Tag Archive: florida


AREK SARKISSIAN – OCT 1, 2014

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Within 15 minutes on Tuesday afternoon, Waldo Police Officer Tim Logan spotted three drivers moving well over the speed limit on U.S. 301.

Indeed, there is a speed problem in Waldo, but the city cannot afford its police department.

On Tuesday night, the Waldo City Council voted in favor of disbanding its department, effective at midnight.

“We’re all going to be unemployed,” Logan said as a silver Mercedes sedan whizzed by his black and white police sport utility vehicle. The equipment in the cruiser showed the luxury car was traveling at 60 mph in a 45-mph zone.

“I don’t like the idea of letting my wife know when I wake up in the morning that I will be out of a job,” Logan said.

The City Council voted 4-1 to disband the department and to allow Waldo’s officers to collect pay until Oct. 31 as city officials determine how to tie up loose ends. There are still plenty of cases — primarily traffic citations — awaiting court dates, and equipment that needs to be inventoried or sold.

Waldo has long carried the notoriety as a speed trap with black-and-white patrol cars working busy stretches of U.S. 301 and State Road 24, but that began to change last month when its last police chief, Mike Szabo, was suspended pending the results of a Florida Department of Law Enforcement investigation.

On Aug. 26, five Waldo officers revolted against Szabo and Cpl. Kenneth Smith with a presentation before the City Council that was rife with allegations that included an unlawful ticket quota, deceptive court appearances and unethical evidence storage.

Shortly after the presentation, Waldo City Manager Kim Worley also suspended Smith, with the launch of a second FDLE investigation. Both Szabo and Smith later resigned.

In the absence of a chief, Worley signed a month-long contract with Alachua County Sheriff Sadie Darnell on Sept. 3 to receive the temporary services of her training lieutenant, Steve Maynard, who she temporarily promoted to captain for the assignment.

Last week, Darnell told Worley she would not extend the contract, which apparently left Waldo with little option but to close its police department.

During the Tuesday night meeting, Worley said an audit of the department conducted by the Florida Department of Law Enforcement determined that the city would need to drastically update its storage facilities and computer systems to keep up with standards required for criminal investigations.

“The cost is just too high,” Worley said.

Waldo City Councilwoman Carolyn Wade was reluctant to vote in favor of the police department closure, but said she understood it was inevitable. Conversations with State Attorney Bill Cervone led her to believe it was the only decision to save the city from more bad publicity, she said. Wade said Cervone told her that if the city chose to keep the department open, he would bring a case before the Alachua County grand jury, and it would return with a humiliating presentment.

“Too much has gone too far and I don’t think we can recover,” Wade said.

Plenty of residents opposed disbanding the police department and many said they were confused and angry. Kim Andrews, owner of Andrews Knife and Muzzleloading, even offered to chip in a few hundred dollars.

“These guys keep us safe,” Andrews said. “People will die if this department goes away, and the blood will be on all of your hands.”

After the meeting, Waldo Police Officer Brandon Roberts — who led the Aug. 26 presentation that unveiled the unlawful ticket quota — unpinned his badge and smiled. He said he found it funny that the actions of Szabo and Smith led to the loss of his job, but he said what he and four officers did was in the fabric of the oath they swore to as officers.

“It’s what was right,” Roberts said. “A lot of people complain about cops not stepping across the blue line, and this is a prime example, because you have to worry about this kind of stuff.”

Roberts added that the resignations of Szabo and Smith were worth the loss of his own job.

“If I took down two bad ones, it was worth it,” Roberts said.

Police coverage for the City of Waldo now will fall under the supervision of the Alachua County Sheriff’s Office. Sgt. Becky Butscher, a sheriff’s spokeswoman, said her department is working to allocate more deputies to the area.

State Attorney Cervone said Waldo police are not out of the woods in regards to the two FDLE investigations. Both remain active, and Cervone plans to meet with agents later this week.

2014 – Ocala Star-Banner, Fla.

 

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April 22, 2014

TO:      USF & NRA Member and Friends
FROM:  Marion P. Hammer
           USF Executive Director 
           NRA Past President

Senate Bill 424 to Stop Discrimination by Insurance Companies Against Gun Owners has PASSED THE FLORIDA LEGISLATURE!!!!!

