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Circuit Court Ruling Could Allow DOH to Issue More Marijuana Growers Licences

December 29th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
State law required at least one medical marijuana license go to a member of the Black Farmers Association, but a circuit court judge has blocked the license. The ruling found, because the law required an applicant to be a member of a specific association, it unconstitutionally favored a private corporation.
Jeff Sharkey with the Medical Marijuana Business Association says the Black Farmers  Association prevented other black farmers who otherwise would have qualified for the license from joining.
“And in fact discriminated against other black farmers,” said Sharkey.
At legislative meetings in October, the Office of Medical Marijuana Use’s Director blamed the lawsuit for delaying the issuance of 5 new licenses by an October 3rd deadline.
At the time, State Senator Dana Young argued the Department’s decision to delay the application process was hurting patients.
“There are a lot of sick Floridians that have been waiting for this medication to be available that are suffering because of it,” said Young.
The Department of Health says it’s reviewing the latest ruling, to determine if it can now issue the licenses that should have been awarded two months ago.
Sharkey says he believes it can and should. With over 63,000 patients, he says the budding industry needs all the growers it can get.
“Hopefully moving forward and selecting new licensees will put more product in the marketplace,” said Sharkey.
Other legal challenges are still pending including a suit challenging a preference for citrus growers to receive a license as well as a lawsuit to allow smokable marijuana.
There are currently 13 licensed treatment centers, with 25 dispensing locations around the state.

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Emergency Rule Issued to Allow for Greyhound Drug Testing

December 28th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The State Department of Business and Professional Regulation is fighting back after an administrative judge declared the department’s policy for drug testing greyhounds invalid.
His ruling found the policies were never properly adopted into state regulations.
In response, the department has issued an emergency rule.
Citing an immediate danger to public health, it allows the state to continue testing greyhounds.
Anti-racing advocates echo the state’s concerns.
“It’s open season in Florida for people to use drugs in the greyhounds. It means that the racing is less honest than it was before and it’s just another point that leads us to say it’s time for greyhound racing to be gone in Florida,” said Laua Bevan with the Humane Society.
Pro-racing advocates say the current drug testing methods and standards often result in false positives.
They fear the issuance of the emergency rule is a signal the state wont work with them to come up with a new, more reliable policy.
Jack Cory, a lobbyist for the Florida Grey Hound Association says the state’s standards for a failed test are so low, natural trace amounts of substances can result in a breeder losing their license.
“We need to update the rules and the testing so that they meet the standards today, protecting the animal number one, protecting the integrity of racing number two,” said Cory.
Anti-racing group Grey2K says it’s happy the state moved quickly to issue a new rule, but it fears pending doping cases could still be thrown out, leaving dogs in danger.
The Department of Business and Professional Regulation has also filed a motion asking the administrative judge to reconsider his initial ruling.
If reversed, it would prevent pending cases from being thrown out.

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Lawmakers Looking to Make it Harder for Shelters to Euthanize Animals

December 27th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Nationally 1.5 million animals are euthanized in animal shelters each year.
Newly filed legislation is looking to make it harder for shelters in Florida to add to that number.
There’s only one no-kill animal shelter in the state of Florida.
No-kill Advocacy group Fix Florida says, most shelters in the state are classified as high kill.
“They’re killing any where from 50% of the pets who come in the door,” said Fix Florida member Jack Cory.
As shelters fill up, they euthanize unadopted would-be pets to make space. Sometimes they’re put down before no-kill private animal rescues are able to adopt them.
The new legislation would prohibit shelters from euthanizing an animal if a rescue says it intends to adopt.
Some animals would be exempt from the protections. If they’re exhibiting signs of rabies, classified as dangerous or if they’re experiencing extreme suffering.
Shree Brown with Tallahassee Big Dog Rescue says, despite sounding good on paper, she’s concerned the legislation could open the door for illegitimate rescues to get in over their head.
“You could have someone who’s just a hoarder in fact show up and claim to be a rescue,” said Brown.
Diana Ferguson with the Florida Animal Control Association is concerned the bill doesn’t specify how long a shelter would have to hold an animal for a rescue.
“If a rescue organization a willingness to take an animal then the shelter would have to hold that animal indefinitely… that could definitely lead to over crowding,” said Ferguson.
Cory says the concerns are worth the possible pay off.
“It saves the processing of the euthanasia… more importantly, it has a live happy pet in a home in the community… and they’re spending money in the community,” said Cory.
A similar bill was proposed last year. It came with numerous restrictions on shelters. This year’s version focuses only euthanasia.
After passing similar legislation, California tax payers saved $1.8 million.

