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Jeff Vasilinda becomes the Vasilinda Family’s first published author!

Attorney to Run Across the State for Charity

November 15th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

A Jacksonville attorney kicked of what will be a six day run from Tallahassee to Jacksonville on Monday as part of a fundraising effort to help pay legal bills for pediatric patients and their families.

Mike Freed, the man behind the annual event, has raised nearly $2 million since 2016 when he first started.

He says he came up with the idea after he says he began to see the the country grow more divisive.

“I was trying to think of something that I could do that nobody would be against, everybody could be for and I decided to raise money for legal aid. And then I thought how could I get a lot of money out of peoples’ pockets instead of just a little bit. And I thought if I did something big then they would give big. And so I said I’m going to run across the state,” said Freed.

Freed is hoping to hit $2.25 million raised by the end of this year.

If you would like to help out the cause, visit freedtorun.com.

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Special Session on Vaccine Mandates Begins Monday

November 12th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Lawmakers are gearing up for a special session on vaccine and mask mandates set to begin Monday.

Three key pieces of legislation are in play and what ultimately makes it across the finish line is still to be seen.

The biggest agenda item for the upcoming special session would require businesses to provide exemptions from any employee vaccine mandate.

Violations come with fines between ten and $50,000.

Employees would have to be allowed to opt out of an employer’s vaccine mandate for medical or religious reasons.

Employees could also prove they have existing immunity or opt for employer provided testing or PPE.

“There are significant portions of our population with actual health concerns about this,” said Representative Alexander Andrade is is sponsoring one of the special session bills.

Small business groups tell us their only concern is ensuring the law is clear.

“Easy for any business owner to understand of what constitutes a business vaccine mandate,” said Bill Herrle, Executive Director of NFIB Florida.

But Democrats like Representative Carlos Guillermo Smith take issue with the bill’s blanket ban on public sector vaccine mandates.

“COVID-19 is the number one killer of law enforcement in Florida,” said Smith.

There’s also a proposal to create the state’s own version of OSHA as a response to the federal OSHA vaccine mandate that spurred the special session in the first place.

“If OSHA is now gonna become this kind of, you know, enforcement arm of White House policies without any kind of Congressional oversight, absolutely the state should go assert its jurisdiction in that space,” said Andrade.

The third bill, which Andrade is carrying, would remove the Surgeon General’s emergency powers to require vaccinations during a health emergency

“Providing comfort to folks right now that no, the state’s not gonna force you to get a vaccine,” said Andrade.

Smith fears what that could mean for a future pandemic.

“Imagine a virus that has a 90 percent fatality rate,” said Smith.

Most uncertain is whether Republicans have the votes to impose the heavy handed fines businesses would face for violating vaccine exemptions.

They’ll have just five days to work out a deal.

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New POW/MIA Memorial Highlighted at the State Capitol

November 11th, 2021 by Jake Stofan
Hundreds lined the streets near the State Capitol Thursday for the annual Veterans Day parade.
At the end of the route is the Florida Vietnam Veterans Memorial and this year a new addition to the memorial made its debut.

This year’s Veterans Day Parade at the State Capitol was in many ways like those in year’s past, but this year there was a special focus put on service members still missing in action or taken prisoner of war.
“There are 54 Vietnam Veterans from Florida unaccounted for,” said Retired US Army 1st Lieutenant Stephen R. Winn.
A ceremony was held recognizing the multi-year effort to erect a new memorial, designed after the POW/MIA Memorial Bracelet across from the State Capitol grounds.
“A bracelet that represents the folks, MIA’s, POW’s who didn’t make it home,” said Winn.
The POW/MIA Memorial Bracelet began during the Vietnam War, but has come symbolize service members of all wars whose fate may never be known.
The memorial was put in its final place earlier this year after two years of failing to get through the Legislature.
The POW/MIA Memorial came at no cost to tax payers. 
 

Funds for placing and maintaining the memorial were secured by the Big Bend Chapter 96 of the Vietnam Veterans of America.

