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32 New Laws Take Effect Today In Florida

32 New Laws Take Effect Today In Florida

Long-sought regulations on Florida’s commercial parasailing industry, along with a measure about crimes against unborn children, are among 32 laws that go into effect Wednesday. A number of the new laws, signed by Gov. Rick Scott after the 2014 legislative session, involve public-records exemptions, including one to allow some university boards to meet in private to discuss donors and research funding. But one of the highest-profile new laws (SB 320) was years in the making. Known as the “White-Miskell Act,” it requires commercial parasailing operators to log weather conditions before embarking, forbids operations during severe weather conditions, requires operators to be licensed by the U.S. Coast Guard and limits operations near airports. The law is named after Kathleen Miskell, a 28-year-old Connecticut woman who died in August 2012 after she fell from a harness while parasailing over the ocean off Pompano Beach, and Amber May White, a 15-year-old Belleview girl who died in 2007 after a line snapped on a parasail, resulting in her hitting the roof of a hotel. The industry came on board with the regulations at the urging of Senate President Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, after two Indiana teens were videotaped last summer as they were seriously injured parasailing in Panama City Beach. Another high-profile measure (HB 59) calls for people who attack pregnant women to be charged with crimes against unborn children, regardless of the term of pregnancy. In April, Sen. Eleanor Sobel, D-Hollywood, was among Democrats arguing the bill is vague and that a person could be charged if involved in a traffic crash in which a woman loses a pregnancy. However, Sen. Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, responded at the time that the proposal establishes a law similar to when a person commits DUI manslaughter. The bill was spurred by a Tampa woman who was tricked by an ex-boyfriend into taking a pill that caused her to have a miscarriage. For the year, lawmakers sent 255 bills to Scott, with just one getting vetoed: SB 392, which would have allowed the Florida Department of Transportation to raise speed limits on some highways by 5 mph. The majority of the laws, 158, including the budget, went into place July 1. Here are highlights of some of the other laws taking effect Wednesday: Sex offenses and human trafficking: — SB 526 and 528 include wide-ranging changes aimed at cracking down on sex offenders, including toughening sentences and strengthening registration and reporting requirements for offenders. The laws are part of a package of new laws targeting sexual predators and offenders, with two other laws, SB 522 and SB 524, going into effect July 1. — HB 989 increases felony penalties for people who live off the proceeds of others through prostitution or when crimes involve the trafficking of children. The measure also removes a statute of limitations for human trafficking violations, prohibits minors from working in adult theaters and requires adult theaters to verify the ages of all employees. The law also creates a new third-degree felony for those who permanently brand trafficking victims. Law enforcement: — HB 41 creates the Florida Law Enforcement Officers’ Hall of Fame. The law, requires space to be set aside in the first floor plaza of the Capitol for the hall, joining wall space used for the Florida Women’s Hall of Fame, Fallen Firefighters Wall of Honor, Florida Veterans’ Hall of Fame, Florida Civil Rights Hall of Fame, Florida’s Medal of Honor recipients, and the Florida Artists Hall of Fame. — HB 427 increases the penalty for burglars who cross county lines to commit break-ins. The law was crafted in response to the so-called “pillowcase burglars” in Martin County, where Sheriff William Snyder, a former state representative, noted an increase in people traveling Interstate 95 to break into homes and quickly flee to other counties. Education: — HB 485 increases penalties for teachers and other school authority figures who take advantage of students sexually. Public records: — HB 115 allows university direct-support organization boards to meet in private when they discuss donors or potential donors, proposals for research funding or plans for initiating or supporting research. Pharmacies: — HB 7077 sets registration requirements and standards for what are known as “compounding pharmacies” that are located in other states but sell medications in Florida. Those pharmacies, in general, create medications that are supposed to be tailored to the needs of individual patients. The law is aimed at preventing a repeat of a 2012 outbreak of fungal meningitis because of problems at a Massachusetts pharmacy. by Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida  Read More →

October 1, 2014 | Read the story »

Whistleblowers Risk Retaliation As Part Of Prison ‘Culture’

Whistleblowers Risk Retaliation As Part Of Prison ‘Culture’

