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Sheriff: Deputy killed in motorcycle crash while searching for man who shot and killed Orlando police officer

Authorities in Orlando say that an Orange County deputy sheriff was killed in a traffic accident while searching for a suspect in the shooting death of an Orlando police officer Monday.

Sheriff Jerry Demings told a press conference that the deputy sheriff was riding a motorcycle while pursuing Markeith Loyd, 41. Loyd is suspected in the shooting death of Master Sgt. Debra Clayton. A massive manhunt was underway for him Monday.

Clayton was shot and killed in the line of duty near a Walmart in Orlando.

Police: Officer killed in Orlando, suspect still at large

An Orlando police officer who was gunned down while on duty has died.

Orlando police announced the officer’s death on its official Twitter account Monday morning. The shooting happened near a Walmart store in Orlando earlier Monday morning.

The tweet said, “One of our own was taken in the line of duty. There are no words.” With the Twitter post was a video of the officer’s body being taken out of the hospital to a waiting van in a flag-covered stretcher.

Police tell news outlets that suspect Markeith Loyd is still on the run. A massive manhunt is underway and several schools are in lockdown mode.

Police have asked anyone with information to contact this.

A news conference is scheduled for 10:45 a.m. at Orlando Regional Medical Center.

Colorado official describes wild west of law with marijuana

As Colorado became a medical marijuana state and then a recreational marijuana state the laws of the land became increasingly surreal, at least in the images drawn Friday by that state’s assistant attorney general for marijuana laws for the Tiger Bay Club of Central Florida.

Law enforcement officers losing probable cause triggers for searches. Schools being told they cannot forbid marijuana on campus. Failing businesses unable to file for bankruptcy. Special laws considered to give pot shop robberies extra punishment, like bank robberies. Child endangerment issues clouded by lack of direct harm. Divorces clouded by lack of bank accounts. Organized crime getting harder to track because of all the loose cash floating around. Sheriffs refusing to confiscate marijuana.

New challenges like marijuana buses taking tourists to bud and breakfasts, increased homelessness with a in-migration of homeless, increased emergency room visits because people don’t understand dosages, and new niche insurance companies rising to write policies the big firms cannot touch.

“I am not here to tell you marijuana is good or marijuana is bad,” Colorado Assistant Attorney General Michael Song told the Tiger Bay Club. “I’m here to tell yo marijuana is here.”

In Florida it’s here only at a limited scale, but that’s likely only for a limited time. Florida’s Amendment 2 medical marijuana authorization will go into effect after the Florida Legislature and the Florida Department of Health and other state agencies fill in all the gaps of laws and regulations. There are fewer than 2,000 people currently authorized to obtain marijuana-extracts as medicine, but the same was true in Colorado when its medical marijuana amendment was first passed in 2000. Now there are over 113,000, Song said.

And that doesn’t account for the fact that in 2012 the state made recreational marijuana legal too.

Song cautioned that doctors have to be tightly regulated, with means to punish those abusing the ability to recommend medical marijuana.

“What do you think happens when you go to a doctor and say ‘I have a debilitating back injury?’ Do you think he says, ‘Here’s a referral to go get an MRI?’ No. He says, ‘Do you think marijuana will help?'”

He illustrated the dosage concern by showing a picture of a package of marijuana-medicine cookies, looking like any package of chocolate chip cookies. The fine print explained the dosage: one cookie equals six and a half servings. The fine print also explained a dose could take up to two hours to take effect. Song said problems are arising as people, for example, eat a whole cookie, or worse, several, while they wait for the effects to hit. Then they wind up in emergency rooms stoned way over the edge.

Backers of Florida’s Amendment 2 repeatedly expressed confidence that Colorado was the poster child for what Florida will not, with careful laws and regulations, become. But Song said many of the quirks of law and business emerging in Colorado have done so largely because of the awkward and complex fit between contradictory state and federal laws.

Because marijuana is a Schedule 1 drug at the federal level, illegal in all ways, banks with federal insurance underwriting can’t get involved, so it’s virtually a cash business. Bankruptcies aren’t allowed. Insurance carriers often cannot get involved. Hospitals, colleges and universities that accept federal grants – almost all do – can’t get involved in research, not even to track patients using medical marijuana. Courts are denying search warrants or throwing out probable cause claims based on odors or dog alerts or other indications that could suggest illegal marijuana.

On the other hand, legitimate marijuana businesses are having to pay maximum federal tax rates – up to 60 percent – because they’re not allowed to deduct anything. They can’t declare bankruptcy because that’s a federal law. They have trouble hiring lawyers because lawyers advising marijuana businesses in state courts are being banned from practicing in federal courts. And they’ve become big targets of robberies, because everyone knows they have cash, Song said. One proposed suggestion is to give them extra protection under the law, with mandatory jail terms for marijuana shop robberies, much as there is for bank robberies.