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Florida Lawmakers Looking to Raise Tobacco Age to 21

December 26th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Quitting smoking is one of the most popular New Year’s Resolutions, but every year, 74 hundred people make smoking a daily habit.
Florida Lawmakers hope increasing the legal smoking age to 21 will prevent teens from picking up the habit.
Tallahassee resident Kelly Blair had his first cigarette in 3rd grade and began smoking regularly in 7th grade.
“The worst mistake of my life was starting smoking cigarettes,” said Blair.
The rate of smoking  for young Floridians has dropped 71% in  the last decade.
Thanks in part to a concentrated effort by Tobacco Free Florida.
“We have about 15 percent of Florida’s adults who are still smoking and only about 3% of youth,” said Kellie O’Dare with TFF.
The drop in tobacco use has saved Florida tax payers $18 Billion in smoking-related-health-costs.
“We can look at about 30% of cancers being attributable to cigarette smoking,” said O’Dare.
In Florida a person can legally purchase and consume tobacco products at 18.
A new proposal in the State Legislature would raise the age to 21.
People under 21 caught smoking would face 20 hours of community service, a second offense doubles the punishment.
People we spoke with say while the proposal may not deter everyone, if it is able to prevent some people from starting it’s worth it.
“If people respect the law I think that there’s some chance it might keep some people away and thus it is valuable,” said nonsmoker Josh Carpenter.
“Hopefully it would deter kids from even starting. Hopefully what I’m telling you right now deters someone out there. You know, save one person and you’ve done a great job,” said Blair.
Under the proposal vendors who sell tobacco to people younger than 21 would face a $500 fine.
Like community service for the smoker, it doubles with a second offense.
If the Legislation passes, Florida would become the sixth state to raise the legal age for tobacco to 21.

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Landlords who Don’t Conduct Background Checks Could Face Backlash under Proposed Legislation

December 22nd, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Landlords could soon be required to provide residents with proof they have conducted background checks on people working in apartment complexes. And as Mike Vasilinda tells us, failure to provide notices would give people the right to cancel their lease.

Part time student Mary Beasley has been renting her apartment for almost a year. At times she isn’t comfortable with the maintenance staff.

“And it scares me. A lot of the times when I come home, I’m getting stares from these men who are working all around. I’ve never even seen them before. I know nothing about them” Mary told us.

Under proposed legislation know as the Tenant Notification Act,  renters like Mary would have to be told, in writing, whether or not the landlord has run background checks on anyone with access to the premises. State Senator Greg Steube is the sponsor.

“If there are people working in these large complexes, and they’re not background checks on whether they are sex offenders or not, and they have access to people’s homes, to me that’s a problem” says Steube.

Landlord Erwin Jackson, who rents more than 250 apartments, already runs background checks, but bristles at the idea of being forced to run them or notify tenants.

“And see no reason I should take that information nd provide it to my tenants. I think there is a privacy there” says Jackson.

If this idea becomes law and you’ve already singed a lease and then find out there’s no background check, you’ll be entitled to cancel that lease and get your full deposit back.

Mary likes that just fine.

“I think that it’s after moving in that you start, you know, seeing everything, maybe all the bad people around.”

Some details of the proposal are still being worked out, including how many units are in a complex before background check notice would apply.

The level one background checks called for I the legislation cost $24 per person.

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Drug Assisted Treatments Helping Correctional Facilities Combat Opioid Crisis

December 21st, 2017 by Jake Stofan
16 people die each day here in Florida from opioids.
Opioid addicts often turn to crime to support their habit.
To combat the problem, the state has been increasing funding for drug assisted treatments for addicted prisoners.
The treatments are aimed at keeping addicts out of prison and giving them a second shot at life
Chief Kimberley Petersen estimates 8 out ten prisoners are addicted.
“It may not be a charge they currently have, but they’re dealing or they’re using some some type of illegal drug,” said Petersen.
One new method being used by jails and prisons to combat the problem is a drug called Vivitrol.
“It’s strictly and opioid blocker. It reduces cravings and also if you use you don’t get high because the medication itself has a higher affinity to your opioid receptor,” said Patrick Lane, a Nurse and Councilor with DISC Village’s Vivitrol Program.
Taxpayers are spending over 16 hundred dollars a month to keep someone in prison. Treating that same person with the drug costs just $900 every month, which could keep them clean and out of the system.
To receive treatment, addicts also have to agree to receive counseling. Former addict turned advocate Freda King says, although Vivitrol can help an addict through the first stages of getting off opioids, it’s the counseling that will help them stay clean.
“When my son was killed in Afghanistan. I was ten years sober. If I didn’t still work the plan that was implemented in 2000 I could have relapsed,” said King, who will be celebrating 18 years sober in March.
While the Vivitrol program is just getting started in the state capital, Chief Petersen is hoping other facilities around the state will follow the lead of those looking for alternative ways to combat the crisis.
“You know we’re no longer just throwing people behind bars and locking the doors and walking away from them,” said Petersen. “We’re trying to help them to take the next step in the right direction to better themselves.”
State funding for drug assisted treatment of opioid addicts got a $3 million boost this past session. Making it possible for more correctional facilities to implement similar programs.
The state first began funding drug assisted treatment for opioid addicts in 2014. The budget this year was over $10 million.