Whistleblowers at a North Florida prison were punished by their bosses after exposing abuse of inmates, including an instance where one guard sprayed noxious chemicals into a prisoner’s mouth, according to an investigation by the state’s Commission on Human Relations. The Wakulla Correctional Institution case reveals a pattern that has re-emerged in recent months, as the embattled Florida Department of Corrections faces allegations that it has repeatedly ignored inmate abuse — and punished workers for revealing the truth. The 2011 Commission on Human Relations complaints — along with records of an investigation into corruption and fraud at Wakulla Correctional Institution — describe in detail the risks facing workers who try to shine light on wrongdoing within the beleaguered corrections agency and then nearly always become the subject of scrutiny themselves. Margaret Summers, a former worker at Wakulla Correctional Institution, and her assistant Anita Nichols were retaliated against for alleging that Megan Dillard, a former captain at the prison, ordered inmates to be attacked and falsified records to justify the use of force, the commission decided. The Department of Corrections settled the case in 2012, paying $25,000 each — a total of $100,000 — to Summers, Nichols and two former guards, Stephen Glover and Irenie Zurita, who were witnesses in their cases. “Punishment for disclosing wrongdoing is part of the culture within (the Department of Corrections). Any disclosures that go against respondent and staff are likely to be met with hostility and retaliation,” Commission on Human Relations senior attorney David Organes wrote in a fact-finding report in Nichols’ case on Dec. 20, 2011. “Disclosures of wrongdoing that eventually lead to internal investigations and criminal prosecution of high ranking staff can make retaliation even more likely to occur, and can involve retribution from higher ranking staff. Within (the department), whether a disclosure is considered protected or unprotected, retaliation is almost always certain.” Summers, now an investigator at the agency’s inspector general office, said attitudes toward whistleblowers haven’t changed in the three years since she was targeted by her superiors at the Wakulla institution after questioning an incident involving Dillard, at least four other guards and 10 inmates in 2011. “The average Joe, they can’t come forward. They can’t. Not only will they lose their living, they’ll be set up. They’ll be framed. They’ll be in danger. They could have an inmate go after that officer, and then when it goes out on the radio to respond, nobody comes,” Summers told The News Service of Florida. “For them, the decision to do the right thing is not as simple as right and wrong. It is, am I going to go home at the end of the day? Am I going to have a job to feed my family?” Department of Corrections Secretary Mike Crews, at the end of a summer-long crusade to clean up his embattled agency in the wake of reports of inmate abuse and corruption, admitted that Summers was treated unfairly. But he strongly objected to Organes’ characterization of a retaliatory ethos within the department. “I think that’s totally unfair to categorize every institution and our culture based on what you see in one, two or three cases,” Crews told The News Service of Florida on Tuesday. “It’s not unlike what we’ve seen happen in the last two-and-a-half months where you have people who want to categorize everybody who works in this department for the actions of a few people.” Crews took over as assistant secretary shortly before Summers and her cohorts settled with the department. Crews said he personally apologized to Summers, who worked as a disciplinary-report coordinator at the North Florida institution when she said she discovered that Dillard and a group of guards lied about the gassing of inmate Joshua Pullum and abuse of other prisoners. Dillard allegedly ordered a group of guards to randomly select about a dozen inmates — whom she later accused of trying to rape her — and retaliate against them after an unknown prisoner insulted her in March 2011, according to a Department of Corrections investigation. Former guard Andrew Gazapian allegedly emptied a can of chemicals in Pullum’s mouth, claiming that the spray was justified because the prisoner bit him. A medical examination later revealed that Gazapian bit himself. Dillard, Gazapian and two other guards were arrested for their roles in Pullum’s abuse, and Dillard was also charged with official misconduct for falsifying use of force reports. Dillard and Gazapian are awaiting trial. After she questioned Dillard’s account of what happened, Summers said her superiors at the prison tried to have her transferred out of the institution. She said those efforts were thwarted because Summers gave her findings to the inspector general’s office, which opened an investigation. Summers said she was instead transferred from her job reviewing records and ordered to supervise inmates, a potentially dangerous task because she lacked the cooperation of many of her co-workers. She said she was warned “not to irritate her superiors,” that incident reports she submitted were never filed, and that she was repeatedly written up for disciplinary infractions that never occurred. Summers said she eventually took a six-month leave of absence after senior staff at the prison and at the department pressured her to drop the investigation. In her complaint, Nichols said she was continuously harassed by her co-workers and superiors at the facility about 20 miles from Tallahassee and that “there was hardly a day where she was not targeted for some minor infraction and written up.” Nichols said she was the last to receive her equipment when arriving to work. She said she was not allowed to go to the bathroom without an escort. She lost her computer privileges, her requests to review video footage were denied and she was singled out for having “multi-colored” hair although other workers were not, according to the complaint. The retaliation did not stop after hours. The home and car of Glover and Zurita, who lived together, were vandalized. Their dogs were kidnapped and returned a week later — injured, according to Summers. Harming or killing pets, leaving dead animals in mail boxes, and breaking into homes and vehicles are common examples of retribution against prison workers who tell on their colleagues, according to Summers and other DOC investigators. During recent visits to each of the state’s prisons, the secretary encouraged staff to come forward and report wrongdoing. “I told them that, if you’re doing the right thing, there’s only one person in this agency that can fire you and that’s me. And I give you my word that, if you’re doing the right thing, you don’t have to worry about your job,” he said. But a lawyer representing four whistleblowers now under investigation by the agency disagreed. “It hasn’t changed at all. In fact, it’s getting worse. It’s clearly a pattern of practice. You can cut the head of the snake off but it doesn’t do anything. They can change secretaries of the department, but they’ll never change the culture,” said Steve Andrews, a lawyer representing four Department of Corrections investigators who filed a lawsuit this summer against Crews, Gov. Rick Scott’s Chief Inspector General Melinda Miguel and others. The suit alleges that the four investigators bringing the claim — Aubrey Land, David Clark, Doug Glisson and John Ulm — have faced retaliation for raising questions about the investigation into the death of inmate Randall Jordan-Aparo, who died two years ago after being gassed by guards. Miguel refused to grant the investigators whistleblower protections after they exposed an alleged cover-up involving Jordan-Aparo’s death at Franklin Correctional Institution. The four whistleblowers, who work for the Department of Corrections inspector general, are currently under investigation. Crews said the whistleblowers came under scrutiny based on complaints from outside the agency. The investigations were launched after a guard linked with covering up Jordan-Aparo’s death threatened to sue the department. “At the end of the day, they’ve taken action that they feel is in their best interest and appropriate. I respect that. There’s a process to go through to resolve that,” he said.”If we get to a point where there’s credible evidence and information that shows that they were in fact retaliated against or were treated disparagingly because of what they were doing in their minds, which was the right thing, then we’ll deal with those issues when we reach that point.” Crews has made cleaning up the agency a top priority in the wake of reports by The Miami Herald this spring about the death of Darren Rainey, a mentally ill inmate at Dade Correctional Institution who died after guards allegedly forced him to shower in scalding hot water as punishment two years ago. State and federal officials are investigating inmate deaths and corruption at numerous prisons. Crews has fired dozens of prison workers, established a “zero tolerance” policy for abuse and launched a website with limited information about the inmates who have died while incarcerated since 2000. But convincing guards in the close-knit prison community that it is safe to snitch on their peers will take time, Crews acknowledged. “I think the way that we finally start to get over this a little bit is that when people are willing to stand up and do the right thing is to make sure those people understand that they’re not going to be retaliated against. … Those are the kind of people, honestly, we need to be publicly recognizing for doing the right things,” he said. “What I can’t promise them is that if they’re willing to do that is that that’s going to make people like them or there’s not going to be instances where people are going to be ostracized. But I will promise them … that they don’t ever have to fear about retaliation or loss of their jobs or those types of things from this administration if they’re trying to do the right thing. And if we find out that we’ve got people out there intentionally doing those things and retaliating against them, then there will be consequences for those people, too, if we can prove that that happened.” by Dara Kim, The News Service of Florida  Read More →

October 1, 2014 | Read the story »


Rain Thursday, Friday; Lows In The 40’s By The Weekend?

Here is your official NorthEscambia area forecast: Wednesday A 20 percent chance of showers after 1pm. Patchy fog before 9am. Otherwise, partly sunny, with a high near 88. Calm wind becoming south around 5 mph in the afternoon. Wednesday Night Mostly cloudy, with a low around 69. South wind around 5 mph becoming calm in the evening. Thursday A 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly sunny, with a high near 89. Light and variable wind becoming south 5 to 10 mph in the morning. Thursday Night A 40 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Mostly cloudy, with a low around 71. South wind around 5 mph. Friday Showers and thunderstorms likely. Mostly cloudy, with a high near 87. South wind 5 to 15 mph becoming west in the afternoon. Winds could gust as high as 20 mph. Chance of precipitation is 60%. Friday Night A 20 percent chance of showers and thunderstorms. Partly cloudy, with a low around 57. Northwest wind around 10 mph. Saturday Sunny, with a high near 78. Northwest wind 5 to 10 mph. Saturday Night Mostly clear, with a low around 45. North wind around 5 mph. Sunday Sunny, with a high near 80. Sunday Night Mostly clear, with a low around 55. Monday Sunny, with a high near 84. Monday Night Mostly clear, with a low around 59. Tuesday Sunny, with a high near 85.  Read More →

October 1, 2014 | Read the story »


