Margie Menzel - News Service of Florida

Reporter

Margie Menzel is a reporter for The News Service Of Florida.

The White House

TALLAHASSEE — President Barack Obama — in what is becoming an all-too-familiar role as the consoler-in-chief — spent Thursday afternoon in Orlando, comforting the family members of victims and survivors of the Pulse nightclub massacre.

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TALLAHASSEE — Florida taxpayers are on the hook for tens of thousands of dollars in legal fees for the state's failed attempt to fine four abortion clinics accused of performing second-trimester abortions without proper licenses.

Hey Paul Studios / Flickr

TALLAHASSEE — Suicide rates are rising for children and young adults, both nationally and statewide — and Florida policymakers are trying to reverse the trend.

Rick Scott
The Office of Governor Rick Scott

TALLAHASSEE — A key federal health agency on Tuesday notified Florida and other states that they may not ban Medicaid funding for family-planning services at clinics that also offer elective abortions.

That likely blocks a controversial provision of a new Florida abortion law (HB 1411) signed last month by Gov. Rick Scott.

Florida Department of Environmental Protection

TALLAHASSEE — After decades of legal battles between Florida, Georgia and Alabama over a river system they share, an environmental group on Tuesday warned that the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint Basin is "at the breaking point."

American Rivers — which releases a yearly list of the country's 10 most-endangered rivers — named the Apalachicola-Chattahoochee-Flint system its number one for 2016.

gay pride flag
Ted Eytan / Flickr

TALLAHASSEE — The Florida Department of Children and Families is under fire for backing off of part a proposal that would protect LGBT kids who live in group homes from discrimination — including so-called "conversion therapy" aimed at changing their sexual orientation.

Rick Scott
The Office of Governor Rick Scott

TALLAHASSEE — A new Florida abortion law seeks to ban Medicaid funding for family-planning services at clinics that also offer elective abortions — such as clinics run by Planned Parenthood — but the federal government appears unlikely to allow that part of the law to take effect.

Planned Parenthood clinic in Jacksonville
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TALLAHASSEE — Citing a new abortion law signed by Gov. Rick Scott, the state Agency for Health Care Administration has dismissed cases alleging that three Planned Parenthood clinics performed second-trimester abortions without proper licenses.

Contributed photo

TALLAHASSEE — In the waning hours of the 2016 legislative session, Florida lawmakers Friday approved wide-ranging reforms to the state's mental-health and substance-abuse treatment systems.

Rick Scott in Jacksonville
Ryan Benk / WJCT News

Gov. Rick Scott on Wednesday signed nine bills, including a high-profile measure requiring local law-enforcement agencies to submit "rape kits" to be tested and another allowing the creation of a needle-exchange program in Miami-Dade County.

Duval Academy sign
Duval County Schools

After years of controversy, the Florida Department of Juvenile Justice is ending its relationship with Youth Services International, a for-profit firm with state contracts totaling roughly $90 million to run seven juvenile lockups.

Gregory Todaro / WJCT News

An appeals court Friday overturned a temporary injunction that has blocked a new law requiring women to wait 24 hours before having abortions in Florida.

As a result, the law went into effect immediately after the ruling.

Baker County Health Department
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  In a 5-4 vote, a Senate panel on Tuesday approved the confirmation of Surgeon General John Armstrong as secretary of the Florida Department of Health.

Members of the Senate Health Policy Committee spent an hour peppering Armstrong with questions, nearly all dealing with Floridians' access to health care, before signing off on his nomination.

Questions centered on cuts to county health departments, the state's high rate of new HIV infections and a drop in enrollment in the Children's Medical Services program, which serves youngsters with "chronic and serious" conditions.

Virginia National Guard

As the Jacksonville City Council debates bills dealing with LGBT discrimination, a similar proposal in the Florida Legislature has died.


church exterior
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A debate is again building in the state Capitol about same-sex marriage as conservative lawmakers back a proposal known as the "Pastor Protection Act."

The proposal, which was approved this week by a Senate committee, would prevent clergy members from being forced to perform marriage ceremonies contrary to their beliefs. Religious conservatives are backing the bill in the wake of last year's landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling that said same-sex couples have a fundamental right to marry.

young man under arrest
Chris Yarzab via Flickr

Bills are moving in the House and Senate that would limit the ability of Florida prosecutors to charge juvenile offenders as adults, a legal practice known as "direct file."

Each measure has passed one committee, and they could be on a collision course, turning on the question of how much discretion prosecutors should have in such cases.

Lucio Eastman / WIkimedia Commons

  Acknowledging "momentum" behind a proposal that would allow people with concealed-weapons licenses to openly carry guns, the Florida Police Chiefs Association said Thursday its board of directors had voted to back the controversial measure — as long as changes designed to protect law-enforcement officers are included.

A spokeswoman confirmed that the police chiefs' group had contacted the sponsors of the proposal (SB 300/HB 163), Sen. Don Gaetz, R-Niceville, and his son, Rep. Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, who both say they're on board with the changes.

A House panel on Wednesday unanimously approved a bill aimed at keeping Floridians with mental illnesses out of the criminal-justice system.

