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Ethics Commission Staff Seek Financial Disclosure Compliance

August 31st, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Hundreds of public officials across Florida are about to be fined twenty-five dollars a day because they have failed to file required financial disclosure information. The information was due July first, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us the grace period to file the financial snapshot for almost a thousand people who have yet to file ends tonight.

Governor Rick Scott has a net worth of 147 million. We know, because Scott is one of 38 thousand public officials required to disclose how much money they made in the previous year, what they own and what it’s worth. The form is due on July fist  but fines don’t kick in until September.

“With the Florida Commission on Ethics.”

“This is about her disclosure”  is how phone concersations sounded as the entire ethics commission staff spent a day calling the 1300 who were still late. Executive Director Virlindia Doss says they would rather not fine people. “We would much rather get people to file than to fine them at the end, collect those fines, or even prosecute them for failing to file” says Doss.

The filing requirements have been in place since the late 1970’s. There were eight elected legislators who had not filed by Monday morning.

It’s not just public officials who have to file, it’s also people who have the authority to spend more than twenty thousand dollars of your tax money.

The disclosure is one of the main ways  to know if someone is profiting from their service said Chris Anderson between phone calls.

“You have somebody on the zoning board and they disclose they own a particular piece of property at a certain location, and you might say, aha..no wonder they are taking this position toward this rezoning change that’s right down the road from their property/

Those who don’t file by the end of the day Monday face a 25 dollar a fine starting Tuesday morning

“You mailed it yesterday. Very Good wa the response to one official on the other end of the line.

The fine is capped at 1500 hundred dollars…which takes 60 days to accumulate.

The day began with 987 people who had yet to file. 67 were constitutional officers, another 230 were from state boards, and just over 700 local officials had yet to disclose their finances.

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Tracking TS Erika

August 28th, 2015 by flanews

Watching and waiting. That’s what state officials and Floridians are doing as all eyes are on Tropical Storm Erika and it’s still to be determined path towards Florida. As Matt Galka tells us, the Governor has already issued a state of emergency.

The effect Tropical Storm Erika will have on Florida is still very unclear.  The state’s Division of Emergency Management center continued to buzz Friday, but didn’t provide many details about preparations.

The State’s Emergency Operations Center in Tallahassee remained at activation level 2 Friday but declined to give any further comment on-camera

We were shut out and told to reference the Governor’s meeting in Miami Friday morning.

“Right now we don’t know how much rainfall we’re going to get, the storm tracks west, which means we’re probably going to get more rainfall, again we don’t know yet. That’s probably one of our biggest risks,” said Governor Rick Scott after his South Florida briefing.

The Red Cross is gearing up. Shannon Tyler says Centers in the North, Central, and Southern regions are making preparations.

“All three have stood up and are actively calling volunteers, and getting volunteers to let us know their availability in the event that we need. We’re putting shelters on standby across the state,” said Tyler.

Tyler says even if the storm turns out to be nothing, situations like this are still good reminders for people who may have forgotten just how devastating they can be.

 

“Everyone needs to be self sufficient for up to 72 hours in the event of any kind of large disaster…that means water, food. It’s important not only to have a plan but to share your plans with families,” she said.

The storm is being blamed for deaths in the Caribbean as it continues to thrash the island region.

The state of emergency helps Florida when it comes to seeking assistance from other states or the federal government. The National Guard has been activated as long as the storm threat remains.

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A Small Panhandle Dairy Fights State Over “Natural” Skimmed Milk

August 28th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

A small panhandle dairy 50 miles west of the State Capitol has been fighting the state for three years over whether or not it can sell it’s skim milk without being forced by the state to add vitamins to the milk. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, A federal judge may soon make the call.

Ocheese Creamery started selling milk wholesale and directly to the public five years ago.

“This is actually where the milking takes place up here” says Pierre Wesselhoft, the son of the owners.

Its a niche dairy…using low temperature pasteurization “We think this makes a better product.”

And even bottling in glass bottles. “There’s no possibility of things to leach into the milk you don’t want there” says Wesselhoft.

