TIME Accident

3 Children Injured in Bounce House Sent Flying by Waterspout

Accidents in inflatable houses have become increasingly common

Three children were injured Monday in Florida when the bounce house they were in was lifted into the air by a waterspout and carried several feet.

The bounce house, which had been secured to a basketball court, flew above a tree line and across four lanes of traffic, according to police in Fort Lauderdale. The children were dumped out of the bounce house onto the sand shortly after it was airborne. Police later confirmed that two of the children had been released from the hospital with minor fractures while the third was being held overnight for observation. The bounce house had been provided for public use as part of a city Memorial Day event and was properly secured, police said.

MORE: Bounce-House Injuries Become an ‘Epidemic’

Bounce-house injuries among children have grown increasingly frequent in recent decades, as it’s become easier for anyone to buy and set up the inflatable structures. In 2010, about 31 kids per day were sent to the emergency room in the U.S. for inflatable-bouncer-related injuries in the U.S.

TIME Crime

Florida Man Falls Asleep While Robbing a House

The victim woke up to find him sleeping on her couch

A burglar from Sarasota, Fla., reportedly fell asleep while breaking into a home over the weekend.

A woman who lived in the house told Sarasota police officers she woke up around 7:20 a.m. on Saturday to find 29-year-old Timothy Bontrager sleeping on her sofa, reports WTSP.

When she asked what he was doing in her house, Bontrager reportedly apologized. After telling him she was going to call the police, the burglar started walking around the living room and left the house, making off with her wallet, driver’s license, credit cards and personal checks.

Bontrager, who was picked up by police walking along a nearby road, has been charged with felony burglary of an occupied dwelling.

[WTSP]

TIME Crime

George Zimmerman Involved in Florida Shooting, Police Say

Reportedly suffered a minor gunshot wound

George Zimmerman, the onetime neighborhood watchman acquitted of the fatal shooting of an unarmed black teenager in 2013, was involved in another shooting incident Monday, according to Florida police.

Lake Mary police chief Steve Bracknell said the incident involved two men in Lake Mary, local TV station WESH reports. Zimmerman’s condition is unknown, but police at the scene said he appeared to sustain a minor wound.

Police spokeswoman Bianca Gillett told CNN the shooting appeared to be a road rage-related incident, but TIME was unsuccessful in reaching Gillett to confirm Zimmerman’s involvement.

The Florida resident fatally shot Trayvon Martin, a black 17-year-old, in February 2012 after an apparent altercation. The shooting and subsequent trial sparked a national debate about racial profiling that acted as a precursor to recent protests over police brutality of young African American men.

He was arrested in January after being accused of assault by his girlfriend. The charges were dropped after she recanted her story.

[WESH]

TIME jeb bush

How Jeb Bush’s Union-Friendly Pension Law Could Haunt Him

Former Florida Governor and potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks to supporters at an early morning GOP breakfast event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on March 18, 2015.
Richard Ellis—ZUMA Press/Corbis Former Florida Governor and potential Republican presidential candidate Jeb Bush speaks to supporters at an early morning GOP breakfast event in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on Mar. 18, 2015.

Democratic lawmaker calls it "the most union friendly bill I've ever seen"

Shortly after he was sworn in as governor in 1999, Jeb Bush signed a union-backed bill that some argue led Florida’s cities to massively underfund their municipal pensions. As he squares off against Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker and others in the Republican presidential primary, the law may come to haunt him.

“If you’re Governor Walker, you can say ‘I took on the unions, while he gave them what they wanted,’” said Andrew Biggs, a resident scholar at the American Enterprise Institute, a conservative think tank. “It plays as something where he held the line, and Governor Bush didn’t.”

The law set a minimum standard for fire and police pension benefits and used state money to encourage cities to enhance pensions above those amounts. The goal was to increase pension benefits without letting cities simply pass their baseline obligations onto the state.

During the boom years of the early 2000s, the system worked well. But when the Florida economy crashed in 2008, the law prevented cities from getting help from the state to cover their pension losses. Instead, to avoid leaving state money on the table, cities ended up continuing to add extra benefits, leaving local taxpayers on the hook for the core of the pensions and increasing government spending overall.