UF Report: Consumer Confidence Hits Post-Recession High

The state’s consumer confidence has reached a post-recession high, according to a University of Florida report released Tuesday On a scale from two to 150, confidence among Floridians sits at 83, a point higher than in August, and the highest mark since April 2007, according to a release from UF’s Survey Research Center in the Bureau of Economic and Business Research. The small monthly rise was seen across all ages and income levels, in part because gas prices have fallen and because of growth in the perception that now is a good time to buy big-ticket items such as cars and appliances. “While we are still about 10 points behind where we would like to be at this point in a recovery, confidence among Floridians is heading in the right direction,” Chris McCarty, director of the research center, said in a prepared statement. Similar to how the state’s unemployment rate has held relatively steady for most of the year, the consumer confidence mark has wavered most of the year in the high 70s and low 80s.  Read More →

October 1, 2014 | Read the story »

Middle School Football: Ernest Ward Beats Jay (With Photo Gallery)

Middle School Football: Ernest Ward Beats Jay (With Photo Gallery)

The Ernest Ward Eagles defeated the Jay Royals in middle school football Tuesday evening in Walnut Hill, 24-12. The EWMS Eagles will travel to Graceville Saturday night at 6 p.m. before hosting Excel on Thursday, October 9. For a photo gallery, click here. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.  Read More →

October 1, 2014 | Read the story »

Volleyball: Baker Sweeps Northview (With Photo Gallery)

Volleyball: Baker Sweeps Northview (With Photo Gallery)

In varsity action Tuesday evening,  Baker defeated Northview in three straight, 25-7, 25-20, 25-13. The Northview JV will host the Northview JV Tournament on Saturday, October 4. Both the varsity and junior varsity Lady Chiefs will be in action on Thursday, October 9 as they host Jay for Senior Night. For more photos, click here. Pictured: Northview at Baker. Photos by Kayleen Amerson for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.  Read More →

October 1, 2014 | Read the story »

Envision Escambia: Drainage Survey Results

A new Escambia County survey reveals what county residents thing about drainage in the county. The survey was the third in an “Envision Escambia 2028″ series. Two additional surveys — one regarding traffic calming and pedestrian safety and a second regarding residents’ satisfaction with public safety services – are now being conducted. Future surveys will ask questions about parks and recreation, libraries and natural resources. Envision Escambia 2028: Storm Water Drainage Question #1: First, tell us little about yourself. Where do you live? Twenty-eight percent of respondents to our third survey live north of Nine Mile Road, with almost 22 percent living between Cantonment and the Alabama state line. Over 17 percent of those who answered the survey lived south of SR 98 and west of Navy Boulevard to Innerarity. Nearly 11 percent lived in the area bounded by Palafox on the east, New Warrington Road on the west, Fairfield Drive on the north and Pensacola Bay on the south. Residents from Perdido Key and those living south of I-10, north of Brent Lane/Bayou Boulevard and between US 29 and Escambia Bay each represented almost nine percent of respondents. Residents in the following areas each represented just over 6.5 percent of those who took the survey: east of Pine Forest/south of I-10/west of Pensacola Boulevard/north of Michigan Avenue, south of Michigan Avenue/north of Cervantes/between Palafox and US 90, and east of Palafox/south of Bayou Boulevard/between Escambia Bay on the east and Pensacola Bay on the south. Residents of Downtown Pensacola comprised 4.35 percent of respondents. Residents living south of I-10, west of Pine Forest and north of Saufley Field Road were approximately two percent of those who answered the survey. Pensacola Beach was unrepresented. Question #2: How often do you experience standing water or ponding in your neighborhood? Every time it rains. = 22.22 percent Sometimes, if it has been raining frequently = 15.56 percent Rarely, only if it’s a major storm event = 35.56 percent Never, I do not experience standing water or ponding in my neighborhood = 20 percent Question #3: Have you ever experienced flooding in your home as a result of a weather event? Yes = 28.89 percent No = 71.11 percent Question #4: Please share with us the location of flooding and the severity of the flood damage as a result of a weather event. If you have never experienced flooding in or around your property, please select N/A. Flooding in the driveway or lawn/yard. No Damage = 0 percent Minor Clean Up = 63.64 percent Severe Damage = 27.27 percent Total Loss = 9.09 percent N/A = 0 percent Flooding inside the garage. No Damage = 9.09 percent Minor Clean Up = 54.55 percent Severe Damage = 36.36 percent Total Loss = 0 percent N/A = 0 percent Flooding that reached inside the house or residence. No Damage = 8.33 percent Minor Clean Up = 25 percent Severe Damage = 58.33 percent Total Loss = 8.33 percent N/A = 0 percent Question #5: Storm water management refers to engaging in practices to divert and/or store rainfall to protect property during periods of inclement weather. Between 2006 and 2014, Escambia County has used $45 million of Local Option Sales Tax funds to enhance and improve storm water systems throughout the County. Between now and 2017, an additional $17 million of Local Option Sales Tax will be spent on storm water drainage.  Please select which most accurately expresses your opinions regarding these statements. In the event of a 25-year flood, Escambia County drainage systems are designed to keep water in pipes, ponds and outfalls. An example of this type of an event was given as several days with heavy, periodic rain. In the event of a 100-year flood, Escambia County drainage systems are designed to divert water away from homes and force it to flow down the streets to bodies of water. Examples of recent 100-year flood events were given as April 2009 and June 2012. Given these examples, almost 42 percent of survey respondents said they felt that Escambia County drainage systems perform as designed in the event of a 25-year flood, while 58 percent said they felt it performed under design expectations. When asked about the County’s storm water drainage system performance in a 100-year flood, 21 percent of respondents said they thought it performed to design expectations and 78.5 percent said they performed under expectations. Question #5: Escambia County cannot responsibly finance a storm water drainage system that would not see breaches in the event of a 500-year flood like the April 29-30 event. I agree. There is a reduced cost to benefit ratio, and that it is not financially possible to guard against all disasters = 38.10 percent I disagree. It is important to protect as many people as possible from all possible outcomes = 38.10 percent Additional feedback included: “Doesn’t matter how much money you spend if drainage lacks common sense.” “It is completely possible to significantly reduce property damage through responsible and appropriate stormwater management.” “You can not always predict and be prepared for all natural disasters such as the April 29-30 flooding that occurred in Pensacola. Creeks & drainage ponds overflowing was unexpected to say the least.” “I agree that the April 29-30 event was unprecedented; however, continuous repetitive loss structures should be examined and expanding mitigation beyond the immediate area should be examined.” Question #6: When it rains, water must go somewhere. Traditional storm water management design has been focused on collecting storm water in piped networks and transporting it off site as quickly as possible, either directly to a stream or river, or to a large storm water management facility or basin. Water can also be diverted into a retention pond. Which of these methods, if any, do you feel is most effective? Sixty-four percent of survey respondents felt that piped storm water drainage systems were either very effective or effective and almost 24 percent said piped systems were somewhat effective. Almost 48 percent thought that construction of curbs and gutters was most effective, with an additional 40 percent saying they felt curbs and gutters were at least somewhat effective. Use of drainage ditches was thought to be somewhat effective to very effective by 76 percent of those who responded to the survey, while 80 percent felt retention ponds to be somewhat effective or higher. Question #8: On July 14, David Wagonner – an architect who helped develop the Greater New Orleans Urban Water Plan – spoke to residents at a joint City/County meeting on storm water drainage issues. His vision on storm water management focuses on approaches that rely less on pumping systems and more on integrating water into the infrastructure. With that in mind, what do you think are some of the best ways to improve our storm water systems? You may select more than one answer. 59.52 percent chose “Integrate water features into parks that will also serve as retention ponds.” 59.52 percent chose “Require more pervious areas in new residential and commercial developments.” 57.14 percent chose “Encourage construction of green features in neighborhoods.” 52.38 percent chose “Replace underground pipes to increase the amount of water these systems are able to carry. 26.19 percent chose “Build more retention ponds, but fence them in to protect children and others from drowning and other hazards.” Nearly 43 percent offered other suggestions. Among them: “Install drainage inforstructure (sic) before installing paved roads.” “Maintaining our current drainage infrastructure so that it does not become clogged or blocked with sediment or yard waste.” “We do not need any more retention ponds. The ones currently in place are effective, except in cases of exception such as the unusual flood in April 2014 or a hurricane, and retention ponds increase mosquitoes.” “I think it would benefit us to hold on to our water and let it clean naturally before it flows into a large body of water.” “Establish a plan to gradually shift from pipes and ponds towards a more natural stormwater plan that reduces unnecessary impervious area and keeps water closer to the location it originates.” “I believe in a more nature centered approach to drainage. Less piping and more natural features such as the rain gardens idea.” Question #9: If you selected any of the answers in the previous question, would you still support those efforts if doing so would come at an increased cost to residents and businesses either in terms of higher taxes or other public projects (such as roads, parks or public safety) not being completed? Yes, I would support efforts to enhance integrated water infrastructure no matter what the cost = 14.29 percent No, I would not support anything that raises my taxes or causes loss of service in other areas = 19.05 percent The best approach would be a combination of the two = 40.48 percent “Drainage should be top priority due to the increased frequency of flood events over the past few years.” “Stop allowing sub divisions to be build in low lying areas (swamp lands).” “I would rather see LOST money used for stormwater projects versus additional parks, libraries, or new fire stations.” “A compromise would be the best approach but special projects may require temporary funding measures which I may support.”  Read More →

