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Security at Florida Armories Increasing

May 31st, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

3 war memorials in other states were defaced over the weekend, adding to fears of active military personnel over a growing realization that not everyone holds soldiers in high esteem And A Mike Vasilinda tells us, Florida is about two spend two million dollars protecting its national guardsmen and women.

We arrived at this National Guard Armory  before those inside  were told were were coming. Within a minute, our presence there was being questioned.

Nat sot: No, I haven heard from him. He may have spoken with someone else.”

It is a sign of heightened security and concern by those in uniform. This armory was shut down last July by a bomb threat. Now state lawmakers are spending two million dollars to upgrade security at armories around the state, Interim Veterans Affairs Dir Col Glenn Sutfin says it is a sign of the times.

“An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cures. I think that we need to be vigilant, just like airports, we check people getting on aircrafts. Coming into the armory we check to make sure you are there for the right reason” says the interim Executive Director.
Upgrades include more cameras, bigger and better locks, and bollards to stop wayward vehicles.

It’s not just extra security. Police cross the state are being asked to drive by more occasionally and look for anything suspicious.

Those in uniform are now armed. Following last years attack that killed five in Tennessee, Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services Spokesperson Jen Meale says more than 38 thousand active military and guardsmen have been issued expedited concealed carry permits.

“It is important to Commissioner Putnam to expedite these active military and veterans licenses so they could obtain a concealed weapons license” says Meale.

The two million being spent this year is just the start. The Guard will be asking for another four million for security over the next two years.

Florida was one of the first states to beef up armory and recruiting station security in the wake of attacks against the military last year.

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Be Aware of Nesting Birds This Weekend

May 27th, 2016 by flanews

Most people probably already have their minds on a three day weekend filled with some sun, but as Matt Galka tells us, there’s a warning this weekend for people headed to the beach – watch out for our wildlife.

Memorial Day Weekend started early for the Kilgore clan.

“I’m just here for the beach to be honest with you, and family time,” said Clark Kilgore.

They came down to Franklin County from just outside of Atlanta.

“When I come to the ocean, I feel more at peace,” said beachgoer Wayne Jones.

They love Florida’s beautiful beaches…and they intend to keep them that way. State fish and wildlife officials and environmentalists hope the droves of locals and visitors hitting state beaches this weekend have the same approach.  FWC wants people to be aware of nesting birds.

“This is the peak for nesting for our shoreboards, our seabirds, and our waiting birds, and we want folks to know that and to remind them that they need to share the space,” said Kipp Frohlich with FWC.

Another friendly tip for those of us enjoying sand and sun this weekend…don’t feed the animals.

Julie Wraithmell with Audubon Florida says food and trash can attract unwanted predators for you and our flying friends.

“Keep your cheetos to yourself, don’t share them with the gulls,” she said.

Volunteers will be out at beaches statewide helping to make sure nests are protected.

Beachgoers should take note of posted signs where birds are nesting – but some may stray into the main areas, and that’s why people need to watch out.

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Suspect Arrested in Murder of FSU Professor Dan Markel

May 26th, 2016 by flanews

There were no leads in the case of a Florida state Professor killed execution style in 2014…until now. As Matt Galka tells us, police investigating the nearly two year old murder case now have a suspect in custody.

For nearly two years, the murder of Florida State University Law Professor Dan Markel was a mystery.  All questions and no answers.

Until Thursday.  The Tallahassee Police Department announced 34 yeard old Sigfredo Garcia was arrested in connection with the murder of Markel.

“This has effected all of us here in our community,” said TPD Public Information Officer David Northway.

But that’s about all they would say. TPD requested the probably cause affidavit be sealed.

“This is still an active criminal investigation.  In order not to jeopardize this ongoing investigation, the probable cause in this case has been sealed by Judge Sjostrom,” said Chief Michael DeLeo.

A motive has not been made clear. Speculation around the community was that Markel was killed in a murder for hire plot.

“I can’t give any details of what led to the arrest,” said Northway.

The suspect had a lengthy wrap sheet of prior arrests. Neighbor Reggie Garcia isn’t ready to say there is closure in the case.

“If you look at his 22 arrests, including some violent arrests the last few years, it appears he was one of potentially several folks involved in this,” he said.

Others in the neighborhood say Markel’s death still affects them.

“We never forget, we’re always second guessing. Yea, I lock the door, or look to see who’s been in my yard,” said neighbor Lee Johnson.

Sigfredo Garcia made his first appearance in Broward County Thursday morning where he said he was unaware there was a warrant out for his arrest.

Garcia still needs to be transferred from Broward County to Leon County.

