Suspect Used Girlfriend As Shield From Gunfire; Piggly Wiggly Robbery Unclear
Law enforcement officials in several states are still piecing together the story of a Missouri couple that was dubbed by the national media and federal authorities as a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde. But one piece of the puzzle that has not fallen into place just yet is the Wednesday robbery of the Piggly Wiggly grocery [...]
A Very Special Mardi Gras Parade (With Photo Gallery)
A very special Mardi Gras parade was held Friday morning for the special needs students of Escambia Westgate School.
With plenty of beads, Moon Pies, stuffed animals and smiles, the parade rolled through the school parking lot for sudents that might not otherwise be able to attend a regular Mardi Gras [...]
‘Bonnie and Clyde’ Suspect Killed, Ending Multi-State Crime Spree
A Missouri couple dubbed a modern-day Bonnie and Clyde went down in a barrage of gunfire early Friday morning in Santa Rosa County. Blake Fitzgerald was pronounced deceased at the scene; Brittany Nicole Harper was reportedly shot in the legs and was transported by LifeGuard EMS to an area hospital, according to federal authorities.
Both were [...]
Northview Chiefs Honor Football Best During Banquet
The Northview Chiefs honored the best of their 2015 season Thursday night during their annual football banquet.
Pictured top: The Chief Award was presented to Jared Aliff and Dustin Bethea.
(Scroll down for additional awards listed below photos.)
Offensive Awards were presented to Hunter Cofield, Luke Ward and Tony Harris.
Defensive Awards were presented to Zachary Hollad, Jacob Weaver [...]
Getting Out Of A Tight Space: Confined Space Rescue Training
Escambia County Fire Rescue first responders learned about getting out of a tight spot — a really tight spot – during training held at Ascend Performance Materials in Cantonment.
Members of Escambia County Fire Rescue’s Special Operations team from Brent’s Station 3 and “Ladder 12″ from the Osceola Fire Station worked their way through the training, [...]
The Way we Worked: Smithsonian Institution Traveling Exhibit Coming To Molino
“The Way we Worked”, a Smithsonian Institution traveling exhibition, is coming to the Molino Museum next month.
The Way We Worked, adapted from an original exhibition developed by the National Archives and Records Administration, explores how work has become a central element in American culture. It traces the many changes that have affected the workforce and [...]
Health Emergency Declared: Zika Case Confirmed In Santa Rosa County
A case of the Zika has been confirmed in Santa Rosa County, bringing the total number of travel-related cases to nine that have been reported in Florida. Wednesday, Gov. Rick Scott declared a public health emergency in Santa Rosa County due to the Zika virus.
Six of the cases are new this week. Travel-related cases are [...]
Federal, State Agencies Raid Pharmacies In Jay, Pace, Pensacola
State and federal agencies raided three pharmacies in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties Tuesday morning — one in Jay, one in Pace and one in Pensacola.
A spokesperson for the FBI confirmed that the FBI was assisting the U.S. Attorney’s Office and other agencies in a raid at the Jay Pharmacy in the Jay Medical Complex, [...]
Woman Charged In Fiery DUI Crash
An Escambia County woman has been charged in connection with a fiery DUI crash on North Davis Highway.
According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 53-year old Kathryn Pearson on Pensacola was traveling northbound on North Davis Highway near the intersection of Copter Road when she failed to slow or stop and eared-ended a 2006 Pontiac Grand [...]
Nine Mile Dollar General Robbed At Gunpoint
The Escambia County Sheriff’s Office is searching for a suspect in the armed robbery of Dollar General Store on Nine Mile Road Monday night.
The Dollar General at 100 East Nine Mile Road was robbed at gunpoint just before 10 p.m. The suspect pointed a gun at the clerk and escaped with an undisclosed amount of [...]
Other Top Stories:
Sunny And Cool Saturday
Here is your official North Escambia area forecast: Saturday: Sunny, with a high near 56. North wind around 5 mph. Saturday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 30. North wind around 5 mph. Sunday: Sunny, with a high near 58. North wind around 5 mph becoming west in the afternoon. Sunday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 36. West wind around 5 mph. Monday: Mostly sunny, with a high near 55. West wind 5 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph. Monday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 29. Northwest wind around 10 mph. Tuesday: Sunny, with a high near 46. Northwest wind 10 to 15 mph, with gusts as high as 20 mph. Tuesday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 29. West wind 5 to 10 mph. Wednesday: Sunny, with a high near 55. Wednesday Night: Clear, with a low around 36. Thursday: Sunny, with a high near 60. Thursday Night: Mostly clear, with a low around 41. Friday: Sunny, with a high near 65. Read More →
FWC Law Enforcement Report
The Florida FWC Division of Law Enforcement reported the following activity during the weekly period ending February 4 in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. ESCAMBIA COUNTY Officer Cushing was conducting fisheries inspections at the Bayou Texar Boat Ramp when he encountered some individuals pulling their vessel out of the water. When asked how their day was, they stated that they had a good day and had caught an assortment of fish. Officer Cushing boarded the vessel and just prior to opening the cooler, the owner stated that they had three greater amberjack. When asked what the size limit was on greater amberjack, the owner responded 34 inches to the fork. Two of the greater amberjack measured under 34 inches and the owner of the boat was issued a notice to appear for possession of undersized greater amberjack. SANTA ROSA COUNTY Officer Hutchinson was working an area where he received complaints of illegal night hunting activity. While working the area late at night, he observed a truck slow down while approaching a field. He observed a spotlight being shined from the cab of the truck into the field and then into a group of trees. He conducted a traffic stop on the vehicle and made contact with the driver. The driver said that he was looking for deer and admitted to having a rifle in the truck. Officer Hutchinson observed a loaded hunting rifle lying in the driver seat between the driver and the center console. He continued his search of the vehicle and discovered an ice chest on the back of the truck with deer meat in it. When questioned about the deer meat, the man informed Officer Hutchinson that it was from a cow horn buck that he shot a few days ago. Officer Hutchinson followed him to his residence where he determined that the man had shot an illegal antlered deer. The man was charged with night hunting, taking an illegal antlered buck, and driving with a suspended license. Officer Hutchinson received information that a man had possibly shot an illegal deer the previous day. He located the man, and after being questioned, the man admitted to shooting a deer the day before and that the deer was not a legal sized antlered deer. After measuring the antlers, Officer Hutchinson confirmed that the antlers did not meet the minimum required length. The man was charged with taking an illegal antlered buck and hunting without a valid hunting license. Officer Hutchinson received information that a man had an illegal deer carcass hanging inside of his barn. Officer Hutchinson located the subject at his residence and questioned him about the deer. The subject said that his younger sister shot the deer, a small spike. Officer Hutchinson questioned him about the antlerless deer that he received information about the subject shooting. The subject claimed his younger sister shot it also. Officer Hutchinson measured the antlers and confirmed that the antlers length did not meet the minimum required length. After further questioning, the subject admitted to shooting both of the illegal deer. He showed Officer Hutchinson the deer meat from one of the deer which was inside an ice chest without any ice or water on it and spoiled. Officer Hutchinson also discovered that the carcass was dumped in a public park. Warrants were obtained charging the subject with taking an illegal antlered buck, taking an antlerless deer out of season, wanton and willful waste of a game animal and hunting without a valid hunting license. Officer Land received a complaint of a vehicle parked in a closed area within the Eglin Wildlife Management Area (WMA) and the occupants of the vehicle possibly hunting. Officer Land arrived in the closed area and observed a vehicle matching the description given in the complaint. The officer observed footprints leading away from the vehicle and out through the closed area and began to track the subject. Once well out into the closed area, Officer Land encountered a subject who was bow hunting. The hunter admitted that he was aware that he was hunting in the closed area and was unable to present an Eglin Permit. This subject was issued a notice to appear for hunting in a closed area and a warning for no Eglin Permit. This report represents some events the FWC handled over the past week; however, it does not include all actions taken by the Division of Law Enforcement. Information provided by FWC. Read More →
Senate Seeks Unanimous Juries In Death Sentences
