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Florida man called hero after he saves falling ducklings

A man sprang into action Saturday and saved ducklings that were falling off a steep ledge at Busch Gardens in Tampa, Florida.

Eric Pelno was startled when a small duckling fell and hit his shoulder while he was walking with Channing Deren, WFLA reported.

Pelno saw more ducklings about to fall, so he began to catch and bring the animals to safety while Deren videotaped.

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“Eric is today’s hero. There were 15-20 baby ducklings literally falling from a nest at least 30 feet high as we walked by. At first one hit my shoulder and we didn’t know what was going on. Then Eric just went into beast mode and started catching ducklings from the sky” Deren said in a Facebook post.

Deren told WTVT that she and Pelno had been startled by seeing the ducks falling. "There were like 20 duck faces just looking down at us!" she said. "He'd catch it in one hand, and then he'll catch another one. I was just watching him thinking, 'How are you doing that?'"

Deren said the mother duck was nearby and reunited with her babies. One had a broken leg from the fall. WTVT reported that the injured duck was taken by Busch Garden staffers to get treatment, while Pelno became a Father’s Day hero to his daughter.

"She was, just, the whole rest of the day, 'My dad's a hero.' She was so excited." Deren said.

Eric is today's HERO!  There were 15-20 baby ducklings literally falling from a nest at least 30 ft high as we walked by. At first one hit my shoulder and we didn't know what was going on... then eric just went into beast mode and started catching ducklings from the sky! They all joined up with mama duck after this and one has a broken leg... but ALL DUCKLINGS WERE SAFE!!! SO PROUD OF THESE TWO FOR SAVING THE DUCK POPULATION!!!!Posted by Channing Deren on Sunday, June 19, 2016

Florida man threatens churchgoers days after decapitating 875-year-old statue, police say

A man stormed a South Florida church and threatened to shoot the people inside just days after decapitating an 875-year-old statue, authorities said.

According to the Miami Herald, Jorge Arizamendoza, 33, entered North Miami Beach’s Ancient Spanish Monastery, the meeting place of St. Bernard de Clairvaux Episcopal Church, on Sunday during a Mass to remember the victims of the Orlando shooting, police said.

Arizamendoza started ranting and making threats toward church members, authorities said.

“He said he was going to shoot me and anyone who stayed in the church,” the Rev. Gregory Mansfield told the Herald. “The fact that this man came in right on the heels of Orlando was scary.”

Arizamendoza bought a ticket Thursday for a tour of the monastery and screamed at groups conducting Masses on the grounds, police said. He also threw a rock at an electric sign, causing $2,000 in damage before driving off, according to authorities.

Police said he returned around 2 a.m. the next and decapitated an 875-year-old statue of Spanish King Alphonso VII, according to the Herald.

When Arizamendoza returned Sunday, several church members recognized him, and he ran off.

Arizamendoza was arrested and charged with aggravated assault at a religious institution, two counts of criminal mischief at a place of worship, disturbing religious assembly and burglary of an unoccupied dwelling.

He is being held on a $75,000 bond.

Read more at the Miami Herald.

Rainbow appears over Lake Eola right before start of Pulse vigil

Rainbow appears over Lake Eola right before start of Pulse vigil

Genetically modified mosquitoes could join Zika virus fight

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said Thursday he'd support the use of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys to help stop the spread of the Zika virus.

"I think this is going to be such a crisis that we've got to move ahead with it, certainly the pilot study," Nelson told reporters during a stop at Tallahassee International Airport.

Florida has reported 102 documented cases — the most in the nation — of the mosquito-borne virus, which emerged last year in South Africa. The virus, while causing mild sickness, has been associated with severe birth defects.

Oxitec, a British company, wants to release about 3 million genetically modified mosquitoes in the Keys as part of the first-ever trial in the U.S. of such engineering. The genetic change is intended to produce offspring that die young and can't reproduce.

"It's not like taking a gene out of something and replacing it in the genetic makeup of something else," Nelson said. "This is altering a gene in the genetic makeup of the (Aedes) aegypti mosquito to turn off that mosquito's ability to reproduce. You have to meet a crisis head-on. And if this is what it takes to eliminate that strain of mosquito, then that is what we're going to have to do."

Nelson's comments came a day after Gov. Rick Scott announced he intends to travel to Washington next week to ask federal officials to quickly come to agreement on a plan to deal with the spread of the Zika virus.

