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Division of Emergency Management Fires Two Employees for Failing to Submit Hurricane Relief Appeals

August 31st, 2017 by Jake Stofan

The Division of Emergency Management has fired two people after they failed to meet a deadline to submit 26 Federal appeals sought by Florida counties and cities.

The mistake could cost local governments in Florida millions.

 

 

Two employees of the State Division of Emergency Management are without a job after failing to submit appeals requested by a 18 Florida cities or counties.

The appeals total more than $4.5 million.

The money would reimburse local governments for hurricane costs.

US Senator Bill Nelson says the firing of the employees isn’t enough.

 

“That still doesn’t help all of the counties and the cities that are in the hole for in this case millions of dollars,” said Nelson.

Emergency Managers refused to be interviewed for this story, but in a statement, said staff changes and procedural improvements have been implemented along with the firings.

The Division says it is conducting an audit of itself to figure out what exactly went wrong and what needs to be done to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

In the mean time, the affected local governments will have to cross their fingers the money will be forthcoming.

Nelson personally requested FEMA to extend the deadline, saying local governments shouldn’t have to pay for the state’s mistake.

 

“I met with 25 local government city and county managers and I’m telling you they’re desperate. They’ve got a big hole in their budget because FEMA is not reimbursing them the cost that they front loaded to clean up after Hurricane Mathew,” said Nelson.

The Division insists this incident wont interrupt the hundred of appeals it has already submitted to FEMA.

In a statement, the DEM says, “While these appeals have all been denied at least once by FEMA, we are fully committed to working with local, county, state and Federal governments to ensure these appeals are considered.”

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Millionaire Challenges DUI Blood Test Rules

August 31st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda


The millionaire founder of a South Florida polo club is challenging his DUI manslaughter conviction, arguing before the state’s highest court that rules governing DUI blood tests are incomplete. And As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the ruling has the potential of affecting hundreds if not thousands of other cases.

Millionaire John Goodman is serving 16 years in state prison for killing a 23 year old after running up a large bar tab in 2010.  A blood test following the accident shows Goodman registering two and a half times the legal limit.

“Hear Ye, Hear Ye Hear ye.”

He has been convicted twice. Now Goodman is asking the Florida Supreme Court for a third trial. His lawyer, Jane Kreisler-Walsh is asking the blood evidence be thrown out.

“The FDLE’s blood collection and blood alcohol rules ar both inadequate and inconsistent with the core polices of the implied consent law” says Kreisler-Walsh.

His attorney argues small needles cause clotting. and without reporting the needle size, analysts don’t know to look for clots, which can skew results.

“May it please the court”.

The state was blunt. Goodman has been convicted in two trials. Asst. Atty General

Rachel Nordby says he doesn’t deserve a third.

“Goodman’s challenge seeks an over broad solution in search of a problem that does not exist” she told the court.

Afterwards, we asked his attorney whether the clots could change the result

Q:”Is it possible it could be off that much?”

“It’s possible it could be off that much, but more significantly that there are issues with this blood besides those that I argued here today.”

And if this court says needle size does matter, Hundreds if not thousands of cases could be impacted.

If the court were to rule with Goodman, he would get a third trial without the blood evidence. And anyone who has ever challenged a DUI conviction based on blood evidence could also ask to have their case reheard.

Goodman has been in prison since 2012. He is currently in a prison just 25 miles south of state’s highest court where the arguments were heard today.

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Cop Killer Seeks Life Instead of Death

August 31st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Tampa cop killer Dante Morris, who killed two cops and three others over a 42 day period in 2010 is challenging one of his three death sentences. In the case before the Florida Supreme today, Morris’s was convicted of killing a man he believed was selling drugs on his turf. Morris’s attorney Steven Bolotin, a Polk County Public Defender, argued the case didn’t meet death and the only reason he got the ultimate sentence was because the police murders were tried first, making him a repeat offender, even though the police shootings happened last.

