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New Human Trafficking Law

December 31st, 2015 by flanews

January 1st means new laws, and for Florida there aren’t many. But as Matt Galka tells us, one prominent new rule looks to crack down on human trafficking.

Curbing human trafficking has been a priority for Florida elected officials all year.  Lawmakers heard from survivors like Katarina Rosenblatt.

“In Miami at 13 I first was recruited at a hotel, and I escaped, and then I was recruited again at my middle school because I still had the vulnerabilities of coming from an abusive home,” she told a House committee.

And Attorney General Pam Bondi held summits across the state.

When the New Year starts – a new law will come into effect again designed to help crack down on human trade. Rest areas will now be required to display signage with human trafficking hotline help numbers.

Florida’s Department of Transportation is responsible for putting up the signs across the state.

This rest area on Interstate 10 near Monticello already had theirs up. The signs are supposed to be in both English and Spanish and also have text numbers.  Bondi has said in the past that truck drivers will be key in helping to fight trafficking.

“The truckers, where do you take a little girl to traffick her? A truckstop. And the truckers have now partnered with us and they are our eyes and ears calling in suspicious reports of human trafficking,” she said.

Strip clubs and massage parlors will also be required to post the signs. Failure to comply doesn’t come with a state penalty – but county commissions could impose fines of 500 bucks.

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Mandatory Recess

December 29th, 2015 by flanews

Playing on the swingset, kickball, maybe a game of tag…all of the games staples of recess during school. As Matt Galka tells us, some lawmakers want to make sure young kids aren’t missing out on the classroom break.

It’s a dreary day in Florida’s capital city, but the weather didn’t stop kids from having fun down the street.

Parents like David Brickler say Sky Zone trampoline park is a great place to bring the kids to get them out of the house during a school break.

“If you have a rainy day and they’re stuck at home and all they can do is video games or television or even reading a book, it’s not as good as having a time of intense physical activity,” said Brickler.

Lawmakers want to make sure the activity keeps going during school days, too. A bill has been filed that would mandate 20 minutes of recess for elementary schools. The hope is that an activity break helps kids better perform in the classroom.

2nd grader Taylor Snyder says she loves recess.

“I like to run and play,” she said.

And Dad Matt Snyder is fully behind the bill.

“A lot of kids now a days are so glued to their X box or their playstation or stuffing their face with chips all day…it aint like it was when I was a kid,” he said.

Long time educator and State Senator Bill Montford is also warming to the idea.

“I think we’ve gone too far, our student’s days are just jammed packed with academics. Every minute seems to be scheduled. The students need some creative time on their own,” he said.

Montford sits on the committee that will review the bill first when legislative session begins next month.Some elementary schools across the state have opted to get rid of recess in favor of more test prep.

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State Could Consider Changes to Venomous Reptiles Ownership

December 28th, 2015 by flanews

Some poisonous slithering animals put some Floridians on high alert this past fall, and now state officials are in the process of reacting. As Matt Galka tells us, the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission could be planning some changes to the rules permitting residents to own poisonous reptiles.

You can find plenty of scaly animals at Carol’s Critters near the state capitol. Owner Carol Hoover says the snakes can be pretty popular, but none of them are venomous.

“No we don’t carry venomous, you need special permits for venomous, we don’t have the proper setup. They are behind locks, venomous need to be behind locks, but we do not carry them,” she said.

You need a permit to own venomous reptiles in Florida.  But fish and wildlife officials could be considering a change. It comes after scares in both Orlando and Fort Myers where poisonous cobra’s escaped from their owners.

Fish and wildlife officials may even consider banning the reptiles altogether. Hoover, who used to own venomous reptiles herself, isn’t sure that’s the answer

“If you ban it then it makes it even more desirable, and people will obtain them illegally and own them anyhow,” she said.

The state’s fish and wildlife conservation commission plans on contacting permit holders for their input.

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The Original Jingle Bells

December 24th, 2015 by flanews

Jingle bells, jingle bells, jingle all the way…you know the song. But did you know that the winter classic has some roots in Tallahassee. Our Matt Galka takes us to the church in Florida’s capital city that claims to have the organ the song was first composed on.

There’s no snow to dash through…but that wont’ stop the familiar tune of jingle bells from filling the air…and the jingle may have all started with this organ.

“Well it’s called the jingle bell organ. And it’s called that because it’s associated with James Pierpoint who wrote “one horse open sleigh.” And it’s the only instrument he had available when he wrote the piece,” said Betsy Calhoun.

