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

FSU Presidential Search Controversy Continues

May 19th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Florida State University has narrowed down its Presidential candidates to three.

Notably, Florida Education Commission Richard Corcoran isn’t one of those, after the university’s accreditation was threatened over his candidacy, but some are now calling for the search to be halted.

Because Education Commissioner Richard Corcoran also serves on the Florida Board of Governors, which has the final say on university presidential hires, the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges sent a letter warning the Board that FSU’s accreditation could be put at risk if Corcoran were chosen.

It was an issue raised during Corcoran’s interview Saturday.

“I think what SACS is doing, SACSCOC, in many ways is in and of itself undue influence,” said Corcoran.

Corcoran didn’t make the list of finalists, which didn’t make sense to State Representative Randy Fine who severed under Corcoran’s time as House Speaker.

“Richard has shown that he is a transformative leader,” said Fine.

Alan Levine, a member of the Board of Governors, has called for the presidential search to be halted.

In an email sent to the Chancellor of the State University System of Florida he argued the letter from SACSCOC tainted the process.

Fine agreed with that assessment.

“It is not appropriate for an outside entity to look for some technicality for someone like Richard Corcoran not to be able to serve,” said Fine.

The union representing faculty at FSU told us it doesn’t see a problem with the SACSCOC letter, but acknowledged the controversy it’s causing could mean Corcoran is still in the running.

“At the trustee’s meeting they could say we’re starting over, they could say we’re adding another candidate,” said Mathew Lata, President of the FSU Chapter of the United Faculty of Florida.

The President of SACSCOC told us in an email, the initial letter sent to the Board of Governor’s ‘wasn’t directed to Corcoran personally’.

She stood by the stance that members of the Board should resign if they’re seeking a job that the Board will make the final hiring decision.

We reached out to the Chancellor of the State University System of Florida and were sent a copy of his response to Levine’s request to halt the search.

In it, Chancellor Marshall Criser declined.

“As a Board of Governors’ member, you should be equally proud that despite Dr. Wheelan’s letter, the search committee recognized the responsibility inherent in narrowing a field of president applicants and conducted itself with integrity at all times. An action by our Board at this time is counter to the integrity of the process,” said Criser.

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Gambling Opponents Rally against New Compact

May 18th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Gambling opponents from across the state rallied at the State Capitol Tuesday against the new Seminole Compact awaiting approval from the Legislature.

Opponents argued the new deal is unconstitutional and must go before voters.

The proposed compact with the Seminole Tribe brought one of the largest gatherings of Floridians to the State Capitol since the start of the pandemic.

But they didn’t come to show support.

“We do not want to be the destination casino state,” said John Stemberger, President of Florida Family Action.

The gambling opponents call the deal an expansion of gaming, which under a 2018 constitutional amendment requires voter approval.

“It was a law to bind the hands of the very legislators that are now ignoring that,” said Stemberger.

The main constitutional issue highlighted by gambling opponents is the fact that under the compact Floridians would be permitted to place sports bets on their phones, even if they’re not technically on tribal land.

Opponents also make the case that while the extra $500 million a year to the state might sound appealing, they say it’s the poor who will pick up the tab.

“To make the kind of money that’s going to be churning here you have to have a whole lot of losers,” said Bill Bunkley, President of the Florida Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission.

The opponents broke off after the rally to bring their message directly to their elected leaders.

“This is not just for the protection of me and her, but it’s families that are out there that are struggling and the last thing we need to do is put them further down,” said Nathaniel Bloodgood, who traveled from Tampa with his wife to lobby lawmakers.

The coalition is focusing on the Florida House, where they believe there may be a chance to kill the deal.

“And I think if enough Democrats and Republicans peel off and are just willing to stand alone and say, Mr. Speaker we don’t want this, I think we can stop this thing,” said Stemberger.

The Governor has argued that because any sports betting in parimutuel facilities or online will be run through servers on tribal land, the gaming compact does not expand gambling in Florida.

Earlier in the day representatives from the tribe made it clear, even if the sports betting aspect of the compact is found to be unconstitutional, payments to the state will continue.

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Senate Ratifies Gaming Compact

May 18th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

With little debate, the Florida Senate approved a massive 30-year gaming deal with the Seminole Tribe of Florida Tuesday.

House approval is expected Wednesday, and lawmakers appear ready to roll the dice even though the threat of lawsuits is looming large.

The Senate debate focused not on big changes like new games, which the compact contains.