With executions indefinitely on hold in Florida, lawmakers are hurriedly considering legislation to address a recent U.S. Supreme Court decision that struck down the state’s capital sentencing law as unconstitutional. But the House and Senate are divided about how far the changes should go. The Senate Criminal Justice Committee on Monday will take up a measure that would require unanimous jury recommendations for the death penalty to be imposed. A House panel this week approved a plan that would shift the current threshold of a simple majority to a 9-3 jury vote for death. The issue centers on the sentencing phase of death-penalty cases after defendants are found guilty. Of the 31 states that have the death penalty, Florida is one of only three that do not require juries to be unanimous in determining whether inmates will be sentenced to death. The other two states — Alabama and Delaware — require at least nine jurors to vote in favor of death. The Jan. 12 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in the case known as Hurst v. Florida, did not address the issue of unanimity but focused on the state’s law giving judges — and not juries — the power to impose the death penalty, based on juries’ recommendations. The 8-1 ruling dealt with what are known as “aggravating” circumstances that must be determined before defendants can be sentenced to death. A 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in a case known as Ring v. Arizona, requires that determination of such aggravating circumstances be made by juries, not judges. Under Florida law, juries make recommendations regarding the death penalty, based on a review of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, but judges ultimately decide whether defendants should be put to death or sentenced to life in prison. The Florida Supreme Court on Tuesday indefinitely postponed the scheduled Feb. 11 execution of Cary Michael Lambrix, shortly after hearing arguments that concentrated on the impact of the Hurst decision on Death Row inmates. The Hurst decision is expected to spark a flurry of appeals from inmates condemned to death. The Senate proposal (SB 7068) would require juries to unanimously decide that at least one aggravating factor exists before a defendant can be eligible for the death penalty. Under current law, a majority of jurors have to decide that at least one aggravator exists, but juries are not required to provide information about the votes on each of the aggravators. Unlike the House plan (PCB CRJS 16-07), the Senate measure would also require unanimous jury recommendations in order for the death penalty to be imposed. “The Senate feels that if we go to 9-3 that we’ll be back in a few years, going through this again,” Senate Criminal Justice Chairman Greg Evers, R-Baker, told The News Service of Florida in an interview Friday. Evers held a workshop last week to get input from defense lawyers, prosecutors, judges and other death penalty experts. The only one who did not recommend that Florida switch to unanimous recommendations in death sentences was 5th Judicial Circuit State Attorney Brad King. Because nearly all of the other states with the death penalty require unanimity for death sentences, being so outside of the mainstream puts Florida at risk in a future Supreme Court ruling, the other experts advised. “Being an outlier, we felt that it was best if we just went ahead and went with unanimity,” Evers said Friday. The unanimity issue “is up for discussion,” but “the fact is that if we don’t go with unanimity, then we would be opening ourselves up to have it all thrown out again,” he said. But House Criminal Justice Chairman Carlos Trujillo, whose committee signed off on his chamber’s plan Tuesday, said there’s no way for lawmakers to predict what the Supreme Court will do in years to come. “We can’t legislate in the world of possibilities,” Trujillo, a former prosecutor, said in an interview Friday. “The good thing is (unanimity) is the only piece that’s really different in the two bills. Overall, the bills are very, very similar. So it makes both of our lives a lot easier.” Trujillo said the chambers will “meet at some sort of middle ground” to fix the law, now temporarily on hold, before the legislative session ends on March 11. “We have to. We absolutely have to,” Trujillo, R-Miami, said. by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida Read More →
Florida Gov’t Weekly Roundup: Hot Button Issues And Budgets
Who says lawmakers never address thorny issues in an election year? Whether any of the proposals that ate up time and energy this week are likely to become law remains a serious question, but the House spent two long nights arguing over controversial gun legislation. And both the House and the Senate were working on gambling bills that could be tricky to get through the Legislature — “heavy lift” has become an overused way to describe the gaming initiatives. Meanwhile, lawmakers also moved forward with the one thing they have to do every session: passing a budget for the spending year that begins July 1. It might not be the hot-button stuff of gun battles and casinos, but it’s something the Legislature has to address. Election year or not. PISTOLS AT 20 PACES TO DECIDE A VOTE? MAYBE An already-tense gun debate ratcheted up a notch this week when House members added another bullet to an emotionally loaded gun bill: a provision that would allow lawmakers to carry firearms during committee meetings and on the floor. The House voted 72-43 to allow members of the Legislature — but not other citizens — to pack heat as long as they have concealed-weapons licenses. “I think it really applies to the fact that we allow the judiciary, a co-equal branch of government, to have that privilege, and I think it should be enjoyed by duly elected officials such as ourselves,” said Rep. John Wood, a Winter Haven Republican who proposed the amendment. The bill itself (HB 163) — which was approved Wednesday — was controversial enough because it would let anyone with a concealed-carry license openly display sidearms in most public places. That drew opposition from Democrats who argued it was a step towards turning Florida into the Wild, Wild West with flamingos. “We don’t need to resolve every dispute we have with a bullet, we’re better than that,” said Rep. Ed Narain, D-Tampa. “We can defend our communities without giving a gun to every Rambo or John Wayne to openly carry in public.” Supporters countered that they were just following the Second Amendment’s guarantee of the right to bear arms. “We are for more rights for everyone,” said Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach. “We are for more freedom for everyone. We are for more liberty for everyone.” The House also moved forward with a proposal that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to carry guns on state college and university campuses. But Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, was already signaling that it might be hard for the gun bills to get through his chamber. Gardiner said the measures “are in trouble.” Neither has made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Miami Republican Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. “They’re in Judiciary, and I allow the chairs to make the decisions on what bills they want to hear,” Gardiner said. “Sen. Diaz de la Portilla has already decided not to hear the campus-carry bill. It was his decision. And now I think he has some concerns about open-carry.” MO MONEY MO PROBLEMS With the state preparing to spend a record amount on public education and lawmakers promising hefty tax cuts — though perhaps not as much as Gov. Rick Scott’s $1 billion proposal — there are likely fewer fights to be had this session over the spending plan for the budget year that begins July 1. But that doesn’t mean there won’t still be some scuffles. As both the House and Senate budget-writing committees approved their spending plans Wednesday — while separated by just two floors of a Tallahassee building — skirmishes focused on a hodgepodge of issues ranging from abortion to water projects. In the House, some Democrats were miffed at fine-print in the budget that would bar Planned Parenthood, a health-care provider with clinics that offer abortions, from receiving funding. It’s not even clear how much money is at stake. A spokeswoman for the Senate, which didn’t include the ban in its budget, said no state revenue went to Planned Parenthood, although a handful of county health departments used federal funds to contract with the organization. (Federal funds are not allowed to be used to cover abortions.) Still, the provision caused a fight. Rep. Matt Hudson, a Naples Republican who chairs the House subcommittee that deals with health-care spending, defended the proposal by contrasting funding that makes its way to Planned Parenthood with the application process lawmakers go through to get projects funded in the budget. “Nowhere along the line has Planned Parenthood, (a) submitted a form, and (b) nowhere along the line has the Legislature told the executive branch to contract with them either directly or indirectly,” Hudson told reporters after the committee meeting Wednesday. But House Minority Leader Mark Pafford, D-West Palm Beach, blasted the move. “It’s a politically derived stunt they’re pulling against one non-profit organization who provides health care for women. … To suggest it’s anything else is hogwash,” he said. The plan moved to the House floor on a nearly party-line vote. The Senate had an odd fight over a proposal to spend $7.5 million for a project to address an environmental “emergency” in areas around Lake Okeechobee. There was nothing that unusual about the idea itself — lawmakers frequently try to get projects in the budget for local areas — but it caused a rare, public rift between GOP leaders. Sen. Joe Negron, a powerful Stuart Republican who is slated to become the Senate president in November, offered an amendment to the Senate’s proposed budget to expand a water-storage project. The proposal was related to problems with polluted water leaving Lake Okeechobee and going into rivers in Southeast and Southwest Florida. “This is an emergency,” said Sen. Don Gaetz, a Niceville Republican