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Florida Senate passes bill addressing sex, porn with animals

TALLAHASSEE (AP) — Recognizing the link between animal abuse and child abuse, the Florida Senate unanimously passed a bill Thursday that would increase penalties for bestiality and create a new law banning pornography depicting people having sex with animals.
The bill would also require child protective investigators to report suspected cases of animal abuse and to be trained on how to recognize it. Animal control officers would also need to immediately report suspected child abuse or neglect and would be trained to recognize it.
Democratic Sen. Lauren Book told her colleagues that after she filed the bill, a criminal case near her South Florida district was an example of why the legislation is needed.
“Last month in Aventura a veterinarian was arrested and charged with possession of child pornography and the sexual abuse of animals in his care,” Book said, adding the man is also suspected of abusing boys. “This shocking case reinforces the fact that sexual abuse of animals is the number one predictor for the sexual abuse of children.”
Bestiality would be increased from a first-degree misdemeanor to a third-degree felony punishable by up to five years in prison. Possession of pornography involving animals would also be a third-degree felony.
Anyone convicted of either offense could be banned for up to five years from owning, possessing or exercising control over an animal and wouldn’t be allowed to live in a home where an animal also lives. They would also be prohibited from being employed in a job or volunteering at a place where animals are present.

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Former teacher convicted of recording students undressing

TAMPA (AP) — A former Florida teacher was convicted Thursday of secretly recording 124 students and an adult teacher undressing over a period of nearly two years.
Mark William Ackett, 52, pleaded guilty in Hillsborough County Circuit Court to more than 300 counts of video voyeurism, the Tampa Bay Times reported. He faces the possibility of life in prison at his May 10 sentencing.
Ackett, who taught fashion design and coached girls track at Bloomingdale High School, quit shortly after his 2018 arrest.
A 17-year-old student was changing clothes in a dressing area inside a fashion design classroom in September 2018 when she noticed a box on a shelf with a light coming from it, investigators said. She found a cellphone recording a video inside the box and told the school’s principal, who contacted the sheriff’s office.
Ackett admitted to deputies that he had been recording students without their knowledge, officials said. The recordings began in January 2017.

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South Florida university to require COVID-19 vaccine in fall

FORT LAUDERDALE  (AP) — A private university in South Florida will require students and staff to be vaccinated for COVID-19 when they return to campus in the fall.
Vaccinations are mandatory by Aug. 1, Nova Southeastern University said in an email announcing a Friday morning news conference.
“As the state, nation and world begins to emerge from the months-long changes to our lives brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, Nova Southeastern University is pleased to announce that it intends to resume full, in-person classroom learning for on-ground courses for the fall 2021 semester,” the release said.
The university has 6,314 undergraduate students and 14,574 advanced degree students at its main campus in Davie, and across campuses in Fort Myers, Jacksonville, Miami, Miramar, Orlando, Palm Beach Gardens, Tampa and Puerto Rico,.

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Officials: Elementary teacher solicited online to have sex with 2-year-old

WEST PALM BEACH  (AP) — A Florida elementary school teacher is facing charges alleging he solicited online to have sex with a 2-year-old and traveled to meet the child.
The Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office said in a news release that Xavier Donte Alexander, 28, was arrested Thursday on felony charges of soliciting sex with a minor and traveling to meet a minor for sex. Alexander is a fourth grade teacher at Grove Park Elementary School in Palm Beach Gardens and also advertised as a babysitter on various websites.
The sheriff’s office did not release further information about the allegations. It customarily waits for the county court clerk to post the arresting deputy’s report online, which happens after the defendant’s initial court appearance. Alexander, who was being held without bond, was scheduled to appear later Friday.
The Palm Beach County School District issued a statement saying it is “shocked and appalled” by the accusations and that it is cooperating with law enforcement. The district said Alexander has been suspended pending the outcome of the investigation and that none of Alexander’s alleged crimes occurred at school and that it notified parents. It said the families are being offered support services.
If convicted of both charges, Alexander could get 20 years in prison. Court records do not show if he has an attorney.

