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Jeff Vasilinda becomes the Vasilinda Family’s first published author!

House Gives Tentative Approval to Bills Combating Foreign Influence

April 13th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The Florida House is hearing two bills today attempting to combat foreign influence and intellectual theft in the state.

The two proposals arose from the Governor’s demand for the state to get tough on China.

Florida’s House Speaker is concerned with foreign influence and intellectual property theft in Florida, especially in the state’s universities.

“We found that there were researchers at the University of Florida, one of which was working on artificial intelligence, who had a secret relationship with China,” said Speaker Chris Sprowls.

That example along with others from the Moffitt Cancer Center and UCF are the driving factor behind Representative Cord Byrd’s legislation that requires more transparency from universities about foreign partnerships and donations.

“We need to do this at the state level to make sure that they aren’t getting in by the back door,” said Byrd.

There’s also an effort to protect business trade secrets from foreign actors.

Representative Mike Beltran worries not enough is being done at the federal level.

“It’s going to hurt our economy, especially if it’s done by foreign governments,” said Beltran.

He’s sponsoring legislation that would beef up penalties for corporate espionage and modernize state statutes to include virtual data theft.

“Almost all the intellectual property theft is done without actually appropriating a tangible object and we close that loophole that a lot of wrongdoers have used in order to escape liability,” said Beltran.

Both bills have moved quickly through the legislative process, receiving bipartisan support.

In the Senate the corporate espionage legislation is ready for a floor vote.

The legislation dealing with universities and local governments has one final committee stop in the Senate.

And it’s no secret, the main target of both bills is China.

“They are trying to gain not only an economic, but military advantage over us,” said Byrd. “And you know this is just the first step and if this doesn’t solve the problem then we will go further.”

That could potentially mean severing all ties between Florida’s universities and adversarial foreign governments.

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Veterinary Competition Hurting Consumers

April 13th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

A catch 22 in Florida law lets doctors begin a new remote relationship with a patient via telehealth, but veterinarians can’t do the same.

Under state law, a vet must have seen the animal patient in-person within the last year before meds can be prescribed remotely.

It’s a sign of competition at work in changing times.

We tuned into a virtual vet appointment with veterinarian Dr. Shadi Ireifej speaking to a client and her dog Echo, a nine year old terrier mix.

The session took less than 15 minutes.

Because Echo was a new patient Dr. Ireifej hasn’t seen personally seen before, he was prohibited by Florida law from prescribing any medication.

“When a pet needs a refill of medication that they really shouldn’t be without, heart medication, for example. Very common scenario. We forget to refill it. And now he needs a refill and we can’t by law do that,” said Dr. Ireifej.

But if Echo’s mom wanted to be seen by her doctor remotely, that doctor could prescribe every medication deemed necessary.

Legislation allowing vets to prescribe everything but controlled substances remotely has cleared three committees in the state Capitol, but the legislation has stalled.

“It’s about protecting market share for certain individuals,” said Skylar Zander with Americans for Prosperity.

Zander argues the restriction is all about money.

“In some rural communities, the might be an hour or two hours away, and so you are able to get instance service as a consumer and also protect your animal,” said Zander.

In a statement, The Florida Veterinary Association said the legislation: “Would lead to an increase in the misdiagnosis and mistreatment of Florida pets and livestock as well as potential delays in receiving the proper care they need.”

Dr. Ireifej said he is repeatedly called by people seeking prescription refills for their animals and says he has to refuse, even though his education has spanned more than a dozen years.

He also added he has treated 22 species of animals remotely, and not one of them has bitten him or gotten upset by the travel.

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Corporations Caught in Middle of Election Debate

April 12th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida Corporations are being asked to get involved in the debate over making changes to Florida’s elections laws, but the Governor and others are telling them to stay in their own lane.

Ballot drop boxes would be banned under the draft legislation.

Long standing requests for mail ballots would be shortened to the current election cycle, and only the voter or immediate family can lawfully possess a vote by Mail ballot.

”We have the votes,” said Senate sponsor Dennis Baxley.

The legislation was supposed to come up last week, but was postponed because of so much interest.

“We want to get it right, and we’re trying to be responsive to those critics that have submitted things,” said Baxley.

Now a state representative is calling on Florida corporations to make their voices heard.

“I think we can learn a lot from what is happening in Georgia, and look at the way the corporations are taking on the issue there and ask for corporations in Florida to exhibit the same sort of responsibility,” said Representative Fentrice Driskell.

The House sponsor has now softened the ban on handing out food and water to a voter within 150 of the polling place.

It now says you can’t hand out anything if it’s an attempt to influence the voter.

