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New Car Seat Law on January 1st

December 31st, 2014 by flanews

Many parents have already bought or should be buying booster seats for their children as a new law gets set to go into effect on the 1st of January. But as Matt Galka tells us, that booster seat law could be getting tougher in 2015.

Jeff Dempsey owns a chain of children stores called Our New Baby. He says he’s ready for any last minute parents needing to buy a booster seat for their 4 and 5 year olds.

“The way adult seats are designed for adults not children,” said Dempsey.

Florida was one of only two states allowing 4 year olds and up to use a regular seat belt until a bill passed in 2014.  Dempsey is a father himself, and would like to see the age requirement rise.

“The longer they stay in the seats specifically made for them, the better, I think that’s a great idea,” he said.

Representative Keith Perry sponsored the bill that passed in 2014 and says safety was the name of the game.

“Well certainly we know it’s going to save lives, I think it’s something that’s been needed for a long time, and we’re one of the last states to enact that policy,” he said.

And as parents of 4 and 5 year olds who may not have had a seat in the past gear up to fortify their cars, a new crop of parents could be in the same boat next year, as Perry says he’ll look to possibly strengthen the law.

“Now we’re going to even look at moving that up, the age group, there’s a lot of data from the pediatric association that even moving that up to age 7 can be beneficial to saving lives,” he said.

A handful of states have requirements for kids in a booster seat up until age 8.

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Minimum Wage Getting a Bump

December 30th, 2014 by flanews

Minimum wage workers will be getting a boost in 2015. As Matt Galka tells us, that could add up to more spending for everyone.

Rob Bazemore is a successful deli owner. Business is typically good in the shadow of the state capitol.  He doesn’t expect that to change even though he’ll have to start paying his employees more.

“12 cents doesn’t sound like much but it has to come from somewhere,” said Bazemore.

Florida’s minimum wage will go from $7.93 to $8.05 on New Year’s Day.  It’s expected to benefit more than 360 thousand low-wage workers.  Bazemore says he’s all for it, but sometimes that’s the reasons places have to raise prices.

“Without raising prices or something I already buy going down, then that 12 cents comes directly out of my bottom line,” he said.

While nobody’s going to reject a raise, experts say the 12 cent increase might not add up to all that much for the economy.

Florida TaxWatch says the jury is out on how much of an impact it can have on the state.

“Whether or not the money will be reinvested in the economy as additional spending dollars is yet to be seen,” said communications director Morgan McCord.

A 12 cent increase means a full time minimum wage employee would make about $250 dollars extra a year before taxes.

“Florida’s economy is built on sales taxes and consumption, when our minimum wage is only going up by 12 cents an hour, we’re probably not going to see a lot of individuals with more money to spend at stores and things like that,” said McCord.

20 other states will join Florida in raising their wages in 2015. Florida’s increase is tied to a state constitutional amendment from 2004 that raises the minimum wage to adjust for the cost of living.

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Who Gets a Gay Marriage License?

December 29th, 2014 by flanews

A judge’s ruling striking down the state’s ban on gay marriage will allow for marriage licenses to be handed out next week, but for who? Matt Galka spoke with the couple who filed the lawsuit, and tells us county clerks of court don’t appear to be ready to hand licenses out to everyone, and the state will need to clarify that.

If you head to Chipley, Florida, population 3500, in Florida’s Panhandle, you’ll be in the middle of the state’s gay marriage debate. That’s where Ozzie Russ and Steve Schlairet live. The couple filed a successful lawsuit challenging the state’s gay marriage ban. Having their relationship officially recognized had never bean option in their 18 years together.

“It never crossed our mind to get married, because we thought what we had was as good as what they’ll allow us to have,” said Russ.

That will change for the two men on January 6th. They will be allowed to get a marriage license, but county clerks of court aren’t sure if it’s only them or everyone can. Clerks outside of their home in Washington County were advised by attorneys not to give them out or risk criminal penalty.

While Washington County will have to hand out the licenses, it wasn’t the couple’s intention to just be in it for themselves

“His injunction is mandatory for every clerk in the state of Florida and he’s now asking the defendants if they understand the order,” said Schlairet.

The judge who made the ruling ordered the state to respond by Monday and clarify where his ruling applies. While gay couples around Florida wait, the couple at the center is looking forward to officially tying the knot.

“I know when we do get married, the public can’t correct me and say ‘he’s not your husband,’ I can say ‘yes he is,'” said Russ.

Thousands of other Floridians are hoping they can say the same about their significant others.

The state’s Department of Management Services was asked to “explicitly set out the Secretary’s position on whether the preliminary injunction binds a Florida clerk of court.”

