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Energy Conservation Showdown

July 21st, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

Once every five years, regulators set conservation goals for Florida utilities. This year, the companies are asking to have their conservation goals reduced. The move has angered conservationists,  and hundreds of them showed up at the Public Service Commission on Monday.

Mary Sheppard came from Bradenton.We asked why?

“Because I like clean air” she told us.

Mary was joined by a hundred or so others who chanted “clean energy now” and who want Florida utilities to conserver more and offer more conservation programs…Instead, the utilities are seeking to cut conservation by 90 percent or more.Retired Air Force officer Neil Cosentino of Tampa says its all about money. “A for profit power station or company makes money by making more power. Our whole theme is to reduce power.”

State Representative Dwight Dudley says Florida energy policy is in the stone age. “We know what the game is. It’s a simple game. They’re trying to take more money from us” Dudley told the crowd.

The Sierra Club sponsored the rally and is running television in two Florida Markets.

A portion of the ad encourages listeners to “Tell the Public Service Commission to protect consumers, not big power companies.”

But customers who want more conservation can’t tell the Public Service Commission their feelings. They can sit and listen, but they can’t speak.

We asked PSC Chairman Art Graham why they can’t speak. He told us “They can speak all they want.”

Q: “They’re not being allowed to testify.”

“They’re more than welcome to send written comments in.”

Q: “But that’s not the same as looking you in the eye and saying this is what we want.”

“They’re more than welcome to send in written testimony.”

The hearings continue through Wednesday, with a decision on conservation coming later this fall.

In Florida, regulated power companies are guaranteed a ten percent profit on every dollar they spend generating energy.

 

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Law School Slaying

July 21st, 2014 by Matt Galka

The shooting death of an internationally known FloridaState law professor has many asking “why?” As Matt Galka explains, police are still looking for that same answer.

Renowned law professor Dan Markel was gunned down in his home Friday.  Attorney and neighbor Reggie Garcia says the world lost a great man.

“He was just a fun laid back guy, I mean not a lot of my professors brought me baked goods from their favorite deli in New York. You’ll certainly hear this directly from the students but they loved him,” said Garcia.

Markel was apparently shot in broad daylight around 11 a.m. Friday morning. The Toronto native and Harvard graduate later died from his injuries.  Police are saying this wasn’t a random act of violence.

“We believe he was the intended victim in this case. Targeted is a hard word for us, again, we have to make sure that we leave all of our avenues open, but we are doing everything we can to bring this case to a close for the Markel family and for Mr. Markel himself,” said Tallahassee Police Department spokesman Dave Northway.

Looking for any piece of information that could be helpful, police started canvassing the neighborhood around Markel’s house. Police went door to door asking neighbors about any information they had. Jill Harper summed up the mood of the community.

“Fear, there have been some car break ins and home break ins,” said Harper, a neighbor that lives down the street.

Markel was a father to two young sons and was going through a divorce at the same time he was murdered.  Police wouldn’t say if his estranged wife, also a distinguished academic, had been questioned.

“I cannot give the details of who we’re interviewing,” said Northway.

Markel joined FSU in 2005. He primarily taught criminal law to hundreds of students from around the state. Markel had been a prominent law writer and blogger around the state and the country. His work has appeared in the New York Times, The Atlantic, and Slate.

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Snake Warning in Rest Area

July 18th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

If you’re planning on driving on I-75 and the urge to stop at a rest area hits you , a sign at one rest area near Gainesville is now urging motorists to beware  poisonous snakes. As Mike Vasilinda tells us, the sign is becoming a tourist attraction of it’s own.

The rest area just south of Gainesville on I-75 is like no other in the state. It sits atop a hill overlooking one of the most wild areas in Florida; Payne’s Prairie.  Earlier this year, bright yellow signs went up warning of poisonous snakes.

Katie Mijares works maintaing the rest area. We asked her if she got many questions about the yellow warning signs. “YES WE DO!” she responded. We followed by asking what people ask.  “they want to know what kind of snakes we have. I say you’re in Florida…you got all kinds of snakes” says Mijares.

Snakes used to be a major problem here.

