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Florida wildlife officials take aim at pythons

TALLAHASSEE – State wildlife officials want more money to eradicate invasive Burmese pythons and increased penalties for people who illegally import and release venomous reptiles.

The proposals were part of $150.2 million in legislative funding requests backed Wednesday by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservative Commission.

Also, agency staff members were directed to consider giving a boost to people called out to handle nuisance alligators.

Commissioner Gary Lester suggested increasing funding for stipends in the nuisance-alligator program, saying trappers keep the agency from having “to do all this stuff.”

It’s not a simple, run out and kill a gator,” Lester said during the commission meeting at Bluegreen’s Bayside Resort and Spa. in Panama City Beach.

They’re out there in the middle of the night. They’re in dirty, nasty places a lot of times. All hours,” Lester continued.

They go back multiple times. There is no guarantee that they’re just going to run out and get a gator. They get hurt. There are just so many reasons that we’re fortunate that we don’t have to have our own department to do all of this.”

Lester made the suggestion after Robb Upthegrove, a Plant City resident from an alligator-hunting family, expressed disappointment that legislative-funding requests didn’t provide assistance to alligator hunters.

We’re taking the liability,” Upthegrove said, noting that hunters usually get $30 per alligator from the state.

Trappers can also make money selling alligator products, including hides and meat.

The agency’s funding requests approved Wednesday came in preparation for the 2023 legislative session, which will start in March.

They included $1.35 million to pay python hunters and better assess the effectiveness of python removal efforts.

This year’s Florida Python Challenge, an annual effort to reduce the number of pythons that threaten native wildlife in the Everglades, featured cash prizes for people who killed the most pythons. The winner killed 28.

Also, prizes were awarded for the longest pythons — with the longest measuring 11 feet, 24 inches.

The invasive snakes have become prevalent in South Florida, largely as a result of being pets that escaped or were released.

Estimates indicate tens of thousands of pythons could live in and around the Everglades.

In addition to seeking more funding from the Legislature for eradication efforts, the commission is seeking to increase penalties for the illegal purchase, sale, importation, and intentional release of venomous snakes.

Currently, first-time offenders can face a first-degree misdemeanor, which carries penalties up to one year in prison and $1,000 fines.

Second violations within a 10-year span carry an additional $750 fine and the permanent revocation of wildlife licenses or permits.

The commission is seeking to bump up the penalties, making initial charges a third-degree felony, which carries up to five years in prison and $5,000 fines.

Among other funding requests for the 2023 session, the agency is seeking $16.9 million to cover 41 additional full-time law enforcement patrol officers and support staff.

Also, its requests include such things as $7.7 million to fight invasive plants; $6 million to continue Apalachicola Bay oyster-restoration efforts; and $600,000 for artificial reef construction and monitoring.

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Erdogan unveils Turkey’s first astronaut on election trail

Turkey’s first astronaut will travel to the International Space Station by the end of the year, President Recep Tayyip Erdogan said Saturday after an illness forced him to cancel several days of appearances.

Air force pilot Alper Gezeravci, 43, was selected to be the first Turkish citizen in space. His backup is Tuva Cihangir Atasever, 30, an aviation systems engineer at Turkish defense contractor Roketsan.

Erdogan made the announcement at the Teknofest aviation and space fair in Istanbul, the president’s first public appearance since falling ill during a TV interview on Tuesday. He appeared alongside Azerbaijan’s president, Ilham Aliyev, and Libya’s interim prime minister, Abdul Hamid Dbeibeh.

“Our friend, who will go on Turkey’s first manned space mission, will stay on the International Space Station for 14 days,” Erdogan said. “Our astronaut will perform 13 different experiments prepared by our country’s esteemed universities and research institutions during this mission.”

Erdogan described Gezeravci as a “heroic Turkish pilot who has achieved significant success in our Air Force Command.”

The Turkish Space Agency website describes Gezeravci as a 21-year air force veteran and F-16 pilot who attended the U.S. Air Force Institute of Technology.

Wearing a red flight jacket, Erdogan appeared in robust health as he addressed crowds at the festival. Turkey’s presidential and parliamentary elections are scheduled for May 14, and opinion polls show Erdogan in potentially his toughest race since he came to power two decades ago.

Turkey is dealing with a prolonged economic downturn, and the government received criticism after a February earthquake killed more than 50,000 in the country. Experts blamed the high death toll in part on shoddy construction and law enforcement of building codes.