“Now you have a hole in your underlying funding,” explains Mike Sittig, president of the Florida League of Cities. “That hole has to be filled, and in most cities that hole is filled with property taxes. It means that property taxes went up, or some other local priority was cut out of the budget.”

In the 16 years since the law was passed, pension spending has skyrocketed as some cities have tried to make up for pension fund losses in the market. A bill to reform the 1999 law passed the Florida legislature on April 24th — it ends the rule that state funds only be used for extra pension benefits, but incentivizes cities and unions to directly negotiate on the municipal level. That bill is awaiting Governor Rick Scott’s signature, but the damage may already be done. A 2014 report card of Florida municipal pensions conducted by the Leroy Collins Institute and Florida TaxWatch found that almost 50% of municipal pension plans got “D” or “F” grades.

Police and firefighter unions stood by the 1999 law as a way to ensure that first responders get their due, regardless of a city’s budget problems. “That’s not the police officer’s fault, that’s not the union’s fault, that’s the fault of city leaders who did not put in the money that they should have,” says John Rivera, president of the Florida Police Benevolent Association. But both unions also support the recently passed legislation.

Gov. Bush’s campaign team says the economic problems are the fault of the cities’ mismanagement, not the law itself. “The intent was always that these benefits be funded in a fiscally sound way,” says Kristy Campbell, a Bush spokeswoman. “Some cities did not.” She added that the candidate supports the recent reform, noting that it’s “consistent with the original purpose and intent of the 1999 law,” which she says was to ensure that funding for benefits was “fiscally sound.”

Opponents to the law have been trying to raise awareness about the $10 billion unfunded liability in Florida municipal pensions. Florida TaxWatch, a research institute and government watchdog, has even started a coalition called Taxpayers for Sustainable Pensions to explain the problem and encourage reform.

So far, the pension issue has not become a major rallying cry in the Sunshine State, and none of the other 2016 Republican hopefuls have picked it up as an attack line. But it could become a headache for Bush if the race narrows with Walker, who defeated public-sector unions in a high-profile fight that avoided any cuts to police or fire employee pensions in Wisconsin.

“You’ve got pension funding problems in almost every state in the country, so that’s something that can resonate with people,” Biggs says. “If you work out how generous public employee pensions are compared to what you or I are going to get in a 401(k) … it looks like a giveaway to a group that is already getting a better pension than you or me.”

The pension problem is ultimately the local government’s responsibility, though critics blame unions’ role in state politics for exacerbating it.

“Jeb Bush likely credited them for his victory in ’99, and this was the reward,” says state Sen. Jeremy Ring, a Democrat who sponsored the recent reform bill. “It was the most union-friendly bill I’ve ever seen.”

The pension drama has the potential to cast a cloud on Bush’s claims that during his time in the governor’s mansion he was the “most conservative governor in the country.” While he cut billions in taxes and balanced the state’s budget, he did so at a time of strong economic growth. When the market collapsed a year after he left office, many of the gains under his tenure eroded. Critics contend Bush should have pursued policies that would have been more resilient during a downturn.

Many of the Floridians who opposed the bill in the 1990s say that the law has done exactly what they feared it would. Tallahassee City Commissioner Scott Maddox’s father was the first president of the Florida police union, but the younger Maddox fought against the bill when he was Tallahassee mayor in 1999. “It keeps adding to that benefit, even if it wasn’t asked for,” he says. “It makes no sense to me.”

“I’m for local control, and I’m for collective bargaining, and I’m fiscally conservative,”says Maddox, a Democrat who also served as President of the Florida League of Cities. “If you’re any of those three things, I don’t know how you can support that legislation.”

TIME Crime

Florida Couple Found Guilty of Sex on the Beach Face 15 Years in Jail

Elissa Alvarez, 20, right, and Jose Caballero, 40, listen to witness testimony during their trial for lewd and lascivious exhibition on May 1, 2015, at the Manatee County Judicial Center in Bradenton.
Paul Videla—Bradenton Herald Elissa Alvarez, 20, right, and Jose Caballero, 40, listen to witness testimony during their trial for lewd and lascivious exhibition on May 1, 2015, at the Manatee County Judicial Center in Bradenton.