We found rachel Manning on her way to visit her parents in the Tampa Bay area taking a picture of the sign. We asked why. “I have a friend that’s sacred of snakes and I thought she’d get a kick out of it.”

“You’re Not?

“Not so much. I know that they don’t like noise and my kids are noisy” said Manning.

This is the only rest area in the state to post the snake warnings.

And when you look out here, you get a pretty good idea of where the  snakes are coming from.

It’s also the only rest area to sport a 325 foot long walkway over looking the prairie.

Ed Seifert is a communications officer for the DOT in nearby Lake City. He told us “So we realized we had an issue, we decided to put a barrier between the prairie and the rest area.”

Designed, as you might guess, to look like a snake.

Snake warning signs aren’t the only unique thing about this rest area. It was once a hotbed of illegal drugs….And after that, UF coeds were busted here running a major prostitution ring.

Drugs and prostitution are no longer a problem here. But the bright yellow sign warning of snakes can be a bit unnerving for some. Elaine Leclair is moving from Georgia to Tampa. We asked her if the signs worried her. She said no…“But I wouldn’t walk on the grass.”

“Really?”

“Would you?” I don’t think so!”

The message to motorists…you never know what you’ll find at this rest area.

No snakes were spotted by our crew today, but there was one small alligator living in the holding pond at the rest area.

 

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Jobs Report is Good, and People are Staying Put

July 18th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Florida led the country in job growth for June. A nice rebound from May, when the state was tops for job losses.  And, as Matt Galka tells us, job seekers in the state aren’t looking elsewhere in the country for work.

The latest unemployment report for Florida was good. The Governor stuck to his usual message and announced the improvements at a stop in Bonita Springs.

“What I’m going to do is everything we can do to get more jobs,” said Gov. Rick Scott (R-Florida).

The state’s 6.2 percent unemployment rate, however, was higher than the national average for the first time in more than a year.

“In terms of the national unemployment rate, it’s great news that the national rate is going down. As our labor force continues to grow, of course our rate will decline at a slightly lesser pace,” said Department of Economic Opportunity Executive Director Jesse Panuccio.

The state’s rate has hovered around 6.2 and 6.3 percent since December. Even though the unemployment rate has remained pretty much the same for the first half of 2014, a new report suggests people are staying put.

A report from jobs website Indeed.com says that Florida checks in at number 2 for job seekers least likely to look out of state for a new gig.

“They believe their future is secure here and one of the most interesting parts of it is I believe one of the highest percentages on record of people thinking it’s a good time to buy a capital good like a car or a house,” said Florida TaxWatch Chief Economist Jerry Parrish.

The Department of Economic Opportunity agreed the trend is a good sign.

“People are staying here and realizing that we do have job growth, this is a state of opportunity again,” said Panuccio.

Another factor in people staying put: climate.  Cold weather states saw a significant jump in out of state employment seekers during the winter. The state with the most unemployed looking for work in another place? Wyoming, with nearly 48% of job seekers applying elsewhere.

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Scott vs. The Scientists

July 17th, 2014 by Matt Galka

The Governor is being called out by environmental academics over his stance on climate change. As Matt Galka tells us, Rick Scott likes to say he’s not a scientist, but some actual scientists want to have a little chat.

“I’m not a scientist.”

Those four words have been defining Rick Scott’s stance on climate change lately. While the Governor is hesitant to address the issue head on, 10 scientists from around the state say they have all the facts he needs.

Dr. Jeff Chanton, an oceanography professor at Florida State, is one of 10 scientists from universities around Florida asking for the Governor’s ear to tutor him about man made climate change. He says there’s no doubt humans are causing temperatures to rise.

“I’ve been teaching this for 25 years, I think I can do a pretty good job of getting this idea across to just about anybody, so I think if he would just give us some time and listen, he’d come away with a pretty good idea of why we think this is so important,” said Chanton.

Chanton hand delivered a letter from scientists across the state to the Governor’s office earlier this week. The letter notes that “Florida is one of the most vulnerable places in the country in respect to climate change.”

The state also needs to figure out how to reduce carbon emissions from powerplants by 38%. A federal mandate asking for the reduction came down in early June. Environmental attorney group Earth Justice is still waiting to hear something from the Governor’s office.