Three years ago, the state ordered Ocheesee to stop selling skim milk…unless it agreed to add vitamin A back into what is already a natural product. Ocheesee says its customers want no part of added vitamins.

“Let us make our product. Say what it is, Natural skim milk with nothing added to it, and let us sell it like that, and they want to say, no, you can’t do that, so..” says Pierre.

Now its a case of David battling Goliath. Ocheesee is suing in Federal Court. They argue the state can’t make the dairy call its milk “imitation skim milk” because it isn’t.

On any given day, this dairy is milking a hundred cows a day. Each one producing five gallons of milk.

Ironically, Ocheesee is allowed to use the skim milk it can’t sell to make yogurt or cottage cheese. “It’s sort of silly” says Wesselhoft. “We can make yogurt from it. All we do is add culture to the skim milk so we can sell that yogurt and its safe for people to eat and we don’t add vitamin A to the yogurt.”

Until the case is resolved, OCheesee will keep skimming it’s milk to make cream and butter, and will keep dumping as many as 400 gallons of drinkable skim milk each week onto its fields as fertilizer.

Not all states require the vitamins removed from milk in the skimming process to be added back in before it can be sold. A ruling from the Federal Courts is expected in about a month.

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Hurricane Ready

August 27th, 2015 by flanews

State officials are tracking Tropical Storm Erika as it makes it’s way potentially toward Florida. As Matt Galka tells us, it could turn into a hurricane, and the Governor says after all these years of Florida being hurricane-free, people still need a plan.

Emergency management officials briefed Governor Rick Scott on the latest information for Tropical Storm Erika Thursday.

 

The storm could intensify and become Florida’s first hurricane in a decade.  Governor Scott says Floridians shouldn’t get complacent after 10 years of no hurricanes.

“You have got and stop and say to yourself “I know I want to do all the fun things this weekend,” but just get ready for this. Hopefully this will not be a big problem, but we live in a peninsula, so lets get prepared,” said Gov. Scott.

The state’s Emergency Operations Center sits at Level 2 activation – a step below the level that is used when hurricanes or strong storms are imminent.  There’s still uncertainty for the storm’s path. And while it could be the first hurricane during the Governor’s time in office, he says he’s no stranger to the storms.

The Governor was running a hospital chain in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew devastated South Florida.

“We had a hospital, basically, completely demolished. We had 500 employees without homes, we had to handle patients for hours, but we had a complete team there, we got our hospitals back open, and we did a good job,” he said.

Millions of people moved to the state since the last hurricane hit. Officials say they’re guiding local efforts.

“Our regional coordinators are out throughout the state, in those county emergency operations centers, interacting direclyt with their county emergency management counterparts. I’ve communicated with our folks at FEMA, we have representatives from DHS here in the EOC, so all levels of Government are engaged at this point,” said Emergency Management Director Bryan Koon.

The main message: Florida won’t be hurricane free forever, so everyone should always have a plan in place.

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Former Co-workers Still Stunned over Journalist’s Shooting

August 27th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Former Florida Co workers of Virginia Shooter Vester Flanagan got together last night to share stories and support. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, for one of those co workers, it is a feeling of but for the grace of god she was not also a victim.

Tallahassee TV-40 Alumni who worked with Vester Flanagan circulated a photo collage on social media. Of the 30 or so group photos, Flanigan appears in just four…and is smiling in only one.

Nancy Dignon was a meteorologist at the Tallahassee TV station and is still chilled by a run in with Flanagan following a weekend news cast.

“I had just kinda mentioned to my producer, It was a mistake. It shouldn’t have been opening arguments. It should have been opening statements. And he overheard me and came over and started yelling at me, and he was a pretty intimidating guy, and as he’s yelling at me that I’m not his news director or anything, I couldn’t think of anything to say but you can;’t talk to me like that. And he..and as you said, he wanted to take it outside, and I was…stunned” says Dignon, who now teaches at a Community College.

Flanagan spent just a year on TV here. He contract was not renewed, in part because of his run in with Nancy Dignon.