Q:He has three death sentences,  I’m wondering what’s the strategy here.?”

“Well, I mean, the strategy is if you can get rid of one death sentence, then you have a better chance of getting rid of the other two in post conviction” says Bolotin.

Because the murder in question today occurred in 2010 and the jury recommendation was 10-2, Morris is likely to get a new sentencing hearing on at least this case.

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Legal Fees Case for Domestic Violence at Supreme Court

August 31st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The rights of those accused of domestic violence were on trial at the Florida Supreme Court today. A Jacksonville man is seeking several thousand dollars in attorney’s fees from a California woman after her cyber stalking accusations that led to a temporary injunction against him were proven false. Sean Hall and Nicole Lopez knew each other. His attorney, earl Johnson Jr, says while the amount is small, what’s at stake is the right of the falsely accused to be made whole.

“In most instances, these injunctions against stalking and such are used as a shield. But in this case , it was used as a sword. we were able to prove that it was fabricated, fraud upon the court. Perjury upon the court.and we wanted sanctions as attorney fees pursuant to Florida law” says Johnson..

Michael Yokam, the attorney for the woman who sought the domestic violence injunction says a ruling forcing her to pay fees could impact women coming forward in the future.

“It could have a chilling effect. It could create a whole cottage industry of people who will hold themselves out as attorneys for the purpose of seeking attorney’s fees and seeking respondents in these kinds of case” says Yokam.

Earlier this year, lawmakers passed legislation barring the recovery of attorneys fees in Domestic injunctions.  But since the law was not in effect when this case happened, the court could decide either way.

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Congressmen to Fight Chinese Hacking

August 31st, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Two congressmen, Neil Dunn of Panama City, and Matt Gaetz of Ft. Walton Beach held a town hall meeting this afternoon at FSU to talk about the Chinese theft of corporate secrets, among them plans for an energy cell being developed by a now defunct Bing Energy, which had partnered with FSU. The two say the Chinese espionage is a problem being overlooked in the nations Capitol.

“Here in Tallahassee, we’re seeing circumstances where  ideas that students and researchers have actually developed here at FSU have been stolen and so we’re looking at ways that we can change the laws in Washington to better protect American ideas and American innovation” says Rep. Matt Gaetz.

“And on a larger scale, we’re being cheated as a nation. As an economy, and our security is actually undermined. it’s a major question, and as one of the panelist said, He thinks it ought to be in the top three or at least the top five areas of concern for the government” added Neil Dunn, who represents Panama City and Tallahassee.

Both promised to push for more exposure of the hacking.

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Veterans Groups Looking to Create Lottery Game to Benefit Veteran’s Organizations

August 30th, 2017 by Jake Stofan

28 cents of every dollar spent on the Florida Lottery goes to education.

More than $1 billion dollars each year.

Veterans groups are now looking to tap into the fund by creating a specific lottery game that will share its proceeds with veterans organizations.

 

 

The Florida Lottery has contributed more than $32 billion to the state’s education system since its inception in 1988.

The state Constitution puts the proceeds in the State Education enhancement Trust Fund, but there is a push to open some of the money up to veterans groups.

 

“With everyone returning from the global war on terror, 1.7 million veterans in the state of Florida and Federal funding is sometimes lagging behind the need,” said VFW & American Legion Lobbyist, William Helmich.

At least four states share lottery proceeds with veterans organizations, but to make it happen in Florida, there would have to be a change to the state’s constitution or the Legislature would brave the wrath of educators to send the money elsewhere.

The idea right now is to copy states like Illinois and Texas which have designated games for veterans.

If a constitutional amendment were passed the legislature would still have the final say in how the idea would work in Florida.

 

“It can be a scratch off, it can be a separate pool, it’s however the lottery wants to do it and then the money as the language is written would be up to the Legislature on how to disperse it,” said Helmich.

Veterans activist do have one request, that the money go to congressionally chartered veterans services like the VFW and the American Legion.

