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Florida Almost set an Election Precedent

December 2nd, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

A hearing tonight by the Michigan Senate Oversight committee will hear testimony on election irregularities. Some GOP members still want legislatures in contested states to order their electors to vote for President Trump, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the same thing nearly happened here in Florida during the 2000 recount.

It was a rare sight 20 years ago. The State House introduced a resolution.

“A con concurrent resolution appointing electors for President and Vice President of the United States” read the title.

The Florida House was doing what governor Ron DeSantis has been urging other legislatures to do: ordering electors to vote for a specific candidate.”

Rep. Dudley Goodlet (R-Ft. Myers) was the rules chair and lead the charge.

“This power is conferred upon the legislatures of the states by the Constitution of the United States” Goodlet told colleagues on the House floor.

At the time, Democrats, including newly elected Dan Gelber of Miami, argued the effort was an attempt to steal the election.

“We will be disenfranchising every single voter” predicted gelber.

The House approved the resolution along party lines, 79 to 41.

But the Senate took a much more cautious approach, delaying a vote until it was absolutely necessary to preserve the state’s electoral vote. John McKay was the President at the time.

“I was very concerned Florida’s actions might be used in the future as justification to certify votes for one Presidential candidate or another” McKay told us by phone.

And what nearly happened here 20 years ago likely would have set a precedent for today’s legislatures in contested states.

Dan Gelber is now the Mayor of Miami Beach.

“Had the Senate acted, I think it would be something thats would not be just  bad precedent, but there would always be an urge, from one side or the other,  to impose its will over the will of the voters” says Gelber today.

And The window for any state legislatures to vote is narrowing. Electors meet December 14th in every Capitol across the Country. 

The Florida Senate never took a vote in 2000, but it would have if it was needed to make the states electors votes count.

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After a Decade, Higher University Tuition is on the Table

December 1st, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

It’s been more than seven years since Florida Universities raised tuition. And this year lawmakers face a pandemic induced 2 point 7 billion decline in revenue, which, as Mike Vasilinda tells us, has lawmakers putting tuition hikes back on the table.

At six thousand three hundred and seventy dollars a year, University tuition in Florida, before fees,  is the second in lowest in the nation. Only Wyoming charges less. 

“And so our product by any scale comparable is a fraction, in most cases, of other states, and its something we’ll have to look at” says newly sworn in Senate President Wilton Simpson (R-Pasco County).

Flordia lawmakers face the toughest budget balancing act they’ve seen in a decade. Senate President Simpson is an advocate for foster kids, and says lawmakers will have to make difficult choices.

“When you start putting priorities together, I’m going to have a higher priority to make sure we’re taking care of those must vulnerable children, and and we haven’t raised tuition in ten years” says Simpson.

 

When he was governor, Rick Scott refused to reappoint university trustees who had voted for fee hikes. Now as US Senator, he’s weighing in again.

In a speech to the conservative Heritage Foundation, Scott says he will soon file federal legislation penalizing states that hike tuition.

Under his proposal, Scott says “All federal funding will be cut off if tuition or fees are increased.”

At he other end of the legislature, House Speaker Chris Sprowls says not all degrees should cost the same.

“If they can get on line and engage in higher in higher education as a way to help them find a job, then lets make that as easy as possible for them” says Sprowls (R-Clearwater).

In the end, any tuition hike would have to get the okay from the governor, and Ron DeSantis has said in the past:

”I don’t want to tax anyone more.”

But that was before the pandemic.

So far, United Faculty of Florida, the union representing professors hasn’t taken a position on supporting a tuition hike. 

 

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Florida Supreme Court Surprise Ruling

November 30th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

In a surprising ruling, the Florida Supreme Court has refused the states efforts to reinstate the death penalty for two convicted murders, and as Mike Vasilinda tells us, the decision will mean at least 100 other murderers facing death will get another chance at life in prison.

In 2016, the Florida Supreme Court ruled that anyone sentenced to death by a less than unanimous jury after 2002 was entitled to a new sentence. Then earlier this year, it back tracked saying only some parts of a jury decision must be unanimous.

FIU law professor Hanna Gorman says the defense community was worried.

“There was a new court. The composition changed and changed significantly, and what that meant to Flordia death penalty jurisprudence, is that we were seeing a number of decisions that were increasingly concerning” said Gorman, who works on criminal justice issues.