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State Wins Lawsuit Over Adequacy of Education

May 25th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

 

Educational and political leaders are trumpeting their  win in a 7 year legal battle over whether Florida Schools were living up to their constitutional mandate. As Mike Vasilinda tells us,  the legal battle is not over.

Florida’s Constitution requires a free, uniform, high quality public school system. But, for the last seven years, educators, parents and politicians have been arguing over what that really means in court.

“Please be seated” said the judge as he entered the courtroom last month.

In a 29 page ruling, Circuit Judge George Reynolds found that schools are not being shortchanged.   Patricia Levesque, executive Director of The Foundation for Florida’s Future, a Jeb bush founded school accountability group, says she is thrilled.

“Particularly because its a victory for students. There’s so many of the things we’ve worked on for several years have to do with empowering parents with choice, making sure we invest in high quality teachers” says Levesque.

Jeb Bush signed the reform and voucher legislation on June 21, 1999 telling reporters:

“I think we’re in for a renaissance in public education.”

Citizens for Strong Schools, which filed the lawsuit, promises an appeal.

One of the things the judge questioned in his 29 page opinion, is why it takes so long to improve failing public schools.

The judge used the word surprised and said parents don’t want their kids in an F school.

Florida Teachers say it’s by design, not coincidence that schools can fail four years or more. They’re challenging the voucher provision in a separate lawsuit. FEA President JoAnn McCall says they are willing to help.

“Shame on the state of Florida for saying take a voucher and go. Let’s fix where the problem is and we’re ready to help them do that if they would just ask” says McCall.

Both cases are likely to be decided by the state Supreme Court. In the meantime, it will be status quo for Florida Schools.

Lawmakers have praised the judges ruling and have called on Florida teachers to once again drop their lawsuit challenging the voucher provision. A hearing on their case was held earlier this month at the First District Court of Appeal.

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Rep. Charles McBurney’s Judicial Bid Targeted by the NRA

May 24th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

A term limited Jacksonville lawmaker is seeing his bid to become a judge come under fire from the NRA. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the lawmaker refused to allow an NRA priority bill come up in the final days of the legislative session.

In his role as chairman of the House Judiciary Committee, Rep. Charles McBurney had the power to call a hearing on a complicated bill that hanged the burden of proof in stand your ground cases. The legislation was a top priority for the NRA. McBurney declined to hold the hearing. Now he is seeking a judgeship, and Marion Hammer of the NRA is telling its members to email the governor asking him to say no to McBurney
“That was important because the prosecutors and the court reversed the burden of proof ins and your ground hearings” says Hammer.

The legislation had the support of public defenders but was hated by prosecutors. McBurney is a former prosecutor.

Now McBurney is one of six finalists for a judgeship in Jacksonville. The NRA hasn’t forgotten. It sent out an alert, urging its members to email the Governor opposing McBurney’s appointment.

“He put blind ambition before the rights of the people.”

Q:”How so?”

“As a favor to prosecutors, who’s help he needed in seeking a judgeship, he refused to hear the bill” says Hammer.

McBurney has a meeting here in the Capitol on Thursday about the judgeship.

We reached the term limited judicial hopeful by phone.

“Ms. Hammer and I had a disagreement on this bill. To me this bill would victimize victims” McBurney told us.

Three years ago, McBurney was the lawmaker at the center of what has became know as trooper gate. He complained and got a trooper fired after receiving a ten dollar ticket instead of a 250 dollar ticket for speeding.

Rep. McBurney told us he supported every other NRA supported bill d

bring his 9 years in the state House. Had McBurney allowed the bill to be heard, it would have likely passed, become law, and those using Stand Your Ground would have had an easier time proving their cases.

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Mental Health Legislation “Ceremonially” Signed

May 24th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Rick Scott was in South Florida today ceremonially signing legislation that is designed to clarify treatment options when police pick up someone acting out on the street. Before the legislation, two conflicting statutes made it unclear who was responsible for diagnosing problems. Mike Hansen of the Florida Council for Community Mental Health says the legislation makes the responsibility clear.

“So what this legislation tries to do is create no wrong door. That it would be set up some kind of receiving facility. Almost like a hospital triage center. So when someone is brought in, they can be assess and a determination can be made and an assessment can be made…what is the appropriate kind of care for them” says Hansen.

The legislation provides more than 60 million dollars to fund assessment and treatment for mental health issues.

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Proposed Surface Water Standards Under Fire

May 23rd, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

Citing new science, The state is proposing changing the standards for chemicals that can be released into surface waters, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, environmental groups are crying foul.

