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DeSantis signs school-safety changes

TALLAHASSEE — Two weeks after a deadly school shooting in Uvalde, Texas, reignited debates about gun violence and securing schools, Gov. Ron DeSantis signed a bill Tuesday that will require mental-health “crisis intervention” training for on-campus officers.

The measure also will make other school-safety changes, including giving the State Board of Education rulemaking authority over emergency drills.

The Legislature formally sent the bill (HB 1421) to DeSantis a day after the May 24 shooting in Uvalde that left 19 children and two adults dead. DeSantis’ office announced the signing Tuesday in a news release without a public appearance. He also signed four other bills from the 2022 legislative session.

Among other things, the school-safety measure will require that law-enforcement officers stationed at public schools complete mental-health crisis intervention training.

“The training must improve the officer’s knowledge and skills as a first responder to incidents involving students with emotional disturbance or mental illness, including de-escalation skills to ensure student and officer safety,” the bill said.

School security officers who are not sworn law-enforcement officers will be required to receive training designed to “improve the officer’s knowledge and skills necessary to respond to and de-escalate incidents” on campuses.

The measure, which will go into effect July 1, also will extend the Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School Public Safety Commission. The commission was formed after the 2018 Parkland school-shooting in which 17 students and faculty members were killed. It is scheduled to meet again Aug. 2, shortly before the start of the 2022-2023 school year, according to the Florida Department of Law Enforcement website.

Speaking to reporters on Friday, DeSantis touted mental-health funding in the new state budget and called school shooters “deranged psychopaths,” citing events as far back as the 1999 mass shooting at Columbine High School in Colorado.

“When you’re talking about school security, the thing is, for whatever reason, I think going back to Columbine, this has become something where these deranged psychopaths have certain targets. And some of them go to schools as a way to kind of maximize the trauma to a community. They’re very evil people,” the governor said during an appearance in Orlando.

Part of the bill signed Tuesday deals with emergency drills for “active assailant and hostage situations,” bomb threats and natural disasters. District school-board policies and procedures currently guide such drills. But the new law will direct the State Board of Education to develop statewide rules for school emergency drills.

Those rules will be required to include “minimum emergency drill policies” that will guide timing, frequency, participation, training, notification and accommodations related to drills.

The rules also must require that all types of emergency drills are conducted annually, at a minimum.

Law-enforcement officers who are responsible for responding to schools during emergencies such as school shootings will have to be “physically present on campus and directly involved” in active-assailant emergency drills.

Petty

State Board of Education member Ryan Petty, whose daughter Alaina was killed in the Parkland high-school shooting, touted parts of the bill that will require officer training and extend the school-safety commission.

“Extending the commission’s work and requiring mental health and de-escalation training for safe-school officers will make a major difference in mitigating the risk of a future tragedy,” Petty, a member of the commission, said in a statement.

Another mental-health component of the new law will require that 80 percent of employees at all schools receive training in “youth mental health awareness and assistance.”

County school boards and charter schools also will be required under the law to adopt plans designed to reunite students with their families in the event of emergencies. Those plans will be drawn up in coordination with local governments and law-enforcement agencies.

DeSantis signed the bill as Florida legislators face a Friday deadline to weigh in on a proposal by Democrats to hold a special legislative session on gun violence. A poll about holding a special session was prompted by more than 20 percent of lawmakers submitting letters of support. Such attempts to force special sessions on other issues have failed in the past.

DeSantis last week touted his record on school safety and pointed, in part, to recommendations by the Marjory Stoneman Douglas commission.

“What I think we’ve done in Florida since I’ve been governor is make sure there’s adequate security at schools, make sure we follow the recommendations of the Parkland commission,” DeSantis said.

Education Commissioner Manny Diaz Jr., a former state lawmaker who became commissioner last week, will be responsible for enforcing compliance with school-safety requirements.


Local
Residents, business owners feeling pain at the pump

With gas prices expected to hit the $5 mark soon, Citrus County residents and business owners are making budget adjustments.

In fact, they’ve been doing that for the past few months as prices have skyrocketed to record high proportions.

