State Education Chief Say Masking No Longer Needed In Schools With No Evidence To Back Statement

Florida’s education commissioner has asked superintendents across the state to update their policies to make facial coverings voluntary rather than mandatory for students, teachers and staff in upcoming school year.  Richard Corcoran also claimed that data shows mask policies don’t impact the spread of the virus and “serve no remaining good at this point in our schools.”  However he did not offer any evidence of that statement.  Here in Marion County, a spokesman said that the district’s current masking policy will remain in effect for now until the full school board has a chance to discuss the request. 

Florida’s Republican-controlled Legislature approved stiffer penalties against violent protesters on Thursday, handing a major legislative victory to Gov. Ron DeSantis, who began campaigning for the measure last year following a summer of turmoil across the country over the killings of Black people by police. Critics call the legislation an assault against the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as an attempt to curtail the right to free speech and to peaceably assemble.

59 new cases of covid 19 were recorded by the health department on Thursday in Marion County, very slowly dropping since the spring break surge.  However another three deaths were also reported for a total of 942.  Statewide, the number of people who have caught the disease is now approaching 2,150,000

Police in Florida are searching for the person who shot into an apartment and killed a 7-year-old boy who was sleeping inside.  The boy’s 28-year-old mother was injured in the shooting which happened early Wednesday, Riviera Beach police said during a news conference.  Police Chief Nathan Osgood said the shooting was targeted, but it was unclear if the shooter knew there were children inside the apartment.

You liked those $1400 stimulus checks.  Newly vaccinated and armed with $1,400 stimulus checks, Americans went on a spending spree last month, buying new clothes and going out to eat again.  Retail sales surged a seasonally adjusted 9.8% in March after dropping about 3% the month before, according to the Commerce Department.   The increase was the biggest since May of last year, when stores reopened after closing at the start of the pandemic.

With the use of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine put on hold for now, we thought you might like to hear it in perspective.  More than 6.8 million doses of the vaccine have been successfully given with only 6 serious adverse reactions.  In reality you have a much better chance of being hit by lightning or being killed in a car crash than having a reaction to the J&J vaccine. 

Sheriff’s investigators would like to have a little chat with a peeping Tom caught on a homeowners video doorbell .  The man was observed walking up to a home in the 15000 block of SW 19th Terrace, getting onto his hands and knees and trying to look inside before running away.  To see the video of the man just log on to our website and click on today’s news.  If you can identify the suspect, call the sheriff’s office.

Bernard Madoff, the infamous architect of an epic securities swindle that burned thousands of investors, outfoxed regulators and earned him a 150-year prison term, died behind bars early Wednesday. He was 82.  Madoff’s death at the Federal Medical Center in Butner, North Carolina, was confirmed by his lawyer and the Bureau of Prisons.

Big business has ratcheted up its objections to proposals that would make it harder to vote, with several hundred companies and executives signing a new statement opposing “any discriminatory legislation.”  The letter was signed by companies including Amazon, Google, Starbucks and Bank of America, and individuals such as Warren Buffett and Michael Bloomberg.  It was the largest group yet to join in protests against Republican efforts to change election rules in states around the country.

Florida’s two Republican senators are steering clear of voicing support for Rep. Matt Gaetz, branding sex trafficking accusations against him serious but calling it premature to say what should happen to their fellow Floridian and GOP lawmaker.  The remarks by Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott were the latest cautious comments about Gaetz by Republicans, who have mostly taken neutral stances or said nothing about him.

One of the people caught in a gas card skimming scam at a Marion County gas station got off with essentially a slap on the hand Tuesday in court.  The man, from Tampa got 150 days in jail, with credit for 58 days already served, and three years probation.  The man, who spoke through a Spanish interpreter, was also ordered to do community service and pay back $6500 in restitution, which will likely never happen. 

The U.S. on Tuesday recommended a “pause” in using the single-dose Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine to investigate reports of rare but potentially dangerous blood clots, a development that could jeopardize the rollout of vaccines around the world.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Food and Drug Administration announced that they were investigating unusual clots that occurred 6 to 13 days after vaccination. The FDA commissioner said she expected the pause to last a matter of days.  As a result, Florida Governor Ron DeSantis suspended use of the J & J vaccine in the state.  The Moderna and Pfizer vaccines are still available.  As a note, millions of doses of the Johnson and Johnson vaccine have been given with only a handful of people having problems.

Remember that wastewater pond down in Manatee County that got national attention when it spring a leak?  Florida is now moving to permanently close the leaky  reservoir that poured millions of gallons of water into Tampa Bay while threatening to burst open and flood nearby homes and businesses. Governor Ron DeSantis said at a news conference at the site that the chronic challenges of containing polluted water at the long-closed phosphate plant must end.