September 30, 2014 | Read the story »

Florida Board Of Ed Approves Record Per Student Funding

Backing a pledge made by Gov. Rick Scott, the Florida Board of Education on Monday approved a proposed 2015-16 budget that includes record per-student funding for public schools. The proposal is an initial step in a months-long process that will end with lawmakers passing a state budget next spring. As he seeks re-election, Scott has called for the public-school funding formula to include $7,176 per student next year, the same number included in the Board of Education proposal Monday. The proposal would be a $232 per-student increase over the current year. Board of Education Chairman Gary Chartrand said the proposal includes “historic” levels of funding. “I think we all know this is an investment in our future,” Chartrand said. “It will pay dividends for Florida.” If approved by the Legislature, the $7,176 per-student total would top a previous high of $7,126 reached when former Republican Gov. Charlie Crist was in office. With Crist running as a Democrat this year to try to unseat Scott, education funding has become a heavily debated issue during the campaign. by The News Service of Florida  Read More →

September 30, 2014 | Read the story »

UF/IFAS Moves Closer In Quest For Peanut That Won’t Cause Allergic Reaction

A University of Florida scientist has moved one step closer to his goal of eliminating 99.9 percent of peanut allergens by removing 80 percent of them in whole peanuts. Scientists must eliminate peanut allergens below a certain threshold for patients to be safe, said Wade Yang, an assistant professor in food science and human nutrition and member of UF’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences. If Yang can cut the allergens from 150 milligrams of protein per peanut to below 1.5 milligrams, 95 percent of those with peanut allergies would be safe. It’s challenging to eliminate all peanut allergens, he said, because doing so may risk destroying peanuts’ texture, color, flavor and nutrition. But he said he’s using novel methods like pulsed light to reach an allergen level that will protect most people. Yang, whose study is published online in this month’s issue of the journal Food and Bioprocess Technology, cautioned that he has done peanut allergen experiments only in a laboratory setting so far. He hopes to eventually conduct clinical trials on animals and humans. Dr. Shih-Wen Huang, professor emeritus in the Department of Pediatrics and Head of the Pediatric Allergy Clinic at UF Health, is familiar with the UF/IFAS research. Huang outlined more steps in the peanut allergen research. “I am pleased to see their work is progressing well,” Huang said. “However, more challenges are waiting until the final products are accepted from the public, especially the patients with peanut allergies.” Two years ago, Yang was using his technique on peanut extract. He’s now testing it on the peanut itself. In his 2012 study, he removed up to 90 percent of the allergic potential from peanut protein extracts. “This process proves that pulsed light can inactivate the peanut allergenic proteins and indicates that pulsed light has a great potential in peanut allergen mitigation,” Yang said. About 1.9 million people, or 0.06 percent of U.S. residents, are allergic to peanuts, according to the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, part of the National Institutes of Health. Reactions can range from skin rashes to anaphylaxis, which can be fatal. Currently, the best way for those allergic to peanuts to stay safe is to avoid them, according to the NIH. Many people carry epinephrine injectors that help offset their allergy symptoms until they reach a hospital. Pictured: Wade Yang, left, an assistant professor in food science and human nutrition at UF/IFAS, used pulsed light to remove 80 percent of the allergens from a whole peanut. By doing so, he moves closer to his goal of eliminating 99.9 percent of allergens in peanuts. Courtesy photo for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.  Read More →

September 30, 2014 | Read the story »

One Charged In Early Sunday Morning Shooting In Escambia County

One person was arrested after a weekend shooting in Escambia County. The shooting happened in the parking lot of Gene’s Lounge off West Navy Boulevard about 2 a.m. Sunday.   The victim, Miequle Delorean Brock, 28, was transported to a local hospital with an apparent gunshot wound. The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office arrested 23-year-old Darius Devon Williams for resisting arrest, possession of a weapon and dealing in stolen property.  His bond was  set at $101,000. Additional charges related to the shooting area expected to be filed.  Read More →

September 29, 2014 | Read the story »