Following that January ruling, the state moved to send two murderers back to death row on their old death sentence. But in a ruling that surprised many, the court said no.

Pete Mills is the Chair of the Florida Public Defenders Death Penalty Steering Committee. “We did not anticipate this ruling. We expected the court would something else” says Mills.

This decision leaves one hundred convicted killers awaiting a new sentence. 

“There will be various outcomes” says Public Defender Mills. “There will be retrials for re-sentencing. The state and defense will cut plea agreements in some of the cases, and the state might simply decide not to go forward.”

And even though the court has backtracked on unanimity, it is still the law in Florida until lawmakers change it says Human Rights Attorney Mark Schlakman. 

“The ultimate determination and emphasis should be justice” says Schlakman.

The ruling will force the families of the victims in  those one hundred cases to relive their anguish.

And If the state doesn’t want to seek the death penalty again, those convicted will remain in prison for life with no chance of parole. Since 2016, about 50 death row prisoners have been re-sentenced. 

 

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New Emergency Order from DOE Not Coming Before Thanksgiving

November 25th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Florida’s Commissioner of Education has said he hoped to issue a new emergency order detailing how Florida schools would operate in January prior to Thanksgiving, but it appears it will be coming later than expected.

The Commissioner did give some hints as to what might change for students and parents in the spring semester earlier this month.

At the November meeting of the State Board of Education, Florida Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran said the state will build upon lessons learned in the fall when asked about a new emergency order.

“I would say I think the next emergency order is going to be a significant improvement based on our first 90, 100 days in school,” said Corcoran.

He also promised full parental choice, leaving in place online and brick and mortar learning options.

But Superintendents are worried some students have been having a difficult time engaging with online learning.

“Our difficulty and some parents’ difficulty is getting them to complete those assignments and to upload those and get them back,” said Wakulla Superintendent Robert Pearce.

And Corcoran said in the spring there will have to be greater efforts to intervene when online learning isn’t working for a student.

“We have to do one of two things. Move them to a different modality, a different choice. So that we’re not short changing that child and all of the repercussions that come with it. Or we need to have massive interventions and we need to know what those interventions are if they’re going to stay for medical reasons or whatever in that modality,” said Corcoran.

The Commissioner also said the state would move ahead with standardized testing to identify what impact the pandemic has had on student performance.

“When we get that back we’ll look at that data and wherever we see and aberration that is not fair or not just of course we’re going to make adjustments,” said Corcoran.

We did reach out to the Department of Education to ask whether to expect the updated emergency order before Thanksgiving.

DOE Communications Director Taryn Fenske told us the department’s goal is to issue one before the end of the month.

“We’re on track to meet that goal. We’ve been working with districts and superintendents and they’re aware of that timeline,” said Fenske in an emailed statement.

One of the biggest concerns of school administrators is whether districts will continue receiving full funding for students who opt for distance learning.

At the BOE meeting the Commissioner said those details were still being discussed.

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Lawmakers Eying COVID Liability Protections for Businesses

November 24th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Businesses will likely be given some limited immunity from COVID lawsuits the next time the Florida Legislature meets this spring.

At least one suit has been filed in Miami against Publix Supermarkets, claiming wrongful death.

Publix Deli employee Gerardo Gutierrez passed away in April after a battle with COVID-19.

His family is now suing the grocery chain, alleging policies the company put in place at the start of the pandemic resulted in his death.

“Their father died because Publix said you can’t wear a mask,” said Michael Levine, an attorney representing the Gutierrez family.

Legal liability protections for companies in the age of COVID-19 is expected to be a top priority for Florida lawmakers.

“It’s something that I think that we should do. That would give businesses confidence to be able to operate,” said Florida House Speaker Chris Sprowls.

The Senate President and House Speaker have given few details, but they have said they don’t support total immunity.

“I cannot imagine that we are going to let people off the hook for negligence,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson.

As an example of what kind of protections businesses are looking for, The Florida Chamber of Commerce pointed to a Pinellas County case, where a man sued a restaurant after entering and not seeing anyone wearing masks.

“And while he did not contract COVID he was so concerned about it that he’s suing for emotional damages for $1 million. So there’s kinds of lawsuits like that out there as well,” said Carolyn Johnson, Director of Business, Economic Development and Innovation Policy at the Florida Chamber.