The state is proposing changing the criteria for releasing 43 regulated chemicals into surface waters. It would also allow higher limits for about half of them,  while regulating 39 new compounds. Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Secretary Drew Bartlett says the changes are safe and based on new science.

Department of Environmental Protection Deputy Secretary Drew Bartlett says the changes are safe and based on new science.

“A lot of them are getting more stringent. Some of them are getting less stringent. It’s just what the science tells us. So when you look at a number in a table and see a difference, people are going to react” says Bartlett.

But the changes have environmentalists are up in arms. The Florida Clean Water Network says most of the changes raise limits above those recommended by the EPA. They call it a cancer lottery.

Voice of Linda Young

Clean Water Action Network

“There’s a number of major industrial processes and companies  that would benefit greatly from these relaxed, and I would call it the unproductive criteria.”

In the end, many environmentalists say they just can’t trust an agency that reported;y won’t let its employees say the words “climate change.

“This is a bad critter” says Dr. ray Bellamy, who testified against the new standards at a public hearing.

Bellamy is not  a toxicologist, but he was appointed by both Democratic and Republican Governors and served 6 years on the commission that will make the ultimate decision.

“We consider almost everything they do to reflect industry pressure and interests” says the former regulator.

DEP says it has not yet decided when it will take it’s proposal to the Environmental Regulation Commission for final approval.

The agency says the changes were reviewed by a panel of scientists. Our call to one of the participants, a Florida State University Toxicologist, was not returned.

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Searching For a Great Florida Man

May 19th, 2016 by flanews

Who’s statue should be enshrined in Washingotn, DC as a representative of Florida? As Matt Galka tells us, the Department of State needs your help for nominations…and plenty of people are already weighing in.

The Department of State is looking for a great Florida man (or woman).

The Florida legislature voted earlier this year to remove the statue of Confederate General Edmund Kirby Smith from the U.S. Capitol…and lawmakers say it’s because that Florida man didn’t spend much time in Florida. Now they need a great woman or man from Florida to replace him.

Of course there’s other famous Floridians from Burt Reynolds, to Tom Petty, to Marjory Stoneman Douglas.

Senator Marco Rubio tweeted out a picture of Tim Tebow as his pick. Florida State President John Thrasher isn’t convinced.

“Bobby Bowden would be my suggestion to Senator Rubio. He didn’t take a lot of my suggestions during the campaign and we saw where he ended up. I hope he takes this suggestion, Bobby Bowden would be a great representative of Florida and I think even Gator nation would support that,” he said.

Not sure if it will be a Chop or a Chomp representing us in D.C. It could even be a mouse (think Walt Disney).

The nominees must be citizens of Florida – either by birth or residence – and the candidate needs to be deceased for more than 10 years. Which means Tebow nor Bowden will be getting the statue.

Nominations can be submitted by going to the Department of State’s Website at http://dos.myflorida.com

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Insurers Challenge Law Requiring Beneficiary Search

May 18th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida made national news when it required life insurers to look back 25 years and pay beneficiaries that have not come forward, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, four companies have filed a legal challenge to the legislation.

Authors of the legislation say Insurance companies regularly check the national death master file but when some companies run across a customer who has died, they don’t seek out the beneficiary of the life insurance policy. Lawmakers say millions are being withheld.

Rep. Mike Miller (R-Orlando) put the figure at “One hundred eleven million dollars”.

The legislation passed both chambers without a single no vote. CFO Jeff Atwater was featured on national news magazines.

“Literally, the consumers won in this legislative session.”

But now four companies under the banner of Kemper Home Services are challenging the law.

Their website lists a half dozen offices for the company in Florida. One of them is in this strip mall. We went to their Tallahassee office just a stones throw from the capitol.

“can you tell me who your customers are?” we asked.

We were told to contact the home office.

High Profile Attorney Barry Richard says the state can’t force the companies to go back 25 years and look for beneficiaries. He also argues  policies approved by the state don’t require the companies to pay until someone provides proof of death.

“The insurance companies  are not objecting to the law going forward. they are objecting to the retroactive  provision on the basis of the fact that it violates the constitutional right not to have the government impair contracts as they exist.”

But the state will argue that it’s hard for a beneficiary to come forward when they never knew the policy existed.”

Barry Richard also told us that making the companies find beneficiaries could result in higher rates since they earn interest on the unclaimed funds that help cover overhead.

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Economists Debate Gambling Proposal

May 18th, 2016 by flanews

A proposed constitutional amendment on gambling for 2018 ( two years away) has some state economists and opponents scratching their heads already. Matt Galka has more.

