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Scott Powers

Barbara Petersen: Exempting ‘death videos’ could have hidden Martin Anderson case

Two new bills to re-broaden bans on the public release of death videos could prevent evidence of a case such as Martin Lee Anderson‘s from ever coming to light, and could also prevent disclosures in controversial police shooting cases, First Amendment Foundation President Barbara Petersen said Monday.

Petersen is raising anew concerns she raised earlier for Senate Bill 968, introduced in February by Democratic state Sen. Randolph Bracy, with more urgency, now that Democratic state Rep. Kamia Brown of Orlando has introduced a companion bill in the house. Bracy is from the west Orange County town of Oakland, and Brown from neighboring Ocoee.

Senate Bill 968 and House Bill 1115 would expand Florida’s open records exemptions, which currently ban the release of photographs, videos and audio recordings of the deaths of law enforcement officers, to also ban the release of such recordings for any deaths of Florida residents.

In a news release issued Monday by the Florida House Democrats’ office, Brown expressed sympathy for grieving families and the horrors they might experience seeing their loved-ones’ deaths depicted in the media.

“No family member or friend of a victim of a crime should be forced to endure the pain of having their loved one’s death broadcast to the world,” Brown stated.

But Petersen argued that such videos, photographs and audio recordings take on potentially important justice implications when they expose false reports by authorities about victims’ deaths.

Her primary example is that of Martin, the 14-year-old who died in 2006 in one of Florida’s now-shut-down, notorious juvenile boot camps. Martin died during an exercise regimen at the Bay County Boot Camp, run by the Bay County Sheriff’s Office. The medical examiner’s first official report indicated he died of sickle-cell trait disorder. But a surveillance camera video emerged showing guards verbally and physically harassing an exhausted Martin into continuing a run until he dropped and died. A follow-up medical examiner’s report found he died of asphyxiation.

The resulting publicity contributed to the reform movement that closed the camps.

Bracy’s office said they had not been made aware of the potential impact on matters such as Martin’s case, and would explore it and respond. Brown’s office said they would explore the issue and respond.

SB 968 was referred to three committees, including the Senate Committee on Criminal Justice, which Bracy chairs. HB 1115 also was referred to three committees, including the House Subcommittee for Criminal Justice.

Petersen said she’s also concerned the bills would ban release of videos from police body cameras, dash cams, or other surveillance cameras that might depict what happened in cases where law enforcement officers kill someone, particularly those that become controversial. She noted the North Charleston, S.C., case in which a white officer fatally shot Walter Scott, an unarmed black man, as he ran away. The two bills could shield such a video from ever being released, she said.

“The breadth of this [proposed] exemption is huge,” she said.

It’s also not new. Florida passed a similar law six years ago but it sun-setted last year, replaced with a new law that only covered recordings of law enforcement officers’ deaths.

Senate medical marijuana bill keeps industry restricted to seven distributors

A new bill introduced Monday to enact Florida’s medical marijuana program is being sharply criticized by promoters of Amendment 2 for keeping the budding business restricted to the state’s current seven approved producers.

Senate Bill 1758, introduced by state Sen. Denise Grimsley, the Republican from Lake Wales, lays out how Florida should manage and regulate medical marijuana from growing the plants to which doctors can recommend it to deciding which patients are eligible, to how the products are produced, packaged and sold, to who can administer them.

The bill’s intention is to set up the framework required by Amendment 2 to Florida’s Constitution, a measure approved by 71 percent of Florida voters in the November election.

While much of the legislature may have bought into Amendment 2 backers’ intentions to make medical products derived from marijuana available to a wide range of patients with debilitating conditions, the bill reflects a widening divide: who should profit from the new business.

The bill restricts the business initially to those already approved and licensed under the state’s much more limited medical marijuana laws approved in 2014. There are seven such medical marijuana dispensing companies, already growing, processing, packaging and selling limited products made from low-THC cannabis.

If the number of registered patients approved to use medical marijuana exceeds 250,000, the state can add three more companies, with one of them required to a company with African-American ownership. Each additional 250,000-patient base would authorize another three companies to get into the business.