“Craps, roulette, and sports betting,” said Senate sponsor Travis Hutson.

Instead, the biggest debate was over an arbitrary prohibition of any new casino within 165 miles of the Tribe’s Hollywood Hard Rock.

The Fontainebleau and Trump’s Doral Resort are at 15.2 miles away.

“And I think it’s specific and intended to enure to the benefit of one particular party,” said State Senator Jason Pizzo.

In the end, the Governor got criticized for not getting a bigger share of the profits, but even that didn’t result in a no vote.

“Good deal or bad deal, it is the deal we have on the table, and I can’t in good conscious turn down the money,” said State Senator Annette Taddeo.

St. Petersburg State Senator Jeff Brandes was the only no vote.

“Here were are taking an entire segment of the economy and we’re basically saying the Tribe has a monopoly,” said Brandes.

The gambling deal brought the biggest crowd to the State Capitol since the beginning of the pandemic.

More than a hundred protestors were bused in by religious conservatives and No Casinos Inc.

Organizer John Sowinski called the expansion unconstitutional.

“It’s voters, not policy makers in Tallahassee that have the power to expand gambling in our state,” said Sowinski.

While the compact will like win approval Wednesday, Federal approval is also required.

Then a host of lawsuits are all but certain.

The Tribe has guarantees the state $500 million a year for the next five years and estimates in the Senate Tuesday were that Florida would receive between 20 and 30 billion over the 30 year compact.

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Seminoles Remain Unconquered

May 17th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

The ‘Unconquered’ statue at FSU speaks loudly.

The Seminoles are the only tribe to be unconquered by the US Army and the Tribe remains unconquered when it comes to battling the state on a host of money making deals that have preceded the gambling deal being considered by lawmakers this week.

In 1977 the Seminole Tribe opened drive though cigarette shops, not charging or collecting the state’s then 23 cent-a-pack tax.

It raised millions, but began a contentious battle with the Governor and Legislature.

“I think they should pay the tax like everyone else,” said State Senator John Vogt in 1980.

But the tribe had its defenders during a floor debate that year in the Senate.

“They’ve taken this money and they’ve built schools,” said Senator Tom McPherson.

“This is something that’s very important for the survival of the people,” said Senator Arnett Girardeau.

Then in 1979, the Tribe began high stakes bingo halls.

A federal lawsuit to stop the money maker failed in court and on appeal.

The Seminole Tribe remained unconquered after that lawsuit.

The US Supreme Court declined to get involved.

Fast forward to 2010 when the Tribe negotiated an exclusive 25-year deal for slots, poker, blackjack and more.

“A good day for everybody, in our neighborhood as well,” said Chairman of the Tribal Council Mitchell Cypress in February 2010.

After a federal court found the state violated the deal, which gave the tribe the right to stop paying the state. It did.

The $350 million a year payments stopped in 2019.

When signing the new deal, both sides said it’s good for everyone.

“And this only further establishes the health and education of our people,” said Seminole Tribal Chief Marcellus W. Osceola Jr.

“Having this relationship from the Tribe is really going to be beneficial to the state of Florida,” said said Governor Ron DeSantis.

If approved, the new gaming deal is sure to be challenged by anti gambling forces, but if history is a guide, the Seminole Tribe will again be a formidable opponent.

The Seminole tribe continued to sell untaxed cigarettes until 2009, but by then it was already making much more of slots and other games.

The new compact is expected to produce more than $6 billion for the state by the end of the decade.

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New Seminole Compact Facing Pushback from Some Lawmakers

May 17th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

The Florida Legislature gaveled in for what is expected to be a quick special session to ratify the Governor’s new 30-year compact with the Seminole Tribe of Florida Monday, but the session may not go as smoothly as hoped.

Efforts are already being made to ease some Republicans’ moral and economic objections that could put the deal in jeopardy.

On day one of the special session things were already moving fast at the Capitol.

Changes to the compact were announced promptly after gaveling in at 1 PM.

“I am holding in my hand an addendum to the Seminole Compact,” House Speaker Chris Sprowls announced to the chamber.

The two changes include delaying sports betting until October 15th and a cancelation of planned talks to allow for statewide online casino gambling.

“You know as Sheldon Adelson used to say, he liked the idea that you have to put on a pair of pants if you want to go and gamble,” said Representative Randy Fine who helped negotiate the revised deal with the Governor and the Tribe.

Still, some members have reservations.

