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Marriage at 11 No More?

January 31st, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida is one step closer to ending child marriages at any age. A ban on marriage cleared the Florida Senate today with a unanimous vote, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the state is one step closer to having the strictest child marriage law in the country.

Sherry Johnson as raped at 8, married at eleven, and couldn’t legally divorce until she was 18.

“She is the voice for this bill” says State Senator Lizbeth Benacquisto.

Johnson has spent the last six years fighting for legislation that bans all marriages for anyone under 18.

“Her parents did the unthinkable” Benacquisto told Senators. “They forced her to marry the man who impregnated her as a child.”

One by one, state senators praised Johnson’s efforts.

“Thank you from the bottom of my heart for you being able to turn such a negative part of your life into a positive for so many children” said Sen. Rene Garcia.

Sen. Daphne Campbell added  “Florida gonna be the first state ever to pass this bill.”

“37 yeas, zero nays, Mr President.”

And when it came time for a vote, Johnson was all smiles.

“What drove you to make these changes?”

“My passion for children. To not ant them to have to experience the negative things, the negative life I had to experience. And its not necessary. We should always look out for our children.”

Right now, there are no exceptions for anyone under 18 to get married. But that could be changing.

Johnson is worried any changes to the legislation will only put more girls at risk of being sex slaves.
“So you worry if there’s any kind of loophole, that could be you?”

“Exactly, any type of loophole, who knows?”

A House committee is expected to add exceptions on Thursday. After that, the negotiations begin.

The House committee is expected to add language tomorrow allowing 17 and 18 year olds to marry if pregnancy is involved.

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Immigration Debate Continues

January 31st, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

House Speaker and likely Gubernatorial candidate Richard Corcoran is standing by a hard hitting TV spot depicting a young woman being killed by an illegal immigrant. The spot prompted Tallahassee Mayor Andrew to criticize the speaker. Now the two have agreed to a debate on sanctuary cities, even though they are from different party’s and neither has won their party’s nomination.
“In that commercial, we say this: was a illegal immigrant allowed back into America and given hide out status in a city? The answer is unenviably yes. As a result of that, was a young, beautiful girl killed? The answer is inequitably yes. If that’s true, than what Andrew gillum ought to do is say if those two things are yes which are unenviably true , than how do we fix it? Lets fix it so it never happens again” Corcoran told us.

Both Corcoran and Gillum are considered underdogs, if Corcoran runs for governor. A debate would likely boost both among their party’s primary electorate.

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Lawmakers Looking to Increase Qualifications for ASL Interpreters for Emergency Broadcasts

January 31st, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The Legislation has cleared one committee in the House and one in the Senate.

During an emergency situation, Floridian’s rely on broadcasts from the Division of Emergency Management to receive important information and updates. For Florida’s estimated 200,000 adults living with hearing impairments, the televised updates can be crucial.

On a broadcast by Manatee County Emergency Management during Hurricane Irma, an unqualified American Sign Language interpreter butchered important evacuation orders. He stopped frequently throughout the broadcast, signing words like “pizza”, “monster” and “bear”.

“Even if it’s one incident, I mean that could be thousands of people that get the wrong information,” said Representative Richard Stark.

The incident sparked outrage among the deaf community and interpreters.

“Everyone was shocked and asking the leaders in the deaf community to do something about it,” said former President of the National Association of the Deaf, Chris Wagner.

In light of the blunder, Stark filed new Legislation gaining traction in the Legislature would require the Division of Emergency Management to higher State or Nationally certified ASL interpreters to translate during weather emergencies.

The Legislation has the support of deaf organizations who say they’re often overlooked by the state.

“They feel the state doesn’t take serious enough concerns of the hearing impaired,” said Stark.

The Devision of Emergency Management says they already include ASL interpreters during their broadcasts. But it says the legislation would ensure accountability on a state and local level so only qualified interpreters are used.

In Florida, there are 564 ASL interpreters certified by the Registry of Interpreters for the Deaf.

The Legislation has cleared one committee in the House and one in the Senate.

