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Florida Without the Orange

January 30th, 2015 by flanews

What would Florida be without the beloved orange? As Matt Galka tells us, the state’s agriculture commissioner says we’re almost at the point where that thought has to be considered.

Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam laid it out in plain English.  Oranges and other citrus grown in Florida are in trouble.  The state has been battling a crop disease for the better part of a decade called Citrus Greening.

“We are seeing the smallest crops we’ve seen in the modern era, we’re seeing small and medium size growers unable to set a crop at a profit, and there’s no good Plan B,” said Putnam.

The state’s citrus industry employs about 76,000 people and generates around $10 billion dollars a year, but the disease has caused that number to go down by about one billion dollars a year since 2007.  Florida TaxWatch CEO Dominic Calabro says it effects more than growers.

“The stores, the wholesalers, the transporters, the retail outlets, and most importantly the consumers,” he said.

Putnam says the state and federal money to combat the disease isn’t the problem.

“Unfortunately it is not a matter of resources at this time, it’s a matter of a race against the clock,” said Putnam.

While the clock continues to tick, Florida’s brand – the fruit proudly displayed on the license plate – hangs in the balance. The rest of the country has an interest, too. More than 60% of all citrus consumed in the U.S. comes from the Sunshine State.

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Florida Prison Budget

January 29th, 2015 by flanews

Cleaning up Florida’s prison system will be a top priority for legislators this year, and as Matt Galka tells us, after the Governor unveiled his budget plans for prisons. Corrections officials are confident they can get it done.

Governor Rick Scott’s $77 billion dollar budget proposal includes more than $50 million dollars of new money designed to clean up Florida’s prison system.

New Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones says it’s a good start.

“We’ve been able to take a very strategic approach to the agencies needs, leverage existing resources to get a very large push in filling positions,” said Jones.

With more than 340 recorded deaths, 2014 was the deadliest year on record for Florida prison inmates. Hundreds of the deaths are currently being investigated. by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement. FDLE and now fired former chief Gerald Bailey had requested funds to help with the case load. Scott didn’t include that money.

“The Governor’s office did not fund that particular issue now, but they’ve committed to funding it once FDLE and I come to an agreement and then give the Governor’s office with an estimate for the resources we’ll need going forward,” said Jones.

House and Senate leaders say they’re ready to do whatever they can to help fix the system.

“I don’t know what the answers are so I can’t commit to a certain issue or what have you, but we’ve always worked closely with the Department on budget requests, I don’t ever remember us saying ‘no, we’re not going to give you the tools to be successful,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

Some of the money proposed in the Governor’s budget would go toward filling 300 staff vacancies, which critics say is still not enough.  But Jones says that will decrease overtime spending and ultimately add up to more positions being filled.

On Monday, a Senate panel will hold another meeting on prison reform and will look at a bill that would punish guards who abuse inmates, as well as other staff that contribute to prisoner mistreatment.

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War of Words Between Scott, Joyner

January 28th, 2015 by flanews

The Associated Press’ pre-session meeting is generally meant to focus on legislative priorities…2015’s annual get together had a different tone.  As Matt Galka tells us, a war of words broke out between a top democrat and the Governor.

Senate Democratic leader Arthenia Joyner didn’t mince words about how she felt in the wake of the Governor’s handling of the firing of former Florida Department of Law Enforcement Chief Gerald Bailey, going so far as to say Governor Rick Scott violated Florida’s constitution.

“Only unconstrained Hubris explains a Governor who believes he can fire people without proper authority,” said Sen. Joyner (D-Tampa).

Cabinet member and Agriculture Commissioner Adam Putnam also blasted the firing by saying the cabinet was misled.

“Gerry Bailey is a fine man and he served our state very well, and the way that he was treated at the end of his distinguished career was shabby,” he said.

The Governor adamantly defended his office and his staff against the harsh criticism.

“The attacks against me are absolutely untrue and they’re ridiculous,” said Gov. Rick Scott (R).  He referenced a FAQ his office put online for answers to questions surrounding Bailey’s firing.

Scott’s inner circle has come under fire.  His chief of staff Melissa Sellers is a veteran of Louisiana Governor Bobby Jindal’s campaign…two other high ranking Scott staffers are also from the same camp.  A Louisiana insurance official is now being recruited as a replacement to lead Florida’s office of Inusrance regulation.  The staffers have come to be known as the “Louisiana Mafia.”

