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Preventing Wildfires

July 31st, 2015 by flanews

National wildlife groups  are ramping up efforts across the southeast to help out vulnerable ecosystems, and that includes plant life here in Florida. As Matt Galka tells us, part of that effort is teaching people the difference between good fires and bad fires, and hopefully preventing wildfires.

The longleaf pine once stretched from Virginia to Texas and covered 90 million acres of land in the U.S. That numbers down to around 3.5 million acres.  But officials are hoping for a comeback.

$4.6 million dollars from the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation will be pumped into projects including here in Florida.  Cheryl Millett with the Nature Conservancy says prescribed fires will be key in restoring the longleaf pine, and prevent bigger problems.

“When we get one of those lightning strikes that we’re going to get because we’re in the lightning capital of North America, it doesn’t turn into a big wildfire. Having that prescribed burn really helps,” she said.

Prescribed burns help clear out the excess brush and shrubs from Florida vegetation. Jennifer Evans helped run a workshop in Florida’s capital aimed at educating people throughout the state about the necessary fires.

“Some fires can be good fires. We want people to understand that there are actually good fires out there and that are good for the ecosystem and the health of the forest,” said Evans.

Vernon Compton with the Longleaf Alliance says now they need to reach out to private landowners about the fire’s benefit.

“In Florida, land is going to burn sooner or later, either under controlled conditions or under wildfire, I look at it like fire is your best insurance policy,” he said.

Preventing wildfires would be a good break for state firefighters who are already having a tough year. Florida Forest Service firefighters were set to get raises this year, until it was ultimately cut out of the budget.

The $4.6 million dollars granted to programs around the country looks to restore nearly 12,000 acres of longleaf pine.

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Docs vs. Glocks Battle Continues

July 30th, 2015 by flanews

Should a trip to the doctor for a checkup include a question about whether or not you own a gun? As Matt Galka tells us, Florida can start enforcing a ban on those questions shortly.

Pediatrician Louis St. Petery says the first funeral he attended in Tallahassee was for a child who shot himself by accident with a parent’s hand gun.

 

“That was a shocking thing for us at that point in time, for my wife and me, and one of the reasons that I’m pretty passionate about the fact this needs to be done correctly,” he said.

St. Petery and the American Academy of Pediatrics have been fighting against a law for the past four years that would prevent Doctors from asking patients about gun ownership.

The “Docs vs. Glocks” law pits the first amendment against the second amendment.  An appeals court lifted the injunction on the law earlier this week.

 

National Rifle Association lobbyist Marion Hammer says questioning patients about guns is outside of the scope of a doctor’s work.

“When you take a child to a pediatrician for medical care, you’re not taking them there to have a doctor talk to you about their political agendas with regard to firearms,” she said.

Opponents of the law argue it’s no different than talking to parents about poison control. The American Civil Liberties Union bashed the court’s decision.

“This is a free speech restriction, but it’s a free speech restriction that also could be very, very dangerous for the children of the state of Florida,” said Executive Director Howard Simon.

The law could take effect in about a month pending any further appeals. Groups challenging the law say doctors can still ask about gun ownership as they continue to go through the appeals process.

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Third Special Session Called

July 29th, 2015 by flanews

An unprecedented admission by the Florida legislature has given way to another special session in the state for 2015.  As Matt Galka tells us, groups that have been pushing for proper voting maps say the legislature is admitting they were wrong.

The Florida Senate says their voting districts will most likely be unconstitutional and they’ll need to be redrawn.  Peter Butzin with Common Cause Florida, a group challenging the districts, is declaring victory.

 

“They’re caving in and they’re recognizing that we’ve won, and that they’ve lost.  I’m happy they’ve come to that conclusion, it’s after over 7 million dollars have been spent on litigation, it’s over three years past after the original redistricting plan,” said Butzin.

The legislature will hold a third special session of 2015 in order to redraw the voting maps. The move helps the Senate avoid a potential trial.

 

“I’ve seen several quotes from Senate leadership saying anytime they can avoid a trial it’s in their best interest, and they made that determination that it’s in their best interest to take on the maps without the courts dictating it,” said Penny Walker Bos with the League of Women Voters.

 

Redrawing maps might not be the only business being decided during the third special session.

The October special session will coincide with the expiration of a negotiation window between the state and Seminole tribe for a deal that authorizes blackjack and table games. Gaming law expert Marc Dunbar says it sets up nicely for the legislature to kill two birds with one stone.

“That’s the way the compact was laid out, it gave them the 90 day period to negotiate, table games have to be stopped October 29th, so an October Special Session makes sense to bring everything in for a landing,” he said.

