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Jumping Sturgeon on the Suwanee

June 30th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Each year thousands of prehistoric Gulf Sturgeon enter the Suwanee and six other rivers in Florida. The fish are know to jump, and have hurt two people, neither seriously, so far this year. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, state officials are warning July fourth boaters to be on the lookout.

The Suwanee River. Quiet. Peaceful. Until.

That was the voice o Fish and Wildlife Conservation spokesperson Karen Parker. She is still thrilled to to see the giant fish leap.

“They’re Basically doing what they’ve been doing for the last two hundred million years, and that’s jumping.  And the scientist I spoke with finally figured out why they jump…which is pretty amazing. Its for communication between other fish, and to gulp air so they can fill up their swim bladder” says Parker.

Catching the fish on camera is a feat in itself…you never know when…or where they will jump, which is why boaters are always at risk. Two people…a 59 year old woman and a 14 year old girl were hurt in separate incidents this year.

“It’s simply, they’re jumping and at a time when we want to use the rive too. So we are both trying to use the river, and sometimes we collide” says Parker.

The fish arrive in April and leave when the water starts to cool in the fall.

What we do know for certain is that the fish aren;t jumping for food. They don’t eat the entire time they are in the river.

Q:”from what I’ve read, they really fill up on shrimp and crab before they move into the river.

A:”Yeah, they’ll lose like twenty-five percent of their body weight when they get in here” says Parker.

So boaters beware…there are fish beneath the Suwanee just waiting to communicate.

The state didn’t start keeping track of collisions with the Sturgeon until 2006, when 9 people were injured. The Gulf Sturgeon are protected under federal law.

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Another City Opts Out of Red Light Camera Program

June 30th, 2015 by flanews

The $158 dollar red light camera fine has annoyed plenty of drivers around the state. As Matt Galka tells us, another city is opting out of the program – and cities around the state aren’t seeing the same amount of money coming in they once did.

Attorney Ian Nesbeth has defended dozens of red light camera tickets.  He says they’ve been a headache for the past five years, and they’re unconstitutional because cities send off pictures of the potential violator to a third party.

“If the state wishes to reduce the number of infractions, then put some more police officers out there, lets get something that’s actually constitutional that complies with our laws,” said Nesbeth.

Nesbeth and other Tallahassee attorneys won’t have to worry much longer. Florida’s capital is taking the cameras down in August.

In the city of Tallahassee’s case, one of the reasons the cameras are coming down is because drivers are driving better. Instead of pulling up to yellow lights and speeding through them, drivers are hitting the breaks.

“There’s not enough people running red lights to pay for the program,” said City spokeswoman Michelle Bono.

And there’s a statewide revenue dip.  Revenue from red light camera tickets went from $62 million in 2013 to just $37 million in 2014.

The Florida League of Cities says they empower the cities to do as they see fit.

 

“The league has the position that cities that determine that it enhances public safety, they should be able to use cameras,” said Legislative Affairs Director Scott Dudley.

But feedback from local governments has been positive.

“There’s people who are getting tickets at red lights that are not too happy about it,” said Dudley.

The state legislature has failed at repealing the program recently. If revenue numbers continue to trend downwards, more local governments will be faced with the decision of whether or not to leave them up.

$83 dollars of every $158 dollar ticket goes to the state of Florida. The remaining $75 dollars is used to pay for the cameras…if violations and revenue continue to go down, many cities could opt out or continue to pay for the program out of pocket.

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Executions Back on Track after High Court Ruling

June 29th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

The US Supreme Court has ruled that the drug midazolam is acceptable for use in lethal injections. Four Oklahoma convicts had challenged the drugs use, and Florida courts stopped executions here pending the outcome. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the ruling is now likely to open the door to dozens of executions in Florida.

The High Court ruling is 127 pages long, but it’s essence can be found in the first sentence. “Because Capital punishment is constitutional, there must be a constitutional means of carrying it out” wrote the majority.

The ruling is a set back for anti death penalty advocates in Florida. Sheila Meenan represents Citizens Against the Death Penalty and while disappointed, remains hopeful.

“I don’t think there’s going to be an end to the death penalty anytime soon, but I do believe and am extremely hopeful, and it won;t be too long from now when the U-S Supreme Court is going to say that the death penalty is against the constitution” says Meehan.

Justice Sonia Sotomayor wrote one of two blistering dissents.

“She really talked about how this drug, midazolam, could even be the equivalent of the chemical of burning at the stake. She used very strong language along those lines and as I say, three others concurred with her in that dissent” says Meehan.