The move comes as Florida lawmakers are proposing expanding Bright Futures Scholarships, which are funded by the lottery.

Frank Mirabella helped push the original constitutional amendment establishing the Florida Lottery in 1986.

He says the lottery should keep its intended purpose.

 

“There’s lots of kids that can’t go to college. If they took those funds away from education, many more kid would not go to college,” said Mirabella.

Veterans activists say they don’t believe Education would lose out.

Instead, they believe the new game would only result in more overall lottery tickets being sold.

So far there is no official proposals for the Constitutional Revision Commission to review or bills filed for the lottery change.

Historically, Governor Rick Scott has touted Florida as the most veteran friendly state in the country.

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Governor Extends Executive Order Declaring Opioid Crisis, State Senator Asks For More

August 30th, 2017 by Jake Stofan

Governor Rick Scott has quietly extended his Executive order declaring an opioid crisis.

Scott extended the order for 60 days Monday after Gubernatorial candidate and State Senator Jack Latvala called for the extension.

It’s still unclear if the Governor will use the extension to tap into state emergency funds.

Florida received $27 million from the federal Government to fight the opioid crisis this year.

Mental health services lost $20 million.

The Federal funds can go towards counseling or other wrap around services for those addicted to opioids, but important services like central receiving facilities came up short.

Many had to lay off employees and reduce their capacity.

“The central receiving systems are integral to the local communities. They help to serve to the no wrong door approaches that anyone who is in crisis or who needs mental healthcare or substance use services can approach that facility., said Melanie Brown-Woofter with the Florida Council for Community Mental Health.

Governor Scott renewed his executive order declaring the opioid crisis a public health emergency on Monday.

The order came after State Senator Jack Latvala asked for the extension.

Latvala also asked the Governor for 20 million in state emergency funds to for detox, residential treatment, and outpatient care.

 

“The $20 million certainly could take some of the stress off as people try locally to put together and implement their plans for addressing the crisis in their respective communities,” said Mark Fontaine with the Florida Behavioral Health Association.

When asked whether Governor Scott was considering accessing state emergency funds his press team instead told us the Governor plans include additional funds for the crisis in his 2018 Legislative package.

Latvala predicts 2,700 Floridians will die from opioids by the time a new budget passes in March.

Although mental health advocates commend the Governor for his continued support to fighting the battle, they say there’s no doubt the emergency funds would help reduce deaths between now and the end of session.

The Governor will be releasing his Legislative proposal in the coming weeks. His Office says the increases to funds for battling the opioid epidemic will be significant.

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Lawmaker Seeks Food Stamp Soda Ban

August 29th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

For the second year in a row a freshman legislator, who is also a medical doctor, wants to ban food stamp recipients from buying soda or candy for their kids. But as Mike Vasilinda tells us, both recipients and retailers think the ban is a bad idea.

 

We met Deanna Williams outside a state food stamp office after she got laid off as a 911 dispatcher.

“When you go into this office…sometimes you just feel this big” says Williams as she gestured with her fingers.

Williams says a proposal to ban the purchase of soft drinks and candy with EBT cards         will only make recipients feel worse.  That idea comes from Rep. Ray Massullo, a       Citrus County physician.

 

“I see the trend of obese children in our society. And I think its important that we provide them nutritional foods” Massullo told us.

Williams agrees, but she says when parents spend more on healthy vegetables, the health gains are lost to lower quality meats and other fillers.

“The worst cuts of meat. The off-brand foods. The foods that are high in fat.”

Nationally, about six percent of all electronic benefits purchases go for soda or candy.

It was the Florida Retail Federation’s opposition that killed the idea earlier this year. James Miller says it’s not about sales but consistency.

“We just want it to be consistent across the board for all our members in all our states” say Miller.

The legislation is now one of the first bills filed for 2018. Deanna Williams says denying poor kids a soda is too much big brother.

“And I don’t think it’s right for anyone to dictate what they’re allowed to eat. Or drink.”