Calhoun is the director of music at St. John’s Episcopal church in Tallahassee where the organ resides.  But before it got to the church, it was donated to Florida State University in the 1940’s

“Nothing was ever done with it and it languished in the basement for years,” she said.

Until a doctoral student found it and did some research and traced it back to Pierpoint in the 1850’s. Calhoun’s husband was the student’s professor.

“Michael Corzine, who is my husband, came home and said I have no place to put this organ because we have no room for it. Well I said “I have a great idea, what if you let us have it on permanent loan at St. John’s in our chapel,” said Calhoun.

FSU music students still practice on it. And as for the historical accuracy of it being the jingle bell organ…

“Whether or not really jingle bells was composed on it, we can’t say for certain, but we like to claim it that way,” said Calhoun.

And that story sounds just fine to me.

The song was published in Savannah Georgia in 1857…but Medford, Massachussetts also claims to be the origin of “Jingle Bells…they say Pierpoint wrote the song there in 1850.

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Attorney General Tells Parents to be Wary of Kid’s Online Habits

December 22nd, 2015 by flanews

There are sure to be plenty of tech gadgets under Christmas trees around Florida this year, but as Matt Galka tells us, the state’s Attorney General is telling parents to stay sharp about what their kids may be doing online.

Ciara Godfrey and her son are doing some last minute Christmas shopping. Godfrey says she monitors her son’s gaming habits.

“Oh yes, I’m in the room with him,” she said.

Florida attorney general Pam Bondi is hoping more parents take that approach this holiday season. Video games take up a lot of the downtime some kids have over school breaks, and the attorney general’s office says parents need to watch out for online predators.

“Devices with internet access are popular gifts, particularly gaming consoles. A lot of games have internet technology, and predators know this, they can use that technology to talk to a child and try to set up a face to face meeting,” said Whitney Ray, a spokesman for the Attorney General.

And it’s not just video games. Smart phones and tablets are already in plenty of kids hands. Almost 9 out of 10 teens have access to a device with the Internet.

“We always say your child’s privacy is not worth their safety,” said Ray.

Bondi’s office launched their own social media campaign with tips for parents on how to keep their loved ones safe this holiday season.

For tips on keeping your child safe, you can visit www.safeflorida.net.

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Fighting False Unemployment Claims

December 22nd, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

The State office that processes unemployment claims raised eyebrows when it said it wants three point five million to investigate false claims, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the point isn’t who should be investigating, but that someone should.

In the last year, as many as one in 8 unemployment claims…have been fraudulent says  Jesse Panuccio, Dept. Economic Opportunity Exec. Dir.

“It’s this identity theft based fraud, and we’re talking about billions of records being stolen every year” says Panuccio.

A tour of the dark web shows just how easy it is to buy someone’s identity.

Q:“So that could be me there for forty-five cents?”

“That’s right”

For a buck and a half a piece, we found sites offering some’s complete credit history, bank balances, and everything else in a mortgage application. Another site apparently hacked a bank, and for twelve and a half dollars apiece, you can even get bank login information.” John Sacco works to prevent fraud at DEO.

“The marginal cost of filing a fraudulent unemployment claim is very small for them, so, if they file 100 claims and one of those pays out, even if its just for a few weeks, it’s potentially worthwhile for them to continue that activity” says Sacco.

DEO sent a ripple through he legislature when it asked for three and a half million dollars to set up a unit with police powers, but Panuccio says if not them, who?”

“When you put unemployment fraud up against other crimes; murders, assaults, and things like that, you know, monetary crimes sometimes take a back seat.

Ironically, one of the ways to fight this high tech crime is old technology. DEO is simply picking up the phone and asking employers if that person ever worked there.

DEO declined to discuss other fraud prevention measures. In the last year, it has detected 135 thousand fraudulent filings worth almost half a billion dollars.

With every scheme that’s broken, a new one pops up, which is why DEO also is asking to have a unit to do nothing but hack their system looking for ways to cheat.

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Cash for State College Campus Security Sought

December 21st, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida’s 28 State and Community colleges are asking lawmakers for 74 million dollars to beef up security across the state. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, only a few of the campuses have a sworn law enforcement presence.