“It was a long journey, well worth all the efforts, but when I drive by it now I just smile every time I see it,” said Joe West, President of the Big Bend Chapter.
And already, those like West who spent years fighting to secure the memorial a home, are seeing their efforts payoff.
“For even one person to just stop and look, read what the text is, how it came to be and what it represents. And it’s going to be there for generations to come. That’s a good feeling,” said West.
There are 80,000 unaccounted for American service members dating back to WWII.
While their remains may have never received a proper burial, their sacrifice will forever be commemorated by the memorial and in the hearts of those like West and Winn who fought alongside them.

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Momentum Builds for In-N-Out to Come to Florida

November 10th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Momentum is growing behind the possibility of the West Coast burger chain In-N-Out expanding to the Sunshine State.

It all began with a long shot offer from Florida’s Chief Financial Officer after hearing the company was fighting with local governments in California over COVID policy and now the highest levels of Florida’s government are involved.

Florida Chief Financial Officer Jimmy Patronis has been getting a lot of attention on the Twitterverse since he suggested In-N-Out move to Florida.

“I never realized there were so many East Coast individuals that have enjoyed a West Coast burger,” said Patronis.

The buzz on social media caught the eye of the Governor, who held a call with the burger chain’s CEO Monday.

“Having the Governor onboard is definitely a game changer,” said Patronis.

The Governor’s Press Secretary was optimistic about the conversation, telling us one of the biggest obstacles to overcome is that the burger chain’s suppliers for its ingredients are located on the West Coast.

“Of course, Florida also has some of the best farms and cattle ranches in the country, and the governor discussed this with the president of In-n-Out. If they can identify suppliers for all their ingredients here, which we believe is possible, In-n-out could expand to Florida,” said DeSantis Press Secretary Christina Pushaw in an emailed statement.

As an added bonus, Geoff Luebkemann with the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association said the state’s uniform COVID policies have the potential to be a big selling point.

Especially after In-N-Out found itself butting heads with local governments in California over vaccine passports.

“Business loves consistency. The opportunity to understand what the rules are regardless of what county or municipality you might operate in is a huge advantage here in Florida,” said Luebkemann.

CFO Patronis told us Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm, is excited to work to find suppliers for In-N-Out to make a move to the East Coast possible.

“I hope that between our efforts and the reach that the Governor has had with this we may be able to see an In-N-Out somewhere near you in the near future,” said Patronis.

Whether a deal can be worked out or not is still up in the air, but the chain has been moving further east in recent decades, making it as far as Texas.

We reached out to In-N-Out for comment on this story, but did not hear back.

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Pope Honors Florida Death Row Minister

November 10th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Pope Francis has bestowed a newly created Guardian of Life award on a Tallahassee man for his work counseling those on death row and in solitary confinement.

The recipient gave up a lucrative Wall Street financial career after a near death experience.

Dale Recinella was a financial services lawyer in his early thirties…

“Making piles of money,” said Recinella.

Until one day in 1988, he ate a raw oyster he shouldn’t have.

“Where I contracted Vibrio vulnificus, a generally fatal flesh eating bacteria from a bad oyster,” said Recinella.

Since that near death experience, Brother Dale as he has become known, has counseled thousands of prisoners over the last 24 years.

“He’s come along at a great time to highlight the injustices that are inherent in our death penalty,” said Michael Sheedy with the Florida Catholic Conference.

His efforts were honored in September by Pope Francis with the first ever Guardian of Life Award.

“And the church is speaking for what it believes is god’s heart, that there is no reason to be executing people in our day and age,” said Recinella.

The award was the reason for a hundred-strong virtual recognition Wednesday, which included these words from exonerated Juan Melendez.

“Dale helped me believe in dreams,” said Melendez, who spent a total of 17 years on death row.

It has been 26 months since Florida has had an execution.

Brother Dale said that shows people are still safe.”

“Do we really have to kill them? And I don’t think we do. I don’t think we’ve ever been less safe for not killing anybody who we can incarcerate and protect society from,” said Recinella.

Death row’s population stood at 304 Wednesday morning, down more than a hundred from its peak.

Dale’s wife Susan, a psychologist, has been with him counseling inmates the entire time.

Florida has executed 99 people since 1979.

At the same time, 30 people on death row have been released.