More casinos? Less Casinos? What about slots…and more table games? They’re all recurring questions that Florida faces…and the clarity is lacking right now.

 

A proposed constitutional amendment for 2018 wants to put all of those decisions into Florida voters hands.

“We think that voters in Florida, whether they support more gambling or not, really want is to have the voters put in charge of this question,” said John Sowinski with Voters in Charge.

State economists held their third workshop on the amendment and are still a little confused about how it could impact state revenues.  If the amendment passes – it could knock out some already authorized gaming.

The amendment’s backers say the proposal was written to discourage the legislature from any major expansion before 2018.

But opponents say it ties local voters hands.

The amendment would require voters to approve any gaming decision…meaning someone in North Florida could be voting No on something that South Florida Residents want and vice versa.

“These types of decisions are left to the legislature and to the local governments to decide what is right for certain communities, a lot of self determination. So that someone in the panhandle doesn’t impact the decision making authority of someone down in Broward County,” said gaming attorney Marc Dunbar.

Economists say it’s tough to nail down the financial impact of the amendment because of all the uncertainty…and something that could very well be decided by the courts.

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Former Scott Campaigners Working for the Donald

May 17th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

The man widely credited with masterminding Rick Scott’s 2010 outsider campaign for Governor has been hired by Donald Trump, and as Mike Vasilinda reports, Florida  political insiders from both sides of the isle say Democrats should be concerned.

“I Rick Scott do solemnly swear” was the oath no one thought Rick Scott would ever take, but he did, on January 4th, 2011.

Rick Scott’s 2010 victory was improbably. An outsider running against the establishment. Sound familiar?

“Hey there. It’s me again. Rick Scott” he chimed from TV screens across the state.

The mastermind behind Scott’s TV driven campaign was pollster Tony Fabrizio. Now Fabrizio has been hired by Donald Trump.

All of these portraits are going to slide down in about two and a half years to make room for Rick Scott’s portrait, but many believe he’d never have a shot at hanging on this wall if it hadn’t been for Tony Fabrizio.”

Jon Costello joined the Scott campaign early.

“I would say without Tony Fabrizio, we would have been hard pressed to win that race” says Costello.

Jon Costello was one of the first Floridians to sign on to the Scott Camp back then. He says Fabrizio was much more than a pollster.

“He does the polling, but he has the unique ability to turn that into the message and figure out who you need to get that message toad really drive it. He’s really the total package.”

But it isn’t just Scott insiders who think Fabrizio will give Trump an edge.

Steve Schale was the 2012 Obama FL Campaign Manage. “Tony Fabrizio worked for Rick Scott. A guy nobody thought should win. Very similar background. Businessman outside of politics, found a path to victory. The one thing Tony will do, he’ll find a way for Trump to win. It doesn’t mean we can’t still win the race, but he’s putting a smart guy around him and I think we need to take him seriously” says the Democratic strategist.

Fabrizio isn’t the only Scott Alum working for Trump. At least three Scott staffers have signed on, and the old adage that so goes Florida, goes the nation,  might be why Trump is bringing on the tried and true from Florida.

And while former Scott campaign staffers line up to work for the Donald, Scott himself has been a leading voice urging GOP unity behind trump.

fabrizio00000007

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Group Puts Out First Medical Marijuana Attack Ad

May 17th, 2016 by flanews

Two years ago, Florida was within 2 percent of a vote that would have legalized medical marijuana. As Matt Galka tells us, the effort to legalize medicinal pot is back as Amendment 2 this November…but so is a heavy opposition.

 

It’s expected to be the first of many attacks against Amendment 2…a medical marijuana legalization amendment voters will decide on this November.

The Vote No on 2 Campaign released a web ad this week.  A sarcastic narrator does google searches of California pot shops and compares that state’s laws to Florida

“They want to legalize pot? They should just say so and let the voters decide. Instead they try to trick everyone instead. Looks like Amendment 2 is still a scam,” says the narrator.

But Medical marijuana advocates Jeff Sharkey and Taylor Biehl say some of the ads claims are misguided.

“I think it obviously tries to compare California where absolutely there’s no comparison, so it’s an attempt to try and cause some concerns in Florida. But it’s realy not a very accurate ad at all,” said Sharkey with the Medical Marijuana Business Association.

Back in 2014, a medical marijuana proposal got 58 percent of the required 60 percent of the vote and narrowly failed to pass.

Vote no on 2 helped defeat the amendment in 2014.  But they could have a tougher time with a higher turnout expected in a presidential election year.