The state’s third special session will run from October 19th through November 6th.

A second special session is already scheduled to begin in about two weeks to redraw congressional voting maps.

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Walton County Votes to Replace Confederate Flag…With Different Confederate Flag

July 28th, 2015 by flanews

The confederate flag was still flying over a panhandle county’s courthouse Tuesday morning. Matt Galka was at the county commission meeting where officials voted on whether or not to keep the divisive symbol up.

In Walton county located in Florida’s panhandle, it’s commonplace to see a truck decked out in Confederate flags. But the confederate flag has divided one of Florida’s oldest counties.
The Confederate Battle Flag has flown over the county courthouse grounds since 1964 when the Civil Rights Act was passed.
Dozens turned out for a commission meeting Tuesday debating whether or not it should come down.
“The confederate battle flag symbolizes the desire to keep my people in bondage,” said flag opponent Tyrone Broadus.
“We need to honor our ancestors. Can’t nobody say it’s race,” said Casey Nelson, who wants to keep the flag up.
Ultimately the county commission decided the Confederate Battle Flag should come down, but another confederate symbol will go up.
Commissioner Sara Comander offered up replacing the flag with the original “stars and bars” as a compromise.
“I have to try to come to a decision that will benefit everybody,” she said.
The motion passed 4-0.
A proposal to remove the flag completely got little support from the commission.
Walton County officials say they ordered the new Confederate Flag today (Tuesday) and could be replacing the old one as early as Wednesday.

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State, Tribe Fire Off Letters On Gaming

July 27th, 2015 by flanews

The deal allowing blackjack and other table games at Seminole casinos in the state is just about up. As Matt Galka tells us, the state is wondering when the Tribe will end those games.

Cards are still being dealt at Seminole Casinos around the state…for now.  The provision in the Seminole Compact that gives the Tribe exclusive rights to deal blackjack and other table games expires August 1st.

 

The state’s top regulator Ken Lawson sent a letter to the tribe Monday asking when they’d stop the games.  The deal says the Tribe has 90 days to end the card games because the two sides have not yet reached an extension.

 

Gaming law expert Marc Dunbar says he doesn’t see the Tribe folding on the games anytime soon.

“I think they’ll be dealing blackjack in Tampa and Hollywood for several more years to come regardless of what happens in court, again, there are strengths and weaknesses in both sides of this equation,” he said.

The Seminoles say the state already violated the compact by allowing electronic versions of the game in other parts of the state.  Their view: they can still offer the games and not pay the state revenue because of the violation.

 

The two sides aren’t exactly talking about chump change. The compact has made about a billion dollars for the state in the last five years.

Dunbar says all signs seem to be pointing to a date in front of a judge.

 

“This is all a precursor, probably, to a dance in a federal court in front of a judge sometime in October, if they don’t resolve things. I think the timing of this is trying to position things for time at a negotiating table, they’ll work it out, and we’ll probably see maybe an October special session,” he said.

The tribe had requested a meeting with the Governor last month to come to a resolution. That has yet to happen.State officials have requested to meet with the Tribe in the next 15 days to discuss the Tribe’s timeline for shutting down the card games. The Seminole Tribe sent their own letter to the Governor’s office Monday, requesting mediation with the state in the next 30 days to continue allowing card games and expanding where they can do so.

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State Seeks E-Cig Regulations from Feds

July 24th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

The state’s top doctor is calling for warning labels on e cigarette devices and vials of liquid nicotine., It is already illegal for anyone under 18 to use or be sold e cigarette products, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, being illegal hasn’t stopped an explosion in underage use.

State lawmakers make it clear last year…e cigarettes were illegal for anyone under 18. But that’s not good enough says the Department of Health.  The State’s top doctor wants warning labels, and child proof caps which can only come with federal regulation. Shannon Hughes is the State Health Departments point person on tobacco.

““The packaging is a concern. There is no regulation, no law, that says how the liquid nicotine is to be dispensed. They currently do not have child safe lids on them” says Hughes.

In this store there are three signs that say you must be at least 18, and they check ID.

E cigarette use by high school age students has doubled in just a year. And despite age restrictions, internet purchases remain a problem.

And liquid tobacco can be colorful to young eyes. Calls nationally to poison control hot lines have also increased from one a month to 215.

Amy and Jim Hampton have been selling e cigarettes for three years

“I think it does need to have warning labels on. You know, you want it to be a safe product” says Amy Hampton

Amy says parents have some responsibility as well.

“Don’t leave your juice sitting where a child can access it” she advises.