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Developer sentenced in Political Corruption Case

November 9th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Scott Maddox, the former Mayor of Tallahassee and his longtime business partner report to a yet to be disclosed Federal prison today after convictions for honest services and tax fraud in August. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, they enter prison the same day the man who paid them a hundred thousand in bribes is sentenced to three years in prison and a 1.25 million dollar fine in Federal Court.

Tallahassee Developer JT Burnette entered the federal courthouse facing  70 years on five corruption convictions.

The question, “Was it worth it?” Went unanswered as he entered the courthouse.

Burnette was convicted of bribing former Tallahassee Mayor and two time statewide candidate Scott Maddox and his business partner.

None of the convictions were likely without Erwin Jackson. He spent the last dozen years battling corruption in the state Capitol.

“And he decided he would rather write a check and gain an advantage over his competition, and that’s a problem with the business community.” Jackson told us before heading to the courthouse to see Burnette’s sentencing.

To draw attention to the corruption, Jackson handed out plies of real cash at a city commission meeting in September 2017. 

“I put on a visual display about what corruption is” Jackson told us at the time.

The FBI conducted at least two investigations and likely impacted the 2018 race for governor, when mayor Andrew Gillum faced off against Ron DeSantis. The GOP used the investigation to slam Gillum in TV spots across the state that said: ”Twenty FBI agents spent two yers investigating the city during Andrew gillum’s tenure.”

DeSantis won by four tenths of a percent.

Ethics watchdog Ben Wilcox says the Capital City continues to pay a price.

“Nobody wants to come to a community that’s known for pay to play corruption” said Wilcox, adding that everyone in the community is paying a “corruption tax” in fewer jobs and higher city spending.

Jackson’s day job is renting apartments to students, and his annual property taxes run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars.” 

We asked Jackson why he cared so deeply for so long.

”Every time I see a dollar being stolen from the city, I think is my personal dollar” was his response.

 And while many in the city hail the sentencing as the conclusion of a sad time, Jackson says it ’s far from over.

And Jackson plans to present evidence of theft by a former city manager at the Tallahassee city commission meeting tomorrow, and believes more indictments are coming.

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Ghost guns Could Soon Be Illegal

November 8th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Guns made from 3D printers or manufactured by a person are legal in Florida and the US, but those in the business of manufacturing firearms are required to apply for a serial number and register the firearm. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, Two Florida lawmakers now want to make manufacturing your own gun illegal.

At Colonial Williamsburg, actors put on a daily show for tourists, giving this warning first: ”Go ahead and cover your ears” before a cannon fires. 

During the revolution and afterwards, virtually every firearm was home made.

But now two Florida Democrats want to outlaw so called Ghost guns: Senator tina Polsky’s argument is that the law hasn’t kept up with technology.

“There was no such thing as a 3D printer ten or twenty yeas ago.  There was no such thing as Ghost guns that were assembled, purchased on the internet” Polsky said during her press conference to announce the bill filing.

Unlicensed frames and receivers, the two key parts of a gun, would be illegal starting starting in January 2023. Fred Guttenberg lost his daughter in the Parkland massacre, and has since become an advocate for stricter gun control.

“Ghost funs and there usage is exploding, especially in states where we do have stronger gun safety laws” says Guttenberg.

A check with FDLE found no ghost gun statistics.

So far, no Republican has signed on the to this legislation, and neither the police chiefs and sheriff’s associations have reviewed it or make a recommendation.

The NRA declined to be interviewed but did provide us a statement from their national headquarters, saying in part, “It’s still illegal for prohibited people to possess and those in violation are subject to ten years in prison.”

A first offense would be a misdemeanor; a second offense would be a third degree felony.  But first the legislation must has to be heard and passed. Lawmakers begin their annual session January eleventh.” 

Here is the NRA’s full statement:

“The NRA supports the Second Amendment right of law-abiding Americans to make their own firearms for personal use without the permission of the federal government. Firearms made by individuals are subject to the same rules and regulations as firearms manufactured by a company. It is still illegal for prohibited people to possess them and those in violation are subject to 10 years in prison. People have made their own firearms since before the country was founded and there is no valid reason any law-abiding person should be barred from possessing them. If federal, state and local governments are interested in making their communities safer, they should enforce the laws on the books and arrest and prosecute criminals who break the law.”