Quadruple murderer Jerry Correll’s execution was stopped in February. It could soon be back on. Jerry Correll’s execution would set a record of 22 for one governor in modern times. A list prepared by the Florida Supreme court identified more than 100 inmates who have exhausted their appeals. Meehan says the decision opens the door to multiple warrants.

“Now that this decision is out, there is really nothing to stop Governor Scott from signing lots of death warrants. We’ve got lots of people, more than 400 people on Florida’s death row” says Meehan.

The Florida Department of Corrections did not respond to requests for an interview

This afternoon’s death row count was actually 396. And late this afternoon, Attorney General Pam Bondi asked the Florida Supreme Court to lift the Stay of Execution for Jerry Correll. Once lifted, the door is open for Governor Rick Scott to sign his and other death warrants.

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Juice Gets the Budget Squeeze

June 29th, 2015 by flanews

Florida’s budget takes effect Wednesday and among the vetoes – a tourism staple. As Matt Galka tells us, money requested to serve free Florida orange and grapefruit juice at welcome centers got the ax.

“Welcome to Florida would you like some juice.”

That phrase has greeted tourists stopping by Florida welcome centers near the state line for decades.

Woody and Lois Allen are celebrating their 60th wedding anniversary and are on their way to the beach. They always stop in for a cup of OJ.

 

“Florida orange juice, you know everyone’s heard of it. It’s the only rest area around the country, I think, or places we’ve been in the world where they’re actually right there serving,” said Lois Allen.

The Roberts family from Ohio quenched their thirst, too.

“If it wasn’t any good we wouldn’t be talking to you,” said Danny as he sipped some juice with his kid.

But the world renowned citrus juice got a scare last week. Usually it’s pork getting vetoed from the budget but the Governor put the squeeze on juice this year.

Rick Scott vetoed $250,000 from the state’s spending plan that was set to be used for the juice at the state’s five welcome centers.

“I went through the budget and looked at what was a state priority,” the Governor said last week.

Don’t’ tell citrus growers the oranges and grapefruits aren’t a priority. Visit Florida vows the free drinks will continue to flow.

“It’s a tradition. Grandfathers bring it to their grandsons, families bring it to their sons and daughters, and it’s a tradition. It’s a true Florida experience,” said David Dodd with Visit Florida.

Visit Florida hopes the state has enough juice – literally and figuratively – to attract 100 million tourists in 2015. The juice will continued to be paid for with other money from the state’s Department of Citrus budget.

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Supreme Court Makes Gay Marriage Legal Across U.S.

June 26th, 2015 by flanews

A landmark Supreme Court decision has Marriage Equality advocates celebrating. As Matt Galka tells us, the ruling makes Florida’s ban, which was overturned earlier this year, a thing of the past.

It was a special day on Friday for Equality Florida’s Jim VanRiper. 16 years ago he met his now husband. Now the anniversary will also be the day he remembers the Supreme Court making gay marriage legal across the United States.

“It’s an amazing day, a lot of people are celebrating, I’m personally very happy about this, it’s been a long battle many, many years in the making and it’s a wonderful day,” he said.

Same-sex marriage has been recognized in Florida since January.  The 5-4 decision by the Supreme Court put an end to pending appeals.

Michael Sheedy with the Florida Catholic Conference says they’ll continue to support the traditional definition of marriage.

 

“We’re disappointed. In mandating redefined marriage across society, it’s really a tragic decision that’s going to haunt the common good, and the most vulnerable among us, especially the children. Our laws should protect the right of children to be raised by a mother and father and they’re really at risk with this decision,” said Sheedy.

Florida’s Attorney General released a statement following the ruling saying that her office had been seeking uniformity.

Pam Bondi had a pending appeal on the state’s reversal of the same sex marriage ban. That is basically a mute point now. Her statement partly read “legal efforts were not about personal beliefs” and that “the court has spoken.”

The ruling struck down the remaining same sex marriage bans in 13 states.

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Starting a Campaign?

June 26th, 2015 by flanews

It’s early, but many say that Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn is planting the seeds for a 2018 run at the Governor’s office – and could be the Democrats best hope to resurrect the party. Matt Galka was there as Buckhorn addressed a political club in the state capital.

A familiar name in Tampa made his way to Florida’s Capital Friday. Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn spoke to Tallahassee’s Tiger Bay Club. Some say he’s testing the waters for a 2018 run for Governor.  He touted his city’s growth and gave Rick Scott a little credit.