While campaigning for reelection, Erdogan has unveiled a number of prestigious projects, such as Turkey’s first nuclear power plant and the delivery of natural gas from Black Sea reserves.


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Israelis rally for 17th week against judicial overhaul plans

Tens of thousands of Israelis protested judicial overhaul proposals Saturday in the 17th weekly rally against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s governing coalition.

The demonstrations have been ongoing since the beginning of the year, and organizers plan to continue, despite Netanyahu delaying the changes last month. The leaders of the mass protests want the proposals scrapped altogether.

“We are just getting started,” read a banner that demonstrators held at the main protest in Tel Aviv, Israel’s economic hub. Smaller demonstrations were reported in several parts of the country.

Spanish Prime Minister and Socialist leader Pedro Sanchez voiced support to the Israeli antigovernment protesters in a video message aired on a large screen in Tel Aviv.

We as Socialist International have always fought for freedom, equality, justice, and democracy. Yet, as many of you know, these are values that we cannot take for granted,” Sanchez said.

Protesters argue the proposed changes threaten Israel’s democratic values, hurting a system of checks and balances and concentrating authority in the hands of Netanyahu and his extremist allies.

They also say that the prime minister has a conflict of interest in trying to reshape the nation’s legal system at a time when he is on trial.

Such changes would result in weakening the Supreme Court, giving parliament, which is controlled by Netanyahu’s allies, authority to overturn its rulings and limiting its ability to review laws.

The protest gained support from the military’s elite reserve force, businesses, and large sectors of the Israeli community. But on Thursday, tens of thousands of right-wing Israelis who support the legal



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‘Total nightmare:’ As Florida insurance companies go insolvent, homeowners pay the price

Seminole county couple has three-year open claim because of insolvent insurer.

What happens when your property insurer goes out of business?

It is happening quite a bit in Florida and is leading to all policyholders paying more.

The Florida Insurance Guaranty is adding a 1% assessment to policyholders starting in October to cover claims for insolvent companies.

A Seminole County couple has lived without a fully functioning kitchen for three years because their insurer went out of business.

Sandra Braga Alfonso said what started as a leak under her sink has turned into a three-year nightmare.

She said there was already a fight with her insurer to pay out the claim, but then the company went under and it got worse.

Alfonso has a fridge and an oven but is missing lower cabinets, a stove, her normal sink, and a dishwasher.

“It has been a total nightmare,” Alfonso said.

It started in December of 2019 with a leak under her sink, she said.

She eventually discovered water in all her lower cabinets and in the sheetrock behind the cabinets, she said.

“The insurance company gave us approval to rip everything out that was damaged and now they don’t want to pay to put it back in,” Alfonso said.

The insurance company cut a check for $4,800, she said.

Of that $4,300 went to water mitigation to prevent mold. That left about $500, not nearly enough to replace her kitchen, she said.

“We’ve tried to settle, go to mediation, everything,” she said.

Finally, Alfonso and her husband filed a lawsuit against her insurer, but after two years of hearings and motions and waiting for a court date, her insurer went out of business.

She was with Capitol Insurance, but according to the Florida Department of Financial Services, Capitol was merged into Southern Fidelity, which is now one of 14 companies in liquidation.

“I’m over it. I just want my kitchen. I just want to be able to live again. I love to cook, and I can’t,” Alfonso said.

In the last year, Florida lawmakers have had three special legislative sessions to deal with Florida’s property insurance crises.

News 6 asked Alfonso if she thinks anything is being done in Tallahassee to help consumers with their insurance issues.

“No, it’s all for the insurance company,” she said.

One of the biggest moves made in Tallahassee over the last year is the legislature doing away with what is referred to as “one-way attorney’s fees.”

That means if you sued your insurer over a claim and won, the insurance company had to pay your attorney’s fees. Without it, Alfonso said she would never have been able to sue her insurer even though in her case, it didn’t do any good.

No. My husband’s retired. He’s on disability and he’s retired we’re on a fixed income,” Alfonso said.

Alfonso has now turned to the Florida Insurance Guaranty Association, which handles the claims of insolvent property and casualty insurance companies.

They are still negotiating the amount it will take to fix her kitchen — more than three years later.

“I owned my first home when I was 20-something years old,” Alfonso said. “I’ve been paying my insurance premiums since I’m like 25, never filed a claim and look where I am now,” Alfonso said.


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