“The Scott administration has been climate change deniers, and you see that policy reflected in a complete disregard of the issue in every aspect of their policies and their regulations,” said Managing Attorney David Guest.

The state has a 2030 deadline to reach the 38 percent carbon emission reduction. Governor Rick Scott said his administration would be happy to meet with the 10 scientists, but Dr. Chanton says they’d prefer to meet with him personally, and not just someone in his office.

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Don’t Let Florida Go to Pot Pushes Safety Issues

July 16th, 2014 by Mike Vasilinda

As state officials ramp up efforts to grow and distribute Charlotte’s Web, a non high producing form of marijuana, Mike Vasilinda tells us, a coalition of anti drug advocates is upping the volume on their anti marijuana message.

In Reefer madness, a 1930’s movie aimed at the problems of marijuana, the drug is depicted as a killer.

Now, the Don’t Let Florida Go to Pot Coalition says many of the fears of yesteryear are a reality where medical marijuana has been legalized.  Rachel O’Bryan of Smart Colorado says the path to legalization in Colorado could be duplicated in Florida under Amendment 2.

“It will allow the use of marijuana for any medical condition, it will allow teenagers to obtain it, it will allow for the development of marijuana foods including candies that will appeal to kids” says the Colorado mom and anti pot advocate.

Sheriff’s supported the Charlotte’s Web legalization earlier this year after initially opposing it. But they are opposed to full blown medical marijuana. Don Enslinger of Seminole County says it will create “More dispensaries than Starbucks. DOH, their own numbers estimate 789 dispensaries or treatment centers within Florida.”

But the Department of Health..the same people who will regulate Charlotte’s web, which Sheriffs supported, will also be responsible for saying who and how people would get medical marijuana.

Florida’s amendment would allow edible pot…and the anti pot advocates are quick to point out the one case in Denver where someone ate far too much marijuana. “His product, you know, was a cookie, with six servings of marijuana in it in one cookie” says O’Bryan.

23 states and the District of Columbia have some form of legalized medical marijuana. Six of every ten voters would have to vote yes for medical marijuana to become law in Florida. In the ten states where marijuana has been voted upon by the public, five of the ten had approval margins above 60 percent.

 

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Here Comes a Lawsuit

July 16th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Legislation signed by the Governor changed the way special needs students receive scholarships and expanded corporate voucher scholarships. Now, as Matt Galka tells us, that piece of legislation is at the center of a lawsuit from the state’s biggest teacher’s union.

Tom Fasse is a high school social studies teacher in Southwest Florida.  He says the way Florida’s legislature passed an education bill at the end of this year’s session will become fodder for future lessons.

“This will be a perfect example of ‘here’s how you not do a bill correctly as the way the constitution plays it out,” he said.

Fassee joined the Florida Education Association in announcing a lawsuit against the Governor and education commissioner.  SB 850 – officially known as a bill relating to education – is being challenged.

 

“We believe they added pieces into it and tied things together that were so loosely tied together that it’s not the way that laws are to be made,” said FEA Vice President Joanne McCall.

 

The lawsuit says a final day 141 page amendment allowing for corporate scholarship vouchers to expand to more families was unconstitutional

 

Ron Meyer

 

Matt Galka Standup

Former Governor Jeb Bush’s “Foundation For Excellence in Education” called the lawsuit a new low for the FEA

 

The bill created accounts for parents to choose schools and therapy centers for kids and eliminated testing for students with special needs.

 

McCall

 

The FEA hopes for a speedy process. They want voucher expansion to be stopped before kids return to school in the fall.

 

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Hot Car Warnings

July 15th, 2014 by Matt Galka

Florida has the second most child deaths from being left in a hot car. As Matt Galka tells us, a recent string of national incidents has prompted the state to issue a warning.

DCF has released this public service announcement warning about the dangers of leaving a toddler in the back seat of a car baking in the Florida sun.

“A child’s internal temperature raises five times faster than adults,” said Michelle Glady, the Departments Press Secretary.

Florida has had 66 child heatstroke deaths since 1998 – trailing only Texas.