Sot: Shannon Hughes

“It’s all our responsibility. We, at Public Health, our job is to get the word out and help raise awareness” says DOH’s Hughes.

The most recent statistics show there were 136 arrests for selling tobacco products to under age buyers.

Underage tobacco users can expect to do community service and pay a small fine. Multiple violations can result in a teen’s drivers license being suspended. More than 500 were suspended in the most recent statistics.

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ADA Turns 25

July 24th, 2015 by flanews

Life wasn’t easy for Americans living with disabilities a quarter of a century ago. But as Matt Galka tells us, the 25th anniversary of the Americans with Disabilities act is a cause for celebration, but doesn’t mean the work is done.

John Kemp says there’s no comparison between 2015 and 1990.

“It’s so much better today because of the Americans with Disabilities Act,” he said.

Kemp, a quadruple amputee, was instrumental in getting the law signed 25 years ago.  It helped break down many walls there were holding people with disabilities back from living a normal life.

“The more that we’ve been able to include people with disabilities into the fabric for America, it lifts all boats, it increases the exchange, the understanding, and the appreciation of all people,” said Kemp.

Supporters marched through Florida’s Capital city to mark the 25th anniversary of the law that eliminated discrimination for people with disabilities. But many in attendance said there was still a lot of work to be done.

Florida disability advocate J.R. Harding agreed that things are better today.

“It’s like going from the dark ages to the light,” he said.

But the gaps remain in employment.

“If we’re truly to be sustainable, if we’re going to benefit from our diversity, and the richness and the talents of all people, individuals with disabilities need to be included,” said Harding.

Florida Education Commissioner Pam Stewart says the state is doing everything it can to make sure students with disabilities aren’t left behind.

“We’ve done great work in the state of Florida with our students with disabilities and actually exceed the national average in our growth with students with disabilities,” said Stewart.

The unemployment rate for people with disabilities hovers around 13 percent, a number many would like to see decrease dramatically in the next 25 years.

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Attorneys General Want Big Five Phone Companies to Crack Down on Robo Calls

July 23rd, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

If you’ve ever scrambled to answer your phone only to hear a recorded message, you are not alone. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, 45  State Attorneys General, including Florida’s, want the phone companies to do something about the calls.

The come on a daily basis. Calls offering something for nothing.

“It’s already been paid for, so there’s no cost to you” is how one call provided by the Attorney General went.

The company behind that call has been the subject of two complaints filed by the state.

And Even though the calls say something is free…AG Spokesman Gerald Whitney Ray says what they want is your credit card info.

“The goal is always to get that personal information, and you should be very protective of it. Once they get that financial information, you know, they can set up billing, invoices, bill you directly, and that’s what was happening here.”

Jeff Soderberg got a call claiming to be from the IRS, but he knew it was a scam. He reported it to the Attorney General.

“It was surprising. It really was. You know you always figure this is stuff you read about or watch on TV and it always happens to other people, so it was kind of a stunning amazement to me that my house got called” said Soderberg.

Complaints about robo calls are surging. this week, 45 Attorneys General, including Florida’s Pam Bondi sent a letter to the big five phone companies urging them to implement robo call blocking technology. ROBO00000006

And one way to fight back is to register on the do not call list. And while it may not stop many scammers from calling, what it will do is give officials another avenue to attack the scammers.

Jen Meale, spokesperson for the Fl. Dept of Ag. And Consumer Svcs Spokesperson says violations of the do not call list are the number one consumer complaint in the state. “Any violations that company can be held responsible and face fines” says Meale

Experts offer this advice. Don’t punch any buttons or prompts from the robo call. Simply hang up….otherwise you are likely to find your phone ringing more often.

Florida eliminated the fee for registering on the do not call list in 2012. You can sign up or file a complaint online at www.fldnc.com

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Change the Vote

July 23rd, 2015 by flanews

A bipartisan group of activists wants to drastically change the way candidates are selected. As Matt Galka tells us, the group says it’s an effort to include everyone.

Closed primaries determine Florida’s partisan candidates for Congress, the state legislature, Governor and cabinet.  But one group wants to change that.

“Currently we have over 27 percent of Florida registered voters who are registered as non-party affiliation or NPA’s by law those people are blocked,” said Glenn Burhans.

Burhans is part of the “All Voters Vote” initiative.  The group wants to open up the closed primaries.  They’ve proposed a constitutional amendment drastically changing the primary system to allow non-party affiliate voters to cast ballots.

The All Voters Vote group hopes their effort would change the way candidates appeal to Floridians.

“By opening up the primary process your going to have canadates that will have to speak to a broader cross section in order to win,” said Burhans.