Tis the week before Christmas and across the state, college campuses are all but empty and closed…But despite the calm, here at Tallahassee Community College, police officers remain alert. We asked TCC Police Chief Chris Summers “How many officers do you have?”. “Including me, make twelve” he responded.

The TCC Campus, in the shadow of the state Capitol, is one of the few that maintains a full time police force,

“And for the most part, we can see most of our population areas on campus. We exercise frequently” says the Chief.

Following shootings on campuses in Oregon, California and even Florida State. The state’s 28 colleges want an armed presence on every campus. 18 months ago, someone with a gun was reported on campus.

“We were fortunate in that nobody was injured” says Summers.

The gun carrying student was charged and kicked out of school.

“And we’ve made a few arrests for domestic battery, assault, or stalking. And the vast majority is something that began off (campus)” says Chief Summers.

What’s clear is that there isn’t an outbreak of crime at this or other college campuses, but the chief says his biggest role is intervening before bad things happen.”

The budget for a police presence at TCC runs about a million dollars a year, and if he had a wish list for some of the 74 million being sought, it would be for more officers to keep problems from growing.

The effort to allow guns on campuses spurred the request for security money, but in a statement, Michael Brawer (Braw-Er), the CFO for the Assn of Fl. Colleges says “we have come to accept that currently there is a trend for bad people to bad things in public areas, and our colleges need to be better prepared in the areas of training for active shooter scenarios for college faculty, staff and students, better threat assessment and reporting mechanisms to pre-empt situations”.

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Festivus for the Rest of Us

December 21st, 2015 by flanews

No nativity scene. No satanic response to the nativity scene. But at the Florida capitol, there’s still a holiday display “for the rest of us.” Matt Galka tells us about the festivus pole holiday display that went up in the Florida Capitol – with an LGBT twist.

South Florida blogger and atheist Chaz Stevens continued his annual tradition of putting up a “festivus pole” in Florida’s capitol rotunda.

The fake holiday Festivus was made famous by an episode of the sitcom Seinfeld. This is the third year Stevens has put the satirical pole up in the state house in a response to religious symbols that have been popular over the years.

“Celebrate diversity, celebrate inclusiveness. Celebrate the fact that it’s religious freedom for all, not just religious freedom for some. The point here is very simple, this is an ode to separation of church and state,” said Stevens.

He hopes plenty of people have grievances to air.

“Oh God yes, if they weren’t, we’d sit back and say ‘what are we doing wrong?” said Stevens.

The pole has a disco ball on top and a rainbow sleeve supporting gay rights this time around. It’s been made of beer cans in the past.

There was no nativity scene in the capitol this year. Tallahassee Reverend RB Holmes, who has supported the display in the past, says nobody should mock other religions.

“I’m not going to be a part of demeaning and denigrating other folks culture and causes,” said Holmes.

Stevens says his Festivus pole is expected to go up in nine state capitols around the country this year. He’s hoping to get the Festivus pole into all 50 state capitols next year. Festivus is actually celebrated on December 23rd.

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House Speaker Maps Out 2016 Legislative Session

December 18th, 2015 by flanews

Tax cuts, education, money, and gambling. Another year of Florida legislative matters are upon us, and as Matt Galka tells us, Florida’s Speaker of the House hopes to avoid the pitfalls that doomed some of this past year’s lawmaking period.

2015’s legislative session ended with a shocking twist of political theater. The Florida House ended early – killing a few policy issues in the process.

Florida’s Speaker of the House says don’t expect those kind of fireworks this time around.

“My hope is that the 16 session will return back to some normalcy,” said House Speaker Steve Crisafulli.

With less than a month to go before lawmakers return to try and pass new laws, Crisafulli laid out his plans for legislative session. Tax cuts are high on the list, but the Governor is shooting for $1 billion dollars. Crisafulli isn’t ready to commit to the number.

“Is a billion dollars in full off the table? No, it’s not, the reality is, though, is we have to sit down and do the math on the proposed budget and find out where we’re going to land,” he said.

Passing a new gambling deal will also be at the forefront of the to-do list for the legislature.  The Governor inked a new Seminole Compact last week that could add $3 billion dollars of revenue to the statse. Lawmakers need to sign off as well.

“I can’t sit here and tell you for sure that, as it’s written, it has no chance. Is it unlikely? Yea, it’s very unlikely, but there are some things that members have started talking about that they want to tweak,” said Rep. Crisafulli.

Crisafulli said water policy, education reforms, and laws benefiting Floridians with disabilities will be the first ones to come out of his chamber.