But some lawmakers say that depends on who’s paying.

Food stamp recipients are already barred from using their benefits to buy beer, wine, liquor, cigarettes or tobacco. Nonfood purchases such as pet foods and vitamins are also prohibited.

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Mold Delays Move in For FAMU Freshmen

August 25th, 2017 by Jake Stofan

70 Florida A & M students who showed up to move into a dorm on Tuesday are still without a place to stay tonight.

Another 130 are moving in Friday after a three day delay because of mold.

 

 

When incoming Florida A & M Freshman Marie Ducarme and 200 others showed up to move into this University dorm on Tuesday, they found the building mold invested.

 

“I was kind of embarrassed in a way because my dad just kept talking bad about it. He said we got so many beautiful universities in Miami. Why didn’t you go there? But I actually wanted to come here,” said Ducarme.

At least 45 students were sent to motels at FAMU’s expense.

Others went home or have been staying with friends.

The University has been working feverishly to cure the mold problem since it was discovered.

 

“The first thing is I apologized to them personally, let them know that this wasn’t FAMU’s best day,” said University President, Dr. Larry Robinson.

The dorm hasn’t  been occupied in at least 2 years.

It was brought back online when more freshmen than expected registered.

The university set a goal of getting the dorms ready by Friday at noon.

They met that goal for about 130 students.

 

“They accommodated us like by giving us the hotel rooms and just accommodating us,” said FAMU Freshman, Lencie Sojour.

But an estimated 70 students are still without housing.

The 70 students who still haven’t been able to move in are eligible to stay in hotels at the universities expense. Classes start Monday.

 

“There are no excuses for not being ready. I do think that this is an older facility of course, but we knew that going into this and so what we have done is said what can we do now to ensure that we don’t encounter these kinds of problems in the future,” said Dr. Robinson.

Those remaining students will be moving in to the dorm once the mold is remediated, or they will be going to other dorms with cancelations.

The University says in the long term they hope to replace the 45-year-old dorms with new facilities.

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25 Years After Andrew, Safe Home Advocates Fear For Florida Building Codes

August 24th, 2017 by Jake Stofan

25 years ago today Hurricane Andrew ripped through south Florida destroying more than 25,000 homes.

In the aftermath Florida beefed up its building codes to become the strongest in the nation, but a new law has safe home advocates worried Florida’s building codes are at risk.

Hurricane Andrew hit Florida with winds of 145 miles an hour.

The storm leveled more than 25,000 homes and damaged another 100,000.

Forty people died.

The economic cost? $24.5 billion.

Weak building codes and poor enforcement were blamed for the devastation.

 

“50% of the damage was caused because of the lack of enforcement,” said Rusty Payton, CEO of the Florida Home Builders Association.

Soon Afterwards Florida had the strictest building codes in the nation.

The new standards were put to the test in 2004-05 when eight hurricanes made landfall in the state.

 

“Our hurricane demonstrated that our codes worked beautifully,” said Leslie Chapman-Henderson, President of the Federal Alliance for Safe Homes.

But a recent change in the law allowing building regulators to divert from international standards has safe home advocates worried.

Current standards can’t be rolled back under the new law, but regulators can choose which new standards to adopt.

The Federal Alliance for Safe Homes believes building regulators will choose not to adopt important new standards to cut costs.

 

“The very process that led to the devastation of Hurricane Andrew is exactly the same process that we’ve now embarked upon,” said Chapman-Henderson.

Homebuilders, who pushed the change say the new law allows the state to divert from burdensome and unnecessary changes while still keeping the standards most important to the state.

 

“The building commission will debate what the return on investment is for florida consumers if they want to bring these other products in that have nothing to do with the structural integrity,” said Payton.

Even with stronger homes, more people are living in high risk areas.

If Another storm with Andrew’s wallop were to hit the state, experts predict the damage would be more than ten times what it was in 1992.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration predicts as many as 19 storms could develop by the end of this year’s hurricane season, which ends on November 30th.