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Jack Latvala Resigns Senate Seat after Probable Cause Found

December 20th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

Clearwater state Senator Jack Latvala has resigned, less than 24 hours after a special master found probable cause that he was a serial sexual harasser. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the resignation does not end the investigation into whether Latvala also sold his vote for sex.

The 33 page report found probable cause that Clearwater State Senator Jack Latvala inappropriately touched Senate aid Rachel Perrin Rogers and that he used inappropriate verbal and non verbal behavior. The most recent occurring this past October in this Senate elevator. Latvala Attorney Steve Andrews says it was his word against his accuser.

“The fact that it was a he said, she said, the judger decided to believe her evidence over our evidence” Andrews told us.

Latvala submitted his resignation letter mid afternoon Wednesday. In it, he maintained his innocence, just as he did in a recent news conference.

“I didn’t do it and I’m not going to admit to something I didn’t do” Latvala told invited reporters December fourth.

 

The retired judge serving as a special master also referred allegations of trading votes for sex with a lobbyist to law enforcement.

Not included in this report are hundreds of pages of exhibits, including explicit text messages from the Senator to the female lobbyist, which the Special master believes  more investigation. Layer Andrews says his client never got due process.

“We never had the opportunity to rebut those allegations, Neve knew about them, and had we known about them and had we known about them, I believe we would have rebutted them” Andrews told us after the resignation.

Less than two months ago, Jack Latvala controlled an 87 billion dollar budget and was the second most powerful member of the Florida Senate

Late this afternoon the Department of Law Enforcement said it had received the Latvala referral and had begun a preliminary review of the information.

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Grand Jury Report Reveals New Details in FSU Pledge’s Death

December 20th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
As a passed out 20 year old Andrew Coffey lay dying from alcohol poisoning, Pi Kappa Phi fraternity members moved his body and continued playing pool around him. Coffey’s big brother charged with watching him left the house.
The findings are contained in a 17-page presentment filed by the Grand Jury investigating the death.
The Grand Jury stopped short of indicting anyone in the death of a 20 year old FSU Fraternity pledge, but it says evidence shows criminal conduct.
“We’re going to continue the investigation… There is still outstanding forensic evidence that’s being reviewed and we will base all charges based on the evidence that we review,” said State Attorney Jack Campbell.
The night of his death Coffey had consumed an entire bottle of 101 proof bourbon.  He was found without a pulse by a fraternity member the next morning, who called and texted 5 other frat members before calling police.
More than half of the fraternity members refused police interviews following Coffey’s death.
The presentation says testimonies before the grand jury seemed insincere and shallow, suggesting they were more concerned with keeping out of trouble than providing useful information to investigators.
“The apathy and the narcissism of those around him bothered me a lot,” said Campbell.
FSU President John Thrasher released a statement saying, “Now, our grief is compounded by frustration with the lack of information and cooperation by many of the individuals who may have been present during the final hours of Andrew’s life.”
The Grand Jury asked FSU to consider changing its student code of conduct to require students to cooperate with law enforcement during investigations or face expulsion. It also recommended allowing police to enter fraternity homes without warrant or notice and for the university to create a score card for fraternities.
In response to the Grand Jury presentment FSU says, “We appreciate the efforts of the grand jury, and we welcome, and will strongly consider, its recommendations as we seek to change the fraternity culture for the benefit, safety and well-being of all our students and the community.

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FDLE Says Mike Williams’ Body Has Been Discover After 17 Years

December 20th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
The Florida Department of Law Enforcement says the 17-year-old missing persons case of 31-year-old Mike Williams has officially become a murder investigation.
Williams disappeared on December 16th 2000 after he left his home to go on a duck hunting trip at Lake Seminole near the Florida Georgia boarder. The State Attorney’s Office began investigating the case in 2004. Over the last 13 years law enforcement has spent 3 thousand hours investigating the case. Now police say they have a body and have confirmed Williams was in fact murdered.
“When Mike was killed he was only 31-years-old. He was a husband, a father, a son and a brother. As a property appraiser, Mike had a promising and bright future ahead of him. I ask the public to remain patient as we work diligently to bring the person or persons responsible for Mike’s death to justice,” said FDLE Special Agent in Charge, Mark Perez.
The update comes just a day after Williams’ former best friend, Brian Winchester, was sentenced to 20 years behind bars for the kidnapping of William’s wife Denise. Six months before the disappearance, the best friend sold Williams a million dollar life insurance policy.  Police are not releasing specific details in the case yet. FDLE is asking anyone with information about the case to call 800-342-0820.