Candidates involved in primaries would have to appeal to more than just their base.  The proposal also changes the way races are decided.  If a candidate received more than 50 percent of the vote in a primary would win the office, or the top two would advance to a general election if there was no majority winner.

With a special session looming for the legislature to once again draw Fair Districts, Burhans says the original intent was a good start, but drawing voting lines doesn’t solve every problem.

“It does not address and can not address today’s problem and tomorrows problem. Which is the growing disenfranchisement of voters,” he said.

The group will need nearly 700 thousand signatures to get the proposal on 2016’s ballot.

The bipartisan group that’s pushing the ballot initiative includes a former Democratic campaign manager for Governor Reubin Askew, and former Republican Secretary of State Jim Smith.

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New Idea Could Bring More Lawyers to State

July 22nd, 2015 by flanews

Floridians in need of a lawyer could have many more options in the near future.  As Matt Galka tells us, the Florida Bar association is mulling over an idea to allow out of state lawyers to practice in the Sunshine State.

Florida isn’t seeing a shortage of lawyers by any means.  The more than 100 thousand licensed Florida attorneys could be getting some company soon.  The Florida Bar is mulling over an idea to admit out of state attorneys without requiring them to pass the state exam. We caught up with Miami based president Ramon Abadin through Skype.

“We live in a country that is moving towards a National Bar Exam, uniform Bar Exam, and because it’s something that I think Florida lawyers should consider,” said Abadin.
The Bar will review a report recommending what’s called reciprocity. The practice is already used in half of the country.  The recommendations include a stipulation that an admitted out of state lawyer be in good standing and in business for five of the last seven years. But not every attorney is excited about the possibility of more lawyers in the courtroom.

Clemency lawyer Reggie Garcia is hesitant. He says Florida’s laws can be different than any other state.

“No offense to other states, but particularly our smaller states that don’t have as many residents that don’t have the same laws we do. Our legislature, as you know from covering them meets every year for 60 days, often more, those laws just change,” said Garcia.

Abadin says the idea reflects changing times.

“If anything my speech has done exactly what it’s intended to do, which is engage the members of the Florida Bar in the changes that are occurring to the profession,” he said.

The proposal is a long way away from a reality. The Florida Supreme Court would have to make the final decision.

Nearly 50 percent of Bar members who responded to a survey last year said that the state already has too many lawyers.

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National Guard Armory Threatened

July 21st, 2015 by flanews

A threat is made to a National Guard facility down the street Florida’s Capitol. As Matt Galka tells us, it comes in the wake of a shooting tragedy in Tennessee less than a week ago, and after the Governor took steps to secure facilities around the state.

Bomb sniffing dogs roamed the parking lot of Tallahassee’s National Guard Armory Tuesday afternoon. A bomb threat was made against the armory. Police were alerted to it by a phone call.

“Consolidated Dispatch Agency received a call from a citizen who said a male approached him in the parking lot of the Dollar General at Capital Circle and Park Ave and asked if he had a phone; he said yes. He said ‘you better call the police and tell them theirs a bomb inside of the National Armory,'” said David Northway with the Tallahassee Police Department.

Police say the man then fled the Dollar General and ran behind the building located just five miles from the Capitol. The armory was evacuated for more than three hours.

The threat comes just a short time after Florida’s Governor issued an executive order to help better secure National Guard facilities around the state.

Governor Rick Scott ordered six storefront recruiting offices to be moved to armories. He also ordered that every guardsman be armed, and wants local law enforcement involved in security of the National Guard locations around the state.

“Our patrol officers do what we call extra patrols of the area, when they have time they do come into the area and are checking all of the areas; businesses, closed businesses and one of them is the National Guard area, yes. As a matter of fact, we have officers who come in during off hours and check the National Guard Armory,” said Northway

The Armory’s flags were flying at half-staff to honor four Marines and a Navy sailor killed less than a week ago at two military sites in Tennessee.

The Governor is set to visit a Florid Air National Guard base in Jacksonville Wednesday to address Guardsmen and continue to push security for the facilities.

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A Marriage Uptick in Florida

July 21st, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

A new report from the Department of Health shows slightly more people got married last year than the year before, ending what has been a decade long decline, And as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the number of divorces is also falling.

Alma Reyes Rivera tided the knot with her beau Louis in a civil ceremony on Tuesday.

“I do” said the blushing bride when the time came.

Alma and Louis may be part of a growing trend.

“We have been together about three years now, so we decided to get married because we love each other.”

The actual number of marriages and the number of marriages as a percent have been falling for a decade. 2014 saw a three tenths of a percentage uptick in marriage. Michele Taylor from Florida’s Catholic Conference says that’s a good thing.