Northview Homecoming Parade Entry Deadline Is Tuesday; Homecoming Meal Available

The sixth annual Northview High School Homecoming Parade is Friday, and the deadline for entries is tomorrow. The parade will line up at noon and travel from Bratt Elementary School to Northview High.  Entries are being accepted now; there is no cost to enter. For a printable entry form, click here. Entries are due by Tuesday. Contact Perry Byars at (850) 327-6681 ext. 248 for more information. A homecoming meal will available Friday from 10 a.m. until 12:30 p.m. from the football concession stand to support the Tommy Weaver Scholarship Fund. The $7 meal will include a BBQ pork sandwich, chips, dessert and drink. Call in large orders by Wednesday to Perry Byars at (850) 327-6681 ext. 248 if 10 or more meals are desired. Meal prepared by Archie’s Catering Services. The Northview Chief’s homecoming game will kickoff at 7 p.m. on October 3 against the Jay Royals. Pictured: The 2013 Northview High School Homecoming Parade. NorthEscambia.com file photos, click to enlarge.  Read More →

September 29, 2014 | Read the story »

Learn More About Proposed Tax, New Santa Rosa Judicial Center At Jay Meeting

Residents in northern Santa Rosa County will have the chance Tuesday to learn more about a possible new judicial center. On the November general election ballot voters in Santa Rosa County will have the opportunity to decide if a proposed countywide one cent local option sales tax should be adopted to fund a new judicial center and if approved, where the new facility will be located through four ballot measures. A public meeting will he held Tuesday night at 6:00 at the Jay Community Center at 5259 Booker Street. The current Santa Rosa County Courthouse is located in downtown Milton. Built in 1927, the building size is no longer sufficient for all the necessary courthouse functions and the design of the building creates security issues for the public and staff. The parking, heating and cooling system, and telephone and computer network infrastructure are also no longer adequate for daily operations. Officials say a  new facility that can serve the county today, and up to 75 years in the future, is needed. Voters will be asked if they support a one percent local option sales tax for five years. Often referred to as a “one cent”sales tax, it would increase sales tax by one percent. If approved, the sales tax will be limited to five years. Voters will also have the opportunity to voice their preference for where a possible new judicial facility should be built. In three non-binding referendum items, voters have the option of voting yes or no for each of the three possible locations for a new facility: approximately seven acres next to the current courthouse in downtown Milton In excess of 15 acres on U.S. Highway 90 southwest of the Peter Prince Airport 22.46 acres on Hwy. 90 in Pea Ridge.  Read More →

September 29, 2014 | Read the story »

High School Football District Standings, Schedules

Here is a look at local high school football district standings, scores from last week, and Friday night’s schedule for Florida schools:  Read More →

September 29, 2014 | Read the story »

Don’t Want A $456 Ticket? Slow Down In School Zones

Zoom through the Ernest Ward Middle or Molino Park Elementary, or any other school zone at 45 mph and it will cost you … $456 to be exact. Make it 50 miles an hour, and you’ll be talking to a judge. School has been in session for over month now, and each day drivers continue to forget to slow down in school zones. And whether it is Ernest Ward, Molino Park or one of dozens of other schools, law enforcement is out often enforcing school zone speed limits. If you are caught speeding in a school zone, be prepared for a big hit on your wallet, not mention your vehicle insurance rates. Here is a list of fines if motorists are caught speeding in school zones in Escambia County: 1 – 9 mph over the speed limit: $156. 10 – 14 mph over the speed limit: $306. 15 to 19 mph over the speed limit: $406. 20 – 29 mph over the speed limit: $456. 30 plus mph over the speed limit: Mandatory court appearance. And if you fail to stop for a school bus that is loading or unloading students, that a $271 fine. Pictured: An Escambia County Sheriff’s deputy makes a traffic stop near Ernest Ward Middle School in Walnut Hill after the driver was clocked speeding in the school zone. NorthEscambia.com  photo, click to enlarge.  Read More →

September 28, 2014 | Read the story »

Florida Gov’t Weekly Roundup: It’s Fall, But The Politics Are Only Getting Hotter