“I’m just staying home (except for emergencies) and having my groceries delivered,” said Lisa Huggins of Homosassa.

Tom Dasilva of St. Petersburg works in pharmaceuticals and was in Lecanto filling up Monday morning.

Until prices fall, Dasilva said he is cutting back wherever possible.

“I’ve given up a meal during the week,” he said.

Dasilva said gas prices are cyclical and will likely go back down. He just wishes politicians would stop the rhetoric and blaming each other.

Tinnibu Hollis of Lecanto makes deliveries for DoorDash. Between that and personal use of his car, it’s costing him $200 a week in gas.

These days, Hollis said he just drives to work and parks his car other times. If people invite him to go somewhere, he asks if they will pick him up.

“It used to be that I put in $10 and got half a tank,” he said.

Now the needle barely moves with $20 a fill-up, he added.

Businesses make adjustments

The lawn care business is especially feeling the pain.

Robert Platz, owner of Local Boy Lawn and Pest Control in Beverly Hills, said he’s spending an average $3,000 more a month due to the gas hike. Platz has two diesel trucks, a diesel tractor and five gas mowers.

mattbeck / Matthew Beck / Chronicle photo editor 

Robert Platz, owner of Local Boy Lawn and Pest Control, cuts a large parcel of property in Homosassa Tuesday, June 7, while riding his mower. Many who utilize gas-powered equipment have felt the squeeze of high gas prices.

“It’s costing me $125 a day just to put my two trucks on the road,” he said.

Platz said he was forced to raise prices for the first time in seven years due to the basic costs of living, the state’s hike in the minimum wage and inflation. He was able to give his four employees cost-of-living raises.

But even so, he’s still treading water trying to keep up.

“I’m taking the hits right now in hopes things get better,” he said. “We’ll keep going as long as we can.”

“Gas prices are the bottom line of the country,” Platz added. “Anything you buy from the store or any service you get or goods that you buy – everything follows from gas prices.”

Samantha Jumper, one of the managers at Angelotti’s Pizza in Inverness, said they raised the delivery fee from $2 to $3.

Inflation, rising supply costs and other economic factors forced an across-the-board price hike in food, she added.

Customers, she said, understand and there has been no fall-off of business.

Getting worse

Florida gas prices are creeping closer to $5 a gallon, according to AAA – The Auto Club Group.

The state average jumped 18 cents last week, reaching a new all-time high of $4.76 per gallon on Sunday.

That’s 66 percent more expensive than a year ago. It now costs $71 to fill an average size 15-gallon tank of gas – nearly $29 more than what drivers paid a year ago.

“Unfortunately, the pain at the pump is likely to get even worse this week,” said Mark Jenkins, spokesman, AAA – The Auto Club Group. “At this rate, it sure seems like there’s very little resistance to rising prices at the pump, and $5 a gallon is quickly becoming a very real possibility this summer.”

More disturbing news: Respondents to a AAA Survey found one in four Floridians would ignore hurricane evacuation warnings – except for a Category 3 or higher storm – because they don’t want to travel long distances and spend a fortune on gas.

Who or what is to blame?The cost of a barrel of oil is nearing $120, nearly double from last August, as increased oil demand outpaces the tight global supply, AAA said.

“These supply and demand dynamics have contributed to rising pump prices,” the auto club said. “Coupled with volatile crude oil prices, pump prices will likely remain elevated as long as demand grows and supply remains tight.”

More than one person the Chronicle talked with for this story blamed President Joe Biden for the current crisis.

The Washington Times reported last week the national average price for a gallon of gas is projected by Sunday to top $4.80, twice as much as the day President Joe Biden took office.

The average price per gallon was $2.40 on Jan. 20, 2021, based on an average of the leading fuel-monitoring services.

The Times called it “a staggering milestone that underscores both the everyday pain inflation inflicts on Americans and the difficult months ahead for Democrats seeking votes in November.”


Local
Hospital patient safety data could be held from public; feds want input

The federal agency overseeing Medicare and Medicaid services is asking for public input about a potential policy change blocking public access to local hospital safety information that includes such things as avoidable patient falls, bed sores and infections during hospital stays.