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Lawmakers Unveil New Plan to Consolidate Crime Data in the State

January 31st, 2018 by Jake Stofan

Florida lawmakers have unveiled new legislation aimed at better collecting crime statistics throughout the state.

Currently lawmakers say information is hard to consolidate from agency to agency and even country to county. The new legislation would require law enforcement agencies, clerks of court, state attorneys, public defenders, county jail operators, and the Department of Corrections to issue weekly statistics to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement.

FDLE will be required to organize the data and make it available to the public.

Representative Chris Sprowls says the data will help lawmakers draft better informed criminal justice policies.

“Right now we have very very little information. Even basic things like recidivism,” said Sprowls. “What we have in the way of data is woefully insufficient and in order to have a full picture of what the criminal justice system looks like and how we can improve it we need as much information as possible and right now we don’t have it.”

If passed the Legislation would cost the state $1.75 million dollars to implement.

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Rally to Ban Fracking Held at the State Capitol

January 31st, 2018 by Jake Stofan


Environmental advocates held a rally on the State Capitol steps in support of Legislation to ban fracking.

Bills in both the House and Senate have been filed with bi-partisan support to ban the practice in the state, but neither have been scheduled for a committee hearing.

Supporters of the ban cite more than 900 health studies that point to fracking’s negative effect on the quality of drinking water.

Representative Sean Shaw is cosponsoring the House bill.

“Listen, I don’t understand why we have to do these every year, why we can’t get a hearing to ban fracking. I just don’t get it. It’s dangerous, the science proves that it’s dangerous, it’s not even particularly efficient,” said Shaw.

To date, 90 municipalities in the state have passed local bans on fracking.

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Vacation Rental Pushback

January 30th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

A highly contentious plan to ease regulations on vacation rentals drew a packed house in the State Capitol today. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, angry hotel owners who feel their future is on the line had to be escorted from the hearing.

A standing room only crowd gathered outside the committee room a half hour before the hearing on vacation rentals.  Before the committee, two competing proposals. One to give all regulation to the state.

 

Lori Killinger represents the Florida Vacation Management Assn.“This all started because of the morass of local ordinances that have been adopted since 32014 that have caused a significant unpredictability around the state” she told the Committee.
The other to let local governments regulate safety. Cari Roth represents the City of Holmes Beach.

“Fire safety. Pool safety. Those aren’t getting caught unless local government inspects the property” cautioned Roth.

Of the 100 plus in the room, only one resident, a Tallahassee realtor, Nga Nguyen,

spoke about her Air BnB rentals.

“It gives us a little bit extra money to go visit grandchildren.”

 

Hotel owners from one end of the state to the other complained they were being slowly pushed out of business. Henry Patel cautioned “Do not start a fire you can not put out.”

When the time came for a vote, Patel had to be escorted from the hearing.

“I just want finish up”.

“Mr. Patel, you’re not in charge here. I’ll have you escorted out of here.”

The chastising came from Chairman Tom Lee. He is in the middle, trying to find a compromise

 

“Most of these people are doing a good job regulating the renters in their properties. It’s the bad apples that spoil the bunch and that’s what we’re here trying to fix” Lee said afterward.

As the legislation is written, the state would only audit one percent of the homes that are being rented.

But everything and anything is subject to change as both sides fight for a bigger piece of the tourist rental cash cow.

The hotel owners vowed to come back to the next committee to make sure their concerns are heard.

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Anti-Smoking Advocates Worried Tobacco 21 Act isn’t Gaining Traction

January 30th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

3% of Florida’s children are smoking before they turn out 18. Florida lawmakers say raising the age to 21 will make it harder for kids to access tobacco, but they’ve been unsuccessful at moving the proposal.

 

 

10 students gathered in the State Capitol, holding signs with real life examples of how smoking has affected people.

Dee Ann Smith started smoking when she was 17, but is now 17 years cigarette free.

 

“I’ve had cancer. I have asthma. I see a cardiologist and a lipidologist regularly and all of that is a result of me smoking,” said Smith.

