12/29/17: The Year In Review

Dec 29, 2017

A historic Hurricane Irma leads to unprecedented evacuations while charter schools result in big changes and a sexual harassment scandal rocks the state legislature.

Powerful State Senator Jack Latvala’s Resignation Following 'Probable Cause' in Sexual Harassment Probe

Time Magazine called them the Silence Breakers - women coming forward telling stories of workplace harassment, assault and worse. And this fall, a powerful Florida Republican was the target of sexual harassment allegations too.

Half a dozen women accused Senator Jack Latvala of groping or sexual harassment. A Senate investigation referred the allegations for a criminal probe, finding his actions may constitute public corruption.

It was too much to overcome. Latvala announced he would resign. “I have had enough. If this is the process our Party and Senate leadership desires, then I have no interest in continuing to serve with you. I, therefore, will resign my seat in the Florida Senate at midnight, January 5, 2018,” Latvala wrote.

In a year with big political stories, this sex harassment scandal under the dome in Tallahassee has dominated state politics over the past two months and overshadowed the run-up to the 2018 legislative session.

We began our look back at the biggest Florida stories of 2017 with Tampa Bay Times Political Editor Adam Smith, Politico Reporter Marco Caputo and FSU professor, writer, and NPR commentator Diane Roberts.

Florida Dealt Big Blow By Hurricane Irma

Irma caused more than $6 billion dollars in insured losses and was blamed for at least 84 deaths.

A dozen deaths at a nursing home in Broward County were ruled homicides, caused by climbing temperatures after the facility lost electricity, knocking out its air conditioning.

Among the discussion points was how feasible it is to evacuate a third of the state and the problems faced in the storm’s aftermath.

Florida Resumes Executions

This year saw Florida make changes to how it hands out the death penalty and the state returned to carrying out the punishment after pausing executions for a year-and-a-half.

Florida resumed carrying out the death penalty in August with the execution of Mark James Asay, who was a white supremacist accused of targeting black victims. It was the country’s first execution using an untested triple-drug lethal injection.

In early 2016, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Florida’s death-penalty sentencing system was unconstitutional, because it was too easy for judges to override jury decisions. This spring, lawmakers changed the law requiring unanimous jury verdicts for a death penalty.

In March, Orlando-area State Attorney Aramis Ayala  held a news conference announcing her office would no longer seek the death penalty in any murder case.

After her announcement, Governor Rick Scott removed all murder cases from her office, sending them to the Ocala-area State Attorney Brad King.

Our panel of journalists examined the developments.

Public Schools Sue State Over Funding Dollars Going To Charter Schools

A controversial education law passed this spring changes the way charter schools are funded, but it faces plenty of challenges - including in court. Thirteen county school boards — including Broward and Duval — sued the state over the new education law known as H-B 7069.

The school districts argue the law improperly undermines local control of public schools by requiring public school boards to share property-tax revenues with charter schools.

We looked at what the districts hope to accomplish and whether the law is ultimately about expanding charter schools.