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After Parkland: Florida schools push for flexibility in security and spending

In the weeks after the school shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, Florida lawmakers cobbled together a response designed to address three critical areas: guns, mental health, and school safety.  

Now almost a year later, schools are seeking clarification and flexibility in how security is handled.

Parts of law are up for review this year ahead of the 2019 legislative session.  Those parts include security assessments, how funds are spent, and how many active shooter drills must be conducted. On each of these issues, schools across the state have varying concerns.

“It’s not a one size fits all legislation, we want to work with our legislators to make sure we have as much local control and flexibility that we can have, every one of our schools is different, and we want to make sure we have the flexibility to make those decisions,” said Seminole County School Board Member Tina Calderone.

Seminole, which already had armed security on every campus before 2018, is one of the schools pushing for changes to how and where money is spent, suggesting it could make better use of the funds to carry out school-hardening.

“I’m not sure I see an equitable average here, I see some schools that end up with a $30,000 fund per school, and some at $50,000,” said Senator Janet Cruz (D Tampa) at a January 8 Senate Education Committee meeting while questioning school hardening funds distribution.  “Why didn’t we make it even, if you have more schools in your district you are penalized versus another district that has fewer schools.”

Schools will also be looking for guidance on the number active-shooter drills each must carry out.  

Right now, schools are required to conduct ten fire drills a year, despite the fact that no student has died in a school fire in a half a century.  Suggestions have been made to supplement some of those fire drills for active-shooter drills to help prepare students, while not taking away for classroom time.

Would Sen. Marco Rubio consider a 2020 run against Trump?

It has been two years since Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, was reelected to the Senate. He had just gone through a bruising campaign for the Republican nomination for president. He suspended his campaign weeks before Donald Trump secured enough delegates for the nomination.

At first, he said he wouldn’t seek another term in the Senate, but eventually changed his mind in time for a successful campaign to be re-elected the same night Trump won the White House.

The South Florida native sat down with Channel 9 anchor Greg Warmoth to discuss a range of issues, including the Mueller probe, the government shutdown, the attorney general nominee, and Trump himself.

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On the border wall at the U.S.-Mexico border:

“There is no way that you’re going to have a resolution to this without the president getting something.”

On William Barr, the man nominated to succeed Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, who oversees the Mueller investigation:

“[Barr] has a history and a record of service. It seems very positive for the most part.”

“I think a lot has been made of something he wrote recently or a few months back about the Muller investigation, but he's going to get a hearing. I'm not on that committee. I'm going to wait for that hearing to finish. I'll meet with him at the right time and I'll have questions. Ultimately I just want someone who will do the job effectively.”

“I'm inclined to be supportive of the president's nominations, as I was for President Obama's. But I want to see what they have to say about certain issues.”

Also read: Who is William Pelham Barr? 5 things to know

On challenging Trump with a run for the White House in 2020:

“No. He’s going to be our nominee.”

You can watch Greg Warmoth’s full interview with Sen. Marco Rubio on “Central Florida Spotlight” this Sunday at 12:30 p.m. after Eyewitness News at noon.

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Moments ago: Will you run for President in 2020? Answer: No. @marcorubio said he will not run against @realDonaldTrump He also said the shutdown is about politics not people. He also supports a US/Mexico barrier. Locally will work w/ @RonDeSantisFL on H2O quality. @CFLSpotlight pic.twitter.com/QIi7KH5pXh — Greg Warmoth WFTV (@GWarmothWFTV) January 12, 2019

 

DeSantis suspends Broward County Sheriff after response to Parkland shooting

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has suspended Broward County Sheriff Scott Israel for “a pattern of poor leadership,” according to a statement released by the governor’s office.

DeSantis cited several incidents as reasons for the suspension including failing to protect visitors during the shooting at the Fort Lauderdale International Airport in 2017 and the response to the Parkland school shooting in February 2018.

Watch: Toddler in back seat of stolen car found safe, Ocoee police say

“The families of the victims deserve accountability,” said DeSantis in a statement. “It is my job as Governor to ensure that the safety of our local communities, especially the safety of our children, is paramount.”