“Never do business with just one vendor,” said State Senator Jeff Brandes.

Brandes takes issue with giving the tribe exclusive rights to fantasy sports betting.

“This is basically a monopoly that you’re providing to one entity for 30 years,” said Brandes.

For others like Representative Clay Yarborough, moral objections to gambling are at play.

“The effect of gambling on individuals could have the same effect as alcohol and crack,” said Yarborough.

With some republicans already vowing to vote no, bipartisan support will be necessary to secure the supermajority needed to implement the fees in the compact.

The changes made Monday did little to quell the concerns of Representative Spencer Roach.

“We’re talking about a 30-year monopoly here, and when you think about that, that’s a span of seven Governors in the State of Florida and 15 cycles of the State Legislature that can’t touch this,” said Roach.

Even if the legislature succeeds in overcoming its internal battle over the compact, anti-gaming groups are already working on legal challenges in hopes of giving voters the final say on any deal.

Lawsuits are likely to make the case the new compact constitutes an extension of gambling, which under a 2018 constitutional amendment would require voter approval.

The Governor has argued because all of the new gaming will be run through the Seminole Tribe, the amendment doesn’t apply.

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Man Who Created Florida Lottery Dies at 100

May 14th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

The man who organized the drive for the Florida Lottery has died at the age of 100.

Creating the lottery was just one of many major accomplishments over a 36-year career in public service.

Ralph Turlington was already a tenured professor at the University of Florida with an MBA from Harvard when he ran for the Florida Legislature in 1950.

“Our pay was ten dollars a day when we were in session,” said Turlington in a 2006 interview.

He spent the next 36 years shaping Florida government.

“He brought the best out in people. He brought the best out in legislation,” said former Turlington aide Frank Mirabella.

Turlington was in the minority fighting segregation in the mid 1950’s when lawmakers sought to dissolve local school boards if Blacks and Whites were taught in the same school.

“I was one of the seven who voted no, and I got an opponent the next year, and that was one of his campaign attacks on me,” said Turlington in the 2006 interview.

He also took on and defeated the pork choppers, a group of small county lawmakers who had a majority of votes in the legislature even though they were elected by less than 20 percent of the population.

In 1985 Turlington became the face of the citizens initiative to create the Florida Lottery.

He argued schools needed more money.

“I don’t think the people are ready to support taxation, additional taxation, but I do believe that this is an alternative the people of Florida will support,” said Turlington in a 1985 press conference.

Turlington also wrote the law creating the state pension system.

“Which is now the best funded retirement system for public employees,” said Mirabella.

The building housing the Department of Education has carried his name for more than 30 years, even though Turlington once passed a law that said buildings could not be named after a living person.

Betty Castor, who succeeded Turlington as Eduction Commissioner, before going on to be the President of USF, told us Friday that Turlington served with honor and humility.

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Education Commissioner Candidacy for FSU President Puts Accreditation in Jeopardy

May 14th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

As Florida State University narrows down its field of candidates to replace its outgoing president, one name on the list could threaten the university’s accreditation if selected.

Concerns are being raised about the candidacy of the state’s Commissioner of Education Richard Corcoran.

There are currently nine candidates being considered for President of FSU, but there’s one name sparking controversy.

“Please do not vote for Commissioner Corcoran,” said FSU student Sarah Jenkins during the public comment section of the first day of interviews Friday.

Corcoran drew the most ire.

“Corcoran does not understand the tone or content necessary to work at, let alone lead a major research university,” said Will Hanley, an Assistant Professor of History at FSU.

A letter sent to the Florida Board of Governors by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS), body that accredits FSU, raised concerns over Corcoran’s candidacy.

In it, the Association suggested Corcoran’s role as a voting member on the Board of Governors, which will have the final say on hiring the next President, could put the university’s accreditation in jeopardy.

“There are just way too many questions,” said Matthew Lata, Union President of the United Faculty of Florida FSU Chapter.

He said losing accreditation would be a devastating setback for the university.

“Without full accreditation we don’t have access to certain kinds of federal funds and I don’t know how that would impact research, impact student support, but it certainly would do that,” said Lata.

The Board of Governor’s responded to SACHS with a letter saying Corcoran, if selected, would abstain from voting on his own confirmation, dispelling any conflict of interest.

Even if that alleviates the commission’s conflict of interest concerns, questions about Corcoran’s qualifications remain and could still result in a loss of accreditation.