Whether any potential protections passed next year would apply to the Publix case isn’t clear, but the family’s attorney is optimistic their case will be unaffected.

“Certainly an employer like Publix shouldn’t be trying to take away the liberties and freedoms of its workers to decide how they’re going to stay healthy, how they’re going to stay safe,” said Levine.

Legislative leaders say they’ll likely take up liability protection legislation early in the 2021 Legislative session.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce said it hopes any protections will apply retroactively in order to cover the entire pandemic.

And while Florida leaders have limited their discussion on liability protections to essential businesses, other states that have enacted similar legislation have also granted protections to long term care facilities and schools.

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Municipalities Seek More Local Control Over Pandemic Policy

November 23rd, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Florida is on track to become the third state in the country to hit one million cases of COVID-19, likely within the next week.

Across Florida, mayors and others are growing frustrated by their lack of enforcement power of pandemic policies.

When the pandemic began, Governor Ron DeSantis shied away from enacting certain across the board pandemic policies like a face mask mandate, instead favoring local control.

“Each region in Florida is very distinct and some of these things may need to be approached a little bit differently,” said DeSanits in March.

But as State Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith explains, that local control was largely stripped away in the Governor’s most recent pandemic executive order.

“Now local leaders feel handcuffed because Governor DeSantis signed an executive order saying that they were not allowed to enforce their own mask mandate,” said Smith.

As cases rise across the country, 31 states have enacted tighter COVID restrictions in recent weeks.

Florida has not.

Now Mayors in Miami, Miami-Dade, St Petersburg and county commissioners in Palm Beach are asking for the Governor to return some of the local control the were given at the start of the pandemic.

The Florida League of Cities also weighed in telling us in a statement: “We believe the Governor should allow cities to take the actions they believe are necessary to protect their citizens. When our state and local governments work together, we are better equipped to manage this public health crises.”

“Governor DeSantis needs to lead or he needs to get out of the way,” said Smith.

Health professionals with Physicians for Social Responsibility prefer statewide action over a patchwork of local regulations.

“This virus is like a bird. The bird doesn’t recognize when it flies from Tallahassee to Thomasville that it’s entered another state,” said Dr. Howard Kessler.

The Governor has been absent from the public eye for nearly three weeks now, only releasing a YouTube video touting the rollout of a vaccine by the end of the year.

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Florida Stands Ready to Receive Vaccines

November 20th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Florida added another 9,000 COVID cases Friday, bringing the total to more than 914,000 since the start of the pandemic.

However Florida leaders are optimistic for the future, with hope two vaccines may be ready to roll out before the end of the year.

“I don’t believe we’re going to a dark winter,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson.

Governor Ron DeSantis said while its not clear how many vaccine doses the state will get or exactly when they’ll arrive, once the FDA gives the go-ahead, the rollout will move quickly.

“They will then go out within the next 24 hours,” said DeSantis.

Five Florida hospitals will receive the first doses, including Tampa General Hospital where Dr. Jason Wilson has been on the front lines on the pandemic.

“You know there’s been some frustrations in the sense of, you know we don’t have a lot of tools and things to offer,” said Wilson.

He said news of the vaccines and the approval of a monoclonal antibody treatment are a game changers.

“These vaccines give us some light at the end of the tunnel. These vaccines give us the idea that all these efforts we’re making are paying off,” said Wilson.

Nearly 2,000 long term care facilities are also slated to receive vaccines.

“It gives us hope,” said Kristen Knapp with the Florida Health Care Association.

Knapp said for residents, it couldn’t come soon enough.

“They really have undergone so much with the visitation restrictions early on and just the different challenges for them. In a home-like environment that they were so used to for so long and everything really turned upside down for them,” said Knapp.

While the vaccines signal a light at the end of the tunnel, health professionals say now is not the time to let your guard down.

“This is, you know, not the year to have a big Thanksgiving holiday gathering. It’s not going to be the year to travel for the holidays,” said Wilson.

Hospitals and long term care facilities will still have to develop plans for distributing the vaccines to patients, residents and staff.

Another challenge will be educating the public about the importance of vaccine.

The Governor has said vaccines will not be mandatory.

It’s expected the vaccine could be available to the general population as early as April according to Dr. Anthony Fauci.