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Latvala Bombshell: Report Wants Criminal Referral

December 19th, 2017 by Mike Vasilinda

A weeks long investigation by a Special Master has found probably cause that a State Senator engaged in improper and unwanted verbal and physical contact with a Senate staffer, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us the report also recommends a criminal investigation into whether the Senate traded his vote for sexual favors.

The Special Master, hired by the Senate, found probable cause that Senate aide Rachel Perrin Rogers was telling the truth when she accused Clearwater State Senator Jack Latvala of touching her inappropriately and that he used inappropriate verbal and non verbal behavior.

While the finding of probable cause on three allegations is certainly enough to trigger a hearing and perhaps even a resignation, the bombshell is an allegation that the Senator traded sex for the passage of legislation.

The special master wrote that accusations of the Senator trading sex for his vote be referred for a criminal investigation. Latvala Attorney Steve Andrews denied any quid pro quo arrangement.,

“We didn’t expect that. I think the court interpreted the evidence that we did, but I can assure you that there’s never been any quid pro quo relations with a lobbyist as alleged in that.”

Q:”The Senator told you that?”

“Absolutely” said Andrews.

On December 4th, Latvala held a lengthy news conference, denying any wrongdoing.

“I don’t do it and I’m not going to admit to something I didn’t do” he old invited reporters.

In a statement, the accusers attorney says “we ask the leadership of the Florida Senate to immediately initiate a process to expel Senator Latvala.”

That will remain an option if he doesn’t resign first.

The accuser and her attorney did not respond to interview requests. But the accusers husband pointed us to his twitter page in which he said “I am ore proud of my wife today than any one I’ve ever known.”

 

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Grand Jury Confirms Alcohol Poisoning as Cause of Death in FSU Pledge Case, No Indictments Sought As of Yet

December 19th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
After two days of listening to testimony from more than 50 individuals a Grand Jury in the State Capitol has completed its investigation into the death of 20-year-old Pi Kappa Phi pledge Andrew Coffey.
The more than 10 page long presentment filed by the the grand jury doesn’t call for any indictments. State Attorney Jack Campbell confirmed Coffey died of alcohol poisoning. No other drugs were found in his system.
Campbell says the presentment calls for the State Attorney’s Office to continue the investigation, meaning the case is far from settled.
“We’re going to continue the investigation and then based on the charges either our office will file information if we believe it to be appropriate or another grand jury will be coming in in January and once again we can ask that grand jury if it wants to continue, but there is still outstanding forensic evidence that’s being reviewed and we will base all charges based on the evidence we review,” said Campbell.
The specifics of what the grand jury discovered throughout the investigation won’t be known until the presentment is made public Wednesday morning.

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Three Florida Counties Planning to Sue Big Pharma Over Opioid Crisis

December 19th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
Florida’s Attorney General has been investigating pharmaceutical companies for their part in causing the opioid crisis along with a coalition of 41 states  since September.
More than ten states have filed lawsuits against Big Pharma, blaming the companies for playing a part in causing the national opioid crisis.
Florida has yet to take any legal action so far.
“You know we put in a lot of investigation ourselves before we go out and file these lawsuits, because we have the ability to gather a lot of documents doing it the way we’re doing it,” said Attorney General Pam Bondi.
Tired of waiting for the state, three counties have decided to sue on their own.
Broward County is the latest, joining more than 100 jurisdictions around the country who have filed suit against pharmaceutical companies.
“This is probably our number one public safety and public health crisis right now and this is something that you know needs to be addressed,” said Broward County Commissioner Michael Udine.
For the lawsuits to prevail, counties have to prove pharmaceutical companies marketed opioids as safe product, despite knowledge of research suggesting the opposite. It’s similar to the state’s case against Big Tobacco in the 1990’s, which won the state $13 billion. Some of the money went to fund anti-smoking efforts.
Addiction and mental health advocates hope any possible settlements from pharmaceutical companies can go towards addiction services like Central Receiving Facilities.
“They often are the folks on the front line who see the results of addiction and who will actually bring the folks into treatment for their first go around,” said Melanie Brown-Woofter, with the Florida Council for Community Mental Health.
The Attorney General’s Office says if drug companies fail to cooperate with the multi-state investigation, Florida is ready to file suit in a moment’s notice.
More Florida Counties are expected to file suit in the next few months. Miami-Dade and Escambia County have already expressed some interest.