who supported Negron. “What is going on in this particular area of our state is an environmental emergency.” Critics of the amendment said they were not opposed to the water-storage project — but didn’t like using $6.75 million set aside for state park facility improvements to help bankroll it. “The concept I support,” said Sen. Alan Hays, a Umatilla Republican who oversees the environmental budget. “The funding source I don’t support.” The amendment — and the full spending plan — were approved and sent to the full Senate. WHAT ARE THE ODDS? There are no sure bets in the Legislature, and gambling bills are some of the shakiest propositions you can find. But lawmakers are trying to come up with language that would extend a gaming compact with the Seminole Tribe and bring in as much as $3 billion to the state over seven years. House and Senate proposals include legislation that would authorize an agreement inked by Gov. Rick Scott and Seminole tribal chief James Billie last month. That deal would allow the Seminoles to add craps and roulette at each of the tribe’s seven Florida casinos, on top of banked card games — such as blackjack — already in play at most of the Seminoles’ facilities. In exchange, the Seminoles have agreed to pay the state $3 billion over seven years — triple a $1 billion, five-year deal that expired last summer — in what is believed to be the largest tribal revenue-sharing agreement in the country. To make the bills more palatable to gambling-leery lawmakers, the proposals would do away with dormant pari-mutuel permits and eliminate some active permits. Separate bills will address pari-mutuel-industry issues that are permitted, but not specifically authorized, by the proposed compact, according to Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Rob Bradley, R-Fleming Island, and his House counterpart, Regulatory Affairs Chairman Jose Felix Diaz, R-Miami. Diaz said he could get the measures through his committee. But Bradley — whose committee includes senators who are opposed to any expansion of gambling and some who have problems with the compact proposal — wasn’t as confident. Like Diaz, Bradley said he expects committee members to propose amendments to the legislation next week. The fate of the bills could hinge on what gets added to the measures. “Right now, it’s a jump-ball,” he said. The flurry of activity around the bills at the end of the week came a few days after Scott headed to Broward County to press for the deal to be approved. Scott, who in the past has been criticized for failing to lobby the Legislature on his priorities, zeroed in on the potential for the gambling agreement to create and save jobs. Sounding as if he were on the campaign trail, Scott — the self-proclaimed “jobs governor” who, in his run for office in 2010, pledged to create 700,000 new jobs in seven years — spoke of growing up in a “family that didn’t have work,” a common theme in both of his gubernatorial bids. “It’s a tough time. I don’t ever want to go back to that time for anybody in our state,” Scott said. STORY OF THE WEEK: After several hours of debate on Tuesday and Wednesday, the House easily approved legislation that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to openly carry firearms and to take guns onto college and university campuses. QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “It is like drinking broken glass. There’s no other way to describe it. Again, if you don’t understand what’s going on I think that could be really, really frightening. The good news is it subsides after a few moments. And then, clearly, you drink lukewarm water.”—Florida Surgeon General John Armstrong, speaking to The News Service of Florida about sensitivity to cold liquids that is a side effect of his chemotherapy treatments for colon cancer, the day before Thursday’s commemoration of World Cancer Day. by Brandon Larrabee, The News Service of Florida Read More →
Scott Seeks Federal Help With Zika Virus
With a public-health emergency declared in a fifth Florida county, Gov. Rick Scott on Thursday asked the federal Centers for Disease Control for assistance in addressing the potential spread of the Zika virus. Scott’s office said Florida currently has the capacity to test only 475 people for the mosquito-borne virus, which was detected last year in Brazil and has spread to other countries. Scott asked the CDC for at least 1,000 Zika “antibody tests,” which his office said would help with testing people who have traveled to affected areas and show signs of the illness. Also, Scott wants the CDC to conduct a conference call to help train Florida hospital workers about the virus. Scott on Wednesday declared public health emergencies in four counties where nine cases of the Zika virus had been found. The declaration was for Miami-Dade, Hillsborough, Lee and Santa Rosa counties, with Scott’s office saying the virus was contracted outside Florida. On Thursday, a public health emergency was declared in Broward County, where a case was found. Also, two additional cases were found in Miami-Dade and Hillsborough counties. by The News Service of Florida Read More →
Gambling Bills Likely To Spark High Stakes Debates
House and Senate leaders will roll out gambling bills Friday that would allow the Seminole Tribe to add craps and roulette at its casinos, potentially do away with dog racing and most horse racing and open the door for slot machines in Palm Beach County. Late Thursday, Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Rob Bradley and his House counterpart, Regulatory Affairs Chairman Jose Felix Diaz, were working on details in the two proposals, slated for votes next week in both committees. “We’re still working on the language. We’re going to be here all night. This is a gargantuan bill,” Diaz, R-Miami, told reporters. Both chambers’ plans include legislation that would authorize an agreement inked by Gov. Rick Scott and Seminole tribal chief James Billie last month. That deal, called a “compact,” would allow the Seminoles to add craps and roulette at each of the tribe’s seven Florida casinos, on top of banked card games — such as blackjack — already in play at most of the Seminoles’ facilities.In exchange, the Seminoles have agreed to pay the state $3 billion over seven years — triple a $1 billion, five-year deal that expired last summer — in what is believed to be the largest tribal revenue-sharing agreement in the country. Separate bills will address pari-mutuel-industry issues that are permitted, but not specifically authorized, by the proposed compact, according to Bradley and Diaz. To make the bills more palatable to gambling-leery lawmakers, the measures would do away with dormant pari-mutuel permits and eliminate some active permits. But one of the most controversial items would allow horse tracks to do away with racing all types of horses except thoroughbreds, a process known as “decoupling,” while keeping more lucrative card rooms and, for some, slot machines. A portion of the revenues from the compact would go to supplement purses for thoroughbred horse races, now running at Gulfstream Racetrack and Tampa Bay Downs. Greyhound tracks would also be allowed to decouple, an idea that has been supported by many lawmakers but has faced opposition from greyhound breeders, owners and kennel operators. Horse breeders, owners and trainers also have strenuously objected to decoupling. Decoupling horses “would essentially make welfare queens out of horsemen by creating an artificial set-aside market” and “wipes out any semblance of free enterprise,” the United Florida Horsemen, representing owners, breeders and trainers, said in a statement. Jai alai operators would have to keep their games under both proposals. The measures would also allow slot machines in Palm Beach County and at a new facility in Miami-Dade County. Permits for the slots would be attained through a procurement process and would require operators to give up active permits to be eligible for the new games. The Senate proposal — which Bradley called “an aggressive plan to reduce gaming” in Florida — would also allow Scott to “buy back” active permits, using money from the revenue-sharing agreement with the tribe. The House is not expected to include that provision in its initial roll-out, Diaz said. The House will also offer a third measure, a proposed constitutional amendment that would require voter approval for any expansion of gambling after the compact and accompanying pari-mutuel changes are approved, Diaz said. The Senate is not yet proposing a similar measure. The pari-mutuel-related bills would also reduce the tax rate on slot machines paid by Miami-Dade and Broward pari-mutuels, known as “racinos.” The proposed compact would allow a 10 percent drop from the current 35 percent tax rate. Diaz said his proposal will include a 5 percent tax reduction, and up to another 5 percent for pari-mutuels that agree to reduce the number of slot machines at their facilities. The South Florida operators each are allowed to have up to 2,000 slot machines, but all have fewer than that number, and some only have about 1,000, Diaz said. Blackjack is off the table for the racinos, Diaz said, although the proposed compact would permit the games — limited to 15 tables, and capped at maximum bets of $15 — for the Miami-Dade and Broward facilities. The Palm Beach Kennel Club, which for years has pushed for slots, would be able to add 750 slot machines and 750 “video racing” terminals, if it wins the bid for the permit. Who gets slots has also been a point of contention for lawmakers. Voters in six counties — including Palm Beach — have approved slots for their local pari-mutuels, but gambling regulators have refused to sign off on the lucrative games. The Florida Supreme Court is now considering whether Gretna Racing, a small horse track and card room managed by the Poarch Creek Indias in Gadsden County, should