February 22, 2012

Juveniles serving life in Florida may be resentenced

Juveniles serving life in prison for committing crimes other than murder may soon get a chance to have their sentences reduced. Lawmakers have to make changes to the way juveniles are sentenced because of a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.


In 2010, the high court ruled that offenders under the age of 18 cannot be given life in prison if they don’t kill anyone. Florida has dozens of inmates who were impacted by that ruling. So, Rep. Mike Weinstein, R-Orange Park, sponsored a bill (HB 5/SB 212)) that gives juvenile offenders a chance to be resentenced once they’ve served 25 years and met other requirements.

“We had to do a bill like this to enable us to seek a life sentence in the courtroom,” Weinstein told the Senate Children, Families, and Elder Affairs Committee Wednesday. “Those that were sentenced before this bill are now under an illegal sentence because the Supreme Court says you can’t do it.”

Senator Ronda Storms, R-Brandon, prefers a tiered system that would make the least violent offenders eligible for resentencing sooner than those who committed the worst crimes. Storms wondered why the juvenile who assaulted and permanently injured a young woman in her district should get another chance at freedom, asking Weinstein, “How can I face this constituent and these parents and say I think this guy should get out in 15 years?”

Several lawmakers are working to add a tiered approach to resentencing; otherwise, they say they won’t support the bill.


Gina Jordan, WLRN-Miami Herald News

February 09, 2012

Car radio noise before Florida Supreme Court

Under Florida law, you can get a ticket for blasting music out of your car speakers, but it is okay to crank up Rush Limbaugh or Terry Gross. A St. Petersburg man is trying to change that, and he’s taken his appeal to the Florida Supreme Court.

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If Richard Catalano had been listening to “All Things Considered,” he probably would’ve been okay. Instead Catalano, a corporate lawyer, was listening to Justin Timberlake.

The law says noise, specific types of noise, originating within a vehicle cannot be "plainly audible at a distance of 25 feet or more.”

Catalano told the court Thursday that’s unconstitutional. “If I’m running for office, I can be in the sound truck and get on there and as loudly as I want say ‘vote for honest Rich Catalano for mayor’ and they can’t touch me for that under this statute,” said Catalano. “But if I play Led Zeppelin ‘Houses of the Holy’ or if I do anything like that, or if I make a religious speech, I get a ticket.”

Last May, an appeals court in Lakeland sided with Catalano, saying the law is too vague.  The Florida Attorney General’s Office appealed, arguing that the law is about the safety of the people in the vehicle. The state says the driver needs to be able to hear horns and emergency sirens. Justice Barbara Pariente countered that car loads of kids are noisy but the statute doesn’t apply to them.

No word on when the court will rule.

Gina Jordan, WLRN-Miami Herald News

February 02, 2012

Florida College students rally against election changes

While the presidents of Florida's colleges were telling state leaders what was on their minds, a slew of their students rallied in the state Capitol about changes to election laws.



The Florida College System Student Government Association thinks recent limits put on the number of early voting days disenfranchise students.


"Our lives are very hectic and busy," said the group's president, Sarah Pemberton. "The best way to describe a student is C-C-C, car to class to car. There is no time in between to do many of things our community members can do."

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January 31, 2012

Closing its prison could stagger rural county

What does a prison mean? In some places, it means everything. A rural north Florida community that went out on a limb to get its state prison is now about to lose it. Rick Stone reports on the struggle in Monticello.

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Late in the 80s, with crime rising and prisons filling up, Florida needed new prison sites but few counties wanted to be one. Jefferson County, just east of Tallahassee, was different. Then, as now, underpopulated and desperately poor, it saw an opportunity and it did something unusual.

we welcomed them with open arms

Kirk Reams is Jefferson's court clerk and chief financial officer. 

Our county commission went and bought this property, 300 acres, we went out and bought it and donated it to the state. 

In 1990, the county's gift became Jefferson Correctional Institution and JCI became the region's primary employer and economic engine. In a county of 14-thousand, about 200 people are directly employed by the prison -- that's six percent of the workforce -- and everybody else depends on it. But times have changed. Crime is down, prisons beds have fallen empty and the state has decided to close 11 prisons and work camps. Because of its low score on a comptimelicated point system,  one of them is Jefferson Correctional.