Smith, along with other anti-smoking advocates were in the Capitol, pushing to raise the age to purchase tobacco from 18 to 21.

 

“I don’t want anybody else to have to go through that,” said Smith.

Studies show half of 8th graders say it’s easy to get cigarettes. The American Heart and Stroke Associations says the current legal age means younger kids have access to the products through schoolmates and older siblings.

“And if we’re able to break that cycle because they’re afraid to deal with a 21-year-old, then we’ll keep the cigarettes out of the hands of younger children longer,” said Rivers Buford with the American Heart and Strokes Associations.

The five states that have raised the legal age have seen a decrease in tobacco use. Despite success stories, the Legislation hasn’t been scheduled for a hearing in either chamber.

The Senate blames the House for the bill failing to gain traction.

 

“There’s no bills moving in the House on this… If it’s already dead it’d be a waste of the committee’s time,” said Senator Travis Hutson.

Advocates point the finger at the 67 lobbyists representing tobacco companies in Florida’s Capitol.

A CDC report found three out of four Americans support raising the age to purchase tobacco to 21. The same report found seven out of ten smokers also approve of raising the age.

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Florida Dems Feel Ignored on Education

January 30th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

House Democrats are complaining their education legislation is being ignored by House Republicans.

Gathering outside the House chamber, the Democrats highlighted proposals to raise teacher pay and lower the requirements for Bright Futures so more students could qualify. Neither bill has been scheduled for a hearing.

“We just don’t want to sit on the back row and be spectators, because that’s not what our constituents have voted us in office to do. They voted us in office to come here, to work together and not play politics. Especially when it comes to our children,” said Representative Shervin Jones.

Democrats say Legislation moving forward in the House favors privately owned charter schools over traditional public schools.

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Trump Unity Bridge Stops in Tallahassee

January 30th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The state Capitol had an Americana sound track for a brief period this morning.

Michigan resident Rob Cortis and his “Trump Unity Bridge” Truck parked just off the Capitol Grounds for about 30 minutes on his tour of the country spreading his message that the country needs to unify around President Donald Trump.

His truck has been in 30 states and over 2,000 cities, famously making stops at Trump’s inauguration and at the 2017 Women’s March. Cortis says while media coverage around the President tends to focus on his controversial comments, Trump’s true message is acceptance and family values.

 

“He has a way of saying things that sometimes can be taken in two different directions and some of the people with the negative attitudes take it in the wrong direction. If they look for the goodness out of it, they look for the positivity out of it, well, then it’s not so bad all the time,” said Cortis.

After a brief speech Cortis took to the road. He plans to visit all 50 states before ending his tour of the nation. His next stop is in New Orleans Tuesday night, where he and Biker’s for Trump will hold a pro-Trump parade.

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Immigration Battleground

January 30th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

A Senate Committee today postponed a vote on ending sanctuary cities in Florida, but a television spot by House Speaker richard Corcoran is causing a divide. Republican House members love it and support the Speakers Call for an end to Sanctuary cities in Florida. State Rep. Jay Fant has supported the legislation since its inception.

“We’ve moved it three years in the House Mike, and the groundswell to solve this issue Sanctuary City issue is pervasive throughout the state and for the Senate to have sat on this bill that long is unacceptable.”

 

But Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum, a Democratic candidate for Governor calls the ad and Corcoran divisive and racist.

“There is no good reason of sit to move any further beyond its current point. It is an extraordinarily bad piece of public policy, It will not keep this community or this state any safer” Gillum told a news conference.

The Sanctuary Cities legislation is a top priority of the House Speaker as he prepares for a possible Gubernatorial bids and it is expected to be a bargaining chip in legislative negotiations at the end of the session.

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Troubled Teen is a Turnaround Story

January 29th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

A Bradenton teen who have lived a life of crime at a young age was honored at the State Capitol for turning their life around. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the teen says he simply got tired of being incarcerated.

17 year old Carlos Lyvia was like a kid in the candy store when he came to the state capitol. What he saw was his future.