The bill was sponsored by Representative Matt Gaetz(R) in the House and Senator Tom Lee (R) in the Senate. 

On March 18, 2014, after being shepherded through three Senate Committees, by Senator Tom Lee,  SB-424 then PASSED THE SENATE by a vote of  36-3. 

Today, April 22, 2014, after being shepherded through three House Committees, by Representative Matt Gaetz,  SB-424 PASSED THE HOUSE by a vote of 74-44. 

SB-424 is a bill to stop insurance companies from discriminating against gun owners.  Click here to view bill text:SB-424  as Passed

This bill makes it clear that refusing to issue a policy, refusing to renew a policy,  canceling a policy, or charging unfair rates based on the lawful possession and ownership of firearms or ammunition constitutes unfair discrimination and is prohibited and actionable.

Further, the bill protects privacy rights by prohibiting insurance companies and their agents from disclosing information on firearms and firearm ownership of its applicants and policyholders to others.

The bill now goes to the Governor for his action.   

Please email Senator Tom Lee and Representative Matt Gaetz and tell them thank you for standing up gun owners.

Email: lee.tom.web@flsenate.gov

Email: matt.gaetz@myfloridahouse.gov

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December 26, 2013

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When budget woes reduced the sheriff’s department in one rural Oregon county to a bare-bones force, residents decided to take matters into their own hands — creating armed patrol groups in defiance of local officials.

Their decision has raised safety concerns with the county government, which would prefer residents instead hike their own taxes to fund the hiring of trained deputies. But despite the risks, the move stands as a unique, some would say innovative, response to one of the country’s most severe local budget crunches.

The government in Josephine County, where nearly 70 percent of the land is owned by the U.S. government, had long relied on federal timber subsidies to pay the bills. When the feds terminated the funds, county officials scrambled to pass a May 2012 tax levy to make up a nearly $7.5 million dollar budget shortfall.

However, the county’s residents voted against the levy, and as a result the Josephine County Sheriff’s Office was gutted. The major crimes unit closed, dozens of prisoners were released from the county jail and the department reduced operations to Monday-Friday, eight hours a day.

The Sheriff’s Office then issued a press release announcing their deputies would only be responding to what they deemed “life-threatening situations.”

Ken Selig — who was the longest-serving law enforcement officer in all three local agencies when he was forced to retire from the department due to cuts — told FoxNews.com he found the sheriff’s declaration unacceptable. And he felt compelled to guard his community’s vulnerable members.

“Who else is going to protect you when your government can’t?” Selig said.

Selig and his friend Pete Scaglione formed the North Valley Community Watch, a county-wide organization dedicated to helping citizens in non-life-threatening situations, primarily property crimes. It is one of a handful of community groups that have formed since the cuts. Without a robust Sheriff’s Office, their mission is broader than the typical neighborhood watch group.

Not only did the Sheriff’s Office narrow its scope to “life-threatening” situations, but it even encouraged people who felt unsafe to relocate. “… the Sheriff’s Office regretfully advises that, if you know you are in a potentially volatile situation (for example, you are a protected person in a restraining order that you believe the respondent may violate), you may want to consider relocating to an area with adequate law enforcement services,” the original release stated.

Selig’s community watch group, looking to fill in the law enforcement cracks, now meets once a month to discuss crime and teach its approximately 100 members about personal safety. The group also has a trained “response team,” which consists of 12 people who will respond to the scene of a reported non-life-threatening situation if called.

Though the “response team” members do carry legal firearms, Selig said the team’s main goal is to provide a deterrent presence, and that none of them have ever fired a shot. He said those involved in his group believe there is no substitute for well-trained law enforcement, but they feel they have no other choice but to protect their community.

“We believe responsible citizens doing responsible things make it hard for criminals to do irresponsible things,” he said.

Selig believes politics are behind the county government’s decision to not funnel what funds they do have toward law enforcement. He says the county government seems to be pressuring the citizens to pass an additional tax hike they cannot afford.

“The key is to get the funding somewhere where the local people can get the services they need,” Selig said.