“Evidently the Governor has an affinity for Louisianans, and all these good high paying jobs he keeps talking about, they’re going to people out of state,” said Sen. Joyner.

We asked the Governor and staff about it afterwards, but they weren’t answering anymore media questions.

Attorney General Pam Bondi said at the same meeting later in the day that she believed staff, and not the Governor, forced Bailey to resign.

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Governor Proposes Less Spending, More Tax Cutting

January 28th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott’s is recommending a budget that is slightly smaller than last year’s, in part because he wants big tax cuts. Scott is also promoting increases in school funding, status quo on environmental funding and a leaner state work force.

Education sees almost a billion new dollars under the Governor’s budget. A little less than half of it coming from the state. The rest from increased local property values.

“It is a strong budget because our economy is strong” says Scott.

Scott’s plan adds14 million dollars for school safety. Overall there’s 50 dollars a child increase for school operations.

“We’re providing record total and per student funding” boasted the Governor.

24 million would fund Bright Futures for qualified college students who attend summer semesters.

While 75 percent of voters approved increased funding for land conservation, Scott’s plan consolidates what is already being spent into one pot without increasing the overall total. “We put money in the budget that met or exceeded the Amendment One dollars that we put in” explained Scott.

Then there are tax cuts.  “We’re giving Floridians back 673 million dollars in their money.”

Scott says the average family will save forty dollars a year by slashing cable tv and cell phone taxes.

But Cities and major universities are concerned it will short them some money. The concern was acknowledged by Senate President Andy Gardiner. “Certainly there is a local government concern on some aspects, and ah, that needs to be addressed” said Gardiner.

A lean workforce could get leaner. Scott’s plan would eliminate more than a thousand vacant state jobs, charge state employees more for health insurance, but not give them any raises.”

In the end lawmakers have the final say on numbers while Scott has a veto pen.

In addition to cell and cable tv tax cuts, Scott is recommending ending the sales tax for college students buying text books, He would lower the tax on corporations, and eliminate the tax on manufacturing equipment.

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Inside the Library

January 27th, 2015 by flanews

A chilling look tonight at the man who opened fire in Florida State’s library two months ago.  As Matt Galka shows us, there could have been many more potential victims.

This video released from the Tallahassee Police Department shows the confusion and chaos inside Strozier Library during last November’s shooting. Before entering, gunman Myron May opened fire on a student outside – paralyzing him.  Two students working at the front desk of the library notice what’s going on and attempt to hide.

That’s when May walks into the library and shoots.  May shot Nathan Scott who was behind the desk. Coworker Paige McPhadden was sitting next to him.

“I heard a gunshot and instaneously Nate screamed and said “no, don’t!” I could smell the gun powder,” she said during her interview with TPD.

Scott talked to us while he was recovering shortly after he was shot.

“After the shot we heard a ‘click click click’ like there was an intent to fire more shots,” he said.

An alternate view shows scared students reacting and running away from what they heard. The video then shows May in the corner of the library’s entrance – still with a gun – while other people are walking by.

He then exits the library where he is then shot and killed by responding officers.

Investigators have yet to release other videos the gunman made shortly before the shooting.

During the investigation, police recovered several more guns, including a .12 gauge shotgun, and ammunition in May’s car which was parked at a nearby McDonald’s.

The 103 page police report was closed at the end of last week. Investigators say the other videos that have not been released include May asking for forgiveness for what he was about to do and asking people to pray for his soul. May believed he was being targeted by the Government.

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Police Close FSU Shooting Investigation

January 26th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

There is a new narrative tonight of what was going on in FSU Shooter Myron May’s mind in the days and hours leading up to the November 20th shooting of three on the FSU campus. The information is contained in more than 100 pages released by the Tallahassee Police Department.

Myron May parked his car at this fast food restaurant, a five minute walk from the FSU library where May shot three people and was killed by police.

In May’s pocket, a scrap of paper listing his mother and another as “Next of Kin.”

The most serious of the injuries that early morning happened here at this table, about a hundred feet from where May was shooting.”

