Gina Jordan

Tallahassee reporter

Ways to Connect

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It’s been two years since Florida passed a law shutting down Internet cafes. Now, the Florida House has approved a bill clarifying that family-friendly amusement centers are perfectly legal, and the Senate version is also close to a vote.

The state was in a hurry to get rid of Internet cafes. The storefront shops were multiplying rapidly because many of them were getting away with illegal slot machine gambling.

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Several bills working their way through the Florida Legislature would give nurse practitioners the ability to prescribe stronger medications and clarify other duties.

A second Senate committee has approved a bill that spells out the ability of highly trained nurses, known as practitioners, to order controlled substances in the hospital.

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A citizen-led effort seeks to put a solar power-expanding initiative on Florida’s 2016 ballot. It would allow entities other than utility companies to sell the solar power they generate. At the same time, legislation proposed in Tallahassee would keep Florida as one of only five states that prevent anyone other than utilities from selling solar power.

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Bills filed in the Florida House and Senate would require high school students to take a one-semester financial literacy course. But with just three weeks left in the legislative session, the proposals (House bill 29 and Senate bill 92)  haven’t been discussed by committees.

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More teenagers are trying electronic cigarettes - known as e-cigarettes - according to a study by the University of Florida. Researchers found that teens who use e-cigarettes are more likely to use other tobacco products.

E-cigarettes produce vapor from a liquid that comes in a variety of flavors, like bubble gum and cotton candy. The liquid can be bought with or without nicotine. 

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A study on the effects of climate change forecasts the widespread bleaching of coral reefs sooner than expected. Corals in the Dry Tortugas are among those at risk. 

Any change in normal conditions, like unusually warm water, can cause corals to release algae from their tissues. These algae give corals their color and provide their primary source of food.

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We’re midway through the Legislative session in Tallahassee. The only thing lawmakers are required to do is craft a budget for the fiscal year, which begins July 1. But the House and Senate have some big differences in their proposed budgets. The biggest difference is a $5-billion gap regarding healthcare costs.

The Senate has a plan to continue receiving federal money to pay for healthcare for low-income people.

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School districts are likely to face fewer penalties for violating class-size requirements under a bill that passed the Florida House Friday on a vote of 107 - 3.

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An effort to overhaul police and firefighter pensions is ready for consideration by the full Senate.

The bill, SB 172, changes the way state insurance premium tax revenues are used to fund local pension plans. It essentially enables local governments to use the money as they wish.

The bill is sponsored by lawmakers from both parties, including Sen. Rob Bradley (R-Fleming Island).

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The Seminole Tribe of Florida has released another TV ad -- the third so far -- trying to convince state leaders to renew a portion of the Seminole Gaming Compact.

The portion that expires in July allows the Seminole tribe to exclusively offer games like blackjack at its casinos. In return, the tribe guarantees a billion dollars’ worth of payments to the state over five years.

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A product made from cannabis could become one of Florida’s top crops: A bill in Tallahassee would allow Florida farmers to grow hemp.

Robert Clayton finished construction last year on a house made of hemp in Tarpon Springs. It’s thought to be the first of its kind in Florida. He testified at a Senate hearing about his research for the Hemp Industries Association.

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This is Government in the Sunshine Week, a week celebrating the importance of open government and freedom of information.

The recent firing of Florida Department of Law Enforcement Commissioner Gerald Bailey is an example of government leaders making decisions out of the public purview – violating the spirit of Sunshine Week and Florida’s Sunshine Law.

Scott Keeler/Tampa Bay Times

New Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando, is using his power in the Florida Legislature to help individuals with disabilities - or "unique abilities" as he often says. He's pushing bills relating to education and overall economic independence for the disabled.

The bills would expand education options beyond high school, promote the adoption of kids with disabilities in foster care and provide incentives for businesses to hire disabled workers.

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In the early 1980s, a series of escapes earned Mark DeFriest the nickname Prison Houdini.

In 1979, DeFriest was a 19-year-old mechanic living in a rural area outside of Tallahassee. Then he was arrested for stealing his own tools -- the tools were inherited from his father, but DeFriest took them before his father’s will had gone through probate. His stepmother called the police, and DeFriest fled. That began his decades-long odyssey behind bars.

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The rules surrounding alimony are back before the Florida Legislature. It’s been almost two years since Governor Rick Scott vetoed a bill that would have stopped permanent spousal support and reopened divorce cases.

"What I was concerned about on that was the retroactive part of it, that we could go back and review prior agreements,” Scott told reporters after vetoing the bill passed by the Legislature in 2013.

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