The deadline to comment on the proposal by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is June 17. Information about the proposal and how to comment can be found at https:// tinyurl.com/2p8txvhx.

CMS posted the proposed changes with the Federal Register website, saying, “due to the impact of the COVID-19 public health emergency on data used in our value-based purchasing programs, we are proposing to suppress several (patient care) measures (collected from hospitals).”

The data, collected only by CMS, is used by patient advocacy organizations to provide hospital patient information to the public, typically in a format that’s understandable to a layperson.

One of those organizations encouraging the public to contact CMS or join it in opposing the change is the Leapfrog Group.

The organization provides the public with health safety grades for thousands of hospitals in a simplified format, with data Leapfrog collects from CMS.

“Data on these (hospital patient care) complications is not available to the public from any other source,” Leapfrog said on its website. “If CMS suppresses this data, all of us will be in the dark on which hospitals put us most at risk, yet we all shoulder the burden of these dangerous, preventable complications.”

But CMS contends that the coronavirus pandemic has skewed the data.

“An important part of (CMS’) commitment to patient safety is ensuring public access to the highest quality data regarding the performance of health care facilities: We want the public to have complete trust in the data and will only be providing data we have determined has a high confidence of credibility and accuracy,” Lee Fleisher, director of CMS’ Center for clinical standards and quality, said in a statement.

On the Leapfrog list of graded hospitals are HCA Florida Citrus Hospital in Inverness and Bravera Health Seven Rivers hospital in Crystal Rivers.

Leapfrong gave both facilities a C grade during the Fall of 2021 for their patient safety outcomes.

HCA Citrus had below average scores when it came to some infections such as MRSA but above average for staving off other infections such as sepsis following surgery.

The hospital also scored below average for deaths from serious treatable complications, problems with dangerous bed sores and dangerous blood clots.

Leapfrog also cited Bravera Health Seven Rivers for its problems, namely hospital infections during facility stays. But the hospital scored above average in avoiding sepsis after surgeries and infections following colon surgery.

The hospital also scored below average for blood leakage and breathing problems during or after surgery.

The hospital scored relatively well for patient safety when it came to such events as avoiding patients falls, bed sored, and avoiding blood clots.

Binder

“The public has a right to know what happened during the pandemic. We have a right to know when lives are at risk and which hospitals did the best job of protecting their patients,” said Leah Binder, CEO of the Leapfrog Group, to Axios, an online news website.

“There’s no question hospitals have been under unprecedented pressure and it’s clear to us they’ve responded to the pressure the best they could. But in some cases, that’s been harmful to patients,” Binder said. “We have to face up to the consequences of this pandemic in all of their nuances.”


Crime_and_courts
Authorities arrest two more in connection to Inverness shooting over $200 debt

Two Tampa teenagers were taken into custody for their alleged participation in a shooting targeting an Inverness resident over a $200 debt.

Tampa Police Department officers arrested 16-year-old Martavis Malik Horton and 17-year-old Markis Antonio Gillyard May 18 on Citrus County warrants alleging they were each principals to attempted first-degree murder and shooting into an occupied dwelling, court filings show.

Citrus County Sheriff's Office 

Gillyard

Citrus County Sheriff’s Office deputies transported the pair on May 27 from the Hillsborough County jail to the local detention facility, where the teens were each booked with total bonds of $75,000, which a judge left unchanged May 28 at their first court appearances.

June 22 was set as their respective arraignments in court.

Citrus County Sheriff's Office 

Horton

So far, according to the sheriff’s office on Tuesday, June 7, authorities have jailed Horton, Gillyard, Angelo Camparetto, Jeremy Cooker, Dylan Byrnes and Ava Salley for their alleged roles in the Feb. 4 shooting of a home in the 6100 block of East Iona Lane.

Local investigators recovered 12 firearm projectiles from the front door and wall of the house, which was occupied by three people. No injuries were reported after the gunfire erupted between 2 a.m. and 3 a.m.

Sheriff’s office detectives also arrested Hernando 19-year-old Geraldine Moore May 12 on charges of being an accessory after the fact to attempted premeditated murder and shooting into an occupied dwelling.

