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Latvala Releases Text Messages from Accuser

November 30th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

A 35 year old State Senate employee has identified herself as the person who filed a complaint against Clearwater Senator Jack Latvala.  A written copy of the complain six instances she say the Senator touched her, but as Mike Vasilinda tells us, Latvala has released dozens of text messages that paint a complicated picture.

 

35-year-old Rachel Perrin Rogers has come forward saying she is the woman who filed a sexual harassment complaint against State Senator Jack Latvala. In a statement provided by her lawyer she says:

“The confidentiality that I was promised under Florida law has been violated. I am fearful of the effect that this unethical action will have on other victims.”

The Clearwater Senator  countered by providing more than 130 text messages between the two, some work related, others political, some friendly.

“She obviously communicates with me unsolicited on a very frequent basis and has for four or five years. Has invited me and asked me to meet with her alone” Latvala told us.

In one message, Rogers tells Latvala there’s BBQ for lunch in her office. He says save me some, she responds with a plate and smiley face, and in another she says she donated to Latvala’s reelection effort. Perrin Rogers husband, Brian Hughes, is a political consultant.

“I believe it’s all political” says Latvala.  “I don’t think there’s an accident that out of 200 female employees in the Senate the one who has purportedly filed a complaint against me, is the wife of a political consultant. I don’t think it’s an accident.”

Citing the confidentiality of the investigation, the Senate President’s Office says it has no comment about these text messages.

In a response to the text messages Perrin Rodgers’ attorney tells us:

“At no time did my client invite or encourage Jack Latvala to touch private parts of her body. At no time did my client ask to be subjected to verbal or physical harassment.”

Latvala spent three hours with the special master investigating the case on Wednesday. Perrin Rogers has a Friday appointment. Meanwhile, the Senate President was meeting today with outside lawyers hired by the Senate.

 

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Greyhound Ban Passed CRC Panel

November 30th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

After five years of trying to ban greyhound racing in the state legislature, voters may soon get to decide the fate of thousands of dogs. A panel of the Constitution Revision Commission today agreed to put the ban before voters in 2018. Sponsor Tom Lee says the revision effort won’t face the same obstacles that have thwarted lawmakers.

“Well the Legislature has different pressures than the Constitutional Revision Commission has. The Constitutional Revision Commission isn’t reliant upon special interest money to get reelected. They’re more free to vote their conscience and less encumbered by the deep pockets of some of these industries that have locked this bill down in the last few years” say Lee.

The ban would phase racing out over a three year period. An estimate eight thousand dogs are currently being bred or racing in the state. In a statement, Jack Cory from the Florida Greyhound Association says “if this proposal were passed it would result in the largest expansion of gambling in Florida’s history…it would convert all of Florida’s dog tracks into mini-casinos, which was amended on to this very bad proposal today.

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Larry Robinson Officially Appointed President of FAMU

November 30th, 2017 by Jake Stofan

 

 

Dr. Larry Robinson was unanimously voted in as the 12th President of Florida A&M University by the school’s board of Trustees.

 

“I just want to sort of start reaching out to our constituents and letting them know how important they are to us,” said Robinson. “That includes students, faculty, staff, alumni. So I’ll be meeting with my leadership team, talking about what we will do during the next days, weeks and months.”

It’s the latest achievement in Robinson’s 20-year career at the historically black college, but this isn’t the first time the nuclear chemist has led the school.

He was Interim President before the university hired its first female President, he took to position again after she was fired.

He also held the same title for a short period in 2007.

The university asked for and got permission to forego a national search for a new President.

Trustees Chairman Kelvin Lawson says it was the right decision.

 

“So in our mind there was just not a need to go out and expend the resources and time to search for an individual that was right under our nose,” said Lawson.

When we asked students what they wanted to see Robinson improve most didn’t know who he was.

 

The one student we found who did know Robinson wants to see the school do a better job of helping students navigate the financial aid process.

 

“I feel as though most students don’t know where to look for help as well as for monetary guidance,” said Raiyana Malone.

Robinson has work to do.

The six year graduation rate is only 39 percent and until this year, student enrollment has been faltering.

Robinson has already had some success attracting new students.

Under his leadership the school’s freshman enrollment up about 10% over last year.

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“Killer Babysitter” Denied Parole

November 29th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

A woman dubbed the “killer babysitter” was turned down for parole today. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, her murders of five children in Florida more than two decades ago had parents everywhere questioning whether it was safe to leave their kids with a babysitter.