Nelson on Thursday also continued pushing for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to help deal with Zika. The funding request, which was made by President Barack Obama, remains tied up in Congress.

U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said Thursday he'd support the use of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys to help stop the spread of the Zika virus. "I think this is going to be such a crisis that we've got to move ahead with it, certainly the pilot study," Nelson told reporters during a stop at Tallahassee International Airport. Florida has reported 102 documented cases --- the most in the nation --- of the mosquito-borne virus, which emerged last year in South Africa. The virus, while causing mild sickness, has been associated with severe birth defects. Oxitec, a British company, wants to release about 3 million genetically modified mosquitoes in the Keys as part of the first-ever trial in the U.S. of such engineering. The genetic change is intended to produce offspring that die young and can't reproduce. "It's not like taking a gene out of something and replacing it in the genetic makeup of something else," Nelson said. "This is altering a gene in the genetic makeup of the (Aedes) aegypti mosquito to turn off that mosquito's ability to reproduce. You have to meet a crisis head-on. And if this is what it takes to eliminate that strain of mosquito, then that is what we're going to have to do." Nelson's comments came a day after Gov. Rick Scott announced he intends to travel to Washington next week to ask federal officials to quickly come to agreement on a plan to deal with the spread of the Zika virus. Nelson on Thursday also continued pushing for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to help deal with Zika. The funding request, which was made by President Barack Obama, remains tied up in Congress.U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., said Thursday he'd support the use of genetically modified mosquitoes in the Florida Keys to help stop the spread of the Zika virus. "I think this is going to be such a crisis that we've got to move ahead with it, certainly the pilot study," Nelson told reporters during a stop at Tallahassee International Airport. Florida has reported 102 documented cases --- the most in the nation --- of the mosquito-borne virus, which emerged last year in South Africa. The virus, while causing mild sickness, has been associated with severe birth defects. Oxitec, a British company, wants to release about 3 million genetically modified mosquitoes in the Keys as part of the first-ever trial in the U.S. of such engineering. The genetic change is intended to produce offspring that die young and can't reproduce. "It's not like taking a gene out of something and replacing it in the genetic makeup of something else," Nelson said. "This is altering a gene in the genetic makeup of the (Aedes) aegypti mosquito to turn off that mosquito's ability to reproduce. You have to meet a crisis head-on. And if this is what it takes to eliminate that strain of mosquito, then that is what we're going to have to do." Nelson's comments came a day after Gov. Rick Scott announced he intends to travel to Washington next week to ask federal officials to quickly come to agreement on a plan to deal with the spread of the Zika virus. Nelson on Thursday also continued pushing for $1.9 billion in emergency funding to help deal with Zika. The funding request, which was made by President Barack Obama, remains tied up in Congress.

Billions of cicadas to ascend in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania

Video includes clips from Brandon Baker / CC BY 3.0, The BBC and Rich4098 / CC BY 3.0 and images from Natalia Wilson / CC BY SA 2.0, Nick Harris / CC BY ND 2.0, Gramody / CC BY SA 2.0 and Meredith Harris / CC BY ND 2.0.

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Next month, parts of the U.S. can expect to see and hear lots of 17-year-old cicadas, which will rise from the ground to mate.

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The insects, which have spent the rest of their lives underground, only live above ground for about six weeks. The adults, the ones that make all the noise, only ascend above ground to reproduce.

Males use the harsh sound to look for females so they can mate in that brief time. The sound can reach over 90 decibels in some instances; that's about the same volume as a lawn mower.

The female cicadas will lay eggs in a tree, and after the eggs hatch, the newborn cicadas -- called nymphs -- will bury themselves in the ground, where they'll develop for 17 years. 

According to The Washington Post, female cicadas can lay up to 400 eggs each, across 40 to 50 sites.

During the upcoming mating season, there could be as many as 1.5 million cicadas per acre in some places.

The noise, which is mostly a daytime phenomenon, will probably last until mid- to late June, by which time most of the cicadas will probably die, according to Gaye Williams, a Maryland Department of Agriculture entomologist. Williams said predicting exactly when the emergence will end is tough because it depends on many variables, including temperature, moisture and humidity. 

The good news is that cicadas can’t chew, so they don’t devour plants and trees. Plus, they don’t bite or sting.

But if you live in Ohio, New York, Pennsylvania and other neighboring states, now might be the time to invest in some ear plugs.