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Gubernatorial Field Split on OSHA Vaccine Rule

November 5th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The State of Florida is fighting back against a new OSHA rule mandating vaccines or weekly COVID tests for all workers at business with more than 100 employees and the Governor’s likely Democratic challengers are split in their response to the suit.

Governor Ron DeSantis called the nearly 500 page OSHA regulation unconstitutional.

He said the state’s lawsuit is aimed at protecting Floridian’s right to work and combating federal overreach.

“The federal government can’t just unilaterally impose medical policy under the guise of workplace regulation and that is exactly what they’re trying to do,” said DeSantis.

Congressman and Democratic Gubernatorial hopeful Charlie Crist called the lawsuit a political move.

“He is only concerned about what is in the best interest of his political future and the Republican Party,” said Crist.

He said he not only believes the OSHA rule is constitutional, but that it’s the right thing to do.

“What is the President trying to achieve? He’s trying to save lives, okay? That’s a pretty admirable goal,” said Crist.

Somewhere in between Crist and DeSantis is Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried.

In a release, she said she doesn’t support mandates, but also criticized the Governor for calling on lawmakers to block businesses and local governments from implementing their own vaccine requirements.

Unclear is whether Republican lawmakers have the appetite to put businesses in a position where they’re stuck between a state vaccine mandate ban and the federal vaccine requirement.

The OSHA rule comes with the threat of $14,000 fines per violation.

We asked the Governor how he expects businesses to navigate a situation where state and federal policy conflicts on vaccine mandates.

“Well we are interested in using some of our resources to potentially provide a defense fund for some of these fines,” said DeSantis.

The OSHA rule will go into full effect on January 4th of 2022 and is expected to impact about 84 million American workers.

The lawsuit will head straight to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal in Atlanta, where the Governor said the state will ask the court to put the OSHA rule on pause as the case moves forward.

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Governor Scores a Win Against School Boards in Mask Mandate Fight

November 5th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The Governor and Commissioner of Education are celebrating their first official victory following a slew of challenges to the state’s school masking and quarantine policies.

An administrative law judge has ruled in favor of the state and dismissed a challenge brought by school boards.

Some of the districts that challenged the Department of Health rule requiring a parental opt-out from mask mandates have since come into compliance, including Leon County Schools.

In late October we interviewed Superintendent Rocky Hanna about his decision to back down.

Even before the ruling he indicated he saw the writing on the wall.

“I fundamentally believe in local control, local autonomy, but at the end of the day you may win a battle and you lose a war. And if the forces are just so aligned against you with the executive branch of government, who is controlling the legislative branch of government and influencing the judicial branch of government, at some point you just have to wave the white flag and learn to fight another day. But the fight is worth fighting,” said Hanna.

The school districts could appeal the judge’s ruling, but no decision has been made so far.

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Floridians Can Legally Bet on their First NFL Game Thursday Night

November 4th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

For the first time, Floridians will be able to place legal sports bets on a NFL game Thursday night, thanks to the recent launch of the Seminole Tribe’s new sports betting app.

The Seminole Tribe’s app is the only legal avenue for Floridians to gamble on sports, but that monopoly could be short lived if a citizen initiative makes it on the ballot and is approved by voters next year.

The Hard Rock SportsBook app’s launch brings the $500 million a year gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe into full effect.

Sports betting makes up $50 million of the deal.

“It’s great to finally see all that work finally come to fruition,” said State Representative Randy Fine.

Fine led the House’s efforts to approve the compact.

He hopes the app launch will drive betters out of the black market.

“A lot of people don’t want to break the law and also people have concerns about the legitimacy of the game,” said Fine.

But others, like Senator Jeff Brandes predict the Tribe’s monopoly on sports betting will have the opposite effect.

“What you’re going to find is certain people not wanting to place sports bets through this way so they’re gonna use illegal apps,” said Brandes.

But backers of a citizen initiative aimed at fully legalizing sports betting in Florida have told us they’ve already gathered almost half of the nearly 900,000 signatures required to make the 2022 ballot.

It’s no surprise the Seminole Tribe is pushing back.

It has released a second attack ad in three weeks urging voters not to sign the petitions.