be allowed to have slots without the Legislature’s express permission. Voters in six counties — including Gadsden and Palm Beach — have approved slots for their local pari-mutuels. With the 60-day legislative session nearing its midway point, Scott and the Seminoles have stepped up pressure on lawmakers to approve the compact. Lawmakers have plenty of time, Diaz said Thursday. “I think it’s pretty early,” he said, adding that the bill could be more difficult to pass as the end of the 2016 session approaches. Diaz also said “we have the votes in my committee” to pass the measures. “Things could change and people could change. But the members understand that this is a work in progress and they’ll have another vote on it” before it reaches the floor, he said. “Everybody’s ideal scenario won’t come true. There will be tough decisions for us to make as a body. I don’t know if there will be anybody out there that will feel like they got everything they wanted,” Diaz said. “But the bill …will be in a posture that is passable and will continue the conversation for us live to fight another day.” But Bradley — whose committee includes senators who are opposed to any expansion of gambling as well as those who want slots in Gadsden and Lee counties — wasn’t as confident. Like Diaz, Bradley said he expects committee members to propose amendments to the legislation next week. The fate of the bills could hinge on what gets added to the measures. “Right now, it’s a jump-ball,” he said. by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida Read More →
One Injured, One Ticketed In Wreck With ECAT Bus
One passenger was injured when an ECAT bus was hit by a vehicle on Chemstrand Road near Nine Mile Thursday afternoon. According to the Florida Highway Patrol, 28-year old Jonnathan Banuelos, age 28 of California, pulled out of a bank parking lot into the path of the transit bus driven by 55-yare old Jerome Bess of Pensacola. Neither driver was injured. One of four passengers on the bus at the time of the crash was transported to West Florida Hospital with minor injuries. Banuelos was cited for careless driving by the FHP. Read More →
ECAT Plans To Add Multiple New Bus Stop Shelters
Escambia County Area Transit (ECAT) and Escambia County Public Works Division of Transportation and Traffic Operations has planned changes and additions to the facilities at several bus stops, including new shelters in Cantonment. Changes are planned as follows: New bus stop shelters, replacing current signs: Highway 29 at Muscogee Road – in front of the Raceway gas station Highway 29 in Cantonment – in front of the Winn Dixie Brent Lane – in front of the Carmike Theater and Mellow Mushroom Creighton Road – in front of Wal-Mart once the route is changed Old Spanish Trail Road at Olive Road Untreiner Avenue at Lepley Road Palafox Street – just north of Burgess Road Navy Boulevard at Pines at Warrington apartments Bayou Boulevard – in front of Target Relocation of existing amenities: 9th Avenue at College Boulevard – replace bench with a shelter 9th Avenue at Springhill Drive – replace bench with a shelter 9th Avenue at Creighton Road, in front of CVS – replace bench with a shelter Recently installed shelters: Wal-Mart on Navy Boulevard – replaced the bench with a shelter E Street, North of Avery Street – replaced the bench with a shelter Nine Mile Road – in front of Baptist Hospital Highway 29 at Boone Street – replaced the bench with a shelter Palafox Street and Jordan Street – in front of the Escambia County Health Department Fairfield Drive in front of Pensacola Village – replaced dilapidated shelter Truman Avenue – west of W Street University Parkway – north of Nine Mile Road on both sides of road Pictured: A new bus stop shelter is planned for the corner of Muscogee Road and Highway 29 in Cantonment. NorthEscambia.com photo, click to enlarge Read More →
Alimony Overhaul On The Move In Florida House
A House panel signed off Thursday on a proposal that would overhaul the state’s alimony laws by doing away with permanent alimony and creating a formula based on the length of marriage and the incomes of both spouses to determine payments. Years in the making, the measure has the blessing of alimony reform advocates and the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar. A nearly identical measure fell apart during the final days of last spring’s shortened legislative session after the two sides — once at odds over alimony reform — had reached a compromise. The effort got enmeshed last year in an acrimonious battle between two powerful Republican lawmakers — Senate budget chief Tom Lee and House Rules Chairman Ritch Workman — over whether the proposal should also address time-sharing of children between divorcing parents, something Lee wanted. Workman said the time-sharing issue killed the deal, but Lee disputed that was the reason for the bill’s demise. On Thursday, the House Judiciary Committee approved its version of this year’s measure (HB 455) — which doesn’t include the time-sharing element — in a 14-3 vote after hearing emotional testimony from divorced spouses on both sides of the issue. Rep. Colleen Burton, the bill’s sponsor, said the changes are needed to provide certainty when couples are divorcing. “This is a bill that, across our state, provides a framework that provides wherever you live in the state, you walk in and can ensure you’ll receive equal treatment no matter where you are,” Burton, R-Lakeland, said. Burton’s proposal would eliminate certain types of alimony, known as bridge-the-gap, rehabilitative, durational and permanent alimony. It would also change what are now considered short-term, mid-term and long-term marriages. Under the new plan, the category of mid-term marriages would be eliminated and long-term marriages, now defined as 17 years or longer, would apply to unions of 20 years or more. The formula for the duration of alimony payments would be based on the number of years of marriage, while the amount of the payments would rely on a couple’s gross income — the higher earner’s salary minus the earnings of the spouse seeking alimony — and would set the length of time for alimony payments. Divorcing spouses who have been married for less than two years would not be eligible for alimony, unless a judge gives written findings for an exception. The bill does not include a retroactivity provision that prompted Gov. Rick Scott to veto an alimony-reform measure three years ago. Representing the Family Law Section of The Florida Bar, Tampa lawyer Joe Hunt said judges throughout the state, or even within the same county, make different alimony decisions even when given the same sets of facts. The proposal “provides guidelines that are well overdue,” Hunt said. But critics object that the changes would hurt older women, who stayed at home to raise children and then have a hard time finding jobs. Shelly Moxon Lehman told the panel she was a domestic-abuse victim who was married for 18 years before getting divorced. Other women might stay in abusive relationships if they aren’t able to get financial support from ex-husbands, Lehman warned. Lehman, 56, said she’s out of work, although she has a college degree. “I was stuck raising our children by myself. … And now I am destitute. I’m on food stamps,” she said. Family Law Reform founder Alan Frisher, who’s been fighting for eight years to get the law changed, said he was hopeful that lawmakers would pass this year’s proposed overhaul. “Luckily, everybody’s playing nicely in the sandbox,” Frisher said after the meeting. And the Bar’s family law section lobbyist, Nelson Diaz, said he believes the proposal will also get Scott’s blessing. Three out of five Democrats on the committee supported the measure, Diaz noted. “I haven’t gotten assurances from the governor, but I think he can be persuaded to sign it,” Diaz said. The Senate Judiciary Committee is slated to give that chamber’s proposal (SB 668), which includes a modified version of the time-sharing component, an initial vetting on Tuesday. by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida Read More →
Tate High’s Jones Signs With Alabama Southern Softball
Tate High School senior Meagan Jones has signed to play softball with Alabama Southern Community College in Monroeville, AL. Submitted photo for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge. Read More →
Tate High’s Payne Signs With Morehouse College
Tate High School senior Reginald Payne signed Thursday with Morehouse College in Atlanta, an affiliate of the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (SIAC). Photo courtesy Tate Football for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge. Read More →
Lawmakers Look At Revamping Prison Vocational Programs
A House panel Wednesday approved a proposal that would make a major change in programs that provide job training to prison inmates. The bill (HB 1229), filed by House Judiciary Chairman Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, would take the programs away from the non-profit Prison Rehabilitative Industries and Diversified Enterprises, Inc., and put them under the Department of Corrections. The non-profit, commonly known as PRIDE, was created in the 1980s to manage the programs, which sell goods and services produced by inmates. McBurney told the House Criminal Justice Subcommittee that he has received complaints from other lawmakers about PRIDE, which a House staff analysis said “has drawn mixed reviews for generating significant profits while failing to increase the number of inmates participating” in work programs. “It’s time to do a change,” McBurney said. “The Department of Corrections could do it better.” But Wilbur Brewton, a lobbyist for PRIDE, cited statistics about inmates who move into jobs when they are released from prison and said PRIDE does not rely on state funding. “It now costs the state zero to take care of this issue,” Brewton said. The Criminal Justice Subcommittee approved the bill, which still would need to clear two more House committees. A Senate version (SB 1606), filed by Sen. David Simmons, R-Altamonte Springs, has not been heard in committees. by The News Service of Florida Read More →