Dignon says that for those who are used to being in front of a camera, telling other people’s story, the hideous crime hits too close to home.

Q:“You’re wearing dark glasses. It’s been a tough couple of days?” We asked.

“It’s probably the most difficult day and a half of my life. You know…for a lot of other folks I worked with its a tough time, and it’s tough to process all this, I think.”

Many who worked with the former anchor refuse to mention his name as they soothe each other’s fears on social media.

Flanagan filed a lawsuit against the Tallahassee station after his contract was not renewed alleging racial discrimination. None of the former employees say they ever saw race based discrimination, but say Flanagan was shunned because he was difficult.”

 

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Virginia Shooter had Tallahassee Ties

August 27th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

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Vester Flanagan, the man who has been identified as the shooter of a Roanoke Virginia news crew while they were live on the air this morning worked here in Florida. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, Flanigan had a rocky relationship with a Tallahassee television station and the people who worked there.

 Vester Flanagan, who used the on air name Bryce Williams worked weekends at this Tallahassee TV Station from early 1999 until he was told in February 2000 that his contract would not be renewed.

“After Flanagan was told his contract would not be renewed, he filed a lawsuit, alleging employment discrimination.”

Marie Mattox was his attorney.  “I know that he was understandably upset, based on what happened to him back at the time I represented him.  Ah, but I have not had contact with him in probably fourteen years” Mattox said from her law office.

 The station eventually settled in Flanigan’s favor.

 The news director at the time declined to go on camera but said the news was devastation. Other co workers called him an “oddball.

In a series of tweets after posting video of the shooting, Flanagan, blamed Adam Ward, the photographer he allegedly shot for going to the stations HR department. He also singled out the reporter Allison Parker for making racist remarks.  Former Tallahassee co worker Michael Walker says Flanagan could anger easily.

Q:”He got a little angrier than most people?”

“He did, again when he did, he withdrew, or he told jokes, I can’t speak to any specific confrontation that jumps out at me. There’s nothing that jumps out at me other than the normal yelling and screaming when things don’t do right” said Walker, who is now a multi-media video producer.

When told of the tweets, Walker said he was not surprised Flanagan held a grudge.

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Hunters Could Outnumber Bears

August 26th, 2015 by flanews

Bear hunting season in Florida will be in effect in about two months. Officials say it’s an effort to help maintain the bear population, but as Matt Galka tells us, wildlife advocates are concerned about the amount of people who have already bought a permit.

The woods could get a little more crowded in October. Nearly 1800 people bought permits to hunt the Florida Black Bear. The state’s Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission recently revived a week long season in an effort to control population.

But wildlife advocates aren’t happy. Laura Bevan with the Humane Society of the United States says the hunters far outnumber the quota being set by the FWC.

“We have a real concern about flooding almost two thousand people, maybe more, into the woods, to hunt bear that are not used to being hunted, and that we are going to really decimate the population,” she said.

The FWC’s quota is expected to be around 320 bears for the entire season.

Bear hunting has been outlawed in the state since 1994 because of low population. But increased numbers and safeguards has the FWC convinced the quota won’t be exceeded.

They told us in an email that bag limits and monitoring could end the season early.

Eric Draper with the Florida Audubon isn’t convinced this is best for the population, and says they should focus more on limiting contact with humans.

 

“If people would do a better job of managing garbage, the bears would stay in the woods where they belong, and we wouldn’t have to send hunters out there to kill them,” he said.

Permits range from $100 dollars for residents to $300 dollars for out of staters.

The season is scheduled for October 24th and set to run 7 days.  State fish and wildlife officials are expected to discuss the quota next week in Fort Lauderdale. Permits will be available up until the hunt begins.

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FSU Murder Suspect

August 25th, 2015 by flanews

Nicole Nachtman, the 21 year old Florida State Student accused of killing her mother and stepfather in Tampa, was denied bail Tuesday morning. Matt Galka spoke to students living in the same dorm she was about the shocking arrest just before school started.