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Florida Headlines

Florida House passes bills on civics, school records

TALLAHASSEE  (AP) — The Florida House began its Thursday session by unanimously passing two civics education bills, including one sponsored by a representative who emigrated from Kosovo that would require schools to develop an oral history telling diverse, personal stories that promote civic awareness.
The bill was among nearly forty passed in less than two hours during a whirlwind session dealing with issues ranging from wine containers to chickee huts to bicycle seats. The House also passed a Parents’ Bill of Rights measure after sharply divided debate between Democrats and Republicans.
The first bill passed was sponsored by Republican Rep. Ardian Zika, who received loud applause from representatives after a passionate speech about his love for America after his family fled from Kosovo.
“Total darkness is the only way to describe growing up in Kosovo in the shadow of an evil dictatorship. It was a place where socialists stole your bread and communists stole your soul,” Zika said. “But even in the darkest of the dark, there was always a light. We knew what it was. It was America.”
The bill would require the development of a K-12 civics curriculum that, among other things, would include “portraits in patriotism” that tell the personal stories of civic-mindedness. Among those stories would be “first-person accounts of victims of other nations’ governing philosophies who can compare those philosophies with those of the United States.”
The curriculum must also include comparison of communism and totalitarianism that conflict with the democratic principles of the United States.
A separate bill would require the state to develop a civics literacy course study that includes participation in outside activities and a research paper describing the experience.
“This bill is going to provide more opportunities for young people to recognize that they too can learn the tools to be active and engaged citizens, they too can learn how government works,” said Democratic Rep. Ben Diamond, the bill’s sponsor.
The Parents’ Bill of Rights would give parents full access to their children’s school, health care and criminal justice records. It passed on a 78-37 vote.
Democrats opposed the bill arguing that a student who confides to a teacher that he or she is gay or transgender might be outed by the school to the student’s parents.
“Even today, too many parents are unwilling to put their biases aside in order to provide an unconditionally safe and loving home for their child. I know it, I’ve seen it, I have lived it,” said Democratic Rep. Carlos Guillermo Smith.
Republican Rep. Erin Grall defended her bill.
“We hear … the horror stories of the bad parent, the abusive parent, the intolerant parent, and I continue to refuse to accept that we should diminish the rights of all parents in the raising of their children because of the acts of a few,” Grall said.
Among bills that passed with little or no debate are measures that would:
— Repeal a law that prohibits wine containers larger than 1 gallon.
— Exempt the Miccosukee and Seminole tribes from needing a building permit to build chickee huts.
— Revise a law that makes it illegal to ride a bicycle without a seat if the bicycle was manufactured to be ridden without one.
— Make clear in law that licensed message therapists can use their knees while treating clients.

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Florida Headlines

Supreme Court gives Georgia win in water war with Florida

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Supreme Court unanimously dismissed Florida’s water lawsuit against Georgia on Thursday, ending the long-running legal fight between the two states.
The court rejected Florida’s claim that Georgia uses too much of the water that flows from the Atlanta suburbs to the Gulf of Mexico. Florida said its neighbor’s overconsumption is to blame for the decimation of Florida’s oyster industry.
Justice Amy Coney Barrett wrote for the court that Florida failed to prove its case, which had been before the court twice in the past three years.
“Considering the record as a whole, Florida has not shown that it is ‘highly probable’ that Georgia’s alleged overconsumption played more than a trivial role in the collapse of Florida’s oyster fisheries,” Barrett wrote.
The court’s newest justice cautioned that she and her colleagues were not equipped to say what accounts for the steep decline in oysters from Apalachicola Bay.
“Of course, the precise causes of the Bay’s oyster collapse remain a subject of ongoing scientific debate. As judges, we lack the expertise to settle that debate and do not purport to do so here,” Barrett wrote.
She also noted that, even with its high-court victory, “Georgia has an obligation to make reasonable use of Basin waters in order to help conserve that increasingly scarce resource.”
Georgia officials called the decision a vindication of their water management.
“Today the Supreme Court of the United States, in a unanimous decision, affirmed what we have long known to be true: Georgia’s water use has been fair and reasonable,” Attorney General Chris Carr said.
In a statement, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection said officials there were disappointed and in the process of reviewing the ruling. The statement noted that the court’s opinion says Georgia has an obligation to help conserve water. The department said Florida “will be evaluating all available options to ensure Georgia fulfills this obligation.”
The case involved the Flint and Chattahoochee rivers in Georgia, which join to form the Apalachicola River at the Florida line.
Florida had sought a court order forcing Georgia to limit its use of water from the Flint. When the justices first heard the dispute three years ago, Florida also was claiming that the Atlanta area’s consumption of water from the Chattahoochee River played a big role in the reduced flows in Florida, but that claim fell out of the case by the time it reached the court again in February.
Last year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted unanimously to shut down oyster harvesting in Apalachicola Bay through the end of 2025 because of a dwindling oyster population.
Florida’s lawsuit against Georgia was filed in 2013 directly in the Supreme Court, which is mainly an appellate court but hears disputes between states. The court appointed a special master to evaluate the case, and he initially recommended that Georgia should prevail.