Flood Warning For Escambia River
A flood warning for the Escambia River at Century has been extended until Sunday morning. The river is expected to rise above flood stage of 17 feet Friday evening and continue to rise near 17.1 feet by early Saturday morning. The river will fall below flood stage by Sunday morning. At 17 feet, considerable flooding of lowlands will occur. Pictured: The Escambia River floods the road approaching Fischer’s Landing. NorthEscambia.com file photo, click to enlarge. Read More →
Nurseries Seek To Block Pot Production
In the latest twist in a nearly two-year struggle to offer limited types of medical-marijuana in Florida, three nurseries filed a lawsuit Tuesday seeking to at least temporarily block competitors from starting to produce the cannabis. The lawsuit, filed in Leon County circuit court, stems from a November decision by the Florida Department of Health to award highly prized licenses to five “dispensing organizations” in different regions of the state. The dispensing organizations would grow, process and distribute non-euphoric types of marijuana approved by the Legislature and Gov. Rick Scott in 2014. But the selection of the dispensing organizations drew a series of legal challenges in the state Division of Administrative Hearings. Amid the pending challenges, the Department of Health and the chosen dispensing organizations told lawmakers last month they planned to move forward with starting production. The lawsuit filed Tuesday by San Felasco Nurseries Inc., 3 Boys Farm Company and McCrory’s Sunny Hill Nursery, LLC, seeks an injunction to prevent the process from moving forward until the administrative challenges are resolved. Along with the Department of Health, the lawsuit names as defendants Chestnut Hill Tree Farm, LLC, which was awarded a license in the Northeast part of the state; Alpha Foliage, Inc., which was awarded a license in Southwest Florida; and Knox Nursery, LLC, which was awarded a license in Central Florida. The plaintiffs contend that Chestnut Hill, Alpha Foliage and Knox Nursery should not be able to operate as dispensing organizations while the administrative challenges remain unresolved. Also the lawsuit seeks an injunction to prevent the department from moving forward with the process. “To allow the prospective awardees to proceed with the cultivation and dispensing of a controlled substance prior to the resolution of the pending administrative challenges would defeat the intent and purpose of the APA (the Administrative Procedures Act, which governs administrative challenges) and potentially deny plaintiffs their administrative and due process rights,” the lawsuit said. “Moreover, organizations whose qualifications have not been finally determined, and whose representations on applications have in some instances been challenged, will be allowed to begin growing and dispensing a controlled substance, even though subsequent proceedings may lead to a determination they do not meet qualifications and they are not eligible for or entitled to serving as dispensing organizations.” Lawmakers approved the limited types of marijuana in 2014 after high-profile lobbying by parents of children with severe forms of epilepsy. The approved substances, which are low in euphoria-causing THC, are different than other types of marijuana that get users high. Lawmakers in recent months have grown increasingly frustrated with delays in getting the substances to patients who qualify. The process was delayed by other legal challenges before the licenses were awarded. The lawsuit filed Tuesday came less than a week after Chestnut Hill filed a lawsuit in Leon County circuit court asking a judge to allow the process to move forward during the administrative challenges. In a prepared statement issued when the lawsuit was filed, Chestnut Hill attorney John Lockwood said it was seeking a declaration that would “eliminate the doubt and uncertainty that has been created by the losing applicants.” “Chestnut Hill has done their due diligence and has aptly won the approval to cultivate and dispense medical marijuana in Northeast Florida,” Lockwood said. “There is no precedent or legal reason to stop this process from moving forward, and Chestnut Hill is more than ready and able to deliver this medicine in a timely manner and in accordance with the award.” In a news release Tuesday, Jim McKee, an attorney for San Felasco Nurseries, said the new lawsuit would not prevent patients from getting the low-THC marijuana because Costa Farms, which was selected for a license in the Southeast region, does not face any pending challenges. by Jim Saunders, The News Service of Florida Read More →
Four Tate Seniors Sign With Same Kansas College
Four Tate High School seniors signed their letters of intent Wednesday for full scholarships at the same Kansas school. Monty Brown, Dee Thompson, Alonte Thompson, Alondo Thompkins all signed with Independence Community College in Independence, KS. The ICC Pirates are members of the National Junior College Athletic Association and the Kansas Jayhawk Community College Conference. Photos by Tina Decoux for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge. Read More →
House Backs Gun Bills, But ‘Trouble’ Is Ahead In Senate
After more than three hours of debate — with most Republicans in favor and nearly all Democrats opposed — the House approved a pair of controversial gun-related measures Wednesday that may never reach the Senate floor. The House spent more than 80 minutes arguing the merits of a proposal (HB 4001) that would allow the more than 1.4 million Floridians with concealed-weapons licenses to pack heat while on state college and university campuses. The measure passed 80-37 with Tallahassee Democrat Michelle Rehwinkel Vasilinda, who co-sponsored the bill, joining all but two Republicans — Reps. Ray Pilon of Sarasota and Bill Hager of Delray Beach — in support. Two Democrats who were initially recorded as supporting the bill later changed their votes to oppose it. Another 100 minutes was spent on a separate proposal (HB 163) that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to openly display their sidearms in public, something banned in Florida since the concealed-weapons law was established in 1987 “We have no constitutional basis to infringe upon the rights of a Floridian to openly carry,” said Rep Matt Gaetz, a Fort Walton Beach who sponsored the open-carry measure, which was approved 80-38. “We are for more rights for everyone. We are for more freedom for everyone. We are for more liberty for everyone.” The proposal would require people who openly carry to maintain the guns in holsters, cases or bags. The bill would also acknowledge that private employers can display written notices stating that possession of firearms on their property is prohibited. Rehwinkel Vasilinda again joined the GOP majority in support of the bill. Republicans Keith Perry of Gainesville and Chris Latvala of Clearwater voted against open-carry. Opponent Ed Narain, a Tampa Democrat who recalled at age 12 having a gun put in his face while being robbed of bus money, said lawmakers shouldn’t let fear drive decision-making. “We don’t need to resolve every dispute we have with a bullet, we’re better than that,” Narain said. “We can defend our communities without giving a gun to every Rambo or John Wayne to openly carry in public.” An amendment added Tuesday to the open-carry bill also would let lawmakers with concealed-carry licenses hang on to their guns during legislative meetings and on the House and Senate floor. State law prohibits people from carrying guns during legislative committee meetings. Rep. Jared Moskowitz, D-Coral Springs, said the proposal to allow lawmakers to carry guns during legislative meetings could lessen the chances of the overall open-carry bill succeeding in the Senate. “Just a guess of mine, without talking to anyone in the Senate, this bill is already hostile to begin with over there, and now add to the fact that they can carry guns in the Senate chamber, I hoping that that turns out to be poison pill,” Moskowitz sad. Before the House voted on the bills, Senate President Andy Gardiner reiterated his belief that both the open-carry and campus-carry measures “are in trouble.” Neither has made it through the Senate Judiciary Committee, chaired by Miami Republican Miguel Diaz de la Portilla. “They’re in Judiciary, and I allow the chairs to make the decisions on what bills they want to hear,” Gardiner said. “Sen. Diaz de la Portilla has already decided not to hear the campus-carry bill. It was his decision. And now I think he has some concerns about open-carry.” The Senate version of open-carry (SB 300) may be heard by the Judiciary Committee next week. Diaz de la Portilla has said he’s open to considering amendments that could draw opposition from Second Amendment groups. That includes proposals by the Florida Sheriffs Association related to inadvertent or accidental displays of firearms. The sheriffs’ proposals wouldn’t allow open-carry and have been opposed by gun-rights groups. The Florida Police Chiefs Association and some county sheriffs support have shown support for open-carry, House Speaker Steve Crisafulli, R-Merritt Island, said after Wednesday’s meeting the House doesn’t advance bills based upon what the Senate may or may not do. “Our job is to focus on the priorities of the House, and this House has shown in history to be conservative on gun issues and very supportive of Second Amendment rights,” Crisafulli said. “We feel that we passed a couple of good bills to send over to the Senate, and we’ll see what happens from there.” Rep. Jimmie Smith, R-Inverness, said while discussing the campus-carry issue that there hasn’t been an increase in accidental discharges of guns or the “wild, wild west” scenarios that opponents have forecast, even as the number of people with concealed-weapons licenses has grown in Florida. “This fear-mongering of allowing a mature adult to make an adult decision has to stop,” Smith said. Rep. Jennifer Sullivan, R-Mount Dora, said allowing concealed-weapons license holders, who must be at least 21 years old, to have guns on campus would allow women to defend themselves from assaults. But Democrats pointed to the stress of college life, which also includes widespread use of alcohol. They argued lawmakers should instead increase funding for training of campus security and for mental-health services. “We continue to inject more and more guns into our society,” said Rep. Dwight Dudley, D-St. Petersburg. “This is a recipe for disaster.” Rep. Darryl Rouson, a St. Petersburg Democrat who passionately implored members to not “let this bullet leave this chamber,” worried that the bills will make it tough for police to differentiate good guys from bad guys, and that shootings on campuses will become “commonplace.” “Will we become numb to guns on campus and fights that break out and lives that are taken?” Rouson said. “That’s what I fear.” by Jim Turner, The News Service of Florida Read More →