However, Josephine County Commissioner Keith Heck said residents of the county that opposed the tax levy need to realize there is no fat to cut.

Heck said the county has tried to live within the bounds of its fiscal realities, but citizens need to realize the options for paying for law enforcement are limited. “The county coffers are at the bottom of the barrel,” he said.

Heck said though he supports neighborhood watch groups and citizens being vigilant in their community, the rise of increasingly “aggressive” community watch groups make him worried the situation could escalate to violence. Watch groups have been under increasing scrutiny nationally ever since the George Zimmerman case in Florida.

“These things seem good on the PR side but fail a little in the reality side,” Heck said.

Heck said the only real solution is for the county citizens to approve more funds.

“There is this little shimmer out there of some giant Santa that is going to come and drop all this money on us because we are well-meaning folks,” he said. “The sleigh is broken, the deer are dead, it’s not going to happen. We have to figure out how we are going to solve this problem.”

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December 10, 2013

State universities would be blocked from regulating guns on campus under a potentially far-reaching ruling handed down Tuesday by a Florida appeals court.

The 1st District Court of Appeal — in a rare opinion decided by the entire appeals court — sided with a University of Florida student and a gun rights group that challenged a university rule banning students on campus from storing guns in their cars.

In a lengthy decision that prompted a strong dissent as well as multiple concurring opinions, the appeals court ruled that the Florida Legislature has pre-empted the regulation of guns by local governments and state agencies.

The court decided the state’s 12 public universities are covered by this 2011 law. The ruling notes that while universities have the power to restrict lawful conduct — like drinking or smoking on campus — that power does not extend to regulating guns.

“Restricting recreational activities is a far cry from restricting a fundamental, constitutional right to keep and bear arms for self-defense,” wrote Judge Clay Roberts whose opinion was supported by the majority of the 15 judges who serve in the court.

Eric Friday, the attorney representing student Alexandria Lainez and Florida Carry Inc., said the court had properly considered “the facts of this case” and came to the right conclusion.

“The university does not have the right to pass rules and regulations about who may have firearms,” Friday said.

A spokeswoman for UNF said the university was reviewing the case and had not yet decided whether to appeal the ruling.

Judge Philip Padovano wrote a stinging dissent, noting that voters approved a constitutional amendment creating the current stand-alone state university system and giving it powers different from other agencies.

“These opinions pursue differing legal theories but they all arrive at the same conclusion: that a state university is powerless to prohibit students from bringing firearms to school,” he wrote. “This remarkable conclusion is not supported in the law, and with due respect for my colleagues, I believe that it defies common sense.”

Padovano argued that no one would ever doubt that a university professor could stop a student from making a religious speech in class even though the student has First Amendment rights to make the same speech elsewhere.

Judge Scott Makar argued that the Legislature has had a long history of letting Floridians store guns in their cars and that universities do not have unlimited authority.

“… If universities can regulate away a Second Amendment right, why not a First Amendment one? Or one protected by the Fourth or Fifth Amendment? The point is rhetorical, but nonetheless meaningful because campus authority unchecked can go astray of constitutional norms,” Makar wrote.

Florida law currently prevents anyone from possessing or exhibiting guns on school campuses, including university and college campuses.

That same law, however, says the automatic ban doesn’t apply to guns kept in cars. School districts have the option to adopt policies to prohibit guns in cars parked on campus. UNF attorneys tried to argue that the university falls under this exception but that position was rejected by a majority of the court.

Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, said that lawmakers may need to step in. He said he does not think people should be able to take guns on college campuses. Thrasher was instrumental two years ago in blocking a proposal to allow guns to be openly carried on campus.

“If colleges can’t regulate guns we may need to change that,” Thrasher said.

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Published November 25, 2013

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Trouble with the HealthCare.gov site appears to be so widespread that the Obama administration has opened the door for Americans to circumvent the site altogether.

Under a plan announced Friday by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, the government would allow people to deal directly with insurance companies instead of through the federally run exchange website. The move comes as the administration’s self-imposed Nov. 30 deadline for fixing the site is just days away, and officials acknowledge it may not be fully operational by then.