While healthcare money was the main dustup that derailed 2015’s legislative session – neither the House Speaker or Senate President have indicated there would be that type of issue this time around.

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2015 Guns Sales Likely to set Record

December 18th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is bracing for a record number of firearm purchase background checks this weekend. .As Mike Vasilinda tells us, fear, prices, and an improving economy are driving the sales.

Background checks for gun purchases are up seven percent over last year, but every day since the San Bernardino shootings, sales have been up by a third  to a half. More than 80 thousand checks have been run in December alone, and there are still 12 shopping days in the month. We found Fsu student Ali Martin looking for a handgun.

FSU Student/Gun shopper

Q:”You’re interested in buying a gun. I heard you say to keep at home?

A:”Yeah”

Q:Why?”

A:”For my safety. I lot of stuff be happening lately.”

The Department of Law Enforcement shoots for a four minute turnaround time on background checks. December weekend sales have been taking up to two hours. FDLE spokesperson Molly Best says the agency has cancelled vacations to staff up for this weekend.

“Well, we have increased our staffing 25 percent for the Christmas weekend” says Best.

Shoppers ran for their lives last Saturday at this Tallahassee mall after a fight broke out and someone thought they heard gunshots. Tallahassee Police Department spokesperson David Northway says patrons did the right thing.

“Someone picked up a garbage can, threw the garbage can and it bounced on the tile flooring the tile floor echoed , it is such a large building, and people assumed those were gun shots” says Northway.

It’s not just fear that’s driving the increase in sales. Gun prices are low right now, and an improving economy is sending many hinders out to re-arm.

But fear is a definite factor. Tina Thomas is a first time gun buyer.

“Home invasions. Break ins. i had my house broke in before, and I just feel I’ll be more safe with a weapon in the house with me” says Thomas.

At it’s current pace, 2015 is poised to set a record for gun sales in Florida.

Police say shoppers were right to flee the mall when they thought they heard shots. they stress Run, Hide or Fight if you find yourself in what you believe to be a life threatening situation.

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Assault Rifle Sales Skyrocketing

December 18th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Assault rifle sales are on the increase since the shootings in San Bernardino and the President again called for their ban. The same thing happened following the same call for a ban after Sandy Hook. Licensed Gun Dealer Mark Folmar says people want what they may be told they can’t have.

“Every time the President speaks out against a certain type of fun, those guns get sold out. I’m not saying he shouldn’t say anything, but overtime he does, sales go through the roof.”

Q:”What have you seen since the San Bernardino address?”

“Well, most of our suppliers that sell AR’s are out, or either why are withholding them so they can raise prices.This has happened several times. overtime somebody thinks you can’t buy something anymore, it makes them want to buy them all the more.”

President Obama called for limits on so called semi automatic assault style rifles and limits on ammunition clips as well.

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Rick Scott’s Unusual Strategy to Win Enterprise FL Cash

December 17th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott is running an unusually public campaign to get lawmakers to set asides a quarter billion dollars for economic development. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the  Governor has gotten more than 100 local and state officials to endorse his plan.

When Rick Scott’s proposed tax cut was in trouble earlier this year, he took the unusual step of spending hundreds of thousands on TV to promote the tax cut. He got mostly what he wanted.

It’s a dream come true, and that’s your Florida” chimed Scott from the Let’s Get to Work spot.

Now he’s doing something out of the box to win a pile of cash for economic development.

“Florida should be the next state where all the corporate offices are moved to” says Scott.

Scott wants to revamp the funding for economic development by putting 250 million into a revolving fund. He says it will send a signal to companies looking to relocate.

“We can’t be subject every year not knowing how much money we’re going to have. We’ve got to fix that. We can’t be subject to whether the legislature holds a special committee meeting or not.

Scott has taken the unusual step of reaching out to local officials and asking them to endorse his plan.

More than a hundred have said yes.

Scott’s outgoing Economic Opportunity Director Jesse Panuccio believes the plan will create thousands of jobs.

“You want to be able to a fund tat is certain. that businesses can look at it and say you know what, Florida has made a three year commitment. They have enough money to come through their promises, and and on their offers and it’s just make us more competitive with these other states.”

Scott’s goal is to create a groundswell of visible support. But when it comes to a quarter billion dollars, lawmakers aren’t going roll over without something in return including a guarantee they have a say on where that cash goes.