The Black Lives Matter Fund has joined those calling for corporations to fight the legislation.

The fund paid for a full page ad over the weekend calling the legislation ‘Jim Crow 2.0′.

“Intimidating policy makers with extortionary attempts and those kinds of messages I don’t think is productive,” said Baxley.

And on Monday, the Governor said corporations can talk taxes and regulations all they want.

“But when they get involved in elections legislation or things that do not concern their business or their operations, to me, that is interfering in the political process,” said DeSantis.

The legislation is back on the calendar for Wednesday morning.

Six amendments from Democrats are already pending.

If the legislation is approved Wednesday morning, its next stop will be the floor of the Senate, where it could be heard this week or next.

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DeSantis Fires Back After YouTube Censors COVID Roundtable

April 9th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Governor Ron DeSantis is pushing back after YouTube censored a COVID roundtable discussion he held last month.

The incident is adding more fuel to the calls to address big tech censorship.

In a March roundtable the Governor discussed downsides to lockdowns, contact tracing and even children wearing face masks.

“Children should not wear face masks, no,” said Dr. Martin Kuldorff, a Professor of Medicine at Harvard University at the March roundtable.

YouTube cites that comment, another about face masks for children and a third comment questioning face masks’ overall effectiveness at reducing case rates for removing the roundtable from its platform.

“What we’re really witnessing is Orwellian,” said DeSantis.

The Governor is doubling down, reassembling the scientists for their reaction.

“You are entering into a phase of countries we used to criticize severely like the USSR, like Communist China,” said Dr. Scott Atlas, Robert Wesson Senior Fellow of the Hoover Institute at Stanford University.

“We removed this video because it included content that contradicts the consensus of local and global health authorities regarding the efficacy of masks to prevent the spread of COVID-19,” said a YouTube Spokesperson in an emailed statement.

While the CDC recommends masking for anyone aged two and up, the World Health Organization recommends masks for only those aged 12 and older.

There are exceptions for children aged six to 11 based on local case rates.

“They didn’t cite any data. They just cited that some of you had dissented from some other views. Well you know science in particular needs to have dissenting views aired,” said DeSantis.

We pointed out the WHO recommendation on face masks for children to YouTube, but we didn’t hear back.

The Governor said the incident will likely result in an expansion of the scope of the social media censorship bill currently moving through the legislature.

“Cause quite frankly this is even more egregious than what I thought had been happening,” said DeSantis.

But progressive groups told us they’re more concerned with the recommendations made by the Governor’s experts than big tech censorship.

“Masks are harmful. That’s a quote from the last roundtable. Masks across the board are harmful,” said Damien Filer with Progress Florida.

The social media censorship legislation currently imposes daily fines on platforms that censor political candidates and requires platforms make their policies clear and apply them evenly.

What changes might be coming are not yet clear.

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‘Anti-Riot’ Bill Heard By One and Only Senate Committee

April 9th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

State Senators slated nine and a half hours Friday to consider and debate the controversial anti-rioting legislation in its one and only committee stop before reaching the Senate floor.

More than 50 members of the public came to testify against the legislation.

They fear it will be used as a tool to silence voices that disagree with the Republican- controlled legislature.

“When you are challenging the tools of white supremacy in the state and in the country, they don’t consider you peaceful,” said Jami Davis with Black Voters Matter.

Sponsor Senator Danny Burgess argued the bill’s increased penalties for crimes committed during a riot are necessary to prevent the unrest witnessed in 2020 and on January 6th.

“Because I was rendered speechless watching US soldiers inside our nation’s Capitol protect us from ourselves,” said Burgess.

Democratic Senator Jason Pizzo questioned the true target of the bill.

“Do you think President Trump would be guilty of mob intimidation on January 6th?” asked Pizzo.

“I’m not going to speculate on that,” replied Burgess.

Democrats tired to amend a study onto the bill to analyze whether the legislation in practice has a disparate impact on minorities.

It failed, but it came with a commitment from the sponsor.

“I will do all I can with you to get an OPAGA study here,” said Burgess.

The legislation takes effect upon the Governor’s signature, which unusual for a criminal justice bill.

“There’s a trial going on somewhere right now, the verdict and the result of which, might make some people really unhappy,” said Pizzo.

Lawmakers anticipate it may be the first test run of the legislation.

“The Floyd trial is just kind of serving as a flashpoint for the concerns,” said State Senator Gary Farmer.

If the full Senate approves the bill without amendments it will head straight to the Governor’s desk.

