WMNF’s daily digest of news headlines for Thursday, March 16th, 2023



Axios reporter fired

Axios reporter Ben Montgomery, a co-host of the WMNF Public Affairs program “The Skinny,” was fired by Axios this week after responding to a Florida Department of Education email about an event featuring Gov. Ron DeSantis.

The Washington Post reports Montgomery received an email about a roundtable discussion hosted by DeSantis quote “exposing the diversity equity and inclusion scam in higher education.” It also called for prohibiting state funds from being used to support DEI efforts.

Montgomery, a Pulitzer Prize finalist, who’s worked as a journalist in the Tampa Bay area since 2005, replied to the Department of Education email writing, “This is propaganda, not a press release.”

Montgomery tells the Post he received a call on Monday night from Jamie Stockwell, executive editor of Axios Local, who asked Montgomery to confirm he sent the email. An hour later, the Education Department’s communication officer, Alex Lanfranconi, shared Montgomery’s reply on Twitter, where it has been viewed more than 1 million times.

Montgomery tells the Post he’s seen similar incidents happen to reporters in Florida and warns that it is “incredibly important that their organizations stand up on their behalf and realize that this is nothing but a political tactic to gain right-wing votes and disrupt the lives of hard-working journalists.”

Immigrant employment

A controversial bill that would toughen Florida’s immigration laws advanced in the State Senate Wednesday. Under Senate Bill 1718, Florida would no longer recognize out-of-state driver licenses when presented by undocumented migrants — making the offense a second-degree misdemeanor. The bill would also toughen human smuggling penalties and require state employers to verify the legal status of new employees. Any business found knowingly employing an undocumented migrant could face a $5,000 first-time fine. The bill would also require hospitals accepting Medicaid to report the legal status of a patient. The bill is a priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis.

State to begin monitoring higher education

First, it was diversity/equity and inclusion programs – now public universities in Florida are being ordered to submit detailed records on their collective bargaining activities. According to the Tampa Bay Times, State University System Chancellor Ray Rodrigues sent a request to presidents for details that include the list of names of bargaining units, the date of the last agreement, how long negotiations lasted and the total cost of the effort.

Andrew Gothard, president of United Faculty of Florida, says “We can only assume they want to gather this information to smear higher education faculty, to try to undermine unions and try to unfairly paint us as using too many state resources to negotiate our union contracts.” Gothard says weak unions lead to an exodus of faculty, adding, “We don’t need a revolving door of faculty, we need stability.”

USF student protest

In response to 4 campus arrests earlier this month at a protest against House Bill 999, about 20 demonstrators gathered in front of the Hillsborough County Courthouse Wednesday calling for justice.

Death penalty in Florida

A Florida House panel voted 8-6 Wednesday in support of a bill that would eliminate the requirement for unanimous jury recommendations before death sentences can be imposed. Under HB 555, it would only require 8 of 12 jurors to recommend a death sentence. The issue re-emerged after Nikolas Cruz was sentenced to life in prison last year because the 12 jurors were not unanimous in their recommendation.

Bill sponsor Berny Jacques pointed to what he called a ‘flawed policy’ that allowed Cruz to escape death. But Democratic Rep. LaVon Bracy Davis, cited the numerous Death Row inmates who have later been exonerated, saying “Death is final…there are no do-overs”, adding, “Why would we not want to be as sure as we possibly can, as right as we possibly can be?”

Algae to wash on Florida shores – the Tampa Bay area likely to be spared

An extremely large mass of algae that can stretch miles is set to wash up on Florida’s beaches in the coming months. Luckily though, Sargassum‘s effect on Tampa Bay will be minimal.

Information from the Florida Public Radio network, News Service of Florida and Associated Press was used in this report.

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