“Because we already have plan that’s working for us,” said a man featured in the ad.

If the amendment makes the ballot, voters will get to decide whether to keep sports betting in the hands of the Tribe or allow other companies like FanDuel and DraftKings to enter the Florida market.

The sports betting initiative, if approved by 60 percent of voters, allows the Legislature to tax sports betting.

Those revenues would have to be spent on education.

And Fine said no matter what voters decide, the state will still cash in on at least $450 million a year through the compact.

“So we’re still in a much, much better place than we were before the compact passed,” said Fine.

And even if the sports betting market is opened up, the Seminole Tribe can still participate, they’ll just have to share the profits with competitors.

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Wrongfully Incarcerated 37 Years Ago, Compensation Denied

November 4th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

A man who spent 37 years in state prison for a rape and murder he didn’t commit is also being barred from being compensated for his wrongful conviction.

Efforts are under way to eliminate or bypass the so called “clean hands” provision that bars compensation if there had been previous convictions.

55-year-old Robert Duboise has been walking the halls of the state Capitol seeking compensation for 37 years he spent behind bars.

It has been ruled a wrongful conviction.

Duboise has maintained his innoncence the entire time.

“You just got to keep your faith. That’s what its about. You’ve got to have patience. It’s easy to get in there, but its hard to prove your Innoncence once you’re in,” said Duboise.

His problem is that he had previously been sent to prison for nonviolent felonies.

Under Florida law, anyone wrongly convicted seeking compensation must have a clean record.

“An incredible story,” said State Senator Jeff Brandes.

Brandes has filed legislation waiving the clean hands provision for Duboise.

“We’ve taken a portion of their lives as a state then they should be compensated for that wrongful conviction,” said Brandes.

State law sets payments for wrongful convictions at $50,000 a year.

In Mr. Duboise’s case, he would qualify for $1.85 million.

This week Robert met with lawmakers, including Senate Democratic leader Lauren Book.

He was describing how he helps feed the homeless

”So what I did was started making bag lunches,” said Duboise.

”How do you stay so positive?” Asked Senator Book.

“You have to,” replied Duboise.

In 2020, lawmakers waived the clean hands requirement for Jacksonville’s Clifford Williams.

If they do the same for Duboise, he’s already got a plan in place.

“I would get me a house, which I’ve never had, and just concentrate on the future. Invest, and just keep pushing forward,” said Duboise.

And even if the money comes through, Duboise told us he’s going to keep working.

Since his release last fall, Duboise has been working as a handyman, doing small construction and maintenance projects.

The legislation also apologizes for the wrong, and provides Duboise with 120 hours of trade school or college free at a state institution.

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Florida to Immediately Challenge OSHA Vaccine Rule

November 4th, 2021 by flanews

Governor Ron DeSantis said the state would be filing suit as soon as Friday morning to stop the five hundred page OSHA vaccine mandate for companies that employ more than a hundred people.

The lawsuit is part of a larger effort by the state to push back against vaccine mandates.

The Legislature will meet starting November 15th to address multiple COVID-related policies including school masking, vaccine mandates and unemployment benefits for people fired over vaccines.

The Governor didn’t directly call for a ban on private employer vaccine mandates, but repeatedly said he doesn’t believe anyone should be fired over their vaccination status.

And while the Governor thinks the courts will stop the mandate from taking place, the Governor also said he wants the state to create a fund to pay the fines of business that might someday be found in violation.

“So, I think there are ways we can create some support to be able to basically pay some of these fines. I think we can get this thing enjoined in the meantime, but yeah, we want them to follow Florida law. And we understand if there are conflicts there, we want to smooth those conflicts out,” said DeSantis.

The Governor also said he believes parents should be able to sue school boards if they believe their rights under the Parents Bill of Rights have been violated.

He said if they win, they should be entitled to attorney’s fees.

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Hundreds Demand Complete Vaccine Mandate Ban at State Capitol

November 3rd, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Several hundred Floridians rallied at the Capitol against vaccine mandates Wednesday.

The protesters want the Legislature to ban all vaccine mandates both public and private, but Republicans have expressed hesitations about interfering with private employers.