“The one thing I am appreciative of to this Governor is that in his list of vetoes, he did not veto the move of the University of South Florida’s Medical School into Downtown Tampa,” he said to the crowd of about 100.

He also said the state deserves better.  Longtime lobbyist Barney Bishop says we’re looking at a legitimate candidate.

“I think that somebody who has grown a city economically and through diversity has a tremendous message to sell to the other people of Florida,” said Bishop.a

Many in attendance say the events are a way for Buckhorn to introduce himself statewide.

Former State Representative Curtis Richardson says he’s followed Buckhorn’s career from afar.

 

“So anything you can do when you’re looking at running statewide office to grow your name recognition, to get to know the different regions of the state without having to pay for it is a good thing,” he said.

Buckhorn didn’t rule anything out.

“Clearly there will be an open seat, I think clearly the state is ready for a different model of governance,” said Buckhorn.

He even increased speculation with a story about his nine year old daughter.

“She says Daddy I am not moving, you, Daddy, can commute,” said Buckhorn with a laugh.

One things for certain: he’ll be commuting to more speaking engagements throughout the summer.

There’s some political significance to speaking at the Tiger Bay Club in Tallahassee. When current Governor Rick Scott was an unknown candidate in June of 2010, he qualified for the Republican primary and, just hours later, spoke at the same club.

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Seminole’s Seek Resolution In Gambling Deal

June 25th, 2015 by flanews

The Seminole Tribe of Florida is drawing a line in the sand over the continuation of the Seminole Gaming Compact.

The tribe sent a letter to Governor Rick Scott on Wednesday saying they believe they can still continue to deal cards but stop paying the state revenue.  The Compact gives the Seminoles exclusive rights to offer card games like black jack at their casinos, but the tribe claims the state violated those rights by allowing video card games at various locations around the state. The tribe’s attorney Barry Richard says both sides have plenty to lose.
“The tribe has paid the state a billion dollars in the first five years of the compact and there have been no, I mean no problems at all, it has been working very smoothly. For those people who don’t want to see a spread of gambling, the compact has been the best bulwark against the spread of gambling,” said Richard.

Both sides have 30 days to reach a resolution.  The state receives more than $200 million a year from the compact.

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TaxWatch Releases Budget Turkeys…A Little Late

June 25th, 2015 by flanews

State Government spending watchdog Florida TaxWatch got beat to the punch this year in their annual budget veto recommendation list they call budget turkeys.

The organization put out their budget turkey list Thursday – even though the Governor already signed the budget and did his vetoes on Monday.  Turkeys are projects that didn’t get the proper vetting during legislative session. TaxWatch pointed out 167 million dollars worth of turkeys this year.

 

“The main goal of our report is not to have the Governor veto everything on it, Turkey Watch report is about identifying projects that didn’t go through the process, it’s for the taxpayer, it’s to help them show accountability, let them know what happened, so they can hold their legislators accountable,” said Kurt Wenner with Florida TaxWatch.

The Governor ended up vetoing nearly $500 million dollars worth of projects.

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Supreme Court Ruling Had Biggest Impact in Florida

June 25th, 2015 by flanews

A ruling from the United States Supreme Court on the Affordable Care Act, otherwise known as Obamacare, keeps the plan in tact. As Matt Galka tells us, Florida had the most to lose if the ruling went the other way.

Six million Americans were at risk of losing federal subsidies for healthcare if the United States Supreme Court ruled that way Thursday.  In a 6-3 decision, justices upheld the Affordable Care Act subsidy program.

 

Obamacare supporters say that Florida lucked out because of the ruling. Florida had the most to lose.  1.3 million people in the state currently enrolled in the program could have been out of luck.  Damien Filer with Progress Florida says the state dodged a bullet.

“More than a million Floridians, more than anyone else in the country, would have potentially have lost their healthcare coverage that their families are depending upon,” he said.

But Sal Nuzzo with political think tank the James Madison Institute was disappointed in the decision. He says long term healthcare affordability problems will still plague the state.

“Florida will continue to face several challenges with respect to healthcare service delivery, we will face an impending doctor shortage, we will need to champion innovation in healthcare service delivery,” he said.

The Governor addressed the ruling at an event in St. Augustine.