This video shows Florida State Student Nicole Nachtman making her first appearance in a Tallahassee courtroom Saturday. Nachtman is accused of shooting and killing her mother and stepfather in Hillsborough County. She’s being held in Tampa now, but the aftermath of her alleged crime is still being felt on campus.

 

Nachtman drove to FSU Friday after the alleged murders. She’s been a student at the school since 2013.

Students we caught up with were shocked that she lived in their dorm.

Cam Bradley didn’t know Nacthman, but says all the arrest was an odd start to the school year.

“It was crazy I mean, it could have happened anywhere, but the odds of it happening in my dorm is a little weird,” he said.

Camilo Alvarez says his mom sent him the story online and was shaken up.

“My mom sent me a link, she said oh did you hear about this thing that happened, I had no idea until she sent me the link,” he said.

The police report says Nacthman had heard “screaming voices” in her head urging her to commit the killings.

Katy Bloodwell had just found out about what happened when we caught up with her.

“You’re meeting a bunch of new people and you don’t know where they came from, which is interesting on its own, but it’s weird to think somebody our age has already been down that path,” she said.

Nacthman reportedly confessed the crime to other people when she arrived on campus.

Nachtman reportedly told a woman at Florida State to say that she was in her dorm room Thursday night if anyone asked.

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Dalvin Cook Trial Begins

August 24th, 2015 by flanews

The future of Florida State football player Dalvin Cook is in jeopardy as the running back faces misdemeanor battery charges after allegedly punching a woman outside a nightclub.  As Matt Galka tells us, his trial began Monday morning – and his accuser made her case.

Florida State Running Back Dalvin Cook faced a judge and jury Monday.  The running back is accused of punching a woman outside of a Tallahassee nightclub in June. His attorney’s told the jury he was playing the role of peacemaker.

 

“There was no point that Dalvin Cook punched, he never struck her, and he never inappropriate touched Ms. Madison Geohegan, the only thing he wanted was for everyone to calm down,” said Cook’s attorney Ricky Patel.

Accuser Madison Geohegan took the stand first.  She painted a different picture of a person who started off calm, and then snapped after her friends and Cook’s group, including other football players, got into an argument.

 

“He just kept seeming like he wanted to hit me some more,” said Geohegan.

Geohegan admitted she had drank enough to feel buzzed, and said she had to push another football player away during the argument.

The 9-1-1 call from the night was played, and pictures of the accuser’s injuries were shown, causing Geohegan to become visibly upset.

Cook has been suspended since July because of the allegations.

Cook’s attorney’s questioned how a busted lip could have been the only injury the accuser suffered.

“Basically what you want us to believe is that 215 pound football player hit you multiple times, and the only place it shows, is that spot where your lip is,” asked attorney Joey McCall.

Three other football players involved in the alleged fight also appeared in the courtroom.

Florida State kicks off its football season September 5th. Cook had requested the trial be moved up from September 2nd.

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Right Medicine, Right Time Legislation to be Filed (Again)

August 24th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Imagine you are ill, but your insurance company won’t pay for the medicine your doctor says you need. It happens more often than you would think, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, one lawmakers want to put patients first.

Pamela Langford was infected with the hepatitis C virus. Her doctor prescribed a new drug cocktail that included a pill and an injection. Her insurance company said no…it would only pay for the injection.

Pamela Langford was infected with the hepatitis C virus. Her doctor prescribed a new drug cocktail that included a pill and an injection. But her insurance company said no…it was only willing to pay for the injection.

”This is a case of the insurance company overriding the doctor?” we asked.

“Yes” says Langford.

Legislation known as the Right Medicine, Right time Act was filed last year and made it through two Senate Committees. It’s going to be refiled this year. Sen. Don Gaetz says an insurer that wants to override a doctor’s orders would have to prove it was the right medical decision.

“We have insurance companies that are trying to practice medicine that are trumping what physicians are prescribing or determining for their own patients, but don’t have to respond to any clinical burden of proof” says Gaetz.

Patients who don;t get what the doctor orders often end up in emergency rooms, so companies don’t save anything by paying less for medications.

Even supporters of this Right Medicine, Right Time legislation acknowledge that in four out of five cases, the insurance company is right.