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Mark Asay Set to Be Executed, First in Execution in Florida in 19 Months

August 23rd, 2017 by Jake Stofan

 

After more than 19 months without an execution in the state, Mark James Asay is scheduled to be put to death at 6 pm Thursday.

It will be the first execution since the US Supreme Court ruled Florida’s death penalty process unconstitutional and anti-death penalty activists say the process remains unfair.

 

 

Mark Asay was convicted and sentenced to death in 1987 for the murders of two people in Jacksonville.

The verdict was handed out after jury voted 9-3 in favor of death.

Years after Asay’s conviction Florida’s death penalty was ruled unconstitutional by the United States Supreme Court for allowing judges the final say in whether a person would receive capital punishment.

Lawmakers then approved a 10-2 jury requirement ,which was then overturned by the Florida Supreme Court.

The Court ruled a unanimous jury would be required.

Asay’s execution will serve as a test to whether Florida’s new death penalty laws satisfy the US Supreme Court’s ruling.

The Florida Supreme Court says Asay can die because his 9-3 verdict was decided before 2002.

Anti-death advocates say the partial retroactivity of the ruling is cause for concern.

 

“That law has only been held to be partially retroactive, which just reminds us how arbitrary and inconsistent the application of the death penalty is,” said Ingrid Delgado with the Catholic Commission.

Multiple appeals by Asay’s lawyers have failed, but Mark Schlakman, an attorney well versed in issues surrounding Florida’s death penalty says the US Supreme Court will review the case before the execution.

 

“The extent to which the US Supreme Court decides to weigh in remains to be seen, but I would not say that it’s highly likely that it will, but it’s possible,” said Attorney Mark Schlackman.

The American and Florida BAR Associations has been asking for a complete review of Florida’s death penalty by all three governmental branches since 2006, citing concerns over fairness, impartiality and accuracy.

No such review has yet been conducted.

Asay’s execution will be the 24th under Governor Rick Scott’s watch. The Governor has signed off on more executions than any other Governor since the death penalty was brought back in 1979.

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Proposed Legislation Would Protect Law Enforcement Under Hate Crime Laws

August 22nd, 2017 by Jake Stofan

08/22/2017

If a person is targeted because of of their sexual orientation, race or religion in Florida they can be charged with a hate crime, which carries increased penalties.

The deaths of two police officers over the weekend and the shooting of two others, has lawmakers looking to add law enforcement and emergency service personnel to those protected groups.

 

 

Hate crime laws are designed  protect vulnerable minority groups.

Proposed legislation would extend the protection to police and emergency workers.

When a person is charged with a hate crime they face increased penalties.

What would normally be a first degree misdemeanor would instead become a third degree felony.

The Florida Police Benevolence Association says recent animosity towards police has created a need for additional protections.

 

“There seems to be a tension across the United States. So again, if we can have somebody think twice about doing something whether it’s assaulting an officer or stealing something or whatever, we think it’s a good idea,” said Ken Kopczynski with FPBA.

The Florida Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers says enhanced penalties already exist for those who commit crimes against on duty police officers.

 

“For your more common crimes like batteries and assaults there is a reclassification statute that basically moves the seriousness of the offense up one level,” said Legislative Chair of FACD, Luke Newman.

If passed the legislation would expand protections to include off duty officers as well, or anyone the perpetrator perceives to be law enforcement

By expanding hate crime protection to law enforcement and emergency service personnel criminal defense lawyers say it could open the doors for other occupations to also ask for the same protections.

 

“Are construction workers next? You know depending on your point of view, you start adding occupations. I think there could be a criticism made that there’s a slippery slope involved,” said Newman.

The Florida Sheriffs Association supported similar legislation last year, but says it has not yet taken a position on the bill filed Monday.

The bill was filed four days after four Florida police offers were shot in the line of duty.