The courtyard between the old and new capitols was packed with protesters wielding signs displaying anti-vaccine messages.

“We as Floridians are not experiments,” said Hillsborough Pastor Jayson Williams.

They came to send a message to Republican lawmakers who they accuse of putting corporate interests over the will of those who don’t want the vaccine.

“You seriously support your constituents being thrown out on the street?” said podcaster JC Hall.

Missing among the crowd were state lawmakers.

Only one showed up.

“Why are they hiding in their offices?” Said attorney and podcaster KrisAnne Hall.

Representative Anthony Sabatini, the one lawmaker in the crowd, wants to ban both private and public vaccine mandates for employees.

“It’s not just the threats from big government that are a threat to liberty today. It’s the threat from these big woke corporations,” said Sabatini.

He rejected the argument made by some Republicans that the state shouldn’t tell private businesses what the can and can’t do.

“They pass dozens and dozens and dozens of regulations on private businesses in the building every single year,” said Sabatini.

After the rally protesters flooded inside the Capitol.

From there they went to the House Speakers Office where they demanded a meeting, but they were told the Speaker was attending a family member’s funeral.

After failing to secure a meeting with the House Speaker, protesters then planned to attempt meeting with all 160 members of the State Legislature.

And while the protesters said they have the Governor on their side, DeSantis has not asked the Legislature to outright ban employer vaccine mandates.

Still no official legislation has been unveiled ahead of the Special Session, but we’ve been told to expect that to change by week’s end.

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Agreeing to Terms of Service Can be Costly

November 3rd, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

A Texas couple who discovered spy cameras in their Manatee County AirBNB was before the Supreme Court of Florida Wednesday morning asking for their day in a trial court.

The couple has been blocked from suing because they agreed to the vacation rental’s terms and conditions.

When someone signs up for AirBNB and most other online platforms, they must first agree to the company’s Terms of Service.

But did a Texas couple agree to be spied on?

The couple, known only as John and Jane Doe were at the Supreme Court of Florida with an uphill argument: Giving away their legal rights to a third party was not clearly stated.

“They give the power to an arbitrator to make a decision, but it’s not supposed to displace the trial court’s inherent authority to make that decision too,” said attorney Tom Seider, who is representing the couple.

AirBNB’s disagreed.

“Terms of Service begins with all capital letters. Read these terms of service. Your legal rights and remedies are limited,” said AirBNB attorney Joel Perwin.

Justices asked why the language weans’t more clear.

“Just three or four, five, six, seven more words that basically say your arbitrator is going to decide whether he or she gets the case or not,” said Justice Jorge Labarga.

The spy cameras weren’t mentioned in court at all Wednesday, and won’t ever get before a judge unless the Supreme Court decides the terms and conditions were’t as clear as they could be.

Afterward the couple’s attorney said they knew they were giving up some rights, but not others.

“Our contract doesn’t talk about surveillance. It says we’ll arbitrate claims over deposits or if the property doesn’t match up with what we saw online. So we agreed to arbitrate those claims. We didn’t agree to arbitrate whether we were illegally surveilled,” said Seider.

The bottom line is that terms and conditions seldom benefit the consumer, so buyer beware.

Only one of at least three Florida appellate courts has ruled against AirBNB in cases like this one.

The different findings are why the case is before the Supreme Court.

There’s no timetable for a ruling.

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Digital Drivers License App Launches, But Not Fully Online Yet

November 3rd, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Florida has been working on creating a digital drivers license since 2014, but has been hampered by a lack of national standards until now.

A new secure app became available Wednesday morning, but won’t be fully turned on until mid-November.

State Representative Fiona McFarland said if it had come online sooner, the application could have saved the state millions in unemployment claims.

“It was difficult to show that the person applying for unemployment benefits was who they said they were and there were some different hacks and spoofs that happened. And if this mobile drivers license had been in place, it would have been a fantastic way to identify that the applicant was who they said they were,” said McFarland.

An education campaign for drivers and law enforcement will launch soon.

Drivers must consent for the digital information to be transmitted to police or merchants checking IDs.

And while the rollout is coming soon, the state will be taking baby steps to make sure the app is secure and that police have the equipment to receive the device’s information without ever having to hold your phone.

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