Christine Falling was just 19 when she plead guilty to killing three children. In exchange, the state didn’t pursue charges for two other kids who died in her care, and it didn’t seek the death penalty. The charges may never have been filed is she hadn’t confessed.

“I choked here till she quit breathing and she’d turned purple” Falling said in the confession.

As a child, Falling reportedly strangled or dropped cats from high places to test their 9 lives. Her stepfather, Jessie Falling, who adopted her at age 4 was bewildered.

 

“Because she was a lover of children. I still say that” the stepfather told us in the fall of 1982.

Falling also later confessed to killing a 70 your old man her first day on the job as his housekeeper.

By law, Falling remains eligible for parole. But prosecutor Joy Powell from Perry told the review panel that the so called baby sitter from hell deserved no mercy.
“This woman killed five babies, from age two months to four year old. She says she just did it the way she saw on TV. She says she doesn’t know why she did it. Sometimes they cried and they made her mad. One time she just felt the urge” says Powell.

No one showed up on Falling’s behalf,

The panel showed no mercy. Christine Fallings presumptive release date is 2254, likely long after she dies.

Falling gets another hearing in 7 years. But the question asked across the county in the wake of the deaths: can you trust your babysitter? Is as relevant today as it was 25 years ago.

Until the final death, the first four children who died as well as the 70 year old man were all thought to have died of natural causes.

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Fixing Write-In Candidate Loophole Moves Forward

November 29th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A proposed constitutional amendment to fix a loophole, which prevents unaffiliated voters from voting in primary elections passed a Constitutional Revision Committee Wednesday morning.
In 1998 a constitutional amendment was passed, allowing all voters regardless of affiliation to vote in primaries, if no other candidates from the opposing party were on the ballot. Drafters didn’t take in into account write in candidates.
“A write-in candidate does not have to participate in any of the debate or public policy questions that anyone running for office has to do,” said Commissioner Jacqui Thurlow-Lippisch.
The loophole allows the often insincere candidates to close off an election.
In 2016 an estimated three million voters were denied a vote due to write in candidates.
Thurlow-Lippisch says one such candidate cost her a run for County Commissioner.
“My write in candidate competition, they were a Republican. If they were a Republican then we should all be competing as Republicans, but just because you’re a write-in candidate you have this special ability to close the primary,” said Thurlow-Lippisch.
In 2016 ten house races and ten more in the state senate were closed by write in candidates. It’s a strategic move used by both parties.
Constitutional Revision Commissioner Sherry Plymale is proposing a constitutional amendment to close the loophole.
“The supervisors of elections told us that’s the single biggest complaint they get when that happen in their county. People are outraged that their vote has been pretty much discounted,” said Plymale.
It’s hoped closing the loophole will lead to higher voter turnout in primary elections and more moderate candidates who have to appeal to all voters, not just a select few.
Currently primary turn out only average a little more that 22% participation.” If approved by voters, the change would take place in the 2020 election.

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State Pays 11 Million Over 30 Years for Sexual Harassment Claims

November 28th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

As the State Senate investigates harassment claims against a State Senator, a new report shows the state has spent 11 million dollars settling sexual harassment claims, mostly in the executive branch over the last 30 years. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, one veteran lawyer expects to see a hundred potential clients before the year is over.

The harassment payments go back to 1987, when the state legislature security paid 47 thousand dollars to analysts Kathy Jennings, who alleged improper touching.

“I said you know, Fred, come on, don’t mess up my hair and he said I don’t want to mess up your hair, I want to….”

Rick Johnson was the woman’s attorney. He still practices in the State Capitol and expects to see a hundred cases before the year is out.

Q:“How many instances go unreported to everyone that comes forward?”

“Oh, the vast majority, ten to one easily. Even that ones that come to me.”

The only other documented legislative settlement was 20 years ago, when lawmakers paid out 165 thousand dollars.

State Senator Jack Latvala is currently being investigated for allegedly improperly touching lobbyists and staff members.

 

6 our of 10 cases the state has settled come from the department of Corrections. The state paid 1.3 million to nurses who filed a class action suit. Attorney Johnson says when a claim is filed against the state, its fights tooth and nail.

“It undermines their human resources department, which is saying that we don’t put up with this and we encourage everybody to report it.

Earlier they year, Governor Rick Scott signed lHouse Bill 397, making it easier for sexual harassment to be reported.