For you Las Vegas junkies…. The Tropicana Las Vegas Hotel and Casino, a Sin City namesake, is being sold to a new entrant among Las Vegas Boulevard resort owners.  Rhode Island-based Bally’s Corp. announced Tuesday it will acquire the iconic Strip property from Gaming and Leisure Properties Inc. for about $308 million.  If you go, you probably won’t notice any changes.

Now a followup story on one we ran the other day.  Women seeking an abortion pill will not be required to visit a doctor’s office or clinic during the COVID-19 pandemic, U.S. health officials said Tuesday in the latest reversal in an ongoing legal battle over the medication.  The Food and Drug Administration announced the policy change in a letter to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, one of several medical groups that has sued over the restriction put in place under the Trump administration.  Not getting into the political fray over abortion, the FDA head said there seems to be no safety concerns for women in approving the drugs.

Muslims in many parts of the world marked the start of Ramadan on Tuesday, but a spike in coronavirus cases in several countries has once again put curbs on the holy month’s signature feasts and lengthy prayers in mosques.  Throughout Ramadan, Muslims abstain from any food or drink — including water — from morning to night. The monthlong practice is aimed at heightening remembrance of God, curbing unhealthy habits and deepening gratitude.

So one year into the pandemic, where are you financially?  While most Americans have weathered the pandemic financially, about 38 million say they are worse off now than before the outbreak began in the U.S.  Overall, 55% of Americans say their financial circumstances are about the same now as a year ago, and 30% say their finances have improved, according to a new poll

46 new cases of covid were confirmed by the health department on Tuesday, still continuing the slight downward trend after a spike upward caused by spring breakers.  No new deaths were reported. 

Republicans in the Florida legislature are moving forward with their plans to slowly see public schools disappear with the consideration of multiple bills that would change state rules to allow more state agencies to approve new charter schools.  One bill would set up a Charter School Review Commission that would approve charter applications. It would be a substantial change from current law, which puts local school districts in charge of approving charter schools within their jurisdiction. Separate proposals would allow state colleges and universities to operate charter schools to accept students from multiple counties.

The Florida Education Association launched another ad in a continuing campaign to defeat a pair of bills that teachers say would weaken their unions. The bills would prevent unions from deducting dues from teachers’ paychecks and require teachers to reaffirm each year that they aren’t required to be union members.  Critics see the legislation as an attack on the freedom afforded to teachers and a union busting measure.

A new report from the state’s Office of Insurance Regulation found Florida accounted for over 76% of all homeowners’ litigation in the United States in 2019.  While Florida exceeded the rest of the nation in homeowners’ insurance litigation, the state accounted for only 8% of homeowners’ insurance claims nationwide.

The Florida Highway Patrol says a Daytona woman was killed in Marion County late Monday the result of a single-vehicle crash.  The victim has been identified only as a 31 year old.  Investigators say the woman had drifted out of her lane while traveling on County Road 484C shortly after 11.  The woman then overcorrected causing the vehicle to spin out of control hitting a road sign, overturning, and striking at least three trees.  The woman was not wearing a seatbelt and was ejected from the car.  She was pronounced dead at the scene.

The Biden White House is amplifying the push for its $2.3 trillion infrastructure package with the release of state-by-state breakdowns that show the dire shape of roads, bridges, the power grid and housing affordability.  Here in Florida, the report says 408 bridges and over 3500 miles of roadways are in poor condition.  The report also notes that Florida’s drinking water infrastructure will need nearly 22 billion dollars in upgrades over the next 20 years.  President Joe Biden is scheduled to meet Monday afternoon with Republican and Democratic lawmakers and can use the state summaries to show that his plan would help meet the needs of their constituents.

Marion County Sheriff’s investigators are trying to identify a shoplifting suspect.  The suspect, a woman, went into a Publix store on State Road 200 and put more than $100 worth of goodies in a reusable shopping bag and walked out.  When confronted, the woman took off in a pickup.  Publix surveillance cameras took a good photo of the woman and the sheriff’s office would like the public’s help in making a positive ID.  If you know this suspect, call the sheriff’s office. There may be a reward

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Florida’s jai alai frontons, quarter horse and harness horse racing tracks could choose not to conduct live events and still be able to operate poker and slot machine rooms under a bill unanimously approved by the Senate Regulated Industries Committee on Monday. Thoroughbred horse tracks would still have to conduct live racing under the bill, and while greyhound racing is now illegal in Florida, permit holders could still run card rooms and slots. Permit holders wouldn’t be able to move their licenses to new locations.

Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis attacked YouTube and its parent company Google on Monday, accusing the tech giant of censorship for its decision last week to remove from its platform video of a coronavirus discussion he organized where his panel criticized lockdowns and some mask wearing as ineffective.  DeSantis said YouTube’s contention that video of the March 18 panel violates its ban on the posting of disinformation is an attempt to stifle dissent against the federal government’s pandemic response.

A Florida man was sentenced Monday to 20 years and 9 months in federal prison for pretending to be an attorney and filing hundreds of fake immigration applications.  56 year old Elvis Harold Reyes was sentenced in Tampa federal court, according to court records. He pleaded guilty in December to mail fraud and aggravated identity theft.

Marion County Sheriff’s investigators are trying to identify a shoplifting suspect.  The suspect, a woman, went into a Publix store on State Road 200 and put more than $100 worth of goodies in a reusable shopping bag and walked out.  When confronted, the woman took off in a pickup.  Publix surveillance cameras took a good photo of the woman and the sheriff’s office would like the public’s help in making a positive ID.  If you know this suspect, call the sheriff’s office. There may be a reward

Looking for a job?  Uber is hiring.  The company is offering sign-up bonuses and other incentives for drivers as it faces record demand for rides and meal delivery.  The San Francisco ride-hailing company said Monday that total monthly bookings, including food delivery and passenger service, reached an all-time high in March.

Only 13 cases of covid 19 were recorded in Marion County on Monday by the health department for a total of 29,618.  One more death was also noted bringing that total to 938.  Over the past week, the county had seen a spike in the number of cases, attributed to people not following safety precautions during spring break.

Marion County Circuit Judge Edward Scott is calling it a career.  The judge says he will lay down his robe in July.  Scott began his career in law at the age of 19 when he went to work for the Ocala Police Department. Judge Scott says its time to spend more time with his wife and adult children.

A Florida woman was fatally shot in the head when her neighbor’s gun discharged as he was cleaning it a short distance from her home.  The shooting happened Sunday afternoon in Jacksonville. Police have not released the name of the woman, who was dead at the scene.  The neighbor is cooperating with authorities and there is no word on whether or not he will be charged.

Another 98 people were confirmed with the covid virus over the weekend for a total in Marion County of 29,605 since the pandemic began.  Statewide, more than 2,124,000 people have come down with the disease and nearly 35,000 have died.

Florida lawmakers have little time to waste as they debate and finalize legislative proposals, big and small, in the waning days of the legislative session — including a state budget, a nationally watched elections bill and a so-called “anti-riot” bill that is being pushed by Gov. Ron DeSantis.  The Republican governor has his fingerprints on all three pieces of legislation, but especially on the anti-riot bill that has prompted some of the most intense passions from community activists, who say the bill is an attack on the Black Lives Matter movement.

A cluster of severe storms swept across the South early Saturday, leaving one person dead in Louisiana, toppling trees and power lines in Mississippi, dropping large hail on an Alabama coastal city and leveling buildings in the Florida Panhandle.  That is the same storm system that pushed through our area on Sunday bringing us as much as 4 inches of rain in some areas.

Two big South Korean electric vehicle battery makers said Sunday they have settled a long-running trade dispute that will allow one company to move ahead with plans to manufacture batteries in Georgia. President Joe Biden called it “a win for American workers and the American auto industry.”  The companies pledged to work together to strengthen the EV battery supply chain in the U.S. and support the Biden administration’s efforts to advance clean energy policies, including electric vehicles.

A Florida woman who claimed she is Harry Potter fatally struck a federal judge visiting from New York and seriously injured a 6-year-old boy after swerving her car onto a sidewalk.   23 year old Nastasia Snape is charged with vehicular homicide and other felonies for Friday’s crash that killed District Judge 75 year old Sandra Feuerstein  who served in the Eastern District of New York since 2003.  The 6 year old is still hospitalized.

It was supposed to be a unifying weekend for a Republican Party at war with itself over former President Donald Trump’s divisive leadership. But Trump himself shattered two days of relative peace in his closing remarks to the GOP’s top donors when he insulted the party’s Senate leader and his wife and trashed former Vice President Mike Pence.  Saturday’s speech was the final address of the Republican National Committee’s weekend donor summit in Palm Beach.  Neither McConnel or Pence responded to the comments.

It’s the new wave of abortion, at home.  About 40% of all abortions in the U.S. are now done through medication — rather than surgery — and that option has become all the more pivotal during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Abortion opponents, worried the method will become increasingly prevalent, are pushing legislation in several Republican-led states to restrict it and in some cases, ban providers from prescribing abortion medication via telemedicine. Ohio enacted a ban this year, proposing felony charges for doctors who violate it. The law was set to take effect next week, but a judge has temporarily blocked it in response to a Planned Parenthood lawsuit.