When similar legislation was proposed in 2017 no committee heard it

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Bill Filed to End Child Marriage in Florida

August 21st, 2017 by Jake Stofan

 

Between 2000 and 2015 16,417 children under the age of 18 were married in the state of Florida.

It’s a practice allowed under Florida law, but a group of activists and Florida Lawmakers are looking to change that.

Florida law says 16 year olds can be married with parental consent and exceptions can be made for children of any age if pregnancy is involved.

46 years ago one such exception was made for then eleven year old Sherry Johnson.

She had been impregnated by a man who had raped her.

 

“I was actually raped at eight years of age, got pregnant at nine, gave birth to may daughter at ten years,” said Johnson.

Her strict religious parents forced her to become his bride.

With a judges signature the two were husband and wife.

Johnson says she was completely unprepared.

 

“You don’t know how to be a wife. You have no idea what you’re really getting into,” Johnson said. “All you can try to do is what I did and that’s mimic those I had seen and watched.”

Now 57 Johnson has written a book about her experiences.

She’s on a mission to spread awareness and change a loophole she says is still victimizing children.

About 40 minors aged 15 and under are married each year in the State of Florida according to the latest statistics gathered by the organization, “Unchained at Last”.

In 2014 Legislation passed the House that would have banned marriage under the age of 16, but it didn’t have any traction in the Senate.

This year however, a bill has been filed that would ban marriage for anyone under the age of 18.

 

“People are learning more [about] what actually happens here in the state of Florida. They’re hearing about it. Where before it was not something that was talked about. It was all so to speak pushed under the rug,” said Johnson.

If approved the the legislation would make Florida’s marriage law the strictest in the nation.

Sherry Johnson runs the TaMar Foundation, which is dedicated to fighting sex abuse.

You can learn more about it by going to following this link.

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FSU Gives Students 4,000 Pairs of Solar Eclipse Glasses

August 18th, 2017 by Jake Stofan

 

It’s been 47 years since a solar eclipse was visible from Florida State University and students at the school didn’t hesitate to make the best of their experience when offered free solar eclipse glasses.

The University gave out 4,000 free eclipse viewing glasses to students over the past few weeks.

This morning they gave out the last 500.

Officials at the school say students came out in mass to grab their pair.

 

“We gave out between four hundred fifty or five hundred glasses in thirty minutes this morning, and hopefully we’ll get all those coming back this afternoon, because we’re trying to do a photo for the archives of everybody that is looking at the sun and watching the eclipse going on,” said Todd Shaver, Program Director for Oglesby Union at FSU.

During the eclipse students gathered at the Oglesby Union Green to pose in the photo for the schools archives.

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Florida Pediatricians Worried GOP Donors Want Special Needs Children Off Medicaid Program

August 18th, 2017 by Jake Stofan

 

Florida pediatricians are concerned of a possible concerted effort by GOP political donors to keep low income special needs children off of a Medicaid Program known as Children’s Medical Services.

In 2015, more than 13,000 children were removed from the program as a result of a survey that was introduced to deem if a child qualified for the program or not.

The survey was later found to be misleading and is no longer used.

After extraneous efforts the Florida Department of Health sent 6,081 parents whose children were removed from CMS and put on 11 other Medicaid plans owned by private companies a letter telling them they could reapply.

An extensive report by CNN found the companies that owned the private plans the children were switched to, made significant donations to the Florida Republican Party.

Pediatricians like Dr. Louis St. Petery say the Department of Health has still been reluctant to share how many of those children actually made it back on to CMS plans.

Which, he says suggests there still might be an effort to keep some of the kids off CMS.

 

“They did send out a letter to about six thousand kids, whom in their opinion, were the only ones who didn’t make it back to CMS. We’ve asked, ‘So, you’ve sent out the letter, how many of them got back on CMS?’ No answer. There still seems to be a reluctance to actually openly discuss the issues,” said Dr. Petery.

The 11 companies cited in the CNN article contributed $8.6 million to Florida Republican Party committees from 2010 to 2014

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