Summer officially ended Monday, and the temperature seemed to drop in Tallahassee. It wasn’t cool, per se, but at least going outside wasn’t walking into a skin-melting blast furnace. But even as the weather cooled, two long-running dramas heated up. At Florida State University, a controversial and at times bumbling presidential search finally settled on the man many assumed would get the job all along: Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine. And in the governor’s race, supporters of incumbent Gov. Rick Scott and Democratic candidate Charlie Crist traded charges of dirty tricks in one of the nation’s most closely-watched contests. Crist’s campaign and its Democratic allies slammed the Republican Party of Florida for allegedly spying on a fundraiser, while Scott and the state GOP accused Democratic National Committee Chairwoman and Florida Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz of crossing the line with comments that seemed to compare Republican policies to domestic abuse. Neither story is likely to die down anytime soon. Thrasher is still technically running for re-election — his appointment doesn’t become official until it’s approved by the state university system’s Board of Governors — and the election that will end the governor’s race remains more than a month away. PRESIDENT THRASHER (FINALLY) In 2012, Thrasher, a former House speaker, took part in what amounted to a palace coup that would have moved up his potential presidency of the Senate. The effort failed, though, and Thrasher faced the prospect of serving out the last four years of his tenure with little to no chance of leading the chamber. But the influential senator will still get the title of president, this time as the head of his alma mater. The Florida State University Board of Trustees voted 11-2 on Tuesday to give the job to Thrasher, who had long been seen as the front-runner for the position. In addition to the perks of the job — like free admission to football games played by his beloved Seminoles — Thrasher now faces the challenge of moving the institution forward while winning the support of large portions of the faculty and student body who opposed him. “This is the scary choice, not the safe choice,” Faculty Senate President Gary Tyson, who sits on the board, told his fellow trustees Tuesday. Others also expressed concerns that Thrasher wouldn’t live up to the expectations that he could increase the Legislature’s support for the school or that his political fundraising skills wouldn’t translate to the need to raise money for academia. One opponent called the search process “sketchy,” one labeled Thrasher an “overlord,” another said the trustees were announcing support for athletics over academics, and one even threatened, “We will make John Thrasher’s life here at Florida State a living hell.” Thrasher stayed away from any premature celebrations, given that the Board of Governors has to approve his candidacy — though that is largely expected to be a formality. He was also beginning to reach out to those who opposed him or ran against him for the presidency, from Tyson to FSU Provost Garnett Stokes, who has served as interim president. EXIT FROM POLITICS Following the suggestion of trustees, Thrasher resigned Wednesday from his role as chairman of Scott’s re-election effort. But he declined to give up his own bid for another term in the Senate, pointing to the fact that he wasn’t officially the president of FSU yet. The decision also avoids a process that would allow local Republican leaders to choose a replacement candidate for Thrasher, as would have been the case if Thrasher stepped down immediately. Instead, a special election will be held next year to fill the seat, assuming Thrasher wins in November. “I think I probably ought to prevail in the (November) campaign, and then if I’m successful the day after with the Board of Governors, then I can submit my resignation and allow the governor to call a special election,” Thrasher said. “That way the person, whoever it is, can be vetted by the voters. This is for a four-year term in the Florida Senate. It’s a big deal in my opinion.” In the opinion of a few House members as well, who will be able to run in the special election but wouldn’t have been eligible under state law to run for the Senate seat in November if Thrasher had left right away. Some legislators are already saying they would be interested in running in a special election. “If that happens, I would certainly be considering it strongly,” said Rep. Ronald “Doc” Renuart, a three-term Republican from Ponte Vedra Beach. Rep. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, said he would also take a look at running. “I would like to get with my community and make sure it’s the right thing,” said Hutson, a House freshman unopposed in his bid for re-election. And Derek Hankerson, who drew a little less than 30 percent of the vote against Thrasher in this year’s Republican primary, said he would jump into the race as well. Hankerson filed paperwork this week to set up a campaign for the 2018 elections, which could be converted to an account for the special election once it’s announced. ‘NIXONIAN’ VS. ‘WILDLY INSULTING’ There have been times that it seemed unlikely that the race between Scott and Crist could get any nastier — but both campaigns seem to view that kind of thinking as a challenge. This week, things took another step down and into some bizarre territory. Democrats accused GOP staffers of filming people who arrived at a fundraiser for Crist held at Florida Democratic Party Chairwoman Allison Tant’s home. The allegations, reported by the Associated Press, also included charges that Republicans had taken pictures of the license plates of those in attendance. It’s not entirely clear what Republicans were hoping to accomplish, given that a list of everyone who contributes to Crist’s campaign is a regularly updated public record. In a media availability Friday, Tant ripped into the GOP over the incident, calling it “Nixonian” and “Orwellian” and using other, only slightly less colorful adjectives. “In America, we get to take a stand — with our voices, with our presence and with our dollars — for whom we choose to support without any kind of dictatorial backlash for doing that,” Tant said. Coincidentally or not (read: probably not), footage soon emerged on the political blog of the Tampa Bay Times and Miami Herald showing Wasserman Schultz saying that Scott “has given us the back of his hand.” The remarks, made about a month ago, bore a striking resemblance to Wasserman Schultz’s complaint about Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker, though in that case she said Walker “has given women the back of his hand.” Wasserman Schultz apologized for the earlier incident. Asked during her Friday availability about the remarks regarding Scott, Tant said she agreed with Wasserman Schultz’s earlier comments during the Walker brouhaha that the national chairwoman wouldn’t use those words again. Tant addressed the comments a few minutes after her counterpart, Republican Party of Florida Chairwoman Leslie Dougher, called for Tant and Crist to condemn Wasserman Schultz’s “wildly insulting” statement. “Her comments are especially heartless because Rick Scott’s mother was going through a divorce from an abusive husband when the governor was born. … To suggest that Rick Scott gives women the ‘back of his hand’ not only grossly mischaracterizes the governor, it treats actual domestic violence victims as pawns in a political game,” Dougher said in a statement issued Friday. STORY OF THE WEEK: Sen. John Thrasher, R-St. Augustine, was selected by the Florida State University Board of Trustees to become the school’s next president, all but assuring that he will get the job. QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “Mr. Scott and Mr. Crist are both looked at, meehhhh, by voters in a less than complimentary way.”– Peter Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac University Poll, on a survey showing low personal marks for both major-party candidates for governor. by Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida  Read More →

September 28, 2014 | Read the story »

Four Injured In Highway 29 Crash In Molino

Four people were injured in a two-vehicle crash Saturday afternoon on Highway 29 in Molino. The wreck happened about 3:40 p.m. on Highway 29 just north of Molino Road when two northbound vehicles collided. None of the injuries were considered serious. Three people were transported by Escambia County EMS to Atmore Community Hospital, and one was transported to West Florida Hospital. The resulting crash closed northbound Highway 29 for about an hour as traffic was diverted onto Molino Road and Highway 95A. The accident remains under investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol. Further details, including names, have not yet been released. The Molino Station of Escambia Fire Rescue and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office also responded to the crash. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.  Read More →

September 27, 2014 | Read the story »

Suspicious Vehicle Fire Under Investigation

A suspicious vehicle  fire early Saturday morning in Molino is under investigation. A nearby resident noticed smoke about 2 a.m. from the burned out vehicle on Fairground Road. Arriving firefighters reported the vehicle was on the roadway and had previously been fully involved. The Molino Station of Escambia Fire Rescue and the Escambia County Sheriff’s Office responded. Further details were not available.  Read More →

September 27, 2014 | Read the story »

FEMA Set To Pay Escambia County About $10 Million For Flood Damage

The numbers are in from the federal government on the April floods and how much they are willing to pay local governments for repairs to public infrastructure such as roads and bridges. FEMA and the State Division of Emergency Management have been conducting evaluations to determine just how much damage was caused the floodwaters. The Division of Emergency Management issued a report with a preliminary estimate of how much money counties across the panhandle might receive. Local governments are required to provide a 25 percent match. The FEMA allocation for Escambia County comes in at $9,965,177.53 with a local match of $3,321,725.84 required. The federal allocation for Santa Rosa County is $2,195,342.63 with a non-federal local match of $765,342.63 required. NorthEscambia.com reader submitted file photo.  Read More →

September 27, 2014 | Read the story »

Tate Bounces Back For OT Win Over Pine Forest (With Photo Gallery)

Tate Aggie fans that left Pine Forest High early Friday night really missed out. Down 26-12 with six minutes to go in the game, the Aggies rallied for a nail-biting 33-32 overtime win over the Pine Forest Eagles. Running back Alondo Thompkins, a junior, scored a couple of touchdowns — six and five yards — late in the game for the tie.  He also earned the OT points for the Aggies, in from 10 yards out. Chase Seibert was 3-3 on the accompanying extra point kicks. The Aggies overtime win came as Pine Forest scored, went for two and fumbled the snap. Earlier in the game, Tate scored in the first on a nine-yard pass from Sawyer Smith to Bradley Trambley and a good kick from Seibert for a 7-0 lead. Moments later, the Aggies added a couple on a forced safety. The Aggies were scoreless in the second and had the only points of the third quarter on a 33-yard field goal from Seibert. For a photo gallery, click here. The win over Pine Forest was the second in a row for Tate, which snapped a nine-game losing streak to the Eagles last year. Tate (4-1) will travel to Niceville next Friday night in their first district game of the season.  Read More →

September 27, 2014 | Read the story »