The Governor’s office also asked us to tell you, only 2 percent of the claims paid were under his watch since taking office.

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Amendment to Strengthen CFO Dies in CRC Committee

November 28th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
An attempt to put more controls on state spending was shot down by a Constitutional Revision Committee in the state Capitol Tuesday morning.
The proposed constitutional amendment would have given the state’s Chief Financial Officer authority over state contracts, which could have prevented debris removal price gouging after Hurricane Irma.
In 1998 Florida voters agreed to downsize Florida’s Cabinet from six members to just three… Some believe the CFO got the short end of the stick.
“It’s extraordinary that we would have a Chief Financial Officer Who can’t raise a yellow flag about the potential misuse or even waste of tax payers’ dollars,” said Commissioner Don Gaetz.
The CFO has little to no authority in making sure work required in state contracts was performed before the state paid the vendor.
“They’re essentially rubber-stamping the payment process,” said State Senator and Constitutional Revision Commissioner Tom Lee.
Lee proposed a constitutional amendment to give the CFO the authority to approve or deny state agency contracts of more than $10 million to provide more accountability. It would also have given the CFO a voice in the Revenue Estimating conference.
Half of the eight committee members in attendance voted no, shutting down the proposal, citing concerns over the separation of powers.
“It’s my job as Chief Legal Officer to consider constitutionality issues and in here they had a lot of issues with that,” said Attorney General and Commission Member Pam Bondi.
With the proposal dead, supporters fear price gouging of state agencies like what happened with debris removal contracts after Hurricane Irma will continue to cost tax payers millions.
“Why would we want to continue to let vendors charge ten times the going rate for debris removal in the Keys, because we don’t have an adequate set of checks and balances for someone to look over those kinds of things,” said Senator Lee.
Lee now plans to try and get lawmakers to put the amendment on the ballot.
A similar proposal was sought by former CFO Jeff Atwater in 2012, but was rejected by the Legislature.

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CRC Proposals to Appoint Superintendents and Put Term Limits on School Board Members Move Forward

November 27th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Three proposals moving through the Constitutional Revision Commission are looking to make major changes to how local school districts are governed.
The first would set term limits for local school board members.
Currently board members serve as long as they keep getting elected.
Commissioner Erika Donalds wants members capped at two four year terms.
“I think term limits allow for people to remember the public they’re there to represent as opposed to becoming part of the system that they’re elected to,” said Donalds.
Florida School Boards Association Executive Director, Andrea Messina says school board members have a higher turn over rate than other elected positions with term limits.
About 41% since 2010.
“I’m not sure what problem this proposal is trying to solve,” said Messina.
A second proposal by Donalds would take away school board salaries.
On average the positions pay about $34,000 a year, with an additional $19,500 in benefits.
The state would save 19.3 million annually by making the positions unpaid.
School boards say the pay allows residents from all socioeconomic backgrounds to run for office.
“If we cut back the salary on school boards it could jeopardize the ethnic, cultural and economic diversity of the school boards that we now enjoy,” said Messina.
The proposal to make District Superintendents appointed instead of elected is supported by the fact 26 Florida counties already appoint their superintendents.
Florida is also one of only 5 states that elects superintendents.
Only the proposals for term limits and appointed Superintendents passed the CRC Education committee.
The proposal to make school board member positions unpaid was temporarily postponed after the committee voted it down.
If approved by the full CRC the proposals would appear on the 2018 ballot.
The amendments would each have to receive 60% of the vote to become part of the state constitution.

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Black Friday Gun Sales up About 9% in 2017

November 27th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Nationally, a record setting 203 thousand people under background checks to purchase firearms on Black Friday.
Here in Florida, gun buyers were also out in force.
10,976 people sought to purchase a gun in the state.
The number is about 9% higher than Black Friday last year and nearly 40% higher than the 6,700 gun buyers in 2013.
Florida Department of Law Enforcement spokesperson Gretl Plessinger says the checks were steady throughout Friday.
“It’s a good indicator that gun sales are up. We don’t track gun sales,” said Plessinger. “We track the number of background checks we do and that’s not necessarily equal to gun sales so one could think they were going to purchase a gun and decide not to purchase a firearm or they could maybe purchase two on an approval for example.”
Another 73 hundred people also applied to purchase guns on Saturday and Sunday this weekend.
So far this year FDLE has conducted just over 865 thousand background checks.
The state set a record last year when the number of gun buyers surpassed the one million mark.