Brian Hughes, spokesman for Smart Medicine for Florida, praised the bill after a cursory read.

“It is a sensible and conservative approach to moving forward in getting the medicine to patients. A cursory read finds benefits in this proposed legislation for patients, members of the law enforcement community, and physicians,” he said in a statement.

Yet Ben Pollara, manager of United For Care, which put Amendment 2 on the ballot, called the restriction something nobody wants “except the army of lobbyists” for the seven currently licensed companies.

“It’s absurd because it would lead to the creation of the seven largest marijuana businesses in the country, and ultimately not serve the will of 71 percent of Floridians who voted for this, and the half-million sick Floridians for which this was intended,” Pollara said. “It puts medical marijuana in the hands of a few gigantic players, the  detriment of everybody else.”

Pollara said the bill, however, “gets right” provisions relating to patients and doctors.

The bill allows for medical marijuana to be used by patients with debilitating illnesses, as defined in Amendment 2, now incorporated into Section 29, Article X of the Florida State Constitution, who have gotten recommendations from qualified doctors, and are registered with the state. They include people suffering from cancer, epilepsy, glaucoma, a positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, post-traumatic stress disorder, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, multiple sclerosis, a physical, medical condition that chronically produces symptoms of seizures or severe and persistent muscle spasms, a terminal condition, or other debilitating medical conditions of the same kind or class.

Fourth Democrat, Nicolette Springer, enters Orange County commission race

A fourth candidate has filed to run for the Orange County Commission’s District 4, with the entry of Lake Nona criminologist Nicolette Springer.

Springer, 39, a Democrat, is running for the southeast Orange County district seat being vacated in 2018 by Republican Commissioner Jennifer Thompson, who is term-limted.

She joins three other Orlando Democrats who already have filed in the race: Kevin Lance Ballinger, 57; Maribel Gomez Cordero, 50; and Priscilla Velazquez.

Springer is a wife, mother, professor, and social scientist with a master’s degree in Criminal Justice from UCF, and is a criminologist with a specialty in mental health and substance abuse. She also notes in a news release issued by her new campaign that she is the daughter of an immigrant and a truck driver.

She expressed interests in smart growth and attention for roads roads and school overcrowding.

“When our new public schools open, they are often already at capacity. The roads we drive on are crowded and congested, and even more residents are expected to move here,” she stated. “Most importantly, our elected leaders do not always keep the promises they make to residents.

“We have a need for smart development that includes safer roads for both drivers and pedestrians,” she added. “We live in a county of over one million people, more than double the population of Rhode Island, yet we have an outdated public transportation system with no permanent funding.”

Donald Trump meets with 4th graders, private school leaders in Orlando

[The following is drawn from pool reports provided by Ted Mann, reporter for The Wall Street Journal.]

Accompanied by U.S. Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Florida Gov. Rick Scott, U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio and others, President Donald Trump dropped in on a Catholic school 4th-grade class the met with Orlando Diocese leaders Friday to talk about school choice.

With the 4th grade class of Jane Jones at St. Andrew Catholic School, Trump, who also was accompanied by his daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner, heard the students declare they were “scholars” and would be going to college and heaven.

St. Andrew is located in the largely-African American and low-income Pine Hills neighborhood of west Orange County, and some though not all of the students there are African-American.

Trump complimented them as “beautiful” and asked a few questions and advised them to “make a lot of money, right? But don’t go into politics after,” before moving on, after about 15 minutes, to a 2 p.m. meeting with Bishop John Noonan, from the Orlando Catholic Diocese, Henry Fortier, the superintendent of Catholic schools in Orlando, and others involved in private, parochial and charter schools.

Fortier told him he saw school choice creating “a partnership. It’s not a situation of us versus them,” he said. Of private schools, he said, “It shouldn’t be just for the wealthy who can afford it.”

John Kirtley, founder of Step Up for Students, which administers school choice aid, said the program provides tuition assistance for 100,000 kids, and that the average household income is $24,000 per year.

Trump said the school was doing a “fantastic job” and that it’s a school that “enriches both the mind and the soul. That’s a good education.”