Witnesses said the incident was seen by a 3-year-old

A Florida couple found guilty Monday of having sex on a public beach could face up to 15 years in prison for the crime.

Jose Caballero, 40, and Elissa Alvarez, 20, were convicted of two counts each of lewd and lascivious behavior for having sex on Bradenton Beach in 2014. The jury took only 15 minutes to reach a verdict, Ronald Kurpiers, their lawyer, told TIME.

“It’s a horrifically harsh potential penalty for what they’re alleged to have done and that’s really the rub here,” he said.

Witnesses said the incident was seen by a 3-year-old and other children, the Miami Herald reports. Lewd conduct crimes are prosecuted more severely in Florida if minors are present, and both Caballero and Alvarez will be required to register as sex offenders.

The couple’s lawyer maintains that even though the incident was caught on video, there was no evidence of explicit sexual activity. Kurpiers said that Alvarez and Caballero declined to accept a plea deal with the state prosecutor because they didn’t do anything wrong.

Caballero is likely to serve a full 15-year sentence because he was in jail on a felony cocaine trafficking charge within the last three years, Assistant State Attorney Anthony Defonseca told the Miami Herald. Alvarez, who has no prior convictions, is expected to receive a significantly lighter sentence.

Kurpiers added that the couple had not decided whether they will appeal the verdict.

The state attorney’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

TIME Drugs

Emerging Drug Flakka Causing More Naked Rage and Paranoia Incidents

The new drug causes body temperature to spike dangerously

Flakka, a new designer drug popular in Florida, is continuing to generate bizarre incidents of naked rage and paranoia among users — but officials say it’s no laughing matter.

The synthetic drug has spawned a number of tales including how one Florida man believed he was Thor, and ran naked through a neighborhood and then tried to have sex with a tree, the Associated Press reported Thursday. Another flakka user ran nude down a busy city street, convinced he was being chased by a pack of German shepherds.

Flakka, which is similar to bath salts and usually smoked via electronic cigarettes, causes the naked incidents because it causes a spike in body temperature of up to 106 degrees, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Like amphetamines, flakka users seek the high of the drug’s stimulation but may also become prone to violent outbursts, paranoia and hallucinations.

“I’ve had one addict describe it as $5 insanity,” Don Maines, a drug treatment counselor in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., told AP. “They still want to try it because it’s so cheap.”

Flakka has spread to other states besides Florida, where most incidents have been reported, including Ohio, Texas and Tennessee, according to the U.S. National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Read next: See Which State Has the Highest Daily Use of Mood-Altering Drugs

[AP]

TIME Bizarre

Box Unearthed in Family’s Attic May Contain Pirate Treasure

They now wonder whether their ancestor was a pirate

A Florida family was shocked to find a box of treasure in their attic during what seems to be a very profitable spring cleaning session.

“Maybe my great-grandparents were pirates,” one member of the Lopez family said, according to USA Today.

The collection included 18th-century coins, a map, a family photo, and…a human hand wearing a ring. Experts have described the findings as “authentic.”

[USA Today]

MONEY Banking

Homeless Man Discovers Long-Lost Bank Account

John Helinski, a victim of identity theft, was homeless and living on the streets of Tampa when a police officer helped him recover his ID—and a long-lost Bank of America account. He's not homeless anymore.

TIME Accident

A Bee Swarm in Florida Has Left Three Men Hospitalized

Honey bees
Kerstin Klaassen—Getty Images

The men were trying to get honey from a hive that may have contained up to 30,000 insects

Three men were swarmed by enraged bees and stung repeatedly outside of Tampa on Sunday, while trying to get honey from a wild hive. They were subsequently hospitalized, WTSP reports.

“They were covered in bees, their beards, their hair, their clothes — bees were everywhere,” a neighbor told WTSP.

Pasco County fire rescue fended the swarm off with a hose, but a local woman was also stung while leaving her home and officials are cautioning residents of New Port Richey to remain vigilant in case the bees return.