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Crime in Florida Down, But Reported Rapes Are Up Compared to 2016

November 22nd, 2017 by Jake Stofan
According to the latest report by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement the first half of 2017 saw crime drop 2%.
Gretl Plessinger with FDLE says it reflects success of law enforcement.
“So it shows that crime is down across the state of Florida again, for more than four decades,” said Plessinger.
But rape is up 8% over the same time period in 2016.
Historically, sex crimes are greatly under reported.
The Florida Council Against Sexual Violence says the numbers may actually be a good sign, not indicating a rise in the total number of rapes in the state, but instead a greater number of victims willing to come forward.
Criminologists have multiple theories for what caused the increase.
Jennifer Dritt, Executive Director of the Council believes it may be the result of a greater societal sensitivity towards sex crimes.
A trend she sees continuing to gain momentum.
“There’s more attention to sexual assault. There’s some statewide projects that are helping inform law enforcement about conducting trauma informed investigations,” said Dritt.
Statistically murders are down 5%, but that’s only because of the 49 victims who lost their lives in the Pulse Night Club Shooting.
Removing them from the equation, shows murders are up 3%.
Returns on stolen property are also low.
Six out of ten people who have their cars stolen get them back, while only 8% of people who have other property taken ever see it again.
Florida also saw reports of domestic violence drop 1%.

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Scott Files Motion to Disqualify Justice Pariente From Ruling on His Case

November 21st, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Governor Rick Scott wants a Supreme Court Justice removed from a case, which will decide whether the Governor has the authority to appoint three new justices before he leaves office.
The Governor claims comments made by the Justice caught on a hot mic suggests bias.
“I’ll appoint three new justices the morning I finish my term,” said Scott.
Scott has filed a motion to have Justice Barbara Pariente disqualified from the case.
She was heard saying the word, “crazy” in a hot mic incident.
The comment was made while the Justices looked at and discussed a list of people who will nominate future judicial candidates.
The audio is intermittent and unclear at times.
Scott’s Attorneys argue, due to the context of the conversation it could only be assumed the use of the word crazy was directed at either Scott or one of his appointees.
Scott says it’s enough evidence to suggest the Justice is incapable of rendering a fair verdict in the case.
Scott also included in his motion comments the Justice made back in 2012.
Justice Pariente was quoted during her retention election saying a vote against her retention, “Will Give Governor Scott the right to make his appointments, which will result in partisan political appointments.”
Damien Filer with Progress Florida says the argument is weak.
“What she said was that if she and others up for merit retention weren’t retained, that the Governor would make partisan political appointments. That’s just factually accurate. That’s what Governors and Presidents do,” said Filer.
It’s up to Justice Pariente as to whether she will disqualify herself.
We reached out to the legal team representing the League of Women Voters, but they declined to comment.

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Governor Proposes Money for Elections Supervisors

November 20th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida’s 67 elections supervisors are continuing to talk with Homeland Security and the FBI over attempts to hack the voter database in some counties during the 2016 election, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, Governor Rick Scott is now proposing money for more security at both the state and local level.

As many as a dozen of Florida’s 67 elections supervisors got suspicious emails last summer and fall that could have lead to a breach of the voters database. None were successful says Ron Labasky, the attorney for the Supervisors.

 

“Whatever the purpose of that, we don’t really know” says Labasky.

Taylor County Supervisor Dana Southerland was on the warning call with the FBI and others last year. She is the Supervisors Association President.

“Did they tell you you were in danger of being hacked?” We asked.

I don’t know that they used those words so to speak, but I think anytime you are dealing with electronics and computers, everybody is prone to something happening” says Southerland.

Governor Rick Scott is asking for a half million dollars to add five people at the state level. In an email, a spokesman for the Secretary of State told us: The Cybersecurity Unit will bolster current efforts and focus solely on cybersecurity for all of the department’s mission critical system

Another 1 point nine million would go to local supervisors.

If the money were divided equally, it wold be just over twenty eight thousand dollars a county. that wold go a lot further in a small county than a big one.”

“We’re sorta going through a number of protocols” says Labasky “talking to the state, Department of State, and some of the Federal people who brought information forward to find out what is needed.”

Final budget decisions are up to lawmakers, who could decide that supervisors need even more to make sure public confidence in elections isn’t eroded.