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Sixth Straight Month of Florida Job Growth

November 20th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida’s unemployment rate continues to fall.

Numbers released Friday show it was at 6.5 percent for October, down seven tenths of a percent from September, but there are still 659,000 Floridians looking for work.

Between February and April, Florida lost nearly 1.2 million jobs.

More than half, just under 700,000, have returned.

“Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate in October 2020 was 6.5 percent. This represented 659,000 individuals out of a labor force of 10,101,000,” said DEO Chief Economist Adrienne Johnston.

More jobs came back in October.

“Up 61,100 jobs, or point eight percent from September 2020,” said Johnston.

Friday’s release marked the sixth straight month of job gains in the state.

But the figures do show 14,000 people became discouraged and stopped looking for work in October.

That means they aren’t counted as unemployed.

Seven out of ten industries gained jobs in October.

“Leisure and hospitality gained 29,600 jobs over the month, driven by 21,100 jobs gained in accommodations and food services. Profession and business services added 13,000 jobs,” said Johnston.

Job losers were education, health care, information and government.

Still, 19 of 24 job markets in the state saw job growth last month.

“The Tampa metro area gained the most jobs with 5,800 and Cape Coral grew the fastest at 1.8 percent,” said Johnston.

At 10.4 percent Osceola County, the home of Disney, continues to have the highest unemployment rate in the state.

That’s before Disney’s announced 18,000 lay offs next month.

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Retailers Send Plea: Shop Local

November 19th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

The pandemic has put Florida retailers in a precarious place.

Now they are asking everyone to shop local this holiday season or risk not having a place to shop in the future.

The pandemic has already taken a toll on how much shoppers are expected to spend this year.

Overall holiday spending is expected to be down an average of $50 per person, making a tough year for retailers even tougher.

It’s why the Florida Retail Federation is launching a Find it in Florida campaign.

“One in five jobs here in Florida is tied to the retail industry, and its been a tough year, so we’d like to see you support your neighbors,” said Retail Federation President Scott Shalley.

A survey from the National Retail Federation shows the drop in spending would be even worse, but for fewer people traveling this year and are diverting their travel budget to gifts or goods.

Online sales have skyrocketed during the pandemic and the retailers are okay with that, so long as the items are purchased from Florida businesses.

“You can go to the store, you can meet them at the curb, or you can even shop online . But if you shop online, we’re just encouraging you to shop with people who have businesses that have a Florida presence,” said Shalley.

Earlier this week, state lawmakers signaled they are likely to change a Florida law that requires internet buyers to voluntarily pay sales taxes.

Instead, they plan to require out-of-state retailers to collect the tax.

“They still owe the same tax. We just use the honor system to collect that tax. And I can assure the honor system doesn’t work very well,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson.

Retailers feel the move is vital to their survival.

“You know, we’ve always felt it critical for our local retailers to have a level playing field, but even more so now its critical for the State of Florida,” said Shalley.

First they have to survive this holiday season, which normally accounts for about 20 percent of their annual revenue.

The National Retail Federation found consumers will spend slightly less on gifts and a touch more on decorations, but will cut spending on non-gift purchases by almost 30 percent this season.

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Environmental Group Calls For Climate Change Committee

November 19th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

A conservation advocacy group is calling on the new legislative leadership to create committees dedicated to battling climate change.

While the House Speaker and Senate President have both spoken out about the need to mitigate the effects of climate change, activists argue they’re not focusing on the underlying causes creating climate change.

The House Speaker and Senate President authored an op ed earlier this year, focused on the need to protect coastal communities from sea level rise.

The Speaker made similar comments during his speech Tuesday

“We need to bring the same long range planning and strategic discipline to our environmental programs that we bring to our transportation work plan,” said House Speaker Chris Sprowls.

But environmental groups argue mitigation is only part of the puzzle.

“The talk so far is about addressing the symptoms of the problem and not addressing the underlying illness,” said Aliki Moncrief, Executive Director of Florida Conservation Voters.

In a letter sent to both legislative leaders earlier this week, Florida Conservation Voters called for the establishment of climate change committees.

“To talk about what climate solutions are available,” said Moncrief.

Democratic State Representative Anna Eskamani sees potential for such committees to help address some pandemic related issues like unemployment.

“Prioritization and investment in both energy efficiency and renewable energy production are two opportunities to retrain unemployed people and get them rapidly rehired,” said Eskamani.