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Woman Responsible for Damaging Satanic Display Speaks

December 24th, 2014 by flanews

‘Tis the Season to be…weird at the Florida Capitol. Holiday displays ranging from a nativity scene to a television sitcom’s Festival Pole have been put up in the Capitol building, but as Matt Galka tells us, a Satanic Temple Holiday display drove one woman over the edge.

A group of atheists put their Satanic Temple holiday display up in the Florida Capitol as a satire of a nativity scene. At least one woman isn’t laughing.

“Two days before Christmas that Jesus should be taken away and Satan put in his place? That’s just not right,” said Susan Hemeryck.

Hemeryck was arrested Tuesday for vandalizing the display, but she says she didn’t plan on doing anything at first, she just wanted to see it.

“There was the display, and it made me angry,” she said.

This video shows Hemeryck walking into the Capitol and heading for the arrangement.  She appears to try and take it before being stopped by Capitol police, but she still managed to do some damage. She says she couldn’t stand idly by.

“When Satan comes into the halls of my town I can’t let that go without a fight, I hope nobody can let that go without a fight,” said Hemeryck.

The display will remain up but the Capitol building will be closed until Monday. The group that put the display together wasn’t shocked.

“Well, I’m really not surprised, I was really surprised it took this long. Kind of expecting it to be damaged,” said John Porgal with American Atheists.

Hemeryck says she’s not happy she broke a law, and has one other regret.

“I went back to pick up my stuff after I was released from jail, and I went back and there was Satan back up again, I guess I’m sorry I just didn’t monkey stop him to smithereens when I had the chance,” she said.

She was charged with criminal mischief and is awaiting a court date at the end of January.

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Homeless Help

December 23rd, 2014 by flanews

The state’s council on homelessness says there are more than 40,000 people living on the streets at any given time in Florida. As Matt Galka tells us, one man is doing it voluntarily to try and find a solution to the problem.

Tom Rebman is a middle school teacher in Orlando with a family and a job. But today, and for the past month, he’s homeless.  It’s not easy.

“I’m not going to fib you, last night I slept in a hotel bathroom,” said Rebman.

Armed with the bare minimum in his backpack plus a cell phone to document his journey on his Facebook Page “Homeless and Hungry,” Rebman has travelled to Daytona Beach, Sarasota, Ocala, St. Petersburg and the Capitol.  He’s trying to get the message out that the chronic homeless, some with mental problems, need to get off of the streets-jail-streets pipeline.

“Public thinks homeless people are all the vagrants they see on the street, and when I lived in Orlando, I learned “no.” There’s families, there’s couples, and they’re not substance abusers, they’re not bad people, they’re not felons. They’re peple and they’re really suffereing every day,” said Rebman.

He has met with different service organizations in each city.  He’s seen fights and dug through trash.  Sleeping has been no guarantee.

Rebman was able to secure a meeting with Erik Braun, the Director of Florida’s Office of Homelessness.

“Any time we can educate people, help them understand, get rid of misconceptions, it’s a wonderful thing,” said Braun.

While Rebman won’t be on the streets forever, he says he hopes his small amount of time living homeless pays off for the thousands of people struggling daily. The Department of Children and Families has invited Tom Rebman back in February to address the state’s council on homelessness.

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Cutting the Costs of Prison

December 23rd, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

How old is too old to be in prison? A watchdog group says some older inmates may be costing the state a bundle and doing little for public safety. Releasing some older inmates is just one idea Florida Taxwatch is floating to cut the cost of incarnation.

Florida is housing just under six thousand inmates over the age of 60  Make no mistake…some are violent murderers or child molesters, but others are not. 80 year old Barbara Dunn was sentenced last year to ten years for DUI manslaughter.

82 year old Eva Verner is more than halfway through her 15 year sentence for Fraud.

Now, Morgan McCord from Florida Taxwatch is suggesting that keeping some elderly behind bars may not be financially sound.

“When we implement some sort of elderly parole option, it’s allowing some of these non violent offenders to really get out of a prison system that is not providing a positive return on investment for our communities.”

Taxpayers spend an average of 17 thousand a year to keep someone in prison. The elderly can cost two or three times as much.

prison by age

State lawmakers have limited what latitude judges have through sentencing guidelines. Now Taxwatch Research Director Rob Weissert says there needs to be an alternative.

“We’re talking about a revenue…eh, a cost estimating tool. Something that would provide not only what the cost of incarnation would be, but the cost of alternatives are”.

McCord says taking 10 percent of the inmates out of prison and putting ankle bracelets on them would save 120 million a year. “That’s a 120 million a year that can be reinvested in our communities, to be given to education, student performance.”