It’s alleged Moore, according to her arrest report, allowed one of the apprehended shooting suspects to stay at her house after knowing a warrant had been issued for their arrest.

Investigators honed in on their shooting suspects after reviewing cellphone and social media conversations, and questioning witnesses, according to the similar arrest affidavits for Camparetto, Cooker, Byrnes and Salley.

Citrus County Sheriff's Office 

Cooker

It’s alleged 18-year-old Cooker, of Floral City, 18-year-old Camparetto, of Inglis, and another suspect picked up Horton, Gillyard and possibly a third person from Tampa the night of Feb. 3, prior to the shooting.

Witnesses said plans to commit the alleged shooting went into action after one of the suspects became enraged over one of the East Iona Lane resident’s unwillingness to repay them $200.

Citrus County Sheriff's Office 

Camparetto

Arrest affidavits show either Cooker or Camparetto then drove the group to East Iona Lane, where Horton, Gillyard and the third person from Tampa exited the vehicle and allegedly opened fire on the house before they and their accomplices drove away.

Afterward, the shooting suspects either traded or sold their guns to 22-year-old Byrnes, of Homosassa, to get rid of the evidence.

Citrus County Sheriff's Office 

Byrnes

Byrnes was also aware the shooting took place, according to his arrest affidavit, and also allegedly offered to provide Camparetto with a revolver and ammunition.

According to Salley’s arrest affidavit, the Inverness 19-year-old is accused of soliciting the shooting target several times to send her videos of the incident and other evidence she’d then send to her alleged accomplices so they could evade prosecution.

Citrus County Sheriff's Office 

Salley

Byrnes and Salley were arrested April 18 as accessories to attempted murder and shooting into an occupied dwelling.

Cooker was arrested April 28 on a warrant charging him with attempted murder, shooting into an occupied dwelling, and two counts of possessing a firearm as a felon and minor.

Camparetto was arrested May 2 on a warrant alleging he was a principal to an attempted murder, and a principal to the shooting of an occupied dwelling.

When he was arrested, Cooker was already in custody at the county jail for allegedly having 1.5 grams of marijuana, 9 mm ammunition, 12-gauge shotgun shells, a 9mm pistol and a “sawed-off” shotgun March 29 during traffic stop near Inverness.

Authorities measured the shotgun’s barrel length at 10 inches. Florida law states a shotgun – unless it’s an antique or federally permitted – can’t have a barrel less than 18 inches long.

Cooker’s felony conviction from July 2020 for burglarizing an unoccupied conveyance in Pasco County also makes it illegal for him to possess either guns or ammunition.

Prosecutors with the State Attorney’s Office are charging Cooker in that case with possessing a short-barreled shotgun, driving without a valid license, and four counts of possessing either a firearm or ammunition as a delinquent under the age of 24 years old.


Local
In brief

Lawmakers polled on gun violence special session

Florida lawmakers will have until 3 p.m. Friday to weigh in on a proposal by Democrats to hold a special legislative session on gun violence.

Secretary of State Cord Byrd announced the timeline for lawmakers to respond to a poll about holding a special session. The poll was prompted by more than 20 percent of lawmakers submitting letters of support. A special session would be convened if 60 percent of the members of the House and Senate back the idea in the poll.

Book

Lauren Book

Senate Minority Leader Lauren Book, D-Plantation, wrote in a letter Thursday to Byrd that lawmakers must address issues of universal background checks, expanding “red-flag” laws and regulating high-capacity rifle magazines after mass shootings in Buffalo, N.Y., and Uvalde, Texas.

“Although we’ve taken bipartisan steps to address gun violence since the horrific massacre of students and educators at Marjory Stoneman Douglas (High School in Parkland) and we continue to do that work, it is imperative that we take common sense steps to address the epidemic of gun violence that has led to mass atrocities in places like Buffalo, N.Y. and most recently in Uvalde, TX,” Book wrote.

Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, wrote separately to Byrd that the special session is needed to address the issues. Such efforts to force special sessions on other issues have failed in the past.


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