He quoted Martin Luther King, saying that he “hoped that inferior education would become a thing of the past.”

Trump noted that he had said during his speech to Congress that education in the “civil rights issue of our time,” and added, “Betsy’s going to lead the charge, right?”

“You bet,” DeVos answered.

They left after about 30 minutes.

This time, David Smith feels fully prepared as he seeks House District 28

David Smith does his homework; anyone who’s ever worked with him knows that.

So as the former Marine colonel who now is a business consultant enters his 21-month race for Florida House District 28, the Winter Springs Republican is coming more prepared than he was in his humbling loss in his last attempt at public office, his 2014 primary challenge to then U.S. Rep. John Mica, until it was too late.

Even early on in that 2014 race – which he lost by more than 50 points – Smith was fully up on the the district’s demographic trends, its voting history, Mica’s record, polling on issues, and the names and addresses of important contributors. But he never quite caught on to Mica’s enormous popularity within the Republican Party of the Seminole County-based district.

That’s not a problem this time. Smith, 56, is running for a seat that will be vacated by the term-limit of incumbent Republican state Rep. Jason Brodeur. And this time, he’s touched key bases before he filed Tuesday, sitting down with Brodeur and other area Republican leaders, most notably state Reps. Scott Plakon and Bob Cortes.

Other Republicans may yet enter the race, and names have been floated. But this time Smith knows from homework what others are telling him: that the path is his. And he knows this is a district Republicans ought to win, though Mica thought the same thing about Florida’s 7th Congressional District until Democratic U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy bumped him off in November. Smith had been right about something in 2014, when he suspected Mica was vulnerable because of the changing demographics in Seminole County. But that theory just didn’t work within the party.

Currently the only other candidate for HD 28 is 19-year-old University of Florida student Devin Guillermo Perez, a Democrat.

This time Smith has advice of top Seminole officials encouraging him, rather than wondering what the heck he’s doing, particularly that of Brodeur, Plakon and Cortes.

“We really have prepared. And all three of them basically said ‘Launch early, make yourself the front-runner, the guy to beat, and don’t worry if anybody else gets in,'” Smith said. “You know, I’m well-known, I’m well-liked. I guess I’m probably more well-liked than well-known. But we’ll fix that.”

He’s not looking at a Florida house district as a step down from his earlier congressional ambitions. He’s looking at it as the logical result of what he learned in his 2014 campaign. In his 2014 canvassing, he asked voters what issues “keep you up at night?”

“So as I was listening to people, many of the issues voters wanted to talk about were local and state issues. Not the federal tax code. Not national defense,” Smith said. “That really got the spark in me to say, ‘Hey, I can be affective. I can make a difference win the lives of people in Central Florida.”

The biggest issue on voters minds in that race, he said, was education. Smithwants to re-assert vocation education in high schools, and to find ways to better promote high school Junior ROTC. It’s not just a realization that college is not for everyone, he said; it’s a matter that those programs also can create paths through higher education. They did for him.

“I went to a vo-tech high school. I learned to weld in high school, and worked my way through college as a welder,” Smith said. “I had a Marine Corps scholarship that helped a little bit but I worked as a welder through college and graduated debt free because I had a trade.”

That Marine Corps scholarship, which was tied to college Reserve Officer Training Corps, led him to a 30-year career in the Marines, the last few years as director of the Marine Corps’ modeling and simulation center at the University of Central Florida’s Research Park. Since retiring, he’s worked in the modeling and simulation industry, most recently as a business consultant, primarily but not exclusively in the modeling and simulation industry.

But it’s not enough. Smith has been looking for a way to get back to public service.

“If my campaign had a tagline, it would be, ‘just because you take the uniform off doesn’t mean you want to quit serving,'” Smith said.

Brian Mast calls for Donald Trump to create Everglades task force

U.S. Rep. Brian Mast wants President Donald Trump to add the Everglades to his infrastructure priority list.

Mast, a Republican from Palm City, took the floor of Congress Thursday to urge Trump to create an “Everglades Restoration Infrastructure Taskforce” and secure full funding to accelerate projects to completion.