“Leaders of accredited universities must be qualified to do the job,” said Lata.

The union representing faculty at FSU told us regardless who is picked, they will accept and work with the next President.

Corcoran is set to be interviewed at 9:30 am Saturday morning.

The following week, a series of open candidate forums for students, faculty, staff and community groups is planned.

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Democratic Gubernatorial Hopefuls Have Plenty of Ground to Make Up

May 13th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried is teasing a June 1st announcement for entering the race for Governor and former Republican Governor turned Democratic Congressman Charlie Crist has already announced, but early polling shows Democrats have a lot of ground to make up.

Three recent polls all show Governor Ron DeSantis holding a job approval rating over 50 percent.

The highest, commissioned by the Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association, shows DeSantis’ approval at 60 percent.

“We see the support and the help that he has given us. I don’t see it changing in our industry at all,” said Florida Restaurant and Lodging Association President Carol Dover.

The Florida Chamber of Commerce’s poll shows DeSantis with a 55 percent approval rating, but it also found he holds at least a ten point lead over likely challenges Charlie Crist, Val Demings and Nikki Fried.

The Florida Chamber poll shows DeSantis with a 51-41 lead over Crist, a 51-39 lead over Fried and 53-38 lead over Demings.

“I think he’s got everything going for him right now,” said FSU Political Scientist Carol Weissert.

Weissert told DeSantis has plenty to brag about going into the race, compared to 2018 when he bested opponent Andrew Gillum by a razor thin margin.

“What’s different? One of the reasons is Democratic support so far is just not behind anybody yet. I don’t see it at this point,” said Weissert.

We asked what it would take for Democrats to make up ground.

“They’ve gotta hope that DeSantis stumbles in some way at this point I think,” said Weissert.

One area where the Democratic field is lacking currently is name recognition, with the exception of Crist.

“Everybody knows Charlie Crist. A lot of people like Charlie Crist, but he doesn’t inspire a lot of enthusiasm,” said Weissert.

While Fried isn’t expected to make her bid official until June, she’s already come out swinging.

In a video teasing her announcement date she called DeSantis ‘an authoritarian dictator’.
Though the polls look bleak for Democrats early on, Weissert said to keep in mind: “In Florida anything can happen”.

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Florida Sees Record Education Budget

May 13th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

While not yet signed by the Governor, the new state budget is getting high marks from educators.

A mix of federal funds and a growing economy offset what was going to be a dismal year for funding.

On the Legislature’s opening day, the Governor issued this warning.

“I reject reductions in funding for K-12 education,” said Governor Ron DeSantis.

At the time, across the board cuts seemed likely.

Instead, per student funding is up $39.

There are also $1,000 teacher bonuses and $550 million to increase starting pay.

“Thankfully, we have a state whose economy is thriving,” said Florida School Boards Association Executive Director Andrea Messina.

But the Florida Education Association, which is applauding lawmakers, argues the increase does nothing to keep veteran teachers.

“Look, someone coming into the profession who is told you are going to make $47,500 to start, but you’re not going to go anywhere for the next ten to fifteen years, who’s staying in the profession, right?” Said FEA President Andrew Spar.

Lawmakers also left local school taxes as is.

That’s known as the required local effort and it means if a home’s value is increasing, property owners are going to pay more.

It’s a $201 million increase statewide.

“The required local effort is really what has paid for growth in public schools,” said Messina.

And the union is calling on lawmakers, who are back next week to okay a $500 million-a-year gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe, to use that money to keep teachers in the classroom.

“This is an opportunity to increase support for our public schools, which every parent wants,” said Spar.

But how lawmakers use any gambling money will likely wait a year, in anticipation of lawsuits challenging the gambling deal.

The budget also sets aside nearly $500 million to fund thousands of students who dropped out or didn’t show up for class last fall because of the pandemic, but are expected to return this fall.

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Unemployed Will Once Again Have to Prove They’re Looking for Work

May 12th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Unemployment recipients in Florida will soon once again have to show they’re actually looking for work if they hope to continue collecting checks.

The Department of Economic Opportunity, which oversees the state’s reemployment program, says there are plenty of employers looking to hire.

Altrua Global Solutions, a printing company in the state’s capital city, usually prints ads and promotional material for businesses.

Now they’re primarily printing help wanted signs

And even they’re having a hard time finding employees to do the work.

“A lot of people, they’ll come in and interview, but then we might hire them and they don’t show up for the job,” said Altrua President Skip Smelko.