Stephanie Murphy proposal for ACA amendment falls in Congress

Orlando’s freshman U.S. Rep. Stephanie Murphy took her first swings on the floor of Congress Thursday night, pushing an amendment she offered to protect one of the more popular provisions of Obamacare from repeal, but the amendment failed.

Murphy, the Winter Park Democrat, introduced a proposed amendment that would have shielded a rule that allows young adults to stay on their parents’ health insurance policies until through the age of 26. The amendment was offered for House Resolution 26, known as the Regulations from the Executive in Need of Scrutiny Act of 2017.

The amendment was defeated, but Murphy got her first stand in the limelight, and received some applause from fellow Democrats after introducing her amendment.

“The Affordable Care Act is not perfect. But I believe the responsible and moral course of action for this body is to strengthen the law, not repeal it,” she said.

“Just as in business, when your business plan runs into challenges, you make left and right adjustments along the way and keep moving forward toward your goals,” she added. “Health care is too central to the lives of our constituents to be rebooted every few years in a partisan, haphazard manner.”

Murphy’s was one of several swings that Democrats, including U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor of Tampa, took Thursday at trying to amend the Republican-led federal rules bill seen as a first step toward repeal of the Affordable Care Act. The rules bill was adopted late last night in a strongly partisan vote. 237 to 187.

Orlando City Soccer stadium unveils 49 rainbow-colored seats as tribute to Pulse victims

The soon-to-open Orlando City Soccer stadium will have a section of seats painted in bright, proud rainbow colors to celebrate and memorialize the victims of the Pulse nightclub shooting.

There will be 49 seats painted that way in total – one for each person lost in the shooting. They’ll all be emblazoned with the hashtag “Orlando United, ” and they’re placed in section 12, as the shooting happened on June 12 last year.

The rest of the seats are purple and white.

The club chose to do this to celebrate further and acknowledge Orlando’s status as an “inclusive, diverse and welcoming community.”

“We are here to commemorate and unveil the 49 rainbow-colored seats that will sit permanently in section 12 of our stadium as a constant reminder of the senseless acts of June 12,” said club founder Phil Rawlins. “These are regular season-ticket holder seats. We put them in section 12 because, obviously, we felt that was pertinent. It was June 12th last year when the tragedy happened. They are right down by the benches and will certainly be seen by everyone in the stadium.”

Amber Mariano, UCF student and Florida House member, files bills to reduce financial burden on students

Amber Mariano is a UCF student, but she’s also a newly-elected member of the House of Representatives from New Port Richey.

That may be why her first two bills filed, HB 153 and HB 155, have to do with reducing the financial burden on college students.

HB 153 deals with excess credit surcharges, increasing the number of credit hours students may enroll in before being billed with a 100 percent surcharge of the normal tuition rate.

Now, students who take at least 10 percent more credit hours than required are slapped with a 100 percent surcharge – HB 153 would increase the baseline credit hour to 120 percent instead of 110 percent, allowing for more leeway with the surcharge fees.

“Students should not be penalized for their curiosity to learn,” Mariano said. “Quite often, an 18-year old student will change his or her major after freshmen year without knowing that senior year will cost twice as much, a cost that is unaffordable for too many college students. This bill gives students more time to learn and explore.”

HB 155, meanwhile, would allow students to receive the Bright Futures scholarship in the summer semester, rather than only in the fall and spring semesters as is currently the rule.

“This is an opportunity to make Florida universities and colleges more affordable for the many hardworking students who have already qualified for Bright Futures,” Rep. Mariano said. “Students should have the ability to get an education on their terms, without having to take off the summer semester because it’s unaffordable.”

Through giving students more flexible options, Mariano says she hopes more of Florida’s brightest students will remain in the state.

Orange County’s charter amendments falling silently; despite election, no changes in county offices

Wednesday is the day that Orange County’s voters figured they had turned their sheriff, tax collector, property appraiser, clerk of courts, supervisor of elections and comptroller into non-partisan, term-limited county officials – but it’s not happening.

And it is unclear if it will ever happen.

Late Tuesday Judge Bob Leblanc of Florida’s 9th Circuit Court issued a temporary stay, blocking any enforcement for now of Orange County’s Charter Amendment Questions 2 and 3. Those ballot measures were approved by voters in the Nov. 8 general election.