Farhan Ronny Ahmed is paralyzed from the waste down, he is recovering at an Atlanta hospital.

We spoke with his sister Farhane Ahmed “He’s doing great. He;’s got such a great attitude about it. He’s working really hard where he is at the Shepard Center, and the facility is amazing.

May left a five page manifesto detailing what he called his Experiences as a Targeted individual.

A call log from Mays phone shows six calls or text messages with author renee Pittman hours before the shootings. In one exchange he texts that his death can’t be in vain,

Three of the six people identified by police as victims that early morning declined on camera interviews… Other students at the library told us they could have easily been a victim as well. Amanda Ferraro of Jacksonville cancelled a trip to the library that night.

“One of my best friends was in the library at the time and I was in her room, and it was kinda weird to be sitting at her desk, getting snap shots from her as it was happening.”

In he end, Myron May hoped that his martyrdom and the information he left behind would help prevent others from being targeted.

Investigators also discovered three yet to be released videos. The second video begins with a prayer and May asking for forgiveness. All three were made two days before the shooting.

Myron May Investigation 00000006

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Mother Claims Hospital Wanted Dying Daughters Organs

January 26th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

The mother of a brain dead daughter delivered a demand to state regulatory officials today. Tracy Jordan, whose daughter, 20 year old Kaley King was brain dead from a gun shot wound wants Bay Medical Hospital in Panama City investigated by the state for ignoring her wishes to terminate life support as the hospital tried to persuade her to donate her daughters organs. Tracy Jordan says she doesn’t want what happen to her, happen to anyone else.

“I stand her today for every mother, every family member, so no one else has to be done like this because they violate your rights. They play God, and they have no right to tell me I can’t take my own child off life support” says Jordan.

Jordan says she was asked to donate 8 organs or tissues. She declined, and has hired attorneys.

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Wrongly Convicted Man Free Again

January 26th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Alan Crotzer spent almost 25 years in prison for a rape DNA later proved he didn’t commit. After winning freedom in 2006, the Tampa man moved to Tallahassee where he advocates for the wrongly convicted. In 2012, A convicted felon accused Crotzer of shooting at him. Crotzer was arrested and charged. He claimed self defense. Fast forward to this past December and the accuser was killed by ay an unknown assailant. Prosecutors have dropped charges against Crotzer, who says he is happy the ordeal is over.

“I protected myself. I’m glad to be here. I thank God for that. And I haven’t lost any sleep over it, I have my baby and my faith.She wasn’t even born yet. Had he killed me, she wouldn’t be here” says Crotzer.

Crotzer was wearing an ankle bracelet when the accuser was murdered, proving he was not at the scene of the murder. Crotzer is at home, taking care of his infant daughter.

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Texting Crackdown On Horizon

January 23rd, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida is one of 9 states to get a failing grade for its traffic safety laws. One of the reasons Safe Roads dot org faulted the state is for its weak texting while driving law. At least two bills have already been filed to make ticketing those who text and drive easier.

Florida is one of 9 states…shown here in red to get failing marks for the weakness of its traffic safety laws on the books…the others are far more rural.

One of the reasons Florida flunked is because drivers who text and drive can’t be ticketed unless police stop them for something else.

Lori Berman is co sponsoring a bill that will let police issue tickets when they spot someone texting and driving. “We just don’t make it a priority and we need to.”

Q:”so how many times have you driven up to someone and they’re looking at their phone?”

“Ah..Everyday.”

We spotted at least a half dozen drivers texting in a thirty minute drive on US 90 near the Florida State campus.  The rain and safety made it difficult to capture all of them on camera.

And while this driver rocked out, he was looking down, his hands not on the wheel. He was still looking down when the light turned green.

Rep. Keith Perry of Gainesville sees it all the time as well.  “When you see them and they speed up and slow down, speed up and slow down, or they swerve a little bit,  then you get next to them and see that they are texting. Hopefully its going to happen a lot less.”

Q:”Would you support primary enforcement ?”

A:”Oh, I think it needs to be primary.”

Some want to get even tougher than ticketing texters. . One bill would prohibit anyone under 18 from using any wireless device behind the wheel.