It’s become a common sight across the state, ‘closed due to pandemic signs’ replaced by ‘now hiring’ signs

“The 2021 pandemic is unemployment. Not being able to hire,” said DEO Secretary Dane Eagle.

Eagle announced Wednesday the state will soon reimplement work search requirements for those collecting unemployment.

“The goal here is to help everyone find employment. There is hope on the horizon. 400,000 jobs are out there,” said Eagle.

The state is hoping the announcement will send a message to unemployed Floridians to start looking for a job now, before benefits run out entirely.

“I don’t want them to wake up Monday morning and realize unemployment is not available and they also don’t have a job.”

And the state is hoping to help Floridians in that process, requiring new benefit recipients to sign up with Employ Florida, which will link them with businesses looking for workers.

“The network is here to help Florida businesses, large and small, connect with the hundreds of thousands of Floridians we know want to get back to work,” said President & CEO of Career Source Florida Michelle Dennard.

Those who are currently collecting checks won’t be required to register with Employ Florida, but both new and current recipients will have to prove they’re looking for work to receive benefits after May 29th.

Secretary Eagle also said the state doesn’t currently plan to opt out of the additional $300-a-week federal unemployment benefit program before it expires in September, but going forward he said the option remains on the table.

If you need help looking for a job you can sign up at CareerSourceFlorida.com or at EmployFlorida.com to get connected with employers.

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Long Lines and Empty Pumps Persist in Panhandle

May 11th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Gas distribution problems resulting from the cyber attack that shut down the Colonial Pipeline are causing long lines and empty pumps in the Florida panhandle.

State officials are urging residents to remain calm and avoid panic buying.

There were two scenarios at gas stations in the state’s capital city Tuesday.

Empty stations drained of all fuel and others with long lines full of drivers fighting for a full tank.

Tallahassee resident Dondre Thompson came to the pump expecting a length wait.

“I’ve already been to like 15 gas stations around the east side of Tallahassee so I’m on E. I’m just trying to get some gas,” said Thompson.

Florida Director of Consumer Services Rick Kimsey told us a perfect storm of separate issues has resulted in the distribution problems.

“It started with a fuel quality issue in the Western Panhandle. That coupled with a nationwide driver shortage for petroleum truck drivers and then the cyber attack on the Colonial Pipeline,” said Kimsey.

Kimsey doesn’t expect the problem to spread statewide, as much of the Peninsula gets its gas from the ports.

He said even in the Panhandle there’s plenty of fuel.

It’s just a matter of getting it to the pump fast enough to keep up with demand, which is skyrocketing due to panic buying.

“Any pressure on the system is going to make the situation worse,” said Kimsey.

Florida’s Commissioner of Agriculture Nikki Fried put out a video on Twitter urging Floridains to refrain from panic buying.

“Fuel is continuing to move around our state,” said Fried.

We witnessed first hand how panic can breed panic while speaking with Tallahassee resident Aryn Rosenbaum.

“Everyone’s panicking unfortunately and I only have an eight of a tank, so unfortunately I have to panic too,” said Rosenbaum.

When the pipeline will come back online isn’t entirely clear.

In the mean time, the state is working on finding other means to deliver fuel to impacted areas.

Director Kimsen told us if you are in a situation where you need gas now, try to only take what you need.

Gas is on the way.

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Theme Park Loophole Creates Opportunity to Skirt Social Media Censorship Bill

May 10th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

Disney World could face new competition if social media companies take advantage of a loophole included in legislation aimed at cracking down on social media censorship currently awaiting the Governor’s signature.

The bill creates new rules companies must follow if they move to censor, deplatform or shadow ban Florida citizens and political candidates.

Senator Ray Rodrigues sponsored the bill in the Senate.

“I think this bill will ensure that the virtual square is open to all of Florida’s candidates and all Florida citizens,” said Rodrigues.

Under the bill, social media companies would face $250,000 a day fines for censoring statewide political candidates and $25,000 a day fines for other candidates.

Users could also sue for up to $100,000 if they’re arbitrarily deplatformed.

But a last minute amendment tagged on in the final days of session creates a carveout for companies that own theme parks.

When asked if Facebook would be exempt if they bought a theme park, House sponsor Blaise Ingoglia gave this response.

“If they bought a theme park, and named it Zucker Land and they met the definition of a theme park under Florida statute then the answer to that would be yes,” said Ingoglia.