Jay’s Mishoe Signs With Millsaps College
Jay High School’s Victor Mishoe signed a football letter of intent Wednesday with Millsaps College in Jackson, MS – a NCAA Division III school Pictured: (L-R, seated) Evelyn Jordan, Victor Mishoe, Christy Cassady, Jack Floyd, (back, L-R) Track Coach Madison Whitfield, Athletic Director Lance Youngblood and Head Football Coach Kent Smith. Submitted photo for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge. Read More →
House Panel Approves Death Penalty Fix
A House panel on Tuesday approved proposed changes to the state’s death-penalty law in an effort to address a U.S. Supreme Court ruling that struck down Florida’s capital-sentencing structure as unconstitutional. The House Criminal Justice Subcommittee’s 11-2 vote on the measure (PCB CRJS 16-07) came less than two hours after the Florida Supreme Court issued an indefinite stay of execution for Cary Michael Lambrix, who had been scheduled to die on Feb. 11. The court heard oral arguments in the case Tuesday morning. Lawmakers in both chambers are hurriedly preparing legislation in response to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling, issued on the opening day of the 2016 session, in a case known as Hurst v. Florida. The Jan. 12 ruling overturned the state’s capital felony sentencing system, which gives judges — and not juries — the power to impose the death penalty. The high court’s decision came in the appeal of convicted murderer Timothy Lee Hurst, who was sentenced to death for the 1998 killing of fast-food worker Cynthia Harrison in Pensacola. Harrison, an assistant manager at a Popeye’s Fried Chicken restaurant on Nine Mile Road where Hurst worked, was bound, gagged and stabbed more than 60 times. Her body was found in a freezer. The 8-1 decision focused on what are known as “aggravating” circumstances that must be determined before defendants can be sentenced to death. A 2002 U.S. Supreme Court ruling, in a case known as Ring v. Arizona, requires that determination of such aggravating circumstances be made by juries, not judges. Under Florida law, juries make recommendations regarding the death penalty, based on a review of aggravating and mitigating circumstances, but judges ultimately decide whether defendants should be put to death or sentenced to life in prison. The House would allow death sentences to be imposed only if juries — after weighing aggravating and mitigating factors — unanimously decide that at least one aggravating factor exists. The proposal would also require at least nine jurors to vote for the death penalty. The legislation is based on the recommendations of state attorneys. Of the 31 states with the death penalty, Florida is one of only three that do not require unanimous jury decisions about imposing death sentences. Florida law only requires a simple majority of the jury to recommend death. The only other two states that do not require unanimous decisions — Alabama and Delaware — require at least nine jurors to vote in favor of capital punishment. Whether death-penalty jury verdicts should be unanimous has been a major source of debate during discussions about the Hurst ruling, which did not specifically address the issue. Nearly all experts — with the exception of prosecutors — recommend that the state adopt a unanimous jury requirement to avoid the risk that Florida’s sentencing system could be struck down again in the future. “The question arises, do you look simply at the narrow issue that Hurst addressed or do you look at the whole body of cases that the United States Supreme Court has talked about?” 10th Judicial Circuit Public Defender Rex Dimmig told the panel Tuesday. But prosecutor Brad King argued that the measure goes “well beyond the dictates” of the Supreme Court’s order. And King, the state attorney for the 5th Judicial Circuit, said it is impossible to predict how the court will rule in years to come. “To think we can sit here today and presume to understand what the U.S. Supreme Court can do … in the future is honestly a pipe dream,” he said. Requiring unanimous decisions on death-penalty sentences would allow a single juror “to hold hostage the entire process,” King argued, pointing out that some of Florida’s most-notorious crimes failed to result in unanimous jury recommendations for the death penalty. But University of Miami Law Professor Scott Sundby, who trains Florida judges in the death penalty, said research shows that 92 percent of juries that voted 9-3 in favor of the death penalty returned the same result if required to reach a unanimous decision. “In other words, in 92 percent of the cases, when they deliberated to unanimity, they still came out as death,” Sundby said. Not requiring a unanimous decision would put Florida in danger of having its law struck down again, he predicted. “I promise you this would invite a lot of constitutional litigation, and the odds of it being reversed by the (U.S.) Supreme Court are quite high,” Sundby told the committee. The House panel rejected an attempt by Rep. Randolph Bracy, D-Orlando, to amend the bill to require unanimity on death sentences. “There is great racial and gender and geographical discrimination in how the death penalty is applied,” Bracy, who is black, said. For example, “no white person has ever been sentenced to death for killing a black person” in Florida, Bracy said. In contrast, murders involving white women are 6.5 times more likely to result in the death penalty. “One way to reduce the bias is require unanimous juries,” said Bracy, one of two Democrats on the subcommittee who opposed the bill. But Chairman Carlos Trujillo, a former prosecutor, said Bracy’s concerns rested more with the application of the death penalty than with the sentencing phase. And, he said, the proposal is far from a done deal. “By no way, I think, is this a 100 percent finished product,” Trujillo, R-Miami, said. “I’m sure all of these recommendations will come to play at some point.” Senate President Andy Gardiner told reporters Tuesday that “there a lot of members in our chamber that would prefer a unanimous decision.” But the Senate may cede to the House’s 9-3 position to finalize a bill before the session ends next month. “What’s important is that we get an agreement done, and we pass something this session to address what’s been brought forward by the U.S. Supreme Court. And I think we’re on track to do that,” Gardiner, R-Orlando, said. Read More →
Lawmakers Look To Curb Unemployment Fraud
A House panel on Monday unanimously approved a measure aimed at cracking down on unemployment fraud based on identity theft — a practice lawmakers say is spiraling out of control. In fact, House Economic Development & Tourism Chairman Frank Artiles said he’d been the victim of such a crime himself. “I actually had my ID stolen, and we had unemployment benefits that were sent to the state (to establish a claim) under my name,” the Miami Republican said. “This is rampant throughout the nation, as well as in the state of Florida.” Artiles’ subcommittee approved the measure (HB 1017), filed by Rep. Mike La Rosa, R-St. Cloud, who said it would save millions of dollars for Florida taxpayers. “Over the years, (the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity) has begun receiving reports that criminals were turning to unemployment insurance — in our state called reemployment assistance — as a new front for identity theft-based fraud,” La Rosa told the panel. The bill says “identity theft is especially problematic in this state, which the Federal Trade Commission reports has the highest per capita rate of identity theft in the nation.” A special unit within the Department of Economic Opportunity has detected and prevented more than 146,000 fraudulent claims totaling $603 million since its inception in 2014, according to the agency. Department Executive Director Cissy Proctor said the attempted fraud is a threat to people who need unemployment benefits — and to those who pay for them. “We’re seeing an incredible amount of identity-theft crime coming into the system, and we are focused, through our anti-fraud measures, to keep those criminals out and to keep the trust fund healthy, to make sure the money is there for those that are eligible for the benefits,” she told The News Service of Florida on Friday. “Also, it keeps (unemployment) taxes low for businesses across the state that pay the money that goes into the trust fund.” La Rosa’s bill takes several steps to beef up enforcement and penalties for cyber-crimes centered on public-benefits fraud. It would give the Department of Economic Opportunity access to the Florida Department of Highway Safety and Motor Vehicles’ database of driver’s licenses — including photos and signatures — to validate claims for reemployment assistance. It would increase penalties for people who fraudulently apply for unemployment benefits. The penalties would go from one year to five years for a first offense and would be 10 years for a second offense and a lifetime ban for a third offense. Also, the bill would amend the definition of “racketeering activity” to include unemployment-benefits fraud under the Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt (RICO) Organization Act. Monday was the first time the department-backed bill has been heard in committee. La Rosa removed parts of the bill that sought to allow the department to hire sworn law-enforcement officers and recover overpayments by garnishing wages. “The department will continue to seek criminal investigators in its budget and will continue to build cases statewide with local law enforcement,” La Rosa said. Rep. Clay Ingram, R-Pensacola, thanked La Rosa for the changes, saying he’d had concerns about “sworn law enforcement officers working for a department where that had never been done before.” A Senate version of the bill (SB 1216), filed by Sen. Kelli Stargel, R-Lakeland, has been sent to four committees. by Margie Menzel, The News Service of Florida Read More →