“Those who are married are generally happier, healthier, and enjoy longer lives than those who are not married” says Taylor.

The vital statistics report for last year shows there were 54 divorces for every one hundred marriages. Not since 1960 has there been a lower percentage of divorces when compared to population. And Before that…the lowest rate was in the 1930’s.

Alma told us she found the lower divorce rate heartening, “That’s a good news that marriages are lasting longer in these times. It’s really difficult” said the newlywed.

One trend that hasn’t changed…more people get married and divorced in Florida when compared to the national average.

Nationally, the marriage and divorce rate is about a half percent less than it is here in the Sunshine state.

Even with the uptick, there were still about 13 thousand fewer marriages from the high water mark in 2006 when about 8 point 8 percent of the population married…compared to 7 point 4 percent last year.

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Jeb Returns to Mount Tallahassee

July 20th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Former Florida Governor and now Presidential Candidate Jeb Bush returned to the state Capital he once called Mount Tallahassee to talk about the changes he made in state government, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the changes he hopes to make in Washington.

Jeb bush was the first Republican governor of FL to serve two terms and many who came to see him owe the political and monetary fortunes to the now presidential candidate.

“It’s good to be back in Tallahassee and see so many friends” Bush said at the beginning of his remarks.

When first elected, Bush started calling the Capitol Mount Tallahassee “Because it was remote from the people, caught up in the ways of a comfortable establishment. I was a governor who refused to go along with that establishment” he explained.

Now, Bush says he will use the same leadership skills learned in Mt. Tallahassee to cut taxes, programs and government at the national level. He’s calling for a hiring freeze. “We will go with a simple three out, one in, across the Federal workforce” says the Presidential hopeful.

Bush also wants a line item veto as President…something he used 2500 times while Governor, earning the nickname Veto Carlione. “At first I thought it was somewhat of an insult, but the simple fact is, I got to like it, a lot!”

Bush had something to say about the ongoing controversy between Donald Trump and John McCain. “John McCain…a real hero, by the way” he said, deviating from his prepared remarks.

And while Bush didn’t mention Donald Trump by name during his speech, he had plenty to afterwards. “This is a legitimate hero who has served his country in lots of ways. Mr. Trump knows that. He should just apologize. I think that will just move it on to the next thing” Bush said.

Bush will be in Orlando and Miami later this month, a reflection of the states power to choose both a nominee and a President.

Bush has strong remarks for other candidates who now serve in Congress, saying they shouldn’t be paid for the days they miss on the campaign trail.

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Special Session to Redraw Unconstitutional Maps Set for August 10-22

July 20th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

It’s official. Florida lawmakers are calling themselves into a twelve day special session to redraw the state’s congressional maps. They will arrive at the State Capitol on Monday afternoon, August tenth, and spend the next 12 days working on the maps declared unconstitutional by the Florida Supreme Court. The judge in the case set a deadline of September 25th to have the maps drawn and any challenges in court resolved. A copy of the proclamation is attached.

<Proclamation SS 2015-B.pdf>

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Wage Report

July 20th, 2015 by flanews

Would paying employees a higher wage force job cuts? As Matt Galka tells us, a new study shows the opposite.

To raise or not to raise the minimum wage? Opponents say upping wages would result in lost jobs, but government watchdog group Integrity Florida says not so fast.

 

“We wanted to take an objective look at the claim made by some that an increase in the minimum wage means employers would cut jobs. In short, our research found no evidence that claim is true,” said Ben Wilcox, co-author of the group’s wage report.

The group took federal Department of Labor statistics from every state in the country.  The conclusion: the states that upped pay faired better than those that didn’t when it came to creating jobs.

“In the 25 states plus the District of Columbia where the minimum wage has increased since January 1 2014, job growth has actually been higher than in states where the rate did not go up,” said Wilcox.

Florida, which has pays 80 cents more than the federal minimum wage, saw job growth of more than 5 percent over the course of the study.

There is a ballot initiative for the 2016 election in Florida to raise the minimum wage. Integrity Florida’s study didn’t examine potential outcomes if that were to happen, or if the minimum wage went even higher.

“The ones that raised the rate the most had the most job growth interestingly, now 15 dollars or 13 dollars or whatever, this report did not address,” said Alan Stonecipher, who also co-authored the report.

West Virginia was the only state that raised the minimum wage and didn’t see employment gains.  Integrity Florida says their report was funded through their own reserves, not anyone with any interest in raising the minimum wage. They also didn’t take a position on weather pay should go up.

Local governments in Florida are not allowed to pass their own minimum wage ordinances.

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