“I think they read the poll numbers as well and they have to recognize that the United for Care people recognize their shortcomings in the last campaign,” said Sharkey.

United for Care – the group behind November’s ballot initiative – bashed the ads claims as false.Amendment 2 would allow medicinal marijuana to be used on patients that have “debilitating” conditions like cancer, glaucoma, and HIV.  Drug Free Florida – the group backing Vote No on 2 – says there are too many loopholes that would allow patients with minor conditions to use the drug also.

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Capitol Crisis Training

May 17th, 2016 by flanews

What if the Florida Captiol was an active shooting scene? As Matt Galka tells us, police are practicing this evening for a potential threat.

A heavy police presence swarms Florida’s Capitol. Reports of multiple active shooters and there are already victims. Thankfully, it’s only a drill.

 The exercise, called Capitol Crisis, was meant to test the readiness of local, state, and federal officials just in case the worst case scenario happens.

“Working together is our mission to prevent terrorism, prepare response efforts, respond immediately, and quickly, and restore our way of life in the event of a terrorist attack,” said SAC Mark Perez with FDLE.

The scenario just about as real as it gets with officers from different agencies responding to the capitol and spent ammunition rounds on the ground. Law enforcement had to work together in order to stop multiple active shooter scenarios throughout the entire building.

Officials know the Capitol can be viewed as a target.

“Even though, when session is not in, there are still state workers here, conducting state business. So this is a vital, what we refer to as an infrasctucture that is very important to us. It’s a government building that represents our state,” said Perez.

State employees were sent home well before the exercise began. It goes until 11 p.m. Monday night. The exercise was made possible by federal grant money.

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High Tech Weather App Shows Data from Hundreds of Locations

May 16th, 2016 by Mike Vasilinda

A software pioneer whose passion is weather has created a network of weather stations across the state for use in schools and elsewhere. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the goal is to make Florida the world wide leader in teaching students about the weather.

Edward Mansouri created the software used by Florida Virtual Schools, but his passion is weather.

” We have at least one of these devices in every county in Florida” he says, referring to a high tech weather center.

He’s created..at his own expense, a network of 172 weather stations. It’s called weather stem, All accessible via a phone or the web.

“Our vision with this program is to create an intersection between education and health and safety.”

Students and Teachers at this high school have been using the system for more than a year. Horticulture teacher Teresa Rockwood  says the system excites kids.

Q:”This really directly impacts what students learn?”

A:”Absolutely, and what’s really cool is that they can access it to” says Rockwood.

While those sensors will tell me everything I need to know about the weather, right here and right now, there are also almost a hundred lessons on the web site that will tell you anything you need to know about weather.

“And a lot of these lessons are very sort of fun, so you’ll see lessons on things like weather and football. So all of these have been aligned to Florida’s next generation Sunshine State Standards” says Mansouri.

The app offers coaches and others real time information using new standards to measure the impact of heat and humidity on players on the field,

“If that flag was black, then that indicates the conditions are dangerous, okay, as far as the combination as solar radiation, humidity, ,temperature, and a lack of ventilation and wind.”says Mansouri.

Mansouri expects someday to better predict, based on measurements, when and where lightening will strike.

Mansouri was selected for the innovator award at this years Governors Hurricane Conference.

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Gun Sales on Facebook

May 13th, 2016 by flanews

Gun sales on Facebook – not monitored and unchecked – have some gun control groups concerned. As Matt Galka tell us, the exchanges are going on in college campus groups as well.

FSU Craigslist – a facebook group where Florida State students can sell items to each other – is  a good place to pick up a couch, a T.V., and maybe even a gun.

Just this week, three guns went up for sale in the group with two of the posts being taken down by the social media giant. Promoting the sale of firearms is a violation of the website’s policies.

But FSU student Erek Cullbreath – who’s also a member of the students for concealed carry group – doesn’t see the big deal.

“I think it’s a manufactured issue, we’re not saying that mass shooters buy their guns through these private channels,” he said.

Still, gun control groups are concerned about the activity

Private firearm sales in the state are legal. But we reached Kathryn Grant with the group Keep guns off campus by phone. She says the lack of background checks – especially in an online facebook setting – is alarming.

“The fact that people are able to obtain a gun without any scrutiny should be alarming to the campus community,” she said.

Cullbreath has a compromise.

“A constructive law that could help out would be maybe put on a felon’s license, because that’s what you need to show by law when you’re purchasing it, put that they’re a violent felon,” he said.

The National Rifle Association didn’t want to comment on camera – but said that private sellers are not allowed to sell a firearm to someone who is suspected of not being allowed to own one.

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