Tate High Hosting Souper Bowl And Student Gallery Night
The Tate High School Art Department is hosting a Student Gallery Night and Souper Bowl Thursday from 5-7 p.m. in the Art Building. Students will be selling their own art work as well as hand-crafted ceramic bowls and soup or chili. All proceeds from the sale of the bowls and food will benefit their ceramics classes, with 10 percent going to the Manna Food Bank. The cost is $10 to purchase a handmade bowl plus food and drink, or $5 to purchase just food and drink. The public is invited to join in and support the arts at Tate High School. Pictured above and below: Some of the bowls available during the Souper Bowl event at Tate High School. Pictured bottom: Some of the student art pieces that will be for sale. Submitted photos for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge. Read More →
No Serious Injuries In Highway 97 Crash
There were no serious injuries in a two vehicle crash on Highway 97 just south of Pine Forest Road Tuesday afternoon. The cause of the 4:20 p.m. accident remains under investigation by the Florida Highway Patrol; further details have not been released. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge. Read More →
An Early Spring? North Escambia Weather Ducks Miss Shadow
On this Groundhog Day, Punxsutawney Phil, the world famous groundhog, did not see his shadow and predicted an early spring. Our local weather guys, the NorthEscambia.com Weather Ducks, also missed their shadow Tuesday morning and predicted an early spring from Walnut Hill, FL. Forklore says that if the groundhog sees his shadow on Groundhog Day, it means six more weeks of winter. We did not have a groundhog handy for a photo, but we did have the NorthEscambia.com Weather Ducks. For those that might be a little unsure as to the weather ducks’ ability, we offer the two photographs below showing the weather ducks predicting six more weeks of winter on Groundhog Day 2010 and 10 days later with their snowman in Atmore. NorthEscambia.com photos, click to enlarge. Read More →
Change Begins For Landline Phone Users In Walnut Hill, Bratt, Molino
Frontier Communications landline users in Walnut Hill, Bratt and Molino can begin using a new dialing method that will become mandatory in two months. The new dialing procedure requires Molino and Walnut Hill callers to dial all local calls using 10 digits ( the area code plus the regular telephone number). Previously, these numbers were dialed using seven digits. For example, when calling Northview High School, customers in the 327 and 587 phone exchanges previously dialed 327-6681, but with the change will now dial (850) 327-6681. Beginning now, customers in Molino and Walnut Hill can start using the new 10-digit dialing procedure whenever they place a call from the 850 area code. However, during a two-month transitional phase, dialing just seven digits will continue to successfully complete customers’ calls. As of April 1, the new 10-digit dialing procedure will be required. After this date, any calls placed without using the new 10-digit dialing procedure will not be completed, and a recording will instruct customers to hang up and dial again. Frontier reminds customers to reprogram all services and automatic dialing equipment that are set to dial a seven-digit number to include the area code after February 1. Examples include life-safety systems or medical devices, PBXs, fax machines, Internet dial-up numbers, alarm and security systems/gates, speed dialers, mobile phone contact lists, call-forwarding settings and voicemail services. Customers should also check their websites, business stationery, advertising materials, personal and business checks, contact information and personal/pet identification tags to ensure that the area code is included. The change is due to the addition of a new telephone exchange number in McCullough, AL, and Pensacola that is owned by Cingular Wireless. Read More →
Century Looks To Escambia County For Community Redevelopment Area Help
The Century Town Council decided Monday night to hold off on forming a Community Redevelopment Agency (CRA) until they can find out how much of the necessary paperwork might be done with the help of Escambia County. Upon declaration of an area as blighted, the CRA works to improve conditions. As property tax values rise, most of the increase is funneled back into the redevelopment area for further improvements. An estimate provide by Escambia County showed Century might, in a best case scenario, receive about $5,300 in tax funds for the first year of a CRA that included a full maximum 80 percent of the town. The money can roll over year to year, up a 40-year life for a CRA. Council member Ann Brooks said Monday night that she is in favor of a CRA, but express concerns that legal fees, paperwork and staff costs could significantly decrease, or even exceed, the available funds of a young CRA. Monday night, Escambia County Commissioner Steven Barry expressed a willingness for Escambia County to help Century navigate and complete the CRA process. The county has a CRA staff on the payroll. The council directed Mayor Freddie McCall to contact Barry and see how much help Century might receive from the county. There are currently nine other redevelopment districts in Escambia County — Atwood, Barrancas, Brownsville, Cantonment, Englewood, Ensley, Oakfield, Palafox and Warrington — and three within the City of Pensacola. NorthEscambia.com file photo. Read More →
Top Five Candidates Named For Escambia Teacher Of The Year
The Escambia County School District’s top five candidates for 2017 Teacher of the Year award have been selected. They are Tim Deloge – Escambia High School – Tech Ed (Engineering) Caroline Gray – Tate High School – Economics Melissa Harold – Beulah Elementary School – Fourth Grade Allison Hartzog – Montclair Elementary School – Kindergarten Kristy Imhof – Ransom Middle School – Language Arts (7th grade) Each finalist will be visited and observed by the selection committee before the final choice is made. The winner will be honored at the 2016 Golden Apple Dinner on February 25. Read More →
Four Charged In Circle K Robberies
Four people have been arrested in connection with Circle K robberies in Escambia and Santa Rosa counties. The Pensacola incident occurred around 1 a.m. Saturday at the Circle K, 3013 E. Cervantes St. Two employees and a customer were in the store when the suspects, who were wearing masks, entered the business. One of the suspects was holding what looked like a wrench. One of the suspects grabbed the female customer’s purse and she began struggling with him. The other two suspects then approached the two employees and demanded money. After getting an undisclosed amount of cash, some cigarillos and the woman’s purse, the suspects fled the business. Pensacola Police arrested the following individuals: D’Andre Jones, 19, of Pensacola was harged with armed robbery, robbery by sudden snatching and petit theft. Brendan McClendon, 18, of Jay was charged with armed robbery and falsely identifying himself to a law enforcement officer. Ian Garland, 18, of Pace was charged with armed robbery. Just before 4 a.m. Saturday, a Circle K at 5661 Quintette Road in Pace also was robbed. A short time later a Santa Rosa deputy saw and stopped a vehicle matching the description of one used by the suspects and found all three inside the truck. The trio and a female in the vehicle, 18-year old Cynthia Selena Rogers, also have been charged in Santa Rosa County. Santa Rosa County deputies charged McClendon with aggravated battery, armed robbery and giving law enforcement false identification. Jones, Garland and Rogers were charged as accessories to armed robbery. Pensacola Police Detective Shannan Briarton said additional charges are pending on the suspects. Pictured below: The robbery of the Circle K on Quintette Road in Pace. Courtesy photo for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge. Read More →
Florida Brings On New Prison Health Services Provider