If lawmakers aren’t able to wrap up Friday, another nine hour hearing is on the agenda Saturday.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

Florida to Begin Internet Sales Tax Collection

April 8th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

After what one state lawmaker called a ‘historic’ vote, legislation to require out of state retailers to collect the sales tax on internet sales is on its way to the Governor.

Ron DeSantis is expected to sign the legislation, but only because the new revenue will be used to offset another tax.

Few people in Florida know they required to pay the sales tax not collected on online purchases, but starting in July, out of state merchants will begin collecting the tax for you.

“Is this a perfect bill? No,” said House sponsor Representative Chuck Clemmons.

What’s not perfect in the eyes of Democrats is that the billion dollars each year will be used to replenish the state’s unemployment trust fund.

“We could use this money to offset drivers license fees,” said Representative Anna Eskamani.

“This is really a tax. A regressive tax on workers,” said Representative Angie Nixon.

But supporters argue the money will avoid a tax increase on 2.5 million small businesses

“We look in there and there’s a twelve hundred dollar increase for my unemployment tax. Now my in my world, twelve hundred dollars is a few workers. Blue collar workers,” said Representative Nick DeCeglie.

If you haven’t voluntarily paid the tax in the past, the legislation forgives you for breaking the law and protects you from being audited in the future.

“We prevent Floridians from mistakenly breaking the law by not paying tax on something they were supposed to pay tax on for years,” said Representative Bob Rommel.

College student Hanna Raymon has mixed feelings.

“Now, I guess I don’t have to pay back, but now I have to pay in the future, so I don’t know how I feel,” said Raymond.

It will take about four years to replenish the unemployment trust fund.

After that the money will lower the tax businesses pay on commercial rentals.

The legislation only applies to retailers with a $100,000 or more in sales.

Local governments are expected to see an extra $239 million starting in July and $250 million a year starting in 2022.

Posted in State News | No Comments »

House and Senate Approve Initial Budgets

April 8th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The Florida House and Senate have now passed their budgets and are ready to begin negotiations on a final product, but everything they’ve approved is subject to change.

The Senate and House are two billion dollars apart on their state spending plans.

The House’s spending plan clocks in at $97 billion, with the Senate at $95 billion.

Both are short of the Governor’s proposed budget, which with stimulus money is just shy of $100 billion.

Neither party is happy with some of the decisions so far.

“This is a starting point. We still have a very long road to go,” said House Budget Chair Rep. Jay Trumbull.

Cuts to hospitals drove the most ire.

“Cuts to hospitals, safety-net hospitals, during a once in a lifetime pandemic makes no sense,” said Rep Carlos Guillermo Smith.

As did a 50 percent cut to the affordable housing trust fund in the House plan.

“We have an affordable housing crisis throughout the entire state,” said Rep. Dotie Joseph.

However, there is money on the table to sure up holes.

The Senate’s budget not only leaves out $2 billion in extra state revenue identified Tuesday, the chamber still hasn’t factored in the expected $10 billion in federal stimulus.

Democrats want the money to go directly to Floridians.

“Things like a small business relief system or money to the pockets of our essential workers,” said Rep. Anna Eskamani.

The House on the other hand has allocated the federal dollars, but it’s mostly spent on one time expenses and beefing the state’s reserves.

“This is a balanced budget that reflects our beliefs that our state should not spend more than it takes in. We have an obligation to prepare for Florida’s future,” said Trumbull.

With the Senate discussing a similar approach, House Speaker Chris Sprowls is optimistic going into negotiations.

“You know I kind of like how we’re lined up with the Senate. I think that the differences are really not that stark,” said Sprowls.

The two chambers have three weeks to come to a final agreement, if they hope to end session on time.

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Senate Approves Homeowners Insurance Reform

April 7th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Property insurance rates are on the rise with insurers reporting $1.6 billion in losses last year.

Florida lawmakers are hoping legislation passed through the Senate Wednesday will help lessen the blow, but even with the proposed changes, rates will likely keep increasing in the short term.

Last year the state approved more than 100 rate increase requests from property insurers.

More than half were double digit jumps.

“Floridians should expect their homeowners insurance rates to double within the next three years,” said State Senator Jeff Brandes.

Brandes argues fraud and excessive litigation are to blame.

“We’re eight percent of the total US market and 75 percent of the total US lawsuits,” said Brandes.

He’s co-sponsoring legislation that aims to lower rates by limiting attorneys fees for claim litigation, reducing required coverage for roof replacements and limiting the time claims can be filed from three to two years.

“This system isn’t designed to be a home maintenance contract. This is here to take care of catastrophic loss that a homeowner may not be able to cover themselves,” said Brandes.

But State Senator Gary Farmer believes insurers are playing with their numbers.

