go watch a plane land, and then we’re going to go ride a h-o-r-s-e.”

During the closure, legislative testimony was limited to a small number of people or was conducted remotely via video streams. Lawmakers, staff and reporters under went weekly covid tests to get into the building.

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Election Law Signing Backlash Preview of 2022

May 6th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

An hour after the Governor signed new election law changes, the League of Women Voters and a host of other groups filed suit. It names all 67 Elections Supervisors, the Secretary of State and the Attorney General. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, reaction was swift.

Reporters were barred from the private event where the bill was signed. And Florida’s lone Statewide elected Democrat, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, was quick to criticize.

“He took the state plane, the plane you and I pay for, to fly down to a location two miles from his master at Mar-A-Lago” Fried said with indignation.

Fried has made no secret of her plans to challenge the Governor in 2022, or what she says are his motivations for signing the bill on national TV.

“I have absolutely no doubt that this piece of legislation was for the sole purposes of him trying to insure a reelect in 2022 to only run for President in 2024.”

Fried has filed a friend of the court brief in a 69 page Federal law suit filed by the League of women Voters. The suit seeks to invalidate restrictive changes to the use of drop boxes and argues the bill restricts every step of the voting process in Florida.

And we are told to expect the courts to take a hard look at restrictions on their party voter registration organizations.

Groups must tell potential voters their application may not be turned in on time. That they have other options to return the application by mail or in person, or fill it out on line.

Leon Supervisor Mark Earley, who is also  the Vice President of the State Elections Supervisors says ”If you have questions, call your local elections office.” 

Early and the states other 66 Supervisors of Elections opposed most of the legislation.

“I don’t think there need to be many changes. But, the law is what it is and we’ll see how the court cases play out” Earley told us.

Either side is expected to appeal if they lose.

The Govenor won in 2018 by just over thirty two thousand votes, making it the closed race for governor in at least forty years..  A second lawsuit has also been filed by the NAACP. It too alleges the purposed of the legislation is to suppress voter turnout.

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National Day of Prayer

May 6th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

A hundred people, likely the largest crowd the state Capitol has seen since the beginning of the pandemic, turned out today for the national Day of Prayer, which is held simultaneously in most state capitals. Today, Florida Corrections Secretary Mark Inch used the occasion to pray for two officers hurt this week in the line off duty.

“That you will bring healing to those that have been hurt, to include our correctional officer that was stabbed eight times two days ago.  Or our correctional officer who received lacerations stopping one inmate from killing another yesterday. For what happens every day, protect our men and women, whether they are inside the prisons or our probation officers throughout our communities” prayed the retired General.

Inch also prayed for more resources to help inmates return to society.

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Florida Supreme Court to Decide if Police Officers Can Also be Victims.

May 5th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

A 2018 Constitutional amendment approved by 62 percent of Florida voters continues to be controversial. The so called “Marcy’s Law” is designed to give crime victims rights and protect their identity, but the language is now being used to protect the names of on duty police officers involved in shootings. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the case is finally going to the state Supreme Court. 

 

This body cam video from last May shows the moments before police shoot a transgender woman who had just stabbed a neighbor.

“An enhanced version of the video showing Tony assuming the shooting position was provided by the Tallahassee Police department.

Afterwards, the Police Benevolent Association sued to keep the officers name, and that of another, secret under Marcy’s Law which is designed to protect crime victims.

“I found it disturbing what my clients experienced” said Luke Newman, the PBA Attorney.

“They certainly signed up to patrol our streets and keep us safe. They didn’t sign up to be charged at with a hunting knife or have a gun pointed at them” added the attorney.

A lower court ruled against the PBA, but an appellate court ruled the names could be  private.

Now the case is going to the state Supreme Court. And those who oppose the secrecy say police officers aren’t average citizens when they are on duty.”

“This is precisely what they signed up for” says former US Attorney and Florida First Amendment President Pamela Marsh.

“Law enforcement receives significant training on being attacked.  And going into violent interactions” says Marsh.

Pinellas County Sheriff Bob Gualtieri says the secrecy ruling was correct, but bad for the long term.

“I don’t think it’s good public policy that a law enforcement officer gets to use deadly force, and remain anonymous. I don’t think its the American way” says Gualteri.

The Supreme Court hasn’t set a date for a hearing, which means a decision could be a year away or longer.

In a statement, Tallahassee City Attorney Cassandra Jenkins, who filed the notice of appeal, said “With respect for the (appellate) court’s opinion and appreciation of the difficult work performed by police officers every day, the decision has far-reaching implications related to public transparency and is deserving of final review by Florida’s highest court.”