Read more here.

Tax break for manufacturers, back-to-school shoppers signed by Scott

The News Service of Florida contributed to this story.

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A back-to-school sales tax holiday and breaks for manufacturers and a host of other industries were included in legislation signed into law Wednesday by Governor Rick Scott.

Clothing, shoes and backpacks costing $60 or less will be exempt from the state’s 6 percent sales tax the weekend of Aug. 5-7, while school supplies costing $15 or less also will be tax-free.

The back-to-school break amounts to $28.7 million of the $129 million tax-break bill (HB 7099), with the biggest savings going to manufacturers. They’ll get to keep $73.1 million they would have paid in sales taxes on equipment purchases.

The elimination of the tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment is permanent, while the three-day sales tax holiday for school supplies is just for this year. It’s also scaled back from last year’s tax holiday, when shoppers got a 10-day holiday.

House Finance and Tax Chairman Matt Gaetz, R-Fort Walton Beach, touted the cuts, saying, “We have made the decision in Florida that we can grow our economy, meet the needs of our state and care for the vulnerable not by having more taxes, but by having more taxpayers. These tax cuts welcome new families, businesses, and visitors to our state each day.”

Other reductions included in the bill affect taxes paid on aviation fuel, asphalt and pear cider. It also affects taxes paid by fruit and vegetable packing houses and how the state levy on some tobacco products is calculated.

The bill signed by Scott was a central part of just over $400 million in tax breaks approved by lawmakers this year.

The biggest share of the reduction, however, will go to property taxpayers, with lawmakers having agreed to reduce taxes used to finance schools. That property tax cut was set in motion when Scott last month signed the state’s $82 billion budget for the year beginning July 1.

Scott’s fellow Republicans in the Legislature sharply scaled back a $1 billion tax-cut plan he sought, and also ignored his pitch for $250 million in economic incentives — which might explain why Scott’s signing of HB 7099 came with little flourish.

Scott held a ceremonial bill-signing as the undercard of his attendance of an announcement by Novolex — which makes plastic bags — that it’s expanding a manufacturing facility in Jacksonville.

In a release, the governor’s office noted that “during the announcement, Gov. Scott also ceremonially signed HB 7099.”

“This bill will not only give Florida families an important back-to-school sales tax holiday, but it will also permanently eliminate the sales tax on manufacturing machinery and equipment so companies like Novolex can invest more money in growing their business and creating new jobs,” Scott said in the release.

Scott had campaigned vigorously for his more expensive plan, running television ads, conducting a bus tour in January, and soliciting letters of support from dozens of city and county officials for the tax breaks and economic incentives that he cast as a blueprint for sparking the Florida economy and creating more jobs.

Lawmakers, however, were uneasy about the potential long-term impact of Scott’s plan on Florida’s financing. They also were skeptical of his approach.

Scott’s $1 billion in cuts were aimed almost exclusively at businesses. His bid for another $250 million in economic incentives also was dismissed by state lawmakers wary of handing the governor cash he could use to woo companies of his choice.

Instead, lawmakers tipped tax breaks more toward property owners.

The almost 6 percent reduction in the property tax that the state requires all school districts to collect for public schools — a portion called the “required local effort” — should mean a tax savings of $58 a year to the owner of a $250,000 home with a $50,000 homestead exemption.

That amounts to about $290 million of the $400 million in overall tax breaks passed by the Legislature this year. At the same time, lawmakers increased public school funding by $458 million, a 1 percent boost, by using other types of taxes and fees collected by the state.

“By reducing local millage rates we are ensuring that state tax dollars, rather than local property taxes, cover a larger share of the unprecedented K-12 per-student funding allocated this year in our budget,” said Senate President Andy Gardiner, R-Orlando.

People post political comments on Facebook for 'self-affirmation,' study says

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Growing tired of the endless Bernie memes or Trump posts on your Facebook feed?

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A set of studies have found the reason why your social media connections feel the need to post their views.

The Huffington Post reports that a Harvard study found that sharing personal beliefs or feelings on social media works as a release for people because it rewards them for letting something out rather than keeping it in. “Expressing beliefs that are important to you functions as a self-affirmation,” psychology professor Joshua Hart of Union College told The Huffington Post. “It reminds you of the values that are central to your identity, and this gives you a psychological boost.”