State corrections officials have hired Centurion of Florida LLC to take over prison health services for more than three-fourths of Florida’s 100,000 inmates after Corizon Health walked away from a five-year, $1.2 billion contract three years early. Centurion, a joint venture between Centene Corp. and MHM Services, will be paid a maximum of nearly $268 million to fill in for Corizon, which exercised a 180-day cancellation provision in its contract with the state. In December, Corizon told Department of Corrections Secretary Julie Jones that it intended to pull out of the state by the end of May, two years after the start of the country’s largest prison health-care contract. At the time, Jones said Corizon executives told her they were losing money — up to $1 million a month — on the deal. Jones also said Corizon executives blamed the company’s exit on whether its payments should be adjusted annually according to changes in the Consumer Price Index. While its contract made allowances for such hikes, any increases would have to be approved by the Legislature, which has been inconsistent in authorizing partial increases for Corizon and never approved a full Consumer Price Index hike — as much as 4 percent — since the contract went into effect. On Dec. 18, Jones used a type of procurement process called an “invitation to negotiate” to seek vendors to provide mental health services, dental care and health care for the state’s inmates. The new contracts are expected to start in 2018. Centurion, which provides health care for prisoners in five other states, will start operations in Florida this spring, in a contract that lasts until January 2018, when the new vendors are expected to take over, according to a press release issued by Centene. Centurion is “pleased to be able to work with the department to improve the quality of services and care levels provided to this population,” Centurion CEO Steven Wheeler said in the release. “We also recognize the importance of maintaining sound financial discipline on behalf of the state and its residents.” Corrections officials look forward to working with Corizon and Centurion to “ensure a seamless transition of health care services,” Jones said in a statement Monday. “We continue in our commitment to (providing) quality health care to those in our custody and improving health outcomes for Florida’s inmates.” Tennessee-based Corizon had been under fire from lawmakers and attorneys representing inmates who accused the company of routinely providing inadequate care since taking over services in most of the prisons in the central and northern portions of the state. Lawyers for Florida inmates in September filed a class-action lawsuit against the Department of Corrections and Corizon, alleging that the state agency and the company were denying hernia operations to save money. A month after taking over the helm of the Department of Corrections in January 2014, Jones put the health care contractors on notice that she intended to rebid health care contracts with Corizon and Wexford Health Sources, which has a $267 million contract to handle inmates in the southern portion of the state. by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida Pictured: The medical facility inside the Century Correctional Institution. NorthEscambia.com file photos, click to enlarge. Read More →
Cat Country 98.7 Nominated For ACM Station And Morning Show Of Year
Pensacola’s locally-owned country radio station, CatCountry 98.7, has been nominated as Radio Station of the Year in their market size by the Academy of Country Music (ACM). This is the station’s eighth nomination in the last 12 years for an award they won in 2006, 2009 and 2011. Local radio personalities Brent & Candy have also been nominated for Radio Personalities of the Year for The CatPak Morning Show. Brent previously won the ACM Personality of the Year in 2009. Brent & Candy’s CatPak Morning Show is “Live & Local” from 5-10 a.m. weekdays both on the air and online at www.CatCountry987.com. The 51st annual ACM Awards Show is set for Sunday April 3 in Las Vegas and will be shown live on CBS (locally on WKRG TV 5) beginning at 7 p.m.. It will be hosted live by Luke Bryan and Dierks Bentley. Dave Hoxeng, owner of Cat Country 98.7 and NewsRadio1620, said “I’m so proud of our whole team of 26 people here in Pensacola. They are passionate about our community and about country music. This is a great honor.” Pictured Cat Country 98.7 received their third Academy of Country Music Radio Station of the Year award in 2011. Accepting the trophies from Sony recording star Sara Evans in Las Vegas were Mary and Dave Hoxeng, owners of Cat Country 98.7. NorthEscambia.com file photo, click to enlarge. Read More →
Scott, Seminoles Try To Sell Gambling Deal
Gov. Rick Scott used a joint press conference Monday with the Seminole Tribe to pitch the economic impact of a proposed $3 billion gambling agreement now in the hands of the Legislature. For Scott, the deal is all about jobs. During an hour-long presentation by the Seminoles about expansion plans, the tribe’s representatives said that more than 3,600 workers would lose their jobs if lawmakers don’t sign off on the proposed gambling deal, known as a “compact.” Scott and the Seminoles struck the new deal after a 2010 agreement giving the tribe exclusive rights to operate banked card games, such as blackjack, expired last summer. Under the agreement inked by Scott and tribal leader James Billie in December, the tribe would be able to keep the banked card games and add craps and roulette at its seven casinos. In exchange, the Seminoles agreed to pay Florida $3 billion over seven years in what would be the most lucrative tribal revenue-sharing agreement for any state in the nation. The tribe also pledged to spend $1.8 billion in capital costs to expand its current operations. Seminole Gaming CEO Jim Allen told Scott on Monday that the new compact would create about 4,500 direct and indirect permanent jobs. In contrast, nearly 3,700 employees would be out of jobs if the Legislature fails to approve the deal, Allen said. Allen said the tribe is working with legislative leaders, but warned that the success of the deal hinges on Scott, echoing remarks of Senate Regulated Industries Chairman Rob Bradley after a preliminary vetting of the compact two weeks ago. “We are navigating, but we need your support with the House and the Senate,” Allen said. “We need the support of the governor if we’re going to move this.” Scott, who in the past has been criticized for failing to lobby the Legislature on his priorities, pointedly appealed to lawmakers during Monday’s hour-long presentation during which the governor heard from several workers — including a line cook who recently took over care of her deceased sister’s five children — fearful about losing their jobs. Sounding as if he were on the campaign trail, Scott — the self-proclaimed “jobs governor” who, in his run for office in 2010, pledged to create 700,000 new jobs in seven years — spoke of growing up in a “family that didn’t have work,” a common theme in both of his gubernatorial bids. “It’s a tough time. I don’t ever want to go back to that time for anybody in our state,” Scott said. Scott thanked the employees for sharing their stories and used guilt to appeal to lawmakers. “That’s what people want to hear. They want to hear how it impacts a person. That’s what’s great about our state. People in our state care about people. I think it’s very important to tell people the impact of their decisions. Today it gave me more information, and hopefully we’ll be able to share that with the Legislature,” Scott said. During the presentation, Scott repeatedly asked what would happen if the compact goes away. “I ran on a jobs platform. So let’s say the compact is not expanded or we don’t have a new compact and 3,700 jobs are lost. How would that affect your business?” Scott asked one vendor. The responses from tribal members, vendors and representatives of the tribe’s 11,000 workers were the same: They’d be hurt. “It would affect me immensely. Immensely,” a tearful Patricia Rodriguez, a pit manager who said she’s a single mother of three, told the governor. Ron LaFalce, president of Maple Direct, told Scott his direct mail business is planning a $500,000 expansion, thanks largely to its work for the Seminoles. “So if (the compact) wasn’t approved, then you would have made a bad investment and you would have lost employees,” Scott said, adding that approval of the deal “would help me get to more jobs.” Monday’s press conference in Broward County included details of the Seminoles’ planned expansion of their Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood. The expansion includes a giant guitar-shaped hotel, submerged tiki huts and 5,000-square-foot villas with butler service and private pools. The tribe is “trying to create something that’s iconic,” Allen said. “Our business model is not just to prey on the local person who wants to go to a casino and has $20 or $30 in their pocket,” he said. Monday’s press conference came as the Seminoles — who’ve contributed nearly $3 million to political campaigns in Florida over the past three years, including $500,000 to Let’s Get to Work, a political committee backing Scott — step up their public-relations campaign regarding the compact. The Seminoles recently released three statewide television ads promoting their casinos as “family-friendly” job creators. Allen told the governor that the Seminoles are working to educate the House and Senate and public about the potential “ripple effect” of a new compact, or, conversely, the negative impact of doing away with the old one. “We’re trying to get that communication out there,” Allen said. “It isn’t just the excess of $248 million that the state will have in this year’s budget. But it’s also the ripple effect of all of those businesses that won’t be spending. We would certainly hope we can forego that.” by Dara Kam, The News Service of Florida Pictured: The Seminoles’ planned expansion of their Hard Rock Hotel and Casino in Hollywood, including a giant guitar-shaped hotel, submerged tiki huts and 5,000-square-foot villas with butler service and private pools. Courtesy Seminole Tribe of Florida for NorthEscambia.com, click to enlarge. Read More →