“It’s a bad law. It’s made promises after promises. Remember it was supposed to reduce healthcare costs. Costs have gone up. Exchanges around the country are collapsing,” said Gov. Rick Scott (R-Florida)

The Florida legislature faced a healthcare funding crisis in 2015 which caused state Senators to push for Medicaid expansion using federal money. The effort failed. Had the court ruled the other way – no contingency plan would have been in place for the more than one million Floridians who would have had their healthcare taken away.

Florida’s Senate President released a statement supporting the decision, but used the ruling to continue pushing for Medicaid expansion in the state.

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Lt. Governors Full Time Part Time Job

June 24th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida Lt. Governor Carlos Lopez-Canter makes 124 thousand dollars a year, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, a review of the Lt. Governor’s official schedule since being sworn in in January shows he has turned his full time job into a part time gig while he looks for new work.

“I Carlos Lopez-Cantera”

After taking the oath of Office on January 6th, Lt. Governor Lopez-Cantera’s schedule shows he didn’t work a full day for the rest of the month.

Overall, the official schedule shows the Lt.. Governor, represented her in blue, working 367 hours since January, while 40 hour a week employees, shown here in green, would have worked 968 Hours.

We asked Governor Rick Scott about the work ethic. Q: “it appears he has worked about four hours for every ten that’s been worked by an average Floridian. Is that acceptable to you?”

“Well, you can talk to the Lt. Governor about his work schedule, but I appreciate his hard work” says the Governor.

When Scott selected Lopez-Cantera for the number 2 job back in January 2014, he said it was in part because of the former State House members influence with the legislature.

“His legislative experience will make him very helpful” Scott said at the time.

But in April of this year, as House and Senate relations were melting down, Lopez-Cantera was nowhere to be found. In April, he was on the job just 40 percent of the time.

The resulting Special session cost taxpayers at least a million dollars,, so we asked the Governor Q:”Could that have been avoided if he’d been on the job?”

“I appreciate what Carlos has done.”

Lopez-Cantera’s schedule has is already fodder for Florida Democratic Party Spokesman Max Steel  “He’s shown up for work four times this month. I think most people would get fired if they were doing that” says Steele.

When Governor Bob graham was asked about his future plans, he would always say the best resume for the job you want is the job you are doing.

The Lt. Governor is expected to announce a run for the US Senate in July. Others have used time spent campaigning for the next job against would be candidates.

In 2006, Democratic gubernatorial candidate Jim Davis was lampooned with an empty chair.“Jim Davis. If he doesn’t show up for work now, why should we elect him Governor?”

It’s a charge to which Lopez Cantera has left himself vulnerable.

Lopez Cantera continues to collect his ten thousand dollar a month salary, putting his hourly wage in June at about 1300 dollars an hour. Requests to speak with the Lt. Governor by phone went unanswered.

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Operation Summer Heat Nabs 42 Sex Offenders

June 24th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Forty two sex offenders who failed to register when they moved have been arrested in a month and a half operation from one end of the state to the other. FDLE Agent Seth Montogomery says Operation Summer Heat was intended to send a message to offenders who failed to re-register when they moved.

“These are offenders who have proven by the criminal acts they have already committed that they have the capacity to carry out violent acts on the public. So its important that we know where they are, the public knows where they are, and our registry accurately reflects that” says Montogomery.

The U-S Marshall’s office and local law enforcement cooperated in the operation.

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Abortion Wait Challenged

June 24th, 2015 by flanews

An abortion waiting period bill signed by the Governor is being challenged in court. As Matt Galka tells us, opponents of the bill say the state is unconstitutionally burdening women.

A 24 hour abortion waiting period bill passed by the legislature and signed by the Governor earlier this month isn’t being enforced yet. Opponents of the legislation tried to stop the law Wednesday before it takes effect.

The American Civil Liberties Union, representing a Gainesville clinic, says the law infringes on a woman’s constitutional right to privacy and creates an unnecessary burden.

“The state believes you would benefit by taking another day for you to think this over. We don’t do this for any other medical procedure, this is about the state wanting to dissuade women from getting abortions,” said ACLU Reproductive Freedom Project Attorney Renee Paradis.

Attorneys for the state disagree.  They say lawmakers have a right to protect interests of an unborn child.

“I don’t think there was anything, as we pointed out, that the legislature did that they didn’t have every right to do on behalf, as we say, the vulnerable class of pregnant women and also on behalf of the fetuses,” said State Special Counsel Blaine Winship.

The new law is set to go into effect next week on July 1st.

