John Davis

John Davis has been a full-time Reporter/Producer for WGCU since 2009. He is the local host for NPRââââ

The nation’s largest union for public school teachers kicked off its annual meeting June 26 in Orlando.  About 9,000 education leaders from across the country will converge on the Hilton Orlando Lake Buena Vista hotel for the National Education Association’s 153rd annual meeting and 94th Representative Assembly

Gov. Rick Scott recently declared March as Bike Month in Florida, but when it comes to safety for bicyclists sharing our roadways, the Sunshine State is the deadliest in the nation. Southwest Florida in particular consistently ranks among the top ten most dangerous regions in the state for bicyclists. Following a recent special investigation by the News-Press, we’ll explore what’s behind the dangerous conditions Florida bicyclists face from driver aggression and a lack of safety education to ill-designed roadway infrastructure and a lack of effective legislation to protect cyclists. We’ll also discuss what’s being done to make Florida roads safer for bicyclists and pedestrians. 

Florida lawmakers closed this month’s special legislative session Friday with a $78.7 billion spending plan and Gov. Rick Scott signed the budget Tuesday. The special session was called after state lawmakers closed the regular spring session early over a budget impasse on healthcare and healthcare spending. The final budget passed without the Senate’s proposed plan to expand Medicaid to an additional 800,000 low income Floridians.

Rates of homelessness around the country have generally been on the decline. Nationally, homelessness has gone down about 9% since 2007. Here in Florida, though, a 2013 report from the State Department of Children and Families’ Council on Homelessness finds that between 2007 and 2012, homelessness statewide increased by an estimated 14.8%. Public officials and law enforcement agencies in the city and county of Sarasota have been working to tackle the difficult and politically complex problems associated with chronic homelessness. 

Big Sugar Summit

Jun 16, 2015

The Sierra Club will hold a day-long Summit on Big Sugar June 20 in West Palm Beach. Ahead of the summit, we’ll take a closer look at the history and growth of Florida’s $500 million a year sugar industry. We’ll also explore the industry’s impact on the health of Floridians and the Everglades Ecosystem through nutrient-laden runoff, the regular burning of cane fields, and the altered natural flow of water south from Lake Okeechobee through the glades. We’ll also explore opportunities state lawmakers could take to boost Everglades restoration efforts through the purchase of sugar land as well as the sugar industry’s political influence. 

Black Bears represent a successful come-back story in Florida. Driven to the brink of extinction in the early 1900s, black bears were placed on the state’s threatened species list in 1974, and since then their population has rebounded to an estimated 3,000 animals in the wild today. Now Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission officials are looking to introduce the first recreational black bear hunting season in more than 20 years. FWC officials will take a final vote on the proposal at their meeting in Sarasota later this month.

A 2013 report from the United Kingdom’s Institution of Mechanical Engineers finds that between 30% and 50% of all food produced worldwide ends up wasted every year. Now, researchers with the University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences are working to extend the shelf life of some of Florida’s harvested produce such as tomatoes and strawberries as well as improve nutrient and taste retention of the fruits.

Fire crews in the Big Cypress National Preserve have been battling a number of wildfires that make up the Mud Lake Complex since May 8. The fires are believed to have been ignited by lightning strikes. As of June 2, the fires had burned more than 35,000 acres and were about 75% contained. Will get the latest update from fire crews at the scene. We’ll also explore the risks and benefits associated with wildfires in Florida and what residents can do to reduce the risk of dangerous wildfires. 

Florida’s 20 day special legislative session began June 1st and while much of lawmakers’ focus will be on healthcare spending and negotiating a balanced budget, environmental advocates also see opportunities for increased spending on land and water conservation efforts. Last fall, nearly 75% of Florida voters approved Amendment One, which allocates 33% of documentary stamp fees to a land acquisition trust fund to be used for land and water conservation. 

Elder Fraud Task Force

May 26, 2015

Officials with the State Attorney’s Office along with State Rep. Kathleen Passidomo, R-Naples, announced the creation of a new elder fraud task force earlier this month.  Financial abuse and exploitation of the elderly is a growing problem in the region, and this new task force will connect law enforcement and other governmental agencies in their efforts to identify, investigation and prevent such crimes.   We’ll learn more about how these crimes are committed and how the task force will operate.  Plus. Rep. Passidomo joins us for a look at her legislative efforts to crack down financial abuse and exploitation of Florida’s seniors.

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, as many as five million Americans are living with Alzheimer’s disease and that number is projected to increase to about 14 million people by 2050.  The cost of care and treatment for Alzheimer’s disease and other forms of dementia will rise to $226 billion this year according to the Alzheimer’s Association, and that’s expected to grow to $1.1 trillion by 2050.

June 1 marks the official start of the six month Atlantic Hurricane Season.  Forecasters are predicting a relatively quiet season.  Colorado State University’s Tropical Meteorology Project calls for seven named storms including three hurricanes and one major hurricane.  Experts note, however, that the number of predicted storms has no correlation to the likelihood of a hurricane making landfall in the U.S.  

Lee Memorial Health System recently announced the creation of a new innovation hub aimed at improving patient care, research opportunities, and education for patients and medical staff when it comes to the treatment of heart and lung disease. 

Fracking in Florida

May 13, 2015

Hydraulic Fracturing or ‘fracking’ is a technique for releasing oil and natural gas from underground by fracturing deep rock formations with pressurized water, sand and other chemicals. The process remains controversial in Florida and around the nation. Proponents point to fracking’s economic benefits and say it can help provide energy here in Florida, where about 60% of the overall electricity produced comes from natural gas. Opponents highlight Florida’s unique geology and hydrology saying the scientific data to show that fracking is safe isn’t there. 