The announcement comes hours after DeSantis had to make an emergency landing after a plane he was traveling in experienced mechanical issues en route to South Florida.

Watch: Florida pardons 4 black men, 'Groveland Four,' accused of 1949 rape

“Government officials must be held accountable for their actions, and/or inactions. For these reasons, I am suspending Sheriff Israel from office effective immediately,” DeSantis said.

Shortly after DeSantis' announcement, Israel spoke publicly, drawing comparisons to Central Florida's response to the Pulse nightclub massacre in June 2016.

“I understand it’s easier to say, ‘Suspend Israel’ than it is to address the real problem the problem of gun violence,” Israel said. “No one was suspended after the Pulse shooting.”

DeSantis said Coral Springs Sergeant Gregory Tony will replace Israel. Tony will be the first black sheriff in the history of Broward County.

Lawmakers scrutinize UCF's misspending, audit

On Wednesday, state lawmakers took aim at the University of Central Florida after an audit revealed a misuse of more than $30 million in funds.

That money was spent to construct a building on campus, but was designated for things like salaries and operational costs.

Leaders in Tallahassee may now use the audit to make statewide changes to how universities spend money.

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The decision to build Trevor Colbourn Hall with millions meant for salaries and operating costs was made before Dale Whittaker became president of UCF, but in a just-released response to the audit that caught the improper spending, he wrote, “It is clear that proper controls were not in place at the institution.

More troubling, some staff knowingly and purposefully took actions that violated state statutes and Board of Governors' policy. This is not acceptable.”

Whittaker was not available to interview with 9 Investigates on Wednesday, because he was in Tallahassee as UCF’s misspending was scrutinized in a special three-committee meeting.

Read: You might be a UCF Knight if...

The House Public Integrity and Ethics Committee, the House Higher Education and Career Readiness Subcommittee and the House Higher Education Appropriations Subcommittee scheduled a joint meeting to discuss improper spending on building projects at the University of Central Florida and oversight issues in the higher-education system.

“How is a building the size of the one at UCF able to be built, and completed, before any of these procedures were able to catch it?” Republican State Representative Cord Byrd questioned during the meeting.

Wednesday’s meeting came as the Florida Auditor General released its full report on UCF, noting not just the misspent money, but also questioning former university president John Hitt’s role and salary as President Emeritus.

Read: Timeline: UCF falls to LSU in New Year's Day Fiesta Bowl

Hitt, who now lives in Wisconsin according to the audit, receives a $300,000 salary in a fundraising role for the university. Whittaker noted in his response that Hitt played a major role in generating more than $8 million in private support for UCF, with approximately $10 million more in the works.

UCF hired an independent firm to audit its spending following the state audit, and that investigation is expected to wrap up in the next two weeks.

Decisions whether to change the oversight procedures for spending within the state university system will be made during the upcoming legislative session.

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DeSantis' first executive order doesn't include protection for LGBTQ state employees

With the stroke of a pen, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis issued two executive orders just hours after his inauguration Tuesday. One was a revised Code of Ethics for the governor’s office, and the other was an anti-discrimination pledge for Florida government employees.

The second one is similar to an executive order signed by DeSantis’ predecessor, now-U.S. Sen. Rick Scott. And just as in Scott’s order, there is no mention of anti-discrimination protection for LGBTQ individuals.

Scott promised to protect LGBTQ state workers and contractors in the wake of the Pulse massacre, but never did.

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There are 97,000 state workers in Florida, and advocates say the omission is unacceptable in a state that is so diverse.

"We asked for this to be in writing so state workers know what their rights are under the anti-discrimination laws,” said State Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith, D-Orlando, who met with Scott in 2016 and said Scott promised an order to give state workers protections.

“It is disappointing, and we hope that it is an inadvertent omission,” said Gina Duncan, of the political advocacy group Equality Florida. “There are so many major corporations in Florida that embrace nondiscrimination. It is disappointing to not see the state of Florida follow suit.” 