Based on recommendations by the Orange County Charter Review Commission, those two amendment questions were placed on the general election ballot. Their intended purpose was to transform the county’s six state-controlled, constitutional offices into county-controlled, charter offices. That would have given the Orange County mayor and Board of Commissioners some direct power over their offices, their budgets and potentially over their operations. The measures also sought to make the offices non-partisan and term-limited.

Voters overwhelmingly said yes, voting in Charter Amendment Question 2 with 69 percent approval, and Question 3 with 70 percent approval.

The office holders themselves had mostly opposed the effort, and several spoke out against it last year during public hearings. They argued that their offices’ most vital attribute is independence from county control, and presumably from county political interference. Their statewide advocacy association, the Florida Association for Constitutional Officers, sued on Dec. 22 to keep the measures from going into effect after voters approved them.

“The challenged Charter Amendments conflict with and are in violation of Florida Law and the Orange County Charter;” the group asserted in its lawsuit, continuing with that the amendments, “impugn upon and chip away at the independence of the Constitutional Officers; deprive the Officers of their constitutionally protected property right to hold the office to which they were elected; conflict with Florida’s Election Code and Constitution, which provide for partisan elections; and are inherently inconsistent with one another in that one attempts to reaffirm their independent, non-Charter, County Constitutional status, while the other purports to make those same offices Charter Offices.”

None of Orange County’s six constitutional officers explicitly signed on as co-plaintiffs to the lawsuit. However, Orange County Sheriff Jerry Demings is president of the Florida Association for Constitutional Officers. And he filed his own affidavit last Friday, declaring that the charter amendments would cause “significant and irreversible harm” to his office’s ability to carry out its duties.

LeBlanc approved the stay sought by the association, and promised an expedited hearing to consider the full issue.

The suit was brought specifically against Orange County Supervisor of Elections Bill Cowles, for the legal technical reason that he’s in charge of all election-related matters for the county. He did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

A spokeswoman for Orange County Mayor Teresa Jacobs, who pushed hard for the charter amendments, said the county would not comment, pending the litigation.

The difference at stake is how the offices are authorized. Currently they are authorized by the Florida Constitution, making them untouchable by county officials. The county can, as some counties have done, replace each of them with county offices authorized by the county charter. Ad that was the effort.

All six of the Orange County constitutional officers who won on Nov. 8, Demings, Tax Collector Scott Randolph, Property Appraiser Rick Singh, Clerk of Courts Tiffany Moore Russell, Comptroller Phil Diamond, and Cowles, were sworn in and installed into their offices on Tuesday, as constitutional officers of the state of Florida. Today they could have been resworn in and installed as county charter officers, had the stay not been granted.

All but Diamond won re-elections. He is new in that office, succeeding the now-retired Comptroller Martha Haynie, who was among the most fervent critics of the effort to transform the offices from state-control to county-control.

Behind the amendments and the lawsuit is a long-running dispute pitting the Republican Jacobs together with the Republican-controlled Board of Commissioners and Republican-dominated Charter Review Commission, versus the six constitutional officers, five of whom are Democrats. Jacobs’ office and those of the commissioners are officially non-partisan. The county’s voter base is now solidly and increasingly Democratic, making it more and more difficult for Republicans to win county-wide elections unless political party affiliations are not listed on the ballots beside their names.

There already was a previous yet so-far failed effort to transform the constitutional offices into term-limited, non-partisan posts. A 2014 charter amendment, also approved by 70 percent of voters, was nullified last year when Circuit Judge Keith White agreed with the constitutional officers in a lawsuit brought by Demings, Randolph and Singh. He declared last spring that Orange County and the voters of Orange County had no authority under state law to change the status of those offices, at least not the way they tried. Orange County had promised to appeal that decision, but no appeal has yet been filed.

Last year’s Charter Amendment Questions 2 and 3 were crafted and placed before voters in part in an attempt to try a different strategy to seek that same result.

As the Charter Review Commission voted to send the two amendments toward the ballot, there was considerable discussion between the board members and the commission’s attorney, Wade Vose, about whether and how the county might yet gain control over the six offices. At that time Vose expressed legal uncertainty for the new strategy’s success, and cautioned it might be reliant on some future act of the Florida Legislature to clarify the routes of authority.

NASA hires SpaceX, Boeing for more astronaut flights, pushes first to May 2018

NASA has extended additional flight contracts to the two private companies hired to ferry astronauts to and from the International Space Station and reported that the first such flight now is expected no earlier than May, 2018.

In an announcement made Tuesday, NASA reported that Boeing and SpaceX now each will be hired to run up to six missions each. Previously, when the two companies were first selected to take over America’s dormant human space flight program in 2014, each was offered only two missions.