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Redistricting Trial Almost Done

December 17th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

A four day trial over the Florida’s State Senate maps will wrapp up late this afternoon. Earlier this year lawmakers admitted they maps drawn in 2012 violated the constitution because they were designed to help the GOP. Lawmakers tried in October and November to redraw a map but failed. Now a circuit judge must decide if the map drawn by the League of Women voters or a map draw by State Senator Bill Galvano should be used. Galvano said after testifying that he may be willing to consider allowing the job to be given to an independent commission in the future.

“Our discretion has continued to be narrowed. And so we have very little room to move when we are in session. And if we do end up in court overtime we do it, maybe we do need to take a look at the process as a whole. But we do have a Constitution Revision Commission that’s just on the horizon, and perhaps we’ll take a look at all these issues with regard to reapportionment” Galvano said after testifying.

As lawyers made their final arguments this afternoon, the judge opined from the bench that he hoped future Floridians would benefit from the turmoil created by the redistricting trials.

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Confidential Informant Protections

December 17th, 2015 by flanews

Police departments around Florida often get criminals busted for drugs to cut deals and go undercover. They’re known as Confidential Informants or C-I’s. As Matt Galka tells us, the attorney who represented a high profile death of a confidential informant in 2008 says there needs to be stronger protections for people going undercover.

23 year old Rachel Hoffman was busted for marijuana and pills and agreed to go undercover for the Tallahassee police in exchange for leniency on her charge.  She was a confidential informant or CI…but was murdered during a botched sting operation in 2008.  Her case inspired Rachel’s Law which reformed Confidential Informant guidelines.  But 7 years later, if you were to ask how many confidential informants there are in Florida, you wouldn’t get an answer.

Lance Block represented the Hoffman family during a successful lawsuit after Rachel’s death.  He says the law needs to be strengthened.

“We don’t know how many deaths have resulted in deals gone wrong or retaliation,” he said.

Block wants to revive a bill that would require the FDLE to keep data on CI’s around the state.

The bill would also let people consult a lawyer before agreeing to a deal.

“99.9% of defense attorney’s would advise against it if they spoke with a client,” said Block.

State Attorney Willie Meggs says that discretion needs to be used in CI cases, but it’s a necessary program for getting bad guys off the streets.

“I don’t think you could work, legitimately work, drug enforcement or the intelligence we so desperately need without the use of CIs,” said Meggs.

Block says that without data, there isn’t really anything to point to in order to show just how effective confidential informants are. A bill has yet to be filed for 2016 and died in committees last year.

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Sparks Fly at Redistricting Trial

December 16th, 2015 by Mike Vasilinda

The man in charge of drawing new maps for the State Senate spent and hour and forty five minutes being cross examined today by attorneys for a coalition of voters groups who want to prove the maps were drawn with political intent to help Republicans. But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, both sides have problems with trying to help political parties.

Last summer, State Senators admitted they purposely drew maps in 2012 to help Republicans. The Constitution says they can’t do that.  Now they are in court defending their latest map drawing effort.

” I do” said State Senator Bill Galvano.

Bill Galvano is the only sitting Senator to testify. He’s the Senate Majority Leader, was in charge of raising money for GOP campaigns. He”s in line to be Senate President, and he headed the map drawing efforts. He was asked pointed questions by Voters Coalition Attorney David King.

You did a lot of work raising money, isn’t that right?’

“That’s right” he responded

The point that voting coalition lawyers are trying to make is that Galvano has a lot of reasons to draw a map to help the GOP.

“You created a new map, isn’t that correct sir? asked King.

“That’s correct”

“That’s what you did and it just so happens to be the one that performs best for the Republicans?” Right?

“Based on your exhibit.”

But the legislature also won a minor victory. Emails from the voting groups map drawer were admitted into evidence. In a deposition John O’Neill appeared uncooperative when asked about those emails.

“You said we can pick you seats. Whats; meant? Was we the Democrats?

“I have no recollection of this call.”

Jason Zakia, another of the legislature’s attorneys argued that if lawmakers can’t help one party, neither can the voting groups.

“And if the alternative being offered violates tier one of the Constitution, then clearly it is not better than our map.”

The first new map drawn by the State Senate had five pairs of Senators running against each other..The final map has none.

The trial is expected to wrap up on Thursday.

Both sides are hoping to get a ruling early next year. he case will then go to the State Supreme Court, which might not rule until March.

 

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