Fire Marshal: Lamp Sparked Apartment Fire; Multiple Units Condemned

The Florida State Fire Marshal’s Office says a lamp in an upstairs apartment sparked a blaze Wednesday at the Briarwood Condominiums on East Olive Road. Now, eight units have been condemned as a result of the blaze, forcing people to find a new place to live. And there are no other available units in the complex. There were no injuries in the blaze. Reader submitted photo for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.  Read More →

September 27, 2014 | Read the story »

Northview Falls To Choctaw

The 1A Northview Chiefs stepped up multiple classes Friday night to take on the Class 6A Choctaw Indians on the road. And the Chiefs lost again this year by the same 35 point margin as last year. The Indians  topped the Chiefs 42-7 in Fort Walton Beach Friday night after shutting them out 35-0 last year in Bratt. Choctaw took a 13-0 lead in the first quarter. Early in second, Northview quarterback Gavin Grant found Nick Lambert for a 54-yard touchdown to make it 13-7. The Northview defense held the Indians scoreless in the second. After an 80-yard drive from their own nine-yard line, the Chiefs’ Chasen Freeman attempted but missed a 28-yard field goal with less than two seconds in the half. The Indians scored an unanswered 29 points in the second half for the win. Choctaw held Northview to  183 yards, 81 rushing, on the night. Northview, ranked third in Class 1A, was 3-0 headed into Friday night’s contest. Now 3-1, the Chiefs (3-1) will be back in Bratt next Friday night for Homecoming as they host the Jay Royals (2-2)  in the district opener for both teams. Jay is coming off a 54-14 win Friday night over a visiting McIntosh, AL, team.  Read More →

September 27, 2014 | Read the story »

Weekend Gardening: Now’s The Time To Plant Onions

by the Santa Rosa Extension Service Onions are sold in every grocery store, served at many meal and featured at sporting events across the United States. Onions are everywhere. If you’ve ever wanted to try to grow them, now is the time to plant. Edible onions have been cultivated for so long that it is difficult to trace their origin. Onions were first introduced to America around the turn of the century when a retired French soldier brought some onion seeds from Corsica to the Walla Walla region of the Pacific Northwest. But it wasn’t until the farmers in Georgia realized what a special thing they had in the Vidalia onion and began spreading the news that the sweet onion finally got the attention it deserves. Onions have different requirements as to the number of hours of daylight required for bulb formation. The types that require 15 to 16 hours of light daily are referred to as “long day” varieties and not adapted for the South. Types that grow best in Florida are the “short-day” varieties. They must be started in the fall so that bulbing is induced by the short days of winter. However, the subsequent harvest of bulbs follows in the spring or early summer. Onions are often grouped according to taste (mild and strong flavored), color (white, yellow, and red) and use (storage or freshly eaten). Some suggested bulbing onion varieties for Florida include Excel, Texas Grano, Granex, White Granex and Tropicana Red. Yellow onions are gardeners’ most popular choices. Granex 33 is the early Texas hybrid grown in Vidalia, Georgia. Texas Grano 1015Y Aggie Sweet produces a large, mild bulb that is very sweet under the right growing and soil conditions. The Texas Grano 502 is well known for large, mild bulbs with fair storage potential. Onions are grown either from seed, sets (tiny immature bulbs) or transplants. The planting method selected is based on cost, use, availability, and planting ease. Onions grown from sets do not make the best bulbs, and are rather costly. Specific onion varieties are usually not available. They are sold simply as red, white, or yellow onion sets. Since the variety is unknown, the flavor, use, and keeping quality of onions grown from sets varies considerably. Avoid sets more than an inch in diameter, as they are likely to bolt. Late plantings are more susceptible to cold or freeze injury. Planting too early can result in increased seed stem production. Growing onions from seed may be the most difficult planting method. However, it is the least expensive and offers the greatest variety. Germination may be sporadic and plant growth can be slow. Be aware that onion seed does not remain viable long, and should not be planted when more than one year old. In North Florida, onions can be started between mid-September and mid-November. Onion seed can be planted directly in the garden or in flats. Sow eight to 12 seeds per foot of row ½ to one inch deep. If larger bulbs are desired, thin to a final spacing of four to six inches apart. Set out transplants from late December through February. Plants should be about 6 inches high and about half the thickness of a lead pencil at the time of transplanting. Set plants with the bottom of the plant about 1 to 1½ inch below the surface of the soil. Transplants should be spaced 3 to 4 inches apart in the row. Onions have a shallow, poorly developed root system, so regular fertilization and watering are essential. Inconsistent watering may lead to splits, doubles and small bulbs. Fertilize the crop monthly with a nitrogen fertilizer. Be sure to keep the fertilizer from contacting the plants directly. Good weed control is a must. Since young onions are small and grow slowly at first, they can be taken over by weeds that reduce yield. Look out for diseases before they become established. Leaf blight diseases can seriously reduce yields. Monitor for insects twice each week, and use appropriate management techniques. Contact your local Extension Office for the latest information on pest management recommendations.  Read More →

September 27, 2014 | Read the story »

High School Football Finals

Here are high school football finals from around the area Friday night. FLORIDA Choctaw 42, Northview 7 Tate 33, Pine Forest 32 OT Jay 54, McIntosh (AL) 14 Bay 42, Gulf Breeze 34 Navarre 42, Milton 7 Pace 58, Madison County 37 Jesuit (LA) 49, PHS 17 Catholic 49, Rutherford 28 Thursday: Bay 42, Gulf Breeze 34 Freeport 26, Graceville 26 OPEN: West Florida, Escambia, Washington, Niceville ALABAMA W.S. Neal 81, Calhoun 13 T.R. Miller 58,  Escambia County (Atmore) 20 Escambia Academy 41, Hooper Academy 0 OPEN: Flomaton  Read More →

September 27, 2014 | Read the story »

Perdido Man Killed In Wreck Near Jay

A Perdido man was killed in a single vehicle wreck early Friday morning east of Jay. Robert Allen Spears, 23, was traveling north on Highway 87 just north of Highway 4 in a 2008 Ford Mustang that left the roadway, hit a utility pole guy wire and then struck a large tree at 4:27 a.m., according to the Florida Highway Patrol. Spears was not wearing a seat belt, the FHP said. He was pronounced deceased at the scene. There were no other passengers in the vehicle.  Read More →

September 26, 2014 | Read the story »