““They hide their profits. They pay them to sister and related companies,” said Farmer.

The House version of the bill requires insurance companies to allow the state to see what they pay affiliates to ensure profits aren’t being hidden.

Farmer likes the idea, arguing past insurance reforms haven’t translated to customer savings.

“The insurers are just cooking the books and coming here and crying poverty to us and everything is being done on the backs of homeowners,” said Farmer.

But Brandes said there’s no question Florida insurance companies are bleeding cash.

“We lost an insurance company in Florida on Friday to an insolvency,” said Brandes.

The changes proposed in the Senate won’t make an immediate impact.

Brandes said homeowners can expect a 30 to 50 percent rate increase next year, even if the legislation passes.

The Senate approved the bill 27 to 13.

The House version still has one more committee stop before reaching the House floor.

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Governor Pushes Back on 60 Minutes Story

April 7th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Ron DeSantis is pushing back against suggestions made in a 60 Minutes, which faulted the state’s vaccine roll out and asked if Publix got a sweetheart deal because of campaign contributions.

The language used by the Governor Wednesday could be a forerunner to legal action.

The 60 Minutes piece began by saying that they watched, “Florida’s vaccine rollout deteriorate into a virtual free for all”.

It then went on to ask about a $100,000 given by Publix, to the ‘Friends of Ron DeSantis’ political action committee.

”How is that not pay to play,” asked 60 Minutes reporter Sharyn Alfonsi.

“That’s a fake narrative,” DeSantis responded in the segment.

But left out of the piece was the Governor giving 60 Minutes a lengthy history lesson of how Publix began distributing vaccines.

“So, when they say there was an exclusive deal for Publix in Palm Beach, 60 Minutes is lying to you. They knew they were lying, and they kept on lying,” said DeSantis Wednesday.

The State’s Emergency Management Director Jared Moskowitz, a democrat, said he spoke to 60 Minutes twice before the story aired, explaining why it was untrue, but it fell on deaf ears.

“My first choice was Walmart,” said Moskowitz.

Moskowitz again repeated the decision was his during the Wednesday press conference.

“The reason why I know that to be false is because the decision to use Publix was made in my office,” said Moskowitz.

The Governor also made it clear that Publix got no special treatment.

“No exclusivity. That was obvious. I said it in my press conference. They edited it out and they refused to put it on the air, but they kept the lie on the air. That’s intentional. That is malicious,” said DeSantis.

The Governor stood by his decision to prioritize seniors.

“We saved lives. We absolutely saved lives,” said DeSantis.

Two questions remain unanswered: as a public official is there a path for legal action?

The other: Will the Governor call for the firing of those involved in the 60 Minutes story.

It is generally difficult for public officials to sue a media outlet unless they can prove that a story was wrong, the outlet knew it was wrong and intentionally distributed the story anyway.

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Bobby Bowden Awarded Governor’s Medal of Freedom

April 7th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Surrounded by his former coaches and players, legendary FSU football coach Bobby Bowden became the first recipient of the Governor’s Medal of Freedom Wednesday.

Bowden first came to Florida State in 1976 and went on to be the winningest coach in college history.

“I appreciate thank you and I appreciate you giving me this honor. I will cherish it for the rest of my life, which I don’t know how long it’s going to be. Once you get 90, boy, you don’t think about the future too much. You worry about that same day,” said Bowden.

Bowden continues to live in Tallahassee, which was not the plan when he retired, but he said he and wife Anne came to love the city.

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Lawmakers Tee Up Initial Budgets for Passage

April 7th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The Senate and House took questions and amendments Wednesday on their respective state budgets.

The House is proposing $97 billion and the Senate 95, but going forward those proposals are likely to inflate.

The Senate is currently not factoring in $10 billion in federal stimulus and neither chambers’ budgets reflect a $2 billion increase in projected state revenues announced Tuesday.

Senate Budget Chair Kelli Stargel also pointed out increases in expected medicaid costs and student enrollment projects further complicate the financial situation.
“Clearly we continue to see significant fluctuations in revenue and workload estimates and we do not yet have a full view of the long term adjustments to our economy,” said Stargel.

The two chambers have until midnight on April 27th to agree on and publish a final budget, if they hope to end session on time April 30th.

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Piney Point Disaster Cleanup to Begin

April 6th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

On Wednesday, Florida lawmakers will vote to spend $3 million to begin diverting nearly a half billion gallons of wastewater into deep wells before it can leak into Tampa Bay.

Manatee County will be expected to match the money, but environmentalists question the safety of the plan to dispose of the water.