2:06 it would be the equivalent of taking the job at Disney out of orange county

Apart from its jobs, and the economny it anchors, the prison is deeply entwined with Jefferson County and its only town, Monticello. Prison work crews maintain the streets and parks at no cost to local government. They separate recyclables from garbage at Monticello's solid waste plant, which director Beth Letchworth says earns the county 70-thousand dollars in a good year.

 to replace this squad with five people at minimum wage would cost this county 140-thousand dollars.

Like almost everybody you meet here, Letchworth is a native of Jefferson County and a former prison worker. So is Sam Flowers.

well, my wife works out there, to. So it would hurt my family. It would be a hardship on my family if it happens.

This is a town hall meeting at Monticello's elegant little courthouse. Two state senators and two state representatives, none of them very hopeful about saving the prison, are about to take testimony. 200 people are packed into the courtroom. In the last hour, dozens of "JCI Means Jobs" yard signs have appeared on the street. Paul Michael says local businesses, many facing bankruptcy,  paid for them.

1:11 there's total buy-in out here in this county. I don't know anybody who wants the prison to leave. It's part of our county. We're serious about it.

The testimony is passionate and personal. Paula Pierce, the wife of a JCI prison guard, said there are no other jobs within miles of Monticello, and Governor Rick Scott --who signed the prison closing order -- should know that.

:58 I don't understand why he wants to pick on Jefferson. I don't understand why he cannot come and face us, and look in the faces of the people he is impacting.

Jerry Loggins, who just made lieutenant after 13 years at J-C-I, said the community has been betrayed by the Department of Corrections, the D-O-C.

15:50 the land out there, we gave them. And now D-O-C wants to snatch our jobs away.

The county's lobbyists and legislators say they've made little headway toward getting J-C-I off the closing list. If they fail, the prison is slated to close by July 1. Most in Jefferson Country are preparing to have their gift of 20 years ago thrown back at them, and return from having little to having nothing.

 --Rick Stone



January 29, 2012

PIP insurance fraud explained

PIP Rally

Florida is one of the most expensive states for car insurance, according to the Insurance Information Institute. A fender bender can cost an insurance company tens of thousands of dollars.

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Walt Dartland was targeted in a staged accident years ago in Miami, but he knew immediately what was up. Dartland is a former Florida D deputy Attorney General and is now executive director of the Consumer Federation of the Southeast.  “All of a sudden they just plain stopped," said Dartland, "and because I was going so slow, I basically hardly touched them. They immediately got out of the car, and I tried to tell them we better call the police department and get a report on this. They said no. They pulled the car across the highway and walked right into a chiropractor’s office.”

The way this works is a clinic owner will recruit a group of people to stage a minor accident. No one is actually hurt, but the passengers go straight to the clinic. No treatment is given, and claims of $10,000 per person are filed under the driver’s PIP coverage. The money is split between the passengers, clinic operators, and lawyers.

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January 27, 2012

Offended panel approves new district maps

The Florida House Redistricting Committee approved new maps for state House and Senate and Congressional districts this morning…but as Rick Stone reports, not without some fireworks.


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The committee spent much of the morning adjusting boundary lines to make sure that as many cities and counties as possible were kept intact in single districts. That's one of the requirements of the Fair Districts amendments that voters approved to reduce gerrymandering.

Hours before, committee chairman Will Weatherford got a 12-page letter from the League of Women Voters and two other organizations, accusing the committee of violating Fair Districts to preserve Republican dominance. When the league's lobbyist, who was seated among the spectators,  refused to explain the letter, Weatherford hit the roof. 

Frankly I find it disappointing that anyone would suggest, first calling our maps, in a derogatory manner, explaining they don't follow the letter of the law and then refusing to get up and explain to us how theirs does..