A study by the Pew Research Center found that the people posting their opinions on social media are “less likely to share their opinions in face-to-face settings” because people are more likely to feel safer giving out their retorts when behind a computer screen rather than in person. “They’re expressing themselves in a forum where they’re likely to get a reaction, whether it’s the one they want or not,” Hart told The Huffington Post.

Hart said most people who post are also looking for the approval of others and “become more confident in their beliefs” when more people like, retweet or comment on the post. The Huffington Post said that there is not very much difference between Republicans, Democrats and independents regarding the number of posts with the leading posts on your own feed most likely factoring in based on your location.

Read more at The Huffington Post.

California lawmaker proposes parents get paid time off for kids' school activities

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Assemblyman Mike Gatto, D- Los Angeles, proposed a bill last week that would give parents paid time off from work to attend school activities for their children, according to KTLA.

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The bill, AB 2405, would allow parents three paid days off a year, or 24 hours.

“Being involved in your child’s education shouldn’t be limited by your family’s income, and it shouldn’t come down to a choice between meeting with a teacher or volunteering in the classroom, versus paying the bills," Gatto said in a news release Thursday.

"You shouldn’t have to be a cast member of the ‘Real Housewives of Beverly Hills’ to be involved in your child’s education," he said.

The release cites a 2013 EdSource survey in which 24 percent of parents with incomes of $30,000 or less described themselves as "very involved" in their children's education.

The bill would update California's existing Family-School and Partnership Act.

Passed in 1995, the act currently allows parents, grandparents and guardians to take up to 40 hours of unpaid time off for school activities and related emergencies. The time off is protected.

AB 2405 would require 24 or those hours be paid time off.

"Too many parents are prevented from participating in their children's education due to economic barriers," Gatto said. "Parents shouldn't have to choose between paying the bills and being involved in their child's education."

According to Gatto's spokesman, the legislation should be referred to a committee hearing  next month, followed by a vote on it by the Assembly.

It will go to the state Senate if it passes.

CNN Money reported that, according to the spokesman, small businesses with 25 employees or less would not be required to follow this law, if passed.

Selma to Montgomery: John Lewis live-tweets his memories

Civil rights icon John Lewis took to Twitter Monday to remember the historic Selma to Montgomery marches.

March 7 marked the 51st anniversary of the marches, which the congressman remembers as the “highest point” in the civil rights movement.

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In an interview with the Atlanta Journal Constitution ahead of the 50th anniversary of Selma, Lewis recalled filling his backpack that day with an apple, an orange, two books, a toothbrush and toothpaste. It was preparation for a cell, not a fractured skull.

Lewis, a Georgia Democrat, tweeted a series of photos and personal memories from the march.

“I was hit in the head by a State Trooper. I thought I saw death. I thought I was going to die,” Lewis tweeted with the hashtag #Selma51.

<iframe src="//storify.com/ajc/rep-john-lewis-remembers-selma/embed?border=false" width="100%" height="750" frameborder="no" allowtransparency="true"></iframe><script src="//storify.com/ajc/rep-john-lewis-remembers-selma.js?border=false"></script>[View the story "Rep. John Lewis remembers Selma" on Storify]

Back-to-School sales tax holiday back in state proposal

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The Florida Retail Federation on Thursday praised state lawmakers for returning  a back-to-school tax break to a tax proposal currently under consideration in Tallahassee.

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The federation said a strike all amendment filed in the Senate last month would have remove the sales tax holiday from the House tax package (HB 7099).

The Senate was slated to hear the strike all amendment on Tuesday but temporarily postponed the discussion. A scaled back version of popular tax break was returned to the proposal today.

Last year’s back-to-school tax holiday ran for 10 days. Under the new proposal, this year’s tax break would span just 3-days, the federation said.

“On behalf of Florida’s 270,000 retailers and the millions of Floridians who all rely on this holiday, I want to thank the House and Senate for recognizing the importance of the Back-to-School sales tax holiday and returning it to the tax package,” said FRF President/CEO Randy Miller. “We look forward to the positive impact this 3-day sales tax holiday will have on Florida retailers’ bottom line, as consumers take advantage of buying their supplies while also saving money.”

The federation said consumers have come to rely on the sales tax holiday. Retail experts argue that shoppers prefer sales–tax holidays over sales and discounts offered by individual retailers.

The tax break also boosts wages for retail employees, the federation said.

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