There could have been as many as 30,000 bees in the hive.

[WTSP]

TIME

Why Religious Freedom Bills Could Be Great for Gay Rights

Demonstrators gather to protest a controversial religious freedom bill recently signed by Governor Mike Pence, during a rally at Monument Circle in Indianapolis on March 28, 2015.
Nate Chute—Reuters Demonstrators gather to protest a controversial religious freedom bill recently signed by Governor Mike Pence, during a rally at Monument Circle in Indianapolis on March 28, 2015.

"Anyone involved in social change has often had to take something that looked pretty bleak and turn it into an opportunity"

Opponents of the religious freedom laws recently passed in Arkansas and Indiana criticized the measures as a license to discriminate against LGBT people, but the battle over the bills may come to benefit the very people who led the charge against them.

Suddenly, a community that has been unsuccessfully championing LGBT non-discrimination measures for decades has the nation’s attention. A civil rights movement needs an outraged public to enact reform, and this fight —from grassroots protests against the bills to disapproving tweets from Walmart executives—generated plenty of it. Gay rights advocates strategically used the showdown as a megaphone to decry the absence of discrimination protections for LGBT people in many states. While nearly 90% of people believe that it’s already illegal to discriminate against gay and transgender people, there are no such laws in the majority of the United States.

On Thursday, Indiana Gov. Mike Pence approved changes to the state’s newly passed religious freedom law that make it clear the measure can’t be used to discriminate, but his opponents are taking this opportunity to push for more—demanding that Indiana become not just the 20th state to pass a religious freedom act but also the 20th to pass comprehensive non-discrimination protections for LGBT residents.

“Anyone involved in social change has often had to take something that looked pretty bleak and turn it into an opportunity,” says Eliza Byard, executive director of the Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network (GLSEN). “And you better believe that everyone who believes in justice is going to keep making a way out of no way. And this is another one of those moments. Let’s let people know what the stakes really are.”

This silver lining may have already sparked change in Florida, where gay rights advocates have long been pushing a non-discrimination bill that would protect LGBT people in the realms of employment, housing and public accommodations. For nearly a decade, the bill has been filed each year without coming up for a vote, says Carlos Guillermo Smith of Equality Florida. His group has built a coalition of more than 300 businesses who support the measure—including prominent companies like Walt Disney World and the Miami Heat—but that hasn’t moved the needle. Now, in the wake of Indiana, Smith says it looks like the bill may finally get taken up by a committee next week.

“It’ll be the first hearing we have had on the issue, ever,” says Smith.

In Pennsylvania, advocates preparing to introduce a non-discrimination measure in the next two weeks have used the fallout in Indiana to highlight the potential economic costs to Republican lawmakers. Companies have halted expansion in the Hoosier State, lucrative conferences have threatened to convene elsewhere and recruiters tasked with luring executives to the area are worried about companies already there choosing to relocate.

“It’s the severity of the backlash,” says Equality Pennsylvania’s Ted Martin, “that really and truly serves as an example that discrimination is just not the way to move a state forward economically. I think the leadership in our capitol will pay attention to that.”

This is already the tack that many LGBT advocates have been taking, concentrating on the dollars-and-cents arguments instead of just acceptance-and-tolerance. In Florida, the non-discrimination bill is pointedly named the Florida Competitive Workforce Act, positioned as a way to attract the broadest range of the best talent. What’s happening in Indiana, Smith says, “is making the argument for us.”

Some worry that support for non-discrimination measures will be hard to drum up, partly because the realm of marriage equality has been a double-edged sword for LGBT Americans. As the Supreme Court appears poised to make same-sex marriage the law of the land, advocates are ready to celebrate securing a right with enormous emotional and practical importance. At the same time, says Kate Kendell, executive director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights, “The concern has always been that we might make the mistakes of every other civil rights or human rights struggle. Women win the right to vote and mistake that for full equality. Brown v. Board of Education rules that segregation is unlawful, and there’s a mistaken notion that somehow we’ve won the war on racism and bigotry.”