In addition to cyber security money, the Governor is also asking for $800,000 to assist individuals with disabilities and more than $445,000 for election fraud prevention.

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Despite Irma, Projections Show a Healthy Holiday Shopping Season

November 20th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Holiday sales are expected to rise in the state this Christmas Season.
Florida retailers say record high tourism and record low unemployment are playing a big part.
This holiday season Florida retailers are predicting a 3.5% increase in holiday spending.
The growth is slightly below the 4% growth expected nationally.
“Florida usually follows the national predictions pretty closely or exceeds them.” said Communications Director of the Florida Retail Association, James Miller. “But due to hurricane Irma that hit southwest Florida, southeast Florida and the Jacksonville area near 3 really large population centers it’s going to impact those people’s ability to spend money this year.”
Despite post-Irma economic hardships, Floridians are still expected to spend, on average, a record $967 on holiday shopping this year.
A major contributing factor for increased spending is the state’s unemployment rate, which is  the lowest it’s been in a decade.
Shoppers we caught up with say their Christmas budgets are still lean.
“Well I’m supposed to be spending less. My husband is trying to retire,” said Tallahassee resident Betsy Hines.
“Of course it’s been a rough year as far as the hurricane and everything like that, but [I’m] just trying to save up more for 2018 I guess is the habit I’m trying to bring in now,” said Jacksonville native, Larry Mitchell.
But Floridians aren’t the only ones driving the increased spending.
The holidays are the peak time for tourism in South Florida.
State efforts to boost tourism after Hurricane Irma are helping according to the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association.
“Here we had hurricanes and we’re still up, and so it’s getting the message out,” said Carol Dover, President of the Association.
The state saw record numbers of visitors for the third quarter in a row.
“You know, 100 to 120 million shoppers coming in each year, all of whom are leaving with more than what they came with, which is a great thing,” said Miller.
The Governor announced Monday a record 88.2 million tourists visited the state in the first 9 months of 2017.
The top gift for loved ones are gift cards, but Floridians are also expected to spend more on themselves this holiday season, about $141 on average.

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FSU Homecoming One to Remember, but for Wrong Reasons

November 17th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

The death two weeks ago today, an FSU fraternity pledge after a night of drinking at an off campus homeport a dampen today;’s homecoming parade. Following the death,  FSU President John Thrasher banned alcohol at all school events and banned greeks from taking part in campus activities. Now as mike Vasilinda tells us, the President is taking the alcohol ban on e step further.

Hundreds, not the usual thousands, lined the route for FSU’s homecoming parade. Alumna Nancy Bracewell as disappointed but not surprised,

 

“What do yo think of the turnout” we asked.

“It’s not good at all. It’s terrible actually” Bracewell responded.

Members of this fraternity said they would have had a float if they had not been banned from all activity following the death of a 20 Pi kappa Phi pledge two weeks ago. The few people watching from the Pi kappa house scattered when they saw our camera.After banning alcohol at all student activities, FSU President John Thrasher has now banned alcohol from the President Box for homecoming and the following home game,

 

 

“I mean, I think it would be a little bit hypocritical for use to serve alcohol in our box and ask them not to do what they are doing” says the President.

On Thursday, the President eased restrictions against Greek organizations. He’s allowing them to meet, but only with an advisor.

Students for the most part were taking the ban on Greek involvement in stride,

We caught up with Joyce Chiang riding on a float.

 

“Homecoming is supposed to be a time when we all come together and celebrate the school year, but obviously, we can’t do that this year like we have. We have a sorority under us F 85 under us and they can’t practice with the band homecoming, so it’s a little upsetting, but hopefully everything will be better” Chiang told us.

2017 will likely be a homecoming to remember, but for all the wrong reasons.

The President has not set a timetable for when Greek activity may resume. A vigil was held for 20 year old Andrew Coffey on Wednesday night.

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Democratic Party Chair Resigns Under Pressure

November 17th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

All four announced democratic candidates today called on the chairman of their party to resign after six women came forward and said he leered at them and created a hostile environment by using a breast shaped exercise ball. The got they wish. Candidate and Tallahassee Mayor Andrew gillum says it is for the best.

“If women have to fell like they have to go two by two  into their bosses office to avoid an environment of fear or intimidation, or inappropriateness, then something is clearly wrong and we have to change that dynamic, so the chairman stepping down was the right thing to do” says Gillum.

Bittel says he is working with others in the party to set an election for his successor.

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