“Wasn’t in school” he told us.  After three years in detention Carlos had decided he had had enough.

“Just the fact that me being incarcerated all the time and not being around other kids. It’s basically like lonely all the time.”

His troubles began simply enough, and spiraled.

“My first charge was resisting arrest from a police officer, and thats where that violations probation and stuff like that. I ended up getting in a lot of trouble because of that one incident.”

Carlos was one of two previously troubled kids named youth ambassadors by Christy Daly, the Secretary of the Department of Juvenile Justice.

“Carlos is employed full time and despite significant difficulties in his home life, he also graduated from high school” Daly told onlookers.

As Youth Ambassador, Carlos will now start talking to other kids about how and why he turned his life around. His advice:  “Don’t let your head down too much. You know, the world can get to you and it’s depressing, so I want to say keep your head up, you know.”

Now Carlos has big plans. First a nursing degree, and then perhaps, becoming a doctor.”

What Carlos has now that he didn’t have before, was a drive to succeed.

“I want to make it. I want to be somebody.”

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FSU Partially Lifts Ban on Greek Life

January 29th, 2018 by Jake Stofan
FSU President John Trasher has announced the nearly four month long ban on greek life at the university will be partially lifted. 
Greek life has been shut down at FSU since the death of 20-year-old Pi Kappa Phi pledge Andrew Coffee last November.
“I believe the suspension was needed to give the campus community a time to reflect,” said Thrasher.
Alcohol remains banned for now, but fraternities and sororities are being allowed to begin recruiting members and restart their philanthropy work, while the school implements new policy changes.
“If they prove to be responsible in implementing these activities we will allow the fraternities and sororities to hold social events later in the semester,” said Thrasher.
If the alcohol ban is lifted, frats will also be limited to four socials with alcohol in the Fall and six in the Spring. 
They’ll have to have police or security present at those parties, and all food and booze will have to be catered. 
Vice President of Student Affairs Amy Hecht says while greeks have voiced opposition to some of the new rules, they’ll have to prove they can behave before any restrictions will be lifted.
“When I talk about what’s safe and healthy and well, I think there’s some disagreement and some of the changes are a big departure,” said Hecht.
Coffee died at an off campus party. University Police say they’re relying on greek leaders to ensure those parties wont happen.
“We don’t have thousands of officers to disseminate around the the community and other places,” said FSU Police Chief David Perry.
Reaction on campus ranged from don’t know, don’t care, to long overdue.
“Like most things i mean there’s like a couple of bad people in it so I think it’s good,” said FSU student Evan Googe.
Greek members will be required to maintain a 2.5 GPA and complete 10 hours of community service each semester. 
A minimum of 75% of the more than 7,000 greeks will also be required to undergo risk management training.

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Body Cam Video: Frat in the Fountain.

January 26th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

Nine FSU Fraternity leaders charged with felony hazing in the death of a pledge in November were due in court this morning. Their hearing was postponed but new police body cam video shows, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, another fraternity thumbing their nose at a ban on greek activity.

One week after the death of an FSU fraternity pledge and just four days after FSU President John Thrasher banned all greek activity as a result.  This is what FSU police found at 3 Am at the fountain in front of the administration building.

Fratties, Fratties was what police heard as they walked up to the main entrance.

The  video isn’t dramatic, but the message was a collective middle finger to the university and the greek ban.

We asked FSU President John Thrasher about his first reaction.

 

“I was mad. I was mad” said Thrasher.

Following the death of 20 year old Andrew Coffey at a Pi Kappa Phi party, in which nine fraternity leaders were charged with felony hazing, Thrasher vowed to create a new normal.

Speaking at Capitol Tiger Bay, he told the group:

 

“Frankly, if this happens again, I’m going to be very very concerned, and I hope their national organizations are also.”

But nearly three months later, it is proving difficult.

“Isn’t it kind of a sign that the effort isn’t working?” We asked.

“It’s not. It’s not. That’s why I said something about the national organizations. They need to get involved in this. If they don’t I’m worried, Mike, that we are going to lose fraternities, and I don’t want that to happen.”