The fear, she says, is that casual supporters of gay rights would get the impression that the work is finished, brush off their hands, put away their pocketbooks and go home. “The notion that we’re done is something that we’re fighting,” Kendell told TIME in 2014. The fight in Indiana has made it clear that the war is not over. It has also demonstrated to the likes of Kendell that they have wells of support that are bigger than they realized, as everyone from the NCAA to Angie’s List balked at the law. “We have seen a cascade of support for basic, fair treatment for LGBT people in the public square that I could never have imagined,” Kendell says. “I want to bottle this lightning.”

While the national conversation has focused on the theoretical same-sex couple seeking a hypothetical cake from a traditionalist baker, Sarah McBride of the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, says that the controversy has been an opportunity to point out that the LGBT discrimination is not only real but that the vast majority is more “life-altering” than having to seek out a second pastry shop. “The economic numbers don’t lie,” she says, noting that LGBT Americans experience higher levels of poverty, homelessness and unemployment than the general population. A report she authored in 2014 found that 27% of LGBT people have experienced “inappropriate treatment” or hostility in a place of public accommodation like a shop or restaurant.

McBride says that another difficulty that comes along with wins for marriage equality is that there are more opportunities for discrimination. Heartened by court rulings, people are more willing to come out of the closet and may even be forced to effectively out themselves at work when, for the first time, they’re filling out paperwork to add a same-sex spouse to their health insurance policy. Those are opportunities to encounter backlash that didn’t exist before, she says. A favorite rhetorical example among such advocates is that in several states, a lesbian could now be married on Sunday and fired for being gay on Monday, left with only patchy and confusing legal recourse. “The confusion around the legal landscape needs to be clarified,” McBride says. “That’s why there needs to be a comprehensive federal response.”

Members of Congress have tried and failed to pass non-discrimination legislation that would protect LGBT people in employment nearly every session since 1994. In a “historic” 2013 vote, the Democrat-controlled Senate passed the Employment Non-Discrimination Act, or ENDA. Then the Republican-controlled House didn’t take it up. Oregon Sen. Jeff Merkley, a Democrat, said in late 2014 that rather than fight the same fight again, he plans to go bigger: introducing sweeping legislation that covers not only employment but housing and public accommodations. And the controversy over religious freedom restoration bills—which are still pending in six states beyond Indiana—may help jump start a measure that has stalled so many times. It will need a jolt for a GOP-controlled Congress to consider taking it up.

“Senator Merkley’s hope is that with the news out of Indiana and Arkansas we can finally get the support we need to get LGBT Americans the rights they deserve,” a spokesperson for Merkley tells TIME.

In some ways, fighting for marriage equality is an easier task for gay rights supporters than fighting for LGBT non-discrimination bills. Part of it is Americans’ widespread belief that those protections are already in place and confusion about what legal options LGBT people have if they’re fired from a job for being gay or transgender, while it has always been obvious and indisputable where same-sex marriage was not legal and what that meant. A lack of marriage rights is a straightforward issue, while discrimination isn’t always easy for outsiders to see, says Jenny Pizer of Lambda Legal. “Non-discrimination is proactive and not reactive,” Pizer says. “That is a different kind of social change process.”

But the religious freedom bills, which have been considered in more than a dozen states so far in 2015, could change that. McBride says such incendiary proposals may prove the “tangible” means of activating support for their cause, just like constitutional amendments banning same-sex marriage provided them a target at which to aim when fighting for marriage equality.

People like Smith will be watching closely to see whether backlash against the new religious freedom law is indeed enough to boomerang the state legislature beyond fixes to passing stand-alone non-discrimination legislation. That would be a telling lesson in a state run by a politician who once declared that he opposes “any effort to recognize homosexual’s [sic] as a discreet [sic] and insular minority’ entitled to the protection of anti-discrimination laws similar to those extended to women and ethnic minorities.”

“Their version of our bill is still in the works,” Smith says. “If we can’t even get that in Indiana, then I don’t know if we’ll be able to get it in Florida.” But if Smith’s team does get their hearing next week, you can count on them pointing a lot of fingers in a northwesterly direction.

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