 The League -- along with Common Cause and the National Council of LaRaza -- did include maps of its own which Weatherford proposed as amendments. The committee rejected them unanimously. But committee Democrats all voted no on the final work product. Representative Evan Jenne of Broward County said the maps do not reflect Florida's reality.

 Floridians are pretty much 50-50 when it comes to their voter registration. And at the end of the day I think you will still see a very strong Republican majority.

The new district maps are now ready for a House floor vote next week. Similar maps are coming up through the Senate. 

Rick Stone

Texting bill sponsor's a texter herself

It was a good day for Nancy Detert, R-Venice, whose texting bill died in the Senate last year. This year's version passed its third committee vote on Thursday, with just one more to go before a full Senate hearing.

  But it's a mild ban. Texting drivers could only be ticketed if they had already been stopped for some other offense, the first offense fine is only $30…and it doesn't apply to the kind of roadway texting that Detert does herself.

  The senator she says when she has to send a message from behind the wheel, she fiddles with her Android phone, brings up a speech-to-text app and dictates. Unlike manual typing, she claims, it is not distracting.

 "My eyes are still on the road, as opposed to the original texting which was the Blackberry, where you had to type with two thumbs, and there was no way you were looking at the road," Detert said. 

  Several studies suggest many Americans text while driving, although big majorities think it should be illegal. But two years ago, the Highway Loss Data Institute found that traffic safety did not improve in states that banned texting while driving.

  HLDI president Adrian Lund reported in 2010 that car crashes actually increased in three of the four states that were studied, possibly because drivers' effort to avoid detection made texting even more hazardous.



January 24, 2012

State launches campaign to match veterans with employers

In honor of Florida National Guard Day at the Capitol, state leaders have begun a campaign to get military veterans back to work.

Staff Sergeant Joseph Azula has a cool job. He was in the Capitol showing off an Avenger Weapons System. “It’s designed to shoot down cruise missiles, helicopters, fast moving enemy aircraft,” said Azula, “and it has a range of about ten kilometers. So it’s really kind of the last line of defense, as far as air defense goes, of the United States military.”

Incoming Senate President Don Gaetz says the unemployment rate for Florida’s veterans is lower than the overall population. He and current Senate President Mike Haridopolos did some checking. “We found that 20 percent of our serving members of the Florida National Guard were unemployed,” said Gaetz. “We found that 40 percent of our National Guard members who were coming back from combat zones were unemployed.”

With helicopters and tanks in the background, Gov. Rick Scott joined lawmakers and business leaders to help launch a year-long effort to find work for veterans. He said, “We are here to make a commitment to our military and our veterans. That commitment is what the Hiring Our Heroes campaign is all about.”

Employers interested in hiring veterans can get help from the Employ Florida Marketplace. Workforce specialists are set up around the state to help employers and veterans connect.

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January 23, 2012

Workers and employers come together on wage theft bill

There’s been a significant hatchet-burying in Tallahassee, where advocates for low-wage workers and the business community are working together on a wage theft bill.

Florida employers were backing a bill that would repeal Miami-Dade County’s wage theft ordinance and forbid any other city or county from adopting one of its own. Many employees opposed them. The Dade ordinance gives workers who are stiffed out of their pay a place to complain and a chance to recover what they’re owed.

But Palm Beach County is now drafting a wage theft ordinance. It’s different from the one in Miami, and Florida Farmworkers Association spokeswoman Karen Woodall had to agree with her opponents: a patchwork was taking shape; different rules in different places. “We have all agreed that this needs to be a statewide solution,” said Woodall.

John Rogers of the Florida Retail Federation had to make a concession of his own, that something needs to be done about wage theft in Florida. “While theft and breach of contract are illegal,” said Rogers, “there is nothing that addresses wage theft. So we think some statewide standard and a statewide tribunal to deal with it is probably the best way to go.”

Retailers were joined by builders, contractors and the hospitality industry in supporting the repeal bill. Supporters say about a million dollars in illegally unpaid wages has been recovered under Miami-Dade County’s wage theft ordinance and the system it set up. The Senate Community Affairs Committee passed the bill as is, expecting it to be amended with a compromise in another committee.

--Rick Stone

WageTheft audio