212 Million Peanut Butter Sandwiches: Escambia Peanut Harvest Underway

The peanut harvest is underway in Escambia County. According to the Farm Service Agency, there were 7,062 acres of peanuts planted this season in Escambia County — about enough to make 212 million peanut butter sandwiches. The current prices to the farmer is about $425 per ton. “That is not nearly where farmers would like it to be,” said Libbie Johnson, Escambia County extension agent. Chad Helton, manager of Tri County Peanut near Huxford, AL, said the quality of this year’s crop has been good so far. He said a few peanuts did not grade well due to unfavorable conditions, and yields are variable because some farmers needed more than than they received. After a dry period, Johnson said farmers a looking forward to some rain this weekend to make it easier to dig their peanuts. The peanut harvest, along with the upcoming cotton harvest, also means an increase in the amount of large farm machinery on the roadways. “I’d also like to remind those driving in North Escambia to be ever mindful of our farmers moving equipment on the roads.  Please be patient and cautious.  Maneuvering farm equipment is no easy feat,” Johnson said. Pictured: Peanuts being harvested near Walnut Hill. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.  Read More →

September 26, 2014 | Read the story »

Minor Injuries In Deputy-Involved Wreck In Ensley

There were no serious injuries in a traffic crash involving an Escambia County deputy Thursday morning in Ensley. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 24-year old Justin Lee Harris of Pensacola was in the median of Highway 29 at Hannah Street when he pulled his 2005 Chrysler 300 directly into the path of Deputy Darren James Robinson, 39, was was northbound on Highway 29. Harris and Robinson were both transported to Sacred Heart Hospital with minor injuries. Three passengers in Harris’ vehicle were not injured. Photos by Andrew McKay, NewsRadio 1620 for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge.  Read More →

September 26, 2014 | Read the story »

Escambia Approves New Budget Without Tax Increase

The Escambia County Commission has approved a $385 million for the 2014-2015 fiscal year, up $20 million from the current fiscal year. The increase, officials said, comes from increased property values, and there won’t be an increase in millage rates. The budget included $750,000 to hire 15 new deputies requested by Sheriff David Morgan, and 3-per cent cost of living raise for all county employees.  Read More →

September 26, 2014 | Read the story »

Photos: Ernest Ward Eagles Host The SF Toros

The Ernest Ward Middle School Eagles hosted the Spanish Fort (AL) Toros Thursday night in Walnut Hill. The Toros topped the Eagles 42-20. Ernest Ward will host Jay Tuesday evening at 6:00. For more photos, click here. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge.  Read More →

September 26, 2014 | Read the story »

DJJ Challenged Over Ending Contract With Controversial Provider In Santa Rosa County

A company that operates residential facilities for juvenile offenders has challenged a decision by the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice to terminate a contract in Santa Rosa County and prevent the firm from bidding on other contracts. The challenge, filed by Youth Services International, Inc., was sent this week to the state Division of Administrative Hearings. Youth Services has had contracts to operate nine juvenile facilities in Florida, including the Santa Rosa Substance Abuse Treatment Center. But in an August 20 letter, the Department of Juvenile Justice terminated the Santa Rosa contract and prevented Youth Services from seeking other contracts for 12 months, saying the firm had not taken adequate steps at the Santa Rosa facility to “provide a safe and secure therapeutic environment for our youth.” But in the legal challenge, Youth Services disputes the department’s position. In part, the company pointed to department decisions to transfer juveniles to the Santa Rosa facility from another facility in Madison County that was closed after “significant disruptions.” It said several of the youths transferred from the Madison facility caused problems and were involved in an August 16 incident that involved destroying property and altercations between residents. “YSI (Youth Services International) appropriately handled the events by intervening between the participants and calling law enforcement,” the company said in the legal challenge. “After reviewing the video tapes, law enforcement arrested eight of the individual youth involved.” by The News Service of Florida  Read More →

September 26, 2014 | Read the story »

State Board Looks To Boost Per-Student Education Funding

The Florida Board of Education on Monday is expected to consider a proposed 2015-16 legislative budget request that would mirror Gov. Rick Scott’s pledge to increase per-student funding to the highest level in state history, according to board documents posted online. The budget request, which is a first step in a process that will end with lawmakers approving a spending plan next spring, calls for the public-school funding formula to include $7,176 per student, the same number Scott proposed last month. Scott is using the pledge in his re-election campaign against Democratic candidate Charlie Crist, a former Republican governor. The $7,176 amount would top a previous high of $7,126 achieved while Crist was in office. Among other issues in the proposed budget request, the Department of Education would not seek a tuition increase at state colleges. Scott also has made a priority of holding down tuition. The Board of Education will meet Monday in Tampa. by The News Service of Florida  Read More →

September 26, 2014 | Read the story »

Researchers Identify Two Boys Who Died At Old Dozer Reform School

University of South Florida researchers on Thursday announced the identification of two sets of remains found at the site of a former Northwest Florida reform school. The decades-old remains were of Thomas Varnadoe, who died at age 13, and Earl Wilson, who died at 12. They were the second and third children whose remains were identified after being recovered from graves at the former Arthur G. Dozier School for Boys in the Jackson County town of Marianna. University researchers began exhumations last year after questions arose about whether boys suffered abuse and died at the school, with their bodies buried in unmarked graves. “There is closure for three families,” U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said. “I suspect there will be closure for many more in the near future.” In January, the researchers announced they had exhumed 55 sets of remains from the school grounds. Last month, they announced they had identified the remains of George Owen Smith, who went to Dozier at age 14 in 1940 and was never seen by his family again. Nelson credited Varnadoe’s nephew, Glen Varnadoe of Polk County, for filing a lawsuit to prevent the state from selling the now-closed school site until researchers from the university could search the grounds. The state hopes to sell the 1,400-acre Dozier site eventually, a move that has been put on hold by the investigation. In September 2013, Gov. Rick Scott and the state Cabinet gave the research team a one-year window to search the site for more unaccounted-for bodies. “I am overwhelmed that we have achieved the goal we originally set of removing him from a place of atrocity-laden soils,” Varnadoe said of his uncle. Thomas Varnadoe was sent to Dozier in September 1934 and died 34 days after being admitted, according to information from the university. His death certificate said the youth died of pneumonia. Ultimately, researchers matched the DNA of Thomas Varnadoe and his brother, Richard. Wilson was admitted to Dozier in August 1944 and later was moved with eight other students to a cottage known as the “sweat box,” the university said in information released Thursday. Court documents indicated Wilson was killed by four of the students and that the cause of death was listed as blunt trauma to the head. The university said researchers found Wilson’s grave in an area of the Dozier site where marked crosses had been ceremoniously placed during the 1990s. The university said the crosses did not accurately reflect the location of grave shafts or the number of bodies buried in the vicinity. Wilson’s DNA was matched with DNA collected from his sister, Cherry Wilson of Lakeland. She and three other relatives also participated in a press conference Thursday in Tampa. Also on hand was state Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, to whom Varnadoe had turned for help. “I couldn’t believe that was something that could happen in this state,” Stargel said. The researchers are still trying to locate family members to help identify other sets of remains. “There are still a lot of mysteries out there,” Nelson said. “The investigation, really, has just begun.” by Margie Menzel, The News Service of Florida  Read More →

September 26, 2014 | Read the story »