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Pelosi: Remove Rep. Gaetz from committee if claims are true

WASHINGTON (AP) — Rep. Matt Gaetz, facing accusations of a sexual relationship with an underage girl, should at a minimum be removed from the House Judiciary Committee if the claims are true, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Thursday.
Pelosi, D-Calif., also said the House Ethics Committee should consider the allegations against the Florida Republican.

Gaetz, 38, who has been one of former President Donald Trump’s closest allies since coming to Congress in 2017, said anew Thursday that the accusations are wrong.
Asked directly if Gaetz should resign from Congress or lose his committee seat, Pelosi didn’t specifically address the more severe step. “If in fact these allegations are true, of course being removed from the Judiciary Committee is the least that could be done,” Pelosi told reporters. She added, “From what we’ve heard so far, this would be a matter for the Ethics Committee.”
The Ethics panel, made up of five members from each party, can recommend punishments ranging from a reprimand, or formal rebuke, to expulsion, which is rare partly because lawmakers often resign first. The full House would have to approve such actions, with expulsion requiring a two-thirds majority.
Pelosi’s comments fell short of the swift removal from the Judiciary Committee sought by at least one Democratic lawmaker. But the remarks still left the political future clouded for Gaetz, who is under federal investigation over accusations that he had a sexual relationship with a 17-year-old girl and paid her to travel with him, two people familiar with the matter have told The Associated Press.
Pelosi’s remarks came about two months after the House, on a mostly party-line vote, took the unprecedented step of removing Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene, R-Ga., from both her committees. That was in reaction to her history of spreading threatening and false conspiracy theories on social media.
The Justice Department has also been examining whether Gaetz has had relationships with other underage girls, the people said. Investigators are trying to determine whether Gaetz violated federal sex trafficking laws, said the people, who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Judiciary Committee oversees the Justice Department. On Wednesday, Rep. Ted Lieu, D-Calif., tweeted that Gaetz should not be “sitting on the Congressional Committee that has oversight over the Department that is investigating him.”
Gaetz has so far received little vocal support from his fellow Republicans.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Wednesday that the accusations were “serious” and that if proved, Gaetz would be removed from committees. He’s also on the Armed Services Committee.
“The allegations against me are FALSE,” Gaetz tweeted Thursday. He also repeated his assertion that the charges are related to an alleged attempt to extort his family.

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Florida Headlines

DeSantis demands enforcement of federal immigration law

Titusville – Gov. Ron DeSantis on has demanded that the Biden Administration rescind its recent executive action allowing criminal aliens to go free.
“These dangerous and reckless policies jeopardize the health, security and wellbeing of Florida communities,” a release from his office issued Thursday states.
The governor called on the federal government to return to the rule of law and ensure the transfer of criminal aliens to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement facilities upon completion of their state prison terms. The Governor insisted that ICE continue to detain these criminals, and if found to be in this country illegally, remove them.
“Florida will not sit by and watch idly as the federal government sets criminal aliens free and abdicates its legal obligation to enforce immigration law,” said DeSantis. “That’s why I’m calling on President Biden and ICE to take immediate action to detain and remove these dangerous criminal aliens. Too many lives have been lost because immigration officials failed to do their jobs and too many parents have lost children at the hands of criminal aliens who were irresponsibly set free.”
Over the next 30 days, the Florida Department of Corrections estimates that 50 confirmed or suspected criminal aliens will complete their state prison terms. Over the next 6 months, FDC estimates that number will rise to approximately 200 individuals.
To combat the inaction of the federal government, the Governor sent a letter to FDC Secretary Mark Inch directing him to:
  • Identify all Florida inmates with detainer agreements and pursue all legal means available to transfer them to ICE custody upon completion of their Florida prison terms.
  • Provide monthly updates to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement  and the Office of the Governor on all inmates who have detainers lifted by ICE during the ninety days prior to release date.
  • Provide monthly updates to FDLE and the Office of the Governor on all undocumented inmates released at the direction of ICE.
  • Notify local law enforcement whenever undocumented individuals may be released in their communities.
  • Work with FDLE to cross-check, on a weekly basis, any released criminal aliens against Florida law enforcement’s statewide reports of new crimes.
  • Work with Florida Sheriffs to facilitate use of the national Law Enforcement Notification System, which provides local law enforcement with information on criminal aliens released from ICE custody in Florida.
  • Submit formal requests to ICE under 8 U.S.C. 1373(c) to confirm the citizenship status of all inmates where citizenship status is inconclusive.
Joining the governor at Tuesday’s announcement were Kiyan and Bobby Michael, and Jamiel Shaw – Angel Parents of children slain by criminal illegal aliens. Kiyan and Bobby Michael’s son Brandon, died in 2007 when he was struck by an illegal immigrant who had twice been deported and was driving without a license or registration. Jamiel Shaw lost his 17-year-old son, Jamiel Shaw II, when he was killed by a criminal illegal alien and known gang member. Jamiel’s murderer had been released from jail just two days before the shooting.
Source: Office of the Governor
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Florida Headlines