Rodrigues said the intent behind the amendment was to prevent Disney and Universal from getting caught in the mix, due to apps the they run for park attendees.

We asked if he thought the amendment would incentive social media companies to buy a theme parks rather than follow the new rules.

“Well I think the easier path for them would be to get their act together on censorship and start treating Floridians equally,” said Rodrigues.

Despite the carveout, Governor Ron DeSantis said the good still out weighs the bad in the bill.

He’s likely to sign it, and told us it will send a message to big tech.

“We’re fighting against oligarchs in Silicon Valley suppressing speech and censoring views that they disagree with,” said DeSantis.

And the Rodrigues told us if social media companies do attempt to skirt the law by purchasing theme parks, the Legislature will tweak the law next year to ensure the intent of the bill is followed.

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Mobile Faith-Based Vaccination Pilot Program Launches

May 10th, 2021 by Jake Stofan

A new pilot program aimed at increasing vaccination rates of Black Floridians launched in the State’s capital city Monday.

A new $300,000 mobile medical unit secured by Bethel Baptist Church with private donations will be used to penetrate into some of the areas in the city experiencing high vaccine hesitancy to provide education and shots on the spot.

Reverend RB Holmes, who sits on the Statewide COVID-19 Vaccination Community Education and Engagement Taskforce, said with only roughly twenty percent of Black Floridians vaccinated so far, innovative efforts like these are pivotal to reaching the goal of 70 percent vaccinated by early 2022.

“You know there’s a lot of hesitancy, a lot of reluctancy, but we’re going to overcome that with this medical mobile unit in this city and across the State of Florida. We’re gonna have to have faith-based leaders, again, those trusted voices [and] now a trusted venue, to go where the people are,” said Holmes.

Florida’s Deputy Secretary of Health attended the launch ceremony and said the goal is to expand mobile faith-based vaccination efforts across the state.

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Honoring Florida’s First Black Supreme Court Justice

May 7th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

The first African American to serve on the Supreme Court of Florida was honored today for his contributions over a more than forty year legal career. Judge Joseph Hatchett died April 30th at the age of 88. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, those who served with him, say he never lost sight of justice.

When Joseph Woodrow Hatchett took the Florida bar exam in 1959, he still wasn’t allowed to spend the night in the hotel where the exam was administered. Supreme Court Chief Justice told family and friends Justice Hatchett never let race get in his way.

“He did not let the barriers of injustice stop him” said Canady.

In 1975, Justice Hatchett became the states first African American to serve on the Florida Supreme Court. In a 2014 interview, he had this to say about Ruben Askew, the Governor who appointed him.

“He had the courage to take on new issues and push the state forward” 

On the court, Justice Hatchett stood up for Journalists and the first amendment, blocking the jailing of a reporter writing about public corruption.

“Because of this decision, Justice Hatchett, to this day, is remembered as a defender of the first amendment, said Canady.”

While on the bench here, Justice Hatchett supported opening Flordia’s courtrooms to television cameras”

He then went on to serve twenty years on the federal bench where appealate court Judge Gerald Tjoflat got to know him well. “And what stuck me was his quiet confidence. His poise” said Tjoflat.

Antoinette Walker is his Niece. “Gatherings was always fun gatherings. We had talent shows. We just had a happy family.”

And Mark Walker, the chief judge for the Northern District of Florida used a Biblical reference to Soloman, who could have asked God for anything, but asked to be a wise judge. “In addition to being brilliant, Judge Hatchett had a wise and understanding heart” said Walker, no relation to the family.

Funeral services are Saturday. Justice Hatchett will be buried Monday in Dunedin.

Judge Hatchett was also a strong supporter of of Legal Services, saying it “costs money to go to court which inhibits the ability of the poor to help themselves”.

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Florida Capitol Open Again

May 7th, 2021 by Mike Vasilinda

Today is the first day the State Capitol has been open since the beginning of the pandemic. Doors opened to visitors this morning after a nearly 14 month closure. We caught up with a Majken (Miken) Peterzen on the buildings observation deck. She told us it was a good day to play hooky with her three year old grandson Mitchell.

“We’re doing big things. We went to a construction site. Now we’re doing an elevator. Then we are going to go watch a plane land, and then we’re going to go ride a h-o-r-s-e.”

During the closure, legislative testimony was limited to a small number of people or was conducted remotely via video streams. Lawmakers, staff and reporters under went weekly covid tests to get into the building.

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