 

The Alpha Epsilon Pi was also recently dismissed from FSU…. It was found responsible for an extended six week hazing of pledges that continued until at least the day after Coffey died. State Attorney Jack Campbell is investigating.

 

“Once we get the results of it, we’ll take a look at it and decide if that constitutes a violation of Florida law” says Campbell.

This chapter of Pi Kappa Phi was disbanded by its national organization. The house is now empty.

The property is controlled  by a company owned by alumni. It will likely be rented to another greek organization…if greek life weathers this storm.

While threatening to pull the plug on Greek life if there is another incident, FSU’s President did say he expects to lift the current interim ban in the near future.

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CRC Pulls Felon’s Right Proposal in Light of Ballot Initiative Suceeding

January 26th, 2018 by Jake Stofan

The Florida Second Chances amendment received more than 800,000 valid signatures, guaranteeing its spot on the November ballot.

Amendment 4 automatically restores a felon’s right to vote after they’ve completed their prison sentence, along with any parole or probation.

“Only restoring voting rights, not firearm, not jury service and not seeking office,” said clemency attorney Reggie Garcia.

Because the measure is on the ballot, Commissioners on the Constitution Revision Commission are pulling an identical proposal because it’s no longer needed.

 

“The people of Florida will final have the opportunity to decide the question for themselves,” said Commissioner Arthenia Joyner.

There are a number of proposals aimed at changing the clemency process in the Legislature. Sponsors of the CRC proposal want lawmakers to drop their proposals as well.

 

“We saw what happened this year when we had competing solar amendments. There was a lot of confusion no matter where you fell on the issue. So not to have any confusion that’s why we withdrew ours and we call on the Legislature to do the same,” said Commissioner Chris Smith.

Current policy, adopted under Governor Rick Scott, requires felons to wait at least five years before they can apply to have their rights restored. It’s not uncommon for the application process to take up to ten years.

 

“No future Governor will ever again play with the lives of those who seek redemption just because they can,” said Joyner.

Florida is among just three states that don’t automatically restore felon’s rights. It has the highest disenfranchisement rate in the country.

Amendment 4 would restore voting rights to an estimated 1.5 million Floridians.

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#NoSmokeisaJoke Lawsuit in Judges Hands

January 25th, 2018 by Mike Vasilinda

The state’s ban on smoking medical marijuana was in court today, where as Mike Vasilinda tells us, patients argued the ban is hurting them and is unconstitutional.

Cathy Jordan has legally smoked marijuana, as a medical necessity, since April of 2013.  It is the only drug that has kept her ALS, better know as Lou Gehrig’s Disease, at bay.

Cathy is one of three patients suing the state, hoping to overturn Florida’s ban on smoking medical marijuana.

 

“We’re fighting for her right to life, really, that’s what it boils down to” says husband Robert.

The Constitutional Amendment approved by voters says only that it doesn’t permit smoking pot in public. Cathy’s lawyer, Jon Mills, says that means it can be smoked in private.

 

“There’s no question that the definition of medical marijuana in this constitutional  provision includes smokable marijuana” Mills told the court.

But the state argues the constitutional silence gives it has the power to ban all smokable marijuana.

 

“There is no express requirement that smoking medical marijuana has to be allowed under the amendment” says Assistant Attorney General rachel Nordby.

The judge promised a quick ruling. Cathy’s husband says her life depends on it.

“Noticeable difference? We asked.

“Noticeable difference!”

“What would happen if you had no supply of smokable marijuana?

“Cathy would die. She would die.”

To which Cathy responded:  “We’re leaving Florida. We’ll find somewhere.”

The same judge earlier this this week refused to throw out a challenge to the states ban on growing marijuana.

The smoking ban was sought by most law enforcement. They argued to lawmakers that medicine isn’t smoked and second hand smoke could impact other in the home.

Advocates say vaporizing or eating marijuana does not capture all of the 400 cannabinoids contained in the original plant, which make smoking it more effective than eating or vaping.

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