Pamela Langford was one of those cases where the insurers medicine didn’t work.

It put her in pain for months as she appealed.

“So you wasted six months of your life in some ways?” we asked.

”It was a little more than that” answered Langford.

Supporters says that in states where “Right Medicine, right time” legislation has been approved, there was no increase in insurance rates.

At least five states have approved similar legislation. It failed in three others last year, including here in Florida. The legislation is a top priority of doctors but opposed by insurance companies.

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Legislature Adjourns without Congressional Map

August 21st, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

State lawmakers gave themselves 12 days to come up with a map of new congressional districts. Time ran out a noon with no map, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, one side refusing to keep working until next week.

The meltdown began Friday morning when Senate negotiators walked out of a meeting with their House counterparts. Rep. Jose Oliva (R-Miami), House Redistricting Chairman wasn’t happy. “If you invite me over to your office to talk about something, and we’re in the middle of that discussion, you don’t get up and leave.”

The whole meltdown comes down to one thing: The House believes the Senate is drawing maps for the Tampa area because of political reasons.

Sen. Tom Lee was the author of a plan to shrink four Tampa area congressional districts down to two in the county. Without warning, the House began questioning whether the map was being drawn to favor Lee or others. Rep. Jose Oliva led the charge.

“Members, we don’t come here to have our wishes done. We come here to represent people. We come here to abide by the law” said Oliva.

The House then voted twice to refuse the Senate Map, which got only three yes votes.

It also voted not to extend the session and keep working. Senate President Andy Gardiner called the refusal a mistake.

“I think unless we can come to some agreement in the next few days, we’re going to sit back and watch the Supreme Court draw the Congressional districts” said Gardiner.

This won’t be the first time a court has drawn districts. In the late 1960‘s, lawmakers refused to change maps that saw 17 percent of the population elect a majority of the legislature, the Federal courts ordered a University of Florida political scientists to redraw all of the districts.

House Minority leader Mark Pafford says the meltdown is more proof that lawmakers are incapable of being fair.

“The Legislature, a political body, is not capable of producing a map that doesn’t have politics that are built into it” says Pafford.

A court hearing on the maps was already scheduled for next week.

The Senate voted twice to keep trying to reach a deal on a map until early next week. The House voted to go home without a map.

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FSU Campus Safety

August 21st, 2015 by flanews

Parents from around the state and around the country are sending their kids off to college, and as Matt Galka tells us, at Florida State safety is an increased concern because of a recent string of attempted abductions.

It’s move in day at Florida State. Daniel Bryan is helping his step-daughter get settled in. But he’ll go back to New Jersey where they live, so his step-daughter staying safe is a priority.

“She has a pretty good head on her shoulders but we can never emphasize safety too much,” said Bryan.

Florida State police and Tallahassee law enforcement are investigating a recent string of attempted abductions. The latest one may be the most concerning. It happened in broad daylight.

The most recent attempted abduction happened Wednesday just two blocks from campus.

Major Jim Russell with FSU police spoke to parents about campus safety during an orientation Friday morning.

“It’s a college environment and you have really nice people with a common goal but there’s criminals out there, too,” he said.

Andrew Grant was in attendance. He and his wife are going back to London and won’t be able to monitor their son as often as some parents, but they’re not worried.

“It’s not a concern to be perfectly honest, hearing that presentation makes it even less of a concern,” said Grant.

Major Russell says students and parents can use simple tips to try and stay safe.

“Not walking alone at night, avoiding isolation, staying in well lit areas. All those things that we all do, make sure you put those in place here, too, on campus and around campus if you happen to live off campus,” said Russell.

The new semester for Florida State starts Monday. The attempted abduction is the latest in a string of seven that have happened in Leon County in the past 6 months.

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Legislation seeks to ban Confederate Flags on Public Property

August 20th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Legislation filed in the State Capitol would ban the flying of Confederate flags over Government buildings in Florida, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the idea is likely to meet with stiff resistance.