This is the second year Florida Conservation Voters have called for a climate change committee.

They didn’t get one last year and so far they haven’t gotten a response this time around either.

How much lawmakers will be able to accomplish on the climate change front is up in the air.

The Legislature will be looking to cut the state budget by as much as $5 billion next year, and in the leaders’ op ed on sea level rise there is an emphasis on ‘cost effective’ solutions.

In his first speech as House Speaker, Rep Chris Sprowls suggested the state deemphasize land acquisition in its conservation plans and instead put more resources into beach re-nourishment, septic tank conversions and flood mitigation.

Florida Conservation Voters argues land acquisition plays a key role in flood mitigation strategies.

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State Employees Honored for Saving Taxpayers Money

November 19th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

The hard work of some hard working state employees saved Floridians 300 million tax dollars this year according to that state’s lead tax watch dog.

Florida TaxWatch honored some of those state employees in a virtual award ceremony Thursday.

There were 179 TaxWatch Productivity Awards handed out this year spanning 19 state agencies and four universities.

The four top awards went to the Department of Elder Affairs for a program that partnered with restaurants to deliver fresh meals to disabled senior citizens and the Department of Transportation for creating a new strategy for detecting wrong way drivers and improving the speed and lowering the cost of building street lighting.

The Department of Environmental Protection was also honored for its creation of a water quality dashboard.

“After this incredibly challenging year, Florida TaxWatch is so proud to recognize the good work of so, so many public servants as we often say are unsung heroes,” said TaxWatch President Dominic Calabro.

Because awards are awarded to both individuals and also teams, Florida TaxWatch says the total number of state employees honored this year is likely in the thousands.

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Lawmakers Face COVID Up Close

November 18th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

After sitting on the sidelines for eight months, the Florida Legislature met for a one-day session Tuesday, but nine of the 160 lawmakers were absent because they tested positive or were exposed to COVID.

Both the human and financial toll of the virus will be front and center when lawmakers begin meeting in January.

The nine absent members, seven from the House and two Senators, hail from one end of the state to the other.

None came in contact with anyone who entered either chamber.

“I want to pause to recognize those who lost their lives as a result of COVID-19. Join me in a moment of silence,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson during the Tuesday organizational Session.

Both the House and Senate will have COVID related committees.

House Speaker Chris Sprowls said the virus and related issues will occupy the majority of lawmakers 60-day session that starts in March.

“Making it easier to start a business out of their home. Many Floridians have now worked from home where they have never done that before. Making opportunities for barriers go down, such as occupational licensing,” said Sprowls.

The budget is going to get most of the attention when lawmakers come back.

They expect to cut up to $5 billion.

“What we’re going to do is review what the 08-09 Great Recession did through 2010. We’re going to review what is important to our budget to this current Legislature,” said Simpson.

But the co-leaders of House Democrats took aim at what they called a lack of specifics.

“I would say Coronavirus was pretty much glossed over in the House Chamber. The reality of the situation,” said Representative Evan Jenne.

Masks were not required for members or the several hundred visitors.

Afterwards few were paying attention to social distancing.

We have been told that everyone in the crowd had tested negative before entering, lessening the possibility of spreading COVID.

Only one of the nine lawmakers who were out Tuesday has been hospitalized, newly elected State Senator Ray Rodriguez of Ft. Myers.

A spokesperson said he is improving.

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New Emergency Order for Schools Coming Soon

November 18th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

Parents can soon expect more clarity about how Florida schools will operate in January.

The current emergency order is set to expire at the end of the year, but the question on administrators minds is whether the new order will still give districts full funding for virtual students.

The State Board of Education opened its Wednesday meeting with a presentation from Florida’s First Lady, who emphasized the need for in-person learning.

“It is invaluable for our students’ development and wellbeing,” said Casey DeSantis.

Shortly after, Florida’s Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran addressed the elephant in the room: His emergency order set to expire at the end of the year.

“The Governor will take nothing less than full parental choice,” said Corcoran.

The current order allows districts to receive the same level of funding for students who opt for distance learning as those attending in person, as long as they also provide brick and mortar options.

Florida Education Association President Andrew Spar said that flexibility has been critical.