The House Children, Families & Seniors Subcommittee supported the measure (HB 439), filed by Rep. Charles McBurney, R-Jacksonville, that would create a statewide framework for counties to offer treatment-based mental health courts.

Many counties have mental-health courts, but they have varying eligibility and program requirements.

After a shooting spree at a clinic in Colorado, a conservative Florida group has postponed a rally that had been scheduled next week to protest government funding for Planned Parenthood.

The Orlando-based Florida Family Policy Council, sponsor of the "Florida Taxpayer Rally to Defund Planned Parenthood," said the Dec. 7 event at the Florida Capitol will take place in the spring instead.

stephanski / Flickr

More children are coming into Florida's foster-care system after a sweeping child-welfare reform law went into effect 19 months ago, but officials say the state is trying to focus on what's best for kids in difficult situations.

"You write laws to respond to the issues of the day, and those change at least annually," said state Sen. Nancy Detert, a Venice Republican and sponsor of a number of foster-care reforms. "So our focus in today's world is the best interests of the child in every way — safety, quality of life, the best location — and that's all we can do."

bear sleeping
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission via Flickr

Florida wildlife officials Thursday called last month's bear hunt a success, with 304 bears killed in two days and few hunters cited for violations — but critics called it a slaughter, saying most of the bears were killed on private land, where state regulations could be more easily skirted.

In a report released Thursday, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission said 304 bears were killed — 16 short of the so-called "harvest objective" of 320 that was set for the state's first bear hunt in 21 years.

EPA

A bill that would create a new regulatory structure in Florida for oil and gas drilling, including the controversial practice known as "fracking," easily passed a House panel Tuesday despite roughly 50 environmentalists on hand to oppose the measure.

The House Agriculture & Natural Resources Subcommittee approved the bill (HB 191), filed by Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, and Rep. Cary Pigman, R-Avon Park, on a straight party-line vote of 9-4.

The state Department of Children and Families has agreed to settle a lawsuit brought by Disability Rights Florida and move toward providing more options for people who are mentally ill to live in their communities instead of in state mental hospitals.

The advocacy group sued the department on the grounds that Florida was violating the Americans with Disabilities Act by not providing enough community placements for people who were ready to be discharged from mental hospitals overseen by DCF.

Depression can be a clear indication that bullying is taking place
Florida Department of Children and Families

Last week, lawmakers reviewed Florida's progress toward helping child victims of sex trafficking, as a 2014 law starts to yield more information about victims.

The House Children, Families and Seniors Subcommittee heard presentations from state officials about the law, which made a wide range of changes to try to curb sex trafficking. That included creating a new screening system, which was rolled out in April, to better identify and serve sexually exploited children.

Kyra Trahern / Facebook

The state's child-welfare chief said the recent death of a 4-year-old Palatka boy, allegedly strangled by an older child in his home, points to the challenges posed by families in which addiction, sexual abuse and domestic violence create a perilous environment.

In the case of 4-year-old Brayden Trahern, the boy's extended family had repeatedly been involved in beatings, molestations, incarceration, homelessness, prostitution and drug abuse going back years, Florida Department of Children and Families Secretary Mike Carroll said in an interview this week.

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UPDATED: Updated with reaction from the Agency for Health Care Administration.

Planned Parenthood fired back Monday against allegations that three Florida abortion clinics provided second-trimester abortions without proper licenses, seeking an emergency injunction against the state Agency for Health Care Administration "to protect women's access to safe, legal abortion."

Rob Bixby / Flickr

The Olustee Battlefield Historic State Park was the center of an outcry in late 2013, when the state held a hearing on a plan to place a Union memorial there. But now, the site of Florida's largest Civil War battle — a Confederate victory — might have a peaceful solution in the works.

"We have to tell both sides of the story," said Jeff Grzelak, a Civil War historian and re-enactor for more than 40 years.

Cathedral of Power International Church / YouTube

In the wake of a landmark U.S. Supreme Court ruling on same-sex marriage, a proposal by Republican lawmakers dubbed the "Pastor Protection Act" could fuel a debate during next year's legislative session.

Backers of the measure, which is expected to be filed by state Rep. Scott Plakon, R-Longwood, and Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, are already organizing on its behalf. The proposal is aimed at safeguarding clergy members from being forced to perform marriage ceremonies contrary to their principles, supporters say.

baby
Richard Elzey via Flickr

The number of Florida children in the state's foster-care system has reached its highest level since 2008, driven by both a spike in the number of kids being removed from their homes and a drop in the number being discharged after a stint in foster care.

In the last two years months, the number of children in what's also called "out-of-home care" has reached 22,004 statewide, up from 17,591 in 2013.

"Abortion is forever" sign
Teofilo via Flickr

The day before a new Florida law would have begun requiring women to wait 24 hours before having an abortion, a Leon County judge placed the law on hold while a constitutional challenge goes forward. But the state quickly filed an appeal, a move that could prevent Francis' ruling from taking effect.

Leon County Chief Circuit Judge Charles Francis issued a temporary injunction Tuesday that would have prevented the law (HB 633) from taking effect on Wednesday.

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