News & Features » News

State officials seek to exonerate the Groveland Four, Florida has the most new Obamacare enrollees, and other news you may have missed



Florida Ag Commissioner Nikki Fried and Orlando state Rep. Geraldine Thompson seek exoneration for the Groveland Four: Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried and state Rep. Geraldine Thompson, D-Windermere, want exoneration for the Groveland Four, expanding on pardons granted in January by Gov. Ron DeSantis and the state Cabinet in a prominent case from Florida's Jim Crow era. In 1949 a white Lake County woman accused four young black men – Ernest Thomas, Samuel Shepherd, Charles Greenlee and Walter Irvin, all now dead – of raping her. Thomas was killed by a posse after the rape accusation. Shepherd, Greenlee and Irvin were tortured to coerce confessions, went to trial, and were convicted by an all-white jury. Greenlee was sentenced to life in prison, but Shepherd and Irvin were sentenced to death. In 1951, while transporting Shepherd and Irvin from Raiford State Prison, Sheriff Willis McCall claimed the two handcuffed men attacked him. He shot them both, killing Shepherd instantly. Irvin survived by pretending to be dead. The pardons essentially excused the four men from the crime, but an exoneration would be an official statement that the four men didn't commit the crime. Norma Padgett Upshaw, who made the rape accusations in July 1949, argued against the pardons, maintaining to this day that the Groveland Four were guilty.

More than a quarter of new 2019 Obamacare enrollees are from Florida: Topping the nation, 796,858 Floridians have chosen health plans on the federal health-insurance exchange as of last week, according to the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. Nationally, 2,876,998 people have enrolled in plans for the first time or actively renewed coverage after the exchange open-enrollment period started Nov. 1, according to the data. (The data does not include information on people who were automatically re-enrolled in health plans.) The enrollment period continues until Sunday, Dec. 15, for coverage that will start Jan. 1. The information includes data on 38 states that will use the federal platform for the 2020 benefit year. Under the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, states could use the federal platform or create exchange programs. Florida's enrollment has far outpaced other states. Texas had the second-highest enrollment in the platform so far, with 400,436 people, followed by Georgia, with 173,337 enrollees.

Florida to roll out new safety measures to curb deadly rail-crossing accidents: Florida Department of Transportation Secretary Kevin Thibault announced a statewide rail-safety initiative intended to curb injuries and fatalities on or near rail crossings. An Associated Press report recently determined the Brightline passenger rail service in South Florida, which is being rebranded Virgin Trains USA and expanding into northern portions of the state, had the worst per-mile death rate of the nation's 821 railroads. For the upcoming legislative session that begins Jan. 14, state Sen. Debbie Mayfield, R-Rockledge, and state Rep. Tyler Sirois, R-Merritt Island, have reintroduced the Florida High-Speed Passenger Rail Safety Act, which in part would give the state Department of Transportation oversight of issues not pre-empted by federal law. The proposal (SB 676, HB 465) would require the state to exert its authority regarding rail corridors and railway operating equipment, pedestrian and road crossings, fencing for high-risk corridors, and training for local emergency service providers.

This story appears in the Dec. 11, 2019, print issue of Orlando Weekly. Stay on top of Central Florida news and views with our weekly Headlines newsletter.

We welcome readers to submit letters regarding articles and content in Orlando Weekly. Letters should be a minimum of 150 words, refer to content that has appeared on Orlando Weekly, and must include the writer's full name, address, and phone number for verification purposes. No attachments will be considered. Writers of letters selected for publication will be notified via email. Letters may be edited and shortened for space.

Email us at [email protected].

Support Local Journalism.
Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club

Local journalism is information. Information is power. And we believe everyone deserves access to accurate independent coverage of their community and state. Our readers helped us continue this coverage in 2020, and we are so grateful for the support.

Help us keep this coverage going in 2021. Whether it's a one-time acknowledgement of this article or an ongoing membership pledge, your support goes to local-based reporting from our small but mighty team.

Join the Orlando Weekly Press Club for as little as $5 a month.