Debate brews in Florida about parental consent over sex ed

By BOBBY CAINA CALVAN
Associated Press
TALLAHASSEE, Fla. (AP) — Culture-war politics over sex education could again erupt in Florida’s statehouse, as a Senate Committee advanced a measure Tuesday that would require public school boards to hold hearings on what should be included in sex education curricula.
The move sets up a potential clash with a House bill that seeks to require school districts to first get parental permission before a student can be taught about human reproduction and its consequences.
The debate in Florida is part of a wider national discussion, much of it pushed by social conservatives, about whether public schools are the proper venues for teaching children about sex — including unintended pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases such as the virus that causes AIDS.
The measure arrived before the Senate Criminal Justice Committee as a bill that would protect children against pornography and other harmful material but morphed into a proposal about sex education.
Comprehensive sex education is not mandated across Florida, but state law does not bar school districts from offering such instruction in their classrooms. However, current state law requires school districts to provide comprehensive health education, including what it calls “an awareness of the benefits of sexual abstinence as the expected standard and the consequences of teenage pregnancy.” It also includes a provision on dating violence and abuse, as well as “the characteristics of healthy relationships.”
Some lawmakers are seeking to rewrite the law so sex education, if offered by a school district, would not be an automatic part of a child’s school curricula. Under the proposal in the Florida House — and the initial version introduced in the Senate — schools would have to get written consent from parents if they want their children to take part in sex education classes.
“We are in a time when our basic values are up for debate,” said state Sen. Dennis Baxley, a Republican. “They go to school and hear one thing, and they go home and hear another thing — and it puts kids in a tough spot.”
Sen. Jeff Brandes, a fellow Republican, offered a compromise supported by the majority of the panel that would instead require school boards to publicly debate what should be included in the sex education curricula and post that information online for parental review so they can decide whether to exclude their children from such classes.
Sen. Annette Taddeo, a Democrat, urged her colleagues on the committee to defend its version from attempts to replace it with the House version.
“I think this education to our kids is essential,” she said.
Sex education has long been an area of fierce debate. In Idaho, a proposal would require that a student cannot be exposed to discussions about gender identity, sexual orientation, sexual intimacy and eroticism without the consent from parents.

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Florida Headlines

Florida man guilty of setting store on fire during unrest

TAMPA (AP) — A Florida man was convicted Tuesday of setting fire to a sporting goods store and shopping center in Tampa during unrest that followed protests over the death of George Floyd last year.
Terrance Lee Hester Jr., 20, pleaded guilty in Tampa federal court to damaging or destroying by fire a building used in interstate commerce, according to court records. He faces a minimum mandatory sentence of 5 years and up to 20 years in prison, the Department of Justice said in a news release.
Hester was identified in surveillance video as throwing a flaming piece of cloth into a Champs Sports store through a broken window last May, according to a criminal complaint. The damage to the store and other businesses in the plaza was estimated at $1.25 million.
The Champs store was one of several businesses in a commercial district of Tampa that were damaged or looted following what had been a peaceful protest over the May 2020 death of Floyd, who died after a Minneapolis police officer pressed his knee against Floyd’s neck for several minutes.
Hester surrendered to federal authorities in Oswego, New York, last July. That same month, a state prosecutor in Tampa filed rioting and looting charges against dozens of people for ransacking stores, causing destruction and fighting with police officers the same night as the Champs fire.
A sentencing date was not immediately set.