Another reasons for the states low grade is that is only requires kids up to age five in a booster seat, while studies show six and seven year olds most at risk of being hurt if they are in a seat belt. The full report can be found here: http://saferoads.org/files/2015%20Roadmap%20Report%20FINAL.pdf

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Six and Seven Year Olds in Booster Seats?

January 23rd, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

One of the reasons Florida was one of nine states to flunk a traffic law safety report is because the state only requires car booster seats for kids up to age five. State Representative Keith Perry was able to move the age up from three. The law took effect in January. Now Perry says data shows  the age should go to seven.

“We found actually from six and seven years olds, there’s actually more safety concerns. I’m not sure why that age group is much more likely to traumatized with serious injuries. So, we’re looking at moving that up.”

It had been almost a decade since Florida required three year olds to be in car seats when lawmakers raised the age last spring.

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American Movies in the Classroom

January 23rd, 2015 by flanews

Some lawmakers think that there may not be enough patriotism being taught in Florida schools. As Matt Galka tells us, a new bill would mandate children to view a controversial film twice before graduating.

“America: Imagine the World Without Her” is a conservative documentary that set out to counter some of the things being taught in classrooms about the USA’s history.  House bill 77 and Senate Bill 96 would make it  mandatory for all students to see the film twice, once in 8th grade and again in 11th.

The movie has been controversial.  Film review site Rotten Tomatoes gave it an 8 out of 100, with some critics calling it propaganda. But lawmakers might be getting the popcorn out for the film.

House education committee member Manny Diaz has seen the movie.

“I thought it was a very interesting movie. I think it touches upon points that aren’t really touched on in the mainstream media or mainstream conversations,” said Rep. Diaz (R-Hialeah).

We asked if he thinks it should be required viewing.

“I always have concerns about mandating certain things, but I think it’s a very thought provoking movie, and I think that if a teacher wants to show it in class to provoke thought or conversation or require it as homework to bring back I think it’s a good thought provoker,” he said.

Florida’s education commissioner said she hasn’t viewed the proposals or the film.

“We certainly want to ensure that our students are good citizens of the state of Florida and of the United States but I couldn’t speak to that specifically,” she said.

The bills sponsors are planning a full screening for lawmakers before legislative session starts. The bill includes an opt-out for parents who don’t want their kids to see the film.

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DCF Missed Opportunity

January 22nd, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

The head of the Department of Children and Families made his first appearance before a Senate oversight committee since a five year old was thrown off a bridge by her distraught father.  Senators were told a different response to a hot line call could have dramatically changed the outcome that day two weeks ago.

Nearly half a million times a year, the phone rings at the Child Abuse hotline. Just over half the calls are accepted.

Two weeks ago, it rang with concerns, even fear for the safety of 5 year old Phoebe Jonchuck. Instead of triggering an investigation..which would have required an in person interview within four hours….the call was dismissed.

DCF Secretary Mike Carroll told a Senate oversight panel dismissing the call was a deadly mistake. “I listened to the call, personally,  a couple of times. And ah, in my gut I said a a a, for the life of me I don’t understand why we screened this call out.”

While Carroll’s thought the call should have been accepted, he met with those who made the decision. “and it became clear that folks who worked on this struggled with it. But they really believed they followed the protocol in place as they thought it was dictated.”

After the explanation, Carroll immediately changed criteria for accepting abuse complaints…Senators, including Nancy Detert of Venice praised his response. “Sometimes you do everything right and you still get a bad result, and that’s gonna happen.”

Across the Capitol, Carroll spent two hours before the House oversight Committee where not one question about the Jonchuck case was even asked. We asked

Chairwoman Gayle Harrell of Stuart why. “I’m waiting to see what the report comes out. I don’t want to rush to judgement till I get that SERT report.”

The full report on DCF’s involvement Jonchuck family won’t be ready for about two more weeks.

The House Committee meets again the first week of February.

And it is unclear if the House Committee will take up the Jonchuck case at it’s next meeting, but the Chairwoman promises to dedicate a full meeting to probe the death of Phoebe Jonchuck in the near future.

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Roe V. Wade Anniversary

January 22nd, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

50 or so Catholic High School students made their opposition to abortion know today by holding signs and chanting outside the state Capitol Today is the 42nd anniversary of the Supreme Court decision legalizing a woman’s right to choose. Junior Teresa Conroy believes public support is changing.