With 300 homes evacuated and nearly a half billion gallons of nutrient rich waste water threatening to leak into Tampa Bay, Florida lawmakers will vote on Wednesday to spend an emergency $3 million to begin cleaning up the mess.

“The initial ask was six million from us and six million from the county. So this is a start on that six million,” said State Senator Jim Boyd, who represents Manatee County. “At this point I believe, the commission and DEP supports it, is a deep water injection. So this will be part of the funding for that.”

But Dave Cullen of the Sierra Club argues with the wells, comes risk.

“If it moves and migrates to the drinking water aquifer, how are you going to clean it up?” said Cullen.

He also said the disaster should come as no surprise to policy makers.

“We’ve looked for regulation of phosphate mining and it has fallen largely on deaf ears,” said Cullen.

Senate President Wilton Simpson wants to use roughly $200 million from federal stimulus funds to clean up Piney Point once and for all.

“And it could be $180 million, or it could be $250 million. I think starting somewhere in that ballpark will get us to a closure point. So I would hope,” said Simpson.

Over the next five years or so that we could close this operation out, maybe less.

Late Wednesday afternoon, the House Pandemics and Public Emergencies Committee will begin an investigation into what happened, why it happened and what to do next.

The Sierra Club is calling the emergency a statewide problem in the making.

There are 25 other similar sites across the state.

The majority are located in Hillsborough and three surrounding counties, although several are located in North Florida near Lake City.

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Alimony Reform Headed to House Floor

April 6th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Permanent alimony would end under legislation headed to the House floor, but it’s a provision in the bill dealing with time-sharing of children seems to be causing the most controversy.

Under the legislation, alimony payments could only last for half the length of a marriage, unless the recipient is medically needy or caring for a disabled child.

Both men and women making endless payments to their exes testified in support.

“I can barely pay this monthly alimony and I don’t see any end in sight,” said permanent alimony payer Sonia Delgado.

Tim Kruger said he can’t marry his girlfriend, because her income would be factored into his alimony and increase his payments.

“My pastor says I’m going to Hell and my attorney says don’t marry her,” said Kruger, who is also paying permanent alimony.

Opponents, mostly attorneys with the Florida Bar Family Law Section, argued the change will hurt the most vulnerable.

“That’s low income families that can’t afford attorneys,” said family law attorney Beth Luna.

But it’s another provision in the bill causing the most controversy.

During a divorce proceeding courts would start with a presumption both parents should be entitled to an equal time-share of their children.

“That’s sort of a one size fits all approach,” said Representative Ben Diamond, a Democrat.

Even some Republican lawmakers expressed hesitations.

“My parents didn’t get along and so the 50/50 child sharing would not have worked for them,” said Republican Representative Elizabeth Fetterhoff.

Similar legislation has been passed twice, but was vetoed both times by then-Governor Rick Scott.

Even though the legislation wouldn’t help those currently stuck in alimony-limbo, Delgado believes the status quo isn’t working.

“And that makes marriage in Florida seem like a liability more than a happiness,” said Delgado.

The bill now moves to the House floor and has one more committee stop in the Senate.

If passed, the changes would apply to all divorces in which a final order has not been issued prior to July 1st 2021.

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Florida Republicans Advance Commitment to Protect 2nd Amendment

April 6th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Republican lawmakers are anticipating a fight over the second amendment with the federal government and are pushing a memorial that would make the Legislature’s commitment to fight any effort to restrict gun rights clear.

Sponsor Representative Jason Shoaff said he hopes the memorial, if passed, will make Congress and Biden Administration think twice before taking any executive action or passing any law that violates the right to bear arms.

“This is not a bill. It is not enacting any law, but it is sending a very clear message to our representatives in Washington DC where that state of Florida stands,” said Shoaff.

The memorial was passed by its final House committee today and now moves to the floor.

Companion legislation in the Senate has one more committee stop.

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27 Arrested in Panhandle Drug Bust

April 6th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

A multi-agency task for began investigating a North Florida drug ring last June.

12,000 working hours later, the Department of Law enforcement along with local offices, announced the arrest of 27 people, most from rural Gadsden County Tuesday.

FDLE Commissioner Rick Sweringen said violence followed the group’s activities.

“Between them they have 73 prior drug arrests. Some of them have been previously indicted in Federal drug cases. They have 67 violent crime arrests and between them, they have 175 previous felonies,” said Swearingen.

“This was a unique one. We talked about it. From heroin, to cocaine, crack, meth, to fentanyl. Enough fentanyl to kill almost 30,000 people,” said Florida Attorney General Ashley Moody.

FDLE says at least one murder is linked to the group, but police believe there are at least two others related to the ring’s activity.

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