The Confederate flag flying at the courthouse in Walton county has generated calls for an economic boycott of the counties popular beaches. Marion counties flag at the government complex has drawn thousands of supporters and protestors. Now one state lawmaker, Sen. Geraldine Thompson (D-Orlando),  wants the controversies to be over…by banning the flying of the confederate flag on any public property” says Thompson.

“All of the taxpayers pay for those properties. And may not really believe, or may not accept what’s being projected by the symbols.”

About 14 thousand Floridians…a fifth of the white population at the time…fought for the

Confederacy…a third of them died.

One of those who fought was state Rep Dennis Baxley’s great great great grandfather.

“You know, as a descendent of a Confederate soldier, I feel like I’m being asked to demean that history” says Baxley.

The legislation has also fired up the Sons of Confederate Veterans and David McCallister who says it dishonors those who served. “I think it’s really a slap in the face of the confederate veterans who were the United States Veterans as well and a slap in the face as well to their thousands and thousands of descendants.”

The legislation bans not just flags…but emblems as well.

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Bill Would Ban Gun Ranges in Neighborhood Backyards

August 20th, 2015 by flanews

Legislators want to clarify a law that previously allowed amateur gun ranges in neighborhoods. As Matt Galka tells us, a new proposal would ban bullets in the backyard.

A homemade backyard gun range concerned neighbors in St. Petersburg earlier this year.  The makeshift target was in Representative Darryl Rouson’s (D-St. Petersburg) district.

 

“A 21 year old thought that he could set up a gun range in his daddy’s backyard and the neighbors realized how unsafe that was and how threatening it was,” he said.

The incident inspired action from Rouson in 2015 that ultimately failed.  But a bill that would ban backyard gun ranges is back for 2016 – this time with a Republican sponsor and added support.

“The NRA a lot of folks support it and just think it’s a common sense safety bill,” said sponsor Rep. Neil Combee (R-Polk County).

The Florida Police Chiefs Association is also backing the bill aimed at clarifying a current law prohibiting private ranges.

The bill would have no effect on recreational gun clubs.

“It never meant to capture five acre, 50 acre plots, farms, rural areas where there’s not much density. What we meant to capture was urban cores where people with neighbors 25 yards apart,” said Rep. Rouson.

Rep. Combee is confident the proposal passes.

“There will be bipartisan support, support of the Police chiefs association support of the NRA, I think it’ll be one that will pass early,” he said.

The bill applies to areas with a density of one or more houses per acre and includes a penalty of a first degree misdemeanor charge if someone sets up a private range.

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Senate Passes Different Maps

August 19th, 2015 by flanews

The Florida Senate moved forward with a new congressional voting map Wednesday as they enter the home stretch of a special session, but as Matt Galka tells us, it sets up a two day scramble to try and end session on time.

The Florida Senate was poised to pass their own version of a congressional map Wednesday.  It was a day after the state House blasted the Supreme Court’s order for new maps and approved a base map.

“This map was a base map for discussion purposes. A discussion map, it was not intended to be a final product.  I know my leadership well enough that if I was called up enough simply to rubber stamp a map drawn by staff, they would have told me,” said Sen. Tom Lee (R-Brandon).

Sen. Audrey Gibson (D-Jacksonville) tried a last minute tweak to change North Florida’s District 5 which previously ran from Jackonsville to Orlando but would now run from Jacksonville 200 miles west into Leon County.

“It’s not about the snaking or the squaring or the rounding of any district, it’s about the people who live within that district,” she said.

The amendment failed, but differences in both chamber’s maps remain.  The Senate’s version splits Hilsborough county into two district. The base map divided up the area into four.

 

“The bill that you are about to vote on represents a map that is more constitutionally compliant, has greater hereto compliance than any map from this legislature or filed in the judicial precedings,” said Redistricting Chair Sen. Bill Galvano (R-Bradenton).

The two map versions means the sides will now have to come to an agreement before the week ends.

“Hopefully we can convince the House that the modifications in the Senate committee improve the maps performance constitutionally,” said Galvano

Florida’s second special session of the year is scheduled to end Friday.  Both sides need to come to an agreement on a map for that to happen.

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