Florida will spend 280 million dollars on prison health care this year alone. The entire system costs two billion a year to run.

There are 102,000 inmates in Florida prisons. Health care costs are expected to go from 280 million this year to 369 million next year.

 

 

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Satanic Display Damaged by Woman

December 23rd, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Less than 24 hours after being set up, a display by the Satanic Temple in the Capitol rotunda was intentionally damaged. The display was knocked from its table and an angel that was falling from heaven in the display was on the ground. Police were detaining a female suspect.  John Porgal of the Satanic Temple says he wasn’t surprised by the act.

Porgal told officials he wanted to press charges.mBy mid afternoon, the display was back on its table…but because of the damage, the angel was no longer falling. It has descended into the flames. The display was a spoof of the nativity scene erected by the Florida Prayer network.

 

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Jameis Winston Cleared

December 22nd, 2014 by flanews

Jameis Winston will not be facing any school discipline. As Matt Galka tells us, he is good to go for FloridaState’s potential national championship run, much to the delight of fans.

Following a two day student conduct code hearing at the beginning of the month, Florida State Quarterback Jameis Winston and his attorney maintained there was never any wrongdoing two years ago. The quarterback was accused of sexual assault by a former student.

“There certainly was no evidence in two days that suggested otherwise,” said Attorney David Cornwell following the conclusion of the hearing in the beginning of December.

A former Supreme Court justice was brought in by FSU to determine if that was the case.  On Sunday, Justice Major Harding concluded that he did not “find the credibility of one story substantially stronger than that of the other.” Winston will face no school penalties.

Coach Jimbo Fisher said it was a relief.

“We’ve dealt with it in our own ways, but it is a relief, especially for him I know, once you get a verdict, get the answers, that’s what you want,” said Fisher.

For many in Tallahassee, the support of their quarterback never waivered. At locally owned FSU apparel store Garnet and Gold, business is booming, even through all the controversy.

“When the ‘Noles are winning, everyone’s happy. And I always tell people, when they bring up things like that, I say “winning takes care of a lot of things, so we just try to focus on the positive here,” said manager Woody Hayes.

The accuser’s attorney released a statement saying they were “stunned and dismayed” and that they will consider an appeal.

An appeal isn’t due until five days after FloridaStateUniversity classes resume. That would be January 13th, the national championship game which FSU could potentially play in would be held January 12th.

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Satanic Temple Display Spoofs Nativity Scenes

December 22nd, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

An angel falling from heaven has replaced a nativity scene in the state Capitol. The display from the Satanic temple was originally turned down after being deemed “grossly offensive. It went up Monday after some legal maneuvering.

School children ushered in a nativity display to the state Capitol last week. No sooner was it dismantled Monday, than the Satanic Temple was signing another tune.

“Right here” pointed John Porgal. Organizers sought to install their display in the exact same spot and got flack from building managers. Tom Berger from the Department of Mgmt. Services wanted the display against a pillar. “We ask you very politely to set your display right here.” said Berger.

Porgal responded:  “It’s going right where the manger scene was! You got a problem with that, call your boss.”

They prevailed. The depiction of an angel falling from heaven is a protest says Porgal.  “There’s no real significance to it, it’s just a display we put up to counter act the nativity scene.”

Q:”so, you are not a devil worshiper?”

“No.

In addition to the fallen angel, A menorah is on display, as is a new, more low key picture of the nativity.

For two years running, the state said no to this display. Then the lawyers got involved. And they said if you’re going to have this, you are going to have this, and here it is.

Pam Olson of the Florida Prayer Network doesn’t like the Satanic Display, but …“We have freedom here, and thank god we do have that. So he can spoof all he wants, but the reality is…Merry Christmas.”

The displays come down next Monday…but the Capitol will be closed Wednesday evening through the weekend, giving little visibility to the alternate ideas that are on display.

The Satanic Temple says it did offer to abandon the display if organizers of the nativity scene displays agreed not to show the Christian scenes. A total of 8 displays will have been up this holiday season, with all but 2 aiming to spoof the nativity scene and the government that organizers say blurred the line between church and state.

 

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Dispatcher Being Called a Hero

December 19th, 2014 by flanews

Saturday will mark one month since a gunman opened fire in Florida State’s library. The officers who killed that gunman were cleared and celebrated by a grand jury this week, but the woman taking panicked phone calls is also being called a hero. Matt Galka has her story.

Camila Peralta has been with Florida State Police Dispatch since April and they’re thankful she was on the job November 20th.