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Moped Riders Under 21 Would Have to Start Wearing Helmets Under New Legislation

December 18th, 2017 by Jake Stofan

23 people were killed in moped crashes in Florida during 2015.

Scooter drivers aged 16 and up aren’t required have to wear helmets, but the increased popularity of the vehicles has lawmakers looking to raise the age requirement.

A 2014 journal article by PubMed Central says less that 1 out of 5 riders actually put one on.

Gabriel DeMarco says he’s been in multiple accidents on his scooter, but still chooses not to wear a helmet.

“I know I should do it, but I just kind of don’t want to,” said Demarco.

“I think there’s a peer pressure. You don’t want to look like you’re a geeky guy or girl riding a moped with a helmet on,” said State Senator Keith Perry.

Perry is sponsoring new Legislation that would require moped riders under the age of 21 to wear head protection.

If approved, it will bring helmet laws for the lower speed scooters inline with the current law for motorcycles.

Even though scooters don’t go more than 30 miles an hour, crashes can still be devastating, causing traumatic brain injury or even death.

“It seems like daily we’re having kids who are coeds traveling back and fourth around campus and stuff getting injured,” said Perry.

23 people were killed in moped crashes in Florida during 2015.

Matthew Smith was involved in a motorcycle accident earlier this year. It left his legs and arms scarred.

The accident happened while he was traveling under 30 miles an hour.

He says if it weren’t for the fact he was wearing a helmet at the time, he’d likely be dead.

Smith works at , “All About Scooters,” a scooter shop near FSU.

He says despite always recommending helmets to customers, it’s common for young riders not to wear them.

“We’ve seen a few kids die from not wearing they’re helmets. It’s just a good idea,” said Smith.

If signed into law scooter riders under 21 caught without a helmet will face a fine of up to $108.

The proposal has already passed one Senate committee.

It’s scheduled for hearings in Senate and House committees when Legislators return in January.

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Grand Jury Preparing to Investigate Pi Kappa Phi Pledge’s Death

December 15th, 2017 by Jake Stofan
A Grand Jury in the State Capitol will  look into the death of an FSU fraternity pledge who died after a night of partying last month.
FSU student and Pi Kappa Phi Fraternity pledge Andrew Coffey was found dead in early November, following an off campus party.
The Tallahassee Police Department is still investigating the case.
“There were somewhere in the vicinity of fifty plus people that needed to be interviewed and that is simply what is taking the time,” said Officer Dave Northway with TPD.
Now, a Grand Jury is preparing to review the case.
State Attorney Jack Campbell says they’ll determine whether or not criminal charges are necessary.
“Tallahassee Police Department, Florida State University Police Department as well as those entities and the people who were involved at Pi Kappa Phi in total are all going to be places we’re trying to glean information,” said Campbell.
Days after the death, FSU announced it would suspend Greek Life on campus.
We caught up with frat members following the announcement. One member told us, “ We’re not suspended, you’re suspended.”
The phrase became a rallying cry for fraternities around the state.
It’s been displayed at frat houses at UCF and Gainesville.
It was also carved into a cave wall in Georgia and put on a Christmas sweater.
More than a month has passed since FSU suspended Greek Life following the death, But the university still doesn’t have a timeline for when the suspension will be lifted.
It’s the same message President John Thrasher has pushed since we spoke with him at FSU’s Homecoming Parade in November.
“That’s what all of this is about. We’re trying to find solutions, but we want the students to work with us to find those solutions,” said Thrasher.
The Grand Jury will hear testimony Monday and Tuesday.
A decision on whether charges will be filed is likely before Christmas.
FSU declined to comment on the upcoming  Grand Jury investigation.

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New App Release to Help Floridians Navigate the Legal System

December 15th, 2017 by Jake Stofan

A recent survey of civil cases in Miami-Dade County found 3 out of 5 people were representing themselves.

Florida’s Supreme Courts’ Commission on Access to Civil Justice has a new app to help those representing themselves navigate through the legal process.

The Florida Court Help App provides easy access to family forms, legal resources and helps steer people in the right direction to find assistance.

Former Florida Bar President Greg Coleman says the app is the commissions first step in addressing the problem.

“This is a very very important part of access to civil justice. We know there’s a need and we know there has to be an easier path and with Florida Courts Help the app we think we’re going to begin solving the problem” says Coleman.

The app is available for free on both Apple and Android devices.

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