“The Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan is the most ambitious ecosystem restoration ever attempted, and represents the ultimate infrastructure package for Florida,” Mast said. “But many critical projects—designed to end harmful Lake Okeechobee discharges and algal blooms into my community—are far behind where they should be and becoming far more costly by the delay in full funding.

Mast pointed out that Trump “has touted his record of building world-class projects ahead of schedule and under budget,” and challenged him to do so with the Everglades restoration.

Mast’s Florida’s Congressional District 18 includes some of the hardest hit coastal areas by last summer’s Algae blooms.

“Mr. Speaker, my constituents have waited long enough to realize the massive benefits of Everglades restoration,” he concluded. “Now let’s seize this moment and put this president and this Congress to work to finish the job.”

Darren Soto to file Zika bill

Democratic U.S. Rep. Darren Soto is introducing a bill that would extend funding to fight the Zika virus through the year 2023 and expand a local mosquito-control grant program to address other infectious mosquito-bourne diseases.

Soto, an Orlando Democrat, is expecting to file his bill today, dubbing it the “Strengthening Mosquito Abatement for Safety and Health Act” or SMASH Act.

“During the recent outbreak of Zika, instead of strengthening this program, Congress decided to provide money solely for mosquito control to combat Zika. When that money runs out, that’s it,” Soto stated in a news release issued by his office. “Instead of waiting for another crisis necessitating another expensive one-off Band-Aid bill, we should make the urgent investments needed to maintain the tools we already have.”

In addition to extended funding and an expanded focus to include other potential emerging mosquito-borne diseases, the bill requires the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to give preference to grant applicants that either have a public health emergency due to mosquito-borne diseases or to control programs that are consistent with existing state plans.

It also allows for the requirement of matching funds to be waived if the area covered by a grant application has an extreme need.

Stephanie Murphy declares support for Puerto Rico to become state

U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy declared on the floor of Congress Thursday morning that she would like to see Puerto Rico become America’s 51st state.

The Democrat from Winter Park represents a district, Florida’s 7th Congressional District, with a large Puerto Rican population.

In her speech, the freshman congresswoman said the decision ultimately needs to be up to the resident of the island territory, but that she hopes they chose statehood. Residents there will get that chance in a referendum scheduled for this June.

Her remarks came on the 100th anniversary of when Puerto Rican residents were granted U.S. Citizenship. However, it is a limited citizenship.

Here is the text of Murphy’s remarks:

“A century ago today, a federal law granted U.S. citizenship to individuals born in Puerto Rico.

“Island residents have made countless contributions to this country in times of peace and war, serving with exceptional valor in our armed forces.

“The bonds between Puerto Rico and Florida are unbreakable. The state is home to over one million Puerto Ricans, with most living in central Florida.

“Puerto Rico is going through difficult times, and I am determined to help the island get back on its feet.

“The main reason Puerto Rico is struggling is because, as a territory, it is treated unequally under federal law.

“I support equal treatment for Puerto Rico because I oppose second-class citizenship.

“Ultimately, I believe Puerto Rico should discard its territory status and become a state or a sovereign nation.

“The choice lies with the people of Puerto Rico.

“My personal hope is that they will choose statehood, so they have full voting rights and full equality.

“Puerto Ricans have earned the right to become first-class citizens of the nation they have served with honor. “

Augustus Invictus accuses Libertarian Party chairman, vows challenge

Former Libertarian Party U.S. Senate candidate Augustus Sol Invictus is accusing his national party chairman of collaborating with communists and vowing to challenge him at the party’s national conference in Pennsylvania in April.

Invictus, an Orlando lawyer, was a candidate who made the party nervous from his announced candidacy until he was defeated in a primary in August. A self-avowed nationalist, he’s openly admitted to pagan rituals such as drinking goats blood, to multiple LSD uses, and to homicidal fantasies, and has advocated ideas that many critics characterized as neo-Nazi and anarchist.

But he’s not going away.

In an open letter he sent to Nicholas J. Sarwark, national chair of the Libertarian Party and posted on his website on Wednesday, Invictus claims that Sarwick had made supportive comments toward anti-fascist groups that Invictus contends are actually communist groups.