“If that funding goes away there’s no way districts can offer that option and parents will either have to use a traditional virtual platform such as Florida Virtual School or what districts have in their own virtual programs. Or they will have to send them back to brick and mortar,” said Spar.

The Commissioner said his next emergency order will still provide parents the option of virtual learning, but he didn’t commit to continue funding virtual students the same as those attending class in person.

“We’re going through that right now and working with the districts,” said Corcoran.

That lack of commitment troubles the teachers union.

“Districts need the flexibility. Parents need the flexibility,” said Spar.

Corcoran did mention he wants to ensure students who fall behind in virtual learning can easily transition to in-person classes, or at the very least get additional help.

“If they’re going to stay for medical reasons in that modality. What are the interventions? And we want to see them and know them,” said Corcoran.

The Commissioner also said standardized testing will go forward next semester to identify achievement gaps the pandemic may have widened.

How or whether those test scores will impact school funding is still an open question.

The Commissioner said he hopes to have the order finalized before Thanksgiving, or at the latest by the end of the month.

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Where’s Governor Ron DeSantis?

November 17th, 2020 by Mike Vasilinda

Governor Ron DeSantis made his first public appearance in thirteen days on Tuesday.

It has been more than two weeks since he has answered reporters’ questions and he didn’t end that streak during the Legislature’s organizational session.

The Governor last appeared before reporters on the Wednesday after the election.

“We’re now being looked at as the state that did it right,” said DeSantis during the November 4th press conference.

He also criticized the national media for calling some states and not others.

He didn’t take questions, but promised he would soon.

“I’ll be back to take questions probably sometime before the week ends,” said DeSantis.

It didn’t happen.

Fast forward 13 days, a major tropical storm and still nothing.

But Tuesday he first appeared in the Florida Senate where he watched new Senators and officers sworn in.

“I am convinced your early actions to protect our elderly and our our most vulnerable populations helped avoid thousands of deaths. Governor we thank you,” said Senate President Wilton Simpson.

As he walked across the Capitol’s fourth floor to the House chamber, we tried to ask what he’s been doing.

He didn’t answer, again promising more later.
“After. On the way back,” said DeSantis.

But he was another no show, seen leaving the chamber through a back entrance.

Democrats were happy to fill the void on why he’s been avoiding questions.

“The Governor has not made one public appearance to talk about COVID-19 or unemployment in weeks and I feel like he’s trying to avoid the press. He doesn’t want to address the fact that Vice President Joe Biden will be the next President of the United States, and he’s tying to avoid any type of conversation about that,” said State Representative Anna Eskamani.

While the Governor was praised during Tuesday’s session, he was also rebuffed by lawmakers.

He had hoped lawmakers would have taken up his tough anti-rioting package, but he was told that will have to wait until next year.

The Governor also chose to meet via phone to certify this year’s election results instead of in person Tuesday morning.

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Single Child Victim At Center of Human Trafficking Bust Yielding 178 Arrests

November 17th, 2020 by Jake Stofan

178 have been charged in a major human trafficking bust in the state’s capital city.

The arrests are part of a two year long investigation between local, state and federal agencies.

106 have been charged with felonies and 72 with misdemeanors in this case, including a grade school PE teacher.

Police say others charged come from all walks of life.

“All economic levels and backgrounds. It’s very widespread,” said Tallahassee Police Chief Lawrence Revell.

Shockingly all of the arrests are connected to a single victim who was just 13 years old when the investigation began.

Hundreds of pages of arrest records detail grotesque communications between the victim and alleged offenders.

TPD Investigator Elizabeth Bascom first uncovered the victim being sold online.

“The sheer number. The all day, every day, all the time solicitation and sexual activity and talk about cash for money and clearly meeting. I had never seen something just that prolific,” said Bascom.

She says she believes these arrests only scratch the surface of the human trafficking industry in Florida.

“When you can go online and order a pizza and a girl at the same time and the girl shows up to your door before the pizza, our society is in trouble. Okay, that’s where we are. It is unbelievably accessible,” said Bascom.

While identifying information about the victim is confidential, officials told us she is on the road to recovery and doing well given the situation.

We were also told the prosecution phase of this case will likely take many months.

Florida ranks among the top five in the nation for human trafficking.

In 2019 alone 1,887 victims, 427 traffickers and 243 trafficking businesses were identified in Florida in 2019 by the National Human Trafficking Hotline.

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