“Well it was a pretty, to say the dreaded ‘Q’ word that every dispatcher dreads, it was pretty quiet,” said Peralta as she remembered her shift that night.

Quiet turned to panic as Peralta took the first call from a person inside Strozier library when alum Myron May started shooting.

“My caller on 9-1-1 said that someone had a gun and that someone was shooting, so we went ahead and went into dispatch mode and got the guys there as soon as possible,” said Peralta.

Peralta says training instantly took over. She remained calm with the callers, and was able to get police to the scene within minutes, before anything worse happened.

Peralta has been a dispatcher for 8 years, and amazingly, this wasn’t her first active shooter call.

David Perry/FSU Police Chief

“She has a history of performing well under those extreme pressures, she was involved in the Ft.Hood shooting as a dispatcher, when that tragedy took place,” said FSU Police Chief David Perry.

“My first phone call I got was a lady that had been shot in the abdomen at Ft.Hood, a soldier,” said Peralta about the day she had to handle those phone calls.

Her actions were praised by a grand jury that cleared the officers involved in stopping the shooter.

“Absolutely she saved lives, had she not done the things that she did, officers would not have gotten there timely,” said State Attorney Willie Meggs.

But Peralta says she’s no hero, she was just doing her job.

“I don’t feel that way, I don’t want to take any credit, we were safe in here and doing our job, the police officers, they’re the true heroes. They ran towards the gunfire,” she said.

While Peralta may not think she’s a hero, there are plenty of people who are thankful she’s on the other end of the line.

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Grand Jury Says Deadly Force Justified in FSU Campus Shooter Death

December 18th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

There are new details tonight in the shooting that hurt three on the FSU Campus.  They are from a Grand Jury report on the November 20th incident. The grand Jury found the police shooting of the assailant was justified and called officers heroic,  and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, Grand Jurors also praised  someone who was not at the scene.

Gunman Myron May entered and left the FSU library 17 minutes before firing the first shots outside the building. Those bullets struck and paralyzed Farhan “Ronny” Ahmed.

“He then pointed his gun at me and I feared for my life” says one 9-1-1 caller.

May then shot at two other students grazing one of them. Next May went back inside, shot one student hiding behind the welcome desk and tried to shoot a second when his gun failed.

May was pacing back and forth in front of the FSU library when confronted by FSU police and told to put his gun down. State Attorney Willie Meggs says police tried to spare May’s life. “He actually made statements like that, why don’t you shoot me. When they would not shoot him because he would not drop the gun, he shot at them and them, and they, of course, shot him back.”

May was shot 15 times. A grand jury found police were justified and called their actions heroic.

The grand jury also singled out the dispatcher who was on duty here at the FSU police Department. They say her quick actions saved lives. Camila Peralta was on duty early that morning and took the first call from a non 911 line. Meggs says she showed true professionalism. “remained calm during it all, and was doing a lot of things at the same time.”

Q: She saved lives?”

“Absolutely, she saved lives.”

Inside the FSU Police Station, a Christmas tree is decorated with Crime scene tape. There are notes o f thanks from students and parents. Posters of gratitude adorn walls. Chief David Perry says training paid off.

The dispatcher on duty, Camila Peralta came to FSU with plenty of experience. She was on duty in November 2009 when a 13 people were killed and 30 others wounded at Food Hood Texas.

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Watchdog Suggests Money Saving Ideas

December 18th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida Taxwatch is out with its list of annual money saving ideas for state government. Ideas include putting fewer people in prison but using more electronic monitoring of non violent offenders, using a score sheet when deciding how long a prison sentence should be. Doing a better job of training purchasing directors and of managing state properties. Rob Weissert, the watchdogs research director says its also time to start collection the sales tax already owed on internet sales.

“It will help our brick and mortar businesses. .It will increase revenues collected by the state, and it will insure that Floridians are following the laws that are already on the books that make these taxes owed but not collected.” Time has long come and passed and we take on this issue immediately.’

Some estimates suggest Florida is losing as much as a billion dollars in revenue it is not collecting from remote sales. Current law requires everyone to fill out a forma and pay the taxes, but fewer than 5,000 forms were filed last year.

 

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Greyhound Guarantee

December 18th, 2014 by flanews

Florida has the most amount of greyhound racing in the country, but as Matt Galka tells us, a strong push to put an end to that may have already started.

New Florida Senate President Andy Gardiner made a greyhound guarantee this week.

“One thing I can tell you, the first week of session we will send the injury reporting bill to the House. And it’ll be named after Mrs. Gaetz,” said Sen. Gardiner.

Vicky Gaetz, the wife of most recent Senate President Don Gaetz, pushed the bill that would require tracks to report dog injuries during last year’s session.  The bill died in the final week.