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2022 Governor’s Race Under Way

May 4th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Former Governor Charlie is making his sixth run for statewide office and an hour before he officially announced, Ron DeSantis, the current Governor, was already lobbing criticisms and telling Crist and other Democrats to bring it on.

Charlie Crist is just three for six in winning statewide races.

Four of them as a Republican, one as an independent and once again for Governor in 2014 as a Democrat.

That prompted this response from the Governor.

“But now I see he’s voting with Nancy Pelosi one hundred percent of the time. He could probably give it a run for the Green Party and San Francisco liberal Green Party, so who knows what’s gonna happen with that,” said DeSantis.

Minutes later, Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried was asked about making the race herself.

“We have seen from this Governor in the last two and a half years that he must be a one term Governor. And as the only statewide elected Democrat, it makes absolute sense for me to be running for Governor. But today is not the day for me to make that announcement,” said Fried.

And then she had this two say about Crist. “His seat is one that probably only Charlie Crist can hold on to. So really, I would liked to have encouraged him to remain in Congress,” said Fried.

Fried also laid out criticism of Governor Ron DeSantis.

Crist did the same in his announcement video.

“He doesn’t believe in a woman right to choose. He doesn’t listen. He doesn’t care,” said Crist in the ad.

And to that, the Governor basically said: Bring it on.

“I implore them, from my political interests, run on closing schools. Run on locking people down. Run on closing businesses and ruining. I would love to have that debate,” said DeSantis.

Just over five million people voted when Crist won the Governor’s race in 2006.

Last year, more than 11 million ballots were counted.

Orlando Democratic Congresswoman Val Demings, who was briefly considered for the Vice Presidency under Joe Biden is also considered a strong contender to get into the Governor’s race.

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Trial of Man Accused of Making Threats on Inauguration Day Begins

May 4th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The trial of a man accused of threatening violence at the state Capitol on Inauguration Day began in federal court Tuesday.

The government says the former army sniper attempted to call people to arms to attack protesters.

Daniel Baker faces two counts of making true threats of violence.

One for a flier posted on his social media accounts calling Floridians to arms and encouraging them to defend the State Capitol against ‘racist armed terrorists’ he feared would storm the building on Inauguration Day.

The other, for a Facebook group he’s accused of making, calling for similar action.

A group of Baker’s friends were present in court for jury selection.

They didn’t talk Tuesday, but in January they told us Baker is misunderstood.

“The FBI themselves were warning about this and I think he took the FBI warning seriously and I think he was just trying to protect his neighbors,” said Eric Champagne, Baker’s roommate and friend.

A number of potential jurors admitted they would have a hard time separating their feelings about the January 6th insurrection and the facts of the case.

Others were excused for already having knowledge about the case or having already formed an opinion.

In opening arguments the defense didn’t contest the evidence against Baker, saying this trial wouldn’t be a case of ‘who done it’.

Instead, the public defender said their case would rely on whether Baker actually intended to carry out the threats made, or even whether he was capable of doing so.

The prosecution in its opening arguments pointed to Bakers past military service and his time spent fighting in Syria with an anti-ISIS militia group as evidence Baker was capable and likely to have carried through with the online threats.

The prosecution said it will take two or three days to lay out there case against Baker, then the defense gets its turn.

Baker is expected to take the stand.

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Ag Commissioner Hits DEP Over Piney Point Disaster

May 4th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried on Tuesday asked tough questions of the man who runs the State Department of Environmental Protection.

She wanted to know why decisions were made a decade ago not to close the former phosphate mine that leaked more than a quarter million gallons of nutrient rich contaminated water into Tampa Bay.

“Piney Point has been a ticking time bomb. And we know that there were letters and communications sent to DEP with the gravity of the upcoming situation. We are not going to allow Noah or this administration to push it under the rug and say everything is going to be okay. We’re throwing hundreds of millions of dollars, taxpayers dollars, to an environmental disaster with no, hey what happened? How did we get here?” said Fried.

Fried also asked what the state is doing to protect 27 other phosphate stacks located throughout the state.

She was offered a private briefing on the matter, but did not get a public response.

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Property Insurance Savings Delayed

May 3rd, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Homeowners are experiencing sticker shock as home insurance rates are rising rapidly in Florida.

New reforms designed to lower rates take effect July 1st, unless vetoed by the Governor, but it could be more than a year before rates stabilize.

Florida’s 6.2 million property insurance customers are seeing double digit hikes for homeowners insurance, and reform legislation doesn’t deal with one of the biggest cost drivers.

“Roofs are covered under the amendment, just like they have been in the past in your homeowners policy,” said Senate sponsor Jim Boyd.

Co-sponsor Senator Jeff Brandes explained lawmakers couldn’t agree on a sliding scale to replace a roof based on its age.