‘Hopefully, soon, everyone will come to recognize that the unborn is just as worthy as me or you.”

A short time later, Deirdre McNabb of the League of Women Voters said the right to choose is as important as the right to vote.

“Today’s anniversary reminds us of the year women got the right to vote.. And part  of women controlling their lives and their destiny is having their choice over their reproductive parts and their future.”

Pro Choice forces are holding a candle vigil at the State Capitol beginning at 5:30 tonight.

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Bear Season

January 22nd, 2015 by flanews

Bear attacks and nuisance complaints could result in Florida bringing back a hunting season for the animal. As Matt Galka tells us, the state’s wildlife agency says they’re running out of options.

Leah Reeder was out walking her dog in the Florida panhandle last month when she was brutally attacked by a bear. She was one of four bear attack victims in the past year throughout the state. Add the attacks to thousands of nusicance complaints throughout Florida.

“We’re at a point where bear populations are strong and expanding, and we’re having more and more conflicts, more and more killed on the highways,” said Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Nick Wiley.

The Fish and Wildlife Commission is proposing bringing back black bear hunting in some areas of the state.  Putting bears in the crosshairs has been illegal since 1994.

The FWC wouldn’t need the legislature’s approval to change the rule, but some lawmakers are still hesitant.

“I asked my 9 year old grand daughter ‘do you think we should kill these bears’ and she said ‘can’t they find another home for them?'” said Sen. Eleanor Sobel (D-Hollywood) who sits on the Senate’s Agriculture Commission.

“There’s a public safety concern, our first and foremost responsibility is taking care of the residents. Maybe we can do a catch and release program,” said Sen. Rene Garcia (R-Hialeah). Garcia sits on the same Senate panel.

The FWC says hunting is only one option. They’d rather be more active with education and training communities on how to keep bears away from the public as well as providing more bear proof trash cans.

“We don’t believe hunting alone would solve any of those concerns we have with people and bear conflicts, not to mention the attacks we’ve had in the last year and a half,” Wiley said.

It’s estimated that Florida has at least 3,000 bears. That number was hovering around just 500 about 60 years ago.

Environmental organization Sierra Club Florida opposes the hunting option saying “the number of bear human confrontations has gone up in other states that have allowed the animals to be hunted.”

The FWC will be discussing the proposal at their meeting in Jacksonville in two weeks.

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Bottoms Up for Beer Growlers

January 21st, 2015 by flanews

You could call it a brew ha ha at the Capitol as a Senate panel debated whether or not a certain craft beer container – known as a growler – should be allowed in the state. As Matt Galka tells us, brewers are optimistic that Florida will be catching up with the rest of the beer industry in the country.

Beer fans can stop by and see Michael Carbonell at Growler Country to fill up on their favorite libation. But Florida law puts a cap on what he and other beer businessman can do.

“Not 64, you can do a gallon, you can do a quart, but you can’t do a half of a gallon,” he said.

Consumers can only fill up 32 oz and one gallon beer containers known as growlers. The 64 oz size in the middle, which has become the industry standard, isn’t allowed.

Brewers have been complaining about the size discrepancies of containers for years, but this year lawmakers say they’re ready to tap into the 64 oz growler.

The big beer names are backing the change, even though they have been concerned about craft brews cutting into profits in the past.

Jose Gonzalez/Anheuser Busch

“We support the 64 oz package, and frankly we also support the deregulation of the container size,” said Jose Gonzalez who represents Anheuser-Busch.

Senate Regulated Industries chairman Rob Bradley basically made a guarantee.

“The highlight and the bottom line is that this is the year we are going to free the growler,” said Sen. Bradley.

The optimism has local brewers buzzing.

Nathan Stonecipher/Green Bench Brewing Co. St.Petersburg

“It is frustrating, it’s obviously not logical, and so it’s nice to finally hopefully push this through, because I don’t think there’s any reason why it shouldn’t be, others would disagree, if we already had a gallon, already had 32 oz, what’s the harm in a half gallon,” said Nathan Stonecipher, the owner of Green Bench Brewing Co. in St. Petersburg.

Only Florida and Utah currently ban the 64 oz beer growler.

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