Several times in the letter Invictus said he would challenge Sarwark in some unspecified way and made references to the “upcoming fight.” He ended the letter by declaring, “I will see you at the Pennsylvania Convention next month.”

In a text to FloridaPolitics.com, Invictus elaborated, writing, “He has allied the Libertarian Party with the communists by defending the Antifa, and in doing so he has betrayed the party.”

Libertarian Party officials declined to comment about Invictus or his letter. His primary opponent, the Libertarian Party’s U.S. Senate nominee  Paul Stanton in November, said Invictus should not be taken seriously, adding, “Mr. Invictus’ brand of neo-fascism does not represent Libertarian values.”

The issue appears to arise from altercations Invictus himself had with such groups a year ago. In March, 2016, he spoke at private meetings in bars in Oregon and Washington, and members of local anti-fascist groups – which Invictus referred to as “Antifa,” a common generalization for them – confronted the attendees, leading to violence outside the bars.

“You personally crossed a line that cannot be uncrossed. You have taken sides with the communists, and in doing so you have betrayed the Libertarian Party and the movement generally. Until this point I was happy to work independently within the movement, far away from your domain; now I am compelled to action against the established order,” Invictus wrote.

“Today I open hostilities against the leadership of the National Libertarian Party,” Invictus wrote.

“Recently you made the remark that it was ‘understandable’ that the Antifa, a violent gang of communists, would initiate violent protests to shut down a speech,” he added.

Invictus apparently was referring to Sarwark’s Feb. 5 speech in California in which he expressed sympathy and understanding for the violent protesters at the University of California at Berkeley.

He refers to the March attacks against his speeches as “an assassination attempt” on him, and expresses outrage that the party did nothing to respond.

Invictus has personal reasons to oppose Sarwark and the Libertarian Party leadership, who sought to stop his 2016 candidacy and quietly backed Stanton of Deland, who defeated Invictus in the primary. Invictus raises those matters in his letter, but tries to dismiss them as not relevant to the point he now is trying to make.

“I do not question your commitment to libertarian principles, as you have questioned mine,” Invictus wrote. “What I call into question is your leadership of the Party. Despite what is about to unfold, I do have great respect for you.”

Invictus posted the letter on the website of a new organization he has formed, called “The Revolutionary Conservative,” which links to “allies” that include nationalist and anarchist groups.

Invictus contends in the letter that he has a following, supporting him for some sort of revolution within the Libertarian Party.

“Many people have, in the past two years, professed their hope that I would lead a reform of the libertarian movement,” he wrote.

Robert Bigelow: ‘We stand ready’ to send station to the moon

Bigelow Aerospace founder Robert Bigelow believes existing technology, NASA interest, and business opportunities are ready now for a return to the moon — and his company is ready to provide a space station there.

In an exclusive interview with FloridaPolitics.com Wednesday, the Las Vegas-based billionaire space entrepreneur made the argument that there already exists the technology, the opportunities for scientific research, a clear business case, and at least some NASA interest, for a return to the moon.

And he said his company has ongoing conversations with NASA and key rocket companies to make that happen quickly — by 2020.

Whether or not NASA wants to go back, there are private companies eager to mine the moon.

Bigelow’s company is eager to put a space station depot in lunar orbit, from which such activities and others can be initiated, as well as support onboard research.

“We do not have the technologies, and there is zero business case for Mars. We do have a business case for the moon. And that’s why the moon absolutely makes the best sense,” Bigelow said. “And we can do the lunar activities far sooner than we can with Mars, which stretches out to, NASA’s views are Mars may be in the 2040s.”

His “New Space” company, Bigelow Aerospace of Las Vegas, designs space habitats, including a fully self-contained space station with 330 cubic meters of living and working space, which he said is ready for a lower-Earth orbit or, in about three years given the expected advancements in rocketry, for lunar orbit.

Bigelow Aerospace is marketing its B330 station for combined use by astronauts representing private industry research and commercial exploration, NASA, pure science research, and space tourism. He would not disclose how much a B330 would cost but said it would be nowhere near reported estimates of $500 million.