Also read: Rick Scott moves from governor, to former governor, to U.S. Senator in a single day

“LGBT Floridians and our allies will continue to advocate in hopes that Gov. DeSantis can evolve, attracting more business, tourists and residents to Florida,” said George Wallace, director of The LGBT Center of Central Florida. “We need to be known as an inclusive and welcoming state.” 

WFTV Channel 9 contacted DeSantis’ office to see if this was intentional or an oversight. The governor’s office did not respond by the time this story was published. 

Click here to get free alerts with the WFTV News App. You can also follow WFTV Channel 9 on Facebook and Twitter.

Also read:  'Stronger, cleaner, safer future': Ron DeSantis sworn in as Florida governor

 

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BRR! Frosty days ahead in Central Florida

It was a chilly start to Thursday in Central Florida after a cold front blew through Wednesday night ,  certified meteorologist Brian Shields said.

"After one of our coldest starts this season, we do it again tonight. We’ll drop into the 30s and 40s by early Friday morning," Shields said.

The chill is expected to stick around through the rest of the week with temperatures not expected to rise above 60 degrees Thursday, Shields said.

Download: Free WFTV weather app | Watch: Live Doppler HD

Prepare to bundle up again Thursday night, with lows in the 40s and patchy frost in the forecast.

"With lighter winds tonight, there is a better chance of patchy frost, especially north and west of Orlando. Protect the plants, and of course, don’t forget about the pets," Shields said.

Patchy frost will be possible tonight - another cold one on the way. I'll see you on 9! pic.twitter.com/Vg1l7ubmqk — Brian Shields (@BShieldsWFTV) January 10, 2019

Cold weather outdoor plant tips:

• Bring in potted plants.

• Give extra protection by covering them with burlap or another fibrous cloth. Don't cover them with plastic because it draws heat from plants. If the plant is too big, douse the ground around it with water before nightfall. Cold-tolerant plants left outside include junipers, hollies, ligustrums.

• Don't worry about citrus trees or hardy vegetables such as broccoli, but irrigating or covering them won't hurt as long as there is no water sitting on the plants overnight.

• During the day before a possible freeze, get as much water into the ground as you can but don't get water on the plant after sunset. While commercial growers sometimes turn on sprinklers to protect plants during a freeze, it can backfire and ruin plants if you don't know exactly when to turn them on and off.

We did it, Florida! 🌴☃️😁 pic.twitter.com/oiMXjNJYqX — Brian Shields (@BShieldsWFTV) January 10, 2019

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Florida to pay out $900,000 in taxpayer money for state Senate sexual harassment case

In an effort to close the book on a sexual harassment case that could have implicated leading state senators, Florida will pay out $900,000 of taxpayer money.

Newly released documents show the Florida Senate just agreed to pay the sum to former staffer Perrin Rogers to avoid a sexual harassment trial. 

Rogers worked for future Senate President Wilton Simpson, and was one of six women to accuse disgraced former lawmaker Jack Latvala of sexual harassment.

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So, with a taxpayer-funded settlement of $900,000, the case goes away.

On top of that, state senators do not have to testify under oath.

“With sexual harassment charges against a very influential former senator a court case that was going to involve subpoenas for a lot of very high profile people and having them testify in court, it is somewhat interesting that the legislature – the Senate in particular – was able to approve a large settlement and make this go away,” said University of Central Florida political science professor Aubrey Jewett.

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That’s because the state, and other governmental entities in Florida, are only required to pay the first $200,000 of a settlement. 

That stipulation has left other people waiting for money years after their case came to an end. In July 2011, Erin Joynt was run over by a Volusia County Beach Patrol while she was on vacation. After a four-day trial, a jury awarded her and her family $2.6 million. 

She and her family are still waiting for the most of that money because of the state’s $200,000 rule. In the Senate, the sexual harassment case didn’t have to go through the same process as claims for relief because it was an employment matter.

But even though the origins are different, the results are the same: Taxpayers pay, and lawmakers decide who gets paid.

Also read:  Rick Scott moves from governor, to former governor, to U.S. Senator in a single day

 

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