A typical Florida summer day can bring plenty of flash rain storms. Lieutenant Mike Bellamy with the Tallahassee Fire Department says that doesn’t make things any safer for toddlers.

“There’s never a right place, there’s never a right time to leave any child in a car,” said Lt. Bellamy.

We gave the car a heat check while a thunderstorm was going on outside. Vitals were normal before entering the car when the temperature was around 85 degrees.

Two minutes in and the care was up to 99 degrees. After four minutes: 104 degrees. Six minutes and we were cooking at 111 degrees. That’s when fire officials had to call it.

Another check of vitals revealed heart rate and blood pressure were both elevated.

In the past week alone, 5 kids locked in hot cars have been reported to DCF.   The department says if you feel like you’re going to forget your child in the backseat, leave something like your shoe, cell phone, or brief case with them so you’ll be sure to check before leaving the vehicle.

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The Grades, They are ‘A’ Changin’

July 14th, 2014 by Matt Galka

The number of Florida schools earning ‘A’ grades is up, and that’s not a bad thing. But, as Matt Galka tells us, some are worried that things will be much different next year.

195 more elementary schools and middle schools earned ‘A’ grades this year. Up 7 percent from last year.

“Grades are up, we’re very please by the hard work of teachers and administrators throughout the state of Florida, in fact it’s up more than we anticipated,” said Florida School Board Association Executive Director Wayne Blanton.

It’s a good sign in the last year of the current grading formula.  New Florida standards and a new state assessment test will replace the FCAT.  The Florida School Board Association expects the grades to look much different next year because of the changes

“Well the grades will be all over the place next year, and we’re still not sure what the final result of that will be, we’re just going to have to wait and see. But I’m confident that we will be in good shape,” said Blanton.

Even if the grades are turned completely upside down next year, schools will get a one year grace period to implement the new standards.

Schools are rewarded or penalized based on their grade. Senator Bill Montford who also represents the state’s superintendents says he hopes the one year grace period is enough.

“This fall we will get it ready, we will be ready to go, and then the truth will come out next spring when we take the exams. Lets keep our fingers crossed and hope it all works out. If not, lets hope that we slow down, and pause, and lets get it right,” said Sen. Montford (D-Tallahassee).

Along with good news in the final year of grading, there was bad. ‘F’ grades were up, with 7 percent of schools receiving the low letter.

State Democrats wanted a longer grace period, as many as three years, to implement the new standards. That measure was shot down, but Montford said it could be revisited if one year proves to not be long enough for schools.

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Scams Galore

July 11th, 2014 by Matt Galka

If you get a phone call about money you’ve won or owe and it doesn’t seem legitimate, you’re probably right. As Matt Galka tells us, there are plenty of scam artists trying to take advantage of people around the state this summer.

Maybe you’ve heard about the one targeting motorists.

“Various scams have surfaced across the country that seem to target motorists who have driven on a toll road or bridge,” said John O’Brien with the Florida Department of Transportation.

Or you’ve been tricked into thinking you won a large sum of money.

“There have been people telling another person that they have won, and they can’t cash the prize because they might be illegal, and so they want this person to cash it for them,” said Tom Delacenserie who is the Deputy of Security with the Florida Lottery.

These are just two examples of the scams sweeping Florida right now.  In both instances, consumers are being asked to provide banking information.  Experts say it’s one of the first signs of trouble

“Red flag number one, absolutely, we will never ask you for that information. We want the prize experience to be a good one,” said Delacenserie.

Many scams start with a phone call, or maybe an email.  Everything looks official, But if it sounds suspicious…it probably is.

Beth Frady with the Department of Business and Professional Regulation says problems can increase during hurricane season.  Unlicensed contractors can try to perform work on a weather damaged house…and that’s when a new storm of problems can occur.

“Someone can come in that is unqualified, unlicensed, having shown that they’re not qualified to do the work and they can be doing shoddy work on the house and that means that the consumer can potentially have to go back and hire someone that is licensed,” said Frady.

All of these scams have put the sunshine state at the top of a dubious list: Florida leads in the country in fraud complaints. In every instance, calling the official state or local agency to confirm what you may think is a fraud will be the easiest way to avoid getting scammed.

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