The pilot program announced by CMS would initially launch for residents in Ohio, Florida and Texas, and is the latest effort to give users an alternative to the troubled site.

“This is one more way we are working to offer consumers a variety of ways to enroll in affordable coverage,” agency spokeswomen Julie Bataille said in announcing the pilot project. “By strengthening the multiple channels to enroll in quality, affordable coverage … we are ensuring that every American who wants it can gain access to these new coverage options.”

Bataille said that direct enrollment has “been there from the start.” But the option was limited by the website problems, which have been fixed to the extent that insurance companies can now send applications to the site to assess enrollees’ eligibility for coverage and potential discounts on premiums, she said.

Though the option could help Americans frustrated by the HealthCare.gov’s crashes, slow response times and other problems, it is another acknowledgement that the site probably will not be working for everybody by the administration’s Nov. 30 deadline.

Officials originally vowed to fix the site by then. As the extent of the site’s problems became apparent, officials lowered the bar on that goal — vowing instead to significantly improve the site by the end of the month.

White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that improvements to the site are on schedule, including faster response times, and that it should be able to handle 50,000 concurrent users.

“If there are more than 50,000 people trying to use the website, individuals can choose to receive an email from CMS when the traffic on the website has been reduced,” he said.

Administration officials have also been encouraging Americans to submit written applications, contact call centers or visit sign-up centers to enroll for insurance.

They continue to say the site will be working smoothly by the end of the month for “a vast majority of Americans.” And last week, they extended the enrollment deadline from Dec. 15 to Dec. 23 to get insurance coverage starting Jan. 1.

Americans, who are required to have insurance under the president’s 2010 health care law, must enroll by the end of March or face a tax penalty.

In another development, GoHealthInsurance.com announced Monday that it has become the first private insurer to integrate with the so-called Federal Data Service Hub — which includes IRS, citizenship and other personal information. So Americans can now use that as well to bypass the federal site and enroll in health plans under ObamaCare that kick in next year.

The company also said the process includes the capacity to calculate the subsidies.

As for the CMS announcement, Bataille said the pilot project will help improve the overall direct enrollment option because insurers and enrollees will provide federal officials with “detailed feedback on their experience.”

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Published November 18, 2013

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    Nov. 18, 2013: This image provided by the Seminole County Sheriff`s Office shows former neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman after he was arrested in Apopka, Fla. Authorities said they responded to a disturbance call at a house earlier in the day. (AP/SEMINOLE COUNTY SHERIFF`S OFFICE)

The man acquitted of criminal charges in the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin was arrested Monday after deputies responded to a disturbance call at a house in Florida, authorities said.

Former neighborhood watch volunteer George Zimmerman was being transported and booked into jail, according to a Seminole County Sheriff’s Office statement. Authorities provided few other details, and it was not immediately known what charge he faced. Messages for comment left by The Associated Press with the sheriff’s office were not immediately returned.

“Just when you thought you heard the last of George Zimmerman,” said neighbor Catherine Cantrell. She said she had twice seen a man who looked like Zimmerman get out of a truck that’s been in the driveway for nearly a month. The truck parked there Monday appeared to be the same one that reporters have seen Zimmerman drive previously. Read more . . .

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Published November 17, 2013

An Operation Desert Storm veteran is being fined $5,000 by his homeowners association and forced to dig up two trees he planted in front of his Florida home because the organization says the trees are too small.

“I love these trees,” 51-year-old Patrick Fitzgerald told WESH-TV. “To come back to this country after that time . . . it’s funny that I don’t have the right to plant a tree in front of my house. There’s something wrong there.”

Fitzgerald, who served during the first conflict in Iraq during the early 1990s, reportedly planted two Magnolia trees about a year ago in the grassy swatch abutting his front lawn that separates the sidewalk from the road.  He told ABCNews.com he planted the trees because he believed a surfeit of fertilizer was killing his other trees.

“I love these trees.”

The River Grove Homeowners Association, the volunteer body which oversees Fitzgerald’s 119-home, Merritt Island subdivision, meanwhile, reportedly says its regulations enforce an 8-foot minimum height on trees fronting the sidewalk, and permits homeowners only two trees in that location, as part of its overarching “treescape plan.”