Bigelow said he is picking up President Donald Trump signals that he wants to see something exciting happening with NASA in his first term, and Bigelow believes that is a signal to those inside NASA to start thinking moon again.

In his address to the joint session of Congress Tuesday, Trump made a vague reference to “American footprints on distant worlds.” Earlier reports citing unnamed administrative sources, according to SpaceNews.com and other industry news operations, said Trump was interested in NASA taking on bold initiatives right away.

And any time a new president takes office, NASA’s missions all go on the table.

Bigelow Aerospace has been working up the lunar plans for years. After hearing Trump’s speech, he decided to promote them on Twitter Wednesday morning.

When FloridaPolitics.com called for elaboration, he returned the call.

“In view of President Trump’s initiative in trying to make something happen here in the next four years, which obviously a big challenge if you want to do something meaningful, we think this is doable,” Bigelow said. “We think if America deploys a lunar depot, that is going to speak volumes. That is going to have a significant effect, because you don’t really have to land something on the moon to let people know you have lunar plans.”

Bigelow said his company had ongoing conversations with NASA for about three years about the prospect of Bigelow-manufactured depots assisting the space agency’s plans, whether it is to prepare for a Mars mission or a return to the moon.

NASA has been noncommittal. Bigelow said his company also has concepts for moon surface bases.

“NASA is looking to see what it is President Trump is ready to do. So we stand ready as a company, as do others, to get on board and try to make things happen,” he said.

That will require two technological advances, but both are in the works. And it would involve business deals that have nothing to do with NASA — just space companies selling their services to each other.

There currently are no rockets with the room inside to carry a B330.

However, United Launch Alliance is redesigning its Atlas V rocket with a much bigger payload fairing, under the design known as the Atlas 552.

Last year, ULA and Bigelow signed an agreement to launch a B330 on the first Atlas 552 flight, in 2020.

That would get the private space station into lower Earth orbit. To get a B330 to the moon will require another set of boosters. Enter the ULA’s “Advanced Cryogenic Evolved Stage” boosters, refuelable, reusable boosters that could be put in orbit, then reused. They also should be available around then. Two of them could be attached to a B330 already in Earth’s orbit, and carry it to the moon, Bigelow said.

Finally, there is the matter of getting astronauts onboard.

The B330 is designed to have long-term, live-in astronauts, or to sit there and wait for occasional visitors. It houses up to six.

Earlier this week, SpaceX announced its plans to start sending private citizen astronauts around the moon by the end of 2018.

“I checked with SpaceX. They said ‘Yes! We would be ready, willing, able and very interested in providing capsule transportation for crew and cargo to that location,” he said. “At the same time, if the Lockheed Orion were on schedule and ready to launch with the SLS we are incorporating the possibility that both of those other programs, the Boeing SLS and the Lockheed Orion.

“There is something potentially in there for everybody,” Bigelow said.

And it could do something for NASA justification. America’s space agency is spending tens of billions of dollars to develop Lockheed’s deep-space Orion capsule and the next-generation SLS rocket, which is being created by several space companies, including Boeing.

But NASA has not quite figured out what to do with them.

Eventually, the rocket and capsule would be used for Mars missions. Until then, they’re to be used for missions to prepare for Mars.

NASA planned an asteroid mission, but that had significant opposition in Congress, and the space agency has been reassessing. NASA has not planned a moon mission, but there is some advocacy for that in Congress, and perhaps in the Trump administration.

NASA has argued the SLS and Orion could go any place in the solar system, but hasn’t actually identified any place else to go.

If the SLS and Orion were programmed to bring astronauts and supplies to a lunar space station, Bigelow argued: “It really gives the Orion and the SLS a legitimate mission. That is something that is badly needed, of course.”

“Two transportation systems and a depot would be extremely valuable and important for the next round of lunar activities,” he said.

Bigelow Aerospace’s business plan is for its space stations to be marketed much like a time share. Researchers, business interests, tourists, NASA or any other government space agency would book time. Whatever time they want to pay for.

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