“Women are calling up the clinic, the clinics are saying we’re not sure, as of July 1st it may be that you’re going to have to make two trips to the clinic, so I think there are a lot of women who are really uncertain how it will effect their lives,” said Paradis.

The Governor’s stance didn’t waiver earlier this week.

“I signed the law because I believe in it and I’m absolutely pro-life,” said Gov. Rick Scott.

Plaintiffs assume the looming law will ultimately be settled in the state’s Supreme Court. The Tallahassee judge presiding over the case said that he expects to make a ruling on an injunction soon.

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Scott Vetoes 461 Million, says Policy, not Politics the Reason

June 23rd, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott today signed what is a now 76.1 billion dollar budget, insuring the state keeps operating after July first, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, he cut almost half a billion in spending authorized by lawmakers.

No end of the state was safe from the Governor’s veto pen.

“I went through the budget saying…asking what’s a statewide priority” Governro Rick Scott told reporters.

Scott cut a million to rebuild the Escambia jail after an explosion. 750 thousand was cut from Hillsborough and Lee County efforts to keep the mentally ill out of jail. A project to help the homeless in Jacksonville lost 97 thousand. And Barney Bishop represents a prison reentry company that saw two projects totaling 750 thousand cut.

“It didn’t help, but these projects aren’t going to go away because of these vetoes” says Bishop.

The question is whether some of the cuts were political payback. 600 thousand fro training persons with disabilities died. Senate President Andy Gardiner has a son with Down Syndrome and he opposed Scott on health care expansion. Scott was asked point blank if he was getting even.

“Absolutely not. If you look at the budget, I went through it trying to find what was the best thing for our state” says Scott.

But 8 million for a trails project…a favorite of th Senate President is out.

Scott vetoed a downtown campus for the University of Central Florida, but left one in tampa for the University of South Florida. Andy Gardiner, the Senate President, is in central Florida.

Also gone was 15 million for a University of Central Florida downtown campus, but a nearly identical project in downtown tampa survived. The Difference says Scott was the process “It’s simple. One went through the Board of Governors process and one did not says Scott.”

The people who fight forest fires for the state each lost a 2 thousand dollar pay raise.

And so the list goes on for 85 pages.

In a release, the Senate President said the vetoes would result in “dreams being destroyed. As for the Governor, the Andy Gardiner said “his clear disregard for the public policy merits of many legislative initiatives underscores that today’s veto list is more about politics than sound fiscal policy,”

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Environmentalists Sue the Legislature

June 23rd, 2015 by flanews

Environmentalists say Florida voters approved Amendment One under the condition that record funding would be put towards land buying and protection. As Matt Galka tell us, they’re now suing the legislature because they believe it didn’t pan out that way.

The Florida legislature is staring a lawsuit in the face from three environmentalist groups unhappy about how Amendment One funds were handled.  Florida Wildlife Federation President Manley Fuller is part of the group suing.

“We’d like to see judicial direction about what is the proper expenditure of Amendment 1 dollars and what’s not appropriate,” said Fuller.

Voters mandated the legislature use around $700 million dollars of tax money to go towards conservation.  Environmentalists wanted at least $300 million to go into a land acquisition trust fund.  They wound up with $89 million.

 

 

The lawsuit wouldn’t change any budget allocations for this year. The group is hoping for more directions in the future.  The Governor stood by what the state is doing for the environment.

 

“$880 million dollars for water quality in the Everglades. Investing in the Kissimmee River, I think it’s the third year record funding for our springs, we’re doing the right thing for our environment,” said Gov. Rick Scott (R-Florida) when asked about the lawsuit.

The lawsuit alleges that $300 million of the Amendment One dollars is going toward backfilling state agency costs.

The Governor vetoed a number of water and sewer projects from the state budget Monday. The group filing the lawsuit says that even though some of the moves were good, it doesn’t change the core of their complaint.

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Last Minute Push to End Bear Hunt

June 22nd, 2015 by flanews

The Humane Society of the United States is making a last minute push to try and stop a proposed bear hunt in Florida. 90,000 petitions against the proposed hunt were delivered to the Governor’s office.  The Humane Society says they’re not convinced the bear population can sustain a hunting season – which was outlawed in 1994.

“We do not believe that to have bears in the future of Florida that every year we can eliminate 20 percent of the population. That’s what they want to do, eliminate 20 percent of the population, every year, of a population that’s barely recovered and, we say, not recovered enough,” said Laura Bevan.

The state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is scheduled to vote on the plan Wednesday. If approved, a bear hunting season could begin in October.

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