“In this case, this particular homeowner already has two magnolia trees that are of size,” Seth Chipman, an attorney for the HOA, told the station. “And so the association is saying, ‘Look, you already have the two trees in the treescape plan, we don’t want tiny seedlings.’ That’s their prerogative.”

The year-long dispute has engendered bitter words and legal action, with Fitzgerald estimating he has thus far spent $2,000 to pay for a lawyer, as well as the formal mediation proceedings involving him and the HOA.

“Trust me, I didn’t want to spend almost $2,000 to protect two trees,” he reportedly said.

In the end, Fitzgerald says he will likely be forgiven the $5,000 in fines – which previously accrued at a rate of $100 per day – if he uproots the trees within 20 days. He told ABCNews.com he plans to replace his beloved Magnolia trees in pots sometime this weekend in order to avoid paying the penalty.

“All he had to do was move his trees 2 feet into the other side of his property,” the Board president reportedly said. “Yes, he has to take care of it.”

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The terrorists who attacked the Benghazi consulate last year knew the location of the safe room where Ambassador Chris Stevens and his security team sought shelter, according to a congressman who spoke for 90 minutes with the diplomatic security agent severely injured in the assault.

“He confirmed this – that it was a very well orchestrated, and well organized, almost a military operation, using military weapons and using military signals,” the late Florida Rep. Bill Young said after meeting diplomatic security agent David Ubben at Walter Reed Medical Center last summer, when both were patients there.

After Young’s death in mid-October, his widow, Beverly Young, gave Fox permission to use her husband’s comments about the Sep. 11, 2012 terrorist attack on the record.  The congressman had originally spoken to Fox on background last summer. Read more . . .

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May 5, 2013: A 3D printed gun created by Defense Distributed is successfully test fired by creator Cody Wilson. Wilson plans to put the blueprints for the gun online shortly.DEFENSE DISTRIBUTED

Federal law enforcement authorities are raising concerns new, futuristic 3-D printed guns made entirely out of plastic could pose a myriad of security threats across the U.S., as a law banning undetectable firearms is set to expire.

3-D industrial printers that can create plastic models and prototypes can make workable guns that can’t be picked up by metal detectors, and officials say they could pose a threat to countless government institutions, schools and other buildings.

A longtime ban on undetectable firearms is scheduled to expire Dec. 9 and two Democratic senators, Chuck Schumer of New York and Bill Nelson of Florida, have called for a ban on plastic guns. Rep. Steve Israel, D-N.Y., also has introduced legislation on the issue.

“The expiration of this law, combined with advances in 3-D printing, make what was once a hypothetical threat into a terrifying reality,” said Schumer. “We are actively exploring all options to pass legislation that will eliminate the problem.” Read more . . .

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Florida’s Republican-controlled House is expected on Thursday to keep intact the state’s contentious “stand your ground” law that has sparked protests in the wake of the shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

The House has scheduled a vote on a Democratic-backed measure that would repeal the 8-year-old law that allows the use of deadly force if someone believes their life is in jeopardy. Read more . . .

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Senators bicker over stand your ground laws . . .

Trayvon Martin’s mother told a panel of senators Tuesday that state stand your ground self-defense laws do not work and must be amended, reviving the politically charged gun control issue.

Democrats who hold majority power in the Senate and are trying to keep it supported Sybrina Fulton’s call. Republicans, led by Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas, said the matter should be left to the states that passed the laws. Read more . . .

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One year after Sandy, we’ve gone from ‘Born to Run’ to ‘Livin’ on a Prayer’

When Sandy hit the world was on our side. Governor Christie and President Obama hugged it out on the boardwalk.

Everyone from Bruce Springsteen to the Rolling Stones gave telethon shout-outs to the Shore.

The air was filled with hope.

In a year we’ve gone from “Born to Run” to “Livin’ on a Prayer.” Most money hasn’t made it past the boardwalk. Getting insurance claims paid has been a struggle, red tape and arcane rules have made relief funds a cruel joke and ruinous new insurance premiums threaten to kick us while we are down. Read more . . .

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