Dog tracks have been required to report Greyhound deaths since 2013…a report highlighted that 74 greyhounds died in the first 9 months of 2013 following the passage of the bill.

Jack Cory with the Florida Greyhound Association says they have no problem with reporting injuries, but the bill doesn’t do enough to protect the animal.

“I think that’s a great idea, unfortunately the bill that has been filed does not have one word of greyhound protection in it other than the title,” said Cory.

The fear from track owners is that the bill is the first step in ending dog racing in the state. The state requires tracks to run greyhound races if they want to operate other gambling games like poker and slot machines.  Animal rights groups have been pushing to separate the requirement. Something the Greyhound Association scoffs at.

“If all they’re doing is an injury reporting bill after the fact, knowing what the injuries are, than all it is is trying to backdoor mini casinos throughout the state of Florida, and do away with three thousand jobs and put eight thousand greyhounds at risk,” said Cory.

Florida is just one of seven states that still allows greyhound racing. A legislature report revealed that Florida is spending almost $3 million more dollars a year to regulate the dog races than it takes in from revenue.

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Florida’s Houdini Closer to Parole

December 17th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

One of the strangest cases in Florida prison history was before the board responsible for parole today at the state Capitol. It involves a man who was sentenced to four years for prematurely taking possession of his fathers tools. 34 years later he is still behind bars after earning the nickname Florida’s Houdini.

Mark DeFriest was 19 when he was sent to jail for taking possession of his deceased fathers tools before the will was probated. He’s still in prison today, almost 35 years later.

The reason: Defriest tried to escape 13 times. He succeeded 7 of them, earning the monicker Florida’s Houdini and inspiring a documentary.  His lawyer John Middleton says he wasn’t just escaping, he was trying to survive. “The terrible rapes, from being beaten and everything else, and he reacted by escaping.”

Former jailer David Gantt told parole officials DeFriest was different than any other prisoner he ever supervised. “I don’t think I ever arrested anybody that intelligent” says Gantt.

The case gets even more interesting. Mark DeFriest isn’t even in a Florida Prison.

DeFriest was transferred to an out of state prison after witnessing guards beat inmate Frank Valdez  to death.

On Wednesday, the Commission on Offender Review cut his release date from 2085 to next year. Commission Richard Davison was the lone dissenter, calling him  “A  prisoner of his own making.”

DeFriest’s pending release is due largely to the efforts of film maker Gabriel London “A prisoner of his own making. No, he;s a prisoner of his own mental problems” says the film maker.

DeFriest has gone from being disciplined dozens of times a year to being a model prisoner. All since being told there was a light at the end of the tunnel leading to his release.

It will be at least a year before Mark DeFriest is likely released. That’s because he still faces one year sentences in Alabama and  California for possessing marijuana and escape tools.  His lawyer says his case is not unlike that of thousands of other inmates with mental illnesses.

 

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Department of Health Dodging Pot Questions

December 17th, 2014 by flanews

Florida’s Department of Health has spent a good amount of time not answering questions about a medical marijuana law passed this year. Matt Galka went looking for answers at one of the Department’s drug policy meetings.

The Department of Health hasn’t’ come up with rules for implementing low-THC medical marijuana known as Charlotte’s Web.  The Drug Policy Advisory Council got an update Wednesday…that lasted a little over a minute.

After the brief update which included informing the council about another workshop on December 30th, Surgeon General John Armstrong was hurried out.  No questions. No answers. A seeming lack of transparency.  The department just replaced the head of the office in charge of creating rules for the drug. We asked the communications director why.

Nathan Dunn/Department of Health

“Patricia Nelson is the new director of the office of compassionate use, she will be leading that effort to move the process forward,” said the Department’s Communication’s Director Nathan Dunn.

We asked ‘why’ again.

“That announcement was made yesterday, in terms of placing her in that role,” said Dunn.

Again we asked ‘why.”

“The department is committed to making sure that low-thc cannabis is made available for the families that need it as quickly as safely as possible,” said Dunn.

The legislature passed the low-THC bill in May and the new Senate President said it was unfortunate nothing is in place yet.

“There comes a point where you workshop stuff to death,” said Sen. Andy Gardiner to reporters he met in his office.

Lawmakers had asked for a January first deadline for rules from the Department.

“I think there’s some legitimate questions about the rulemaking process, and families deserve to know where we are,” said Sen. Gardiner.

It’s likely the legislature will revisit the law to tweak it in their upcoming session. Whether the drug will be available by then remains to be seen. Governor Rick Scott reappointed the Surgeon General Armstrong earlier this week.

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