But NASA and SpaceX, the first expected to be ready, had long offered a timetable that would have the first such commercial crew transportation mission happen late this year, 2017. In the news release issued Tuesday, NASA noted that SpaceX’s first flight with people on board a Dragon capsule now is set for May of 2018, a delayed start that was first noted by the agency in December. SpaceX will do its first demonstration flight of the Dragon crew capsule in November of this year, NASA reported.

No specific anticipated date was reported for Boeing’s first manned mission. NASA reported Boeing’s first unmanned test of its astronaut capsule, the CST-100 Starliner, is expected in June, 2018.

The contracts now will provide astronaut taxi service through 2024, which is currently how long the space shuttle is supposed to stay in service.

Currently, astronauts go to and from the space station on Russian Soyuz spacecraft. That’s been the case since NASA flew it’s last space shuttle, Atlantis, in July, 2011.

The original, 2014 contracts, Boeing’s contract was worth $4.2 billion and SpaceX’s $2.6 billion, and the additional flights will be part of those contract amounts.

“Awarding these missions now will provide greater stability for the future space station crew rotation schedule, as well as reduce schedule and financial uncertainty for our providers,” Phil McAlister, director, NASA’s Commercial Spaceflight Development Division, stated in the news release. “The ability to turn on missions as needed to meet the needs of the space station program is an important aspect of the Commercial Crew Program.”

SpaceX, of course, has had recent reliability problems with its Falcon 9 rockets, which will be used to carry the Dragon crew capsules into orbit. One blew up on the launchpad in September, and another blew up shortly after blastoff in June 2015. SpaceX resolved the 2015 issue and got back to launching unmanned rockets late that year. Earlier today it announced it has resolved the September issue and a will resume launching satellites and other equipment this weekend.

Boeing plans to launch its Starliner capsule atop a United Launch Alliance Atlas V rocket.

SpaceX has leased and has been rebuilding and modifying the old Apollo and space shuttle launchpad at NASA’s Launch Complex 39A at Kennedy Space Center, and is expected to have it ready for the astronaut program.

Boeing has been modifying ULA’s leased Launch Complex 41 at Cape Canaveral Air Force Station, a few miles south of Launch Complex 39A, for its astronaut program.

Stephanie Murphy names senior congressional staff

U.S. Rep.-elect Stephanie Murphy has named her top congressional staff while announcing she intends to maintain two district offices – in Orange and Seminole counties,

Murphy, the Winter Park Democrat elected in November to represent Florida’s 7th Congressional District, announced that Brad Howard will serve as her chief of staff, John Laufer as her deputy chief and legislative director, and Lauren Grabell Allen as her district manager.

“Brad, Lauren, and John are incredibly experienced and have a passion for public service and a deep commitment to the future and progress of central Florida,” Murphy stated in a news release. “They also share my bipartisan, results-driven approach to the job.”

Howard, who ran Murphy’s campaign, spent five years on Capitol Hill as a communications director for a member of Congress and then the fiscally conservative Democratic Blue Dog Coalition, which Congresswoman-Elect Murphy will join. He has also served in the U.S. Small Business Administration and as press secretary for New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu.

Allen most recently served as the executive director for Support Our Scholars, a Winter Park-based nonprofit organization that financially and emotionally assists young women from underprivileged backgrounds with extraordinary academic potential. Allen previously worked as a government affairs specialist for Siemens Corporation in its Washington, D.C. office, and has also served in the district offices of two U.S. senators.

Laufer spent the last eight years as legislative director for U.S. Rep. Pedro Pierluis of Puerto Rico, and also has served in a New York law firm and for a federal judge.

Val Demings announces senior staff in Congress

U.S. Rep.-elect Val Demings has announced her senior congressional staff, a mixture of those who supported her 2016 election in Orlando and some Washington D.C. savvy.

That begins with Wendy Anderson as the Orlando Democrat’s chief of staff, and includes  Caroline Rowland as her communications director and Sonja White as her district director in Central Florida.

Anderson has both Central Florida and Capitol Hill experience, having served as chief of staff for U.S. Rep. Yvette Clarke, a New York Democrat; and in lobbying positions for Florida Hospital and the African American Chamber of Commerce.

Rowland served as communications director for Demings campaign. Before that she worked as a journalist for News 13 in Orlando and other media.

White spent 29 years at the Orlando Police Department, where Demings once was chief of police, and also has played significant community service rolls with the Oasis Preparatory Academy, Harbor House of Central Florida, Central Florida YMCA Achievers, Leadership of Orlando and other organizations.

Among other key positions, Erin Waldron was named community and economic development director, Wendy Featherson as scheduler and executive assistant, Aimee Collins-Mandeville as senior legislative assistant, and Chester Glover and Gladys Morales Smith as as constituent services caseworkers.


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