03/13/14 Public Safety
What's the worst gun legislation being considered by Florida lawmakers? Really, it's hard to pick.
Is it the one that adds, instead of any thoughtful change to the controversial stand your ground law, a warning shot?
Or a ridiculous bill to protect a kid's right to chew a waffle (or preferred breakfast pastry) into a gun shape?
No, I think I'll go with the proposal that could arm teachers at school....
03/11/14 Human Interest
It is inconceivable, this news that former Tampa Mayor Pam Iorio will soon head for Texas.
Pam Iorio? A Tampanian's Tampanian, raised from babyhood to become the town's youngest county commissioner, then its no-nonsense elections supervisor and steady two-term mayor? Leaving for work far away?
If I may use the parlance shared by both the Sunshine and Lone Star states:
Long before he was named Hillsborough County Teacher of the Year, cheered and feted and even squired to Jefferson High in a limo this week, Mr. Boyko's classroom became The Orphanage.
The kids who formed the group yearly called themselves that, 15 or 20 of them regularly drifting in after school to hang out. Plenty of them had perfectly nice families to go home to, but they came anyway. Mr. Boyko started having Orphanage Field Days at a local park with a tent, food, sports — a tradition the kids loved....
02/27/14 Human Interest
At first, the homeless are hard to find.
It's hours before dawn and chilly, with dark skies spitting rain. The city streets are empty but for alley cats and the occasional police cruiser. The homeless, a perpetual part of the workaday landscape — a community's headache or heartache, depending on your view — melted away earlier to find shelter.
Shelter being at least part of the reason we're looking for them....
Volunteers gathered before dawn at churches and community centers across Hillsborough County, carrying cups of coffee and pulling on bright yellow T-shirts that read, "I am counting to end homelessness."
Their task for today and into tonight: To haunt city streets and shelters, makeshift camps and soup kitchens, and tally the number of homeless people currently in the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County....
02/25/14 Public Safety
Sometimes when packs of similar-looking pedestrians pass by my car in downtown Tampa, I play a game I think of as: Name That Convention.
What is it these particular people have in common? Are they insurance adjustors here for a yearly meet-up? Women judges in town to discuss justice? Volleyballers, cooks, caddies, comic book fans? Hey, it's cheating if you peek at the logo on their matching bags of swag....
A law defending our children's right to bear Pop-Tarts makes perfect sense for Florida — the latest test of how far we'll go when it comes to guns.
A bill under consideration in the state Legislature would forbid schools from disciplining kids who make fake firearms out of prepackaged pastry or point a pencil at a classmate and say bang. Kidding? Would that I were.
This unnecessary push to take discretion from educators stems in part from an incident last year: A 7-year-old boy in Maryland was suspended after he reportedly chewed his Pop-Tart into the shape of a gun. The National Rifle Association gave the kid a lifetime membership, and no, I did not make that up....
What an interesting vote we have on our hands come November, one that pits old-school rigidity against progressive thought.
No, no, not the governor's race between Republican incumbent Rick Scott and Democratic former Gov. Charlie Crist. We're talking medical marijuana here. And the potential for some seriously cynical political manipulation on the way.
Lately I have been imagining these political opportunist types in dark, smoky rooms, figuring out new and heartless ways to manipulate elections in their candidates' favor. (I see this movie villain, muttering and stroking a hairless cat.)...
Here is the state of our state when it comes to Florida's self-defense law and this latest stunner of a court case:
A man in Jacksonville is found guilty of shooting at an SUV full of teenagers after a dispute over their loud "thug music." With this verdict, he is held to answer for three kids in that red Dodge Durango thankfully not hit by the 10 times he fired.
But our shoot-first stand your ground law may also be responsible for keeping that same jury from finding Michael Dunn guilty of fatally shooting a fourth teenager, 17-year-old Jordan Davis....
02/13/14 Human Interest
It is difficult to picture one of the most feared divorce lawyers in town — elegant, well-spoken and a street fighter in court — as an unabashed romantic. A sweetheart, even.
"Sweet" is not a word generally associated with Arnie Levine, the Tampa attorney both sides scramble to call when big-money divorce looms, if only to avoid facing him across the table.
Years ago, when he represented the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in a civil dispute, he accused opposing counsel of throwing coffee on him during a settlement meeting. (So much for settling.) Levine pleasantly allowed that probably a lot of lawyers wanted to do this over the years. And I have it on good authority that in fact, many called to offer the accused coffee-tosser sincerest congratulations....
02/11/14 Public Safety
From atop a neon Ferris wheel on a cool February night, you can see the big city high-rises of downtown Tampa. But really, the Florida State Fair is a world away from all that.
It's our annual homage to our agricultural roots. It's cows raised by 4-H kids, splashy midway glitz, rock-and-roll carnival rides and deep-fried everything. It's politicians glad-handing at the governor's luncheon, blue ribbons and shortcake topped with Plant City strawberries....
For more than a decade, an idea about fairness in public education went exactly nowhere in Florida.
Students who lived here and were undocumented immigrants through no fault of their own — they were brought here as children — would get the same break on college tuition as Florida residents, the thinking went.
And since out-of-state tuition can cost four times as much, this would give these kids a better shot at a college degree and a good job — which, it can be argued, would surely be good for Florida's future, too....
It would be wrong to call former Hillsborough County Commissioner/transit wonk Ed Turanchik a blind squirrel.
As in: Even a blind squirrel finds a nut now and again, as the saying goes.
Or to compare him to a broken cuckoo clock — right at least twice a day.
Turanchik was, after all, behind a sensible idea of getting us around by rail, a concept snubbed thus far by the local citizenry. That earned him the nickname Commissioner Choo Choo....
As the previews rolled inside a darkened Wesley Chapel movie theater last month, two strangers argued. There was a gun, a shot.
And security video was rolling.
That video could turn out to be powerful evidence in the case of the man killed after an argument over texting in the theater. It could speak to the ongoing debate over Florida's "stand your ground" law.
Depending on its clarity, that video might help show who was the aggressor, who acted reasonably and who did not — under a law that says in some circumstances, a man with a gun does not have to back down....
Not far from the deep-fried Oreos, the sword-swallowing guy and the concession serving burgers sandwiched between Krispy Kreme doughnuts comes a true Florida State Fair spectacle when it opens Thursday. (Politics-wise, anyway.)
Smells of cotton candy and cow manure in the air, the Governor's Day Luncheon kicks off tradition. See high-ranking state officials ride the giant slide! See the state attorney check midway games to make sure they're fair! (One year a basketball hoop didn't meet regulation height, so proprietors changed the name to ASKETBALL.)...