“What they see as roofs are getting older, they are having to replace these roofs that are 20 years old that were frankly at the end of their useful life anyway,” said Brandes.

The legislation also makes significant changes to the way attorneys are paid.

“If everybody’s reasonable, then everybody pays for their own attorneys fees. Before it was if you got one dollar more, then the insurance company had to pay all the legal fees,” said Brandes.

Even supporters have said it’s going to take 18 to 24 months for the legislation to make a dent in rates.

Democrats tried freezing current rates while the changes take place.

“And lets make sure it saves consumers money and doesn’t create more profit for an industry,” said State Senator Janet Cruz.

It failed.

House Democrats told us they believe the rejection makes the legislation one sided.

“It’s a bill that’s really meant to put as much money into an insurance companies pockets as is humanly possible,” said Representative Evan Jenne.

Under the legislation, homeowners have to accept a quote from a private insurer, even if it is up to 20 percent more than the state’s insurer of last resort.

The legislation also prohibits third party adjustors from offering incentives to inspect your roof, and provides penalties for those who skirt the law.

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Battle Lines Drawn Ahead of Gaming Session

May 3rd, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Lawmakers may have left for home after wrapping up the 2021 legislative session, but they are already planning to be back in the Capitol in two weeks.

They’ll spend up to a week debating a new gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe.

Already, campaigns for and against the gaming deal are underway.

On the final day of session, the Governor teased the deal while touting the record $101.5 billion state budget.

“Our budget looks great, but why not get more in the kitty, right?” said Governor Ron DeSantis.

The Governor has said the deal will bring in $6 billion to the state by 2030.

A new ad by the tribe also pitches the deal as a win for the economy.

One of the biggest items in the compact is the legalization of sports betting.

“The parimutuels can contract with out-of-state clients to run the back end, but everything goes back to the tribe. The tribe can also contract with out of state to get that done,” sad State Senator Travis Hutson, who has spent years working on gambling legislation.

The deal also allows the tribe to offer craps and roulette.

Any product lawmakers agree on is sure to be challenged by anti-gabling groups, who are already arguing the new compact constitutes an expansion of gaming and has to be approved by voters.

“If Amendment 3 wasn’t designed to stop something like this, the biggest expansion of gambling in Florida history, then what did voters mean by it exactly?” said John Sowinski, who authored the Voter Approval of Casino Gambling constitutional amendment.

Lawmakers believe because any new gaming will run through the sovereign Seminole Nation, the 2018 constitutional amendment doesn’t apply.

“I hear there’s an Oklahoma case that’s very similar that has gone through the federal process. So I think we’re on solid ground,” said Hutson.

Lawmakers have slated five days to work on the gaming issue and it’s possible they’ll finish even sooner.

However, any legal challenges to the Gaming Compact aren’t likely to be resolved with such haste.

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Legislators Go Home, For Now

April 30th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida’s legislative 2021 session is now in the history books.

Lawmakers started the week with just 77 bills headed for the Governor’s desk out of more than 3,000 filed.

The number topped 260 when they adjourned at mid afternoon Friday, and the session was controversial right up to the final hankie drop.

Florida lawmakers start their sessions with a prayer and legislation on its way to the Governor will require two minutes of silence at the beginning of the school day.

Republicans in control give the session high marks.

“I think we did some tough votes, but I think we did it in a way that showed respect for all 120 members in the chamber, so I give it an A,” said Representative Sam Garrison.

Democrats, who tried to raise unemployment benefits were not so kind.

“We can’t even get an agreement to raise the unemployment benefits in our state, but yet we can talk about children playing in sports. We are trying to restrict people’s right to vote,” said Representative Michele Rayner.

The session was controversial right up to its final moments.

Democrats are still mad about a ban on transgender women playing girls sports.

“It would expel and humiliate the current transgender athletes that are playing on school teams right now,” said Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith.

And although watered down, the election bill still limits drop boxes.

Mail ballot requests also remain a sticking point.

“This is what it looks like when 22 million people have a conversation,” said Senator Dennis Baxley.

And there was a bit of an upset right before adjournment when an amendment aimed at the NCAA was put into a bill.

It says organizations that boycott Florida can not have their dues paid with taxpayer money.

In the case of FSU, it is an $1,800 a year cost that will have come from private funds in the NCAA pulls championships out of the state.

After the hankie drop, key legislators and the Governor took a victory lap.

“What the Senate and House did this year was take long term structural views of what we were doing,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson.

“If a local government gets hold of defund police, and someone wants to do that. We are protecting people from that, even if your local government goes off the deep end,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.

Lawmakers will be back in mid May for a week long special session to consider ratify a gaming compact with the Seminole tribe.

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