Governor Rick Scott was in Fort Myers Monday morning highlighting job growth at the cancer genetic testing company NeoGeonomics LaboratoriesGov. Scott also addressed his recently announced hospital profit sharing proposal to help healthcare providers cope with the projected loss of the federal Low Income Pool program.

Florida’s 2015 legislative session came to a close last week following an early adjournment of the House. Due to a stalemate between the House and Senate over whether or not to expand Medicaid, lawmakers left Tallahassee with no budget in place, no resolution over Medicaid expansion, and priority bills on topics such as water quality and prison reform unaddressed. Our legislative analysis team explores what legislative proposals passed, what didn’t, and what to expect in the upcoming special session in June. 

The stalemate between the Florida House and Senate over whether to expand Medicaid led to the 2015 legislative session ending with no budget in place.  It also means it’s unlikely that Florida hospitals will see an extension of the federal Low Income Pool (LIP) program which provides funds for hospitals treating uninsured low-income patients.  That creates challenges for healthcare systems in Southwest Florida and around the state.

Florida ranks 49th in the nation in per capita funding for mental health services. According to U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services surveys taken between 2011 and 2012, nearly 17% of people in the state experience the presence of a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder in a given year. In 2012, the state Dept. of Children and Families admitted it had not been able to provide services to 170,000 adults and 40,000 children with serious mental illnesses. Despite this, the Florida Senate voted to reduce funding to the mental health services budget by $76 million dollars. We listen back to a conversation from WUSF’s Florida Matters on the current state of access to mental health services for uninsured Floridians and the impact on DCF and law enforcement agencies.

Florida House Speaker Steve Crisafulli adjourned the House on Tuesday, three days prior to the scheduled end of the legislative session May 1, over a budget impasse with the Senate.  At the heart of the stalemate is House members’ opposition to expanding Medicaid, which Senators had hoped would lead to an extension of a federal program providing billions of dollars in funds for Florida hospitals providing care for low-income patients.  That program is called the Low Income Pool or LIP.  We explore the impact on healthcare providers here in Southwest Florida, the impact on the broader economy and how hospitals plan to cope in the face of an uncertain financial future.

The Tamiami Trail refers to the southernmost 264 mile portion of U.S. Highway 41 stretching from Tampa to Miami.  Construction of the east-west portion of the road through the Everglades was considered a monumental feat of engineering.  On Saturday, April 25 the Museum of the Everglades recognizes the 87th anniversary of the opening of the Tamiami Trail with a series of events including a lecture by Melissa Timo with the Florida Public Archeology Network titled, “The Tamiami Trail and Other Projects of Profound and Unintended Consequence:  The Archaeology of How Humans Have Shaped the Southwest Florida Landscape.”  

The 2015 Southwest Florida Sustainability Summit takes place April 30th. The event brings together a broad spectrum of local experts for a series of panel discussions and workshops related to planning for a sustainable future for the region. This year’s theme is, “Quality of Life for Today & Tomorrow.” We’ll hear from event speakers and organizers with a focus on exploring the current status and future potential growth of Southwest Florida’s STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) industries. We’ll also look at local STEM education initiatives from elementary school through higher education for a look at how we’re preparing students to enter careers in STEM fields. We’ll also explore how STEM growth relates to the greater goals of sustainability and a strategic sustainability plan for Southwest Florida. 

A Florida Senate Committee is set to take up a bill today that would permit adoption agencies to turn away gay individuals or same-sex couples on the basis of a moral or religious belief. 

Life-long Floridian, historian, author and former state lawmaker, Vernon Peeples has died.  The fifth generation Floridian passed away Sunday at the age of 85.  Peeples served as a Democrat in the Florida House of Representatives representing portions of Charlotte, DeSoto, Lee and Hardee counties from 1982 through 1996. 

The Charlotte Sun reports that in the late 1980s, Peeples was on the ground floor of efforts to create Florida Gulf Coast University and spearheaded funding efforts to create a Charlotte County campus of Florida Southwestern State College.

For 13 years, Peeples provided a historical perspective on Florida through his commentary series, “Vernon’s Views” here on WGCU-FM.

In remembrance of Vernon Peeples, the attached audio includes one of his commentaries documenting a particularly memorable day in 1943, when Peeples, at the age of 13, was working as a page in the Florida House.

Following a March vote in the Florida House to strike down the state’s ban on gay adoption, state lawmakers are considering a bill that would allow adoption agencies in the state to turn away same-sex couples on moral or religious grounds.

The bill’s sponsor, Rep. Jason Brodeur, R-Sanford, points to cities like Boston and San Francisco, where faith-based child-placement agencies like Catholic Charities no longer provide adoption services for fear of lawsuits for their stance on not adopting children to same-sex couples. Opponents of the bill liken it to the Religious Freedom Restoration Act in Indiana and say it would violate the state constitution.

April 16 will mark Holocaust Remembrance Day this year. This day of remembrance, called Yom Hashoah in Hebrew, marks the anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising on the Jewish calendar. Seasonal Sanibel Island resident and Holocaust survivor Steen Metz joins us to tell his story. Metz was just 8 years old when he was sent to the Theresienstadt Concentration Camp in what is now the Czech Republic. Of the 15,000 children who passed through the camp, Metz is one of only about 1,500 who survived. We’ll also find out about Holocaust Remembrance Day events taking place this year in Southwest Florida.